Saturday, December 14, 2013


The fullness of life can become either banal busyness or on better days something more like the marginally bearable heaviness of being. The choice is often triage. In a moment of stolen calm we can bend our necks and moan inwardly or look proverbially upward and sigh with gratitude. The decision seems minor at first because worry and prayer begin from the same place. But they are not the same: worry makes an immediate U-turn at the ribcage and festers ingrown while prayer rises off the soul like sweat from a horse’s flanks.

When Mr. Dale Wallace took the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ from his translucent thimble he threw it down the hatch with his chin to the ceiling and his eyelids shut in rustic ecstasy. Like he’d just busted through swinging saloon doors and slammed a gloved palm on the bar and growled for bourbon. His eyes wet with some unknown passion and his throat straight at the sky longing for more, it was clear to the other patrons that one should not come between this cowboy and his elements. The world itself waited as crushed grape blood clotted on the flailed wheat flesh in his teeth.

It still waits.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lent Unplugged

I’m forty so I’m old enough to say things like, ‘When I was a boy, [insert simplistic critical anachronism here].’ And I’ve been a Christian for almost three decades, so let me tell you, when I was a spiritual boy, things were simpler. Back then, I meant it when I said, ‘Jesus is my best friend.’

But now it seems more like Jesus lived and died a long time ago, like I can no longer say, as I once did, that he and I ‘hang out.’ I do still believe that he kicked death’s ass; that he is somehow, somewhere alive and well. But – maybe I’m just getting old – Jesus doesn’t seem quite as chummy as he once did.

I saw a cougar last night. My eyes hadn’t quite adjusted, but I saw it, dimly, and I heard it move over the crusted snow, and I felt its presence with the hair on the back of my neck. Maybe Jesus is more like that? Like a mountain lion, out there in the dark, a predator, watching, more aware of me than I am of him, and very unlikely to follow me back inside for a BFF chat. True, there’s always the Holy Spirit, present and faithful, but I’ll curb my urge to be theologically correct for the sake of this point: God often seems just beyond my range of vision, like a suspicious silhouette in the shadows, ready to consume my selfish flesh in a thrashing if only I would yield to the pain and overcome my basic instinct to make a run for it.

It’s Lent. And I should probably know more about what that means, but here’s what little I do: it’s about the prep. Lent is a season of preparation for Good Friday and Easter. That's doubtless a simplistic explanation, but it makes sense to me. Because, really, if the incarnate Son of God willingly died by public execution, then properly acknowledging that event wouldn’t be something I could just stumble into. And same for Easter: if a man has been lynched and killed and was consequently dead but nonetheless is alive again, that too would be something I’d need a little lead-time to celebrate properly.

There’s one more thing I know about Lent: it seems usually to involve some kind of self-imposed dietary restrictions or otherwise uncomfortable penitential asceticism. Normally, I’m happy to dismiss such extremes as vain attempts to impress God. And isn’t that convenient? me-so-friendly with Jesus that I needn’t bother with legalistic rituals? and what’s on the tube tonight? and please pass the chips?

The thought started as a side effect from a recent Twitter hangover: maybe I’d be closer to Jesus if I tweeted less? (God help me, that sounds trite. But look: the Pope got a Twitter account, and now – only a few months later – he’s decided to abdicate. Just a coincidence?)

Now I’m thinking maybe I should take it up a notch. What about skipping the whole internet? Giving-up Facebook would be too easy, like a neighbour who quit broccoli a few years ago. And my erratic blog behavior wouldn’t suffer for the interruption. Dropping Instagram might make some of my more distant followers wonder what's become of me, but I doubt I’ll tumble into the abyss if I don’t stay LinkedIn for a few weeks. I’m pretty sure I can still write a sermon without the googles, and my phone, apparently, works as a telephone and not just a mini-computer so hearing it ring with a call instead of just ding with push notifications is a real possibility. I could set an automatic reply on my email with something hip and not-too-holier-than-thou like, ‘Hey, it’s Lent. And this is crazy. But here’s my number. So call me, maybe?’

What would happen to my spiritual night-vision if I stared at screens a bit less? I might be getting too old for the Buddy Christ but maybe my eyes could still adjust to the Lion of Judah. Granted, a few weeks offline is not likely to be the existential flaying I might need, but it couldn’t hurt.

Or, at least, I don’t think it could hurt. 

It probably won’t hurt. I’m pretty sure it won’t. 

No, of course it won’t. 

This won’t hurt, will it?