Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Impossibility of Disconnected Sabbath

Kristi left for Atlanta, Sunday. As of Wednesday morning the kids are still alive, but the dog is gone. We had to eat him.

I've hit a routine that works in her absence. Being a morning lark (that is, one of those annoying people who can have meaningful conversations and exercise at 5:00am but can't spell his own name by dinner), I am able to get lunches packed and the crap out of the kids' eyes with time to spare. We've been early to school everyday this week. Much of that is due to Kristi writing out a list of what to pack in their lunches, her going to the grocery before she left to set us up for the week and laying out folded piles of everybody's clothes (not mine, I'm a grown man) ahead of time. This morning as I looked in the fridge and pantry, I thought about the conversation I had on the phone with Kristi last night. She might stay one more day than planned. I fully support it. But I realized I won't have enough lunch stuff to pack for the kids tomorrow. The scales have tipped on laundry too. By this evening, I will have to knock those and other items off the list somewhere between my other responsibilities. Kristi and I share all this stuff for the most part. But when she's gone, I of course have to take up the slack.

Joking aside, it's not a big deal at all. Really. But only because it's a stint. Any inconvenience or pain is bearable when it's known to be finite. This is how people endure highway detours and tattoos and childbirth. The negative part is temporary.

Often I have people express to me their seeming inability for their family to find any rest, to relax. Despite wanting to and clearly seeing the need, it's "unrealistic" or "impossible". Theologically they ask about sabbath. Casually, they say they can't stop. The spirit is willing, but there's only so much week. As I looked into the paltry pantry this morning, I emotionally connected, if only a glimpse, to other people's existence:

There are people who aren't enduring a short stint, waiting for someone of high competence to return and reshoulder much of the load of family living. This is their life.

An isolating pressure cooker of trying to keep the kids not just going through their lists, but engaged as loved sons and daughters. To keep the house clean (or even "clean"), the cupboards filled, meals prepared, bills paid, dog uneaten. And then somewhere in there they have to go to work and meet all their vocational requirements. Somewhere in there they have to leave that job to pick up kids from school. Or schools. Earlier on some days on those hyper-convenient teacher workdays, or when their kids'  young bodies succumb to flu season. And when they or their kids must stay home and be sick, or the car breaks down, or the penalty for late payments disappears automatically from checking, the whole teetering system topples for days. Or longer. Somewhere in all this a social life must limp along, or be postponed till God knows when. Somewhere in there a novel longs to be read. Or written. Maybe after the grass is cut. Leaves raked. Taxes filed. After all that, maybe something fun. Maybe a nap. Maybe after answering that email about being available to volunteer at church Sunday. (Unless kids are still sick.) Over the years, to people who live this life I'm only barely mimicking for a few days, I have preached and counseled You gotta have rhythm. You must rest. Find margin in your days and weeks and claim it. You must know when to stop. And then I've gone home with my wife.

  • Sixty-four percent of children ages 0–17 lived with two married parents in 2012, down from 77 percent in 1980.
  • In 2012, 24 percent of children lived with only their mothers, 4 percent lived with only their fathers, and 4 percent lived with neither of their parents.
  • Seventy-four percent of White, non-Hispanic, 59 percent of Hispanic, and 33 percent of Black children lived with two married parents in 2012.
  • The proportion of Hispanic children living with two married parents decreased from 75 percent in 1980 to 59 percent in 2012. 
SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplements.

The fourth commandment reads, "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." Exodus 20:8-11

Many centuries later, Jesus said, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath." Mark 2:27

Christians over the centuries have tried to understand this ancient command of God (the breaking of which was often an immediately punishable capital crime for ancient Israel, an interesting scenario when one considers the work required to kill a person caught in the act of breaking the Sabbath by picking up and throwing large stones at him) and Jesus' words. I'm asked fairly regularly about the sabbath. "Is it Saturday or Sunday?" "Did Constantine sin by changing it?" "Are we out from under that commandment if we're not Jewish?" These are important questions for which I recommend Google. There's a greater point than the day and letter of the law I'm interested in. 

Note that the commandment mostly deals with others. It starts with me, but then it references to a far greater degree every other person in my life. Even my animals. There are other laws that even command giving your fields a rest, a fair text to reference when you want Biblical support for not mowing the lawn. The fourth commandment isn't really about me as it's about the whole community. When Jesus teaches on the spirit of Sabbath, he speaks of it as not a law demanding to be served and honored, but instead is designed to serve and honor the human beings it was given to. He's always talking about what serves people. To follow him is to serve people. The sabbath, primarily, is a system for others to get the rest they need by my help.

Sabbath is hard. It's hard to stop working, to kick up your feet and say with deep peace, "All that work can wait till tomorrow. I've been a human doing all week. Today, we're human beings." It was hard for the Israelites (thus the command to do it), and it's hard now. But I think it's important for single moms, single dads, and even households with both parents present but all their familial support a city or a state or country away to hear; Sabbath for our culture is nearly impossible. Sabbath was given to people who lived their whole lives together, not folks who prize moving out by age twenty, having their own home and their own career and their own life apart from, ideally, the best support system there is. When the men went out in ancient times, the grandmother, the sisters and aunts were still there to take a turn with a mother's children. Men worked and farmed and hunted, but communally shared their talents and resources so nobody imploded under the weight of isolation. Only an idiot would go it alone apart from the community. I'm told this is the original meaning of "village idiot", one who tried to make it without support. 

I don't mean to romanticize things like ancient gender roles or pre-industrialized family life. I mean to say that the participation in Sabbath was intended for and marked by a community working together, legitimately affording each other their resting, together. Sabbath is only really possible communally. Friends and family living in something the modern eye would recognize (and unfairly judge for the most part) as a commune. As our lives are distanced by degrees from this sort of arrangement, the idea of really resting becomes, by degrees, harder and harder. Living apart from others is living apart from that which allows you to off-shoulder some of your life from time to time.

In Roman times, the wealthiest began living in single family residences called a domus. Your ability to live part from the lower and middle class, on your own, was a sign of power. Plebes, the common folk, lived together in apartments. Often very crudely constructed, the insulae were multi-storey buildings peppered throughout the city and full of people not making it like the minority rich were. These days the thinking is the same- the rich get their precious, private isolation while the poor get packed together like a box of free mutt puppies. But there's another dimension to it now. You don't have to have much money to be rich. Now the wealth of making it on your own trumps the financial aspect. Failure is having to come back home from independence to be interdependent. You can be behind on bills, so long as you have your own car in your own garage. The front room might not have furniture, but we'll pat you on the back and say welcome to the Dream as long as you live your life free of the help of others. Tell a woman you live downtown in a loft you can't afford and that you've filed bankruptcy, and she'll admire you for your tenacity. And you may have some. But tell her you live with your elderly mother and take the bus, and you may be blogged about derisively to her online friends. Never mind we have solid empirical and anecdotal evidence about who it is carrying the most anxiety in our world and who seems to enjoy the easiest peace and joy. The strongest in our society are those the ancients called idiots.

Sabbath is not simple. I have not, and probably never will, fully appreciate the unique exhaustion that comes from being a single parent, or even a married one with no support. I am both married and well connected to others whose backs we mutually have. For all of us who want to step into the spirit of what God is after in sabbath, before we can really enjoy stopping, we must begin something else. We have to be really connected to others for each others' sake, or we are truly poor and without rest. A life no one wants. Sabbath doesn't command I work and rest in proper rhythm as much as it reminds me I'm to stay deeply connected to others so we all can. 

So I'm thinking....

A church with small groups should recognize that having their people get together to study a book every week is good until it begins to ignore the fact that single moms and dads never nap and their kids' homework gets harder to help with every year. 

church with small groups looking for ways to bless locally will recognize the growing number of people, very likely within in their church, stuck in secret cycles of fragile overwhelm. Behold, the objects of your strategized love in your midst!

A church that wants to be relevant will recognize Sunday morning is sacred to many men and women more often for the social aspect than anything else. This is a holy thing. They needn't hear a sermon every Sunday, unless they so desire, to be part of a church. Some are utterly alone with no margin, and sitting silent in a room while one stranger speaks about life to a sea of faces isn't necessarily what their tired, lonely soul needs. 

Churches who want to bless people will put on very, very few events and will incentivize unprogrammed, quiet dinners among its people. The student ministry will look at providing free childcare for events like these as "mission work".*

If disconnected people serve, they should do so in a system that encourages them the other six days like supported family. When they leave, they are too often plunging back into great difficulty. Find ways to follow them without being creepy.**

A person with extra time who wants to live the life of Christ might really consider putting their Bible down more often and seeing if they can create margin for the out-of-towners they live on the same street with. In fact, that person may wish they could start a Bible study on their street, but perhaps the more sacred act would be providing childcare, grocery runs, or just having dinner together. This isn't a Bible study per se, but it is biblical.***

A person who wants to enjoy the life of Christ will wave a flag. They will admit they have perhaps been duped by western, industrialized idiocy and want to move back into support of the insulae. They will realize to lose at society's game is probably a W at reality's. They will embrace something of a feared poverty, in some degree, for a new type of riches. This person will ask for help, guidance and advice, which in my experience results in scenarios like he/she moving back home, moving to a cheaper area, consolidating extra-curriculars, allowing others to help out, the cessation of pretending, and other flavors of humble pie.****

There are a ton more dimensions to this, and my brain is racing a mile a minute on different ramifications to lives and churches. But, I have no more time. Got stuff to do.

* I know many, many people in our church have benefitted from exactly this sort of effort from our students.
** I love how good our church is at this. Volunteers are very connected, checked on, visited, supported, heard and befriended. Key people stay tuned into them, making sure they know how important they are outside of the volunteer work they provide our big church.
*** I like to encourage folks to study the Bible as illiterate people must.
**** This typically happens after some collapse. I suggest it should happen before, but an experienced crisis has always been a more compelling catalyst for change than the anticipation of one.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Dying to see.

A good friend of mine sent me an archive of last words spoken by executed criminals today. There were hundreds of them in the file, and after about five I began to feel strange for reading them. But I couldn’t stop.
I was struck by the fact each of them felt so similar in tone.
They spoke of God.
They spoke of lasting love and unity for their friends and family.
They spoke of forgiveness.
It’s easy to recognize fear motivating these words seconds before your execution. I’m sure they were scared. But it reminded me I'm a terminal being myself. I have seconds too. Just a lot more of them. Hopefully. As I’ve thought about this I’ve wondered if the relatively short span of our lives, criminals and saints alike, doesn’t serve as a great humbling. An indelible reminder that there’s ultimately nothing to compete for, to divide over or any real reason for which to give in to selfishness. We will die. It’s just a “when?" So we might as well live focused on the goodness of God, enjoying opportunities for unity and closeness with others and forgiving ourselves and others for the ways we thought we could cheat death with selfishness. the things death row inmates speak of in their final minutes.

Perhaps we need death clearly in view to be able to clearly see everything that matters. And maybe this seeing is the beginning of resurrection. That is, the beginning of living forever once death has done its humbling.

May God grant you many, many seconds, and eyes that see forever.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Free way

Last week I bought a new CRV. And since then, so apparently did every third person in Wake County. I now see them everywhere. If I lined up all the CRV's I now see on the roads, I could walk across the top of them all the way to East Liberty Ohio.

Have you noticed this phenomenon? Cars, shoes, coats, haircuts, favorite bands...once you partake, you awaken to the fact that you are part of a mass partaking. Something you didn't notice before becomes all you see.

There is power in confession. Not confession as in going and telling a trained stranger your secrets, but in having a community of people with whom you can share life and be honest. The power isn't that God suddenly loves you again for enduring the pain of humiliating disclosure. The power is in letting your inner world be known and having others not run in fear and judgment like you've be certain would happen since childhood. When we're honest with each other, we not only find there is love available for ourselves, but we also find that the assumed hierarchy of goodness and purity is an illusion. Everyone is struggling. Everyone is broken. Everyone is doing their best to grope through the dark. It's all just a matter of brand and scale.

Confession, or shall we just say, being honest with a trustworthy few, isn't just about revealing the skeletons in your closet. It's reminding ourselves that you're not the only wretch. And once you begin to realize that these things you carry for so long, having assumed you're uniquely terrible or unworthy, are only a slight variation on what everyone else is carrying, you will have peace. You'll no longer judge. You'll no longer condemn. You'll no longer compete because that contest can only be won by lying. You will simply be free to live, free to love every other person because you realize you and every other person were always driving different colors of the same car.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Tale of two houses.

The first woman saw an old house, deteriorated and neglected, and began to dream of fully restoring it to its intended condition. 

The second woman looked at an old house, curled her nose, and took to sketching out her dream home.

The first sought to understand the original architecture, the period's wood and stone, the history of the property and those who had used the house before.

The second comparison-priced general contractors, then went shopping for paint colors, sofas and interior design magazines. 

The first worked tirelessly, patiently restoring the interior and exterior of the house in perfect accord with its former self.

The second changed and updated every interior and exterior surface, painting and modernizing in perfect accord with her tastes and the latest trends.

The first was thrilled to see the house returning to itself after so many years.

The second was thrilled to see her plans becoming a reality.

The first woman, after a great many months, made the house everything it was meant to be.

The second woman soon made the house everything she'd always wanted.

Both women's hearts were good.

But only the first house felt loved.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

God if you love me keep saying no.

This past Sunday I spoke on a swath of Mark 11. There were many thoughts I didn't get to, but this one in particular felt important enough to circle back on.

After seeing the fig tree withered from no more than Words, the disciples were understandably impressed. Jesus went on to explain they had the same capacity for great things, despite their not being the faith heroes who occupied Temple ranks. Then he says in v24, 

". . . I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."

All historic misapplication and manipulation aside, it's a strange verse.  I've never known anyone who believes Jesus can be taken literally about our ability to, on a faithful whim, toss geography with our will. Especially since he never himself demonstrated these abilities. Yoda force lifted the X-Wing from a swamp to demonstrate the impotence of Luke's faith and that size matters not. Jesus, being non-puppet, wasn't as much into tricks.

Peter Rollins talks about desire and our understanding of "Heaven" being a place where we are changed. As he points out, there is one peculiar exception to the transformation we seem to anticipate for ourselves, and that is the way we desire. As we are transformed into resurrected beings, free from all that shackles us in our current state, our desire as many of us seem to understand, will remain intact.

I've given this much thought and have noticed how prevalent it is within uncriticized thought about the rewards of faith.

Many of us hope to be someday blessedly free of disease, living in something like a mansion in the sky.
We will experience rest from our toils, enjoying endless luxury.
We will have our health and sanity, and every good and sumptuous thing.*

But it's worth considering that, perhaps alongside the end of suffering there might also, or even more so, be a transformation of our desires. That perhaps part of what a heavenly end to suffering might mean is a fundamental change in how we want. With this perspective we could ask: what would our existence be like no longer believing there's more joy to be found in what's represented by "mansions", opulence and endless supply? What if our bodies, minds and even the way we want all transform to such a glorious extent that we would, in that instant of total transformation, find ourselves as having been, all along, in the midst of the very Heaven we thought we had to escape to before? In other words, what if desire resurrects, and on "the other side" the last thing we would ever want is what our current, unressurected desire thinks it wants now? (!)

The alternative, I fear, may be that heaven is a place where our materialism, excessiveness and immaturity are forever rewarded. I wouldn't be the first to, after a moment's thought, recognize that might be Hell after a few weeks there.

". . . I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."

To what "you" is Christ referring? To which "you" is Christ making this promise? The one that becomes anxious when he doesn't get what he wants, even though he doesn't know why he wants it? The one that can't see the whole picture and still has the urge to defend what he knows to be his own broken perspectives on "how things ought to be"? The child who thinks the things it desires are its source of life?

Or does Christ speak to a version of me still not realized. A yet-to-be-born version of me, one that will someday know peace fully, one whose inner wars will have been resolved and therefore no one will be blamed or be given a shred of power over my own joy. One that desires little, for contentment has taken over.

It pains me to say it, but I hope Christ doesn't say yes much to my prayers. Even when I really mean it. Not for a long, long time to come, anyway.

*You may recall a decade back the Islamic Jihadists reportedly believing martyrdom would get them 72 virgins in paradise. This is only slightly different than some Christian conceptions about "what happens to us after we die." 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Kids Saying the Damned-est Things

A friend told me of an event he attended this past weekend where he saw an eight or nine-year-old armed with a megaphone and preaching fire and judgment to passersby. An adult, ostensibly his father, filmed him proudly as the little boy yelled Bible quotes into all manner of nuanced adulthood. A decade old, likely not yet acquainted with the confusion of a first crush or financial disappointment, calling his world into account.

I've seen documentaries and news stories where children are thought especially blessed by God for preaching (and screeching) with bold, knowing charisma beyond their years. Tearful adults remark with disbelieving shakes of their heads. "He's got that Holy Fire!" Sometimes it's cute. Except when it's not. Those other times it's rather sad.

I believe children hold a very special place in the world and are far more valuable than most of them are ever treated. We often overlook them in deference to our grown-up rat race. In doing this, everyone -kids and adults- misses out on life. Christ, as we've heard, went so far as to say to a child-ignoring first century palestine that the Reign of God belongs to children, despite (and perhaps because of) their very inability to earn it. Yet I don't fully understand how yelling at strangers before you know how the world works, let alone how it should work, is considered inspired. Children always yell about the world not being according to their preferences. We call it whining. Why when tucked into a miniature suit and accompanied by a Bible and amplification is it something from the great beyond?

When Jesus was twelve, his parents left him in Jerusalem on accident. They'd assumed he was in their friends' minivan or something. Going back and retracing their steps, they found him hanging out in the temple with religious leaders and scholars. And their minds were blown. Why? Because Jesus asked great questions. The second chapter of Luke records amazement not in what Jesus preached, but in his ability to interact with the ideas, to listen and ask follow up and clarification, to involve himself in the exchange rather than distance himself in order to conquer.

Jesus made his mark by being an inquisitive presence, not a declarative one.

Kids with megaphones judging things they don't understand typically only become taller with time. There's not much maturing available for those who see faith as the declaring of how things ought to be irrespective of their own ignorance. Making statements instead of conversation is probably not a phenomenon powered by Christ, but by a desire to control and complain one's own kingdom into view. I'm saying this isn't really age-specifc.

I'd like to see kids celebrated for listening and wondering and remaining humble. While we're at it, let's celebrate those things in every stage of life in which we find them. Let's call that charisma.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Three weeks ago my wife Kristi and I took a hike around Jordan Pond. It's a beautiful freshwater lake in Acadia National Park, flanked with pines and mountain ridges along the coast of Maine. Two full hours of nearly four miles negotiating trails and boulders- that's some pond.

As we walked we agreed our chances of seeing wildlife would increase if we were silent. A dense white fog had descended on the lake, adding to the eerie beauty. Silence seemed right. Reverent even. So we moved along the water's edge in silence.

Only minutes later the silence was broken by a sudden explosion. Less than a yard from my feet there erupted movement and screeching and color. As it was coming from the water's edge, my mind immediately classified it as a duck. But my mouth disagreed. 

"PILEATED!" I was suddenly whisper-yelling. "That's a Pileated Woodpecker!" 

It flew in an arc and landed on the side of a nearby tree, its large monochromatic body instantly secured to the bark, its head red enough to shame Julianne Moore into a hat. Kristi was obviously impressed with the bird, but I now suspect she may have also been struggling to respect me as I squealed. 

"Oh my gosh honey. I've never been this close!" I continued, eyes bulging.

The bird flew further up into the tree out of view. We moved closer, camera on. And that's when we heard the most terrible sound one can hear in a time like this. Other humans.

Out of the sacred, foggy trail ahead came a couple, talking about someone named Patty and product initiatives and percentages over last quarter and laughing about it all. They weren't as evil as I make them sound, but I did momentarily pray them out of existence. On impulse, as they came fully into view, I put my finger to my lips to hush them. How strange that must have been for them, a grown man and woman, hushed like children by a sylvan stranger. But it worked. They froze, staring at us while I gestured up into the tree over their heads. I whispered to them with the intensity of one informing another his foot was on a land mine. 

"Sorry to be the noise police, but there's a Pileated Woodpecker over your head." He looked at me with confusion. His hand gripped his wallet. I edited myself. "It's a big bird. Woody Woodpecker without the laugh."

"Oh," said the woman on his behalf, now squinting into the branches. The man ducked his head as though we were under a helicopter. The woodpecker called out, the sound echoing into the green and white. And there we were, four people. Silent. Anticipating. 

We stood this way for a full minute, until it was clear Woody had gone. With nods we finally acknowledged to each other the moment was over. Each of us walked away in solemn whispers.

I hope I never meet you on a wooded trail. But I do hope, as was reinforced for me on my July sabbatical, you understand the reverence of silence. Not just in the outdoors, but in every waking, noisy hour. All of reality is incased in silence. All of reality is brimming with the sacred, the profound, the beautiful. I confess I don't recognize but a sliver of it. I'm typically most guilty of perpetuating the distraction of noise. You and I will come to life to the degree our lives are lived in more awareness of the great holy silence inviting us in.

May our God of few words inspire you today in the quieting of your mouth and mind. May you be newly entertained by the spaces between. May you experience what can only be found in silence.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Out of line, online.

When I was younger, "trolling on line" would be a way of describing fishing from a moving boat. I'm guessing that's not the primary definition anymore.

You've either read or written rude words on the internet. Probably both.

Online comment sections can be an embarrassment to our species. Facebook, each fall, seems to motivate millions to do Keith Olbermann and Bill O'Reilly impersonations. . . but with more bias. Right after a church service about kindness and grace, people tweet complaints about their Sunday brunch waitstaff like they're participating in a roast. It seems if folks are free to anonymously speak into the electronic ether, more often than not it's ugly.

But what if this is because everyone is so nice?

Do the manners and decorum we use in real life (vs. online) mask what we've known/feared to be true all along? In other words, are our attempts at refined civility in place because we know we are actually neither very refined nor civil. And when in the perceived social safety of an online forum, and the risks and consequences for being relationally reckless feel removed, are we simply letting the pent up (but untamed) beast out for a roar?

Religion plays a majority role in telling people there is an acceptable way to act without first shining unthreatened light into the interior of the actor. In fact, religion often rewards people for lying about what they are, so long as the exterior performance is in keeping with "how one should behave." We reward people for successfully hiding their interior while punishing people for being forthright. If you're a lustful person and public about it, you're anathema. But if your lustful and a good liar about it, you can serve on a board of elders that kicks lustful people out. You can even picket outside all the best strip clubs. Same with anger and cynicism and all manner of relational negativity. We can have all sorts of pent up things in us, but we don't get it out at church because the church, all too often, delights in a certain presentation, not the truth about the reality boiling beneath.

"It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society."
Jiddu Krishnamurti

It's fascinating to consider The Seven Deadly Sins, as they are traditionally considered to be "capital" sins- meaning they serve as the origin or head of other sins. Never making it to the list is one's ability to hide the other seven under a veneer of acceptable behavior. But isn't our desire to not be seen for what we are the very head of our fallenness? Weren't fig leaves and impression management the first damning evidence that something was really off?

I have been encouraged in the last couple months by how I've heard people refer to their own faith journeys. Over the years I've heard people reference the amount of time they have begun to spend reading, listening to sermons, going through workbooks, their church attendance, etc. as markers for "spiritual growth" occurring. Even how certain social or political issues have begun to matter to them. All good things, of course. But these things don't necessarily speak to the core of a person. They are behaviors and communally favorable opinions, but not necessarily growth. But lately I have noticed people saying things like,

"I feel like I'm waking up."
"I've really begun to understand why I've settled for so little in the past. It's like I can see now."
"Man, it's a great thing to have clarity of mind. I can see I've been foolish."

These and more come on the heels of multiple, long conversations where the person wasn't made to feel like inclusion was on the line. They felt like their own aware, awakened humanity was. Their behaviors weren't put at the center, or the head. Their heart, and its habitual response to having been marred and broken from an early age was. There's something so freeing, so peace-giving, about showing your interior and it not costing you anything more than your own ongoing, willful ignorance.

Motivating people to be deceptive, even in the name of proper doctrine and conduct doesn't grow them.  Shame motivates deception. Ultimatums and conditions and requirements on inclusion all do the trick too. These things cut a person in half. One person, becomes two; A public face that uses a fork, says thank you and leads Sunday School. And then the secret reality beneath- the ashamed social, theological liability kept secret in the basements of men and women's minds. God is one, and we are made in the image of this God. If we tell people God wants certain behaviors or they'll be rejected, many people don't deal with what's real but simply become two (or more) in order to remain. That is to admit, God's church often unwittingly demands and incentivizes hypocrisy, calling it Holiness.

I'm wondering if online ill-manneredness comes in large part from an unmet desire to be one. To be at peace with what is, rather than what must be. Maybe the repressed, fearful bigots, the self-centered brats and enraged, insulted children who never matured because they were only instructed to behave, are exchanging their regular fig leaves for the leaves of online anonymity. They're not so much acting, as ceasing to. Yes, people are responsible for their own behaviors on some level. That discussion aside, perhaps we should consider people's online communication as intel. I'm not excusing it. I'm observing it as evidence that people are too often not "one", with each other or themselves. Perhaps we should consider web incivility as part of a review on the effectiveness of what we stress in our faith communities, how we parent, and our strategy of inadvertently rewarding people for having a chasm between what they are and what they are rewarded for pretending.

Remember your manners in the comment section below.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Victor Starbuck (Poetry)

One asked a sign from God; and day by day 
The sun arose in pearl, in scarlet set,
Each night the stars appeared in bright array,
Each morn the thirsting grass with dew was wet.
The corn failed not its harvest, nor the vine.
And yet he saw no sign.

One longed to hear a prophet; and he strayed
Through crowded streets, and by the open sea.
He saw men send their ships for distant trade,
And build for generations yet to be.
He saw the farmer sow his acres wide,
But went unsatisfied.

One prayed a sight of heaven; and erewhile 
He saw a workman at his noontime rest.
He saw one dare for honor, and the smile
Of one who held a babe upon her breast;
At dusk two lovers walking hand in hand;
BuT did not understand.

Victor Starbuck, 1887-1935

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Prophets in Their Home Tizzle.

“A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his own relatives, and in his own house.” Mark 6:4

These were Jesus' own words when he went home. Up to this point in Mark, Jesus had amassed quite a following, with things added to his resume such as, "healed the first pope's mother in law", "effectively shushed a storm" and "de-legioned a man's mind". All this in addition to his profound teaching and his confronting the misuse of power from within his own tradition. Everywhere he went, he found respect and honor.

But when he got home, things changed. Perhaps at first a slight novelty hung in the air for Jesus as he stood in the synagogue he likely spent all of his childhood Saturdays. There may have even been some eager reunions and embraces. Jesus is home! But as he began to teach and bring the message he lived/died to communicate, there were suddenly snorts. Eye-rolls. Murmurings. Who does this guy think he is? It may have become embarrassing for him in front of his disciples who glanced at each other, unsure what they were experiencing. As Jonathan taught Sunday, there were accusations and derision in the words of his fellow townies when they spoke of him.

"Jesus began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing him were taken aback, saying, “Where did this man get these teachings? ... Isn't this the carpenter, Mary's son...?” So they were offended ("skandalizo") at Him." Mark 6:2-3

Back then, you referenced a man's father, not the mother, when you're discussing his origins. Unless of course the identity of the father was a matter of dispute. Remember, Jesus's dad was God, and Mary was impregnated miraculously. Easy for us to celebrate every Christmas. Harder to sell as your own story to your village known to have a low view of liars and adulterers. Where does this confirmed bastard get off preaching about God's Kingdom to us?

The text goes on to say that their perception of him actually affected his ability to do what he came to do. This is a fascinating situation. The one who can cast out a thousand demons and erase a storm with a word cannot work in the midst of antiquated notions about himself. It's almost as if our estimates of a person are the dominant determiner of whether we can be blessed by that person.

I am willing to admit that I pumped Dr. Dre's Chronic Album through 15" subwoofers in my Mazda 626 in 1992. This was our introduction to the rapper Snoop Dog, the perpetually (chronically?) high gangster gangsta who was open about his willingness to be violent, misogynistic, exploitative and generally not a model citizen. The Parliament Funk loops used in many tracks covered a multitude of sins. As many of us grew up, we lost interest. I stopped listening a couple years later, noting his face and name in the news here and there over the last couple of decades.

As the story goes, Snoop Dog had something of a spiritual awakening in Jamaica last year, announcing in July that a Rastafarian Priest had told him he was no dog, but was a lion. Thus, Snoop Lion was born. I thought it was a joke. Then I realized rappers do this. Puff Daddy is on his 27th name I believe.

But Snoop Lion was indeed reborn. Reincarnated even, as his documentary earlier this year suggested. Last week, I heard his new song, No Guns Allowed. It's about senseless killing and the mistreatment of human life and how we need to take positive action to avoid all of this. Peace and love, from the Dogg Father. 

My first impression? 
Who does this guy think he is? Is this not Dr. Dre's apprentice, a thug?

The thing is, if he were some new artist I would have thought something like "This is good; we need more positive messages like this coming out of mainstream hip hop." But BECAUSE I AM FAMILIAR WITH HIS PAST, I have an inflexible mental template, an antiquated notion about his sincerity and his motivations. If he had the exact same past and I wasn't familiar with it, I would have likely been immediately on board. This reveals my familiarity and attachment to his past are the issue, not the present he may very well be trying to live in genuinely.

All his self-righteous former fans are his home town. And he will have a hard time receiving honor from us. But we are the issue, not him.

They say love is blind. But as the late great Anthony DeMello pointed out, there is nothing so seeing as love. What blinds us is our templates about what people are. We fix them in time within our minds. For years we see the same person and we think down beneath clearly thought words, thats the guy who hurt me. That's that woman who lied. Those are the people who believe this. This is nothing like love. I wouldn't feel loved if people still judged me based on things I did in 1992. I would hope they would remain ever aware - seeing!- that we are all changing, all the time. To love someone is to see the person in front of you, not the template of that person you have created for your own records. To hope and believe all things about each other, rather than log deficits and refuse to ever see past them.

Jesus didn't have a shady past like Snoop or you or the person about which you made your mind up long ago. But the issue isn't the past of the one being judged. Whether the person is a sinless Messiah or the man that made Gin and Juice popular, their past isn't the issue. It's you and I, the judges. Honor is due everyone. Seeing them, and not our presuppositions of them, is perhaps one of the primary ways we pay them this honor. Not merely some vague idea of respect from a distance, but an engaged willingness to re-see each other as an act of love. To start over and over and over with each other, just as we would want them to do for us.

When we're willing to see Christ beyond our old notions, we're blessed. If we won't, we're not. And the same is true for all people, as Christ demonstrates in his refusal to believe anyone is stuck in their worst day.

That is to say, you and I and Snoop Lion are invited into rebirth, it turns out, chronically. (Boom).

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Can I get a withness?

St. Matthew decides to end his gospel in what seems at first to be a most unsatisfactory way. After describing a newly resurrected Christ as commissioning the disciples to go demonstrate the life of God to everybody everywhere, he quotes Christ as saying,

"And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

That's the last sentence. The end. No explanations for the suffering they would endure. No further answered questions to bolster their confidence in the mission they'd just been assigned. Not even a secret code or formula to make their coming experiences easier than their pagan counterparts. The last words Matthew writes aren't merely theological. They're experiential. 

I spoke to a woman this past weekend who, two years ago, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I remember when she found out. I remember references to a baseball sized tumor, other lesions and a pervasive sense of fear for her and her family. I remember her tears at the office as she told us. Though feeling "petrified", she opted to undergo chemo and to take every step she knew to take.

She experienced numerous awe-inspiring moments through the course of her treatment. But the one she shared with me Saturday was particularly amazing. When she was at her worst (apparently the treatments are cumulative, and by the sixth the suffering was at its peak), she had the very real, tangible sense of Christ being with her. She conceded that her head was a bit fuzzy from the medications that day, but went on to describe her sitting in her misery and suddenly mindful that Christ was at her side.

And not the blue-eyed, VO5 Hot Oil Jesus depicted in the painting we all had hung in our childhood kitchens. She described him as just as bald as she was, with a chemo port oozing in his chest.

Not just there observing her, but with her. Fused to her suffering with his own.

She didn't quote him. She didn't share with me any of his promises about how much longer the pain would last, or what "lesson" she was supposed to be learning. Apparently there were no words. Just Christ the fellow chemo-patient, with her always, even to the end of the age.

After telling me this, her eyes glossy and wistful, she said, "I miss that. I really do." She scrunched her face up so as to acknowledge first how untrue that probably seemed. Who legitimately misses hell? But I knew she meant it. She missed the profoundly real, wordless presence. The withness, even though it occurred in the midst of great suffering.

We come to a point where our faith is well informed, and yet vacant. Many of us assume this means we've learned what we can about our faith, and have grown past it somehow. We refer to ourselves as "off track" or having "lost our fire". But this is because without Matthew's last sentence, the other words are just history to be learned and then shelved. The informing part of our faith is similar to how the gospel starts and carries on for a time. We feast on insights and inspiration. Eventually, however, when the words end, it's that last sentence that we live on. It's the last one we can't live without.

The presence of Christ is an unearned reality. Underneath our preoccupations, underneath our complicated steps to "find God", even under our reams of Biblical savvy, Christ waits for us to wake up to the fusion that already is. Suffering is a great tuner, as my friend would tell you. But the recognition that we're unaware and even skeptical is enough to begin. When we've taken in the story, we're not just commissioned to tell it. We are then invited to actually participate in it with the Author.


Monday, March 25, 2013

A few unasked questions.

Jonathan and I didn't get to address all of our questions about Mark 5:1-20 Sunday. Here's a few more questions I didn't have time to get to:

  • Why did Jesus decide to boat across the lake, rather than walk around it, going from people to people without skipping anyone?
  • Why is the man referred to as having, in the singular, an "unclean spirit", when we later find out it's a plurality of demons?
  • Did the villagers refer to him as having an unclean spirit? Isn't a lack of cleanness a Jewish concern, relating to purity?
  • What did the demon-possessed man eat and drink to sustain himself (or his host body), since his own destruction seemed the goal?
  • Where did the people get the shackles and chains to bind him with? Why were those laying around?
  • When the person who brought the shackles and chains said, "Here, try these," did the others give him a funny look?
  • "No one had the strength to subdue him." (v4). Was this a contest? Were there bets?
  • Why did the demon-possessed man cut himself with stones, and what else might this behavior signify? Why not use the weapons (or even the busted chains) readily available from people not strong enough to resist him if he wanted them?
  • Why would a spirit that cuts himself with stones be concerned about being tormented?
  • Why does the demon(s) answer Jesus's questions, but not Jesus's command to come out of the man, and in what ways do I talk to Christ but refuse to listen to Christ?
  • Who counted the pigs? Did they ask the herdsman (v14) or did Matthew, the tax-collector/human-calculator, do a speed count?
  • Why didn't the pigs swim?
  • When in the water, did the herd of pigs become a school?
  • When the pigs died, did the demons?
  • Did the demons go into fish?
  • Does demon enhance or spoil the flavor of Tilapia?
  • When the man was healed, where did he get his clothes? What  beautiful human being failed to get credit for sharing their wardrobe with a former demoniac?
  • What significance is there to the former demoniac being sent out of the area by Jesus, and then Jesus himself being sent out as well?
  • Are asking Jesus into your heart and begging Jesus out of your village opposites?
  • What reasons are there for telling people throughout the gospels to not speak of the miracle they have experienced, but in this case the contrary is commanded? (This question was asked me after service by a gentleman who's name escapes me…Great question.)
  • How often does Jesus tell people they can't follow him (v18-19), and that the better ministry is in the sufficiency of them sharing their own limited experience with their friends?
  • Did the demoniac have former notoriety? Why did those he told marvel at his story unless they knew he'd been a little cuckoo lately, but before that healthy?
  • Was there ever any other evangelist/ambassador to this area- or was this man's "was blind, now I see" experience enough for all time?
  • What currently unrecognized traditions came from this man's testimony in the Decapolis? Has Christianity in the East, or in the West for that matter, inadvertently dismissed as "not us" or even "heresy" a tradition birthed out of this man obeying Christ to the letter?
  • The next section starts with Jesus and the disciples boating again…did they have to navigate through 2,000 pig corpses?
  • A chapter later Jesus walks on water; was this simply a balancing act on dead pigs?
  • How many times did Jesus's helping of one person (like the demoniac) hurt others (like the pig farmers)? Is there any such thing as helping everybody at once? Is "Good News" always, necessarily some sort of "bad news"?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

All Parked Cars are the Same.

The yellow race car, all muscly and thick, sat at the red light. He’d sat there like this for years. Sun danced off his shiny yellow paint. His tires were glossy and new, his windows so clean they seemed absent. But it was the sound of his engine that made the others cars giddy with excitement.
If only this red light would turn green.
The big bus idled at the light next to the yellow car, smiling and shaking his head. He knew from the sound of the glug-glug-glug of the yellow car’s engine that when the light changed, the other cars would be humbled. Shamed even. But being shamed by the best was an honor. And this yellow car, all muscly and thick, certainly sounded like the type to shame them all. The bus couldn’t wait to see it.
If only this red light would turn green.
The hatchback and the wagon had both speculated about the yellow car’s strength to the point of legend. They disagreed on the technical details, but one thing they agreed on with enthusiastic giggling; when that light changed, minds would be blown.
If only this red light would turn green.
The yellow car, all muscly and thick, revved its engine as it had done a thousand times, sounding off his impatience as he waited for the light to turn. The rumble of the engine was deep and aggressive. It sent chills down the other cars’ frames. What a racer he would prove to be! He lurched forward a few inches in a display of eagerness, allowing the slight grade in the road to return him to his mark. The other cars couldn't wait to see it. The pick-up truck and the sedan and even the mo-ped exchanged their ideas about just how amazing the yellow car would prove to be.
If only this red light would turn green.
But, after all these years, not all the cars joined in anymore. A few of them were tired of the revving. Tired of the calculating and legends. They were tired of the speculating and childish giggling over the yellow car's potential. In their eyes, the yellow car, all muscly and thick, was no different than the other cars, no matter how loud its engine promised to the contrary. Parked cars are all the same, as they saw it. But those like the sedan and the bus and even the mo-ped, though an unvalidated fan-base, were a loyal fan-base nonetheless. The yellow car would show them. They’d see.
If only this red light would turn green.
The yellow car, all muscly and thick, had a tremendous secret. A secret no one could have guessed. Underneath his paint and his roaring and his ever thwarted potential, the yellow car loved the red light. He, a race car, dreaded green and prized red. Unknown to the other cars and in some ways even to himself, the yellow car cherished the red light for allowing him to be adored for what he might do. Yes he revved his engine, yes he roared like a racer, yes even the gloss on his perfectly inflated tires implied he’d want nothing but green.
But the thing about green lights is they reveal to everybody once and for all whether you have what they respect you for. Red lights are good for promises and possibilities. But green lights just tell the truth.
If only this red light would never turn green...
How the bus and the sedan and the pick-up and the wagon and even the mo-ped loved the yellow car, really loved him. How they insisted when that light changed, frames would tremble with chills, traffic would be humbled and minds would be blown. But in his interior the yellow car, all muscly and thick, revving impatiently and lurching forward and back, pleaded silently for the light to stay red forever.

"Love" assumes disagreement.

For the last month or so, the recognition of Love as a command has taken on a whole new dimension for me. And it's simply this; if we're going to agree, then we're going to find an easy peace. Love won't be a challenge. You and I naturally feel positively about others when their view of important things aligns with our own. Thus, love assumes we won't agree.

The reason we're commanded to love each other, among other reasons, is due to the fact that we will disagree in almost every category of our existence. (I wonder how many of you just thought Well, not every category.) Disagreement is simply an effect of us all having our own, even opposing, takes on the universe and its contents. 

When God says "Love each other," God is not demanding 100% agreement. God's alerting us to the very opposite scenario. Otherwise, the command to love makes as much sense as a command to blink. It's already happening. "They will know you are my disciples by your love," Jesus insisted. This, I take to mean, "They will see you as diverse, awake human beings- not clones, and be blown away that no matter where any two of you find each other, or what you think, you're in perfect harmonious love. That's what will set you apart as mine."

I've been asked a lot lately about Absolute Truth, and whether there is any and whether we can apprehend it. It's an important question, and my answer is always the same: Truth is a person, not a proposition. Christ is our absolute. Everything else is relative. That's putting a whole lot very simply, and I confess that I can make it sound like there's no more discuss to be had about this sometimes. But as I understand the summation of our faith to be Love, and that Christ is all there really is, then it feels critically important for me to keep things uncomplicated (which is different than not taking things seriously, mind you.)

Christ is the only absolute.
Love is our standard for conduct.
This is, in the only way I can understand it, who we are if we call ourselves Christ-followers.

The implications of this are quite stunning, especially for a person (such as me too often, frankly) who still believes somewhere deep down that people need to not be wrong to be right. On the contrary, our faith is built on Loving each other, not mere correctness. Almost as if God is more (primarily? only?) concerned with how we navigate our disagreements than whether or not we ever figure out the truth we're disagreeing about. Is it possible that we're all working on a project together, and the Architect is more interested in how we unite than our proper interpretation of the blueprints? Is our behavior on the work site the project, and not the building?

I grieve for the devout theologian that reads something like this and thinks that it's weak. That it's taking an easy, unthinking way out. This was the view I used to hold. When people said things like "it's all about love," I knew they were technically right, but also took their words as an admission that, at their core, they just didn't like tension or being potentially disliked. Like the guy teaching a Creationism vs Evolution seminar I went to early in my faith. His class turned out to be about being humble and loving toward those who come to different conclusions. "It's about love!" But I had signed up for the class to gain ammunition for my "side". I was furious. I even tried, in front of everyone in attendance, to point out that his thesis was dead wrong. He humbly said it might have been, which made it hard to keep arguing. Today, I couldn't be more linked to that young sage's heart. He was the deepest well in the room because he could love and remain humble in the presence of anyone and any idea. He got it. I missed it completely.

My prayer is that I can continue to help people understand, as I am continuing to, that disagreement is written into the mandate to Love. We shouldn't think our responsibility is to get people to agree with us. It's to love (which in practice will be found in our listening and understanding and considering and refusing to dismiss or mischaracterize, etc.) someone we think may or may not be totally wrong. To love others enough to show them Christ, verses trying to get others to submit to our understanding of Christ. (A Christ, by the way, who washed more toes than he stomped in the name of Truth).

May we find ourselves anchored by the absolute of humbly bringing all our diverse perspectives to the table to commune. There is, in my opinion, nothing truer to the person and mission of Christ than this. Hope you agree.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Unworthy of the Stall

Robert mindlessly chewed the last of his lunch as he stared into the stall, shaking his head. He was feeling disgusted again, as was the case more and more in recent days. The horse that took up this stall, the barn's only stall at that, was an utter disappointment to him. If a stall could be wasted, this stall had been.

The horse was bone thin, except for the places it was fat. Its mane was dull and sheenless, a patchwork of scratchy wire and scars. Its body was a misshapen tank with a spine that could no longer suffer a saddle. The horse quivered at its cloud of flies and belched through its mouthfuls of feed. A disgusting, disappointing waste of the only stall in the barn.

Robert shook his head again as his thoughts descended fully into disdain. Of all horses, this horse. Just one dedicated spot for a horse and it's this horse stuck in it.

Even this horse's name, "Breezy", kindled his contempt. It had sounded light and happy when she'd first been moved into the barn. The sign emblazoned with her name and hung over the stall even seemed to cheer an otherwise dismal barn up at first. Now it hung like a profanity. It meant dread and loathing and something that just wouldn't end or go away.


Robert sighed an angry defeated sigh, swallowing a final time and wiping his mouth. He acknowledged to himself he'd before attempted a kinder, gentler assessment of this horse. He'd even made an attempt at not doing any assessing at all. But it didn't last. Ol' Breezy soon proved she'd as soon step on you as look at you. On mere approach of the stall door, for no fault of his own, he could sense a wicked tension rise in the air. A malicious humidity, snorting from her filthy, damp nostrils. Had Robert not gotten clear of her quickly in these moments, he'd have been maimed or killed.

Killed by an infernally disappointing horse named Breezy.

Robert hated this horse. He hated the fact that she took up a spot that he felt belonged to something better. Something he could love. Something he could be proud of. Something that merited kindness and gentleness at all. One barn. One stall. And this was the horse standing in it.

Robert turned slowly toward the door to head back to the house. The evening temperature was dropping and it would be warmer there, if he could get inside. Breezy watched him leave with her wary sideways glance. She felt instant relief come over her as he left the barn. It wasn't so much his stealing her feed, although she hoped he'd stop. It was that she just couldn't relax or think or be herself when Robert came in, because she'd always been unnerved and repulsed by rats.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Lots happened 15 years ago.

"Hey Steve, you got an 'up'," came the announcement from one of the other salespeople. I looked to the main door, seeing only the top of a person's head move toward the pre-owned automobile kiosk. An 'up' was office slang for a potential customer arriving on the lot. I had just interacted with one who promised to get back with me on a sedan with really high miles. I wasn't holding my breath.

"Just had one," I answered.

There was a system after all, a sacred decorum, whereby each of us salespeople took ups in turn. Having just had one, the next one was Eric's. But Eric was with four or five others of the sales team in a riveting conversation about their preferred level of spice in chicken wings. "Go ahead, Daugherty. Try, try again," he said. The others laughed as I nodded and made my way to the pre-owned kiosk where the up was typing away, looking through the total selection of cars on the network of lots.

I had only been selling cars for about a month. My whole car salesman career spanned only 3 months total. An in-between job is what I had been calling it, although it wasn't clear at that point what this job was sandwiched between. I wasn't getting the hang of it and didn't care to. I just wondered what the next thing was going to be. It was March 6th, 1998. I was single. I had bad hair, worse pants and, among some other debts, a great car. It was a ridiculous monthly payment, but it was a sweet ride nonetheless. Kalapana black Mitsubishi Eclipse. Turbo. When I drove it I became objectively better than other people, despite my hair and pants. This is true. People with better hair and lesser cars confessed as much to me. I had little direction in life, but I had this overpriced, overfast car as compensator.

I walked around the corner of the kiosk to introduce myself to the up, hoping this interaction went better than the last. I had just made my March car payment after all, so the ol' well was dry. And promises to come back, later, maybe, and buy busted sedans couldn't scare away a repo man.

"Hi, I'm-"

The woman standing at the computer stopped me in my tracks. She was the kind of beautiful that immediately makes you review your first impression chart: Breath? Posture? Bats-in-cave? But I couldn't think clearly about those things. I couldn't think of really anything. Least of all, me. No thought beyond the fact that before me were two of the most beautiful brown eyes I had ever seen. And perfectly big as well. Surely her blinking affected local weather. I was a bit stunned.

"...I'm Steve, uh. Can I... help you with anything?"

I would find out her name was Christie Christy Kristi, and that she was looking for a "sporty" car. Black or silver. Something good on gas and great on the eyes. I scanned the computer with her, trying to concentrate on the task at hand while also not looking her up and down like some sort of creepy.....used-car salesman.

After a couple minutes it was clear that nothing in the system fit what she was hoping to find, so she agreed to walk the lot with me to see what we had. I don't remember much about the conversation's content. I just remember it was an easy one to have. And I remember at one point there was an eager interruption on her part:

"There!" She said, pointing suddenly. "I'm looking for one like that!" I followed the path of her finger over into the last row of cars in the lot. I was looking for silver, until I remembered she was also open to black. Then I realized she was pointing into the last isle, the staff parking isle. She was pointing at my Eclipse.

"The one with the fin?" I asked, smiling.

"Yeah, what is that?"

"That's mine."

Boom. The monthly payment could have been double -quadruple- and it was still worth this moment.

"That's my Mitsubishi," I continued, trying not to sound as cocky as I was feeling about the whole event. "Wanna take a look?"

She sat in it, smiling and exploring and admiring. I quietly thanked God for allowing me to make such a asinine purchase a year prior. 450 cars on the lot and my car was the one she wanted. God was good.

But, this was only a bonus. There was already something great happening. That was the thing; I wouldn't have been into a girl just for being into my car. Her interest was somehow gravy, or sprinkles, or icing. Choose your food metaphor. There was a deeper something that her interest in my car seemed to validate rather than cause.

We went back to the kiosk for a final perusal. This time she found one with strong potential. A silver Honda Prelude. The problem was that this particular car was up at one of our sister lots, 45 minutes away. And protocol functioned such that, she would leave my lot, drive up to the other and get a salesperson who worked that lot. We weren't allowed to sell cars on other lots, although we did get an almost insultingly small kickback for our initial involvement.

None of this was I about to tell her.

"Well, I guess I'll drive up there and take a look." There was finality in her voice, but also a slight hint of sorrow. Could it be that she had felt like I had- that perhaps we'd just hit it off a bit?

"Ok. But I'd be glad to take you," I said, with little emotion in it so that it didn't sound as desperate as it felt inside my head. "No big deal."

"Oh, I couldn't ask you to do that. It's fine." She was opening the door, stepping through it backward.

I wondered how fine. Was she saying it was her preference I stay behind, or was she saying she didn't want to come off desperate but was open to my insisting? I opted for the latter.

(Kids, hide your eyes for a few lines, because I can't recommend the following deceptive behavior...)

"No, really. We do that. It's sort of a policy to walk a customer all the way through the process. It's kind of expected."

"Oh, really?"


"Ok, well, if it's no problem."

In my memory three seconds passed before I pulled around in the Eclipse, the car of our dreams, to take her to Troy, a 45 minute jaunt north of Dayton. 45 minutes for lesser beings. I was prepared to do it in about 31. I also had to be stealthful, since I was not in any way supposed to put customers in my personal car to extend time with them for reasons not pertaining to our revenue stream. Selling her a car couldn't have mattered to me any less than it did. I just didn't want that door to close with her on the other side. I earlier let that up go with a promise of buying the sedan in some ethereal future because I ultimately didn't care. But this was no up. Kristi, with these eyes, great taste in cars and this easy connection with the likes of me, was something to put in the very least my month-and-a-half auto sales career on the line for. She got in, and we were off. 

We small-talked while I only a little bit wondered how it was going to go to have me, a salesman from another lot, showing up and showing off their lot's inventory to a customer. I assumed when the sales team saw her they would still be mad at me but would at least understand. (I caught plenty of flack the next next day for all this incidentally. A couple of "never agains" and "out of lines" were leveled at me from management. But I was fine with it, for I had learned the day before that sometimes if you pay big, ridiculous amounts- even monthly- it sooner or later pays off nicely.)

She drove the Honda, then I drove it too and gave my opinion when she asked me for it. 30 minutes later we started back to Dayton in my car and the conversation continued. Easily. We talked about family, childhood, and the fact that we had each only recently moved back to the state from elsewhere. Me from St. Louis and her from Japan. We were laughing. We were mutually interested in our backstories. We were, in a very short period of time, friends.

As the drive came down to its final minutes, I thought I would attempt to manage a balancing act between being creepy, unprofessional and tuned-in to the reality I sensed was in front of me.

"So, I uh....I would just shoot myself if I didn't, uh...ask you if you wanted to...uh, go hang out sumthin."

This felt like bowling. I had been studying the pins, strategizing and imagining a best case scenario for well over an hour. Now, the ball was out of my hands, spinning or perhaps careening toward either the pins or the gutter. 

"Oh, I was wondering if that was ok or not. I was hoping you'd ask. I'd love to."

Outwardly: "Great."

We agreed to meet at a place called Sneakers that was almost literally between her apartment and the lot at which I worked. We would see a well-known local band and continue what had been a great conversation. I rushed home, changed clothes and met her there a couple hours later. And there the conversation continued. Just as easy, though a bit louder as it was now yelled over top covers of 90's music. At one point I bought a rose from one of those I-sell-roses-at-bars-at-a-premium-because-of-the-power-of-impulse-in-douchey-guys guys. Kristi smiled, knowing that somehow, I didn't see it as romantic but as a silly parody of it. Stepping fully into the cheese, I put the rose into my teeth while some alt-rock song blared, offering my hands to her like a seasoned salsa dancer. She took my hands, stepping toward me with the sternness of a worthy dance partner. I turned my head to initiate the routine, though the rose and the clinched jaw were the only moves I knew. As I turned my head to the side, the stem of the rose went into her beautiful brown eye.

"AH!" she said, holding her hand to her scratched cornea, while smiling forgivingly. 

I apologized profusely while she laughed. This wouldn't be the last time I inadvertently hurt her. 

I don't remember the drive home that night. It may be because I floated on a cloud. Kristi had dropped out of nowhere, expected no pretense, and somehow had become a lifelong friend in one evening. It was all very strange. Perfectly, undeservedly strange.

We went out the next night. We agreed on authentic simplicity, so it was Bob Evans as the setting for our second date. Biscuits and gravy. No ophthalmological damage. Plenty of laughter. 

And we went out the next night. 
And then the next. 

And then she bought a car from someone else on another lot. I wasn't insulted. Surprised, but not insulted. In fact, when it turned out she'd been ripped off, I was glad to be involved as a sympathetic friend rather than mixed up in the weirdness.

She took a one week business trip a few weeks later. But other than that five or six days, we were always together. Always laughing. Always listening. Always trying to understand, if even through arguments, ourselves through each other. To this day, though I many times prefer to be alone- I enjoy being with her. Laughing. Talking. Sharing reality with her. Sitting and thinking about how, if not for an inane conversation about spicy chicken wings, I might have missed out on everything I hold most dear.

Despite thinking for a couple minutes, I can't figure how to successfully wrap up this story. Probably because it never did. 

My dear, brown-eyed Kristi, whom I met 15 years ago today. Thanks for daring to be seen with me that night. And for every night after. Thanks for being beautiful to look at, and then even more so to know. Thanks for having low standards and high intelligence. Thanks for being one of the few people that can make me ugly-laugh. Thanks for our three children who represent the best in us while probably keeping the future psychotherapy industry afloat as well. Thanks for being the best thing that ever happened to me. Sorry I can't dance and have a regular low-life person's car. At least I fixed my hair.

I love you.