Simply Difficult

Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ...
- Galatians 6

For every man shall bear his own burden...
- Galatians 6

Honor thy father and mother...
- Mark 7

And call no man your father upon the earth...
- Matthew 11

Love thy neighbor as thyself...
- Matthew 5

Let the dead bury their dead...
- Matthew 8

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you...
- John 14

Think not that I am come to bring peace...
- Matthew 10

Lord, I believe...
- Mark 9

Help thou my unbelief...
- Mark 9

taken from The Brothers K by David James Duncan

That’s about the way it is, huh? A seething cauldron of paradox, this Jesus is. I cannot understand folks who think you can wrap him up with a fish sticker on the back of your car or a six week bible study down at your local teahouse.

One of men I call friend told me the other day that I was behaving in an inscrutable manner. He then, in a rather friendly fashion, proceeded to define “inscrutable” for me. The word means “difficult to fathom or understand.”

This Jesus, he’s rather inscrutable, don’t you think? I don’t know that he tried to be on purpose, it’s just what happens when you mix heaven and earth, divinity with hair and elbows and navels. And if we, as Christians believe, have this Jesus within us, then it would stand to reason, if reason really stands for anything these days, that we, by virtue of the guilt-by-association rule, would be rather inscrutable too. Would we? Could we? Inscrutable be?

These days in which we find ourselves living, these days of the church of Oprah and co. and the shenanigans of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and those folks in Texas with all the underage mothers and the absolute assheaded stupidity of Rush Limbaugh, these days need a visible witness to the particularity of this Jesus. And that is going to happen, if it ever happens, by way of the people who claim to know him. And I, for one, would like to lobby for a people of God inscrutable. That the world would know we are Christians, as the song says, by our love, by our love, but that they'd also know us by our difficult to fathomness. That last phrase is going to be hard to put to music around a YoungLife campfire, but I think you get my drift.

It's not that we would try to be inscrutable on purpose. Folks can smell that a mile away and mercy, every day has enough trouble of its own without us trying to be difficult to understand on purpose. No, this would rather be a very natural result of mixing heaven and earth, which usually comes by reaching out with a hand to heaven in one direction and a hand to earth in the other, which puts you in the cruciform position, which is always what happens when you attempt to mix heaven and earth. And the inscrutable Jesus hinted at that when he said I've come that you might have life, now take up your cross.


For some time, though, he struggled for more to hold on to. "Are you sure you have told me everything you know about his death?" he asked. I said, "Everything." "It's not much, is it?" "No," I replied, "but you can love completely without complete understanding." "That I have known and preached," my father said..."It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us."
- Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

I finished Maclean's beautiful story last night for the umpteenth time. And as the previous umpteenth times, the final pages were read through tears. For you see, my brother and I are preacher's sons, which would necessitate our father being a preacher and his wife being a preacher's wife. It was just the four of us and I am the oldest son. And whereas Maclean's father taught his sons to fish, our father taught us to love music. Instead of learning of dry flies and roll casting and trout, we learned of Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond and Rod McKuen. But in a very similar way, our father taught us to listen, for in the beginning was the Word and if you listen carefully you will hear that the words are beneath the water or the music.

Then I walked across the street
And caught the Sunday smell of someone frying chicken.
And Lord, it took me back to something that I'd lost
Somewhere, somehow along the way...(JC)

Did you ever read about a frog who dreamed of bein' a king
And then became one
Well except for the names and a few other changes
If you talk about me, the story's the same one. (ND)

Still in all I'm happy
The reason is, you see
Once in a while along the way
Love's been good to me. (RM)

And so, as I read last night about Maclean's brother and father and mother, I thought of my mine. And of me. Of how those he loved and did not understand when he was young are dead and how those I love are still alive, but I fear I do not understand them, not completely at least. As I'm sure my son and daughters will one day feel about me and my girlfriend and our family. But as Norman said, "you can love completely without complete understanding." I agree. This I have known and preached. But you must listen and listen carefully, for beauty is afoot in this grand old world.

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river or a song runs through it. On some of the rocks or notes are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks or notes are the words, and some of the words are theirs. And ours. And they are beautiful.

Reading the Water

"The fisherman even has a phrase to describe what he does when he studies the patterns of a river. He says he is "reading the water," and perhaps to tell stories he has to do much the same thing."
- Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

The question was posed: Is the Father with us? And I added my hope-filled voice to the answer: He is! I stood and sang the songs that scrolled across the screen. I extended my hands over the children as they gathered to go to "children's church." I wonder if God thinks everything we do is "children's church"? I said Thanks be to God when the Old and New verses were read. And I stood in the presence of The Gospel and added Praise to You, Lord Christ. I listened to portions of the sermon while sneaking peaks at the notes others around me were taking. It's interesting to see what other people are thinking. One lady was writing about "the salvation that comes from the Lord." Another lady was drawing flowers and circles and curly-Qs. It's interesting to see what other people are thinking.

I stood for the Prayers of the People and when the priest offered "the peace of the Lord be with you," I responded with "peace on you, too." I fell in step with those before me and extended my hands and lips to receive the body and blood of our Lord. I extended my hands, again, over a couple being sent off to encourage missionaries, who always need encouraging. In all of this, this "church" experience, I felt no stirring of the waters; the river was totally placid. There are some preachers who rail against the emotions and rail at you not to seek a stirring of any kind. Those kinds of preachers are dangerous. I believe there's gotta be something, some ripple, some break in the water's calm, however small, at some moment, that gives tangibility to all the words and standing and extending and tasting and seeing.

I was about ready to pack up my wares and head home, chalking the experience up to experience, faithfulness, the right-thing-to-do, it's all about God anyway, or something like that. And then, just as I decided to step out of the icy waters of God, our unison voices phrased the First-Born from the dead. It didn't create a huge splash, or cause a disturbance for folks to take notes about; no, it just broke the surface, just briefly enough to remind me that there is a river that flows from the throne of God. Those words the First-Born from the dead stirred my waters; my eyes filled with tears. What was that all about? Oh, I've got some hunches, but that's not the point. The point is that I went to the house of the Lord in hopes that a fish would rise. And it did. Because he did.

A Little Time with the Tibbs

[A couple of friends encouraged me this week to write something w/some Zeus energy in it. What follows is an excerpt from a fiction piece I've been working on for some time. I'm kinda dropping you in the middle of the story, but I believe you'll be just fine. Thanks, Wes and Wendy, for the prod.]


It’s good exercise trying to remember the first impressions of your life. For some, they’re visual – bright sunshine through oak branches or stained glass windows in a church. For others, they're olfactory – a dog's breath or honeysuckle blooms on a fence. For me, Kevin, they're auditory - life via the ears. Music, to be specific. Country music, to be precise. In the way that Mama loved God, Daddy loved country music. Oh, Jack Tibbs loved God too; in fact, Daddy believed that he and God shared an affection for country music.

Mama'd say, “Jack, do you have any biblical grounds for that belief?”

“I don’t have a verse to prove it, but it’s something I feel deep in my bones.” The deep-boned convictions of Jack Tibbs. I would grow to trust them as scripture itself.

Daddy was the early riser in our house. He’d get up around five-thirty, start a pot of coffee, and then put a stack of country music albums on our Motorola turntable. His modus operandi was to begin with the music so soft you could hardly hear it, then about every ten minutes or so, he’d come back by the console and gently increase the volume. Daddy called it simmering; the only proper way to start the day, to be thankful for the gift. He'd say, “Too many people rush in this world. Rushing folks miss things.”

So, the Tibbs family would stew each morning in the warm juices of voices like Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, the Statler Brothers, Dolly Parton and Tom T. Hall. To this day, if I’m feeling anxious or afraid, Lineman for the County or Sunday Morning Coming Down can lower my blood pressure and reorient me to all that’s good and decent in this world. That music is like a homing device. I believe it indicates we grew up in a home, not a house. I realize that sounds idyllic. The truth is, it was. But it would not always be that way.

I’d usually roll out of bed about the time Dolly Parton started singing. Daddy would place the Dolly albums in the middle of the stack. “You don’t start out with Dolly,” he’d always say. “Her’s is a voice that must be approached, respectfully.” Daddy would then bend at the knee and bow, as if greeting the Queen or something. By that time Mama would be up and she’d roll her eyes at his drama: “Jack Tibbs, I can see through you to your backbone. It’s clear to anyone with one eye and horse sense...” Mama would always fade that sentence to black and Daddy would immediately red in the cheeks. I don't remember a time when that didn't make Mama snort-laugh: “I love a man who can still blush.”

Jack Tibbs believed Coat of Many Colors to be the most beautiful song ever recorded and Dolly Parton sang it best. Mama tolerated the tune due to the biblical parallels. My Daddy didn’t cry very much, but when Dolly sang that song, his eyes’d well up faster than pot holes in a spring shower. I always felt like it was because Daddy missed his mama so much; she was taken way too soon, and it left a hole in his heart, like a murmur. After his parents were killed in that tornado, he didn’t have “time to grieve” like some folks speak about. He told me that the graveside service was presided over by a cousin who happened to be an ex-minister turned contractor; Lewis was his name. Brother Lewis read the 23rd Psalm and then led those gathered in singing “Amazing Grace.” Amen. That was it. Then life demanded saddling up and getting on with the care of his two brothers. It was like Daddy started his song of grief but never got to finish it. Maybe listening to Dolly sing about that coat my mama made for me allowed Jack Tibbs to grieve a little each morning, gradually, finishing his song. Maybe.


Unlike many Presbyterians, he often used the word "beautiful."
- Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

I read through a heaping-pancake-stack of book proposals yesterday; it's one of the things that I do. From that which is factual (non-fiction) to that which may be true (fiction), they covered the spectrum. I adhere to the thinking that facts often have little to do with the truth; it's one of the things I believe.

Some of the proposals were good, some needed a little spit and polish, some needed the good Lord to lay hands on them; such is the nature of writing. But I cannot remember any of the authors, at any point, whether in synopsis or bio or competitive titles or sample chapters, using the word "beautiful." Now that word is not necessarily some grid that I run book proposals through to determine their worth, but I'm re-reading Maclean's gem and that sentence was on my mind and I do have a tendency to run book proposals through what's on my mind.

Words like "God" and "green" and "debt-free" and "fixation" were used in abundance, but never once a "beautiful." Based on my tendency to run book proposals through what's on my mind, it would seem that all of these authors are like many Presbyterians. All of the authors would identify themselves as "believers in God" so maybe, just maybe, many or most believers in God do not often use the word "beautiful." I'm not too hip on logical reasoning, but it would seem you could get there from there.

Beautiful. Please understand that I don't often use the word "beautiful" either, but I'd like to start. I guess it's possible that many Presbyterians, and most believers in God for that matter, don't often use the word "beautiful" because we don't see beauty in this world. So I guess it's possibly a problem with our vision, the way we see. I remember reading somewhere (maybe in a book proposal) about people who have eyes but do not see. I guess that could describe many Presbyterians. Or most believers in God. And possibly, me.

Oh, be careful little eyes what you see...

All Juno And No Zeus

"There's a general assumption now that every man in a position of power is or will soon be corrupt and oppressive. Yet the Greeks understood and praised a positive male energy that has accepted authority. They called it Zeus energy, which encompasses intelligence, robust health, compassionate decisiveness, good will, generous leadership. Zeus energy is male authority accepted for the sake of the community...Zeus energy has been steadily disintegrating decade after decade in the United States. Popular culture has been determined to destory respect for it..."
- Robert Bly, Iron John

I finally watched the film Juno last night. I know, I know, the movie was last year’s splash. However, sometimes, in the middle of wanted pregnancies who grow up to be 11, 9, and 6, you have to say, “I’ll have to wait until it comes out on dvd.” I had heard nothing but raves about it, with folks at the office sprinkling words like solid in their conversation. So, I approached it with anticipation, feeling certain it would raise my level of cool.

I didn’t like Juno. There, I said it. Now, I’ll tell you why. The film was all Juno and no Zeus. There was not one strong male character in the whole cast. Here are the male actors and my synopsis of them:

Juno’s dad, Mac, played by J.K. Simmons – He reacts to Juno’s announcement of her pregnancy with the stoic, controlled manner of a checked-out father. True, he drives Juno to meet the potentially adoptive couple, but he’s not prepared his daughter in the least for what she’s to expect. In that moment, he's a chauffer, not a father. His doofus factor is raised to a power of 10 in one scene when he’s reduced to asking, “what do you make with a Pilates machine?” There are a couple of dear-old-dad wisdom moments (very brief), but they come across with a focused concern for Juno while being totally unconcerned for the child she’s carrying. This character is just a few steps away from Homer Simpson. Mac clearly states that he is not ready to be a "Pop-Pop." He is consumed with HVAC products.

Paulie Bleeker, the father of the unwanted pregnancy, played by Michael Cera – A passive little boy who was able to get the sperm out but is never able to get the words out. True, Juno usually reduces him to blathering as she weaves words and phrases in tapestries of wit, but Bleeker almost never speaks up and when he does, it’s with the volume of a mouse. Interestingly enough, the only parent we ever see in Bleeker’s household is his mother, never a father. Bleeker is not ready to be a dad; he can’t even grow a mustache. He is consumed with Tic-Tacs and running.

Mark Loring, husband in the potentially adoptive couple, played by Jason Bateman – I really wanted to like this guy and hope for the best, but something in me told me it was a short-lived hope. I was right. He has one room in their large suburban castle where his “stuff” is kept; evidently, that’s the only room that Jennifer Garner’s character will allow (a.k.a, he's trapped). He begins flirting with Juno at their first meeting and continues to do so throughout the film. Mark is not ready for a baby and he knows it. His wife knows it. Their lawyer probably knows it. He wants to go back and pursue his dream of being a rock musician. In a scene where he actually ends up slow dancing w/Juno in his basement (after Bleeker doesn’t ask Juno to the prom), Mark reveals to her that he’s going to leave his wife and take a loft in the city. He doesn't know what he wants. He is consumed with himself.

And that's it. With the exception of a goofy convenience store clerk who commands a few seconds in the story's beginning with phrases like home skillet, that is the sum total of male presence in the movie. It's all weak, passive, selfish, numbed out and dumbed down. In the end, the message was clear: you really don't need a father, much less a man.

Would it have been too much to ask to have had one strong man who exhibited Zeus energy? Just one male who sacrificed (we live by sacrifice) or stepped up to the plate or followed-through-for-better-or-worse? Just one man who knew that Zeus energy is not necessarily about being the hero of the scene, but is usually more about taking out the trash, going to band concerts, helping with homework or laundry, paying the bills, and saying Goodnight, John-boy while still getting to play his guitar, watch gore movies, run track, work on stuff, or write blog posts?

The movie ends with Juno, post-birth, riding her bike to meet Bleeker and together they sing a guitared-duet on the steps of his house while a baby grows up across town in a large suburban house full of Juno and no Zeus, happily ever after. But John, please, please...Juno kept the baby, she didn't abort, she followed through on her commitment to the adoptive process, she endured the shame and discomfort of that nine month ordeal, not the mention the actual birth, she, she, she...and that's just reality, bucko. Careful there, I'll hurl a thunderbolt at you. I'm not dismissing Juno's reality. But a Zeus, just one, could've helped her redeem that reality. And I believe she would have welcomed his strength with tears of gratitude. It is not good for Juno to be alone.


[Ye old Macbook has been a little under the weather lately, but we laid hands on her this a.m. and she's back up and running just fine. Thanks for your patience. The break probably did us all good, eh?]

Gospel musicians used to shout out certain words when they felt inexpressibles touching, maybe hallelujah, or amen, which literally means simply, “It is so.” These were magic words once, both of them. Then people learned to shout them when they weren’t feeling anything in particular, and the words took revenge by becoming hokey as hell.
- David James Duncan, River Teeth

My son told me of a classmate who draws crosses all over her notebooks. Of course, if you turn her notebook 45 degrees, you have Xs, and a 90 degree turn results in hundreds of swords. He also said that she recently took a Sharpie and crossed out the word "you" and inserted the word "God" on an Earth Day poster, so that now it reads: God can make a tree. His summation? “It’s great that she’s a believer, Dad, but it’s a little much (hokey), don’t you think?” I said, “Amen,” which literally means simply, “It is so.”

Once upon a time, a traveling evangelist stopped traveling long enough to speak and sing for a week at the church of my youth. He was also an avid tennis player. After evangelizing our flock one night, he invited a few sheep to the courts for a night-match. I, being the preacher’s son, was among the chosen few. I have to admit, the man was a good tennis player. However, after every shot he made that furthered his score, which ended up being an astronomical number, he shouted “Praise the Lord!” I kid you not, after every shot, “Praise the Lord!” From that point on, I thought the traveling evangelist to be hokey as hell.

I’m going to roll the dice here and say that in both of those examples, the classmate and the traveling evangelistennis player were not feeling inexpressibles touching. In fact, they quite possibly may not have been feeling anything in particular at all. Shouting or Sharpie-ing words that had/have taken their magic and gone home.

Many people, religious or not, are familiar with the story of the prodigal son. Many people, religious or not, are living the story of the prodigal son. There is a watershed moment in the parable when, as the text reads, "he came to his senses." In that moment, he realizes where he is (hog pen), what he’s eating (hog slop), and what he’s become (a hog). And when his senses kick in, or he begins to feel things in particular, he decides to hightail it for where he was (home), what he had (everything), and what he was (a beloved son). Before he reached the ponderosa, his father, from a long way off, saw him and girded up his loins and ran and embraced his prodigal; two inexpressibles touching, hugging, laughing. I want to believe that the father couldn’t stop repeating, “Amen,” which literally means simply, “It is so.” A moment bathed in magic Disney knows not of.

Many people, religious and super-religious, try and make that he-came-to-his-senses-moment into something spiritual; something that bypasses feeling altogether and goes straight for the spirit. There are a few people - gypsies, tramps, thieves, preacher’s sons, and prodigals - who see a young fool whose knob was stuck on numb suddenly being able to literally feel particulars again; coming back to himself, which is usually the only way we ever truly come back home. I’ve no doubt that something happened in his spirit, but it happened first in his eyes, ears, and don’t forget the nose.

We live in a world awash in the magic of God. But many of us, armed with Sharpies and tennis rackets, settle for hokey as hell. It doesn’t make any sense.

Amen. It is so.

Word of the Day

Fourteenth Day: Morning Prayer

I have been sustained by you ever since I was born;
from my mother's womb you have been my strength;
my praise shall be always of you.
I have become a portent to many...

Psalm 71.6-7

Function: noun
1 : something that foreshadows a coming event: omen, sign
2 : prophetic indication or significance

Little Red Safe

Her name is Abbey. She is my youngest gift from the Grace that keeps this world. She's six years old and has recently experienced a row of freckle-seeds blossom under both her eyes. She is beautiful. When she kisses me nightly on the nose, as I'm tucking her in, I know with absolute certainty how the scaly, old frog felt when that gorgeous princess kissed him. I don't turn into much other than mush though.

On Saturday, around noon, she stated: Dada, I want you to play with me. I said, "o.k." and followed her back to the bedroom she shares with her sister. Freckle-girl then told me that we were going to play birthday party (her's) and I was to be in charge of all the gifts (for her). I had her write on her chalkboard what her desired gifts were; this would give the ugly frog an idea of what to look for in the room of the birthday princess. She quickly wrote, south-paw that she is, ten items on the board, all easy enough so that even a frog could find them.

As I was assembling the royal gifts, she handed me a little red box. Actually, it's a little red safe, complete with combination lock on the front, so that big brother and middle sister cannot get into her stuff. She stated: Dada, there's probably some stuff in here you can use. I said, "o.k." and she opened it for me and then she set about to other princessly administrivia.

I knew about the little red safe, but I hadn't seen it in a while, and it had been even longer since I'd seen it's contents. In the moment, I felt as if I were peering into the ark of the covenant and that possibly, suddenly, beautiful Michelle Pfeiffer angels would start flying around the room, but then they'd turn into scary Roseanne Barr angels who would melt my face off, like in that Indiana Jones movie. But even at the prospect of Roseanne angels, I kept looking in the little red safe. Here were what my six year old, freckle-smeckled little girl considers her holiest of holies.

This is what I found:

1. a piece of notebook paper folded like you would a letter, and written on it were several words in pencil,
2. seven polished rocks that she bought with her money last summer in Grand Lake, CO,
3. six Gameboy cartridges all lined up in a row,
4. ten pieces of chalk, all broken, not a one whole and pristine,
5. three hair clips,
6. and, a dollar bill.

And this is what I saw:

1. a left-handed princess who knows she'll have to practice just a little harder at writing than her big brother and middle sister [persistence],
2. stone reminders of a wonderful fairy-tale week with family and cousins in a cabin in the mountains by a gorgeous lake where every evening was accentuated by sugar cones at the ice cream store [memory],
3. quiet admiration for big brother and pride at being the sister upon whom his used video games fit like a glass slipper [belonging],
4. a strange comfortableness with things broken; in fact, an understanding that most things work better with the new rubbed off [grace],
5. an awareness that her beagle will eat hair clips if they're not kept safe [danger],
6. and, gradual lessons in the power of money; what it can buy, like a bag of polished rocks [reality].

The ark of the covenant housed the tablets upon which God's finger wrote the commands for his people to follow. The Hebrew children regarded this box as containing the very power and presence of the Almighty. I believe we all have our lesser-arks; places where we keep things sacred or holy to us, little red boxes full of the power and presence of the Grace that keeps this world. And we do what we can to keep the contents safe, even using a combination lock if necessary. From time to time, we open these boxes and share their contents with one we trust; a spouse or parent or friend, maybe even an ugly toad.

In that moment with my left-handed princess, her willingness to share the holiest of her holies with me caused me to pause and give thanks. Enough of those moments, coupled with those nightly nose kisses, and this old frog might just have a chance at turning into something one of these days.

Sunday Stuff

At the prompting of a wise friend, I framed the message today on the idea of The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. So, in essence, I gave The Last Sermon. The condition was I had to play the hand I was dealt, scripturally speaking; in other words, I had to follow the lectionary readings for this Sunday.

If today was my last sermon, then this is what I wanted to say: Don't be sheep. Be men.

Christ is the Good Shepherd, but I believe he desires to be the shepherd of men and women, not sheep. Sheep are downright stupid. We embrace that sheep imagery and think it biblical and meek and mild and compassionate and so on and so forth. Now, sometimes we may act like sheep, but we were not created to be sheep.

Listen to Alfred Lord Tennyson - For what are men better than sheep or goats that nourish a blind life within the brain, if, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer both for themselves and those who call them friend? (The Passing of Arthur)

And if you're partial to westerns, one of the best in recent history is Open Range with Kevin Coster and Robert Duvall. In one of the film's most poignant scenes, Coster's character is listening to a member of the townsfolk bemoaning all the injustice and violence being doled out on the little town by the evil land-grabbing-baron. The guy says, "Well, what can we do?" Costner responds, "You're men, ain't ya'?" And everyone in the saloon knows that no, they're not living like men, but rather like sheep.

Taking intentional steps in the direction of being men and women has to do with paying attention. I had the people recite this poem by William Carlos Williams, it being National Poetry Month and all:
The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

If you and I are just sheep, then a red wheelbarrow it just a red wheelbarrow. And that rainwater? Nothing but rainwater. The white chickens? Just chickens. But you see, my friends, so much depends upon you and I not being sheep and paying attention to those things around us. If we're living like men, then things mean things: like red wheelbarrows and white chickens and silver chalices filled with communion wine and bread blessed and broken by the hands of a priest-friend and an old rugged cross upon which Jesus died. So much depends upon us not living like stupid, empty-headed sheep. So much.

If today was my Last Sermon, that's what I'd tell you. This old world's got more than enough of stupid. Be a man.


Butter IS a menu item

We've had house guests for the last five days. Five days. Not family or close friends, but folks who essentially wanted to come to CO for spring break (they used to live here) and not pay for a hotel. Our sons were friends in school and I guess we've got big hearts or something. Never-ye-the-less, five days is too long for eight people to be together in an 1100 sq foot home that also includes a beagle.

We broke out Scattergories last night in order to avoid killing our house guests with a hatchet. I chose not to play; instead, I walked the beagle and vented. The beagle kept stopping and looking back at me like, "Yes, John. I know. Thank you for walking me." When we returned, the game was coming to a close and the kids asked me to sit in and "judge." The category was "foods on a menu" and the letter was "B" and one of the kids answered "butter." Immediately, there came a cry of "no, no, thumbs down" from our guests. I sat in absolute shock. As I looked in the eyes of my family, I could see fear and trembling. I'm quite sure my girlfriend was giving me mental telepathy messages like "it's been like this ever since the game started; please save us!" or "is your hatchet sharp?" I said, "Wow. You guys are stringent." The guests chuckled, apparently not knowing the definition of "stringent."

The next prompt was "state capitals" and one of the kids answered "Bismark." Our guests screamed, "Boo, thumbs down! Bismark's not a capital. Nope, there's only one - Boise. That's the only one that starts with 'B'." The Bismark-kid, my son, just happened to take a "state capitals" test a few weeks ago and aced the bugger. The spirit of Popeye rose in me (all I can stands and I can't stands no mo') and I grabbed the laptop, instead of the hatchet, and said, "I think he's right, but let's ask Google-god." For the record, Bismark is the capital of North Dakota. I said, "O.k. We all need to know that Will was correct with his answer of 'Bismark'." The next kid answered "Boston" to the same "thumbs down" cries. I checked. Boston is the capital of Mass.

I know I'm tired. I haven't slept in my own bed in five days. Five days. I haven't been able to sit around in my underwear and listen to Mariah Carey and stick Cheetos in my belly-button and such, like I usually do. I'm out of sorts and my tolerance level is quite low. But we played a game last night with folks who are always right, always, even after Google tells us otherwise. That, my friends, ain't no fun.

If you'd like to come visit us, please know that in our kingdom, "butter" is a menu item. Always has been. Always will be. Not margarine, but the real stuff. We put it on most everything we eat. It's like a sacrament or something. And if the category is "state capitals" and the letter is "B" and you happen to say "Bartholomew," we'll probably let it count. We're not stringent on much except the sharpness of our hatchets.

Strange, very strange

We clicked on the television last night to catch the 9 o'clock edition of the news; big winter storm predicted, it was. However, the time was 8:45pm, so we had about fifteen minutes of surf time. On many television systems this would initiate a wave of options, but we do not have cable, so there's not much surfing going on. The four majors and PBS and the ride is over.

We landed on the tail-end of American Idol. Confession: I've never watched a prime-time episode of American Idol. It appeared that last night was something of an idol of a different gleam because they were raising money for charity and had global idols like Brad Pitt and Reese Witherspoon on stage. They probably raised more money last night than Obama did last month.

The host, some pre-adolescent named Ryan, came on and indicated the last number would be performed by the lesser idol wannabes and they would be singing Shout to the Lord. Shout to the Lord? I thought it might be some joke or there was some jimmycrack version of Shout to the Lord I didn't know about, but lo and behold, after a few moments of idol positioning onstage, a line of kids in white linen proceeded to sing the praise and worship chorus that churches have been worshipping for years: Shout to the Lord.

It was truly a moment as these kids sang and swayed and a screen behind them flashed scenes of needy children and people clapped a Shout to the Lord kinda clap as phrases like "mountains bow down and the seas will roar at the sound of his name" went out over the idyllic airwaves. Talk about a mashup. The kids completed their shouting to the Lord and confetti, yes confetti, began to fall like manna from heaven. After a short commercial break, Ben Stiller came back on some stage and dropped a few f-grenades that were bleeped out and everything was over.

I truly did not know how to feel.

The news came on and I fell asleep before the weather forecast.

My lord...

I made a friend laugh yesterday. He called me on the phone and this is what it sounded like:

ME: Hello, this is John.

HIM: Hi, John. This is Steve.

ME: Steve S., well, my lord.

(laughter erupts on his end)

A coupla' months ago, I said well, shucks in a conversation and a young lady immediately started smiling at me and said did you hear that? to the other people in the conversation. It was as if I was a three year old who'd just done a calculus problem or recited the Gettysburg Address in Arabic.

I'm from the south. Notice, I didn't say I'm a product of the south because people from the south don't refer to themselves as products. People from the south are people who are from somewhere. And we know it. We're from Dallas or Baton Rouge or Memphis or Little Rock or Gum Springs or Dangerfield or Branson or Oxford.

People from the south also speak in a way that's different from here, out west. Much of the language I hear these days out here, out west, is a strange form of psychological thievery. Two examples for you. 1)Just yesterday, I heard a lady say this printer has issues and several weeks ago, a guy told me he was working through some issues. Issues. My lord, if I've heard one person out here use the word issues I've heard a hundred. Issues; a word that sounds a lot like products. People from the south don't have issues, they have lazy-ass husbands who've been laying on the couch for three months after getting laid off at the plant, or alcoholic mother-in-laws who keep butting into their ever-lovin' business, or white-trash-tramp homecoming queens who've stolen their little Jimmy's heart, or '72 El Caminos with cracks in the cylinder block. Issues. My lord.

2)And people out here, out west, keep talking about the need for closure on something. Yes, Donald just needs to get closure on that so we can move on as a company. Or, Well, Mary really needs to get closure on Joseph's death; he's been gone for three years now. Closure. A word that sounds a lot like issues and products. First of all, people from the south know that you can close the barn door when it's open or close your account down at the First National, but when it comes to the human heart? Good luck. Having big old open gaping holes in your heart is what keeps life interesting and makes for prize winning fiction from people who grew up in the south and then move out west. Keeping stuff open, as opposed to bringing something to closure, keeps you getting up every morning; it gives you something to look forward to and talk about down at the cafe or in the automotive section at the Wal-Mart. Living a life where closure is a premuim is about as attractive as living a life with no regrets, which, by the way, you can find out how to do in a slick little book by some pretty-boy preacher from Houston whose wife's face is stuck in an eternal smile. Shucks, you get closure on everything then you might as well cross on over Jordan's stormy banks - cause you're done. Finis. Kaput. (Two words I've learned since moving out west). Closure. My lord.

Kinda missin' my people today. Wanted them and you to know.

Carpe Today

My son is playing with one of his best friends this afternoon. The girls are in the backyard, swinging while the wind whips their hair into demonic tangles that will give us all crappy attitudes before church tomorrow morning as we try to exorcise them. My girlfriend is sloshed to the gills with coupons and buying groceries at four different stores. The beagle is asleep in the chair across the room. We caught him eating his poop this morning; kinda puts a damper on those dog-lickin'-your-face moments. Frank Sinatra is crooning on the stereo Let's forget about tomorrow, for tomorrow never comes. A couple of my type-A neighbors are out doing various kinds of yard work. And the interstate, which I can see from where I sit, is moving along smoothly in north and south directions.

We'll grill some hamburgers close to 5pm and then sit at the round table where all seats are equal. A brief "thank-you" prayer will no doubt be lifted on the Colorado wind because we really are thankful for all things. The girls will say "no buns for me" and they'll eat hamburger patties with their fingers like feral children discovered in the forest somewhere. My son, back home by hamburger time, will eat at least two and request a root beer to wash 'em down. It's Saturday night and we're hip parents, so we'll say, "Sure. Pop a top, old boy." The beagle will circle our table round like some vulture, waiting for the humans to leave the scene of the dine or banking on the fact that the old man is a sucker for begging dog eyes coupled with poopy breath.

It'll be showers and baths for everyone following dinner. The dirty clothes baskets that were just this morning all emptied and taken care of will suddenly be filled to the brim with jeans and t-shirts and socks and fundawear. Laundry. Like Sisyphus pushin' that rock up that hill. I seem to recall one of the Harry Potter movies being on tonight on one of those three channels that people who don't have cable can get via rabbit ears. That's us. So, we'll get our pjs on and apply detangler to girl-hair and dry and style while watching Hogwarts and co. One of the items on my girlfriend's grocery list with a corresponding coupon was ice cream, so there's a possibility that a bowl before bedtime may be negotiated. The old man's a sucker for stuff like that, adhering to Sinatraology: Let's forget about tomorrow, for tomorrow never comes.

We'll tuck 'em in about 8:30pm and then field incredibly philosophical questions that seem to arise each evening at tuckin'-in time. Everyone will need a drink of water. Then everyone will have to pee, one last time. If the moon's just right, they might be asleep by 9:15pm. Maybe. My girlfriend and I plan to watch a movie on the dvd: Dan In Real Life. Hopefully, we'll be able to stay awake long enough to finish it. If not, maybe we can finish it tomorrow. If tomorrow comes.


"There are, however, small parts of every human past that resist this natural cycle: there are hard, cross-grained whorls of memory that remain inexplicably lodged in us long after the straight-grained narrative material that housed them has washed away. Most of these whorls are not stories, exactly: more often they're self-contained moments of shock or of inordinate empathy, moments of violence, uncaught dishonesty, tomfoolery; of mystical terror; lust; preposterous love; preposterous joy."
- River Teeth by David James Duncan

Conversation with James Kavanaugh

I have lost my easy God -
Me too. I think. Tell me more of this "easy God."
He taught me to thank him for the concern
which gave me no chance to breathe,
For the love which demanded only love in
return - and obedience.
He made pain sensible and patience possible
and the future foreseeable.

Yes, I follow you. I know of that lowercase god.
Tell me a little more.
He, the mysterious, took all mystery away,
corroded my imagination,
Controlled the stars and would not let
them speak for themselves.

Yes. I have lost that easy god too.

Actually, it seems that god was ripped from me.
Do you know what I mean?
Some fierce umbilical is broken.
Yes! That's exactly how I feel.
A rebirth. Looking now with infant eyes,
seeing men as trees walking.
Now I do not weep for my sins: I have
learned to love them
And to know that they are the wounds that
make love real.

Ah, my older, too-gentle friend.
I am young, but I already see that to love the wounds is a lonely journey;
maybe only two or three gathered, a narrow road.
Transcending loneliness.

What do you weep for, if not for sin?
A dog barks and I weep to be alive...
I have a friend who smiles when he sees
me, who weeps when he hears my pain.

"Faithful are the wounds of a friend" -
the hard God said that. Remember?
His maxims memorized in boyhood do not
make fruitless and pointless my experience.

James, I too have lost my easy god.
I stumble now, rubbing mud and spit from my eyes.
I'm beginning to see.
Perhaps I have no God -
I have the beginning of love.

Perhaps we, you and I, had not love -
We have the beginning of God.

[Kavanaugh's complete poem is titled "My Easy God is Gone"]

Love's Fall

Perhaps we are here in order to say: house, bridge, fountain, gate, pitcher, fruit-tree, window
- Rilke, ninth Duino Elegy

Demas heard the order, just like the rest of us:
Return at once.
He had statued himself atop a stone,
"in order to get a better look," he said.
"Just a minute longer," he said.
Demas. From the moment his feet touched down,
the pen was moving.
I had quietly questioned God's wisdom
in giving such a gift to one so young.

He begged me to look at his final page:
tears, dusk, winter, black, crows, dirt.
I reminded him of Lot's wife.
He did not seem to care.
"Just one more," he said.
As I moved away, my eyes saw his final word: death.

There are those who fell in pride,
and then there are those who fell in love.
Demas would be the latter.
As the company fluttered away, our eyes met.
"I think I'll stay," he said.
"It's so beautiful," he said.
We watched our comrade's fall into creation.
The stone beneath his feet slowly rose
until the incarnation was complete.

[Abbey of the Arts "Invitation to Poetry" provided this image. I encourage you to visit and participate:]