Wednesday, July 28, 2010

confessions of a weirdo

Yesterday, Austin the Actor and I met with the sound guy for his upcoming film and then did some last-minute location scouting. When we were done we went back to Austin's place and when he sat down and started playing a video game it hit me: I do not play video games. I mean I have, but that was a long time ago and only for a little while. After this thought sunk in, I started to think about the other things that most everybody in this culture does for fun and I realized, I don't do any of those things. I am really, really weird. For example...

I do not watch professional sports - not at all, not ever. I am pretty much done with snowboarding, wakeboarding, or any other sport that requires me to set a whole lot of fossil fuel on fire.  I do not enjoy talking about cars, or any other sort of machines. I have a motorcycle, but it is the most boring, wussy motorcycle you can buy and I ride it primarily for fuel economy. I am not into guns, or shopping malls, or fashion. Although I really like movies and sometimes watch TV on my computer, I do not actually own a television and that doesn't bother me one bit. Nor does it bother me that I do not own a cell phone or a credit card.

I do not smoke cigarettes, nor do I smoke drugs. In fact, I have never put any form of mind-altering drugs into my body (except prescription painkillers, and I always quit taking them before I'm supposed to). Although I will happily overindulge on home-baked sweets, I have very little sugar in my diet. I eat almost no comfort or junk food and generally make a lot of my food myself, at home. I can't remember the last time I drank a soda.

Although I tend to think about sex more than I feel is particularly healthy, I don't have sex with women. Or men. I do not enjoy parties with lots of people, and likewise do not enjoy bars. I do not generally like group dances, so I almost never go. I do not drink any alcohol - in fact, you could probably fit all the alcohol I've ever sipped in a shot glass.

I am not a member of any clubs, societies or cults. I am not affiliated with any major institutions of any kind, or any political party. I have no magazine subscriptions. I have never been in a fist fight, and in fact do my best to avoid angry arguments.

In short, I am a very, very boring person.

No wonder I feel lonely sometimes. No wonder I feel isolated, and walk around wondering why anyone would ever love me.

They do, though. They do - and not just the people who have a blood-reason for it. One of those non-blood lovers-of-me (JJ) suggested recently that I ought to write a list of things I love about myself, so I will remember to love myself; and a list of things I don't love about myself, so I'll remember what I am trying to change. I squished my finger today while working on my motorcycle and it is pulsating pain up my arm to my forehead, so I am not going to do the latter and make this painful funk I'm in worse with a public airing of the things I don't love about myself.

Instead, I think I will cheer myself up by listing the things about myself that I do love. Since we've already determined that I am a boring person, I might as well admit right up front that I love that I enjoy scrabble and chess, and am pretty decent at both of them. I think I have a fairly handsome, symmetrical, acne-free face - and as shallow as it is to admit, I love that about myself.

I love that I am a good father to my son. I love how I almost always catch myself before losing my temper with him, so that he knows me as a very gentle, attentive person. I love that I get to watch him discover life.

I love that I have weird, random skills picked up from my weird, random life - skills that are not particularly useful day-to-day: like tossing a hand net, climbing a tree, driving an oversized truck at high speeds through mud, tying cardboard boxes onto a four-wheeler, or capping the exhaust system for a high-end natural gas fireplace. I love walking around knowing that if someone was ever like, "Oh, my gosh! Is there a guy handy with an angle grinder in the house!?!" I would be able to jump right in.

I love that I am creative and  get to make stuff that bears my mark and connects with other people. I love that I am a good writer and painter, and that I have written and painted things that have had deep, personal significance to friends and strangers. I love my singing voice, and I love that I have finally begun to get over my fear and am learning to play a musical instrument.  I love that my creativity has allowed me to know and befriend an inordinate number of people whom I consider to be creative geniuses. I love that I, personally, bear the mark of a Creative Genius beyond my capacity to understand. I love that I don't have to understand it to enjoy it. I love that I am comfortable with silence. I also love that I am comfortable being alone, and that I have a rich inner life.

I love that I find intense pleasure in simple things - smells, sights, sounds... cleaning a toilet - and that I am surrounded by a natural world that perpetually blows my mind. I love that I can appreciate beauty, and that there is so much beauty to appreciate. I love the whole world, and all its sights and sounds. Boom-dee-ya-da!

 I love that my friends can count on me to fill any need of theirs that I am able to fill, and that some of them ask me to do ridiculous favors for them because they know I'll say yes. I love that my friends can trust me with their darkest secrets, knowing that I will keep them secret and listen without judgement. I love that I learned to be hospitable from my parents, and that I take great pleasure in serving other people.
You know what? I may be weird and boring... but that just worked. How could anybody feel lonely, surrounded by all that love?

Do me a favor, will ya? Write your own list. Put it in the comments, even. I would love to hear about it. Even if you don't want to make it public, though, you should still write a list. It will be worth it. You're amazing! When was the last time you noticed?

Monday, July 26, 2010

why all cities should be drug into the street and shot

It has been two days since "the incident," and I think my seething rage has dissipated enough that I can sit down and write about it without demolishing my keyboard with angry keystrokes.

This past Saturday was the Annual Caribbean Festival in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Waxhaw, the little town near which I live, has a Fourth of July parade every year, but this parade has degenerated into an overblown advertising campaign - a long succession of vehicles with company names and logos plastered all over the sides - so I thought I would take my son in to see if perhaps the Caribbean Festival Parade was any better.

Let me say up front, as a way of qualifying my rather extreme post title, that I do not hate cities. I just hate how they make me feel - which is a little bit ignorant and a lotta bit lost. I know I would feel different if I had spent more time in my life getting to know them, but I haven't - so this visit was no exception. I knew roughly where I wanted to be and found it without too much confusion, but the difficulty started when I tried to find a place to park the car.

First, I missed seeing a "valet parking only" sign and began to unload in front of what I later discovered was a hotel. The valet (bless his little white-boy heart) was nice about it and didn't try to make me feel stupid, so I loaded all my stuff and my son back into my air-condition-less car on this hundred-degree day and started to go around the block, looking for a spot. Nothing remotely free presented itself, so I pulled into one of the public parking lots by a sign that said, "Parking: Six Dollars" and drove up next to the ticket dispenser, which informed me that it only took cash, and that the cash it wanted to take was six dollars. I had five.

Back around the block I went, pulling at last into a multi-level parking garage past a sign that said "First Ten Minutes: Two Dollars. Two Dollars for Each Twenty Minutes that Follows." There was a booth there at the exit and the rate seemed tolerable, so I drove around and around up to the third floor of the mostly-empty garage (that should have been my first warning sign) to where there were finally some un-reserved spots. Parked again. Unloaded. Walked down the stairs and up the street in time to be really early for the parade, which was apparently running on a Caribbean timetable.

It was a good show. I highly recommend it. I also highly recommend taking public transit to get there.

An hour later, my son and I were back at the car. We didn't get to see the whole parade, because we were trying to make a lunch appointment with Austin the Actor - who starting next week will be Austin the Actor/Writer/Director on that short film I mentioned a while back. I didn't have a cell phone to call and tell him I was running late, so I was in a bit of a hurry.

At the gate, I discovered that there was no attendant on duty. After a whole lot of confusing dialog about blue and white tickets, the disembodied voice over the intercom informed me that my white ticket didn't matter and it would be ten dollars, which I would have to pay cash. I told the disembodied voice that I did not have ten dollars, and it informed me that there was an ATM machine up on the mall level. Around and around I went, back up to what looked like sort of a mallish level, sweating all the way. I parked, unstrapped my son, and went through the outer glass doors... to find that the automatic inner doors were refusing to open. After standing there for a few seconds feeling stupid, I put my fingers in the crack and pried the doors apart. The place seemed completely vacant, but a secretaryish-looking woman with frizzy hair materialized and directed me to an ATM machine, which informed me that it could only give me money in increments of twenty dollars.

I punched in my PIN, unhappily paid the two dollars and fifty cents banking fee, removed my twenty dollars, went back out to the car, strapped my son in, and drove sweating around and around and around - back to the unyielding barrier at the exit of this venus-fly-trap-of-a-parking-garage that I was beginning to hate.

This time, I noticed that the cash slot had a little sticker over it that said "exact change only." A "blue ticket" customer was walking by right then, having just parked his sports car right down by the gate. I asked him if he had change for a twenty, which he didn't. I thanked him and got back on the intercom with the disembodied voice, which said, "here's what you're gonna have to do. Go back up and park your car on the appropriate level. Then go down to the street and walk up to the store on the corner. They'll make change for you."

At this point, as you may imagine, I was more than a little bit frustrated. "Are you serious?!?" I said. "I just went all the way up to the mall level like you told me and now I am really, really late for an appointment and you want me to walk up the street and make change?"

"Hey, man," the disembodied voice shot back, "I'm just trying to help out here. That machine will take your twenty, but it ain't gonna give you no change."

At that point, I was too hot and frustrated to care. I muttered something under my breath, jammed my twenty dollar bill into the slot, and drove into the street; having just paid Twenty-Two Dollars and Fifty Cents for one hour of parking. I managed, somehow, to make it to the restaurant only fifteen minutes late. Austin wasn't there.

Utterly defeated, I strapped my sweaty little boy into his car seat, spritzed him a few times with water from a spray bottle, and handed him a Nalgene with a huge frozen chunk of ice in it. I pointed my car away from the city and drove South, back to the comfort of a land where all the parking is free.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


When she told him boys were strong
I felt weak,
but went along and said that girls could be strong, too.
And she said, "true... but they don't have to."

I don't really know why
but when she caught my eye
and said those words in just that way
I tried to speak, to say...
but found my words had flown away.

And when she said that boys don't mean their words
I thought I heard them,
thought I felt them flying back to me.
I looked for her: to see, to say...
but found that she had flown away.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

How to Stop Loving Someone

A friend of mine recently expressed what many would call naive confusion at how a woman of whom she'd read could go from loving her man to hating him. I don't think it's naive of her to wonder at this, just that her comment reveals that she has not fully accepted the way love has been dramatically re-defined in our culture - which is, I think, a good thing (her lack of acceptance, that is).

So what is love, how has it been re-defined, and how do we lose it? If the Beatles are right and Love is all we need, how will we know if we have got it? If my mom is right and God is Love and I want God, then shouldn't I have some sort of an idea what this Love is that I am wanting? I would think that would be important, so I would be able to tell if I had somehow lost it.

In the movie "Playing by Heart," Angelina Jolie says that "talking about love is like dancing about architecture" and she is right, I think. It seems a bit silly to try to talk about love. But dancing about architecture never hurt anybody; so I will give it a try by deferring to someone a bit older (and a bit more dead) than me, Mr. Clive Staples Lewis, who once took a stab at it by describing four types of love that peoples can have for other peoples.

He called them storge (the affectionate love: most often associated with the love of a parent for a child), phileo (the "unnaturalest" of the four: known as friendship, which is more about choice than base instinct), eros, (that sort of love we think of when we think of 'being in love'), and finally agape, (also known as charity, which is the sort of love that Lewis believed that God exhibits: a love that is utterly unconditional and self-sacrificing). 

The first three are marvelous types of love. We crave them, rely on them, and need them like we need honey-peanut-butter toast (mmm... toast). The last, for most people in America today, is a big ball of fru-fru nonsense. Completely unconditional? Self-sacrificing? I mean, it would be nice if someone gave me that kind of love, but c'mon... waaaay too risky. Who was Lewis kidding, right? 

Well, not me, because I buy it. Completely. I think it is beautiful, mysterious, and the only kind of love that won't in the course of time turn slowly from love to hate. Fortunately, I also believe that these four loves are only distinct from each other when they are merely words on the pages of a book. In reality, they mish-mash together as the sustaining, enduring power of that agape love entangles with the others and helps them to persist in spite of all the stupid stuff we keep doing to try to destroy them. Parents keep loving their bratty little snot-nosed progeny, friends keep calling their absent-minded friends, and couples keep being all erotical, even though they are both just a couple of selfish, obnoxious weasel-monkeys. 

If this annoys you -- if it bothers you to have some nosy Divinity infecting your life with a transcendent and sustaining love -- then all you have to do is re-define love. You can keep your storge, your phileo and your eros -- just systematically strip them of any traces of self-sacrifice and un-conditionality. Make them about you. Redefine them to be all about how you feel and what you want. Demand that they come with a whole lot of pre-existing conditions. Delude yourself into believing that really loving yourself means putting yourself before other people, other relationships and the community at large. If you can do that, then Presto-Bango my confused friend, you have got yourself a love-to-hate transition. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

get some goodness

And forsooth, I have written yet another piece of goodness for GOOD magazine. Here, then, is the link. Go, therefore, and read it; and, having read deeply of it, make for thyself an account, that thou might leave thereupon a good comment. Good day.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

they tell me God hates puppies

If you had asked me as a little kid for the most well-known verse in the Bible, I would have quoted John 11:35, which states, simply, that “Jesus wept.” It’s the shortest verse in the Bible and therefore the easiest to remember. I had to memorize verses in Sunday School and I can remember thinking that if they were all like John 11:35, perhaps I would have a few more gold stars by my name. The Bible + Me = Laziness.

It is tempting, therefore, when I come across a really whacked-out interpretation of a Bible verse, to think that it has been translated that way because of laziness. For example, I was thumbing through a couple of “paraphrased” Bible references at the front of a Bible storybook someone had been reading to my son and I came across this little gem: “Jesus said, ‘God loved the people of the world so much that he gave his only son’” [emphasis mine].

Correct me if I am an idiot, but that seems an odd way to interpret what is, in fact, the best known Bible verse in the world—John 3:16. Odd, but not unsurprising in an evangelical church culture that puts a premium on their proprietary formula for “how to get into heaven.” In his essay, “Christianity and the Survival of Creation,” Wendell Berry points out that “people who quote John 3:16 as an easy formula for getting into heaven neglect to see the great difficulty implied in the statement that the advent of Christ was made possible by God’s love for the world – not God’s love for heaven or for the world as it might be but for the world as it was and is.”

This interpretation is directly at odds with that of Sally Lloyd-Jones, writer of “The Jesus Storybook Bible” that annoyed me into writing this piece. They cannot both be right, and while Berry’s version jives more closely with my own way of thinking, it is certainly at odds with what my childhood church subculture taught me to believe is the implicit meaning of that verse—that it is about getting into heaven and nothing else.

I decided to do some more digging and found that Lloyd-Jones is not alone in making explicit this message that is usually conveyed only implicitly. Her paraphrase is actually nearly a word-for-word transcription of that verse in the Contemporary English Version of the Bible, which is published by The American Bible Society (go figure).

So who is right: Wendell Berry—who is by his own admission not a Bible scholar, or the seething masses of American evangelicals? When John 3:16 says “world,” does it only mean “people of the world”? To answer that question, I turned to Facebook and asked former Oxford scholar and current friend Micah Snell, who informed me that the word “world” in that verse comes from the Greek, “kosmon,” which can be directly translated “cosmos.”

“Cosmos,” as the Oxford Dictionary tells us, is either an ornamental plant of the daisy family or “the universe seen as a well-ordered whole.” So unless we are willing to argue that God is really, really into a very specific sort of flower, the evidence would seem to point towards siding with Berry and the British against the Americans and their quaint little paraphrases.

While it would be conceivable to argue that “cosmos” includes “people of the world” and therefore the Americans weren't exactly completely wrong, to downgrade it in that way without any real justification diminishes the power of the verse and spits in the face of the wonderful mystery of the Bible by totally ignoring what Berry has called “the great difficulty” of the text.

This takes me back to the start, where I mused that mis-interpretations like this seem to happen because of laziness. Why, you might ask, does a little laziness matter—it’s just one verse, right? Well… yes, but it is the best-known verse in the world and, as Berry goes on to point out in his essay, our “Christian” subculture’s narrow reading of that verse has had widespread, ugly consequences.

For example, if God only loves the people of the world (or, as is more widely believed, only their souls-whatever those are) then it stands to reason that God does not give a rat’s left earlobe about, say, a rat’s left earlobe. Or a rat, for that matter… or the river that the rat is living on… or the ocean towards which that river glides. If God does not care about the earth (the thinking goes), then why should we? We are free to abuse that rat and river and ocean in any way we please. In essence, these people are messing with what the Bible actually says in order to justify abuse and destruction of the very thing God loves.

This irks me. You may now color me irked, for I am irked beyond measure. Not only are these malevolent marmosets making up despicable stuff and sticking it into the Bible, but they are also trying to teach this garbage to my kid. Here I am walking around telling my boy that Jesus is way cool and the Source of Love, and all the while there are these weasels twisting Jesus’ words—no, lying about them—to justify hatred and destruction. It’s embarrassing, depressing and infuriating; and, given the amount of money our ostensibly “Christian” country has made by trashing this planet, I find it impossible to attribute their misinterpretation of the best known verse in the entire world to mere laziness.

That’s right… I call foul. While it is understandable that a great deal of our culture will be transposed onto any text as we translate it into our own language, this goes far beyond a little cultural re-imagining. This is an ugly, ugly lie.

I can think of only one thing to do to correct this (beyond never, ever buying a Contemporary English Version).

Let’s stop reading the Bible as though it’s some sort of step-by-step mechanical engineering manual—the whole "Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth" thingy—and start reading it as it was written: a beautiful work of art, full of wisdom and truth, created in love to teach us important principles and help us draw closer to God. If we can approach the Bible with the sort of humble wonder we adopt (or at least, should adopt) when we experience art, perhaps we’ll stop reading into it so many of the ugly preconceptions of our culture and instead start experiencing the love that it can show us how to make. 

Monday, July 19, 2010

"i love you"

In my dream this morning
your face flashed -
an open book.

You looked into my eyes
and said
"I love you"
like you used to
when you meant it...

before your face became a wall.

In that brief moment
before I awoke
I believed again;
and hope, long since extinguished,
phoenixed unbidden
from the ashes of all those times
you said, "I love you"
but didn't mean it,
and all those times
you merely faced me

in silence,

turned away.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

lights... camera... Austin!

Whenever I refer to my friend Austin on here, I always call him "Austin the Actor," with a link to his imdb page - a page that basically just tells you that he looks a little homicidal in pale blue and that he played "Mr. Edwards" last year in the fairly regrettable Ben Stiller / Jason Schwartzman vehicle, "The Marc Pease Experience."

I feel an eensy-weensey bit bad about that. Austin is actually a talented chap, so I think I'll bolster his hyper-inflated ego a little further by throwing this link on here, which will direct you to a commercial he and his buddy Chris did for Ashley Furniture. It's part of a series of Ashley Furniture commercials featuring these two clowns that you can find on Youtube. Most of it is just ad-libbed nonsense, which Austin and Chris do quite well. 

I tell you this because I have been working with Austin on a couple of short films, which we (that is, he) will start shooting at the beginning of next month. Extras will be needed (my son will probably be making his on-screen debut - woot! woot!), so if you live in the area and have some time free, give me a shout! And if you don't have the time to come to the shooting, consider this a heads-up for a possible rough-cut, talk-back screening sometime in late August/ September. 

Hugs not drugs!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

why I am (still) a (fairly confused) follower of Jesus

There are a lot of stupid reasons to keep a blog – vanity, exhibitionism, insecurity, etc. – and at one time or another I have been guilty of them all. Fortunately, the truth does not necessarily require saints to be its vehicles – chumps with chips on their shoulders will do just fine, so long as they are willing to try to tell the truth… and I am nothing if not trying.

As a result, over the past six years I have had the privilege of hearing from a variety of very lovely people of all shapes and sizes; friends and strangers alike that my writing has in some way impacted. An eight-year-old girl responded to a blog I wrote about the dark history behind my antipathy towards mathematics to say that she, too, hated math. An elderly man who had just seen his daughter off to the Burning Man festival wrote to identify with the struggles and passions of my youth and to thank me for allowing him to live vicariously through them.

On and on the list goes… I have heard from college students, college professors and college dropouts; atheists, neo-pagans, agnostics, and even a few Christians. Gay, straight, or crooked, I have felt the weight and joy of the privilege of writing into so many different types of human hearts. As a result, I have tried to write with what humility and honesty I can muster, doing my best to avoid ever presenting myself as chief-potentate-and-owner of the sort of knowledge that is entirely the province of what I believe to be an inestimable God.

There have been times, however, that I have wondered if in my desire to avoid insulting others with arrogance I have perhaps erred too far in the other direction and have lied by omission – failing to admit clearly enough that, yes, despite all the stupidities I like to make fun of in the Christian Church, I am still attempting to live my life as a follower and student of Jesus who, let’s face it, kicks the llama’s patoot.

This Sunday I was at my church, which most people in mainstream Christendom would say is “just a small group.” Our leader had decided that we would spend the evening relating stories about times God had clearly communicated to us. I was trying hard to keep my mouth shut, because these days I tend to find the whole idea that I could have absolute certainty about God’s business to be ludicrous, if not reprehensible. But keeping my mouth shut during serious discussions is not one of my strengths, so I raised my hand and spewed out a bunch of words that ended up with me crying a little and everyone else getting pretty much dead silent.

As I rode home afterwards, swerving my motorcycle all over the road to avoid running over the endlessly re-populating road-frogs, I thought about this blog and all the good people who have expressed “concern” for me over the years – one of whom even wrote a letter implying that I “needed Jesus in my heart” and promising to pray for me. I thought about the many people who don’t agree with me about Jesus, but still have the decency to listen to my opinions without making assumptions about my eventual damnation, and I thought… I owe it to friends on all sides of the theological spectrum to try to tell the truth about why I am (still) a (fairly confused) follower of Jesus Christ.

The problem is, I doubt that I really can. It’s a faith position, see, and words seem inadequate – a little too inextricably linked to reason to properly explore something as mysterious as faith, which I believe includes and transcends reason. Words mislead and rabbit-trail, ending up violating and desecrating the very beautiful thing that faith is… a thing worth fighting to preserve.

I don’t want to do that, so I think the best way to approach the question is indirectly. Instead of telling you why I try to follow Christ, I will tell you what I told my “just-a-small-group” Sunday night about how I have heard God speak. Maybe as I do, you’ll get a sense of where I am coming from.

For the sake of clarity, I’ll edit out the tears and stuttering and make myself sound like I had actually planned what I was going to say.

- - -

We’re telling stories about how God has spoken to us, right? Well, I’m not all that comfortable being that clear about something I see as this insanely ginormous mystery. God speaking? Hmmm.

I guess the only times I feel absolutely justified in saying unequivocally that “God spoke to me” is when I have heard God's voice in this amazing natural world all around me. I spent ten summers doing forestry work in British Columbia and Alberta, some of what I think has got to be the most beautiful terrain on the planet. Out in those wilds I saw things that make all my descriptions fall apart – things so wonderful I don’t even want to try to describe them. And growing in the Amazon rainforest, I witnessed a whole lot of indescribable moments as well. One night I sat with my friend Ben and watched as two pillars of clouds built up high into the sky and began to light up inside with flashes of lightning. Then, as we watched, lightning bolts began to arc back and forth between those clouds and for some reason the whole thing lit up in an unrepeatable, multi-colored fireworks display that went on for an hour and a half. It is in those sorts of moments that I guess I would say that God is talking to me.

For everything else – all the little things that happen in my life… well, I just don’t know. I used to want to know, to fit everything into a neat little box so that if anything new that I could not understand happened I wouldn’t have to be scared. I could just reach into my pocket and pull out my little boxed God and say, “Look! See what I got here? That’s right… it’s GOD, baby, so back off!”

The fear kept coming, though, and I kept having to try to box more of life… which kept making and finding cracks to leak out of. It was a lot of work, being in charge of the universe, so usually I would just take the path of least resistance and then say, “Yep, lookee see… God made this happen.”

After I left Peru I went to the same college my brother was attending – where my cousins had gone in the town my parents were moving to, and I said, “Yep, God told me to go here.” I was an artistically gifted young man, but afraid of the big, bad world and afraid that I was not creative enough to make it – so I went the easy route to the easy school, where an Art major was not even an option.

After I got out of college and ended up here in North Carolina with a big, gaping hole in my life plans, I met the woman who was to be my wife and did the same thing all over again. I was young, confused, scared and getting more involved than I wanted to, faster than I had planned. So what did I do? I convinced myself that God had ordained it and had told me that we were meant to be together… heck, I even gave a little speech to that effect at our wedding.

I hear people all the time talking about how God spoke to them in this or that way and that God did this or that thing for them, and its always something positive: God fixed their car or found their wallet or healed a relationship. So what am I supposed to do with my relationship? What am I supposed to think about how sure I was, back then, that God was directing my path? Was I delusional, or just a little mistaken? I mean… the marriage broke. She left me. How could that be God?

Last summer I went to visit a friend in Kentucky and I ended up going with him to his AA meetings. I walked in and was like, “Dang… I’m in church: maybe the first real church I have ever been in.” The people were all just so broken and real, and it was great. My friend told me that a lot of the alcoholics who’d been coming to that meeting for a long time were actually grateful for their disease of alcoholism, because it was this that put them at dis-ease with their life and showed them how spiritually bankrupt they were – how bound up by fear and unable to love. If not for the alcohol, they reasoned, they would have lived out the rest of their lives enslaved by fear.

So this past week as I have been thinking about ways God has spoken to me, I have found myself thinking back to what I was like before I met my wife. I do not like what I see back there in my past. It makes me sad. As I reflect on that, I start to wonder if maybe God was telling me to get with her. This past year of my life has been the worst of times, but also the absolute best of times. I have been forced to face things about myself that without this personal cataclysm would most likely have remained hidden forever. I have been forced to acknowledge all the ways in which fear and guilt have driven me to do the things I have done: everything from the big life decisions down to the way I have gone about making art.

I swear… I only ever painted because it was something I was good at and because when I did it, people told me I was special. There was a little joy there, yes, but buried so deep under fear of failure that it barely ever saw the light. But now, as I live through the death of my marriage, my art has begun to come alive for me. I am enjoying it more than ever, and spending more time than ever on it.

Oh, and because my school offered no Art major, I ended up getting a Bachelor’s degree in English which, given the fact that I am mostly expressing myself creatively through writing these days, seems to have been the best choice. So I guess you could say I’ve come full circle. I now think that maybe God was guiding me to that school and into this marriage. Sure, it wasn’t ideal and I did it for broken reasons, but this is a broken world.

I have come to think that maybe I am always just taking things and breaking them over and over, and maybe God is forever picking up the pieces and placing them into an ever-increasingly complex mosaic that gets more and more beautiful all the time. I do not understand the logic behind this masterwork, but I do love it.

There is a verse in the Bible that says something like, “consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you endure trials of many kinds,” and I used to think that meant that you should be glad because God was going to use those struggles to give you all sorts of goodies – either now or in some pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die-by-and-bye afterlife. And there may or may not be some truth to that, but I am starting to think that it is an un-helpful perspective. I am starting to think that sometimes the goodies are in the trials (cosmic piñata, anyone?) and that God is this master artisan speaking all the time, in all ways, to all people. I am starting to think that maybe God is always talking to me, and I just have not really learned how to shut up and listen.

So I am thinking that maybe I am glad I met my wife. Because of it, I have some great memories and a beautiful son [commence tear-duct malfunction]. Because of it, I have begun to leave my fear and love people in a way that I think would otherwise not have happened. For the first time in my life, I am starting to actually really love being alive – to find the joy in that and in making my own little bits of art.

I am grateful, then, that I met her. I am grateful for all the things we’ve shared these past eight years – the good, the bad, and the ugly. I am grateful, even, that she left me… because as much as I hate it and as painful as it has been, I don’t know what worse things might have happened if she had stayed, or what wonderful things might happen now that she is gone. Before she left, she got in a wreck with our son in the car, for example, and told me that it would not have happened if she had not been so torn up about our relationship.

I like to think that I know what is best in our situation… but who am I to say? I think, but do not know, so I am glad that God has spoken and continues to speak and move through it all.

I am trying not to say anymore what, exactly, God is saying. I feel like I can see that something wonderful is happening, but I do not really know what. I am learning, I think, to be where I am and just enjoy the journey. It is good to be alive – to live, and love, and listen and maybe even hear, just a tiny bit, the voice of God.

- - -

That, generally speaking, is what I said. It doesn’t really answer the question, though, does it? Instead of explaining why, specifically, I follow Jesus, I have taken that question and added a few more. I am okay with that, though, because that is what faith is. As Anne Lamott says, “The opposite of faith is not doubt, it’s certainty.”

Do I try to follow Jesus just because my parents and grandparents and great-great-great grandparents were Christian and I was raised in a missionary community where pretty much every single adult I ever knew claimed to be following Christ? Maybe. Or maybe it was a combination of that, and logic. Perhaps I carefully examined every argument for and against and decided in the end that Jesus Christ best fit the evidence. Maybe I had some overwhelming personal experience that overrode any objection—perhaps Jesus cured me of my cocaine addiction and healed my crippled foot.

You know what? It’s impossible to say. I have never tried cocaine and have always had a fairly sound body, but other than that, it’s all fair game. I live within my own context, and it is impossible to know what I would be like if I had been raised somewhere else – like, say, sub-Saharan Africa – and had not had the exposure to Christ or the theological and philosophical education to which I have been privy. I have probably read and studied hundreds of books on the topic. I have argued about it, wrestled over it, contemplated and meditated on it, but I still don’t really know.

I am happy with that. I won’t fight you over it, but I will try to love you through it, because I have found that where Jesus is, there is love – amazing, upside-down, inexplicable love. While a lot of people try to hijack the power of that and use the name for their own nefarious purposes, Jesus is always in the love.

Follow the love. 

Saturday, July 10, 2010


I used to really like that jolly-looking, chubby-cheeked Quaker Oats guy. Reminded me of Ben Franklin... and he invented electricity, right? Plus, there is that whole, "Quaker" connection. I am not really sure what exactly a Quaker is, but it sounds sort of Amish. So taken together, that must mean that friendly, intelligent, back-to-the-earth type people must have made this "Oatmeal Squares" cereal I like so much. The box says they have been at it for 130 years. I can just picture this guy... still out there in Pennsylvania somewhere, grinding away at those oats in his old, horse-powered mill.

For years I thought that way. Then last week I actually looked at the box and started to reckon. I surmised from the painted portrait that Mr. Quaker dude doesn't even exist - let alone have anything to do with this cereal. I saw how they made the "oatmeal helps reduce cholesterol" part really big to de-emphasize that it is actually the soluble fiber in the oats that, as a part of a healthy diet, can (as in, they might, if you exercise a lot, too) help reduce cholesterol. Finally, I noticed the phrase, "hint of brown sugar," which, let's face it, doesn't mean anything. So I looked at the ingredients, which as we all know are listed in order of percentage, from greatest to least. So let's see what we've got: "whole oat flour." Yup, looks about right. Next, "whole wheat flour." Still good... no complaints there. But next we have... what's this... "Brown Sugar" ?!? And then right after that, "sugar" again?!?

WHAT!?! I thought they said a "hint" of brown sugar. That doesn't make any sense... oh, no... wait... it does. See, the word "hint" is absolutely perfect. It sounds as though they are saying it only has a little sprinkle of sugar, while in reality the dictionary definition is "a covert suggestion or implication; an indirect allusion," which, as we can clearly see, has nothing whatsoever to do with quantity. So what we end up with is your typical nasty, sugar-saturated cereal loaded up with all sorts of preservatives and our dear old friend the ubiquitous and ridiculously toxic "yellow number five," packaged and presented as a health food cereal. I love it! Or rather, I did love it, until I started thinking again.

Thinking. Dangit, dangit, dangit! It's a curse, I tell you. Sometimes I just hate it, especially when it means that I now have to go to the store and actually buy raw oats and nuts and suchlike and start making my own granola, which not only makes me weird, but also a little shorter on time than I was yesterday.

Except... except for Barbara. Thank God for Barbara, who unlike that Quaker guy has got to be real and makes an almost-identical-looking food product that tastes just as good and is sweetened only with unsulphered molasses (poor little moles) and has only about half the ingredients, none of which are preservatives or yellow number five. Golly, this is great! Or... maybe not great, but at least better... because the sugars are still there, only in a different form.

Dangit... I don't wanna be a hippie! I like cutting all my hair off and taking a shower. Dangit, dangit, dangit.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Even More GOODer

I'm at it again, this time talking about recycled brains. As usual, you are more than welcome to go to the GOOD website and leave a comment. Or, if that doesn't sufficiently express your gratitude for the fact that I arranged some words for you, you could just bring five dollars to my house... whereupon I will show my gratitude by frying you up an empanada.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

you deserve this

I would glance over at hungry little eyes peering through the windows of a restaurant where I was eating and I would not think, "oh, well... now isn't that just a tribute to the value of my home country's solid Protestant work ethic and a testament to the detrimental effects of a government mired with corruption and un-American policies?" Nope, I would not think anything of the sort. Instead, I just got confused. And when I followed our garbage truck out to the dump and watched children picking through my garbage looking for something they could use or sell, I got even more confused. In my naiveté, I thought it unjust that they should be starving and desperate while I had regular, balanced, nutritious meals and new presents every Christmas. 

They had done nothing to deserve this, I thought, and it bothered me. Not, of course, to the degree that I would make a stink and insist that we buy our meals and take them directly out to these children, instead of just saving the scraps and bringing them out in a bag... you mustn't go overboard, after all. It did bother me, though. It was just not right. 

Now I am thirty, though, and know better.

Last week the above-pictured flyer came in the mail, reminding me that I deserve to have a bathroom that is both functional and beautiful. I looked at it and was reminded that despite the fact that roughly 2.6 billion people in the world lack access to adequate sanitation - which leads to the transmission of diseases that cause a great many millions of them to die in pain - I, at least, deserve to have a beautiful bathroom conveniently installed in my home with a minimum of fuss. 

Why, you ask, do I deserve this? Well... for being me, of course.  

A long time ago -- long before I was a thirty-year-old man with everything figured out -- I was a little boy who was very confused. One of my greatest sources of confusion was the incredible wealth of my family, as compared to the abject poverty of some of my friends in the community that surrounded the missionary base I lived on in Peru, South America.