Thursday, August 31, 2006

Ray of Light

Same image that began the last post... but different message.

In the last post it was a picture of a red sky at night. In this post it is a storm with a promise of respite in it, just a hint.

I have news! Things have been darker than I hinted in my post, and we've had even worse news since I wrote the last post... BUT... There is a light shining through the clouds. There is a ray of hope.

If you have prayed for us, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! Please continue to pray!

I am going to try to write about it all very soon. There is still danger in all of this, and things might be very bad... but we just had a phone call that hints at good things.

In a nut shell my father in law took a very bad turn for the worse, but there are indications it may be temporary.

I have been giving a great deal of thought to life and death, salvation and damnation, and I have a "I gotta write a post about this" feeling.

May The Lord bless all you greatly.

Your friend and brother...


Monday, August 28, 2006

Weather Report

Red sky in morning,
Sailors take warning.
Red sky at night,

Sailors take delight.

There’s a storm coming.

The weather has been unusual for some time.

My sister-in-law and her daughter came down from Alaska and stayed with us off and on for a couple of weeks. They are Jehovah Witnesses and in the past there have been conflicts between them and my wife. But this year that patch of weather turned out to be far more pleasant than we thought it would be. Brenda and Debbie found a lot of ways to encourage each other and find common ground in their faiths so things were generally very nice. Mostly we talked about raising teens.

Brenda’s other sister had a baby a week ago. There were visits to the hospital and to their home (once Logan was over his case of jaundice).


That kept us hustling because there were other things going on at the same time. We live behind the county fairgrounds and each year during the fair our street is lined up with cars (you may have noticed all the parked cars in the “Bike Repair” post).

Our kids love to go to the fair, and to offset the cost I agreed to put together a team of kids (which included my own) to man a booth demonstrating Lego Robotics.

We had a lot of fun...
(That's Brenda screaming & waving in the middle up there)

(Here we are! --That's my niece in the front)

But it was another element to the busyness of our lives.

But it wasn’t the biggest element.

Brenda’s mom used to live with us, but she has an apartment of her own about a mile away and needs a lot of help.

But that isn’t what has been stirring things up the most.

My brother’s girlfriend of 15 years has been grieving over her brother. He died two weeks ago in an accident. It has been a very sad time over there.

But that hasn’t been the worst of it.

It’s my father in law.

He and his wife bought a sailing boat and lived in it. For a while they lived here in Oregon, but they finally moved to Puerta Vallarta. After a while they built a house there and sold the boat.

He needed by pass surgery to get blood to his legs. They also did angioplasty on his heart. All that was pretty difficult, but not as bad as what happened next.

When he started to wake up from surgery, he began to rant. He hollered, and cussed, and pulled out his IV (over and over and over), and tried to rip out his stitches. He tries to bite those who visit him, including my wife. His anger is so great his blood pressure keeps hitting dangerous levels. He has been sedated for almost two weeks, and restrained. He has delirium tremons.

Denny doesn’t think he is an alcoholic. After all, how can you be an alcoholic when it is mostly beer you drink? He chains smokes, and that is also a health concern, but the alcohol must stop if he is to survive. He is about to lose his liver.

So what do we do with Denny? If he returns home to Mexico he will go back to drinking beer as if it is water (actually more so, in an average day he drinks twice the volume of beer as I do of any liquids).

And he is abusive. His poor wife doesn’t want to watch him die, which he certainly will if this continues. And he constantly harangues her, calling her stupid, calling her worse.

So he is coming here. Just as soon as he is rational enough to leave the hospital.

We are planning an intervention.

This is the storm that is coming.

And there is plenty of other things to deal with. Our kids are going back to school, and as a teacher, so am I. In fact this year is going to be one of the most challenging, most interesting, most unusual years of my career. But that is the topic of another post.

I’ve told Brenda that he is her father, and he is Barbara's husband, and that when it comes to enforcing the no drinking rule in our home, I want to be the heavy. They need to maintain their relationship with him. It’s OK if he hates me. So if he sneaks alcohol in, I’ll pour it out. If there needs to be any confrontations, I will try to reason with him.

We haven’t a spare room, so we are going to turn the living room into a bedroom.

So this summer there has been some emotional weather for all of us. And there was sunshine when we didn’t expect it. All of that is a part of life. We roll up our sleeves and do our best.

This almost feels like we are inviting trouble into our home. But he needs to convalesce, and he needs help recognizing an pushing through his dependance on alcohol (tobacco too, but that is a battle for another day).

He's ornery in the best of times... and this is him at his worst. I think one reason the Lord gave us families is to teach us to love people we normally wouldn't like.

He needs a relationship with God. He needs to be loved and cared for . He needs to see how kindness works in life. He needs to free himself from the grip alcohol has on him. He needs prayer.

“Red sky in morning, sailors take warning...”

There is a storm coming.


Side note: I love my wife so much! She has been wonderful. Wednesday is her birthday (and I won't say which one except that she is five years younger than me). That is also Willy's birthday. She has come so very far this past year. I honor her in every way I can. She is a wonderful wife, partner, woman, mother, sister, daughter, and person. The Lord has blessed me greatly through her.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

A little Odd

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I’m a little odd, and I know it.

My father certainly made that clear enough to me as I grew up.

He couldn’t understand that a guy would want to read, and think about God, and go for hikes by himself.

He used to joke about it with his friends:

“Kid can’t get a f-----in’ date. I think he’s a G-d damn queer.”

I didn’t know why I was different, but I didn’t try to defend myself. And I didn’t tell him that a good friend of mine was a homosexual. (I’m sorry Rick... I simply didn’t have the courage to stand up to him.)

I’m still a little odd.

Thirty years ago I was living in an ashram and had joined a yogic order, the Sons of Ramakrishna.

I was twenty and the echoes of a television show which romanticized eastern beliefs still echoed in my subconscious.

I would sit for hours before a flickering candle, and meditate on Jesus (my selected “avatar”).

I thought I could walk the line between the faith I had always held and the mysterious and exciting world of yogic life and astral studies which made me someone different, someone special (and freaked out my poor grandmother).

It wasn’t too long before I learned that there isn’t a fine line between what I want and what He wants. I learned that placing an image of Jesus behind the candle and stripping my senses of everything but the candle was not drawing me closer to God. Just the reverse.

Now, I find this chapter of my life difficult to talk about, and I am going to gloss over it. Let me just say that there was a price I had to pay for all that foolishness and it nearly cost me my life. I was saved, in every way I could be saved, and in turning my back on that life I find that a backward glance, even thirty years hence, chills me.

The reason I brought it up at all is because it illustrates an uncomfortable truth about myself. I’m a little odd.

I’m a mainstream guy, a teacher, and a taxpayer, and a homeowner, and a voter. But there is something about me that is still part monk.

I do not care for many things most guys do. I’m not into car races. I don’t like to party. I’m completely apathetic to sports. When such things come up, I smile, I nod, I pretend to understand, and then I find a reason to wander elsewhere.

Even many of you, those of you who regularly visit this little online journal, notice that I phrase my words in odd ways. I routinely have an inside joke I am telling myself, so when hints of it slip out into my speech, or my writing, it leaves my audience puzzled.

But all of that is OK. I am as He made me. Sometimes I embarrass myself, but that is OK also.

Today’s little soliloquy comes from a moment of embarassment, a thought I had during church this morning:

“I’m a little odd.”

It was during the middle of worship. I had my eyes shut, and my mind was focussed. When that happens I barely hear those around me. It is just me, thinking the words of the songs, internalizing those words, turning them into a prayer between just me and my creator.

I was on my feet, my hands were raised, I was picturing the creator of all things, my maker, and that intense point of glowing light and love was above me and I was offering up my heart, my adoration.

Suddenly I realized that I had stumbled in the words, that the words coming out of my mouth had drifted into a verse different than those around me, and I was no longer a part of corporate worship.

I allowed my eyes to flicker open so I could see the words on the screen. I found my place and shifted to the correct verse. And as I held my hands up high, six inches apart, as if holding a glowing image of love and light, I realized that in the peripheral view of that quick glance no one else had been standing. No one else had their hands raised. I was standing in the congregation, focussed on my prayer, my singing. I was standing alone.

And I thought...

“I’m so weird.”

I suddenly felt off balance, like I was tipping over, and I sat down quickly.

Now this has happened before. I usually ignore everyone else and let myself simply settle into my worship and permit myself to worship corporately with my voice, and individually with my mind and body. If they don’t wish to raise their hands, that is fine.

But this time I was thrown off.

“Could I be wrong? Should I be embarrassed? What are people thinking about me?”

But then I think: “forget them.”

And my mind races off:

I imagine such things as the period 10,000 years after creation when all the universe was a hot soup of dark plasma. I think about the formation of stars and how their young hot breath blew clear the gases and debris around their births , creating those beautiful nebulae, and how they swirled around each other, seeking a balance in that dance of energy and gravity that began when my creator made something new. I think about the cycles of spinning galaxies, those of the second generation, and how they dance a rhythm that my Lord clearly hears, and one I will one day come to appreciate when my life beats with the pace of eternity.

I think about the creation of angels. How the Lord God, a single entity, a single God, but a being of three facets touching our universe as a trinity, had desired a larger community and had created powerful beings to join in His song of eternity and love.

I think about the creation of the world, and the creation of men, when the Lord God did the amazing act of creating beings who could, who must, choose whether to hear His song of light and love, or to follow the whims of their own hearts.

And I think, how could they not raise their hands in humble adoration of such a being who makes the stars dance in groups of galaxies, to follow trails of patterns that even our most gifted minds barely discern.

I think about the carbon in my cells, the calcium in my bones, the potassium in my nerves, and how they were forged in the hearts of stars, and in the heart of my Lord.

For a moment I succumb to the arrogance of thinking they are wrong in sitting quietly in their chairs.

But then I remember... I’m a little odd.

And that’s OK.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Bike Repair

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(Click the above image to listen to me read this post -pressing pause to let it load first is a good idea-. All images can be enlarged by clicking on them.)

She was gone longer than usual on her bike ride with Rocky.

I was becoming a little concerned when she finally walked through the door.

“My bike has a flat!” she said.

“I was on the logging road and BAM! it just exploded!”

Sure enough, the side of the tire had popped. The front tire had cracks running along its white wall as well.

“Don’t worry about it, I’ll get it fixed.”

She fretted a little...

“It’s probably going to cost a bunch and I love that old bike.”

“It’ll be OK. Don’t worry.”

The guys at the bike shop said it would be a couple of weeks before they could get around to fixing it. It was a simple new tubes, new tires job, so I bought what I needed.

When I was in middle and high school I used to fish old abandoned bikes out of drainage ditches and rivers and cart them home so I could cobble together my own bikes. My kids never seemed to get into that sort of thing on their own, so this would be a chance for me to teach them a little bike mechanizing.

I gathered them into the front yard beside the bike and explained what we were going to do.

“Mommy loves this old bike and it needs some help. It has a flat tire, and the front one doesn’t look so good. So let’s take it apart and see what we can do!”

They liked the idea.

So we flipped it over and I helped them find the right wrenches.

I explained about rust and Naval Jelly and they went to work cleaning the wheels.

I told them about the bikes I put together when I was their age. I told them an important skill for a man is the ability to figure things out... just diving in and figuring it out.

“What do you think about this back wheel?” I asked Isaac.

He looked it over, trying to guess what I was hoping for.

“Good,” he said.

“Turn this axle. Do you feel the way that when it turns it feels like there is grit or sand in it?”

He turned it tentatively.


I smiled a little. He couldn’t tell, but he wanted his dad to think he knew what was going on, that he was a good learner.

“Mommy rides this bike on dirt and gravel roads when she takes Rocky out for a run. Some of that dirt and grit can get into the axle and it kind of slows things down.

“Let’s take this axle apart and repack the grease. Then you can see how it works, OK?”


Soon I had all sorts of pieces of bicycle innards laid across the sheet of plywood, cleaning off the old grease, explaining what each part does, slathering fresh grease on them again.

“What are those again?”

“Those are bearings. When you carry something you could say that you are bearing it. To bear something means to carry a load. These little balls spin around and make things around them turn easily, while they bear the weight of the bicycle. That’s why we call them bearings. They are round so everything can turn and they bear weight.”

“I see.”

Getting it all back together was trickier. I always did have trouble handling the axle and the inner braking mechanisms, but things slowly returned to their positions.

I showed them how to get the new inner tubes and tires onto the wheels, carefully explaining how this is where it is easy to poke a hole in the tube.

They filled them with air, checking them carefully, repeatedly, with the pressure gauge until each tire had the recommended amount of air.

They were pretty proud of that accomplishment.

They flipped the bike upright.

“I better test it! I don’t want anything rubbing or falling off when Mommy rides it!”

“Works fine!”

“Let’s go get Mommy!”

We stood around grinning as she tried it out.

“How’s it work?” we asked.


She said that it worked like brand new, that it was easy to peddle and was perfectly balanced.

It was just a little time with my boys... a summer afternoon messing with wrenches and grease and such.

And though I cannot seem to clearly, easily, make a connection in this little tale to things of the spirit, to things eternal and right and good... I somehow feel it is so.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A Note to Two Unknown Women

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I don’t know who either of you are. You may not even be alive.

But since I cannot send you a note, send you some photos, send you help or whatever it is you may need, I am writing this little post on a blog. I am fairly certain you will never see it, but because it is on my heart to do so, I’m stuffing this post into the bottle of my blog, and tossing it into the internet sea...

I have your children.

I’m a middle-aged white guy in the northwest corner of the United States; a small place called Canby, Oregon.

I adopted your children twelve years ago.

I want you to know some things.

First, I want you to know that they are happy and greatly loved. They are in a family and they are cared for. They are fed, they are taken to the doctor when they are ill, and they go to school.

I want you to know that they are a part of a community. They have friends. They go to church and are greatly loved there. They believe in God and He loves them greatly, and they know it.

They left your town, Carrefour, when they were quite little, Isaac was an infant. I know the war was terrible, and I know you probably believe them dead, if you survived, that is. But they are tall and healthy now.

To the mother of Jeremiah: I know terrible things happened to my son when he was there. But I want you to know that giving him life was the greatest gift! He struggles with many things, but he smiles all the time and I love him so much I gladly protect him with my life. Thank you so much for his life.

To the mother of Isaac: I know you loved him. I know you did things you felt were best for him, and I want you to know that he is bright-eyed, generous, sweet, and kind. That though he struggles with some things, as all people do, he is going to be a fine young man soon and I am very proud of him. You should be also. Thank you for my son’s life.

These children are so precious to me.

Thank you, both of you.

God has sent them to be in a safe place, and they are greatly loved.


Heavenly Father... Please send light into the darkness of Haiti. Please send people who can help those who suffer there. Please send people who can help those there who do not know You. And Lord, if the women who bore my children still live, please help them to know that good has come from their lives, despite the violence, and the pain, and death. Lord, thank You for my children, for fulfilling this desire in us to raise a family. I am grateful. Amen.


I watched a video today which inspired me to write this post:
The Musician is Mark Schultz, and the song is "Everything to me"

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


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I’m a member of three churches.

I’ve been attending Canby Alliance Church since 1991. This church family of mine has helped me through many troubled times, and rejoiced with me many times as well. A few of you reading this post attend there, and thank you, thank you, thank you, for all you have done for me and my family!

I’m also a member of a much larger church. I am a member of The Church, the Body of Christ. This church, The Church, includes people from many churches, throughout time. My brother Paul (formerly Saul of Tarsus) is a member. The disciples as well. Followers great and followers small, all members of this church, The Church. If you love the Lord Jesus Christ, you are a member of this church.

There is a third church I belong to as well. I feel it had its first real worship service this past Sunday. It is The First Church of Canby.

One of the confusing aspects of our faith is the many forms of the church... the many sects, the many formats, the many congregations. For the nonbeliever it seems evidence of the fickleness of Christianity, the disagreements and debates and issues which, for those who are not Christ-followers, point to a disunity, hinting we cannot be speaking truth since we disagree on some points.

But it isn’t true.

I have been watching the growth of The First Church of Canby for some time.

The idea is simple. We are the body of Christ. All of us. We should act like it. We must act like it, for it is true. We are to love each other, help each other, be the hands of our Lord, be the feet of Jesus, do what He would have us do.

Churches are not supposed to be competing businesses. They are not to be seeking to draw “customers” in and grow for the sake of growing. We are to be seeking to be light unto a dark world.

Some of the churches in our town have come to work together on various projects. First there were meetings of the pastors of the churches. There was a month of prayer for our community (we asked the people of our small city what they would like us to pray for and we prayed daily for all of them). There was the formation of a local chapter of Habitat for Humanity and then the building of our first house (more on the way!).

Sunday felt to me like the first worship service of The First Church of Canby.

It was a benefit concert for a project sponsored by seven of our local churches. We want to build a community center. We have already leased the buildings (totaling approx. 38,000 square feet!) near the high school.

It will offer a place for teens to congregate, to put on concerts, to get help with homework, or simply play basketball in a safe environment. There will be counseling for the weary, and the worried, and the wandering. There will be a food bank, and help for finding work and housing. There isn’t any end to what we can do for our town in this place!

And this isn’t some sort of Christian Trojan horse. We aren’t going to twist people’s arms to go to a particular church, or any church for that matter. We simply want to be the hands of Jesus, helping others, offering a glass of water, a listening ear, a shoulder to lean on.

So there was a benefit concert Sunday night. It was to run for two hours beginning at 6:00, but it lasted nearly three. I heard it said that 800 people attended. (Which raised more than $4,000 and, more importantly, awareness.)

There was a youth worship team that led some, well, youthful music. (But I liked it anyway!). They did seven songs.

And then a band that had... gosh I don’t know, a half dozen guitars, several keyboards, a hammer dulcimer, saxophones, drums, a variety of percussion instruments, and who knows how many vocalists. Many of them are professional musicians. And they sang 17 songs praising our Lord. Right there in the center of town, blasting away, and they praised Him!

As a finale there were three more songs where the youth crammed themselves into the open spots on the stage and joined in.

I sat in my chair with my sons. And my feet tapped, and my heart raced, and I began to worship.

Soon it did not matter that I was a teacher, a fellow who is supposed to be cautious in revealing my personal beliefs to my students. Soon it did not matter that I was a man who is not supposed to show too much emotion in public. Soon it did not matter about anything at all except that I am a Christ Follower, that I love my Lord, and that I am unashamed of proclaiming my love to Him, and to anyone who happens to be near.

I stood up, and swayed to the music. I stood up and closed my eyes. I stood up and raised my hands and bowed my head and thanked my Lord for being WHO HE IS.

I wasn’t alone. Though many did not rise, they were there worshiping, enjoying the praise. We were all a part of the body of Christ. We are the local part of who He is. We were, we are, THE FIRST CHURCH OF CANBY.

Click to enlarge!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Childhood Fun

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Tip: Click on pause button and let it load well ahead of you.

Eucs and Oranges
(Click to enlarge)

My brother climbed fifty feet into the eucalyptus tree. Long strips of the thin bark lay under him beside the heavy rope dangling from his waist.

He was grinning. Mike loved doing this kind of stuff.

I wasn’t smiling. This kind of stuff always ended up with my getting hurt.

The nearby orange grove was half gone. Many of the trees were piled up waiting for trucks to haul them away, their not quite ripe fruit was rotting on the branches.

There were circles drawn in the dirt from the game we three boys had been playing the day before. Three circles drawn in the dirt, equidistant from each other by thirty feet or so. Each of us had gathered 15 oranges and placed them in the circles. They were well-chosen oranges which fell into two groups. Hard green, and mushy-rotten. They each had their advantages in this game we frequently played.

This was when orange groves were being cleared so developers could raise lucrative crops of houses. My father rode that transition into a position of some standing by buying one old tractor and clearing those trees.

But for we three it was simply all a part of childhood.

The rules were simple. You had to stay in the circle.

There wasn’t any real points or anything. We just enjoyed raising a red welt on each other in any method we all deemed fair, and an occasional gooey mess upside a brother’s head was a bonus.

Mike was good at it. He was able to dodged and catch the fruity projectiles, and had an uncanny ability to fling one when his recipient was distracted by the other brother.

I’ve written about the games we played before and this was just another sport we created to keep ourselves amused.

But at this moment Mike was the equivalent of five stories up in swaying branches, tying off the long heavy rope left behind by the orchard farmer as he moved on to Palm Springs or Florida or Huntington Beach or wherever it was he felt would make a suitable place to live after selling his real estate.

Mike had chosen the perfect branch to tie off the rope. Fifty feet of rope hung down to just five feet short of the ground.

We tied another, thinner rope to it, and nailed boards to neighboring euc fifty feet away. We found enough nails and boards to create a ladder that took us level to where the rope was tied off and we scrambled up. Mike was first (it was suggested that I go first, but this time I flat refused).

Mike flexed his muscles, wiped the sweat from his palms, and stepped off into the air. He flew down, skimmed the ground, and arced up and away, hollering and laughing. After a few swings of “Pendulum Mike,” he dropped to his feet, grabbed the smaller rope and brought it up to us.

I still refused. So David went.

He flew. He soared. He yelled. He brought the rope back up.

Now I had no choice.

Feeling a weakness in my knees I dared not confess, I looked down at the ground, about the same distance as the flight of Icarus, the same distance as the height of the Empire State Building, the same distance that places my trip rightfully into the jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration... fifty feet.

My brothers knew just how much to goad me. They joked about it just enough to make me hurry it up, but not enough to make me mad.

I took a deep breath, reached up as high as I could to shorten the distance of the swing by 16 inches (to ensure my feet did not drag on the ground) and stepped off to my doom.

It seemed I fell straight down for quite a ways, but rationally I know that half way down I would have been pulled laterally as much as I was hurtling toward the center of the Earth. Still, it felt like I dropped far enough for a parachute to have fully deployed.

The rope started pulling hard at my hands, and I started flying sideways to the world. At this point I was really only thinking about one thing:

“If I don’t hold on no matter what, I will die.”

That’s a rather rational thought really.

And I did hold on. It only seemed that the flesh was going to tear from my hands. I held on, the rope pulled me away from certain death, and I raced over the dusty landscape just under the sound barrier.

I then smoothly arced upward, enjoying the bliss of the wonderful sensation of slowing down. I remember the view slowly spinning around so I could see my brothers in the tree, and the still unharmed orange grove to one side. I gracefully paused in midair, surveying the pile of torn up trees and my dad’s dirty yellow tractor shut down for the day while he and his buddies mixed screwdrivers on the tailgate of his pickup.

The only thing that broke that blissfully serene moment was the terrifying thought that I was about to do it all over again.

But this time I knew I could do it. It would be slightly less intense, not quite so far. Earth was grasping at my body, robbing it of its kinetic energy with each swing.

The following swings were almost anti-climatic. I swung back and forth, slowing each time, until I could stretch out enough to drag my feet through the dirt and finally tumble through the powdery soil to a dusty moment of repose where I could consider the clouds floating through the sky and be grateful that I had managed to hold the contents of my bladder.


Usually my posts on this blog are of a spiritual nature.

This one is no different.

All I’m saying is that I’m sure my Lord has always been keeping me safe.

Audio credits:
"Life's Railway To Heaven" by Joe Maphis:
50 Years of Bluegrass Hits
"Indian War Whoop" by John Hartford:
O Brother Where Art Thou Soundtrack
"Lonesome Valley" by The Fairfield Four:
O Brother Where Art Thou Soundtrack

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Gardener

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(Click above if you want me to read it out loud for you. Suggestion: click the pause and let it load well ahead of you before playing.)

upon a time there was a gardener. Not an ordinary gardener, someone in denim and rolled up sleeves who plants things and pulls weeds, who coaxes fruits and vegetables from soil and water; but a gardener who understands everything about everything. A gardener who understands more than you can ever imagine about all sorts things, of living things and of soil and light and water and even things I don’t even know enough to wonder about (and I'm telling this story!). This was a gardener like no other gardener, for he formed the seeds himself, and whispered words over them, making them sparkle and shine in the darkness before dawn, any dawn. He was The Gardener.

The Gardener fashioned a place for His garden with open spaces full of light, and deep dells misted by waterfalls, and dry high places with intense sun. He shaped mountains so they would cast light in interesting ways, and made sandy places and rocky places and flat places and steep places. He pushed big rocks, gigantic rocks, into interesting places to cast mighty shadows. some places He scoured with glaciers to make gentle curvy valleys. He even made places for His garden to grow under the seas.

He took His time. He let the land rest for many seasons, preparing it for planting, permitting the insects and the worms to turn the soil and shift the earth and rocks about. He let time and sunlight dry out the high places, and time and waterfalls moisten the valleys, so there was a variety to the garden that ranged through every type of soil, every type of light, a place for everything.

The Gardener came down from His high workshop and strolled through the garden, pausing in every place, no matter how large, no matter how small, and planted the glittering, sparkling seeds. As He placed each seed in the soil He whispered to it, granting it freedom.

“Choose,” He said. “Be what you wish. Grow true, stay true. Choose what you will be, and I will always be near; I will give you all you need. Choose.”

And as He moved from place to place his apprentices watched from the workshop, eager for what might come.

And the garden grew. It sprouted, and flourished. Some plants grew along the ground, winding through the others. Some grew tall, filtering the intense light, gentling the sun for those who chose a fragile, beautiful life beneath them. Some stood away from the others, growing thick leaves to hold each drop, each hint, of water, and bristled with thorns, safeguarding their treasures of moisture. Creeping and towering, swaying and rock steady, thin and thick, the plants of the garden took on amazing shapes and sizes and forms proclaiming their individuality.

It was an amazing sight. There was every color imaginable. There were colors shouting rainbowed anthems of praise and joy at living within the garden. It was a riot of hues, and shades, and values, and overall the color of green shouted loudest of all, the color of life.

There was harmony in the garden. The differences between the plants echoed the differences of the garden itself, of moist and dry, high and low.

The Gardener’s apprentices moved among the garden, enjoying the beauty, the wonder, of a living world of verdant life. The plants swayed in the breeze and shook their leaves, and sang songs of life and sunlight and the joy of growing.

Most of the apprentices were quite happy with The Gardener’s masterpiece. Most.

There was one who didn’t care for it. He preferred the austere beauty of the great halls of the Gardener’s home. He loved how the marble floors echoed his footsteps, how the brass mirrors reflected his face, how the diamond studded ceilings threw back his ringing voice. The garden’s soil softened his footsteps, the moss-covered cliffs reflected only glinting sunlight, and the blue sky swallowed up his song.

He began to whisper to the other apprentices about the foolishness of dirt, the unsteadiness of flowing water, and the discordant cacophony of colors that life brought into the world.

They cocked their heads and wondered at the differences between what they had always known and what was before them now.

The unhappy apprentice walked through the garden, traveling to the place of the first seed.

The giant tree, the tree of the first seed, stood in the center of the garden, rising hundreds of feet, and reaching upward toward The Gardener.

The apprentice stood off a ways and thought long about the tree, and the other plants which followed it. He thought about the changes to the world, and how his voice no longer echoed. It was then he perfected a new skill. He learned to whisper.

He made himself small, so he looked like a part of the garden, like a branch or a stick or a root. He made his voice small, all whispery, so he sounded like the wind or the water. And he slipped between the growths of life and sidled up to the first tree and its mate. He spoke of other soils. He whispered of other places in the garden, secret places, better places. He spoke of stronger soils, acidic soils, rich soils that gave vitality to the plants that grew there.

At first the pair of trees ignored the sibilant whisperer. But soon the shorter, younger tree began to move her boughs, to creak in the breeze, and coaxed her leaves to rub, to sing, a new song, a song of wanting.

And the song spread.

Other plants took up their own versions of the song. They sang of other meadows, and other soils, and other light. Many of them twisted their growth into new directions. Some crept up the trunks of others and squeezed, choking them. Some crowded their neighbors, and threw their seeds everywhere, producing broad leaves, robbing smaller plants of light. Plants began growing differently, robbing soil of nutrients, pushing other plants aside. And when some faltered in their new growth, and looked back at what they had promised to be, the dark apprentice slid beside them, reminding them of what they wanted, what they needed, what they deserved.

And when The Gardener saw the thorns and thistles, the strangling ivy and the thriving weeds, He sat down on a rock and grieved for the garden that could have been. He ached for what was lost and the harmony that might have been.

And He did something marvelous.

He made himself small. He made Himself soft, and fragile, and began moving about the garden.

He whispered to the plants.

“Choose,” He said. “Be true to what you were meant to be. Grow true, stay true. Choose what you will be, and I will always be near; I will give you all you need. Choose.”

And some of the plants listened to the gentle voice, the one which was not sibilant, but spoke with a confident and warm tone. Those who listened, He touched. He touched them and they sparkled like the seeds they had once been, before they began to grow. They sought their first shapes, their true shapes. Though they had already grown and changed much, had already hurt other plants, and taken what was not theirs, they began to grow anew, they began to produce fruit.

With a final word to them all the Gardener climbed a nearby mountain peak, and settled down to watch what would happen next.

He watched the dark apprentice (and his friends) whispering in the garden, and He sent His true apprentices to scold them away from flowering and budding vines.

And that is how the garden stands today.

The plants struggle with each other, and with their choices. But many of them struggle with the last words they heard the Gardener speak:

“Choose. Harvest is coming soon.”


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Walking in the Garden

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This is a podcast of this post.

Note: What follows is a post I wrote today... it is just bits and pieces, just as I wrote it. No editing. No polishing. If there are errors they will remain.

I am going to make a podcast for it that will include bits of the music I was listening to as I wrote it.

You can click the pictures to enlarge them.


I never did get into a spiritual routine this summer.

I wanted to, I intended to, I promised I would. It didn’t happen.

And that is ok.

The rhythm of the teacher’s life is one of change. So, my spiritual life must follow that sort of rhythm. I find my time for prayer as it fits in between hikes in Yellowstone, rinsing paint from brushes, and taking graduate classes.

Today, right this moment, I am praying and writing, and breaking my fast while resting at a little shrine on a hilltop above a Trappist monastery.
(lay novices carried these brick uo here 2@ time)

It is probably the first time a computer has been here. Almost certainly the first time someone brought a laptop, an iPod, a camera, a headset with microphone for recording podcasts, and the snacks and reading material I felt I needed to have with me.
But between these paragraphs has been quiet times, prayerful moments, and I feel reconnected to my Lord.

I’m an hour and a half walk from the monastery (frequent pauses in the hike rising 750’).
(The yellow line is my path)
(Larger than it looks, this quarry is filled with water)
My friend and I arrived about 6:15 this morning to listen to the prayers of the monks, and now we have our own solitude.


Heavenly Father, Lord Jesus, Holy Spirit... bless me today. Cleanse my heart and wash me clean of the sins, the failings, the selfish concerns I practice every day. Bless me Lord, hear my prayer.

Thank you for my wife, my lovely, sweet Brenda. Help her to know how much she is loved, how much she means to me. Thank you for my relationship with her. Thank you for this good season in our lives when we seem to be communicating better, loving better, listening better. Thank you for my partner and friend Lord. Bless her with strength and peace and the knowledge that I love her more than I love my own body.

Thank you for my children Lord.

Thank you for Jeremiah. For his good heart and his eagerness to please. Thank you for his o...

(interruption... someone has arrived)

Thank you for his tremendous growth over this past year. Thank you for helping me to help him through the challenges that came from that day a year ago when he played with fire in our church, Your church, and caused so much damage.

Thank you for Isaac Lord. Thank you for the indications I hold so dear that he is beginning to come out of his shell, that he is making a little progress in making friends. Thank you for this boy, this young man, who gives me bear hugs and feels safe enough with me to ask all sorts of questions about life.

Thank you for Willy Lord. My breath still shortens, my chest stills constricts when I think of that darling child who bore my name and lies beneath the headstone of petrified wood. Thank you for his impact in my life. Though it hurts still, I am grateful for the lessons I received from his life. That a child can be mine, and I can lose that child, and still follow, still grow, still learn to be Your servant. That life does not stop, even when I want it to... and that life can be good, life can be full of joy, even when the worst happens. Thank you for Willy.

I have one request Lord.

In the midst of the joy in our home I feel a shadow. Our family is happier, stronger than ever, but there is something plaguing our sleep. Each of us has had nightmares for the past week. I wake Brenda from her moaning sleep, she wakes me from mine. The boys complain that they are having bad dreams.

I’m reluctant to claim spiritual warfare at every ailment, every headache, but Lord, there is something creeping about the shadows once again.

So I pray, I ask, bless my home Lord. Send Your Spirit, Your protection to my home.

May the prayers I speak over my family each night be full and strong and protective. If there is sin, if there is wrongness, or curses in my home, bring them into the light Lord so I may call them out to You clearly and rid my home of their influence. If there are forces creeping about the shadows of my house, my home, shove them away, defeat them Lord.

Thank you Lord for all You have given me. Direct my path everywhere I go.

I am Your servant and wait upon your bidding.

Bless me today Lord.

As I walk down from this hilltop guide my steps and prompt me to pause to pray and to look where You would have me Look.

I am Yours my Lord... my master.



It is so peaceful here. So quiet. I’m reluctant to leave. but I have just an hour and a half to get back down to meet my friend. so I best go...
(I love the texture of this old log)

I know I need to keep moving... I’ve got to get down the hill... but a wonderful feeling of joy is sweeping through me... I want to make a note of it it. I feel so blessed! Before me lies a magnificent view of the vineyards of the Willamette Valley...
(Willatte wine is becoming world-renowned)

...and above me are boughs of douglas firs, and within me is a heart that is leaping. I know that my prayers of concern for my home are going to be answered.
I may have much more praying to do, perhaps other actions as well... but I am the Lord’s and He is watching over me. God is good. That is enough...

(I need to trim that beard, I look like a geezer!)

I carried 20 pounds of technology and books and stuff up this hill... 750’ in elevation... but the biggest burdens I had I’m not carrying back down! All praises to the Lord God Almighty! Life is very good.


I’m nearly back to the monastery... A large bird has been circling me... wondering what I am up to...

Shall I post this piece on my blog? The joy I felt as I left the summit is still with me... and I have snapped many pictures of things as I came down... it might be fun to put it together... perhaps a podcast which includes the music I’ve been listening to as I walked.

This has been a good walk... a walk in the Garden... He watches over me, and He walks with me... I don’t do this enough...


Thank You Lord! I praise You! You are my strength, You refresh me when I am weary, You lift my burdens from my shoulders. I love You Lord. I am Your servant. I pray Lord that this joy lasts for a very long time. Permit me to spread this joy to my family.

Thank You for my wife. Thank You for my children. Thank You for my home, and my friends. For my pastor and my work and my life. I love You. Lead me Lord. I will follow. --Amen.


I’m back. On a whim I took an old road through the woods to see where it would lead. I came across s pot where a blue jay came to its end, the signs of its struggle evident in the feathers scattered about.

The slope became gentler, the spaces more open. And I found myself behind large buildings, leased to a vineyard to store their aging wines. Following the directions of a worker I passed the book bindery, the cloister of the monks, and a small cemetery. I know where I am on the map now.

I’m resting now before we have lunch in a few minutes. I think I hear my friend coming.

I still feel the joy of the Lord.

What a refreshing walk for the soul it was today...


I’m home... I met up with my friend... we went to prayers and then ate the lunch the monks had prepared. Afterward he and I walked...
to the picnic area where there is a baseball field... and picnic tables. We talked and prayed.

I needed this today.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Ferns & Courage

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(podcast of this post)

A special part of living in the north end of the Willamette Valley is the breathtaking beauty. A favorite place of mine is Silver Falls. The water cascades, falls, splashes, sprays throughout this State Park from a dozen waterfalls. Moss hangs from trees, lichen creeps glacially over the rocks year by year, the ferns spring up amidst wild flows, framing the fish leaping in the streams and rivers: fragile plants twisting up between the roots of mighty trees.

The ferns provide a primordial touch to the forest. Fronds stretch out to brush the dust from our feet, the fiddleheads slowly unfurl through the afternoon’s light, verdant from its passage through maple leaves. Most don’t notice the fern’s dual nature. They see the fronds and fiddleheads and miss the other half of this unusual life form. The prolathia.

Beneath the ferns are tiny plants, up to a half inch across and lying close to the ground, and they are the direct offspring of the ferns above them. They are the plants which grow from the spores dropped from the fronds dusting our feet.

The little plants are male and female and mix their genetic materials by dropping them into water droplets, producing sporphytes, seeds.

Weird isn’t? It is almost as if they are two species, alternating their generations, asexual and sexual reproduction, spores and seeds, moving through time, taking turns.


Ever watch The Red Green Show? It isn’t on the Public Broadcasting System any more, but it was a lot of fun while it lasted. There was a prayer that ended each episode, the prayer of the members of "Possum Lodge":

Dear Lord,
I’m a man,
and I’m sorry.
But I’ll change,
if I have to,
I guess.


I don’t understand women. My generalizations are often wrong when applied to specific women, but there are tendencies in the way women think, behave, live, that seem fairly consistent.

That is true of men also. Many women don’t understand men. That’s OK.

It’s almost as if we are separate species. Like ferns, we share who we are, but we are so different that an outside observer might mistake us for completely different creatures.

Men dominate. We tend to hold the higher positions of authority in everything from leading nations to leading card games. The hormones coursing through our veins push us to act. We take risks, we claim resources, we stake out territories. The biological advantage is that our families, our tribes, have greater chances for survival. A disadvantage is that it can get us killed.

Another disadvantage is that it results in unfair situations. Hormones do not reason out what is equitable, what our opponents need or desire, what is fair. We consider them only in bartering small concessions to our advantage.

All this posturing, and growling, and chest thumping often results in the subjectation of not only our opponents, but of the members of our tribes and families. Our partners. Our wives.

Women tend to use other methods to reach their goals. I prefer a particular method to be used on me. It is a subtle manipulation of my ego and topics of discussion so I might develop the idea of what is wanted, without my knowledge, it is all a part of her plan. (Though she doesn’t pull it off often... I think.) It is perfect when she lets me think it was all my idea. She hasn’t hormones that demand the chest-thumping recognition of who is smartest, most clever.

But subtleties are lost in many circumstances. There is another method I have known women to take that is stunning, one which thickens my throat, making it hard to swallow, moving my heart to an understanding of what is right, what is fair.

I know of two songs which explore two occaisions when women have used their own innocence, their own frailty, to shame the beasts which surround them into behaving as human beings.

One song is “Cueca Solo” by Sting.

There is a folk dance in Argentina. The cueca. It is a dance performed by couples at almost any occaision: parties, festivals, weddings.

It is a dance of beauty where scarves float between reaching hands, a dance of courtship and partnership shouting to the world that this is a couple. That here are two people who will dance through all their years as partners.

During the reign of General Pinochet thousands of people simply disappeared. They we snatched from streets and homes, parks and churches, and were tortured and raped and murdered. The military patrolled the streets. The police had absolute authority.

And the mothers, the wives, of the disappeared grieved. Their sorrow grew and grew until one day it found expression in the dance.

They walked to the police stations, to the gates of military bases, and began to dance. They held portraits of their husbands, of their sons, and danced the cueca... all alone. They pinned the photos of the loved ones to their blouses... and danced, alone, cueca solo, beneath the stony gazes of their oppressors.

Such bravery is incredible. It is breathtaking. It makes my heart ache to think of sorrow so deep that their own lives become a small thing, worth the risk in dancing the question: “Where is he?

There is a second song which makes me consider the magnificent beauty of femine bravery: “Miss Sarajevo” by U2.

In the midst of the death, and rape, and torture of the war in Bosnia, of an “ethnic cleansing” pitting “Christians” against “muslims,” a group of young women held a beauty pageant.

The song begins with a soft beat, strings rise in volume, and Bono’s voice begins asking questions:

Is there a time for keeping a distance
A time to turn your eyes away
Is there a time for keeping your head down
For getting on with your day

Is there a time for kohl and lipstick
A time for cutting hair
Is there a time for high street shopping
To find the right dress to wear

The parallelism of those words...

is there a time...

is there a time...

It brings Ecclesiastes to mind... that there is a time for everything. I listen to those words, wondering... The gentle melody, the rising strings, the lyrics, bring to mind the images of war, of explosions and men running with figures lying contorted on litters, of body bags and funerals.

And the lyrics swing around to gaze quietly, hopefully, at the simple silly ritual of a beauty pageant:

Here she comes
Heads turn around
Here she comes
To take her crown

I wonder at the odd juxtaposition of death and beauty, of terror and normalcy:

Is there a time to walk for cover
A time for kiss and tell
Is there a time for different colors
Different names you find it hard to spell

Is there a time for first communion
A time for east 17
Is there a time to turn to mecca
Is there a time to be a beauty queen

Here she comes
Beauty plays the crown
Here she comes
Surreal in her crown

And the music swings away from Bono’s soft questioning voice to Pavarotti’s tenor as it pierces through the melody and wisks me up and away from my mental images of death:

Dici che il fiume
trova la via al mare
E come il fiume
giungerai a me
Oltre i confini
e le terre assetate
Dici che come fiume
come fiume
L'amore giunger
E non so pi pregare
E nell'amore non so pi sperare
E quell'amore non so pi aspettare

I don’t understand the words, but the emotions are clear, needing no translation. I hear a voice which cries out for the beauty of the world, and it questions why men make things ugly. It sings of a love that flows through the boundaries of nations, a love strong enough to push aside such hatreds as that of Montagues and Capulets, “Christians” and “muslims.” It aches for things which flutter from the grasp of innocents lost in the fog of war.

My mind conjures up the images of green light filtering through shimmering leaves, of angry balls of fire rising from war-torn cities, of water falling from great heights, of an infant in my arms, and an infant lying in a horrifyingly small coffin (how is it that such things are ready for use!?!), of women in a beauty pagent asking not to be killed for trying to live a normal life, of ferns beneath giant cedars, and of the beauty of femine courage.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


I could dimly see her bustling around the car through the new curtains hanging on the front door. The vacuum cleaner was roaring on a piece of scrap linoleum in the driveway, she was wrestling with the hose and attachments.

She doesn’t like the pine tree in the yard.

The needles drop into the car's air intake, wedging into the windshield’s seal, dropping through open windows to poke unwary posteriors.

“Let me help you with that.” The pine needles poke at my neck as I duck under a low branch that has escaped pruning.

I can do it,” she say tersely, pulling at the needles sticking out of the end of the vacuum hose. The needles keep wedging themselves sideways in the attachments.

The hood is up so I idly start picking up clumps of needles from inside the engine compartment. She is pulling on two sections of vacuum pipe to get at a clog of brown needles. They fly apart, the long thin attachment flies off, hitting the nearby van.

“These things are SO IRRITATING!” she grunts.

I want to help her, but if she lets me do it she will have lost her battle against this thing in our yard. She jams the tubes together, sticks the narrow attachment on the end. In moments the tube clogs again.

Brenda pulls on the pipes, the pipes resist, they give in, and taunt her by flinging the attachment even further than before.


“Let me do it...”


Her last two sentences hang in the air. Suddenly I bust out in loud, hearty, and almost certainly annoying, bellows of laughter.

She looks at me in astonishment. My laughing redoubles.

I'm gasping: “You hate it, but you don’t want to stop?”

Irritation, frustration, recognition, flicker across her face. Beneath her furrowed brow and button nose she pokes her tongue out at me.

Finally a smile plays across her face. I smile, pick up the attachment from where she flung it, and begin vacuuming up the pine needles for her. She watches for a minute, and wanders off to do some other chore.


Isn’t that human nature? We continue doing the things we hate. We don’t want to do them. We don’t have to do them. We are stubborn beyond reason.

What things do I do that I needn’t? Self-criticism? Not treating everyone with the love? Sin? Failures of spirit? Failures of flesh? Habits I have developed, nurtured far beyond any rational purpose? Grudges, resentments? Preferences in my home? Getting my way in traffic, service in the marketplace...

Where am I stubborn?