Papa would do whatever he could
Preach a little gospel, sell a couple bottles of Doctor Good

Welcome to The Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves Grab'N'Run at the Dirty Shame. It's the first time we've ever done a giveaway or anything and to tell the truth, well, I'm just sorta excited, for more reasons than one. I'd love to give away a used '97 Stratus, but Papa does whatever he can.

Winn Collier has just released his third book, Holy Curiosity: Encountering Jesus' Provocative Questions, and I want to rejoice with those who rejoice. And I think Winn is rejoicing. And I'd love for you to have a copy. I've done some writing on the topic of questions myself and Winn's book is a wonderful contribution to this exquisite facet of the gem known as Jesus.

Winn sent me a galley to read and this is what I wrote afterwards:
As an editor in Christian publishing, I read a lot of manuscripts every week. Some are handsome, some are plain, as we are. But a few, every once in a while, are good. I’d like to go on public record and say that Holy Curiosity by Winn Collier is good.

E.B. White described that pig-lovin’ spider this way: "It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both." One gets that feel when reading Winn’s new book.

I could go on at length about this book, but I won’t. I’m an editor. I’ve got standards to maintain. So, here’s the approach of “where 2 or 3 are gathered” -

Number 1 – What I felt throughout Winn’s book was “spaciousness, room to grow.” In this age and day of books, most of them tell me what to think or not to think, what to feel or not to feel. Winn’s words allowed me room to ponder; such as he practices, he gives to us. There was no rush to get to the point or make sure I “get it” – no, these pages achieved an unforced rhythm. Permission to think/doubt/and wrestle with angels granted.

Number 2 – Winn quotes his wife and sons just as much, if not more, than he quotes Augustine, C.S. Lewis, or Bruner. Let me raise a glass to that modus operandi and declare HERE! HERE! A thread throughout this book is the necessity to keep on going; not a worship of the future, but an awareness of that’s where we’re headed. By paying attention (a form of prayer) to those voices closest to him, Winn demonstrates the ability to be formed by the past but not live there. No, he’s living with Mrs. Collier and their two sons, now, in the present. You may not think much of this point, but I read authors every day who cram quotes from dead folks in their books like teenagers from the 60s in phone booths. It’s kinda impressive at first and then it’s just weird. Thanks, Winn, for resisting that temptation.

Number 3 – A transparency exudes this book. Winn uses words like exude – so hang on. But, it’s a transparency that’s not exhibitionist. Winn doesn’t strip down to the buff, but he does tell us he used to part his hair down the middle and wear pink oxfords. And in the economy of holy curiosity, sometimes that’s enough to satisfy.

O.k. One last word – I was also struck by the belief that this author really loves Jesus. And that is not a slight thing. In fact, it may be the thing.

~~So, here's what we'll do. I'd love to arrange a dart game or something, but this being the onlinusphere, that's a little hard. Between now and Tuesday, Nov. 4th, leave me a short comment about something, I don't care, and on Tuesday, Nov. 4th, I'll download one of those counter-things and draw a random number and well, hell, you know the drill. Some of you know my skills in things like that are sometimes lacking, so I'll get my girlfriend to make sure it all goes down truthful-like. Yes, I know something else is going on Nov. 4th, but since that's essentially a crapshoot, let's rig one up with a beneficial outcome. Deal?

Winn, I'm proud of you, my friend. And I hope you feel honored to be the catalyst for what looks to be the first of many Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves Grab'N'Runs at the Dirty Shame. Your picture goes up on the wall, beside Cher's, and the drinks are on me.

The Perusal of Repetition

One of the first symptoms of both acedia and depression is the inability to address the body's basic daily needs. It is also a refusal of repetition. Showering, shampooing, brushing the teeth, taking a multi-vitamin, going for a daily walk, as unremarkable as they seem, are acts of self-respect. They enhance the ability to take pleasure in oneself, and in the world...Esther's desire to "do everything once and for all and be through with it" has all the distorted reasoning of insanity. It is a call to suicide.
- Kathleen Norris, Acedia & Me

Well, Linus sat in that sincere pumpkin patch, again, and waited for the Great Pumpkin to bring toys to good little girls and boys. His eyes bugged, again, as he exclaimed to Sally that the rustling sound was the rising of the Great Pumpkin. It was Snoopy, again. Oh, and Lucy moved the football and all Charlie Brown got in his sack was rocks, again.

I tucked three children into bed and they untucked themselves three times after that, again. I fed the Beta fish, Stella, with three little pellets of life, again. Not long after, I spent twenty minutes in my target zone, again, followed by a few push-ups, just to make the upper body all firm and such. A quick shower followed after which I took my sweaty-target-zone clothes downstairs to the laundry basket, again.

I kissed her and she said I love you, again. I love you back.

The Beagle awoke at 11:47pm, crying to go outside, again. I got up and let him out and he attended to business and quickly came back inside and went straightway to his pen and went to sleep, again.

The old man awoke at 3:45am, interiorly crying to go to the bathroom, again. I got up and let myself out, well, in, and attended to business. I went back to my pen, well, bed, and just lay there for about fifteen minutes, again.

A little after 4:30am, I read the daily psalms from The Book of Common Prayer, again. I'd swear I read the same ones last month on the 29th. Oh well. The coffee maker clicked on at 4:45am, again. When the coffee maker, Gev, finished, I poured a cup in the pottery mug, again, that she bought me a few Christmases ago. A level spoonful of brown sugar and an intentional stir with a plastic spoon, again, so as to not wake her and the tucked-in kids and the relieved Beagle.

About 6:30am, I'll put on wool socks and my boots, again. The strength of my life, my firstborn, and I will leave at 7:10am and drive to his middle school, again. Just before leaving, I'll kiss her and say I love you, again. I love you back.

I'll drive my old beater to work, again, and do what needs to be done, again. And I'll be anxious all day to get back home, to these repetitions, as unremarkable as they may seem, for they are acts of self-respect, enhancing my ability to take pleasure in myself, and in this world, yet once again.

Oh, I will put on additional clothing besides my wool socks and boots. If I were to leave for work wearing only those, well, my, my, that would tie quite a kink in the rope of unremarkable repetition.

All Quivery

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one's youth.
Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them!
he shall not be put to shame
when he contends with his enemies in the gate.
- Psalm 127.5-6

Earlier, the children of my youth were scattered to the winds. Two were outside playing in the chill of dusk, as their sister finished homework in her room. But that was then.

Later, the warrior sat in the middle of homework girl's room, well, happy.

It was one of those collection of moments when, at least in my mind, time slows. You begin seeing things as if they're still life; they're not, but that's how I see them. Homework girl had just put on my old Vanessa Carlton cd because she knows I like it. And that's when I saw their feet.

Homework girl's, I guess when I wasn't looking, have grown into young girl's feet, almost a woman's. They're daintily solid, they'll hold her weight, her glory. She was moving around the room with authority, this middle child, dancing to the music while cleaning her bookshelf, readying herself for Monday and beyond. Girl, you're almost a woman now, as Neil sorta sang. She talks to me like she's the only child of my youth in the room. This is nothing new.

The youngest was sitting near the door of the room she shares with homework girl. She was reading a book, to herself, with legs crossed and bare feet pointing northish and southish; she was reading Junie B. Jones. I focused in on her feet. She had been outside earlier while I was cleaning up Beagle poop in the yard. She was barefooted. Git some shoes on. You see all this stuff I'm cleaning up? If you stepped in it and happened to have a cut on your foot, it could get infected and you'd incur huge medical bills. Later, near the doorway, I didn't notice any cuts or poop or latent infection on her feet. No, just happy toes that moved to Vanessa's voice, metronomes for a warrior's heart.

Firstborn, out of the blue, came and snuggled up beside me. This is not rare, but it's not an everday occurrence. His bare feet (we do own shoes; it's just it was late in the evening and we're from Arkansas and all) were propped up against the wall. Big, man feet, he has. His mother clipped his toenails last night; now, he's not quite so feral. It is the classic struggle with his mother: feral vs. my baby. His hair has grown beyond motherly standards and he's reading a lot of Wolverine comics. I, the happy warrior, understand.

And then the Beagle, who generates the waste of 20 elephants in our backyard, comes and plops alongside my legs. Just starts to lean a little and lets gravity seal the deal. I couldn't bring myself to look at his feet.

There's no Robert Fulghum closing to this post. I just found myself sitting in the gate with no shame, as the psalmist would say, with the feet of the children of my youth all at my feet. And, as the good book says, I was happy.

There's another verse that speaks of beautiful feet on the mountains, the feet of those who bring good news. I'd always thought that meant a bunch of witnessing Baptists plodding up the Roman Road carrying Holy Joe tracts. Until last night. The children of my youth are beautiful-feeted creations that hold the good news within them with every breath; they are a heritage from the LORD...the fruit of the womb is a gift.

One day, sooner I'm sure than I want, the warrior will send beautiful-bare-footed arrows from his bow into the plans prepared for them. But for now we sit in the gate as Vanessa sings and the Beagle's belly moves up and down and we read and talk and are happy.

On the Road with Liz and Jim

I finished Liz Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love the other day, finally. The subtitle for this book is One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia. Quite the sub, I must say. I really enjoyed Italy and found some interesting things in India, but by Indonesia, well, let's just say crossing the finish line was hard.

Gilbert is a wonderful writer, no debate. She's got an ear for dialogue that's an inspiration to me; if you aspire to be a fiction writer, I'd suggest reading this book. The writing has an attractive quirkiness that reminded me of Anne Lamott before she shifted to Plan B. Liz's (I can call her by her first name now that we've traipsed all over Italy, India, and Indonesia together) theology is one that even mother Oprah would love and does.

If the book's not from the library, meaning I own it, I read with a pen close at hand, making marginal notes and underlining words or phrases along the way. Here's something I underlined:
He said, "Just as there exists in writing a literal truth and a poetic truth, there also exists in a human being a literal anatomy and a poetic anatomy. One, you can see; one, you cannot. One is made of bones and teeth and flesh; the other is made of energy and memory and faith. But both are equally true."

That's beautiful. And, I believe, equally true.

I tried to determine just why it took me so long to finish Liz's journey. Like I alluded to earlier, I had to hunker down and plow to the finish. As best I can tell, Liz just got too, well, feminine for me there at the end. Now Liz is a female, so I should've expected as much. But those last pages in Indonesia where she found her Brazilian boyfriend, Felipe, just got too romantical for me. If you're a female, as Liz is, then you might relish that leg of the journey, but if you're a male, like me, well, it was just too much. I found myself itching and scratching to leave Indonesia and get back on American soil, by God, and get that Brazilian boyfriend's philosophy out of my head and spend some time in the company of a man who loves dogs and sunrise and believes cell phones to be of the devil. Sayonara, Liz; hello, Jim Harrison.

This weekend, I finished Harrison's latest The English Major. Now I've read just about everything big Jim's written and he's at the top of my list of favorite writers. He, like Liz, is a stellar writer and has an ear for dialogue that consistently rings true. I'm not sure Oprah would embrace Jim's theology, but I'm quite sure Jim would lose zero sleep over that one. And this book, like Liz's, is of the travelin' kind, except it stays at home rather than abroad.

I'll say this book isn't one of Jim's best works. But it has all the reassuring Harrison masculinity that I've come to expect from the old bear and in the wake of Liz and Felipe taking off their shoes and saying Attraversiamo, to read about major character Cliff grieving the loss of beloved dog Lola seemed to set things aright for me. And when Cliff flushed a cell phone down the toilet, well, let's just say I had to grab a Kleenex.

I read Jim's new book with a pen at hand. Here is something I underlined:
The world is a wobbly place and so is my mind.

God bless you, Jim.

Two caveats. As I said, Liz's theospirituality is all over the place; Italy, India, and Indonesia, to be exact. If you need a train that stays on the tracks, Liz ain't your girl. And Jim likes to cuss and talk about women's butts, alot. Not much I can elaborate on there, other than that might be a deterrent to you getting in the passenger seat of Cliff's Ford Taurus and setting off across the fifty states.

We All Loved Our Comrade...

We beat the drum slowly and played the fife lowly,
And bitterly wept as we...

- "The Cowboy's Lament"

One of our own, one who's been with us from the very beginning, has heard the river calls its name. Our microwave. My girlfriend put a dish in it the other evening, some butter to melt actually, and arcs of, well, I guess microwaves, were visible to one and all. Up to that moment, the waves had been invisible and soothing. Now, they were all macro and angry. Once an oasis of reheating, now a portal to some sci-fi scene.

We grieve the loss of this old friend. It was a wedding gift. Eighteen years ago it found us and we found it, a perfect match. We never named it, like we do our cars; we just always referred to it as, well, microwave. But now it sits, umbilical cord cut from mother electricity, display darkened forever.

Kent Meyers wrote a fabulous book, The Work of Wolves, that has an entire chapter titled "The Religion of Broke." One of the minor characters felt that every time something broke, it was the result of spiritual forces hellbent on breaking stuff. One of the other characters, a major one, refused this belief; he reckoned that after so much use and so much time, stuff just, well, broke.

I really liked that character, the major one, and his perspective.

We've got a hunch or two as to why our microwave oven will warm no more. But the larger story here, I believe, is that after eighteen years of everything from melting butter, not margarine mind you, to reheating chili to defrosting chicken, this friend of the family just, well, broke. It's what happens when you use something to the very end, maybe even when you love something to the very end.

The girlfriend and I have a few other things we received during the wedding bliss, stuff that's been with us eighteen years or so. We don't have a lot of stuff like that, but a few things. I guess the most obvious stuff would be, well, us; we've both got each other and we've had each other for eighteen years now. That's a long time.

There's not too much I want written on my tombstone. At one time, I really thought so brave, young, and handsome would've been quite fitting, but that was when I thought I might die young, you know, like one of those angst-ridden poets or something and my widow would come each day to my plot and lay fresh cut jasmine and weep for her love. But now, here in my 40s, I kinda think my epitaph of choice is: he loved her till the very end, then he broke. Or as George Jones sang: he stopped lovin' her today.

My Attempt to TwitterFace

I refuse to do that Twitter deal; sorry, but that's just too connected. And I haven't found the strength to jump on the Facebook train. I mean, is there even room on board? All those faces. My lord. Maybe this will suffice, for now, for today. You don't have to apply to be my friend. I'll take you as you are.

9 seconds ago - John finally finished Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Next read? Jim Harrison's The English Major.

21 minutes ago - Verse that jumped off the BOCP: Psalm 106.45 - He remembered his covenant with them and relented in accordance with his great mercy.

29 minutes ago - I awoke to coffee already brewed. A new machine have I. Glorious. Mahvelous.

8.3 hours ago - John went to bed, after having hand rolled possibly two thousand sausage balls for his work breakfast this morning. He's hoping that he feels like going because he's been s-i-c-k (stuck in crappy karma) for several days; even his teeth ache. He's self-medicating with Advil, rest, and coffee.

25.7 hours ago - My parents drove away in the predawn light after spending the weekend with us. My mom said we're proud of you, John, as tears streamed her cheeks. My dad said Oh, it's been so good to see you, just to see you. I love these two people.

49.2 hours ago - John's family is on a let's-visit-all-the-churches-in-the-area-before-we-decide-on-oneapalooza. The choice for today was the local southern baptist church. It probably won't be "the one" but it was awkwardly refreshing, kinda country. All but one of this church's staff have left over the last two months, all for legitimate reasons, no scandals or anything. Those that remain are huddling close in survival mode, holding hands, praying, hoping.

Madonna and Petunia

Movement in the rearview mirror drew my attention.

Madonna and child in a minivan. Mom was driving, thankfully, and talking on her cell phone while waving her arms in the air like some crazed conductor. That was the movement that caught my eyes. The child, a little boy, was sitting in the passenger seat, head turned away from her and her opus, looking out the window, silently, quietly.

Seconds earlier I had been listening to Yo-Yo Ma suck the marrow out of some song via his Domenico Montagnana 1733 cello. Ma has nicknamed it Petunia. Aspen and Oak along the street were dropping their skirts of gold and red; they stood naked but unashamed. A dog was walking his man down the sidewalk. The man breathed in and out and I could see his effort, such was the temperature. They were seconds of being painfully aware of beauty, of life itself all around, of the world being shot straight through with the grandeur of God.

And then a red light and I stopped and saw them, harried Madonna and child.

Do you ever have that feeling where you just know what's going on? Not details, mind you, but a pretty good sense of the general state of affairs?

Yo-Yo Ma lovingly drew his bow across Petunia's belly as the last note raged against the dying of the light.

I was suddenly so goddamned mad. I don’t use the word in that last sentence lightly. I believe if there’s anything, anything at all, that God will damn us for one of these days then it will be our stiff-necked refusal to recognize the gifts he’s given, some of them sitting in the passenger seat beside us looking out the window, silently, quietly. We pray and ask and do not receive because we ask amiss. We’d be better off shutting up and shutting it down, whatever it may be, and glancing over just to the right at the handiwork of God looking longingly out the window.

We’d pay good money and give our eye teeth to actually be touched by an angel when there’s one in the backyard swinging who’s been created just a little lower than God himself, in the truest translation of that verse, and she’s flying higher and higher, all angel-like, and smiling and laughing and we, no I, refuse to hear the amazing grace how sweet the sound that drops from her blessed lips, distracted by the ten thousand things we, no I, just know are necessary for the world to keep a’spinnin’, turnin'. Merci. Merci, please on us, no me. No, us.

Back in the day, we'd eek through yellow lights, throwing pause to the wind. Now, such is our progress, we are not phased by yellow at all, caution-blind. We run, yes run, through red lights with millstones 'round our necks declaring the world must wait while we transgress, putting ourselves and others in danger, the least of which are those sitting in the passenger seats.

Green light. Petunia began to weep the theme from Once Upon A Time in the West. The dog and man were no more to be seen. My breathing slowed. And I, too, wept with Petunia. I wept for distracted Madonna and the little girl she used to be and the moments when she sat in the passenger seat, silently, quietly. I wept for the little boy not two feet from her, all buckled up and safe, yet quite possibly full of a fear that only a mother's words could calm. I wept for me and for all the moments that don't find their way to this blog site, moments when there are angels in my backyard or sitting on my lap and I'm off conducting my own goddamned private symphony. And I wept for us, for all of us, as we're barreling toward Babylon at the speed of distraction while Aspens drop their skirts and men obediently follow dogs and little boys dream of small talk with their mothers.


Shoo Fly

My father always promised us
That we would live in France
We'd go boating on the Seine
And I would learn to dance

We lived in Ohio then
He worked in the mines
On his dreams like boats
We knew we would sail in time...

- Judy Collins, My Father

Promises and dreams.

Last night, my son performed in his first band concert. Sixth grade. Trumpet. He and his compadres did a great job. Well, the percussion section had a tendency to rush things, but such are the ways of drummers. I watched as awkward hands and fingers on the end of awkward arms concentrated as if our country's welfare depended on them. Right feet kept time with the conductor's baton. The sixth graders played Fly's in the Buttermilk and Frere Jacques. The seventh graders played Another One Bites the Dust. And the eighth graders played Barber's Adagio. My lord.

I bent down yesterday morning to give my youngest daughter a goodbye kiss. She was still somewhat asleep, I had to go. I kissed her forehead and sleepy eyes opened. As she reached up to kiss my nose, as is her custom, she kissed me on the lips, as is not her custom. Her eyes grew wide as saucers and a smile broke her face. Well, shucks, little lady. That's right generous of you. Her saucered eyes rolled at the old man, the smile still firmly in place. Bye, Dada.

I listened last night as my middle daughter announced over spaghetti and french bread I've no homework! She declared this as her mother's earrings dangled from her ears, silver hoops. I'm not too fond of these silver hoops, as they make my sunshine look a little too grown up, kinda like that girl from Footloose. You know, the preacher's daughter? But my middle daughter wants to be seen, noticed. Little does she know that you almost cannot help seeing her, such is her beauty; she is like elf-light. Last night, at the band concert, she kept asking if we could move up closer to the front, so we could see. She was constantly bobbing up and down, like Zacchaeus, trying to see. And be seen. There were no sycamores in the middle school auditorium, just old knotty pines like me. She leaned in and put her head, earrings and all, on my shoulder.

I wonder if my children know the extent, the blessed depth, of my promises and dreams for them?

Skip to my lou, my darlings...

Of Mice and Men and Us

I read Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men in junior high school. My reading of the book was followed by watching the movie version over several days in lit class, John Malkovich, Gary Sinise and all. By the mercy of God, the book was not banned by overzealous parents. That story is written on my heart to this day - the strange but tender relationship between George and Lennie; George as the supposed adult and Lennie as a child in a man’s overalls. George and Lennie were exiles, always moving from one job to another. They’d do pretty well until Lennie found a rabbit’s foot, a puppy’s tail, or a woman’s hair. His simple desire was just to touch something soft; the only problem was Lennie didn’t know when to let go. And death and hell always followed.

They'd then pack up and quickly move on until they found another ranch to work. And in due time, Lennie’s hands would once more dictate the movement of their feet. You kinda get this same song, second verse feel as you travel through Steinbeck’s classic. But something else always happens in the midst of the “here we go again” that invokes a pause, a Steinbeckian-selah. And it is in this pause that we are reminded that we too are exiles with a longing for home. And it bears repeating.

In the moments that follow the death of soft things, Lennie always asks George to tell about the rabbits. George always balks at the request, usually furiously frightened because of what has taken place, again. But Lennie continues to plead, in a seemingly commanding style. And the persistent widow wears down the judge. George begins to speak his words rhythmically as though he had said them many times before:

...Tell about how it’s gonna be.”

“O.K. Someday - we gonna get the jack together and we’re gonna
have a little house and a couple of acres an’ a cow and some pigs and - “

“An’ live off the fatta the lan’,” Lennie shouted. “An’ have rabbits.
Go on, George! Tell about what we’re gonna have in the garden and
about the rabbits in the cages and about the rain in the winter and the
stove, and how thick the cream is on the milk like you can hardly cut it.
Tell about that, George."


Sing them over again to me, wonderful words of life. Let me more of their beauty see, wonderful words of life.

If you don’t have your theological belt cinched up too tight, George describes a place that sounds a lot like heaven. At least it does to me. A mansion just over the hilltop or beyond Jordan's stormy banks. A land flowing with milk and honey. Or cream if you prefer.

This same gonna be story is repeated after each of Lennie’s transgressions. George sings over and over again these wonderful words of life and beauty to his fellow pilgrim with a childlike heart but childish hands. And each and every time they serve as a bridge over the troubled waters of a man’s soul. A balm in the gilead of fear and anxiety. A peaceful, easy feeling amidst the chaos of the moment. A smile always breaks over Lennie’s face, he leans in a little, and the song carries him along. One more time.

Evidently, there are people in this life who pull out of the clouds one day and fly the rest of their lives in the bright sunlight. Their theme song? Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before. To hear them talk, they’re following some sort of escalator-like holiness right up to the blessed gates. And then there are the rest of us, the anawim, the little ones, who do pull out of the clouds one day but seem to dip back down into them again after awhile. Our spiritual lives are not prosaic – in a straight line; they are poetic – full of ups and downs. There are glimpses of heaven on earth, foretastes of glory divine. And then there are months of the valley of the shadow of death.

St. Paul led a poetic life: “I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.” Romans 7.19-20 (The Message).

We have days or seasons of good work and good friendships and good marriage and then we grip too tight and won’t let go and we’re left with blood on our hands. Call it commission or omission, but it really doesn’t matter because the result is always the same: something or someone close to us gets hurt, sometimes ourselves. And either literally or figuratively, we have to pack our things and leave, scrambling. We are all Lennies and have fallen short of the glory of God.

And in the wake of the sin, we don’t need the voice of a robed judge. We know we’ve blown it. What we do need is the voice of somebody else in a robe, a friend from the choir; we need a George, on a 4/4 rhythm, to tell us how it’s gonna be. Even though we know it in our heads, we need someone to help us, in our fear and trembling, to sing out the song of our salvation. We need someone to help us recapture the cadences of the redeemed. The Bible has a Hebrew word - zakhor, to remember - it occurs more than a hundred times in Scripture. Our narrowness usually has us defining memory as pertaining only to those things in the past and not to those yet to come. But sometimes it’s good to be reminded of how it’s gonna be.

“Exiles take music seriously and they sing dangerously...The community of exiles sings new songs. If we listen to the singing, however, we discover that the new song is constituted by the same old words. The old words are recovered and reclaimed. Every song of exiles is a new singing of homecoming and possibility. The barren ones sing about the promised future.”
- Walter Brueggemann, Cadences of Home

So sing. Sing a song that reminds us there’s coming a day when we’ll inherit the little house prepared just for us and we won’t have to care for one another because the Father will take care of everything. About how we needn’t fear the rain for the stove will always be lit inside with the warmth of the ages. And about the cream thicker than knife blades; my lord. And don’t forget about the rabbits. But they’ll not be in cages, for the rabbits will lie down with the mice and the men. The peaceable kingdom. Everything made new. Beautiful. How it's gonna be.

Reader Profile Follow-Up

As I was re-reading the post below, it dawned on me (before the actual dawn) that it ended up sounding like a credo or something, the stuff of which movements and marches are made, maybe even the grounds on which to build a church or a kingdom. The words sounded all important-like. Then I looked down at my bare feet and realized I've forgotten to cut my toe nails lately and thought hell, a man can't be the leader of a major movement if he can't keep his toes neatly trimmed. The media would jump on that like a duck on a junebug.

Still, after reading, you may have thought where can I get a chartreuse rubber wrist band with SOM (Servants of Memory) on it? Or maybe what's the address I can send my donation to so as to further this high and lofty cause?

Shucks. Thanks. But keep you money, kids. If you want to do something to further the cause today, then call your parents or rent Cool Hand Luke or heat up some Campbell's chicken noodle soup or trim your toe nails or something. Let's not let this go to our heads. Keep it where it counts - the heart.

Reader Profile

If you aspire to write books, which I do, then you must define your audience: those to whom you wish to speak. If you aspire to live a life, which, well, I also do, then I believe you're always in the process of defining your people: those whom you wish to seek. And if you aspire to discover just who-on-earth-you-are, which, well, again, I do, you come to a place where you start to see that the work done in defining your audience and your people comes in quite handy when standing in front of mirrors: he, or she, to whom you wish to be. If you're of the algebraic persuasion, a + b = me.

What follows is the "reader profile" I've put together for book proposals and such. Based on the highly scientific equation above, it's also my "people profile" which, well, seems quite equal to me. I believe that a writer always writes for himself first, which, in this case, seems to truck nicely with the woefully goofy theory I've lain at thy feet. I'm amending the proposal wording slightly by using the collective we because, well, I am talking about us, you and me.

The reader of this book will be thirty, forty, or fifty-something; we’ve lived a little. We are the Busters and the Boomers and some of us find ourselves love children of the two: the Bummers. We are somewhere in the middle, not teenagers howling at the moon or senior adults longing for that old time whatever. We're not sure about the best to come because we haven’t been there yet, but we do believe there’s been some pretty good so far. Unless you’ve matured faster than normal, you have to be in this middle to wonder about the ways I write. Pondering this stuff too early results in premature living; you may have the knowledge but you don’t have the scars.
We were adults on September 10th but spent most of September 11th with the uncertainty of a child. Our knees got weak when the towers fell. Our faith did as well. The same thing happened when that shuttle lit up the sky. And when the crawler on the tv said Elvis is dead.
We are everything from married with children to not only do my kids still live at home, but my grandkids do too to divorced and doing just fine thank you very much.
We may also be single. And for the life of us, can't figure out why.
We have been at this faith thing for sometime now, more than likely playing where the church could see us. But we're venturing out more these days; off the path, off the trail. If not directly affected by some sort of church scandal, we’ve seen more than enough on the front-page or the 10 o’clock news. Our faith in those of the cloth is threadbare; it's not how we want it to be, it just is.
We’ve been to most conferences, read most books, listened to most tapes, worked through most Bible studies. In our quest for more, we've beginning to realize that some may be just fine.
We are able, or at least are open, to seeing the presence of God in everything from the Gospel of John to Cool Hand Luke. We believe that all truth is God’s truth.
We know that a culture is dying and “when the forms of an old culture are dying, the new culture is created by a few people who are not afraid to be insecure” - so we’re confidently unsure. Maybe.
We believe that love trumps all, that faith is not so much moving mountains as it is knowing mountains, and that hope is much, much more than the birthplace of Bill Clinton. And being confidently unsure, we add a fourth to the usual three - courage. Although it’s not in the apostle's literal list, we believe it’s there in the margins, that place where the shy soul often lingers. But even of these four that abideth, the greatest is still love, always has been, always will be. Amen. Chang chang, chang-it-ty chang shoo-bop.

Bouncy, Trouncy, Fun, Fun, Fun, Fun, Fun

My first grader's homework assignment was titled Things We Found. The instructions were as follows: With someone else look at home for things that bounce but are not balls.

I happened to be the someone else, and so we proceeded to look for things that bounce. My first grader started picking up everything within eye-shot (not balls, mind you; we follow directions, sometimes) and she'd hold it at eye-level and drop it, just let it go. As I watched, I figured well, how else would you find out if certain things bounce? Drop away, daughter of mine.

Here are, as the title prompted us, the Things We Found, with an alternative title of Things She Found While I Assisted:
1. toilet paper roll
2. eraser
3. cork
4. plastic cup
5. grape
6. me

Answer #1 was obviously measured in micrometers, but us being scientists and all, we observed a slight spring in the toilet paper roll's step, no doubt due to having recently been freed of all those double sheets. Answers #2-4 were all quite bouncy, I must say; we found that, the two of us. Answer #5, the grape. Technically, the grape would probably classify as a ball, of some sort. However, we, the two of us, set aside scientific parameters and let common sense reign. I mean, who says hey, Lazarus, let's go outside and throw the grape? That's right - nobody.

I was pleasantly pleased with answer #6. Those first five came fairly quick; a little girl moving helter-skelter through the house, picking up and dropping whatever she saw next. But then, after the grape, a pause. Pauses are good; no need for the dad to jump in and say well, what about this?

I watched as my not-so-baby-anymore-Einstein scanned the horizon and after a good, pregnant pause, fixed her eyes on her own two feet. It was like she had a dowsing rod, looking for water, and when she held it over her feet, well, it suddenly started to stir. But stirring's for sticks; my little girl started to bounce. She started bouncing like that manic friend of Winnie the Pooh, laughing and twirling and just getting all crazy-like in the hallway. My proximity was such that I was strangely drawn into her gravity field and yes, I started bouncing too. Mine was more of an Eyeore-bounce, but I gotta be careful, my tail being pinned on and all.

I was proud of my little discoverer. After the thrill of toilet paper rolls and grapes had passed, she found that most obvious, but often overlooked: herself. That kind of self-discovery usually only happens when you've got pauses in your life, room for the hazel sticks to stir. I'm hoping she was also aware of her effect on me, the someone else in her assignment. I'm hoping she saw the infectious power of self-discovery, which can easily lead to bouncing, a rather fine form of that known as joy.

After much joy-ing, she swallowed the grape, which, I swear this to be true, seemed to wiggle and jiggle and giggle inside her. I can't prove that scientifically, but I don't care.

Meet the But Somes

With nothing can one approach a work of art so little as with critical words...
- Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

I have a friend, o such a friend, who received a comment the other day to something said friend had created. My friend had voiced something about the spiritual life which o friend felt was true. As is always the risk when speaking of things like this, someone heard this and felt the need to comment on it. But, you say, it's a free country, right? You say, if you put your stuff out there, you've got to be able to field a few questions, defend the hope that is within you, right?

Anyway, the comment came in the form of a chapter-verse response: well you know, in Heraclitus 12.4, it says blah, yada prada, bippity boppity boo. It's possible that every once in a Haley's comet, responses like that come from some pure place. However, I believe most of them come from a lording-it-over stance (a.k.a., fear), something the Lord clearly cautioned against, but we just love to do regardless. And it usually always comes from the mouth of a But Some.

Allow me to introduce you.

There is more than one occasion in the gospels when Jesus is speaking or teaching or doing that gospel magic on a paralytic or something, and the very next verse contains these two words: but some. Those two words are then followed by someone(s) critical response to what Jesus just said or emphasized or healed. The But Somes. Do you know these people?

O vast readership of two or three gathered here, please lend me your ears. If you are speaking or teaching or writing or drawing or singing or dancing or preaching or posting, any creative endeavor, and you're seeking to contribute to the spiritual common good, then please, please, prepare thyself for the But Somes. If you've not heard from them yet, they're just getting their rucks in a dow.

The But Somes respond from one center. There are legion of nuances, but all the responses have this in common - the Bible. A response can come as a question: where do you find that in the Bible? or it can come as a teaching statement: well, I'm sure you know that James, chapter 5 clearly reveals something different than what you've suggested. Both nuances indicate the supposed error of your ways, usually voiced with those ever-so-humble-Puss-N-Boots eyes from Shrek.

This, dear reader, is what I call the Bible is Flat theory. Do you recall a guy named Columbus? There is a landscape known as scripture and this landscape has borders, Genesis and Revelation, or two leather covers, maybe even something called orthodoxy. This is where life is lived, where all truth resides. But there are some among us, questers, lovers, dreamers, sangers, dead poets, seekers, knockers, hope-to-finders, who load up the Santa Maria and sail beyond those borders and discover that God's word is round, it has shape and heft and texture and an endless horizon, worlds yet to be discovered. And, we have found, if you sail off the edge, you don't die. The love of God is deeper still...

John 5.39-40 - You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you'll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me! And here I am, standing right before you, and you aren't willing to receive from me the life you say you want.

This gravitas scares many folks to death. Little do they know it scares most of us dreamers as well, but we keep on sailing. We've no choice. They cannot imagine anything beyond the flat scripture and the tales we tell, to them, are nothing more than fiction, legend, fairy tale at best. At worst? Well, our tails are toast.

I've seen a But Some draw a person out in a Bible study and cause all eyes to fixate on them and their seeming jello spirituality, immediately sewing the equivalent of a scarlet H, for heretic, on their lapel. I've witnessed pastors do this in a sermon, using phrases like sola scriptura and such. It can get rather loud and messy, if not deadly.

John, please get to the point.

Alright. The heart of this homily is that I pray you learn to guard your heart without resorting to hiding your heart. Trust me, it's a dance. As that sometime theologian Kermit used to say: It's not easy being green. You can respond to the But Somes if you choose; it's always a hard call. I've not known many to be convinced; while I don't believe history repeats itself, it certainly resembles itself quite often. But there are moments, always approached with fear and reverence, when I believe you can and must respond to a But Some comment. You must tell of the dreams you've had, the visions you've seen, the land of milk and honey you've tasted, the hope that is within you, the deep and wide of God. Tell 'em about the rabbits and how it's gonna be -

"'Well,' said George, 'we'll have a big vegetable patch and a rabbit hutch and chickens. And when it rains in the winter, we'll just say the hell with goin' to work, and we'll build up a fire in the stove and set around it an' listen to the rain comin' down on the roof...'"
-John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men

Knowing Me Even More

Knowing me, knowing you
It's the best I can do
- Abba

Well, that last post was just so bloomin' fun, that I'm going to continue it, like a part 2 or something. Isn't this exciting? Makes you glad you got up today, huh?
I'll try and answer 6 questions today, which added to the life-changing 7 from Monday gives a total of, let me see, 12 carry the one, that's 13. So, when you think about me, the man behind the Shame, and you say let me count the ways, then you know where you're headed - 13.

8. Why do I wear my wedding ring on my right hand? Shucks, good question. I've had folks ask me if I was Europeeing, to which I said el no. One folk asked me if I was gay, to which I said I try to be happy all the time. One little girl in a church I pastored asked if I was married to God, which was probably the most creative of all I've heard. I said well, no, but we are in love. The true reason, drum roll please, is that I have a webbed finger on my left hand, at the base of ringman, and I can't get a ring past my knuckle, nope, just won't happen.

9. Who would I be if I could be a television character? Lord, that's easy. John Walton, of course, from The Waltons. I absolutely love that television series. To watch it now makes you wonder how it ever made prime time space. John Walton loves his family, as I do. He loves his parents, as I do. He's not beyond taking a nip of the recipe, as I'm not beyond. He always seems to be on the brink of financial ruin, as I am. He's got good friends; me too. And his evenings of choice are filled with sitting in the rocker, reading, and listening to the radio. Lord, what a man. Oh, I almost forgot. And the man keeps goats. I'm not there yet, but one of these days, one of these days...

10. A piece of information that I once shared and it backfired? Again, easy as pie. In my younger days, I listened to John Cougar Mellencamp and when Jack and Diane came out, well, I thought it was the berries. My dad walked by my room once when I had the Coug cranked up and asked me about the song. All he heard was the chorus, about hold on to sixteen and such. Come Sunday, my pastor-father used those lines in an illustration about seizing the day or living for the moment. He didn't fully check his sources. I'm pretty sure some of his congregants that day knew the rest of the song, as in, the verses. Yeah, that sorta backfired on us, those Bobbie Brooks and all. It's still a great song though.

11. Highest degree you've earned? I have a Masters of Divinity degree. That sounds incredibly arrogant, no? As Annie Dillard is fond of saying: I don't know beans about God.

12. Favorite meal? My girlfriend makes something called Chicken Eden Isle. It's served over rice and is full of sour cream and dried beef and cream of chicken soup and well, chicken. The rest of the plate is full of Le Sueur peas backstroking in that Edenesque broth and hot Pillsbury crescent rolls with real butter dripping down their hips. A little pepper on it all, yes everything, and wash it down with tea sweet enough to rot your molars. Heaven on a placemat, dear reader. Heaven on a placemat. If wearing your wedding ring on your right hand is ever deemed a crime worthy of death row, then that's my last meal menu. I'll die married and happy.

13. If this writer thing goes south and you never get published, what then? Well, I'd like to be a crossing guard at a school zone. I hear there's not much money in it, but I'm quite used to that reality. The hours are good though. You get to wear a vest. You can sit in a lawn chair as the morning yawns. And, most attractively to me, you have the power to stop time, stop those fire breathing dragons as they barrel down the street, hell bent on leather and being on time. Yes, you raise your crimson, octagonal sword and the beasts, they must yield. And as they do, those still so fresh from God safely pass over to the other side, with not a care in the world as they walk the painted zone, for they have total faith that you, the crossing guard, are someone to watch over them. And as the children cross, you can make eye contact with the Pontiac Vibe that's revving her engine and let your eyes do the talking: Keep your skirt on, sis. There's things in this world worth stopping for and lo and behold they're walking right in front of you. If your foot should slip off the brake and your Vibe lunge ahead, then know that I, the crossing guard, will lay down my life for these my friends. It's what I do.