Garden variety stream of consciousness...

I know we see but through a glass darkly but sometimes sometimes the darkly divides and we see clearly for the length of a breath or the twinkling of an eye and it was like that for me yesterday for a spot in time as I finished the four mile run breathing heavily with the score from August Rush rushing in my ears and I looked up and it was as if scales fell from my eyes to see really see the magpie hopping magnificently on the lawn kissed newly green from spring snows and his black and white was a white and black that pierced something deep in my side and gratitude mixed with gratitude spilled out and he hopped backdropped by young aspens all huddled in a group like ten year old girls giggling-just-can't-stand-still and these trees these virgin witnesses were like those planted firmly by the river whose streams make glad the city of God and the invisible wind that blows where it will rustled aspen leaves unseen but felt for I felt it too yes I did cooling the sweat on my face and arms and back and I shivered into confessed shock at the blue of the sky not robin egg blue or cerulean or any other hue in the 64 box but quite simply the blue blue of God ribboned with arrogant white clouds latticed one over the over like the crust of a dream pie and the pie in the sky was so vast that it threatened to swallow us all me the magpie the green green grass of home even the aspens such was the height and breadth and depth of this firmament and I felt small so very what is man that you are mindful of him small in all this but then in an exhale only a little lower than God himself for I was Adam splendid in the garden with the dew still on the world slack-jawed in bewonderment for morning had broken like the first morning and I was naked but not ashamed and I inhaled to drink it all in and just like that the darkly returned.


She sits at my feet
playing with American Girl dolls
and I wonder
what kind of man am I?
The radio plays Ishman's theme
from October Sky
as she converses with her nostalgic friends.
Tears flood my eyes.
I've been traveling, almost nine days in a row
and I've missed her so, this house, these dolls.

Earlier this morning she asked her mother
am I more like you or Dad?
I want to believe there's still such a thing
as American girls,
not just global citizens.
What kind of man am I
that prefers film scores to hip hop,
October skies to July's pomp,
and staying put?
I pray she's most like herself.

Lost and Found and Lost...

The small bookstore in the airport was actually quite well stocked. I shuffled the fiction section three times waiting for the book to find me.  I'm one who believes books select us rather than we select them, a time and a place for every thing under heaven.  But no book found me that morning.  I was crestfallen for I would have some time to read on this trip and I love to read, but I was passed over, nobody wanted me.  I recalled Mary Chapin Carpenter's lyrics: "...I was an orphan shoe from the lost and found/always missing the other."

My destination was a seaside town shy of major hotel chains but bold on what's known as the bed & breakfast.  Weeks earlier I had perused the online list trying to be a good steward of my travel budget.  In the end, it felt like the b&b found me; hard to explain, but that's how it felt.  I am learning in this my forty-third year that sometimes its wise to trust life.

It was after hours when I finally ascended the stairs to my room-for-one-up-under-the-dormer.  I passed a bookshelf that seemed on fire but was not consumed; it was actually some sort of neon night light that illuminated the entire second floor landing.  There, sandwiched between the latest from Nicholas Sparks and James Patterson, was a book definitely out of place, maybe even out of time - Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson.  I drew the book from the shelf, found my room, and removed my boots...for the next couple of days, I was on creaky hardwood floors, a.k.a., holy ground.

I had work to do on this trip and I believe I accomplished what I was tasked to do.  But in those moments of non-work, sabbaths stolen here and there, I did not wander the downtown nightlife to drink in the vibe or even traipse the boardwalk by ocean's edge and wink at old ladies.  No, I sat in a b&b filled by couples with romance on their minds, in a room under a dormer filled with doilies and a claw-footed tub, and read and read and read and read.  You see at first I was lost.  But I had been found.

Robinson's book is slow and plodding and filled with words I did not know and liberally peppered with hallucinogenic paragraphs that seem to go on and on and on with no end and the main characters are all females wrapped in life rending tragedies and the ending is not what I would have wanted.  I absolutely loved it.  I will not recommend it to you though, for then you might try to go out and find it, in a library or possibly an airport bookstore.  No, rather I will pray that somehow, in some way, this book will find you and on that day you will have the courage to take and read...and become lost.


The Green Flannel Blanket

Early Saturday.
Her gesture was small,
such as one might miss.
(But I didn't)

She slipped softly away
but not before returning
what she'd stolen.
(As I played opossum)

So much depends upon your
wife covering you back up
with the faded green flannel blanket.
(And I know she still cares)

Strangely Warmed...

I've spent the last few days on the Elysian-like campus of Calvin College attending their biannual Festival of Faith & Writing.  Its a gathering of writers and poets and all-around book folks, a 2000 person three-ringed circus of clowns with blood in their veins, walking the high wire, juggling to put into words the life of faith.

I heard a range of voices, people with names like Eugene Peterson, Luci Shaw, Scott Russell Sanders, Wally Lamb, Kate DiCamillo, Stephen Carter, James Schaap, and Scott Cairns, to name a few. All were both shaking and stirring, provocative in the best sense of that word.  But for me, and I can say this because this is my blog, there was one voice that spoke distinct from the others, a part but also apart.  He quietly but with conviction claims to be a bumbling agnostic.  His name is Michael Perry...he describes himself as "not looking for trouble...just lookin'."  Perry has written novels such as Population 485; Truck: A Love Story; and his most recent Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting.

As I listened to Perry, I also listened to myself, to those voices within that kept saying yes, yes, yes.  Here was a man, probably my age, who had moved away from his childhood church, the one he was raised and "saved" in, the faith of his father and mother. However he had nothing but a gentle reverence for those days, even if he no longer held to their doctrines or tenets.  There were difficult and painful moments in those early years, some of which he spoke, but there was no paper and ink vendetta to go back and make people pay.  Perry has a profound appreciation for flesh and bone and the reality that, for the most part, most of us are doing the best we can with what we have.  This was not sentimental hogwash, far from it.  It was, I guess the word is, tender.  Critics have loosely compared Perry to Garrison Keillor and his fictional town of Lake Wobegon.  A big difference, however, is that Perry writes about a real town in rural Wisconsin...and he still lives there, works there, and is a member of the volunteer Fire Department there.

So yes, I flew all the way to Grand Rapids to have my heart strangely warmed by the words of an agnostic.  Don't worry; I've told Jesus thank you several times already.  If the word "agnostic" doesn't frighten, you can find out more about Michael Perry here -  Amen.


Of Beagles and Blogs...

It's not fair.

That was her lament.  She wanted the Beagle to sleep in her bed but he was sleeping in her brother's bed and he always sleeps in her brother's bed but the Beagle is her dog too not just her brother's and why can't the Beagle, every once in a while, sleep with her.

I was walking by their rooms when this injustice rolled down like rivers and she looked at me for advocacy and I said something entirely profound like hey, let's just get back in bed and she let me have it - "it" as in the previously stated lament laced with loud and tears.  I started to go to her bedside but decided to leave sleeping dogs and tucked in children alone.  Besides, it was already after 9pm and I needed to check my site meter.

She came to me not five minutes later.  Dad, I'm sorry I yelled...but it's not fair.  I patted my knee, the signal that's it's o.k. to sit and tell me about it, and so she did.  And I listened.  Tears, hugs, and forgiveness followed, along with a promise, as her father, to be more attentive to fair and balanced Beagle-in-my-room scenarios.  She said I love you.  I said I love you back.  That's fair.

I have no desire for the Beagle to sleep in my bed.  I sleep with a lady who smells light years better than the Beagle and her legs are smooth as spider's silk, not hairy like his, so I'm good.

But...sometimes...sometimes I would like to have a wildly popular blog.  It's really not fair.  You see, other people have thousands of followers and comments galore on every post they type, they're linked to by others throughout this land that is yours and mine, and for the life of me I can't understand what they're doing that I'm not, other than that they have cool headers and post a lot of pictures and they probably twitter.  I mean, the internet is everybody's internet, not just theirs, and sometimes, at least once in awhile, I'd like the...shucks, you may have heard me yelling in those sentences.  I'm sorry.  But it's just not fair.

It amazes me sometimes how full of fickleshit I still am (I just made that word up, but I doubt it'll make this post more popular).  It's not fair really.  I mean, c'mon, I'm forty-three years old after all and I should be beyond all that...but I'm not.  It's probably a good thing that my blog is not wildly popular.  I know me and if it was, well, I'd probably spend much more time at the keyboard than snuggled up close to my wife in bed and she'd no doubt get to the point of saying either you stop that danged blogging so much or I'll stop shaving my legs.  I really wouldn't like that.  And I know me and being "all that" in the blogosphere would probably dull my attentiveness to promises I've made to my children, promises I want to try my best to keep because I love my kids and they love me.  Yeah, that's fair.

Beagles will fade and blogs will wither, but...

(Hey, if you want to link to this post from your blog or twitter account, it's fine by me, really, no worries)  

Comfortably Numb...

I don't watch CNN as its not on the $9.99 per month cheapskate cable plan I'm on...even if it was, I wouldn't watch it.  As some of you know, I do not believe talking is thinking and CNN is a brilliant example of such.  But I was traveling one day last week and it was on every airport television screen from Denver to Newark.  So I watched it.

Here were the major headlines for that day:

  • Roman Catholic Church scandal - is it really a homosexual problem rather than a pedophile problem?
  • 'rape' video games - Japanese based games built around rape, domination, groping, etc...with the glorious gift of the internet, these games now have an alarming accessibility.
  • Sarah Palin's black-leather-zippered-support of John McCain.  Sarah literally looked like Trinity from The Matrix...McCain looked like a corpse.
  • a teenage suicide reportedly the result of bullying; kids 'didn't like her'...were 'jealous of her'...
  • Sandra Bullock's outlaw husband and Tiger's leap for redemption.
There was more news that day but these kept showing up, continuously.  And if we'd had eyes to see and ears to hear, there was a theme - human sexuality.  Sex was the thread that ran through each of those headlines, although the anchors continuously seemed lost in the trees of viewer tweets and email reactions.  Each story was treated as a separate thing; not once did the pretty people say 'hold on a minute, this is all about sex!'

There were also continuous commercials for drugs during the breaks - Boniva, Cialis...and so we exist in the year 2010, comfortably numb.  Hey, I'm thinking about getting one of those iPads...      


Easter Indeed...

Pastor: Alleluia.  Christ is risen.

People: The Lord is risen indeed.  Alleluia.

Do you know how sometimes a word, a singular collection of consonants and vowels, gets your attention? Well, yesterday I experienced that with the word indeed.  The logical liturgical response is to repeat what has been spoken: the people should say "The Lord is risen.  Alleluia."  But somebody, Lord knows who, threw the word indeed in there and now the whole thing's got either a slightly So Cal surfer ring to it or a high-collared Elizabethan formality.  Indeed.  

I'm not So Cal or Elizabethan.  I'm just not.  So I looked up synonyms for this Easter-arresting word, maybe something a little closer to home.  I found - absolutely, amen, for real, certainly, naturally, sure thing, and very much.  Yeah, nothing really bringing it for me there either.  Now this is where the blog post goes south, alright? - "south" as in no doubt offensive to some, bewildering to others, and affirming to an ever hovering handful that yes, John's lost all touch with orthodoxy and one of these days may possibly split the pit wide open.

But I'm from the South.  And I thought of Gretchen Wilson's song "Redneck Woman" and her signature indeed-synonym-phrase that invites her sisters to keep it country.  Some of you know where this is going, don'tcha?  Yes, sometimes the Christmas lights stay on the front porch all year long.  I'm sorry...the mind is often a terrible thing to taste, but he was charged to be a glutton and a drunkard and a friend of tax collectors and sinners.  Hang on, here goes -

Pastor: Alleluia.  Christ is risen.

People: The Lord is risen hell yeah.  Alleluia.

Saturday Comes Before Sunday

Maybe its calm where you are, but not here.  Maybe the only tweets so far this morning are the literal birdsong, coaxing the day into being, but not here.  Maybe you slept the night sound, the sleep of the dead. But not here.

No, here the wind, that invisible force of nature so often akin to the spirit, here it huffed and puffed all night long.  No, you know what, huff and puff are words for children and safety approved playground equipment.  No, here the wind raged through the night, not merely announcing itself for all to hear, but, but, but angry, furious, howling down the foothills scattering trashcans and Saturday morning news and shoes that we told them to pick up but they left outside.  And then stillness, you'd think it was over, that the wind had run out of gas, tank empty, rage over, but no, no, no it would whip again and again shaking all in its path like a tearstruck mother would shake an evening's prodigal child I was worried sick/where were you?/don't you ever leave like that again you hear me!

Yes, yes, that's it, the wind blowing down fences and upending grills, sweeping the house clean looking for some lost coin, something of value, worth, weight, something that mattered but now is gone, something taken even, stolen, thieved.

Maybe where you are Easter's mood is being set by smooth pastels and lilies arranged just so on the table, but not here, not yet.  No, here the mother has cried throughout the night watch, shrieked in anger and fear and rage and terror and abandonment as the sword pierces her heart not once, but over and over and over, again and again.  She cleaves at breasts where he nursed, grabs knees he bounced upon, shakes her head in a violent attempt to erase the day for surely it was dream, surely it can't end like this, surely he's not dead.  If he were before her she'd take him by his thirty-something shoulders and shake him I've been worried sick/don't you ever leave like that again you hear me!  She'd shake the shoulders of God himself because she's his mother and...but he's not before her.  No, he's hanging on the outskirts of town between two faces that only a mother could love.  And so all she can do is blow, breathe, exhale, inhale, strive against heaven and earth for a mother shouldn't bury her son, that's just not how its supposed to be, not then, not now, not ever.

Yes, I believe we can feel the gravity of the Friday we now call good, but then I'm afraid we jump to Sunday in our minds and hearts and souls and strength.  We perform some bunny-hop, leaping over Saturday's absolute desolation, its utter forsakenness.  Nobody back then, including his mother, thought he'd rise again.  No, he was dead, out of gas, dream over.

Maybe its calm where you are.  But not here, not right now.  No, in these moments a mother's death-cry courses through the mountains, riding the wind looking, searching, aching for her life's love for they have taken him...and I don't know...I don't know if I can go on...