Thursday, May 31, 2018

This Ache For Home (This Is A Far Country)

You might say it was just a house. I saw it as hope for life-long connection; for community. We bought it with the hope of first marriage; the efflorescence of daughter. I put in sprinklers and planted a little lawn. Walked to school with the five-year old. Got a dog; black and white Australian Shepherd, Collie mutt. The neighbors from around the corner brought over cookies.  The neighbor next door complained about the dog. The grass grew; daughter too.

We had birthday parties in the backyard; Spongebob Squarepants and reptile themed. Invited the cookie-givers children; all three. The daughter played with two boys from down the street that brought their parents. Summer days we’d pull up the cheap plastic chairs and chat in each other’s backyards.  In my heart I thought I’d found it---constancy, Americana, neighborhood, a place of permanence.  I was wrong.

It all frayed at once.  The threadbare marriage showed jagged tears.  The two boys houses down moved North with their parents. A kindred had formed with the cookie clan but job loss here meant a new job elsewhere. With the marriage barely intact Providence thrust us out of the house, out of the area and into a place we did not know.

So it goes. This hunger for permanence and place remains. A perceptible ache that is always there below the surface.  This ache for home; for that far country. For we wander “in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground,” til we finally, God willing, come home.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Stagnation Is Easy. Satisfaction Takes Work

“One does not surrender a life in an instant - that which is lifelong can only be surrendered in a lifetime.” --- Jim Eliott

“In the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.” ― Jack Kerouac

The mountain top and the therapists chair are lonely places. Places where baggage is left behind or stripped away. That avocado green Tourister with the extendable handle and Teflon wheels for instance. The angry self-protectiveness that stems from---where?  The crowd isn’t clamoring to give up the perception of safety. Not hungry enough or hurting enough.

The lie is this; satisfaction will come easy. A glimpse of a thing is not the thing itself. The river is beautiful seen from valley’s edge, but you can’t taste it.  Beautiful but it won’t slake your thirst, clean your face, soothe your feet, shake you awake. Have we always been so naive?  Feeling ‘in love’ isn’t the core of marriage; spilling semen isn’t sex. Rendered skin deep we call it beauty.

Time and self are difficult to give up. Deepening relationship requires both. Stagnation is easy. For now the mountain is a picture on your desktop. Personal growth hurts and leaves hollow. Reward seems nebulous.

We commit to the not-yet tangible. Remind ourselves. Short ascents where we push hard, feel shale and smell pine. At home we’re willing to have those deep, tough talks; play and wine with the mate. We do the difficult work. Sit in the lonely places. Listen in the lonely places. Stagnation is easy; satisfaction takes work.

“In a sense everything that is exists to climb. All evolution is a climbing towards a higher form. Climbing for life as it reaches towards the consciousness, towards the spirit. We have always honored the high places because we sense them to be the homes of gods. In the mountains there is the promise of… something unexplainable. A higher place of awareness, a spirit that soars. So we climb… and in climbing there is more than a metaphor; there is a means of discovery.” ― Rob Parker

Tuesday, May 08, 2018


We swim in an alien atmosphere. I remember early voyages. Passing through a white, steel gate; walking down a narrow corridor you smell it. Chlorine saturated water steams from wet cement. An adult beckons; parents push. The first step into clear blue water; foot feeling the tension as it breaks the surface, then the other.  Oh, the cold!

I’m not comfortable entering a pool.  My asthmatic lungs seize up with quick temperature change. I can barely breathe. I’m leaving the safety of air and firm footing. One step down; bathing suit gets wet and heavy. Two steps down then hold to the side, hold to the side! 

Grasping tight the pool’s edge over there is a pile of rectangles; like tops from Styrofoam ice-boxes. Bright colors; cherry red and cobalt blue with corners cut-off. For what purpose?

Inside the pool a line of children hold to the edge. An adult towers over us in a red bathing suit. “Pretend you’re in a big bathtub.  Face down and blow bubbles.” Easy. Each is given an ice-box cover. Trembling and terror, we leave the side. Grasping kick-boards we shove out across the shallow end a line of stick men without arms.

The new house has a pool. Neighbor girls hurl us into cold water. The sink-or-swim school. Dog paddles stave off drowning. Paddles turn to superior strokes. What was fearful now’s freedom.  Summer days spent swimming til cool water constricts blood vessels. We turn purple.

We swim in an alien atmosphere. The sink-or-swim school. Bright colors bid us leave the shallow end to the scary deep. Perhaps freedom awaits!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Guilt Is The Thing Missing From The New Testament

The two-a.m. terrors came again last night.  An hour-long window when I’m awake but not energized.  Flashbacks come in that window.  People I’ve hurt long ago.  Venom I spewed not meaning to poison. The poem I wrote to manipulate the girl. The what-ifs run right along pressing in with tangible weight. Palpable pressure in the chest.

Guilt is the thing missing in the New Testament. Peter does not refer to his big blunders. Paul doesn’t apologize for holding coats to give stoners of Stephen better elbow snap. No 12-step program; no making amends to all he’d harmed. Paul’s perfectly Jewish without the guilt!  It’s as though those things have all been set right.  Trajectory changed; no skeletons in the closet. What sets them free?  What’s the skeleton key?

“…But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Knowing Christ matters.  Past sins, what-ifs, should-have and shouldn’t have’s out with the trash.  Yes, we make amends.  We seek peace. The past is a place we’ve left; Christ is the future we have.  We live here.  Rejoice in an all sufficient Christ in the present. Those dead skeletons; crucified and buried with Christ.  That’s the truth but not the experience.

Like buried hearts in a horror story they beat their way back. Try fight them off with denial, the fact is we are guilty.  As Spurgeon has said, “Your sins are so gone that they cannot be laid to your charge.” This is what Paul and Peter understood. Cry to God and fight. Cling to what is now a clean slate. Skeletons of the past will reach out to grab hold. Look forward to the future. The refrain is true; the cross has the final word.

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Cabinet Keeper

The stubble on his face was razor sharp.  Not his memory.  That was growing soft---not growing really but diminishing. He couldn’t remember what he didn’t remember. Wasn’t sure that what he recalled was ten years ago or ten minutes. Frustrating. He didn’t mean to lash out in anger. Irritation comes as he tries to tether to the old memories and connect with the new.  The rope keeps unraveling before he can tie it all together. Hair and memory both graying out.

 My sister and I have shared the same moments…and we have different memories.  I can access complete experiences if I see a picture. Blocks of my childhood are absent along with chunks through my twenties.  A snapshot or a story will open those files—sometimes. Raising my daughter; full soundtracks and photos filling my personal memory cloud. My brain has archived trillions of tidbits; rock and roll lyrics, Monty Python skits, facts about writers; quotes and quirks—all easily accessed.

Memories are stored in the brain in multiple file cabinets; back of brain, front of brain.  Current events we toss into the back brain cabinet (hippocampus). After a while we give it a manila folder. Every ten years the files are shuttled to front brain storage (frontal cortex). Simple.  Unless there’s a disruption. There’s always a disruption. Current memory must be reinforced; the little file cabinet guy must scribble onto that folder. The folder properly placed in context. To retrieve it the incoming query must be clearly understood; “Okay, brain, find me the actors in eighties movie files.” Over time the little file cabinet keeper gets tired and just throws those memories into a box.

It came time to move him to smaller quarters, the movers were oblivious, the children miffed and mystified. The ‘new’ boxes in den and kitchen were filled with Hammacher Schlemmer catalogs, Hollywood Bowl librettos, miscellaneous mail along with important letters from the IRS, postcards from friends abroad and medical bills. The boxes in the backrooms were neatly organized; photos of grandchildren and family, notes from mom, lists of knick-knacks, tools and finances to be distributed ‘when the time comes.’ Temporary amusements and current finances not held tightly; not filed rightly.  Kinships and clan, close connected friends and things done by hand---these the keeper stores in the strong room.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018


“And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.”
 "Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops."

Water had hold of his mind. Water; our landlord was convinced one of us was stealing it.  We shared the meter with two other tenants. First came the personal interrogations. He insisted we use the same amount of water as our neighbors though there were three of us vs. single guy and married couple. Then came replacement to low flow plumbing. Rants continued every time contact was made.  Then a list of suggestions such as ‘do laundry once a week,’ ‘hand-wash dishes,’ and ‘limit baths and showers.’ He could have simply raised the rent. Water was available in ample supply; but the landlord didn’t want to pay for it.

My morning shower is a ritual; like morning coffee. The average ‘American’ shower uses 17 gallons and lasts eight minutes.  My wife would have you believe mine take twice as long. Taking my water use out of the equation; the average American uses 80-100 gallons per day. Meanwhile, “Yasmin Dawood is working hard to stick to her limit of 13.2 gallons per day for individuals...”

Cape Town, South Africa is to run out of water in July.  The government is shutting off the supply. The dams are empty. The original shut-off date was April; but through conservation and water borrowing the taps now will go dry in July. Four million people (between the census of 1996 and 2011, the City of Cape Town grew by 45%) scrounging for water. Worldwide, 663 million people lack access to improved drinking water.

 When your ‘small l’ landlord messes with your water you can move.  When the Lord of all withholds water you can pray, utilize your resources and hope like crazy for solution. We can be part of the solution. These 5 non-profits have a healthy focus on water.  Pray with them.  Hope with them. Think of them with your coffee, shower and shave.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Seasons Mundane and Seasons Exuberant

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say,
 “I find no pleasure in them”—

An alpine climber leading summits of Aconcagua and Everest; a couple visiting each National park while living out of their RV; a witty, well published, motivational speaker; and a handful of professional photographers regularly appear on my Instagram feed. This morning I hit the snooze button twice and poured myself two cups of coffee before my morning reading and writing time.  I’ll write words for soul satisfaction only then head off to work that I do for the paycheck….’a time to throw stones and a time to gather stones.’

Autumn’s season sneaks up on her. My 85-year-old mother in law’s mind and muscle don’t respond as quickly as they once did.  Things that were once crisp and clean go hazy.  Eager exploration gives way to tiredness, frustration and afternoon nap. Entropy relentlessly pursues. Staying in bed is easier. TV easier. Decline is gradual.

Life has its’ seasons.  I’ve canoed the Colorado and submitted Whitney. A summer spent working with teens in inner-city Chicago.  Countless road-trips; sleeping under lightning sky and seeing countless shale streaked wildernesses by car.  I’ve quit taco-selling jobs after three weeks; had Summer jobs and jobs to make ends-meet. I expect all seasons to be like those seasons of exuberant exploration.

As axial tilt brings Earth closer to the sun; the choices we make and outside forces spin us throughout the year. We bend toward old age; bodies give in to gravity. This spring will be a different Spring than when I was Thirty. The tension remains. To find pleasure; and so there is a seeking.  To find contentment; and so there is a letting go.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

My Monasticism

I am not called to poverty,
Not convinced it will set me free;
By my choice or by decree,
Money doesn’t follow me.

I’m not forced to steal or plead,
Have no want for daily bread;
Have access to pool and gas char-grill,
While many fend for just a meal.

Five thousand living just by me,
Labelled homeless; categorically,
In river-wash and county seat,
Lord could I learn to wash their feet?

I seek to live in simplicity,
For that is what Christ wants from me,
Much in debt I want more toys,
Am I the source of all the noise?

‘Where there is injury, pardon,’
Offended by world my heart does harden,
I’m less like a saint than a Pharisee,
Living like Christ hasn’t died for me.

I am called to death and cross,
For sake of Christ count all as loss,
For we are all monks in part,
When we follow from the heart.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Better By Half-Ode To The Sandwich

Why won’t you starve if you’re lost in the Desert?  Because of the ‘sand which is’ there.

“Sandwiches always taste better cut in half,” she said to me.  The Spanish for sandwich is emparedado; em-par; from the Latin for in-pair or two.  Two pieces of bread; halved for easy eating.  Practical perhaps but it may have less to do with tradition and more to do with psychology.  

It may be a Freudian thing. Since you were mollified between mom’s breasts she’s been preparing meals for you--- cutting everything into snack-sized pieces.  Those were good eats; fresh and hand made.

Quality may have little to do with love and lots to do with time.  Chefs focus on the sauce, the chicken, the combination of flavor. At home we throw it together in five minutes while checking our Instagram feed.  One hand swiping, one hand stirring.

Half for now, half for later.  A matter both practical and gratifying.  Living on the run the Hero is our hero.  Slowing down we can spruce it up; crusty breads and flavorful sauces; heated up or melting, soft bread or toasted, the tongue is treated to a mix of texture and taste. Enjoy the sandwich now with all its unique flavor and texture.  Crunch of apple, bacon or celery, sweet onion, relish or jalapeno marmalade. You rise from the table full, knowing that you get half the sandwich later again; when you want it. Satiating and delaying gratification the sandwich meets us where we live.

Not only where we live. The sandwich is international.  If you liberally define international as ‘something you can eat between grain-grown bread- like food.’  That would include tortilla, pita and flatbread.  Donuts and French toast count too.  There’s no limit on what can become a sandwich. 

Though without borders (and with or without crust) the sandwich is intimately personal. Mayo, mustard, jalapeno, grilled, pickle, avocado, pita, white, wheat…. the list is endless.   On the run or at the table, nouveau or like mom made it, one-handed or two, the sandwich fits the bill better by half.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Standing In Line Is A Good Thing

Shaved-ice and watermelon disrupt lives so wonderfully!  In Faenza, mid-summer, post work-day, after dinner, they walk to the zocalo.  Families corral kids and go out into the street.  Old people, young lovers, singles step out into the warm night and make their way down the block.  Coming together under a big canopy; community. Snow-cones and seasonal fruit, wood benches and plastic chairs, man-to-man, coteries of women, cliques of twenty-somethings---catching-up, connecting, “haven’t seen you for a while,” ---evening stretches into late night.  So it was a quarter-century ago.  

I fear it’s a lost tradition. Getting together is no longer a focus.  Casual coffee is going the same route; the ‘pour over’ is being automated because it takes four minutes too long.  We hate lines, so we avoid events. We are submitting to our lesser selves.  

We become little Gollums whose ‘Precious’ is our privacy. It’s easy to hide at home.  Technology makes it possible. We work from home.  We worship at home.  We shop from home.  Bumping elbows with humans is uncomfortable.  People can be annoying.  Unless they’re just like us. Then they’re irritating.  It’s never been good for man to be alone.

To become healthy humans, or hobbits, we need to leave the house.  Build extra time into our schedules.  Set down the phone.  Yes, the lines will frustrate.  Humanity will give you a hundred reasons this was a bad idea. Wait for the moments.  The mother playful with her baby; a shared smile with a fellow customer in line, the scent of a perfume like being in love, affirming words on a tee-shirt, real beauty inked onto a tattoo sleeve. A simple four-minute pour over colors your world with more than coffee; rubbing up against people opens us up to being more richly human ourselves.