Knowing Me

I look to my right hand and find no one who knows me...
Psalm 142.4

Of the blogs I read, every once in a while someone gets tagged with a meme that asks a list of questions that give the reader, in this case, me, a little more information about the person. They're always interesting.

My girlfriend (she asked this designation be returned to her, as "missus" is evidently not very sexy, and so I yield) wrote a post the other day answering 35 questions about herself, everything from do you own a gun? to what's your favorite type of salad dressing?

To answer 35 things about myself this early in the day would completely tax my personality. I've got work to do today, so let me make an attempt at 7. These are my own questions, so they're not really very sexy.

1. Do you ever cry when you're running? Yes. In fact, yesterday I ran by a fence line behind which were a group of cows and the resulting smell in the air took me back to my grandfather's farm and suddenly I was ten years old and climbing on old farm equipment with the abandon of childhood. As another runner passed me on the trail, I'm quite certain she saw my tears. I just pointed to the cows.

2. Do your wear the same pair of socks most every day? Yes. I have a pair of woolies that fit well with my boots and I wear them a couple of days and then wash them and wear them again. I could buy another pair but I don't need them. I feel it's very Wendell Berryish.

3. A rather embarrassing moment? Years ago, in my former life, I was preaching from the book of Jude the obscure and instead of saying fault finders, I said fart finders, crystal-clear, with perfect pastoral diction over the local, public airwaves, as we were televised at the time. The congregation gasped, several backsliders busted a gut, and one little girl on the second row asked rather loudly did he just say fart? Our hymn of invitation that morning was Pass Me Not.

4. What kind of car do you drive? A black '97 Dodge Stratus. Cracked windshield, check engine light is on, tires are of the may-pop brand, but it's paid for. I can't run the AC because it taxes the engine too much, but I live in Colorado, so it's cool.

5. An advertising slogan that drives you to drink? Christian radio that's safe for the whole family.

6. Favorite movie of all time? Monte Walsh. It's a little known western, hard to find actually, starring Lee Marvin and Jack Palance. John Barry did the score for it and Mama Cass sings the opening song The Good Times are Comin'. It's about the end of the cowboy, among other things.

7. Is your Beagle obedient? Hell no. I stood on the back steps in my fundawear last night saying Jack, come in, for almost five minutes while the bugger just stood there and looked at me with his head cocked a little to the left. Finally, in my frustration, and the fact that the neighboring houselights were starting to come on, I grabbed the box of Milkbones and threw some of the floor. Jack immediately came in and I said good boy.

I'm sure you're all saying Wow, thanks John. Quite vulnerable. Yeah, it's fun to share; good times.

It's All Love

Last night seemed a menagerie of dreams, but this, smack dab in the middle: Jesus flew in. I kid you not, all of a sudden I'm standing on a cliff's edge and there's something above me in the sky, circling ever closer. And then I see clearly, as if the scales have been removed: its the Christ the Redeemer (O Cristo Redentor) statue with the outstretched arms that stands above Rio de Janeiro. Picture that statue, not vertical as usual, but horizontally flying in, like a little kid plays airplane in his front yard. That's what I saw, honest to, well, O Cristo Redentor.

Jesus just kinda lands beside me, like a hawk might descend to its nest, and he's smiling so big, almost comic. I remember, in this dream sequence, feeling so happy and excited to see him, almost childlike. We sat down on this cliff's edge and Jesus lowers those concrete and soapstone arms to his sides and just looks at me, like he came just to see me, little old me, John.

As best I can remember, here's the dialogue:

Cristo: It's so good, so good to see you, John.

Juan: No, it's so good to see you.

Cristo: (laughs boisterously) I wanted to remind you that you don't have to be afraid. Do you remember, John? It's all love.

Now folks, I get a little shifty when one of those "intimacy" songs cranks up in church. But I must tell you, when Jesus spoke that last line, his words and expression were the definition of intimate, close, proximal, palpable. His love drew tears to the surface like a magnet draws metal filings.

At that exact moment, Jesus' eyes grew bugged and he looked above me.

Cristo: John, duck!

As I turned to look, a huge figure reminiscent of Rubeus Hagrid from Harry Potter, is running the cliff edge and leaps over Jesus and me. Following the Lord's command, I ducked. And the dream slipped away. I did everything I could, kinda like Christopher Reeves in Somewhere in Time, to get back to that cliff's edge, but I could not.

I had been reading earlier in the day about Liz Gilbert's experience with the Divine and the distractions she encountered in prayer. That could've been some of the basis for my dream. Then again, I don't know. I don't care. I'm just glad Jesus flew in. For you see, dear ones, I've heard his words before. He said, and I quote, "Do you remember, John? It's all love."

Years ago, I stepped up over the North Rim of the Grand Canyon after three days of backpacking with a couple of friends. It had been a glorious trip; one of those once-in-a-lifetimers. As I stood and looked back over that holy ground, rain clouds were beginning to move in. I could see them in the distance. After days in the belly of the whale that were nothing but sunshine and grace, days when the storm clouds seemed to have been held at bay, now, now that we were finished, they were released. Folks, I've never heard God speak in an audible voice, never. I'd like to someday, really. But as of now, in my forty-first year, it's never happened. But standing on that cliff edge years ago, I heard a voice in my soul that I then believed was God's and I believe it to this day. Wanna know what he said?

Cristo: John, remember, it's all love.

Those may be words you need to hear today. Then again, you may read and think, "Well, what a sweet story." Either way or something entirely different, I don't care. Such as I have, I give to you. And that's why I shared those stories with you, because, dear ones, that seems to be the message I'm to give: Remember, it's all love. That may sound a little mystical to you. Then again, you may feel that phrase is just universal enough to be dangerous. Again, I don't care. It's my story and I'm sticking to it. And my prayer is that everything I write, from blog posts to novels, has that thread running smack dab through the middle. I believe it's all love. I believe love wins in the end. I believe love will trump all cards, those of this world and beyond. I believe love is the strongest force in this beautifully damned old world and if anything is going to redeem it, then it's going to be via the outstretched concrete and soapstone arms of O Cristo Redentor that I believe became flesh and blood and bicep and elbow and thumb for us, for little old us.

That doesn't mean there won't be wild-eyed Hagrid's leaping over us from time to time. In those cases, I share with you the Lord's other words: Duck!

Nuances of Sadness

I told him that in English we sometimes say, "I've been there." This was unclear to him at first - I've been where? But I explained that deep grief sometimes is almost like a specific location, a coordinate on a map of time.
"So sadness is a place?" Giovanni asked.
"Sometimes people live there for years," I said.
In return, Giovanni told me that empathizing Italians say L'ho provato sulla mia pelle, which means "I have experienced that on my own skin." Meaning, I have also been burned or scarred in this way, and I know exactly what you're going through.
- Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I don't know if you've read Gilbert's book or not. I'm coming to it rather late. Or maybe right on time. Books have a way of finding me when I need them. Peace Like A River was that way.

If you keep your clock wound pretty tight, I'm gonna say you won't like Eat, Pray, Love. But if you, like me, sometimes forget to wind your clock, maybe even for days, then I believe you'll find a friend in Gilbert.

The passage above struck me when I read it. By that I mean when I read those words for the first time, it was as if they reached up off the page and thumped my nose, as if to say pay attention, son. And what, you gently ask, was so striking about those words? Allow me to gently respond.

Did you hear the nuance of difference when Gilbert and Giovanni spoke of sadness? In English: "I've been there, I've visited that place." In Italian: "I've felt that, I've been burned or scarred in this way." As with our respective continents, there are miles between those two approaches to sadness. Many, many miles. It would be like someone telling me about their trip to the Grand Canyon and pulling out a key chain from the gift shop near the South Rim and then someone else telling me about their trip to the Grand Canyon and rolling up their shirtsleeve to show me the huge gash they received when they did a headfirst down the Bill Hall trail. One visited. The other felt. One was a tourist. The other? A witness.

It'd be kinda like Jesus and the angels all sitting around during siesta time and one of the angels talking about the visit he made to earth the previous year, hitting the big spots: Rome, Sydney, Estes Park. He's passing around postcards and all the other angels are saying yeah, that's next on my list too. And as one of the angels leans over to place the postcards in Jesus' open hands, he notices the holes near the wrists, healed but ever obvious. And all the angels in that circle get real quiet because they're not so impressed anymore with the one who visited. They're in the presence of one who L'ho provato sulla mia pelle.

A Beautiful Fall

And the dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down…Rev. 12.7-9

The great red dragon.
The old stories tell of your time in the heavens;
the woman clothed with the sun, and the war.

The thread you hung by grew weak as
your dashing red matured.
And in your arrogance you were cut loose,
bringing a third with you.

You will only flourish for a season.
The male child will come to rule with iron.
And we, the rocks, will cry out.

[Christine Valters Paintner at regularly provides a photo as a poetry prompt for her readers. It's a safe place to be poetic, so visit the abbey and take a look around]

Burned Out in Hell

The European way of mountain not to compete to get there first but to reach your goal sometime during the day without being burned out, knowing that the joy and the goal is the journey itself.
- The Hidden Life

Nine days ago, the missus and three of her friends climbed our local national treasure - Pikes Peak. Seven days ago, we found ourselves at a school gathering, complete with other people who knew of their Peak experience. One of these other people, a mom-friend we know, came up and asked Well, how fast'd you do it? That was the first thing out of her mouth - Well, how fast'd you do it?

Then another mom-friend approached and joined the reindeer game. As mom-friend #2 reached the circle of conversation, mom-friend #1 said Hey, now you climbed Pikes Peak how fast? Mom-friend #2 said something like Oh, my, well, we did it in about four hours, I guess.

It's hard enough for me to be at these school gathering as it is, but throw a little in about hour hours, I guess in there and I'm ready to emit a barbaric yawp at the top'o'me lungs, I am. My wife and her friends had just completed something that many folks in this region, even Colorado natives, have never done, and rather than rejoicing with those who rejoice, these mom-friends quickly framed it in terms of competition. I was so mad I could've spit. The shame was so thick you could've cut it with a knife.

However, being all spiritual and such, I realized my anger for what is was, what it always is: sadness. I was sad for these ladies, sad for their husbands, sad for their children, sad for their co-workers, sad, sad, sad. I'm all for healthy competition. We were at a track meet for pete's sake and my six-year-old ran the half mile in 4:28, the dad said being all spiritual and such. But peas and carrots, folks, we've gotta learn to put away childish things when we become men and women. There's still a lot of folks worried about going to hell one of these days. I, for one, wonder if we're not already there. Burned out in hell. Makes sense, huh?

I could say so much more about this, but it makes me mad, which means it makes me sad, and I've got to get dressed so I can be one of the first parents to drop off their kid at school.

Of Blood And Fairies

You come upstairs from an invigorating run on the bridge to nowhere (treadmill) and she's waiting for you, grin on her face, sparkle in her eyes.

Sunshine, what's up?

Obviously she's up and it's after 9:30pm and you'd hoped she was asleep.

Look, Dad.

She wide-mouth grins and leans to one side so I can clearly see the space where a tooth used to be. The hole is full of bright red blood; there are stains of the same hue on the towel she's holding.

Mom said to put it in the tooth fairy pillow. Bye!

I watch her stride down the hall toward her bedroom. I'm not sure she doesn't have her doubts about the tooth fairy, but for today, for now, she still believes. My mind immediately registers that I don't have any cash, nothing, nada. This is not an uncommon experience for me. I commiserate with the missus and she's broke too.

And so, you find yourself traipsing off to Safeway at 10pm to get coffee and potatoes and some cash. Toaster strudels found their way in the basket as well; thus, the treadmill. And you're driving back home at 10:14pm and the bank sign says 53 degrees and the town is drowsy and you're glad to be alive. Broke, but glad to be alive.

And you begin to cry. For you think about the little girl with a blood red hole in her mouth and how she's probably fast asleep by now. You're thinking about how she struggles some days with being in the middle. You're thinking about the fact that she lost something tonight and about the things she will lose in days to come: friends, maybe boyfriends (my lord), hopes, dreams, pieces of her identity, maybe even herself if something tragic occurs.

You cry because for now, tonight, at 10:15pm and 53 degrees, the thing she lost will grow back, good as new. And for now, you, the Dad, have the power to quietly, every so gently, slide some cash under her pillow and make it even better. You cry because you know as sure as coffee and potatoes that days will come when the tooth fairy will fly away for good and she will come to you with something she's lost and you'll stand there impotent before this middle girl you love so much. And for all the strength you've developed running on treadmills, you cannot make it all better, help her find something that will grow back, good as new.

And so I closed the garage and wiped my eyes and slipped the toaster strudels in the freezer quietly, ever so gently. I counted out $2. Yes, I know it's a little much for a tooth, but I see it as an opportunity to imitate the grandiose of the Father. I gather up my strength, put on my wings and fly to her room to do my best fairy. She doesn't move a muscle. I've gotten good at this. I sprinkle prayer-ee dust as I fly away...

Sleep well, my sunshine. I'll do the most and best I can by you for now, these days. Or at least I'll try. Thanks for still believing in fairies. Thanks for still believing in me, giving me chances to fly. You are beautiful. Days will come when you'll lose things larger than teeth. Please still come to me and tell me. I'll do all I can, but it may not help. Still, maybe we can sit and eat toaster strudels together and talk about the blood red hole in your heart and I can tell you of things I've lost. And of what I've found.

Just So You Know

An idea that fixed him to one spot was that life was a death dance and that he had quickly passed through the spring and summer of his life and was halfway through the fall. He had to do a better job on the fall because everyone on earth knew what the winter was like.
- Jim Harrison, Farmer

I don't know that I'm halfway through the fall, but I'm definitely in the fall. And I've got to do a better job. There'll probably be two posts a week here for awhile; no more of this every-day-nonsense.

JK, the book agent, believes a fiction piece I've started has the potential to be the next, well, something. He's not alone. When I woke up that day and said hey, why don't I quit everything I've known and try and be a writer, I never considered fiction my genre. Writers use words like genre quite a bit. But a nanosecond's reflection and I'm very aware that fiction has held my heart captive for years. Maybe now, in the fall of my life, it's time to give in. Everyone knows what winter is like.

So, I'll continue to post here a couple of days a week, maybe more if I should win the lottery or discover I'm pregnant or something. But the other mornings, I've got to do better, I've got to put my hand to this plow called story and try and run the rows. If you think about it, I'd appreciate you saying a prayer or lighting a candle or whirling a dervish for me. The spring and summer have passed. I'm hoping this is a golden time for me, for her, for the three who call me dad.

One of my favorite fiction writers, Wallace Stegner, said we write fiction to tell the truth. Amen, Wallace. Amen. I shared that quote with a friend not long ago and he said what? but fiction's not true, right? Some will not understand. But the fall is not a time for catering or convincing; that's what summer strength is for. No, the autumn is time for changing, gradually, briefly, into something distinct. Winter's coming.

The Solace of Leavings

True solace is finding none, which is to say, it is everywhere.
- Gretel Ehrlich

She left me this morning, walked out the front door and didn't look back. It was 3:51. I stood behind the glass door and watched her go. The sliding door of the minivan opened and swallowed her up, fleece and all. She left me for another, a trail, Barr Trail. It is the most common route up to the 14,000 foot tip of Pikes Peak. I don't know how long she'll be gone.

I know this leaving; I've done it before. There's no use in looking back, waving. Something out there is waiting for you and you've got to set your face like flint and leave, walk out the front door, drive away. In some ways, I know what she'll see today: the sunkissed eastern plains of Colorado, the reservoirs full of water so blue it hurts your eyes, the trees charred by lightning. Then again, I have no idea what she'll see. This is her time, her trail, her leaving.

She called about an hour ago: I'm a little cold, but o.k. Call you at the top. When we first met, she was wrapped up in Liz Claiborne and the naivete of 20s. Things are different now, she is different now. She's on the backside of thirty and knows what a bite me valve is - do you?

Another call, minutes ago: There's snow up here.

She promised to come home. I know this promise. But things will be different, she'll be different, more different. She'll be closer to a native anarchist, showing no interest in false appearances, orderliness, or the art of making money. I know this anarchy.

I read somewhere that good marriages go through a number of divorces over the years; there must be leavings and coming homes and newly spoken I do's. I find no solace in that thought, which is to say, it is everywhere.

Yes, I'm Pro-Life

Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? There is no one but us. There is no one to send, nor a clean hand, nor a pure heart on the face of the earth, nor in the earth, but only us...
- Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm

The missus and I were driving and having a conversation about pro-life. Earlier, we had agreed that when the kids all go off to college or marriage or the Peace Corps, that we're gonna move up deep into the heart of the mountains and become hermits. We'll write, take naps, and eat biscuits. That's just kinda fyi.

She and a friend were talking and election stuff came up and (I'm editing here) her friend said something like if you're pro-life, tell me what else you're doing for that cause besides voting a particular way in November? It was a fair question, posed by a fair friend. But I could tell that it evoked shame in the missus, the implication being that if you're not volunteering at the crisis pregnancy center or adopting babies from China or something else specifically tied to birth/beginning of life issues, then you're really not pro-life.

After she recalled that conversation, I said something like tell me, what are you doing that's not pro-life? She looked at me like I was a hermit or something; I guess it's already starting to show. I repeated my question and then answered it, as is my custom. My answer sounded something like this:

Wife of mine, when pro-life is so narrowly defined as pertaining to beginning of life issues only, it curls my ponytail. You know me and you know that I believe every sperm and egg that decide to hold hands ought to have the chance one day to go to the prom or join the Peace Corps or become a hermit. But you can't tell me that tucking your kids in every night and kissing them three times to indicate I.Love.You. isn't pro-life. There's no way you can convince me that camping last weekend with friends and basking in the glow of God's sweet gift of the mountains wasn't pro-life. How in the Sam Hill can anyone say that making sure folks have decent medical coverage isn't pro-life? What about making sure kids know how to read? Hell, what about making sure adults know how to read? Again, to my hermit's mind, that's pro-life. Folks making sure animals are treated ethically? Pro-life. Listening to James Taylor play the Red Rocks? Pro-life. Laying your money down for a ticket to see the new western, Appaloosa, when it opens in a few weeks? Pro-life again, little lady. Pro-life is always and will forever be tied to beginning of life stuff, but that's just the beginning. It's not a democratic or republican issue; it's an us issue. Being for life in all of it's variety and in every facet of its representation is being pro-life. Anything less than that, anything, and you've looked in the mirror and then forgotten your face.

She said should we pray now and pass the plate? I said no and we returned to talking about being hermits one of these days, sitting on the porch all day long and reading old National Geographic magazines; pro-life stuff like that.

Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

The kitchen is still save for the hum of the refrigerator. I can feel the vibrations in my bare feet. A chill drifts through the open window, just enough to remind me it's September. The pottery coffee cup she gave me for Christmas is filled to the rim with Seattle's Best. Right beside it rests The Book of Common Prayer, the morning Psalms having faithfully been read: Consider this well, you who forget God, lest I rend you and there be none to deliver you. "Rend" - what a brazenly beautiful word. I don't know anyone who uses that word except God.

I can faintly hear the traffic warming to life. The high whine of tractor trailers getting somewhere on time. The mop and bucket sit close to door; she mopped yesterday but the clean was short-lived, with kids and a Beagle and all. The pewter star that says HOPE hangs in the window from a suction cup. The chilled breeze blows it. HOPE sways gently, gently. Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you.

The oven clock reads 5:39, as does the microwave display. Wait, they just changed their minds - 5:40. The oven beat the microwave by a second. The remains of scratch paper are on the kitchen table; we scratched out division problems last night. I hear a toilet flush in the back of the house. Someone is relieved. I hear Aspen leaves shudder outside the window. Relief of a different kind. I stir the dregs of the coffee one last time to coax those holdout sugar grains into the last sip. The sweetness hurts my teeth, hurts good. Do you think I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?

I stretch my arms above my head. Both shoulders pop and groan as they fill with blood. A train sounds its lonesome call once, twice. It is closing in. Soon its rumbling will filter through the open kitchen window, joining the vibrations of the refrigerator, and rattling HOPE, gently, gently. 5:50. Time to think about wiping the counter of the Dirty Shame and turning on the dark. I've got to get a shower and if I'm not out by 6:20 on the dot, my firstborn feels anxious. We, the two of us, are out the door when the oven and the microwave read 7:10. Whoever offers me the sacrifice of thanksgiving honors me.

Thank you, Lord, for this new day. Give me eyes and ears and bare feet to see and hear and feel the good vibrations pregnant in this day, this gift. O God, not bound by time, I am and it's 5:58 and my firstborn...well, you know all things. Amen and amen.


If you were a prehistoric Aleut and your wife or husband died, your people braced your joints for grief. That is, they lashed hide bindings around your knees, ankles, elbows, shoulders, and hips. You could still move, barely, as if swaddled. Otherwise, the Aleuts said, in your grief you would go to pieces just as the skeleton would go to pieces. You would fall apart.
- Annie Dillard, The Maytrees

Prehistoric Aleuts we are not. Some days, however, we might be better off if we followed the old ways, the very old ways. But no, we have surpassed those primitive responses to each day's trouble. Even the concept of your people is archaic.

He grieves for a father who died back in the spring. Who is there to talk to now, ask the tough questions of?

She grieves for the life she relentlessly tried to create, but she could not say to the wind be still and it be still. It huffed and puffed and blew her house down.

The man grieves for the lowest common denominator attitude that pervades his workplace. He wants to create things of beauty, but it's the beast that sells.

The woman grieves against the violence done to her as a child. She asked for bread, but her father gave her a stone, repeatedly over the years. Her soul is hard as rock.

He grieves for the way folks have let him down. He's assured nothing will change. He prays My hope is fixed on you alone, O Lord. But if so, then what's the use of other people?

She grieves at the body, once nimble and quick, which no longer responds to her brain's commands. She has grown old and they lead her where she does not want to go; never where she wants to go.

Where are the prehistoric Aleuts when we need them? Where are the people to lash hide to our elbows and hips? We are walking bags of bones, such is our grief. We have fallen apart, like skeletons, not once but time and time again. We became men and put away the childish concept of binding our joints for grief. Our independent selves resist swaddling; after all, we're not babies or Aleuts are we? No, we can still move. Barely. We'll not be a hide-bound people. We prefer the bones.


It must be, I think tonight, that in a certain sense only the newborn in this world are whole, that as adults we are expected to be, and necessarily, somewhat nibbled.
- Annie Dillard

The temperature Friday night at 10,000 feet was easily in the 30s, maybe upper 20s. Our fire stocked with wood from the grocery store in Woodland Park afforded us some mirage of warmth. But your bones know when they're being nibbled. The gnawing had only just begun.

In an effort to make sure my family was snug and warm, I played the martyr and slept wrapped in a blanket rather than a bag. I know martyrs don't get to see their kids graduate from college or sit on the porch with their girlfriend while grandbabies play under foot. Still, I play. I awoke at 12am to the sound of my teeth chattering and a chill I would not shake for almost twelve hours. Many of Fox's martyrs were burned at the stake. I don't remember any succumbing to hypothermia in a tent from Wal-Mart. Still, I play.

The hike we took Saturday runs up the backside of Pikes Peak. The Aspen groves on the sidelines seemed restless, anxious for October to arrive so they can shed this blend-in-with-everything-else green and let autumn's alchemy do its magic. Legend has it that the cross was made of Aspen and the quaking gold leaves come from the tree's humbled response at being chosen to hold the body of our Lord. But it has to get colder for the gold to surface. Maybe the Aspen's golden leaves are actually chattering, trying not to freeze at the stake; their refusal to recant.

Our troupe consisted of four adults and eight kids; cheaper by the dozen. I took the anchor position on the hike and found myself a motivational speaker, coaxing my middle daughter and her same-age friend up the mountain. Ten-year-old girls can nickel and dime you to death, like being nibbled at the stake. Did you know that? Well, they can. My daughter said sometimes I feel like Jekyll and Hyde. I said me too. My hip bones were still cold. It was a glorious hike.

Nature seems to catch you by the tail. - Annie Dillard

We sat in camp chairs 'round a fire pit and someone said look up and we did and dear God at the stars. I couldn't remember seeing stars like that since I slept in the belly of the Grand Canyon years ago alongside two friends and a host of bats. Several campsites away, a radio began belching out bass notes in a continuous loop, strong enough to distract us from heaven and memory. A child's voice said those people are dumb. No adult voice corrected them.

My son and his please-come-along-so-I-won't-be-the-only-boy fellow male sat on a bridge in shirt sleeves with their Levis rolled up, while bare feet dangled above a clear mountain stream. Huck and Tom. Their middle school, cell phoned, Wii controlled minds were quickly ground down by nature's molars to that known as "boy." Get a boy outside and he knows what to do; he just does. Or at least those boys did. They slept in their own tent, only a few feet away from the mother's care. I wonder if they talked of setting off down that mountain current on a raft made of grocery store kindling, gently down the stream?

On cool autumn nights, eels hurrying to the sea sometimes crawl for a mile or more across dewy meadows to reach streams that will carry them to salt water.
- Edwin Way Teale

What would my son and his friend have done if they'd come across hurrying eels? I want to believe they'd of figured something out, gotten the eels to paint the fence possibly.

I used the last of the bought-and-paid-for wood this morning. The fire coughed to life via a starter log, used Kleenex, and a silent prayer. As the flames rose, anticipatory grief did too. I'm not ready to go back, I said. The robber jay replied but you almost froze the other night in this spartan place of pine and stream and crag and star. Surely you'd rather live than be nibbled like this, right? Just recant and it'll all go away.

My teeth began to chatter; a martyr's refusal.

Dear Rev,

I read a blog post yesterday by a pastor. He claimed he was mad as Hades and not gonna take it anymore! Right off the bat, I felt sorry for the man who can't say mad as hell. Anyway, he was Hades-mad because people insist on calling him reverend. He said the word is not a noun, but an adjective, and everyone from Jordan Cooper and Charles Gibson to the people in his own neighborhood constantly use it incorrectly. He's correct in his grammatical analysis; the word describes someone deserving of reverence. His facts are right, but, as you well know if you've ever read anything here at The Shame, the facts often have little to do with the truth.

His wrath-from-Hades reached climax when he indicated he might be a pastor, or a minister, or even a member of the clergy, but he is nobody's reverend! As a post-script, he added that the whole thing sticks in his craw. The man can't stand the salt-of-the-earth word reverend, but then turns around and tells us of his craw.

Now these blog posts are short little ditties, written by a variety of people in the world of religion, designed to get folks thinking, generate discussion and such. I understand that. And I'm also quite certain that this pastor writes with a little tongue-in-cheek, although his tongue is probably as red as Hades. I get that too.

I posted a comment on the blog that went something like this; the pastor's name is changed to protect the mad as Hades and I inserted my own, such is my affection for myself:
What if, when God refers to you, he says reverend John? As is, deserving of reverence John? As in, my beloved, in whom I'm well pleased John? As in, the pinnacle of my handiwork John, the apple of my eye? What if God talks that way about you? Would it still make you mad as Hades? There's pretty good scriptural grounds that he does. I'm just sayin', rev.

Wanna know something that makes me madder'n'hell? When pastors or ministers or clergy or reverends, even with tongue somewhat in cheek, propagate the belief that we're schmucks, wretches, lower'n a snake's belly, not deserving of anything, nothing more than sinners saved by grace, specks of dust in this whirling dervish called life; nobody's stuck in the craw of God. I'm not advocating the Jesus is my boyfriend stuff found in many worship tunes these days. But I am advocating a reverence for ourselves which has its origin in the furious love of God. And if we are able to accept that reverence, we might, just maybe, be able to extend that reverence to others and treat them with the dignity and respect that God intended.

But that's not easy. We don't love ourselves; hell, most of us don't even like ourselves. The path of least resistance is raising the megaphone at the weekly pep rally and screaming I'm nobody's reverend! and neither are you!

Dear Reverend, may you experience the unashamed love of God this day. May each step you take be as if you're walking through fields of play. May you come to believe, one breath at a time, of the reverence you deserve, not because of you, yourself, but because of him, Godself. May all the Hades that fills your words be driven into a herd of pigs who then plunge headlong into the sea. May your craw be empty, your heart light, your eyes sparkly, and your life a picture of reverence both for yourself and for those who call you reverend. Those incorrect grammarians are trying to tell you something true; believe it.

Try to remember...

Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh, so mellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When grass was green and grain was yellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When you were a tender and callow fellow.
Try to remember, and if you remember,
Then follow.

I've always loved those lyrics by Tom Jones. I've always loved September, autumn, fall. You awake one morning from that dreadful thing called August to a chill in the air and think Oh, September. Finally. And you remember when life was slow and oh, so mellow. Or at least I do.

In September, you remember when grass was green and grain was yellow. Or at least I do. I remember when things were distinct, like the colors green or yellow. These days the grass is often brown or gray; grain is sometimes black. It feels as if the foundations are destroyed, like we're skipping a season, anxious for the leaves to fall so we can get on with it. It is not distinct.

In September, you remember when you were a tender and callow fellow. Or at least I do. Ah, to be tender and young and immature and boyish. We all need tender days of September, days to be youthful and inexperienced, awkward and innocent. These days there's not much room, if any, for callow. The tweeners, my tweeners, are being marketed to with a vengeance, the preschoolers are too. Dad, we're the only kids without a cell phone. Sure, I want my kids to be prepared for tomorrow, but what about today, what about September?

Try to remember, and if you remember, then follow...

Yes, I'm remembering the past. Yes, this post is probably more about me than my tweeners. Yes, these words would bleed sentimental if you cut them. Yes, my thoughts are tinged with grief and loss and longing and love. It's what happens to me when I try to remember that kind of September.

We, the people

Gustav lost steam as he found his way to shoreline. The people, they got their butts out, like the mayor said. The wet-headed reporters, they stayed, bracing their microphones against gale-force winds. When the rains die down, the people, they will come home. Again. They, the people, have been shown mercy. Much mercy. And the proper response to mercy? Gratitude. The Big Easy got off easy.

With Gustav not living up to expectations, the reporters, they sniffed for blood and found her. She's 17 and pregnant and not married and calls Sarah Palin Mom. The blond-haired reporter with the short skirt, she took to the streets to hear what people thought. A teen, sitting on a stoop, she said with the bravado of youth, If she can't control her family, how can she lead the nation? A fellow Alaskan with a trail-running face and mother of two, she said, You just know something's falling through the cracks at home. What? What did I just hear? Dear God in heaven, help us. The blond-haired reporter, she seemed pleased at hearing the absence of mercy in their voices; she licked her blood-red lips, as if to say: yes, yes, this is what we need; no mercy. The voice of family-focused James Dobson, his words are heard a few moments later, applauding the Palin family for doing the right thing. But his words have the hollow ring of stoop-stuck teens and Alaskan trail-running mothers; no mercy.

The boy, his cries for mercy are heard from a room away. The boy, my son, sheds tears because he's stopped up and it's hard to breathe. I help him arrange his pillows so his head is propped up and we crack the window to let the night air enter. Allergies and our dry climate do this to you at night. The boy, my son, my only son, calms in the bed as I place my hand on his chest. Thank you for helping me, Dad. Gratitude. Where's a blond-haired reporter when you need one? Cover this story, lady. Please. And make sure that teenager sees your report and emphasize this content to that mother of two. And send an email describing it to Focus on the Family. A child could lead them.

We have been shown mercy. He, God, delays his coming so that one more might be shown mercy. Yet we sniff and bite and chew and judge and speak with the bravado of gods against one another while the babies grow inside our unmarried daughters. His fury dies down and instead of saying Thank You we wonder what fell through the cracks at home. Who can "lead" a people like us? Who can "president" an ungrateful people? If we cannot govern ourselves, it doesn't matter who gets elected or who has the most experience.

Forgive us, Father, for we know what we do and we keep doing it. Have mercy on us. We know better.