Dear Winn -13 February 2017

Dear Winn:
Its been a while, huh? Its not that I haven’t wanted to write, because I have. Its more that, as the psalmist says, “I have come into deep waters.” Where I am in my season of life, a handful of disappointments, and the current state of our nation have ganged up on me and left me blue, pal. I’d like to tell you otherwise, but why lie to a friend? I resonate with that line from the psalmist because that’s how it feels, like I can’t touch the bottom so I’m treading, treading. And the treading is tiring. I’m sure there’s an inspirational quote somewhere about “letting go” and in the letting go “you’ll float! you’ll rise!” Of course you could drown, which is not all that inspiring.
 
I took Meredith out last night for sushi. It was our Valentine’s date. Have I ever told you I cannot navigate chopsticks? Well, I can’t. The entire time I’ve got them in my hand I’m thinking, “For pete’s sake, this is why someone invented the fork.” The sushi was good, as was our conversation. We’d been at odds most of the day, just one of those February Sundays where two people who love each other are out of sync. There’s not much in the psalms about being married. Come to think of it, there’s really not much specifically in the Bible about being married. I wish there was. 
 
Some of our conversation last night was peppered with thanksgiving. Meredith is back hiking, man. She’s come a long way since last June – her fall, her surgery, her recovery, her physical therapy. And because we two are one, in a weird sort of way it was also my fall, my surgery, etc. I don’t know if many married people believe that, but I do. Does that make any sense? Now that I type it, it sounds a bit coo-coo. Maybe some of the out-of-sync-ness in marriage comes from two people who love each other sharing an experience but sharing it in distinctly different ways and then thinking the other could never really understand but they do, sorta, but it takes mucho work to find a common language around it and sometimes it simply feels like too much work because you’re treading, treading in the deep waters, and you’re tired. That sounds coo-coo too. Maybe there’s not much specifically in the psalms or the Bible about marriage because even God knows its hard. But most of the stuff worth doing is hard, huh?
 
Winn, I know we tried to find a publisher interested in these letters we write to one another because we thought maybe others would be interested in what two white straight Christian males have to say to one another about life and friendship and aging and forks (HA!). But yeah, we came up empty handed. I’m sorry. I don’t want to be too whiny about that ’cause Lord knows I can’t abide much whining. But you know what? There sure is plenty of whining in the psalms. And it seems the Lord abided it. Still, we’ve gotta pull up our socks and press on, maybe a letter from time to time to share with others, and the rest we’ll exchange behind the online veil, possibly self-publishing one day to critical acclaim.
 
Its a strange feeling losing a bit of your timing this late in your career. Yeah, send in the clowns.
 
Coraggio.
John       
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No Room

Behold, I stand at the
door, and knock
Big America, Big America,
let me come in.
 
     No. We are not blind.
     You might be a wolf in the
     only clothes on your back
     sent to swallow us whole.
 
Please. I no longer have
a place to lay my heart.
My smile is broken and
devils fill my dreams.
 
     No. We may be pigs
     but we are not fools.
     We know your wretchedness
     could be a subtle ruse.
 
Please. I have long heard
of the brave flame shining in
the night sky, held by
a mother’s stately arm.
 
     No. As the Innkeeper once
     said: There is no room.
     Our great plans simply
     do not include you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Before The World Wakes

In the first light when birds
stir I begin a poem in praise of myself.
Their singing provides extra
bravado which is quite necessary
to tell of how it is to be sweetly alive.
This morning its an aria, some stubborn
solo voice down by Dirty Woman Creek
refusing to be a team player.
He(?) sings and I grow quiet as
sleep remembering the three days
when my children were born,
when parents and dear friends
gathered at the glass so proud.
This is why, if possible, you greet the
dawn for God loves to remind you of
your greatness before the world
wakes with cages on its mind.
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Like Always

This is my body
bones brittler than
a decade ago
eyes dependent
to glass distances
middle thickening
against my please
mind content to
mine yesterdays.
But my heart still
breaks then mends
breaks then mends
like always.
 
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I AM RESOLVED

I’ve zero interest in being a red letter christian
or a common good christian or whatever other
bastardization some feel crucial to crossfit the
old faith, tone it hard for our dark new world.
If the over articulate is the enemy of the erotic
could this not also threaten the desired agapic?
No, call me Christian – the one word that means
little Christ. This feels earthlingly possible,
that with Christ’s help I might achieve small feats
of uncommon graceness on the human scale.
Yes, Christian. I want to be swept away by this,
this noun I daily bear, this my light burden. 
 
 
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Christmas Day Meditation, 2016

As long as we’ve been a part of our local Lutheran congregation, a fundamental facet of our Christmas Eve service has always been communion. Always. And it was again last night. For almost forty-five minutes we were swept up in the drama of the birth of Christ via words and imagery and song, and then these words cut the narrative like a blade: “On the night he was betrayed…” And in that moment I heard those words like never before.
 
I realized that long before that black night of Judas-betrayal was the dark night of betrayal of his birth. In the timelessness of eternity that night he was handed over to us to do with as we pleased, and it pleased us to shout, “Crucify him! Give us Barabbas!”
 
But even though the betrayal was assured, still Christ came.
 
Of the many things that Christmas illuminates to us, maybe one of the most shining is that the purest incarnations of love will always be betrayed. Always. Oh, we don’t like to wallow in such negativity, but in our deepest marrow we know it to be true. For that pure brand of love is too intense, it howls and strips us bare to reveal us. And though we throw pep rallies rah-rahing our desire to be known, I’m not sure we really do. Or if we do, we only do to a point of our own choosing, and beyond that we rebel and say, “No more. It is too much.”
 
Even though the betrayal was assured, still Christ came.
 
On the night be was betrayed
Mary saw his newborn eyes harden
to the black of winter ice,
his stare chilling enough to melt the stars.
Christ was born to cherish us
and this he would accomplish,
even if it killed him.
 
       
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Dear Winn – 8 December 2016

Dear Winn:
Its a little before 6am here, and its 3°. Most of my younger life I dreamed of, as that line from Harry Nilsson’s song so pointedly put it, “going where the weather suits my clothes.” Now, here in my forty-ninth year, I realize that dream has come true. My weather app tells me that by 7am it will be 0° and from there the newly risen sun will be burdened with warming us up a bit, today’s high of 12°. I share such weather statistics with my parents when I call and they ask if its cold here. There is always a minuscule pause on their end, and in that stillness I think they still wonder where on earth their son has gone to live.
 
I was glad when you too said you had decided to use Mary Oliver’s new book – Upstream – as your Advent reading material. I have learned over the years that for me, reading a book of some sort helps give shape to this season. Without a book my soul gets unwieldy, and that’s no good. This book doesn’t have to be distinctly Christian. In fact, I prefer that it not be. I love worldly, earthy books that my Christian imagination can get all mixed up in and roll around in the sheets, sorta like the Incarnation.
 
And I have also learned that if I’ll just be patient around the end of November, the right book will usually present itself. Not always, but usually. Winn, as soon as I read this line near the start – Attention is the beginning of devotion – I knew the right book had found me, one more time. I just adore Mary’s hypethral theology. She is so rooted in the world. And that’s what I believe this season to be so much about – God rooting himself in this world. I don’t agree with everything Mary writes, but I find myself agreeing with more than I disagree. It seems to me in that tipping of the scales lies kinship.
 
I was reading “Emerson: An Introduction” and this line arrested me: Soon after Ellen Tucker’s death he left the pulpit. I know you know a little of the story of my leaving the pulpit. It wasn’t due to the death of someone I loved but rather someone I’d been. And as hard and as painful as it is, and God knows it is, the only way for new things to be born is for old things to die. That’s kinda where my head’s been these early days of Advent, Winn – on the old things that had to die in order for something or someone else to take their place. The adolescent stance is to see those old things as bad or less-than, but that’s just silly. Those old things were the seeds, seeds which remain in the soft grip of memory, seeds of which I will be forever grateful.
 
Winn, I believe just about anything’s possible, but chances are good that if I hadn’t left the pulpit I would never have met you. I would have never met Brennan Manning (lord, he was an absolute piece of work, and I miss him dearly). I would never have started writing poetry, or at least started writing it in the frame of mind in which I did. I would never have grown a ponytail. I cannot recall a single Southern Baptist pastor I knew who had a beard much less a ponytail, ever. I would never have met star-brilliant writers like Kent Haruf and Pam Houston, and James Smith. I would never have met and then grieved a lady named Kara Tippetts. I would never have stumbled upon an AM radio station in Denver that spun my kind of music, and befriended its good dj Rick Crandall. If I hadn’t left the pulpit I would have possibly never finally found myself where the weather suits my clothes.             
 
That’s kinda where my head’s been, seeing myself standing in a room full of people much like that final scene in It’s A Wonderful Life, looking around at the eyes gathered, with a goofy George Bailey look on my face thinking “How on earth did I get here?” And then that old familiar pain: I remember that something has to die in order for something to be born.
 
Coraggio.
John
 
 
 
 
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