The Beautiful Fall...

We speak of the fall, and I think he did,
that man born a man and never a kid.
He tended the garden according to plan,
but lonely was he, this overalled man.
The bones all around him just slightly askew -
the grizzly, the wild hare, the common house shrew.

So one weary day he left barrow and tool,
took off his gloves and lay down in the cool.
Then God dreamed a keeper, not fish or a stone,
but flesh of man's flesh, bone of man's bone.
Sharp pain in his side woke the prince from his nap,
he stretched perfect limbs and adjusted his cap.

For a fella at naming it seemed since day one,
he stood before Eve twitterpated and dumb.
She grinned with the evening's dew still on her lips,
then clavicles, breasts, and mercy those hips.
Shucks, Lord, if she's not the fairest of all.
God smiled on creation's most beautiful fall.

My Father's Game...

for Dad

The chessboard hides beneath the old Arby Bennett place.
Cross-armed and kneeling farmers, pawns, hold their stations.
All eyes check her, the Queen, who for once in her woebegone life
won something, and not just anything but a new Massey-Ferguson.

Her regent, always close, beams as his hand rests on the prize.
She is handed the kingdom’s keys, but he is still the King.
Her youngest, the Knight, grins with arms in an “L”
and a horseman’s stance – my goodness, mama.

All eyes attend the Queen, that is all but two –
the Bishop’s…the older brother’s…yours.
You’re looking directly at the camera.
What do you know that they do not?

Do you know that in less than a year
the King will sell her prize for safe passage back to Texas?
Do you know that all the King’s horses and men and tractors
could never rut much in Logan, Kansas?

Or did you realize, even then in ’54, that your family’s blitz
would be twelve moves in your dozen years of public school,
and winning is for tractor giveaways,
but enduring is the name of the game?

And so you smiled.

Git Along...

We don't get along well, you and I.
I see that now.
No, I've always known.
No, now time and pain have made me brave.
We don't get along well.

I can hear my father's sons of the pioneers -
Yipee ti yi yo/git along little doggies.
Exhausting, trouble in a leather sack,
Jack o' Diamonds hard cards.
Head 'em up, move 'em out.

You said it then - you just don't get me.
Let me say it now - I don't want to.
No, I won't go to hell for saying that.
No, now heaven might just let me in.

Here's a thought...

and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us,
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

Here's a thought.  We usually think about the lead us not into temptation phrase as a plea to be delivered from greed or anger or lust or something along those lines.  But what precedes that phrase in the prayer? A plea for forgiveness - both for our sins and those who have/are/will sin against us.

What if the temptation we're praying to be lead not into is the temptation to not forgive those who trespass against us? In other words, the temptation to withhold forgiveness.  What if, of all the temptations out there and there are many, many, many, what if the greatest of these is being led into the valley of the reality of resentment or the nursinghome of grudge or just flat out having your mercy then eating it too?

Giving in to that temptation is essentially being delivered over to evil.  But being delivered from evil, as the prayer hopes?  Well, spell evil backwards and whaddaya get?  Yep, live.  The only way to about-face-truly-live in heaven and on earth is under God's mercy and then returning the favor all 'round.  

It's possible that all the other temptations are offspring of that great mother temptation.  And the only way to best the great mother?  With the our Father...

and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us,
and lead us not into the temptation of keeping forgiveness all to ourselves.
Our daily bread is your mercy.  And it is to be blessed and broken and distributed to one and all, so that we might live.

Just a thought.

A Secret Life

I didn't go to church Sunday.  I just didn't.  Yes, yes, I know, do not forsake the assembling of ourselves together...I know.  But to say that means going to church on a Sunday, well, that'll have to be another post.  I spent the Sabbath morning reading poetry, a lot to myself and at least one piece aloud to my family.  I know folks who want to be sure they're doing something when Jesus comes back, work for the Lord is coming and all.  I want to be reading poetry when he returns.  I just do.

The poem here is one I read several times on Sunday.  It's by Stephen Dunn, titled A Secret Life.  I'm not going to comment about encouragement is to read it a few times, let it simmer awhile, stew even, and see what gift it holds for you.  That's what I did.

Why you need to have one
is not much more mysterious than
why you don't say what you think
at the birth of an ugly baby.
Or, you've just made love
and feel you'd rather have been
in a dark booth where your partner
was nodding, whispering yes, yes,
you're brilliant.  The secret life
begins early, is kept alive
by all that's unpopular
in you, all that you know
a Baptist, say, or some other
accountant would object to.
It becomes what you'd most protect
if the government said you can protect
one thing, all else is ours.
When you write late at night
it's like a small fire
in a clearing, it's what
radiates and what can hurt
if you get too close to it.
It's why your silence is a kind of truth.
Even when you speak to your best friend,
the one who'll never betray you,
you always leave out one thing;
a secret life is that important.

Daughter of Thunder...

- for Abbey

I just noticed the lone freckle on the top of your hand.
Where did that come from?
You, our family’s southpaw,
were practicing your cursive letters
telling me you were good at all of them,
everything but zzzs.

So we drilled, you and me –

Where did that freckle come from?
You have a zigzagged zillion of them beneath your third born eyes.
Maybe you sneezed one day, one moment,
when I was a zombie to the divinity that is you,
and when you reached to wipe your button nose
with the back of your hand
a zealous freckle decided to change zip codes.

Maybe that’s what happened.

Or maybe that’s just me
torn by your gorgeous childhood zinging by
for I know some day, some moment,
some Zeus, more godlike than me, will call out
Follow Me! and in your zest you’ll drop our cursived nets
and I’ll be left like Zebedee of old,
alone on Zion’s shores, zero, zilch,
mending memories of freckles and zzzs.


But in Tolstoy, just as in Plato and Plotinus, the thought of death is accompanied by a particular sentiment, by a kind of consciousness that, even while horror rose before them, wings were growing in their backs.
- Lev Shestov, "A Letter to His Daughters"

I'm a likable cuss, but I'm also a melancholy man.  It just is.  So the season of Lent is hard for me.  I love it because it's dark and moody and full of paradox...but if you live off to the side anyways, forty days of the melanc-holy can do a number on you.  All of a sudden you look up mid-March and you're in extremis.  Easter does come and you ring 'dem bells but if Jesus should see his shadow, then you've got six more weeks of winter which takes you into June and well...

I know we're all encouraged to be tolerant these days.  But there are some things I cannot abide.  Sorry.  One is a claptrap faith, full of the pretentious nonsense of nothin' but sunshine and wrapping everything up in nice red bows and the fabled Mary Poppins's harmless first period.

At the same time, I'm learning to be intolerant of the opposite but equal trap within myself: that life is a tragedy best lived in the valley of the shadow of despair with occasional weekend trips to the vale of tears.  Basically, Lent all year long.

That quote at the beginning?  I found it while reading some B.H. Fairchild poetry.  He's one of my favorites.  I've met him, heard him read his plains pastoral.  I haven't the foggiest idea who Lev Shestov is...I guess he had some daughters.  I'm familiar with Tolstoy (glorious beard where eagles could nest) but Plato and Plotinus are, to me, just quotable dead men.  But sometimes grace speaks from the living and the dead.  In this case, I was startled by that particular sentiment - wings were growing in their backs.

Those six words have kicked up a new consciousness within me about Lent, one that just might help me make it thru the night. With every step down the forty day via dolorosa, wings are growing in my back. I believe they're growing in yours too.  But the ding-donger here is that I can't see my back.  I may be able to feel some feathery emergings, but I can't see them, at least not in the early days.  Nor can you.  So I guess we need each other in these days in the wake of Ash, huh?  Friends, soul friends, anam caras to say well merciful heavens, I do believe you're growing wings.

Something to look forward to even while the horror rises before us...  

Ashen X-Ray...

Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return...

I was reminded tonight that I am the chief of sinners.  And if my life is to mean anything, anything at all for the Kingdom coming and the Will being done, then my life not should or could or ought but MUST be an incarnation of the Grace that keeps this world. My life must be an open book for your eyes.  If you choose to avert, then so be it.  But this ethic of necessity keeps me writing and telling and sharing and exposing and revealing through narrative, through my own story, the dust am I, a man full of greed and lust and selfish ambition and hatred and jealousy and wrath and lies and more lies.  Ashes, ashes, all fallen down.  I can struggle with my calling - am I called to be a pastor? am I called to be a writer? blah, blah, blah, blah, but I was reminded tonight that my calling is to be humbled, driven to my knees so that my cry is mercy...please, mercy...for he who has been forgiven little, loves little, but he who has been forgiven much, loves much and I want to be a lover.  It's just that simple and simply that hard and I hate like hell that's the way it is, but it is, for I am dust and to dust I shall return.  We can call no man good for only God is good.  That is what Ash Wednesday reminds me of, me, the chief, the cheat, the thief...

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom...  

Wedded Wednesday: To Tell or Not To Tell?

Meredith and I have been answering marriage questions every Wednesday. The queries are sent in by readers.  This week we're posting our responses here...a dirty shame, isn't it?
2Cats asked: Do you tell each other everything or do you sometimes hold back?

(This is John, the husband)
I’m guessing both cats are asking about ‘things’ related to each other or our family, so that’s how I’ll answer it. If the question pertained to each and everything, like everything two friends and I did on a vision quest to the Grand Canyon, well then the answer would be mama didn’t raise no fool.

But as for each other and family, yes, I try to tell Meredith everything. But, and this is a big but, I don’t always tell her everything at once. This is a differing point for us. Meredith tells me, right there smack dab in the moment, the whole story, sometimes with sound effects. I’ve come to learn this is how my wife thinks things through – aloud, immediate, hot, close to the source, like Mercury. Yes, yes, I know John Gray believes its Mars and Venus, but in our home Meredith is from Mercury and I’m from Neptune.
Neptunians usually linger over things, drag our big old feet, chew on toothpicks, and put great stock in something called timing. I don’t always make good time, but I try. In other words, I try and tell Meredith everything in good time. Now, if the house is on fire, I’ll put down the toothpick and spring into action, like Batman or that music teacher from Glee. But if the house ain’t on fire, I’m gonna let stuff simmer a little. That’s just how we do things out here on Neptune. It’s possible a therapist would have an absolute field day with my answer, and if so, fine…even therapists deserve a field day every now and then.

(This is Meredith, the wife):
I think this question could be interpreted several different ways. The way I interpreted it initially was: Do you keep secrets from each other. Nope, no secrets. John pretty much knows everything I think, feel, say, and do. I don't think I could keep a secret if I tried; I like to talk too much. And I'm a terrible liar.

As for holding back? Well, like John said, I typically process things out loud, in the moment. I can hold back, but it's not easy for me. Holding back leaves me feeling unprocessed and stuck. Hmmmm...not sure what that says about me. 

I tried to come up with a story or example. This is what came to mind:

John did freelance writing/editing from home for several years. It was a time of intense career transition, and was a very lean season for us financially. God was faithful to keep John supplied with work, but because of the way his pay schedule worked, there times that we went months without a paycheck. Once you've depleted your entire savings account, it's not much fun to wait much more than a few weeks for a paycheck. We waited months at a time. It terrified me.

My fear translated into trust issues and thoughts like "I can't trust my husband to provide for me" and "if I can't trust him to take care of me, then how can I trust him to _______?" began to eat away at me. I tried to keep those thoughts inside; I really did. We've already established that I'm not good at internal processing and so naturally, I started to shut down and pull away from my husband. I knew I had to tell John what was I was thinking/feeling and why, but I also knew that sharing my fears/thoughts would be a pretty big blow to his masculinity. I felt like my only options were lose-lose: I could keep things bottled up inside and retreat further from my husband OR tell him, risk hurting him, and risk him retreating further from me.

I honestly shared my heart and didn't hold anything back. It hurt. It hurt both of us. We journeyed through some hard stuff, and (hopefully) came out a little stronger because of it, but it wasn't quick or easy or painless.

Wish I could tell you that I've learned to think before I tell John everything, but like he said, I'm Mercurian. I really like that word. 

The O-lympics...

Vancouver's about redemption...

That's what the announcer said, Lord.  I heard it.  I hope it is.  I pray it is.

We move so quickly from tragedy to ceremony, as the show must go on.   The native peoples just welcomed the world with raised, open arms.  Earlier today the twenty-something luger left earth for heaven.   Did your angels welcome him with raised, open arms? I know he is sad to have missed the games.  He was so close.  So very close.  The black ribbon on the Georgian flag is quickly swallowed in the sea of color.  O, Nodar.

The sixteen year old jazz phenom sings O, Canada.  A month ago now the world cried O, Haiti.  We move so very quickly, don't we, Lord?  900 latrines have been built for the homeless and displaced in Haiti.  What happened to all the homeless in downtown Vancouver?   I saw them there not two years ago.  O, Canada.

Lionel and Quincy assembled the voices for We Are The World one-more-time.  Bob Costas just used the phrase speaking in tongues.  And here come the United States in Ralph Lauren's red-white-and-blue dream come true.  Shaun White's hair is longer than mine.  O, America.

Still the natives dance.

And Donald speaks.  And Sarah sings about ordinary miracles today in a ceremony of $30 million worth of illusion.  And fiddlers fiddle.  And blessed Joni sings.  O, Joni.

Then comes the poet - and some say what defines us/is something as simple as please and thank you/and as for you're welcome/well we say that too...

O, me!  O, life!  O, Lord, in these sixteen days of snowy metaphor, please let Vancouver be redemption, for as k.d. sings in white we are broken hallelujahs.

We'll say thank you.  O, my...        

Almost Thirteen

My son turns thirteen tomorrow.

One evening, a little over a week ago now, I walked into his bedroom.  As I did, my dad-sense went off.  This is sorta like spidey-sense; you know danger is near, you stand at the ready.  My son had his Nintendo gaming system in hand.  These hand-held machines now all contain browsing capabilities, as in browsing the web.  We have clear rules regarding 'online.'

Bud, have you been surfing?  This is one of those moments when its really important to tell the truth.

His face told me the answer, then his mouth followed.  I shut his bedroom door and sat the edge of his bed.

Why don't you show me what you've been looking at.

He protested, trying to explain, to tell not show, that he'd been searching on Google images.  The story goes that the boys at school had been feeding him tales of the sexy girls you could see there.  He protested a little more, as I said he turns thirteen tomorrow.  But I gently protested even more, as I turn forty-three in about a month.

Why don't you take me where you've been.  We'll go together.

And so my son showed me the pages he'd been viewing, a hand-held screen full of images along the lines of the SI swimsuit issue, nothing he hasn't seen watching Dancing with the Stars or in Avatar's 3D.  I looked at the search box to see what he had typed: 'sexy girl hollywood movie star models.'  The innocence in that moment was almost too much for me; my son was struggling even for the lingo to type - does that make sense?  His friends at school could no doubt be there in one word while he was typing six...this bumbling, stumbling, unedited far-from-savvy searching fueled by desires that are growing as he does.

We gotta be real careful here, man...this can take you to some dark places, fast, too fast.

The heart of our conversation after that is sacred, just between father and son.  It is an ongoing one.  The two of us are going out this evening; it will continue then.  I don't want to diminish in any way the gravity of those moments.  The stories of porn addiction seem to be legion these days, more often than not starting at about his age.  Our cultural landscape is littered with abuse, wrecked marriages, pain.  I also don't want to diminish in any way the gravity of those moments.  My almost thirteen year old son is wrestling with his self, his mind, his body, his very soul and how those facets of who he is fit together, rarely if ever smooth.  These wrestlings do not go away.  I know.  I'm almost forty-three.  Yes, yes, the apostle said we wrestle not with flesh and blood, but somedays I'd swear he was lying.

In the wake of that evening, I felt another conversation going on, between another father and son.

God: We gotta be real careful here, John...this is about his heart.  And yours.

Me: I know.  Please help me.  Please.  I'm not spiderman.   


Their interest in the Super Bowl had waned.  The youngest said Let's play Life!  Her brother and sister agreed.  And so as their mother and I whispered prayers for the scar-faced quarterback, our three kids took turns at Life - pursuing higher education, buying houses and cars, getting married, around the board you go.

The youngest sits with one knee pulled up to her chin.  She wears her brother's old Colts jersey, her own pink pajama pants, some big gold bling-lookin' chain necklace, a green headband with reindeer on it, and one of those Live Strong type rubber bracelets except this one is red and two sizes too big.  She's ready for Life, huh?  When it's not her turn she's watching her siblings with rapt attention; they're both ahead of her.  She also looks up to find my eyes and I try to affirm - keep playing, girl.

The middle sits in the same fashion.  Her hair is pulled back. There's snow falling outside but she's wearing shorts and a t-shirt. She moves her game piece four spaces but she's also paying close attention to the commercials.  Just a few moments earlier, before the half, she and I were eating chips and dip off the same plate.  It was also just a few moments ago that I would place her in a crib and sing you are my sunshine, each and every night.  The game's moving much too fast.

The first born is at least quadruple-tasking: the game of Life, holding out for Peyton, texting friends, and the commercials - he laughed uproarishly at the Volkswagen slug-bug and paid way too close attention to Go Daddy.  One of his texting thumbs has a big black nail that's just about to come off.  A few weeks ago a middle school girl, cute evidently, walked by and slammed his locker on that hand.  He told me about it when he got home from school that day - Dad, I cried it hurt so much, but she was really sorry. I had to turn away a little as tears fell from my eyes for my son and his thumb and his heart.  Yes, my strength, love hurts.

I tell their mother a turnover would seal this.  And lo and behold, it cometh to pass.  Porter runs like a man on fire.  Her mother and I both stand and cheer, scaring the three gamers and waking the overweight Beagle.  While yes, we cheered for the men, I also want to believe we cheered for those children at our feet, in uniforms of their own making, going around the board, growing, changing, enduring, living.  Your games are just beginning.  Keep playing, saints.        

But what about David?...

There once were two men who went to Haiti - one named David and one named Dan.  Both husbands, fathers, believers in God, believers in Jesus for that matter, and both in their own way desired to help the people there.  While the men were in Haiti forces beneath their feet huffed and puffed and blew the land down.  Dan was found in the rubble and pulled to safety amid cheers and tears.  He is now reunited with wife and children and life-after.  So far David is still missing.

Two men walking up a hill one disappears and one's left standing still...old long-haired Larry Norman wished we'd all been ready. However, in this story, based on everything we know, it was not a question of readiness but inches.

The religion writer for our local paper voiced the broad last Sunday, the big why?  It is often referred to as theodicy - trying to reconcile God's goodness in a world full of badness.  The writer posed the question to local leaders of the Abrahamic faiths.  An evangelical pastor pointed to satan's top three: steal, kill, and destroy - "if he can use natural causes to destroy, he will."  A local rabbi indicated "we cannot understand everything."  A spokesman for the Islamic community offered: "God's ways are not our ways."  I wish our local leaders had all been ready with something else to say, something that sounded even remotely human.  I wish the writer would have brassed up and just combined their three responses: "hell if I know."  

The writer did bravely take the narrow road though, wondering the but behind the why: but what about David?  Because that really is the question, isn't it?  Yes, it's why do bad things happen, but when you clear away the rubble, it's but what about David? because if it happened to that wise man who built his house upon the rock, then it could sure happen to a sandy fool like, well, me. Theo + dicey = theodicey...