This Week's Winner and Some Enlightenment

Congratulations, Lane!  You're the winner of Amanda's beautiful sketch of Two-Footed Mary, plus a copy of the little Christmas book that's trying.  I know you're somewhere close, as the crow flies, so I'll get this to you as soon as possible.

Remember friends, there'll be another of Amanda's sketches given away next week, plus a Q&A with her, so stop by on Monday for a few minutes and enter to win.  And thank you all so much for helping me spread the word about Touching Wonder via your blogs and FB pages and Tweet decks...really, thank you.


Prior to this week, my last airline experience was in August; I was flying back from Phoenix.  As I boarded the big old jet airliner, I found my row and seat, and chuckled.  I had been placed, strangely enough, beside two striking young ladies.  As I struggled to fit my one carry-on into the overhead, their thumbs smoothly navigated the screens of iPhones, and designer handbags rested on their long-skirted thighs.  Accomplishing my task, I sat down and said hello; my immediate seatmate returned the greeting.

I chuckled again.  We were quite a row, I tell you.  A forty-something jake in Levis and a ponytail beside two teenagers in white bonnets and prairie skirts adorned by unMaybellined-faces. After the plane leveled-off at howevermanythousandfeet, my curiosity prevailed.

Hi, I'm John.

Hi, I'm Missy.

May I ask you about your faith?  

Oh, yes, we're Mennonite.  We get asked a lot.

Do you know how some folks just put you at ease?  Missy had the gift.  We talked a little about our points of origin and destination. Missy told me she and her sister were headed to visit family.  I told Missy I was a writer from Colorado.  She tried to look impressed; I told her there was no need.

Missy, what is your favorite thing about being a Mennonite? Yikes, that's a horrible question, isn't it? (She laughed at me, putting me further at ease).  I mean, what feels special to you about how you're growing up?  (She paused a moment and scratched her bonnet).

I can do the things that make Jesus happy.  The Bible tells me what I should do and when I do those things, I know He's happy.  

Now folks, there's a chance that Missy the Mennonite could have been pulling the wool over my ponytail, that as soon as she and sister reached their destination, they were gonna ditch the floor-length skirts for minis and fishnet and they had told Jacob the Elder he could kiss off 'cause they were headed to LA to live, really live.  But I didn't get that feeling...I really didn't.  What I did feel was the presence of a goodness and innocence like I'd not experienced in a long time.  I was lucky enough to travel, if only for a few hours, beside two girls making Jesus happy.  And it made me happy.  It also made me sad as I looked at their faces, places where the scars would be...

I boarded another plane this week, heading from Chicago back home.  As I found my aisle seat, guess what two people were sitting beside me?  No, not Missy and sissy; this ain't the Paul Harvey show.  I found myself sitting beside two Buddhist monks, shaved heads, saffron robes and all.  I'm not making this up.  Again, we were quite a row to behold.  I wondered if we might get into a riveting conversation about faith, and people two and three rows away would hush and listen to our wrestlings and it would all conclude with a symbolic exchange of the leather bracelet I wear for some ancient Buddhist amulet and we would bow and say namaste to one another backdropped by a snowy Denver.  But that didn't happen.

I did notice, however, their robes were embroidered with the words BODH GAYA and a colorful rendering of a temple.  "Bodh Gaya is the place where Gautama Buddha attained unsurpassed, supreme Enlightenment. It is a place which should be visited or seen by a person of devotion and which would cause awareness and apprehension of the nature of impermanence."  

As the two young monks sat and talked to each other and read their books printed in a language of curlycued letters, I sat and read Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout and took my own little bodh gaya pilgrimage.  I was quite supremely enlightened by this book, and I believe the fictional town of Crosby, Maine should be visited by persons of devotion, folks like you, for these stories cause awareness and apprehension of the nature of impermanence, otherwise known to us non-saffrons as the difficult splendor of being alive.  It is a book about the places where the scars are...  

Here's an an amulet I exchange with you from the book.  These sentences describe Olive on the day of Christopher and Suzanne's wedding.  Christopher is Olive's only son: 
Weeping would not have come close to what she felt.  She felt fear, sitting out there on her folding chair. Fear that her heart would squeeze shut again, would stop, the way it did once before, a fist punched through her back.  And she felt it, too, at the way the bride was smiling up at Christopher, as though she actually knew him.  Because did she know what he looked like in first grade when he had a nosebleed in Miss Lampley's class? Did she see him when he was a pale, slightly pudgy child, his skin broken out in hives because he was afraid to take a spelling test?  No, what Suzanne was mistaking for knowing someone was knowing sex with that person for a couple of weeks.  You never could have told her that, though...

Weeks 4&5 of the 12 Weeks of Christmas Book-And...

The artist formerly and currently known as Amanda Jolman graciously offered to contribute some sketches to my book.  I am thankful for that, I really am.  The giveaway this week and next, that's weeks 4 & 5 for those of you math-types, is a print of one of Amanda's sketches.  She found a native Frenchman who retired into the printing business and he's willing to print them on watercolor paper and such a thing would be suitable for framing for yourself or talk about a unique gift for that special, my.

This week's sketch is Mary's feet.  In the book, it accompanies my reflections on Gabriel's announcement to the young girl born to be queen.  I envisioned Mary sitting on some bedding with her knees pulled up to her chest and Amanda drew the feet to complete the picture.  

We each bring our own insights to art and here are mine in relation to this beautiful sketch.  I haven't run these by Amanda; they are my own cockeyed lookings.  I see two feet (John, you're brilliant), hold on just a moment.  I see two different feet.  Look at them.  The one on the left is childlike, that of a little girl.  Just look at it.  The other foot, the one on the right, is older, it's been walked on awhile.  Amanda's sketch splendidly captures the two-footed life of the one named Mary.  On the one foot, she was a young girl, most likely a tweener.  I believe in many ways Mary grew up alongside her son.  On the other foot, Mary suddenly had to take steps far beyond her years; she aged all at once - girl, you're a woman now.  In addition to the obvious physical weight she carried, she also bore an old man's words deep within, in the place of pondering: This child will rend your heart.  Mary - the two-footed mother of, my.

How do I enter these next two weeks, John?  Mercy, I'm glad you asked. Would you be willing to help me spread the word about this book?  If you have a blog, would you link here?  If you are all a-twitter, would you whatever-tweet-people-do here?  If you're on Facebook, would you mind pointing the faces of friends in this direction?  All I can do is ask, but sometimes you have not because you ask I ask.  There's a short selling window on a Christmas book, so I've got to carpay dayuhm.  As to leaving a comment, just say hi or something.

I'll reveal the other print next Monday; it's another favorite of mine. Plus, I'll introduce you to Amanda via a brief Q&A.  I think you'll like her.  

Eat Or Die

"Eat or die."
- Jim Harrison

If I hear one more nitwit rage on about consumer christianity or a consumer faith, I may cut my ponytail and go sit in sackcloth and aspens.  The usual script goes something like - "All American Christians want to do is consume; they never give back, never volunteer to serve...all they want is more, more, more, and they want most of it in under an hour, please."  Trust me - I get it and some of it is warranted, but some of it just sounds like whiny leadership types.    

Alright.  Here goes.  I believe ours has always been a consumer faith.  Unless I'm hell-in-a-handbasket-mistaken, the one at the very core of this crazy little thing called faith said these words: take, eat, this is my body...take drink, this cup is the new covenant in my blood... If that's not a faith of consumption, then somebody tell me what it is.  

We're all consumers.  As big Jim says - "Eat or die."  To my little mind, the question seems to be what are we consuming?  I believe life begets life.  So, if we're consuming life, it'll beget life; if we're consuming the seeds of death or half-baked empty promises, well, the landscape will look much like it does these days.  I'm a writer, so I'm always looking and listening and let me tell you, people are crazy-hungry, almost much so, that we're willing to live on information...

This is not the age of information.
This is not
The age of information.
Forget the news,
And the radio,
And the blurred screen.
This is the time
Of loaves
And fishes.
People are hungry,
And one good word is bread
For a thousand.
- David Whyte

My friend from afar, Winn Collier, wrote about thoughts like these this week.  Here is the link - Winn's thoughts pertain to preaching.  I like that alot.  You might say John, folks need to learn to be self-feeders.  You know what?  I believe that too.  I also believe we're still living on this dark and bloody planet called Earth and flesh and blood needs flesh and blood and unless there's a new kind of human being born, which I sure as heaven don't believe there is, we still look to some to share with us what they've gleaned - the poets and the preachers and the singers...

Now I don't believe that means that sermons and studies and conferences and all other manner of jesuspalooza needs to go whacked-out-deep-and-heady; that'd just be the opposite but equal error.  What is the good word?  What are we consuming? What are we being fed?  What are we feeding folks?  This is the time of loaves and fishes...bless and break that stuff and the people might eat and be satisfied with baskets leftover.  I read somewhere that happened once upon a time...

This Week's Winner and...

The Jack-the-Beagle-random-number-generator tips the hat to Dee Dee, winner of a mol-a-skeen'-a!! and copy of that little Christmas book.  Dee Dee, please contact me at with a mailing address and I'll send them along.  I liked the way Dee Dee began her comment - Anna and Simeon move me - yes, I like that alot.

I pray for each and every one of you who frequent the Dirty Shame that you are moved by or to something this Friday.  I believe whatever that is will be a variation on the theme of beauty.  So I guess I'm praying beauty all over you, my friends...yes, I like that alot.

Just A Thought...

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” A. W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy (1961)...

I'm no Tozer, but what about this - "What comes into his mind when God thinks about us is the most important thing about God." J.D. Blase, Tears of a Clown (as of yet unpublished)

Week 3 of the 12 Weeks of Christmas Book-And...

I just know you've said to yourself, "Self, I'd love to jot down our musings but alas, a good notebook, like a good man, or woman, is hard to find." My, haven't we all?  But come now, cast aside thy fretting and enter this week's 12 Weeks of Christmas Book-And, for the staff here at the Dirty Shame has voted and yes, we're giving away a Moleskine.  Moleskine (mol-a-skeen'-a) - the legendary notebook of artists, writers, intellectuals and travelers. From gifted artists Henri Matisse (1869–1954) and Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890), to poet and leader of the surrealist movement AndrĂ© Breton (1896-1966) to Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) considered the most influential writer of the last century, to famous travel writer Bruce Chatwin (1940-1989), and even part-time saint and wanna-be-cowboy John Blase (1967- ).  Sure, you can jot down thoughts on your iPhone or even that rascally Kindle and the hip world will consider you one of their own.  But take out a Moleskine and begin writing and the heavenly host will pause and say behold, the way that is-eth right to a man...

Seriously, what better way to pay attention (a.k.a., pray) through the wonderful season known as Christmas than by jotting down what you're seeing/hearing/touching/tasting/smelling?  Think of this gift as a way to come to your senses.  You might even use it to accompany your reading of Touching Wonder: Recapturing the Awe of Christmas, writing down your own impressions from those stories of "that old life, startling in its ribbed strength and dangerous still."

I'm sure there's a character in the Christmas narrative with whom you feel a bond; briefly tell me who? and why? and you're in the running.  Yes, I'll accept extra-biblical narratives, but I draw the line at Olive the Other Reindeer.

This Week's Winner, some gratitude, and a signing/sighting...

Kecia wrote: It's hard to pick one, but the first one that popped to my mind was a box of paperback books my brother gave me when I was about 10.  I thought I was in heaven. Congratulations, Kecia!! - now maybe in addition to those paperback books, you'll forever remember the Christmas you won a little hardcover book and a shirt and cap from BuffaloandCompany.  My, my.  I'll email you for some information and then we'll get this bounty on its way.

My most memorable gift?  A Lhasa apso puppy my brother and I discovered under the tree one Christmas.  We picked her (Lady) up and she peed all over the box she was in, but it was magical Christmas morning pee so we didn't care.  Lady slept at my feet for years.  She died after I had married and left home; I remember crying when I got the phone call.  Goodness...the richness of memory. 

Thanks so much for all your entries.  The fact that you took the time to jot down your most memorable gift means that, if only for a few moments, the helter-skelter of this world was paused and memory was stirred.  I like that.  I like that alot.  Be sure and stop in on Monday to find out what's next.  

Some of you are buying Touching Wonder: Recapturing the Awe of Christmas as gifts for your friends.  I want to say thank means more than you know...much more than you know. For any of you who reside in or near the Colorado Springs area, there's a booksigning tomorrow at Mardel's Bookstore, 5964 Barnes Road, from 1-3pm.  I'll be there with other authors from these parts; we'll be sitting around chewing the fat, signing some books, smiling, kissing babies, that kind of stuff.  I'd love to see you...I really would.  I'll be the one, the only one I'm pretty sure, with a beard and ponytail and Beagle hair on his shirt.  Yes, it is what it is.    



Death's Press

In one of those I-can-see-clearly-now-the-scales-are-gone-Saint Paul-moments, the question pealed from his apostolic lips: O death, where is thy sting?  In that moment it was not so much question as taunt.  I understand, I get it.

But in my part-time-saint-John-moments of late, death's scales have been blinding.

In August, only two months ago now, my father-in-law died.  Over the course of a year, damned old cancer stole the gift of his life. Now, two months later, grief, real grief has begun to show up unannounced for the woman I love.  Oh, his name was John, same as mine.  In September, one of my father's best friends died; again, cancer.  This man was the janitor for the church where my father is pastor; it's probable that they saw one another and talked almost every day for 20 years.  Only days later, one of my father's favorite aunts died.  These September funerals fell on the same day.  My parents, mortals that they are, could not be in two places at once; death made them choose their last respects.  Now, here in October, just this past weekend, a college friend's little 5 yr old daughter died; doctors are saying swine flu.  And then this week, another friend of mine experienced her aged mother finally slip beneath the surface of time.

Annie Dillard gently whispers: Write as if you were dying.

Death has not had a sting lately so much as it has pressed in close, making it hard to breathe.  Philosophers of old used to keep a skull on their desks, a daily reminder of our prescribed end, an app for that.

After the funeral-home-visitation for my father-in-law, we all went out to eat at an Arkansas-Irish-pub. It was one of the places John liked.  I sat among the family I've been grafted in over the last 19 years; their boisterous Catholic arms have always been open for the quiet Baptist...thanks be to God.  I closed my eyes a couple of times and listened to the voices, textures of sound I know well.  I kept waiting to hear John's voice, I wanted to hear him yell John David, which is what he always called me, but he never did.

There were a couple of John's earthly trinkets that I was given; one was a Montblanc pen.  I'm scheduled for a book signing this weekend at a big box bookstore in Co Springs - Mardel's - the antithesis of an Arkansas-Irish-pub.  I plan to use John's pen to sign books for the two or three that will probably gather there.  I may have to remind myself to breathe.    

Week 2 of the 12 Weeks of Christmas Book-And...

It's week 2 in the 12 Weeks of Christmas Book-And.  This week's giveaway, which I believe you're really gonna like, involves introducing you to a man I know.  His name is Xan Hood; he's a husband (wife, Jayne), author, ministry leader, entrepreneur, and also a good friend of mine.  Several years ago, Xan and a friend of his, Cory Smith, birthed a ministry they call Training Ground. In a nutshell, it's a twelve week discipleship experience for young men aged 18-25.  There is much talk these days of initiating boys into manhood; unfortunately, much of it is talk. Training Ground is an attempt to shut up and do something. Their mission is to "grow men of character and heart who will impact their community, their family, and the next generation to come."  Pretty heavy, huh?  The twelve weeks are full of work (often grunt-barely-minimum-wage work), wilderness (everything from learning to fly fish to backpacking trips), and worship (learning to pay attention to God).  The experience is also filled (and I love this) with the presence of older men who have agreed to walk alongside the younger men, offering something rare these days - wisdom.    

John: Xan, you've been leading Training Ground groups for 3 years now.  I'm sure the young men have grown in the experience; how have you grown?
XanWell, it seems that often we create or find ourselves in the places we need the most. We are selfish people, probably filling in our own empty places. I have always served in a place I needed as much as those I was around. I think by being able to watch the Lord really grow and mature young men, I have been able to see where I need that as well. I’m only a few years ahead of some of these guys, but it seems to be the beautiful tension. I am like them, but I also know what they need because of the few years ahead. Their courage to risk invites me.

John: The latest adventure for you is launching a clothing line - BuffaloandCompany.  Your tagline is 'honor your wild' - what's that about?
Xan: I never inspired to design clothes, but there seemed this opportunity to wed two worlds I am still trying to reconcile, ministry and business. They seem at times like two opposing forces. We talk a lot at Training Ground about initiation, and it seems that for most young men in college, that context comes through the world of business. I have wondered what it would mean to start a business that is about growing young men in that setting.

The 'honor your wild' came out of this loss of a masculine identity for so many young men today. We have so much fashion - Hair gel; Skinny Jeans; Pre-frayed clothes; the preppy looks. While I believe that is one side of a man, I feel as if the balance is way off. Too much luxurious symbols of class like Ralph Lauren Polo, Nautica, Brooks Brothers. Young men wear these shirts to identify with these brands but have no real connection to them. For many men, from Teddy Roosevelt to me, we had to head west, into wilderness and testing to find this side of ourselves not offered in classrooms and in cultured city life. Buffalo and Company is a symbol of hope - finding something that's been lost.

John: And there is yet another adventure not too far out on the horizon, right?  Fatherhood? You ready for that?
Xan: My friend, Krue, said this about creating his own family: “Most people don’t want to have many kids because it takes them away from being around people. But we wanted to make little people who we would like to be around.” I thought, wow, that is what I would love to do with Jayne - make people. We are in the honeymoon of that, soon expecting our first child, a little lady. I do look forward to what it will make of me. I thought 9 months would be enough time to prepare me, but I tell you, I can’t even get my taxes done in that time span, let alone prepare for a child. Is there an H & R Block that also gives parenting advice?

John: And remind the folks of the web addresses for TG and Buffalo - 

So now you've met Xan.  Please check out the website for Training Ground. You may know of a young man who would greatly benefit from such an experience; trust me, there are not many offerings like this out there.  And last but not least, check out the bufffaloandcompany site; do so to see what Xan is up to but also to see the shirts and caps they currently offer...because I'm giving away a shirt and cap to this week's winner.  Ladies, this is a chance to win something for thy man.  Men, who can't use a good shirt and cap? Leave a comment telling me the Christmas gift you most remember.  And, as always, I'll pray for you and yours as I read the comments. The drawing is first thing Friday morning.  

Today's Winner Is...

It's Friday.  Giveaway day.  I'd love to gift you with the leg lamp, I really would, but for today it's a signed copy of my book and a bag of Dirty Shame blend coffee.  The first winner in the 12 weeks of Christmas book-and is Brenda.  Here's a snippet from her comment:
What a fun giveaway...My all-time favorite song is Oh Holy Night sung by Sandy Patti. We had the privilege of seeing her live at a Christmas Concert. Just the day before she had to have emergency gall bladder surgery. Most of the other performers were all dancing around the circular stage. All she could do was stand by a stool and hold on...

Thanks to everyone who entered.  As I read through all of your fav-song choices, I prayed for you and yours.  I don't know if my prayers availeth much; my righteousness score is kinda low, but maybe they count for something.  And just so you know, my favorite Christmas song is Hark, the Herald Angels Sing as sung by Nat King Cole.

Make sure you come back and visit on Monday as I'll unveil the next gift in this crazy idea. Many will enter, one will win, all will be remembered to the Grace who keeps this world.  I know it's hard to wait until Monday, but like Sandi Patti at that concert, just hold on.  
Brenda, my email is  You can leave your mailing address there. Congratulations. 


With the help of a good friend, I’m constructing an author site.  Yes, it feels silly-self-promoting to have ".com" behind your name on the wide-world-web, but I figured might-as-well.  One of the five tabs you can select is “about” – as in, about me.  I’ve long toyed with the idea of writing a credo, but the timing has never felt true.  But now, maybe it’s time.

Most credos I’ve read start with the words I/we believe.  With each phrase, I’ve always sensed an exclamation point should follow; here is something definitive, something known.  I won’t do that, or maybe better put, I can’t do that.  My credo, if it can even be called such a thing, rides piggyback on the slithering black curved back of the lovely question mark.  I start each phrase with why?  This is by all means a work in progress, much like myself.  I’ll start with ten and possibly add to or take away as days pass.  I don't have many answers, but I do have questions...questions about me. 

Why is it that my father raised me on a diet of the King James Bible and western movies that, as it turned out, was magically delicious?
Why is it that I live out West and love out West but I’ll always be from the South?
Why am I most at ease in those in-between moments of dusk?
Why am I a storyteller who, unlike a historian, must follow the trail of compassion wherever it leadeth?
Why do I not equate talking with thinking?
Why do I try to not run yellow lights, ever?
Why do I prefer the words melancholy to organized and ache to closure?
Why do I put all my eggs in the basket of grace, a grace that if it’s grace at all will one day drive me to my glass-clearly-knees as I whisper simply amazing?
Why do I cry every time, every blessed time, when Linus says lights, please and gives his that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown speech?
Why do I feel in the very marrow of my bones that contrary to wildly successful first lines, it actually is about you…and me?


The 12 Weeks of Christmas Book-And...

When I looked and realized there were 12 weeks until Christmas, I cussed.  Sorry, it's what I do sometimes. My inner-priest deemed a penance of either a mouthful of LifeBuoy (could cause blindness) or try my best to redeem these next twelve weeks. I chose the latter.  My first thought, which I humbly share with you, is to encourage you to read a chapter a week from my book Touching Wonder: Recapturing the Awe of Christmas.  You just never know what the Grace that keeps this world might reveal in those written words. My next thought, which I shamelessly share with you, is that each week for the next twelve, there'll be a giveaway here at The Dirty Shame.  In the publishing world, we call this a "book-and" - in other words, I'll give away a signed copy of my book and an accompanying gift.

We'll start slow and easy and probably keep it that way; remember, we're trying not to be pummeled by the season.  Leave a comment here telling me your favorite Christmas song and why.  The gifts will vary, but there will be a common thread: each one will hopefully bring you some joy.  To crank it all up, this first week's giveaway will be a bag of Dirty Shame Coffee - an extra bold dark roast that will leave you like those resurrection witnesses - shuddering and wild.  What better way to wake up and say Christmas is gonna be just a little different this year. Sorry, but there's no decaffeinated option; this is the Dirty Shame, we've got standards.

Each week's drawing will run Monday thru Thursday.  First thing Friday morning, I'll throw all your names on the floor and the one the Beagle eats first wins.  Fair enough?  Be sure and tell all your friends. Heck, tell your enemies even; they might win and invite you over for a cup of Dirty Shame Coffee and lo and behold, a little bit of peace-on-earth-good-will-'tward-men might waft up from a coupla' steaming mugs and you'd both look at each other and say my, my, aren't we lucky...