Home for the Holy-days

'Twas the morning two days after Christmas
and I'm trying to type through tired eyes; the coffee helps.
The Golden Compass has sprinkled it's dust on me and I'm hooked.
Might have that one read by New Year's.

The tree is still up, although my girlfriend declared, "It's coming down soon."
O Tannenbaum has been up for almost a month now, so that's fair.
The forecast is for snow, maybe a foot in some places;
we live in those "some places."

Spent some time yesterday, alongside my fellow economy-concerned Americans, redeeming a gift card.
Barnes & Noble.com has unleashed a couple of Jim Harrison's books to sniff out my address:
"This way, O gifts of the Magi."

Gotta few too many "sweets" in the house, we do.
The kids are chiming at least every quarter hour, "can we have some cookies?"
That's what kids do, eh?
Kids also listen. Case in point - I use the phrase, "for Pete's sake" quite often.
Yesterday, my daughter said, "for the sake of Pete." I had to belly-laugh. I gave her a cookie.

When they're not asking for chocolate, they've been playing with Hannah Montana dolls and Mario,
watching High School Musical 2 for the umpteenth time, and rubbing the belly of Jack the beagle.
Jack chewed up Hannah's backpack and maybe a pair of her fashion boots.
"Aarrgghh, for the sake of Pete, chew your rawhide thingy!"

The weekend will find me putting together a book proposal based on my Advent writings this month.
A friend told me they "must" be a book; that's a good feeling.
I'm hopeful that a publisher feels as my friend does and offers me some cash;
my girlfriend and I both blew holes in our wool socks this week.

A few days of being "off" but still being "on" -
laundry to do so my underwear's clean in case I'm in a wreck,
snow to shovel so the milkman can reach the steps,
a dog to walk, bills to pay, letters to send,
books to read, always books to read,
thoughts to think, dreams to dream, hopes to hope, prayers to pray, kids to play with...
cookies to eat with the milk the milkman bringeth.

Not really anywhere I have to go,
so let it snow for the sake of Pete.

Do you hear what I hear?

The Polar Express. Read it? Seen it? The book is good, the movie is so-so. But the story is great. Here's the Reader's Digest version. It tells of a little boy who finds himself at the North Pole, waiting for Santa to pick someone to receive the first gift of Christmas. The little boy gets picked. His choice of gifts? A bell from Santa's sleigh. He places the bell in the pocket of his robe, which unfortunately has a hole in it. The bell is lost. But on Christmas morning, a package is found containing, yes, you guessed, the special bell along with a note from S.C. As the little boy rings the bell, he revels in the beautiful sound it makes. His parents, however, cannot hear the bell; they're convinced it's "broken." And as the story ends, most of his friends and even his sister lose the ability to hear the first gift of Christmas. Reason? They grow old. They stop believing.

The Shepherds' story in Luke 2. It tells of the first gift of Christmas. Do you know what that was? Sure, the obvious and correct answer is Jesus, but do you remember the first facet of the gem of the glad news? Think about the angel's tidings. Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. Yes, but back up a little. Born in the city of David, a Savior. Yes, but a little further back. The very first thing out of the angel's mouth. Yeah, now you've got it. Don't be afraid.

As we grow older, we lose our ability to hear that first gift of Christmas. We stop believing. And we give in to fear. It's fair though, life is hard, eh? There are wars and rumors of wars and the never-ending-war, lead paint on Thomas the Tank Engine and Dora and Boots, political folks throwing faith candy at the crowd and we're jumping in the streets to get some, an economic recession probably on the horizon, people getting killed in the streets and people getting killed in our churches, kids being mean on YouTube and their parents being more mean on the soccer field, families losing their homes due to ballooning mortgage rates, breast cancer, colon cancer, global warming on some level, the death of the middle class and the emergence of the best-dressed-poverty in America, the worship wars being replaced by the justice wars...

Lots to be afraid of. But the angel's still announcing the good news and the very first gift of the GIFT is: Don't be afraid. Emmanuel, God's with us.

Don't be afraid. Don't be afraid. Fear not. Fear not. No created thing can separate us from his love. Let them with ears hear. The bell still rings. Peace on earth, goodwill to men. Don't be afraid.


I'm reading The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. After receiving hundreds of emails warning me of this book, I figured I needed to read it in order to be able to respond and not react (like those email-ers). I'll let you know, but so far the book is a wonderfully written page-turner.

My girlfriend and I watched John Carney's Once the other night. It's out on dvd now. Instead of writing hundreds of emails encouraging folks to watch this movie, I'll just send this one Once. Rent it. Watch it. Hear it. Feel it.

Don't be afraid.

Slow Train

I wish I could pause time. Not stop mind you, but pause. If so, I would pause today, the last day of November. For tomorrow is December the 1st and the Christmas train, which has already been moving since Halloween, will increase its speed and intensity, barreling wily-nily, helter-skelter toward December the 25th.

Maybe pause is not the best word either. How about slow? I wish I could slow time.

But I have wished this before. And my wish was not granted. I have already seen A Charlie Brown Christmas and already attended a "dessert with Santa" at our elementary school. It's not December yet. Television executives and school administrators seem to know this same reality though. Best get your stuff done early, for it's a comin'.

I wish for a slow train.
A train that winds slowly through the canyon,
taking its time. The station's not going anywhere.
No worry. No rush. No mind.
Rest. Ride. Look. Listen.

Stand in the cold and stare at the lights.
Listen to the songs backdropped by the breathing of sleeping children.
Read the story again of shepherds, "slack-jawed" with wonder.
Stir the Chex-mix like momma did.

Drop the change in the red bucket by the man ringing the bell of mercy.
Smile at children lost in wonder-lust.
Wink at your girlfriend. Or boyfriend. Or whatever.

Walk the slow walk of a pregnant Mary. This holiest of seasons must be approached reverently, slowly.
"Folks who rush miss things."

The station will be there when we get there.


They look like spiders on the keyboard, big, fleshy spiders.
Tiny hairs grow from the folds of skin, alert to sight and sound.
Released from the corner of sleep, my hands begin to type.

Drowsily, they recall where all the letters live,
vowels and consonants, food for the day.
Spider-blood begins to flow; they are hungry.

As they consume, a silk is produced.
Strong threads of meaning, capable of life and death.
Spins of attraction from deep inside the belly.

The spiders remember their mandate.
"You don't bait what you love.
You tempt it, lure it, get under its skin."

Sometimes Grace is Cheap

"Each morning, even before he put the coffee on or began the biscuits, Albert would stand on the back porch and listen to the purling of the creek, the rush of water over stones. It was as if he needed to hear the creek, that sound of life ever on the move, running irresistibly downstream, before he could commit to another day of exhausting labor and the back of fortune's hand. I often thought that should the morning come when he could not walk down the stairs and hear the creek, he would die."

"They were firmly harnessed to the earth as it was and they took the land, its beauty and its blind treachery, a day at a time. Inconvenience and poverty were as much a part of their lives as hailstorms, tornadoes, bountiful harvests, drought, good trout, plump quail, plagues of insects, and deer moving up in the high country. They were satisfied. They never prayed for help, for a change in their luck, for anything, although I did hear Emerson ask the Great Mystery once to bless a No. 18 dry fly he had just tied on in hopes of tempting a huge rainbow trout that stalked the deep water of Karen's Pond."

-Harry Middleton, The Earth is Enough

If you have anyone on your Christmas list who loves a good story, then let me recommend Harry Middleton's grace-full book. A good friend gave me my copy back in August of '05; I probably re-read it once a year. I checked and you can find a used one on Amazon for pocket change. Consider that a gift from God.

One caveat though - this book has the potential to ruin you or the one you give it to, for the words might firmly harness you to the earth, causing you to wake each morning to the purling of the creek...for the earth is enough...

Nocturnal Emission

I awoke in the middle of the night to tears. Eye sockets and cheeks full of salty sorrow, come from some dream I'd been dreaming. I so wanted to recall the reason for crying, but I couldn't. I stilled myself, tried to step back into those last thoughts, but to no avail. The dream was gone. Grief visited me and all that remained was its residue.

I wonder...
if I wept for the husband who was sent home yesterday, probably not to return to his job today or tomorrow or ever.

if I wept for the wife of the husband who was sent home yesterday, desperately rubbing that verse from Romans like a rosary.

if I wept for the friend who writes from a true place but had her sensual words criticized recently by a couple of people more concerned about God's reputation than God is.

if I wept for the man who fixes refrigerators, who is recently divorced and now sees his precious son only "some of the time."

if I wept for the little girl afraid to go to sleep last night because the darkness was too dark.

if I wept for the man who feels little if anything these days except loneliness.

if I wept for the lady who wonders where the money will come from for Christmas gifts.

if I wept for the Israeli and Palestinian faces who know that one more conference is just a photo opportunity.

if I wept for the husbandless families who hear the phrase "happy holidays" and behind the patriotism cannot figure out how you could be happy when daddy got killed in Iraq.

if I wept because I heard that Christmas song just before falling asleep that talks of "peace on earth."

Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy, for we have had more than enough of contempt.

I cannot remember why the tears came, but they came. And so I begin this day with a face touched by the signature of grief. Maybe I wept for you...and me.


The air outside is bitterly cold. The morning sun is still hidden behind the clouds. The exhaust pipe on every car is leaving a trail of winter's breath. The light turns red, I obey, and you enter the crosswalk.

Your uniform reveals your destination. The Subway restaurant up the hill. Do you hate having to wear that uniform? You pull that excuse for a jacket close and lean into the cold. You do not run, but you do move with intent. Dear God, how long have you been walking in this cold?

You look to be all of seventeen. Then again, what do I know of age? It's possible that you've seen more in seventeen than I've seen in forty. But you've a girl's frame. Where are your hat and gloves?

You'll spend your day greeting customers with the same words: Welcome to Subway. What kind of sandwich can I make for you today? And then your gloved hands will handle bread and meat and cheese and vegetables and salt and pepper and cookies and a drink. Did anyone tell you goodbye when you left this morning?

When you were a little girl, did you dream of working at Subway when you reached all of seventeen? Or had your little girl dreams already been dismantled by life's harsh winds? Have you had years of practice walking in the cold, so that today's trek to work is "nothing, really"? Did you eat any breakfast?

You can see that big church when you look out the window as you're making sandwiches. Do you believe in that God they talk about? Do you ask Him for strength to come to work in the cold and grasp American and Swiss for one more day? Or is God just a three-letter word in your four-letter word life? Did anyone tell you they loved you this morning? Or last night?

You're heading up the hill now, getting ready to start your shift. As cold as it is, I bet you're sweating in that uniform. Is this job helping you get through school? helping you support a little one at home? or is it the extent of things right now? What would you do today if you could do anything? Or if you were given a microphone and your voice was broadcast to the world, what would you say? Would all you could think of be, Will that be dine-in or carry-out? Have your own words been gradually stripped away by all of seventeen?

My light turned green. I'm going to go now. But know this, Subway-girl. A long-haired friend of Jesus prayed for you today. I doubt you'll win the lottery this weekend, but you were "seen" today. How are you getting home? Please be careful. Look both ways in that crosswalk. I pray mercy for you as you sleep and new dreams to dream. And if you ever care to think about it, Jesus is a five-letter word. Will anyone be there when you get home?

Come Home, It's Suppertime

We were in Arkansas last week. All of our family, and I mean "all," lives back in the natural state. We saw my parents for a few days and then traveled up to my girlfriend's sister's place to finish up the week. They were good visits. But also hard visits.

I kept realizing how difficult it was for all of us to really listen to one another. Oh, we talked alot, but I'm not sure we "listened." Know what I mean? Nobody was at fault or to blame. No, I believe we all had/have so much going on in our lives that we were pre-occupied. There were already conversations going on within ourselves about ourselves, our lives, our jobs, our kids, our marriages, our health, our happiness, our grief, our future, and our past. And somtimes, it's hard to get in on a conversation that's already started. Know what I mean?

But there were moments of communion and they all revolved around food, both it's preparation and it's consumption. I watched (listened) as my daughter and my mom followed recipies together and found their hands in common ground - chocolate, rising flour, fruit and salad. All the other conversations had to be put on hold while attention (prayer) was given to measuring correctly, greasing where appropriate, and preheating like the book says. My daughter and my mom communed with one another in those moments; it was beautiful to see (hear).

I saw (heard) my girlfriend, her sister, and their mother all focused on what goes in the dressing. All other thoughts were on hold as celery, sage, cornbread, eggs, onions (I must stop there or I'll give away their secrets) were chopped, grated, torn asunder, and lightly beaten. They moved around one another in a kind of dance - the kitchen shuffle. Communion. Being with one another. Maybe as close as possible for right now.

I was given the honors of cutting the bird for one table. Norman Rockwell would not have chosen me as his carving model. I set that pressure aside and stripped the bird, quickly abandoning the knife in favor of the hands. And for a few moments, I was stilled and quiet, pulling away the meat to put on a platter so family could come by and pile their plates with it. My girls like white meat, my dad wants the legs, and me, yeah, nothing like dark meat. The renegade priest handing out the "bread" of communion - "this turkey, broken for you." Amen.

Some folks say we are a people obsessed with food. Maybe. I say that somedays, we're crying out for communion with one another. We love each other so much it hurts, it really does, but we don't know how to approach one another; there are so many conversations already going on. And so, when we can, we wash our hands and don our aprons and crack open the good books and de-lid the cans of broth and step into the grace and wisdom of a child's prayer:

God is great, God is good.
Let us thank Him for this food.

Know what I mean?

After the turkey...

My Thanksgiving read was The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd. I'd heard about this book over the years and even read a book proposal not long ago that blasted the book to smithereens. Published in 1996, it's kinda been the under-the-radar-book for Kidd, overshadowed by The Mermaid's Chair and The Secret Life of Bees.

The subtitle for the book is "A Woman's Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine." That's enough for some folks right there - "the Sacred Feminine." The book proposal I read not long ago was hopped up on fear of that phrase and also the word "goddess" - a word Kidd uses throughout her book. It's fair. Language has immense power and those words and phrases should not be approached casually. Kidd writes about her awakening to the prevalent patriarchy in our time, seen in such areas as her church, her marriage, and even herself. That's enough for some folks right there - "patriarchy." Then she continues her journey into Christian Feminism, complete with phases of the moon, Sophia, resacralizing the earth and the body, and C.G. Jung. And that pretty much nails the coffin shut for some folks. That's fair; fair, but unfortunate.

It's unfortunate because I found the book a very refreshing read. It is the story about a woman taking the courageous steps toward living an authentic life. It was told with patience; her journey did not occur overnight and neither can the telling of her story. It is very much a story about women. I'm glad I read it for the ways it has caused me to "see" my wife and daughters. I'm also glad I read it for the ways in which I hope to be able to relate those truths to my son. But I'm most glad, a.k.a., gladdest, that I read it for myself, for below the female surface of this book lies truth applicable to anyone seeking to live an authentic life.

Here's a couple of keepers:
**"If you write to please others or write for success or stardom or money, you're writing out of your ego. When are you going to write out of your Self?"

**"The transformation of anger is a movement from rage to outrage. Rage implies an internalized emotion, a tempest within. Rage, or what might be called untransfigured anger, can become a calcified bitterness. What rage wants and needs is to move outward toward positive social purpose, to become a creative force or energy that changes the conditions that created it. It needs to become out-rage. Outrage is love's wild and unacknowledged sister."

I didn't swallow everything Kidd wrote. It's a story about her journey. But I do believe it's also a story about our journey and that's why the book works. I believe the strutures she speaks of as keeping women in a prison are actually structures that keep human beings in prison, male or female. Dissident daughters must dance and sons must press into their difficult splendor. But the words "dissident" and "difficult"? That's enough for some folks right there.

Lady in a Hurry

The abrupt halt at the stop sign out-ed her tardiness.
She speedily pulled in behind me as our two cars became one.

The rearview mirror revealed things closer than they are:
a steering-wheel-thumping sermon against the evils of slow.

A passing lane ahead was fodder for her petition,
but God or fate or just heavy other-directioned traffic said no.

The rearview mirror revealed things as they should not be:
a small child in the passenger seat, mannequin still.

Me and my shadow finally reached the vast sea of four lanes.
She huffed and puffed and wolf-ed past me, free at last, free at last.

The front windshield revealed things farther than they should be:
lady in a hurry, grasping for the hem of the day.


like a moth you eat away all that is dear to us - Psalm 39.12, Book of Common Prayer

I've heard God described in simile all my life, but I cannot remember anyone ever preaching or teaching that God is like a moth. This verse saw me the other morning in my daily readings. And I saw it.

It's kind of a strange image, isn't it? The God of the universe slowly, methodically nibbling away all that is dear to us. And to top it off, the psalmist didn't say "all that is sinful in our lives" or "all that has eyes but don't see, ears but don't hear" - no, he said "all that is dear to us.

The Usual

The door of the Shame blows open and there he stands,
covered in skins and snow and sweat.
"The usual," he cries and steps across the threshold
into the warmth of family and friends.
He is greeted with hugs and smiles and tears,
such is the love for his face.
He immediately unshoulders his pack,
like some feral St. Nick on that blessed night.
A hearty laugh and the wink of a boy.
Gifts are handed to each one by name;
a book with gilded edges, a stone from sacred ground, the statue of a squirrel, a cross from the town of magic.
The gifts are as much "the usual" as his drink of choice
for his travels are always taken with others in mind.
He is the pilgrim and his steps carry him far away,
farther than he'd thought or planned.
The courage for his journeys comes from the deeps of affection;
love is the light in the window, his pole star of orientation.
"Sit, rest my good friend.
Speak the words of the path to us we are anxious to hear."
We revel in the lush of tales, but they naturally come to an end.
He rises, dons the skins once more, shoulders his pack, and moves to the door.
A boy's grin. "The words are calling me and I must go. Namaste."
A boy's tears. "We know. Just remember the love."
His life is oblation. Always.
"The usual."

-for Rich on the day after his birthday - "Namaste, good pilgrim."

Liturgy from the couch

Bill Moyers' Journal this week featured an interview with Thomas Cahill. It was absolutely marvelous. They discussed his latest project, a book about capital punishment, as well as covering some of his prior books and other insights into history. At one point, Moyers asked him, What is the evil that you see in the world? After all of your time spent studying and researching history - what is our problem?

Cahill responded, Cruelty to one another.

He talked about it in regard to the nation state, but also spoke about it as it plays out in religion. And it may be most dastardly there. The ways in which we (and I say "we" because I have done this and will do this) extend cruelty to others because of differences in thought and belief and practice. Cahill said the crusading spirit is alive and well.

Moyers asked, What can we do? How can change come about?

Cahill answered, It comes about in the individual. It begins when I change.


Cahill finished up the interview by recalling a story. He was speaking at a large gatheirng and a man stood up and asked, "Do you believe, like St. Paul, that we come to Christ by faith alone." Cahill responded, "I believe, like St. Paul, that we come by faith, hope and love. And that the greatest of these is love."

The man stormed out, evidently not hearing the answer he wanted or needed. Or at least not hearing it articulated in the way he was accustomed to.


I'm sitting here typing at the feet of my youngest daughter. She woke up sick this a.m. and my girlfriend has responsibilities at church, so the caretaker role fell to me. I've no problem with that. This five year old kindergartener, still so fresh from God, is growing up in this world where we are cruel to one another. She has already experienced this. Harsh words from me (this dad she says she loves so much) and words or actions from friends that have "hurt her feelings." She rebounds each time but I'm always aware of how, for the moment at least, she reels from such cruelty. It totally disorients her; it's like for a time, she doesn't know where she is or what to do.


For the first time we saw he wanted one leg. It was gone from the knee joint down. He was hopping sideways to reach for his stick in the corner when he lost his balance. He would have fallen in a heap if Brendan hadn't leapt forward and caught him.
"I'm as crippled as the dark world," Gildas said.
"If it comes to that, which one of us isn't, my dear?" Brendan said.
Gildas with but one leg. Brendan sure he'd misspent his whole life entirely. Me that had left my wife to follow him and buried our only boy. The truth of what Brendan said stopped all our mouths. We was cripples all of us. For a moment or two there was no sound but the bees.
"To lend each other a hand when we're falling," Brendan said. "Perhaps that's the only work that matters in the end."
-Frederick Buechner, Brendan


I believe, like St. Brendan, that it's hard to lend a hand when we're always storming out of a room.

Praise Chorus

"The world is full of suffering indeed, and to turn our backs on it is to work a terrible unkindness maybe almost more on ourselves than on the world. But life indeed is also to be enjoyed. I suspect that may even be the whole point of it. I more than suspect that is why all the sons of God shouted for joy when he first brought it into being. And if that is the case, then the old woman playing shuffleboard in the sun and the young man standing in line with his children to get into Disney World are in their own ways praising God as truly as when they are serving supper in a shelter for the homeless or driving off at two thirty in the morning to answer the panicky phone call of an alcoholic friend."
- Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets

Leave it to F. Buechner to drop a few lines like that near the very end of a very small book. If some of his words are the case, and I suspect they may be, then God is praised in many and varied ways, eh?

The young husband standing at the finish line when his young wife finishes her first marathon is praising God.

The boy running an in open field with his dog flushing birds is praising God.

The middle aged woman sitting in the chair receiving a pedicure is praising God.

The mother who will spend hours in the kitchen preparing a Thanksgiving feast is praising God.

The sisters swinging ever higher and higher on the school playground are praising God.

The crossing guard who valiantly ushers the children across a dangerous intersection is praising God.

The young woman finishing her first marathon, the dog flushing birds in an open field, the lady administering a pedicure as well as conversation to a middle aged woman, the family that will gather around a table and hold hands and say grace, the father watching his girls swing ever higher and higher, the children laughing and carrying backpacks on their way to school - they are all praising God.

God, forgive me for holding to a definition of praise that is too narrow, one that only works in a building somewhere and only if certain words are said. If I would just be still and know, the very rocks are crying out.

The Work of Courage

Talked to a friend the other night who was there on Sunday morning, when I preached. She made some affirming comments about the message and how she and her husband had been discussing it. Then she said something that I've never heard regarding one of my sermons: That's the first time I've heard that passage preached and not walked away feeling shame. I probably said something goofy, like "wow," and then the conversation continued and moved into other topics.

But I've been thinking about that statement. That's the first time I've heard that passage preached and not walked away feeling shame. Wow, indeed.

Someone might quickly reply, "Well, maybe those other times the truth of the Word pierced her and she realized how far short she has fallen and she felt shame about that. You watered it down or stripped it of its power to the point there was no conviction. You did a 'feel good' and she felt good." Well, maybe. But maybe not. That's a quick and easy reply or reaction, but not a response.

She didn't say she felt "good." She said she didn't feel "shame." That's two entirely different things.

Now I don't know all that was going on in my friend's life that day, all the thoughts or feelings she had during that message. I don't; only she does. But in all that was going on that day, I had the opportunity to speak into her life, and the words that came out did not elicit shame. I am grateful for that in a way that's difficult for me to type.

I was listening to Dave Matthews' song Grey Street yesterday. I sure wish somebody'd sing that at our church; I really do. There's this incredibly poignant verse that says:
There's a stranger speaks outside her door
Says take what you can from your dreams
Make them as real as anything
It'd take the work out of the courage

That last line totally shook me.

The stranger outside our door speaks words to shame us. Dear God how that's true. And if we're not extremely care-ful, we'll adopt those "stranger" words and pass them along to those around us, those we love and care for, those we work with, those we preach to. To NOT do that takes the work of courage. To work at listening to our words and weighing them before we speak or type. Not in some crazed, internal editor way; that's the path of shame. But in an intentional way that extends grace and mercy to all paths we cross. The goal is not to make everyone feel good, mind you. But to not make them feel shame. And that's two entirely different things.

The Message

The old Dirty Shamer got the chance to preach yesterday. Here's the gist.

Matthew 25.14ff tells the parable of the land owner who went away on a journey, but before he did, he gave out talents to his servants. One got 5, another got 2 and the last servant got 1. The owner goes away and while he's gone, the 5 and 2 talent servants both double their stuff. The Bible doesn't say stuff, but you get what I mean. The 1 talent servant gets scared and hides his in the ground; at least he can give back what he got. The owner returns and the first two servants get "well dones" and high fives all-around. The 1 talent servant gets raked over the coals, with the owner saying, "At least you could have put my stuff in the bank where it would have drawn interest."

I asked folks yesterday to wonder with me a little: wonder if those three servants are all the same person? What if there was just one servant and the description of talents and amounts refers to days or weeks or seasons of his life? Yes, that's not what the text says, but what if you played with the parable in that way?

If you can wonder in that way, then you come up with a guy waking up some days and they are 5 talent days. Everything he touches turns gold, opportunities open up like flowers looking for rain, the sun is shining so bright he has to wear shades, and before he closes his eyes that night, the thought is "well done." Then one day, he wakes up and it's a 2 talent day. It's still a day full of engaging experiences, relationships are enhanced, and benefits abound; however, that day or week or season of his life is just a little cloudy, not quite so sunny. Before going to bed that night or week, "well done" still fits the bill.

But along comes a day when the guy wakes up and its a 1 talent day. It doesn't feel anything like the 5 or 2 talent days. In fact, this day or month or year feels like an absolute bust. He doesn't even want to get out of bed or go to work or interact with his kids or call his parents on Saturday nights. The only thing he wants to do is hide. Because everybody knows that 5 or 2 is good, but 1 is, well, not good.

Have you ever had that experience? On those 1 talent days, we don't feel like we have anything to offer, nothing to bring to the table, and the best thing for everyone involved would be for us to hole up in the back room. I wonder if this parable might be encouraging us on those 1 talent days to not bury our stuff in the ground? To go ahead and step into life, even if we feel afraid and alone, and bring our 1 talent or our two mites (getting biblical on you here) and stay in the game? And if we'll at least do that much, those days may bring more "interest" than the 5 or 2 talent days because we're putting all our eggs in the basket of God's grace and mercy?

Barbara Brown Taylor's Leaving Church talks about the solar calendar of the soul that most of us try and abide by and that most christians and churches hold as the norm: we ought to be operating at the 5 talent level. That's where the godliest folks exist. But she found that the soul operates on a lunar calendar, more waxing and waning that constant brightness. That there are 5 talent days and 2 talent days and 1 talent days and we need to be mindful and respectful of those rhythms in our lives, for what doth it profit a man or woman if they're always doubling their stuff but losing their soul in the process?

Not sure anyone got saved yesterday, but maybe somebody woke up. I'll take that.

That Point

"I once wrote in a poem about reaching the point in life when I would have the courage to admit my life. There were some rough spots, as you probably sensed reading the memoir, especially in my early married years, when I simply had no idea what I was doing or how to support myself. During that most difficult period of 10 years, our house payment was $99 a month, but quite often that was hard to muster."
- Jim Harrison, poet and fiction writer

The memoir that Harrison refers to is titled Off To One Side, as in "not a man of the center" (see last post). I respect Harrison's body of work. I also like the fact that he started out to be a Baptist minister. I kid you not.

I love what he says about reaching that point in life where you have the courage to admit your life. Not the life you wished you'd had or someone else's life, but your own. And that's what I was trying to get at in my last post. I'm trying to find the courage to admit my life. And I appreciate others who are trying to do the same thing. We're not working on our best life now, but our only life now. And there is a world of difference between the two. Just compare some pictures of Jim Harrison and Joel Osteen. You can google those names and pull up some images. I'm not talking about comparing their messages or religion or anything like that; just look at them. One is blind in one eye, gap-toothed and usually outside surrounded by dogs. The other has coiffed hair and wonderful teeth and is usually on a stage somewhere. Oh, John, you're just jealous of Osteen's wealth. Harrison is every bit as wealthy as Osteen. It's Harrison's life that draws me; his "courage to admit."

There were and are "some rough spots." There were and are years "when I simply had no idea what I was doing or how to support myself." There were and are "difficult periods" when it is "hard to muster." And it takes courage to admit that. But I'm reaching that point in life.

Thoughts Before Dreaming

"There is an edge and we all must feel that edge or we will die. We may keep on eating and sleeping and voting and shopping but we will surely die if we do not feel that edge and admit its existence. I know I must. But we must respect that edge or we do not deserve to live. To topple off it and into the void is to become monsters...So we must seek the edge but respect it. I am not a man of the center. I am from somewhere else."
- Charles Bowden, Blues For Cannibals

"I am not a man of the center. I am from somewhere else." I can remember reading those words for the first time, probably close to ten years ago now, and thinking yes. It's not that I don't want to be a man of the center, it's that I can't. It's not who God planted in my mother's womb. I am from somewhere else, somewhere other than "center."

But it's not a death-wish, mind you - that's thrill-seeking, the folly of youth; the belief that the rush is what it's all about. No, this is not about seeking the thrill, but seeking the edge. The real, tangible edge, whether of faith or love or work. This is seeking the edge but respecting it at the same time, for as Bowden says, "To topple off it and into the void is to become monsters." I do not wish to be a monster. But I am not a man of the center. And in the learning of myself, I can look back and see times of stress or moments of conflict when someone or something was trying to get me in the center and I just couldn't do it; it was like David trying to wear Saul's armor. I couldn't move, couldn't breathe, couldn't get around on all twos.

My wife is not a woman of the center. My best friends are not men of the center. The authors I read do not write from the center. They are all of them from somewhere else. And I love that. Seeking the edge but respecting it. If we don't respect it, feel it, or at least admit its existence, then we don't deserve to live.

I'm about to lay me down to sleep. My dreams are never center-dreams. I dream from somewhere else.

Open Doors, Open Hearts

A very liberal columnist for the Denver Post wrote an article not long ago about Halloween. He talked about how two words struck fear in the hearts of most kids in the month of October - "fall festival." I had to laugh, remembering all the semantic gyrations our churches used to engage in so as to offer something on that night, but not cater to the whims of the world. Fall festivals indeed.

Overall, the article was not a keeper, but there was one point that I found very intriguing. He said that we, as Americans, need Halloween as a holiday. Why, you might ask? Well, this gentleman believes Halloween to be the one remaining holiday built on the premise of opening our doors to the stranger. And if there's any time in the history of the good old U.S. of A that we need a discipline to help us be more open to those we don't know, those who don't look like the rank and file, those of lower economic status, those with the courage or the gall to ring our doorbells and open their sacks, hoping for a treat - well, it's now.

Is it possible that we might look beyond the ghouls and goblins and see that our children are being taught something beneficial, even if it comes via something not so perky and nice? That if we don't go out and trick or treat, at least we would keep our porch light on, answering the door and opening it in order to give something away. And not just anything, but M&Ms or Hershey bars.

I'm familiar with the darker elements of the night and I'm not entirely certain what we're going to do tomorrow evening. But I felt the liberal columnist raised a point worth considering. For some, Halloween should be banned outright. It's a distraction and participation in it opens the door to all sorts of stuff. For others, it's no big deal, just ease up and put on the Homer Simpson mask. But is there a middle way, to be of but not in, to be willing to open our front doors to mask-wearing, bag-holding kids of all ages, red and yellow, black and white, Harry Pottered or Jack Sparrowed, and extend to them a gift of sweets and a whispered blessing: You are the stranger. I don't know you, but I welcome you. It's dark out there, why don't you come up into the light, if only for just a moment? Mercy covers the borders of this door. May mercy cover you as you step back into the night.

For Pete

Pete Fishing,

The Dirty Shame is a little saloon up near the Canadian border. I learned about it via the writer Rick Bass. Most nights, the Shame hosts games of chance; games that don't involve any particular skill or savvy, but essentially let the dice roll. It is in that spirit that I write here. I roll the dice.

Your responses/questions have used words like "universalism" and "emergent/emerging" and even someone named "Doug Pagitt." For me to try and give clarity to those would be attempting to bring some skill or savvy to this; that's not what the Shame is. Furthermore, my nose tells me you're looking for an answer rather than clarity and those are two entirely different things. Your scant profile indicates you're a student, so I'd say be a student; wrestle with these things and come to an answer for yourself. Your ability to craftily use words like that and put webcasts in the heart of blog comments, something I still can't do, indicates you're above the bar in resourcefulness.

And while your gentleness stands in contrast to old mr. spurgeon, I wouldn't be too hard on him. We all have places in our lives that cause us to speak or act in those tones. In fact, when it comes to being self-righteous and arrogant, I'm afraid I've got him beat by a mile; that "chief of sinners" stuff you may have read of.

You asked about a book recommendation to help you in your quest to "fit in." I'd suggest The Work of Wolves by Kent Meyers. It speaks of a kind of universalism, that of becoming a man and stepping away from the views of others and standing in your own boots. It beautifully shows how resistant we are to emerging into something or someone new, but how necessary that is for life. It's not leaving your roots, but it's branching out in new ways to catch the sun. It doesn't have anyone named Doug Pagitt in it, but it does follow the life of Carson Fielding, a horse-whisperer of sorts, and the ways in which his preternatural gift is only fully realized in the presence of others. He realizes that it's not all about him, but in a way it is all about him. Risk. Gamble. Paradox. Image. Metaphor. The kind of book that sits on the shelf of the Dirty Shame.

I'm truly thankful you've found some of this enjoyable. I guess miracles still happen.

Fairy Tale

It was just me and the kids last night. After some pancakes and chocolate chip cookies, my daughter asked, "Dad, can we watch my movie?"

"Sure, babe. What is it?"

"It's Anastasia."

It's the Disney version, so fact and fiction weave together like a double helix. There's plenty of catchy tunes and wonderful imagery to keep three kiddos and one big kid fixated for about 90 minutes. A good looking male character with the voice of John Cusak and an even better looking female character with the voice of Meg Ryan. What's not to like? Oh, and there's also a dog. Yep, homerun Disney.

Here's the Disney Cliff Notes version: Anastasia is a daughter of royalty. She lives in the palace and is dearly loved by her royal father. The enemy is Rasputin, once assumed a holy man, but actually someone who hates the royal family and sells his soul to gain the means by which to kill them all. His promise to wipe out the royal family sends them fleeing for their lives. As Anastasia is about to board a train with her grandmother for safety, she slips and falls and is left behind. Her fall leaves her with amnesia (wow, that's a sentence, huh?). The grandmother longs for her princess, now lost. And the rest of the story is an adventure is rediscovering who she really is; not an unwanted orphan, but a royal daughter, the princess.

Born of royalty. Sound familiar? Feel familiar? Pursuit by a once-holy-esque-one who now wants nothing more than the destruction of the royals. Ring a bell? A fall that results in amnesia, clouding the true identity. And the rest of the story is the adventure of rediscovering that true identity and living out the birthright. The enemy still pursues, but there are friends nearby for encouragment. And One in particular who loves with a never-ending love and is willing to sacrifice all so that...

"Yeah, John, but all the facts are all wrong. Disney took liberty with the facts and skewed everything."

"Yes. But as the poets say, 'Facts often have little to do with the truth.'"

We've fallen and forgotten who we are. Amnesiacs. We are the beloved of God, that is our true identity. But the deceiver pursues us like a lion, desiring nothing more than our destruction. Let a moment or day of clarity arise and the accuser will rush in with a vengeance to steal it away. And although that struggle is not against flesh and blood, it usually comes by flesh and blood. There are usually two or three gathered along the way to en-courage us on the journey of rediscovery, finding out. They are as necessary as oxygen. And there's grandmother with the voice of Angela Landsbury or the Father with the voice of Morgan Freeman waiting, longing for reunion. And there's the One who is with us every step of the way, the true hero of the story, who has sacrificed all so that...

Oh yeah, and there's a faithful dog or cat (Br. Murray) to accompany us all the way back home. Nah, you're right, that sounds too good to be true. But then again...

A Few Simple Thoughts

"I've read of other men my age experiencing the same thing - all men, it seems - one day becoming themselves, but also their fathers. Just like with legends, men build the base of themselves with parts of their fathers, with the basic truths...and then go on from there, of necessity, to alter other things, grow in new places, and become fathers themselves - but always growing out of the basic truths, a few simple things. And when you are twenty-five or thirty, and the world's becoming smaller, and things are starting to move, finally, like a train slowly leaving the station, picking up a little power, a little speed, that is when, at first, you're lifted by the bootstraps as you're going out the door, pretending you are him, doing the right thing, doing what he would do, until in the end, by rote, you learn it, and just in time."
- Rick Bass, Winter

The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.
- T.S. Eliot

The Bachelor God

The Bachelor. One of tv's Monday night must-see shows. It's been on a few seasons and still seems to carry a captive audience. Since it began, I've probably seen it twice but my girlfriend and I have watched the last few weeks. You know - it's 9pm, the kids are finally in bed but not asleep, you click on the tube to catch some news and viola! there's The Bachelor. So, you watch. Or at least we do.

Premise, you ask? The show begins with one eligible bachelor and a room full of equally eligible young ladies. And each week, after dates and pool parties and intense conversations over candle-light, one or more of the young ladies does not receive a rose; in other words, they get sent home. The show builds to an ABCesque conclusion with only two or three ladies left and only one will get the coveted rose and ride off into the sunset with The Bachelor and live happily ever after. Or at least we hope.

I'm sitting there the other night, watching this show, and suddenly I realize: That's a prevalent picture of God. Not by folks out in the world, but by folks who profess to be closest to Him. God is the consumate, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing, Bachelor. And we, humanity, are the young ladies. Although some could care less, there are some of us who desperately desire to be with The Bachelor God. And so we do and do and be and be and try and try and hope and hope to be one of the ones who gets the rose, a.k.a., ends up with God. But The Bachelor God holds all the cards and has the power to extend or with-hold the rose from us. Sometimes we think we know what he wants and so we speak or act accordingly and all seems well. However, other times we think we know what he wants, only to find out it's not so clear sometimes, and we're left reeling, wondering what kind of a deal this is.

And although you might say, "Well, I'm not so sure about that. I mean, come on, God's not capricious." O.k. But look at how we act; again, this is folks who profess to know God. We're respectful enough of one another but competition lurks just below the surface. We judge one another worthy or unworthy of the rose of God's love based on how we vote in elections, what kind of movies we watch, our stance on Harry Potter, if we have debt or not, whether our kids know scripture, and the list just goes on and on. And so we strut our stuff, hoping to win the approval of The Bachelor God, truly believing that he loves us, but somewhere, inside the back of our hearts, also believing it could go south at the end. No rose. No nothing. That we would do our best by God, well aware of our faults but also sincerely desiring him, but still not get the rose because of something about ourselves that just doesn't cut it: our looks, our family history, our views on controversial issues, our commitment to the "church"...that one day God would say, "Tom, will you accept this rose?" And Tom gets misty eyed, hugs the Lord, and says, "Oh yes!" And then Katie's left standing there without a rose and St. Peter says, "Katie, take a moment and say your goodbyes." Katie becomes overwhelmed by grief, hugs the Lord who says, "Katie, you are an amazing person and I've truly enjoyed my time with you." And then she goes to hell.

I believe The Bachelor God to be a lie. When Christ died on the cross and said, "It's finished," that secured enough roses for every created person since time began. They're laying on that silver platter in the throne room of God. Interesting, isn't it, that we believe the question God's going to ask us as we stand before him is: "Why should I let you into my heaven?" What if the question is going to be: "Shirley, will you accept this rose?" And she gets all knee-bowing and tongue-confessing and says, "Oh yes!" But then she turns around and Warren is behind her and his life has been quite a departure from her's and his stance on many things has been decidedly different and he begins to grow overwhelmed by despair. But then the Lord steps forward and says, "There are roses enough for all. Don't be afraid. Warren, will you accept your rose?" And Warren falls on his face before the Lion of God and cries, "But Lord, you know I didn't...and sometimes I...and there were months when...and..."

And then the angels of heaven gasp in astonishment as the the Lamb of God bends his knee and extends his nail-scarred hand and says, "My son, I know. I know you didn't...and sometimes you...and there were years when...and...But I love you, always have. I am jealous, but I am not fickle. I am holy, but not capricious. I am love. And mercy always triumphs. This rose has your name on it, that name I've chosen just for you. I want you to have it and be with me forever." Warren struggles to his feet, hugs the Lord, and then enters into his rest, to live happily ever after. But as he walks he continues to look over his shoulder, unable to keep his eyes off the Lord. "Who is this One?" he says. And the angels cry out, "It is the Lord, the King of Glory."

The Scarlet D

"Doubt is the ants-in-the-pants of faith."
- Frederick Buechner

I was in a conversation recently where "doubt" was the topic. Initially, everyone was very enthusiastic about talking about it and seemed to be grateful that the permission to discuss such a thing was being granted. Words and phrases like "finally" and "yes, I've felt that too" surfaced from almost everyone in the room. The consensus was that "doubt" is a part of every believer's life and we shouldn't shy away from it.

And then we shied away from it.

It was hard to detect just when it happened, but a subtle shift took place in the room. If I recall, something like, "But where is this going?" was all it took. Doubt about doubt. A conversation that was open and vibrant quickly had the life sucked out of it and talkative doubters suddenly became the nervous-nellies heading back to the shoreline. Words and phrases like "hope" and "we mustn't stray too far from our orthodoxy" quickly brought everyone back to their senses. I was disappointed.

Doubt was acceptable on a very short leash. We choose clean underwear over ants-in-the-pants every time; clear definitions and air-tight answers over "well, maybe...I'm not sure." Although I fully understand the desire for such clarity, I cannot sign off on such a stance because faith is all about the unseen, the things hoped for. I have heard "doubt" discussed as a sin in the life of a believer; the scarlet "D." But doubt may just be an indication that someone is really moving into the waters of biblical faith, where you can't touch the bottom and you can't make it work out on paper and you can't tell how it might turn out.

Far too often, we adhere to a flat-earth theory when it comes to our faith. There are acceptable boundaries, known landmarks, that define who we are and what we do. If you should venture beyond those, you'll sail right off the edge of the faith. "Well, maybe."

"To come to a doubt, and to a debatement of any religious duty, is the voice of God in our conscience. Would you know the truth? Doubt, and then you will inquire." - John Donne

"If my religion is true, it will stand up to all my questioning; there is no need to fear. But if it is not true, if it is man imposing strictures on God...then I want to be open to God, not to what man says about God. I want to be open to revelation, to new life, to new birth, to new light. Revelation. Listening. Humility." - Madeleine L'Engle

As I age...

"I grow utterly absorbed, as I age, by two things: love, thorough or insufficient, and grace under duress. Only those two."
- Brian Doyle, Credo


"It is not that what is is not enough, for it is; it is that what is has been disarranged, and is crying out to be put in place."
- Madeleine L'Engle, Walking On Water

I live in a Christian subculture where "more" is the order of the day. Cries like, "Isn't there more?" abound in almost every book written and conference attended. "There's got to be more" falls from the lips of many a disgruntled church member and inhabits the lines of many of the songs we currently sing. Now, I understand "holy discontent" and wanting to know more of God; that's not what I'm talking about here. There's a discontent behind this current verbiage that doesn't feel holy at all.

Something about this rubs me wrong. I'm not exactly sure what I'm feeling, but I know I'm feeling something. I came across Madeleine's words the other day and they stopped me in my tracks. It really felt like she was articulating what I was feeling. What if what is is enough? What if the people and places and things of my life, right now, are enough? What if the discontent that I feel or experience is because the "enough" of my life has been "disarranged, and is crying out to be put in place"?

That feels more true to me. I'm not talking about NOT seeking out new faces and places and experiences; shucks, I'm a seeker and always have been - a rover, a wanderer/wonderer. Honest seeking is a vital part of the life of faith. But the current quest for "more" that I see and hear feels dangerously close to fickle-ness, an inability to be in place or present; it's almost a stance of I'm-not-of-this-world-and-I-really-don't-want-to-be-in-it-either. It's a stance of I-don't-want-to-do-the-hard-work-required-to-rearrange-things. And maybe that's it - laziness. Laziness cloaked in the guise of "surely there's more" and when the guise is removed the real words are "surely there's more than fallen people and fallen places and..."

A little down the page, Madeleine L'Engle told me what you have to be in order to live in this disarranged world. An artist; men and women and children putting their hands to the plow of co-laboring with God in the rearrangement of the world. You might even say, "His Kingdom coming and His will being done."

God, you have surrounded me with enough this day. Grant me the courage to work toward it's rearrangement. It is crying out to be put in place, O Lord.

Saved But Lost

Yesterday, a friend (Ragamuffin Diva) reminded me of this prayer from Thomas Merton:

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

And then yesterday afternoon, these words from another friend, a trusted heart:

Jesus, I have no idea where to go from here. But I invite you in. Bring me all the joy you have for me. Help me to see it when it comes. Help me not resign myself to surviving. Restore my joy.

Yesterday was a difficult day. Some things happened that were heavy, weighty. They left me feeling lost, helpless.

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going.

Jesus, I have no idea where to go from here.

I am grateful for the gift of friendship. And in particular, friends who share words. These two phrases accurately reflect my feelings from yesterday. And this morning. They don't "make it all better." But they do make it less lonely. Because I know others have felt this feeling, others have stared this demon, others have stood and faced the rising sun and declared, "I have no idea where I'm going." You say something like that when you're twenty and folks think it natural. You say something like that when you're forty and people get concerned; there's a rush to "make it all better" somehow. There were days, as a child, when some could "make it all better." But I'm becoming a man, and I'm putting away childish things. And sometimes, when you put away your childish things, you're left with no idea where to go. So you step out with nothing but the words of the FRIEND:

Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Scary, huh?

Lose the Madness

"For my own part I am pleased enough with surfaces...Such things for example as the grasp of a child's hand in your own, the flavor of an apple, the embrace of a friend or lover, the silk of a girl's thigh, the sunlight on rock and leaves, the feel of music, the bark of a tree, the abrasion of granite and sand, the plunge of clear water into a pool, the face of the wind - what else is there? What else do we need?"
- Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Traffic. Traffic. Traffic.

I almost had three wrecks yesterday on my morning commute. That's down one from the usual two. The closest I came was when a lady decided not to yield to me and turned right in front of me. Both of our lights were green, but I had the right of way. Because of the flow of traffic behind me, I wound up right on her back bumper. I don't often lay on my horn, but yesterday I LAID on it. A sheepish grin in her rearview mirror and an even sheepier wave to me was her response; it felt like that "Oh my, did I just turn in front of you and almost cause a major accident that possibly could have ended your earthly existence at age 40? Oh wow, I am sorry. Silly me. Thanks. Have a good one. Ohmygod, I'm getting a text."

There's a line at the beginning of the move Legends of the Fall where the old Indian narrator talks about the colonel going over the mountains to "lose the madness." That's what I wanted to do yesterday after that incident - go somewhere over the mountains and lose this commute madness where people don't yield for anything, don't leave a car length between them and you, where she puts on makeup at 75mph and talks to someone on her cell phone at the same time, where he lights a cigarette with both hands and uses his knees to hold the steering wheel, and I could go on. Madness. God never intended a morning commute. It's stark evidence of the Fall. Folks trying frantically to get somewhere other than where they are, so they can go be someone they're really not. East of I-25. East of Eden. Banished from the garden.

I got home and told my girlfriend about it. She knows. She drives in it when forced to. I told her that one of these days, I want to be where the morning commute is walking to the edge of the driveway to pick up the paper. The only thing I'd have to yield to might be a rabbit or a fox. There would be someone right on my tail, but it'd be my dog and he doesn't wear makeup. No one would be important enough to talk to on a cell phone as I walked for the paper. I'd be alone with my thoughts, with the surfaces. The feel of an autumn chill as it finds the spaces in my red union suit; the perfect commute fashion statement. The honk of geese overhead - now there's a group that knows how to drive. The horn of a lone pickup that passes with an accompanying wave that's not sheepish but friendly. The beat of my heart. The pleasure of opening a virginal newspaper. The heat on my fingers from my coffee mug and the taste of Major Dickason's coffee going down my throat. The knowledge that where I am is right where I want to be. And the only madness is that the deer have been in the roses again. But that's easily forgiven.

Before Samson was a dog...

We're sitting around the dinner table the other night when one of our kids says something about someone named “Samson.” Being the engaged father I seldom am but dream of being, I quickly ask, “And who else do you know named Samson?” Our middle daughter responds, “Samson was the name of the dog in that movie.” It is said matter-of-factly, her siblings seem to agree, and the conversation moves on to something else. My girlfriend and I just look at each other. “Baby, we gotta do something.”

We are the parents who have gently, and at times forcefully, moved away from structures such as Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, and those after-school-memorize-a-kazillion-verses-so-you-can-put-patches-on-your-vest programs. We haven’t abandoned our faith, given up on God, or written off sermons; well, the jury’s still out on sermons. But we have stopped to think about all the programming we grew up with. And while at the stop sign, we’ve wondered if we want our children to grow up in the same fashion. We want our children to have a vibrant faith measured by heart love for Jesus instead of head -knowledge of scripture. We want them to have the heart before the course. We’ve been in too many B-Christian subculture movies where someone could quote chapter and verse blindfolded and then turn around and do something completely opposed to what they just quoted.

But how do parents like us pass along a biblical literacy to their children without it becoming rote memorization in order to get the prize? How do we help them hide the Word in their hearts but not so well that they can't remember where they put it? How can I introduce my daughter to Samson before he was a dog?

Being the creative dad I dream of but seldom am, I'm going to try a few things. I'll let you know how it goes. I'm not wringing my hands in some chicken-little "the sky is falling and my kids don't know who Samson is" moment. Anxiety is not becoming of a believer. Our kids love "God and Jesus" - they always talk about them together like that. That's cool; I feel like God and Jesus are really pretty close. We pray at mealtimes and other moments when prayer feels right. I remember praying with one of the kids when they were constipated - "Lord, help me to go" - and it was just as natural as breathing for them. If we can't ask the Lord for help when we're blocked up, then we're really in trouble. Yet I still want them to know of Samson and David and Peter, Paul, and Mary. Of Adam and his girlfriend and Noah and his zoo. Of Nathan and the healing waters of Siloam. Of young Timothy and his upset stomach. Of Elizabeth, who got her womb rocked by jumpin' John the Baptist. Of Joseph, who did the right thing and married the girl God got pregnant. These are good folk. Friends for the journey. And then there's Jesus, the lamb of God, who took away the sins of the world.

Well, John, you realize that you know all those people because you rotely memorized verses and attended VBS all those years and sat under faithful Sunday school teachers every Sunday, don't you?

Yes, I do. And I believe all those things prepared me for suchatime as this and suchakids as these. A nod to good-looking Esther seems a fitting way to sign-off.

Back then...

I've watched a couple of episodes of Ken Burns' war documentary. PBS, one of our four channels, is running it this week. I'd read about it several weeks ago as being "something to watch." It has that distinctive Burns feel; masterful images, hauntingly appropriate music, and selah-esque pauses so you can catch your emotional breath. I highly recommend it.

One of last night's segments focused on the death of President Roosevelt. At a pivotal time in the war, the commander-in-chief died. Silver-haired people recalled how everyone, everyone, gathered around the radios to listen to the reports of his passing. Fragile veterans remembered the news reaching their units and men jumping up and attaching bayonettes to their guns and charging the enemy, saying, "This is for the Old Man!" Yet another, who was overseas at the time, looked directly at Burns' camera and said through tears, "I felt great loss." And one gregarious grandpa talked of how his parents were Republican and hated Roosevelt, but "all us kids loved him. He was the face of America."

As I've watched both nights, I've been moved to tears. We routinely speak of the loss of innocence in our country. We harken back to a time when things were simpler. At least some of us do. Some find that kind of talk silly. They believe that things were as they are now and our memories are deceiving. But as I've watched the past (funny phrase), I believe that things were different back then, people and places had an innocence to them, and yes, times were simpler. People had faith in one another, in institutions, and our leaders. Was it naive and misplaced? Maybe. But at least it was there to be naive and misplaced. I'm not sure we have "faith" at all these days, in anyone or anything. Not even ourselves. And there was a simple-ness to time. Sure, the war itself was gradually making things less simple, but the images of those people and their journals of those days have a clarity to them that I do not see and hear today. The images are not populated with a number of "things," but rather always have a lot of "people" in them. Family. Community. Friends. And the voices speak of love and loss and "the Old Man" whereas the air today is full of hate and greed and the possiblity of a woman in the house that's white. Those aren't just different words, those are different values. And our values indicate what kind of a people we are. And we're different.

I feel great loss. Burns' work keeps us from historical amnesia. It is a gift. But it must be opened.

Species of Silence

"I had an intuition that when you really annunciate what you want in the world you will always be greeted...with some species of silence. It may be that the silence is there so that you can hear exactly what you have asked for, and hear it more clearly so that you can get it right. If the goal is real and intensely personal, as it should be, others naturally should not be able to understand it the first time it finds its own voice. It means in a way, in a very difficult way, that you are on to something." -
David Whyte, Crossing the Unknown Sea

Do you like to be greeted with silence after you've annunciated something you want to the world? Yeah, me neither. I like for folks to fawn all over it and declare it brilliant, groundbreaking, truly inspired. But if Whyte is right, and I believe he is, then when that happens, it may be an indicator that I've not really annunciated what I want. I may be playing to a particular audience, telling folks what I know they'll fawn all over or find truly inspiring. It may, no doubt, be something I do have an affinity for or be gifted at, but it may not be what I really want. Heralding the real stuff to the world is always greeted with "some species of silence." Rats.

But the wisdom of the quote above rings through again, for this "silence" might reveal I've annunciated something "real and intensely personal." How could someone else possibly understand it? It's something foreign to them, at least at first. I love Whyte's phrase - "intensely personal." Intensely personal could be read as "odd" because it is those things, those hopes and dreams, those affinities or quirks that reveal our "differentness" from others. We all share this thing called humanity, but we're not all the same.

I wonder if the same kind of thing happens when we truly annunciate what we want to God? If the silence we often experience in prayer is not absence but allowance? An "allowing" us to hear exactly what we've asked for? An "allowing" for that prayer or desire or hope to really find its voice? Maybe some of our prayers begin as personal, but God allows the experience of silence so that they might become "intensely personal." Maybe.

If you really read the quote I began with and you really read that last paragraph, then you might respond with, "Well, Dirty Shamer, are you saying that possibly God might not understand some of the things we pray, at least at first? And that He needs time to learn us and those intensely personal things about us? Are you saying that God might not fully know us and His knowledge of us is ever unfolding as days pass? Are you crazy enough to suggest that God may have created us with some things hidden to Him and that by design He discovers new things about us along the way? Are you even remotely hinting at an open, ever-evolvingness to the God who is the same yesterday, today, and forevermore?

If I were to say those things, you'd think me odd. And probably respond with silence.

Movie Re-view

My girlfriend and I watched Georgia Rule last night on the handy, dandy dvd player. The movie's been out for awhile now. The main characters are a grandmother, played by Jane Fonda; her daughter, played by Felicity Huffman; and her granddaughter, played by Lindsay Lohan. Somebody named Bill Zwecker said, "A film that will touch your heart!" I'm glad that it just touched Bill's heart, because it broke mine.

It's a story about broken people. And I mean broken. The rock that's dropped in the middle of the storyline is that Lohan's character, Rachel, was sexually abused by her stepfather. And the ripples go out from there. Huffman's character, Lilly, spent years in a drunken stupor after her father's death, which may have opened the door for her new husband to abuse Rachel. Fonda's character, Georgia, lived and lives such a regulated (rules) life that she couldn't or didn't reach out to her daughter after her husband's death, which may have led to Lilly's drinking, which may have led to Rachel's sexual abuse, which led to one hour and 53 minutes of these characters rippling into the lives of other people in hurtful and harmful ways.

At one point, Lilly is sitting in the floor of her childhood bedroom, sloshed to the gills after learning of Rachel's abuse. Georgia comes in the room bearing chicken soup or something non-alcoholic for her daughter. There's some dialogue about the state of affairs and then all of sudden, Lilly says, "You never could say it...that you loved me." Georgia bobs and weaves with, "well, my parents never told me," or some such justification.

Oh, so that's it - the old "you never told me you loved me" line. Critics with more critical skills than Bill Zwecker would immediately say, "How cli-shay." I did. At first. But then I became less critical. Because there's something to that - being told you're loved. Now true, there's the empty "I love you" stuff that's just something to yell before you walk out the door each day; it's got little depth to it, just words. And there's also the "I love you" dark stuff, the kind that Rachel experienced from her stepfather in the shadow of night. But somewhere inbetween those extremes of abuse (and they're both abuse), there's this phrase - I love you - which has the power to make a significant difference in our lives. And it keeps showing up in movies, whether deftly handled or horribly acted, because it's something we all hold in common, this need to hear those words. Yes, it must have actions to shore it up, and yes, those actions need to be substantive, and yes, yes, yes, yes. But it seems to all begin with hearing those words, those words that will "touch your heart!"

The Old Ones

...until I come upon one of the old giants...the ones that mandate it to be big in this country, to be big or die, but not to compromise... - Rick Bass, The Book of Yaak

My girlfriend and I drove through Rocky Mountain National Park about dusk. Anywhere at dusk suits me just fine, but being in RMNP at that wonderfully melancholy time of day is top drawer, man. We had seen several herds of elk throughout the park. It is that time when you can thrill to the sound of bugling bulls, if you've the patience to stop, look, and listen. Anyway, we exited the park and pointed the van in the direction of our cabin.

Just as we entered "town" we saw people standing along the shoulder of the road. You could hardly make them out, since dusk was quickly surrendering to the night. They were shadow people, transfixed by something in the mist. We kept driving and all of a sudden there was movement right beside the van. That little kid in that Bruce Willis movie said he saw dead people. Well, we saw live elk, running alongside our van. And then we saw him.

This old giant just steps out in front of his harem and stops. It's cool enough that we can see his elk breath coming out of his elk nostrils. I carefully inch around him as my girlfriend is snapping pictures like a woman possessed. As we come completely around him, I stop the van and he's standing directly in my rear view mirror. The fog is heavy around his haunches and he leans down with his majestic rack and trumpets into the night air: Here am I, hear me bugle. I am big. And I won't compromise.

At that moment, something inside my gut shifted and I found myself on the verge of tears. I had to ask myself what that was about. In retrospect, I believe the old giant spoke to a place deep within me, a place that is seldom stirred, a place that only responds to the mandate of be big or die, no compromise. And when that place catches a glimpse or a refrain from one of the old giants, that place responds with gut shifts or tears or joy. Maybe gut-shifting-tears-of-joy.

We drove away as the old giant stood his ground in the middle of the highway, but we could continue to hear his cry: Be big or die, no compromise...

Autumn Gold

This is me and my dad. My parents came through Estes Park this weekend on their way to some vacation time in Steamboat Springs. Stopping to see their grandchildren for a couple of days was a no-brainer. But they still like seeing my girlfriend and me too.

I've grown a little taller than my dad, just a little. But he will always be the tallest tree in my forest. You can probably tell that we both wear glasses; we both need a little help with our vision. And we like hats. I've got on a Marmot visor and what you can't see is that my dad has his cowboy hat in his hands. We both look a little wild in hats though because we've both got huge ears, always have. The better to hear you with, my dear.

We both grew upadreamin' of being a cowboy. Still do. He's a pastor and I'm a writer. But we both still dream of being a cowboy. He's wearing a shirt I gave him not long ago. A cowboy shirt. I first thought he wore it so much because he likes the cowboy snaps where buttons usually go. But I think he actually wears it so much because I gave it to him. And he likes that reason more. I bought it thinking I could wear that size, but I'm not that big yet. My chest and shoulders still have a ways to go. But he's there. So I gave it to him.

I like this picture because I believe the background represents where we both are. I'm still the green aspens, still growing, still reaching, still young. But dad is golden now. He's in a good season of enjoying some of the fruit of years of labor. Oh, he hasn't stopped laboring - trust me on that one. But he is aware of time and that time is fleeting and so he's doing some of that carpe the day stuff. Like walking out into a field so somebody can snap a picture of him and his son. And after the camera shutter snaps, he looks back into that grove of aspens and says, "It's beautiful, isn't it?" And his son says, "Yes."


Bears...appeal to a side of us that is lumbering, churlish and individual. We are touched by their anatomy because it resembles ours, by their piggishness and sleepiness and unsociability with each other, by their very aversion to having anything to do with us except for eating our garbage. - Edward Hoagland, "Bears, Bears, Bears"

Our weekend was spent in a tiny cabin in the not-so-tiny town of Estes Park, CO. Just as the sun was beginning its descent over the mountains on Saturday afternoon, we stepped outside to take some pictures by the dazzling golden Aspens. The occupant of the cabin beside us was standing outside whispering loudly, "There's a bear over there."

Here we were...in woods that many people drive a thousand miles to camp in, people who felt that if they could happen upon a bear it might make their whole summer excursion... - Ed Hoagland, "B,B,B"

And in the time it took for my childrent to scurry inside the tiny cabin, this not-really-tiny-at-all black bear comes around the corner, all lumbering and churlish and individual. It's hard to describe the shift that took place within me at that moment. Just moments before, I had been alternating between stirring the soup on the kitchen stove and playing Barbie dolls with my youngest daughter on the porch. And then SHAZAM the beast is standing on one side of my minivan and I'm standing on the other. Sure wish my first black bear encounter would've been beside a Jeep or a Hummer or a quarter horse, but the Toyota Sienna's the reality these days. But all of a sudden, things got real primal. The soup could burn for all I cared and Barbie could go check out her cleavage in the mirror because I was face to face with wilderness.

The sows stands chuffing at him, slamming their paws on the ground to scare him... - E.H, "B,B,B"

You know all that advice about making yourself tall and talking quietly and not making eye contact when you encounter a black bear? I did none of it. I stood there with camera in hand looking the creature dead in the eyes. Making next time I'll follow all those instructions, but too much technique ruins the first time, right? The first time's meant to be primal and visceral, nothing but desire. The bear chuffed and slammed the ground, just like Ed Hoagland says, in an attempt to scare us. He did. I've had my tiny hiney in a really tiny cubicle for months now and I needed the chuff scared out of me. Stir the pot, man. Rouse the troops. Send Barbie back home in her minivan to eat soup.

By October most of the bears have chosen their dens and are puttering around... - "B,B,B"

In some real sense, this may have been the last thing this black bear decided to do before tucking himself in for the winter. "Say, think I'll take a stroll over by that tiny cabin and scare the chuff outta ole' thinks-he's-a-man. See if I can wake him up a little, get the berries moving, remind him he's alive." I guess he coulda charged me, knocked me down, and eaten me right there in front of my wife and kids and parents and Barbie. But he didn't. He just scared me. Not "to death," but in the vicinity.

...it bounded toward the woods like the beast of a children's fairy tale - a big rolling derriere, a big tongue for eating, and pounding feet, its body bending like a boomerang. - "B,B,B"

I would imagine that somewhere on this vast planet this weekend, someone claims to have seen an angel. A bright, luminous, radiant, winged-creature that told 'em something, like the oracle at Delphi maybe. You can have your Barbie-like angels. As for me and my house, I want the dark, black, shadowy, huffing and chuffing angels, slamming the grounds with paws instead of wings, proclaiming their disinterest in me and my tiny self. I desire to be humbled, reminded of the dust from which I came. The Bible talks about people being "sore afraid" when they came into contact with angels. Not much to be afraid of if you see a 12-foot Barbie, strumming a harp. Maybe all those folks saw big rolling derrieres and big tongues and pounding feet and they forgot to talk at a normal volume and make themselves big and avoid direct eye contact. They had a visitation from a real angel. And so have I.

Accept the Cookies

The child doesn't have to struggle to get himself in a good position for having a relationship with God; he doesn't have to craft ingenious ways of explaining his position to Jesus; he doesn't have to create a pretty face for himself; he doesn't have to achieve any state of spiritual feeling or intellectual understanding. All he has to do is happily accept the cookies, the gift of the kingdom.

The quote above is another one from Brennan Manning's Ragamuffin Gospel, just so you know. I've taken the time this week to write a little on an experience of several years ago that was beautiful and painful at the same time. It was a church experience, I was a pastor there (one of two), and we left a year to the day after arriving. I've no desire to place blame on anyone; my intent is to be a witness.

The Manning quote is fun to read and it looks nice if you print if off and put it on the fridge. But if you try and live it, well, that's something entirely different. And if you try and preach it, well, well, well.

One example, o.k.? The Lord's Supper. Communion. Whatever you call it and however frequently you observe it. The issue is cleanliness before Communion. The N.T. text talks of examining yourself before coming to the Lord's Table. I grew up in a tradition that stressed this. I preached for years and stressed this. And our last church experience stressed this to the point of absurdity, just as I was beginning to not stress it. Feel a possible tension?

It plays out like this. You take some time before the bread and the cup come your way and you examine your heart to see if there's any sin there and then you confess that or those sins. It's essentially "don't come to the dinner table until you've washed your hands." Nothing wrong with that. But the subtle undercurrent is that you cannot come until you're completely clean, completely confessed, no sins lurking, either of commission or omission. I've sat in services where the pastor had us "down in prayer" for almost twenty minutes, making sure we were all scrubbed and spotless before coming to the table. And the emphasis shifted from an offering of God's grace to an emphasis on what a total schmuck I am. If I don't feel really, really bad about myself, then I haven't examined properly. And if I can't come up with anything to confess, well, keep waiting and searching and examining because something evil resides beneath the surface, just give it time. Twenty minutes ought to do. I don't believe that anymore. In fact, I believe it to be a distortion of the gospel. Not that I'm a schmuck. I am. A ragamuffin, whatever you want to call me. The emphasis, however, is on the Father and His extraordinary love for me.

I don't have to do anything before I come to the table. I don't have to scroll through all my shortcomings and "get them right." I don't have to scrub and scrub until the hands are spotless before I touch the body of Christ, broken for me. I don't have to have this peaceful, easy feeling that since I'm all clean, now the blood of Christ, spilled for me, can truly get where it needs to go. Nope. All I have to do is accept the cookies. Take. Eat.

And the whole issue of not being able to partake of the Lord's Table if you're not a member or haven't signed a covenant card? Father forgive us for our struggling and ingenious crafting and make-up applying and achievement mentality. You serve the cookies up hot and fresh from the oven and we putz around doing goofy stuff until they're cold and hard. Like our hearts. A child doesn't think twice about accepting a cookie. We don't want to be children, huh, Lord? We'd rather be Your peers rather than Your children. We think we like being grownups. But we don't, Lord. We hate it. And we hate ourselves. We hate that we can't take the cookies and run. We've thrown the childish out with the childlike. And that's left us old.

More Uprising

When a man or woman is truly honest (not just working at it) it is virtually impossible to insult them personally. There is nothing there to insult. Those who were truly ready for the kingdom were just such people. Their inner poverty of spirit and rigorous honesty had set them free.
- Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

Honesty. It's one of those words we talk about, kinda like "community." But there's talking about honesty (working at it) and then there's being honest, rigorously honest. What we found in our last ministry experience is actually what we've found in most ministry experiences; there is a ceiling of honesty that people will tolerate, but don't bust a hole in the ceiling. There is acceptable honesty that we'll all, well, most of us, participate in, but don't go beyond the borders - don't visit the land of rigorous honesty.

The opposite of rigorous honesty is posing. I first heard that word from author John Eldredge. He contends that most men are posers. We pose as good husbands, good fathers, got-it-together pastors, upstanding citizens, etc. However, the reality is we're not so good husbands or fathers, we're pastors who many times don't believe what we preach, and we're selfish citizens at best and we gladly stand up for more selfishness. We're posers. And you can insult us personally and it can knock us on our backs for weeks or months, such is the fragile ice of our posing.

Women pose too. It is not gender specific. Got-it-together moms, fashion divas, hard charging executives in a business suit, etc.

I don't want you think I'm not a poser, for I am. I do it daily. But there are moments of rigorous honesty in my life that I pray are multiplying and gradually taking over this life I live. But remember, there is a border to the honesty we'll tolerate in many church settings. And to cross it is dangerous. Freeing, but dangerous. For you will experience friendly fire, shots from those you have called "friend." It's not pretty. Freeing, but not pretty.

Rigorous honesty does not bode well in places where "every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before." Because some days aren't sweeter. They're sour with disappointment and sadness. Rigorous honesty finds little air to breathe in rooms where "we'll work 'till Jesus comes." Because some days or weeks or months were meant to be sabbaths. Rigorous honesty can find God's truth in R rated films. That doesn't fly in those of the Thomas Kinkaide persuasion. Rigorous honesty finds little affirmation in minds where the Bible is the fourth member of the Trinity. I once called the Bible a "springboard" that propels me into my life, here on this earth, this "one wild and precious life" God has given me. A gentleman, whose "gentleness" was really a pose, called me the devil for saying that. Once somebody in a church calls you "the devil", your reputation starts to lag a little. Especially if you're the pastor.

Rigorous honesty is freeing. But it has to begin with yourself. If I'm not rigorously honest with myself, there's no way I'll ever be that way with you. It seems the issue is fear. To paraphrase the oft-quoted somebody: If I tell you who I really am, there's a chance you may not like me. Because I'm all I've got. That's fair. I know that fear. But I do not believe God desires us to live in fear.

The LORD loves those who hate evil,
he preserves the lives of his saints
and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.


Well, I realized why I had been thinking about Job and pain and loss and your image of God and so on and so forth. Right about this time, four years ago, my family and I came out to CO to work with a friend and a church and almost one year to the day later, my family and I moved on from that friend and that church. I've written about that experience here before and no doubt will continue to do so; it was something that truly changed our lives. If pain and beauty are the only two things that can pierce the soul, then we got a double-piercing. Pain and beauty at the same time.

There was this overwhelming beauty to the Front Range of Colorado, the geographical section of the state where all of a sudden, mountains pop up out of the plains. There are further ranges further west, but the Front Range is where it all begins. These mountains bless us literally and metaphorically, for they represent the place where much began. There will be further ranges, further west (metaphorically), but this is where much began.

Years and years and years ago, plates began shifting beneath the earth's surface and combined with heat and gravitational pull, these mountains jutted out of the flat earth. The breaking of long established surfaces must have been dramatic and violent. Trees, rocks, rivers - it was all at the mercy of the uprising. But the master artist was creating. What looked like chaos was not. The soul of the plains was being pierced.

And that is how we feel. Things had been shifting beneath the surface for years for me and combined with passion and the gravity of God's hands, a new landscape began to emerge. Long established surfaces were broken. Job patterns, friendships, the denomination of my childhood, reputation - it all seemed at the mercy of the uprising. It was both dramatic and violent. Things were torn asunder. T.S. Eliot's prayer - Lord, teach me to care and not to care became the mantra. There are things in this life worth caring about and the number of those is precious and few. The rest of the things in this life are distractions, lesser gods competing for our time and attention. To live at the beck and call of "the many" is idolatry. And idols seldom die without a fight, an uprising. The prophets of Baal can be a formidable presence (think Elijah). At some point in that tectonic shift of the soul, a stand must be made - "as for me and my house." It is painful and tearfilled and lonely. Awfully lonely. Don't let anyone tell you differently. If someone tells you about it in heroic shades, rest assured, they've not been there. They may have read or dreamt about mountains, but they were not there at their birth.

Good Job

Been thinking about Job today; not sure why, but I have. This blameless and upright God-fearer lost just about everything he had - children, sheep, servants, home, and finally his health. He didn't lose his wife, though, and she approached him as he sat there in the ash heap, scraping himself with a piece of broken pottery, and said, "Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!" So much for spousal support.

Job didn't curse God and die. There are forty-two chapters in the O.T. that tell the story of what he did and didn't do. The bottom line is that he stayed faithful and "the LORD blessed the latter part of Job's life more than the first."

Those two options, cursing God or staying faithful, seem to be the extreme choices when satan is granted permission to release hell in our lives. Some folks immediately curse God. There's not much love lost between them anyway and it's essentially driving the last nail in the coffin. And then some folks stay faithful. They persevere alongside bitter spouses, have daily conversations with well-meaning-but-just-plum-stupid friends, and they live to see the blessings.

But the rest of the folks, and this is the larger of all the numbers, don't curse God and they don't stay faithful. They become indifferent and keep on living. Better said, we become indifferent and keep on living.

We tell God that evidently nothing we do or say has any bearing on His divine perogatives. We'll just keep getting up and doing the doo and trying to muddle through somehow and when He calls our number, we'll pass on over into whatever's next and face it just the way we faced things while here on earth - alone. It's as if He twists our arms so far back that we give in, cry "UNCLE" and spend the rest of our days a shell of a man or woman, living a life of quiet desperation. Oh, we're not mad or vengeful or bitter or sad or anything of those words. What we are is numb. And we may have been better off cursing God and dying. At least it would have been a blooded response.

In the overall scheme of things, it seems like God would much rather have a stay-faithful person or a curse-God person over a whatever,You're-going-to-do-what-You-want-anyway person. He'd be so much more pleased with a teach-Sunday-school-to-teenagers-your-whole-life person or the I'll-never-step-foot-in-this-place-again person instead of the person who sits in the pew every Sunday, smiling at the ceiling while the choir sings, dropping the tithe in the bucket when it's passed, all the while thinking, "These poor nice suckers." You see, you can stay faithful and die like Job - "old and full of years" - or you can resign your life completely and live for a long time - "old and full of crap."

If you can't pull off the Jobian-stay-faithful thing, it might not be such a bad idea to curse God and die. I'm quite certain God can handle it. And what if I said I really don't think you'd be cursing God, but your image of God? And once that's cursed or dies, then you can move into who or what God really is? Or at least a little more than you had before? But it takes great courage to curse your image of God and let it die. And your spouse and friends and sheep and servants are rarely supportive.