Monday, June 29, 2009

I have been quiet, I know

These are days that call for me to reflect, to hold my words and thoughts close, to share with those I can see in person, to let things ruminate and mature before they become public. There is no major crisis, no depression (thank God), nothing more than days that call me to listen more than speak, to attend more than act.

I have been quiet, I know; but it’s a good kind of quiet.


Monday, June 22, 2009

to a friend, on the death of her father

there are days where life
seems to stretch out like a
great plain, endless expanse
melting into the horizon

this is not one of those days

today is a fresh amputee
cut down to a stump of sadness
the expected assassinated
while we slept and awakened

to the now and the not here

let us cling to each other
like refugees like orphans
he is not here but we are
we are here together

and we cannot stop the pain

only share it and trust
as we hold each other
that we are being held
across death and dimensions

by the beautiful broken hands of God


music to start the summer

One of my favorites: "They say that these are not the best of times, but they're the only times I've ever known . . ."


Monday, June 15, 2009

old friends

Ginger and I have spent today unpacking.

Yes, I know we’ve been in Durham for a year and a half, and in our house for over a year. But we’ve had a stack of boxes sitting in the shed in the back yard all that time waiting for us to make room: boxes of books and CDs and the stuff I have to paint with and to make cards and candles. Now things are out of the boxes. The books and such have found shelves on which to sit, but the studio/office is filled with stacks of papers and boxes of paints and paper scraps. And then there are the boxes of photographs and affirmation cards – the real treasures.

In the summer of 1983, I went to youth camp with First Baptist Richardson, thanks to my friend, Gene Wilkes, who was the Youth Minister. The first morning of camp during the Sunshine Show, which was thirty or forty-five minutes of music blared across the camp to let everyone wake up after breakfast, the kids began to gather in the worship area and several of them went to the microphones and began calling names for mail call. The cards they were handing out were “affirmation cards,” notes they wrote to one another with messages of encouragement, hope, and friendship. When I moved on the be Youth Minister at University Baptist Church in Fort Worth, I took the practice with me, and then on to churches where Ginger served in Winchester and Marshfield, Massachusetts, and my last stint as the Youth Guy at First Congregational Church in Hanover.

And I think I’ve hung on to almost every last card that I received. If I don’t have them all, I have most of them. I know. I found them again today, along with stacks of pictures that flooded my mind and heart with stories and memories.

And music. Along with the pictures, I found some CDs, among which was Simon and Garfunkel’s Bookends:

A time it was
It was a time
A time of innocence
A time of confidences

Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They're all that's left you
When we studied the grief process during my CPE days, they told us a normal grief cycle lasts eighteen months to three years. Though we landed in Durham doing about seventy-five miles an hour, both starting work within forty-eight hours of driving into town, and finding ourselves in a place where we feel a great deal of resonance and acceptance, we left behind almost two decades of friends and memories in Massachusetts, which is where we had spent all but about three months of our married lives. Perhaps the boxes had to sit in the shed until we were ready to unpack the last -- and some of the most self-defining -- things we own.

I’m not sure we could have gotten to it any sooner. And we tried.

Thumbing through the pictures and affirmation cards helped me realize what has replaced the grief is gratitude. I still miss Massachusetts. This week, after reading Facebook notes about old friends heading to camp again, I still miss it. It’s not so much that the yearning for disappears as, it seems, the grief is replaced by gratitude for the tether of love and memory. In the face of the hard realities that we cannot all be together in the same place and life moves on just as we do, I find myself sitting with stacks of colored index cards and photographs that remind me there is a dimension to our existence that runs deeper or wider or higher or whatever word would describe a direction we cannot completely comprehend that lets those words and images that are now years old still have life. Real life in real time.

One of our new favorite TV shows is In Plain Sight, which centers around Mary Shannon, a US Marshall who works with the Federal Witness Protection Program. It is a show about people who have to move without being able to take their memories, or anything else for that matter, with them. A couple of weeks ago, the show ended with this paragraph of monologue that has stayed with me:
Before the Big Bang, before time itself, before matter, energy, velocity, there existed a single immeasurable state called yearning. This is the special force that on the day before there were days obliterated nothing into everything. It is the unseen strings tying planets to stars. It is the maddening want we feel from first breath to last light.
I’m grateful I am able to miss those with whom I used to share laughs and tears, meals and movies and the strange rituals of friendship. I’m grateful for the yearning to be with them again, because the creative power of that love is stronger than the grief that comes with loss, strong enough to let me unpack those memories in my new home, my new place, and begin to write new messages of love and hope to the people who surround me here.


Sunday, June 14, 2009


If you were speaking in parables
this afternoon, would you still talk
about seeds and birds and trees?

You see, what we know of farming
are supermarket shelves of Costa Rican
bananas and Peruvian asparagus;

a flower box of basil in the yard,
summer trips to the farmer’s market.
(Why is it so expensive?)

In our world of uniform tomatoes,
our apples sit, shiny and stacked in rows,
our Blackberries know nothing of time.

We fly so fast down the highway
we fail to see the clusters of muscadine
on the fence line, wild onions in the ditch.

I’m answering my own question. True
theology isn’t thirsting for a technological
upgrade: it’s still God 1.0: Christological kudzu.

Tell me the story again, in this summer
of kale and catastrophe, greens and grace;
and I will do my best to see and hear.


Friday, June 12, 2009

thanks for the music

I was checking up on a few things before heading for bed when I saw that Kenny Rankin, a singer-songwriter and awesome guitarist whom I have followed over the years, died earlier in the week from lung cancer. Here then, in the closing minutes of the day, I offer my gratitude for the music he brought to my life and offer you a chance to hear one of my favorites, “Haven’t We Met.”


Monday, June 08, 2009


When he first heard the words,
he was the first to hear them:
“You must be born again.”
He was old and the metaphor
muddled his mind: go back
into my mother’s womb--
at this age?

Jesus, however, was not about
to forsake his role as midwife.
There in the darkness, he called
the old man to think of something
other than dying, to let his heart
hear he was the one whom
God so loved.

When my grandfather died,
he was only five years older
than I am right now, maybe no
older than Nicodemus that night.
What kills us all in bits and pieces
is living as though love is earned;
birth is a gift.

The God who birthed the universe
has chosen to spend everyday
since in labor, in the pain of
birth and rebirth, a tenacious
expression of love, a ferocious
gift of grace we cannot deserve,
only receive.


Saturday, June 06, 2009

finding words

There are days I go out looking for words and, then, there are days that words come out looking for me, or at least stand hitchhiking by the road I’m on such that I can’t help but stop and pick them up. Today was a hitchhiking day. On my usual wandering through The Writer’s Almanac, I found this poem by Julie Cadwallader-Staub, who (from what I could find) lives in Vermont, works for a nonprofit, and writes poetry. Today was her first time to be selected by Garrison Keillor, and I am so glad he chose to let her poem flag me down this evening.


The air vibrated
with the sound of cicadas
on those hot Missouri nights after sundown
when the grown-ups gathered on the wide back lawn,
sank into their slung-back canvas chairs
tall glasses of iced tea beading in the heat

and we sisters chased fireflies
reaching for them in the dark
admiring their compact black bodies
their orange stripes and seeking antennas
as they crawled to our fingertips
and clicked open into the night air.

In all the days and years that have followed,
I don't know that I've ever experienced
that same utter certainty of the goodness of life
that was as palpable
as the sound of the cicadas on those nights:

my sisters running around with me in the dark,
the murmur of the grown-ups' voices,
the way reverence mixes with amazement
to see such a small body
emit so much light.
The phrase that made me pull over and stop was “that same utter certainty of the goodness of life” because I’m acutely aware of the flow of sadness and struggle in the lives of so many folks around me these days. And I’m also aware of my propensity to allow the minutiae of my life to build up into a layer of funk and frustration that blinds me from gratitude. Our friends Lori and Terry came over for dinner last night. Lori was talking about the caladiums starting to bloom in their yard and Terry, who had spent the day power washing the mold and mildew off the side of their house, said he didn’t see the flowers because he was too fixated on the “gunk.”

“Once you start looking for it, you can get obsessed,” he said.

But he had his harmonicas with him and I pulled out my guitar and we played and sang our way to a couple of cicada moments, telling stories and sharing laughter late into the evening, giving us a chance to brush up against the goodness and lay the gunk aside, even if only for a few hours.

One of the questions I regularly ask myself is, “Why does my faith matter to me?” Why am I a Christian, a believer, a follower of Jesus? What difference does it make? (Perhaps that last one is better asked, “What difference do I let it make?”) For all of the great sweeping answers I might give about the fate of the world, I’m mostly asking on a day-t0-day level: what does it matter that I am a Christian while I chop celery and onions?

The poet reminded me of the answer: that same utter certainty of the goodness of life.

I’m not claiming hope as a uniquely Christian possession, and I am saying, to paraphrase an old hymn, my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus. (Wow. I’m not sure this blog has ever sounded quite that evangelical.) One of the underpinning message of the Incarnation is it is good to be human. We were birthed out of God’s imagination, breathed into existence as evidence of that same utter certainty of the goodness of life. Jesus came into this world as a human being to call us to be fully human: full of grace and gratitude, awake to all that God has for us to see and do. That sense of goodness doesn’t disregard the suffering or overlook the grief, but it does say I am here to do more than get mired down in the details or let my heart get covered over with gunk.

In my ramblings, I’m afraid I might be weaving two or three strands into a confusing cord (chord?), so I want to be clear. I am, as I said, aware of several close to me who are hurting deeply for various and very serious reasons. I’m not saying they are covered with gunk. I am saying the poem today did a little power washing of its own to remind me how easy it is for my eyes to get gunked up such that I can’t see those who need so desperately for me to remember I can be a carrier of compassion and redemption, should I choose to be the human being I was created to be. I, like the cicadas and the fireflies, have a chance to offer a glimpse of that utter goodness to loved ones sitting in the dark if I am willing to look at my life as more a gift and a call and less as a series of frustrations, which is another way of saying I can choose to incarnate my faith, to let reverence mix with amazement. Or not.

I woke up this morning with an old hymn in my head and found myself singing in my mind:
stand up stand up for Jesus
ye soldiers of the cross
life high the royal banner
ye must not suffer loss
from victory unto victory
his army shall he lead
till every foe is vanquished
and Christ is Lord indeed
The odd thing is we didn’t sing that hymn last night and the whole battle metaphor doesn’t do much for me spiritually. With all my heart I know we must suffer loss after loss after loss if we stand up and follow Jesus. My faith isn’t worth much if it’s focused on looking for a fight. I’m grateful, then, that this poem flagged me down in the waning hours of this early evening and asked me to hear a different song, a cicadian rhythm of redemption accompanied with a firefly light show inviting me to welcome the gathering dark with reverence and amazement.

You’re welcome to ride along; there’s plenty of room.


P.S. -- There are new recipes here and here.

Friday, June 05, 2009

shameless commerce

Last year I published a book through called Seven Summers at the Beach that included poetry and recipes from this blog as a way of saying goodbye and thank you for our years in Massachusetts. Lulu was hard to find and the shipping charges were outlandish. This week, however, Lulu informed me that my book was selected to be sold in the Amazon Marketplace and you can now find it here for a more reasonable shipping price.

Should you ever desire a copy.


Tuesday, June 02, 2009


we mark our seasons with changes
new menus for lunch and dinner
it’s the way we say goodbye
to strawberries and hello
to the tomatoes, who
show up only for summer

the blueberries are coming in
and both sweet corn and
sweet onions; this is the
season of vegetables,
and – oh, yes – peaches
but only for a short while

I can say with some certainty
I am not a vegetable
look at my calendar:
there is no sense of season
each week looks like the other
not that much changes

As I walk in my garden
and return, my hands
smelling like basil and sage,
I wonder how I grow and
ripen -- or if I do
without some season-ing


Monday, June 01, 2009

at my window

Steve Earle has a new record of Townes Van Zandt covers, one of the more complicated artists and people on the current scene paying tribute to his even more complicated mentor. Between what I have been reading and listening to this evening there is much to unpack, and I’m running out of night in which to do it. So I will leave you with a song and come back to say more later.

At My Window
(Townes Van Zandt)

At my window
Watching the sun go
Hoping the stars know
It's time to shine
Daydreams aloft on dark wings
Soft as the sun streams
At days decline

Living is laughing
Dying says nothing at all
Baby and I are laying here
Watching the evening fall

Time flows
Through brave beginnings
And she leaves her endings
Beneath our feet
Walk lightly upon their faces
Leave gentle traces
Upon their sleep

Living is dancing
Dying does nothing at all
Baby and I are laying here
Wathing the evening fall

Three dimes
Hard luck and good times
Fast lines and low rhymes
Ain't much to say
Feel fine
Feel low and lazy
Feel grey and hazy
Feel far away

Living is sighing
Dying ain't flying so high
Baby and I are lying here
Watching the day go by