The click of the left blinker broke the short-lived spell. Then she spoke again. Steve and I’ll have you over for dinner day after tomorrow. We’ll give you a day to acclimate. Call if you need anything, o.k. As she said o.k., she turned to look at him for the first time. Lil Gillian had not ended her sentence as a question, giving him the ability to respond. She had stated an agreement, something beyond him for the moment. The pickup pulled to a stop at the edge of a brief driveway that looked to lead directly into the sea. I’ll let you walk it in from here; hard to explain, but you’ll have to trust me. He thanked her for the ride and dinner invitation and then opened the door to the next thirty days of his life. He grabbed his luggage from the bed, took a deep breath, and stepped around the front of the truck. The sound of an electric window descending caught his attention. Look straight ahead. Master of the sky. An eagle cut the mid-afternoon blue in half, right before his eyes. He stood transfixed as Lil Gillian drove away.

The eagle. Messenger to God, given the honor of carrying prayers from this world to the next. Prayer. One of the things he’d considered a loss over the last few years. He had about concluded that there were really only two prayers: thank you and help me. He whispered both. It was all he had, but such as he had, he gave. He began walking down the hill. Descending. The imagery was not lost on him.

He had figured Jake’s cabin to be a, well, cabin. Sure, it would have a certain flair reflective of his friend, but a cabin is a cabin, right? Wrong. What greeted his eyes totally surprised him. He wasn’t sure where the ground stopped and the dwelling began. It was as if the ground was giving up something, reluctantly, the inhabitants of which might be terra cotta soldiers or hobbits. The path led him beside an emerging rock wall to a stone archway that appeared to be the only real entrance. A bronze plaque was affixed to the arch:

Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit

Jake had long been interested in Jung: “Bidden or not bidden, God is present.” He realized why Lil had encouraged walking in.

The dramatic feature of the front of Jake’s place was a row of windows from floor to roof that framed a heavy wooden door. As he glanced back over his shoulder, the view of the sea and the peaks of British Columbia were more than enough justification for this much glass. A slightly raised porch the length of the place held three Adirondack chairs and an outdoor fire pit. The key turned easily enough in the lock and he stepped inside. He found a wood stove, a small chef’s kitchen, a bathroom with a shower, a bed, a table for one, and a writing desk. The two side stone walls were full of ledges and impressions, all of which were populated by what appeared to be icons and sacred objects. There were pieces of driftwood, cobalt blue bottles, several small cairns, and candles. The floor was deftly appointed with beautiful Indian rugs. Two pine bookcases rested against the far earthen wall. He immediately noticed Jake’s first edition Steinbecks, for years a source of pride. The rest of the shelves were full of everything from Abbey to Yeats. This was a place for a menage a moi - a love affair with yourself.

Untitled continuation continues

Lil Gillian. As the name rolled around in his head, he felt a heel kick against his ribs as he remembered Fairchild’s poem about the “l” sound,
preferred by Yeats among all phonemes, called a liquid
and cited in all the Intro. to Poetry texts for its melody, its grace,
its small-breasted, skinny-hipped, lithe evocativeness, “l,” the
Audrey Hepburn of consonants…
Poetry. Good for nothing, except to muddle his mind or initiate daydreams. He loved it and over the years even tried his hand at writing it, but lately his life seemed anything but poetic. So with a confident resignation born from years of predictable, he walked toward the red pickup chuckling the word phonemes, prepared to greet an unmistakeable mustache.

He was not ten feet from the front bumper when the driver’s side door opened and out stepped a small-breasted, skinny-hipped, lithely evocative spitting image of Audrey Hepburn. She walked straight into his path and extended her hand. Hi. I’m Lil. Welcome to paradise. He had the strange sensation that a candid cameraman would leap from the shrubs at any moment. But no one did.

Let’s get going. You’ll want to settle in before dark. She melted back into the pickup as effortlessly as she had emerged. Kristin’s "smells of buttermilk" comment kept repeating itself in his mind as he buckled in. As they exited the parking lot, so did any thoughts of buttermilk; the air in the cab was redolent with cinnamon. It surprised him so that he sat in silence until they were out beyond the town. She didn’t seem to notice the silence, or if she did, she didn’t seem to mind. There was a calmness about her.

Jake’s place is splendid. You’ll love it! How long will you be staying? His response of “a month” was met with jaw-dropped wonder. Really? My, how lucky are you? She spoke with her eyes fixed on the road ahead, never once looking across to him. Fairchild's poem rose again:
"l," the Audrey Hepburn of consonants, as in lily, ladle,
lap, lip, lust...the event, of luck, the sun coming out
in the fifth inning, a ten-dollar bill falling out of the dryer,
the tragic diagnosis school, a cool summer...
These were the thoughts he had as they drove the two-lane road in silence, baptized in cinnamon.

Untitled continuation

His flight to Seattle was uneventful. A flight attendant had come down the aisle at one point offering headsets to passengers: Headsetsssss? Headsetsssss? Headsetsssss? Had Kristin been with him, she would have straight-faced replied No thanksssss. He rubbed his wedding ring, missing her already, and found himself momentarily short of breath. He caught the shuttle to Boeing Field for the final leg. In little over an hour, he had moved from airliner to puddle jumper with room for seven.

The flight to Orcas Island felt like a scene from Farley Mowat's wolf book, unnerving in the best possible way. He kept waiting for the pilot to say something like bloody strange or this is it, chum. Brief conversation arose with the lady seated next to him. She had written a book several years ago that did quite well and enabled her and her husband to retire to the island. Her advanced degrees were in educational psychology. She wore a gorgeous tweed jacket and sweat pants and seemed intensely attentive to the moment.

The air on Orcas was crisp and wet. He had phoned Jake’s nearest neighbors, Steve and Lil Gillian, and informed them of his stay. I’ll be in Seattle when you arrive, but Lil can pick you up and drive you to Jake’s. Lil drives a red Toyota pickup. Have a good flight. Almost an hour after landing, Lil Gillian’s pickup slowly rolled into the empty parking lot.

He had given all his travel details to Kristin; she was always interested in details and his trip seemed vague enough as it was. What specifics he could offer would comfort her, she deserved that much. Well, I hope Lil Gillian has an unmistakeable black mustache and smells of buttermilk she teased. For some reason, he hoped Kristin was right.

Untitled beginning

They weren’t voices. They were more like the heels of his unborn children he had watched kick against the arc of his wife’s swollen belly. He would feel them often kicking at the thin surface of his enveloped life. He had been aware of their presence for years, but lately they seemed to rage. Voices he could have muted, but these risings made it difficult to breathe. They felt like boys fist fighting.

Discerning their origins proved difficult. God knows he tried. Catching sight of a co-worker’s cleavage or the last strivings of dusk before the conquest of night or smelling his daughter’s hair as she lay against his chest; these and more seemed to be occasions for the risings. He believed them, however, not to be the reasons.

His few older friends had told him your forties will bring unexpected gifts. He didn’t know what they meant then and now, at forty-five, he still wasn’t sure. About all he had seen of his forties so far could be summed up in one word: loss. In the past five years, he had lost his father he dearly loved, two “perfect” jobs in the course of nine months, the feeling that his wife needed him, and the belief that prayer matters, let alone works. Were these the gifts of which his friends spoke?

As he flipped through bills and credit card offers that August afternoon, he noticed a plain white envelope addressed to him. Upon closer inspection, the name on the return address brought a surprising feeling of excitement.

Jake Greer

He’d not heard from Jake since his fortieth birthday party, and then only via an email sent from halfway around the world. He and Jake had dated sisters in college and despite their own different personalities found the common ground of Julie and Kristin McKinney to be strong enough to bond a friendship. Jake and Julie went their separate ways during their senior year, but he had married Kristin the June following May’s graduation. That was almost twenty years ago now.

Jake had vowed let’s get together at least once a year and they had done their best to make it happen. Like clockwork, Jake’d call every spring and announce a destination that would allow them the space to wrestle with angels or demons or both, if need be. The Grand Canyon, Glacier, Big Bend, the Brooks Range; Jake always seemed to know what geography best fit their season of life. But about six years ago, he’d taken a consulting job for a firm in Germany and the annual pilgrimages stopped, just like that. Loss.

The envelope held a 3x5 note card with a message on one side and a key taped to the other.

Hey, old buddy,
Hope you’re well. The key to my latest investment. Vacant the month of October. An honor if you’d occupy. Beautiful cabin, fully stocked. Enjoy. Leave key on mantle.

He flipped the note card over and lifted the tape as if gingerly removing a band-aid. Underneath the fresh-cut key were directions to the cabin and the phone number of Jake’s nearest neighbors. This was rather unexpected. An unexpected gift? He breathed deep. The heels were still there.

He remembered Bly’s words about the soul work a man may need to do: to go alone to a mountain cabin for three months, write poetry, canoe down a river, and dream. Three months was out of the question, but he could negotiate thirty days with Kristin. Her openness to his need to get away often surprised him. You’re always a better man when you return. So, go. The kids would miss him but school would be in full swing, full of autumn’s distractions. His current freelance project was due mid-September with the next scheduled job starting in November. Maybe this could work.

The rest of August and most of September were a blur. Kristin had agreed to his trip, like he suspected, and had even helped him tie up some loose ends with his current work project. September 11th hit him particularly hard. He wasn’t sure why, but it had. He spent almost two weeks afterwards in a fog; he often found himself crying for no specific reason. The week before he was to leave was full of what he referred to as domesticus horribilis. The washer and dryer both went out; beyond repair said Mr. Maytag. His daughter had missed a dismount in gymnastics and bruised her back. Her usual lithe movements would be replaced by an old woman’s shuffle for at least six weeks. The job scheduled for November wouldn’t begin until December, at the earliest, and even then might move out until after the first of the year due to the holidays and all. But beyond all the crises of family and home were the risings within himself. What he months ago described as fisticuffs now felt more like war.

October is a fine and dangerous season in America…It is a wonderful time to begin anything at all. It was the only line he remembered from Thomas Merton’s autobiography, but now it seemed fitting. He had left notes for each of his children to find while he was away; stuffed in pillows, Barbie cars, Redwall books. He’d done the same for Kristin, one for each day he'd be gone. They all cried as he drove off, as had he. A blur in his rearview mirror. She had offered herself to him willingly the night before. No tantric mysteries, just good old natural sex, what a cowboy he knew referred to as the Cadillac of simple pleasures.

It was 1967...

Twice this weekend, I've found myself thinking about the year of my birth - 1967. I wonder, sometimes, if events that took place as you make your entrance into this wild thing called "life" are in some way indicative of who you will be or what you might consider important or why you're here in the first place. Maybe they are stars you're born under which affect your destiny? Of all the things that took place in the tumultuous year of 1967, these two surfaced this weekend. I do not take their "surfacing" lightly.

I'm reading Crossing Open Ground by Barry Lopez for the umpteenth time. In a piece entitled "Yukon-Charley" I was reminded of the deaths of Julie Helgeson and Michelle Koons in Glacier National Park in August of 1967, just months after my mother birthed me. Their deaths were the result of grizzly attacks. And the reaction by park officials (killing five bears in the park) ignited an ongoing controversy about the meaning and importance of wilderness in America. This may not seem much to you, but for me, it is significant. Over my years, I have filled my mind with "wilderness" writings (Aldo Leopold, Edward Abbey, Barry Lopez); it is a subject I have always felt strangely drawn to, almost a gravitational, starlike pull. The preservation of wild places and wild things, both external and internal, feel to be an aspect of why I'm here in the first place, and quite possibly, why we're all here in the first place.

The year I was born also witnessed the publication of James Kavanaugh's A Modern Priest Looks at His Outdated Church. I wrote a post about Kavanaugh months ago and slowly, but surely, have gotten comments from people also touched by the words of this poet. I received another comment this weekend which prompted me to seek out Kavanaugh, which led to a little online searching, which led to the reminder of his seminal work in the year 1967. Kavanaugh's stripping off of his clerical collar at a Notre Dame graduation that year (after ten years of formal ministry in the Catholic Church) was a cry for freedom and expansive thought; a liminal moment which led to poems such as "There Are Men Too Gentle To Live Among Wolves" and "Will You Be My Friend?" I, too, stepped away from the pulpit after ten plus years of formal ministry in the Protestant Church and I, too, feel there are things severely outdated about the Church, things which I may have to write about some day, things which need to be spoken of or about, which could only be spoken or written about by someone born in the spring of 1967 who also spent at least a decade in formal ministry. I, too, feel a very natural, almost gravitational, starlike pull toward poetry and freedom and expansive thought and a stirring of the "God-pot."

Are these stars under which I was born, stars which hold hints of meaning for the man I am destined to be? There were other events that took place that year, no doubt of equal or greater importance to some. But I did not go searching for these reminders; no, it was as if these two "stars" sought me out this weekend, asking me to remember that in the fullness of God's time for me, I was born. The year was 1967; my mother groaned, my father wept, into the dangerous world I leapt.

My Son

My son "graduates" today from elementary school. Sunrise, sunset. He'll be headed to middle school in the fall, a land of 6th-8th graders.

My son. Two very powerful words. The words that follow those two are also very powerful, very important. Today, on the day of graduation, I borrow a few follow-up words from another father: in whom I am well pleased.

My son, I am well pleased with you. It seems a breath ago that I took the scissors from doc's hand and cut you free from your mother. A breath ago. But one breath follows another, if we live, and today finds you standing on the shore, looking out at the sea of adolescence. There are wonders to behold ahead. There are also waves and wind and storms. I believe, my son, that you have it within you to face what lies ahead. And I believe, as you do, that there is one who goes before you, my son. Always before you. He is the one who loves you even more than I do.

You entered a fun-run when you were six. Just as the race started, you fell in a clump of boys. As you stood up, your knee was bleeding and you began to cry. You looked around and found my eyes, eyes that said My son, I believe in you. You then amazed me by finishing the run, the whole blessed thing. I ran alongside you, cheering, hoping, praying. You finished the race, you completed the course. Bloodied and streaked with tears, you stood with a medal 'round your neck. I believed on that day, as I do on this day, that your mother and I named you well. Will - "strong, resolute one." In what lies ahead, my son, I will still run beside you, as best I can, cheering, hoping, praying.

I could say much here, my son, about the days ahead. And I will, as days ahead come. But today is today. Today is still in the land of field trips and playgrounds and watching Arthur and being big boy on campus and Saturdays where you don't have a care in the world. So, let's celebrate today, my son. You have run well this first leg. Let's stop and smell the columbines. I am well pleased in you, with you. You are my first-born son, my might, my strength. I love you so it makes my heart ache.

The New Men's Movement

"The aim is not to be the Wild Man, but to be in touch with the Wild Man...Trying to be the Wild Man ends in early death, and confusion for everyone."
- Robert Bly, Iron John

A friend sent me a link yesterday to something called "GodMen" - just type that in with ".org" on the end and you'll find 'em. Another friend alerted me yesterday to a recent article in Christianity Today entitled "A Jesus for Real Men" (April 2008, Brandon O'Brien). The sub for that article is "What the New Masculinity Movement Gets Right and Wrong.' I would encourage you, if you're of such a mind, to look at both of these for comparison/contrast purposes.

It's usually not the original teacher or guru that screws the pooch; it's the disciples, those who come after. That's pretty much the case with Christians. Jesus set the table quite well; it's us, the disciples, who tend to break plates and knock over the gravy. And, that's pretty much the case, I believe, with this thing known as the Men's Movement. The original voices (Bly, Keen, Rohr, Dalbey) presented a stirring vision. The disciples, however, are causing quite a bit of confusion.

The "GodMen" site made me mad. And if you know anything about male anger, then you know that it's really male sadness in disguise. So, the "GodMen" made me sad. Sad because of the boast and swagger all over that website, sad because of the narrow vision presented there of what it means to be a man, and sad for the wives and sons and daughters and churches that lay in the wake of that thinking. I was also ashamed because I've played those reindeer games myself.

Three things, quickly, that concern me; me the man who is still trying to figure out the difficult splendor of being a man (thank you, Sam Keen).

Please hear me. I'm all for a man running buck-junkin' naked through the woods, drumming with the natives 'till dawn, passing the peace-pipe, climbing mountains, riding Harleys, or even getting a tatoo or earring, if that's what he needs to do to awaken the sleeping bear. I'd also say I'm all for a man writing poetry or learning to cook gourmet meals or taking ever-lovin' violin lessons or watching Atonement and loving it, if that achieves the same goal. A man needs space to wrestle with things or angels or God or himself, until they bless or wound or both. The narrow vision I'm hearing from some of the "disciples" is that I've got to fill that space with certain things and those things are a part of what is masculine. Horseshit.

Another thing I'm hearing that concerns me is a need to blame. Blame the feminized church, blame your mother, blame your absentee father, blame the culture, blame gay folks, blame, blame, blame. One of the facets of the wise male is the need "not" to blame (thank you, Richard Rohr). Rather than taking the road of descent and ashes, otherwise known as "grief", the disciples are telling us to take the road of rage. They're not saying that literally, but listen with your third ear and you'll hear it. If our sons hear and see us merely blaming, then we leave a shoddy legacy to generations as yet unborn.

Finally, I hear a cruelty that concerns me. In our efforts to dismiss the "nice" guy, and I believe that to be a sometimes worthy goal, the disciples have crossed the line into being "mean." The goal (thank you, Robert Bly) is not to be the Wild Man, but to be in touch with the Wild Man; or, in my own voice, to be a horse, not a horse's ass.

It's confusing. Trust me on that one. I don't fault a man for making mistakes along the way. Such is the way to wisdom. But it is smart or wise or, dare I say, "manly," to listen to those who have gone before, however small that number of voices may be, and not make stupid mistakes. Stupid can possibly lead to an early death. And it almost always lead to confusion for everyone; most of all, the men.

Wednesday's Bluedy Moos

Cold-hearted orb that rules the night
Removes the colors from our sight
Red is gray and yellow white
And we decide which is right
And which is an illusion?

- Graeme Edge, "Late Lament"

A full moon over my right shoulder. I've been watching it now for about fifteen minutes. Clouds and the rising sun are readying themselves to swallow it. It is amazing to me how something so bright can be so quickly engulfed by the blue of dawn. Look, there. It's almost gone.

The words above are spoken at the conclusion of "Nights in White Satin" by The Moody Blues. I memorized them years ago and each time I see a full moon, they are spoken or whispered or thought. I'm not sure what they really mean. I was standing by my brother a few years ago as the cold-hearted orb lit the night sky. I spoke those words aloud. He said, "You would know those lines." I'm not sure what he meant.

Look, there. He will not go gently into that good night. He's struggling against the dawn. One last rage. From where I sit, the moon looks like a hole in the sky; a perfect white orb surrounded by the most beautiful cornflower blue. It has a halo like some medieval character in a painting. It's inviting, almost as if you looked through the hole, you could see into something else, somewhere else. I wonder where that'd be?

I wonder if looking through the moon-hole would reveal the land of our dreams? That place many of us go during the night hours? Maybe the moon is the hole that allows the dreams into this world? We dream them while the hole is there, the opening to dreamland, but once the hole is gone, so are the dreams. This is sounding a little like Eckhart Tolle, huh? Sorry. But still, if the dreams fly in, how do they decide where to land? Whose thoughts to inhabit? Do they look for open hearts and open minds, like the Methodists, or is anyone fair game?

I have a recurring dream. I had it again last night; yesterday, actually. Maybe the dream is a choice; I get to decide if it's real or if it's illusion. Maybe the dream is given in stark tones of gray and white and I have the ability to color it, shade it, give it perspective. Look, there. It's gone behind the mountains. I can see it no more. Goodbye, my friend. I will have to be intentional in not letting the bright sunlight dissipate my dream. The day comes with so much to do, so much expected of me. Busy, busy, busy as Rabbit says in Pooh. Sometimes, it is hard to remember your dreams. And even harder to hang on to them. Maybe there is a cruel aspect to the dreams that fly in the moon-hole at night; an indifference, if you will. The dreams come and say, "You choose. You have the freedom to choose. If you want it, take it. If not, fine; it is your choice. But know that the dreams only come full-grown a few nights a month."

Look, there. The sun also rises.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

I am not a mechanism, an assembly of various sections.
And it is not because the mechanism is working wrongly, that I am ill.
I am ill because of wounds to the soul, to the deep emotional self -
and the wounds to the soul take a long, long time,
only time can help
and patience, and a certain difficult repentance
long difficult repentance, realization of life's
mistake, and the freeing oneself
from the endless repetition of the mistake
which mankind at large has chosen to sanctify.

- D.H. Lawrence

A speaker was telling the audience that men are "hard-wired" for this or that. Hard-wired? Hard-wired? I wanted to scream my best D.H. Lawrence: I AM NOT A MECHANISM! I AM NOT A MECHANISM! But I didn't. Guess I'm not hard-wired for screaming. But the longer I listened, the more despondent I grew because yet another "man speaking to men" was viewing "men" in a mechanistic way and then prescribing various things that would "fix" the wrongly working mechanism. Now the speaker was going to great lengths to assure us that he didn't want to "fix" us, but he betrayed himself, and us, by the very language he was using.

And lest you think it specific to men, I heard a woman say that about herself just the other day. Well, I know I'm hard-wired for... We also talk about our operating systems and we're not hitting all cylinders and I need to unplug or recharge my batteries...I could go on, but it makes me sad. We've swallowed this subtle lie and taken it to heart and out of the heart proceedeth a view of ourselves that couldn't be more dangerous: that we are mechanisms or at least mechanistic.

No, my friends. We are souls. And if we are ill, and I believe we are, then I agree with Lawrence:
I am ill because of wounds to the soul, to the deep emotional self -
And therein, I believe, lies one of the struggles for me, for us; we'd rather not look into that deep emotional self. The deeps have a tendency to be dark and moist and scary.

The other struggle is this:
and the wounds to the soul take a long, long time,
only time can help
and patience, and a certain difficult repentance

We'd rather not take the time. We're not patient. And that certain long difficult repentance stuff? Whoo-wee, we're not hard-wired for that. You might think it different in groups of people who say they believe in God, but for the most part, it's not. As Jim Harrison has said, "We like to count spiritual coup and then get on with it."

Wanna have a field day interpreting this?

I had a dream last night that Elvis and I went to a ballgame together. There was no "maybe" about who it was; it was Elvis, the "young" Elvis. We were both wearing blue chambray shirts. He acted like the two of us were old friends. We left early because our team was so far ahead. As we walked out to the parking lot, there sat my '97 Dodge Stratus (it and I are really old friends). As we pulled out of the lot, I noticed that the car would only go 10 mph. Folks were honking at us and throwing that mean ole middle finger and stuff. Elvis said Hell, don't worry. I thought that was rather cool of him. Once they saw who was riding in the passenger seat, they stopped doing that stuff. So we drove through a downtown cityscape going 10 mph, waving at folks like we were the kings or something.

Suddenly, out of nowhere in dreamland, I realized Elvis was sick. Then I got sick as well. We were both sweating bullets and grabbing our stomachs. I said Elvis, where's the hospital? and he motioned up with his arm, kinda like he does when he sings in dead life. He must've been too sick to speak. "Up" meant we had to take an exit ramp that went entirely vertical (trust me, this gets more strange). We began a 10 mph climb up what felt like the face of Kilimanjaro. Once we arrived at the top, we came to a "T" in the road and had to turn to the left or right (yep, have to make choices, even in dreams). I asked again Which way? and the king was doubled over in pain. I turned left. There, right in front of us, was the hospital from St. Elsewhere.

I pulled up, as fast as my Stratus would go, and asked an attendant if this was the right hospital (not sure why) and he said Not really, but aren't you sick? Before I could answer, Elvis was getting out of the car, stumbling towards the ER. I left the Stratus where it stood, with the keys in it and the engine running (I'm probably going to do that in real life some day). As I stepped inside the building, all these people came rushing towards me with assistance. Nobody was helping Elvis. I was placed in a wheelchair and rolled into a waiting room. Elvis walked behind my entourage. His chambray shirt was sweat-soaked.

The attending nurse looked just like my daughter's kindergarten teacher, but she had a southern accent. Ya'll feel sick? Here, you should eat somethin'. She handed Elvis and me red crockery plates full of pot roast. Elvis started wolfing his down. I picked at mine a little; the meat was tough. I guess I started feeling better because I said Alright, we've got to go. Elvis had cleaned his plate, but I still had some left. He said Bring that with us. So the nurse who looked like my daughter's teacher helped me "box" it up and said Honey, just keep the plate. We thanked her for the help and asked if she thought the car would still be there; I had left it in an "no parking" zone. She said Hell, don't worry; it'll be there. Then the nurse suddenly changed into Keri Russell wearing that outfit she had on in Waitress. I really wanted to kiss her, but the king had already left the building and I felt the need to catch up. So I didn't. Damn Elvis.

Then my alarm went off.


I have a good friend who shut down her blog recently. After four years of spilling it on the keyboard, she's movin' on to other things that God has for her. I admire and respect that. She did not reveal all of the reasons for her decision, but she did indicate that she has felt, of late, an uneasiness in telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, especially when that truth is not nice or pretty. Don't get me wrong; "nice" and "pretty" are not words I would use to describe her writing at all. She writes with a raw intensity that reminds me of some no-punctuation-Jack-Kerouac-jazz-fusion-trip. But even in that swirling prose, she would say there's more she's not telling, more that's not "nice" and "pretty."

If you're reading this, my good friend, I believe you are the moth that is flying ever closer to the flame, refusing to be merely a troubled guest on the dark earth. Fly on. Fly true. Burn.

Back in May of '06, I started this blog with these words:
I find myself somewhat of a hermit these days, doing a lot of writing and editing in my basement, alone, unkempt and content. However, I feel I need a place to stop in every once in a while from the solitary cold. Hopefully the words and thoughts here will be warm and inviting; if I'm lucky, maybe even "a glow in the night woods."

I'm still a hermit at heart. And I'm still writing and editing, however it's not in my basement. I report each day to a cubicle and some days still feel quite alone. Unkempt? That was probably a stretch to begin with. Content? Well, I'll have to tip my hat to the apostle Paul, that bastion of contentedness, and hope I can one day learn his lesson. But I do still hope that the words typed in this little white box that eventually wait for me to hit the "publish post" button are "warm and inviting."

In the church of my youth, there was a phenomenon known as "rededicating your life." It would happen every once in a while when a redeemed soul felt they had strayed a little or a lot off the straight and narrow. This soul would make the journey down the aisle and take the preacher's hand and say, "Reverend Marshfield, I want to rededicate my life to the Lord." In some sense, it was much like renewing your wedding vows or what gandydancers used to do to railroad tracks.

I want to rededicate my blog to the goal of writing words that will be warm and inviting, but at the same time true. This may be the same thing as rededicating my life and it just might be the same thing as rededicating my life to the Lord. Some days, my words might be a glow in the night woods and other days, they might be a raging inferno. And some days, there might be just the trace of an ember needing the breath of kindred souls to fan them into flame.

You think you can avoid pain, but actually you can't. If you do, you just get sicker, or you feel more pain. But if you can speak it, if you can write it, if you can paint it, it is very healing. - Alice Walker

Find Out Who Your People Are

"Humanity cannot be understood without reference to God; and neither God nor God's revelation can be understood except through the lens of thought and experience."
- Max Stackhouse, theologian

"On the face of it, the term religious humanism seems to suggest a tension between two opposed terms - between heaven and earth, so to speak. But this is a creative, rather than a deconstructive, tension. Perhaps the best analogy for understanding religious humanism comes from the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation, which holds that Jesus was both human and divine. In the paradoxical meeting of Christ's two natures is the pattern by which we can begin to understand the many dualities we experience in life: flesh and spirit, nature and grace, God and Caesar, faith and reason, justice and mercy...
The religious humanist refuses to collapse paradox in on itself...But the distinctive mark of religious humanism is its willingness to adapt and transform culture, following the dictum of an early church father, who said that 'Wherever there is truth, it is the Lord's.' Because religious humanists believe that whatever is good, true, and beautiful is part of God's design, they have confidence that their faith can assimilate the works of culture. Assimilation, rather than rejection or accommodation, constitutes the heart of the religious humanist's vision...the religious humanist combines an intense (if occasionally anguished) attachment to orthodoxy with a profound spirit of openness to the world."
- The New Religious Humanists edited by Gregory Wolfe

A mentor of mine once told me that its very important to find out who your people are. It is very true. I doubt I'll ever put a bumper sticker on my car that says "religious humanist on board" but the words above definitely describe my worldview. Other religious humanists you might have heard of? Well, there's Marc Chagall, Nathaniel Hawthorne, T.S. Eliot, Graham Greene, Annie Dillard, Flannery O'Connor, Thomas Merton, W.H. Auden. Gabriel Marcel, Paul Tillich, Walker Percy, John Updike, Frederick Buechner, Madeleine L'Engle, Denise Levertov, Reynolds Price, Louise Erdrich, Anne Tyler, Wendell Berry, and even Garrison Keillor. And me.

My Woman, My Woman, My Wife

[with all due respect to Marty Robbins]

For Meredith -

Hands that are strong but wrinkled,
Doing work that never gets done.
Hair, that's gained even more beauty,
By time in the Colorado sun.
Eyes, that show some disappointment;
And there's been quite a lot in her life!
She is the best friend I lean on,
My woman, my woman, my wife.

Lately the days have been uphill;
We climb but we can't reach the top.
Though weak and sometimes discouraged,
She says "keep going" when I want to stop.
Lips, that are weary but tender,
With love, that strengthens my life,
A saint, in fleece and blue denim;
My woman, my woman, my wife.

Three little babies were born in our days,
She's mothered them as no one else could ;
On days when they think they can't do it,
My woman's faith tells them they should.

When she reaches that river...
Lord, you know what she's worth;
She's a diamond,
She always has been.
Lord, I'd be less than a man,
Without her by my side,
My woman, my woman, my wife,
My woman, my woman, my wife...

Happy Mothers Day, Mer


[With all due respect to Jimmy Dean's classic song]

Mom, I sure hope you're listening

Sweet lady, I owe you for so many things
A lot of services
Like "making sure" for instance:
Making sure we had what we needed and
Most times, making sure we had what we wanted.

Boy, you had the gentleness of a dove
And the wisdom of a serpent but you always
Had a heart as big as the Grand Canyon.

I owe you for services like
Uh, short order cook,chef, baker
For making helper out of hamburger
And miracles out of Spam
And croquettes out of salmon and
Two fairly sized strapping boys out of leftovers.

I owe you for cleaning services;
Cleaning up some messes that I made
And didn't have the sense or smarts
To know what to do with.

I owe you for letting some stuff go;
The stuff that males do that females
Will never understand.
I wonder some days how you lived with
A man and two boys and if you longed for a daughter
In the mix to have tea parties with or sew dresses for.

I owe for not asking sometimes,
Because the truth is, sometimes,
It was best you didn't know.

I owe you for washing and ironing
And teaching me how to do it myself.
I can put a crease in a shirt with the best of them,
Just like you taught me and someday, I'll teach my son.

I owe you for services as a spur:
For spurring me to do that which I didn't think I could,
And spurring me to try and if I failed,
To try again.

And Lord knows I owe you
For medical attention
For nursing me through chicken pox and
Broken toes, the extraction of wisdom teeth, scarlet fever and spring fever.

Oh, oh, let's not forget medical advise like
You can't avoid pimples, but you can reduce
Their prevalence by using witch hazel and
A cold washcloth on your forehead cures a host of evils.

And probably the most
Important advice of em all:
Be sure you
Got on clean underwear
In case you're in an accident.

I'm sure one of your greatest
Hopes was that
I was wearing underwear
In the first place.

And I owe you for scratching my back.
The good Lord alone knows how I love that
And you always had time.
And I owe you for letting John Cougar Mellencamp's Jack and Diane
Blare in my room while I'm sure the lyrics made you nervous.

And for making Christmas, Valentine's Day, and birthdays
Something worth remembering
And for making make believe come true
And you did it all on a Baptist preacher's salary.

I owe you for school help,
For science fair projects and algebra tutoring.
And I owe you for career grace;
For being o.k. when I decided not to be a doctor
And for being o.k. with my hopes to be a writer.

And for cementing together a family
So it would stand the worst kinds
Of shocks and blows and for laying down
A good strong foundation to build a life on.
I owe you for always, always saying "I love you" before
I left the house or went to sleep;
That may be the thread that has kept us all together.

I owe you for being Mimi to my kids,
For trying your darndest to be fair
In the giving of gifts and putting your aches and pains
On the backburner in order to trek to Colorado to see 'em.

I owe you for making sure I had the things a boy
Needed in the early 80s; things like Levi 501s and leather jackets
And stereo systems and weight benches
And monogrammed sweaters and H.H. Brown boots
And a column-shift Chevy pickup.

And one thing, Mom, I'll never forget
When I saw you crying one night and suddenly
Realized that in addition to being a Mom, you
Were a human being and that
Sometimes things just got too big even for you and it
Had to spill out in the corners of your eyes.

These are just a few of the things
For which payment is long overdue.
Mom, you worked very, very cheap
And managed by simply doing without
A whole lotta things that you needed yourself.

My I.O.U.'s add up to more
Than I could ever hope to repay
But you know the nicest thing about it all
Is that I know you'd mark
The entire bill paid in full
For just one kiss and a visit every once in a while to Arkansas and
Maybe a haircut
And four little words:

Mom, I love you

Faith, Hop, and Love

I'm sitting here looking out the kitchen window at a star. The star is not outside but inside. It actually a Christmas ornament that we keep up year 'round, hanging on the window via one of those suction-cups things. The star is pewter-colored and has a word written on it in all caps: HOPE. Not a bad word to be reminded of as you start your day. HOPE.

When you hope upon a star...

I remember Norman Maclean writing about how his family had a God is love sign in their home and they believed it. Maybe one of these days, one of our kids will write a story about how our family had a star of HOPE in the window and how it influenced who we were and tried to be. Maybe. I hope.

If you invoke the "silent E" rule on the word HOPE, you end up with HOP, as in HOP-scotch and bunny-HOP and HOP-on-one-leg-mother-may-I. I'm not quite sure the last time I hopped, I mean really hopped. Maybe I'm not sure the last time I really hoped, I mean really hoped. Think about those words a minute, will you? They've got a lot in common.

HOPPING is just a little awkward; it's not our natural means of locomotion. HOPPING looks funny to the casual observer and often feels funny to the casual hopper. You're a little off-balance, you're focusing all your energies on making a successful hop to the next spot or lily pad or rabbit hole. HOPPING is normally something reserved for children and frogs and rabbits, small things. HOPPING is kinda fun, when you think about it and then do something about it.

HOPE is just a little awkward too. Many days, it's not our natural means of living; we've got to be reminded of it via a star in the window or a verse in the scriptures or at the encouragement of a friend. To HOPE looks funny to people looking in or on and often feels rather funny or foolish to the one hoping. HOPING leaves you a little off-balance, you're focusing all, or almost all, your energies on this essence of things hoped for, whatever that may be. And in a sense, HOPING is just a stone's throw from wishing and that's something normally reserved for children or the child-like. But HOPING is kinda fun, sometimes.

Then again, HOPPING can land you on your backside or face-down, as can HOPE. And sometimes, HOPPING is foolish, and sometimes, to HOPE is foolish, it just is. And oftentimes, it's much more fun to watch someone else HOP around than it is to do it ourself. HOPE is like that too; much more easy to watch someone else hope upon a star than it is to do it ourself, really do it.

HOPE finds itself in the middle of that "these three" - faith, hope, and love. For that word to get out of the middle of those other two giants (faith and love), it would have to do something like HOP, right? A great big leap. And HOPE it makes it.

I HOP you have a great day!

There are days...

Ladies, this is a post for the men. You're more than welcome to read it and pass it along to your man if you think there's something here. But you may not think there's anything here. But then again, you might learn something about your man or men.

There are days when I'd like to get in a fight. Days when I'd like to open up a can of whup-up and get sideways all over somebody. I wouldn't have to win the fight necessarily; I'd just like to mix it up. I had a day like that yesterday.

I've been to two school functions this week, one on Monday and one last night. Both times, there has been this one dad that I've just had a hankerin' to punch. No lie. There have been scores of dads at both of these functions, guys I know and guys I know of. I've talked to some, shaken a few hands; you know, the stuff guys do at school functions. But this guy, let's call him puffy-chest-dad, was in close proximity to me both nights and both nights I've left the function thinking to myself: I shoulda kicked his ass. How's that for being confessional?

On Monday, puffy-chest-dad brushed by me as he ran to cheer on his offspring at the track meet. There's a football field worth of open space available and this guy decides to run as close as he can to me on the way to supporting his kid. I'm thinking What? And it felt like a very intentional I'm-gonna-run-as-close-as-I-can-to-you moment; kind of like a challenge. Now I know this guy's wife, my daughter had her for a teacher, but I've never met him or shaken his hand.

And last night, I was in a group of parents and puffy-chest-dad was scanning the perimeter for, shucks, I don't know, aliens or something, and he sees me and looks me in the eye and I kid you not, there was this I'm the king of the hill 'round here, Bucko look he gives me. He swaggered around a little, barked at his kids, and that was it. We're at an everlovin' elementary school program and this guy's playing jr.high testosterone games.

Now gentlemen, I'm wondering if you've had this experience before? Now I know that a roomful of men is a potentially dangerous room; there's always that tension between males that females are oblivious to. But this guy, it's just felt like he was looking for a rumble, a chance to take somebody down and then beat his puffy chest and do a Tarzan victory yell. Strange, very strange. I didn't have on my WWJD bracelet last night, so that question was not on my radar. What was on my radar was a gut feeling, a man-stinct, that said "this guy thinks his stuff don't stink."

I'd love to tell you that I came home both nights and prayed for puffy-chest dad, that I took the route of compassion and Covey and "sought first to understand, so you can get some synergy-stuff." But I didn't. I hit the treadmill and weights last night and had one of the best workouts I've had in weeks. I guess I must've "worked it out." I guess. There are just some days when I'd like to get in a fight. And I've had a couple this week. I told my girlfriend about it last night and she looked at me like I had bananas growing out of my puffy-chest or something. She also looked a little nervous.


I had the privilege of attending a conference at Glen Eyrie this weekend - Brennan Manning's Healing the Image of God. The company I work for is publishing his next book, so my presence there was somewhat as an ambassador of publishing-will. I took him to dinner and tried to wine and dine him as best as I could. My girlfriend tagged along for the meal; we had a wonderful time and he told me I had good taste in women.

However, I was trying to be very aware that I was not there solely as an ambassador, that God might have something to say to me through the old, ragamuffin priest. And he did. I was re-minded of God's tenderness; of the reality that God is "our Father" - our "Abba." When the nutty disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, that's the entry phrase Jesus gave them: "Our Father/Abba." It was not "Our holy LORD, high and lifted up" or "Our Rock" or "Our Shepherd" or any of those other perfectly legitimate biblical images of God. No, when it comes to relating personally to God (prayer), it's "Abba" or "Daddy" - the image of a little Jewish boy or girl running into the arms of their Abba. And that is an image of immense tenderness: "a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out" (Matthew 12.20).

Some folks have problems with Manning's theology. Some folks are convinced he's a universalist. Some folks. I'm convinced that some folks, or maybe most folks, have an image of God that needs healing. I include myself in that number. Relating to a "tender" God is almost unthinkable for us and so we respond by picking apart the messenger's theology or accuse them of being some "-ist" or anything we can come up with to keep that kind of thinking at arms length. We throw sticks and stones at best, and crucify at worst. Times haven't changed. People haven't either.

I did not attend any National Day of Prayer festivities last week. That stuff's always got the flag wrapped around it and I'm never sure what image of God folks are praying to. We'll go stinking hog-wild critical over a room full of Muslims because they're praying to the wrong image of God, but what about us? And if somebody says, "Well, it's not about us" then I think I'm going to stick bamboo shoots under my fingernails or something. It's always about us. Maybe we should have a National Day of Healing the Image of God for a few years and then, ever so slowly, move into a National Day of Prayer. Because if we don't have the image right, then we always get the prayers wrong. But some folks probably wouldn't go for that. Some folks.

As we begin...

For it giveth unto all lovers courage,
that lusty month of May.
- Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte d'Arthur

Now the bright morning-star, Day’s harbinger,
Comes dancing from the East, and leads with her
The flowery May, who from her green lap throws
The yellow cowslip and the pale primrose.
Hail, bounteous May, that dost inspire
Mirth, and youth, and warm desire!
- John Milton, Song on a May Morning

What potent blood hath modest May.
- Ralph W. Emerson