The inglorious angels speak of Incarnation as The Great Betrayal – the breaking of every existent code and convention of divinity, an infidelity if there ever was one. In touching the young Jewish girl God’s reputable chastity fell scarlet. The contact with Mary’s waiting flesh sowed the seed for God’s new electric skin. He then grew alive to every breeze, sensitive to the appearances of the moon, bent to give and to offer but just as temptable to taking, and the longing. And all that loss of position for what? The oldest excuse in the world: Love.
Dear Winn: Happy Birthday, pard! I never had the pleasure of meeting your Mom, but I bet she was tickled pink when the doctor handed you to her. Yes, I betcha she held you close and breathed you in, all howevermany justborn pounds of ya. The gift of a son. My, my. Who knows, maybe she whispered something prophetic like, “One of these days you shall have a friend named John.” Ha! But back to that phrase Happy Birthday. I do hope you’re happy, Winn, or at least inching every day closer to that feeling. I sense that in you, what with being lucky-duck married to the lovely Miska, and having your sweet sons growing tall right before your eyeballs, then there’s that old cantankerous farmhouse you’re all shacking up in these days, plus you’re almost a Pee-H-Dee so that soon and very soon I call address you as Doc Collier. There are always shitter days now and then, lord we both know that full well, but it really is a wonderful life when you stop and take stock. So yes, from your old pal John George Bailey Blase – Happy Birthday! It is not lost on me that your birthday is mucho close to Thanksgiving. Just know that when I count my many blessings later next week, which will include having my college kids home (I got teary just typing that, god I miss ’em), one of the earthly blessings I will count is you. The gift of your friendship surprised me, at least the way its grown to what it is today. I liked you from the first time we met, but I didn’t know that I would grow to love you. And I do, my good one-year-older friend. I do. Coraggio. John
Were I a bit younger and not kindly cut I would approach my wife in whispers and plead my case for another child. Her eyes would no doubt double and she would say But we have three and they are radiant in the sun. I would say yes, yes. But, I would press on, we could stir the dust and with God’s help welcome another, and name the child America. Her eyes would no doubt triple and she would say America? I would say yes, yes. But, she would insist, a child so named now would be shouldered with symbol – the cross of justice for all – plus sadly we won’t live always and who would defend this child? I would say yes, yes, but the older three learned well the lessons necessary to tutor a sibling into such a name…I believe our current children could ensure America’s tomorrow. It is possible my wife’s eyes might soften, possible she might say yes. *(Lesser Ury, Couple Walking in the Woods)
Dear Winn: I’ll be brief. I’ve started this letter a couple of times, then petered out. Maybe this third time will be charmed, although I must say the word “charm” seems alien in light of this week, a quaint noun we’ve no use for anymore. But it may be that we need that word, or words very much like it, more than ever right now. At least I believe it oughta be on the language-list we’re creating of best words to use as we learn how to speak to one another again. I would be more than fine if someday, hopefully far into the future, a friend stands at my graveside and says, “That John was a charmer.” I find myself in the utterly exhausted middle, my friend. The cannons to the left and right of me firing off round after round of certitude. Then there are those who attach God’s name to what’s going on, and even God’s will to what’s going on. I believe anyone with one eye and horse sense who has actually read the Bible has to admit we don’t have a clue as to what God is or isn’t up to. If nothing else the season on our near horizon – Advent – should remind us of God’s foolish, foolish ways. And our proven track record of missing them. Although I’m not sure my prayers amount to a hill of beans, I will be praying for you tomorrow as you stand before the people and use the words of faith, hope, and love. There will be people in your congregation, as there will be in ours, who are feeling fearful for their very lives right now. And while I hope that fear is addressed with words, I’ve a hunch the greater Sunday message may be communicated through the charm of communion. As we drink from the common cup and break from the common loaf, our hopes and fears of the fragile now can mingle with one another and can somehow, someway be mixed with the magical mercies of our God, and then taken into our very selves. Drink deeply, pal. I plan to. Coraggio. John
Dear Winn: Its mild here along the Front Range for these final days of October. A few days this week its been downright hot. Since my last letter to you we’ve seen Sarah and Will. We flew out to Pepperdine for Waves Weekend. The school mascot there is a wave, which makes perfect sense, but is a little weird too. There were three days of organized events, all which a parent had to pay for. My response was, “I’m already paying tuition here, so thanks but I’ll just hang out with my daughter.” It was Abbey’s first time to see the campus and L.A. and the Hollywood sign and this shopping mecca called The Grove. Abbey came home and said, “I don’t know if I could see myself out there or not. I like Colorado.” Magic to my ears, amigo. Then last weekend Will and three friends drove the via dolorosa from Arkansas to Colorado to visit. We really enjoyed meeting those boys. One of them said “yessir” and “yesmam” consistently, something you don’t hear much these days, at least not out here along the mild Front Range. Sarah and Will are both having the usual college challenges with classes and friendships but overall they seem to be doing well. That feels really good to see, Winn, to see them flourishing. Sure, it could all come off the rails next week, but for today, its good, and we’re very thankful. Meredith is doing physical therapy twice a week now, plus she’s started walking on the trail again in the early mornings with the neighbor ladies. She’s like Batman in the Dark Knight Rises, getting her strength back in the pit, making attempts to climb that prison wall. She’ll make it, she’ll rise. Abbey got contacts, she’s been eyeing them for a long time. Without her glasses she suddenly looks so grown up. When I see her I hear Neil singing “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon.” I keep hearing people say, “I’ll sure be glad when this election’s over,” and I think, “Oh, it won’t be over.” We the People are in the far country, prodigals. Some would say we’ve been there for a long, long time, and maybe they’re right. Seems to me we’ve got to have a “come to our senses” moment, or possibly a string of moments where we realize how far we strayed from home. Home as in not some kind of America that used to be, but more the kind of Americans we want to be. The news this week in the Christian publishing world was Jen Hatmaker’s interview. I’ve never met Jen or read any of her books. I did meet her husband once, and I liked him, and he likes her, so I’d probably like her too. I’ve been a bit curious as to the timing of that interview. Was it just next in the queue? Or was it intentionally aired here just days before the election? I don’t know. I do believe that much in life has to do with timing, we all hope to “make good time” so to speak. I read some of the backlash, some of comments from both sides, then I had to bow out. People say things online they’d never say to someone’s face. According to my code, that’s the mark of a coward. I told Meredith last night that we’re living in a very impassioned time when people feel deeply about things, the Jen Hatmaker interview just being one example. Passion is good, it shows people care, or are at least beginning to care. Passion also brings to mind the word “fiery” and where there’s fire, there’s smoke. And smoke can make it difficult to see clearly, to see the whole picture. But then again, what do I know? I’ll have the porch light on Monday night, passing out the good stuff to who or whatever walks up our steps. Who knows, maybe I’ll tell some kid, “Be careful out there!” And she’ll look back and say, “Yessir.” Who knows. Coraggio. John
I’ll never forget that rainy day I wore my Scout uniform to school not knowing our meeting was cancelled. Those were halcyon days before group text messages and reverse 911s. So there I sat in the cafeteria, the one lone webelo in my pressed shirt with kerchief round my neck, ashamed. How did everyone else know but me? Kids can be killingly cruel. They were. I earned the invisible badge of longsuffering that day that took its own sweet time. I later learned that to be a fruit of the Spirit, a virtue that makes us like God. But in grade school you want nothing more than to be like everyone else. And you can, until someone forgets you. Then you begin to become someone else.
Dear Winn: I knew last night when I went to bed that it was going to get chilly overnight. Sure enough, I woke to frost on the grass and rooftops. Unless I missed it, and I don’t miss such things, that’s the first frost for this season. I must say it looks beautiful sitting atop our still rich, green grass. It’ll burn off quick, old Helios is already rising hot. But I’m always thrilled the first time Jack Frost sings. HA! Jack Frost, who even talks that way anymore? I guess I do, me and other old fashioned farts. I read something this week that tagged me a part of the last generation to remember life before the internet. I stopped for a minute to ponder that. Interesting, huh? And humbling. I also read this week where folks are up in arms because the new iPhone doesn’t have a headphone jack. I thought what in the jiminy christmas hell? But I guess if you’ve grown up with an iPhone as an extension of yourself, then a missing headphone jack is like a missing limb or something. Except that its not a missing limb, its a headphone jack for pete’s sake. Spoken like a true old fashioned fart, huh? Will and Sarah are both off at college doing college stuff, which I do pray includes studying. Abbey is adjusting fairly well to being an only child. She quickly moved all of Sarah’s stuff out of her room and arranged things the way she wanted them, with her own decorative flair. She bought a little plant, the cool kids these days call ’em succulents, which is biologically correct but I just call ’em plants. Anyway, she named her succulent Elvin. Yeah, somebody else to keep alive in this house. My lord. I hear you’ve got snakes in your basement, or had snakes, or found a snake hole or something. Any way you slice that sounds no bueno, amigo. Vipers. Grief, that gives me the shivvies. I did see your picture on Facebook with a caulk gun in one hand and a hoe in the other. You looked formidable, pal, like you meant business, old school style. Good on ya. Stand your ground. Eye of the tiger. I just finished reading When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. Its an appeal to answer the question “What are the things you love?” and then live according to your answers, for as I say, time zips. And it especially zips coupled with a cancer diagnosis. I’ve always had an awareness of death, sorta my melanchological makeup I suppose. But I do think about it more lately, which I guess is yet another whiff of being an old fashioned fart. You know what, Winn? The god-honest truth is that I don’t want to ever die, ever. I want to stay alive on this good earth forfreakingever. I want to keep hearing Jack Frost’s song and sending kids to college and trying to keep succulents alive and praying for friends with snake troubles and reading sad books and drinking orange juice with so much pulp in it you almost choke and watching the Broncos beat Cam Newton and chuckling at youngsters with where’s-my-headphone-jack anxiety and trying to write memorable poems. Yep, I suppose I just answered “What are things you love?” The rub is my list there was just getting started. Some days I think I love it all, my friend, every damn stitch. Dr. Kalanithi would tell me, “Then live it today like you love it, all of it.” That’s what I’m gonna try and do. I pray you will too. Oh, I forgot to mention Justin’s peanut butter, and western movies like Unforgiven, and driving home from the grocery store at dusk while listening to Tony Bennett, and… Coraggio. John