The Story of Onceupona Time...(still continued)

{Mercy, the spirit was willing but the flesh has been rather frazzled these last few days...I'll still plug away with this story because these characters deserve it, but we might extend it out to New Years, okay by you? Thanks! From here on, the story will probably be bite-sized...think of it as handfuls of Chex mix or something.}


Liberty’s first day of class was early in January, so early that the Foster Retirement Center was still ablaze in Christmas décor. An old plastic crèche sat just to the left of the front doors, the three main characters weathered but determined. The Christ-child looked stable enough, but someone or something had rendered Mary and Joseph flat; the blessed Virgin flat on her face and righteous Joseph flat on his back. As man and boy carefully reset the scene, Davis Walton spoke in pastoral tones: ‘Most of the people here are like this, Onceuponatime…they’re old but beautiful, life keeps knocking them over…we’ll just try to help them back up.’ The smile and nod of his grandson’s face was sufficient, a word the good reverend had learned to live by. Davis Walton offered his hand to the little boy he loved the most and in they went.  

Jenny Parker, Foster’s 'Activities Architect', was on the front desk phone as they walked in. She waved them past, silently mouthing ‘they’re waiting for you.’ The words were not lost on Onceuponatime. Some mothers would have overcoached this experience, trying to prepare their child for any and all contingencies. But not Liberty. She believed her son belonged to these Fridays with his grandfather as sure as rain is wet. Liberty had read stories to her son since his birth; she knew now he would begin living them. Before driving away earlier that morning, she kissed her son’s forehead once and nose twice, then simply said ‘its waiting for you.’  

The Story of Onceupona Time...(continued)

You may be wondering who I am and how I know so much about the life of Onceuponatime Walton. At this point in the story all I can say is that I was a firsthand witness to the life of this boy, maybe like no one else, even Liberty. I believe it will become clear along the way, but if not, I’ll tell you when we near the end of this particular chapter in his life. I promise.

You might anticipate Onceuponatime was born with special powers, like he could talk to ravens or his arms wouldn’t break or his singing made it snow. Those would be false hopes, for Liberty Walton’s son was as normal as normal. But every once in a while a baby is born who is, as they say, ‘a carrier.’ This child has no unique powers of his own but rather carries the collective power of the people around him, like their dreams or fears or sadness. So in a sense, yes, Onceuponatime was valiantly special, but it took the people around him to make him so. As you will see, he needed them, just like they needed him.

For the first three years of his life, Liberty Walton and Onceuponatime did everything together. If you saw one, you saw the other. Franny Withers, the postmistress, said ‘a goose and her gosling, I tell ya, goose and gosling.’ Folks in Delight would see them out walking mid-morning, which they had a habit of doing, and ask Liberty how things were going and she’d say ‘oh, oh these are halcyon days.’ Not everyone knew what halcyon meant, in fact practically no one did, but they loved to hear Liberty say it. If you sorta had a hunch, you were right; yes, Liberty was a carrier too.

The halcyon days of Onceuponatime’s life did not end when he celebrated his fourth birthday that unseasonably warm Christmas, but they did change. Liberty had decided to take a class at the nearby community college, a class that would meet all day on Fridays for the duration of the spring semester. The question on the heels of this decision, one that Liberty’s mother and the entire town of Delight wondered was, ‘but what will you do with Onceuponatime?’ Come to find out, Liberty and her father had been in, as they say, ‘cahoots’, they were already one step ahead.

Every Friday, as had been his habit for years, Rev. Davis Walton spent the morning with the old folks of the Foster Retirement Center. They’d gather in the common room and he’d always share a story, just almost a homily but not quite a sermon. After that, the remainder of the time was filled with singing, everything from ‘Amazing Grace’ to ‘Stardust.’ The folks there were of a variety, not so much a box of chocolates as a can of mixed nuts. Some, like Eva Simpson, were still mentally a razor’s edge. Others, like Chet Waller, were always lost somewhere in the past. Make no mistake, Chet knew where he was, its just no one else was quite sure. After his time with these tender souls, Rev. Walton would stop by The Net for their fish basket lunch special, then he’d head to the park to saunter, feed squirrels, skip rocks, think…he called it praying.

The two cahoots had agreed that for at least the time being of Liberty’s class, Onceuponatime would join his grandfather for the Friday usual. Rev. Davis Walton was so excited he thought he might, as they say, ‘pop.’

The Story of Onceupona Time

{Its hard to adequately express my gratitude for your regular or even sporadic stopping by to read the popcorn thoughts strung together at The Dirty Shame. I wrote a story a couple of Christmases ago as a gift to you, the readers, my friends. You liked it, or at least you said you did. So today begins another story...a present for you, unwrapped a little every few days or so, concluding on Christmas Eve. Just know this tale is unfolding itself for me too, I have no idea where these lives will take us. But if there's anything I've learned thus far as a writer, its this - trust the story. So here we go.}

He was born on December 25th. It was the happiest day of single-mother Liberty Walton's life. But the ache in her bones told her it would be easy for his birth to be overshadowed, what with sharing a birthday with Jesus and all. She knew how the town loved to do Christmas. So she willed herself to give him an inimitable name, something to level the field a bit. His birth announcement in the local paper read

Onceupona Time Walton, 7lbs 12 oz, 19 inches

The truth is Liberty Walton could've named that boy Judas and the folks of Delight (pronounced Dee-lite) would've loved him just the same. The reason is every breathing soul in that town adored Liberty, she was native, 'a born and raised delight' as they say. In many ways the girl and the town grew up together. Liberty's parents were both beloved fixtures, her mother the school superintendent for years and her father the founding pastor of the Congregational church. Upon graduation from high school, Liberty received a prestigious scholarship to an Ivy League school. Delight was agog.

But something happened that first spring semester. Of course folks knew what happened, but they never really knew what happened. Liberty came home for the summer showing signs of life in her belly. The town all tiptoed around for awhile, trying to give her some space. Then one July Sunday morning, just prior to the benediction, Liberty stood before her father's congregation, hands resting on her abdomen, and said 'I'm so, so sorry. Please, please forgive me.' Jess McCandles, the church's tenured crosspatch, rose to his feet, wiped his eyes, and declared 'you'll always be a delight to us, Liberty Walton, you and that baby.' A hearty amen followed and from then on, as they say, 'that was that.' Delight was agog once more.

Per Liberty's request, folks took to calling her boy by his first and middle names, running them together sorta like you'd expect - Onceuponatime. Liberty would read to him at bedtime from a book of fairy tales, legends and myths, always beginning with that magic phrase - 'Once upon a time.' She would say those four words, then pause and look deep in her firstborn's life. This quotidian ritual was such that Liberty's son soon began to associate one thing with another; in other words, he began, even at an early age, to know why he was here.


Another Parson Brown question - Why So Serious?

A friend alerted me to a 'discussion starter' in Christianity Today last week. The last four words of that sentence sound sorta funny, huh? I don't read the magazine because I've never found anything in there that made me snicker, giggle, or hunker over and belly-laugh and the only kind of Christianity I desire today and any day is one that allows for the thunderous guffaw. As the Joker pined - why so serious? Anyway, the article was centered around the lyrics of our traditional Christmas carols. Some churches are being very selective about which carols they sing this season...some churches apparently considering banning certain carols - for example 'Away In A Manger' - because of questionable lines/theology like 'no crying he makes' which seems to run counter to the get-down-and-dirty-in-our-messy, a.k.a, the incarnation.

Have I already used the line why so serious? Yep, I have, well let's go ahead and make it two.

There were other voices in the piece, like my friend's, that lobbied for some yuletide sanity, but the fact that someone felt compelled to start such a discussion speaks volumes about a Christianity that today often needs to make much ado about something. But dear, dear Parson Brown, the flag waving bravely above it all is the banner of orthodoxy and that's important, right?  Well, dear, the lyrics I've always boogied to in the shower are His banner over us is love. That other banner, orthodoxy, has flown above many a corpse on many a battlefield as heaven wept.

I'm not a theologian nor do I play one on tv. I am, at least for these Advent days, a lowly parson. I will say this about 'Away In A Manger' - I sincerely believe there were moments when no crying he made, slivers of nanoseconds when the swaddled Son of God was still, still, still. These were spots of time when Mary and Joseph looked at each other and said mercy, all is calm, all is bright. And then, wouldn'tcha know it, the little drummer boy dropped his sticks and Melchior stumbled knocking over the frankincense and the One born to die let loose with a squeal to make humanity proud as the mother of God and her man sighed the sigh of joyous exhaustion and took, once more, to tending the little lord Jesus awake in the hay. Joseph looked up and noticed Clarence the angel standing in the corner, leaning forward in grinning adoration humming it really is a wonderful life...and the ox and lamb kept time.  

A Reckoning at Eventide

[This poem arose from a meditation on today's scripture reading concerning John the Baptist. I wondered what he might have heard or done after a day waist-deep in the Jordan. The poem points toward contrition - an important facet of Advent.]

The sun was dying away
they had all gone by then
my day's work done
the water stilled.
I shook myself dry
a final time,
that's when the rocks
awoke with echoes
they'd pocketed all day -
repent, repent, repent.
Another man might think
himself crazy in that moment
but not me, not the baptizer.

I knew.
I knew of my anger flashed
at the whoring husband
who will never change.
I knew of my breathless disgust
at the shrewd lover of mammon
as he confessed for spectacle.
I knew of my lust stirred low
when she rose from the water,
yes I am a man.
I knew of my envy as I
watched them leave my wilderness for
settings of silver and beds of ease.
I knew of what shone as indignation
for that brood of vipers but
was actually my venom of hate.
I knew of what I am foremost.
I knew.

So I turned, like a dog to vomit,
stripped myself bare and broke the surface
scrubbing my weathered skin
pink then blood-red,
a reckoning at eventide.
And the stones,
the stones finally slept.

Parson Brown's Hebrew word for the day...

We spent Thanksgiving week in Arkansas. An author I like calls the state 'Crackeropolis.' I think that's rather funny. Two and a half days at my sister-in-law's house and two and a half days with my dad and was a Goldilocks week - not too much, not too little, just right. One morning, after pumpkin bread and Community coffee, I opened the decorative chest that holds my parents' photographs and sat down to, as the Hebrews say, zakar - to remember. In many ways that chest is an ark of family covenant, housing boxes upon envelopes upon folders, all filled with spots of time from our lives written on tablets of film. My dad plopped down, saying 'I like remembering too.' My brother joined us.

So the leader of the band and his sons did just that, zakar. We weren't gathered around a screen, charmed by a prepackaged soundtrack from Apple, but rather shoulder to shoulder, with the tick of the heater nearby, carefully passing the texture of sacred time back and forth between us saying 'gosh, look at this' and 'what was her name?' and 'hey, nice Members Only jacket' and 'I sure miss him.' There was the picture of the church where I prayed Jesus into my heart. There were poses of Christmas mornings past, us groggy-eyed in front of the trees love always decorated. Family reunions. Summer vacations. Bicentennial Sunday, where we were all dressed up in colonial garb, me wearing (are you ready?) a puffy shirt. And then there were the old ones, fragile glances into a world of black and white, a time when yes, things seemed simpler. One of the old ones was a large 8x10 of my parents holding a butterball - me. I looked up at my dad sitting nearby, seventy years old now, eyes greying, and I looked back at the picture and suddenly he's in the pride of life, dark-haired, eyes full of promise, young wife on his arm and firstborn son in his hands. One of us, I cannot remember who and it doesn't matter anyway, said 'our lives are precious, aren't they?' The answer was not spoken but written with water that pooled our eyes and wet our cheeks: 'Yes, yes they are.'

I realize one can get 'lost' in reverie or even live in the past, neither very beneficial for yourself and those around you. But I also realize that many of us, myself included, don't take the time to zakar and that sin of omission renders us a bunch of ingrates, a condition that seems to be rampant these days and, I believe, an aroma quite unbecoming for one who once prayed Jesus into his heart to stay. Advent is a time of looking ahead, no doubt, but it is also a time of raising the question - 'our lives are precious, aren't they?' and remembering, often with words not spoken, the answer - 'Yes, yes they are.'



Have you ever wondered about Mary's father? Scripture is silent in regard to him, tradition names him Joachim... 

Born under the moon’s nail,
long expected, carried low
as was my prayer.
Unto us a child was born,
yet not to carry my name.
But children are a gift from God,
what’s born is born.
She would smile at my voice,
stitching herself to me,
a hem of grace
to my half-lived life.
Oh, Mary.

Then it all unraveled,
the veil of promise torn.

Through tears we witnessed
her jubilant shriving:
a tale of angel
and favor and son.
She spoke as one changed,
not older, but larger, magnified.
But who could believe such things?
By day her mother murmured
all things are possible.
By night she paced.
Me? I wept alone.
Oh, Mary.

Whoever the father is,
I wrestle with him in dreams.

Parson's Prayer...

What if I'm not ready?
Not ready for December,
and carols and Rankin-Bass?
I'm no Scrooge, lord knows,
or a foolish virgin (actually, scratch the virgin part)
its just my ivy's
not feeling that holly...
at least not yet.
If someone said well ready or not, its coming
I'd be tempted to shoot their partridge
and that's not christian, lord knows.
So help me, help us get ready. Amen.

Parson Brown...

In the meadow we can build a snowman
then pretend that he is Parson Brown
he'll say 'are you married?'
we'll say 'no man'
but you can do the job
when you're in town.  
I don't preach much anymore, not from behind a pulpit at least. But maybe for a few weeks here, during these adventus days, I can pre-tend to be Parson Brown...and try to do the job 'cause I'm in town, sorta. And what, you rightly ask, would be the job? Well, somebody needs to be asking questions, not necessarily like 'are you married?' but other ponderings, musings appropriate to this most wonderful time of the year.

Advent. The season of waiting.
So what are you waiting for? 

Allow me, the goodly parson, to pose that in two ways. I can ask as if we're both standing on a busy street corner beneath holiday lights and you're obviously waiting on someone or something to come along and I say So what are you waiting for? I can also ask as if we're both standing in front of a Blue Bell ice cream truck and the driver is offering you the one fudge bar he couldn't sell. He says 'here, take it, my treat' and I say So what are you waiting for? Same question, slightly different takes.

Maybe 'your Advent' this year (or switching those words you have Advent-your...impressive, huh?) is to wait for someone or something to come along. The temptation would be to make it happen, go ahead and do it, find a good deal or a steal, put it on the plastic...but your Advent-your is to wait for him or her or it or whatever to come to you. 

Then again, maybe, just maybe, your Advent-your is to reach out and grab what's looking you square in the schnoz. Maybe its been there for days, weeks, months even, and its high time and quite possibly the right time to act, move, seize, carpe! 

You might think one take easier than the other, but I'd gently, parsonly disagree. Both takes are hard because fear crouches at the doorstep. Fear that he or she or it will never come along...or fear that if you do grab the gusto it might not be the correct gusto (a whacked out fatalism) or if it is, then you'll grab too hard and kill it/ruin it. But the only way to experience an Advent-your is to have courage, take heart...or, in the words of the Good Book - fear not!

So what are you waiting for?  

A Song of Harvest Home...

The great God sits the rim of the universe, his long legs dangling over the edge swinging kid-like, back and forth, he’s watching, listening…

My father will look around the ornate table he and my mother bought years ago, a table large enough for the family that has grown to include grandchildren and their mothers. He’ll catch each of our eyes for a mere twinkling and then tears will pool his aging sockets as slack-jawed wonder shoots hot through his marrow – how’d I get so lucky? 

He will then take my mother’s hand, our signal to do the same with the blood kin beside us and my father will bow his head and close his eyes and raise the song of harvest home.  I no longer close my eyes, not in dumb rebellion, but for fear of missing something here, even one breath. While my father extols the leader triumphant, I will look around the great table at our lives and echo his refrain – how’d we get so lucky? 

That word – lucky – a dice-roll of letters that can hold both wheat and tares together sown for as the table will fat with decent health and deviled eggs and some-day-dreams, it will also lean of loved ones here no more and pang with disappointments too dark to name and owl with questions like who, who, who am I? The joy and the sorrow are one, inseparable, stitched, all the world is God’s own field.  There will no doubt be turkey on the table, but the real birds in the room are ducks, each of us, one and all, a brace honking out our best gratitude in calls loud and soft with tears on our cheeks and pumpkin pie on our minds, witnesses that yes, for one more year God our maker doth provide, seldom if ever as we’d prefer but always sufficient, always enough. And so we’ll squeeze one another’s hands as my father says amen and then babies-no-longer will lean in and pass the rolls their grandmother makes, while brothers will laugh again like boys as our wives sit close and talk with tenured voices, and my father and mother will rest from their labors, basking in the unmerited warmth that keeps this world, as outside ere the winter storms begin. Beyond frosting glass a mustering of angels sweep, back and forth, peering into our cockeyed lives, flapping with envy at the powerful gift of being alive...their voices ride the wind what a bunch of lucky ducks!

The great God sits the rim of the universe, his long legs dangling over the edge swinging kid-like, back and forth…he is watching, listening to a fowl gathering lucky he forgets not his own.

Monday's Mild Rant...

What you're after is this antiphony. This calling back and forth...
- Barry Lopez

The African-American pastor stands before the congregation and says 'I'm not gonna make it unless you help me.' The people nod and sway and begin their 'yes, yes'...the response...antiphony.

Its what we want for Christmas. Its what we want for Easter. Its what we want for our birthdays, anniversaries, Father's Day, Mother's Day, Boxing Day, any day for that matter. The antiphony, the response.

I heard a sermon not long ago, impassioned, loud, on the subject of marriage, about how its never to be a 50/50 deal, give and take, two way street, but rather we should love 100% regardless of the other's behavior or attitude. When I listened to the pauses in that sermon I heard a man's silent cry - 'dear God, I hope what I'm saying isn't true, what a life without parole that would be.' I read a blog post recently where the conversation in that domain proclaimed that comments were not important, that the writing was for the writing's sake, maybe even for the ever popular 'audience of one' - whatever that means, and that whether or not you and I read and respond are, in the final analysis, rather beside the point. When I paid attention to the margins of that blog what I saw was armor, protection, resistance to hurt.

Both of these examples had a strong whiff of spiritual on them, the Bible was stood upon, verses were waved, God's name was invoked, a fleece of devout placed just so. In both of these instances my heart grieved 'dear brother and sisters, this should not be so.' Once that bathroom Polo of holiness dissipates I believe a stench arises, one where the other is not important, one where forth is all that matters and back don't mean a thing, one where response is driven from the camp, antiphony crucified.

Spend fifty years, a rarity these days, of giving 100% in marriage while the other never responds and you might die some Hosea-like-saint, but your bitterness and regret and pain will be as dark as your age spots. Spend a lifetime writing for the writing's sake with no concern for hearing from the other and maybe when you die we'll publish your stacks of journals and you shall be more powerful in death than in life...but then again, maybe your mountains of print will be burned as wood, hay, stubble by relatives who never got the chance to respond and, to be quite honest, are glad to finally be rid of you.

When the call is 'thank you'...the response is 'you're welcome.'
When the forth is 'I love you'...the back is 'I love you too.'

The response is not only what we want, it is what we need. It is courteous - a word akin to courting, that old fashioned dance of manners and nuance...(I'll have to return to drive that post another day).

Antiphony...break that word in half and you have anti-phony, the antidote to a phoniness that all too often passes for some humble-bumble devotion that's shiny at first blush but upon careful inspection is revealed to be the currency of fools.

Antiphony. It is, I believe, how God so loved the world and therefore how we should then love it and one another too. Without it, we're not gonna make it.

Playing our song...

He was wise enough to keep the sermon short and not invent Shane's goodness but to simply speak of loneliness and how we can't completely know another human being.
Kent Meyers, Twisted Tree

That word - lonely. Say it. A word defined largely by its sound, the long O creating a moan leading into the n allowing you to rock on it a moment before tipping into ly and then it drifts away.

That word - lonely. A word with origins, like all things, in Eden, when the first two ate from that fated tree. Many say sin was birthed in that moment. I say that's when lonely was born. They looked at each other with egg on their faces and felt something new, something not yet named, the pang, the oh. They sewed and sewed until their fingers bled, God knows, but the fig skins could hide only naked...not lonely.

Yes, yes, alone had been around, the man could not find like bones, like flesh. God declared it not good and so the woman ribbed forth. But it wasn't until after she came along, after the bones and flesh lost themselves in grassy splendor, after God rested, after that first black communion of take/eat and they did, after all was both said and done, then he and she knew lonely. The old book calls them cherubim and flaming sword, but those are words used west of the garden. From where they stood, he and she saw them as Eden's neon rainbow, flashing stabs of lonely. The man and woman went forth to cultivate and have relations...and dream. Put another quarter in, for that is where our song begins...the first note, the first word. Dance slow, dance close. Its our song.  

Thank you...

You can't just walk away from yourself, she said. You don't expect a waitress to say something like that. Maybe more coffee? or would you like to see the dessert tray? but not that. Guess that's why it pierced, meaning, oracle. She smiled, paused a moment as those wild-bird words settled, then said you just can't. What would possess a middle-aged Native American woman to say that, out of the blue? There hadn't been conversation beyond hello, how are you, patty melt medium, potato salad, and iced tea. Everything normal, usual, comfortable. And then that, something not ordered but offered, a tip in reverse. Ate every bite, as mother trained, and left 20% as dad taught. The restaurant door was paned with that old timey glass, thick, wavy. Caught my face it in as she pushed it open, at first carnival-contorted, then clear, placid, myself. Her voice touched from behind. Pilamaya she whispered. No, I thought, thank you.


A Halloween Regifting...

[This is post, slightly revised, from a couple of years ago...think of it as a re-gifting of sorts]

A very liberal columnist for the Denver Post wrote an article not long ago about Halloween. He mentioned the two words that should not be named, words which strike fear in the hearts of children everywhere in the month of October - fall festival, or some variation on that theme. I had to laugh, remembering all the semantic gyrations our churches used to pretzel in so as to offer something on that night, but not cater to the whims of the fallen world. 

Overall, the article was not a keeper, but there was one point that I found very intriguing. He said that we, as Americans, need Halloween as a holiday. Let me type that once more - we, as Americans, need Halloween as a holiday. Why, you ask? Well, this gentleman believes Halloween to be the one remaining holiday built around opening our doors to the stranger. And if there's any time in the history of our grand land that we need a discipline to help us be more open to those we don't know, those who don't look like the rank and file, those of lower economic status, those with darker or lighter skin, those who love not as we love, those with the courage or the gall to ring our doorbells and open their sacks, hoping for something - well, it's now. I agree with him.

Is it possible that we might look deeper, further beyond the ghouls and goblins and see that our children are being taught something beneficial, even if it comes via something not so perky and nice? And that if we don't go out and trick or treat ourselves, then at least we might keep our porch lights on, answer the door and then open it in order to give something away. And not just anything, but the good stuff, like M&Ms or Hershey bars, something of worth. 

I'm familiar with the darker elements of the night, I am...but I felt the columnist raised one of those consider this points. Jesus used that phrase you know - consider the lilies, and so on. So I'll ask you to consider this, just consider it. If the day and its festivities are too much, then fine. But if you're willing to crack the front door, then that might, just maybe, result in a crack in your heart, an opening when so very much these days is closed...and as you give, you might receive, for you can extend a gift, something sweet, alongside a whispered blessing: I don't know you, but welcome. It's dark out, so step up into the light, if only for just a moment. Mercy covers the borders of this house. May mercy cover you as you go. Amen.

Dear God...

what am I going to do with you?
you've changed, you know,
no longer the tall friend of my childhood.
i used to be able to read you,
no, not in some predictable manner
but rather, well, let's just say I could depend on you.
but now, I'm not so sure.
lately you've been so
(oh, what is that word? oh, yes)
never in a million years would I have
used that word to describe you,
its just a stone's throw from
fickle and -
oh, see there, you're all quiet now,
i've offended you, haven't I?
this is exactly what I'm talking about.
ah God, dear God.

From Great to Good...

In our efforts to see a savior beyond the gentle, meek and mild variety, I fear we've constructed a golden calf of the word great. But riddle me this, batman, when God created the world, you know, back there in Genesis, when all was said and done each day, what was his refrain? and it was great? No, I'm pretty sure it was and it was good. Not a page later and God said it wasn't good that man be alone, so along came the lady, yeehaw! The psalmist wrote it is good and pleasing when folks dwell together in unity. It'd be pretty cool if we could read Acts 10.38 in a Tony the Tiger voice: 
Jesus went about doing gr-r-r-r-r-eat!...
but we can't. Jesus went about doing good. Even the word 'gospel' describes a news clarified not great, but good. Don't forget the Bible itself used to be known as the good book. And one of these days, I hope to hear the words well done, good and faithful servant.

Why has this word, that seems to mean such a great deal to God, fallen on hard times? What if God doesn't really want us, or our churches, or our organizations to move from good to great? What if he's quite delighted if we live good in this world gone bad? Remember that childhood lunchtime prayer - God is great, God is good? What if God's the only one who can be both, both great and good, and we, his children, are to be good? We can't be both because we're not God. Maybe that was the banana peel  Lucifer stepped on, he tried to be both great and good, like God, but he slipped...and fell. Maybe the road to great is broad and wide, but the road to good is a knife-edge you must be faithful to each mundane day, and it'll take the great God's help if you ever hope to be a good man, or a good woman, or a good kid, or a good neighbor, or a good pastor, or a good friend.

I hope one of these days, when my wife and children and friends and acquaintances and creditors are gathered around the funeral canoe, getting ready to set my body ablaze and send it out upon the waters to Avalon, that somebody, maybe a little kid just happening to walk by will ask was he someone great? and one of you will chuckle, reverently of course, and say nope, not a chance, kid...but he was a good man. 

The Toll of Silence

She came as a friend,
her voice veiled,
how the hell'd I get here?
That's what she asked.

My teacher's voice, long dead now, whispered,
behind every question is the shy one,
only silence woos the soul.
That's what he said.

I chose to yield.

After minutes like years,
her voice rent,
this is not the life I'd planned.
That's what she meant.

I said yeah, me neither.
She held surprise, we laughed,
then the quarter-hour chimed.
That's when her question returned.

Our Brief Affair...


Could you feel my eyes on you? I want to say yes,
that you knew all along I was watching.

I cannot know for certain though, you never said a word,
not once. Good, that would've ruined it.

You blushed that first time, just enough to stand out.
You blushed the time after that too, but it was more, blushier,

then without shame you moved beyond blush to blood,
as if driven, accelerated into ordained flame,

lithe arms riddled with guiltless scarlet letters. I had to break
the silence, you were simply too much.

I drew close enough to whisper - ravishingly valiant...
please, at least tell me your name?

Winter's wind broke the spell, whistled acer, acer rubrum,
and you began to weep, one tear at a time.


Start With Me...

Forgive and forget. Two borders she could not cross. The memory haunted her even now. If she could stay busy it seemed to stay quiet, but she could not always stay busy. The remembrance was both sight and sound, always the same. A sky so black it threatened to swallow you. The only lights were the crazed eyes of a woman, her mother, old beyond her years, slowly tearing pages from the Bible, eating them, repeating 'taste and see...the Lord is good...taste and see.'

So begins the book project I was privileged to write with Mike Seaton, founder of the Start> Our hope was to show a weekend in the lives of ordinary people, men and women like you and me, and what it might look like if folks like us took seriously the response-ability of being a good samaritan. And in that hope, we tried to show how vital small kindnesses are to this thing we call life. There is much ado about a global awareness of needs and meeting those needs, as we believe there should be. But if you're building orphanages overseas while neglecting your neighbor back home, well, something's foul; its not one or the other, its both. Hopefully this story, which you can probably read in one sitting, brings a little perspective back to ourselves and the precious people around us and the spots of time we can seize to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.

For those interested, there is a DVD series, curriculum, etc., all available on the Start> website. The book - Start With Me: A Modern Parable is a complement to those products. You can order the book from Amazon, Borders, and Barnes & Noble.


In the world and of it too...

Friday Night Lights is, in my opinion, one of the best shows in television history. Its last season begins in a few weeks, the final drive. I can't recall exactly how and when I got hooked, but I am - hook, line, and sinker. Some have called it the little show that could because it survived numerous threats of cancellation. Sometimes a good story full of memorable characters endures - I think I can, I think I can. I, for one, am thankful. If you're a fan of this show, then I'm just telling you stuff you already know. If you're not a fan, might I have a moment?

I want to recommend this show to my vast readership (ROFL) who love and/or like Jesus, the reason being that I believe this is a show Jesus likes and quite likely loves. Yes, yes, its high school football Texas-style with egos and bravado and beer parties and big hair and mechanical bulls and teenage sexual activity and rough language and in some episodes, enough cleavage to darn well hide China's entire red army. Have no doubt, its in the world. But its also of the world in a way that, I believe, you and I as folks who love/like Jesus are to live because thats how Jesus lived, fully incarnated, fully human, fully of.

Now I'm probably close to losing some of you right there for the biblical phrase is - in the world but not of it. I realize that, I get it. And some of you would immediately react that part, if not all, of the problem these days is that Jesus lovers/likers are too much of the world. But I don't believe that, sounds good, I'll give you that, but its too easy. There is of the world and then there is as the world...that difference might be worth pondering, maybe.

Friday Night Lights tells the ongoing story of the difference people can make in the lives of others, as well as their own, by living in and of, and how it can happen it a little no-account town, far from the city-seats of power. At its heart, I believe it is a story about caring, giving a damn about people and a town and a game that's much more than a game. This is a show that doesn't strain at prepositions but swallows life whole...and leaves everything on the field. It doesn't hurt that the writing is brilliant and the cast is superb.
*NOTE:This show has one of the strongest lead male characters I've seen in a long time. If the numbnut fathers from most tv shows (Modern Family, anything Disney) drive you crazy, as they do me, then search out Coach Eric Taylor and just watch him, watch him coach, watch him husband, watch him father, watch him friend, watch him win, watch him lose, watch him and of the world.

Lange and Ruess - Deep & Wide

Gary, here's Frank & Hearty but renamed as Deep & Wide. I toyed with the temptation to 'rip 'em a new one' but who wants that? Who has ever wanted that? I don't, so I'm going to do unto others as I'd like done to me. The words, I believe, are still both frank and hearty and I trust they'll be heard. If you decide not to publish it, fine...I was grateful for your invitation, more than you know. But if you do publish, then fine as well. I'm at peace with the words, they're far more than words. I'm nowhere near your word count limit; hopefully not too few and not too many, but just right.

It'd be good to see you sometime. Go write that novel. I'll buy it.


Deep and wide, deep and wide,
there’s a fountain flowing deep and wide.

I learned this song as a child, words and accompanying motions. There was a childish aspect to the motions; they were fun, no shame in that. But now I am a man, I’ve put away the motions, but held fast to the words. I have grown into them and they into me, they mean something now – the fountain of grace is deep and wide. I am haunted by these words.

I heard the statement again this week: ‘Well, I’m not even sure he’s a christian.’ It grieved me in the moment, literally hurt my heart. After the moment, later, in the privacy of my car, I wept. After all this time, after all the revolutions and reformations and revivals, we cannot get past being the prodigal’s older brother. There is a straight and narrow, we believe, a line one must not only talk but walk and straying from that path, say going to some far country, disqualifies the straying one, unfolds them from the fold, strikes their name from the lamb’s list. Rings are being given, robes pressed and cleaned, fat calves are gracing the spit while the band is warming up, and we, yes we, stand cross-armed just outside the shadow of the Father’s house, steaming, stewing, refusing to enjoy a grace both deep and wide. Make no mistake, the grace is deep enough and wide enough to ravish us even as we stand at the edge; the efficacy of the grace is not the question, but rather our enjoyment of it. The thought that we’ve been faithful and worked all the live-long-day and some scrap comes in at the eleventh hour and gets the same wage, same gift, same love, dare I say same heaven…well, that is gall to us, a bitter drink that allows us to not only hate the sin, but the sinner as well. Yes, the unspoken rancor: hate the sin and hate the sinner too. Surprisingly, we hate ourselves for the hating, but we also secretly like it for it gives us something, something to trot out to say ‘look what I did or didn’t do.’ We grab our bibles as a witness and point to straight chapters and narrow verses and exclaim ‘But he…’ while the Father pleads ‘Put down the book, lose the hate, and come inside.’ For some reason, we’d rather endure the cold. Old Dante believed hell was ice, not fire.

There’s an aged Baptist preacher named Will Campbell. Once, he wrote: ‘We’re all bastards, but God loves us anyway.’ That’s the skinny, right there. Until we can see and say and live those words, we’re all just much ado about nothing, either youngsters off’a’whoring or resentful older siblings lost in our own home. The only hope for any of us is that there’s a Father keen on adoption, with a river running through him drawn from his own Immanuelish veins, a fountain flowing deep & wide, a flood called grace. I pray that you, like me, will live plunged beneath such waters....deep & wide, deep & wide.   

Prayers of the People

Sunday's children lift their voices
with all of creation and every blessed saint
to pray for bishops,
good weather,
and those in danger and need.
Lord, have mercy.

Weekday children oversleep
and look for work
and pray like they talk. 
Jesus, what kinda coach would call that play?
 God, no, haven't talked in years, but she just friended me.
  Lord, of all the days to get a migraine.
   Jesus H. Christ, you got tickets?
     God, he's your brother for Christ's sake!

God the font of all life, our thoughts are not as your thoughts,
our Thursdays are your millennia,
as with persons, you are no respecter of prayers.
So yes, have mercy on our families,
our deliver us from strife,
but what kinda coach would call that play?
Lord, have mercy. Amen.

Same Old Story

I woke up not sick
but worse -
Not quite the depressed black and white of George Bailey,
worth more dead than alive,
but somewhere near that jumping bridge,
tired of the same old house,
same old town,
same old dreams,
same old face in the mirror,
same old God.

I woke her up for school,
and the sun in her smile blinded me
like that old Damascus fool.
Hi, dad-o.
Hey, kid-o.

She combed her hair
with the same old comb,
in the same old mirror,
as I stood close brushing
the same old teeth,
in my same old head,
and tears like scales
fell from my eyes
at the technicolor mercies
in my same old life -
me, the richest man in Bedford Falls. 

Lange and Ruess - Frank & Hearty

Gary Jeffers had worked as editor of the successful 'Christian' magazine for over a decade. His devotional column - Green & Still - had a loyal following he'd fed faithfully each month, rain or shine, but his devotion had worn thin, he was exhausted. He'd been a groomsman at Ruess' wedding, a pallbearer at Jane's funeral, and a trusted friend all along.

Gary's request caught him off guard: 'Ruess, I'm resigning, had enough of the spiritual stone soup cooking in this grand land. I'm going off to write the book I've always whined about never having the time to write. The mag is giving me a final column, one last chance to say my peace...and I've decided to invite a guest writer - you. Instead of Green & Still this last hurrah's going to be Frank & Hearty. I want you to let go the length of the reins, Ruess, like we've long talked about. You've got 1500 words. I'll merely spellcheck it then send it through. Do it for me...and Jesus.'

Ruess took a few days to hem and haw. He loved Gary like a brother and was one of his loyal readers, but he had no affection for the magazine. Ruess understood the necessity of wooing advertisers to keep a periodical afloat but the prevailing blood lust for all things young and relevant or dead and orthodox drove him nuts. He'd intentionally walked away from those reindeer games a long time ago...stepping back into them, even by way of a magazine article, felt shaky, risky.

But the thrill of the rant was strong and one thought swallowed another. It used to be he swore if one more person used the words 'worldview' or 'closure' he'd slather himself with A1 steak sauce and hurl his body over his neighbor's fence, straight into the feral desire of twin rottweilers - Coco and Chanel. Then he choked on the memory of Jane's voice: 'Ruess, write the article for Gary, but be smart, baby...remember the two people in every audience - Nicks and Henley, and how to always reach them - leather and lace, leather and lace.'

Ruess smiled and then bowed his head and wept. He'd write the article for Jane...and Jesus.


Letters for dad-o...

Her third grade spelling list for the week includes
the words dance, wreck, fancy, and tremble.
She already knows how to spell them,
she'll ace Friday's test, 'no prob, dad-o.'
Still, we'll review them, just to be sure.
As she reels off d-a-n-c-e
I see a boy who will one day soon
take heart and ask her to inhabit this word.
Maybe he'll grow on me, I doubt it.
W-r-e-c-k will be the letters soaked in tears
as she explains 'I swerved to miss the dog, dad-o,
but I'm o.k.'
Thank God and Jesus.
I'm no prophet but my gut tells me
she'll want the f-a-n-c-y wedding dress,
her easy days of hoodies and jeans faded
like weekly spelling lists.

Still, just to be sure, we review these omens.
I try my best not to let her see me t-r-e-m-b-l-e.

I'll Never Forget

I do not remember any of their far-away names,
those swallowed by that black September day.
But I do remember her.
Our families had long known each another,
I always easily ten years her senior.
For time upon time,
as long as I could remember,
she embodied youth, innocence, goodness.

She paused at the door to my office
to say 'I think something's happening.'
We walked to a room where televisions
broadcast O beautiful's scourge.
We stood shouldered in quiet, image after image eroding
our shores of amber grain.
Our bodies did not touch in those moments,
but rather our souls.
We shared a more perfect union of loss.
She searched my eyes and
I saw her suddenly older,
no longer the girl I'd known.
Her wordless question of 'what now?'
found me dumb.

I do not remember any of their far-away names,
those raptured into spacious skies that day.
But I do remember her,
as I remember me, cast ready-or-not
further east of the garden.
I remember Ellen.

Meditation on Luke 15.1-32 - Quickly!

He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
His son said to him,
'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you;
I no longer deserve to be called your son.'
But his father ordered his servants,

That word - quickly - that's what I remember about that day. And his crooked smile. My brother later told me it was a stroke, the day after I left.

It undid me, to see him hobbling toward me. I just stood there, frozen on the ridge I'd played on as a boy. The old man fell twice, like some child learning to walk, the last fall only steps from me. He began to crawl, scooping at the ground, willing himself forward. It was then my body released me to move to him. As I knelt he raised his eyes to mine. That's when I clearly saw his face, half-right, half-wrong, as if something had torn him.

He frantically began to climb my frame until he reached my face. He kissed my cheeks, over and over, and stroked my hair. I'd had whores do that and more countless times. Money will buy almost anything. But then he began to mumble my name through his broken smile. No one had spoken my name in what seemed like a long, long time.

I shook to myself and knew I had to say the words. Were they honest, sincere, heartfelt? I doubt it, I really do. You see, I'd come to my senses earlier, primarily the sense I was starving. I was still so young. I held the old man by the shoulders: 'Father, I have si-' His eyes filled with a fury I'd known as a boy, his hands covered my mouth, he would not let me speak. And then he began to wrestle with that word - Quik-klee! Quik-klee! By then the servants had made their way down the ridge. He turned and clawed them in - Quik-klee! The next few seconds were filled with the old man's commands, half-spoken, fully understood.

Then, quickly, the celebration began.

My father lived long enough to see his sons work beside one another once more in the fields, like we'd done as boys. My brother and I both came to live again under the mercy of our father's roof. We awoke one autumn night to shouts of that word - Quik-klee! Quik-klee! By the time we reached his bedside the angels had taken him. My brother stayed at his side, close, until the dawn. Meanwhile I wandered down a familiar ridge and squandered my tears.  


A word of 'thanks' to my alma mater...

I am partial to the letter of my favorite poets, B.H. Fairchild, refers to it as 'the Audrey Hepburn of consonants.' If I allow little miss Hepburn to wiggle into Ouachita's Founders Day today, I find a word that immediately reminds me of those halcyon college days - flounder.

flounder - v. 1: to struggle to move or obtain footing; 2: to proceed or act clumsily or ineffectually.

I'm not sure what all my alma mater's founders had in mind when cutting the ribbon on a small, liberal arts Baptist college, but I bettin' at least one of them had a renegade thought, probably unspoken, that went something like 'ya know, kids need a good place to flounder, be clumsy for a few years, gain a little footing.' To that founder, I tip my hat and say 'thank you.'

For some, the thought of spending four, maybe even five years, and not to mention rather large land masses called 'tuition' in a state of floundering is, well, just horrible stewardship of unbiblical proportions. But I, for one, would gently disagree. As for the 'some' just mentioned, yes, there will always be two or three gathered together who have it all figured out at nineteen, 'look out world, here I cometh.' As for the rest of us, we really need some time to flounder around, find our life legs. Ouachita Baptist University provided that for me, and a few others I know...we needed a place to act clumsily and be downright ineffectual...a safe place to fall, for a little while.

You can flounder via many climates: the high-n-tight bootcamps of our military branches; some Elizabeth Gilbert Eat, Pray, Love romp across three cultures; even a go-North-young-man-into-the-wild trek that leads you to an abandoned bus up by some river. All those are fine and well and at least one resulted in a New York Times bestseller and a movie deal with that handsome Julia Roberts. But you can also flounder as a medium sized fish in a medium sized pond in southern Arkansas at a competitive-tuition-rate, in the company of a great cloud of witnesses known as staff and faculty who possess a trait not always found among drill instructors, yogis, or the inside of abandoned buses...yes, I'm taking about

compassion - n. 1: a sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it.

I'm quite certain the folks at OBU didn't always like me. But I'm quite certain the folks at OBU always loved me. They remembered the distress of being nineteen or twenty and not knowing what-in-the-sam-hill God wanted you to do, much less what you yourself wanted to do with your one wild and precious life. I believe they also knew you might not figure that out until you were in your, let's say, forties, and miles and miles away from the grace of red-bricked buildings and Bradford pears all in a row, swimming now on your own...strokes only possible because you were once upon a time permitted to flounder about.

So, thank you, Ouachita...thank you very much.  

Gifts of my Magi...

'Nothing you do for children is ever wasted.'
~Garrison Keillor

Once, long ago now, on an east Texas Indian summer afternoon, my parents took a trip to one of those pre-Walmart discount stores, maybe Howard's or Gibson's. They returned home with whatever items necessitated their trip, but they also came bearing gifts, two things not on my mother's list. One seemed from my mother's heart, something needed, warm, true, while the other came from the vagaries of my father. Together those gifts were kneaded into the impressionable dough of a boy I was and have risen like yeast into the man I've become - a plaid, flannel shirt and Rod McKuen's Greatest Hits Vol. 1.

Based on its point of origin, I'm willing to bet the flannel patterns didn't match up across buttons and seams and being pre-button-down-days, the collar points were no doubt sharp and wide. The shirt probably cost $4. We lived, in those days, on the loaves and fish of a Baptist preacher's salary. As I think about it now, here in my 40s, I am humbled by my mother's miracles of blessing and breaking and having leftovers enough for the extravagance of $4 flannel. I am often in the presence of believers, God's people, who pooh-pooh on the things of this earth, things that will pass away or be consumed as wood, hay, stubble or grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace. I am often uncomfortable around such people for I don't know exactly what they believe in; some unmediated, disembodied grace I guess. I probably make such people uncomfortable as well, for I believe in the icons of a mother's love and flannel.

I'd never heard of Rod McKuen until that day my father brought home a two-album set of his greatest hits. I've only met one other person along my way who likes McKuen -  My southern Baptist preacher father bringing home a Rod McKuen album of love songs is evidence that the man will always have facets of mystery to his life that will elude my grasp. I'll never know him, not all of him. From the moment the needle dropped into the vinyl groove that day, I was taken.  Songs like 'I've Saved the Summer' and 'Love's Been Good to Me' and 'Seasons in the Sun' and 'People Change' and 'The Lonely Things' were listened to with the same regularity of wearing that flannel shirt...over and over and over again. Its hard to say exactly what it was about McKuen's voice and lyrics that wooed me so; all I know is that they did, and they still do to this day, especially on crisp prelude days of fall. I wonder sometimes, here in my 40s, if the music my father introduced to our home, such as McKuen's songs of love and melancholy, was his way of tempering the hymns of certainty and conviction we'd stand and sing each Sunday in nice neat rows. I don't recall a single hymn extolling the sensuality of a stranger's eyes or the prime of Miss Jean Brodie. I am often in the presence of believers, God's people, who have no place in their lives for music unless it specifically mentions the name of Jesus or works the crowd up to some hands-raised-hallelujah-climax. I am always lonely around such people for the hills are ablaze with the morn's yellow haze but they seem to have never noticed. I probably make such people lonely too, for I was raised on my father's music, and I can't recall your name but the street...was Channing Way.


It's Time

Like the evening summer sun,
my bronzed hands and forearms
gently fade and pale.
We both sense it, the sun and I.
It’s fine. It’s time.
We could rage against the dying,
as some are prone to do,
but why?

Old John Donne believed it’s always autumn in heaven,
no buds or flowers, only fruit fully ripe.
I believe that’s crazy.
A seasoned Elysium holds my hope,
not some never ending summer.

The Good Book speaks of all things new,
not all new things.
Donne’s mercy-filled Fall will be covered
by Winters whiter than snow.
Then Spring will thrust up blackred roses
e.e. cumming’s mother couldn’t dream of.
As for Summer, we’ll saunter along
streets of gold with bronzed hands and forearms
until we sense it’s time.
Then we’ll roll down our sleeves once more
to harvest the mercies of God.

Meditation on Hebrews 13.2 - Angels

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.


The scripture reference clearly reveals the intended audience - 'the Hebrews' - that's who the writer was writing to.  But what if you're not a Hebrew?  What if you're an angel?  Not literal wings and harps, but as in 'the better angels of your nature.'  I believe we all have them.  If you don't, fine.  But if you do, then it's interesting what happens if you're willing to play with the text...the verse could read thus: Do not neglect to receive hospitality from strangers, for by doing that you can live quite an entertaining life.

Early this week, I was with a group of complete strangers.  There is a common link/person between the group and me, but said link was missing so I was among people I'd never met before. Strangers.  The group had set meetings, sorta closed-door sessions, I knew that going in.  But as for the inbetweens - meals, breaks, downtime - they invited me in, to be with them, hang out, talk, visit, eat, drink, be merry. I felt maybe one or two times would be sufficient for the purposes of my trip, but these strangers just kept extending hospitality to me, over and over and over again.  This phrase kept popping up: Oh, we certainly hope you'll join us, please, please do come.  For two and half days, I was the recipient of spring-fed-mountain-brewed-grace.  Forget living like a king, I experienced the rush of angels.

If you have the opportunity to extend, by all means do.  But if, from time to time, you're invited to receive, fiercely forget the humble-bumble oh, that's o.k., ya'll go ahead.  Spread your wings. Say yes. And afterwards thank you.



I came down from the mountains today
to find the republic whirling around pyrite media-geldings,
wild-eyed over anti-incumbents and
mosques and 'is he really a christian?'
I wanted to go all Moses on the people,
throw rocks etched with roman numerals,
but the mountains did not give me such stones.
Rather, I descended with something not written on tablets -


- impossible to hurl and never effective on a mob.

And so I walked among the people as an alien,
one refusing to bend the knee in this canaan of curdled milk
and rancid honey,
one too thankful to appease the gods of hate.

Meditation on Luke 13.24-27

"Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, 'Lord, open up to us!' then he will answer and say to you, 'I do not know where you are from.'  Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets'; and He will say, 'I tell you, I do not know where you are from...'"


The Lord ends his statement with a preposition, twice.  Apparently the narrow door has something to do with more than grammar. His words ring strange though, almost bumpkin, especially spoken into the sophisticated air we currently breathe.  We strive with the question - who am I? - some of us our entire lives.  We pass the striving on to our children and our children's children - do you know who you are?  In light of Jesus' riddingly poor grammar, I wonder if our question may be too broad.

What if we narrowed our focus from who am I? to where am I from?  Some would immediately say that it is, in essence, the same question.  Well, maybe.  Who am I? ends with a pronoun - me. Where am I from? goes one beyond the me to some place, some people, something other than just the me.  What appears to be a narrowing is really an Alice-in-Wonderland door into an open plain of sorts, filled with the menagerie of our lives, people, places, things, sinners, saints, the good, the bad, and the often ugly, always a result of much more than me.  To enter that question though, you must shrink yourself.

So, where are you from?

Lange and Ruess - Read, Drink, Tend, Listen...

Lange heard the doorbell ring.  It was almost 6:30pm, so the odds were one of the neighbors or UPS.  Sure enough, he opened the door to see a brown blur of man and machine speed away.  What remained was a large package, taped well, with a familiar name beginning the return address - Ruess.

He opened the box to find a manilla envelope on top of a sea of packing peanuts.  The envelope had the words START HERE written across the top, and so Lange carefully slit the seal with a steak knife and read:
Dear Lange,
This is a little goodwill from me to you.  As I told you early on, I'm a hard mystic and after awhile words and concepts can make me a little loopy.  The popular movie right now is Eat, Pray, Love...well, I prefer Read, Drink, Tend, Listen...sorta the same idea minus Julia Roberts.  Dig through the packing and you'll find 
~an Annie Dillard book - There are times I don't know what in the hell this lady is talking about and other times when a sentence or phrase of her's splices me open.  At one point in this book she writes 'I don't know beans about God'...that's a writer I trust.  This is a wrestling book.
~a planter - As you'd guess, the coyote reminds me of you.  I dare you to plant something in here, doesn't matter what necessarily, and tend it.  It never ceases to amaze me what giving a little attention to small things every day can do.
~a cd - I found this first in album form, as in vinyl.  Chances are good you don't own a phonograph so I copied it to cd for you. This is Brazilian flavored easy listening, a good way to begin or end the day.  Eve might like to be rocked to sleep by it.  I'd be interested to hear your favorite track.
~a coffee mug - If you're a coffee drinker, great.  If you drink green tea or something, lord, don't tell me.  This is what I'd call 'an icon of light.'  You said everything around you feels like weight these days.  That's fair.  Maybe the BOOTAY mug can elicit a grin, always a turn in the direction of not taking everything so seriously.  Sometimes where the face points, the mind will follow.
I was going to keep all this for myself, I like all these items.  But if there's anything I've learned in the last few years, Lange, its that 38 Special was right - 'hold on loosely' here you go.  The whole shebang cost me $3.  
Your welcome,

Lange and Ruess - Dancing in Place...

I thought my life would look different at 40.  I'm sure you've heard that before; its a true statement for me.  I didn't have some elaborate plan for my life, but I was expectant.  Now everything around me, especially those I love most, feels like weight.  I wish I could feel like your coyote, nose to the wind, but I don't.  I feel much more like a mule.  I don't like this feeling.

I've had moments lately when I've seriously wanted to run.  I'm sure you've heard that before too.  But I don't want to be the man who leaves, who abandons those when they need him most. Though right now, I'm afraid that's more about my pride than it is about their needs.  Doesn't it say something in the bible about a house divided?

Roy said you were brave in the pulpit.


Sure, I've heard those things before.  Guess what?  I've felt those things before, felt some of them yesterday in fact.  Its hard for a man to talk much about those things though, the wound-too-tights'll be on you like ducks on a junebug, shaming you, telling you its a sin or something to feel that way and the loose-gooses are just as quick on the draw spinning some version of Disney's just follow your heart.  Neither extreme is much help, you're either hurting yourself or those you love, and oftentimes its both. Yes, that house divided phrase is in the bible, but so are a lot of other things.

I came across a story once about the holiest religious ceremony of the Plains Indians - the Sun Dance.  The writer was privileged to be a witness and she described it as 'not really a dance with steps but a dance of containment, a dance in place.'  I wonder sometimes if that's not what a man has to learn, at least a man who desires wife and children and home and dance in place.  Sun Dance is quite taxing though, it takes a lot of focus and grit.  But you do get to wear nothing but a loincloth.

Brave?  More like foolish, Lange.  Your daughter, Karen, now I'd say she's brave.  Send me your mailing address, I've got a few things for you, a little goodwill.  

Lange and Ruess - Forward...

I'm gonna throw something your way.  It was a gut feeling I had driving back from the Goodwill store.

I live not far from a popular running/walking/biking trail.  Its usually always teeming with body-nazis and eco-ninnies.  But yesterday, around noon, a certain stretch was almost bare.  As I drove past, there stood a lone coyote in the middle of the trail. Many of the coyotes around here are sickly, yet this one looked like a coyote should, wirey and mean.  But he just stood there, looking around, nose to the air, stock-still, deciding between back or forward.

My gut said that's Lange.  I realize your grandmother stirred up something in you, something you're thinking you've forgotten. There's remembering the past and then there's trying to recreate the past, two totally different things.  If Nora was half the woman you said she was I don't believe she was encouraging you to do the latter.  She was trying to help you go forward, Lange.

Trust me though, I'm the pot calling the kettle black.


Lange and Ruess - Endure...

Lange had intentionally been brief with Ruess about Rebecca.  It wasn't so much he was trying to conceal, as he just didn't know what to say.  Or actually, he wouldn't know where to stop.  The truth is he'd like to scream RUESS, YOUR WIFE IS DEAD AND GONE, BUT MINE IS DEAD AND STILL HERE.  But the only way to scream via email is to type in all caps, something Lange simply refused to do.

It was a late Sunday afternoon when Karen broke the news, whimpered I'm pregnant.  Lange sat stunned, but Rebecca suddenly sprung to attention, soldiering around her only daughter with strength and we'll get through this, sweetheart.  Seven days later, late in the afternoon, Rebecca sat down in a kitchen chair and said I can't, I quit.  That was the beginning of her perverted sabbath.  And as for most things, she just quit - bathing, dressing, working, sleeping, cooking, laughing, crying.  In all the quitting there was one thing she started, smoking - Natural American Spirits, the blue pack.  Rebecca would always smoke outside though, on the back deck, never around Karen.  Initially Lange believed that behavior to be a singular ember of care, something that might be stoked, fanned.  But as days passed he stopped believing.

What's a man to do in a situation like that, when he finds himself between a young, unwed mother-to-be and an older, wedded woman-that-was?  The chorus in his head sang endure.  And so Lange did. He became, as they say, tough as nails.  The only problem is he also became a nail.


Lange and Ruess - Goodwill...

He couldn't believe Jane's robe was gone.  He'd told Roy the lady at the Goodwill store tried to help, but that was a lie.  All she did was wave Ruess toward a corner of the store and say maybe back there.  His intent to elaborate was silenced as she put in some of those little white earbuds and turned her attention toward a fresh People magazine on the counter.  Ruess struck a cruciform pose, palms open, pleading one more time.  She popped her gum and raised her chin toward the back of the store.  He remembered a line from Hud: 'You don't look out for yourself, the only helping hand you'll ever get is when they lower the box.'  He didn't believe the line, but he did remember it.  Ruess turned and walked away.

He never found Jane's robe.  But Ruess had always had some of the picker in him, and his search yielded an Annie Dillard book - For The Time Being (he'd only read her Tinker Creek), a black coffee mug with the word bootay emblazoned across it in sparkly gold (it fit his hand strangely well), a terra cotta planter in the shape of a howling coyote (an ear chipped off), and a near mint 33rpm of 'Fool On The Hill' by Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66 (some days you're just lucky).  He gathered the four items and headed back to the front counter.  The same lady was there, same earbuds, same gum.  She keyed each item not once making eye contact with Ruess.  You wanna bag for this?  Ruess said please although he was about out of patience with her.  Rich or poor, young or old, there's no excuse for rude.  As he walked away she tacked on have a good day.

He sat a moment before driving home.  Jane, I'm sorry about your robe.  I feel like the fool I am.  He could imagine her sitting there, grinning, saying Ruess, grow up.  He rustled the bag, $3 for a little goodwill.  Not bad.

Maybe, maybe not...

[I temporarily interrupt our current storyline for this…Lange and Ruess’ll return on Monday, promise]

Years ago, I and a gamillion other people read everything author Robert Fulghum wrote.  Critics summarily dismissed him as saccharine; in other words, sweet.  I’m rather fond of sweet myself.  It does wonders for black coffee, and the medicine-go-down.  A little more sweet might make for a better world.

Fulghum always had great titles: Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten; It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It; Uh-Oh…genius, pure genius.  My favorite was Maybe (Maybe Not).  The title was inspired by a Hebrew word – timshel – meaning ‘maybe.’  Something in my splankna tells me an astute reader will offer the ‘correct’ meaning of that word and it won’t be ‘maybe.’  Just remember, astute reader, that sometimes its more important to be in right relationship than it is to be right.  I heard an arrogantly humble preacher say that once, so I guess its true.  Maybe.

Fulghum’s book is a collection of stories built on the premise of well, maybe, but then again, maybe not.  Possibility...openness...wonder...all stances that, I believe, might just make for a better world.  For example
 - Maybe the most spiritual cinematic scene in recent history was when that raindrop fell from heaven in the crucifixion scene in Mel Gibson’s The Passion.  But maybe not.  Maybe it was those quiet moments in Million Dollar Baby, the ones in Ira’s Roadside Diner with Eastwood and Swank sitting at the counter eating a piece of lemon pie.
 - Maybe Miley Cyrus is really not a Christian after all.  She’s got a racy pole-video out, she did that nekkid-back Vanity Fair shoot, all image enhancing efforts to let us know little Hannah’s done-grow’d-up, we’re not in Montana anymore.  But maybe not.  Maybe she’s going through changes that are going to be fraught, fraught I tell you, with achy-broken hearts, but they are all a part of her life's climb and she’s gonna end up with a mansion next to yours just over the hilltop one of these days, in heaven, just down the golden bricks from Anne Rice, and me.
 - Speaking of heaven, maybe we’ll spend eternity singing Matt Redman songs, or crankin’ Third Day, or doing the motions to that awesome Rich Mullins tune.  But maybe not.  Maybe M-W-F will be filled with Pavarotti and T-Th with Emmylou Harris, with Saturdays being devoted to Chicago.  Sunday mornin might be Johnny Cash and evenings could be the Ave Maria a capella.  That’d be nice, huh? Of course, it being heaven, we could probably make special requests, like a Judy Collins' tune or two.
 - And maybe church is people gathered together under something, a roof or lean-to, and scripture being read, folks sharing about life, a little wine, a little bread, amen.  Then again, maybe not, or at least maybe not always.  Maybe it might also be something along the lines of Chardin’s saying Mass upon the altar of the world, divinizing the day, driving on past the Sunday morning assembly and having breakfast with your family or friends at Cracker Barrel, laughing, joking, catching up, some biscuits, a little more coffee, leaving the waitress a graceful tip…or even walking around the lake outside town by yourself, chewing juicy-fruit or Copenhagen, watching for sparrows that might fall, humming a Bieber tune, smelling sage.

I realize maybe is a sandy word, it grits at the heart of certainty, the rock upon which wise men build their houses.  That’s fair.  But I remember reading somewhere that we see, when we’re looking at all, through a glass darkly; in other words - maybe, maybe not.  That phrase can leave you all shaky, nervous, closed, or it could swing wide open the door to wanton permissiveness, all-roads-lead-to-Rome, no rules-easy rider, don’t-stand-for-something-fall-for-anything.  But maybe not.  It could open us up to a life that’s attractive, inviting, trusting, faithful, shot straight through with the grandeur of the Grace that keeps this world…in a word, sorta, well, sweet. 

But then again, too much sweet can rot your teeth, make your zits go nuclear, and lead to an early onset of diabetes.  So never mind.  Just never mind.