To You. From the Turkey

This Thanksgiving, stop. Halt the cooking, put your flour-dusted, pumpkin-splattered ear up to the knobby pink mountain of white meat and listen.

As you scoop your third helping of baked marshmallows with a dab of sweet potatoes, and your nether regions fuse to the chair, take note.

When your uncle walks in wearing a Make America Great Again hat and you’re tempted to rip it off his head and challenge him to a proper duel, pause.

When they’re late. Again. And the glory has congealed on the stove, and you’ve taken so many “test” bites you could be the one in the oven, and you wonder how come, if you can cook an entire dinner and be on time, why can’t they shower and show up on time? When you’re tempted to walk out on the whole thing, mark the headless guest of honor.

In the quiet moments of Thanksgiving Day 2017, hear what the turkey has to say:

No matter how pretty and right you think you are, time and circumstance will eventually catch up with you, and you will be shoved someplace where it’s very, very hot. – Brian Lageose

This is strait talk from the de-feathered guest of our tabletops. Want to read it elsewhere? Try Luke 16:19-31.

Admittedly, I lifted Brian’s quote quite out of context and used it for my own agenda. But Picasso has my back with his famous quote: Good artists copy; great artists steal. And honestly, Brian’s turkey has a Cassandra aura that begs to be repurposed. No matter how pretty, how polished, how published (for my writer-friends), how smart or powerful, how fat we or our wallets are—time and circumstance…

The good news is, we don’t have to be shoved someplace very, very hot, even upon being overtaken by time and circumstance. Thank you, Jesus and free will.  Every Thanksgiving I’m drawn again into the familiar glow of gratitude that God sent His only Son. And now, let’s end on a moment of laughter (or, depending on your tastes, disgust) I offer the following absurdity:

Advertisements

The Things I Carry

“What’s it like, being dead?”

“…I don’t know, I guess it’s like being inside a book that nobody’s reading.” – From Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. This quote bowled me over. Not just because it’s a fresh look at death, but because it captures my feelings. While I’m writing I Trespass, I’m “inside a book nobody’s reading.”

Which is to say, sometimes I feel dead.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad dead. Let’s pretend there’s good dead and bad dead, and this is more of the with-my-fellow-dead, dead. My characters and I are someplace everybody else isn’t.

In the Bible, the word death is never defined by lexicographers as annihilation or extinction or even unconsciousness, but as separation. And that distinction helps me wrap my mind around death. I hope it helps you too. So while I’m writing my book nobody’s reading, I feel a separation– like I have a secret or a double life. This is the thing I carry: my story. The one for which I presently labor, and the ones waiting in the queue of my imagination.

Yesterday I finished a short story based on a family member. I began writing with real names and only at the end did I do a find/replace. (Well look at that, some members of my family are paying attention.) Keeping as much truth as possible for as long as possible helps me in the initial slog-through of the story. Once I get momentum, truth and fiction blur. I mash together an uncle and a nephew into a new little boy of my own creation. The truth is, I had a feeling I wanted to convey. I can’t even name it, but it’s the way you feel when you’re unprotected and it begins to rain and home is a long way off. It’s one to which I keep returning– children and the forces that play upon them. I have an uncle who committed suicide, and I’ve often wondered how that went down the day they were told. Rather than ask (what fun is that?), I made up how it went down that day, the day they were told.

Anyway, I wanted so badly to share this story with somebody, anybody who could say yes, I get it! or no, you’re unclear, etc. I often draft my children into literary service. Gabe is a precocious twelve year old and has often shown me plot holes or character flaws, but this story is rather sordid. I spared him. Tory, my mature and insightful writing critic is overwhelmed with school and work, and only a selfish brute would put a manuscript under her nose (for the second time this week), so I didn’t. I thought of putting a call out to my friends on Facebook or WordPress along the lines of Ahoy! Anybody sitting around wishing for a beta read? The deadline is October 1st, and I need immediate assistance… But also a part of me wanted to just ship it off, which I did.

Writing is also like war time communication, pamphlets dropped by the thousands on an uncaring population. Even in Hiroshima and Nagasaki no one bothered to read the warnings dropped from American planes that said something along the lines of: Evacuate or die. And my missives are not nearly that important. You can imagine how few people read them. Well, maybe you can’t, but I can. You’d think the inverse relationship between labor output and actual reads would send me running to another, more impactful activity. On the contrary, If I can’t write something wonderful I know no one will read, I’ll write about the process of writing something I think is wonderful I know no one will read… Exhibit A: this post.

I meant to write about a harvest, which was my prompt from Carrot Ranch. Unfortunately, I got side-tracked. When I think harvest, the first thing that comes to mind is the harvest of souls talked about in Matthew 9:37. Jesus compares proselytizing to harvesting. Actually, harvesting is one of God’s favorite metaphors. At the end of all things, He says, there will be a great harvest where the wheat and the weeds will be gathered and sorted and– woe to you weeds out there. That’s the gist. Don’t be a weed.

Because separation doesn’t feel so cozy as a book nobody’s reading.

 

 

 

Luke’s Missions Trip 2017

Luke, 2016. To donate to this summer’s trip, click his picture. Thank you! 

Every summer since he was eight years old Luke’s gone on a short-term missions trip to an Indian reservation. This particular missions trip is so physically exhausting that most people (myself included) can’t hack it a second time around. Sleep deprivation, strenuous and sweltering construction, and mosquitoes of apocalyptic proportions are what you sign on for.

Luke loves it.

This year Luke hopes to travel with his high school youth group to Santiago de los Cavelleros, Dominican Republic, to share God’s message of salvation and love. Like his usual summer trip, this is no pleasure excursion, no summer camp experience. The students show love tangibly: playing with the kids at the dump where they live, cleaning, digging out foundations, construction– anything that needs to be done. They get dirty. They get sick. They get the gift of perspective. I dare not say God’s perspective, for no one can reach that. But they get a bit closer when they step out of their comfortable lives and go.

With all the need here, why go there? Because there is worse than here. It’s not enough to study National Geographic covers. One must go.

It is faith-building to lean on God’s provision. I’m not saying God couldn’t drop a duffel bag of $1,700  on our doorstep, but generally He works through the actions of people, moved to do benevolent work. Luke was moved to sign up. I am moved to write this post on his behalf. Some friends and family have been moved to support him with a donation. THANK YOU!!! If God just dropped the duffel, so much would be lost.

So here’s Luke. He’s been rolling subs, waiting tables, and working at various church functions– to raise the needed funds. On Sunday the students stood before the church. (Luke’s right behind Pastor Jonathan on the big screen.) As of today, Luke has half of his support raised. Kindly pray for Luke and the other students, that they’d raise the needed funds, that this trip would be life-changing, that God would eclipse all in the lives of the students, the advisors, and the people they go to serve.

If you would like to help Luke get to the Dominican Republic, send up a prayer for him and/or make a tax-deductible donation here.

Be the Gift You Want to Get in This World

happy-gandhi-jayanti-2016-images-hd-wallpapers

“Be the change you want to see in the world” was one of Gandhi’s famous quotes.

Of all the people turned off by Christians, Gandhi is my favorite. Gandhi was perplexed that Jesus’ followers were little crazed antitheses of Him, buzzing about the world scattering judgement like pollen, condemning, wearing the cross and forgetting its dictates.

Though he was turned off by Christians, Gandhi didn’t discount the Man himself. Imitation is not an exact science: if it flatters, it also falters. We are works in progress untill the last breath. My imperfect attempts at being Jesus may be received with misunderstanding and, sometimes, offense. You’re taking this Jesus thing too far has been applied to me. Still, others would say I don’t take this Jesus thing nearly far enough.

Depends who you ask.

People are turned off by a pilgrim taking it too far because a zealot acts unpredictably, often perpetrating heinous acts against humanity: the least of which is discomfiting strangers by talking about God and the worst of which is bringing God’s judgment down upon them– literally, in the form of passenger plane bombs, explosives, etc.

I was taught a catechism of fear– not for God– but religion. Religion makes people weird at best. I learned this in social studies when we discussed Jim Jones (in early elementary school). I learned it analyzing The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter in middle school. I learned it from the nut cases dressed as Jesus, dragging huge crosses along city streets and chanting, “The end is near!”

What I learned was all true. I wasn’t told any lies. But– think Star Wars– I experienced only the dark side of the force and not the light. Half the truth is the best lie because it precludes skepticism. If my cultural experience impressed upon me a fear and loathing of impassioned religion, then did I not receive a broken bowl for a paradigm? Certainly it had the shape of usefulness, but not the essence. No wonder when I tried to pour my life experiences into it, everything leaked out and I was left holding air.

At age 27 I got desperate and decided, against the teaching of my youth, to take this Jesus thing too far. What did that look like? Did I have to renounce logic, sacrifice a chicken, or roll around the altar babbling unintelligible oaths? Hardly.

I picked up a Bible and began reading the book of John. I’d been church hopping, a spiritual Goldilocks searching for a fit. I sat through many a pep talk, incantations, scripted kneelings and standings, services full of buttoned up people whose goodwill didn’t even last into the parking lot. One day I met a man who genuinely, ardently loved his god. Here was a thing I’d never seen before: the other side of the religion equation. It goes without saying you can’t just walk into any church and experience true faith, but walk into enough, and you’ll eventually strike oil.

That is, if you really want to. I hope you do. Don’t let the imperfections of Christ’s followers dissuade you from seeking Him. For who is perfect at anything? I’ve gotten my Jesus step wrong enough times, and those are moments I’m stepping on toes. If I think it’s pollen I’m spreading, it’s my duty to double-check every now and again. The easiest error is thinking we help by spreading a loveless message of judgment. It’s not pollen when I forget to love. But in those moments I am definitely a B—-.

If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. – 1 Corinthians 13:2.

Gandhi and I disagree on what the message should be, but on this we find harmony: My life is my message. As the year draws to a close and our minds are on gifts, it’s a great time to ask yourself if you’ve been the gift you want to get in this world.

Don’t believe the lie that says: If God is any more than a trapping, he’s a trap. Don’t believe religion should be used as the ancients did their spice: to cover the fact that the meat’s gone bad. Jesus made a lot of people uncomfortable when He said he should be consumed. Jesus can’t be taken too far. He is meant to be the main course (John 6:54). Be a pilgrim. Take Jesus too far. That’s not what will actually happen though it may be said of you. If you merely hold out a hand, Jesus takes you too far. And it’s a lovely country.

 

 

The One Feared is the One Revered

hand-mushroom-cloud-blast-explosionI don’t want to be worshipped– I want to terrify. My rival covets worship, but I’ve never been so inclined. You could say between the two of us, I’m the humble one. And between the two of us, I’m the one providing a service: I scare you, don’t I? Scare you into looking before you cross the street, frighten you into taking the boring, bill-paying job, terrify you into aborting those inconsequential cells growing inside you because no way can you handle what’s coming down the pike, my dear. No way. Be reasonable.

What does my rival do for you? …What? He hung the celestial bodies, slapped them spinning… and what’s bedecked His resume since then? Ask the burned-up, disheveled Syrian boy. Ask the refugees. Or the republicans. Ask the four-footed critters or winged creatures whose orb is fracked and fractured and asphalted, whose space is raped. Ask, what has He done for you lately?

I never asked to be worshipped.

But to petrify, that is my game. Humanity thrives on terror. I submit The Exorcist, all things Stephen King, the Autobahn on a rainy day, and Donald Trump any day. Who delivers this exquisite fright? Yours truly. And I never ask for applause. All I ask is you not applaud my rival, not send upward looks and wide-open arms and prayers for deliverance. No one’s coming.

I want to terrify because the one feared is the one revered. The one feared– his fat, itchy finger perches awkwardly on the launch button. Did I mention North Korea in my exhibit list? Terror fuels the world, make no mistake. What scurrying when the alarm sounds, what an economic boon is war! Didn’t your mother tell you she beat you for your own good? I gave her that phrase.

[Submitted to Cracked Flash Fiction contest. As I wrote this entry, I realized my default is not to story, but to essay. The Screwtape Letters is branded deep into my subconscious, and I shift into first person essays without meaning to. What to do about that? Recently I posted about changing my novel to 1st person. I figure I should do what comes naturally while I’m floundering about. Babies don’t run the 4 by 400. When I force myself into a format, the writing screams, “I’m stilted!” Then I hate it. Then I delete it. I’ve collected quite a few rejections from CFF, perhaps because my writing is more aptly described as Cracked Flash Essay. Ha! Well, the wounded warrior pets herself and finds excuses as to why she didn’t get the gold, doesn’t she? Whatever mind games we have to play to get back out there and get rejected again.]

latin

 

No Thanks, I’ll Do This Myself – Testimony Part II

air marshallI didn’t kill her, of course.  I just moved my car into the spot as if she were invisible, which was hard to do because she was yelling her head off and waving her arms around like my own personal air marshal helping me park my plane.  That stick shift came in handy when I revved the engine at her for good measure.

As we strolled into the mall, she stomped behind us for a ways, hurling lawsuit threats about my trying to run down a “pregnant woman.”

In my defense, she wasn’t showing.

That was me.  I always took the fight; I usually picked it.  And I’m not even Irish.

When I wasn’t being mean to people, I had this insatiable desire for approval, no– for worship. Even my goodnesses were bribes meant to gain or keep the fountain of affirmation flowing.  My happiness depended on a constant firehose stream of compliments and awards.  I won 1st place in a poetry contest? Cool, now I need The New Yorker to publish me. You say I’m beautiful– that makes me feel pretty as long as you don’t look away.  Witty?  I’m good as long as you’re still laughing… Such was my existence– endless calculating and striving after approval, adoration, accolades.  I couldn’t figure out why I had no peace, which is what led me through a litany of self-help books, including Life 101, The Healing Power of Humor, Dianetics, and The Tao of Poo (a book that pitches Winnie the Pooh as the ultimate Taoist and instructs on a Pooh-like life, full of happiness and honey).  I even got so low sometimes I tried the Bible. But that wasn’t helpful because I tried reading from the Old Testament, starting at Genesis.  After the first juicy chapters, reading the Jewish laws felt like reading the IRS tax code; I failed to see the connection between this book and help of any kind. Mind you, I was an English major. I had read Paradise Lost with an amount of relish; I even struggled through the literary gauntlet of  Leaves of Grass, but the Old Testament?

Uncle.

sacred-heart-jesusGrowing up, one of my first memories of God was the picture in my grandfather’s spare room. Since we often slept there, I’d wake up to this monstrous piece of art staring down at me, depicting an anemic, effeminate, sorrowful-looking man whose heart was visible and belted in thorns.  DIS-turbing. One arm was raised as if He had the answer to a question, and the other rested languidly near that… heart.  He did not comfort me, this Christ; He both unnerved and confused me.

Church confused me too.  We went a handful of times, and everyone seemed to know the steps but me.  Kneel.  Stand. Kneel. Stand. Mumble. Kneel. Everybody else leaving their seats, going up to the front wearing serious expressions.  I’m sure I asked why we stayed in our seats when everybody else went up, but I don’t remember what my Dad said.  He was careful with our feelings.  He probably said he preferred to stay seated– which I’m sure was true.  The singing and chanting from the front was as boring as it was unintelligible. The echoing dirges from somber, gowned men and the strange, ancient feel of the place gave me the same twisted guts as when I was sent to the principal’s office, a feeling with which I was all too familiar.  So no, I didn’t care much for the God of church.

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

1 John 4:10

 

God Loves Even the Meanest Person – Testimony Part I

There was a time when I did not take God seriously.  But no matter.  He took me seriously.

Of my early memories, this one stands out– my husband and I at age 16 were climbing on a jungle gym, talking about the meaning of life, and blithely dismissing God’s hand in parting the Red Sea because, thanks to advances in technology, we could do it ourselves.  He was into Scientology; I into the Tao of Pooh or Danse Macabre, whichever suited the moment. The deep questions of life I thought could all be solved with reason and logic. I ridiculed faith wherever I saw it and in all its forms, considering it absolutely equivalent to stupidity.  Once, in what I intended to be an act of malice, I sent my sister and her friend to a booth at the county fair that had nearly wasted more than five minutes of my time trying to shepherd me into its folly with a logical question: What is the #1 cause of death?  Bob and I watched, full of venomous giggles, as Heather and her friend listened– it seemed to us, in rapturous attention.  I kept waiting for recognition to register on their faces, to see surprise and annoyance that the booth was a swindle, that big sister had pulled a good one on her little. None came. The joke was on me.

That was interesting, she said when she came back.  Seriously?  Interesting?  How about baloney?  How about gentle people who are off their rockers?  How about being mad that they suck you in with a scientific question and then bait and switch for faith?  I was beside myself.  And confused.

Fast forward ten years.  My husband and I were buying a used car.  We took it for a test drive and of course blasted the radio, which was the most important feature (because we were in denial that this minivan would suck out whatever cool we had left in our souls, and we hadn’t even come to grips with the fact that loud noises of all kinds would be poisonous to us as we advanced in years and had to share our eardrums with little people and all their natural audio).  But what should come pouring out of the speakers?  Jesus music.  I nearly threw up my hand in protest.  I couldn’t turn the station fast enough.  WMMS, please.  And we left it there for them, turned way up so they could get at least a few seconds of good music.  That was the present we left them.  Nice, huh?

I was the kind of person you’d think would never, ever come around to God.  To say I spoke in the dialect of sailors would be an extreme understatement.  I used expletives more liberally than article adjectives and offended anyone misfortunate enough to be within reach.   Here’s an example.  Chrismas shopping at a mall with half the number of parking spaces it needs.  My little sister chats happily next to me about what stores she wants to visit, and my 1-year-old gibbers in her car seat.  Neither one seems to notice or care that I’m in parking hell.  Every time I see an open space it’s taken before I can even shift up into first gear. Stupid stick shift… I am swearing, and not under my breath.  Wait.  Up ahead. An open spot.  As I fumble with the clutch, lurching into 1st gear, a woman sprints by my car.  That’s not surprising, but what is, is that she bolts past my very obvious turn signal and plants herself in my spot, hands on hips, feet wider than hip distance apart.

Brazen.

I politely tell her to move with my teeth clenched and a face not unlike Jack Nicholson’s in The Shining.  I’m here.

“I’m saving this spot for my mother,” she tells me.

“I don’t see your mother,” I say, “and I’m here, with a car. Right now.” The idea of saving a spot with your body broadsided me, I must confess.  I think I lost my head for a minute because I warned her that if she didn’t move I was going to run her over.

She, unlike my sister, didn’t believe me.

I won’t bore you with the details, but let’s just say I parked the car and commenced our Christmas shopping experience. This is the person God took seriously. When I say God can love the meanest person, I know.

Here is a trustworth saying that deserves full acceptance– Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst. — The Apostle Paul, 1 Timothy 1:15