The Sweet Return (13)

I've been thinking about you, because I've been listening to Charlie...but you know that -


The Sweet Return (12)


It was one of a handful of times when I've heard you, audibly...but you remember that. We'd spent seventy-two hours in the merciless magical of the Grand Canyon, those two friends and I. As we stepped back up over the rim we'd descended three days earlier, I was exhausted, ragged, satisfied, my mind and emotions in a thin place. I looked back over my shoulder at that glorious ribboned tear in the earth and a firmament bluer than blue and I heard you, clear:
Its all love. Don't be afraid.

I remember showing my dad the trip pictures once we returned, the evidence. I would describe the scene then pass the photo for him to hold. Near the bottom of the stack was a snapshot of my face, clicked moments after I heard your voice. My dad paused as he cradled that spot of time and said 'you look happy.'

Make us happy as you are happy. May others see it in our very faces. Speak those grand words to us again, Lord. The photo quickly fades.
Its all love. Don't be afraid.

The Sweet Return (11)


It was my birthday yesterday, but you know that. Forty-four years, Lord. Forty-four years.

The perigree moon has been nothing short of brilliant. Thank you for the eyes to see it. I read where the last time it was this close to the earth was March 1993. I was twenty-six then, Lord, married for three years, and pursuing a Masters degree in theology so intently I no doubt had my eyes in a book instead of peeled on the horizon. I'm forty-four now, married with three kids, and pursuing a life of wonder. I didn't miss this one.

Thank you for my life, Jesus. The whole shebang, good, bad, ugly, all of it. I had a passel of family and friends send me birthday wishes yesterday. It meant the world to me, Lord, it really did. Some of them simply said 'happy birthday' which was more than sufficient for me, but some of them said they loved me and a couple even said they respected me. My, my. I felt like the richest man in Bedford Falls. Still broke, but rich indeed.

Thank you for my life, all of it.

The Sweet Return (10)

Now to sleep me down I lay,
its been a Glocca Morra day.
I beg you, not before I wake,
JesusGod, my soul don't take.
'Cause there's so much I'm still to be,
to hear and smell and touch and see.
If this is it, I'll miss the smiles
when walking daughters down long aisles.
I'll miss my firstborn fight out loud
to find his voice amid the crowd.
I'll miss her empty-nested tears,
the letting go of mother's years.
I'll miss the books I want to pen,
the stories stitched with grace and sin.
I'll miss the jack of growing old,
of braying no to what I'm told.
The good book says none know the hour
but by Your wonder-working power
'pass over me' is what I pray
come back again some other day.
But should I die before I rise
I want to donate both my eyes,
give blinder flesh the glass to see
the bitter-wonderful from Thee.

The Sweet Return (9)


You know I like ABC's What Would You Do? I like it especially when there's a string of passive people then along comes a fierce one who 'can't stands it no more.' I believe in those moments you are proud of the race of men.

I also like the show, Lord, because I feel that's really the question; not WWJD? but WWYD? You've already done you, already revealed to us in gospel snapshots what your life on this earth looked like. I understand the generalities, the themes...I get it, Lord. But I believe you're asking me this day: what will you, John, the almost 44-yr-old man/husband/father/son who lives out west but grew up in the south...what will you do, knowing what you think you know about me and my consuming fierce love...WWYD?

I pray you'll be proud of me, of us, this day.

The Sweet Return (8)

Give 'em hell.

That's what he said to me, but you know that. As he was finishing up a noontime run and I was lacing up to begin mine, those were his parting words. The wind was strong out of the south, probably 15-20mph, I was headed north but the return would be, as he said, 'in your give 'em hell.' And so I did.

I can see you, Lord, shuffling along the shore, coming upon a boat about to cast into the wind, maybe a 15-20mph-er, and you calling out to the men on board with 'its in your give 'em hell.' And I can sense those men tremble, as I did that day, as the low string was plucked and the masculine stirred. I can see them grin and wave back or  raise a chin and then go give it to 'em.

Wild at Heart was 20 years ago, Lord. Maybe we took it too far, things got too wild, too ballsy, too hairy...but I do remember those as days of being both shaken and stirred, halcyon days of the low string. I miss those days, Lord. And I miss those men.

The Sweet Return (7)


I'm so sorry. Love is not winning in this season of Lent among the faithful, but rather hate.

In weeks crafted to be those of quietness, we are shouting.
In days to be still and know that you are you, we are defending ourselves.
In hours set aside for prayer and good deeds, we are linking and tweeting.
In minutes pregnant with the splendor of this gift called life, we are aborting our greatest witness - unity.
At the sound of the 'Bell' we have come out fighting, fists clenched, chests puffed, convinced this is a contest, a struggle, a mound worth dying on. At this rate our cries on Easter of 'Risen indeed!' will be nothing more than sounding brass and clanging cymbal. I'm not on Facebook these days, Lord, you know that, but still the mob's furor has reached my ears, it is loud like the whirlwind.

Then again, maybe there is design in all this, a graphic rendering of who we are and what we're capable of in the name of you...we are carnivores, people who love the blood, the bite and devour of one another.

Jesus, forgive me, forgive us...we still do not know what we do. Have mercy.

The Sweet Return (6)

But these things happen.

The conversation had to do with the heartbreak in Japan. That phrase was the old man's contribution, along with the shake of his head: 'But these things happen.' The young turks turned and walked away, you saw them didn't you? The loud one called him 'a stupid old bastard.' But I stayed and shook my head along with him. His phrase was strangely comforting to me, Lord. His spavined words did not explain, but comforted. Funny that you promised to send the Comforter, not the Explainer. Oh how we prefer the latter, but you're insistent on the former.

When I was a younger man, I used to speak and reason like a younger man. But I am beginning to see now, now that I am not a younger man, that sometimes 'these things happen'...they just do.

Happy St. Patrick's Day, Lord.
Comfort us,

The Sweet Return (5)

I want the fairytale. 

Pretty Julia made that line famous, but you know that.
Lord, I believe that line pulses in every man, woman, and child on this planet. Some of us can just come right out and sing it, others entertain the notion, and in many I fear its been choked out by briars and picked near-clean by crows. But I believe its still there, in the marrow, the desire.

The ladies want the prince to come, someday, somehow.
The men want to slay dragons of self-loathing and rescue maidens both fair and plain.
The children want to live happily-after-all.
Creation groans...

God too good to be true, help us this day to smell and hear. We, all of us, know we must quest far and wide but please always, always keep in our perishing nostrils the sweet fragrance of the flowers of home. And on a wicked-witch-Monday grant us ears to hear at least a few notes of the bluebird's song to remind us of what you knit together in us all...the hope, the dream, that line.

The Sweet Return (4)

If you are the Son of God, then command...
If you are the Son of God, then throw...
If you are the Son of God, then bow...
Jesus said to him, 'Get away, Satan!'

If...then. Conditions - the WMD this world's prince uses relentlessly, his campaign of crock and awe.

If you are a child of God, then...
If you are a believer, then...
If you are a Christian, then...
If you are a fully devoted follower of Christ, then...
If...then. If...then. If...then. If...then.

Scripture quotes you: 'Get away, Satan!' I wonder if the original autographs read 'go to hell' but the world-bound translators washed your mouth out because if you are Jesus then you don't talk like that. I do wonder. 
I prayed the other day that I could give up anything or anyone too small for me...may that also include images of you, Lord.
Shock me,

The Sweet Return (3)

My friends lost their son, their only son seven years ago today. His name was John. I simply do not know how they carry on, but they do. I have seen pictures of John, his face...he was beautiful. Please, Lord, please comfort my friends as they remember their son and soldier on and grieve with hope. His name means 'beloved' and he was and is...Lord, have mercy.

But those swept away today, those in Japan, I do not know their names. But I have seen pictures of the Japanese people, their faces...they are beautiful. Is the fountain filled with blood drawn from your Immanuelish veins deep enough to receive the beautiful multitude plunged beneath that literal flood? Are your flowing wounds wide enough to welcome a Buddhist's scream for mercy? Is your grace sufficient, Lord? Is it? Redeeming love has been my theme and shall be til I die, so I can do no other than pray yes...I pray in a poor, lisping, stammering tongue that your precious blood would cover them with yes, yes, yes...and that today they would be with thee in paradise! I do not know their names, Jesus, but I ask you would welcome them even now as seven years ago you welcomed 'beloved'...Lord, have mercy. Amen.

The Sweet Return (2)

Sometimes it takes darkness
and the sweet confinement of your aloneness
to learn
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.

Its been awhile since I've read Whyte's poem. I found it again yesterday. No, here in my 40s I know better, it found me. Thank you for that. I pray that's the case these Lenten days; I don't want to follow some pre-formed course but rather have words or poems or thoughts find me. I know, I'll have to pay attention, stay a tip-toe. 

Maybe the poet's words are a facet of what Lent is truly about, a season of learning that 'anything or anyone that does not bring me alive is too small for me.' I can already hear somebody chiding me for focusing on my aliveness instead of your suffering. Lord, I'm so weary of that kind of that narrow world-is-flat theology that says there's some edge to you I'd best not sail off of. That sounds so incredibly arrogant, Lord, probably similar to Columbus' brass when he set sail for new worlds in his sweet confinement of ships and dreams...but oh the beauty that found him.

Give me, give us courage, Lord, coeur - heart. Let the darkness cover us, and the night wrap itself around us, for even darkness to you is not dark, and night is as clear as the day. May what or who we 'give up' this season be only that which is too small for us.
Bring us alive!

The Sweet Return

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Well, its here - Ash Wednesday - but you knew that. 
I don't like that line, the one about 'dust.' I know its scriptural, but I still don't like it. Each day has enough trouble of its own yet here we go adding ashes to injury. These candle-snuffing ashes of 'dust' which rhymes with 'just' - like in that Neverland movie: 'He can't climb that mountain, he's just a man' or 'That's not a diamond, it's just a rock.' 

Ash Wednesday: 'You're just dust.' Its hard for me to hear you saying that line. I don't want to pray in an unorthodox fashion, Lord...but I am. So here goes. 

Jesus, most of us are knee-deep in ashes everyday, you know that. As foreheads everywhere are smudged with dust, I pray you'd cross our hearts this day with reminders of how you see us, who we truly are in your eyes. Lord, show us our beauty. And please help us to see the beauty of others, that she's not just a politician or he's not just a teacher or they're not just the neighbors or the Church is not just a bunch of hypocrites.

Your beautiful breath kicked up that genesian dust and we became beautiful. May we hear another priestly whisper this day: Remember you are beautiful and to beautiful you shall return. 


that which is worthless is highly prized by everyone.
- Psalm 12.8

Charlie Sheen crouches with tiger blood in his veins and growls,
'Defeat is not an option!'
It helps to have goddesses on your side.
Maybe. (snickers)

Rob Bell binds himself to the altar and dares,
'Love wins!'
The orthodox take the bait and light the torches.
Predictable. (yawns)

Miracle Whip refuses to tone it down:
'Don't be so mayo!'
Pauly D says its a deal-breaker.
Seriously? (rolls eyes)

Then Tom Hooper gave a prince's speech crowned with
'Listen to your mother.'
Behold the wheat and tares, they groweth up together.
Yes, ma'am. (sits up straight)

From Both Sides Now...

...I remember the fortyish man who rang my office bell one summer night. He was tall and lean, athletic and well-dressed, the father of four children, and an usher in our church. His face was sad on this occasion as we settled down solemnly to talk. He told me he was leaving the Church and he wanted me to know. He said it wasn't anything personal and that he had grown to consider me his friend. But he was tired of a Church that would not treat him as a man. He was tired of money drives and overcrowded schools, tired of living in a world that only spoke of varieties of sin, tired of empty confessions and rites grown meaningless and cold...I could not answer him; my defensive eloquence was gone. He was not a complainer, not a wild neurotic, not a proud and angry rebel in the crowd. He was the kind of man I hoped to serve, the kind of man I longed to be, a strong and loyal friend. He shook my hand and thanked me for the services I gave. I asked him why we failed, what he wanted from his Church. He said quietly that all he wanted was a home, a touch of wisdom to see him through the week, a word of mercy that made it all worthwhile, an understanding Church that reminded him of God.
- James Kavanaugh, A Modern Priest Looks At His Outdated Church

Kavanaugh wrote his book in 1967, the year I was born. I'd love to say his words are no longer needed, here in my fortyish years, but I can't.
I've looked at Church from both sides now. With the exception of a few rare appearances behind a pulpit, I've spent the last seven years in the pew. Its been kinda like that William Hurt movie (The Doctor) where he played a successful physician suddenly diagnosed with throat cancer. Then the doctor became the patient, and everything looked different. It might not be a bad idea if every two or three years a preacher/pastor/minister/priest took several months off and sat among the people. He's there anyway, in theory, but sometimes in practice, not so much.

Two things struck me when I first read the words above, and by 'struck' I mean 'tears fell' - 
But he was tired...Several years ago an author, widely-read, wrote that most men in Church are angry and most women are tired. As I look today, from both sides now, I believe both men and women are tired, weary. 
He said quietly that all he wanted was a the ongoing discussion among leaders in the Church as to 'who and what are we to be?', there are some of us off to the side, hanging on to the edge of the pew, quietly whispering one word - home

Dear preacher/pastor/minister/priest,
We're tired. Just know that when you're preparing sermons or homilies and song sets and emphases of different durations. What does that mean? We're not entirely sure, but keep it simple. No, we don't want the cookies on the lowest shelf, that's not what we're talking about. Yes, we're sheep and goats, both not always the brightest in the barnyard, but don't forget that before that, we're men and women. We need you, we really do. Whether you like it or not, you represent God. Aren't we all ministers, the priesthood of all believers stuff? Sure, you bet, we know that and more importantly, we believe that. But we still need someone to hold our hands from time to time, someone to stand shouldered to us, remind us of the truth...someone to break the bread and bless the wine and say the words this world ignores...someone to wrestle with the Text, because we're wrestling with texts all day long, many of which are not profitable for doctrine, correction, or reproof...someone to lift holy hands in prayer for us, for our children, our mothers and fathers and friends and lovers...someone to proclaim the good news and not fret about what we do or don't with it, just proclaim it, just tell it, just sing it over again to us, do it beautifully, classically, timelessly, profoundly, be creative to the nth degree, don't worry so much about making angels weep, seek to make men and women pause, and long for home.
Your friends