Being John

I was approached a couple of weeks ago by one of the art directors in our publishing company. He described a poster that he wanted to do that had Jesus de-robing himself of his divinity and looking toward earth with an incarnational gaze. I said, "That sounds cool." And then he said, "I'd like for you to be Jesus in the photo shoot."

I have a full beard and long, hippie hair. I've been growing it out for almost two years now; not really sure what the goal is other than lettin' it grow. I've had folks tell me before that I looked like Jesus, but never have I had an offer to "be" Jesus. I accepted this guy's offer and last Tuesday, I went down to a little photography studio where the magic would happen. One of the assistants put makeup on my face and neck and hands; something called "Texas dirt." I'm a pretty white guy normally; needless to say, this was the best tan I've ever had in my life. Next came the outfit - your standard gauze-like robe with an outer jacket (of sorts) in earthy tans and blacks. And then a crimson royal robe went over the whole thing. I stood on mark while the photographer got the lighting right and then I struck about thirty different poses, trying to get the look the artist had in mind. It was more difficult than I expected; setting aside your divinity, that is. After about an hour, he said he was pleased, paid me twenty-five bucks, and my work there was done.

I've gotten quite a bit of ribbing from my co-workers; people genuflecting at the water fountain, loaves and fish left on my desk, etc. It's cool. But I've been reflecting a little on the experience and this is what I've felt. I really didn't like being Jesus. I know it was only a photo shoot and it was only for an hour or so and it was helping a guy out who needed a messiah-look-alike. But it just felt wrong. It was like I couldn't get my hands right and my right elbow was never really extended correctly and they parted my hair right down the middle, so it turned out kinda like a Barry Gibb Jesus. It just wasn't me. And that's where my thoughts took me - it wasn't me. Jesus doesn't want me to be Jesus; no, Jesus wants me to be John. Jesus did Jesus as no one else could or would. And everything from his divesting of divinity to his howls of anguish on the cross need never be repeated again. Remember - he said, "It is finished!" His birth, life, death and resurrection was to liberate us from the false selves we all seem to love so much and invite us into something called life, real life. His desire is that we live out just who he created us to be. And in my case, that's John. Trying to be Jesus, even in a photo shoot, dances way to close for my taste to opening the door to a messiah complex. And once that door is opened, it's opened. But I feel it's actually a cop-out trying to BE Jesus; it's much easier to try and mimic what he looked like or did on this earth than to try and wrestle with stepping into each experience anew and fresh and trying to be myself, strengthened by his Spirit, in those situations. We parrot some Bible verse or give our interpretation of a new testament reaction in some scenario and believe, "Well, I was Jesus in that moment to those folks." Well...maybe. Maybe what Jesus wanted you or me to be in that scenario was ourselves - that self that he created with specific desires and loves and those specificities were just what that situation called for. But rather than being alive in the creative juices of the Holy Spirit, we deferred to a lowest common denominator faith and stepped outside ourselves, put on a little make-up, donned something nobody wears anymore, and we struck a pose. And that's what they call posing.

I hope you don't think I'm pooh-poohing on striving for Christ-likeness in our lives; that's really not what I'm against. And if that's what's comes across, then I've missed my mark (again). Jesus said, "You (you and me) are the light of the world." Now you can let that go to your head and become Ego-man or woman; or, you can let that go straight to your heart and hear an invitation to be yourself; something no one else can do and no one else was created to do. I saw the finished product on Friday; it looked pretty cheesy. I'm guessing the real Jesus got a chuckle out of it and said something like, "Harder than you thought, huh John?" Yes, Lord, it was. But I did really like my tan.


"But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son..." Gal. 4.4

This verse has been on my mind for about three weeks...just that phrase "the fullness of the time" has kept surfacing, unbidden. The company I work for is having a "write a Christmas devotion" emphasis and I signed up. They sent me the text they wanted one written on - "But when the fullness of the time came..." Strange. Humbling. Divine.

Think about that phrase a minute - "the fullness of the time." I'm not going to proceed by proper steps of scripture interpretation here. You probably don't care, but it's always good to say those things aloud. When time was full, when things had reached an apex of sorts, when everything was filled up to the brim, that's when Jesus came. When there was no more room, God sent forth His Son; in the fullness of the time.

Have you ever had an experience where it felt like you were full? After a dinner this evening at our fav Mexican place, my wife said, "I'm so full; I can't eat anything else." No room, not even any desire for that which one loves; full. I got a memo today describing my schedule tomorrow, it's a big sales blitz thing and the schedule is full; there's no room for any other presentations or last minute changes. It's full. We all know that feeling, that experience of being full. But just when we believe there's no more room, something squeezes in. That's what happened in the Christmas story. He doesn't request permission; he doesn't ask us what our schedules are like - no, He just gets sent forth into that fullness. And into ours. But since everything is full, He's coming in small, under the radar, humbled, incarnated in the muck and ruck of humanity, squeezed from a womb and then squeezed into swaddling clothes and then squeezed between Mary and Joe and the little drummer boy. His entry is strange, backdoor. I know all about the heavenly host appearing to the shepherds on the hillside while the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang; that was big, no doubt. But the shepherds saw it and no one else and who believes shepherds' tales? Nobody really; maybe their mommas.

We've got a lot of folks carrying on these days about God's bigness and how we've lost a sense of that and how we need to taste again of the grandeur of God and His Omni-titles...Omnipresent, Omniscient, etc. Whew! That makes me tired just typing it. I'm putting my eggs in the basket of small, incarnation, the Big becoming Little, what ole' Lewis called "the grand miracle," a God who is able to wiggle in when everybody's says, "We're full." I don't know if you can make heads or tails of what I've just typed; my eyes are red from a days' reading. But God's wiggling, squeezing, squirming in yet again this season; He's showing us, if we've eyes to see, that full is not an obstacle for Him; in fact, that may be where and when He works best. When He wants to get sent forth, He gets sent forth. And that gives me hope tonight, because I feel like my life is FULL - no room. Maybe I'll post this again after I've fleshed it out a little more...that'll do for now.

Come Let Me Hold You

Just before the Thanksgiving break, my son's best friend moved away. His dad got a job out East and so the family loaded up the truck and moved to Kentucky. And my son watched them drive away. Brandon and Will have been good buds for over a year now. They were both in the accelerated classes at school, so the friendship had a competitive edge to it. Brandon would come over to our house after school and I'd walk by Will's room and hear them arguing like an old married couple. Neither wanted to give in or admit defeat or any of those other "uncle" phrases. The first few times I experienced this, I reprimanded them and told them to be "nice." Yeah, that was a dad-strike-out; they looked at me like a calf looks at a new gate. That was the way they communicated with each other; competitive, iron sharpening iron stuff. "Nice" was not a category for them; it was a hoot to watch. Best friends.

Will has had a hard week so far. We didn't really know what was going on. He's just been moody and easily upset (redundant, I know). Last night, we were working on multiplication tables and there was a problem he didn't remember how to do. I asked if he was listening to the teacher - "yes, dad." I asked if somebody was talking and he couldn't hear - "no, dad." I asked if he couldn't see the board for some reason - "I could see it fine, dad." I asked if the person sitting next to him was bothering him or cracking jokes..."I was sitting by myself, dad." Oh.

Grief does crummy things to you, huh? Your best friend moves away and all of a sudden, you're alone. The guy who's sat beside you for over a year at school is not in his chair anymore; a vacancy exists in the room and in your heart. The friend you competed with in EVERYTHING conceded and had to go with his family; he conceded and you still lost. That's hard enough for me to comprehend, let alone a nine year old boy. My son is grieving and it's breaking my heart. I can't bring Brandon back. I can't arrange for a new friend to emerge to take his place. We walk through a vale of tears on this earth and the only way through it, is through it. It is a lesson we learn and live. And it makes us stumble and bumble and forget how to do partial product multiplication problems and it causes us to sit by ourselves and be moody and easily upset and redundant. And sad.

There's a beautiful country song that goes something like this: "How can I help you, to say goodbye? It's o.k. to hurt, it's o.k. to cry. Come let me hold you, and I will try. How can I help you, to say goodbye?" Will, it's o.k to hurt and cry and forget your math stuff; but let me hold you, buddy. We'll hurt and cry together. I'll try and help you say goodbye. But it ain't easy. My innocent firstborn, you are beginning to learn of the longing...

I'm open; just don't ask me to text message anyone...

"Fully functioning people are organized, disciplined, and able to get what they want out of life. Organization is out of the question for me; there are too many things going on, and they change so quickly I cannot keep up. The very idea of discipline makes me feel guilty...And as for getting what I want out of life, what I want most is love, and love comes only as a gift. All I can 'do' is be willingly, actively open to receiving the gift."
-Gerald May

I so resemble the statement above. I started a new job a couple of weeks ago; I'm already behind. I'm trying my best to keep dates and meetings on a calendar, but I've already been late a few times. Several around me have those neat little palm organizers that buzz when a meeting is five minutes out or play a nifty ring-tune when they have an incoming call; I've got post-it notes on my car's dashboard and notes "penned" on my hand. Charlie Brown in a land of Lucys. But what I want most out of this life is love and I agree with Dr. May - "love comes only as a gift." So, I'm just trying to be "willingly, actively open."

And you know what? I feel staying "willingly, actively open" may be more difficult than being on time for meetings. It may very well be more challenging than inputting your information into a palm organizer. And the chances are very good that opening yourself to the love you need is infinitely harder than sending out an e-mail message to a group of people while taking a conference call and stirring a latte. All those things go far in the land of efficiency; I'm just not sure they take you very far into the land of love. Don't get me wrong - I'm trying to be more efficient and even figured out my voice mail the other day; but I don't want to bend the knee entirely to that god. And not bowing to that idol puts you on a particular path - the path of pain. Charlie Brown experiences it every time Lucy pulls that football away at the last second and he screams, "AAAAUUUUUGGGGGHHHHH!" But he comes back, every time, and tries it again. Ole' Chuck stays "willingly, actively open" because what he wants most out of life is love. And that's what we love about Charlie Brown. And Gerald May. And Jesus. With arms wide open, as the boys from Creed sing. That's a vulnerable position; but it's the only position that allows you to receive something. Guarding your heart can quickly turn into hiding your heart; a very efficient stance, but one that's shut off from love. I pray on each of you (all three people who read this blog) that your holy-days are "willingly, actively open." There are gifts to be given and received this season. But you gotta have your heart open.


Unless you've been living under a rock or on another planet, you've heard the news about Pastor Ted Haggard and New Life Church here in Colorado Springs. It's actually old news; the election hoo-hah has buried the story for now. Oh, it'll surface when the papers need a story, but for the most part, we've moved on...Ted Haggard will begin a process of restoration, guided by a couple of megachurch pastors who evidently know alot about restoration (I hope) and New Life Church will have a new leader christened by the first of the year to guide the church into the future.

I've kept some clippings from the newspapers during those days. I have the text of the letters from Ted Haggard and Mrs. Haggard - letters read to their church this last Sunday. The text is important in this story, but its the images that I've found most substantive. I found it interesting that the photo the paper chose of Ted presents the square jaw and white teeth of a megachurch pastor and national evangelical leader. The photo of Ted's wife is nothing like that; her picture fits her married name - haggard. She presents the eyes of woman steeling herself against winds that are blowing with hurricane force and her mouth looks like that of a little girl about to cry. There were a couple of pictures of their sons in different editions; one son in a group of church members presenting the confidence of his father and two other sons in the backseat of a pickup with looks that resembled those of the disciples when the soldiers came to get Jesus in the garden. These Haggard family pictures, all of them, made me cry.

However, there was one that stopped me in my tracks and made me mad. It was that of the group of pastors who read the apology letters this last Sunday at New Life Church. They were/are men who have had some type of accountability relationship with Ted Haggard over the years. The front and center man in this particular photo is a very successful pastor from down south. He is standing in front of one of those Plexiglas pulpits and his arms are outstretched in a pose I've seen used in statues of Christ - hands extended, inviting or welcoming people. He's wearing one of those fashionable microphones that fit over your ear and run down your cheekline. His hair is coiffed and it appears he's got on several layers of makeup. His suit is tailored with four or five buttons down the front and his shirt and tie are the stuff of GQ spreads. And I thought, "damn." This whole story is about not being able to let the dirt show, not feeling safe enough or brave enough to take off the cuff links and let the demons fly. The pressure to maintain the image of success and flash and suave-vey and confidence and blessed assurance was so great, so huge, that Haggard kept his flesh and blood at bay for years. And instead of an observable humility this past Sunday, that church was led by the gatekeepers of the imago mega. I realize you can be a horse's ass in Levis and a t-shirt, but I saw nothing "new life" about that scene; it was the same "old life' and same "image-laden" leaders who put all their eggs in the baskets of words and looks. I would have ponied-up a C-note if that old boy from down south would've shown up in sackcloth and ashes, weeping like Jeremiah the prophet and scaring a lot more people than he comforted. I'd of stood up and said "amen" if those guys would've said, "You know, enough with this image stuff; we're all bastards here and maybe it's time that you heard that message from us, your leaders, and maybe it's time you know that Ted H. ain't the only pastor who wrestles with demons and loses. Maybe it's time we get off this Americanized-fast-track-to-God-train and stop trying so hard to hold each other accountable and maybe try a little harder to hold each other close, even when the smell is the sulfurized rank of sin." I haven't walked an aisle in years, but a message like that from the polished boys and I would've released the chair and made my way down front humming "ye who are weary come home, with my pocketbook open to give to an orphange or something."

Ole' James Dobson pulled out of the restoration team today; he said he was just too busy. My guess is that James knew the dirt was dirty with Ted and getting closer to him would probably result in more frequent trips to the dry cleaners. He was raised with the notion that you're known by the company you keep and he didn't want to keep that kind of company. Keep it clean, keep it coiffed, keep it button-downed and clear as Plexiglas. Forgive us, Father, for we know what we do and keep on doing it; know what we see and keep on supporting it; know what we hear and keep on listening. We just don't know ourselves.

(read at my father's twenty-years as pastor celebration)

If I choose not to become attached to nouns – a person, place, or thing – then…my heart cannot be broken because I never risked giving it away.
– Terry Tempest Williams

Over the span of their lives in ministry, my parents have intentionally chosen to become attached to nouns – people, places, and things. And for the past twenty years, they’ve become attached to you – a town called Nashville with a Main Street and the Scrappers and the Tastee Freeze and Fourth of July celebrations and Christmas musicals complete with camels and donkeys and Vacation Bible School one more time and Night’s Out for Ladies and a drama group who took the show on the road and a church campus that has extended its boundaries over the years. They’ve become attached to some dreams, some of which have come true - owning their own home complete with a bluebird feeder in the backyard and the occasional gift of a visitation of ducks during the breakfast hour. Some dreams came but faded - mornings and evenings of donning boots and a hat and feeding a horse and handling tack and being humbled by the achingly beautiful smell of a barn and the realization that God does indeed know the desires of our hearts. They’ve sat with you as pacemakers were installed in your parents because mom or dad was moving too slow and they’ve prayed with you over sons and daughters because the kids were moving way too fast. They’ve guided you in getting some of those sons and daughters successfully down the aisle into holy matrimony and they’ve stood beside you when what God hath joined together, man or woman or something, put asunder. They’ve held your hands as you’ve put parents, friends, and children in the ground and said though tears, “dust to dust” and they’ve hugged your necks as the very next Sunday saw the dedication of a newborn baby and you said through tears, “It is not a slight thing when those so fresh from God love us.” They rejoiced with you when prodigals came home and they wept with you, and sometimes wept at a distance, when the prodigal never came to his or her senses and still remains in the far country.

They have chosen to risk giving their hearts away and they have known great joy. But they have also known great heartbreak. They have seen with their eyes and touched with their hands the pain that comes with being attached to nouns. And by the mercies of God, they keep choosing to stay attached.

The temptation over the years in ministry – well, how about…in life - is to stop becoming attached, to shut your heart down, to close the windows to your soul and say, “No more nouns! It hurts too much!” But the example my parents have lived out is that of risky business - staying openhearted. Now be careful and don’t romanticize it or superspiritualize it; it’s not easy (some call it the battle) and it will test your faith in both God and man. To live with an open heart will present many days when you’ll be convinced that nobody cares and, in the words of Annie Dillard, that even “God doesn’t give a hoot.” But it is the way of the Christ-life; it is the path that is walked with the rhythm of three steps - faith, hope and love – and the greatest of these is LOVE. For you see, there was a moment in the mind of the divine when God said, “I will become attached to nouns – I’ll become flesh and blood and bone and sinew and hair and spit; I’ll attach myself to the dusty streets of a place known as Palestine and not stray far from her borders; I’ll even attach myself to a group of people probably best described as gypsies, tramps and thieves. I will give away my heart and know great joy, but in the giving I know that it will also be broken and betrayed and forsaken…and I will one day allow myself to become attached to another noun, a tree, and I will willingly let them bleed me of the blood that will cover the sins of the world. For God so loved this world, that He became attached to nouns…That’s really what my parents have done these twenty years – they’ve loved you. And you have loved them back.

The gospels record the Lord saying, “If you want to show me how much you love me, then love other people.” I’m gonna’ roll the dice this morning and bet that the same applies to honor – “If you want to show me honor, then show it to other people.” And so we honor God today by honoring two people for what the world would diagnose as attachment disorder; however, we know that giving away your heart is really the way of the cross. And the way of the cross gets us all where we really want to be - “it is sweet to know, as I onward go, the way of the cross leads…HOME.”

Let It Be

"We that we are still capable of understanding (and practicing) the concept of honor: loving a thing the way it is, and trying, for once, not to change it." - Rick Bass

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD
your God gives you. Ex. 20.12.

This coming weekend, my family and I will travel back to Nashville, Arkansas. My dad has been the pastor of a Baptist church in this small town for twenty years - something rather uncommon these days. They've asked me to preach or speak or something next Sunday morning..."we want it to be evangelistic, but also honoring to your dad and mom." I told a good friend about this invitation and his response was: "this sounds like something you could really screw up, John." Thanks. My hope is to honor them (my parents) but not eulogize them; I'm not ready for that yet. But there is much about their (and it has been a tag-team effort) ministry that I don't agree with and don't want to emulate. So how do I do that?...honor them, that is?

And then I came across this quote by Rick Bass. Ah, the truth that often lies in the Bass. You'd probably say, "Well, gosh...that's pretty simple...and you went to graduate school?" Yeah, I did, but that doesn't mean much, huh? My parents' ministry is their ministry. Oh, sure - they'll say it's been God's and to some degree, it has been. However, it has had their personal stamp on it (like all ministries do). My challenge, this coming Sunday and throughout my life, is to love them for who they are - not who I want them to be or who I wish they were, but to honor/love them as they are. I've tried to have "change" conversations with them before; they never really go very far. Oh, the conversation is great and the interchange and dialogue are more than worth the effort, but the "change" never happens; we're both pretty stuck in our ways. Or maybe we're stuck in ourselves, which is not a bad place to be stuck in at all. In fact, it's where God has stuck me/us, so that's where He wants us; maybe the challenge is to submit to being stuck for awhile...and letting it be.

And if I can honor my parents that way, it's probably a good approach to my wife, my kids, my friends, co-workers, fellow church people, managers, in-laws, etc. Letting them be...not trying to change them, just let them be. And honoring what's there in that flesh and blood creation crafted by the very hands of God. And not trying to figure out some way to change him or her or them, because my benchmark for change is...guess who? Yep - me. I'd like my parents to do ministry the way I think it should be done. I'd love my wife to approach a problem that way I would approach it. I'd be tinkled pink if my kids would be interested in the things I'm interested in...yada, yada, yada, a whole lotta dis-honoring going on. I'm a damn fool.

And if that's how to honor another, then how about honoring yourself? "Love your neighbor as yourself." What if my challenge is to honor who I am and what I love and what I can't stand and how I spend free time and what I spend money on and what time of the day is my favorite and which movies I absolutely cherish and what memories stay with me like they were yesterday - what if I'm to honor all those things and not try to change them? Now I'm not talking about letting personal hygiene go out the door and blowing up to 400 lbs. and never paying my bills; no, I'm talking about being myself and letting others be themselves and letting it be what it is, which sometimes is not so great, but sometimes borders on being "good." Maybe we would live long upon this earth if we weren't so anxiety-ridden about our spouses or our parents or our neighbors or our pastor or our boss at work. Sam Keen said that stress is a sign that you're trying to live someone else's life. I would add "trying to CHANGE someone else's life" to Mr. Keen's astute observation. My life is much better off when I let God be God; my wife be Meredith; my kids be Will, Sarah and Abbey; my parents be David and Ann; my friends be Rich and Mark and Mo and Steve; my pastor be Ken...and myself be John.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way from Church

My two girls and I were coming back home from church around noon today. I noticed the traffic slowing a little and then saw some flashing lights - uh, oh; I assumed an accident. But to my surprise, we kept moving, inching, creeping. And then I saw them. Hundreds of single headlights, bookended by black soled boots. And then I heard them. Hundreds of wwhhhaaahhhh - Harleys, Hondas, Suzukis, and even a Victory. We had just turned onto the street that was an approved route for the Toys for Tots benefit ride. Traffic then stopped completely and we sat and watched at least 500 cyclists zoom by. We hit the button and the windows came down. "Settle in, girls; there's a few motorcycles gonna pass."

And we watched rider after rider after riders bike by with stuffed animals or boxes wrapped in Christmas paper strapped to windshields or backrests. You just have to smile when everything about the particular rider is black, from leathers to gas tank paint, and then there's Elmo, glistening in his redness, strapped to the front. I like these riders. There's always been an attraction for me to the motorcycle culture. Something about it just screams, "Freedom!" From silver-flecked goatees to proud mamas perched on the back, everyone I saw today was smiling, happy to be riding and giving to a worthy cause. But they were doing it on their terms.

I suddenly noticed that we were stopped directly across from a church parking lot. And evidently church had just let out, but no one could exit the lot due to the stream of bikes motoring by. Those folks were backed up all the way back to the building, which sits a distance off the road. I wondered if they were having Christ-like thoughts as these angels rode by? Or were they put-out because they couldn't get out and get to wherever? Two grade school girls suddenly emerged from one of the stuck-in-the-lot-church-vehicles; they were dressed in white shoes with laced socks and dresses to complete the ensemble. But evidently, the lure of black and the sound of the road were too much for these young souls. They hopped out and began waving and shouting at the riders; the riders began honking back. I'd like to think that if a bike had stopped for a moment that the young girls would've shot off and hopped on and taken off, yelling back to momma "it's for a good cause," while kicking off their laced socks and letting the wind blow through their evangelical toes. And maybe there were others in those SUVs and Subaru wagons who were having thoughts of envy, longing to strap their legs round those engines and let it ride. I know I was.

I was sitting in a minivan, wearing a button-down shirt, telling the girls to "stay buckled up" while simultaneously wishing I was in line with the angels, balancing a hawg with Tigger doing a bouncy, trouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun on my back. We sat still for almost fifteen minutes, watching the parade and dreaming, picking out the bikes we'd have if we could and discussing our favorite gas tank colors. I wasn't sure why I ended up at church this morning. Probably due to habit. Maybe something will emerge later in the week, but by the end of the service, I was wishing I hadn't gone. The drive home was taking on one of those regretful commutes; I was a more than a quart low on hope. And then I saw them. And heard them. Redemption drew nigh as half a thousand doo-ragged brothers and sisters rode by preaching freedom and displaying generosity. Forgive us, Lord, for we know not why we do what we do. Thank you for your messengers, astride chrome and flames, telling us to repent for the Kingdom is near. Oh, Lord, I want to be in that number...

Maybe. Maybe Not.

"And Lord, thank you that there's a chance that Dad's check will come tomorrow. In Jesus' name, Amen."

I've been waiting on a check for some writing work I've done. During this time, I promised my son a new video game when I got paid. He's doing really well in school and reading some difficult books; I'm very proud of him and want to bless him in that way. I had hoped the check would come Friday afternoon, we'd go out to eat as a family and celebrate, and stop in and get his video game on the way home. That's the t.v. version; real life didn't pan out that way. The disappointment was thick when I walked in the door - "no, it didn't come, Dad." "I'm so sorry, Will. Believe me, I'm as disappointed as you, buddy."

I felt our family needed some fresh air, so we did find enough to go out and get something to eat to numb the pain. I asked Will to pray over our Mexican food and he agreed. The quote above was how he finished his picante petition. We managed to avert a total evening disaster and ended up enjoying one another and some enchiladas. But I appreciated his prayer of honesty - thanks that there's a "chance" it'll come tomorrow. His faith was still afloat, verbalized in the word "chance." And isn't that what faith is anyway? Sure, I know the Hebrew definition - unseen...hoped for. For some folks, the word "chance" conjures up gambling or rolling the dice; they'd never use that word in conjunction with the word "faith." But why? There's a chance my check would come today, there's a chance our friend's mother will survive her cancer surgery, there's a chance I may have a steady job soon, there's a chance...And I have faith in every one of those scenarios, but I know they may not turn out as I'd prefer. I fear most of us (I'll take the spot at the head of the line) live with a "chancey faith" in real life; however, we talk and preach about faith in a t.v. version. Do I trust God's heart for me and my son and the fact that I want to bless him with a video game, not to mention groceries for the rest of us? I do.

But my check didn't come today...we took a chance, hoped for the best, prayed for it alongside chips and salsa, and it didn't happen. What'll we do now? Keep on faith-ing it, chancing it? We can talk all we want about knowing "the rest of the story" and go through life as a bunch of smiley Paul Harveys...I think we're gamblers; gambling on God and Jesus and the Bible and miracles that happened God-only-knows-how-long-ago and communion and forgiveness of sin and the kingdom and the power and the glory, amen. The fact that the word "chance" rarely dances with the word "faith" may reveal how scared we really are; we're terrified. We truly work out our salvation with FEAR and TREMBLING.

There's a chance it'll come Monday...

Colored People

"The great risk is not that we will fail to qualify to be reunited with God. The risk is that we will somehow fail to understand why we are here." - Robert Benson

I have felt that statement for many years, but never was it articulated until I read Benson's book "Between the Dreaming and the Coming True." Why am I here? What is it that God is wanting to show me while I'm here? I feel like the usual approach we take is "What is it that God wants me to DO?" There's always a heavy emphasis on doing/action. That's fine and I believe there is some merit to that perspective. However, what if it's not such much what he wants me to DO as what he wants me to SEE/EXPERIENCE/LEARN?

I was blessed the other evening to be able to attend a lecture series led by the poet David Whyte. If you're not familiar with Whyte's work, acquaint thyself. A constant thread through his poetry and prose writing is the art of paying attention - what you'd expect from a poet. But Whyte speaks of it in a way that is so compelling, so empowering, so imperative. He bangs the drum of paying attention because if we do not, we may miss the reason why we are here. And that's a risk David Whyte does not want to take. And his earnest plea is that you and I won't take that risk either. Being alert, paying attention, looking and asking and seeking and knocking - all of these phrases describe the life rhythms of someone who wants to understand why he or she is here. But talk about a narrow road - I mean, how many people do you know, including yourself, that you would describe as someone who pays attention? Someone who is alert?

The church of my youth has done a dis-service here because the emphasis was always on something that needed to be done (accepting Christ) and then you were going to heaven; you'd be reunited one day with God. And once you had this (salvation) you could not lose it. There were other churches in my youth that stressed the possibility of losing said salvation; so, you always had to be on your guard, lest you lose it. But maybe there's a middle road here that both groups missed? Maybe it is vitally important to take Christ's hand, a hand that will one day lead you into re-union. This is not something you can lose, like car keys or an eraser; it is something assured. But what Christ wants to do in this life is take a brush to the canvas of salvation, fill it in with colors and shading, textures and subtle nuances of light. He wants to complete what he started; but if I'm not paying attention, being alert, staying on guard, then I'll enter that re-union one day quite possibly a few shades shy. He wanted to add some magenta to my life, but I was basically asleep, so I'll enter heaven magenta-less. An aspect of my life would have been marvelous with a little cornflower blue, but I had my head in the sand. Oh, I'll still be there, just not as colorful. I know - the theological ice gets pretty thin there; what, is God not omnipotent? Will his plans or desires not come to pass? They're all decent questions, but they're just decent enough to keep me worried about finding some set of answers or resting on my salvific laurels rather than living into my magenta-ness; fully embracing my cornflower blue. If nothing else, this perspective involves me in the story; I'm not some passive telephone pole who's just hanging around until the bell rings. No, I have some part to play in this drama; I matter, I contribute...I hope.


I've been trying to listen this know, listen for what God may be saying or doing in and around my life. The word that I've consistently heard has been "lost." My wife and I love the television series LOST and have been catching up on season 2 by way of dvd. The show is wonderfully written and keeps the thread of lost-ness alive in each episode. It is a vice, I know, but all nice and no vice makes John a dullard.

I received a phone call from an old friend on Wednesday morning. She was a church member from bygone days and wanted to update me on her husband. They've had significant problems over the years, but in her description, she clearly said, "John, he's lost." And she wasn't using the word in the traditional church "lost or saved, in or out" manner. He has distanced himself from her, church, old friends and he's essentially existing in a separate reality.

Then I was working on a fundraising letter for a church that thinks too highly of itself, and I was flipping through Scripture for some fundraising verses (Lord, have mercy) and I happened to flip to Luke 15 - the lost chapter. It's filled with three parables, all dealing with something lost being found - sheep, a coin, and a son. Now I have no need to try and wrap all this up in some kind of blog-sermon bow-tie; here is what I'm feeling and you can take and make and shake and bake yourself.

The beauty of the LOST t.v. show is that the characters on the mysterious island are continually being found. Oh, they're still lost in a literal sense, but their souls are being found as they interact and experience one another. They are being found together. And although there are individual, personal moments, the overall story line continues to bang the gong of community - the only place where we can really be found. As to my old church friend, he's evidently trying to find himself apart from anyone else. Now I've no problem with him stepping away from church or religion as he's known it, but he's stepped into a vacuum of me, myself and I. And I fear he's really lost. Maybe he'll have one of those eureka moments out there somewhere, but I'm not sure. It's the error of the Ansel Adams photographs - no people, just nature. And as for Luke 15, each parable has a "together" aspect to it; someone searches for the lost sheep and then everybody celebrates, the woman finds the coin and the whole house parties, the prodigal returns and finds himself found in the arms of the father and the smell of steak on the grill.

Maybe (what a beautiful word) the only hope of us being found is being found together, with one another. Yes, some valleys must be crossed alone, but there's always a coming back to the camp or returning from the far country. And if we stick together, we might discover along the way that we're not as lost as we thought we were. If we can just stay together. And there's the rub. Sheep wander, coins fall between the cushions, and we're all prodigals in some sense. Many days, our tendency is to isolate ourselves; we're convinced nobody knows de truble I seen. But how arrogant is that? Ole' sweet, syrupy Robert Fulghum said all he needed to know he learned in kindergarten - one of those lessons being: holds hands when you're crossing the street, a.k.a., stay together. Losing our grip on one another and existing alone somehow, somewhere is truly the definition of lost; quite possibly just a stone's throw away from the definition of hell.

Where were you?

I've been pondering all weekend the events of 9/11. By way of newspaper articles and news reports on t.v., I've remembered where I was when the world stopped turnin', that September day. Almost all of the words I've heard concerning that time five years ago have indicated that "we are a people changed forever." I agree. And one of the consistent questions over the weekend has been, "Are we safer five years later?" The predominant answer has been "no."

But I had totally forgotten where I was two years ago, on that September day, when my world stopped turnin'; my wife reminded me. I was resigning from a church. A friend and I had co-pastored for a year, hoping to really create something different ministry-wise. But then the towers began to fall and to try and preserve the friendship and avoid some falling debris, I left. My friend continued on there, but me and my family woke up the next day to ground zero - internal injuries (heart), no job, no insurance, no idea as to what in the world we would do, where we were. Or who we might be.

Now, two years later, we are a changed people. I am a changed man. Forever. Are we safer? Better off? I don't know. There have been days when I would quickly say, "yes" - I are alive, free, living out some dreams, loosed from some shackles that had bound me for years, I can see a horizon now that I could not before. And some days I would say, "no" - I grieve for the man I was and what I did and who I knew; in fact, I still look for him sometimes in crowds. All I can do now is light candles for that man and pray and remember. Because the reality (the only place spiritual change occurs) is that the towers fell and lives were lost, ended. And there were outside forces working against me, but I also had a hand in it - if not two. There is nothing to go back to because there is nothing there; it's gone. Rebuild? No. A memorial feels to be the only appropriate response. And so I remember; I must remember. And (apologies to Alan Jackson) I have been and I am reminded that I'm just a thinker of simple thoughts, I'm not a real political man. I watch LOST on dvd but I still don't know if I could tell you the difference between Iraq and Iran. But I know Jesus and I pray to God and I remember it from when I was young - faith, hope and love and some good things He's given. And the greatest is love.

Am I a changed man? Yes. Humbled. Hopefully forever. Safer? That's a category that doesn't exist for me anymore, at least not in pre 9/11 terms. The world felt like it stopped turnin, but it didn't. For here I am, two years later; a survivor, a witness.

A glass darkly

The righteous cry, and the LORD hears them and delivers them from all their troubles. Psalm 34.17

My youngest daughter began vomiting Monday morning around 8 o'clock. At 8pm, she was still vomiting, unable to keep anything down. We debated between taking her to the ER and trying to ride out the night, hoping it would stop. We prayed and opted to wait and see if things got better. We went to bed and nothing stopped; in fact, it seemed to grow worse. Probably twice an hour, every hour, my four year old little girl would begin to cough up hell itself, we'd sit her up, and her body would heave in painful contractions until the episode would fade. We had been praying for her all day long and had amped up our efforts when night fell. "God, please see us. See Abbey. Make the vomiting stop, LORD. She cannot take much more of this; if not already, she'll be severely dehydrated soon. God, give it to me, pass it over to my stomach and my throat and my lungs. She is so small. We are crying out to you, O God. Deliver her from this..." We prayed this and more at least twice an hour, every hour, all night long. And nothing changed. No deliverance, no nothing. We took her to the hospital the next morning and sure enough, she was severely dehydrated and required an overnight stay and several bags of IV fluid. I must confess that I was really not on speaking terms with God that morning. The righteous cried and prayed and prayed and cried and... a singular petition and nothing happened - no earthquake, whirlwind or even a whisper from a still, small voice. No clouds by day or fire by night. No baskets left over. Nothing. There was no deliverance from trouble; just more trouble.

I relieved my wife around one o'clock the next day. I sat in what a hospital calls a "chair" and read while Abbey slept and a clear tube refilled her tanks. I was reading Buechner talk about listening to your life and how if you want to hear God speaking, you should listen to your life and what's going on and what you're feeling or thinking or doing. I said, "O.k. Fine. Here we go." I listened to the life I had lived the past 48 hours. I listened and watched while the tears of a mother ran down her cheeks like fast rain. I listened and heard the silence of my youngest daughter, who normally has no use for the discipline of silence. I listened and felt the one eye open/one eye shut mode of sleeping that we had participated in all night long. I listened and saw a brother and sister hold back their sister's long, auburn hair so it wouldn't get in "it."

"Well, maybe you weren't praying hard enough?" - That's bullshit. We knocked, knocked, knocked on heaven's door.
"Well, is there any unconfessed sin in your life; stuff that might clog up the communication lines?" What, so God won't move unless the line is clear? If that were the prerequisite, nothing would ever happen.
"Well, maybe it was a faith know, God won't put more on you than you can handle." It sure didn't look like Abbey was able to handle it; in fact, it seemed to handle her. And am I to believe that God would allow pain to accompany her in order to teach me some lesson?
"Could it be a lack of faith?" On whose part? Abbey's? Mine? So if I wasn't such a faithless mouse, my little girl wouldn't have had to suffer?
"Well, I'm sure someone, somewhere was suffering more." You know, I think that's one of the most worthless collection of nouns and verbs in our current lingo. You can only play the people-are-starving-in-China, so-eat-your-beans card so many times; eventually the bluff gets called. When my daughter was vomiting her head off the other night, I never once thought - hmmn, at least this is not the Holocaust or 9/11 or...
"It must've been God's will..." Please, don't get me started.

Why do bad vomiting episodes happen to good little four year olds? I don't know. I'm open to the response the disciples got when they asked Jesus why a man was born blind: "so that the glory of God might be revealed." But if I recall the story correctly, the blind man received his sight. He was delivered. Me, I'm still blind, not knowing what in the hell went on those few days. We asked for bread and felt like we got stones and serpents. Some weeks don't make a lick of sense.

Peace Like A River

I checked the clock - it read 1:30am. The kids were all sleeping in their own beds - just cause to give God a big shout-out. Meredith was wrapped up like a taco in clean sheets and a comforter with a 40 degree wind tickling the curtains in the bedroom. And I was propped up on a pillow, participating in anticipatory grief. You know, that sadness that comes when you know something is coming and you don't really want it to come.

A few months ago, a good-hearted man placed a copy of Leif Enger's "Peace Like A River" in my hand and said, "Take. Read." Well, it was a little more elaborately handed off, but that was the essence of the exchange. I struck up a conversation with a lady at a writer's conference about three years ago now who had Enger's book in her hands; she couldn't say enough about it. I've seen it since then in book stores, used and new. There was always a draw, but always a, "No. Not yet." Hard to describe those things, unless you live with an awareness of an Infinitely, Tender Hand which holds our lives. In the fullness of my time, the book found its way to my hands. I began reading it and was instantly wooed by the aching beauty of the language and the landscape. And I finished it last night.

There are all kinds of writing out there these days, from the technical and tedious to the syrupy and banal. And then there are those stories that surface in these days of fear that reorient us to that which is noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. And when they are finished, at least for the first time, there is a tangible grief that overtakes you, or at least it does me. It's 1:40 am on a Saturday night and I'm propped up in bed with tears streaming down my cheeks, grieving at the beauty I'm participating in and also at the fact that there are only a few more pages until the story ends. Can't we just go a few more chapters, Enger? Please, tell me more about Rube and Swede and Davy and Jeremiah and...but a story has an ending and it must follow its course to the last sentence. And so I said, "Uncle," and kept reading the last few pages. I won't say more about the book other than, "Go. Buy. Haggle. Steal even. And read." If you steal, don't tell me about it.

But that experience has followed me like a lost puppy throughout my life; the experience of beauty, fleeting beauty. Noble things which don't last but a season, pure and lovely people who touch my life for a time and then go, admirable and excellent work that endures for a time and then passes, and praiseworthy breezes which tickle my curtains but eventually turn to snow and rain. Why would the apostle Paul tell us to dwell on those things when they are so fleeting? Well, I'm not Paul and I don't play him on t.v., but I feel down deep in my guts that when Paul wrote those words at 1:40am on a Saturday night in Palestine, that he had tears streaming down his cheeks. For he knew all too well of the quickly passing nature of the pure and lovely, the noble and excellent colors of autumn that quickly drop from the trees and float down the stream. It was that knowledge that kept him pressing ahead to the goal in front of him - the goal of lasting beauty, unfleeting nobility, and everlasting life. And so he said, "Think about such things. Dwell on them. Ponder them. For in them, you'll discover that which will keep you moving, keep you getting out of bed each morning, keep you doing the do and paying the bills and brushing your teeth and so on."

There will come a day..."Is it fair to say that country is more real than ours? That its stone is harder, its water more drenching - that the weather itself is alert and not just background? Can you endure a witness to its tactile presence? We attained a pass where the stream sang louder than ever, for it swelled with depth and energy the farther it rose. Dad reached it first; I saw him mount a shelf of spraysoaked stone and stand waiting for me, backlit, silverlined, as though the sky had a sun after all and it was just beyond this mountain. But it wasn't a sun. It was a city. Joining Dad on the rock, I saw it, at a farther distance than any yet conceived; still it threw light and warmth our sun could only covet. And unlike the sun, you could look straight into it - in fact, you wished to, you had to - and the longer you looked, the more you saw. Turrets! I exclaimed. I couldn't wait to get there, you see. Then Dad pointed to the plains below, at movement I took at first to be rivers - winding, flowing, light coming off them. They came from all directions, streaming toward the city, and dust rose in places along their banks. They're people, Dad said..." There will be peace, my friends...peace like river. Amen.

Deep Thoughts

My youngest daughter, Abbey, looked at me this afternoon and said, "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" She's four. I said, "Yes" and winked at her; she winked back and returned to what she was thinking about. I don't know what that was. But I wish I did. What was she thinking about in that moment? What was going on behind those saddle-brown eyes with falling auburn hair in them? I've been home quite a bit lately; I have some writing deadlines and so many days have found me in the basement, in front of a keyboard, from sunstart to sunfinish. She's four, so she's been home as well. She's come down to check on me quite a bit lately; she doesn't stay long, just a little while. Although I hear her coming down the stairs, she is convinced she's sneaking up on me and greets me with a "boo" and I do my best startle and she always says, "It's me - Abbey." Many days she wants to go to a "dot-com" and print off coloring pages from a My Little Pony or Curious George website. She's a four-year old persistent widow and so we usually sit and wait for my printer to start its heaving, eventually coughing up pictures for her to color. I've noticed the last few visits that she has put her hand on my arm while persistently presenting her widow's case. I wonder what she's thinking about? I hope she's thinking that her dad is so happy when she sneaks down the stairs to startle him. That he's so relieved that it's her - Abbey, whose name means "father's joy." I hope she's thinking that it's a good thing for her to put her hand on my arm and reassure her dad that his work these days in not in vain, although somedays he feels like a loser, driving his family in a metaphorical covered wagon across uncertain terrain in search of his dreams to be a writer. I pray she's thinking that asking me for coloring pages will help me to keep some childlikeness in my afternoons that frequently border on the serious and anxious. I hope she's thinking, "Hey, I'll stand close enough to dad so he can smell my hair. He helped me wash it last night and that'll make him remember the true work of his hands these days - fathering. He's got plenty of time to be a writer, but his days of fathering are numbered. I'm four, but not for long." And maybe that was what she was thinking about this afternoon when she asked me if I knew what she was thinking about. "I'm growing up daddy, fast." Today it's dot-coms and "boo" and the man with the yellow hat, but tomorrow it'll be girlfriends and boys and talking on the phone until 2am and saying, "Aw, dad" when I stop and smell her hair, hair that once took two to wash but now takes one. I don't know if that's what you're thinking or not, Abbey. But it's what I'm thinking. Thank you, dear one, for your hand on my arm. Thank you, pumpkin, for startling me daily into what really counts. Thank you, one so fresh from God, for reminding me that you do get to participate in coloring your life's pages. And bless you, my child, for letting me help you wash you hair, if just for a little while longer. That's what I'm thinking about.


"I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place. Accident has cast them amid strangers in their birthplace, and the leafy lanes they have known from childhood or the populous streets in which they have played, remain but a place of passage. They may spend their whole lives aliens among their kindred and remain aloof among the only scenes they have ever known. Perhaps it is this sense of strangeness that sends men far and wide in the search for something permanent, to which they may attach themselves. Perhaps some deep-rooted atavism urges the wanderer back to lands which his ancestors left in the dim beginnings of history. Sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he mysteriously feels that he belongs. Here is the home he sought, and he will settle amid scenes that he has never seen before, among men he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth. Here at last he finds rest." - W. Somerset Maugham

This may be my favorite quote of all time. I first found it in an edition of Glimmer Train - a literary mag I was able to afford for about a year. The quote now rests above a picture on my desk; a picture of a best friend and me in the Grand Canyon. Two broad-shouldered, deep-chested men with bird legs and astigmatisms standing beside the frigid water that runs through the bowels of the Grand. Two spectacled, unshaven guys with hands cocked on their hips, as if declaring to any who would listen, "We are here. Let the record show that we are here." Browned from the sun, we look young. And at rest. After hiking down from the north rim a descent worthy of something Dante might have envisioned, we appear to be at rest. How can this be? Was there some deep-rooted atavism that urged us to the Grand Canyon that blessed October? Why was this a place to which we felt we mysteriously belonged? These were scenes never seen before, a landscape we had never known; yet, they were as familiar to us as if we'd been here all along. Maybe this was home and we were at last, at rest. I do know that my friend and I often feel like aliens with a sense of strangeness that flows in our veins, aloof to the snapshots we usually pose for. I had the same experience, however, when the same friend and I climbed the last few golden stairs of Pikes Peak. We walked into the snack bar/gift shop on top of that mountain with salt crystals in our eyebrows, more dehydrated than we cared to admit, trying to stay erect on our birdlegs and yet we were at rest. I do feel that there are places that are more "home" than others, places we visit along the way and are refreshed. I also feel that there are people that are "home" for us, people that are closer than blood relatives. These are people that we mysteriously feel we belong to, like maybe we were brothers or sisters or something and a crazy chain of events took place at our birth and we were separated and farmed out to different families - born out of due place. And we spend our whole lives searching for that lost sibling who has the other half of the silver pendant we wear around our necks. And when we finally find them and spend time in their presence, we're home, at rest. Regardless of the descent or ascent we've just made, being with them brings rest, peace, wholeness, harmony, home. Maybe these people are our witnesses - they are they ones who stand by us and declare, "We are here. Let the record show that we are here." And maybe it is only those who can witness to the person we really are that can offer something along the lines of "home." The perennial question: Who are your people? Your great cloud of witnesses? I don't think the word "great" refers to numbers here, but to gifts of perception.

What the bleep do we know?

"Because nothing true can be said about God from a posture of defense." - Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

"Facts often have little to do with the truth." - Carolyn Forche

My driver's license tells you that my weight is 180 pounds and my height is 6'1". It also tells you that I live on such and such a street in such and such a town with a five-digit zip code. My primary vehicle is a minivan. My credit report tells you that I dinged a check in the spring and my checking account testifies to the way God still feeds my multitude on loaves and fish. I'm also writing a book right now, hopefully finishing it up in September. All factual, all verifiable, all something you could call and check out. But facts often have little to do with the truth. The truth is that I'm 6'1" in my cowboy boots and my weight is something I never, ever think about. The truth is that while I reside in a house on such and such a street, I tend to live in the past. I heard the theme from St. Elmo's Fire this afternoon on the easy listening station and it took me back to a rainy afternoon in jr. high, working on a science fair project at our little, round kitchen table, and I could smell the pine through the screen on the back door and my brother was playing in his room, while my mother prepared supper and dad was on his way home and all was right with the world as I knew it. And I wept for the boyhood God graced me with and prayed for something as beautiful for my own children. And while I occasionally drive a minivan, the truth is I hate it. I'd love to be driving a pickup truck with hay in the floorboards and old work gloves in the seat and four different hubcaps on the tires and toothpicks, new and used, in the little holder in the door and being able to glance in the rearview mirror and see my kids standing up in the bed and holler through the open window, "Hey, sit down or I'm gonna stop this truck." The truth is that my credit report and checking account are reflective of where I am in life right now - following stars and geese and God. And none of that path seems to include regular paychecks these days. The truth is I'm not writing a book; I'm laboring under a deadline. I agreed to write a book on Christian denominations in America and the money was right, but it's killing me because it's full of facts and facts often have little to do with the truth. I wonder what the real truth is about God? We know the facts, but do we know the truth? Does he really enjoy all those angels flying around all the time? Or does he occasionally say, "Hey, sit down or I'm gonna stop this truck?" Does he really live in heaven or does he tend to live in the past, remembering that blessed night in Bethlehem when the magic worked like never before? Or how about his first friends, Adam and Eve, and how they strolled in the cool of the day, probably enjoying some easy listening music and the smell of pines and feeling that all in the world was right? Or maybe he lives in the future and dreams of how it's gonna be, like ole' George always tells Lenny about in Of Mice and Men? Is he really a Democrat or Republican or does he never, ever think about that at all? And while the facts on his credit report might reveal delinquent moments by Visa's standards, the truth is that he continually rolls the dice on fools like me and stars and geese. And sometimes we shine and fly and sometimes we fall. Or just walk around honking, looking and feeling lost. And maybe the truth is that Christian denominations in America are killing him too; maybe literally, because facts often have so little to do with the truth.

Holding Hands with Annie and Sy

Annie Dillard: "Write as if you were dying."

Sy Safransky: "At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?"

John Blase: "What would you blog if you knew you would die tonight?"

If this is the night that the river calls my name (thanks, Barry Lopez, for that wonderful phrase), then...goodness, this is just a little scary. If this is the night that the river calls my name, then I say to my wife: "You're stronger than you think, baby. And you're much more beautiful than you believe. Go through the books in my smallest bookcase - there's probably some cash hiding in some of them; but more importantly, my heart is in them. Maybe, just maybe you could begin to understand the man I am. And love again. Continue to shuck off the husk you so despise. You are diamond."

To my kids, I say: "Do what you love. Will, you love video games, so play 'em. Play 'em until you get the equivalent of lumberjack whitefinger. And know you are my firstborn, my might and strength. Make your sons and daughters copy pages out of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, just like I made you. And fly high, my son. Sarah, you are Anne of Green Gables incarnate and my sunshine. Follow that beautiful heart of yours wherever it takes you and stand your ground until some man who has the strength to woo you comes along and then love him. Abbey Tennyson, you are your father's joy. Always have been. You're named after Edward Abbey, who was a grade A crank; live up to your name, pumpkin. Give 'em hell. And you're also named after Alfred Lord Tennyson. Give 'em beauty. Spend time with Idylls of the King - 'more things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.'"

To everyone else: "This world is a beautiful place and worth dying for. It's also full of beautiful people and worth living for. However it plays out, don't be afraid. I believe the mercy of God will trump the judgment card. I will see each of you again. The world was made to be free in."

I could write so much more...maybe Annie and Sy know that and they're advice is meant to propel you into a worthy novel or poem or something. There is much to say that will not enrage by its triviality. And I am dying. But please, God - not tonight. I've so much more to write...

Unless You Become As A Little Child...

Our kids start back to school tomorrow. We met their teachers this afternoon - both of them "new faculty" this year. These ladies had their rooms "a tip-toe" with instructions on the board for open house day. Directives were listed such as place your Kleenex boxes on the back counter, put your trapper keeper in the desk (recognized by your name taped to the top), and go out in the hall and find your new locker (again, located by your name taped to the door). There were popsicles in the cafeteria once you'd completed your home room welcome list and you could eat them while perusing displays of various kinds - boy scouts, girl scouts, running club, and the table filled with mascoted t-shirts, sweatshirts and caps.

Our kids did everything they needed to do and then moved to something they "wanted" to do. True, they wanted a popsicle, but that was a part of the afternoon's agenda to begin with. What did they want to do? Go see their teachers from last year. Not their old room or faithful desk; no, just the teacher. We found the ladies of last year and the kids received hugs and questions about their summer and blessings for the new year. But I found that desire interesting. The start of the new was not complete without giving a nod to the old. While the future lay before them, they "wanted" to honor the past, touch it and be hugged by it. Maybe they were needing to re-member themselves for the new year? Maybe while they were summer, they thought and acted like summer, but now that they are school, they were needing to put aside their summerish ways? And the desired way to do that was to look into the eyes of one who guided them while autumn leaves fell, winter winds howled, and springtime flowers bloomed. Sentiment usually gets a bad rap in our day and time. Sappy love songs or a longing for the good old days is thought of as shallow emotionalism at best and a hindrance to progress at worst. But the word actually means "a refined sensibility" - a refined way of making sense of things. And my kids have a feel for that already at ages eight and nine. They probably couldn't articulate it - probably wouldn't want to - but they know it deep within the marrow of their elementary bones. Maybe they didn't fall too far from this old oak, full of sentimental sap...My kids get an A+ for the day. Good job, guys.

El Bastardo

"...God is love. We always assumed that these three words were spoken directly to the four of us in our family and had no reference to the world outside, which my brother and I soon discovered was full of bastards, the number increasing rapidly the farther one gets from Missoula, Montana." Norman Maclean - A River Runs Through It

I was working yesterday on the equivalent of the shipping docks for this company. Employees routinely walk through the docks, taking a moment's breather from customers. A guy walked through yesterday and said, "Man, there's a jerk in the footwear department and he's wearing a Jesus t-shirt. And James (named changed to protect the guilty) is about to punch him in the face." James is a fellow employee - smart, fast (a runner), and a cynic when it comes to matters of faith. He knows I used to preach a little and we joke every once in a while about church, etc. I took a moment and peeked into the footwear department to get a glimpse of the situation. Sure enough, some guy wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with big, bold "Jesus Disaster Relief Unit" on it was throwing his weight around about shoes; yeah, shoes. I listened long enough to be reminded that the farther one gets from heaven, be that defined as Missoula, Montana or somewhere over Jordan's stormy banks, the number of bastards does increase rapidly. And many of them have the outward trappings of knowing who Jesus is. They're wearing t-shirts with his name on them, driving cars with little fish on the back, or building homes and churches farther and farther away from a downtown area. Little did disaster relief guy know, but the person helping him select a pair of shoes has an extremely skeptical heart when it comes to anything religious and this could have been an opportunity for James to have experienced Jesus, via a person, in an inviting way. But rather than being someone who provided relief in a disaster, he was creating one by adding yet another layer of hide to a smart, fast, cynical-calloused heart. Stupid bastard with a Jesus t-shirt on. What was he thinking? Obviously, he was not. He thought the moment was all about buying shoes. It wasn't. Bastard.

I got pretty riled up seeing this disaster unfold and started to approach the guy (I was in plain clothes for the day; he wouldn't have known I was an employee) and tell him just what a bastard he is. And then I remembered Will Campbell's gospel-in-a-nutshell: "We're all bastards, but God loves us anyway." My working-on-the-docks moxie subsided a little and I backed up, a humbled bastard myself. Maclean and Campbell are right - God is love...and we're all bastards. And the more aware of that we can be, the better. That goes for the people who have fish decals on their vans and the smart, fast, cynics out there. And the stupid bastards working on the docks. But I can't join hands in the love circle and sing kum-ba-yah too quickly here, for I still believe that the onus is on those of us who claim to know this Jesus. We, in some way, are reflecting who Jesus is or at least we should be. Or what's the point? We've got to have our wits about us and remember that the day is not about a shoe purchase. It's a disaster out there, in here, and we need some relief - some "good news." Rome is burning. Soldiers are dying. Glaciers are melting. Marriages are crumbling. Fourth graders are doing crystal meth. You can't take Gatorade on the airplane. And James is getter faster, but more cynical. And we're griping about shoes. Stupid bastards.
Two phrases have attached themselves to my brain this morning. One from the Book of Common Prayer reading for the day - "the oppressor" - as in "he shall crush the oppressor" and "deliver me...from the oppressor." The other from a dear friend - "so little of what we do requires immediate attention, except self-care." Oppression. Just saying the word is difficult. You have to form the "O" by dropping your jaw, causing a lowering of your facial expression, making a smile impossible. And then the "ppression" is something that comes out sounding like Gollum's "ppressiouss" from Lord of the Rings; there's a devilish "ssss" to the word.

So much seems oppressive in our lives. There's outright, literal oppression in places like Iraq or New Orleans, we've got gas prices above $3 a gallon while oil companies are making $1300 a second, now there are liquid bomb scares which stir the pot of anxiety and fear yet again, fighting (what a descriptive word) traffic morning and evening...and then the paper says that the fashions for the fall will be the styles of the 80's...oppression, indeed. All these things which seem, at least, to need or cry out for immediate attention...but maybe the real need is self-care. No, not some Gollum-in-the-cave-by-himself stuff, but rather an attentiveness to our own hearts and souls that are being "crushed" daily or held captive by the oppressor. I remember Buechner talking about a time when his daughter was quite sick. He was desperately trying to help her, when others intervened and told him he couldn't help her without first helping himself. When the plane's in trouble, you put the oxygen mask on yourself first - then you can help your child. Love your neighbor as yourself. That phrase is so easily spoken and so carelessly lived. And at the risk of sounding simple, I believe that the path to self-care is hinged on one little word - "no." Having the courage to say "no" to people, places and things which cry out for our immediate attention; people who seem to be always in crisis mode, places that seem to always have one more thing on the list, things that always seem to need me and no one else will, no, no, no, no. Or at least, "not right now" - "not today" - "not until I take care of myself first" - then I can honestly speak into your life or see your situation clearly. Being a "yes-man" gets me promotions and the applause of those around me; being a "no-man' generates looks of condescension or ventings of outright anger. But the plane feels like it's going down...reach for the mask first...and then "see" what's really necessary. All things are possible, but not all are profitable. Save us, O Lord from the oppressor which seeks to crush us. Teach us to say, "No."

A Prayer on My Parents' 43rd Anniversary

"and it is so bright now, you can hardly bear it as it fills the door, this immense glacier of light coming on, and still you do not know who you are, but here it is, try to remember, it is all beginning." -B.H. Fairchild

My dad and mom were visiting this week. They are gradually walking into old age; slowly, but noticeably since we see them only about every six months. One morning at breakfast, my dad asked me if I dream. His question had all the trappings of pastoral interest, but clearly revealed the truth - he dreams and he wanted to talk about it. He told us that he dreams all the time - rich, vibrant color dreams - full of images, people, smells. This one in particular contained a barn where his Sunday suits were all hanging. He was trying in some sense to arrange them. A flood had come through and washed all the stalls clean, but the dung was now in the middle of the barn. Someone was outside, honking a car horn, telling him to "come on." He was hurrying to arrange them, trying to get out to the car...and then he woke up. He tried to go back into his dream, but could not.

My dad takes a sip of coffee and says he dreams almost every night. He wakes up and wants to tell them to someone, talk about them. The obvious person would be my mother; however, she said she doesn't want to hear them. Actually, he said that and she said, "They take too long to tell, David." And I felt my father's heart drip silent blood in a marriage where his wife won't listen to his dreams. Maybe she never has. I am only beginning to see the true people my parents are - not the ideals they were in childhood. They left out this morning, headed back to Arkansas, driving seventeen god-awful hours back across Kansas and Oklahoma. It is their anniversary; forty-three years of marriage. Were there days in the initial love/lust frenzy when she would listen to his dreams? Did he have the courage to tell her those dreams? Or are they just now beginning to surface, an "immense glacier of light coming on"? Or maybe he did tell her and they scared her; showed her that she really had no idea who this young, preacher farmboy was that she promised till death do them part? Did she ever tell him her dreams? This morning she said, "I don't dream that much." Questions I cannot answer, but maybe I have some idea - maybe I can try to remember...he's dreaming of barns and swept out stalls and the beautiful smell of cow shit that can make your heart weep if you're a person of the land and she's outside, honking the car horn, saying, "David, you're taking too long...come on." Happy anniversary, dad and mom. Drive safely in the keep of God's angels and sleep well is all beginning. I love you.

Man Movement

The Men's Movement. That phrase does nothing for some, but for others it conjures up images of men running naked through the forest, beating drums, and getting in touch with their wild side. Names like Bly, Keen, Kipnis, Lee, Rohr and Eldredge might be thrown around. And the sentiment might surface that says, "That stuff's over and done. Finis." I've read the works of the aforementioned authors, I've been to a few of their conferences, and have run naked through the forest and other locales with adequate tree cover. And it ain't over folks. But it is different now, because what was started or was viewed as a "men's" movement has settled to the level of a "man's movement." Don't get me wrong - the plural aspect is still vitally needed, but you can't be plural all the time, you don't have the freedom to run naked with your brothers every weekend, you can't always get a wildman on the phone when you need some encouragement. Sometimes, you've got to go singular. Sometimes, you've got to arouse the wildman within yourself and beat the drum and adamantly answer, "Yes," when asked, "Did you really run naked through a forest with trees falling if there were no other men there to see you and hear the trees?"

I had the opportunity to "move" twice the last couple of days and by the grace of the One who keeps this world, I did. My wife and I were blessed to have a night away on Tuesday. My parents were in town and offered to keep the kids and no sooner had those words dropped from their lips than I scribbled our cell number on a post-it and the minivan blew out of the driveway. FFFRRREEEDDDOOOMMM! But real men know that freedom is always opposed - always. We found a beautiful B&B in the mountains and arranged to stay for the night. As we prepared for an evening together, my wife got a migraine-ish headache. No, not the "no-sex-tonight-bucko" thing; this was something that really floored her. Her desire was to have some time to read, we were going to sit out under the stars, drink some vino and do the sex-tonight-bucko thing. But she got really sick. As I saw my wife totally knocked out, I felt helpless, like a little boy who didn't know what to do. She said, "Please pray for me." And I moved. I prayed for and over her. And guess what? Nothing. Not a damn thing. In fact, it seemed to intensify. She lay there for a few more minutes, in tears at the prospect of losing sacred time to this, this... opposition. We've got three kids under the age of nine - we just don't get away that much for overnighters. And I moved. "I think we should pray again, Mer." She agreed. I prayed a second time, asking this Jesus who's always supposed to hear us when we pray, to SHOW US THE MONEY - BE OUR AMBASSADOR OF QUAN! (yes, I like Jerry McGuire). And guess what? In a matter of moments, everything cleared. She was able to lift her head off the pillow and resume life. I don't know if that's ever happened to me or us before. But I believe it did because of a man movement.

Later the next morning, the second "B" in B&B was enjoyed with the only other couple staying at the inn. Turns out that he's a Mennonite pastor and she's a Mennonite pastor's wife. But she had on a blouse that showed cleavage and used the word "pissed" at the "B" table; no floor length skirts and bonnets here. My wife was immediately drawn to her for she emitted a very real and earthy spirituality for a pastor's wife; something seldom seen, but sorely needed. Like many pastors, Mennonite or not, Mr. enjoyed talking and really directing the conversation. I could sense that it would be a wonderful thing if the two ladies could talk uninterrupted; it would be a gift for my wife's heart. So, I moved. I threw out a few hand-tied "church" flies and the Mennonite trout rose and grabbed 'em. In nothing flat, I had the pastor telling me everything about his church, how many folks they have, what his leadership style is, etc., etc. I nodded at the appropriate times and said, "Hhmmnn" on occasion, asked for clarification several times, and maintained eye contact throughout. And all the while, I was very aware that my wife and the pissy-cleavaged Mennonite pastor's wife were having a heart-felt conversation, even sharing some tears together. And I believe it happened because of a man movement.

To take full credit for those movements would be what's called hubris. But flying too close to the sun always melts your wings and you fall into a forest and have to run naked back to the house banging your drum against waist-high foliage. But I can take some credit, for I believe the Spirit offered me the opportunity and the corresponding courage and unlike so many other times, this time I moved. Twice. And I'd swear the Father said, "Well done." Take a man moving in the mountains of Colorado and add it to a man moving in the urban hum of Chicago, join it with a man moving through the fog of Seattle coupled with a man moving even in the stifling heat of Arkansas and guess what you have? A men's movement. No, it ain't over; it's just gettin' moving.


"Even a devastated place is sacred. If we know what it once was, we may begin to understand what its possibilities are." - Emmet Gowin

I'm thinking of this quote in relation to people; people who are, have been, and will be "devastated." If we know what they once were, we may begin to understand what their possibilities are. And what were we all once? Children - that sacred region of the soul called childhood. There are those who pooh-pooh on looking back and trying to see into their lives as a child. Unfortunately, many of these people are Christians. They take the apostle Paul's words literally: "Forgetting what lies behind, and reaching forward to what lies ahead" (Phil. 3.13). But I don't believe that's how Paul intended his words to be taken. Forgetting what was back then may just be the quickest way to losing what might possibly be ahead. This literal rendering of Paul's words seems to place a prime value on being grown-up, having put away childish things, having moved on. But I'm afraid that taking this stance causes a literal rendering in the heart, for Jesus said something about becoming like a little child and if you couldn't...well, the kingdom might just be a pipe dream. In taking the childish out to the curb, we may have unknowingly included the childlike. Or maybe we did it knowingly, trying to press on. But we've lost it and now we don't know where we put it. We're devastated, hope-less, unable to look for possibilities. We may be older, but we're not wiser.

What was I as a child? Or at least younger than I am now? What was my wife as a little girl? What were my parents as kids, growing up in the depression? What was my boss as a dark-haired boy? There are people in my life right now that I'd consider devastated. Even me. How do I understand my childhood without tons of expensive therapy and lots of getaway weekends where I sit and ponder my inner boy and books and tapes and seminars leading me down a reverse yellow brick road back to Kansas? Maybe I don't need all that, maybe. Maybe one of the many gifts of having children is being able to see first hand how a child's heart beats and if I'm attentive to that, maybe, just maybe, it can help me remember that sacred place in my life as well. I'm not advocating using my children in some manipulative way so that I can achieve something. I'm advocating paying attention to these precious ones, so fresh from God. And in the process, maybe I can remember what I once was and reach forward to what I might be. Any maybe I can relate to other people in this way as well - my wife, parents, friends, employers, bastards in traffic, etc. What were we once? You know, back when...when the world still had dew on it? Let the little children come, for as such is the kingdom of heaven.


Sunday morning comin' down. I promised myself that today would be a Sabbath. Really. Last week, I worked all day Sunday; writing, mowing. Started the week on Monday so damn tired I could hardly make it. Lived most of the week half-assed. And I believe it was all because I didn't rest on Sunday. I've tried to do Sabbaths on other weekdays, back when I was a pastor. But there's something about Sunday that I believe is special; it's intended to be the day of rest - Tuesdays just aren't the same.

So I'm going to rest today. I'm going in to church for awhile, reconnect with folks and God. Communion is very significant to me these days; I try not to miss it. The sermon might be mediocre, but I can dream while he's preaching. This afternoon? Well, maybe a little writing, just because I'm so far behind in a project, but I won't sit all afternoon long, looking at a screen, while my heart grows weary. I won't. I can't. Maybe I can take a nap this afternoon. Napping - what a forgotten art. One of my most favorite men in the world takes a nap every day after lunch - every day. He's one of the most productive souls on the planet. People know not to bother him between 12:30 and 1pm; he's napping. Sabbathing, I guess; even on Tuesdays.

The line from the movie I watched (half-watched) last night was, "Life in every breath." That's how I want to live today, savoring life in everything from my cup of coffee (I'm on number two now) to the lean-in to take communion wine to the roughhousing with my kids this afternoon to the holding of hands around the dinner table while we say grace to the now I lay me down to sleep at day's end. Life in every breath. Hard? Goodness, yes. Worth it? Goodness, yes. I think I'll go read the paper before showering up for the day. See what's going on in the world, see if somebody, somewhere out there is savoring life in every breath. Maybe there's one. Just one. I think Abraham Heschel, or however you spell his last name, said something about the Sabbath being a sanctuary in time. He's the guy who wrote the book on why bad things happen to good people. Maybe it's because they don't Sabbath; they don't rest enough. Maybe these good people, like me, wind up starting many Mondays half-assed and the fraction goes down as the week goes on. By Friday, we're one-eighth-assed; can't do much good with that, huh? We just keep dipping from the well, assured it will never run dry. But it does. Sabbaths are days to get your ass filled back up or your heart or your soul or maybe I'm talking about the same thing, just different names. It's a safe place to get your fraction back up to 1 again; a "whole" number. That's what I want today - to be filled back up, made whole, or at least get close to 3/4 or 7/8 or something. Taking life in every breath is probably the way to fill back up. If you took it in every breath, why hell, you might go beyond 1 - you might start a Monday with 1 and 4/5 or 2 and 1/3. That'd be starting your week out at a trot. Yes, I'm going to Sabbath today. Don't call me; I'm not going to answer the phone. And if you see me breathing funny, it's because I'm trying to take in life, in every breath, in every step. Live fully alive. Forgive me, Father, for breaking the commandment to keep the Sabbath. You knew I needed it.

To Church or Not To Church

These are tense days for me in regard to the church. I was given two books recently that describe this tension; their titles do, at least. The first is Loving the Church by Larry McKain. The second is Leaving the Church by Barbara Brown Taylor. Larry is a Nazarene pastor, now involved in helping people, well, love the church via a non-profit focused on pastors, churches, denominations, etc. Barbara was an Episcopal priest who finally said, "Enough" and now lives on a farm in Georgia and teaches at a nearby college. Larry's book was given to me because I've been contracted to write weekly devotional thoughts based on his book for his non-prof's website. Barbara's was given to me by a trusted friend who knows that I'm struggling with the thought of pursuing ordination in the Anglican church; in other words, getting back on the horse in a certain kind of pasture. I dismounted a few years ago...but that's another blog.

Larry's premise is based on the scriptural exchange between the Lord and Saul on the exit ramp to Damascus. Saul is asked why he's persecuting the Lord. And we know that Saul was persecuting the church at that time. So the connection between the two is made: Lord = church. Therefore, to love the Lord is to love the church. Problem: the earthly church is full of idiots and power-mongers and folks who spend way too much time reading the book of Revelation. Larry's response: Don't say you love the Lord and not try, at least, to love the church. That's the only hope we have. The church will always be a goofy place, but that's who Christ died to save. Don't say you love God, whom you have not seen, and not love the church, whom you can see. Fair enough and scriptural.

Barbara's experience is based on years of pastoring, preaching and counseling. Some would dismiss her immediately because she's a she and "women are not to be pastoring anyway," they'd dismiss. That's unfortunate, because doing so would cause you to miss a very moving and human document, full of genuine love for the church; but alas, finally having to leave a certain definition of the church. Here's two of many "keeper" quotes:
"I wanted out of the belief business and back into the beholding business. I wanted to recover the kind of faith that has nothing to do with being sure what I believe and everything to do with trusting God to catch me though I am not sure of anything."

"What if people were invited to come tell what they already know of God instead of to learn what they were supposed to believe? What if they were blessed for what they are doing in the world instead of being chastened for not doing more at church? What if church felt more like a way station than a destination? What if the church's job were to move people out the door instead of trying to keep them in, by convincing them that God needed them more in the world than in the church?"

I read Larry's. I resonated with Barbara's. But is there a middle here, some kind of loving the church without leaving the church scenario? Or is it either/or? I've heard Larry's viewpoint before; what some would think groundbreaking has been around for years. I've read Barbara's heart before; in fact, I could probably have written most of her book. But I don't want to vote too quickly. Two books given to me with two different perspectives, both focused on one word - CHURCH. And I feel that's where the rub is: How do you define church? Stayed tuned for the next episode, same blog page, same web address.

All In A Song

Twenty-fifth day of the month, morning reading, "LIFE" section sidebar of the Denver Post:

TOP TUNES - Here are top song downloads last week (
1. Promiscuous, Nelly Furtado and Timbaland
2. Crazy, Gnarls Barkley
3. Hips Don't Lie, Shakira with Wyclef Jean
4. Ain't No Other Man, Christina Aguilera

Twenty-fifth day of the month, morning reading, The Book of Common Prayer:
"Your statutes have been like songs to me wherever I have lived as a stranger." Ps.119.54

The core of Psalm 119 is LIFE - life that comes from God and God's decrees, commandments, statutes and words - or as the Psalmist calls them, "songs." The songs are what keeps the life alive, keeps the rhythm and beat going. I wonder what would happen if I downloaded the spirit of Psalm 119 into the top song downloads from last week...

I don't know who Nelly Furtado is or even what a Timbaland is, but my download would speak to promiscuity and the ripples it causes. The life that God sings is a song about faithfulness, fidelity, commitment. Something along the lines of Dolly Parton singing, "Eeeyyyeee, will always love you." Promiscuity might be fun for a night or a weekend, but we're talking about something that can carry you for LIFE, the long haul, all four verses of the songs. And promiscuity runs out. Quick. And maybe Gnarls Barkley has a substantive message in "Crazy" (I'll try and listen sometime - maybe); but maybe he doesn't. I say "he" because I'm not sure how to gender ole' Gnarls; the name sounds like an angry dog. But maybe Gnarls would think my download crazy, that promiscuity is full of life and faithfulness is old and stale and boring. But if the people or places that I've pledged faithfulness to have become stale and boring, then it's a red flag that I've lost my sense of WONDER - definitely a "crazy" way to try and live life. Patsy Cline sang about being "crazy" for the long haul, in an over the river and through the woods kind of way; and she didn't gnarl or bark at all. Shakira is no doubt telling me "Hips Don't Lie" whilst shakiring her own; I don't know what Wyclef Jean is doing. Maybe she's there to say, "Amen. Hip it sister." But if you're taking your LIFE cues from someone's hips and the truthfulness or lack of in those hips, then your gaze has fallen a little low. Better listen to Peter Gabriel sing "In Your Eyes" and focus on the windows of the soul and the truth that is always there. I've seen some pretty lying hips before, promising the universe; but the eyes attached to those hips knew the offer was empty, devoid of LIFE. I'm fairly sure I saw Christina Aguilera on a magazine cover once in some buckskin lingerie, looking like Pocahontas in heat. She sure was surrounded by a whole bunch of other men to be singing "Ain't No Other Man." I'd say the guy believing that one is a first class sucker. The song title is one that promises fidelity; however, this is one of those times when Shakira knows of what she sings - hips don't lie and Christina's are giving us the kind of "Crazy" Orwellian double-speak that our culture seems to believe is LIFE. At least according to I'm not sure Tammy always did it, but when the Why-nette sang, "Stand By Your Man" I believed her; still do. For better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health - words of promise, not promiscuity. Words that are really CRAZY if you really think about them. Words that stand by the hips when they don't shake anymore, the breasts when they sag, the tire when it inflates beyond the recommended psi, the hair when it grays, and the knees when they give out. Words from the mouth that match the ways of the body, being as faithful in your buckskin as you are in your vocals. There's only one letter's difference between LIFE and LIE. Oh, be careful little pods what you load...

Somewhere In Time

Well, we got in to see the dentist this week and he successfully pulled my son's tooth. The dental assistant was very compassionate and sensitive and Will (premedicated this time) did fantastic. After the extraction, he remained on the dental chair for a few moments breathing pure oxygen, instead of the extraction mix. I could tell he was really woozy. The assistant informed me that I might have to carry him out - "happens all the time" she said. Mr. Dentist said, "O.k. See you guys next time" and Will began getting up out of the chair; however, what was slowly getting up began rapidly going down. I moved in to stabilize him and swooped him up in my arms and carried him out to the van. He's almost too big for me to carry - almost; I will not go gentle in that mediocre night of my son growing up. As I held him in my arms, his head was on my shoulder and his eyes were shut. And I was suddenly lost in memory...

About thirty years ago, in a small East Texas town, a dad and his son were in the doctor's office. The son was scheduled for a shot that day, probably tetanus or something, for those were days of barefeet and glass and rusty nails. The shot was given and ample time for the son to regain his legs was taken. The sun was unveiled that afternoon, bright and hot. Dad held the door open for me and I stepped out into the bright and then everything went dark. The only sensation was that of falling, rapidly. I remember coming to in the arms of my dad as he carried me, almost too big for him, back to the car and safely home. Although I don't remember seeing it, I do remember feeling swooped up into my dad's arms; arms of strength and safety and compassion and determination. I imagine his arms raged as well against the dying of the light of my boyhood; against a son becoming more than his dad could handle. But on that hot afternoon in Naples, Texas, my dad was my hero. I put my head on his shoulder and closed my eyes, safe.

Little did I know that moment in time would revisit me; different details, same love. How I wished that walk to the van the other afternoon would've lasted; why couldn't that distance have been miles instead of moments? Too fast, too soon. But for that moment, I was his hero and he was my boy, head on my shoulder, eyes closed, and safe. Me? I kept my eyes open, trying to take in as much of the light of that moment as I fatherly could. Rage, rage, against the dying of the light...


My wrist-alarm went off this morning at 5:01. I snoozed for 10 minutes, just letting the morning "simmer" a little (a tip from Sam Keen). Then it's off to the kitchen while the children and wife are still snuggled in bed. Sit down at the kitchen table for some water and energy bar and thank God for the chance to try again. The energy bar is heavy stuff, filled with some Melaluca-super-duper vitamins and minerals and such; it's takes two glasses of water to get it down. Then it's off to the holy of holies for some sit-down, devotional time. Nothing base about that; it's something as regular as the rising of the sun. The Mela-bar needs about fifteen minutes to settle in, so I've got time to sit and think. I rise lighter, happier. I think I'm tired. Change clothes, like some long-haired Mister Rogers, replacing bedtime boxers for wicking t-shirt, running shorts and socks, and trail shoes. Downstairs to the treadmill this morning (I run trails on the weekends). I approach the NordicTrac 2000, step on, adjust the settings, and begin the slow warm-up. I love running. Today is speed day. I run three times a week, one day for strength (hills), one day for speed (all out fast), and one day outside on the trail for distance. I figure this gives me a rounded workout for the ole' heart. Each run is followed up by some weights, Bowflex, or dips and chin-ups on one of those power-tower doohickeys. Keeping exercise at three days a week is a limiting-discipline for me. I could do it everyday and used to; but there are other things to do these days, other people to care for, other things more important than big biceps or cannonball calves or six-minute miles. Thank God.

I feel strong this morning. I bet I could run for hours. My breathing assumes a rhythm that my body recognizes (hey, we do this three times a week) and the sweat begins to form. Before long, my body is running by itself. The rhythm has been established and the legs, heart and arms are doing the work. My mind is thinking about books I want to write, editors I hope I can find, and publishers with the brass to publish what is most dear to me. I consider that prayer. My eyes aren't closed (fairly dangerous on a treadmill) and my head's not bowed, but I'm bringing to the surface the people, places and things I love and I lift those thoughts to the Grace that keeps this world. I run/pray a little for my friends seeking adoption. I pray/run for my wife and three kids. I run for a man who's about to jump into the unknown, leaving his job and life as he has known life. I run and run and run. See John run. See John pray. See John run for strength, speed and distance. See John pray for hope, faith and love. I bet I could pray for hours...I think it was that Chariots of Fire guy who said he felt God's pleasure when he ran. Yeah. I know what he meant.