Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

I was profoundly moved by this incredible profile of film critic Roger Ebert, written by journalist Chris Jones for the latest issue of Esquire magazine. Ebert, you may know, can no longer eat, drink, or speak, due to a series of surgeries to combat cancer of the thyroid, salivary gland, and jaw. He communicates primarily through his writing and a computerized voice program. Yet, he is more full of joy and in tune with life than he’s ever been. As Jones observes about Ebert:

There has been no death-row conversion. He has not found God. He has been beaten in some ways. But his other senses have picked up since he lost his sense of taste. He has tuned better into life. Some things aren’t as important as they once were; some things are more important than ever. He has built for himself a new kind of universe. Roger Ebert is no mystic, but he knows things we don’t know.

Then Jones quotes this reflection from Ebert himself:

I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.

Ebert, the article says, is slowly dying. And he knows it. Yet the way he’s currently facing life certainly offers lessons on living for all of us.

I was reminded of a post that I wrote almost one year ago reflecting on the tenth anniversary of the death of Gene Siskel, Ebert’s famous partner in film criticism, and the wonderful though often combative friendship that they shared. Jones’s profile references Ebert’s poignant tribute to his late friend, and reading Jones’s article caused me to go back and re-read Ebert’s piece, too. It was time well spent.

I don’t always know exactly what to do after reading stories as heartrending as Jones’s profile of Ebert, or Ebert’s own written memories of Siskel. But I do appreciate Mr. Ebert’s insight: “We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try.”


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Ten and Some Change

Here’s the deal: Sister Erika Haub over at The Margins tagged me the other day. It’s an honor to be included on her list of “excellent or subversive” blogs—though I’m not sure which category I fall under. I usually run the other way on stuff like this, but I decided this could be an excuse to give a shout-out to some of the truly excellent/subversive blogs out there. So below is my list of ten, in no particular order. (Disclaimer: I could’ve listed a lot more than ten, but I’m trying to stick to the rules; check my list of “Friends & Links” on the right for a more comprehensive blog roll.)

Okay, I realize my math is funny. I won’t say anything if you won’t.

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On Sunday I returned from the Calvin College Festival of Faith & Writing. What a great event! If you love books, writing, poetry, theology, the arts, intellectual engagement, etc., you’ll dig this biennial conference. I had the privilege of doing one solo presentation about my book, and I took part in two panel discussions–“Writing Toward Social Justice,” with Charles Marsh and Helena Maria Viramontes, and “To Tell the Truth,” with Cathleen Falsani, Dorina Lazo Gilmore, and Bruce Umpstead. I felt out of my league at moments, but God gave me sufficient grace to speak (or at least enough to not look like a Book TV wannabe).

I’m thankful for the gracious response of the folks who came to my sessions. Someone sent me this humbling review (though it sort of scares me now to realize that folks actually write reviews of conference sessions 🙂 ). Plus, I had the opportunity to meet or reconnect with several friends—L. L. Barkat, Llama Momma, Ragamuffin Diva, Dr. Joseph Daniels, Nikki Grimes, Hugh Cook, Victoria Johnson, Richard Kauffman.

I also enjoyed sessions and talks featuring authors like Rob Bell, Krista Tippett, Edward P. Jones, Haven Kimmel, Carole Weatherford, Carlos Eire, and many others. Too many to mention, really. This festival is like an overdose of inspiration for word addicts.

I returned home with a renewed appreciation for the artistic endeavor—and a desperate need to finish a big project that will soon be due. Which means I probably shouldn’t be blogging right now. In fact, noting that I’ve been blogging more often than usual lately, Llama Momma wondered whether I was avoiding finishing that “big project.” Busted! (If you read Llama Momma’s blog, it’s no surprise to you that she’s so keenly perceptive.)

Anyway, here’s something else I discovered while at the Calvin Festival. During a trip to a nearby Barnes and Noble, an enchanting combination of violin and voice wafted from the store speakers. The sound led me to the music section. “Are you wondering who that artist is?” the young woman behind the service desk asked; I suppose I wear my curiosity rather prominently. “Yeah, who is that?” I said. Turns out it’s an artist named Lili Haydn, a singer/songwriter whom P-Funk maestro George Clinton once called “the Jimi Hendrix of the violin.” I picked up a copy of her new CD, Place Between Places, and resisted my usual practice of never buying new music until I’ve thoroughly researched the artist. Every now and then, however, I’ll take a risk and try a new CD on a whim. It paid off with Norah Jones, whose first album I picked up and purchased months before she became a sudden superstar. I also got into Amy Winehouse before I knew how terribly lost she is (ah, but she’s enormously talented when sober). I don’t think Lili Haydn will rocket to fame like Jones or Winehouse; her music is a bit too eccentric and hard to categorize—it’s classical, pop, jazz, funk, with dashes of folk. Still, I’m drawn to the uniqueness of her sound and her diversity of influences.

So that’s what I discovered at Calvin: God’s sufficiency, warm fellowship, creative inspiration, and Lili Haydn.

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