Monday, August 13, 2012


Is it possible to do right by doing wrong?
Is it possible to perform an act of rebellion while participating a quintessentially status quo activity?
Is it possible to purchase truth, honesty, and righteousness?
From the comfort of our 21st century arm-chair theological quarterbacking, we have pronounced indictment on indulgences as practiced by the pre-reformation church. Smugly!
From the duress of climbing out of these self-same comfortable arm-chairs (look I didn’t say they were Lazyboys), we have raised a fist against our morally degraded society by eating a chicken sandwich. Napkin please!

I lost weight and am trying to re-lose a bunch more – apparently to become a better person. I will not eat a chicken sandwich. I will not be a glutton to self-righteousness again. I am a thinner person than that.

Friday, April 27, 2012

what to tell your son on a rainy day...

Remembering rain drips indeterminate melancholy which is mostly wasted chasing the winter’s dirt off the windows. I turn to Knoffler and his chums. For me, he still knows how to suck the soothing pity that this moment deserves. McLachlan knows a thing or two about this state of mind but Eros is far too near in her voice.
I would line up the tapes one by one – all cued to the spot. The first song always was “We built this city” and the last one usually was left un-played. When mix tapes were actually cassettes compiled far more meticulously from other tapes.
I turn to well-worn pages in The Book of Melancholy. The wrinkled photo of a too-soon gone friend; the mischief still leaping off of his face. The longing for a childhood spent a world away. The trust of a friend broken. The breaking of friend’s trust. And again and again and again. Some pages turn slowly others flop past glommed together. Stop on the page where the man is clutching his throat for the revolution he is about to die for. Stay on that page and see that revolution is elusive. Skip to the picture of yourself on the day when those eyes are just coming to know the foolish dogma that your vigorous ignorance spewed. Shudder just a little.
“Why worry,” he moans, “there should be laughter after pain.”
The Book of Melancholy isn’t light reading for those interested in revving up the depression machine. It’s not about depression. It is about the humbling reflection that comes with the time and space on a damp quiet spring night. It is about recognizing that I am here right now and that is a very fortunate place to be. Melancholy can help you see the light of your circumstance if only because of the shadows that it evokes. Melancholy can remind you that valiant effort, though often unrewarded and even misplaced is still more honorable that feebleness.
“There should be sunshine after rain – these things have always been the same. So why worry now.”
Don’t lose the chance to fastidiously line up these reflections – all cued up ready to line up back to back. They speak a sorrowful narrative that is not easily told. They will haunt.  They will make you wince. But the morning comes to all – but perhaps a little brighter to those who have stared into the night…

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

time to put an end to the embarrassment

It is time again to hang him up on the cross – and once more we can put an end to how embarrassing it has been to see him walking around with us.
We’ll sing a song about the ‘wonderful cross,’ with nearly child-like glee while the roast simmers away in our kitchens at home. Why wouldn’t we be happy? We’re free! Well sort of…
“Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe,” the song nags and while our crimson stains are being washed white as snow, we are gently reminded of the debt we owe. So we throw a little extra in the plate or we sign up to volunteer at the next Monday’s cheesecake cabaret put on by the Ladies Aid group. Guilt assuaged we can slide gently back into our groove. Our Lenten observance is over so the chocolate, or video games, or whatever other gaudy triviality we have chosen to give up can wiggle its way back out of the closet. We’re done with him – he has fulfilled his purpose once again this year and we are grateful.
Grateful to stop thinking about what God living among us might mean. Let’s be honest. Since those darkest days of winter when we celebrated his birth by tossing trinkets at friends and relatives to appease our own notions of reciprocity, we have been trying to forget what him living with us might mean – how it might beg us to change.
And now we have him up on that tree again. We are relieved. Like recently elected politicians, we erroneously believe that our previous record is forgotten or better yet approved. And like said politician we forget the nature of the game we are playing. It is politics remember?
How easily and willingly we gather up the spectacle that is Easter. Like women assembling before a chic flick with tissues at the ready on every coffee table, we waddle (not that women waddle) into the pew again to have someone describe for us the agony and suffering that our Savior negotiated to accomplish our absolution. We want to feel darkness but only for an hour. Like thousands of Empire State Buildings going dark for an hour on Earth Day, we too go dark for an hour (regardless of how many birds are killed flying into us by mistake). 
It is cathartic. All of our misdeeds completely gone – removed – again. We splash the grace and mercy all over us like children in one of those shallow pools who do not realize that the water they are standing in only reaches their under-developed ankles – oh and it is full of pee. Is this really grace we celebrate? This cheaply fabricated lust for freedom from the dull consciences that barely prick our sensibilities about what is right and wrong – is this really grace?
Or is there a deeper magic than the split stone table upon which the lion once lay – bound and shorn? Can we like Lucy catch glimpses of the good and dangerous beast – now? Today?
The incarnate Christ embarrasses us. He lives simply – within and underneath his means. He lives kindly – healing, feeding the undeserving and even unintentionally. He lives courageously – against corruption, against deception couched in piety, against preconceived notions of what God might do. He lives faithfully – steady inside of darkness, disciplined in communion. These things show us up for the frauds we are. We don’t want him around to expose this any longer. We have suffered his condescension long enough. 
We are not brave enough to stand against injustice – God that would be wearisome. There is too much injustice in the world and we are not convinced that those suffering under its weight may not have deserved it in some way. We are not strong enough to live within our means – we can barely move the knuckles of our hand on the remote to switch off the television at night let alone resist the beckoning of the latest – Schticky? We are not devoted enough to carve out of our preoccupations the space to center ourselves at the feet of the teacher. He shows us up for the inconsistent errant scoundrels that we truly are. So is it any wonder that we relish (if ever so quietly) the reminders of the suffering he faced…
Yet he walks among us with grace afforded a life lived emulating his own. This is not an equation where every one of his actions matches one of ours or vice versa. It is not an accounting system of good deeds balanced off against carelessness or mistake. This is like when my dad taught me how to ride a bike. Demonstrating and then holding the seat and then washing off every scraped knee subsequently.
Instead we’ll haul him off that Roman standard and place him in a tomb. Then when it is over we’ll chuckle silently at Thomas’ doubt – while missing our very own. So glad that we are free…

Sunday, January 8, 2012

on the occasion of skiing down a mountain

The balaclava has fused to my face. It’s like my moustache and beard have conspired together with the driving snow, facial sweat and nose drippings to create a new frozen outer shell. I gingerly touch it with the finger of one gloved hand – I don’t want to break it.
I am lying on my back levitating a foot and a half off of the ground thanks in no small part to the layer of snow that blankets this mountain. I am staring up inside the cloud that is unloading white onto the slope. Crowding the corners of my vision are the ever-present mountains. They seem to know that this prairie boy is accustomed to the open horizon where the sky never quits. So these jealous mountains peek in on the edges of my sight. I turn to look. I am a sucker for their tricks. Peaks like the knuckles of a thousand fists poke out across the ridge – a giant from below punching out his frustration. I feel that remote sense that must drive thrill seeking adventurer types to climb these ridges. They call to something inside that I immediately recognize as sheer foolishness. Later, while driving beside a particularly alluring ridge, I off-handedly suggest that reaching the summit might be a fairly easy task. My son snickers, agrees reluctantly and, being the pragmatist that he is, reminds me of the effort and time it would take to scale that mountain. But in this moment on my back between the snow on the slope and the falling snow – I am smitten.
Our skis, speared through the crust of the snow beneath the powdery stuff I have been sliding on, stick up like the fence posts of a lunatic rancher. The three of us have done the same. The boys, anxious to re-establish the burning thigh effect that is a constant companion down this mountain, break the spell I am under. “Let’s go dad!” I am torn. I crave a few more minutes to soak in this slow-motion experience. But adrenaline is calling for another fix. Caught between control and disaster. Skis swing back and forth across the mountain, sitting back on my heels a little (especially in the powdery stuff) but always on the edge of plummeting headlong down an unsuspected icy patch. Its danger and beauty mixed. Who am I kidding? It’s not beautiful when I ski – unless in your mind beauty looks a lot like a short stumpy 40 year old atop an unbroken colt – without any stirrups. It’s ugly and dangerous – but fun.
We are the last off the hill. We convince the lifty to send us up the back side of the mountain just before she shuts it down so that we don’t have to hike the kilometer and a half back to the rental shop.
Later, as the body’s pain mechanism begins to register in the brain I am briefly conscious of curious feeling. As the lactic acid builds in every fiber of my legs, I wonder how we have come to consider this activity recreation. This rigorous exertion of energy to the point of…cursing agony – I am only trying to get out of the hot tub! How did this activity evolve into something we would deem to be invigorating and worthy of spending our leisure (dollars and time)? It is perplexing enough that we would willingly subject our bodies to torturous labor in the name of having fun. It is even more peculiar that we would choose to spend our time doing something that could endanger our ‘productivity’ in the rest of our ‘responsible’ lives. Stranger still is that we would take the financial advantages we have accrued to measure out ecstatic suffering upon our own bodies.
What we spend our leisure on is a signal to us and those around us. It is possibly a message about who we are. It is a descriptor of our vigor perhaps. Maybe it is a disclaimer of our relative wealth. It might not be much more than the sort of thing a dog does in marking its territory – a smelly reminder to us and others of what is our personal ‘territory’. As uncomfortable as these signals make me there is a more redemptive notion that seems important as well.
For me this sliver of time on the side of a mountain has given pause to appreciate the uncrowded spaces that we are afforded in our lives from time to time. These unencumbered moments in the splendor of this exquisite place and the pleasure of spending time with my sons remind me of just how alive I am. My body on the other hand…well…it just might prefer not to be so alive – right now!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

on the occasion of taking my son to the airport

The embrace changes
Imperceptibly but unmistakably
He comes to you
Your arms outstretched they invite him in
It’s a call with wrapped arms as celebration
Beckoned he toddles toward the first one you give
The embrace changes
Imperceptibly but unmistakably
She runs to you
Lungs never quite full enough to howl
It’s a comfort squeezing darkness and pain away
Your arms the mop for spilled tears
The embrace changes
Imperceptibly but unmistakably

I hugged you through the new backpack
I hugged you till teasing stopped
I hugged you and monsters under beds disappeared
I hugged you so that standing in the corner meant something other than disdain
I hugged you at first out of wonder
Then out of worry
Then out of compassion
Then responsibility
I hugged you

The embrace changes
Imperceptibly but unmistakably
He limps off the field
Bravery is a thin disguise with his full weight on your shoulder
It’s only one arm and he won’t accept the other
The extent that pride will allow him
The embrace changes
Imperceptibly but unmistakably
The one that I’m used to
Is the one that I give
The one that you give
Is now the way we let go
And it is the one
That I’m not getting used to
The embrace changes
Imperceptibly but unmistakably

He stands at the gate
Blinking you whisper something both will soon forget
But not the recognition
That every next together will end with a hug
The embrace changes
Imperceptibly but unmistakably

Monday, December 12, 2011

NEED HELP AND DONORS - Game, Set and Match

When charitable relief aid organizations are directed by and accountable to the donors, the recipients of the aid lose their ability to influence the efficacy of the aid delivered. Their only recourse is to directly influence the donors. but those who need help do not have the wherewithall to engage that influence. Into that gap step agencies that filter and manipulate the message of need that is intended to motivate donors to whom they are ultimately accountable. Does this not sound like a conflict of interest? The agency that is directing the message of need, solicits towards the need they have identified, and then deliver a report of the need that they have met. Hmmm...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

snow job

the snow sprinkled on the crispy grass
a facade really
like the space that keeps us
from revealing secret
whiter than this icy trickster
covering over brownish
bone chilling wind keeps
us from looking
under the blanket of this winter
wonderland we laud and
the ugliness of our ‘summer’
romp with that knowing
that one day soon the snow
would fly and cover it
our indiscretions and our
reckless, futile
frost has settled in once more
and painted a new face


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Build a rocket

Where did you grow up?
When did you grow up?
Will you ever grow up?
The 80s. ’69 was my birth year so the 80s is the decade of the presumably emancipatory adolescence of my now 40 plus years of existence. Ah the 80s. Not close to as bad ass as the 60s. Or as high! Not nearly as funky as the 70s. Nor as disco-ball cool. Not as grunge as the 90s. Whatever the #$%^& ‘grunge’ is/was?
The 80s. Fabulous fashion. Rugby pants, legwarmers, primary color knit sweaters tied around your neck. ¾ length white sleeved black shirts with Black Sabbath emblazoned on the chest. Perms for men (I confess), Big glasses.
The 80s. Great music. Boy George, Corey Hart, George Michael, the theme to TV’s FAME, Gloria Estefan, the Bangles, David Lee Roth (post Van Halen), Men Without Hats and Men at Work…Mmmmmmm!
The 80s. Some blip on the radar of good taste and better judgment or the best decade since the Renaissance; I’ll let you decide. There is no halcyonic nostalgia about those days in my mind at least. Riding my bike to the corner store in a town of barely 100 residents should not be considered evidence of some idyllic teenage coming of age. (Some readers will be quick to point out that I also rode my Dad’s Nissan INTO the corner store – causing a minor re-shelving problem for the owner and much larger problem for between me and my father.) To be sure there are many things about those formative years of my life that could only be described as pristine conditions within which a boy may become a man. I married the girl next door and began my life long infatuation with her in the one acre corn field between our houses. I drove my first vehicle (my buddy’s) on the gravel roads that snaked through the hippie soaked Pembina Hills. But not before I mapped every nook and cranny of that place on snowmobile. I emulated Jim Craig to my very best ability on giant rubber snow boots on the freshly flooded ‘rink’ next to the school. I was good. Those days were golden.
“You can be anything you want to be” – they told us at my graduation. Liars.
I can’t. I still want to be a Grey Cup winning quarterback – but I won’t. I never built a rocket – and I won’t. Being anything I want to be is a myth and a peculiarly harmful one at that. Perhaps that sort of rhetoric emerged from the desperation of the time. Because as Commodore 64 and the internet were mere glints in the eyes of their conceivers; we were still fighting a Cold War that promised to bring us to an end. We were just starting to battle our brains out over abortion, and immigration, and French language. We could see our Canadian distinctives sliding away from us perhaps with more urgency than they ever had. We got excited about all the same silly stuff that the US did – who can forget the enormous cola war of the 80s. We decided that free trade with the US was going to be a good thing. So what if it meant foreign ownership of many of our national institutions. We unashamedly gobbled up the latest greatest media offering being pushed out of the burgeoning colonialist Hollywood machine. (Shoot, how else was it that Daisy Duke became the model for one of the ‘best’ fashion trends in the 80s J)
Behind the neurotic push toward the future in almost every aspect of life, those of us ‘growing up’ then might have known something untoward was lurking in the reeds of our surface optimism. But we paid little heed to that lie about our potential when we saw the Berlin wall come down. We forgot our background dread when we saw hostages rescued from Iran. And we began to believe that our ability to forge a brave new world could itself be the savior of our once dysfunctional world. I suspect that belief has an almost religious hold upon us.
In my classroom – we talk about current event and we try to engage with the big themes of our world as events unfold. If there is one reaction that surprises me most in my students it has to be the relative indifference that most pay to the way our world works. Occupy this or that, kill off a dictator once in a while, start a revolution on facebook if you want to, or bailout the country where democracy was born. Meh – whatevs… On one level it irks me – this passive nonchalance toward our life and times. On another level it saddens me to see a generation face down in their phones – enslaved to the immediacy of their ever-shrinking world (where life and love begin and end at the end of text).
Sometimes exposing lies leads to life change. At other times exposing lies leads to a retrenchment of the lie itself – perhaps because the truth is just too uncomfortable to face. You can frame your life as targeting potential. Aspire to this or that. Achieve this or that. Or you can frame your life as targeting significance. Accept the ugliness of the world and do your part. Acknowledge your own culpability in the problems to begin with.
You can be anything you want to be seems out of place in the latter mindset but conveniently distracting in the former.
There are some of us who still remember that in the 80s a young man decided to do his part, accept his own ugliness, and died fighting off the monster that eventually took his life. Terry Fox lived and died in the 80s and school children to this day honor his memory.
Long live the 80s…

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Old man look at my life…

This is a coming of age story.
I bit back tears as I hugged and said good-bye to my oldest son. He’s headed off to college in Manitoba to carve out something new. It’s time for him to shape himself and get shaped in ways that are distinctly different than the ones he has become accustomed to under our parenting. It is a good thing. He is ready. But I know it won’t be easy.
Like it has been for so many of us the challenges and euphoria of the independence of early adulthood is significant. I remember deep loneliness in some dark times when I thought the responsibility that I was taking on was too great. I remember ecstatic freedom at how spontaneous my life could be. It really was a pretty wide spectrum of emotions. I am far too clever to allow my protective emotions to get the better of me – but underneath I want to keep my children from the dark. The reality is that life is dark. Freedom, peace, joy with permanence, and fulfillment come only after one has truly stared into the darkness and seen it for what it is. Walking in the dark is another matter altogether but a good hard look in is essential to know the value of the good things that life affords.
At a time like this, I wonder if I’ve done an adequate job of allowing my children to stare at the darkness honestly and without fear. I wonder if I have prepared them well enough to recognize the value of freedom, peace and perhaps even love. I wonder about the gaps in my parenting that my children will need to compensate for. I am under no illusion that there are many. I think honest parents know that they’ve made mistakes with their kids. Honest parents are conscious of fact that they leave an indelible mark on their offspring. I think there is a lot of guilt attached to that sentiment for many people. Guilt, denial and compensating for both leads to plenty of regret. It’s hopeless; my kids are stamped with a healthy dose of me and thankfully an even healthier dose of Char.
One thing I know to be real is the persistent grace that my children have afforded me. So today I am grateful to have the opportunity to say the kind of goodbye that only a dad can say to his son – the kind of goodbye that will always be followed by hello. Usually when we say goodbye we say it to anticipate a loss of closeness but a father can say goodbye with a sense of anticipation. A dad says goodbye and is picking up the phone to say hello to – I need some cash – or – I think I found a girl that likes me – or – I wonder if you think this car is a good one to buy.
Today this song connected with me. Maybe you’ll like it too.

Bless you Jared…

A pair of hard working hands
Everything that I needed
I got it from the old man
With a nine second dream
He drove the Redlight Bandit
And the grease on his hands
Was the way he commanded
And the life he demanded
It kept us all in a struggle
When he ruled with his fist
It kept us all out of trouble
Even though he would leave
He wore his heart on his sleeve
And by the way that he walked
He taught me how to believe
Old man look at my life
Take a look, take a look
Old man look at my life
cause I'm a lot like you
Old man, old man take a look at my life
Take a look, take a look
Old man, old man take a look at my life
cause I'm a lot like you

Growin' up at the track
He had a reason for being fast
His heart felt like breaking
He'd look right up at the ceiling and
Start again, never breathe a word of his loss
Cause it's not about winning
It's the rivers you cross
And the pain that you feel
Could be the fuel that you use
And if you're in need of direction
Be it the path that you choose
My old man is a legend
He cast a shadow so great
I think of how he is watchin'
With every move that I make
Now there's no slowin' down
There's only settin' the pace
No more dreams to be stolen
Just the right ones to chase
You've been through the worst
Now you know who to trust
Leave them something behind
Before the ashes and dust

Yes and for those of you wondering - yes that was some hard core riffing on old man Young which you can find here