Nineteen lord...

I stood before her, nineteen years ago today, and promised.  She did the same.  By the authority invested in him and with tears in his eyes, my minister-father pronounced us husband and wife. We kissed, turned to face God and those witnesses, and stepped into the rest of our lives.  It was a June afternoon in Arkansas and hotter than sin.  We were just kids, I tell

A lot of folks these days write their own wedding vows.  As a pastor, I used to encourage couples to if they wanted to; if I were still a pastor, I wouldn't.  Those old fashioned vows are hard to beat: for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and health, to love and to cherish... There's a lot of space between those words of extremes.

We were driving home last night after dinner with some friends and our middle girl was singing that Dixie Chicks song - wide open spaces/room to make a big mistake.  The song specifically speaks of a young girl heading off from parents and the familiar to make her way.  But as good country songs do, there's something there for everybody.  Today, celebrating nineteen years of marriage, I think that line our daughter crooned is a pretty good one for husbands and wives.

I've officiated at a wedding that was decorated to the nines and Ken and Barbie didn't last a year.  I've also stood before two giggly teenagers in a trailer park and spoke the words and crossed my fingers and last I heard, they were still giggling and married.  My lord.  Why did one fizz while the other still giggles?  Best I can tell - Grace & space: the Grace that keeps this world & room to make mistakes both big and small.  I've made more mistakes in my marriage than Washington D.C. has lonely people, but so far, by the Grace of God & Meredith, there has been space to make them.  

That good Franciscan, Richard Rohr, says the only way men learn anything after about the age of 30 is by way of failure.  Up to that age men need some wins/successes, but after that, success has nothing to teach; failure, however, does.  I believe the same holds true for marriage.  Some early days, maybe even years, of everything turning daisy is good and needed. But after a while, when the flower fades and the grass withereth, failure is the only teacher. And the question in those days, weeks, months, even years is, well, is there room for this?  The vows fashioned of old say as much.  Meredith and I are committed to wide open spaces; it's hard but most things worth anything are hard.  I may end up one of these days in front of a trailerhome sitting in a lawn chair...I'll take it, as long as she's in other chair, giggling.

Some of you out there read books and such.  My two favorite marriage books are Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner and The Maytrees by Annie Dillard.  They are books of great space...and amazing grace.

Meredith, I love you.  And that statement about our doublewide was just for giggles...maybe...       



Send in the Clowns

"I spent the last five days of my life crying in Argentina," he said.  

That sentence was a part of the public confession from the lips of South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, or what puer aeternus George Stephanopoulos called "his performance."  I'm guessing you saw it, heard it, read about it, or at least you have now.

"What cannot be said will get wept." - Jim Harrison

We all react differently to revelations such as this.  But I believe with all I am that our response, as least the one by the church on earth, the body of Christ, the visible representation of Jesus Jesus-self, is to be tears.  As the good book says, "Weep with those who weep."

Yes, John, but isn't he getting what he deserves?  Ah, justice - the current golden calf for many in the Lord's army, yes sir.  We've castrated Micah 6.8.  We must be careful little hands what we cut for there is something in that verse which we christians or christ-followers or little christs or whatever we want to call ourselves are called to love...and that something is mercy. Only by loving mercy can justice worth a God's blood be done to the uttermost.

Yes, John, but what if his tears were those of a crocodile?  I'm not a tearologist nor do I play one on tv, so I really cannot say.  I will roll the dice and say they were the tears of a clown; a man, flesh and blood like thee and me, whose public persona covered a private circus of broken vows.  If we cannot weep for the clown, and maybe we can't, then let us weep for his wife and children, his staff, the people who elected him, his parents, the lady in Argentina...hell, let us weep even for ourselves for we too often paint on a smile and juggle our lives.  And sooner or later, we'll all drop the ball.


Last night's episode

We sat on top of the bed covers, reading in our pajamas,
like some old couple with legs stuck straight out in front of us.
"I'm glad one of us has pretty feet," she said.
We both kept reading as her grin warmed the room.
I shook my fist in the cool night air:
"One of these of these days."

Through the open window we heard chicken conversations next door.
"You put the neighbor's chickens in the house, right?"
She had admired the four fresh eggs I retrieved earlier,
three browns and a white.
Still, I affirmed her suspicions.
"Good.  I'm glad one of us is responsible," she grinned.

Interesting week here in Lake Sinbegone

[I live just outside of Colorado Springs; based on the number of Christian ministries there, it is the evangelical equivalent of Mecca]

Well, I figured it would be a rather quiet week here in Lake Sinbegone.  Summer's here and folks are staycationing, renting Benjamin Button and all.  But bless God, I am always surprised. On Tuesday, Focus on the Family president Jim Daly announced that male employees no longer had to wear business attire, including neckties, and female employees can now wear those snappy pantsuits like Hil Clin.  According to one report, employees stood and shouted hallelujah! in response to the good news.  Some of them wanted to lift holy hands and turn on the new fog machine, but around here, one thing at time, please.  

However, the most liberating aspect of Tuesday's news was permission for the ladies at Focus to take off their pantyhose.  They were expressly urged to do this once they got home, but then, once they were off, they could leave 'em off.  Apparently the proof for this text was Song of Solomon 7.1 - "How beautiful are your feet in sandals." (NASB)  In some of those newfangled transphrases it reads "Nice toe cleavage, sis."  Focus spokeswoman Lisa Anderson said, "...easing up on formal attire also will...encourage tourists to hobnob with Focus employees." 

I must say my rocking chair missed a rock when I heard the word hobnob.  Dear lord in heaven. Sweet Merriam-Webster describes the archaic word thusly: "to drink sociably" - the etymology from the obsolete phrase drink hobnob, to drink alternately to one another.  Now I don't believe Anderson had drink hobnob in mind when she chose that word, but there are slippery black diamond slopes, there really are, and I can foresee thousands, maybe even millions, of tourists showing up on the hill this summer expecting free Fat Tire from ladies perched on legs sans hose.  From a distance such as my porch, I'm having visions of the wayward Hebrew children dancing 'round the golden beast on liberated thighs and a nicely toned calf or two. Mercy.  

Focus tour-guide (concerned): Please, folks, don't you want to come in and watch the Dobsonmentary.  It's quite comprehensive.

Tourists (smiling): Nope, we're good.  God bless America and God bless hobnobbin'.

What I Hath Seen...

I would sit with this row of boys every Sunday morning, rain or shine.  I'm the helmet in the v-neck green sweater with the Scofield in my lap.  We would lean our chairs back and old Mr. Neal would cover the high school lesson, every Sunday, rain or shine.

Picture, if you will, Mr. Neal sitting before us at a small desk.  To his right was a huge window; notice where almost all of us are looking?  What Mr. Neal didn't know, and as far as I know never found out, was the peep show we good Baptist boys were treated to every Lord's day.

Through the huge window to Mr. Neal's right we could see the adjacent building with a carbon copy huge window just like ours.  Whereas our window was windex clear, this other window, right in our line of leaned-back sight, was slightly frosted.  You're wondering why aren't you? Well, you see, it gave light not to a row of folding chair Sunday School boys, but to a one-staller Ladies room.

It's hard to remember just when this revelation came upon us.  We were probably listening to Mr. Neal droll on about lukewarmness or something when one of us, could have been me even, looked over and saw a curved silhouette bend forward and wrench down her skirt, do it once more due to a girdle or lord knows what else a boy's mind could conjure, and then slowly, regally squat down as the cold ivory yoke piece embraced her warm backside.  I realize that's quite descriptive, but as I've noted, this happened every Sunday, rain or shine.

On about the third Sunday, at the beginning of class, one of our Boy's Row stood and told Mr. Neal I'll be right back. This boy didn't give a flying fig what Mr. Neal or Jesus thought; he did whatever he pleased. We secretly loved him for that.  Before he walked out, his grinned whisper was I'm gonna find out whose ass that is.  We didn't see the rebel for the rest of class, but he was waiting for us when we filed out, with a grin that showed every last pearly white he owned. He had waited the entire time and one, and only one, lady had visited that little room.  One of our disciples pulled a Thomas, so boy-don't-give-a-fig gladly agreed to scout it out again the following Sunday.  He did; one and only one visitor.  And just like that, the lady in shadow now had a name.

There would have been the usual boy wonder at such a spectacle regardless of who it was.  We were each good little Baptist boys trying to figure out how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour (see I Thess. 4.14 - I kid you not).  But the stakes were raised on this one because the lady in outline was easily the most prim, proper, and dressed to the nines female in our local representation of the body of Christ.  She was striking in her looks, but they were looks that purred don't touch.  I stood by her once during worship as she sang the mournful invitation hymn Have Thine Own Way.  I know I should have been examining my own heart, as each man ought, but all I could think of was me and mrs. mystery frolicking in the garden of Eden, unclothed, without shame.  I'm certain I rededicated my life that day, but to what, I cannot say.

For that brief season of Sundays, our class had perfect attendance; I seem to recall we even gained a few newcomers.  Mr. Neal felt honored; maybe a man his age still had something to offer the younger generation.  Maybe it was o.k. he felt that way.  Maybe.  And maybe it was o.k. those windows were placed just so; they were panes of exposure revealing the tensions of flesh that had and would follow us all the days of our lives.  So for a season, we enjoyed it, rain or shine.  We faithfully brought our Bibles and always placed them in our laps (see photo); fig leaves of sorts to cover what eye hath seen.                

Beyond the word...

You have to understand the rain and the mesquite.  The clouds come on slowly and torture the drooping leaves with the promise of rain and this goes on day after day, week after week, and sometimes, not often, but sometimes the rain never comes at all, the monsoon skips, and still the tree stands and believes and waits.  But when the rain comes, and most years it does come, the feel in the desert is love.  Not the word, the thing beyond the word, the rush of life pouring from the sky...
- Charles Bowden, Blues for Cannibals

God, a glance in the mirror reveals gray hair and age spots. Damn, I look like an old mesquite tree, standing, believing, waiting.  I can soldier on quite convincingly, tortured with the promise.  But there are days, not often, but sometimes, when I wish you'd pour from the sky into my dreams that we might grapple. I'm not angry, you know that. I'd just like to feel you, not the you of the the word, but the you beyond the word. You have blessed and I hope you will continue to bless.  You have wounded and yes, I believe that too shall not cease.  But that the leaves might feel the rush...

I felt the love that day in the canyon so grand, when the water was depleted and there was still some distance to the rim. In the cleft of the rock, literally, the water bottles rested along with the note - take it. And I did.  What I drank was not water, but something beyond the word.  It tasted

There is so much talk of you, so many words.  In the way the letters C-O-W do not give milk, the letters G-O-D do not give love.  We want to believe that writing the word and speaking the word and attempting to make the word famous will bring the rain.  But I fear that may be the folly of youth; the lips are near but the leaves still droop.  Or they will.  The nations roar and you laugh.  Your children roar and I fear you may gasp.  There is so much talk of you.

I am not alone.  There are others, standing, believing, waiting. We are learning of the rain and the mesquite and that beyond the words.  


Yates and the Dream...

The man in the photo is Richard Yates.  He wrote a book titled Revolutionary Road; yes, on which the Winslet/DiCaprio movie was based.  I finally saw the film Friday night.  I am now hunting for the book...mediocre John hunting.

The film is disturbing.  And from what I've read, it doesn't even scratch the brilliance of the book.  

After seeing the DVD clamshell, I believed it was a period piece - 1950s - a story of a young married couple rapidly drowning in the suburban/conformist wave of that time.  In a very real sense, it is. However, as I sniffed around a little about Yates, I found an interview where for him, above all else, Revolutionary Road was a book about abortion.  In a 1972 Ploughshares article he said, "Everything gets aborted in the's...built on a series of abortions, of all kinds - an aborted play, several aborted careers, any number of aborted ambitions and aborted plans and aborted dreams - all leading up to a real, physical abortion, and a death at the end..."

As I said, I'm now searching for a used copy of the book.  

I saw that theme of abortion as I watched the film and I kept thinking how little has changed since the 50s it portrayed.  In no way do I want to diminish the real, physical issue of abortion.  The chilling nature of that reality surfaced days ago in the killing of a Kansas physician.  At the same time, in no way do I desire to scurry past that multifaceted word; we are all victims. To not be able to talk about the word abortion in all of its complexity reveals that cars and fashions and widespread cigarette use may have changed, but we the people have not.  Our Facebook updates indicate what time we're headed to the gym or which character from The Facts of Life we most resemble; we have not changed.

It is not the American Dream to believe that you could be wonderful in this world; no, that is the human dream, a pro-life longing knit into each of us in the womb.  There seemed to be a thread of hope in the movie, something known as bravery, a truly revolutionary road. I want to see if the book even points in that direction or if it is all merely a dead-end.         

It's Not Easy...But It's Not Hard

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?" 

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

"I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.

"The Boy's Uncle made me Real," he said. "That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always."

 - Marjorie Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit 

If I were to write a book about the meaning of life, which I might have a mind to one of these days, then I'd begin with the excerpt above from The Velveteen Rabbit.  The excerpt above contains three truths that I've long believed in and here, at 42 years young, I believe in even more.  I could have chosen another story to illustrate these truths for I believe they are in the best stories and movies and comic books and front-porch-late-evening-tales.  But Velveteen sums them up for me with clarity, always a good thing.  That clarity allows us easy access to the truth about a meaningful life, as in "it's not hard."  It also affords us the truth about a meaningful life, as in "it's not easy."  But it can be done.

Here they are, my three truths for life, along with a little commentary because, well, I like to write:

1. Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time..."  **I believe a meaningful life is found in letting folks love you.  It doesn't have to be a child necessarily, but children or the childlike are definitely good prospects.  It's opening yourself up to someone else, not just once or even twice, but as old Skin Horse said, "for a long, long time."  Now you might find that almost embarrassing it's so simple and that's fine.  But here, in the middle of my life, based on what I've witnessed thus far, I believe we're either continually opening ourselves to others or were gradually closing ourselves off; there's very little, if any, middle ground.  And just for the record, seeing as how this post feels all important and such, I firmly believe that if you can't let flesh and blood love you, then any talk of letting God love you is just blunderbuss; that dog won't hunt.  Now, astute reader that you are, you might ask Why wouldn't I let someone love me?  I'm glad you astutely asked for it leads us, if you're still willing to come along, to the second truth.

2. "Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse...

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?" 

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby..." **We close ourselves off to love because sometimes, it hurts.  To stay open to love for the duration of this life, well, that may just be the most valiant thing there is, something that would garner after-life words like well done.  You have to learn how to forgive, which is one of the facets of love.  Folks will love your hair off but it may happen by them pulling it out and causing you to do the same.  Folks will say and do things that'll make your eyes drop out of their sockets forcing you, after time, to look at life differently.  You'll get loose in the joints because folks will make demands on you and you'll be yanked in this direction and that and somedays you won't know whether you're coming or going.  Such is a meaningful life.  The alternative is living a life that has "to be carefully kept."  Letting yourself be loved means moving in the direction of "shabby."  If the rabbit is a little too soft for your taste, think man hanging on a cross, hair and beard pulled out multiple times, eyes hanging from their sockets but still attached enough to see and say forgive, joints stretched so that arms wide open took on a whole new meaning, and well, will leave you shabby.  If you're trying to finish this race like some Olympic athlete, muscles juiced on a psychotherapeutic approach to life, all in one piece with proper boundaries and all, then you might just get the gold, but what doth it profit a man or a woman or a rabbit...but for every moment when someone pulls your hair out, a child just might stroke your head or cheek and you'll be undone and for every time your eyes drop out of their sockets, there'll be times when you can't believe your eyes at the tenderness a spouse or friend can give in a moment and for all the wear and tear your joints take over the years, there's a limber glory your life can acquire that can cause you to pause and say grace is everywhere.  Not too shabby, huh?

3. "...but once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always."  **This one gets a little dicey because you start talking salvation and folks pull out their books and notes and tapes and doctrines and slide rules.  I'll say this much, alright.  I believe letting folks love you in this life is intimately connected to any kind of afterlife.  As I said, if you can't let flesh and blood love you, then loud pronouncements about how much God loves you is just noise; sorry, but that's how I see it.  In the end or beginning or however the story goes, there's only love.  I realize that sounds new-agey and mystical and far too generous.  But I believe there's only love and it lasts for always.  And you and I and even the rabbits have the chance to get started in the here and now and live a life that just might mean something rather than ending up good for nothing.

If I were to write a book on the meaning of life, which I might just have a mind to one of these days, then that's how I would begin.  Those truths are not easy to live, but they're not hard.