Lent...What to do?

He grew up Baptist, in the South. This doesn't explain everything; then again, it comes close.

Lent. He could remember hearing folks say things like 'I'm sure I lent you that rake last fall' or 'look, numbnuts, I lent you $20 already.' He couldn't recall anyone saying 'my, Lent is such a poignant time' or 'the Lenten retreat last weekend was simply cathartic!' Of course there was always the alternate spelling - lint - and he could hear his mother's voice: 'still damp? check the lint filter on the dryer.'

Lent. The season leading up to Holy Week, sacred days with the cherry on top deemed Easter. Now Easter he knew, that was old stompin' grounds - 'up from the grave he arose (he arose), with a mighty triumph o'er his foes (he arose). Easter was the old rugged cross nailed from head to toe with lilies, choirs belting out Sandi Patti anthems and always a soloist crooning that Dallas Holm standard, sunrise services where two or three were gathered together facing east to greet the rising sun, spiraled ham and green bean casserole for lunch, and afternoon egg hunts for the kiddos.

But Lent? From what he'd observed the last few years, years where he'd been a rover among the faithful who loved to light candles and sip communion wine, Lent was quiet and still and damn near sad. You were encouraged to ponder Christ's sufferings all decked out in the appropriate seasonal hues of contemplation and contrition. It was sorta like 40 days of hearing Jesus say 'look, numbnuts, I lent you my blood on the cross, what have you done for me lately?' It was sorta like that, he thought.

He did not voice these musings to his immediate circle of friends. They were, without exception, Lenters. Where he grew up, folks used to press if you'd prayed the sinner's prayer. If you hadn't, they were usually happy to help lead you through it, line by line, so you didn't spend an eternity where the worm never dies and Hitler dines with Judas. These days his friends would talk about Lent with almost the same weight, sorta like it was the sinner's season, and if you didn't observe 'the bright sadness' and by chance happened to fall into a wood chipper or something, you just might be the ticker-tape in the hell parade. At the very least skipping Lent left you unprepared to truly experience all the stations of Passion Week. About the only remedy for this is slamming a case of quick-penance, e.g., watch that Mel Gibson movie three or four times to get really good and Mel-ancholy.

Lent. What to do? He pondered this in his quiet time, a residue from his Baptist youth group days. The Lenters, without exception, gave up things they enjoyed during the season. Last year his friends temporarily broke the idol-chains of coffee, chocolate, the movies, and the internet, to name a few. He didn't give up anything and seemed to weather the season with aplomb while he watched his pleasure-denying Lenter friends get snippy and snippier and a couple of times just downright mean. It was sorta like his friends were having a 40 day menstrualpalooza, he thought.

Still, Lent. What to do? Then he realized his question was too universal. He needed to get specific, local, bring it downtown; the real question was - what would a Baptist, from the South, do? As soon as that thought crossed his quiet-timed mind, he heard the Sunday night special that always made him weep as a boy - 

In seasons of distress and grief,
My soul has often found relief
And oft escaped the tempter's snare
By thy return, sweet hour of prayer.

That's it. While his friends were suffering the mortifications of the flesh and serving the least of these with justice and moodiness, he would lent his prayers to the world, both neighbor and numbnut. He purposed to write them out on his blog beginning on Ash Wednesday, not store-bought prayers addressed to the Ground Of Our Being (god help us), but word-groans hurled right into the nail-scarred mitts of Jesus. His hope? Well, he had a college prof, back in the South, who introduced him to Tennyson's line: 'more things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.' He would lent out his prayers with the hope to wrought dreams. Yes, that's what he'd do.

He decided on a heading for his prayers -The Sweet Return. He felt good about this decision. It fit him. 

Stay tuned.  

Addressing Life

'Suddenly life has become quite full of monoethic ninnies and nannies who address life solely as a problem to be solved.'
Jim Harrison, Off to the Side

I just finished a new novel - Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich. It reads fast, really fast. I started it in Denver and finished it by the time I reached Atlanta, flight-time that is. Erdrich's writing is always rich in the particularities of her Native American roots; this novel is no exception. However, this time she masterfully grafts those roots into the general trunk of marriage and children and individual identity. There's something here for everyone.

Irene America and her husband, Gil, are in a spiraling marriage. Their three children - Florian, Riel, and Stoney, along with the savant-like dogs - are both witnesses and participants in the gradually rapid descent. This is a complex story; an etiology of love. Its raw and dark and tender and surprising. It doesn't end happily, but it does end honestly. I found Erdrich's writing fearless, and as such, brilliant; it'll definitely break you out of the suburbia of your mind.  

If, in Harrison's words, you 'address life solely as a problem to be solved' I'd steer clear of Shadow Tag...you won't like it. That 'address' in my opinion characterizes much of what passes for books on the themes of love and marriage and family. It goes something like this: my husband, my wife, my children, my marriage, my life for that matter, are all, at root, a problem and I need someone to help me fix/solve him or her or them or it or me. That 'address' again in my opinion is a fairly surefire way to miss the raw and dark and tender and surprising gift of existence. 

If, however, you address life as a drama to be lived, you might consider the latest from Louise Erdrich. Here are two quotes to potentially further woo - 

✠Infatuation, sudden attraction, is partly a fever of surfaces, an absence of knowledge. Falling in love is also falling into knowledge. Enduring love comes when we love most of what we learn about the other person and can tolerate the faults they cannot change.

✠To have meaning, history must consist of both occurrence and narrative. If she never told, if he never told, if the two of them never talked about it, there was no narrative. So the act, though it had occurred, was meaningless.


To my Valentine, 2011

I seriously considered a night at the Broadmoor
just you and me and room service
but then that vacuum went out
and lord knows with that darn Beagle
the Dyson was a must
and then tires and shocks and struts had
to happen for that minivan 'cause even
though we got Farmers (bum bum bum bum bum bum)
people drive nuts these days
and then that movie he wanted his friends
to see for his birthday only showing
in 3-D which everyone knows is code
for 'that'll be a few dollars more, sucka'
so hell, I guess luxury'll have to wait.
Besides, you hate chocolate
and silk boxers, especially
red ones, make me nervous -
still I did dream of walking
with you around that majestic duck pond
lit only by the moon and quiet.

Faces and Souls and Twits, oh my...

I'm knee-deep in a mammoth project right now, its due April 1st...ah, blessed irony. Its one of those projects where a number of people, let's say a whole bunch, are expecting me to deliver. To say I'm stressed right now is an understatement. I've been tempted to start smoking or something, you know, some vice to help me make it through the night. But my teeth are stained enough from coffee and I would like to run a half-marathon this year, so for now, no cool-Mad-Men-smoking-John.

So I'm blogging a little these days, but not too much...and maybe that's just fine. Here's something I've thought about lately, I'll slow-pitch it high, give it a lob, a chance to linger a minute before you swing. I've wondered about Facebook and the social networking gig now firmly ensconced in our world. Native American people were shy about having their pictures made, a feeling that being captured like that on film was an intrusion of territory and privacy, it thieved something at the soul-level. What if, and yes its a big what if, but what if that same belief applied to Facebook? - that every time I post an update or change my profile pic or link to my blog or display an array of photos of me and mine, I lost a piece of my soul? It brings to mind a verse I've read a few times, that of gaining the world but losing one's soul...could that maybe, sorta, possibly be along the lines of gaining a following or gaining more friends or gaining herculean 'likes' to a particular quote/witticism? Hopefully I'm not telling you anything you don't already know, but there's a kaboodle of posturing on Facebook, putting on our 'best' faces...and I'm sorry, I tried Twitter, but I never 'got it' and the word is too close to 'twit' and I don't have a smart phone and I really couldn't stand that perky bird.

I don't know about all this...like I said, its something I've been chewing on lately. To even type it feels old, stodgy, Luddite-ish, the old hairy crazy guy who lives back by the creek and yells at kids...but that's fine, I don't care. I stepped away from Facebook last year during Lent and I'm planning on doing it again in a few weeks...a season to not be so plugged-in/connected because I'm not a machine, I'm a man, a man who believes in territory and privacy and that just because you don't see my 'face' doesn't mean I don't exist, it means I believe there is more, so much more to a man or woman than the faces we choose to reveal to others...there is something deeper, more enduring, something that remains...the soul...and that the soul is something that can be lost if we're not careful. If you should un-friend me, I'll be alright, a country boy can survive, but if I should lose my soul, that's like losing me, face and all, and...

Well, gotta run, I'm heading over to post this on my Facebook page...hope you like it.

Now I Know...

I dropped him off at school this morning, the birthday boy, 14yrs and countin'...my lord. He registered for high school last night, made his selection for classes - Spanish, beginning guitar, and of course stuff like Algebra. While at the high school, his mother, also my wife, treated him to a new hoodie emblazoned with the high school logo...that's what he was wearing when I dropped him off this morning. About the time the car door shut, my parents called hoping to catch mr. birthday before school. They didn't catch him, but they did catch me, right in the act of humbled awe at my 14 yr old son all tall and proud and hoodied walking into the last few months of his middle school stint because high school's on the horizon where he'll be strumming Spanish guitar tunes and asking girls for help with algebra. I painted this water-logged canvas for my parents on the phone and without hesitation they said 'now you know how we felt.' And I choked a whisper - 'yes, now I do.'

Your parents tell you a lot of things when you're young, sorta like I do with my kids. And like my kids, I didn't listen too much to my parents, but I do recall that phrase 'one of these days, you'll know.' Its really unfair to throw that at a kid but life's not fair, so you do it anyway with the hope that it'll lodge in his brainpan somewhere and years later, like some time-delayed depth charge, he'll be sitting in front of the school watching his first born, the very strength of his life who is all of a sudden 14 which comes right before 15 and 16, and BAM! off it goes and he realizes 'now I know.'

Moments like that leave you tender, or at least they do me, toward those still young (your kids) and toward those grown old (your parents). They even leave you a little tender toward yourself, which is really not a bad thing at all. You promise yourself, or at least I did this morning, to take it a little easier on folks, especially those you love, maybe even yourself, because you've survived long enough that yes, now you know...and you know it hurts, god it hurts like those big beer horses are stompin' all over your heart, but you wouldn't have it any other way, no sir...but it goes oh so very, very fast...for once upon a time, my precious son, we were so very young.

Fortunate Son

What a privilege to carry...

We were up early, the two of us. I fixed bagels with vulgar amounts of cream cheese while she got dressed, straightened hair, gathered her things. We left the house in time to drive through Starbucks, 'grande Chai, please Daddy.' 'Alright, but you'll have to whizz like a racehorse not five miles down the road.' She grins. She's in a speech tournament today, all day long, on a Saturday...still, she's bright-eyed, happy. We pull up beside the yellow dog she'll board for the host school, she leans over on my shoulder, a gentle good-bye, I kiss her hair and inhale the scent that's left me for years now a man undone. 

As I drove away I was suddenly misty, kensho, an awareness of the utter privilege it is to carry a child in this world. Not all moments bring this clarity mind you, but this one did. There is much I've to do today, the ten thousand things - continue to chip away at a mammoth writing project, fill up cars with gas, dispense antibiotics to the dog I've spent ungodly amounts of money on lately, try to get a four or five mile run in before the snow begins again, call my parents, and so on and so forth. But of all these things, and all are vital in their own right, the spots of time where I carry my children are those I truly cherish. I used to carry them, literally...now, all of us slightly older, I carry in different ways...my fathering looks and feels a little different. Still, what a privilege...

To finish the phrase, so to speak, I did - everything to God in prayer. I prayed for my middle girl as I drove away, my twelve-year-old wobbling the slackline these days between girl and woman. I prayed to the God from whom all blessings flow, the One who art in heaven and is also always near...I asked for her safety this day while she's beyond my view and for her safe return (the universal parent prayer)...and I said thank You for the privilege, thank You for the chance, thank You for the divine roll of the dice on me, the bet that occasionally I would see and know the privilege...I am a fortunate son.      


Once a man asked Why do you bother? You never know, I said. The ones you give some semblance of burial, to whom you offer an apology, may have been like seers in a parallel culture. It is an act of respect, a technique of awareness.
- Barry Lopez, Apologia

Lopez intentionally engaged himself in the discipline of removing roadkill from the highway - jackrabbits, porcupines, raccoons, a red fox, sparrows, a big doe, even a badger, 'each animal like a solitary child's shoe in the road.' Sounds crazy doesn't it, deranged, like a man off his rocker. 

I was raised a pastor's son, spent quite some time in my father's footsteps, and have lived the last few years, still credentialed, but off to the side. This is what I see - roadkill, the Church is strewn with it, the air acrid, the ground stained. But we just keep on truckin', pursuing the visions in our own heads, barreling down the highway in our pink cadillacs of missional love, forgetting what lies behind, no turning back, no turning back. Everyone seems heavenbent on being part of a movement, if not leading one. I'm sure they're out there, but I can't hear a single voice interested in a stop-and-back-up-ment, maybe a pull-over-on-the-shoulder-ment. If we just keep moving the cries are muffled, hardly a whisper. We've got places to go, busy, busy, busy. 

This discipline of apologia (I am not talking about our current fascination with apologetics) is dirty work, takes time, effort, pride-swallowing, you might have to brake your three-year visionquest, pick up the phone, write a letter, take a trip and leave the ninety and nine for the one, two, or three. It begins with the guts to say I'm sorry. There is so much more that follows, but that's the first step, or better yet, stop: I'm sorry, please forgive me. Making amends is a powerful antidote; it possibly has the power to heal. 

Why bother? Because you never know...