the familiar touch of the long married...

My wife's blog can be found here -

Each Wednesday we're trying to answer some marital questions posed by her faithful readers.  If you're the marrying type, our responses might interest you.  If you're not, well, you're not.  What we're bringing to each question is almost twenty years of I do, some honesty, a little grace, and maybe a laugh.

Riddles and Rage

Jesus tramped up a mountain, along with handpicked men.  His desire was that they go out preaching, driving out evil.  But this meant they had to spend time with him, walk with him.  Now there were twelve:
Simon, but Jesus renamed him Peter,
James and John, sons of Zebedee - Jesus knighted them ‘sons of thunder’,
James, the son of Alphaeus,
Simon the Cananean.
And then there was Judas.

He left the mountaintop and descended for home.  When he got there the people were thick as flies, he couldn’t even eat.  Jesus’ family had heard enough.  They felt the salvation-show had gone on long enough, Jesus needed to come back to reality.

The spiritual champions from Jerusalem decided Jesus was in cahoots with the devil.  This was the best they could come up with and made sure everyone knew it.  Jesus stood and faced them, armed with riddles and rage:
If darkness drives out darkness, what’s left?  Anyone?  I say ‘light.’  And if hate drives out hate?  C’mon, that’s easy, isn’t it?  I say ‘only love remains.’  Light is stronger than darkness, love is stronger than hate.  It just is.  You can get a lot wrong in this life but you’d better make sure and get that right.  I won’t tolerate your lies!  Hear me - I won’t!

His family had arrived by then.  They said tell Jesus we’re here.  The crowd carried the message inside to him: Your family wants to see you.  Jesus took a moment and eyeballed the crowd.  My family?  Show me a man doing God’s will and I’ll say ‘he’s my brother.’  Find me a woman obedient to God and I’ll say ‘there’s my mother.’  That’s family to me.

Mark 3.13-35

*I’m going to take this offline now, work through a few more chapters, and then see if a publisher might be interested in some form of it.  If so, fine; if not, just as fine.  The Shame will return to its regularly scheduled, well, shame. 

Don't Be Afraid

I was afraid.  That’s it, the bottom line reason that one servant in the parable of the talents got thrown into the outer darkness.  I was afraid.

I’ve heard this parable dissected a million and one ways.  I participated in those reindeer-games myself, years ago.  But not anymore.  This story is not about faithful service and doubling your investment or laziness or even about your talents/abilities/gifts/whatever…lord, I get nauseous just thinking about all the cheerleading routines built on those steps.  No, this is a story about those three little words that make heaven itself weep and gnash – I was afraid.

I believe that’s why Jesus mounted the platform, disrobed himself of glory and dove down, down, down into this cockeyed sea called life…he doesn’t want us to be afraid.  Yes, he came to seek and save and set the captives free and heal the sick, yes, yes, yes, all those things, but if you reach in and grab the heart of those truths and rip it out and hold it bloody-high, it beats with one phrase – don’t be afraid.

I realize that can turn into its own pep rally, complete with cocks-on-the-walk sporting know God, no fear t-shirts and sticker bumpers.  I realize that.

Right now there are a handful of things I’d like to do, try, even be.  As I’ve pondered these lately, the only reason I can come up with for not doing, trying, or being is I’m afraid.  Sure, maybe the money’s not there or the timing’s not right or there’s not consensus…I'm betting the asphalt in hell has been mixed with such intentions.

We’re afraid of earthquakes and aftershocks.  We’re afraid of where the economy’s going.  We’re afraid of losing our jobs.  We’re afraid of what the culture is doing to the kids.  We’re afraid of terror in the skies.  We’re afraid of the current administration or the residue of the last.  We’re afraid of ridicule, failure, and being black-balled from the orthodox.  We’re afraid we can’t put it down or can’t get it up.  In the midst of these perfect storms with waves that threaten to overtake, Jesus surfaces, shakes his divine mane, and treads, treads the very hydrogen and oxygen molecules he wooed together and bobs up, down, up, down, while whispering in a voice pep rallies know little of – don’t be afraid.

Me: But Lord, I’m scared (tear falls, teeth grind).

Jesus: (wild-eyed)  John, I didn’t say don’t be scared.  I said don’t be afraid.     

The darkness around us is deep...

In a sense, same story, second verse:  Jesus – Sabbath - Pharisees.  There was a man in the synagogue whose hand was all wrong, shrunken, small.  The Pharisees couldn’t have planned it better if they had tried.  They were almost giddy.

Jesus invited the man to come stand smack dab in the middle of the room.  Jesus took a breath and squared his shoulders: Alright.  It comes down to this – is the Sabbath about life or death?   It was as if the very air in the room held its breath.

Jesus started spinning round and round, eyeballing the crowd for answers.  With each whirl his face darkened, crimson.  Their cowardly, withered hearts were simply unbelievable.  He finally stopped and focused on the man: Give me your hand.  The man reached and all that was wrong became right, just like that.

The Pharisees ran from the room with evidence that demanded a verdict.  They usually couldn’t stand Herod’s followers but misery needs company, so they all huddled together around a flame of common desire – destroy him.

It was one of those things about him, his love of the sea, as if the water’s edge was a soft place for Jesus to fall.  He had to get away so he went there with his disciples.  But shadows followed – scores of people from here and there, near and far, all wanting one thing - him.

Jesus was gentle but shrewd.  He told his disciples to have a boat ready in case the people rushed him.  There were so many people.  It was like they came in waves, roiling toward Jesus.  On that day their needs outweighed his.  He healed a great many of them, one at a time.  As usual, evil was there; the darkness around is always deep.  The spirits couldn’t even stand the sight of him: You’re the one!  The Son of God!    

Jesus hissed back: That’s enough!  Not another word!
Mark 3.1-12
*The farther along I go, the looser this gets.  I want to stay tethered to scripture but not bound by it – make sense?  The spirit-but-not-the-letter kind of thing.
Two things – I was struck by how much Jesus seemed to love the sea.  He so loved the world, but one of his favorites was the shoreline.  I wondered what some of his other affections were – did he love the taste of fish?  The smell of bread?  Dusk?  Who knows?
And I finished off with Jesus hissing at the spirits.  He was dove-gentle but also serpent-wise, as we are challenged to be…serpents hiss don’t they??

A Time to Feast

Jesus tramped once more along the sea.  The wake of people bobbed along behind him, hanging on his every word.  He saw Alpheus’ son, Levi, sitting there collecting taxes.  Jesus said C’mon, there’s more than this.

Levi followed him.

Then this.  It was quite a scene back at Jesus’ house.  The place was crawling with notorious sinners feasting with Jesus and his disciples.

Jesus’ guest list was not lost on the Pharisees.  They proverbially reminded his disciples: A man is known by the company he keeps.

Jesus heard their hearts and pulsed back There’s no pretense in this room.  These people are sick.  I’m a healer.  It’s that easy.

Some of the spiritual champions of the day practiced fasting, making sure everyone knew it.  They raised the issue with Jesus: Your disciples don’t fast?

Jesus responded:  For everything there is a time.  A time to fast and a time to feast.  Now, right now, is the time to feast.  This is not the time for old clothes or old wine or old anything.  Life right now is a banquet and you’re starving.

Then this.  Jesus was walking with his disciples through a field.  It was the Sabbath.  The disciples were knocking off the grain tops to clear a path.  This behavior was not lost on the Pharisees: See, they don’t know anything about the spiritual discipline of Sabbath.

Jesus cleared the air:  Have you heard the the story of David and his friends?  How one day they were hungry and he walked right up to the altar where Abiathar the priest was standing and David reached out and took the sacred bread and ate it and shared it with his friends?  I love that story.  David didn't let the tail wag the dog.  Let me be very clear - the Son of Man doesn't either.

Mark 2.13-28


I was snooping around, looking for info on the writer Thomas McGuane.  He’s a good friend of Jim Harrison’s and for me, any friend of Jim’s, well, you know.  I came across several interviews, each shedding a little more expanse on this western writer.  Like most authors, some of his books have received rave reviews, others have been razed by the critics.  Critics.  One interviewer asked McGuane about this, does that bother you? - that line of questioning.  McGuane replied it used to, but not anymore.  He said my give-a-shit is broke.

The shirt my parents bought me, the one whose tag reads 100% hemp, it feels so good on my skin, soft, effortless.  Linen is nice, but fragile, bordered by spring and summer.  Hemp is hearty, four-seasoned.  I wore the strong shirt twice this week, back-to-back days, I bet no one even noticed.  But I did.  I love it.  I may save up for two more shirts like that, same style, same color, alternate them, give each a Sabbath or two before wearing it again, and so extend their life.  Maybe then, after days or weeks someone would notice, say good lord, John wears the same shirt everyday.  And I could say yes and I wouldn’t care.  My give-a-shit is broke.

What are your affections?  What are the things in life you love?  The poet David Whyte proses that’s all you need to know in this life and in that knowing point your life in that direction.  The moralist quickly jumps in and questions whether your loves or my loves, these affections, are always good for us, he or she always demanding answers before we’ve even time to live the questions.  You have to have something stronger than linen in your veins to hold that voice at bay.  You don’t have to be mean about it.  But you can be hemp.

I love little baby ducks, old pick-up trucks, slow-moving trains, and rain
I love little country streams, sleep without dreams, sunday school in May,
And hay…
I love leaves in the wind, pictures of my friends, birds in the world, and squirrels
I love coffee in a cup, little fuzzy pups, bourbon in a glass, and grass…
I love honest open smiles, kisses from a child, tomatoes on the vine, and onions
I love winners when they cry, losers when they try, music when it's good, and life
And I love you too.
- Tom T. Hall            

Jesus and the f-word

After a few days it was heard he was at home in Capernaum.  And the people came.  So many showed up at his door there was simply no room to move.  But Jesus’ words reached their ears.

Four men carrying a crippled man were hemmed in the crowd.  They couldn’t even get close to Jesus.  But these men were shrewd, so they tore away some of the roof and roped the crippled man down to where Jesus was.

This kind of faith got Jesus’ attention.  He spoke to the crippled man: Son, your sins are forgiven.

Some religious thinkers were sewn in the crowd.  They heard these words and started chittering What?  Profanity!  Only God forgives sins.       
Just like that Jesus turned and shushed them: I can hear you.  You’re narrowing this - either heal a man’s life or heal a man’s legs?  Watch.  The Son of Man can do both.  Jesus’ eyes returned to the crippled man: Get up, son.  You can walk home now.

Just like that the man stood on flawless legs.  His joy parted the crowd and he walked home.  It was beautiful.  Everyone started gushing over God: This is something different…

Mark 2.1-12
The word “offensive” rings through these verses.  First of all, the presence of the cripple, a word that means “offensive.”  And then Jesus used the f-word (forgiveness)which completely offended the religious thinkers.  And I couldn’t quite decide on a good word or phrase to describe these scholars or religious professionals.  Any suggestions??  I didn’t feel I could get away with narrow-minded-scripture-nazis. 

They were coming from everywhere...

The five left the synagogue and went straight to Simon and Andrew’s house.  They told Jesus that Simon’s mother-in-law was sick with fever.  Jesus went to her side and held her hand.  Just like that the fever cooled and she got up and started mothering them.

When dusk fell the sick and haunted showed up at the door.  It seemed like the whole city was outside.  Jesus held the hands of many of the sick and they were cured.  For many chased by darkness, he drove the evil away.  The spirits knew what Jesus was; he gave them clear instructions to keep quiet.

Later, in the hush of night, Jesus left the house and found a lonely place to pray.  Simon and some others searched till they finally found him - Everyone’s looking for you. 

Jesus had a faraway look in his eyes.  The other towns nearby, they need to hear something good too.  That’s why I’m here.  And so the synagogues around Galilee were filled with Jesus and his words and he drove the darkness away.

A leper came and dropped to his knees before Jesus: I’m begging you.  Please take this away.

His story broke Jesus’ heart.  Then Jesus did the unbelievable - he reached out and held the leper.  You’re clean now.  Just like that the man was made new. 

Jesus was firm with him: Don’t tell anyone.  Go show yourself to the priest and make the required offering from Moses’ law.  That’s all I want you to do.

But that didn’t happen.  The man made new just had to tell somebody; in fact, he told everybody. 

This changed things for Jesus.  He kept to the margins of the city now.  But even there the people found him.  They were coming from everywhere.

Mark 1.29-45
As I sat with these verses, I was struck again by the immediacy of Mark’s gospel.  Miracles happened and lives changed, as I’ve put it, just like that…almost like, well, magic.  I realize you may not like that last word.
And I cannot see Jesus stretching out his hand before the leper in some Charlton Heston pose/voice – Be clean…no, I see him taking the leper by the shoulders and drawing him close, close enough the leper could smell Jesus’ breath – You’re clean now.   

What is this?

He tramped along the shore of Galilee and spied Simon and his brother Andrew casting their fishing net into the sea. Jesus yelled: C’mon! There’s more than this.

Just like that, Simon and Andrew dropped what they were doing and ran after Jesus.

Jesus tramped a little farther downshore and spied Zebedee’s sons – James and John – in their father’s fishing boat. They were all caught up in the usual - mending broken nets. Jesus called out to them with the same words he spoke to Simon and Andrew. Just like that, Zebedee lost his sons on that day. Jesus and his words unraveled James and John from the life they had known.

Now there were five. They tramped into Capernaum, straight to the synagogue. Jesus’ words began overshadowing the usual blather. He didn’t ask anyone if he could start teaching, he just did it, like he belonged. People couldn’t believe their ears. It was beautiful.

Just like that, a haunted man started screaming: What are you, Jesus of Nazareth? You’re going to wreck everything, aren’t you? I know – you’re the One!

Jesus roared No more! Leave him, now!

The evil didn’t leave quietly, but it left.

People couldn’t believe their eyes, couldn’t help but ask What is this? This is different. He was stronger than the darkness. Just like that everyone around Galilee was talking about Jesus.

Mark 1.16-28
Two things - 
1. Again, any words or phrases that spoke to you/surprised you?
2. I'm going to try, try mind you, to paraphrase the entire gospel of Mark.  My intent is to post on Mondays and Thursdays...the gospel according to Mark according to John.

And So It Begins...

And so the extravagance begins, wild, outrageous, vulgar grace.  Isaiah the prophet saw it coming -
Can you see him? - he is coming, right before your eyes,
to prepare the way.
Can you hear him? - he is howling from the margins
'The Lord is coming,
Get ready!'

First came John's dare to be baptized, plunged beneath the water's surface, to mark time and change and forgiveness.  They came to him from country and city, Judea and Jerusalem, all of them confessing, naming wrongs for all to hear.  John pushed their soiled lives into the muddy Jordan. John was of the earth, camel-hair robe, leather belt.  He lived on grasshoppers and wild honey. His message was always the same:
He's coming, soon, much more than I'll ever be.  I can stir muddy water but He will plunge you into the Spirit of God.

Then he was there, Jesus from Nazareth, and John pushed him face-first in the sin-filled river. As Jesus stood tall the sky tore and the Spirit fell to him like a dove.

A voice out of the sky: 
You are my son, the loved one.

Then the Spirit wrangled him, still dripping wet, into the desert where wild animals lived. Jesus was badgered by Satan forty days and nights.

The angels were close at hand.

Then John was handed over and Jordan's surface was stilled. Jesus tramped into Galilee announcing something good: 
And so it begins. Grace, now. Turn around and believe.

Mark 1.1-15
Two things - 
1. Any word or phrase that seemed to stand out, demand your attention?  Do you know why?
2. Let me be very clear - this is not a translation, probably not even a paraphrase.  It's the gospel according to Mark according to John.

Happy New Trails 2010

I'm not sure what's ahead, but the team is trustworthy and the thermos is full of hot cocoa...