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 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. 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.

Way Too Close

We live too close to our neighbors. Way too close. One day we hope to live on a place with some land around it. I'd like to be able to walk around in my fundawear outside or pee off my deck if I was so inclined or do that crazy Kevin Costner Dances With Wolves Dance out around a big fire out behind the house if the urge struck me. Or just sit and not be able to look inside someone's back sliding glass door. One day. Some day.

When you live in close proximity to neighbors you hear stuff. Way too much stuff. One of the many things we hear from some of our neighbors is their dogs. Two little Shit-zoos (I know the breed is spelled incorrectly, but it's the only form of violence I can extend toward the little buggers right now) who are "let out" regularly throughout the day. And when they're "let out," which is right behind our back fence, they do nothing but yip at each other until they're "let in." This is not the baying of a hound or the excitement of a beagle; no, this is a Shitzooean yip fest for twenty to thirty minutes.

We received a letter last week from the management group for our housing division. Subject? Repeated complaints of barking dogs. Now we have not formally complained, but evidently enough people have to warrant a letter being sent out. But you know the effectiveness of letters, right? A whole lotta nothing. I sat down at the dinner table last night, with the windows open to the brisk CO breezes, to ask everybody around our round table, "Well, tell me about your day?" And what to my wondering ears should appear? Barkapalooza. My girlfriend and I sit down later that evening to catch the forecast for the weekend and just at the moment our weather guru is about to tell us the temps - Yipee-tie-yay. Snuggled up beside the same girlfriend last night because Sept. nights in CO are made for snuggling, getting ready to whisper in her ear the attributes of her beauty and how I dream of peeing off the deck one day and suddenly the crisp, cool silence is broken by the sound of two little oriental of origin peckerwoods. This led to using words my mother told me never to say.

I'm not sure what the solution is, if there even is one. We live too close to our neighbors. Way too close. Of course, I guess I could just go ahead and start living out some of my dreams - walking around outside in my loincloth, relieving myself in broad daylight when I gotta go, and dancing native-like around a cracklin' fire until the wee hours of the morning. Maybe I will. But that would probably prompt a letter from the management group of our housing division. But you know the effectiveness of letters, right?

Learning Prepositions

We spent almost two hours last night doing homework. I say we because my girlfriend and I were as involved in these assignments as our two oldest kids. I mentioned the amount of homework they're bringing home and she said their teachers had indicated it would be this way; they are preparing them for the harsh realities of middle school.

I've got very mixed feelings about that. Our kids spend almost seven hours a day at school and then bring work home that, some nights, takes up another two hours. And that is preparing them for the harsh realities of middle school?

Well, John, you're just ticked because you had to help them last night and it took up your time.

Maybe. That's fair. But that's not all of it. Our kids love to go out in the backyard and play together. They swing, have light saber fights, roll around in the grass, dig big trenches in our yard for dad to twist his ankle in. That after dinner time, dusk, is a perfect backdrop for our children. The beauty of their faces set against a salmon-red sunset and the shadowy Raspberry mountains behind our home. It's downright gorgeous. But two hours of homework does not allow the sun to naturally set on my shoulders of my children. They are huddled over paper and erasers and the harsh reality of a flourescent light bulb.

Well, homeschool 'em, you big sissy. Stop whining about public schools and do your own thing.

We've thought about it and still do. But I'm not altogether unhappy with their public school experience. We believe they have great teachers and the social component is very important and any opportunity to go somewhere wearing a backpack is not all bad. But I believe once they walk out that door in the afternoon and head home, they should be free. Released from school. Free to go home. To that place where you can lay in the floor and watch cartoons and eat pretzels. A place where you can go outside and reintroduce yourself to your brother or sisters after having been apart for the day. A place that holds the opportunity of hunkering down in the grass and just thinking about stuff. Or getting together and pulling all the legs off a grasshopper. Or lining up beside each other and seeing how far you can spit. Or just swinging, swinging, swinging as the day closes her eyes for the night.

I've no problem with our kids being prepared for the harsh realities of middle school, or life for that matter. But I do not want it to be at the expense of experiencing the things we live life for. Their experience these last few weeks has been that life is all about work, productivity, all day long.

Well, skinny-philosopher-guy-with-kids-that-are-mean-to-grasshoppers, that's the reality of this world.

Yes, but we are to live in this world, but not of it. I want my children to learn the difference those prepositions make in our lives.


Madeleine L'Engle died last week. A good friend notified me of her passing. Several years ago, I happened upon her book Walking On Water: Reflections on Faith & Art. Although she is probably best known for A Wrinkle in Time, it is this "faith & art" book that is my favorite.

"Not long ago a college senior asked if she could talk to me about being a Christian writer. If she wanted to write Christian fiction, how was she to go about it?
I told her that if she is truly and deeply a Christian, what she writes is going to be Christian, whether she mentions Jesus or not. And if she is not, in the most profound sense, Christian, then what she writes is not going to be Christian, no matter how many times she invokes the name of the Lord." (pp. 121-122)

For some of us, that kind of thinking throws a wrinkle in things. We mention Jesus in conversation or insist on our music invoking the name of the Lord and tend to believe those things indicate we are Christian. Jesus becomes this seal of approval. If you hear or see his name, it's Christian. If you don't, it's not. That kind of thinking has all the veracity of saying that the lady with the fish sticker on the back of her van is a Christian, while she whips in front of me and flips me the swollen middle finger in the rearview mirror. Sorry, that fish don't swim.

" the most profound sense, Christian..."

That's what I desire my life to be - profoundly Christian; "truly and deeply." Something deep enough for the "fish" to swim in.


Some people hear their own inner voices with great clearness and they live by what they hear.
Such people become crazy, or they become legends...

So begins the film adaptation of Jim Harrison's novella Legends of the Fall. I have long been drawn to this film. When I bring it up in "favorite movie" conversations, people either say "I loved it" or "I didn't get it." There seems to be no middle ground. I loved it from the first time I saw it; I'm only now beginning to get it.

The story (and Harrison's novella is a wonderful read) concerns the lives of Colonel Ludlow and his three sons: Alfred, Tristan, and Samuel. Alfred is the brooding, first born; Tristan is the wild, middle child; and Samuel is the virginal, youngest son. I've watched it for years as the story of three men; however, I've recently begun to see it as the story of one man, everyman. I'll hit the highlights here. For those of you familiar with the film or story, you'll know what I'm talking about. For those of you who are not familiar, I hope it will compel you to at least see the film.

Against the convictions of their father, the three sons go off to war and after only a short period of time, young Samuel is killed. And in a very real way, the rest of the story deals with the conflicts and tensions between the two brothers that remain.

At some point and time, and it's usually a very distinct moment, every man's "Samuel" dies. The young, innocent boyish part of us encounters the world as it is, harsh and unyielding, and the innocence ends. Maybe it's a cutting word from our fathers, an apron-string-strangling from our mothers, a sexual wound at the hands of a trusted person, a father or mother walking away in divorce...the possibilities are endless. But you know deep within yourself that the innocence is over. Everything is different now. And who remains is Alfred and Tristan.

You're left with the duty-bound, rule-keeping Alfred within yourself and you're also left with the devil-may-care, feral Tristan part of you. You may not agree with that, but I'll stake a claim there. Every man I've ever met has those two brothers within; one may overpower the other in personality or appearance, but they're both in there. I know they're both in me. And we spend the rest of our lives trying to discern what to do with these two. We move into the stability of wife and children and are awakened one night by the lonely cry of a coyote and find ourselves turned toward the wall, weeping for some unknown but recognizable feeling. Maybe we walk away from family and friends and all that is familiar and dive into wilderness, only to soon find ourselves pining for a woman's touch, the laughter of children, and a roof over our heads. We do all we can to stay in line at work, knowing full well the weight of the responsibilites we carry, at the same time trying to hold on to some measure of individuality in a world that, regardless of what commercials say, rewards conformity. We have tatoos beneath our Ralph Lauren shirts.

It is hard to tell of happiness. Time goes by and we feel safe too soon.

Maybe we climb Mt. Hood or ride cross-country with buddies on Harleys and return home with "it" out of our system. We come back like those City Slickers, having "found our smile." Things go well for a season, we're satisfied and happy, we coach soccer and lead Bible studies, and then one day the sleeping bear rouses and we realize it wasn't enough, not even close. We begin acting strange and talking even stranger and those close to us keep asking if we're "o.k." and we inwardly cry out, "O.k. was never my goal." Our marriages assume a "cranky elegance" (Harrison's words) and our parenting is spotty at best. We try and stay under the radar at work, always wondering if anyone can really "see" us. Some of us are visibly repulsed by men who've sold out to the Man, who have no sense of wildness in their lives. Yet we envy their vacation homes in the Tetons or their Bavarian motorcycles in the garage. Others spend the entire time in their vacation home in the Tetons checking email or figuring out how to sell the BMW motorcycle because it hasn't been ridden in years. And we hate that about ourselves. Absolutely hate it.

I won't follow the whole thread here, but the brothers also fight over a woman, Susannah. Interestingly enough, Susannah cannot have children, she cannot bring forth life. She is this lush, wonderland of a woman, yet both brothers do not find in her what they seek. She eventually takes her own life. And then there's the father, Colonel Ludlow. And One Stab, the old Indian who mentors the boys as they grow up. And one cannot forget the landscape, the mountains of Montana, a home by a stream where the Colonel hoped "to lose the madness." Yet it followed him. As it does us.

I don't want to dissect the film too much; dissecting something always leads to its death. But I'll tell you, men, this one's a deep vein. Watch it or read it and see what you think. My caution is I believe you'll see yourself. Or maybe that's why I want you to see it. Or read it. Naming those inner voices within ourselves is the first step. Listening to and living by them follows. I'm not talking about listening to a parent or your pastor or some elected official. I'm talking about stilling yourself enough to listen to what or who is inside. If you do that, there's a good chance you'll become crazy. But there's a slim chance you might become a legend...

It was a good death.

Morning - 6 September 07

So pay attention to what is in front of you
and what is hidden will be revealed
. Day 6 - Gospel

"The conquerers and looters refused to participate in a reciprocal and balanced exchange with life. They were unable to receive the best gifts of land, not gold or pearls or ownership, but a welcome acceptance of what is offered...These actions, all of them, must be what Bushman people mean when they say a person is far-hearted. This far-hearted kind of thinking is one we are especially prone to now..."
- Linda Hogan, Dwellings

"Twice in my life, not once, I have heard the wild wood duck call her hatchlings down from the tree nest. God is lavish."
- Mary Oliver, Long Life

"He talked on, said how the Reverend Biddle talked of Creation as though it had been a mere seven-day investment, like putting up a barn, a task with a beginning, middle, and a definite end. Not so. 'Look out there,' he said in a voice that suddenly demanded attention . 'Creation is forever. Not made, boy, but being made, always. Does that sound silly, an old man's madness?..'"
- Harry Middleton, The Earth is Enough

So pay attention to what is in front of you
and what is hidden will be revealed

Loving the Dark

There's another disadvantage to the use of the flashlight: like many other mechanical gadgts it tends to separate a man from the world around him. If I switch it on my eyes adapt to it and I can see only the small pool of light which it makes in front of me; I am isolated. Leaving the flashlight in my pocket where it belongs, I remain a part of the environment I walk through and my vision though limited has no sharp or definite boundary.
-Ed Abbey, Desert Solitaire

I left the house this morning about 5:30 to run. It's still dark at 5:30, although it's getting a little lighter each day. This morning's sky was coal black and liberally sprinkled with stars. Big, beautiful, shiny stars. I'm just about to embark on the trail and what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a shooting star. The arc of this thing was huge. I did make a wish, but I won't tell you what it was. I did tell God though.

I've been doing this pre-dawn running for several weeks now. And I love it. For the most part, I can't see a thing. I don't know if there's ogres laying in wait for me or piles of steaming horse manure strategically placed in my path. Folks really do ride horses on this trail. I'm not sure about the orgre thing. But I've got to tell you, my senses are on full alert. Something practically ran across my feet the other morning (I think it was a rabbit) and my heart rate went through the roof. Of course, little petey rabbit encountering my size 12s no doubt set in motion a pre-dawn cardiac arrest as soon as he got clear of the trail.

And even though I can't see, I can see. Sounds strange, but Cactus Ed's quote above reflects my experience. When a car's headlights or the halo of suburbia hits my eyes, I'm blinded; totally isolated, save for those lights. But with the lights off, I'm a part of the trail, a part of the darkness. I'm humbly a part of something much larger than myself.

Jesus said something about men loving the darkness rather than the light. What if Jesus was being cryptic there? What if Jesus knew, and I'm certain He did due to the whole "created everything" status He holds, that some light blinds you and some darkness allows you to really see? What if Jesus meant that we love that artificial light, that stuff we create on our own or conjure up somehow, that illuminates but also isolates, which is a darkness of the worst kind? What if Jesus was hoping that we'd spend a little time in the pre-dawn hours occasionally and truly exegete what He was saying? Allow ourselves to be limited but unlimited at the same time? Experience some of that "cool-of-the-day" walking like Adam and Eve?

There is a darkness that gifts you with sight. And there is a light that cripples you with blindness. About halfway through my run, there's one of those Narnia lamp-posts that's my turnaround landmark. Just as I was turning around, guess what I saw? Another shooting star. I kid you not. But I almost missed this one because I had that light in my eyes. The lamp allowed me to see where I was going, but the shooting star allowed me to see what was going on. There is a difference, my friends.

But I have cut myself off completely from the greater world...the desert and the night are pushed back - I can no longer participate in them or observe; I have exchanged a great and unbounded world for a small, comparatively meager one. - Ed Abbey

I have faith in the night...