Wednesday, June 28, 2006


In the Old Testament, when God asked for a sacrifice, it was messy business. The slaughter of an animal involved the animal's cries, the gushing of blood, and the smell of death and singed fur. God talks about it as a "pleasing aroma" but I'm guessing it was only pleasing in a spiritual sense. Blood spattered everywhere, and was sometimes purposely sprinkled on the people. It required giving some of your best animals (or grain, as the case may be). For Abraham, it meant raising a knife and preparing to literally slice into the flesh of his son and watch the blood of life drain out of him. It was no mere analogy- he was going to brutally slaughter his son and watch him die.

Later, in the New Testament, sacrifice involved being beaten to a bloody pulp, rejected by your closest friends, and left hanging on a cross to die a slow death.

Thousands of years later, God asks me to make sacrifices, and I act suprised nearly every time that it hurts or gets messy: "Whats this? Blood? Stench? Pain? Woe is me- I didn't see this coming!"

Thankfully, God loves me even when I am dense.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

street names

My grandmother's neighborhood in Palo Alto is wonderful. All the streets are named for authors: American authors run north/south, and European ones run east/west. I ride my bike down Yeats and Byron, Melville and Emmerson. Much to the embarassment of my academic ego, there are several names that I don't recognize. Some of these unknowns are beautiful streets and make me wonder what sort of author they are named for. A ride down the shade-covered Fulton makes me wish for a rainy day to read whatever it is he wrote. On the street named for Tasso, a tree has been toilet-papered, and I find myself hoping that the fellow wrote at least one funny thing in his career. Others I recognize and try analyze. I find it unfortunate that the street named for Tennyson, whose Crossing the Bar is perhaps my favorite poem, has fallen into a season of construction and looks anything but poetic. While passing Mark Twain today, I saw- and I kid you not- a freshly erected fence being whitewashed. How absolutely perfect is that?

I find myself thinking, If a street was named after me, what would I hope to find there? I think that I would want the houses to be beautiful, but small and simple. No ritzy neighborhood for my stretch of asphalt! There would be plenty of beautiful trees (shade in the summer, brilliant in the fall, and covered in white lights at Christmas), gardens and flower boxes under the windows of several houses. The sidewalks would be wide and inviting, and the street calm enough that one could meander right down the middle of it late in the evening. And though Robert Frost was right when he said that there is something in a man that loves fences, none of them would be too high for a conversation with a passing neighbor. Such conversations would be common, of course, because on my street people would know eachother well. And just because I have a thing for doors, all the houses would have fantastic ones, colorful and stately.

Perhaps the best question for me is this: If a street was named after me, what sort names would fill the other street signs? Whose company do I want to be in, and what would I want to be noted for? If I really think about it, such a question just might change how I live.

Friday, June 16, 2006

roadside stands, and the walk from here to healing

I wrote in a poem once that “I am no atlas…I am without that page that charts the distance between Chicago and Santa Fe, between here and healing.” I use Santa Fe a lot in poems about journeys, mainly because its English translation is “holy faith,” and that always seems an appropriate destination. But more often the journey is all about that last part: getting from here to healing. Sometimes you find yourself sitting on the side of a never-ending road, saying along with David, “How long, O Lord?” How many friggin’ miles until the destination, or at least the next gas station and air conditioned diner? But then, I imagine if he answered the question we’d probably never set out. We’d quit before we even tried. And that would be a sad thing, because even though my legs are aching at present and I am tired of walking, the road so far really has brought me through some incredible scenery and across the paths of some amazing and dear fellow travelers.

Anyone who has sincerely been following Christ for a while has realized that so much of walking from here to healing involves giving things up, involves refusing a whole lot of roadside distractions that are counterfeit destinations. But the thing about counterfeits is that they arise out of a genuine felt need. I seek a false drink because I feel thirsty. I try to fill holes with any crap I can find to cram into the gaping thing because, well, there’s a hole. And so he asks us to give it up, and sometimes we are left with the feeling of, “Ok, but I still have this hole. What am I supposed to do with the hole?” I think we expect that somehow saying no to the counterfeit should immediately be followed by God permanently solving whatever ache led us to the roadside stand in the first place. But it usually doesn't happen that way.

I just had a rather painful parting with a counterfeit. A ragged process, really, and man, oh man, it hurts more than I expected. Facing an aching void can just make your heart feel like it’s ripping in half. I feel like coming to God today and saying, “The hole! What the hell am I supposed to do with the hole?!” And I think the answer is that I am just supposed to look at it, to begin to know the shape of it. I am supposed to let him show me, bit by painful bit, what is really supposed to go in that place. Then the counterfeits start to look like what they really are: counterfeits. I recently read something in Isaiah that made me think of it: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put light for darkness and darkness for light, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” Counterfeits look sweet but would turn bitter in time. God knows this, and so he calls us away from what will hurt us in the long run.

The hole sits gaping as I slowly learn to recognize what will and will not fill it up. This loneliness, this hurt- it looks bitter to me right now. But God knows that, too. And he knows of the place down the road where I will find out that what felt bitter was really just a yellow dash on the road to the sweetest thing of all: healing.

Friday, June 09, 2006

retrospect: what I found instead

I was looking for Peace, I think
when I ran away across the state line
[this time, Wyoming].
As if I would find it,
dressed warmly and walking toward me
on a sidewalk in downtown Cheyenne.
“How about dinner?” Peace would say.
I would just sheepishly smile my relief
and collapse into his company.
But Peace was not there.

I eat dinner and drive out of town.

I would like to just turn south now,
tell myself that Peace must actually live in New Mexico,
But I know I can’t afford the gas it would take
before I passed the mile marker of concession,
the last yellow dash before admitting that Peace
is not a resident of any of our 50 states,
doesn’t patrol a certain interstate,
and is not sitting at the counter in any specific
small town café.

What I find instead in these hours of driving
is Quiet,
stretched out like a strip of asphalt that runs from
here to there
there to here.

“How about we just rest?” Quiet says, his arm around my shoulder.

I am smiling sheepishly, as I imagined.
I breathe, smile up at his gentle face.
“That sounds nice” I say,
and we drive together, into the night and all the way home.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Library Chronicles: Eight Great Things...

I'm writing this from the library at Denver Seminary. I've been here for over 7 hours, looking over books, trying to narrow down the ones to take home (since I'm from a different school, I am only allowed 5 at a time). These are the long, grueling days of study that I'm often tempted to complain about. But let's put things in perspective, shall we?

1. I am sitting in a beautiful library, surrounded by a wealth of books, using an expensive laptop, and doing it all because I have the opportunity for an education that most of the world would give an arm and a leg for.
2. I drove a car to get here, and had food to eat during those 7 hours.
3. I ran into a fellow student- a crackup of a girl- and was reminded of how much I love the community of people I study with. Plus, it was such a random bonus for God to send a random friend to me, in Denver nonetheless, in the middle of a rather isolated week.
4. Though it was kind of bad timing, I've gotten calls from friends and family alike while I've been here. Plenty of email-age, too. I have such a rich store of relationships.
5. More than a chance to get a Master's degree, it is an incredible blessing just to say that I can read and write (I originally misspelled "write" there- go figure)!
6. I got here a little bit late today. Why? Because I was able to meet up with an old college friend for lunch.
7. It is just about the most beautiful evening ever! Should make for a nice, long drive.
8. After all this time here, I still feel focused and alert. After my years of struggle on medication, that is HUGE!

Yes, I do look forward to the end of this stressful stretch of time. But in the meantime, I've sure got a lot to smile about!