Thursday, December 30, 2004

Slogans with Ambitions

The other day I happened to drive by a glossy whiskey billboard, newly decked out for the holidays. "THE LONGER YOU WAIT…THE BETTER IT GETS" the slogan suggested.

A weak-kneed colt contrasted a stallion in full racing regalia, galloping across a finish line. The prerequisite amber bottle glowed prominently between.

Maybe my mind had taken a pessimistic turn that afternoon, but I thought, Why not show a third picture, maybe ten years down the road? You know, the emaciated old horse abandoned in his paddock. Or maybe just a bag of dog food…

To be fair, the billboard wasn’t that awful; it just grated on a perpetual sore spot of mine, an entrenched dislike for cultural assumptions masquerading as a priori truth. When people act as if reality changes, the world magically realigning itself just because they made an assertion, it always gets me.

"The longer you wait, the better it gets?" Will any of us be making that claim in 90 years? Not about alcohol, anyway. I know, I know—that’s not really the point of the ad. But blunt assertions, absorbed gradually over a lifetime, aren’t without effect.

I can think of a few more cultural credos which imply tacit "absolutes." Consider the Budweiser creed: life revolves around beer and flirtatious women (and in that order). And this, it is casually suggested, is the essence of what we consider TRUE.

But truth, to be true, must be supportable at every level. In the case of the Budweiser creed, a host of logical assumptions follow, none of which are really sustainable. Such as, What’s the role of family? (Do kids even exist in the Bud universe?) How about responsible work, the kind you do when you’re not living for the weekend? And where can I find a case for women as multifaceted beings, not objects?

Ultimately, cultural premises with absolutist aspirations are nothing new. The familiar content of our wanna-be truisms should tip us off to the fact that this phenomenon is anything but modern. As the old Greek idiom ran, "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die." Sounds pretty TRUE to me.

"Ah, c’mon!" you might tease me. "Those are just commercials, man, not life! People are smart enough to know the difference."

To which I would agree, "Yeah, people certainly are."

But I’m not convinced they do. So until we’re all fully prescient and entirely aware of life’s subtle nuances, truth needs to be proved before it’s truth.



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Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The Perfect Storm

A Christmas Retrospective

I’m finally breaking my blissful Christmas silence. Three days after the fact, I feel adequately rested and coherent enough to attempt a post. True, our apartment is still formless chaos. Gifts are strewn around, chocolate piled ridiculously high. But as Shakespeare’s Henry V says (with questionable veracity), “All things be ready if our minds be so.” My mind is still harbored in Christmas, but the blogger impulse is tugging at the moorings. And actually, the two motives don’t need to disagree.

On Christmas Eve I discovered that—Surprise!—blogs can actually be relevant to “real” life. I had the opportunity to share a devotional “meditation” at our Christmas Eve service, a chance for us to think deeply about Christmas, and a previous post gave me my theme. I guess this blogging thing isn’t totally unrelated to my waking existence after all.

Christmas Eve became even more unique when Lindsay and I arrived home to a pre-Christmas surprise. If I may offer a variation on some oft-parodied lines:

‘Twas the night before Christmas
and all through the house
scarce an outlet was stirring—
just the ones by the couch.

And so it was. Most of our apartment was without power and we didn’t have heat—Santa had played us a dirty trick. This precipitated* a change in our evening’s plans. After Lindsay phoned the electricity people, she moved her base of wrapping operations into the living room, and I holed up in the study, the only two rooms with light. We put on warm clothing (since it was below zero outside) and waited for the power to come back on, which it did, sometime after midnight. A couple hours later, we had both finished wrapping our presents, doubly grateful for the gifts of Warmth and Light.

In the aftermath of this Christmas, I know that an intent focus on Christ “the Light” is the best way, really the only way, to weather this season. We call it a holiday, but Christmas is bittersweet, a time when expectations are trampled and painful absences become glaring. Christmas reveals an emptiness that no thoughtful gift can fill.

Sometimes we come away realizing that, despite our good intentions, “the world is too much with us,” and “peace on earth” is still only a good idea. Christmas, in truth, is an agent of sobriety. Apart from Christ, this season reveals merely holiday clutter, too many calories, and a billion silent people, wearily lengthening their orbits on a darkened planet. Separated from Jesus, Christmas does no one any real favors. Christ-less Christmas is a season of storms—sadness, irritation, ingratitude, stress and hurry. A cold apartment piled with gift bags but no light or heat.

But with Jesus…the storm of Christmas is Sweet. A hurricane may wreck your house, it may even kill you. And the tsunami of Christ, in a sense, is no different. When he arrived, he brought an ocean of spiritual sea-change, brimming to overflow the world, destroying human pretensions to grandeur. The waves from that arrival are still with us; at Christmas they lap most persistently on the beach of our awareness. If the season is void of Jesus, the flood may leave us cold and shivering. But if we know him, we splash in the waves that reduce us to who and what we really are—human and poor—and leave us ready for a glorious sunrise.



* This word appears in association with the Vocabulary Reclamation Project, which has been revitalized thanks to Norma, who knows a good word when she sees one.

Precipitated: Some may think of rain, snow, hail, etc., and this (precipitation) would not be unrelated. But the thought here is swift causation. Synonyms include “caused,” forced,” “provoked,” with an emphasis on the immediacy of the action. As in, “The former author of BitterSweetLife found that his surprise bestseller precipitated (brought on rapidly) a whole new lifestyle—one involving lots of gourmet coffee…and naps.”



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Christmas Coffee


After the pre-Christmas surprise, some concerns were more pressing than others.



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Thursday, December 23, 2004

What the Father Saw

Eyes see a hole in a stone wall,
Eyes see a babe within.
Eyes see a sinking eastern star,
Eyes see world walled in.

Years ago, I tried to write this tatter of a poem, reaching after an elusive sense of time and place, a hidden part of Christmas I did not really understand. I could only feel it nearby, like a snatch of conversation carried on the wind, revealing only clues to who was speaking, hints of what they said, a mere suggestion of the gist of their matter.

What I pursued, and could not immediately catch in my poem, I can only describe now as a sensation of beautiful alienation. What must astronauts feel when they turn and see earth orbiting, alone and separate from them, for the first time? How does it feel, as a parent, to suddenly see in your own child a startling, enlightening glimpse of yourself? And how would we be changed, if just once, we saw Christmas, not through veils of tinsel and department store receipts, but in some small part, as it really was?

On Christmas Eve, I wish I could sit on a hilltop with wind sighing in my ears. I wish we all could spend Christmas Eve on a hill near Bethlehem, our small camp fires the only barriers between us and the stars. Perhaps then the odds would be evened, and we would have, at least, a fighting chance. A chance to listen with angels’ ears, and tune our hearts to a hidden frequency, deeper than sound, deeper than space, deeper than time itself.

Perhaps then we would notice when history suddenly stopped. Stopped, and began to reverse itself. As it did.

The shepherds were not the only ones stricken with awe at Christmas. That night, when scrubby hilltop pastures exploded in a divine inferno—part Handel’s Messiah, part July 4th, part pure terror—there were others who knew the heart-stopping significance of this act of God.

The angels, as they spoke the Father’s message, did more than deliver it—they lived it, reveled in it, rejoiced to tell it. The angels were not humdrum; they were amazed themselves. And I wonder, How much did the angels know? They must have known more than the shepherds, more even than the discerning Magi, more than Mary and Joseph.

I wonder, did the angels have insider information? Did they see the gleam in the Father’s eye as He placed his son upon the stage? Did they smile as the Ancient of Days began his end-game? Did they understand, that night, the tactical brilliance and the devastating sacrifice of the Lord of Hosts? Did they understand, suddenly, that a great war was over?

In a pasture, shepherds throw themselves to the ground, struck dumb, as great lights transform the sky.

In a stable—or a lean-to, or a hole in a stone wall—a young couple and several household animals hear the first cries of a voice that will later steal a kingdom from a killing world.

Magi, traveling from sand dunes through stable-yard muck, carry a king’s ransom to a child they have never seen.

And angels, terrible in their joy and knowledge, are the witnesses.

But what of the unseen hand, directing each scene, the Great One speaking into the darkness, commanding each actor, cueing each angel-narrator in this vivid drama, a story overshadowing earth? I wish that we could find him.

On Christmas Eve, if we sat on a hilltop in Bethlehem, burning our campfires in a fitful breeze, and then looked through the stars, and ran our eyes across the Milky Way, and then looked farther—we would still not see the Father. He would remain beyond us, like a voyager looking down on earth. And yet he would be sitting there beside us. If only we could find his eyes, in the starlight, turn to him, and gauge his expression. What would we see in his face? And what would he say, on the last night of advent, the final moment of that era of the earth?

Perhaps he would open our eyes before he spoke to us, so that we could see—or rather, feel—the noisy praises of his world. I hope that he would let us witness the creation’s carrying on, the silent springiness of desert cats, mice running and leaping in the hay, the wild weaving of branches in the wind, V-shaped wings cutting the night sky in airborne celebration. And then perhaps we would awake to the world’s last night—the world’s last night as an empty kingdom.

And then the Father would speak.

Your eyes can see a hole in a stone wall,” he would say.
Your eyes can see the baby within.
Your eyes can see that sinking eastern star; but”—and here he would smile, perhaps even laugh! Perhaps joyful tears would run from his eyes as he said:
“Your eyes can see all these things, and still you miss what has happened tonight. Your eyes do not see the true condition of the earth, or what I have just done to it. But my eyes see it. And my eyes see a kingdom with a king! My eyes see an earth that is bought and paid for!
My eyes see world walled in!”

And then, perhaps, we would understand.

It is the Father’s nature to see through things. And if he sat beside us, and spoke to us, perhaps for that instant we would see things as he did.

We would see the gutted kingdom of the world, walls lying in ruins, gates shattered, towers reduced to rubble. And then, from the east, from Bethlehem, as the sun rose we would hear a snatch of song, a distant shout, and the tramp of feet on the road.



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Monday, December 20, 2004

Witnesses

A sonnet of the Shakespearean variety; this is a Christmas poem.

Sometimes, late on a winter's day,
I sense a spirit, soaring high,
And my heart stops me and I stay
And look upon the silent sky.
So distant, so removed and pale;
The air is filled with quiet light
As lingering rays begin to fail
And evening fades into the night.
I'm stirred to thought by wisps of mist
Of witnesses who've passed away,
Who also searched a sky like this,
Just as mysterious in their day.
And I stand in the night and hear
Only wind? as stars appear.


© Ariel Vanderhorst

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Moment of Truth

It happened near the kitchen stove.

We were having a quiet evening at home when the thought struck me. Lindsay was at the table—cutting up colored paper and sizing down photos for a scrapbook—and I was in the kitchen—ripping hunks of cold turkey off our Thanksgiving carcass and eating them—when I realized, Men and women are really different.*

It's moments such as these, accumulated over a lifetime, that gradually coalesce into something called gender sensitivi-uh, wisdom.


* And no, for you smart-alecs out there, this wasn’t the first time this realization has struck me. And a word on "smart alec": Was Alec a person, that he was so smart? I mean, why the glowing testimonial? I've known a few Alecs, and none of them seemed to justify this handle. Where did this phrase come from? And since we're on the topic (not really) of gender differences, why not a "smart alexis?" And then, to address another important question, why shouldn't the phrase be adapted for our times? I mean, how about a "smart rushbo?"...really, any brilliant person with a two-syllable name could fill the slot. A "smart stanley"...or "smart lauren"...but two-syllable names beginning with a would be especially suitable. I suppose you may know where I'm going with this...



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Friday, December 17, 2004

The Christmas We Miss



"You are the God who works wonders…" Psalm 77

Christmas is wonder-filled. There’s the confetti-snow, jingling bells and crooning Hollywood stars, not to mention Tom Hanks and Polar animation. Then there’s the real vintage stuff, Bing Crosby, that chubby Kringle fellow, and the little kid and his b b gun. But this is not wonder.

Crazed by genuine Trivial Pursuit, our society goes berserk this time of year: Here, have a new Care Bear,™ try on this GAP™ sweater with matching scarf and nose ring, look at this Return-a-th’-King-extended-edition-DVD-with-50-minutes-extra-footage-and-limited-edition-bookends!™ Desperate shoppers, linked by a common bond of frustration, tell each other wordlessly, This is madness.

And it is. But so what? Beneath a veneer of Sponge Bob™ and the “serious” Oscar contenders, Christmas is still about wonder.
*
Imagine yourself alone. You stand on a windswept hilltop, far from city lights, and anchor yourself in the center of a great silence. Only the wind sighs, tugging at your cloak, and then—flick—a solitary star winks on in the night. You watch it hover, draw closer, then bank like a silent ‘copter and float away, westward, like an animal asking you to follow. The star hums a melody that you feel rather than hear. Since when are stars happy?
*
A recent song runs, “God of wonders, beyond our galaxy…” But what of the wonders within our galaxy? What if we forget, for the moment, the Milky Way and distant nebula, and consider the living Truth that intersected earth? Christ’s proximate, earthbound miracle is enough to stun the senses.
*
Imagine the journey’s end. The star had its way with you; really, who could have denied that invitation? And now…How can you explain the illogical warmth of this night, like invisible fire flaring from icy cobblestones? A golden light illuminates each face in the drafty shack. You feel forced to silence by the awful air of mystery; are there ghosts here?—or rather, those hidden old-world beings, angels—are they nearby? And yet, you must speak! Breathing in is like sipping wine, a heady, bubbling, joy. You look down at the child and irrepressible buoyancy collides with epic significance, melding like a bittersweet fragrance. So you open your mouth, and wonder what will come out. Laughter? A sob? Whatever you said then, it was somehow fitting, and, like the air, golden
*
“Such knowledge is too high, I cannot grasp it”(Psalm 139:6), admitted the psalmist of God’s omniprescience. What would he have said of the God who entered our world? And not merely to ghost through it, taking a look around—but a God who submitted to our corrupt social systems, breathed air sweeping off a mountain lake, shouted down those who wanted him dead…? A God whose mere birth was a threat to the establishment—his nativity as good as his own death warrant?
*
You step outside, returning to courtyard air. Somewhere, a dog barks. Overhead hangs a satisfied star, eloquent in its silence. Inside, a hungry child sparks worship with his cries. Inside, where just moments ago laughter had welled up and tears had fallen into freezing air—there had been an unanswerable question: Why? And now the question remains. It always will, you think, all the more beautiful for its irrationality. Why is he here? What reason can there be?—and still, He Was.
*
“I wonder as I wander,” penned songwriter John Niles, and his words are fitting.


I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus, the Savior, did come for to die.
For poor, ornery people
like you and like I
I wonder as I wander
Out under the sky.

Christmas, for me, bears kinship with one of Frost’s “winter” poems, and the forest that seems to call him with a mysterious voice, deeper-than-sound…


My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year...
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

In a similar way, Christmas calls to me—silently, ceaselessly. The mystery of Christmas can swallow a person whole. How can one confront this true story? I may as well ask the unfathomable question, Why did Christ come down? "Well, because He loves us." Yes, but why? An unbearably sweet secret. And so there is enough wonder in Christmas to satisfy our senses, more than enough. In fact, there is too much wonder, like brushing at a grey-blue sky with my fingertips. How can we reply, then, to a gift greater than earth and sky?

Two millennia ago, foreign nobles replied as best they could, following an unseasonable star hundreds of miles. Leaving sweeping dunes behind, they sloshed at last through barnyard muck, carrying a king’s ransom. And then what did they do? The only thing they could—they and a few more, Joseph and Mary, shepherds, other nearby lives; they did what they could.

Worshipped. Worshipped and wondered.



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Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Weary Genius

Despite an appearance of cheerful calm, the student was conflicted. A whole semester of labor, thousands of typed words, hours of reading and rereading—would it be enough? Everything, it seemed, hung in the balance.

On the eve of the crucial exam, a whirling cloud of emotions enveloped him. His normally relaxed forehead was creased. And despite his best efforts at mind control, a tranquil demeanor did little to dispel the demons that raged within.

Had he scanned the textbook thoroughly enough? Nearly every page bore the harsh marks of highlighter and pencil—but was this adequate? Perhaps each paragraph, no, each sentence, contained pearls of essential wisdom. Come morning, would his crown be a few gems short?

And what about the “source” material? Forced to prioritize, he’d focused on the original works, trusting that his instincts would guide him into brilliant elucidation later, in the heat of battle. But your academic combat skills are rusty, suggested a dubious voice.

And then there were the notes, copiously penned in black and blue (suggestive of mental bruises?). In past hours, their color spectrum had been expanded more widely, now featuring orange and a jaunty pink—not his preferred highlighter colors, but all he’d had to work with. Could this be considered ominous?

Flipping through his notes for the umpteenth time, he felt small details slipping from his brain like little kids running through screen doors. He couldn’t catch them all. They tickled a little as they ran, snickering, out his ears. Come back!

No doubt there were still a hundred small details to memorize—not counting the ones who had just escaped. But responsible study skills can only take you so far.

He got up and walked to the computer. Forget it. Not literally, but you know…

From here on out, the morning would just have to care for itself.



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Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Life Breaks Loose*



In the book of Isaiah (chapter 35), one of God’s “prophets” describes a picture unlike anything known to modern science. Isaiah writes about a series of events that will shake the second law of thermodynamics to its core.

His prophecy depicts rampant creative energy, vitality careening out of control, God’s irresistible power transforming everything it touches. We witness an inexplicable “re-creation.”

A wild spring blasts free from sand, geyser-ing up from an underground cavern to flood a wasteland. Green plants crack the joints of a blazing desert. A killing wilderness explodes into lush farmland. Death valley becomes an oasis. Life breaks loose.

But these (un)natural phenomena are only a frame for the truly shocking regenerative power at work. Because in the picture, Christ, an invincible catalyst, forces bodies and minds back into perfect wholeness as well:

Blind eyes revert to 20/20 vision, forget the contacts. The deaf regain a full spectrum of sound, not just improved hearing aids. Lame people are jumping, flexing their muscles, not gingerly hobbling around. Mute tongues start shouting in celebration—not tentatively testing their vocal range, but belting out gratitude. “Sorrow and sighing,” wrote Isaiah, “will flee away”—not temporarily forgotten, like the cubicle over a long weekend, but permanently gone.

All because Someone has arrived. These are the type of things that happen when Christ enters this world. It's the same transformative picture Jesus described when he said, “I come that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). A shocking departure from death and pain. A massive reversal of disintegration in both cells and souls.

Joseph and Mary were the first to embrace the divinity rising in their home, but in the end, Peter, James, John, all Christ’s friends, Israel, the Roman Empire, the entire eastern world, the earth…all felt the repercussions of a rampaging, indomitable life. And Jesus will return.

In the meantime, the same life-force is loose in his kingdom today. The spirit of Jesus lives in the hearts of his people, supplying a transformative power to be relied upon. “Counter-intuitive,” we might call it, because this vitality doesn’t fade with age, doesn’t die when it brushes death. Instead, spiritual deadness is obliterated by all-consuming life, like water erupting up from sand, swallowing the arid heat. Isaiah’s desert-garden images describe our souls.

The results in lives may be quiet and hidden or they may be spectacular. But the advancing power is relentless.

Christ looms near. Rioting life bears down hard.

In the sky, the sun burns less efficiently, its energy fading by miniscule degrees—inexorably colder. “Time,” as we call it, is winding down. But somewhere nearby, a foot is at the door. Christ’s spirit, living in hearts, tenses himself to rejoin his author. Someone is coming. The spirit moves expectantly, preparing us for that moment…the moment when the coming one will arrive. And as the spirit works life in us, he warns us,


Caution:
The regenerative power of Christ,
Like ocean waves,
Like lightning,
Like inevitable spring green,
May be described metaphorically
But is not symbolic.

So beware. Life is on the loose.

* Inspired by a sermon with the same title, 12.12.2004 - John Vanderhorst.




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Monday, December 13, 2004

The Shock Treatment

This morning, as Lindsay and I walked up to our car, I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. Wow, I can see the interior of our car so clearly, it looks like there’s no driver’s side window. Weird.

But as is often the case, there was a logical explanation for the apparent incongruity. It turned out that the driver’s side window was still there, it had just changed locations. Most of it was piled in the front seat. Token pieces of shattered glass covered the floor and stuck from the empty frame like stubby icicles. Someone had smashed the window in.

When something like this happens, I guess the first reaction is usually shock. Lindsay and I have occasionally seen other cars with broken out windows, but I’d always assumed the owners were the victims of someone’s personal vendetta. Or at least the vehicles seemed expensive enough to maybe yield something valuable. At any rate, it’s the kind of thing that you notice and subconsciously think, “That will never happen to me”…until it does.

At 7:15 I should have been dropping Lindsay off at work and driving off to take a final exam. Instead I was sweeping broken glass out of our car and looking in nearby dumpsters for my wallet. The shock had faded to a sick resignation, accompanied, after a few minutes, by a growing desire to find the perpetrator and bash his face in.

There was the fact that someone had violated our property—probably to buy booze. Then there was the specter of an exam I should be prepping for right now. Then there was the lost wallet—fortunately containing only about $10—but with all the accompanying hassle of canceling credit/debit cards, replacing assorted other cards and my driver’s license… Then we would need to call the insurance people and probably spend even more money on our car. Then there was the experience of driving around in winter with no window. Then there was the question of why this even had to happen…?

At some point I realized that all of these factors combined to make an excellent case for smouldering rage—which I indulged in for awhile and which wouldn’t make for very good reading.


The upshot of all this is, however, that I am really unacquainted with real suffering. In recent memory, this violation of property is the worst “violation” I’ve experienced; I’ve never been discriminated against, beat up, or anything worse. And despite the extreme inconvenience of this episode, I have to appreciate the fact that Lindsay and I have a serviceable car and that we do have money in the bank (at the moment) to pay insurance deductibles.

Sometimes it takes “shocking” accidents to reveal how good I have it. As the age-old query runs, “Should I accept good from the Lord and not evil?” (Job 2:10)

This question was made all the more compelling when I pulled my jacket out of the closet and discovered my wallet in a pocket, forgotten there yesterday. I never do that.

God wasn’t taken off guard by a vandal in the night. And I really have no right to be angry.



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Friday, December 10, 2004

A Table Turned

My friend and I sat at the bar,
eating sushi there for lunch,
talking about historic trends
and epic lies and truth and such
when he gave me an ironic glance and said,
“You’re still a Christian—how’s the crutch?
How’s it aging, that childish, feel-good first-century stuff?”
Mirroring his approach, I said,
“I see that you’ve been losing touch,
breathing is great and you should try it,
I never liked asphyxiation all that much.”
Blue in the face—“That’s how you see it?”
“That’s how I see it. Trust my hunch.”



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Thursday, December 09, 2004

How To Tell If Your Life Is Lacking Adventure

Last night Lindsay's parents invited us to join them for dinner at Jalapeno’s, a local Mexican place, and we eagerly complied. Jalapeno’s is arguably one of the better Mexican restaurants in town, which accounts for us going there fairly often, especially when someone else is buying.

To say we've been there "a few times" would be a gross understatement. So, as we pored over our menus, an array of familiar choices greeted us. Actually, there were only a couple of dinner options with whom I had yet to make an acquaintance. In a cursory way, I looked over the choices and old # 5, the infamous "Hombre" seemed to be calling my name. But then, "Why not branch out?" I thought.

It seemed like it would be somewhat ridiculous to go to the same restaurant dozens of times without trying every item on the dinner menu at least once. And so I made my decision. "I'll take the 'Old el Paso.'"

My father-in-law looked at me, esteem in his eyes. "It's good to try new things," he said. "I really respect that."

And that's when it struck me. I need to get out more.

Maybe next time we'll go to a different restaurant.



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Wednesday, December 08, 2004

I Should Have Been A Spy

A couple weeks ago Lindsay and I had just begun driving to our latest substitute teaching assignments when the unthinkable happened. I started speeding.

In and of itself, this might fail to make the “unthinkable” category. However, there were aggravating circumstances. Such as, I wasn’t pushing the accelerator.

Spooky.

Or it would have been, if we weren’t rocketing down a side street, velocity steadily increasing. As I fought the raging vehicle for control, my efficient mental processes were instantly kicked to another level—a James Bond-Jason Bourne Level. (Ever noticed the not-so-subtle parallelism there?) What to do?

First, and most obvious, I slammed on the brake. But braking when the accelerator seems to be floored has little effect. The brake pads huffed in protest. What next? I took the car out of gear. Caution: taking a manual transmission car out of gear while the accelerator is (apparently) floored creates a noise something like a sonic boom. (Or, to be more specific, like the roaring hum of a cloud of giant wasps.)

Synapses firing rapidly, I realized this solution was temporary. My eyes came to rest on the emergency brake. That might have been a mistake of epic proportions, but fortunately, another solution suggested itself.

I turned the car off. We coasted to the side of the street. I took a deep breath.

All of this, of course, had taken place in about 3.7 seconds. Well ok, maybe 5.9. Lindsay had handled the emergency fairly well, which is to say that her screams had not been piercing enough to shatter any of our windows, which would have really compounded the problem.

As it was, we emerged unscathed. Of course you’re wondering what the moral of the story is. I saved it for last because, frankly, it’s not very impressive. But here goes: When driving, always keep an eye on those little square floor carpets. They can slide up silently, secretly, and then—WHAP—take over your accelerator without warning. Don’t ask me how, just understand that these things happen. They could happen to you. And if they do, you too may be required to exercise Bond-Bourne-like reflexes without a moment’s notice.

Be ready.



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Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Weasel


[untitled1] A tasteful exhibit from one of our flowering local artists.

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Monday, December 06, 2004

Glory Days

A Post of Substance


“…The earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord,
as the waters cover the sea.” Isaiah 11:9

The days of the angels are behind us and the long afternoons when Christ’s sandals kicked up dust in Galilee have passed. But greater days lie ahead. A new kind of knowing will engulf earth. Glory no longer veiled, Christ will reappear.

How do waters “cover” the sea? Simply, they don’t. They make up the sea. They “cover” the sea like air and sunlight “cover” the sky. Likewise the coming revelation of God’s character will fill the earth, saturate it like ozone. But this will be no propaganda campaign; no blimps, no pamphlets no shiny mailers. God will no longer advertise.

This time it will be Christ himself, tangible and true, all-knowing still, invincible as always, invisible no longer. Never again will we listen for the quiet word, search for a glimmer or trace of his spirit. The days of crying after Christ in wilderness, searching him out in solitude, stumbling across him in an ancient book…those days will be gone. In their place comes a cataclysmic inundation, a cloud of knowing, a flood of God. These will be different days.

I snatch at the picture like we catch at fading dreams. There was that moment, I think…

Like that glimpse of coming dawn, when the sky is still dark, but the dark moves, shudders, then shifts aside, unraveling in moments before an inexorable displacer

Or that summer day when joy was immanent, divinity breezing on the wind, a Christ I could almost touch, near-tangible like a spun-gold sunbeam, elusive blessing caressing my skin—only a glimpse:

Cottonwoods wave, wind streams,
world turns with no lever,
clouds slide on sunbeams,
today I could live forever.

Or so it seems. It seems that way for an instant, an hour, even a day…because there was a glimpse…a glimpse of something impending, a presence nearby but unrevealed.

I’ve heard such moments grow rarer as we grow older and I hope to prove this false. Hopkins penned,

Ah! as the heart grows older, it will come to such sights colder

and no doubt he is often right.

Sometimes spiritual impulses are like physical reflexes, losing strength and resiliency with age, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Cynicism does not have to set in. Spiritual blindness is not a necessary phase. Heart weariness is not par for the course. When we’re talking about Christward impulses, why couldn’t the opposite be true?

Why not go on seeing the invisible, touching the intangible, knowing the unknowable—as much as I can here—until the day when the present limitations on Jesus’ nearness are shattered? This is, shall I say, the plan. I’ve seen enough glory to keep on waiting, to gradually apprehend more and more until the final illumination. Most of us have.

We’ve all caught glimpses of glory; if only we’ll trace them to their source. Beauty wracking an ugly word, Glory asserts itself. And glory will take root, if permitted. When the day of "filling" comes...

Such glory seeds, so long concealed, so long stunted by dull eyesight, burned by dry winds of cynicism, washed in saline waters, will no longer be under stricture. Conditions will be altered. As it did once, two millennia ago, the equation of life will undergo a sudden, irrevocable change.

Syllogisms change when truth is revealed, and the old formula of life will be obliterated. The axis of life will be recharted. Suddenly, no more factoring in of pain. No more allowing for failure. No longer will life be a mixed bag, thorns and fragrance, some happiness, some heartache. At last, [_____]Sweet. Sweeping all before it will come the wave of God, “filling the earth.” Pure, unadulterated Christ.

Freed souls, like swallows at dawn, will flock to him. It will be the first day of liberation—like the first day of a new year, an auspicious hour of promises, made now with the will and power to keep them, a soul-resolve that may not be trifled with any longer—the first day of eternal springtime.

My pictures fail, matches compared to stars. Really, no one can imagine this filling. Instead, I simply ask…

Are we ready for the glory days; am I ready? Only seeds of glory will endure, towering at last to full height in the final, shocking God-light. What's built with glory will last. All else will be washed away.



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Saturday, December 04, 2004

Cryptic



I flew to you
Out of the night
I came to you
Like moth to light

I came to you
To heal my eyes
Soul in tatters
Pierced by cries

Of pain and sorrow
In darkest night
I came to you
Like moth to light

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Thursday, December 02, 2004

The Mysterious Phenomenon of the Silent Readers

I've been sizing this enigma up for days now but I still can't explain it, and that's saying a lot.

I mean, have pi down cold. I know what a "participle" is. I understand the "id" and the "ego." I can mostly understand the radical-left-wing-liberal mindset. For a while I could even break down the law of relativity.

But this mystery is truly baffling.

Each evening, as I carefully pore over my site stats (dividing them into neat columns - based on a highly complicated mathematical formula which determines, among other things, "visitor IQ," "visitor desirability" and "visitor coolness" - which will later be fed into my supercomputer to aid in generating higher-quality BitterSweetLife traffic*) a disturbing trend emerges.

My visitors are returning, but they are silent. Not to be alarmist. Actually a number of return visitors comment with semi-regularity, and they deserve props. (Way to go. May the other spheres of your life display equal good taste and mental stability!)

It’s the rest of you I’m worried about.

I mean, the casual browser I can understand. The one-click-and-done crowd is to be expected. But if you have the good fortune to actually stumble across BitterSweetLife and the rare blend of class and perception that draws people back…and then you voluntarily absent yourself from the discussion? C’mon!

I hesitate to even speculate about the psychological turmoil such a person would undoubtedly experience.

To comment…or not to comment? I can do this. Just a quick remark.
But what if I say something stupid? Better to remain unknown.
Then again, who cares. It’s better to just speak up, to be part of the exchange, to join the community. I shouldn’t be such a loner.
But I might embarrass myself!
Well, it wouldn’t be the first time, would it? Huh?
No, but I…I…well, it’s getting late. And the silence is warm. I feel drowsy.
That’s escapist.
No, I need the sleep!
I can’t stand you.
Me either!


I could name names, of course. My supercomputer has the ability to unerringly track down each visitor, complete with first, middle and last names as well as favorite colors, favorite sports teams, etc.*

But that would be counterproductive, wouldn’t it? Kind of like pulling the cocoon open for a fledgling butterfly. Best to hope that each of you silent readers comes to terms with your own…repressed commentivity…and conquers it, alone.

Be strong.

* Not really.



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Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Life of a Sub

ID badge in hand, bag slung casually over my shoulder, I move efficiently through crowds of raucous high school students. Flirtation and chit chat fills the hallway, but a magical hush falls over the students as I pass. "I know that sub," someone whispers. "He's cool," another student says with conviction. I smile in quiet acknowledgement and move on. This high school has recently been named "Mr. V. High" by the student body. A fitting tribute. The murmured accolades follow me as I--

beep! beep! beep! beep! beep! beep! bee- smack!

Slowly, I wake up. 6:00 a.m. and time to get moving...

An hour later Lindsay and I are tentatively walking over icy pavement and into North Kansas City High School. We sign in, wish each other well, and part ways. "Hey, that's your wife!" says the secretary in a moment of epiphany. "You know, couples who sub together stay together," She beams at me. "That's right!" I smile back in hearty affirmation of the conjugal bond. Subbing has been great for us...

Or it could be, once Lindsay forgives me for forcing her to deal with aspiring thugs and rappers-in-d-makin' on a weekly basis. Then again, her basketball vocabulary seems to be gradually improving...mere coincidence? And certainly, this job has its perks. Like...like-

The thought is jarred loose as I reenter the frozen wastes outside, heading across the parking lot to the Business Tech building. I'll be teaching Computer Programming today, one of my favorites. I always seem to get a lot of reading done in that class. But the door is locked.

As I study the numerical keypad guarding the entry, another teacher approaches. Phew! He says: "Today is late start day, that's why you can't get in yet." I, of course, know this, but give a fairly good impression of feigned ignorance. "Oh, that makes sense." Why doesn't the office ever give me keys to these stupid doors?! He opens the door. I follow him in. Or try to, anyway. He bars the door, a questioning expression on his face. Quickly I discern the problem. "Oh. Well, actually, I'm a sub." Gotta keep the ID badge more visible.

"Ah." He hurriedly gives way and silence reigns for an awkward moment. Then, "I, uh, thought you looked kind of old," he amends unconvincingly.

"That's all right." Mercifully, I change the subject. "Is there anyone upstairs?" I have a feeling my classroom will be locked. It is.

Later, having persuaded the teacher next door to open my room for me, I settle down at the desk. It's warm in here. The students won't arrive for another 40 minutes. Silent computers line the room, begging for life, pleading to be used in creative bloggish expression. I turn mine on.



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Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife