Brené Brown on Failure and Innovation

Brené Brown, the author of Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection, knows all about vulnerability.

Today, in a TV interview on the Oprah Winfrey Network, she said something that resonated so powerfully I rushed to incorporate it into a graphic image. I then posted it on Google Plus, my favorite social network.


“When failure is not an option,” she said, “innovation is not an option.”

Her message was directed not just to individuals, but also to organizations where the culture does not allow initiatives that might crash and burn. Always playing it safe may be “safe” — but it rules out any possibility for truly great, astonishing success. Anything truly new and daring.

To succeed at the highest level, we must embrace the possibility of failure. We must be willing to fail and to experience the consequences of that failure.

Scary — but that also is the door to ultimate success.

Have you ever succeeded by opening yourself to failure? Please share your experience in the comments section.

UPDATE: Just saw a provocative graphic posted by Silicon Valley Bank’s Rob McMillan, expressing the same idea in different words:

Lakeside Camping, Anyone?

Missing in action from Google+ and other social networking sites for most of the previous week.

The reason: Cheri and I went camping, with our faithful mountain cur, Cheyenne.

Below is a panoramic photo of the spot where we parked our camper beside Cherokee Lake:

Campsite-Cherokee Lake

While we were gone, Google+ introduced the ability to embed posts into one’s blog. Primarily as a test, I’m inserting, below, the version of this that I posted to Google+ a few days ago. Note that you can comment on the photo, give it a plus-one, or circle the author (me) — right from this page. Pretty cool, Google!

Now if only Google will add the ability to make the embedded post the same width as the blog column!

Do you like camping? Where and how? Please leave a comment, either below or in the post comments just above.

Our 27th Anniversary (& revisiting our Vows Renewal)

Cheri and I are celebrating our 27th anniversary this weekend.

It’s an extended celebration: The official date is 12 July. This year (2013) that falls on a Friday, and in any case we’re counting the entire weekend — and beyond — as our celebration. The festivities end when we say they end, not before.

This year it was a low-key affair. The only “public” component was our attendance at the monthly devotional program at the Knoxville Baha’i Center.

But we’re really, really good at celebrating by ourselves. On Friday, the official day, we went to Island Home park, sat together on a bench, and talked. (Call us party animals, but we do like to double down on a good time.) Here’s a cool photo of our view:

Island Home Park-med

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe also celebrated by reminiscing about our big shindig two years ago, when we renewed our vows (10 July 2011). The ceremony, held at our house, was attended by 80 neighbors and close friends. The air conditioner went out at the very beginning. We opened every window and turned on our whole-house fan, but it still was hot. Yet everyone stayed!

That occasion was the celebration of our silver anniversary. We’ve never before shared photos or video from that event, because this website didn’t, at that time, exist.

So let’s make up for lost time. Below is a snippet from one of the musical selections — the song “Don’t Know Much”, which about sums it up for us:

If you want to hear the entire song, skip below to the live performace by Aaron Neville (whom I obviously resemble) and Linda Ronstadt. Meanwhile, here are some never-before-shared photos from the Silver Anniversary celebration:

And now, the Neville/Ronstadt video. Doesn’t this music send delicious shivers down your spine!

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Happy Birthday, Dear Cheri!

This weekend (29 June 2013) is the birthday of my wife, Cheri. Happy Birthday, sweetheart!

The letters in her full name — Cheri Victoria Wallace Matthews — reveal a lot about her. They rearrange to spell: “Worthwhile acclaim reactivates” and “Well! Charisma to a creative witch”. (Since Cheri thinks of witchery as symbolic of feminine power and womanly magic, that’s a good thing.) There’s also “Ha ha! Well! Star comic, creative wit” and “Whatever catholic miracle waits”. (She being a Baha’i, I assume this is lower-case “catholic”, in its proper sense of “universal”.)

CherislidesBe that as it may, this amazing woman is the love of my life. Her birthday is always a Big Deal to me, and this one even more than usual. She’s 70 years old, amazingly deep and resilient, full of life and sparkle.

This year is a special milestone for me, too, though I hadn’t done the math till this morning. It was exactly 32 years ago that Cheri and I met. And I just turned 64. Meaning it was exactly half my lifetime ago that I first was dazzled by this life-changing lady. Fifty percent of my years. From this point forward, I’ll have known her for more than half my life; but that halfway point strikes me as worth celebrating.

Dazzled or not, it was at least five years later before we figured out that we had a thing for one another. That’s another story, one I’ll tell another time, God and Cheri willing.

Okay, I’ve dated this post 29 June, because that’s Cheri’s official birthday. But I’m actually writing it on Sunday, 30 June — which Cheri insists is still her birthday because it’s part of her “birthday weekend”. If she can fudge, so can I!

Winnie, Shannon, and Cheri

Winnie, Shannon, and Cheri

Cheri’s son, Shannon, is here this weekend, visiting from Los Angeles. (Having just been accepted at the University of California at Berkeley, he’s getting set to go to school there.) Shannon and I, along with Cheri and her 91-year-old mom, Winnie Anderson, celebrated with a special dinner at Chesapeake’s seafood restaurant in downtown Knoxville.

Cheri’s gift from me — she asked for it particularly — was a copy of the heartwarming book “Prison Poems” by Mahvash Sabet, one of the Baha’i leaders unjustly imprisoned in Iran for her religious faith. This book, adapted to English by Bahiyyih Nakhjavani and published by George Ronald, is a classic. Highly recommended.

Today the four of us (Cheri, Shannon, Winnie, and I) toured the Knoxville Zoo. The zoo is literally right behind the house where Cheri and I live — it would literally be our backyard, if not for the alley separating us. But we’ve rarely visited it enough to do the whole deal. Today we did, and got some great photos. (See below.)

Feel free to leave Cheri a birthday greeting in the comments section below. Belated or not, they’ll make her happy — and you know what they say about worthwhile acclaim.

Heartbreaking Destruction of the House of Baha’u’llah

As Baha’is, my wife, Cheri, and I feel devastated by the news that the House of Baha’u’llah in Baghdad, Iraq, has been destroyed.

MostGreatHouseThe Baha’i supreme governing body, the Universal House of Justice, announced this news earlier today. The circumstances, they say, are unclear.

The House does say, however, that “The peoples of the world have been robbed of a sanctuary of incalculable sacredness.”

The photo to the right is from The Baha’i World, vol. 6.

It goes without saying that every last detail of the building is meticulously documented, that Baha’is will one day regain possession of the property, and that it will be rebuilt in precise detail. My guess is that emerging technologies for 3D printing mean that even the exact corrugations and indentations of the original stones will be replicated, whenever this happens.

But they won’t be the same stones. Not the ones Baha’u’llah saw and lived with. Not the same molecules. We can rebuild the structure, but we can’t fill the void this leaves in all our hearts.

More news will no doubt be forthcoming.

That sacred structure, and Baha’u’llah’s prophecies about it, were among the topics covered in my book, The Challenge of Baha’u’llah. The excerpt below is what I wrote about it in that volume:

The house that Bahá’u’lláh occupied during His exile in Baghdád was designated by Him, in His Book of Laws, as a centre of pilgrimage for Bahá’ís. He Himself acquired title to the residence, which remained in unbroken and undisputed possession of the Bahá’í community after His departure from Baghdád.

Bahá’u’lláh, however, wrote of it: “Grieve not, O House of God, if the veil of thy sanctity be rent asunder by the infidels.” (Gleanings 114) “Verily, it shall be so abased in the days to come as to cause tears to flow from every discerning eye. Thus have We unfolded to thee things hidden beyond the veil . . .” (Gleanings 115)

Around the time of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s passing, the Shí’ih Muslim community of Baghdád, which had no conceivable claim to the property, seized it and expelled the Bahá’ís. After a succession of legal battles, Iraq’s Court of Appeals ruled in favour of the Muslims. Bahá’ís appealed to the League of Nations, which at the time exercised control over Iraq. The Council of the League – the world’s highest tribunal – ruled unanimously in favour of the Bahá’ís, concluding that both the seizure and the subsequent appeals court verdict had been motivated by religious passion.

There followed many years of delays, protests, and evasions. Bahá’ís, as a result, have never regained possession of the property. Their sole consolation is the further prophecy of Bahá’u’lláh regarding His house:

“In the fullness of time, the Lord shall, by the power of truth, exalt it in the eyes of all men. He shall cause it to become the Standard of His Kingdom, the Shrine round which will circle the concourse of the faithful. Thus hath spoken the Lord, thy God, ere the day of lamentation arriveth.” (Gleanings 115)

Happy Birthday, Janelle Ramsey!

​What does the phrase “A really calm, sane jewel” have in common with “Jam really clean weasel”?

Since I know you’ve been lying awake nights, pondering this question, here’s the answer:

Both expressions consist of letters that rearrange to spell “Janelle Wallace Ramsey”.



Janelle is my adopted twin. Today (June 3) is her birthday. Happy Birthday, sis!

Before anyone protests that there’s no such thing as an adopted twin, let me say this about that:

Yes, there is!

Here’s how it works: Several decades ago, Janelle and I decided to be siblings. Or maybe we just realized we always had been siblings, even before we met, more than half our lifetimes ago. Whatever.

The result was a mutual sister-brother pact. I think of it as a do-it-yourself adoption. If either of us had living parents, I’d be scheming to have one of us adopted by the other’s, thereby legalizing our sibling status.

That didn’t happen, but no matter: Janelle is as truly family as any blood relative, and as great a sister as any guy ever was lucky enough to have. She’s someone I look up to, confide in, feel protective of, cheer onward, and stand up for.


A String of “Coincidences”?

One curious aspect of our respective lives: They’re riddled with uncanny parallels — what some folks might call “coincidences”. A list I once made of these filled nearly a whole page. Among them:

  • I grew up in Franklin County, Tennessee. When I met Janelle, she lived in Franklin, North Carolina. The Franklin County community that was my home is named Anderson. Later, Janelle and her husband, Hank, settled in Anderson, South Carolina (where they lived till moving recently to Orange, Texas).
  • When my wife, Cheri, and I returned from our Peace Corps stint, we settled in a stone house Cheri named Stonehaven. (And we later, as a result, named our publishing company Stonehaven Press.) We didn’t learn till years later that the South Carolina subdivision where Janelle and Hank were living is called (drumroll!) — Stonehaven!
  • Still more uncanny: I’m crazy about “Grooks” — the poetry and drawings of a deceased Danish physicist named Piet Hein. So is Hank! What are the odds?

As I said, there are lots more. Utterly inexplicable. Just the universe’s way, I suppose, of ratifying our self-chosen siblinghood.

Janelle is a professional librarian (now retired). She also has worked as an elementary school teacher and a mental health professional. She has a mule named Amos; in mule years he’s older than Melchizedek.

Several years ago, Janelle gave a talk in Knoxville when she was staying with Cheri and me. An unusually large number of our friends came out to hear her. (I guess folks were curious.) Her presentation so captivated her audience that a good number hung around afterward, peppering her with questions, refusing even to visit the dessert table!

Below is a gallery of photos. Click any picture to view them in a cool carousel. Then please feel free to click the “Leave a Comment” box. Do you have self-chosen or self-adopted family? Share your story!

Saying Goodbye to Old Friends

A sad, sad celebration.

That’s the only way I know to describe a festive cookout 19 May 2013 at the Knoxville Baha’i Center. It was held in honor of stalwart friends who will be greatly missed, as they’re moving in the near future.

Tim & JulieTim and Julie Loudin-Rich and their children — Ethan, Hannah, and Sophie — will be leaving us within the next few weeks. Same for Aidin Samimi, except that his departure is more immediate.

Tim and Julie have been here, like, forever. Actually early to mid 1990s, though I don’t recall the year. Both enrolled here as Baha’is, as did Tim’s mom, Linda Eugenis, who moved away not that long ago. (We miss you too, Linda!)

AidinAidin has been here a shorter time, but like the entire Loudin-Rich family, has distinguished himself in service to the Baha’i community.

Below are a few photos from the going-away cookout. Click any thumbnail to cycle through all of the pictures in a cool carousel.

Oh, and please don’t forget to click “Leave a Reply” to comment on the occasion. Share your memories of our departing friends — or express good wishes for what we trust will be their bright and prosperous futures.

First Day of Ridvan — 21 April 2013

Celebration of the Baha’i holy day, the First Day of Ridvan, at the Knoxville Baha’i Center.

Ridvan is a 12-day festival celebrating the declaration, in 1863, by Baha’u’llah of the prophetic mission with which Baha’is believe God entrusted Him. This historic declaration took place in a garden in Baghdad, designated by Baha’u’llah “the Garden of Ridvan”.

Click any thumbnail to see the photos in a cool carousel, read captions, and leave your comments!

Our April Camping Trip

One of the joys of our life together is when Cheri and I manage a getaway in our cozy little camper.

We usually do this several times a year, at irregular intervals. The weekend of April 13-14 was our first for 2013. We certainly hope it won’t be the last. That — and the timing — depend on family circumstances that haven’t yet come into focus.


Cheyenne, guarding our camper

The camper we use is modest. We’ve had it since 1998 or 1999 (I forget). It was about 14 years old at that time, but in good shape. Still fairly good shape, though we’ve put a lot more miles on it than it had at the time.

Mostly we travel to the Greenlee May Springs campground on Cherokee Lake, not far from Knoxville. This time of year, it isn’t very populated. We felt secluded — which didn’t bother us at all. Cheri and I are great company to one another.

Later in the summer and fall, the same campground will be packed with people. We’ll enjoy that, too. Either way, we use the time to read and recharge our spiritual batteries. I also write and work on web pages. We walk, play with Cheyenne, and generally have a good time.

Below are two panorama shots I took. The first is a view of our campsite, from the lake shore. The second is the view of the lake shore, from the camper. They convey some of the delicious aloneness one senses this time of year.


Do you like camping? Where do you go, and how? Tent-camping, a motor home — or camping out in your own living room, with popcorn and a movie? (We do that kind, too!) Please remember to share!

Heart to Heart: Year in Review

A bit more than a year ago, I created a website called Heart to Heart HD:

During the ensuing year, I’ve paid no attention to hits, visits, or other web-traffic statistics. But shortly after the site’s first birthday, I peeked — and was stunned to learn that it has evolved into one of the most-used, most-visited Baha’i sites on the Internet.

You can read all about it here:

And then, please leave your comments by clicking “Leave a Reply”. I’d love to hear from you.