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. 

Lange and Ruess - Remember...

Lange said he wrote to you.  Go easy on him.  He can wax pretty eloquent about the recent past but between the lines is a lot of hurt.  Quite a few family and friends blackballed them when Karen got pregnant.  His wife, Rebecca, went completely zombie on him, useless as jello.  Karen carried the baby in her belly and Lange carried the cross on his back.  The fit really hit the shan, Ruess.

I told him a little about you, where you've been.  And about Jane.  I sure do miss her.


Lange seems like a man who's trying, but yes, he builds walls with words.  That's alright.  I'll listen for awhile.  He's pretty angry.

I miss Jane even more these days.  I accidentally gave away a bag of her clothes last week, it had her old purple robe in it.  The lady at the Goodwill tried to help me, but its gone.  I swear that robe still smelled like her, Roy.  I'd cut my hand off to have that back.  The things of this world, the precious things of this world.


Well, crap.  I'm pretty sure she was wearing that robe the first time I met her, that and those yellow buckaroo boots - do you remember that?  Sherry had just left me and I hadn't touched female flesh in weeks and Jane shook my hand and I literally had to sit down, remember that?  I sorta hoped you'd get hit by a bus or something that evening and Jane and I could run off together and be lovers.  But a bus never came by.


I remember it all.            

Lange and Ruess - God weeps...

God weeps - I realize that was sorta abrupt.  When Karen came and told you she was pregnant, did you laugh at her?  Even before that, say when she hoped to make the volleyball team or something and didn't, did you chuckle?  Or how about you, when you talked with Roy at the funeral about life going cockeyed, did he just lean back and hee-haw?  I'm gonna roll the dice on all three counts and say no.

Sure, there's always some ninny cooking up semi-selfish plans, some days that ninny is me, but even then you've got someone trying to do something rather than nothing.  I've found most folks, like you and Rebecca and Karen and Aalim and Nora and Roy, even the Yiddish, are trying.  If God's sitting around laughing at all our tries and misses because he knows better or likes to be able to say see I told you so, then we're in quite a shitter.


I've had thoughts like that before.  Thank you for writing them.      

Lange and Ruess - God and Yiddish...

Mercy.  That's alot.  I'm sorry.

The old Yiddish proverb is 'we plan, God laughs.'  Lord, I'd like to find the Yiddish who came up with that and whack him.  

How did Nora dote on Eve?


My grandmother was married at fifteen and got pregnant later that year.  Nora didn't approve of all the details, but her support for Karen throughout the pregnancy was nothing short of heroic. At the reunion, Nora gathered everyone together.  She kissed Karen and Eve and then presented Eve with a string of blue glass beads.  Everyone in the family knows of those beads.  They were a gift to my grandmother on her wedding day, from my grandfather.

If God doesn't laugh when our plans go awry, what then?


I believe he weeps.


Lange and Ruess - Mice and Men...

My grandmother's appearance at our most recent reunion was intentional.  I mentioned she doted on the newest born?  That would be Eve, my granddaughter.  My fifteen year old daughter, Karen, gave birth to her back in March; it was an incredibly difficult delivery and Karen almost died.

The last year and a half of my life has been a thief.  I know the quote about the plans of mice and men, but I doubt mice have dreams for their daughters like I had for Karen.  They weren't dictator-dreams like 'you are going to be a surgeon!', but they weren't 'why not be a fifteen year old mother?' dreams either. They were dreams we shared with Karen; she's our only child. God only knows how much I love her.

The father is Aalim, a boy in Karen's class at school.  His family is Muslim.  When news broke of the pregnancy, they immediately shipped him off somewhere, we still don't know where.  Then the family moved, no goodbyes, no nothing, just gone.  Karen cried for weeks.  My wife, Rebecca, still cries.  I liked Aalim.  Eve has his dark skin, dark eyes, and dark hair, but not his presence.      

Those are the bones, Ruess, there doesn't feel to be much flesh left.  My grandmother's parting words roused something in me that felt like life, but then it was gone.

Of course, in all this there's the crucial, intelligent word: Why?