Monday thoughts...

  • Some folks were quite pleased with themselves when they got God out of the box...only hangup is they kept him on a leash and don't realize it...grace on a leash?..quite possibly the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard.
  • My Dad and Mom drove away this morning, back to Arkansas...before leaving they said 'I love you, son'...that got me through the day.
  • Some fella, JD Greear, got quoted on FB last week as saying: 'Judgmental self-righteousness is I'm good, you're bad; non-judgmental self-righteousness is deep down, we're both good; the Gospel is we're both bad, but God is good.'  I'm sure JD's a fine fella, but his semantics chap my hide...since when did 'we're bad' become good news?  Try this - 'we're broken and God's there, always, to pick up the pieces'...or 'we've fallen and God's there, always, to dust us off and say try again'...
  • Listening to Conway Twitty sing 'The Rose' at dusk with a Colorado breeze blowin' through the house is a fine way to ease in an evening.
  • Why is money so hard to come by?  As George Bailey told Clarence, 'it comes in awfully handy down here, bub.'
  • 'Fairy tales don't teach children that dragons exist, children already know that dragons exist, fairy tales remind children that dragons can be beaten.' - G.K. Chesterton
  • I gave up brown sugar in my coffee for Lent...this past week, in a forest primeval in the redwoods of California, I started putting in back in for Life.
  • I'm to preach this Sunday in the Lutheran church we attend...old Martin liked to drink beer and fart and was quite fond of grace...I should be o.k.
  • As my girlfriend and I left Big Sur, CA we stopped at the town's library sale...I found two Jim Harrison poetry books, good condition, .50 a'da thought I won the lottery.

A Summer Place...

It is her first love.  As long as I've known her she's loved summer...lazy no-school days, the 4th of July, late evenings outside talking with friends, the sun, happy hour at Sonic.  I married her twenty summers ago.  Her father died this past August, the months prior panicked with travel to Arkansas and back to Colorado and back to Arkansas as she watched the shadow of pancreatic cancer lengthen and finally eclipse his life.  She did not love the summer of ' did not give, it took.

One of our early anniversaries was celebrated at a B&B somewhere, I don't remember where.  A stack of old magazines anchored the bedside table, one was The Smithsonian.  The feature article focused on a strip of coastline in central California, a rough copulation of sea and mountain known as Big Sur.  The pictures and text revealed another place and time, almost another planet.  I was young then, poor and bold, bold enough to dream aloud: we should go there for our 20th anniversary.  Next week my summer love and I will go there.  Many things in life don't work out, but sometimes, somehow, some things do.

I am older now, here in mid-air, but still poor and bold, bold enough for a quiet petition: redeem this summer for her, return to her that first love.  The either-loved-or-hated writer Henry Miller made Big Sur his home for eighteen years.  He wrote about it as a place other than the 'air-conditioned nightmare of America' isolated, rugged landscape that gave him 'such a feeling of contentment, such a feeling of gratitude...that instinctively my hand went up in benediction.'  Miller said 'it was here in Big Sur I first learned to say amen!'

And so I am praying for an amen next week, not as ending but rather as a intro to a summer place for her...and me.  We will walk this coast where, I believe, the spirit of Miller and others like him still traipse and bless.  Our hands may not be raised in benediction, but I trust they will be clapsed, interwoven fingers hanging on for better for worse, til death do us part. 


Our Father...

Our Father who art in heaven please art on earth because that's where I am and we are and while we're thankful you're there we need you here, so please be near to us, as near as our breath, as close as our names.  Speaking of names, hallowed be thy name and if we're all your children, your namesakes, as I believe we are, then I guess our names are hallowed too.  Let us not take yours or ours in vain.

Your kingdom come, your will be done immediately conjures the childhood hymn "The King is Coming"...I've not sung that in a month of Sundays.  Our Father, grant us ears to hear chariots rumble and eyes to see throngs march on earth as it is in heaven because that's where our hallowed, crippled, broken, ruined lives are.  Spell the end of sin and wrong.  Gabriel's horn is fine, but our prayer is for the fury of your trumpet.

Give us this day our daily bread for yesterday's bread is stale and tomorrow's has not risen.  Give us bread, nourishment, sustenance, in all its forms for Friday, May 21st, in the year of our lord, 2010. You taught us to pray give us, not feed us, so help us remember our role this day, this Friday, to take and eat and take and get out of the nursery and grow up.

Forgive us our trespasses, those times, those moments we ignore the sign, cross the line, cut the fence.  Prone to wander, Lord we feel it in our hallowed bones.  Forgive us this day here on earth as we return the favor, the grace, and forgive those who trespass against us in all of the tenses - those who have, those who are, and those who will.  Knead courage in our daily bread, Father, for this bone of the prayer chokes.

Lead us not into temptation in all of its lesser forms but also quite possibly its greatest - the urge to withhold forgiveness this Friday from those who trespass against us, the hot in our bones to nurse a grudge to life, the smug thrill of our kingdoms possibly coming, not yours.  But deliver us from evil, for as Stafford wrote "the darkness around us is deep" and we are often children playing with the straw of a broom while the handle knocks hallowed treasures off the shelf behind us.  We know not what we do, then sometimes we do know and do it anyway.  Deliver us from evil and sometimes from ourselves.

There's also that temptation to hurry these final lines, close our books and rush for the door for we weary of instruction, but the last few are as vital as the first, so slow us, keep us in our desks, drag our feet through For thine is the kingdom which assumes you are the king, the good king, the hallowed regent, not a man, but the also assumes we do not pray this day for a democracy.  And the power and the glory evoke remembrances of Camelot or Greene's best novel, both reminders of what is and the best that can be and so to that end we pray to you our Father on this Friday for what is and what can be, not just for today but forever...Amen.        

Too Gentle...

I came across a note the other day that James Kavanaugh died. You may or may not know who that is and may or may not care. But I do.  A good friend introduced me to Kavanaugh's poems years ago.  I had just graduated from seminary with a master of divinity degree; yes, a master of divinity...god, that's arrogant. Kavanaugh's poetry shook me at the time, it spoke to places in my life where Greek and Hebrew and systematic theology could not reach.  It reminded me I do not want to be a master of anything, but rather a searcher of everything.

James Kavanaugh was ordained and actively ministered for ten years as a Catholic Priest before attending Catholic University in Washington D.C. While working on his second doctoral degree, he wrote an article for the Saturday Evening Post entitled "I am a Priest, and I want to marry." The year was 1967, the year I was born. Although it was written under a pseudonym it was received with such commotion and outrage that the secret would not be kept for long. He then exploded onto the American scene with A Modern Priest Looks At His Outdated Church.  The New York Times called it "a personal cry of anguish that goes to the heart of the troubles plaguing the Catholic Church."  Soon Simon and Schuster came calling with a book deal.

Though a gifted scholar, with degrees in psychology and religious philosophy, he took a leave of absence from the priesthood; Kavanaugh would not be collared anymore.  Forty years ago in a decrepit New York residence hotel, Kavanaugh rejected lucrative offers to write what publishers wanted.  Instead, he feasted on bagels, peanut butter, and cheese whiz...and wrote his first poetry book There Are Men Too Gentle To Live Among Wolves.  The book was turned down by a dozen publishers because everyone knows poetry doesn't sell.  It went on to sell over a million copies.  You may not have one of those million copies. But I do.  

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who prey upon them with IBM eyes
And sell their hearts and guts for martinis at noon.
There are men too gentle for a savage world
Who dream instead of snow and children and Halloween
And wonder if the leaves will change their color soon.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who anoint them for burial with greedy claws
And murder them for a merchant's profit and gain.
There are men too gentle for a corporate world
Who dream instead of candied apples and ferris wheels
And pause to hear the distant whistle of a train.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who devour them with eager appetite and search
For other men to prey upon and suck their childhood dry.
There are men too gentle for an accountant's world
Who dream instead of Easter eggs and fragrant grass
And search for beauty in the mystery of the sky.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who toss them like a lost and wounded dove.
Such gentle men are lonely in a merchant's world,
Unless they have a gentle one to love.


I talked to my grandmother the other evening.  Her name is Nora, but I've always called her Granny.  It was her birthday.  I'd not talked to her in some time, far too long.  Her voice was the same, I believe I could pick her's out in a chorus.  Some things do not change.  But other things do change and after a few introductory moments, her changeless voice spoke of transience. She spoke of her sister, Margaret, and how she misses her so.  Margaret would call her every evening and they would talk as sisters do, of neighbors and weather and memories of Papa.  But Margaret has gone on now and my Granny's phone is not roused of an evening.

Memories of her sister stirred memories of her brother.  This past fall, he died.  His name was Sam, everybody called him S.C.  He drove a bus in downtown Dallas for thirty years and was faithful even longer to the Church of Christ. S.C. was never without a joke, even this past fall as my parents and I visited him and he sat in diapers in something called 'assisted living.'  He was getting assistance alright, but I'm not sure about the living.  My father took out his cell phone and dialed my Granny's number.  S.C. spoke his sister's name as Noe-ruh, stressing the first syllable. They talked a moment, brother to sister, the last of their family...I'd love to see you too, Noe-ruh. My Granny remembered that in our conversation.

There was one more to talk of...I wondered how long it would take my Granny to speak his name - Charlie, her husband, my Grandad. He's been gone a decade now, far too long.  She told me still keeps his Ford LTD in the garage; it hasn't been started in years.  She said maybe that's silly, John...I told her there are silly things in this world, but that's not one of them.  Her voice crackled...they're all gone now...its just me.  As we continued to talk, tears streamed my face as I looked out on my children jumping on a trampoline, changing with each skyward leap, right before my eyes.

My phone call was one of a number she received that day.  I was thankful to hear that other relatives had stopped and taken the time to dial the numbers that have not changed since Charlie and Nora sold the farm and moved to town years ago.  Some things do not change.

I told my Granny once more happy birthday and I love you.  She said I love you too, John.  As our call ended, I thought about all the folks out there who practically worship change, some even intent on creating change, 'change-agents' I believe they're called. Damn fools.  We are born, we live and love and cuss and bless children, we drive buses and call our sisters and joke and jump and remember Papa, we stand and weep as dust goes to dust or sit in diapers and long for the days of jubilee when we shall see them again, for there are always those who go on ahead while we are left to wait and wonder and blow out one more year.

I do believe I could pick out her voice in a chorus.      


Expose a child...

"Expose a child to a particular environment at his susceptible time and he will perceive in the shapes of that environment until he dies."
- Wallace Stegner, Wolf Willow

Two particulars of my susceptible times were the King James Bible and western movies...

One of the early biblical shapes impressed upon me was the Lord's Prayer and the word trespasses...sure, it means sins, but in the wedding of scripture and cinema I never heard a rancher say you're sinning on my, they always said you're trespassing on my land.  Regardless of where I'm worshipping, if we recite the Prayer, I say trespasses and no doubt will until I die. I believe the word sins covers a multitude of opinions; the responses to it can be legion.  But everybody knows when they've been trespassed against; the only options in its wake are taking matters into your own hands or allowing mercy to flow from his.

One of the first western movies I remember seeing was John Ford's The Searchers, starring John Wayne and a young Natalie Wood.  The Duke's character, Ethan Edwards, might as well have been Christ himself in my susceptible mind, leaving the ninety and nine to go and search for the lost lamb, little Debbie...and finding her and bringing her back to the fold, to those who loved her. Ethan was a volatile man, you never knew what he might do.  Such was the shape of God impressed upon me, a God whose love was volatile, you never knew what he might give his onlybegotten to forgive us our trespasses, snatch us up in strong gingham arms and say let's go home.

No, I didn't mistype in the prior sentence; in my susceptible mind, onlybegotten was all one word. John 3:16 was one of the first verses I hid in my heart that I might not sin against him and when I dug the mental hole and threw 'em in, begotten refused to go it solo, like it was not good for only to be alone.  And so the two words that to this day best describe the son for me became one flesh - onlybegotten.

I think about these things sometimes when I think about the faith of children in these days.  They've been introduced to the Word who moved into the neighborhood instead of dwelt among us. And instead of the onlybegotten-volatile love of The Searcher we've given them Bob and Larry, a tomato and a cucumber, vegetables for Christ's sake.  Don't get me wrong, I've used The Message bible for years and our kids have seen every episode of Veggie Tales...but I wonder about these things sometimes when I wonder about the children, not just mine, but yours too, and the shapes of those susceptible times that will stay with them until they die.  I pray we have not trespassed.  



My Mother

She would have been the third child, had they lived.  I don’t know much about her older brother and sister, only that they drew breath briefly and then they were gone.  I have seen their gravestones tucked in the Arkansas dirt.  The third child is traditionally the fun-loving clown who gets away with most anything.  She was to have been the third child but their deaths moved her to the front of the line.  She is my mother.  The living picked up where the dead left off and she became one of the most responsible, organized, smart, and driven people I know.  She is also one of the toughest.  She graduated from college, the first in her family’s line, with honors and a degree in teaching.  She went on to instruct future generations in advanced mathematics - geometry, trigonometry, and calculus.  And marry a preacher. 

Had she been allowed to remain the last child, the carefree crazy heart, I’m sure my life would have been radically different.  She sought to make sure I had everything I needed and much of what I wanted.  Her financial scrimping and saving, and my father would readily attest to this, made certain our family of four enjoyed vacations, college degrees came to pass for my brother and me, my teeth are relatively straight, and I know how to play the piano.  Her nurturing made certain I knew the way to iron a Sunday shirt and the last words I heard each and every day were goodnight, I love you.  The national debt pales in comparison to what I owe my mother…there just aren’t enough zeros.

I do not believe my mother would trade her life for another.  It is the life she’s been given and she’s made the best of it.  But there have been moments, especially since her grandchildren have now come to live, that I’d swear I’ve heard a last child’s laugh.  Maybe those moments have been there all along, its just that now I am paying attention.  Like that moment this past December in Winter Park, CO as I helped her up a tubing hill and when we reached the top she said its o.k., I’ve got it and she leaned in and let gravity and Jesus take the wheel and flew down an ice covered bank.  I was just behind her on the way down, close enough to catch glimpses of, what I believe, were the carefree eyes of a little girl getting away with something.  Like her siblings before her, those moments are brief, then gone.  But they are there, I have seen them, I am witness…oh to grace, how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be…

I’m keeping an open mind about heaven being literal streets of gold and walls of jasper.   For all I know, it could just as easily be piercing blue skies and snow-white tubing hills in CO.  But whatever the particulars, I believe there will be a childlike quality to the land that is fairer than day, that place where we will be as God dreamed us to be.  One of these moments, when I step into those days without end, I will pause and listen for her, for I believe my mother will be found by her laugh, like a youngest child at ease, no more cares, no more worries, free at last, free at last.  Home.


His final meet was Saturday, one last run for his seventh grade year. He runs the 400m, an endurance sprint incorporating the speed of the sprinter and the endurance of the half miler.  Now, we Blases have never been known for our speed; we lean more toward the endurance side of the equation.  But my son, my first born, the strength of my life has done well this season, making a lot of progress since that first practice.  He's learning how to run this endurance sprint.

As we walked to the car afterwards I complimented him on finishing well, not first mind you but strong, and raised the question of next year.  Oh, I'm running next year, Dad...I love it. My thirteen-year-old-taller-every-day-now-tanned-long-haired-son doesn't use the word love about an it that often.  That's fine. He still tells me he loves me, so I'm good.  But hearing he loves an it, running in general, and an event in particular he doesn't place first in, well that warmed the cockles of the old man's cardiac region.      

Later that day I drove him to a friend's house.  The invitation he'd received a few days before said "Movie night - 7 to 10pm...and there will be cheetos."  I later learned that in addition to cheetos there would be girls, just a couple of them, apparently of sterling character.  I walked him to the door, waved at his friend's mom, and watched my son run off into another race of sorts incorporating the desires of the son with the prayers of the father. As I made my way back on wobbly ankles to a car that needs washing, the sun was starting his slow fade over the mountains...dusk...the lighting of the lamps...vespers.  I raised mine eyes to the hills from which cometh my help and spoke the words of eventide, for I do not love an it, but a boy, my son running once around the track all too quickly these days: 
O God, make speed to save us. O Lord, make haste to help us...Glory be to the Father, and to the Son...Amen.