"Stories bind us by reminding us that our lives all exhibit the same fragilities, and thus demand that we stay humane. But I didn't want to be humane; I wanted to be correct."
- William Kittredge, Hole in the Sky

[8th grade]
I was the skinny trumpet playing band guy who signed up for off-season weight-lifting. Most of my friends were not so skinny football or basketball players and I desired to be more like them. With the exception of some little league baseball, I had not participated in any organized sports.

On the first day of off-season, we were all handed cleats, shorts, t-shirt, socks, and a jock strap. We then passed into the dressing room to suit up. I knew of cleats and shorts and t-shirts and socks, but this jock piece stumped me. No one had prepared me for it. It looked like someone had gotten really creative with a pair of scissors and come up with a down-sized pair of underwear. It seemed, however, like no one else had a problem with this. Isolation in a junior high dressing room for boys.

I undressed and picked up this strange foundational piece. I would so like to tell you a different story here; this one is so fragile. But I must tell you the truth. I stuck my feet in the straps and started pulling the jock strap up backwards. I was soon to have all the support I could possibly bear in a region that needed no help. Meanwhile, my skinny eighth grade penis and balls were about to face the world of weights and coaches and wind sprints with no protection. Metaphor, anyone?

A large dark figure stepped in front of me as I pulled this elasticized potentiality of shame slowly up my legs. He was buck naked and hung like a draft horse. Our eyes met, he grinned and humanely said other way and then trotted away. I've never seen a picture of a black angel, but I know they exist. I sat down on the dressing bench and slowly untangled my feet from the straps. My movements were slow with the weight of shame and embarrassment. Was I just supposed to know this? My junior high boyish mind guessed so.

I made a vow that day to never be caught again not knowing the ways of men. I started reading Esquire magazine not long after that.


"Without stories, in some very real sense, we do not know who we are, or who we might become."
- William Kittredge, Hole in the Sky


Charles Alvin Blase. My grandfather. Born 1914 from the union of John Willis Blase and Mildred Ella Limebarger. He was one of nine children: Bob, Pearl, Homer, Nell, Johnnie, Eva, Margaret, and Curt. I have been told that John Willis was "very talkative" and Mildred was "very quiet" and that they traveled from Hamilton, Texas to Joplin, Missouri in a covered wagon. The story goes that Indians tried to steal their horses at night. And at some point along the way, Pearl (a baby at the time) fell out of the wagon while sleeping in Mildred's arms. John's brother, Jim, lived in Joplin and needed help with something; this was the reason behind their journey.

My grandfather's grandfather died on the immigrant's trip over from Germany. He was married (I guess) to a woman named Annie Pearl. From beneath sailing masts to navigating something resembling a prairie schooner, my father's people, as far back as I have notes, have been rovers. Some, to be fair, would find rooted places, but most others wandered, wondered.

wanderlust - n. very strong or irresistible impulse to travel.
Thesaurus words include -
afoot and lighthearted, bumming, discursion, divagation, drifting, errantry, flitting, gadding, hoboism,
itineracy, itinerancy, nomadism, peregrination, pererration, ramble, rambling, roam, roaming, rove, roving, straying, traipsing, vagabondage, vagabondia, vagabondism, vagrancy, wandering, wayfaring.

It would only make sense, then, that my father would be drawn to Rod McKuen's lyrics, as am I:
I have been a rover
I have walked alone
Hiked a hundred highways
Never found a home
Still in all I'm happy
The reason is, you see
Once in a while along the way
Love's been good to me


- from The Faces at Braga by David Whyte

...If only our own faces
would allow the invisible carver's hand
to bring the deep grain of love to the surface.

If only we knew
as the carver knew, how the flaws
in the wood led his searching chisel to the very core,

we would smile, too
and not need faces immobilized
by fear and the weight of things undone...

If only we could give ourselves
to the blows of the carvers hands,
the lines in our faces would be the trace lines of rivers

feeding the sea
where voices meet, praising the features
of the mountain and the cloud and the sky.

Our faces would fall away
until we, growing younger toward death
every day, would gather all our flaws in celebration

to merge with them perfectly,
impossibly, wedded to our essence,
full of silence from the carver's hands.


One of the recurring themes in the amazing poetry of David Whyte is that of flaws. He contends that our flaws or imperfections are essential to the person we are becoming or were created to be; they are necessary for our final confrontation with this thing called life. The Sonny of that Cher, then, is a needed sense of self-compassion for the ways in which we are made. And if only we could live this way -
If only we knew
as the carver knew, how the flaws
in the wood led his searching chisel to the very core,

we would smile, too
and not need faces immobilized
by fear and the weight of things undone...

Some people will have a theological field day with these thoughts. That's alright; some folks need things to do. But I urge you to ponder flaws and the possible outcome of a sense of self-compassion: smiles.


Lost and Found

In the twinkling of an eye or two, he was gone. The boy had opened the front door to fulfill a request from the mother and in a sliver of not paying attention, the beagle ran between his legs and out the door. This was not just any beagle; no, this was Jack the beloved, who also happened not to be wearing a collar or any identification. The shoeless boy ran after his beloved, who sensing a pursuit interpreted it as play and ran farther. The two sisters began to cry. The mother called the father. They all began to pray.

The shoeless boy ran as far as shoeless feet could go, all the way to the border of rocks that hurt your feet to walk on them. The beloved beagle crossed this marginot line into the badlands. The boy ran back to the hem of the mother's garment and began to weep. He's gone. My beloved is gone. The two sisters began to wail.

The father offered his counsel and the decision was made to gather their wits and shoes and travel to the badlands. They steeled themselves through tear-filled eyes and left the ninety-and-nine things to be done that day and drove off to find the one. Greater love hath no mother than this: to leave her house which would soon be filled with her husband's parents and search for a dog that always knocks over the bathroom trash cans and eats dirty Q-tips. One day her children will rise up and call her blessed.

This ragamuffin band of lovers stood in the heart of the badlands and prayed that those with eyes would be able to see. And that a beagle with ears would be able to hear. Maybe the beagle-sheep would hear the voice of the shepherds and know. Jaaaaaaaack. Jaaaaaaaack. Come back, Jack.

From his distanced cubicle, the father could envision Alan Ladd riding off into the sunset in the final scene of Shane. He began to cry, such was his love for a shoeless boy who loved a nose-strong dog, and also his inability to show up and make everything right. No, this would be a journey his loved ones would have to make without his tangible presence. He was with them, however, in cell phone spirit.

After what seemed like hours, the decision was made to go home. The mother repeated those four Easter-laden words: "He is not here." Maybe the Beloved would realize how good he had it in the father's house and come to his senses and let his nose lead him home. Maybe.

The ears of the mother were overflowing with the sound of her children weeping and so she drove one last time around the block, slowly, ever so slowly. The only begotten son saw his beloved's coat of three colors. Stop the van, mom! The boy, now shoes on feet, girded up his tears and ran toward the prodigal, calling his name: Jaaaaaaaaaack!

Sheep do know their voice of the shepherd. As do beagles. Jack the beloved ran toward the boy he knows and loves and sleeps with. The two sisters were not far behind in this happy sprint. The mother voiced the prayer from which all prayers are born: Thank you.

The beagle who was lost had been found. Quickly the mother and her brood said: Let us go straightway to PetSmart and buy a new proper identification collar to put around his neck and a new frisbee for him to play with in the backyard. And let's not forget a bag of treats assembled, no doubt, from a fatted calf or pig or something. There was music and gladness in their hearts. And just as much in the tail of the beloved that wagged all the way home.

While presidential candidates strategized and gas prices rose and floodwaters crested across the Midwest and traffic commuted and hearts were bypassed and white ski runs were darkened with the arms and legs of spring-breakers, an ancient story was retold on a block in a little Colorado town. In a moment of inattention, a pearl or a coin or a beagle was lost. And those whose hearts were full of love left or sold all they had and swept the house clean looking for him/her/it. They prayed prayers of desperation to the God whose business is re-union; to whom else could they turn? And for some reason that God-only-knows, he who was lost was found. And the only response was ear-to-ear-smiling-wipe-the-tears-from-your-eyes-while-your-dog-licks-you-clean joy. Joy - the air we will breathe someday.

Thank you.

Resurrection Sunday 2008

Very early on the first day of the week they came to the tomb as the sun was rising...Entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right dressed in a white robe and they were much stunned.
But he said to them "Don't be stunned...He was raised. He isn't here"...
Going out they fled the tomb - they were shuddering and wild - and they told no one anything for they were afraid.
- Mark's gospel

Throughout these lenten writings, I have used Reynolds Price's translation of Mark's gospel; it is found in his book A Palpable God. The translation I used to preach from always described these first-day-of-the-week women as "filled with fear and wonder." But I love how Price renders them - "shuddering and wild."

As I fast forward about four hours, I'm willing to roll the dice and describe the Easter service I will be a part of; it will be "filled with fear and wonder." Bells will be ringing and smiles will be the order of the day, children will be wearing pastels, and the alleluia that has been buried for the season will finally be shouted in unison. A reverential fear of the LORD and a wonder that borders on giddy will be the backdrop for our celebration.

It is tempting for me to join in this reindeer song. This has been a long Lent, very long. I determined to write each weekday through Lent and about midway through the season, I regretted my claim. Lent is very long and dark and hard and depressing and melancholy and violent and bloody and sad and low. Lent is, in the words of Reynolds Price, palpable. You can feel it. All of it. Every bit.

After the long haul to the cross, it is tempting to strip off my lenten garments, getting a running start, and perform a pastel-cannonball right into the glistening backyard pool of "fear and wonder." But to do so would betray my long walk with him to the first day of this week. To stay true to my decision to enter into Lent in a particular way (via Price's translation), I must exit Lent in a particular way (via Price's translation). And so I say to myself: I will go unto the house of the Lord and I will go shuddering and wild; afraid.

Passerbys will no doubt see churchgoers this a.m. walking toward their houses of worship with determined steps and faces of assurance; christians full of fear and wonder. I wish to God that passerbys might see some, or maybe a few, or possibly even just one follower of the Way shuddering and wild. At least one believer who is not sure what he believes on this day because what he thinks he believes is unbelievable. To imagine one dead, now alive, makes him shudder, makes him tremble at the thought of being in the presence of a God who bested death, the final frontier. And this imagining further courses through his body so that his eyes and posture and hair and all that is him could only be described as wild.

I wish to God that at least one of us would slink across the parking lot with uneven steps, constantly looking over our shoulder, wild-eyed and quite awkward during the handshaking time at the beginning of the service. That just one of us would celebrate this day, well, afraid.

Some would say, "But John, Easter is supposed to be about joy and basking in the light of the resurrection and bunnies and colored eggs and white suede bucks. Easter is supposed to be happy. Can't you be happy with us? We all know you are the melancholy sort; but for today, can you not just be happy? Come in from the rain, old boy, it's Easter! Here, have a Cadbury egg."

Lent has been palpable, my friends. The only way I can celebrate this day is in light of the days that have been. I must be among you shuddering and wild. I cannot, no, I will not make the story something other than what it is. And those women on that first first-day-of-the-week were, well, afraid.

I find it telling that the most reliable manuscripts of Mark's gospel that we have finish off the story exactly where Price concludes: "and they told no one anything for they were afraid." The translations you and I usually read from add more to Mark's story. Somebody along the way wanted to make certain it didn't end on such a shuddering and wild note; to ensure that Resurrection Sunday was not quite so palpable.

Were you there on that first day of the week?
Were you there when God raised him from the tomb?
Oh, oh, sometimes, it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

Passion Friday

Having bought new linen and taken him down he wrapped him with the linen, put him in a tomb hewn from rock and rolled a stone across the entrance of the tomb.
Mary the Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus watched where he was put.
- Mark's gospel

Mary and Mary, quite despairing,
What are you watching for?
With trembling hands and linen new
we've entombed him, Christ the Lord.

Long before Mel Gibson's Passion was Johnny Cash's The Gospel Road. At least in my personal cinematic history. It's been years ago now, years ago. My preacher-father supported the opening of the film with much the same fervor as evangelicals rallied around Gibson's film several years ago. There were no door hangers for outreach purposes or small group discussion starters to download from the web. It never won any awards, the acting is not necessarily something to write home about, and it never brought the box office to its knees. But Cash's simple, song-laden witness to the story made quite an impression on me. The lyrics that Johnny and his friends wrote are the soundtrack for my worldview.

June Carter Cash, Johnny's wife, played the role of Mary the Magdalene. And to this day, when I read or think of the Magdalene, I see the face and hear the voice of June Carter. And I remember her tears.

June Carter/Mary the Magdalene's puffy cheeks and red eyes are, for me, the good Friday icon of grief. Earlier in the film, she sang John Denver's lyrics:
Follow me where I go what I do and who I know
Make it part of you to be a part of me
Follow me up and down all the way and all around
Take my hand and say you'll follow me

It was what she had decided to do - follow him. Up and down. All the way and all around to the cross. His grace had touched her in a very deep place and June Carter played out the Magdalene's response of love with a gentle awkwardness that was compelling and human. It was not nicely polished or well-choreographed, but rather simple, kinda country, and most importantly, believable.

My dad gifted me with the DVD of this film not long ago. I will play this clip for my family today, probably multiple times. I will play it for many reasons: love of my dad, an admitted continuing attraction for June Carter, a desire to orient our family's attention on this Friday that became good only after the Sunday that followed. But I will also play this puffy-cheeked-red-eyed clip because it is believable. It does not represent the spouse hugging the casket and wailing at lung's limit, but rather the sad-shocked follower who doesn't have anyone to follow anymore; the woman who made it a point to make a part of her a part of him and then everything fell apart.

The Gospel Road's Mary Magdalene played by June Carter Cash Good Friday sad country song. Years ago, I saw with my eyes and heard with my ears. And I still believe.

Passion Thursday

Now when evening came since it was preparation which is the day before the sabbath Joseph from Arimathea, an important councilor who was himself also expecting the reign of God, came and boldly went in to Pilate and asked for Jesus' body.
Pilate wondered if he was already dead and summoning the centurion questioned him how long ago he died. Then learning from the centurion he presented the corpse to Joseph.
- Mark's gospel

In the traditional rhythm of Holy Week, today is Maundy Thursday. The scriptural emphasis is the account of Jesus washing the disciples feet. But due to the way I've been walking through Mark's gospel, we're beyond that moment here at The Shame. Today's emphasis is on another footwashing; an experience of others taking up the towel and basin and doing unto him as he did unto the twelve. Because of scheduling conflicts or even religious background, you may not participate in a Maundy Thursday service today. If not, maybe what follows can be a grace that is sufficient.

What you'll find below is a portion of the poem The Deposition by B.H. Fairchild. My challenge to you is to let this poem wash over your feet and heart and mind and soul and strength. Take a few moments, still yourself and your surroundings, and read this poem aloud, twice. Both times, read it slowly. Try and mimic the pace the story presents. This was not something that happened quickly, effortlessly, mindlessly. After you've read it once, let it simmer a moment, then read it once more, even slower. What speaks to you or is impressed upon you as you read is up to the grace that keeps this world. I merely want to help you get your feet wet. I would love to hear of your experience. I'd like to dedicate today's post to my pastor, Ken Ross.

But it was done. And the body hung there
like a butchered thing, naked and alone
in a sudden hush among the ravaged air.
The ankles first - slender, blood-caked,
pale in the sullen dark, legs broken
below the knees, blue bruises smoldering
to black. And the spikes. We tugged iron
from human flesh that dangled like limbs
not fully hacked from trees, nudged
the cross beam from side to side until
the sign that mocked him broke loose.
It took all three of us. We shouldered the body
to the ground, yanked nails from wrists
more delicate, it seemed, than a young girl's
but now swollen, gnarled, black as burnt twigs.

The body, so heavy for such a small man,
was a knot of muscle, a batch of cuts
and scratches from the scourging, and down
the right side a clotted line of blood,
the sour posca clogging his ragged beard,
the eyes exploded to a stare that shot
through all of us and still speaks in my dreams:
I know who you are.

So, we began to wash
the body, wrenching the arms, now stiff
and twisted, to his sides, unbending
the ruined legs and sponging off the dirt
of the city, sweat, urine, shit - all the body
gives - from the body, laying it out straight
on a sheet of linen rank with perfumes
so that we could cradle it, hand it
to the tomb. The wind shouted.
The foul air thickened. I reached over
to close the eyes. I know who you are.

Passion Wednesday

There were women too at a distance watching among whom were both Mary the Magdalene, Mary the mother of the younger James and mother of Joses, and Salome who followed him when he was in Galilee and served him and many others who had come up with him to Jerusalem.
- Mark's gospel

He was the son they all wished to watch grow. He was the husband they all wished to have held them. He was the father they all wished to kiss them goodnight. He was the friend they all wished to spend a lifetime with. Everything these distanced-women longed for, he was. Every desire of their hearts, both surface and deep, was wrapped up in him and now he was a bloody butterfly pinned on the world's page for all to see. The color drained from his wings. He would fly no more.

One by one, their voices whimper the four verses of grief's watching song:
Oh, my son.

Oh, my love.

Oh, my abba.

Oh, my Jesus.

And then, in unison, a slight refrain:
Oh, my God.

Passion Tuesday

But Jesus giving a loud cry breathed his last.
The Temple curtain was torn in two from top to bottom.
The centurion standing opposite seeing that he breathed his last that way said "Surely this man was son of God."
- Mark's gospel

And so he died.

The universe had found him guilty.
His love was the reason for the storm of wind and waves.
He breathed his last humbled-himself-as-a-man breath.
God had thrown him overboard thirty-something years earlier;
they/we did likewise.
Incarnation's arc - from deck to depths.
The great death swimming appointedly beneath swallowed him up.
A centurion stood on the shore as the satisfied whale swam away:

Passion Monday

At noon darkness came over the whole land till three and at three Jesus shouted in a loud voice "'Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?'" which means "My God, my God, why did you forsake me?"
- Mark's gospel

"So intense was the suffering of Jesus before and during his crucifixion that the early Christians could not bring themselves to depict it...It will take the early Christians four centuries to bring themselves to portray the crucifixion of their Messiah...
This central fact of Jesus' life, his grisly suffering and death, traumatized the first Christians; and even though it was the central reality they had to contend with, they could not look at it directly."
- Thomas Cahill, Desire of the Everlasting Hills

As with the early and not-so-early Christians, so it is with us. His suffering is the central reality we must contend with. Can we look at it directly? Or will we, yet again, forsake him in his passion?

I quote again from Cahill:
"...we have to imagine a grove of huge poles set up in a central thoroughfare, where any day as we pass by we may see fellow citizens pinned to the poles with great iron nails, pierced through their joints, ripped open and left to be drained of blood as if they were animal carcasses...The crucified men, twisted, bloody torsos stripped for all to see, anti-Adonises, writhe and grimace most horribly in their pain. Delicate citizens pass by quickly with averted eyes...Not only their clothes but what John the Elder calls "the pride of life," the rightful pride that every man (especially a man as young as Jesus, in his early thirties) takes in his own body and bearing, has been stripped from these utterly naked men."

I was a young pastor. It was the first Easter I would celebrate with this group of dearly beloved people. We were making preparations for the season. This focusing on the weeks and days approaching Easter was not something they were accustomed to, but they were following my lead. I asked a couple of the men to construct a cross for the sanctuary. My directions were "make it rough." And they did. Their creation was not some gnarled monstrosity, but rather two rough-hewn-weathered planks nailed together. I said "perfect."

It went up on a Sunday morning and nothing much was said. I didn't expect there to be. The cross speaks for itself. And this one must have spoken loudly because I walked into the sanctuary the following Sunday to a surprise. The two rough-hewn-weathered planks nailed together had been entirely covered in artificial Easter lilies. There was not a rough-hewn sliver to be seen.

I was a young pastor. It was the first Easter I would celebrate with this group of dearly beloved people. I was young, but I was not stupid. I left the cross as I found it that Sunday morning - lilyfied. A group of women had gotten up early on the first day of the week and labored in the predawn darkness to make our sanctuary delicate, victorious, something to sing about.

It's tempting now, as it was then, to make that experience about those dearly beloved ladies. It always is, isn't it? In our rabid fascination with the phrase "it's not about me," we abort moments of spiritual transformation. Why? Because the easy thing to do is to say it's about someone else or "that message was tailor made for so-and-so." The hard thing is to wrestle with what it has to do with me. And it always has something to do or to say to me. Because in that young, first-Easter-pastored moment, it was about me. It was about what God's carcass and the rough-hewn planks and the lilyfied cross were saying to me:

I am your central reality. Regardless of what other delicate citizens do, can you look at me directly? Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

Part Five - Friday

At noon darkness came over the whole land till three and at three Jesus shouted in a loud voice "'Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?'" which means "My God, my God, why did you forsake me?"
- Mark's gospel

"For our sake, God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God"
- 2 Cor. 5.21

Two things to mention here.

First, this word "forsake" is pulsing on the screen. The verse in Mark ends with this word and Paul's statement begins, essentially, with this word. Can you see that?

why did you forsake...For our sake

The only thing preventing a direct repetition of the word is the insertion of the word "our." We/us/our. Almost as if "we" got inbetween the Father and the Son.

My God, my God, for whose sake?

My Son, my Son, for their sake.

And then, can you imagine Jesus' shock? There was the whole shocking drama of this drawn-out-trumped-up walk on the road of suffering and then, then, he became sin who knew no sin. Until some moment or sequence of moments, Jesus had known no sin, but then, then, he knew it, he became it, God made him to be it.

This was the final straw, right? The one that broke the back of the Son of God. He had experienced the range of being human: born of a woman, growing in wisdom and stature, being invited to a wedding, the commaraderie of friends, sitting tired at a well, tears at losing a friend, betrayal. He had moved into the neighborhood and known it all, everything, everything but this. He had known no sin. Until now.

It would be like trying to breathe water, such was sin's foreign nature.

Part Five - Thursday

Those passing by insulted him wagging their heads and saying "So! The one who would destroy the Temple and built it in three days! Save yourself. Get down off the cross."
In the same way the chief priests joking with each other and with the scholars said "He saved others. He can't save himself! Messiah king of Israel! - let him get down off the cross so we can see and believe."
And those crucified with him reviled him.
- Mark's gospel

"We even find it difficult to be human beings, men with real flesh and blood of our own; we are ashamed of it, we think it a disgrace, and we are always striving to be some unprecedented kind of generalized human being. We are born dead, and moreover we have long ceased to be the sons of living fathers; we become more and more contented with our condition. We are acquiring a taste for it."
- Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground, 1864

"In the same way." That phrase, in the heart of Mark's passage above, connects "the chief priests and scholars" with "those passing by" and with "those crucified with him." We have a triumvirate of bobblehead subhumanity; all wagging their heads and insulting, joking, and/or reviling the man whose head bobbled to stay alive just a little longer.

They wagged: Save yourself and He saved others.

Not once did they wag: Save us.

Not once did they cry out to his bobbling sacred head now wounded, "Save us! We do not know how to be human beings, men with real flesh and blood. Take away our shame! Take away the disgrace of us! We're always striving, striving so hard to be less than what we were created by you to be. We are born dead. And we have become content. We have acquired a taste for death. Please. You saved others. Save us!"

Not once did they wag those words. Because to cry those nouns and verbs, they would have to stop wagging their heads. They would have to be still and know who he is. They would have to cease striving and focus on his bobbling head. They would have to try something new, something other than the taste they'd acquired. They would have to try life.

But they had grown content. We have grown content. A world of bobbleheads instead of men with flesh and blood of our own. We live "in the same way."

Part Five - Wednesday

Then they crucified him and divided his clothes casting lots for them, what each might take. It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. The notice of the charge against him was written above "The King of the Jews." With him they crucified two thieves one on his right and one on his left.
- Mark's gospel

Do you remember the story of the two thieves? Mark's gospel doesn't record some details here; thank God for Luke. One of the thieves hurled insults at Jesus: Hey, if you're THE MAN, then save yourself and us while you're at it. The other thief pulls a deathbed conversion thing: Hey, he's done nothing wrong. But we have, so just hang there and shut up. Then the Lord tells the good thief that "today you will be with me in paradise." Remember that?

My girlfriend and I watched ABC's "What Would You Do?" last night. If you've not seen it before, the crew sets up several scenarios and then hides in the bushes with cameras to record what people passing by will do. One of last night's scenes was a man verbally abusing a woman in a public park. There were several ladies who intervened, with little thought of the potential danger to themselves, and one or two men who got involved. Just when the situation is about to escalate beyond ABC's comfort level, the host and crew emerge from the sidelines and reveal what's really going on. In the interview time, the ladies and few men all responded with some sort of "I just had to help" and the segment ends by proclaiming those who got involved as "heroes" and you're reassured that there are still good people on the earth.

It's so easy to "like" the people who stopped to help and "dislike" the others with a yellow stripe down their back who didn't intervene. Just like it's so easy to "like" the good thief who says the words that reassure us in some sense that there are still good thieves on the earth and "dislike" the bad thief who has nothing but his own self-interest on his dying mind. We make the good thief out to be almost heroic and are secretly relieved that the bad thief gets what he deserved. The good thief probably had wavy hair and nice pecs, right? And when the good thief spoke, the soundtrack from Titanic played in the background, didn't it? And the bad thief had rotted teeth and yellow eyes; I swear to you, yellow eyes. The bad thief's musical score? Those sinister notes from Peter and the Wolf.

If there are still good thieves on the earth, then why the guy in the middle? ALL are thieves and hang a cross-length from his glory. Or as Will Campbell puts it: We're all bastards but God loves us anyway.

Sorry, ABC.

Part Five - Tuesday

Then they crucified him...
- Mark's gospel

But it was done. And the body hung there
like a butchered thing, naked and alone
in a sudden hush among the ravaged air.

- "The Deposition" by B.H. Fairchild

An obligatory kiss to get things started.
But suddenly the air grew darkly sexual;
a coursing, rousing demand of appetite.
His body handled, his clothes ripped.
Crowded-eyes rolled back into heads
as the thrusts continued, "Crucify him! Crucify him!"


Dragged to Skull Place by pimp's rage.
Even the Cyrene forced into bystanding compassion.
Slender ankles and delicate wrists, torn by hard-iron.
The air, ravaged.
He did not resist. He never did.
Finally, the sweat-soaked weight of the world fell upon his chest.

It was done. The rape of God.

Part Five - Monday

So they brought him to the place Golgotha which means "Skull Place." They gave him wine drugged with myrrh but he would not take it. Then they crucified him...
- Mark's gospel

I attended the funeral for a friend's dad not long ago. It was a beautiful spring Saturday in Colorado. The service was held in a gorgeous Catholic church nestled up against the front range mountains. From the poignant eulogy by his youngest son to the presentation of colors and the lone wail of taps at the conclusion of the service, this was a funeral that moved me.

As I sat through the homily and looked at the bronzed crucifix that centered the room, it struck me: this is what faith is all about - "this" being the belief that death is not the end. Faith's rubber really hits the highway when you've gathered with loved ones and friends and they lower the casket into the good earth and the person that was your father or your grandmother or your best friend or your co-worker is suddenly no more. They are dead and gone. And for some reason you have faith that they're not gone, gone.

A gorgeous Catholic church on a redolent spring afternoon filled with a roomful of gamblers, rolling the dice that the bronzed man on the cross pulled off the most incredible trick ever and that somehow, someway, since he did it then maybe we can too. I've used the word "gamblers" to describe believers before and the word has never received rave reviews from the two or three gathered at the Shame. That's o.k. I realize it's a loaded word that conjures up images of smoke-filled rooms and dancing girls and Vegas and the queen of hearts.

But I'll stand by my word choice. A gambler believes it might just go his or her way. When the single mother stands in front of the slot machine, puts in her coins and pulls the lever, she's got faith that it just might go her way. When the broker-than-broke middle aged man throws the dice down the table, he's got faith that it just might go his way. And when the people gather in suits and ties and eulogize and say the words appropriate for death's day, they have faith that it went His way and that means it just might go our way too, when we die.

I find it all too ironic that soldiers gambled for his clothes, as the man who refused the wine drugged with myrrh hung in the air. Friend, if you do not hear hope in my voice, then you've misheard or I've mistyped. I will continue to roll the dice each day of my life. I will take the gamble that when death comes knocking, he is the ace that I can keep.

Part Five - Friday

Then they led him out to crucify him. They forced one Simon - a Cyrenean from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus - to carry his cross.
- Mark's gospel

The word Docetae which is best rendered as "Illusionists", first occurs in a letter of Serapion, Bishop of Antioch (190-203) to the Church at Rhossos...As the Docetae objected to the reality of the birth, so from the first they particularly objected to the reality of the passion. Hence the clumsy attempts at substitution of another victim by Basilides and others. According to Basilides, Christ seemed to men to be a man and to have performed miracles. It was not, however, Christ, who suffered but Simon of Cyrenes who was constrained to carry the cross and was mistakenly crucified in Christ's stead. Simon having received Jesus' form, Jesus returned Simon's and thus stood by and laughed. Simon was crucified and Jesus returned to his father.
(Irenaeus, Adv. Char., 1, xxiv)

He seemed to suffer? What, like I seemed to be the father of Alexander and Rufus? That I seemed to plant the seed in their mother and then watched her grow and birth these sons of mine? By God, my sons are not an illusion; they are my heart's content. And this man, his suffering was no illusion.

I will tell you what is an illusion though - the belief that I was strong, some hulking figure that stood out in the crowd, some corn-fed farmboy with an aw, shucks mentality. No, I was a man like any other man. I could do the things necessary for the day, I could accomplish my chores, and care for my wife and sons. Then again, maybe I was different in the sense that I loved living in the country, away from the maddening crowds like the one I found myself in that day. But I was not strong like a god.

No, I believe the centurion's hand found me because I was close-by, a "passer-by" as someone has described me. I have since heard stories of this man's life and it is as if that's how people were folded into his story; they were passing by and he called to them or touched them or healed them. As if they might say I didn't intend on following him, but I did. It was the same with me. I didn't intend on carry the crossbeam that day, but I did.

I have since heard some speak of the crossbeam as metaphor. Be very careful there, for you come dangerously close to the Docetists. As it was no illusion, it was neither a figure of speech. It was a crossbeam. Rough-hewn, heavy, and awkward.

The man never looked at me. He was too busy trying to breathe. There was this moment when I took the crossbeam from his arms. It was not more than a moment, but in that moment I saw his hands. They fumbled. He fumbled the crossbeam to me and I saw need in his hands, they spoke: help me do this. If I've seen that need in the hands of my sons once, I've seen it a hundred times. They would be in the middle of something larger than themselves and come to a point of, well, need and call out to me - Dad, help me with this - and their hands would fumble whatever it was to me. In that moment, I saw my sons in him. This man was someone's son and so I did unto the other as I would have others to do for Alexander and Rufus. Where I came from, that's how you lived, by the ancient rule, helping the one in need as you would help your own.

Sure, I was not going to resist the Roman command, but I was not totally a pawn, I had a choice, a moment of volition. You always have a choice. That's what I used to tell my sons.

He still never looked at me. That was fine. I didn't need some kind of reciprocal glance of gratefulness from him. Where I came from, you didn't help others for something in return; no, you just helped folks.

There was a smell of sweat on the man, but the greater smell was that of blood. The iron-rich odor that's different from an animal's blood. This was man's blood, red and pungent. Illusion? Not on your life.

I will say that there was something almost illusion-like. After I took the crossbeam from him, he continued to walk as if he still carried it. It was not there, obviously, for I held it, but he still walked beneath a weight. His steps were still slow, his muscles still taut, the veins still coursing near the surface. I believe I muttered something like: I have this. But the further we walked, I grew to know as surely as I know the love of my sons, that I did not "have this."

Part Four - Thursday

The soldiers led him off into the courtyard called Praetorium and summoned the whole cohort. They put on him a purple robe and plaiting a thorn crown they put it round him. Then they started saluting him "Hail, king of the Jews!" They hit his head with a reed, spat on him and kneeling down worshipped him. When they had mocked him they took the purple robe off him and put on his own clothes. Then they led him out to crucify him.
- Mark's gospel

These scenes, these last few days of Lent, seem to be full of a crowd. There was the Judas-led crowd that snaked its way to the Garden, grabbed its prey, and then snaked its way back. There was the rabid crowd in front of Pilate, suddenly enamored with the rebel Barabbas and the phrase Crucify him! And now a crowd of soldiers; a "whole cohort" possibly numbering six hundred men.

Ah, what am I typing here? Trying to sound Lent-like by drawing out something about the crowd. John Irving's character Owen Meany refers to the twelve as DOGSHIT DISCIPLES. That's what I feel like today - a dogshit disciple. About all I can mentally muster up at this verse is the vision of half-baked church dramas where men who usually wear starched clothes are led to the costume closet to pick out soldier uniforms and we get to see their white legs and they get to show off the biceps they work on M-W-F. And then there's the artistic guy chosen to play Jesus; he's got long hair, a beard, a melancholy visage, and an overall sense of meekness to him.

The corporate-by-day, soldiers-each-Easter men then throw a purple robe on him that one of the church ladies had to sew together. It was really no problem, though, because the fabric was on sale at Wal-Mart. The thorn crown differs from church to church, but its usually always an either/or: either a humble vine of briars circled round and held with transparent string OR an over-the-top weave of those huge thorns you find on those trees out in the woods. The blood that runs down the artistic guy's face is never real and it, too, is usually either/or: either a few drops placed here and there for dramatic effect, like swollen pimples, OR the melancholy visage looks like Sissy Spacek in that scary Carrie movie.

Then the toy soldiers pretend to whack the Lord, while pretending to spit on him, while actually crying out "Hail, king of the Jews!" A few of the men like this part because "hail" always comes out sounding like "hell" and that's something they've always wanted to scream in church but never felt like they could. Some of them remain standing while some of them kneel (perspective is important on stage) and pretend to worship him and mock him. This get pretty dicey because the men are nervous even pretending to mock the Lord. Oh there have been moments when they wanted to take the artistic guy out back and open up a can of whup-up on him, but not now, not while he's pretending to be the Lord. But they're even more nervous around the word "worship" - it's a fluid term these days encompassing everything from raised hands to standing for thirty minutes with no hymnal and singing songs to the Lord that you could just as easily sing to your girlfriend. The artistic guy would be very comfortable with the worship thing, but he can't join in the reindeer game because, well, in this case, he's the Lord.

This mock-worship continues while the lead soldier counts from one-Mississippi to five-Mississippi, in his mind giving the quarterback time to throw before the rush. And just like every Easter, Jesus doesn't take the opportunity to pass, so on with the defense. There is no switcheroo of the clothes onstage; christian modesty calls for periodic editing. And then they lead him off stage right or left. You notice that the Lord has really small calves. Maybe there's a song at this point, something to give the prop folks time to carry the cross onstage. Of course, it might have been there all along, just disguised as a tree.

Yeah, I feel like a dogshit disciple because there is pure torture and hatred going on in these verses and all I can muster is some comedic version put together from pieces of my past. Its like I'm mocking you or something, Lord; spitting on your passion. Dogshit disciple indeed.

Part Four - Wednesday

Then Pilate wanting to pacify the crowd freed them Barabbas and handed over Jesus having flogged him so he could be crucified.
- Mark's gospel

"In order to stand up against a force of nature, we often have to find that same elemental nature inside ourselves...Our refusal to stand up to those who harass us on a daily basis...becomes a lack of faith in our own voice...Sometimes we are rightly quiet in the face of dire consequences...but more often than not we are simply living in the shadow of our own fears."
- Crossing the Unknown Sea by David Whyte

How often do I pull a "Pilate" and pacify the crowd? Maybe its the crowd at work or maybe its the crowd of voices spinning in my head. Essentially, its the two or three gathered together, literally or figuratively, that represent a "force of nature" waging a battle against my voice.


Finding your voice is one of the imperatives of being a writer. I believe it also an imperative of being human. I wonder if Jesus was standing there before Pilate and the crowd, wishing, fingers-crossed-hoping and praying that Pilate would have faith in his own voice? It was Pilate's "passover moment" right? That moment in time when the universe was holding its breath, waiting for him to speak against the harassment. But he didn't. Pilate was a man living in the shadow of his own fears.

The common phrase is that "Jesus died for our sins" - sins usually being thought of as things like lust, greed, anger, jealousy. But what would it take for us to ponder, just ponder mind you, that Jesus died for our fears? Could we believe, if for only a moment, that Jesus gloriously disrobed, poised himself on the edge of heaven's board, and then dove down into humanity, into the whale's-belly-womb of a Jewish girl, and after nine months found himself spit out on the dry land of flesh and bone, and then grew in wisdom and stature and called fishermen and tax collectors to follow him, while he spit in the clay and asked who touched me? and urged a man to step out of the boat and took a towel and washed feet and blessed and broke wine and bread and cried drops of blood in a garden until he was ready to drink the cup and suffered the kiss of a friend and allowed himself to be handed over to that he could go to the cross and die for our fears?

Could he have done all that and more so that you and I might find our own voice? So that we might live up to who he created you and me to be? So that we would not walk in the shadow of our own fears, but daily, courageously bear the cross of our own voice? So that we might have the freedom to speak up, out, or into?

What? What's that I hear? Ah, the crowd is calling for something Barabbas-like, something easier to think about, something expedient. Something like "Jesus died so that I can be less angry." O.k. I'll pacify you. You are a force of nature. Take Barabbas. Forget that voice stuff. Try not to be so jealous as you step into a new morning. And have a nice day.

Part Four - Tuesday

But the chief priests incited the crowd to free them Barabbas instead.
So Pilate spoke out again to them "What must I do then with the one you call king of the Jews?"
They shouted back "Crucify him!"
But Pilate said to them "Why? What evil has he done?"
They shouted louder "Crucify him!"
- Mark's gospel

"When someone you love dies, and you're not expecting it, you don't lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time - the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers. Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone."
- A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

I wasn't expecting it. I fully expected them to ask for his release. Or, if they did choose Barabbas, they might forget about him entirely in the wake of my amnesty. But they surprised me. The mindless beast surprised me.

Crucify him!

I expected to lose him all at once. Give the people what they wanted, wash my hands of him, and be done with it. I do these kinds of things all the time. But that's not how it happened; at least not with him. I have lost the king of the Jews gradually over time. I realize it sounds strange, but all I can do is relay truth. You say "'What is truth?" Ah. Well, only this:

For years, each trip to the Praetorium held his presence. I would walk across the spot where he stood and I swear to you I could smell him. His scent was one that could not quickly be forgotten. There was the usual mingling of blood and sweat, but something else was mixed in; something accepted, something submitted to, a will greater than his own. I don't have words for it, but for years it would burn my nostrils when I crossed the place where he stood.

And then his eyes. I cannot count the days when I've seen his eyes, but in the sockets of others. He stood on that day, bruised and silent, and pierced me with his gaze. I am a man of power, I deal in power, I am power, so I know it when I see it. The man's eyes were full of power like I've never witnessed before. I truly felt I was looking into the eyes of a god. But his power was reined-in, like a steed held in the moment. I have since come to believe I was looking into the eyes of mercy. So, I guess it surprised me the first time I saw his eyes in another. I've seen them in the gaze of my wife, fellow officers of the court, common people in the marketplace; I've even seen his eyes in the heads of children as they watch me pass. Some days, it is as if I cannot escape the mercy of the one they called the king of the Jews.

And then this. You will probably think me a fool and I would not doubt you. His feet. The day he stood before me and the chief priests and the crowd, I noticed his feet. Strange, I admit. But his robe had been torn so that it no longer brushed the ground; no, it was in shreds up around his knees. As he stood there, enduring, I saw his beautiful feet. That sounds weak, coming from a man, no? But you asked "what is truth?" so I tell you. He stood on feet that were purpled from being stomped and wet with the sweat of the ordeal. But they were so beautiful. Not a beauty like the feet of a woman; no, these were the template for feet, the original design. I'll never forget the moment, not days after his crucifixion, as I sat and stuck my feet out in front of me to cross them, and my feet paled in comparison to the one from Galilee. Mine were like his, but not his, in the way that he was like me, but not me. For days, I intentionally tried to tuck my feet under me each time I sat before others. But in moments of distraction, I would see my own and so see his: how beautiful were the feet of him who brought the news the people rejected.

I expected to lose him all at once. But it has not been as I expected. Since I met him, nothing has been as I expected. It was as if someone I loved had died, quickly, unexpectedly. I did not expect his death, but I did not love him. I tell you, I did not love him. I say it again: I did not love him. I am Pilate. I will extend pardon once a year. But I will have nothing to do with love. You can be a leader or a lover. You cannot be both. He tried to be both. See what it got him?

Part Four - Monday

At each feast he freed for them one prisoner they requested. There was one named Barabbas held with the rebels who had committed murder in the rebellion. So the crowd came up and began to ask for his usual act.
But Pilate answered them saying "Do you want me to free you the king of the Jews?" - he knew the chief priests had handed him over out of envy.
But the chief priests incited the crowd to free them Barabbas instead.
- Mark's gospel

[the quoted material incorporated in what follows is from Resistance by Barry Lopez, Knopf, NY, 2004]

The chief priests knew "the response to tyranny of every sort, if it is to work, must always be this: dismantle it. Take it apart. Scatter its defenders and its proponents, like a flock of starlings fed to a hurricane."

And so they handed him over out of envy. They would not abide love's tyranny.

The crowd had seen him and the twelve "chip away like coolies at the omnipotent and righteous facade, but be ineffective dissenters." They knew the miracle worker had rejected the assertion, "promoted today by success-mongering bull terriers in business, in government, in religion, that humans are goal-seeking animals." They knew, as individuals, that he believed them to be "creatures in search of proportion in life, a pattern of grace" - that "it is balance and beauty...people want, not triumph."

But they were not individuals now. They were a crowd, numbers to be incited.

Pilate knew: "What can love offer that cannot be rejected? What gesture cannot be maligned as witless by those who strive for every form of isolation?" But still he played along as Christ would be "sought out, quizzed, and possibly punished or isolated from society" for "terrorizing the imagination of our fellow citizens."

He would free the one they requested.

The chief priests knew "the human imagination...was a problematic force, its use best left to experts. An imagination in the wrong hands, missing the guidance of democratic reasoning and fed the wrong advice, an imagination with no measure of economic awareness, was a loose cannon."

And the tyrant of love was doing just that: imagining out loud what it was like to be truly human. That kind of thinking was best left to them, the experts.

Pilate knew that "in a democracy, the acknowledgement of one's errors, coupled with a suitable penance, could leave an individual with a very bright future."

But this was not a democracy. This was a crowd. There would be no penance. The future's brightness would be blood-red.

Things haven't changed in thousands of years. There are still chief priests. There is still a Pilate. And the crowd will never die. To these I say this:
I "understand you mean us no good, that you are cunning, and that you have the support of many in our country who regard works of the disruptions in the warm stream of what pleases them - product availability, job advancement, pretty scenery, buying a ticket that wins."

I also say that I am not alone. There are others who've been tyrannized by love's love. Hear us:
"We regard ourselves as servants of memory. We will not be the servants of your progress. We seek a politics that goes beyond nation and race. We advocate for air and water without contamination, even if the contamination be called harmless or is to be placed there for our own good. We believe in the imagination and in the variety of its architectures...We believe in the divinity of life, in all its human variety. We believe that everything can be remembered in time, that anyone may be redeemed, that no hierarchy is worth figuring out, that no flower or animal or body of water or star is common, that poetry is the key to a lock worth springing, that what is called for is not subjugation but genuflection...We imprisoned or killed, because we remember and speak...We are not twelve or twenty but numerous as the motes of dust lining the early morning shafts of city light. We are unquenchable and stark in the same moment that we are ordinary. We incorporate damage and compassion, exaltation and weariness-to-the-bone."
Such were his imaginings. Such are his imaginings. Keep Barabbas. We follow the tyrant of love.