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> Projectwww.juststart.org. 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, sorry...it 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 love...in 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.