All Posts in “Writing & Publishing”


Ian David Philpot

I’ve been struggling recently with finding time to journal. It’s not that I even care much about chronicalling my life. I just love it when I put my pen to paper and get something out. Instead, I’ve been using Google Docs to write. And there’s a lot of positive things about holding my writing in a place I can access anywhere I have a computer–which is everywhere recently–but it’s just not the same.

But recently, I found an answer in “9 Lists to Keep Updated, and Keep Handy.” Actually, I stumbled across it…on StumbleUpon. (It seems everything cool I’ve found recently is because of that site.) I call it micro-journaling, and it’s started to change my life.

Basically, the author had a journal he wasn’t using, so he started making different sections in the journal to list out things like “Things I Want,” “Gift Ideas,” etc. The list that has been my favorite so far is  “BHAGs” (Big Hairy Audacious Goals). Maybe it’s because I just entered the grownup world and I’m about get married, but the pages have been filling up quickly.

What lists do you keep in your journals?

Ian David Philpot is the Web Editor for ccPublishing and the Web Content Developer for Willow Creek Community Church. He recently received his Bachelor’s in English at Northern Illinois University and spent one year in Columbia College Chicago’s Fiction Writing program. He writes fiction, poetry, and music. Ian prefers black to white, vanilla to chocolate, and only eats yellow cake.
Share this post:

Our Deepest Thanks to Lisa Ohlen Harris

Founding Editor Kimberly Culbertson pays tribute to one of Relief’s finest.

Lisa Ohlen Harris

As we enter our fifth volume, it is with sadness that we announce that Lisa Ohlen Harris will be no longer be serving as our Creative Nonfiction Editor. The upcoming issue, available for pre-sales now, will end her amazing run at the helm of all things CNF. For years she has lent us her talent and her heart, and we are deeply grateful.

Lisa began editing creative nonfiction for  Volume 1, Issue 4, and her presence has marked Relief’s journey over the years since, including doubling as CNF Editor and Assistant Editor for most of Volume 2. She has consistently shaped and crafted this fantastic genre, and we are proud that creative nonfiction has become such an integral part of Relief.

In the time I served as Editor-In-Chief, Lisa was a profound encouragement to me personally. She not only served on my team as a genre editor, but she shared her wisdom, provided a sounding board, challenged me when I started walking questionable paths, critiqued and sharpened my editorial statements, and reminded me of my strengths when I wondered if this whole adventure was just a little crazy (It is, by the way, which is why you need good people around you for the most perplexing of moments).

While we’re dismayed to see her go, we are enjoying watching from the sidelines as she continues to flourish as a writer. Her first book, Through the Veil, was recently released from Canon Press, and has already been nominated for the Oregon Book Awards “Sarah Winnemucca Award For Creative Nonfiction” (the winner will be announced in April). Deanna Hershiser, a Relief author and blogger interviewed Lisa before the book was released, and recapped some of its journey quite nicely:

Sometimes editors edit because writing just hasn’t worked well for them. Not so with Lisa. Her first book, Through the Veil, will soon be released by Canon Press. Its offerings include an essay which was listed under “Notable Essays of 2008″ in Best American Essays 2009, along with two others that have made the Notable lists in volumes of Best American Spiritual Writing. Another of the book’s essays was shortlisted for a Pushcart Prize and received special mention in Pushcart XXXIII.

In fact, one of the essays Deanna refers to here, “Torn Veil” was published in Relief’s Volume 1, Issue 4. Her success, both as an author and an editor, has helped Relief to become the journal that it is today. And so, as she moves on to new adventures, we at Relief will miss her dearly, but we’ll be cheering her on as rabid fans.


Kimberly Culbertson is the Founding Editor of Relief. These days serves on the board of ccPublishing, NFP (the company that publishes Relief and The Midnight Diner), alongside many other adventures. She and her husband live in Bloomingdale, Illinois, with their dog Latte. Their family-by-choice daughter, son, and godson now reside in California, and they are expecting their first biological child in February 2011.

Share this post:

The Word and words

Editorial Assistant Stephanie S. Smith meditates on the relationship between the Incarnation, the Word made flesh, and the writer, the wordsmith.

I often wonder why, out of all the ways to describe the miracle of God-made-Man, the writer of the gospel of John chose to call it “The Word.”

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” –John 1:1

He says it three times; he really doesn’t want you to miss this: This Jesus? He’s the Word. As a writer who lives and breathes words, this intrigues me.

If the Incarnation is composed of the Word given skin, of theology given a body, lungs, hands, sweat glands and elbows, what do my creative words translate into? If the Word became flesh and brought Life to the world, can my words, fragile and human as they are, become something more than ink on a page? Can they also bring life?

As writers, I believe that our words wield powerful weapons of influence, for better or for worse. And as Christians, I believe we are entrusted with language to point to redemption, by faithfully articulating the brokenness of our world and the wholeness of the gospel. The written word, as creatively communicated in story, poetry, and prose can help us to interpret our lives in light of the greater, eternal context.

Flannery O’Connor affirms this, “The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location.” Good writing connects the regular details of our lives with eternal reality and puts them on the same plane.

The response of the Christian to the revelation of God should be that of Mary’s, who said to the angel Gabriel, “May it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:39).  Mary, who Scripture describes as a woman in God’s favor, invited the divine word to manifest itself in her very life, which was fulfilled literally in the Incarnation.  In the same way, we invite the Incarnation into our lives when we obey God’s Word.  We give our faith a face when we love the widow, feed the hungry, visit the sick.

Madeleine L’Engle, in Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, says our writing should reflect the response of Mary, “who, when the angel told her that she was to bear the Messiah, was obedient to the command.” L’Engle remarks, “I believe that each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius or something very small, comes to the artist and says, ‘Here I am.  Enflesh me.  Give birth to me.’”

In the creative process, the writer-artist responds to each idea like Mary to the angel’s revelation: Yes, manifest yourself in my very flesh, that I may nurture you, cultivate you to grow, and pour you into the world for men to see. The Christian writer uses language as a frame, clothing the abstractness of idea in the flesh of syllables, sentences and words, and then presenting it to the world as a bright and shining advent.

Stephanie S. Smith graduated from Moody Bible Institute with a degree in Communications and Women’s Ministry, which she now puts to work freelancing as a book publicist and writer through her business, (In)dialogue Communications, at After living in Chicago for four years, traveling to Amsterdam for a spell, and then moving back home to Baltimore to plan a wedding, she now lives with her husband in Upstate New York where they make novice attempts at home renovation in their 1930s bungalow. She is a member of the Young Professionals of the Southern Tier and blogs for Moody Publishers at

Share this post:

Bobbing a Bit

Deanna Hershiser

It’s a question of responsibility.

My employers recently held a training day for our nonprofit group’s volunteers and staff, during which we reviewed the right attitudes to strive for with clients. One of our manual’s pages reminded me there’s a difference between feeling responsible to someone and thinking I’m responsible for someone.

The first is possible and desirable, the second, not so much. Obviously, another adult has charge of her own decisions. I can choose to be there to listen, to empathize, to suggest options. But I must release the other person’s outcome to be what they make it, or, if you will, what God makes it in their reality.

I’ve been considering this responsibility concept in other areas. One that strikes me is my writing. Here’s a good question, I hope: How can I best be responsible to my gift as opposed to laboring under the delusion I’m solely responsible for my gift?

Writing, as we know, treats the humans involved in fickle ways. There can be wonderful, short-lived moments of recognition. I love a sentence from an essay by Poe Ballantine. He describes receiving notice that something he wrote was selected for Best American Short Stories. He hadn’t been sure his writing was going anywhere special. “But,” he says, “I figured that much of what happens in the literary world is a lottery, and I had been plugging away for a while, so maybe it was time for my head to bob to the surface of the sea of drowning writers, if only for a few minutes.” **

Ballantine’s quip makes me smile and sigh. On the one hand, I’m glad I’m not the only one “drowning” a lot of the time. A little voice in my head will often lament that if I’d only do more of this or that, my work would become…something. Recognized by more people. Helpful in more “real” places. Better than I’ve imagined it could be. So it’s good to hear that even if the voice is wrong and I’m doing everything I can, I don’t have control over the realities of 21st century writing.

On the other side of my brain, I’ve pondered Ballantine and nibbled my nails over whether or not to quit. Just quit. Shouldn’t I be responsible for my work with words and discern when it’s not going anywhere? Soon I may find I have plugged away at this stuff till life is next to over.

But there’s always been this ancestor on my dad’s side. His journals were found, long after he died. In the 1800s he pioneered with his family across the midwest. With pen he scratched beauty onto rough pages, sharing wonder at rock formations and the hue of prairie sky. He enjoyed his gift of writing and didn’t worry what ultimately happened with it. Unless he lay awake by dying campfires, chewing his nails in his bedroll. If so he didn’t say.

My point is I continue to be given a view of my lack of control over outcomes. And yet I decide again I will keep writing, taking steps each day on the journey. Being responsible to it. I may not get to choose which generation of readers ultimately finds and enjoys my words. I’m not in bad company. And the reality taking shape may contain a surprise or two more for this little head bobbing in the sea.

** (Ballantine’s full essay, Blessed Meadows For Minor Poets, is part of his collection, 501 Minutes to Christ.)

Deanna Hershiser’s essays have appeared in Runner’s World, BackHome Magazine, Relief, and other places. She lives with her husband in Oregon and blogs at

Share this post:

Beauty, Any Beauty

Poetry Editor Brad Fruhauff, pictured with flower

Brad Fruhauff

Poetry Editor Brad Fruhauff read two things about beauty today and couldn’t help but put them together.

Mark Jarman in “Tea Fire”* tells of driving toward a forest fire one evening, “seduced / like night moths,” to witness its terrible beauty. He and his unnamed, unnumbered companion(s) are in awe of the way the smoke turns silver as it passes over the moon and the way the “red body” of the fire seems to desire to follow the waves of “ashy cumulus” into the sky. Then, however, they come upon homes threatened by the fire and turn back “embarrased–”

Not moths at all
but dazzled lovers
of beauty, any beauty.

The poem works because Jarman convinces us as readers of the beauty of the fire just as the “we” of the poem saw it, but then we share, too, in the abashment of realizing that this beauty comes at the cost of people’s homes. It is immaterial whether the homes are the extravagant vacation cottages of the wealthy which, when we hear of them, we often want to think were extraneous and expendable anyways; for Jarman, they are still homes – “doomed homes,” in fact. The valence of the poem is that the dazzling beauty of the fire momentarily dislocated the speaker from the heaviness of this world of responsibility and care.

“Not moths at all” could be read as “not drawn to the fire by a morbid fascination with death – our own or others,” for it is the threat of destruction by fire that embarrasses the travelers. But “dazzled lovers” does seem to suggest that their difference from moths is not in their volition but in the object. They are drawn by beauty rather than destruction, but they are drawn just the same. As “lovers,” they exist in a timeless, even exclusive state – the state of early passion familiar from our adolescence that, we must admit, while pleasant is not without blame. Yet the poem affirms that what they pursued was, indeed beauty – any beauty, beauty wherever it can be found when it is so rare a thing.

I’ve been thinking about beauty ever since I started studying the sublime. Beauty is often figured as the pacific, angelic counterpart to the dark, excessive sublime – roughly the attributes of Blake’s Heaven and Hell, respectively. Suffice to say that Hell and the sublime are quite chic these days, while beauty is trite at best (think Snow White) and dangerous at worst (something like her wicked step-mother). Classical beauty, after all, entailed an ability of the viewer to perceive it adequately, which we nowadays recognize as the road to violence.

Enter David Bentley Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth (Eerdmans, 2003). There are a number of bold and counterintuitive aspects to this title, but suffice to say Hart does not find beauty violent or trite. Instead, he attributes to beauty a “gratuity” and a “prodigality” that gives of itself – sometimes in startling and disturbing ways: “a village ravaged by pestilence may lie in the shadow of a magnificent mountain ridge . . . ; Cambodian killing fields were often lushly flowered.” Beauty is saved from the violence of abstraction precisely by its particularity, its inherence in just such a arrangement of things. Christian beauty, he argues, inheres in the unavoidable and often offensive narratives of the gospels; most centrally, of course, in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

In “Tea Fire” Jarman registers our modern ambivalence about beauty – something we’re drawn to but also embarrassed about. It’s a tension also present in “The Heronry.” Seeking the solace of a forest preserve, he reflects on his own processes as he sits quietly observing a pond and its many birds. Among his many reflections are these final ones, which I hope I’m okay in quoting at length:

I almost think I could write about it forever,
Adding word to word like coral in a reef,
An excess of language like the genetic code, an extravagance like all the stars,
Too much ever to be needed except
By the need for there always to be more,
That need which, when the end comes, looks past it
For woods and hills and ocean,
For fields and streets and houses and horizon,
Repelled by blankness, expecting beyond sleep
The dream country and its population.

Here he finds himself caught between beauty, language, and desire. Is his experience a projection of his own need “for there always to be something more”? (And if so, what?) Or does it inhere, as Hart would argue, somehow in the world itself, if not in any precise way? Or is it a function of language, words that spring up in the mind as a coral reef?

Jarman’s poems may lack the confidence that faith ostensibly offers, but they are nonetheless compelling meditations on beauty because they are full of the desire that faith, in many ways, is – desire for there to be more than what is given and at the same time desire for the given to be “given,” as a gift, as what is not labored for or dubiously “earned.” Sometimes the challenge for the (American) Christian is to clear away the screen of faith to see – really see – the manifestations of glory that so many have pointed us toward without knowing their name.

* Jarman’s poems can be found in the Autumn 2010 edition of The Hudson Review.

Share this post: