Room for Grizzlies

[There are a handful of you at The Shame who are pastor/minister/leader types; most of you, however, are not. But many of you attend church, frequent a church, drive by a church on occasion, or have fond memories of such a place. Here's the skinny - this post is primarily for the handful. My request for the rest of you is this - would you be willing to forward this to your pastor/preacher/minister/revered/leader type? I would love to hear their reactions/responses. And even though you may not be in the primary audience, this post is still about you. It really is. Trust me. And thanks.]

If the great bear is still living in the Yaak,
then so too are all the other species below it.
- Rick Bass, The Book of Yaak

Those words begin Rick Bass’s plea for the conservation of a once secret valley up near the Canadian border: The Yaak. It is a place immensely important to Bass; he would say it is to us as well. The Yaak valley is one of the few remaining areas of true wilderness in the United States. Everything from local customs to big business threatens and has threatened this sacred ground. Bass is an activist in the best sense of the word and he does what he can; mainly, he writes. He shivers because he knows that writing to preserve the Yaak can actually end up doing harm, that such revelation will draw acquisitive types – “those who come to a valley to take something, rather than give.” It is risky.

I’ll let his words begin my plea, for I too desire the conservation of a specific place of beauty and wildness: the pastor’s heart. For many reasons, it is a place very important to me. The threats to this sacred region are legion, maybe today more than ever. But I want to do what I can with what I have seen and heard in the time there is. And so I write.

But I’m shivering. I know that writing about the pastor’s heart can draw the acquisitive types – those who seek to debate or proof-text or dismiss outright. There will always be those who come to take rather than give. It is always risky. But I must write.

It may even make good sense to maintain such large animals…
for the disappearance of large animals often leads to the decline
and extirpation of many smaller animals.
- The Book of Yaak

If you find grizzly bears in an ecosystem, then it’s possible that everything else can exist as well. Not that you would find everything else, but that you could. Basically, if there’s space for the big guys (bears, caribou, wolves), then there’ll be space for the little guys. But if the big guys go, then the ground beneath everyone else's feet becomes extremely fragile.

Consider the church an ecosystem. Maybe you prefer the word culture; that’s fine. Let’s further consider you, the pastor, as a grizzly bear. Now it’s possible you’ve been through those personality tests that grade you as a golden retriever or a beaver. Set that aside for a moment, live on the wild side, and embrace the bear, alright? It’s a metaphor.

Is there room for you in your church culture? Is there room for a grizzly in your ecosystem, be it non-denom, Baptist, or Episcopal? Please note that I’m not talking about room for the role of a pastor; there will always be a minister-shaped slot. No, I’m talking about room for you. Here’s a quick story in the interest of clarity.

Newly hired as the pastor of a mid-sized church, I remember being given the tour of the pastor’s study. It was a room prepared before the foundations of my arriving. Phrases like We just know you’re going to love it and these lamps are one-of-a-kind should have tipped me off. I stepped into a room filled with a polished mahogany desk, Tiffany lamps, two large decorative trees, and an assortment of faux Persian rugs. You may be saying And what’s the problem? Well, the problem was that wasn’t me. It was who some hoped and wanted me to be (polished, rather decorative), but it wasn’t me. I stepped into a culture that was not healthy. No room for grizzlies.

Of the inventories you can take to assess whether or not your church is healthy, there is no end. A congregation’s health is measured these days in terms of everything from amount of small group participation to satisfaction in worship services to orthodox preaching. While those are all indicators of something, I’m not convinced they always indicate health. But I believe there is a question, rarely asked, that does. So, I ask you again.

Is there room for you in your church?

Let me be very clear: I believe if there’s room for you and your heart in your church, there’ll be room for everyone else and their heart. And that, pastor, is not a slight thing; in fact, it may be the thing.

If you think this is sounding just a tad selfish, that's fair. I heard the poet David Whyte use a phrase years ago – the arrogance of belonging. I’ve never forgotten it. You’ve no doubt come across people like this before, men and women who fully inhabit their place. They are unutterably themselves, regardless of public opinion; a force to be reckoned with; the sheer weight of their person affects every room they enter. They believe no one else could do what they’re doing at the particular time. To someone who looks lightly, they appear incredibly arrogant. But with those who’ve eyes to see and ears to hear, they demonstrate a face set like flint to the life they’ve been given to live.

If you believe that God has really called you to be the pastor of a particular church, then he’s called you; not some you that’s expendable or interchangeable with someone else. No, you.

They refuse the men themselves; they insist upon a diagram
of humanity instead. They dwell only upon what they would
like a man to conform to; they never come within a hundred
miles of knowing what a man is.
- Robert Farrar Capon, The Romance of the Word

A Little Bleasure

"Read. Find out what you truly believe. Get away from the familiar. Every writer, I told him, will offer you thoughts about writing that are different, but these are three I trust."
- Barry Lopez, About This Life

My girlfriend and I traveled to Seattle for a few days; a little business, a little pleasure - a bleasure trip. We had lunch at the Athenian Inn, where several scenes from Sleepless in Seattle were filmed. Our waiter's name was Cloud; we asked and that isn't his real name, but his stage name. There was a sign on the wall beside us showing two steins of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer: two heads are better than one.

As we walked the downtown streets, the cherry trees were in bloom. Simply brilliant. The tulips were just on the verge of a lush unfolding.

We went up in the Space Needle, up to the observation deck at 520 feet. As we came down in the elevator, a little boy started jumping up and down. The ele-attendant, a young girl who rattled off stats robot-like, said, "No, please don't jump." She was suddenly non-robot-like. This statement did not instill confidence in me, but then again, it did.

Later that evening, in our hotel room, we watched The Reader, the film for which Kate Winslet won an Oscar. It's about the illiteracy of future generations in regard to the Holocaust.

The air in downtown Seattle is filled with the cries of gulls.

We visited Mars Hill Graduate School, a place in the history of several of our friends. The helpful lady at the front desk asked, "Now you're not looking for Mark Driscoll's church, that Mars Hill?" I said, "No, we're not." Back at the hotel, I had looked up the school's website and read a blog post where Dan Allender noted he did not like the word "impact." I share his distaste for this word. It seems I am surrounded by believers wanting to make an "impact" on this world. I prefer to walk softly on the earth...

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...

Only the Dream

[the first stirrings of a short story I'm writing]

"Perhaps the truth depends upon a walk around the lake."
- Wallace Stevens

It’d been almost a year since the call at 11:17pm. Since then, he’d become old before his time. Close friends encouraged getting back into life. He wondered if the human heart ever truly recovers from anything, especially trauma like the death of a spouse. The word closure gagged him.

Her name was Jane. She was returning home from Thursday’s 3-11 at the hospital when a sixteen-year-old girl named Chelsea shitfaced on Barefoot wine escaladed through a red light at fifty miles per hour. She hit the driver’s side of Jane’s VW Bug. The force of impact, aided by seat belt and airbag, literally ripped his wife in half. At brunch that morning, they had made the decision to go off the pill. Her last words to him: “Tom, I want to have your baby.”


“God, Tom. Trust me. It’s grisly.” He knew Doctor Peters from St. Andrews; they had served together in a fundraising campaign. But he insisted on seeing her face, just her face, one last time. “O.k. You’ll have to give us a little while. Sit over there.” The waiting room smelled like fear. He saw the tattered book on the end table, strangely out of place. One would expect back issues of Time or People, not Legends of the Fall. That’s how he felt - tattered; he was not supposed to be there either. Years ago, before he met her, he was driving east on I-30 out of Dallas, along rows of black earth while Copland’s “Tender Land” played on the radio. Song and soil charmed long held tears. He had never wept like that before. Until now. The nurse said “Mr. Nichols, you can come back now” and the book throbbed, a life beacon. So he grabbed it and held on. When the sheet was pulled back, he wished he’d listened to Dr. Peters.

Tom read Harrison’s three novellas on the third day after Jane died. Raw grief coupled with jubilant prose. An extravagant darkness was conceived.

Jane’s father was a Baptist minister. He officiated at their July wedding: What God hath joined together. Two years later, in the same month, her father presided over what a teenager had put asunder. The good reverend surprised everyone graveside by screaming Lama sabachtani! with raised fists. This singular act comforted Tom. Then Jane’s mother, Gwen, swooned. The two “survived by” sisters rushed to their mother’s side; Jenny and Leslie both vying for best supporting actress in a dramatic moment. Tom said goddamn and walked away toward the pines that surrounded the cemetery, side-stepping the dead. Honeysuckle filled the air. Cries of Tom! Come back, Tom! could not compete with the cicadas. Then the sound of running water.

The swift creek met him not a mile away. His grief was parched in the cemetery, thirsty. He shed the Haspel suit bought especially for the occasion, then decided t-shirt and boxers too. A half dozen blue jays screamed as a naked man crawled into the creek on all fours. He told Giardia to go to hell and lapped at the water like a dog.


That was almost a year ago. He had been awarded a sizeable settlement after the accident. The teenager’s father was a long-seated congressman with a family legacy in oil. Tom used some of the money to pay off Jane’s student loans. He put half of what remained in savings. With the rest, he left.

Family and friends had told him not to make rash decisions so soon after Jane’s death. Don’t sell the house. Don’t give away her clothes. Draw the curtains. Give yourself time to grieve. But he could not resist the full-nature growing within him. And so he disappointed them by following everything but their advice. It would become a habit.

The mountain town of Grand Lake, Colorado had long been attractive to him. The realtor showed him a small chic cabin for rent at the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. An aspect of her “showing” included the retelling: Legend has it that one summer the Utes were camped along the Grand Lake shore. An Arapaho and Cheyenne war party ambushed them. During the melee, the Ute women and children escaped on a large raft, pushing out into the safety of the lake while the battle raged. Suddenly, the wind grew wild and a gust overturned the raft. All the women and children drowned. 

The Ute warriors who survived the battle lived from then on grief-stricken, haunted. The story goes that in the winter, when the lake was frozen, they could hear the shrieks of women and crying children from beneath the ice. Some say you can still hear them, if you listen. His tears dropped unashamed. “Yes, I’ll take it.”

Those autumn and winter months, he let himself go. Early mornings were filled with reading the corpus of Harrison’s work. Dusk was spent walking the lake’s edge, listening. Every day was sabbath.

He discovered this running theme in Harrison: Saudade – the Portuguese notion of a person or place or sense of life irretrievably lost. Only the dream might be recovered. Only the dream...

Time to Smithereens

If you watch television near a window you note that life doesn't move all that much outside unless you're near a highway or crowded city street. You keep making subliminal primate adjustments to all that fast action on television and end up with a scrambled mind that takes a while to regather itself. Your accomplishment is that you've quite literally killed time.
- Jim Harrison, The Road Home

As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.
- Henry David Thoreau, "Economy," Walden, 1854

I've been thinking lately about some of this new reality we're living in; mediums like Facebook and Twitter and such. I'm "on" Facebook and was feeling a little confident when great horneytoads they changed the look and now I'm a little queasy. And twitter? Well, that little bird makes me think of The Partridge Family and all of a sudden I'm seeing Susan Dey as Laurie Partridge on piano in a short skirt and well, cmongethappy.

Now I realize I'm about two d's from a Luddite. I also realize I'm living in this new reality and no, it ain't going away. But there's something I believe we need to be careful of as we twitter in each other's faces. And that's what we're doing with time; namely, blowing it to smithereens.

I mean, what, after all, is "real time"? There's the real time messaging we do throughout the day and the real time scenarios played out on television and the web and then there's the real time you notice sitting by a window, which most of us don't do because it's, well, slow. It's that time in which seasons change and animals burrow and folks write novels and success finally comes and your beard thickens and you realize what for better or worse really means. Yeah, that time.

Here are two examples. First, I remember a time, driving back into Santa Fe with a friend after having visited Christ in the Desert Monastery. I don't think we said much of anything on that drive. We just drove. And friendship thickened like soup on the stove overnight. Real time. In this "other time" we'd of been required to keep telling each other what we were thinking or updating our status or something and chances are, by the time we got back to Santa Fe, we'd been about ready to kill each other. Or at least "unfriend" one another.

And second, there's the way we all too often read the Bible. We don't read entire books or letters at a time; no, we read verses or a couple of chapters or a devotional thought. Not a one of these approaches values "real time." A couple of chapters in Acts under our belt and we believe our lives oughta be an unbroken string of signs and wonders, displays of power. That's a lot more exciting than two week's worth of listening to disgruntled widows not getting their due or the several hundred year gap between testaments when God was fairly quiet. And then there's Jesus not coming until the fullness of time, which to my mind, indicates it took time for time to get full.

And that raises another aspect of all this; namely, that we believe talking or typing or texting is thinking. RU4Real?

I haven't got it all figured out yet, but something's going on with this "time" thing. Give me a little, well, time and maybe I'll have more clarity on it. Maybe I'm just getting old and don't really care for busy cities and enjoy just sitting by windows, not talking or typing or texting, just thinking...

Mark 11.15-17, sorta

Once upon a Sunday, Jesus and his disciples drove into Colorado Springs, easily one of America's holy cities. They wanted to worship the Father with other believers. As they stepped into the Welcome Center of one of Outreach magazine's 100 Most Influential Churches, Jesus' eyes grew wild, feral. The disciples stepped back from the Son of Man.

Jesus walked straight to the coffee bar where folks were socially networking and building faux community and pitched all the condiments on the tiled floor. Then he threw a glass carafe at the liquid plasma TV on the wall scrolling how to "do life together." Not even taking a breath, he turned and ran to the God's Men display, complete with Braveheart sword in the middle. Jesus took the broadsword and totally demolished the books and DVD curriculum that had been painstakingly arranged in relevant stacks. One of the elders directed the security guards to "move in!" The leader of Growing Spiritual Champions began shielding the children behind her skinny jeans, screaming "Who the hell do you think you are?"

Breathless, Jesus wept: "You're lost; lost, I tell you! Tell the leaders to pastor; search and find the old words. For it is written My house shall be known as a house of prayer. You pray and beg God to "show up"? Well, I'm here and I hate this!"

[Notes - As I read this passage this morning, it seemed so remote, so sterile. The thought struck me that unless we can "see" this passage in a way that brazenly offends much of what we currently hold dear, then our lips are near, but our hearts are far away. There was no intent to translate, but rather paraphrase "cotton-patch" style.]

More Conversation with God

God: My, you're up early.

Me: (grimaces) Indigestion.

God: It was all that cheese.

Me: I knew it.

God: Are you sure you want to do this today? I mean, on your blog? You received some affirming words about our conversation yesterday. It might be tempting to try and copy-cat or even one-better it today. Or not try at all.

Me: Goodness, cuttin' to the chase early, Lord.

: Well, you're up and I'd hate for you to start the gift in fear.

Me: (takes 2 Tums) Please have mercy. I'll let this be what it is.

God: I am. And yes, let it be. So, what are you thinking about right now?

Me: (hesitates)

God: John?

Me: I'm thinking about a movie I saw last night. But then a part of me thought I should be thinking about Lent or Rwanda or something.

God: (laughs) I thought we weren't going to one-better this? This really only works if you tell the truth. Rachel Getting Married - I saw it too. And?

Me: Do you remember the part where Anne Hathaway's character lied in rehab and her sister found out and confronted her with the recovery-only-works-if-you-tell-the-truth speech? Wait...Lord, you just said that, right?

God: I remember. And yes, I did. I'm glad Anne received that Oscar nomination.

Me: (grins) Me too.

God: Nice moon out this morning. I love these conversations we have.

Me: (tears) Yeah, me too.

Conversation with God

Me: Mornin', Lord.

God: Mornin'. Nice moon, huh?

Me: Gorgeous and full; you know I like that.

God: I do know that.

Me: A Southern Baptist pastor was shot the other day, I believe while preaching. Folks thought it was a skit, but it wasn't.

God: Yes, I was there. It wasn't a skit. Blood was shed. Children's eyes were opened too soon.

Me: Is heaven richer now, with Rev. Winters there?

God: Earth is poorer.

Me: Yes, that's what I thought too.

God: You know, I heard you, when you prayed for your friend, the one looking for work.

Me: He's a good man, Lord. George-Bailey-good. He'll be a father soon too...well, you know that. Please help him, Lord.

God: I am.

Me: Lotta church folk asking isn't there more? these days.

God: It is not that what is isn't enough, for it is; it is that what is has been disarranged, and is crying out to be put in place.

Me: Mercy, that's good.

God: (Grins) I can't take direct credit for those words; they're from Madeleine, as in L'Engle. She's here, you know. Heaven is richer.

Me: (Grins)

God: You've got a birthday coming up, right?

Me: (Grins wider)

God: Forty-two years. My, my...

Me: When you knit me, did you know everything that was going to happen?

God: (a tear falls) Mostly. But my knitting is not as you knit. (divine pause) Is there anything you'd like for your birthday? I mean, if you're going to ask somebody, then...

Me: Well, a new ball cap would be the berries. The one I've worn for eight years now needs to be retired. It's got some Southern Baptist missions logo on the back; I believe a missionary gave it to me.

God: You've got a decent memory. You've been on quite a crooked little path, but Southern Baptist - that's where you cut your teeth, right?

Me: (a tear falls) life's been richer for it.

God: (Smiles) Your welcome. It's a wonderful life, John. I'll be with you today.

Me: Thanks. Amen.

Some Days

Some days are better than others; days like this past Friday.

She was all agog at the prospect of the afternoon with me. It would be just the two of us. Her brother would be at a friend's after school and her sister and mother would be at a Girl Scout party. Five minus three leaves two - she and me. Her nickname since birth has been sunshine.

Her mom, my wife, met me at the predetermined drop-off at 12:45pm. Little miss sunshine got into my '97 black Dodge Stratus and we drove away.

Do you have any good music in here?

I've got some John Denver. How's that?

Uh, let's listen to the radio. Why don't we eat at Noodles?

Excellent choice, my dear.

As we made our way across the parking lot to the restaurant, she took my hand.

We both ordered mac-n-cheese and used chopsticks to stir sugar in our iced tea and sat across from each other in a booth and talked like fathers and daughters should. The conversation was filling; we do not live by mac-n-cheese alone.

Where to from here, Dad?

Well, you really need a couple of new shirts. How about some shopping?

Excellent suggestion, old boy.

The next thing I know I'm sitting outside the dressing room in Old Navy, waiting for the sun to shine. Several very young Old Navy females smiled at me; however, these were not God, what a man! smiles but rather Oh, how sweet! giggles. I returned the smiles, wondering if I had mac-n-cheese in my beard.

I'm not sure about all the deep-down-every-girl-is-a-princess emphasis these days. I'm just not sure. That's o.k. But I can tell you this. Each time my daughter came out of that dressing room, she spun, twirled, curtsied, and danced before me. Someone might say that's what girls do when they're trying on new clothes at Old Navy. Bullshit. Everything, and I mean everything, from that store looks like a t-shirt and t-shirts don't elicit spinning. No, the axis she twirled upon was, well, me - the Dad. In those dressing room moments, there was no other female on earth except for her; even the young Old Navies had faded. She had my undivided attention. And sunshine beamed.

Nothing wow-ed us, so I suggested a couple of other stores. As we left the Navy, she took my hand. We were searching for something just right; mostly what we found was too small, too big, too long, dear-Lord-too-short, too little-girly, too collegiate, was Goldilocks revisited, allowing the old bear to tag along.

I could conclude this story in a very postmodern, angst-filled way, with Goldilocks never finding the just right; something like: The little girl realized that life is not a fairy tale, you don't seek and find. No, the harsh fluorescent mall lighting revealed it's the journey that matters and being in the moment and you're on your own, even beside the ones you love. Blah, blah...blah, blah. Dear God help us all. But I cannot conclude in such a fashion for that's not how this story ends.

We walked, hand-in-hand, through the perfumed entrance to Macy's, which is probably owned by Old Navy or vice versa. And there, in the Girls 7-16 section, they were. A white top with a scalloped (didn't know I could use fashion words like that, did ya?) neck with embroidered flowers at the top and a pair of lightly faded blue jean shorts that came to the knees. Classic hippie sans the angst. She tried them on. Just right. Goldilocks and the old bear swiped the debit card and walked back through the gauntlet of white-jacketed-fragrance gals misting Clinique's Happy in the air. I thought what the hell, might as well smell like we feel. It was too hot for soup and we didn't want to wait for it to cool, so a Sonic blizzard with M&Ms capped her afternoon happily ever after. Mine too.

I could further conclude this story by saying that I arrange dad-daughter afternoons like this frequently. But I cannot. I want to try and do better at this while there's still time. I can say two things though. First of all, thank you to the Grace that keeps this world for a golden afternoon. Some days are better than others. And last, a word to all the dads out there who don't read blogs but your wives do; in the voice of that Old Navy looking singer -

On behalf of every man
Looking out for every girl
You are the god and the weight of her world
So fathers be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do...

Believe in the Dark?

His question was pointed: "Who do you say I am?"

Peter spoke: "You are Messiah."

And then warnings and instruction, like a father to children: "Don't tell anyone, anyone, about me. The Son of Man, me, I must...endure...endure many things. And those in authority - elders, chief priests, scholars - they will disown me...and kill me. Three days later, I will rise again." Jesus spoke plainly.

Peter, still somewhat in the wake of "You are Messiah", tried to handle him and caution him.

But the Son of Man would have none of it. He turned around to see his disciples. He whispered to Peter: "Don't handle me, Satan. Your thoughts are not God's thoughts."

Peter was speechless.

Jesus called the crowd and his disciples to come close: "If anyone, anyone, wants to try and catch me, let him try. But he will have to shed his skin, wrap himself in a cross, and run hard after me. If you try to save your own skin, just know you'll lose. But if anyone, anyone at all, will believe in the dark - me and my good news - just know you'll be saved. Your skin or your soul? Just know that one must lose."
- Mark 8.31-37

[Notes - I love this word endure. Most translations use the word suffer, but endure has the nuance of one acting decisively, rather than as a victim. I also saw Jesus whispering to Peter as opposed to calling him out in front of everyone. You may disagree, but I see it as a difference in style between Jesus and Satan. The former didn't come to bruise the reed; the latter is all about shame. And as I read through these verses, I was struck by the phrase believe in the dark, a.k.a, faith. The phrase felt appropriate in these Lenten days...]

I tried...

So you see, I came originally from the center. I tried to stay. But the edge beckoned...
- Charles Bowden, Blues for Cannibals

I tried. I really tried. I sat down and tried to participate, be a witness. But I'd been up since 3:30am and it was then 6:30pm and the room was dark, lit only by candles, and the music was soft and moody and the voices were quiet and reverent and everybody got real still and Lent-like. My family was fully in the moment, so too the people around me, all standing when prompted, singing loudly the songs on high screens. I tried to stay. But the edge beckoned. It was centrifugal - spinning, pulling, slipping.

If I say that I have no sin, I deceive myself...

Come on, God. Is this my Lent? To be among the people, but not of them? The emphasis last night was on telling our stories, being a this the story I'm to tell, God? Hey, everyone, I'm over here, on the edge. Don't worry about me. I tried to stay. I really did. But the scripture was cotton stuffed in my mouth and the songs put me to death and instead of the white of candlelight, I needed bright, rusty, blood-red something, I don't know what, but something red, something like what's on the tips of my fingers as I tried to hold on but couldn't, scraping, clawing to stay. But the edge beckoned. But maybe, just maybe someone needs to be on the edge, tipsy with Lent-lust and exhaustion with Sunday's communion wine still in his beard and bloodshot eyes...then again, maybe that's it. That could be it. Maybe the Lenten wheel is turning, gathering steam, like some god-awful-centrifuge; yes, maybe that's it. We'd all love to stay in the center, all Christmas-like, but Lent starts spinning, pulling, and we all begin careening toward the edge, clawing with blood-red fingers to stay in the creche with baby Jesus and the cattle lowing. But we can't. We're trying, but we can't. And maybe, just maybe I'm the first to go, some forerunner, an example of what it looks like. A witness. A fool. A sinner. Maybe Lent is the love of God going helter-skelter-spinning-crazy, throwing everyone and everything, all creation, off it's center, hurling us screaming and scraping the floor to the edges where the darkness lives, where death lives. For only that which dies can be resurrected.

As for now, this is my story. This is my song.

Funky White Boys

I wrote the other day about valuing the beautiful no during Lent. Yesterday morning I received numerous, repeated no's from my son: No, Dad, I'm not going to church. This went on for about a half hour. I gave him the two minute warning: Get dressed; we're going as a family. I respect your desire not to go, but you have no choice. If you've not yet had moments like that with your children, I believe you will, just wait. If you reply with a beautiful no that your kids just don't do that kinda stuff, then I bow before you, o great parenter of spiritual champions, and beg that you pray for the rest of us mere mortals. That last sentence is dripping, I tell you the truth dripping with sarcasm.

Back at the ranch, following church, he came in my bedroom: Dad, I'm sorry I was in a funk this morning. I just was. I gave him a hug, brushed his mane back from his eyes: We all get funky sometimes, white boy.

Later that afternoon, I told him I was going for a run and asked if he wanted to ride along on his bike. A beautiful yes. As we donned our wicking clothing and such, he said Dad, you should get some longer shorts; I can see too much of your legs. Obviously the grand sweep of my quadriceps was overwhelming to him. What, my muscles too big for you, white boy? My son chuckled, I tell you the truth chuckled in my face: Yeah, I'm really envious, Dad. I was self-conscious the entire run.

He rode ahead of me, stayed where I could see him. I huffed along behind on bird-legs, praying for him each step of the trail. I prayed for him, for his mom and sisters, for his girlfriend, for him again, shucks, even prayed for me; it got quite rhythmic. He only had to stop a couple of times, such was the distance between us. Thanks for stopping for the old man. He would just grin: sure.

The evening concluded with my twelve year old white boy in my lap, I tell you the truth my lap watching The Amazing Race. I made some editorial comments along the way, as only a skinny-legged man can truly do, and he laughed aloud. Inside, I felt the beautiful yes. One of the male contestants in the race so amazing was crying, having made some poor decisions. I spoke to the screen: Hey, get a Kleenex and some backbone, and get back in the race. More laughter from this boy-man in my lap.

And I thought yep, we all make poor decisions, get funky on ourselves and those around us; even get teary. It's best to wipe our eyes, ask for forgiveness, and cowboy up 'cause the race is still on. And we're not finished yet.

I may possibly look into purchasing some longer shorts as it looks like I've still got a lot of running ahead of me. The beautiful maybe.

In my own words

Once upon a day, something good from Nazareth, Jesus, came and John pushed him face-first completely in the muddy Jordan. As Jesus broke the river's brown coming up, the blue above tore and the Spirit flapped to him like a dove.

There was a voice out of the sky: My son, the loved one. You are my heart's delight.

Then the Spirit wrangled him, still dripping wet, into the dry margins where wild animals lived. Jesus was badgered by Satan forty days and nights.

The angels were close at hand.

Then John was handed over and Jordan's surface was stilled. Jesus tramped into Galilee announcing something good: It is time. God's reign is here. Now turn around and believe.

Mark 1.9-15