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.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Twinkle In The Eyes And Terror In The Face

Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend.

Do not hide Your face from me in the day of my distress; Incline Your ear to me.

My bride; You have made my heart beat faster with a single glance of your eyes…

There is terror in a face we cannot see. In a face that is distorted, misshapen through birth defect or accident-the man bagging your groceries with twisted lips and purple potato nose. The creature in Stranger Things; lacking face but feeding on life. The secret, stomach emptying fear going to the airport as a child to pick up a father---afraid we won’t remember what he looks like.

There is delight in the glance of a lover; the twinkle of a smile in the eyes and the invitation for more. Comfort is found in the face of a friend; the lines on the face mirror years of passionate sharing. The embrace at the airport glad to be in each other’s company again.

There is angst when ‘darkness hides God’s lovely face.’ In all our cries and words and pounding we cannot hear God. Cannot get hold of the hem of His robe. This friend has been the closest one. The one on our side when the divorce papers come; life abandons, friends wound.

There is sweetness when God’s eyes invite us in. Freeing us up and lightening our load to share with such a friend. Filled to fulness. Spring in our step. We fear being forsaken but instead are fully known; safely known. Face to that Face; joy and laughter bubble up. Thirst quenched, hunger sated. Fully heard and safely held. The face we’ll finally see.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Skinscraper Jesus

It was a wooden go-cart. Kids down the street had built it; all wood with rope pulleys to turn the wheels.  I jumped in at the top of the hill. Began my descent.  Rope pulleys are not precise, and precision comes with practice.  I careened downhill, pulled the rope and over corrected.  Over the go-cart went taking me along with it.  Knees bloodied and full of black-top.  

In life time and trial scrape away fa├žade so that you’re living skin to skin.  Life with Jesus is like this---He’s both friend and skin-scraper.  At the outset this was my jumbled idea of who God is. Him who created the stars but knew me by name.  Wrathful god with stern standard.  Suffering savior dying for my sin and shame; genie that would do what I want (if I did the right thing).  Top this with the naivete that youth brings; I expected little skin scraping.

Life’s turns come quick.  Slowly I saw how little control I had.  Friends with cancer, foolishness in friendships and fatal flaws that I’d not seen scraped heart against the macadam.  And in that scraping a funny thing happened.  God put on flesh.  He became; more friend and flesh; less religion.  The Skin Scraper was connecting; skin to skin, flesh-to-flesh.  And so it goes on still this wonderful scraping.

"For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord,
my confidence since my youth."

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Not About The Farting Contests: An Eagle Scout Looks At Girls In Boy Scouts

Boy Scouts filled a hole in my life where manhood was empty.  In the formative years from 13 to 18 I craved maleness in all its permutations; bear hugs to farting contests; mental to physical challenges; moral to bodily growth.  Home provided little of this. Scouting provided most of it.

As a ‘males only’ institution Boy Scouts moved me from timid boy to early manhood.  Even the oath seems gender biased, ‘To keep myself physically strong...’ A co-ed environment would have shaped me differently.  This played out in a thousand ways. 

Guidance: Men don’t easily step into leading in volunteer organizations.  There is something unique in being led by men; and by the jostling together as men as a team.  Boys don’t see enough of this today.  Girls in Boy scouts will change that dynamic; women will take to those leadership roles and the men will step out. 

Camaraderie: You’d be a fool not to see it.  Men relate differently in all-male settings. In healthy settings we joke differently; usually in the midst of serious talk.  A twelve-mile hike in the Sierra or runs up the sand dunes at Port Hueneme elicit male responses.  “You carry that pack like my grandma,” evokes effort and laughter.

Leadership: We met on Thursdays.  Lines formed by rank and patrol. At times the older leadership would cajole the younger less experienced ones as drill sergeant to cadets. Leadership benefited by rank. On backpack trips camp set-up fell to those with lower rank.  Rank has rewards.

Servant Leadership: It’s the flip side. Merit badge skills are learned by men teaching men.  Old scouts scaffold younger scouts in skills---sewing, cooking, first aid, communication and management. Teaching comes by example. On a grueling backpack trip weak-kneed and novice couldn’t handle pack and trail.  The older leaders unloaded the packs from those tired shoulders and strapped them on top of theirs.  Rank has responsibility.   

When my wife goes on women’s retreats chocolates are placed on the pillows. Women sometimes sleep in the same bed. We don’t do that on men’s retreats. Camp cooking would have looked quite different with girls at the grill. Girls on the grill or girls on the trail change the dynamic of Boy Scouts.

(BTW I wasn’t a challenger in the farting contest. I was a judge.)

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Church Hunting

“The local church isn’t a piece of the heavenly church—like a tiny chunk broken off a big cookie. Instead, it’s a miniature realization of the whole heavenly thing.”

Searching for a church is like dating to find your spouse.  There are the must-haves, the willing compromises, and the pleasant surprises you hadn’t thought about.  There are mediocre dates and the complete bombs. Then there’s that one church that makes you hungry for Sundays.  Like that first date, the introduction to a church can be online or through a friend; “The pastor’s a Calvinist just like you.”  Once you’ve made that initial connection it’s time for the first date.

There’s the first look; the initial encounter.  How about that building?  Woo-hoo!---or could she use some paint?  The encounter is both cognitive and emotional.  Are you greeted with warmth and a joyful smile?  For some churches the service is like speed dating.  Up front they tell you it is an-hour long service.  Quick music set, collection, announcements, sermon and out the door.  Your eyes meet, you’re connecting; there’s some energy there and…that’s the darn bell again. Speed dating doesn’t allow for depth; neither does the hour-long service.

There are churches that cater to everybody.  First off they have those big comfy theatre chairs (not yet recliners).  Come in, be comfortable; part of the audience, no commitment needed.  Concert seating; concert lighting and in the hall concert coffee.  The pastor’s witty, well-read and articulate.  You ‘learn enough to stay afloat but not so much to rock the boat.’ She’s like the girl with the heavy make-up (lookin great on the outside!) whose goal is to get you to walk down the aisle. 

 A shared heartbeat is crucial.  If being outdoors centers you but she’s hates dirt you’ll have a problem.  The bible should be that heartbeat.  In some churches nobody reads it; the congregants don’t carry them.  We chose a church that has a Bible app on its website; where it is opened and read during the teaching time.  

The sermon is the crux of church.  God has given us a banquet in His word.  We come for the teaching.  We come for worship.  My wife likes modern songs; I lean toward hymns.  The bible says we are to be provoked to good deeds; stimulated, motivated, goaded.  We seek a relationship that affirms us in Christ and goads us toward Christ likeness. 

The first date always takes courage. Church hunting isn’t easy.  It takes time and research.  You’ll have to step out of your comfort zone.  But when you find her---.  Your days become bearable; your steps grow lighter.  She’ll put new songs on your lips; and challenge you with new insights into old truths.  Yes she’ll take your time and money; but oh what a reward.  Once you find her she’ll feel like home.