Notes from the Trail

"I was just thinking that of all the trails in this life there is one that matters most. It is the trail of a true human being. I think you are on this trail and it is good to see."
- Kicking Bird to John Dunbar, Dances With Wolves

Yesterday was my birthday. I am now lord.

I watched Dances With Wolves the other evening with my kids. I still remember seeing Costner's epic in 1990, the year it released, on the big screen. Some critics noted the film remembered wrong, warped the facts. I believe the film did so a little "in order to reach for the fictional or poetic truth that I would rank a little above history" - (Wallace Stegner).

Kicking Bird's words struck me, again, on hearing them the other night - "the trail of a true human being." As I look back at my trail, now at 42, it's been a crooked little path. But a good crooked. I grew up the son of a preacher man, in a home filled with Johnny Cash music and love. We told each other "I love you" every night before falling asleep; that seems so natural for me, yet I fear many of my peers did not have that cushion, that safety. I married a raven haired girl almost twenty years ago. We loaded up a truck and moved out to Texas and she finished college while I experienced divinity school. She graduated with honors; I finished a little-less-than-divine. We spent more than a decade of our lives together as pastor and pastor's wife in different churches, mainly in the South, places where they called me "preacher." In those years, she carried three children to term and I stood and cut the umbilical, freeing those so fresh from God into this world, onto their own trails. We tell each other "I love you" every night before falling asleep.

And then we loaded up another truck and moved out to Colorado, hours upon hours away from all that was familiar and familial; one might call it an outpost. We've been west, me and my girlfriend and our three kids, half a decade now. The trail here has led me away from preaching and into writing. That umbilicus was a hard cut, a bleeder; pain always accompanies being born again. My hair has grown long, my language at times salty, and my faith deep and wide. I have learned to pray T.S. Eliot's words: Lord, teach us to care and not to care. A few plows are worth our hands; others, many others, aren't worth a damn. Earlier, younger aspirations of following some holy path have given way to step-by-stepping the trail of a true human being. Now, at 42, I believe the holy path is to become a true human being. It is the most difficult and most glorious quest we can take, what old Sam Keen calls "the difficult splendor."

Years ago, a group of special friends and I were sitting on a dock in the middle of a pond at a retreat center. We were smoking cigars, partly for the novelty, mainly to keep skeeters at bay. We decided to "name" one another, Indian names. As the path finally came to me, my friends paused and then bestowed me. It is a name I keep written on a piece of paper, folded and tucked away in my heart. I pull it out from time to time and remember. The movie the other evening and my approaching birthday compelled me to take it out and read it, again. I think that maybe I am on this trail, the trail of a true human being. I am humbled, grateful. It is a good thing to see. I have no idea where it will lead...


  1. I have something in my eye...

    Happy b'day, John!!!!

  2. Indeed you are on that path and are such an encourager to the rest of us to get there too...

    I have to "fluff" you a bit, well, just because I think when someone means somethin' to you, you should tell them and the "day after your birthday day" is a fine time.

    I have never wanted to follow harder after the Man I gave my heart to so many years ago, than reading your thoughts here at The Shame. The pictures you paint make me see Jesus through new eyes and make His word call to me..

    You have a gift and I am just happy to be a recipient of the outpouring of it. I see in you pieces of the father I never had, the pastor I want to shepherd me and, of course, the man who is my friend.

    Happy Trails on the journey to 43!

  3. My perception of the "narrow road" has morphed into the realization that life ends up being more like following a slightly overgrown foot trail. With wide open meadows and lakes were we occasionally find a few close friends to share the warmth of a fire and conversation with as we invite each other to journey even deeper into the thick of "the difficult splendor." (I loved this phrase you used by Sam Keene.)

    I enjoy this kind of an invitation here at the "Shame." I appreciate your writings, the regulars here, and the fact that as dawn beckons, another part of the trail illuminates before us.

    Cheers to your 42!

  4. A very happy birthday. I look forward to reading where the trail takes you in this new year.

  5. "I have no idea where it will lead..."

    Faith leads one to better things. Of course, there might be rocky paths along the way. But so long as we have guidance, protection and love, there's nothing to worry about, is there?

    I found the part on "Indian names" rather interesting, by the way. (:

  6. Tiffani,

    Thank you for your kind words. "Fluff" is ok, just don't go handin' out halos, alright?

  7. Shanda,

    Actually, Sam Keen used that phrase to describe the journey of becoming a man. But I feel it applies to a woman as well.


  8. Gretchen,

    I hope it's not a speck because I cannot help you; got to get the log out of my own, you know...

  9. Puva,

    Yes, "indian names"...forgive me, it's the way we used to talk...

    Thanks for stopping by.

  10. It's fun stopping by. I like to read your entries (:

  11. Happy Birthday, Juan.


    (you rawk!)

  12. Sooo...tell us your Indian name that was bestowed upon you!