Know When to Hold 'em

My daughters are in their bunk beds.  My son is on the floor, in their room, in my sleeping bag. They are supposed to be falling asleep but they're playing ask-a-question.  My son just whispered Which one of the Jonas Brothers would you go out with?  I didn't catch their answer; I really don't care.  What I do care about is the fact that for now, my children love being with each other.  Oh, they've got friends, good friends, and have sleepovers and playdates and such, but they also enjoy, beyond those friends, the company of one another.  I'd love to give you a parenting nugget right now, one of those new-kid-by-next-Wednesday type tips that you could take home and try yourself and viola! your kids would love each other.  But I don't have any of those. Why in the holy s'mores my kids get along well these days, I cannot say.  I sure don't believe it's due to savvy parenting skills. What I can say is thank you, thank you very much to the Grace that keeps this world.  And keep on truckin'.  

My middle just whispered Would you rather swim with alligators or battle Voldemort?  Of course, either way you'd probably die.  Her brother and sister laugh and say yeah.  I've got to agree, although if I had to choose, it'd be the alligators; that Voldemort, he's a scary son of a gun.

My youngest just whispered Would you prefer a smoothie with fish guts or an apple-banana-mud-sandwich?  Ah, the third born a clown finally lobs a food category question.  Her siblings' answers are divided against themselves.  The house cannot stand and the game slowly dissolves.  

There's a little more laughter and then their voices fall still, not a creature is stirring.  I'll check on them in a few minutes, make sure the radio's off and the blankets are on.  Summer is here, but the nights in CO are still chilly.  I'll probably do a little whispering myself as I patrol the borders of their room:
Children of mine all in one room together, sleep well. May the Grace that keeps this world keep you safe this airish night.
The Jonas brothers and that sparky Olympian from Dancing with the Stars, or at least boys and girls who look like them, will come along soon enough wanting to date or dance or something. For now, I hope you'll dream of alligators with teeth made of squishy bananas who prefer smoothies with fish guts to kids anyway.  And if that old Voldemort should cross your mind, remember the old magic that kept Harry safe in the first place - his parent's love. If anyone should ask me if I'd rather have you or three other kids who speak two languages fluently and know all the answers to bible trivia and never sneak ice cream for breakfast, I'd say "this gambler wants the cards he was dealt."  And I do.  
If you should need us, the Beagle's sprawled out in the den and Mom and I are just across the hall...only God knows how much I love you.            


For there was a nostalgia in the darkness...
B.H. Fairchild, "A Man in a Machine Shop"

I read these words from Psalm 105, Twenty-first day: Morning Prayer - 
36 He struck down the firstborn of their land,
the firstfruits of all their strength.

I usually read with the grafted-in-eyes of those delivered. But on this day I tried to imagine myself an aged Egyptian father...

I mumble godless prayers most days - 
Let evening come.  Let evening come.
For only in shadow can I see my son's face,
sunlight thieves my memory.
The horse and rider he hath thrown into the sea;
they were the fortunate fathers.
But me?  I was left to wander grief's shore.

She carried other sons after him,
but he was my strength, my might, my first.
Many years I struck back at the hebrew deity,
cursing a god I could not see.
But no more.  
I am old and tired;
only the sadness remains.

His people are long gone now, 
as are the locusts and the hail.
Still, I continually seek his face.
The great Nile calls my name,
so on feeble legs I slip beneath the surface of time.
My faith?  A millstone
and the undertow of memory.

To the Class of 2009

Benjamin Button: [Voice over; letter to his daughter] For what it's worth: it's never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There's no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you're proud of. If you find that you're not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.


Dear Graduating Class of 2009,

Had a college or high school, shucks even an elementary school, invited me to give their commencement speech, I would have gladly accepted.  I'd of put on a tie even.  But no one asked.  Therefore, I'm writing you a letter which you will probably never see. However, there is a sliver of a chance you might for I now have 14 followers, that's two more than Jesus had, and sometimes followers can spread the word.  Sometimes.

Here is my advice, boiled down to three little words, as you step across your particular threshold: Choose your life.

There will be days when life will choose for you.  You will wake up feeling weak and the doctor will whisper cancer. You'll get a phone call that Mama died.  Your company will downsize leaving no room for you.  The note on the kitchen table will read I've fallen out of love with you - goodbye.  There will be days like that; such is the way of this life on this planet.  

But there will be other days, maybe just as many if not more, when life will say Choose.  The reins will slack enough so that you can choose the next direction or the next word or the next bite.  Each and every day we make decisions either for or against the precious life we've been given.  Phrases like well, whatever or I really don't care are not acceptable; they are the words of a coward.  There are plenty of cowards who are alive, but it's only the brave who are living.

Yes, there are consequences to every choice, but I'm afraid we sometimes focus so much on what the consequences might be that we strip away the absolute rush in the veins that comes from being able to make the choice.  It's like missing the questions for the answers and questions, at least in this life, are why we keep getting up in the morning. The questions always come first; they are the dew on the morning.  

You need to know, if you don't already, that people will try and make your choices for you.  Sometimes, oftentimes, these are the people closest to you.  As you choose your life, be firm but not mean.  It takes a while to learn how to do that, maybe a long, long time, but it's worth figuring out how to do.  If you hurt some people, often those closest to you, as you learn this, then you can choose to say I'm sorry or not.  The choice is yours.  But as for the meanness, remember this: There's no excuse for being an asshole.  I thought about saying that differently, but I chose to say it in a way you'd remember it.  And hopefully you will.

So there you have it:  Choose your life.  Congratulations on getting to this point.  Whether by hook or by crook, you've made it this far.  Where and how you go from here is not entirely up to you, but you get to have a say in it.  You really do. I hope you make the best of it.



The Long Surrender

And then came the long surrender...
B.H. Fairchild, "Rave On"

The larger church an hour away came courting
and my father accepted the call.
Whether it was his will or God's,
the son had no choice but to follow.
It was the first exodus of my memory;
a confused goodbye to yellow roses and 
the den where we heard Elvis is dead and
a trinity of Methodist boys named Jimmy and Steven and Billy Mark
and of course, her.

We were voted king and queen of the Valentine banquet one year,
a coronation that told an east Texas town we're a couple.
Her schoolteacher parents arrived early each morning,
while I rode the bus arriving just on time.
She was always there waiting for me, always.
To say it wasn't love is a grown-up lie.

Her mother organized a going away party for me.
School kids pooled money for a photo album - "in remembrance of us."
Jimmy gave the Baptist preacher's son his first St. Christopher.
She gave me a gold Speidel bracelet that read John,
and violent sixth-grade tears.
Please don't go cried the queen.
As a king of twelve, I had visions of marrying Lori.
But where there is no vision, the fox can spoil the queen.
I went back, years later, and asked about her.
Well, that basketball coach, you knew him, he stole her heart.
He was forty years old and married with kids; 
poor little girl was just fifteen.  My lord.
I was a man by then, old enough to question 
both the will of God and my father.
I drove to the park where royalty used to swing, and cried.

An Incompleat Post

The human mind and heart are a mystery...Psalm 64.7

...he was already far ahead of me in anything relating to fishing and it was he who first found a copy of The Compleat Angler and reported back to me, "The bastard doesn't even know how to spell 'complete.'"
- Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

Me: "Do you want me to shut this window for the night?"

Her: "No, it's o.k.  Just leave it open."

And that was that.  The season has changed.  When my girlfriend is willing to sleep with the window open, then I know the winter is over.  As an aside, I might clarify that my girlfriend and my wife are one in the same.  Years ago she attended one of my graduate school classes one day and the prof noticed and asked, "John, is this your wife or your girlfriend?"  In front of her and him and God and a roomful of ethics students I said, "Yes."  And that was that.  You see, she compleats me.  And, I might add, if you're a writer and you write a sentence like "sleeping with my girlfriend last night" then there's an air of mystery and intrigue about your human mind and heart.

But when she said that last night, I knew the times they were a'changin'.  That's fine really.  I'm ready to put away the coats and gloves and bring out the linen.  As an aside, I might say that linen is the perfect fabric for spring and summer.  When you wear it, or at least when I wear it, I feel like I'm practically wearing nothing, nothing at all.  And that, I might add, makes you, or at least it makes me, feel all mysterious and intriguing, like a man who has a girlfriend or writes cosmopolitan sentences using the word compleat.

Yes, it'll probably snow once more around the 4th of July or something, but for the most part summer is here.  The kids are all wearing flip-flops.  I must say that I do not understand this shoe choice.  Sure, I've worn them in the shower at summer camp or kept them in the boat whilst doing some compleat angling, but as daily footwear?  Sweet christmas, what if a rottweiler started chasing you or your girlfriend and you had to run for it?  Yeah, the news at ten would report something like: Earlier today, a mysterious man wearing linen was suddenly chased by a family of rottweilers.  He looked fairly swift of foot for a forty-something, but damn the luck, he was wearing flip-flops.  The rottweilers reported that due to him being rather skinny combined with the linen, it was like eating nothing, nothing at all.

So yes, the girlfriend and I slept with the window open last night.  I was gently wakened about 4:30 by the sound of birds, chirping mysteriously in the moonlight.  The chirps were suddenly overtaken, rottweilerish, by the sound of the train.  I snuggled next to her for a moment.  It was quite chilly, the window being open and all.  And then, for just a few breaths, there was compleat silence, like nothing, nothing at all.


God Talk

I've come across several folks this week citing a NY Times blogpost titled "God Talk."  The post is Stanley Fish's review of Terry Eagleton's book Reason, Faith, and Revolution.  I might read the book, might not, it's hard to tell.  But I did read the review, three times.  Eagleton and Fish are howling against "school-yard atheists" like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, folks who believe that religion has nothing to offer us.  When I checked the post again there were over 700 comments; that's about 695 more than I ever get.

I'm sure that if I were asked to debate Hitchens and/or Dawkins around their idea of an "outmoded, left-over medieval superstition", a.k.a. God, they could in no time flat reduce me to a pool of water, kinda like when that mean old magician locks the greenhouse door and Frosty the Snowman melts.  Trust me, I'm not a debater; it would not be pretty.

But it did get to me thinking about reason, faith, and revolution...and atheism and Frosty.  I realize the fact that I'm about to talk about God and Frosty in the same breath would cause Hitchens and/or Dawkins to guffaw on the floor in glee.  That's fine by me.  A hearty guffaw indicates you're in the backyard of Grace whether you believe or not.

It seems to me that somewhere along the way we tossed that old silk hat we'd trusted in for so long.  Why and when?  God only knows.  Based on everything we could see or measure via telescopes and microscopes, religion no longer offered, as Hitchens has said, "an explanation of anything important."  Eagleton counters: "But Christianity was never meant to be an explanation of anything in the first place."  Mercy, there's a clear case of two wrongs making a wronger.

Anyway, that old silk hat was found wanting, good for nothing.  And so the revolution was afoot.  We moved on further east of Eden in search of a reasonable faith, certain there's an app for that.  

But every once in a while, on the outskirts of town, we're certain we hear the sound of children laughing and playing, running and having some fun, saying catch us if you can.  And the piper leading the bunch is wearing that old silk hat.  Are these literal children?  Sure, some days; of such is the Kingdom.  Other days, the children are a little older, such as those jolly, happy Amish souls with corncob pipes extending something called forgiveness to the family of the man who stole their children.  My, my...there must have been some magic in that old silk hat that day...

Eagleton and Fish concede that "there are no guarantees...a transfigured future will ever be born."  As I said, I'm not a debater.  But I am a storyteller.  And so, Mr. Hitchens and/or Dawkins, you too Mr. Eagleton; pull up a chair, Fish.  There's an old, old story, a fairy tale some say, that speaks of a particular day when a transfigured future was born.  It was a boy, God with meat.  Sure, I know that sounds like something only a child could believe.  The story says it'll be that way.  The boy grew and could run and play just the same as you and me.  His outmoded, inefficient ways of love and compassion got him into trouble.  A mean old magician asked us to choose a god and we pointed to the traitor of progress.  We sent the man-God packing with a broomstick across his shoulders.  There was a traffic cop, of sorts, who did pause a moment and say "truly...truly."  And the boy born God melted away.  The story goes that the little ones saw him again.  He had to hurry on his way, but he waved goodbye, saying "don't you cry, I'll be back again someday...I'm leaving that old silk hat...follow it."

And so the old silk hat thumpety thump thumps as presidents pass 100 days and atheists become rock stars and British critics and NY Times columnists grow angry...yet some of us good for nothings keep following that hat...  




What You See Little Eyes...

Oh, be careful little eyes what you see.
Oh, be careful little eyes what you see.
For the Father up above, is looking down in love,
Oh, be careful little eyes what you see.

The remaining verses of this song highlight the ears, mouth, hands, and feet; in other words, what you hear, say, do and where you go.  Such a song as this was a staple in the church of my childhood.  We learned it early and sang it often.

But when I became a man, so the scriptures tell me, I'm to put away childish things.  In regard to this song, I believe that involves a slight change in word order; it's subtle, but I believe significant.  Here we go:

What you see little eyes, see with care.
What you see little eyes, see with care.
Our Father's always near; there's no need for us to fear.
What you see little eyes, see with care.

The version I learned as a child emphasizes the avoidance of certain sights, sounds, words, actions, and places; a cautionary ditty of secular versus sacred.  I've no problem with that as a way to begin.  But as I grow older and my hair hints at gray and my midsection thickens,  I agree with Kentucky poet/farmer Wendell Berry:

There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.
("How To Be a Poet")

And so I believe an evolution must take place, from fear to care.  Whatever in this little life I see, I'm to see him/her/it with care, a.k.a, "moved with compassion."  The same goes for whatever in this little life I hear, say, and so on.  Each new day, by way of coming to my senses, I can, like Teilhard de Chardin, say my Mass upon the altar of the world, "to divinize the new day."

I'm thinking thoughts such as these because someone asked me just the other day "Are you a Christian writer?"  I remembered the Johnny Cash answer: "I'm an artist who is a Christian.  I'm not a Christian artist."  If I'm a Christian artist, then I have to "Oh, be careful" to write stories that stick to a script that some governing body out there deems "christian" - stories filled with the avoidance of certain sights, sounds, smells, words, actions, and places.  But if I'm an artist who is a Christian, then I can offer up my words and sentences upon the altar of the world, filled with what my eyes have seen and my ears have heard.  It is, I believe, a stewardship; I can witness with care, avoiding nothing and possibly re-sacralizing something, maybe even someone, along my little way.

Perfect love casteth out fear.  A good man named John wrote those words, a writer who was a Christian...