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Campfire400Today we delivered my daughter to overnight camp.  She's been looking forward to it for days, counting down the hours even, bubbling over with excitement.  Today, as we turned into the wooded entrance to the camp, she rolled down her window and said "Smell that air! Isn't it great?"  Well, no, I wouldn't say that.  It's hot, humid, and dusty, and the idea of a week in an unairconditioned cabin sounds horrible to me.  It's not relevant to her, though.

We'll miss her.  We pass by her empty bedroom and sigh.  There's an empty place here, a voice we don't hear, hugs we don't receive -- for a week that is.  We write her everyday.  We talk about her, pray for her, wonder what she's doing now, this minute.  Contrast this with her attitude about this separation.  I asked her if she'd miss us.  She thought about it for, well, maybe a second, and somewhat apologetically said she wouldn't, at least not much.  She said she'd be too busy.  We said we'd write.  She said she'd write, once, maybe.  Well, last Summer we wrote every day.  We received one postcard from her with two sentences.  That's how it goes.

This is foreign.  The two summers I went to camp you would have thought I was going to prison.  I cried before I went, plead with my parents to let me stay home, and when they dropped me at camp I looked longingly at their car driving away.  I just know I was the last to go to sleep in my cabin, every night, as I lay there wondering what was happening at home.  Oh, I got on with it, but in the corner of my mind, ever-present, was my dream of home, of leaving this place, this sorry camp.

It has bothered me that my daughter doesn't miss us, at least not much, until today when I made my peace with that.  For whatever reason, I think God left the "missing" part out of her.  He has his reasons.  Maybe she needs to do things that will require her to travel, to be away for long periods of time.  Maybe this frees her to move in the world with freedom, untethered by homesickness and roots like some of us.  It has it's down side, sure -- she may never know the deep love of place and community that us home-bound people may, that connectiveness, but perhaps she will be able to do things we cannot.

Only one thing I pray: that she'll develop a homesickness for Heaven.  And maybe, just maybe, she'll miss her Dad and Mom and brother a little bit too while she's out there with the people, living, enjoying it all.

Why Christian Music Must Die

Clip_image003 "At the core, pop music is telling people what they want to hear.  Christian Pop Music is no different.  This presents a great problem when my understanding of the gospel is that it is not what we want to hear. . . . Don't be surprised by the CCM industry. . . . They have created a monster, and now they do not know how to kill it gracefully" (Jars of Clay lead singer Dan Haseltine, February 2005 post, CMCentral.com forum).

It's not my title, folks, but that of Dave Urbanski, whose essay of the same name appeared in last years Issue 25 (and, sadly, last issue) of the journal Mars Hill Review. Urbanski is not advocating killing off the artists and music but, rather, the megastructure marketing machine that is the Christian music business.  If you can't discern what he's talking about, take a good look at CCM Magazine, the organ of the CCM business, or visit your local Christian book store chain and note the trinkets for sale, the impulse buy items at the register, and the pop culture glitz of the CD sales area.  Something is amiss here, and we're so busy buying we can't see it.

Urbanski does a good job of documenting his concerns, but I'll comment on one here because I have personal experience, and let me say this: I hate going in most Christian bookstores.  For one thing, I dislike the marketing.  For another, I can never find many serious books (there's a true lack of breadth in the Schaeffer and Lewis catalog, among others).  And finally, and most sadly, I don't think these places minister to nonChristians any longer.  They are "safe" places to go and look for books and records with kids, and even pleasant, kind of a Christian Borders.

In the town where I live, there was one Christian bookstore 30 years ago.  I remember it well.  It was a small place, located near the university, and the neighborhood was a rough one.  A bar was located across the street.  Winos sometimes visited (and not for Christian books, either).  But its distinctive was that it was a ministry -- there were stories of bar owners being saved, people off the street being saved, and so on, and every time I went into the store there was usually a discussion with the woman that worked there about a particular book, or she might recommend something.  Then, that all changed.  They moved to the suburbs and lost that ministry to college students, drunks, and bar owners.

The same is the case with Christian music.  As Urbanski points out, all the major Christian labels are now owned by secular companies who wanted to exploit (no, there's really no better word) the Christian market.  If anything, this has led to a  more conservative policy -- that is, stick with the music that sells, and don't experiment.  Mark Heard would never get a record deal today.  Anyone a little out of the mainstream or who is overweight or homely has a hard time as well.  (They better head for the folk music community which, for all they lack, can be more forgiving in this area and less market-driven.)

The Christian music industry will die when we, the consumers, stop buying what they sell, when we insist on intelligent music in a diversity of styles which deals with the full spectrum of human emotion and experience.  That's why I rarely buy in Christian bookstores and listen to so little music put out by the Christian music labels.  There's a lot of great music by Christians out there.  You just won't find it in the Christian bookstore.

For music, go indie.  Buy direct from the artist when possible.  If you don't know what Christians doing music in the mainstream sound like, buy a compilation, Beat, from Silent Planet Records here.  Only $5.  And for books, visit a great bookstore, Hearts and Minds.  And buy what's good, true, and beautiful regardless of whether it's by a Christian or not, because God's for it if it has those qualities.

Childhood's Time

Paa261000017_2 "I had dominion over all the earth and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.  I saw the earth and its creatures not with the cool eye of the spectator, but with all the passion of a participant in whatever the extraordinary business is that we all of us are participating in, all of us in it together, as it is in all of us.  There is no way to recapture fully the wonder and wildness of it."  (Frederick Buechner, in The Sacred Journey)

What Frederick Buechner lacks in theological precision, he remedies in his ability to give voice to his remembrances.  Here, he remembers childhood, that time when he "knew trees before I knew what a tree was or thought I did, knew the cool rustle and darkness of them shot through with flashes of green sun." He's describing childhood's time which is for most a time of just breathing in Creation, not analyzing it, living in and amongst it, not watching it go by the car window on the way to a glass and concrete building in which we work.

We are busy people, and I am as busy as the next, but I do not want to watch life go by while I fritter away my energy on things that don't last.  Yesterday, I moved ten files from the inbox to the outbox, made an equal number of phone calls, responded to twenty or so emails, but I don't know what came of all that, what will endure.  What will endure is lunch outside on my patio, watching a male and female cardinal feed and never, never leave each other. Never.  That's an image that endures.

And another thing --- what was the last time you just lay down in the grass?  Children do that all the time, and I suspect they're richer for it.  There's life in the grass -- the color green, the good smell of earth, and the insects that go their way every day unaware of us, just Creation that keeps unfurling day after day after day.  When I'm down there on the grass, I feel like I've got hold of the world.  I'm resting on something solid, something made not bought.

We grow up and forget what it is to wonder, to live among trees, to wade in creeks just because, to build treehouses and live in them, to run all over Creation just for the pure sweet pleasure of it.  Just because.  What we need to do is remember that kind of life because I'm convinced it's close to Heaven life.

Childhood isn't really gone, not really past.  As Beuchner says: "Memory is more than a looking back at time that is no longer; it is a looking out into another kind of time altogether where everything that ever was continues not just to be, but to grow and change with the life that is in it still."  I don't know exactly what he means, and maybe he doesn't either.  But I suspect we cannot grasp what he's getting at, that in some mysterious way all those things that happened back then still live on.  We experience them as gone, but maybe it's just that they exist somewhere else.

When we look and listen to Creation, when we rest mind and body on it, when we play for the sake of play, we come close to childhood.  We begin to wonder again.  Prayer is filled with thanks and wonder and less with the need of the moment. 

I remember childhood -- the late summer evening games of capture the flag, our backyard empire that stretched from home to home uninterrupted by fence, pretend games of secret agent and cowboys and Indians, and long, long days filling even longer Summers.  They're still out there somewhere.

Farewell, Reverend Ames

Gilead2_5 "It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on the poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance -- for a moment or a year or the span of a life.  And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light. . . . But the Lord is more constant  and extravagant. . . . Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration.  You don't have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see."  (Rev. Ames, in Gilead).

When there's a crystal blue sky, and gentle whisper of a breeze, and birdsong, it's easy to see what he means by "radiance."  Surely this is what Creation was meant to be, like an English garden.  It's easy to forget for a moment the storms that will come, or drought, or flood, all of which I have seen, easy to forget the almost fatal undercurrent of sin that courses through the natural world, making it a "poor gray ember."  The world is running down; entropy has set in.

The point came home to me not long ago on a visit to a friend's suburban home in a distant city, a place where I had not been for seven or eight years.  When I visited last it was new.  This time I saw the marks on the walls of the staircase, the peeling paint, the aging carpet, the cracks in the driveway, and I realized that it was "sinking back into itself," running down, time ticking along.

And yet still it shines if you have willingness to see.  The wrens and bluebirds are building nests and laying eggs.  New grass is growing.  The trees bloom.  The house gets a fresh coat of paint and new carpet.  All we need is a "little willingness to see."  The Lord of Creation is constant and curse-defying.

"There are two occasions when the sacred beauty of Creation becomes dazzlingly apparent, and they occur together.  One is when we feel our mortal insufficiency to the world, and the other is when we feel the world's mortal insufficiency to us.  Augustine says the Lord loves each of us as an only child, and that has to be true.  'He will wipe every tear from all faces.'  It takes nothing from the loveliness of the verse to say that is exactly what will be required."  (Rev. Ames, in Gilead).

I guess the good Reverend means that sometimes we're just not up to all the beauty in the world, that we can't quite take it in, can't quite hold it all.  And then, on the other hand, the world can't quite hold us, it being but a shadow of the Real World to come.  Martin Luther said something to the effect that if we really knew what made up a blade of grass we would die of wonder.  And yet, even that is but a shadow.

I'm glad Augustine said that, because I need to remember that despite all the business God has in and out of this world, I am his son, and I might as well be his only son for all the love he has for me.  So whether I can't hold the world in my gaze or the world hold me, it doesn't matter.  There's a lightness in my being.  God holds me tight.

"I love the prairie!  So often I have seen the dawn come and the light flood over the land and everything turn radiant at once, that word 'good' so profoundly affirmed in my soul that I am amazed I should be allowed to witness such a thing.  There may have been a more wonderful first moment 'when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy,' but for all I know to the contrary, they still do sing and shout, and they certainly might well."  (Rev. Ames, in Gilead).

I love these hills and pines, maples, and oaks, the azaleas and rich green of grass, the lakes and streams and red clay.  I guess wherever you live God shows you the beauty of that place if you have eyes to see.

John Ames had a habit of rising early and walking the streets to his small and shabby church, to pray and watch the sun rise over the prairie.  I can understand why.  Seeing that sun rise every day, and the light spilling over his town gave him hope, hope enough to endure what he called his "dark years," year after year of loneliness and lack, and yet year after year of persevering faith.  Sometimes when I'm up before light, and walking, I entertain for a moment all kinds of shadowy fears, and occasionally it feels as if the great weight of trouble that weighs on the world rests on me.  And then I see that elderly man, stooping to retrieve his newspaper from the driveway, rise up, nod, and say "Good Morning," and the sun peeks out about then and something bright breaks in my soul and I know that, as John Ames says, "hope deferred is still hope," and I walk on.

"I'll pray, and then I'll sleep.  (Rev. Ames, in Gilead).

Those were the last lines written by Reverend John Ames, and I'll miss him.  Reading Gilead is like reading a pastoral letter, instructive at times, honest, personal, and graciously wise.  Like all good characters, you never want to let them go.  But John Ames has to go just like they all do.  Yet his words live on.

Good night, John Ames.  I'll pray, and then I'll sleep.

Prairie and Prayer

Flower_2 There's a skin of the landscape I'm beginning to peel back, and I'm finding a map of sorts in the world around me; a landscape of prayer, creation that cannot help but praise the creator.  Symbols in the landscape beckon me further up and further in. When I'm on the prairie, the barriers come down.  My need to stay busy dissolves, my frustrations calm, and I am free to be still.  (Cindy Crosby, in By Willoway Brook: Exploring the Landscape of Prayer)

Mostly, when I'm out walking, I'm moving.  I hear the pounding of my feet on asphalt and my somewhat labored breath.  I have to make a conscious effort to focus on the landscape around me, because I'm exercising.  I have a plan.  I have a goal.  I have miles to cover.

What Cindy Crosby is describing is something else altogether, something it's difficult to get out walking for exercise.  It's a meditation on the landscape -- looking, listening, smelling, and touching it.  Adam knew about this.  When God sent the animals to him for naming, Adam, in that pre-Fall state, would not have flippantly said the first name that came to mind.  He would have looked at what manner of creature was in front of him and given it a name summoned up by its appearance or sound.  To name something or someone is to know it or them.  It would have been much as he named Eve "woman," as she was "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. . . [and] taken out of man. (The Hebrew word for "woman" sounds like the word for "man," but we can assume the "wo" is added because she may be like man but oh so, so different! And then, as he later knows her better, he names her "Eve," which means "living.")

It's difficult to practice this kind of knowing of our landscape, our surroundings, given the pace of life, but it's worth it.  A few years ago my daughter and I made a project of naming every tree in our backyard.  To do that we had to look at the profile of the tree, the shape of the leaf, and the bark.  We had to get to know them a bit.  It took some time.  But now I feel like I know them, that is, in the only way you can know a tree, so when I walk in the backyard it's a familiar and oddly comforting community.  I'm not being sentimental or making them more than they are, not being anthropocentric.  They are just trees and, unlike me, they are not made in God's image.  But they are made by His hand and so we share a common origin.

What I guess I'm trying to say is that I'm more at home here when I better know the other living things that live here with me.  I'm glad to know the trees and the birds that live here.  Certainly I've been entertained by the antics of the squirrels.  My backyard is full of life.

Crosby ties this knowing of the landscape, the living community around us, to prayer.  When she is in the Schulenberg Prairie near her home in the western suburbs of Chicago, she says she is "free to be still."  The tallgrass prairie gives her all kinds of reasons to pray.  Like the monarch butterfly, encoded with the memory of a place in Mexico to which they go each Fall, a place they have no memory of and yet the longing for which they are encoded.  The butterflies homing instinct makes her wonder if we are all encoded with that longing for home, for God, and it drives her to prayer.

You know, I'll bet there are such symbols all around me.  I just need to open my eyes and look well.  I certainly can't look at what's here without thankfulness welling up in me.  There's not an animal or plant or inanimate object here that's not pointing out, to God.

There's a lot going on in my backyard.

Creational Theology (III): Irrepressible Grace

Flower As Calvinists believe in irresistible grace, that drawing of the elect to God that cannot be stymied, so too we believe in irrepressible grace, that is, that evidence of God's providence and goodness that inevitably bubbles up to the surface of all created things.  As God draws us to himself, so too he slaps us in the face with who He is because it is indelibly imprinted on everything made, whether nature, the built environment, or human relationships.  It's right there in Romans 1:18-23: "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen."  Irrepressibly seen, indeed.

Take trash cans, for example.  I'm sitting in a restaurant alone (no doubt, as I would not be thinking such airy thoughts if someone was with me), and I see a green trashcan outside the window, one of those trashcans made to fit into the shopping center environment.  It's a marriage of aesthetic form and function.  It's actually shapely, when it need not have been.  A simple can would have worked, but the design in this one is evident.  This one looks good and works well.  As I said, it need not have been that way, but it is.  Why? Because we care about beauty as well as function.  God does too, and He made us in His image, and thus we care about such things too.  It's unavoidable.  It flows out of who we are.  It's irrepressible (common) grace.

If I pull back a bit more from the trashcan, I see a whole retail shopping area that is full of considerations of aesthetic form and function, from the design of sidewalks to staircases and parking lots.  It has order to it, and beauty, and it need not have been.  Pull back again and I see a whole area of shops, apartments, streets, signs, and people, everywhere people.  I realize that the design of the entire area has been shaped by zoning and sign ordinances, and more that I do not even know about.  The point is that there is design everywhere because we bear the image of a Designer.  It need not have been.  It could have been random and haphazard, but it will not happen that way.  It simply does not.  Go to the poorest village in Africa and you'll find some organization, some desire for beauty, some semblance of design.  It's irrepressible -- grace.

Looking out my window again, there is a cafe with people, some alone like me but, more often, with another.  People have an inevitable desire for community, to be with someone else.  Even though I may choose to be alone today, so I can think, so I can carry on an internal conversation without distraction, more often than not I choose not to be alone.  I want to be with another.  Once again, we desire another because God existed in all eternity as a community -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It's irrepressible grace.

When we're traveling with our children we sometimes play a game.  We challenge each other to have a "God sighting."  We're saying "Look for His imprint."  Now I can't get a moments peace, can't even sit in a restaurant and be alone.  He's all around me.  Irrepressible grace.  Thank God for it.  Thank God for what William Cowper called a "capacious reservoir of means," God's creation, a world brimming with grace.

Respecting the Dead

Gilead2 In Marilynne Robinson's Pulitzer Prize winning book, Gilead, the 76-year old Reverend John Ames writes as one remembering his life and the life of his father and grandfather.  Today, one passage in particular stimulated my own memories.  Ames is recalling how, as a young boy in Kansas in the late 1800s, he traveled with his father to find the whereabouts of his father (and Ames' grandfather).  It was a difficult trip, with barely enough food to stay alive, taking a solid month round trip.  They found the makeshift graveyard where his grandfather was buried, down the lonely remains of a road:

We walked past that graveyard twice.  The two or three headstones in it had fallen over and it was all grown up with weeds and grass.  The third time, my father noticed a fence post, so we walked over to it, and we could see a handful of graves, a row of maybe seven or eight, and below it a half row, swamped with that dead brown grass.  I remember that the incompleteness of it seemed sad to me.  In the second row we found a marker someone had made by stripping a patch of bark off a log and then driving nails partway in and bending them flat so they made the letters REV AMES.  The R looked like the A and the S was a backwards Z, but there was no mistaking it.

Ames and his father went on to spend a couple days there, mending a fence, setting the gravestones upright, his father saying "We might as well look after these other folks while we are here."  They cut the brush back and generally tidied up the whole place, even planting wildflowers.  And then this:

My father said to be careful where I stepped.  There were small graves here and there that I hadn't noticed at first, or I hadn't quite realized what they were.  I certainly didn't want to walk on them, but until he cut the weeds down I couldn't tell where they were, and then I knew I had stepped on some of them, and I felt sick.  Only in childhood have I felt guilt like that, and pity.  I still dream about it.  My father says that when someone dies the body is just a suit of old clothes the spirit doesn't want anymore.  But there we were, half killing ourselves to find a grave, and as cautious as we could be about where we put our feet.

Just reading this fictional account, I remembered my younger sister and I walking once with my grandmother to an old graveyard near her home.  I was probably six or seven at most.  I had never been to such a place, like a graveyard in a forest all grown up over and around the graves.  Forgotten by most.  But not by my grandmother.  We pulled vines off the headstones, tried to set them right, made nice beds of pine straw over the graves (to the extent we could find them).  And we were quiet.  It was a sober task, though I could not have told you then why we were so quiet.

This is, in a  sense, a curious thing to do.  The dead are dead.  As Christians we believe, like Reverend Ames father said, that the body is "just a suit of old clothes the spirit doesn't want anymore."  And yet we believe in a bodily resurrection, an ongoing physical manifestation of who I am, and perhaps honoring the body in burial and in death and hallowing the place where the body rests is symbolic -- it points to our hope of bodily resurrection beyond the grave.  There's no sense in graveyards if there's no resurrection.

A friend said to me recently, "Steve, when you die and they have your funeral, I want to see your body up there in front of the church.  Will you do that?"

Yes.  And I'll leave instructions:  "This is my body.  I've gone on.  You will too.  Handle with care.  It's not much of a body, but it's important.  It points beyond."

And please don't walk on my grave.


Clip_image001_3 "Homesickness for God is a mark of the life of prayer."

-- James Houston, in The Transforming Life of Prayer

I've been alone this week with my daughter, as my wife and son are out of town.  I'm enjoying the time with my daughter, and yet, if I were to characterize my days, I'd say that in many respects I am going through the motions, doing what must be done but, except for some special moments one-on-one with my daughter (which I wouldn't minimize), I am just waiting for remainder of my family to return.  I'm homesick for them.  I'm really not complete, not able to rest, until we are all together.

I remember going to camp as a child.  It was just a week, not so long, really, but for me it was an eternity.  I suffered from homesickness not one day but all week of it.  I did all the normal camp things, and seeing me, you might even would have said that I looked like a normal, well-adjusted camper.  But I was not normal at all.  I remember harboring thoughts of home in the corner of my mind, at the edge of consciousness, at almost all times.  Then, as night fell, and we retired to our bunks, these thoughts became larger and larger.  Sleep seemed to elude me for hours as I lay there thinking of home, wondering how much longer until I was able to leave and go home, listening to the other apparently clueless campers breathing deeply in dreamland.  It was just me and, as I finally figured out, God as well.  Sometimes I'd pray "God, please get me out of here.  Please get me home."  Pitiful, I know.  My wife cannot identify with this particular feeling at all.  She went to camp for six weeks in the Summer and then begged to stay six more weeks, something I would have regarded as near insanity at the time. (I now know this was a common experience for many kids.)  She's perfectly fine.

In college I wrote letters to my future wife when she wasn't with me (she graduated before me).  I still have some.  They were full of longing.  Once my car broke down on the way back to school from her home.  I left it, hitchhiked back to her house, and stayed for three more days.  I cut class just to stay and took my sweet time getting the car fixed.  That's not rational, but love isn't rational.  Neither is homesickness.  Silly to dwell on such things some might say.

Now, am I homesick like this, or even lovesick like this, for God?  Not enough.  I often catch myself thinking about God as I go about the normal tasks of life.  Out there on the edge of consciousness, most of the time, I'm thinking there's somewhere else I need to be, somewhere like home, somewhere where I'll be completed, at rest.  But, to be honest, the intensity of that experience is felt only on rare occasions.  People of prayer, people driven to pray, I expect feel it with much more intensity.  John Wesley spent four hours in prayer most mornings; Martin Luther, three.  Why? I suspect they were homesick for God, so aware of their inadequacy, so ill at ease in the world.  They moved through their days, as I do mine, and could not help but be reminded of Christ, their Home, by every single thing they saw, heard, or touched, and then, being so aware of how far from the ideal of it they would know in glory, they were homesick for that place of glory, for Heaven.  This drove them to prayer.

I don't know what those folks in Northern California were thinking when they named their town Happy Camp.  We're not happy campers.  Joyful, maybe, but not happy.  Happy is when we go Home.  Our prayers are the love-letters we send Home.

The Urge for Going

Rand_1 I am not sure why it is, but to plan a trip brings me about as much joy as it does to actually go on a trip.  It's been this way since my earliest memories, one of which is sitting in the front seat with my parents, map in hand, directing them to stay on this road, turn right here, or watch for this sign.  What was I -- six or seven?  I could barely read.

Road maps actually do make for some great reading and imagining.  Take California, for instance.  Tonight I have the Rand McNally 2006 Road Atlas open, the oversize one (affectionately known as simply "RM").  It's 138 pages of possibilities and dreams.  As I pore over it places come alive in my mind, almost like that magic book Lucy found in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader: a spell to make hidden things visible.  Indeed.

Ah, Northern California, the end of Jack Kerouac's wanderings, a place of dreamers, idealists, loners, expatriates, cowboys (believe it or not), and beauty, created beauty. Put your finger down anywhere on the page and hidden places begin to come into view.

J0382747 Rahnersville, Hydesville, McCann, Garbersville, Laytonsville.  Who was Layton or Garber for that matter?  Were they 49s who came West to make a fortune and, finding none, put down roots and became town founders?  I don't have a good feeling about Hyde.  He probably killed a man, or more than one man, and now lives on in infamy.  Most of these are small towns, down a faint line of a road, what RM calls "unimproved," and that makes me wonder why the town didn't amount to more.  And is there any doubt who owns "Potter's Valley?"  That, I confess, I have an ill feeling about too, but maybe I'm just thinking of that greedy, conniving, cheatin' old man Potter in "It's A Wonderful Life." I guess there are upstanding Potters around.  Why, indeed, I knew a judge named Potter.  Oh yeah.  He was known as the "Hanging Judge."  So much for good Potters.

And what's the story behind Susansville and Janesville, not 10 miles apart?  Estranged sisters?  Loving wives?  Town matrons or benefactors?  Or was it "Honey, I'm naming the town after you?"  Lots of possibilities here.  And frankly, I don't know what to think of the Town of "Hooker."  A brothel?  Or just (sorry Hooker family), just an unfortunate surname?  And what about Denny, a near no-place at the dead end of 12 miles of, yes, "unimproved" road?  Poor Denny, exiled like Ishmael, out there, alone.  Or Denny, the loner, the self-made man, going it alone until he got a town named after him?

Some places suggest events -- like Burnt Ranch.  Or they suggest the character of the town, like Whiskeytown.  (Hmmm. . . not far from Hooker it is.)  Or perhaps the general outlook of a folk, like Happy Camp or simply Day.  The latter falls off the tongue well:  "It's a good day in Day today."  I could not find a corresponding "Night" though.

In the midst of these rather comm names, some uppity Southern Californians or East Coast folks plunked down names that they stole from elsewhere -- Nice (France), Lucerne (Switzerland), Capetown (South Africa).  Those names do nothing for me and denote a lack of imagination in my book.  And what, pray tell, are they doing in the backwoods of Northern California?

There are stories written all over this one page of RM.  I feel the pull to go, to see for myself what the names are all about.  And why is that?  Why is it so captivating?  Why do we have, as Joni Mitchell said, such an "urge for going?"

Part of it, I think, is that we are, as Scripture tells us, exiles, nomads, strangers, and sojourners on this earth.  Since leaving the settled peace of the Garden we have been on the move, looking for something, for Home, for what lies over the next hill, around the next corner, to see if something better is out there.  Jesus said to "Go," as in "Go into all the world. . . .," and we've all been going ever since, for all kinds of reasons, good and bad.  His command had a goal, a reason for our going, and that was to "make disciples," to live coram deo, love coram deo, and enjoy what He has made and get to know it, coram deo.

Yes, I'm restless.  I acknowledge that I have found my real place, my Home, with Christ, and yet I see it only partially now, so still I wander.  Yes, I know things, but I want to know more, to walk all over the book of this world, the one He made, to watch Him make hidden things visible to me, little by little, through a glass darkly now, a little clearer tomorrow, and the next day.  I don't want to take anything for granted, leave any rock unturned, miss anything He puts in front of me.

At the end of the going, when I reach the ocean, when I go as far as I can go, I want to know why I'll say Eureka! just like that 49er who reached the sea and cried "Eureka!." Why did he do that?  Bottom line, I want my own town, named after me, but I'll get much better than that.  One day I'll inherit it all.  That's what the Man said.

Now, like RM says right there on the cover: "Get Rolling!" I gotta get going.

Tick, Tick, Tick (Part V): Time Dilation Theory

Clip_image002_21 Just think about time a bit, and it begins to get very weird.  For example, where did yesterday go, really?  Is it still there or so or did it simply evaporate when time moved on?  This is the kind of weirdness that has produced multiple plots for sci-fi movies (Back to the Future, or The Philadelphia Experiment, to name a few), and every sci-fi series, from the various Star Trek series to Stargate SG-1, has had episodes devoted to time travel or exploring the theoretical multiple and parallel dimensions in time.  It apparently fascinates us.  Perhaps it is because we earnestly desire to be in control (rather than God), so that if we can control time, that is, alter time to fix some current injustice, we can make our lives better.  But then multiple other movies have demonstrated what a mess we could make of things.

I'm as fascinated as the next person with time, but I'm not as interested in time travel (what a mess that would be) but in understanding how as a Christian I am to view time, that is, how I can have something of God's perspective on time.  From what I know of it, I think what's called time dilation theory helps us understand a Godly perspective on time.

The best example utilized to demonstrate this theory goes like this:  Imagine you're standing outside looking up on a starry night and a rocket ship races across the sky.  Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity says that the time you measure for events occurring on the rocket ship happens more slowly than events measured by the astronaut.  In other words, time dilates, or "expands," form your point of view on the Earth.  Theoretically, at a certain speed. . . hmmm. . . lets say the speed of light (670,616,629 mph), for every one second on the ship 10 seconds may pass on Earth.  If, say, you could move inconceivably fast, faster than the speed of light, perhaps one second could equal a lifetime on Earth, maybe more.

That may be imperfect and mighty speculative, and yet it may be a helpful way to see how God views us and time.  He is timeless, that is, outside of time, eternal.  He looks at the whole life of the universe much as we might look at a second in time.  And yet, it was a second that mattered to Him.  When you are eternal, when you are outside of time, not time-bound, your perspective has to be different.

I think the closer we walk with God, the richer our communion with Him, the the less chronos time matters because we see it more from the Timemaker's perspective, just a fleeting second.  What matters is kairos time, meaning how did we live that second.  Viewed from God's perspective, yesterday folds into today and tomorrow, and perhaps that explains the odd sensation I have at times that I'm really not far away from where I was 30 years ago, if I could walk there.

Like I said, think on this much and it begins to mess with your mind.

The Frustration of Frustration

Clip_image002_20 At 14, life can be so frustrating.  My son said to me today, "I'm sick of all this.  All this useless homework about irrelevant stuff.  You spend the first part of your life in school all day, in boring courses, and then doing homework at home, with no time to do what you want to do.  Then you have to get a job, work long hours, and you have bills to pay and all those responsibilities.  Then you end up in an old folks home eating jello and working Sudoku puzzles all day.  What's the use?"  Well, by the end of that, we were both laughing, at least.  And yet, there is some truth in what he says.

I have been going to work at the same place for 22 years.  Most weekdays I get up, follow the same routines, drive the same roads, park the car, walk in the door, hit the elevator button, step off on my floor, and go in my office, where I sit.  Granted some things change.  I'm older.  My secretary of 22 years is older.  There is a computer on my desk now (none of us used to have PCs.)  But, really, there is a sameness, a tiresomeness about it all.  In fact, sometimes driving in to work I'm momentarily overcome by the futility of it all.  Do you know the feeling?

So I know exactly what my son is talking about, and I know that you do too.  That feeling is universal.  Things are not what they should be.  Everything is touched by abnormality, warped, and subjected to frustration.

Paul says "the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God" (Rom. 8:19).  So, Paul felt it too, this winding down of things, this entropy, the sense of futility.  So did Solomon.  "Meaningless, meaningless!," says the Teacher.  "All is meaningless!" (Eccl. 12:8).

A few months ago I visited my childhood suburban home for the first time in a long time.  That sense of futility came over me again.  The houses were smaller and less well-maintained.  The yards were somewhat unkempt.  The park was overgrown with weeds.  There were cracks in the asphalt on the street.  Order to disorder.

All around us are the effects of the Fall.  And we can't help but feel it.  And yet, as we reminded our son (and remind ourselves), there's more to it.  There's a reverse entropy at work: Evil may flourish for a time and things may seem futile at times, but the Kingdom is growing, all our actions have a purpose, everything matters.  God has entered space and time and is undoing the curse.

Paul, again, went on to say to the Colossians this time that "God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross" (Col. 1:20).  Reconciliation is cosmic in scope.  Somehow, God is restoring everything, making everything new.  Everything is being redeemed, or bought back, restored to its rightful owner, made into what it was intended to be, including us.

"Grief is great, Son of Adam," says Aslan to the child-king Peter.  Grief is great.  There is futility.  There is toil.  But, as I remind my son (and myself), there is a Deeper Magic at work.  Sad things will be undone.  Our labor will not always be toil and, as Francis Schaeffer often reminded his audience, there can be substantial healing (or redeeming of our labor) now.  Soon, and very soon Creation's frustration will be frustrated.

Tick Tick Tick (Part Two): The City of No Clocks

Oldman It strikes me that we don't give much consideration to how long some of our earliest ancestors lived and what that "looked like."  Take the oldest recorded ancestor, Methuselah, who lived 969 years, just short of 1000.  Now that's a lot of clocks to punch, football games to watch, and bad investments to make.  Even Man One, Adam, lived 930 years.  Imagine that -- he had at least 800 years, and likely more, just to remember that tragic mistake he made with the apple.  After Seth was born at 130, what did he do for the next 800 years?  For you women, let's make this a bit more real:  at 930 years for Adam, that's 1,018,350 meals to prepare and a whole lot of laundry to wash and hang on the line.

I'm pondering all this aloud on the way to church tonight, and I'd have to say no one is really interested in what Adam was doing all those years.  One member of the family is doing Bible study, one is doing homework, and one is drinking ginger ale and practicing burping.  They are not impressed.

Nevertheless, I think there's something to learn here about the way we should view time.  Just for a moment, consider what it might be like to live 969 years like Methuselah.  Lots of things that seem so important become a lot less time-sensitive.  Did you fix the toilet, honey?  Nope, I'll get to it, next year maybe, well, what the heck, maybe in a few years.  We've got plenty of time, right?

You think we should start a college fund for Seth?  Nope.  Plenty of time to think about that.  Suspect he won't leave and cleave for awhile yet, maybe be around here until he's at least 75 or so.  Plenty of time to do that, you know.  Let the boy be a kid for a while, like maybe a few decades at least.

Really, when you live 969 years, or maybe more, you begin to have some sense (in a crude way, of course) of what eternity might feel like.  There is less urgency.  Less hastening to do it all.  When Seth needs a good father-son chat, well drop the staff where it is and listen for a few hours, you know. That's a kairos moment -- quality time.  There's time to take a good look at things too, to reflect on God's purposes in the world, to remember what matters, to listen for God's voice.  Lived unto God, life could be slower and more gracious an existence, with plenty of time to settle in God's goodness.

Of course, because of the fateful choice of Adam, a long life not lived unto God can be, at its worse, 969 years to do evil, to cheat, and lie, and steal, and worse, or, at very least, it could be a long, seemingly unending, and tiresome existence.  You wonder how many took their own lives rather than live out their days in such unyielding nihilism.  No wonder God limited our days to 120 years.

I think it's when we have a kairos moment that we step outside of time for a moment.  Time stays still in pure joy.  Like the first time I heard "Good Vibrations" or "Roundabout."  I had to remind myself to breathe.  Living as long as they did, maybe Methuselah, Adam, or Enoch (for sure) knew that more than me, that sense of timelessness, that knowing life from the standpoint of the Creator of time for just a moment, a breath.

There's a short story by Wendell Berry called "Making It Home," featured in his book entitled Fidelity: Five Stories.  A young soldier, Art Rowanberry, is returning home from the Great War to his home in the hills of Kentucky, pondering all he had seen as well as what he might find at home.  Coming over the last hill, he sees his father and brother plowing the field, and they finally see him too.  After a few hand shakes and repeated "Well now"s from his father, there is this:

And then he heard his father's voice riding up in his throat as he had never heard it, and he saw that his father had turned to the boy and was speaking to him:

"Honey, run yonder to the house.  Tell your granny to set on another plate.  For we have our own that was gone and has come again.

Patclock_1 Don't you know that time stopped right then for Early Rowanberry, seeing his son he thought was dead?  Don't you know that time was irrelevant then?

So it is for us.  When we get to the City of No Clocks, He will stop whatever He is doing, look long at us, and then turn to those standing nearby and say "Set another place at the table.  Tell everyone he's Home.  For we have our own that was gone and has come again."

[For Part 1 of "Tick, Tick, Tick," see Post of March 11, 2006.]

The Ubiquitous "3"

3 Have you ever noticed how things so often come in threes?  There's the three-point sermon, for example, that really does seem to be an effective paradigm for preaching.  Or in writing, there is the essay -- introduction, body, conclusion --- and the sentence --- subject, verb, and object.  In argumentation, three points always seems a stronger base than two, and yet after three, the weight of each argument seems undercut, or diluted.  Being an attorney, I am familiar with this; attorneys do go on, you know, and on, and on. . .

3_1 In math, three is the number of perfection.  The triangle, for example, is plain geometry's only stable figure with straight lines.  Give the triangle volume and you have the pyramid -- certainly recognized by the ancient Egyptians as a stable structure (enduring to this day).  Then there's the three-legged stool, certainly more stable than the two-legged stool.

Undoubtedly there are more such examples, but I leave them to you.  (It has even been suggested that sneezes come in threes, though I doubt it.)  The point is, there is something about the number three, something built into the structure of creation that gives it, if not perfection, at least an important status.  What is it?

Christians need not look far.  Three existed before time itself, in the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  In fact, prior to Creation, only two numbers seem to matter: one, for one God, and three, in three persons.  So, to the extent we give priority to three, we come by it naturally, as a part of our creation in the image of God.  British Inkling Dorothy Sayers makes just this point in her book The Mind of the Maker, finding the roots of the artist's creative activity in the Trinity, in what she terms Idea (passionless, timeless, beholding the whole work complete at once, the end in the beginning), Creative Energy (begotten of that Idea, working in time from the beginning to end, manifesting the Idea in matter), and Creative Power (the meaning of the work and its essence in the soul, the indwelling spirit).  Never before has anyone said it like Sayers.

But it's not just the Trinity.  As Patrick Henry Reardon has noted, threes keep showing up in Scripture, which is full of tripartite formulations.  So the writer of 2 Corinthians sums up thus: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all" (2 Cor. 13:14).  The Apostle Paul displayed a particular fondness for the threefold expression of faith, hope, and love, telling the Christians at Thessaloniki of his prayers for them, "remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope" (1 Thess. 1:3).  Yikes, it's even in verse 3!  It's most memorable expression is "And now abide faith, hope, and love, these three" (1 Cor. 13:13). Yikes, threes again!

3_2 Silliness aside, as we really have no warrant for any superstition about numbers, three or otherwise, there is something about the number three, don't you agree?  I think it is creational, a reflection of the Trinity as well as of the simple fact that, as wise Solomon noted, "a threefold cord is not easily broken" (Eccl. 4:12)., that is, such a structure has integrity and strength whether structure, argument, or relationship. (There I go again,thinking in threes!)

But, I'll leave you thinking on that.  I need to go out walking -- three miles today, in honor of God's "3."

Whatever is Maudlin and Sentimental -- Think About Such Things?

One of the primary uses of Philippians 4:8 is is as a justification for Christians watching or reading only what is nice, heartwarming, safe, and comfortable.  It's all a matter of what parts of the verse you emphasize, though.  The verse says this:  "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever us noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things."

Lilhous2 It's a wonderful verse, really, because it's an injunction to think about the true, the good (or right), and the beautiful (lovely) -- objective truth (the really real), moral truth (the good and the bad), and aesthetic truth (the beautiful and the ugly), saying it another way.  Now, to those who think this means we all need to confine our viewing of TV to Touched by an Angel or Little House on the Prairie reruns, or reading sanitized Christian fiction, consider what happens when you apply this interpretation to the Book God wrote.

For example, try Judges 19 and 20.  It recounts a sordid tale of a Levite and his concubine staying overnight in Gibeah, where a group of men demand that the Levite be brought out to them so they can have sex with him.  He gives them his mistress, and after they gang rape and beat her through the night, she dies.  The Levite takes her home, cuts her body into twelve pieces, and sends them to the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel as a visible and gruesome demonstration of the depth of depravity in the land.  In the horrific violence that ensues, thousands die and Gibeah is destroyed by fire.  Hey, I didn't write it! Think about such things? This might get an X rating even nowadays.  It's not for the kids, folks.

This is not an isolated passage.  The Bible is brutally honest and graphic in recounting the wickedness and evil of a people who had forgotten God.  It is also very honest in dealing with sexual matters.  For example, until I was in college, no one would talk to me about the Song of Solomon.  (Me: "Hey Mom, what's this right here mean when he says 'Your two breasts are like two fawns'?"  Mom: "WHAT are you reading?"  Me: "The Bible." Mom: "Well, read something else, why don't you?")  Think about such things.

Trioang Rather than read Philippians 4:8 as a limitation on cultural and artistic engagement, it should be read as a positive encouragement to engage the culture in a discerning way.  Part of this is confronting the reality of our fallenness.  And that's not a pretty sight, but it is a true fact that we need to think on and feel deeply in order to understand the world we live in.  Of course, we also want to explore the good and the beautiful, and it's difficult to set absolutes here, to draw lines.  For example, there is much good and beautiful in Touched By An Angel and Little House on the Prairie but (lest I commit sacrilege) there is also falsehood.  For example, growing up on the frontier was, by all accounts, much more difficult than portrayed on Little House, and the God we get in Touched is a bit too safe for the one we know from Scripture.  The point:  Paul commends discernment, not abandonment, of culture.  And there's the big issue: How are we to be discerning?  How do we exercise good judgment?

Now, be careful out there.  But get out there.

The "Little" Book

020530902x01_scthumbzzz_1 Language is a gift, no doubt, but one that is much abused.  Few heed the admonitions of scripture or good sense to be "quick to listen, and slow to speak" (Js. 1:19) or remember the reward of an apt word over an inept pronouncement.  How many times I have spoken, or written, only to realize what dribble hangs in air or rests on paper?  Not so with E.B. White.

You'll recognize White's name as the author of Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little, two children's classics that were much loved in our home, but his prose ranged beyond children's stories.  He wrote a daily column or essay for The New Yorker for many years (before my time).  However, before I knew any of these other accomplishments and before I had children to read to, I knew him as the apparent co-author of the bible of English usage, The Elements of Style.   The 'little book," as White's Cornell professor William Strunk affectionately called it, was originally written by Strunk and privately published for his students and years later revised and modestly enlarged by White at his publisher's request, after Strunk had died.

The book is a model of brevity.  It says things like "Do not overstate," or "Do not explain too much," "Omit needless words," "Avoid fancy words," or simply "Be clear.  All are issued in just such commanding tones, and the writer, properly chastened, returns to his craft -- whether letter, article, or novel -- with renewed vigor.  I know I do.

The injunction "be clear" could not be more clear, and yet the authors' three-paragraph rationale is both fun and informative to read.  Listen:

Muddiness is not merely a disturber of prose, it is also a destroyer of life, of hope: death on the highway caused by a badly worded highway sign, heartbreak among lovers caused by a misplaced phrase in a well-intentioned letter, anguish of a traveler expecting to be met at a railway station and not being met because of a slipshod telegram. Think of the tragedies rooted in ambiguity, and be clear!  When you say something, make sure you have said it.  The chances of your having said it are only fair.

Oh, the pitfalls of language, the litter of unclarity.  "Be obscure clearly," he says, if obscure is what you want.  Say what you want to say. Say it well.  Language matters.

Knowingly or unknowingly, in fashioning rules, in emphasizing clarity and brevity, Strunk and White were mimicking the Author of Life, whose first recorded words over creation were simply "Let there be light."  No flowery or fanciful language.  Simply that: "Let there be light."  In contrast, in Eve's first recorded words, she actually adds words to what God had so clearly said (as in, ". . . and you must not touch it, or you will die"), and so is born the news commentator.  And still we go on.  One wonders if God sometimes regrets having given us language, and yet, even that he must have called "good."

Remembering Strunk, his college professor, White says this:

In the days when I was sitting in his class, he omitted so many needless words, and omitted them so forcibly and with such eagerness and obvious relish, that he often seemed to be in the position of having shortchanged himself --- a man left with nothing more to say and yet with time to fill, a radio prophet who had out-distanced the clock.  Will Strunk got out of the predicament by a simple trick: he uttered every sentence three times.  When he delivered his oration on brevity to the class, he leaned over his desk, grasped his coat lapels in his hands, and, in a husky, conspiratorial voice, said,"Rule Seventeen. Omit needless words!  Omit needless words!  Omit needless words!"

At that, I can imagine him packing his briefcase and leaving the classroom, a visible demonstration of his three-word point.  Politicians, pundits, and pastors take heed! Omit needless words!  And as Strunk often said, "If you don't know how to pronounce a word, say it loud!"  Better to be wrong than irresolute or inaudible, he would say.

I recommend The Elements if Style, as well as The Essays of E.B. White (an immensely pleasurable read on various topics), or, failing that, Charlotte's Web or Stuart Little.  They are models of clarity, brevity, and style, and full of life and humor -- like hearing God talk.

Remembering Well (or Why History Isn't Dumb)

Clip_image002_1 "Memory is the well of providence."  That's what came to me today while I was out walking. The poet in me said it aloud, to see if it sounded pleasing, because, after all, if it doesn't sound good, what good is it?

Memory is one of those things we take for granted.  We remember how to brush our teeth, dress, get to work, drive, and avoid this or that pothole or speed trap.  We remember who we left in bed this morning (or who left us), our children's first words, where we were when we heard the events of 9-11, or even how to talk (a regrettable memory, at times).  These collected memories form our history.  History is important.  If you don't think so, just consider what we mean when we say we have a "history" with that person.  It means we've had a difficult relationship or, at least, one that has existed for some time and with some intensity.  We remember that we do, because it's important to the future of that relationship or perhaps another one to come.

But my son doesn't think history is important.  It's dumb, he says, and boring.  I asked him if he remembered how to get up this morning, or how to eat.  He said sure.  I said see, you believe in history -- unless you knew your own history (how you did these things yesterday), you wouldn't be able to do them today.  I said you'd make the same mistakes over and over again if you didn't believe in history.  He said that's dumb, you don't understand.  He's 14, but he'll get over it.

Actually, though, if it isn't self-evident, we all believe that what happened a moment ago, or yesterday, or last year, or 200 years ago is important.  It's important for all the obvious reasons, the reasons everyone takes for granted (like remembering how to get up), but for Christians it's important for another reason.  Providence.  Memory is the well of providence.  It's a reservoir of God's goodness, the Story God's telling.

Providence is a word we don't use much.  In fact, most people only know it was the name of a now-defunct television series and, maybe, a city in Rhode Island.  In simple terms, providence is God's continuing personal involvement and management of the world, his working of all things to accomplish his ends (Rom. 8:28), in ways that are mostly inexplicable and mysterious yet wholly good.  He's It.  No fate.  No chance.  No stray atom.  Just God.

I said mostly not wholly inexplicable.  For example, I don't know why my wife finally lost a backgammon game to me today, and I can't imagine that it plays a significant part in God's providence, but I do know that it was no accident and not outside His plan.

Memory is the well of providence.  Memory and history are important to reflect and meditate on, for they reveal, in part, the workings of God in our own lives and the world around us.  Seeing that work of God builds our faith and causes gratitude to well up in us.  Well, like me --  On ocassion I have said that I'm glad I didn't marry that girl because if I had then my life would have been such and such (not so hot, that is, or OVER).  Thank God I say, to which my wife says amen.

But really, remembering is more than just thankfulness over what didn't happen.  It's that for a moment, on rare occasions, the tapestry is turned ever so slightly so we can see the beautiful design emerging on its face when what we generally see is the mess on its backside. Yes, the backside of life, like the backside of most people, is not always pretty, but it's what we get, and so when we get to see the flip side a bit, we can be reassured that something better is happening, something bigger than what we see.

It's not nostalgia, either.  Not the wistful longing for an idealized past, as in Lot's wife looking back with regrets at Sodom or the Israelites bitchin' about the desert and wanting to pack up and go back to good old Egypt.  Remembering is forward looking.  It leads to present action.  For example, in Genesis 9:14-15 God says he will remember his covenant with Noah.  Why?  So that now and in the future he will spare the world another flood.  Besides, the past never was as good as you thought it was, was it?

Several years ago I spent some time in a hospital being pretty sick.  I didn't much enjoy it.  I was not a very good patient.  I was often morbidly self-absorbed, or discouraged, and a burden on others.  And I know better.  Not a day goes by that I don't think of this sorry affair.  Why?  Because I want to remember what I was like and how God was faithful and people loved me nonetheless so, by His grace, I won't be that way next time (and make no doubt about it, there will be a next time for me, and for us all).  God's purposes in causing this trial are still mysterious and inexplicable, but they are good.

Memory is the well of providence.  I just need to draw on it more, to remember well.

So, that's just what happens when you go out walking.

Finding Home

Gkc_head It is probably true for most of us that G.K. Chesterton is more quotable than readable.  Chesterton -- the rotund, cigar smoking, prolific, and witty Englishman -- was a master of the quip, but his prose requires close reading.  His quips range from the trivial ("Misers get up early in the morning; and burglars, I am informed, get up the night before" ) to the humorous ("It is terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hanged") to the profound ("The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man").  Well, there is really no end to it.  His books are full of such profundities and hilarities but, as I mentioned, require some patience.

Reading through a series of his quotes, one stood out to me, perhaps because I find myself constantly returning to its theme in writing and thinking.  He said (in one of his many "two ways" quotes): "There are two ways to get home; and one of them is to stay there."  For one thing, it reminded me of the lines from T.S. Eliot's Little Gidding, one of his Four Quartets:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Mcj038261800001 Home -- the place I started from -- foreshadows the place where by God's grace I'll end up: Heaven.  When we leave home, after all the exploring, all the trying different ideas and experiences, we often end up back where we started from (sometimes geographically, more often spiritually).  For some, that might be a disturbing thought.  Not for me.  Home is where I learned about unconditional love (even when I failed courses or threw rocks through the neighbor's window).  Home is where I experienced the freedom offered by boundaries; having to play in the backyard, for example, yielded greater creativity (did you know clotheslines make good zip lines?).  Home was a place of unbridled imaginative play and unrelenting, wonderful, work.  Isn't that what I want in Heaven?

I imagined just such a place in something I wrote several years ago (The Dream of Home, available in the sidebar), a portion of which I offer here:

As for me, I’ll keep returning, no doubt, to that childhood home, the cookie-cutter house, to my youngish mother making biscuits in the kitchen, the old photos, Grandpa’s clock, and the door to my room, which I dream I’ll open one day not on a nameless void but on something like the surreal scene of. . .

Bob Dylan sipping coffee served by Mother Theresa in a diner run by Leroy Williams, the kindly janitor in my elementary school, while Flossie, the buxom black lady that used to do my Momma’s ironing belts out a Mahalia Jackson tune that segued into “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.”  Long about twilight, we’ll all go out and play a game or two or three of Capture the Flag (and for once, I’ll get it) until, dog tired, we go home for dinner and reruns of Howdy-Doody, Astro-Boy and then play music until the crack of dawn.  It’s all that is good and true, only more, much more real.  Well, that’s just my dream of Home.

You really can go home, you know.  I hope we all get there.

You really can go home.

If you had a good home, then next time you consider that place, imagine the best things you found there somehow making their way to a reconstructed and heavenly earth, a very physical, earthy Heaven (where our feet rest on dirt, not clouds).  But if you had a rough home, remember the one you hoped for, perhaps a negation of what you endured, and then rest in the knowledge and hope of a curse undone in a heavenly home.