The Wide Wings of the Present Tense

As my day begins, this is how it ended, the psalm that is:
Whoever is wise will ponder these things, and consider well the mercies of the LORD.
I stir in the spoon of brown sugar as is my custom, 
then remove Fairchild from the shelf:
no "still small voice" or hovering dove, but only gray, murky hunches...
The train barrels by from the north going south,
cars full of coal to heat our homes come winter.
We'll have to pay for it.
The news cast lingers in my mind: an overturned SUV, 
full of fire and a four year old.
Two off duty firemen took turns rushing in, cutting safety belts turned death's chains, 
finally, finally, finally rescuing a boy's life from hell itself.
I just kept seeing the face of my son and I kept going back in.
There are days when God is proud of the race of men.
I'm sleeping alone this week because she's in Arkansas,
taking care of a man with pancreatic cancer - her father.
Each night I've opened all the windows in the house
and placed a box fan at my feet;
anything, anything to stir the silence of her absence.
I look out on a front yard with fresh sod, green, lush,
and remember to feed the fish, Dad.
The owners of the fish and their brother are at grandpa's;
I look in their rooms each night and long for their smell.
A friend and I may run three or four miles on the lunch hour,
pounding concrete, strengthening our hearts while weakening our knees.
One of these days, I'm sure we'll pay for it.
Before rising to go edit books, I give Fairchild the last word:
beneath, at last, the wide wings of the present tense.

Just a hint of Jesus...

Lately, there seem to be a lot of people wanting to make an impact on this world for Jesus. Leadership gurus are wanting to impact the church.  Student leaders, who evidently live 24/7, are mobilizing to impact the next generation.  I've even heard certain artists who are writing or singing or something to impact the culture.  

Now I'm a word guy; in other words, I believe words mean things.  So I looked up this six-letter arrangement to clarify the definition: to collide forcibly with; to strike.  I then checked some related words: concussion, hammering, onslaught, ramming, sideswipe, tremor, wallop, and who could resist whomp. Now, in the interest of fairness, there are related words that ring all nice and smart like etch or imprint, but great horny toads - they don't stand much of a chance next to mauling.

Go ahead.  Take some of those related words and put them in the place of "impact" - 
Leadership gurus really want to ram the church...Student leaders are mobilizing to maul the next see where this is going.

I don't believe Jesus wants us to do this.  I really don't.

Do you know the words trace or whiff or hint or brush?  For example - "Jimmy slumped in right field, one cleat on top of the other, close to the fence.  Not a single ball came his direction all evening. But the fence was lined with honeysuckle, the whiff of which reminded him of the girl who now sat in front of him in homeroom.  She had just moved to town from Magnolia and smiled at Jimmy in the hallway.  Jimmy liked playing right field."  

Now, I'm gonna bet my boots you've got a story or two or three where the slightest trace or hint of someone or something left you undone; could be it haunts your memory even today. Maybe it's coming across the hint of your father's aftershave in a department store.  He ran off five years ago but that hint causes you to break down in Macy's like a baby.  Or possibly it was when the dog brushed against your legs and your wife said "It's a boy." You'll forever associate that beagle's tail with the best day of your life.  Or how about a trace, just a trace of half-n-half that causes ordinary scrambled eggs to be the envy of Cracker Barrel.

I believe that's what Jesus wants us to do.  Leave hints or traces or whiffs of grace and mercy and forgiveness, words that mean something, in the lives of those both near and far.

But John, you say, what about the incident when Jesus wove a rope and got busy turning over the tables of the money changers?  That was quite impactful, wasn't it?  Yeah, I know; it's in there, so it counts.  But I wonder sometimes if after the onslaught, Jesus sighed and chuckled to himself, "I'm not so sure what good that did."  And maybe that chuckle came to mind when Peter drew his sword in the garden and whomped off that fella's ear and Jesus said, "Easy there, Pete" and then he put that ear right back where it came from, just like that...a little hint of miracle before the mob made their impact.         


Stumbled and fell...

I stumbled on these folks today.  Mercy, what a beautiful fall.  I listened to a few of the songs from their second cd - Eveningland...I just picked that cd because I thought "Eveningland - what a simply splendid word."  Here are some reviews - 

"Eveningland, the second album by Hem...sets allusive, haunting songs not only to mandolin and steel guitar but also to chiming celeste and mallet instruments like glockenspiel - countrypolitan trademarks - as well as passages of rich, emotive playing by a full orchestra."

"A collection of fairy-tale melodies fleshed out with idiosyncratic instrumentation... Eveningland inches toward the countrypolitan sound favored by seventies acts [with the] languid, fetching soprano of their front woman, Sally Ellyson."

"On their second album, this Brooklyn Octet weave together haunting melodies and delicate orchestrations to craft intimate country/folk lullabies. Sally Ellyson's vocals are as homey as a snow day spent with hot chocolate and a fleece blanket."

I know folks have different ideas about what kind of music will be playing in heaven.  There are a lot of people who believe we'll all be standing 24/7  (unfortunately like many church services these days) with our hands raised or maybe even jumping up and down in place.  I'm bettin' those folks are gonna be surprised. Something tells me the good Lord may just favor countrypolitan.  And if that's the case, then there's no way in heaven you can be languid and fetching when you're standing up; nah, that calls for something like sitting barefoot in a porch swing or laying out in the cool grass around dusk.  And raising your hands all day? Practically impossible with a mug of hot chocolate in one and the other grabbing a fleece blanket's Hem... 

My thanks to Betsy Zabel over at Burnside for bringing them to my attention.

This Must Be The Place

Question: If the foundations are destroyed, a.k.a. grandpa and grandma are moving out of the country for two years just three months shy of the birth of your firstborn, what can the righteous -Verona (Maya Rudolph) and Burt (John Krasinski)do?

Answer: Embark on a grailish quest touching the lives of relatives and friends in places like Phoenix, Montreal, and Miami, to find the perfect family role model and place to raise their child. 

“For as long as our records go back, we have held these two things dear, landscape and memory…The one feeds us, figuratively and literally. The other protects us from lies and tyranny.”

As the film begins, Burt and Verona know quite a few things: how to trade futures, draw surgical illustrations, and make a baby top the list.  They’re young, still evolving, but they do feel things deeply.  Burt desires to be the kind of father who makes things out of wood.  Quaint, but fair.  What they don’t know, however, is where they’re from.

“It is the chilling nature of modern society to find an ignorance of geography, local or national, as excusable as an ignorance of hand tools;and to find the commitment of people to their home place only momentarily entertaining.  And finally na├»ve.”

Some reviewers have criticized Burt and Verona for showing contempt for their family and friends along the way.  For example, A.O. Scott of the NYTimes refers to the “smug self-regard” of the characters.  Anyone else besides me ever shown contempt for family and friends and engaged in a little smug self-regard in your thirties?  C’mon, A.O.

Mythic time culminates atop a trampoline at Burt’s brother’s house.  Unmarried Burt and Verona give voice to vows that made this old pastor proud.  Burt wakes to find Verona holding two things dear, landscape and memory.  True hope for those yet to be born must hold hands with those long dead.  Verona tells a story of her parents; they died while she was in college.  The tale is one of love and longing.  And place.    

The next thing we see is their old blue Volvo approaching the landscape of Verona’s childhood: a tree strung with plastic fruit, an old house in need of repair, and a river or lake or shoreline or something running through it. 

“Geography, the formal way in which we grapple with this areal mystery, is finally knowledge that calls up something in the land we recognize and respond to.  It gives us a sense of place and a sense of community.  Both are indispensable to a state of well-being, an individual’s and a country’s.” 

I don’t know everything this film was about.  I’m not a prophet, nor the son of one.  But I do know that desire was stirred in me as I sat quiet in the theater.  Desire not for false or imposed geographies, but a longing to be able to voice the original working, and better I believe, title for the film – “This must be the place.” 

*Quoted material taken from “The American Geographies” by Barry Lopez.

Away We Go is rated R for language and sexual content. 

The Cover, a Sketch, and some Words...

I realize you're probably not thinking about Christmas right now, but here we go...

You can now preorder my book on Amazon and B&N...I described it to someone the other day as an outlaw lectio divina approach to the first few chapters of Luke's gospel, graced by sketches from my good friend Amanda Jolman.  The one below shows the feet of Mary when visited by Gabriel...

“Recovering wonder is never easy. But John Blase provides a doorway through his graceful book, Touching Wonder. The anticipation meant for Advent is often lost in the very season when steady pacing, taking time, and breathing deeply ought to be its hallmarks. John gives us that unhurried time back by expanding on the human side of the Christ child’s heritage, the men and women who were there before and after His birth giving us living examples of how the Scripture speaks to us in contemporary ways. Eugene Peterson’s The Message coupled with John’s tender stories and singular prayers makes this a book I will read again and again.”

Jane Kirkpatrick, award-winning author of A Sweetness to the Soul and A Flickering Light