Looking for Eulogy Notes?

This has been a great week.  It has been a blessing to read the encouraging comments friends (and others) have left in response to my story — “In the Beginning: My First Time As a Storyteller” at Midlife Collage (posted through Sunday, July 7).  There is still time to help me win the $100 top prize.  Just click on the link (above), read the story, “like” it (if you do) and leave a comment (if you are so inspired).

Meanwhile, if you’d like a taste of some of the wonderful comments I have received, click on the link below —

“Notes for My Eulogy: Comments From Friends”

#friendship #quotes

from Nicole in Love This

Pleading for Prayer for a Friend


From heaven stretch Your hand;

Reaching down to rescue me,

save me from the floods,

The grip of foreign pow’rs,

The ones whose mouth speaks what is false,

The ones whose right hand is the same,

a right hand of deceitfulness. 

(from “Blessed Be the Lord, My Rock” by J.C. Friedrich Schneider – Psalm 144A in The Book of Psalms for Worship)

I have a dear friend I’ve known for over 20 years who is in a desperate situation.  In addition to battling addiction, she is facing legal charges that could result in significant sentencing to jail and/or prison.

In the midst of her struggle, she is feeling terribly conflicted.  She doesn’t know who to trust.  Voices within and around her are telling her to follow one direction, then another.  Her desires and her needs don’t mesh.  Friends and family wrestle with one another in an effort to extend help.

The message of Psalm 144 (especially verses 7-8) is that there is certainly help to be found.  The Psalmist calls on the God of heaven who can (and will) stretch out His hand to rescue those who are overwhelmed by floods of despair, detainment, and desperation.  Those who are caught in the grip of addiction and other self-destructive “powers and principalities” have a Helper in heaven they can count on.

But this Helper is not the only one reaching out.  There are plenty of others – within us, among us, and around us who do not speak the truth that is best for us.  Ideas that “feel right”, friends and family that “mean well”, can actually deceive us into thinking there are other ways to be rescued than the one and only Way – the path that leads to life with God (and others) in Jesus Christ.

I urge all of you to be intensely praying for my friend , especially tomorrow (April 22) as she transitions into treatment.

I have great hope in the LORD, as expressed in another Psalm –

God is our refuge and our strength,

In trials, a proven aid.

And therefore, though the earth should change,

We will not be afraid

Though hills may slide into the sea,

And waves crash down and roar,

And though the ocean’s rage may shake

The mountains on the shore

A river makes God’s city glad,

The Most High’s holy place.

God is in her; she won’t be moved;

God helps at the break of day.

(from “God is Our Refuge and Our Strength” by John Robb; Psalm 44B in The Book of Psalms for Worship)

image above “heaven” from  Karen Rosenberg in Favorite Places & Spaces

My Problems with Life Have Been Solved

Some of you know that my current work-in-progress is a short story called, “Life”.  It’s the first in a trilogy of shorts which includes “Liberty” and “The Pursuit of Happiness”.  I completed drafts of the latter two in less than a month but after six weeks (mainly staring at an empty screen), I have only one scene of “Life” completed.

So today, I went for some help.  I met with my friend George, once was my partner in literary crime (we produced a satirical newsletter called “Rude Dogma” our final year in seminary/graduate school).  Using his keen pastoral skills, astute literary sensibilities, and sharp ear for social critique, he was able to diagnose my problem with Life and set me on a course toward liberation.

What is the story of my “Life”, you ask?

Basically, it is the story of two high school sweethearts who reach a fork in the road.  He wants to get married.  She wants to go to college.  At an impasse, they basically go their separate ways.  The story follows her journey to IU (in the early 1960s) where she encounters the beginnings of a social-sexual revolution.  She is faced with choices she must make (and choices made for her) that lead to a point of crisis.

So, what is my problem with Life, you ask?

Well, I have several.

First, I am trying to anticipate the reaction of the readers (or viewers, if it becomes a screenplay) before I write the first draft.  I am imagining intense criticism, for instance, for pretending to know the perspective of a woman (in 1963, no less) as she makes very personal decisions about relationships, career, sex, etc…  Instead of being my own worst critic before anything is on the page, I need to first tell the story (or let the story tell itself).

Next, I’ve gotten bogged down doing the grinding (though somewhat necessary) work of research.  Yesterday I spent 5 hours reading past student newspapers at the IU library (and paid $26 for parking) and still only made it through less than one month.  George recommended I hop on “Netflix” and watch the series “Madmen”, which evidently accurately depicts the early 1960s in a very compelling way.  (This is one reason I like to keep George on retainer.  While I would just as soon move to Montana and write haiku for mountain goats, he stays engaged with culture.)

Finally, my characters are underdeveloped.  By providing an affirming yet credible critique of “Liberty”, George was able to help me see some things I can develop in “Life” so that the characters grow and emerge as distinct persons you may not always agree with,  but whom you want to get to know.

While I still have research to do (like watching “Madmen” and hopefully interviewing women who lived through the early 1960s), I believe I am ready to now sit down and write the story.  I’m setting a goal to write one scene a day (starting tomorrow), which should mean I would have a working draft by the end of next month.

Now I’m wondering, just what can I offer my good buddy George in exchange for his transforming literary therapy (apart from singing his praises in this blog post)?

……. I could click that annoying button that keeps popping up on my Facebook and send him a Starbucks gift card.  (But no, that feels impersonal and I’m on a tight budget.)

……. I could abandon my allegiance to the IU Hoosiers and start rooting for the UK Wildcats, possibly even sending a letter of protest to the NCAA for their exclusion from the tournament.  (But no, when I cut my veins I bleed crimson – not blue.  How anyone can bleed blue is beyond me.)

…… I could join the Xenia, Ohio Crane Operators Guild and wage a campaign to elect him “Sovereign Lord and Grand Pubah For Life”.  (But no, I’m essential apolitical and you probably have to have a job as a crane operator to join.)

I guess I’ll have to pray about it some more.  Or better yet, in the truly modern, American way, I conduct a poll on the blogosphere!

What do you think I should give George?

This is a picture of our seminary basketball team (“The Frozen Chosen”) – circa 1932.  We’ve all aged very well.  Apart from me, everyone is a huge success.
(front row) There’s Ron, President of Chile.  John, Spiritual Director at Microsoft.  David, Sigmund Freud Chair of Psychoanalysis at Vienna University.  George, Pastoral Guru, Cultural Critic and Literary Therapist.
(back row) Robert, Medical Examiner at Johns Hopkins.  Pete, Surgeon General of Puerto Rico. Mark, Library of Congress Director.  David, Owns 7 Hawaiian Islands.  Buran, Mega-church Pastor and Spiritual Counselor to President Obama.   And Me, Unemployed Weaver of Words Sleeping on His Father’s Couch.
[Note:  I stole this from George’s Facebook page (maybe one thing I should give him is respect for his personal property….hmmm….  Naaa, I’ll think of something else).]

“Liberty” Begins – Hanover College; Fall, 1982

The Road to Hanover by EricMagnuson

“The Road to Hanover” from EricMagnuson, some rights reserved

I just finished writing two scenes in the second of my trilogy of stories – “Life”, “Liberty” and “The Pursuit of Happiness”.

“Liberty” begins in the Fall of 1982, as the Johnson family follows the windy wooded road that leads to the “Harvard of the Midwest” – Hanover College.  David Johnson’s future is as bright as the multi-colored leaves clinging to the trees that line the pathway to new knowledge.  Little does he know what lies ahead.

I’m finding as I write that memories are coming back to me –

… meeting my college roommate for the first time.  He was a faithful Irish Catholic from Cincinnati’s Moeller high school passionate about football, beer, family, and friends (not necessarily in that order).

… going to the orientation “mixers” and noticing just how many incredibly attractive young women (we still called them “girls” then) actually paid attention to me in my faux-Izod knit shirt and non-designer jeans.

… being introduced to the ideas of an “alternative sub-culture” who openly smoked cigarettes and privately smoked pot, talking about Nietzsche and Existentialism and scoffing at conservative Christians trying to legislate morality.

– reading Dispatches by Michael Herr, a first-hand account of the Vietnam War and being shocked as much by the language than by the descriptions of violence.

– being attracted to the liberal politics of the “Peace and Justice” movement and noticing “Free Leonard Peltier” buttons on Salvation Army flannel shirts.

I think this is going to be a fun story to write.  I’m tempted to send scenes to old college friends as I write them, but I’m going to resist the urge.  Some may stumble on some snippets I describe here on my blog.  Still, I think it would be better to nurture this baby in the womb of my word processor until it’s at least viable.

Nomination #3 (will it be assassination or failed revolution?)


I have been nominated for this “Very Inspiring Blogger Award” by Veronica of charlottesville winter.  I accept this award with much fear and trepidation.  It is my third blogging award, so it puts me right up there with “Lincoln” and “Les Miserables” – and look what happened to them.  Assassination.  And a failed revolution.  Nonetheless, I accept (both this award and my fate).

The conditions for acceptance are –

1. Display the award logo (see above)

2. Link back to the person who nominated you (also see above)

3. State 7 things about yourself (see below)

4. Nominate 15 other bloggers for this award and link to them (see further below)

As for 7 things about myself, I thought it would be good since this is about being inspiring and my blog is about writing if I were to mention 7 persons who have inspired me to write.  (There have been and continue to be many more, but I’ll limit myself now to 7).

1.  Larry Roberts.  Growing up, we would visit my Uncle Larry and Aunt Linda (and their daughter Leah) in Chicago.  Larry would often break out his guitar and sing songs.  I thoroughly enjoyed all the music, but my favorite songs were the ones he wrote himself.  I hope to convince him to let me publish a sample in upcoming posts.

2. Ivan Lancaster.  Mr. Lancaster taught 5th and 6th grade English at Nineveh Elementary.  After lunch, he read to us from classic books (I remember Johnny Tremain).  He also encouraged each of us to write our autobiographies and this 30+ page bound notebook with line sheets written on in ink was my first sustained piece of writing.

3.  Robert Waldon.  (Joe Rossi on “The Lou Grant Show”) I was captivated by the character of Rossi – his persistence, his commitment to truth, his courage.  He made me want to become a journalist.  One episode was about book banning.  Rossi was appalled that his favorite book – The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger was on the list.  Immediately, I checked it out of the library.  It became my favorite book and redirected my focus from journalism to creative writing.

4.  Kevin Ballard.  Mr. B. filled in in the English department one semester and I took his class on “Contemporary Drama.”  He wasn’t the best lecturer, but he was very accessible and showed an interest in my ideas and writing beyond class.  He introduced me to a good friend from his college days – Jim Leonard – a playwright who has won awards for “The Diviners” (which he wrote while at Hanover College).

5.  Buran Phillips & George Love.  I list them together because together they helped keep my creative juices flowing while at seminary as co-creators of our satirical newsletters – “The Institutes” & “Rude Dogma”.  While we wrote most articles separately, we developed concepts together and I was inspired just by our shared laughter.

6.  Alice Roberts.  The woman who would become my wife of over 20 years was for many of these years my most prayerful and careful editor.

7.  Veston & Connie Roberts.  A few winters back, my dad and step-mom offered to type my up 500+ sermons and catalogue them on the computer (and on CDs).  Dad in particular has been my most devoted blog follower.  As I write my new novel (on their computer), I debrief after every finished chapter by telling them what it was about (then Dad goes to read it).

Now, to share the “Inspiring Blogger Award”, I nominate the following (in no particular order)…

russellboyle posts classic, inspiring poetry that helps soothe the troubled soul.

Defeat Despair offers inspiring quotes and brief reflections that lift your spirit.

Teacher as Transformer suggests insights on education, leadership, life, and transformation.

larrywtrimm writes on the blessing of being a Christian author.

Confessions of a Bookworm celebrates the inspiration found in reading good books.

The One Thing I Know for Sure presents thoughts and pictures intended to inspire deeper reflection.

writing young adult lit… and the occasional face plant explores the creativity behind a writing life.

liveconsciously publishes inspiring, life-enhancing, mind-altering books and media.on

Write here, Joel reflects on life, faith, and laughter.

The Twenty Something: An Ordinary Girl Serving an Extraordinary God shares her faith passionately.

Dreams Will Catch You provides refreshing perspectives on life and faith.

todaysdailyword brings God’s Word to life in fresh ways.

hankrules2011 provokes thought for an examined life.

I’ve Got This Friend reveals the personal side of a relationship with Christ.

a surrendered year looks at what it means to give in to God.

Check these out and see let them know they have “A Way With Words” on their side.

Thrift in Writing Well

vine pruning

A vinedresser knows that to produce more grapes, he needs to do plenty of pruning.  A good writer knows that to produce better writing, thrift is required.  Less is more.

In his book Writing Well, Mark Tredinnick tells the story of a student who shared his goal for the class –

 I’d like to be more thrifty as a writer. My uncle once told me that “thrifty” comes from the verb “to thrive.” 

Tredinnick goes on –

The writing thrives if you use a little to say a lot; if you bring to each sentence just the words it needs to say the thing you have in mind — in just the way you need to say it.

Thrift is often an overlooked and undervalued discipline in an age where we are taught to share everything that is on our minds.  Now that we have the technological capacity to record nearly all our thoughts and emotions, we have come to see it as good and right (certainly therapeutic) to do so.  There is a place for spontaneity in the creative process, but good writing is a dance where we lead the reader each step of the way, not take off on a thousand separate paths while the reader sits back and tries vainly to make sense of it.

To briefly illustrate my point, here (below) is a song from a master of thrifty writing – folk singer John Prine.


He Was In Heaven Before He Died

©John Prine

There’s a rainbow of babies
Draped over the graveyard
Where all the dead sailors
Wait for their brides
And the cold bitter snow
Has strangled each grassblade
Where the salt from their tears
Washed out with the tide

And I smiled on the Wabash
The last time I passed it
Yes I gave her a wink
From the passenger side
And my foot fell asleep
As I swallowed my candy
Knowing he was in heaven
Before he died

Now the harbor’s on fire
With the dreams and desires
Of a thousand young poets
Who failed ’cause they tried
For a rhyme without reason
Floats down to the bottom
Where the scavengers eat ’em
And wash in with the tide

Repeat Chorus:

The sun can play tricks
With your eyes on the highway
The moon can lay sideways
Till the ocean stands still
But a person can’t tell
His best friend he loves him
Till time has stopped breathing
You’re alone on the hill

Repeat Chorus:

(lyrics found at Prine Shrine)

                      *  *  *

Try this:  Take one of your blog posts (either already published or in draft form) and do some “pruning”.  See if it might bear more fruit.

(image “Vine pruning lessons” from State Library of South Australia, some rights reserved)

From India to Indiana: My New E-Pal

In my seventh post of Christmas, I truly give to you…


Will the world-wide wonders of the Internet never cease?

Yesterday, I noticed a “friend request” on my Facebook page with a name I didn’t recognize.  I decided to hold off confirming it for awhile.

Then, I checked my e-mail and found, much to my surprise and delight a message from a 12th grader in a parochial school of India.  I won’t mention his name in case he prefers anonymity, but I do want to excerpt his message to me so you can appreciate my enthusiasm.  The subject line read – “Must read – a kind imploration.”  After a brief, nicely self-deprecating introduction, he goes on to write –

You see,  I’ve been following this 14-year-old (i’m not sure though) Gabbie’s blog, an eloquent writer I must say, lately and only there I found you out. And when I probed further into your Gravatar profile, I came to know that you are an English major. As I said, I’m doing my high school, 12th grade in one of the not-so-esteemed institutions in India and I, an English-aspirant, intend to pursue only English in my higher studies as you did. In a word, English is my passion and it indeed, without a doubt, my everything. When my eye caught this phrase ‘former English major’, my mind just reflexed one thing ‘ Why don’t you befriend him?’. So, I just thought I could be friends with you if you are fine with it (and i do hope that you are fine with it). Befriending this simpleton kid would surely gets you nowhere, but me befriending an English scholar like you does get me almost everything just sitting in front of this 21″ screen. So, just think about it. And I’d even love to follow your blog too for which I need your blog name or at least any detail which could help me find your blog, for my efforts were in vain when I tried searching for it as I’m just a newbie to the blogging world, still trying to crack the rudimentary stuff. And I’d have even sent you a request on facebook and by any chance had you ignored it, just let me know. Hmph, I’m looking forward to a good friendship. Take care. 

There is so much I find wonderful about this e-mail, I’ll just name three –

1) Here is a 12-grader non-native who already has a better command of the English language (and a distinct writing voice) from which many of US folk could learn.  In clicking my Facebook, “confirm friend” button, I may have just started a relationship with the next Salmon Rushdie.

2)  His passion for the English language (and literature, no doubt) gives me hope that the “noble cause” I embarked upon when declaring my English major has not been totally lost in this abbreviated (omg, lol, wtf) techno-world.

3) I’ve been called “pastor,” “reverend,” “right reverend,” even “your holiness,” but “scholar” is a designation I neither deserve nor will lightly refuse.  Instead, with an air of (perhaps false) humility, I will devote myself all the more to reading the classics (or at least listening to them on audio) and promoting great literature for a new generation.

How about you?  What have been some of the best contacts you have made since you’ve entered the world of blogging and the Internet?  I’d love to hear your stories…

(image “India” from robynejay, some rights reserved)


– In the first post of Christmas, I truly gave to you…. “God is With Us (a Christmas Story based on Matthew 1.18-2.12)

– In the second post of Christmas, I truly gave to you… “Assaulting a Felon with a Fruitcake.”

– In the third post of Christmas, I truly gave to you… “Some of the Best Christmas Blog Posts for 2012

– In the fourth post of Christmas, I truly gave to you… “I Wonder as I Wander

– In the fifth post of Christmas, I truly gave to you – “Be More Like a Child at Christmas (and beyond)

– In the sixth post of Christmas, I truly gave to you – “Five Favorite Movies for the Christmas Season

– In the seventh post of Christmas, I truly gave to you – “From India to Indiana: My New E-Pal

– In the eighth post of Christmas, I truly gave to you – “What Sam Found in His Backpack After Break (A Prompted Poem)

– In the ninth post of Christmas, I truly gave to you – “The Precise Dilemma: A Book Review

– In the tenth post of Christmas, I truly gave to you – “Potentially Praiseworthy Poems Posted on WordPress