A Dream

There was no school today and we all got to sleep in. Big deal, right?

It was a big deal, because while listening to Morning Edition, I drifted and dreamed of all of you.

We were gathered in a classroom, each one sitting at a desk. It was the kind of classroom and desks that high school students find familiar. Debra was our teacher - located somewhere out of my line of site, presumably at the front of the room. Each one of us had come with something prepared to read - a poem had been assigned. I, of course, felt unprepared, unworthy and anxious. (typical performance anxiety dream)

Debra asked us to share and the first person, Agnes, I think, began to sing her poem. (Some of your faces were obscured, but your voices were recognizable.)

“Oh no, I’ve got it all wrong,” I thought. “Lyrics. rhyme scheme, melodic, verse and refrain. These are songs. I clearly missed the directions on this assignment.” (Mine was rhymeless and would never fit into a song.)

Then quite suddenly, as if by magic, (in dreams, it’s always sudden, always magical) an acccompaniment track began to play, in just the right key, with just the right instrumentation, and just the right time signature/rhythm to fit the poem being shared. I turned around and noticed that the room was full of people now. Our group had grown to include acquaintances from from the other parts of my life. Complete strangers were in attendance, too. Apparently each one had something to offer.

Karin B. began her poem and amazingly, it was in the same key and similar rhythmic structure as the previous reader. It was lovely, lyrical, sparkling. The song progressed and with each reader’s contribution, I became more anxious. My poem was meant for speaking. It could not be sung. Vinita began to move up and down the rows, handing out looseleaf notebook pages of handwritten material. It turns out that Nick was not in the room, but he had submitted something in writing. Thoughtful and intense, it was not meant for singing either. I felt better. Vinita whispered encouragement to each person she passed. I felt even better. The poem/song continued and improved as one voice after another added unique rhythms and the music track altered to accommodate individual changes.

“Hey,” I thought. “This is really good.” And then I woke up.

Of course I woke up before I had to read my work, so I have no idea what I wrote. Neither can I remember the details of the song. But I think that what I saw and heard in the dream was in some way a glimpse of perfection. We are in fact, part of a holy song, created for us, created by us. Sometimes we are in sync. The rhythmic flow is energizing and gracious. Sometimes we are out of tune and need to listen to find our voice again. Sometimes we offer an alternative. The beauty of this song is that it belongs, as we all do, to God and somehow, some miraculous way, whatever we contribute adds to the harmony.

I should sleep in more often.



Really Good News

You people are even more wonderful than I’ve been giving you credit for, and I’ve been giving you credit for a LOT!

I never expected all this laughter, and I’m so grateful.

Al’s comment sums up how I’m feeling about all this right now:

“Isn’t this God’s first superb surprise for us? Yes! We thought this would be easy, that we’d just have to figure out how to spend the funds, but God says, oh, yes, you provide the first fish and loaves, okay? You don’t mind, do you? There’s precedent for this, you know. And I’m laughing.”

I think Al means that he himself is laughing, but it almost sounds as if he means that God is laughing. And I think that’s right. God is laughing, having a little fun with us. Maybe one of the things I personally have to learn to do is laugh about money. This is pretty hard for me.

I am thinking right now that we encourage one another to go ahead anyway with our project and let the first step be finding the money somehow, expecting it to come your way in by some surprise or coincidence or providential something. Still, of course this is optional. After all, how on earth would we REQUIRE this of one another??

Here are some excerpts from your e-mails over the last 24 hours. (We really should post the full e-mails from everyone so we have a full record of all this. Would you each be willing to do that? Or I will.) Also see Andy’s blog post below.

From Al H:
At 9:08:30 I’m reading on the blog that this is quote “really bad news.”
At 9:08:45 I read “There is no money for our project.”
I start laughing.
At 9:09:15 Still laughing.
Some of it is relief, of course. Everyone is okay! It’s just money we’re talking about…
And the money. Why should there be money? Isn’t this God’s first superb surprise for us? Yes! We thought this would be easy, that we’d just have to figure out how to spend the funds, but God says, oh, yes, you provide the first fish and loaves, okay? You don’t mind, do you? There’s precedent for this, you know. And I’m laughing.

From Debra A:
The theme of “not enough money” is the throughline in the plot of my life. And as for the loss of $100.00 that I never had to begin with, well… Oh well. My project is still important to me and I can do it with equipment I already have on hand. In fact, I want to do it - perhaps all the more.

From Agnes:
And so: let this money coming and the way it will be used be a surprisingly joyful thing. Let the quest evoke laughter, be like new wine.”

In my desk drawer I have $60 (Cdn) extra cash because I withdrew from my ATM not seeing and immediately forgetting the $60 I’d withdrawn two days earlier.

From Karen:
A few days ago, I got a check in the mail. It was for my initial participation in the study. It is for $100. It is still sitting on my dining room table waiting for me to decide what interesting thing I will do with money I was not planning on. It is in reading Al’s and then Agnes’ email that it became clear to me what I will do with my check.

I will be getting 100 dollars American for the piece on the Leadership Blog. Found out about that just before hearing that I would be deprived of the Lilly funds.

It is obvious via coincidence and conscience that I have been condemned not to enjoy the Blog cheque.



Bang for the Buck

Until the business of the new semester hit me (as it always does), I too had struggled with how I might spend my $100 with the hope that somehow having the money in hand might help. The project awoke a competitive spirit within me. I pictured a one-upmanship of good deeds. If only my $100 could bring peace to Middle East - I'd love to see one of you beat that!

My first thought upon reading the bad news was one of relief, then disappointment, and then the thought - maybe I'll do it anyway. Somehow the idea of spending $100 was broken free from competing with 15 other people in a game to see who could do it best. Maybe that's because it would be "my own" money and freed from the accountability of spending Calvin's money. I think there's a lesson here.

Anyway, I haven't found an extra $60 or $100 in my desk drawer yet (change from doing laundry only amounted to $0.83 this week). Finding and spending $100 will surely be an interesting story for each of us.

Andy Keck



Really Bad News

Dear friends,

There’s no good way to say this, so I will simply say it.

There is no money for our project.

This is a result of a mistake on my part. I’ll explain what happened and then propose some possible ways we can choose to deal with it.

Last February, Jamie Smith wrote me and asked what I wanted to do with the $1600 follow-up money that came with each seminar grant. At the time, he gave me the choice between doing a follow-up project of some kind or giving each of you a $100 voucher (effectively) to buy books. I chose the voucher, wanting to spare you the book expenses as much as possible.

When you were all here, Jamie asked again what I wanted to do with my $1600. He had apparently forgotten that he had given me a choice, and I had completely forgotten that I had already made a choice back in February somewhere in California. So I merrily proposed the question to you all, we came up with our fabulous project, and you know all about that part.

Then, last week, when I requested that the Seminars office cut some checks for you, Alysha figured it out: we had already spent all the money.

I am so sorry. I am embarrassed and ashamed and very very sorry.

So what do we do now?

Well, there are several options that I can think of. Perhaps you can think of more.

1) We forget the project. We chalk it up to a fantastic idea that ran into an obstacle and we move on with our other projects. This will involve some grief, but it has the obvious benefit of resulting in one less thing to do.

2) We seek funding from some other source. If we could think of a good source quickly, this might work. Any ideas?

3) We go ahead with the project, but use our own money. I was thinking I could sell my son’s old quarter-size violin for about $100. I could use that money. Or we could use our own money but make it a smaller amount. In this scenario, our efforts to scramble together some money could become part of what we write about, part of the interest of the project.

I am honestly not at all sure which option I personally favor. I am hoping to listen to our collective wisdom.

Please think about this, pray some, and post your suggestions.

Many thanks for your good graces, in which I still hope I am…




Clever Little Title (Actually the book I've been Thinking About)

Okay, so I’m trying this again, hoping to get it into the main index....I’m so inept!

Yes, my clever little title as requested. Not clever at all. But in response to Debra’s post, I’d have to say that the book I keep thinking about is Dwelling Places. I’ve given my copy to my colleague who teaches farm literature. I’ll let you know what he thinks later on. I’ve been trying to find time to read the rest of her novels, the other books I picked up during the seminar, and Al Haley’s books, but the press of the semester is killing me. I just finished writing a 35 page grant to fund a year of leave for myself for thinking and time to write. We’ll see. But I couldn’t help being struck by the thought that here was this huge pile of paper that bascially toots my own horn--yes, I’m great and promising and fastastic; give me money! But all the while, I kept thinking of Vinita’s farm family, losing everything but each other and nearly losing that along the way. Karen has told me lately that she is drawn to people with simple faith, who meet tragedy and loss without a huge overblown intellectual sturm und drang. Simple faith. I’ve been thinking about that and the way it sort of winds around the narrative in Dwelling Places. I wonder if the appearance of the gothic is actually those moments when simplicity doesn’t help wend the way though the morass of pain. But then in the end, those gothic and dark moments of not knowing and not understanding are conquered by love and family witnessed in the scene of the family sitting on top of the graves in the beauty of the evening.

I’ve been thinking of doing an article on these novels eventually. And who knows, if I could convince Legacy to publish it, that means people who teach the literature of women writers might just pick one of those novels up for use in a class. It might help sales. Who knows? We’ll see, I’ve four articles out at journals now, waiting to hear if I need to do revisions, so it might be down the road.

I think Dwelling Places is my book of the year.

I can’t seem to get spell check to work--argh.




Write on the Money

The seminar grant that brought our group together in July of 2006 also came with follow-up money: $1600 of it. The purpose of this money was to assist participants in bringing their projects to completion and publication. Some seminars make the money available so that participants can apply for “mini-grants”—three hundred bucks to get them to a conference, for example—and other seminar groups give themselves a deadline incentive—a hundred bucks when your paper gets submitted for publication. But what did we want to do? Something different. Something surprising. After all, we are writers and we don’t like to be predictable.

Then one of us—all right, it was Al Haley—came up with this idea: We divide up the money evenly, a hundred bucks each. Then we do something useful with it, and write about what happens.

The trick, of course, is defining “useful.” We wanted to do something that would somehow multiply the money—literally, figuratively, imaginatively—beyond the original amount and beyond ourselves. We wanted to do something surprising in keeping with our seminar’s title: “The Truth’s Superb Surprise.” And that’s where the fun began.

You, visitors to this site, are welcome to keep an eye on what we are up to. The project begins September 1, 2006, and will conclude (or at least pause for breath) on June 1, 2007. We will report on the project right here.

For more details, read on.

Inspirations for the project
• The parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30)
• The minister who took $5000 and gave church members $100 each to spend in ministry to others (this has become something of a trend in churches)
• Andy Crouch’s Christianity Today column “We’re Rich
• The film Pay It Forward
• The Pay It Forward Foundation

• To provoke us to pray for divine guidance and wisdom
• To cause us to see opportunities and needs we might not have noticed and respond to them in the spirit of Christ
• To lead us to write about a common experience
• To enable us to share our words and thoughts with one another and the public

Phase One: Work in Progress
1. Each writer receives $100 by September 1, 2006
2. Writers communicate with each other through our seminar blog.
3. We establish a web presence announcing and describing the project to the public. We promise an update on the project in the spring, at the midpoint of our project and some presentation of results by June 1, 2007.

On September 1, the clock starts running. The $100 may be spent on anything. What we have to keep in mind is that we will write about what happens to the $100. Of course, what other Christians judge as “faithful” use of the money most likely will be well received; however, frivolous failures can be instructive as well (e.g., the fool who built his house upon the sand…) and are not precluded—so one of us could spend the money on a pedicure and massage or a couple rounds of golf and write about whether it brought her closer to God or the gods of vanity. One of us could spend the $100 on Jerry Jenkins’ writing workshop (would it help him double his talents as a writer?). Our guiding principle is that the use of the money be creative and startling to ourselves. This is where we will try to rely on prayer and God speaking to us through daily circumstance (as Marilynne Robinson reminds us so well in her Sojourners interview

During Phase One, we pledge to document what is happening. This could be a matter of jotting down notes about ideas for spending the money, early results, doubts, plagues of insomnia, etc. Some of this we will share with each other on the blog. All of it will be fodder for our final public web presentations in June.

Phase Two: On the Web
By June 1, each of us will have thought of a creative way to publicly recount or meditate upon our personal journey with the $100. This can be in the form of words, video, sound or some other amalgamated medium that can be posted at the website. There is no expected standard product or word limitation. The project may inspire a poem, a sermon, a short story, Rev. Lamblove-style jottings on the back of a cereal box, a musical mash-up, personal memoir, or… The books we’ve read for the seminar and the conversations we had during our time together will be figuratively smiling over our shoulders and suggesting a rich array of creative possibilities.

Phase Three: Beyond the Web
Once results are in and posted at the website, one or more writers may wish to develop the collective story further by writing magazine articles about the activity, making presentations at conferences, using the episode as a part of their teaching, or… It could be particularly instructive for others to think about how this sort of project intersects with more than one community—the community of writers who are working together on the project, the individual communities each of us have returned to and where the $100 is spent.

The text on this page is adapted from Al Haley’s original project description created for seminar participants.


About this Blog

In a culture full of people who long to be spiritual but have little vocabulary for spiritual things, how can we use the power of language to testify to what we as Christians believe and experience? Avoiding triumphalism, defensiveness, and dogmatism on the one hand and mere yeasty yearnings for transcendence on the other, how can we tell the ancient mysteries of God in fresh and relevant ways? How can we practice and model the habits of “scrupulous inquiry” that a life of faith promises to teach us?

During the summer of 2006, 17 people from a variety of disciplines including publishing, academia, and the pastorate met on the campus of Calvin College to explore these questions. Our time together was part of Calvin’s Seminars in Christian Scholarship program and our seminar was funded by the Lilly Endowment, Inc., under the auspices of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.

This blog is a follow-up forum to our seminar in which we hope to continue to inspire and challenge one another. Our goal is to find ways in which each of us, according to our particular gifts and place in life, can practice excellence in the literary arts and “put all things in God’s account,” witnessing in the broadest sense to contemporary audiences—the curious, the lurking, the committed, the confused, the self-satisfied, the hurting.