409. Sonoran October

Image result for sonoran desert picturesSonoran, not, snorin’.

(May be related to sonorous, “capable of giving out a deep resonant sound”, but what do I know? Wikipedia claims it comes from the early Spanish explorers who dedicated the area to Senora, Our Lady. Sort of like Maryland was named for Queen Mary. Not Maryland Monroe, knuckleheads!!  Our Lady’s Desert just doesn’t sound right, though, anymore than the Swamp of the Sacred Heart does. Again, what do I know? I’m just a little lost blogger with a bald spot.)

The desert spreads across part of California, a lot of Arizona, and parts of northwest Mexico. There are no leaves to change in the Sonoran Desert, just cactuses of all types plumping with August monsoon rain under the still intense autumn sun. 90 degrees each day of the past week that we spent basking in Tucson’s glorious light, visiting the grandkids and their mom and dad, as well as the sweetest dog ever, Kermit. Yes, there was pool time too. Fret not, blogaddios, rest and recreation were sampled while I painted their rambling house and drank Mexican beer at night. What might sound drudgerous was actually more of an extended meditation with me applying rich brown paint like eyeliner onto the overabundance of a ranch house’s butter cream face. Focus in on that for a moment.

“Define the relationship”, I told my daughter. “The butter cream face just blobs all over without definition. I’ll define it with this Ultra grade Native Soil exterior satin acrylic paint from Home Depot.” And so I did, cutting the edges of door and window trim, boxing, fascia and gutters. Finally the tapioca hippo house pudding magically jelled into a caramelized camel crème brulee.

The first night at my daughter’s house we went to bed at 7 or 8 p.m., which was 10 or 11 p.m. east coast time, where we had started our day. Inevitably we awoke at 5 a.m. on Sunday, rested and interested in the half moon and full complement of stars above. I sat by their pool in the dark and leaned my head back to watch the interstellar show above. Two shooting stars flared inside of five minutes. The longer I focused, the more stars and swirls of stars I witnessed. Down the hillside wash toward the city of Tucson I thought I heard an ambulance siren, and then realized it was a coyote when six or eight other coyotes joined in on the siren song. “Aiyeeeeeeeeeoooooooooooo”. Palm trees swayed ever so slightly as the air moved in Indian ghost whispers. Sara brought coffee out in the moonlight. I breathed in as much of that spirit as I could, hoping it would stain my heart forever, leaving Night’s footprints in a wiggly trail, as if a lizard had skittered over fresh wet mud.Image result for arizona night sky

“Oh, man!  This is just a taste of all the beauty in this world, the grandeur of God’s plans, the bliss of being still. Cosmic sparkling wine and delightful appetizers. The visual equivalent of  grilled shrimp wrapped in bacon. How awesome must the main course be!”

Even as I sat inside their brick-walled front yard with the wrought iron fence, I knew packs of near sighted javelinas and sharp eyed coyotes were out beyond, scavenging for their next meal. Bobcats and mountain lions too. Rattle snakes and owls I’d never see or hear were on the predatory prowl as well, gliding noiselessly through sand and sky. The potential danger was salt on my senses, making them more acute. As the eastern sky paled, the Catalinas stood up; the fan palm trees and feathery mesquites appeared against the phosphorous background that was forming. In the dark there had been little depth or shape perception; but as the light increased, all the fine details of the landscape emerged.Image result for sonoran desert wash in morning light

Each moment brought a deep breath of satisfaction from my contented abdomen. Weather I love; location I love; the people I love, all together. “My my, hey hey. The burrito man is here to stay. It’s better to burn out than to fade away….” Rust Never Sleeps was a classic Neil Young album out of which those lyrics trickled. And yet, here in the desert rust does seem to sleep or at least nap. Without water, the oxidization of iron slows down. Just one more reason to love this place. My personal body rust is slowed also by the constant divine light that suffuses this holy land. My joints push back against gravity’s grinding grip of six decades. “My, my, hey, hey, the burrito man is here to stay…”

What is this lovely attachment I suffer for this desert scape? Something like a loom in my mind where memories are woven horizontally through vertical heartstrings into a supernatural tapestry. Words and images fail, however, to capture the palpable spirit hovering all through it, but the spirit loom racks it all together into a tight weave. A Persian rug could not be a more perfect reflection of this dream.

Image result for persian carpet images of desert designsNaturally a large part of my self longs to stay and plant lettuce and roses; to weld odd pieces of metal into defiant, eccentric desert art; and yet still blend into this desert scape like a thick-walled adobe casita. I’d like to have my cake and just nibble at the edges, consuming the annual interest while admiring the precious principal. My rational mind knows it is impossible, but my irrational mind tires of the merely possible. Magic and miracle and mystery await the curious mind that is tenuously hinged by bungee cords to “reality”. Open that  gate…

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335. Amore perfect day…

Image result for brilliant fall day picturesA more perfect day I can’t recall

as the lazy leaves litter emerald lawns-

no need to cut or weed again

till spring dawns.

The sky is a sapphire dome

with a glowing tungsten sun

massaging fifty five degree air

into ideal running weather.

As I run out and then home

A wisp of a breeze about.

No traffic, no body in the park

jogging along trying

to get out of myself and

breathe God’s glory in and out.

“Abba… I belong to You.”

Brennan Manning suggests this prayer

for 30 soothing

minutes a day, only this prayer

till transformation arrives.

Old Norman Rockwell would cry

’cause he couldn’t paint this blissful

riot of colors and shapes yanking at

my eyes for praise and wonder.

I just keep pounding away
savoring the dusty smell of dry oak leaves
Don’t think, draw no conclusions
Be a leaf tumbling down to the earth
Simply breathe, “Abba… (inhale)
I belong to you” (exhale)
 
Forget the connections and the constant
knitting of perceptions into some fruitless fabric
of meaning. No, unravel me, God.
Blow through me
shredding all my manmade knots;
pull me through the knothole
to Your side
where truth and love reside.
Here I’m too big in my pride
Too wide in my self love
Shrink me, God, with a syringe of humility
Draw me down gently like a sunset
“Abba… I belong to you”.
 =====================================================================
This was my internal monologue as I jogged my two miles today, waiting for my body to revolt, but it didn’t. The lungs and legs kept churning reliably. So nice since I hear of many folks with compromised health, and I, of course, naively hope to be the exception to disease and injury. Silly self delusions. No one gets out alive, though many get out unaware of eternity, never knowing why they lived or what it meant. No thanks. I’d rather have the truth in pain than ignorance in bliss.
 
I came up the rise to where Eric’s blue fountain sits, a little oasis for dogs and humans. 360 degrees of autumn glory sang out to my senses. I hugged the round fountain, warmed by the afternoon sun. “I miss you, Buddy. Your love, your joy, your purity. Go Steelers!! Yeah Buddy.” I thanked him for the short drink and started to wander off, wondering how Eric is doing in heaven. Joy, joy, unspeakable joy is all that came to my love kneaded mind. I thought about his funeral in February. We sang “Joy to the World” to him and for him. On this fall day I thought Beethoven’s 9th was in order. “Ode to Joy” is the English  translation. Everyone knows the melody. Just a couple of lyric lines will do…
All creatures drink of joy
At nature’s breast.
Just and unjust
Alike taste of her gift;
She gave us kisses and the fruit of the vine,
A tried friend to the end.
 Image result for orchestra director pictures
I imagined Eric leading a celestial orchestra the same way he used to lead bands at the winery when we all went to dance. Eric would dance and sway in his own zone of supreme happiness. Everyone knew he was special, beautifully special. My friend Clark said, “No one got more joy out of his time than Eric.” And I agree. Let that sink in as you drink in joy. What a wonderful way to honor Eric’s memory with a fountain to refresh you and your dog; a dogwood tree to impress you with its beauty; and a bench to rest upon. Eric was a famous rester and generous with his extravagant joy.
Months after Eric’s funeral his dad Dave kept praying for a word from God to know that Eric was alright. His father’s heart was gnawed at by the relentless rodents of not knowing. Then one afternoon his phone rang with an unfamiliar number. Music blared, the Vienna Boys Choir… and then an old voicemail from Eric burst across time, “Hey Dad. I’m fine. Love You. Bye.” Joy, unspeakable joy, swept over my friend like one of those street cleaner machines. Big brushes scrubbed away disbelief and grief for the moment. He ran to get Vickie and share the wonderful message from the maestro of joy. Listening to it eased the ache of the razor blade in his heart, as grateful tears rolled down his cheeks. “My Boy is all right. He’s alright. He managed to call me. Wow. Unbelievable.”
In the ICU Dave’s question had been “Why? Why?” as Eric lay like a pin cushion mannequin, tubes and monitors tethered all over him. Now his word was “Wow! Wow!” Faith blown away by answers.
Tears swell in the back of my throat just remembering this fantastic story. And I breathe again without running, “Abba… I belong to you.” Eric belongs to Dave. Dave belongs to God. We all belong.
 
It won’t be long till we are pulled through the knothole of time and space that separates us bodily from the Creator.  For now, only our souls can slip through the keyhole like smoke rings to the other side. Every now and then a smoke ring blows back through the keyhole, catches us by surprise on a perfectly glorious day… and unlocks the universe.

315. Waiting for Mohammed

It may seem strange to have a chess partner who is a young Libyan man in Turtle Town, but that’s what the deal is.  Mohammed hangs out at the coffee shop most afternoons. His mother functions as a cross between a social worker and pied piper for the lost ones who congregate around the town square. She is passionately kind to the disenfranchised and very sweet to her son, Mohammed.  I have no idea what their back story is, how they came from London to the U.S. No idea. I do know tenderness when I see it, though.

Anyway, I often wait for Mohammed to show up so that we can get in as many games as possible. We don’t talk that much, though he told me he is a poet. We thank each other at the end of every game– win, lose, or stalemate. Smiles and a handshake. “Good game.” “That was fun.” I tend to mutter Marvin Gaye lyrics while I play… “only three things for sure– taxes, death and Trouble.  Trouble man.”

He says some odd things at times.  A while ago he asked for free advice. (He knows I provide therapy.)  “My advice to you is not to ask for free advice.”

“Oh.”

Lately he said, “I am wondering if God exists. Check.”

I said, “Good, keep wondering. It’s a critical question to answer. Uncheck, you booger.”

“Why do you say that? Do you believe in God?”

“Yes, I do, but whether you do or do not believe, your answer will form a core belief and inform you about your purpose and meaning in life. Check.”

“What does that mean? Not the check, I follow that.”

“Well, have you ever seen a house being built from start to finish?”

“Sure.”

“So one day there is an empty plot of ground and someone starts dreaming and designing a lovely structure that will fit superbly on this spot. A surveyor stakes out the foundation one day and sets the corners. A while later a backhoe operator digs the footers for concrete. Eventually you get a detailed structure. Check.”

“I don’t get it. What does a house have to do with God’s existence? Uncheck.”

“Well, it’s an analogy to building a faith system. Once you break ground, (in your case it’s deciding if God exists) you begin building a structure of beliefs that connect to one another.”

“And what if I decide God does not exist? Check.”

“You still build a structure, a belief system around that core belief.”

“Oh, I thought belief systems were religions.”

“Religions are belief systems, but so are paths in science and political systems. Communism and socialism and fascism are all political belief systems that are not religions. In fact, they often outlaw religion or restrict it severely. Uncheck.”

“Hmmm. Gaddafi was religious, but he was also a total dictator.”

“Yeah, he was sort of a mutant combination of being the tribal chief, president for life, thug godfather, and well, let’s see what Hollowverse says….

“Gaddafi was quite taken with the principle of democracy. To him, multi-party, representational democracy was not truly democratic–nor was a dictatorship, though he was widely considered a dictator. And perhaps he was, but regardless, only three years after Gaddafi orchestrated a bloodless coup in Libya, he stepped down as Premier of the Libyan government, re-titling himself “Brotherly Leader and Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya,” and instituting a complex series of self-governing citizen bodies with titles like “The People’s Committees” and the “General People’s Congress.”

“Yeah, that’s a delusional belief system. ”

“He was a very bad man for a very long time. Check.”

“Yep. I wonder if he believed in God? or if he thought he was God?”

“The thing about God that stops me from believing is the evil in the world. All these innocent people who are abused and killed. Where is God for them?”

“That’s an old complaint lodged against the idea of a good, loving, all powerful God. Why would He allow evil to flourish? Uncheck.”

“So evil makes me not want to believe in God.”

“Uh huh. That’s evil’s job, though, to eliminate hope and belief in a better world. Evil destroys and pollutes and desecrates. Like Gaddafi. Because he caused so much evil, does that mean that good does not exist? God, on the other hand, if you believe in Him, originates, creates, purifies, redeems, saves. He heals what evil perpetrates. Mate.”

“I don’t think I believe that. Not the checkmate. I get that.”

“So how do you explain beauty and the order of nature? Do you think it’s all the random outcome of a bunch of random stuff? And when you see extraordinary kindness like your mother shows, how do you explain that? Did compassion for one’s fellow man just evolve out of a mud puddle like pollywogs?”

“I don’t know what are pollywogs?”

“They are evolving frogs, uh, tadpoles. It’s a stage between the frog egg and the mature frog. Actually… like you, Mohammed. You are evolving into your final adult form. Seeking the answer to whether God exists or not is part of your spiritual/intellectual growth.”

“You think so?”

“Sure. I remember reading that every thinking person must answer three questions. 1. Where did I come from?  2. Where do I go after I die?  3. What should I do between those two points?”

“I can’t answer those questions yet.”

“That’s okay, Tadpole. Did anyone every tell you that you look like Chico Marx?”

“No, who was that?”

“Groucho Marx’s older brother. Have you ever seen a Marx Brothers movie?”

“No.”

“You’re probably better off without the Marx Brothers experience.  Let’s just say they were some crazy comic brothers back in the day.”

“Do you think they believed in God?”

“Yeah, I do… at least they had to believe in miracles because their movies were incredibly stupid, and yet they made a good living from being silly.”

“Maybe I could do that too.”

“Mohammed, stand up comedy and you… I’m not seeing it.”

“No, here is a keeler joke:  How many Tunisians does it take to change light bulb?”

“You got me. How many?”

“Whole country.”

“Where’s the punch line, Mohammed?”

“Don’t you remember Arab Spring?  The Tunisians changed leaders like old light bulb.”

“Oh, yeah. Keeler, man. Let’s stick with theology.”

“But why?”

“Cuz you’re killin’ me.”

 

 

196. contractors and incompleteness

I know I’m not the only one out there who has trouble finding and nailing down handyman contractors. It’s been the same story as long as I can recall… contractors don’t communicate well if at all. They might come if the job is interesting, i.e., has potential for a big payday. But the truth is that I’m not gonna talk about contractors. I changed my bloggin’ mind at church today, well sort of. The issue of not getting a guy to call me back about a bathroom vanity switcheroo or a laundry room sink disaster is not such a big deal. Plus, the garage door opener chain broke while I’ve been waiting for two floor jobs to be addressed at my workplace. Okay, there is plenty to gripe about with construction incompleteness, some of which I can do myself. The problem is that I can earn more money per hour and be happy with my work than if I try to use my clumsy hands to lay a floor or edge carpet or replace a sink. These are sinkholes for me to fall into and I don’t need the stress of my construction failures laughing at me from my daughter’s bathroom mirror as I cut another hose or pipe or board too short. I have done a lot of the work that surrounds me here at my home computer. I see my construction flaws daily, and no, I am not a perfectionist. So, I’m willing to pay $40 and $50 an hour for a crafty guy to bring some of my mess back to functionality, cuz living with physical incompleteness gets annoying in the First World. You know, you just want the mess or inconvenience to go away.

But today as Pastor Kyle spoke on James 1: 1-4, he focused on the trials in our lives that produce perseverance. I happen to like perseverance, tenacity, even stubbornness. Today’s post is the result of me destroying a finished blog I had written on legacies, complete with three photos. Somehow I clicked the wrong tag and blew up my first post 195. I took that as a sign to go in a different direction. It was a bit pompous and presumptuous. I go there often, I’m afraid. Anyway, Kyle’s second example of a trial was that of losing a child, how that can destroy one’s faith in Christ and be a faith wedge. I was struck emotionally and spiritually because almost 30 years ago my wife and I lost our second daughter at birth.  Her name was Lisa Ellen. She would be 30 next month, but I guess that is a pleasant redundancy for an old father who never held her.

It was complicated. She had a diaphragmatic hernia, which means that her lungs had no space to develop in utero. Her abdominal wall was perforated and her viscera pushed her lungs into submission. That’s okay in the womb, but you need lungs once you are born. Literally her birth was her death. She could not get that first gasping breath when she was delivered. She didn’t cry; she couldn’t. As she struggled to live in a breathless world, the delivery room turned into an E.R. code blue. My wife and I turned numb… and stayed numb for a year, maybe two. Yeah, that was a rough time in the silent valley of the shadow of death. Even thirty years later we get a dark feeling whenever we drive by the old farmhouse we lived in at the time… the baby’s nursery was set up across the hall from our bedroom. The crib with a mobile on it sat empty. I remember waking up next to the crib one night, having dreamed that she had cried. We had to take it down and pack all that stuff away along with our hopes and dreams for that little girl. I was 28. My oldest, and only daughter at the time, Erin was 2.5 years old.  She gave me Michael Jackson’s album, “Friller”, a week before Lisa died. I was so devastated that I don’t think I ever processed her young grief. It was all a blur. I just recall an insensitive nurse asking how we wanted to dispose of the body. She was impatient to be efficient and could not give us any grace.

For two years we were unfulfilled. The holes in our hearts were the size of little feet and tiny hands we could not touch.  We languished in anguish. We cried a lot and fell into a dark blue funk. It was not just grief but hopelessness as the barren months went by. It had been way too easy to get pregnant when we weren’t trying; now it seemed tragically impossible. I felt sad for Erin as a lonely only child. However, in this bleak space we found a closer place with God. I am sure that if we had been in charge of the script of our lives we would not have lingered in pain and hurt for so long. But that’s how God scripted it. Finally in 1986 we did get pregnant. We were filled with joy and trepidation. We knew how great and how awful a delivery room could be.

There was no debate on the name once we knew that it was a girl. Grace, it had to be Grace, undeserved favor of the Lord. A gift. An unearned blessing or reward. In late December of that year our Gracer the Eraser showed up, healthy and spunky and funny. Her presence healed the deep wounds that we had suffered. It felt like we had been crawling across broken glass for two years, shredding ourselves as we attempted to solve the problem of infant absence. Suddenly all that disappeared. We were complete.

So, Lowe’s might call next week and we could have the vanity by Easter, maybe. My floor tiles remain stacked at my office waiting for someone who wants to deal them like a deck of cards. We lift the garage door for now. It’s all good cuz it’s all meaningless stuff  that doesn’t matter.  My completeness is not sold in any aisle anyway. Life is a gift, Blog friends.

161. First Day of School

Back to school feels eerie this year. It’s unusually cool. This chilly air may actually help the kids accept going back into the warehouses of education, which are starting to resemble super-sized box stores. But honestly, these crisp sunny days are the choicest fruits of summer, far superior to the hazy days of June and July that oozed fat sweat drops of humidity which collected in fleshy creases and overlaps. No, days like these are brisk, sharply defined, cool and brilliant… and precious.

Heather downstairs was late coming across the parking lot, and I pretended that it mattered to me, tapping my left wrist as if I had a watch, which I don’t.

Flustered as usual, Heather gushed, “First day of school and I had to take the kids in…and my daughter’s soccer coach murdered his wife and killed himself last night. And I had to break that to my daughter this morning. She loved her coach and his two sons. She cried. I said it was an accident. Some other day we’ll say what it really was. Can you believe that? Have a nice first day, Sweetie.” Disturbing as a snake in a bird’s nest, gulping down hatching eggs whole.

Whoa! How do you do that? Kill your wife and then yourself as your two innocent sons sleep? The lady at the coffee shop had been mumbling about this murder/suicide twenty minutes earlier. “I would have just left,” she offered. Another patron reading the morning paper suggested that at 3:30 a.m. the wife may have been asleep. Single gunshot to the head. Boom. Over. The how and when are covered, but why? No reason can justify killing the mother of your two sons, leaving them orphaned. It smells like a guy who was out of control and tried to regain control with a gun. We may never know all the details since he killed the only other witness, himself. And yet, we think somehow that sense can be sifted from the ashes of senselessness. You may as well burn the newspaper and then try to read its ashes.

These sorts of stories are becoming ordinary events. When we moved out of the D.C. beltway madness in 1980, my wife and I rarely heard or read of a local killing in our rural Franklin County. Someone would be killed while hunting, perhaps mistaken for a turkey, but cold or hot blooded murder was pretty rare. Now, it happens with regularity. I don’t blame guns; they do not fire themselves in the night at point blank range. However, I am perplexed by a lack of emotional regulation, mostly by men who feel threatened by a wife or girl friend who is leaving. Not that women haven’t done the same thing. There was the lady at the mall a few years ago who shot at her husband repeatedly but was a bad shot, killing some glass and a couple of mannequins at J.C. Penney. How is it that a person gets so completely overwhelmed by rage or jealousy that killing their loved one seems like a logical choice? In that moment the loved one becomes a coiled rattlesnake with super toxic venom; it’s kill or be killed at some reptilian level of consciousness. Blogitzers, we need to stay out of that reptile zone or risk becoming a rattlesnake that strikes and eats its mate.

And school, somehow schools and school children keep coming up as preferred targets for out of control young men with arsenals at hand. How is it that so many disconnected young men seem to all arrive at the same conclusion– go to a public school and kill as many folks as possible. Why not rush a nursing home or hospital? Why a school? I don’t blame videogames either. Even though they seem to be training grounds for extreme violence. The fact remains: millions play them obsessively but few of the players offend. I don’t like the obsession with videogames, but folks always find something to obsess over.

Here’s the sad fact: Human life is not sacred to humans. Not even little kids’ lives. If it were, what would our world look like? Unimaginable grace would flow from one to another in all our relationships, husband to wife, parent to child, neighbor to neighbor, teacher to student, provider to customer, employer to employee. Utopia would be someplace near instead of nowhere. If I treated you as holy and you treated me as holy, wow. We’d both be holy and honor one another with words and deeds. We’d spend a lot more time thinking and praying than running around doing and competing. Holiness requires a lot more meditation, I think. We’d have to live in smaller units because of the demands of holiness (which means “set apart” for starters); and then the practical application of holiness would limit group sizes, don’t you think? How many holy men does it take to change a light bulb? None, they don’t need light; they are light bearers, radiating truth like neon angels in the desert darkness. Oddly though, they seem to be born in or live in deserts.

But human life is sacred to God, so the more we choose to honor and seek out God, the more we must treat human life as sacred. This opens a huge can of worms from abortion to euthanasia and cloning and war and famine and immigration and poverty. The easiest way to deal with the clamoring of all these issues is to get rid of God, but that just gets one back into chasing his own tail or shooting his loved ones. I wish it were simpler, like finding limes fought off scurvy. Simple. Or the world is round not flat. Simple. God values all life; and if we value God, then we must also value all life. Hard.

Perhaps if that were the first lesson taught on this first day of school, we would have some small holy tile moments that comprise the universal mosaic of sacred life.