Rick and Monique

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Where did the Magi Originate?

Matthew 2:1-2:

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the jews?  For we have seen his star in the East, and we have come to worship him."

I'm positive that most of us have never mapped the travels of the Magi--covered the Wise Men from the east.  We'll start simply--one can deduce that being from the East, they might have travelled West!  "They saw his star in the east" doesn't necessarily mean the star was east of them.  If so, they might have travelled to India.  The word "east" in Greek also means, "The rising," meaning the wise men would have said, "We saw a star at its rising."  In the second revised edition of Werner Keller's book The Bible as History, the following is stated:

"We have seen his star in the east" (Matt. 2:2), said the Wise Men (KJV).  The translation is however incorrect, for the words 'in the east' are in the original en te anatole—the Greek singular-- but elsewhere 'the east' is represented by anatolai—the Greek plural.
The singular form anatole has, it is maintained, quite a special astronomical significance, in that it implies the observation of the early rising of the star, the so-called heliacal rising. The translators of the King James Version could not have known this.
When en te anatole is translated properly, Matt. 2:2 reads as follows: "We have seen his star appear in the first rays of dawn" (pp. 328-329).

So where did the wise men come from?  The book, "Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes" written by Kenneth E. Bailey says this:

Where is East?  The answer to that question depends on where the writer lives.  If an American is visiting friends from New Jersey and tells them that he or she came from "the West," the hosts might infer that the guest is from Pittsburgh.  If someone in the United States Navy is sent to serve in the "Western Pacific" he or she may be stationed in Pacific waters but a a British ship one hundred yards away is in the "Eastern Pacific."

So it is that Christians living in Rome might say something different than one living in a different region, such as in "The Holy Land".  Those from that region would refer to someone across the Jordan River.  Bailey says that this designation survives even today (p. 52).  Matthew, Luke and others would more naturally refer that those from the "East" are those from the east side of the Jordan River, in the Jordanian deserts which connect to the Arabian Deserts.  Furthermore, the wise men arrived with Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh.  These unique gifts are and were well known to be harvested from trees that only grow in southern Arabia.

The earliest known written text outside the gospels about this particular event was written by Justin Martyr--A.D. 160.  Justin was a Palestinian Christian living in Caesarea.  He wrote about a conversation with a Jew named Trypho (p.53) who told Justin, "The wise men from Arabia came to Bethlehem and worshiped the child and offered to him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh."  Martyr doesn't labor the point or argue against Trypho, but instead states several times throughout the commentary that the wise men hailed from Arabia.  The location is supported by writings by Tertullian and Clement of Rome.  But these facts alone don't prove much...

Isaiah 60:1-5

Arise, shine for your light has come, and hte glory of the Lord has risen upon you.  For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and the thick darkness the peoples, but the Lord will arise upon you and his glory will be seen upon you.  And nations shall come to your light, and the kings to the brightness of your rising.  The wealth of nations shall come to you.  A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come.  They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.
Kenneth Bailey writes:

Midian and Ephah are tribal lands in northern Arabia, and Sheba was the name for the part of southern Arabia from which the Queen of Sheba was the name for the part of southern Arabia from which the Queen came with "much gold" (I Kings 10:2).  Frankincense is unique to southern Arabia.  In verse 7 of Isaiah continues as he reports "all the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you."  Shepherds were also involved.  To the child came Arab wise men from the desert on camels bringing gold and frankincense.  And Shepherds visited the child, not the city...

I guess I'm not sure that these details matter in our celebrations.  They probably don't.  But I want you Christians to know some details so that Christians have a true story to stand on.

Bailey also claims that the wise men were almost always wealthy men (especially in Arabia), and they would not traditionally have travelled in two or three's.  In the time of Daniel the whole of the Chaldean wise men were summoned to interpret dreams, and to perform other tasks appointed to them.  Rich wise men were not singularly curious and they were interested in power and interested in prophesy and interested in knowledge and interested in astrology.  It would have been more typical that many men travelled together, because the prophesy was widely known.  Matthew and Luke (and Pharisees and Sadducees) would have known their reputation well.  Arabian wise men would have also travelled with animals and servants...rich men travelled with servants to perform any manner of tasks including protection, negotiations and scouting (p. 53-54).  And their gifts would not have only been "tokens" of wealth in worship--they would've flowered a prophesied king with these gifts.  They had reputations to uphold afterall.

Either way, I suppose this knowledge won't change your celebrations.  But I encourage all of you to shower each other with excellent gifts, with great feasts, with deep love, and with a majestic sense of worship for a King who saved you.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Jesus Christ and the Racing Donkey

I've told the story before. Two Christmases in a row.  I  can't repeat the same angles covered the last two years.  But my needs are the same.  I fervently want Christians to celebrate Christ's birth. I want you to know the story correctly, because by knowledge you'll be able to enjoy getting to know the middle eastern people, Mary and Joseph, and Jesus Christ himself.  

I want you to say, "Merry Christmas!" and I don't want you to tolerate "Happy Holidays." There are more holidays in February, including one goofy little day called "Valentine's Day." You and I don't call it a holiday do we? We call it what it is.  

Christmas--much more than a holiday for you, but you're not even sure why. You want...

You want the courage to celebrate Christ's birth...Christmas.

Or you want to be like everyone else. You want to give gifts and fill stockings, coo at magnificent chocolate and colorful blinking lights. And fireplaces will be stoked, even in Florida and California. Even the warm states whimsically sing about their desires for white Christmases, ham and hot chocolate. And at the right moment, you just might recite nostalgic poems about quiet mouses, milk and cookies and fake fat guys with greased up coats so they can slide down your chimney.

You want to believe a cute story about a Benevolent Caesar, a mean-hearted Herod, and a calm but hurried Joseph and Mary.  So, I've thought of a way to tell you what I want you to see.  You get to choose which story you want to celebrate though.  You can take the following story and run with Christmas the way its always been done...go ahead, it'll be warm and fuzzy and cute.  Or you can read the scriptures and know the truth.  

Here it is, a third way, a third year.  Next year, I'll do it again.

So Caesar says, "Be Counted!  But you, Jews, must go to the place of your origin!"
Caesar Agustus comes up with an idea to count people in his kingdom--a census, in part to help him figure out how many taxes can be collected.  So, everyone gets packed and ready to go.
A pregnant Mary and an adoptive father Joseph turned toward each other, each with worried expressions.  Joseph devises a plan.  They must leave, and they must leave tonight!
So in less than an hour Mary begins packing and Joseph sets off to make a deal for the fastest donkey in the Nazareth area. He finds his brother there.  Phillip his brother also needs a racing donkey.  They both find the perfect racing donkey for them...and it happens to be the exact same racing donkey!  They fight over this one particular donkey--one a little taller, stronger and sleeker than all the rest of the donkeys. It almost comes to fists, but the owner of the racing donkey facility broke it up and said, "Look, this really is about money." So Joseph was a bit more successful with his carpenter business and had a few more sestarius and an extra gold coin, and so his brother was out of luck.
So Joseph hopped on the donkey and made him run home...kind of a warm up for the journey the donkey would carry them through.
They got home and Mary, who'd solicited some help from another sister, Babette.  Babette had packed already, but her husband was slow, and so she came to help her pregnant sister.
Now Joseph was kind of competitive and he wanted to be the first of his family to be counted in the town of their ancestors, Bethlehem. For some reason it was important--he needed the leverage I suppose.
So he kind of rudely said, "Mary, we gotta go!" He got the donkey ready very quickly, then, went into the house to retrieve something.
So, since Joseph was not there to help Mary get onto the donkey, Babette cupped her hand so Mary could use her as a step to get onto the donkey.  Mary had mentioned that this racing donkey was quite tall.
But, what the ladies didn't know is that Joseph in his spare time had built a step stool.  When he got the racing donkey home he thought, "My new step-stool would work perfectly for Mary!"  He came running out of the house with the step-stool just as Mary was putting her foot into her sister's cupped hands.
"No no Babette! You're playing with our babies life doing that!" Joseph said.  "What if she falls?"  And to add some weight he added, "Our baby is God's son!"
"Oh Joseph, I'm a strong working woman, i've done this before, you know that...and stop being so melodramatic ya big goofball."
"Stop it Babette, I have made this step-stool, don't you see?"
Mary smiled at the two competitors, and put the step stool in front of the obedient donkey, stepped up and sat on the donkey.
"Joseph honey, we have to go."
"Right," replied Joseph, somewhat curtly.
And so they set off into the desert. Joseph, being in good shape was still no match for the racing donkey. Mary was a bit of a novice, but this racing donkey had been trained well. So when Mary noticed that Joseph was three or four hundred paces behind, Mary said, "Slowwww donkey," and the donkey slowed to an easier gait. Joseph caught up breathing hard.  He was kind of mad, and he wacked the racing donkey on the butt, and it lurched forward, but then stopped walking altogether.
"Slow down donkey! What the world man?"  Joseph was exasperated.
This was not the talking donkey told from the scrolls, so the donkey said and did nothing.  Joseph secretly wished the donkey could apologize.
Ten minutes passed.  Joseph sucked down half of one of the canteens before he was ready to go.  He gave the command and they all trotted off.  They should still be there first.  They only had a few kilometers to go.
"Oh no Joseph!" said Mary. She looked terrified. "I just had a terrible contraction."
"We better hurry."
So they picked up the pace, but Mary's contractions were already three minutes apart.
So they ran. The racing donkey was ahead of a running Joseph. Adrenaline streamed through Joseph, who was also very strong, and he ran faster than he'd ever run. The racing donkey seemed relaxed and was in good shape, and of course was a ways ahead of Joseph, but not too far.
All of a sudden...
"Oh no," said Mary to no one really, Jospeh was too far behind. Her water had broken all over the racing donkey.
"Gross," said Mary. "Giddyup racing donkey!"
So the racing donkey took off like a flash. Poor Joseph could only yell, "Wait wait!" but to his credit, he had something extra in his legs and really picked up the pace.
The donkey covered 7 kilometers like a flash of lightning. Mary was really happy about the racing donkey. So, they got to town and Mary started to talk to people on the edge of town saying, "My water broke all over this racing donkey here and I'm going to have a baby soon, and this baby is going to be God and so we need a room!"
But she was a woman, and she was talking crazy. A few people took pity on her crazy plight, and put a couple of coins in the water cup hanging from the racing donkey.
Meanwhile Joseph made it to town and fell over at the gate, dirt cased his lips. The wind had come up a bit and it was dusty out there. The racing donkey took off with the canteens and so what was he going to do?"
He found Mary and the racing donkey. Mary was crying.
"Mary, what happened, you took off like a shot lady!"
"My water broke," she said, tired. "And I hate this town, no one will give us a hotel room."
"Oh crap."
So Joseph, being a man, had more credibility, and began asking hotel owners for room...it was a patriarchal system, what were they gonna do?
"We are in the line of David!" yelled Joseph. "We are in the family of the King, we need a room!"
"I'm sorry," everyone said, "The Sprintolicum Camel Cup is tomorrow, and all the best camel racers are here. The town's just full of fans."
Mary tried to dry off the racing donkey, but the contractions were terribly painful, so she said down and tried to breath slowly. Her doctor Amin Pater Lamaas gave her some ideas about breathing.
One guy from a small inn far away from the racing grounds finally gave them something positive.
"I own an old cave," he said. "You can have that. There's animals though."
"No problem man," said Joseph, relieved. "I'm around animals all the time!  We just need to give birth to God tonight and we got a later start than I wanted, y'know how that goes."
"I do, I'll see what the town doctor is doing, and he can maybe help you!"
"Oh, one thing," stammered the inn owner, "These Bethlehem December nights get kind of cold, take these blankets."
"You're very kind," said Joseph.  Mary simply whimpered.
So Joseph and Mary, and a goopy racing donkey headed to the cave. But Mary knew they couldn't wait for the doctor.  Jesus wanted to be born faster than the doctor could get here.  So Mary leaned back against a hay bale and said,
"He's comin'!"
Joseph reached out his hands and caught their son, whom they named Jesus, as he popped out of the womb. God births faster than most babies. Added to that, the boy, Jesus, never cried, not even once.   And the animals were silent.  Joseph and Mary were both amazed.
Meanwhile thousands, maybe thousands upon thousands of singing angels appeared in the barley fields where sheep slept and simple shepherds watched over them, while playing an competitive marble game.  These angels smiled deeply.  Their teeth flashed like lightening.  The angels clamored about joyfully, warming up their voices while taking their places on the celestial choir stands.  But the several weak and meek shepherds hated music, and the light from the Angels was very bright, which also irritated them.  Added to that, they had never seen Angels before, so they dropped down to the ground in fear. All-the-while, the Angels were sweetly singing o're the plain.  One big angel who called himself Michael (the shepherds, who weren't very learned, still thought to themselves that they remembered hearing about an Angel Michael from the readings in the Synagogue, and wondered if this Michael was the same Angel) tapped the shoulders of the Shepherds and said, "Don't be afraid, we're just a choir man!" The head shepherd (called the "Master Shepherd) looked up bravely at the angels.
"Go and find Jesus in the cave, he is God," said Michael the Angel. "These Bethlehemites didn't even care that this family was in the line of a very famous king, king David. And they couldn't care less that Mary's water had broken all over the racing donkey. So, he's in a cave nearby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Shouldn't take long."
Meanwhile, all the animals in the cave, Mary, Joseph and Jesus, had grown golden halos over their heads. Mary and Joseph and Jesus's halos were more pronounced though, and you could see lots of colors in theirs.
Night moved toward early dawn.  Mary, Joseph and Jesus, the recently arrived shepherds, and three wise men, whose visit surprised and confused the small family, all bowed before the manger; and swayed side to side while the angel's concert continued over them.
But it wouldn't last long...danger by the name of King Herod and his mean Roman Soldiers would upset this peaceful little scene very soon, and Mary, Joseph, a desperately young Jesus, who shouldn't be traveling yet, would have to take up their gear and their racing donkey and flee to Egypt.
to be continued...
The End

Or you could believe what I read in Revelation 12 and in Luke 2. The angels were an army...a host of them there to fiercely guard the birth of Jesus Christ. Scripture also says in Luke 2, "And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should give birth." They got there in plenty time...days ahead even, and probably not in December.

You could also understand that the word "Inn" does not mean "Hotel." If you must know, it means "House." What you should know is that the stable was attached to the house and probably in an open room next to the "living" room, so that heat could be transferred throughout the building. Simple village homes in Palestine, and in homes in that general region often owned animals but did not have separate storehouses for them, but instead kept them in an adjacent room. Homeowners brought their animals in to be cleaned, and to prevent the theft of their animals.

Homes often had a room for guests, technically called a "prophet's chamber"  (see 1 kings 17:19). The main room was a family room where they cooked and lived.

You should believe that they, being in the town of king David, in the Lineage of King David, wouldn't be treated badly. The Middle Eastern culture took (and take) their lineages very seriously.  Furthermore, this was the first census where Jews were affected and so Mary and Joseph were not alone. They were there with family most likely. Furthermore, Elizabeth lived only a short distance away, and if it really came down to it, they could go there. Mary was there for three months for cryin-out-loud. They were there for days, and another guest of a friend or family member was in the prophet's quarters, and so they slept in the living room, next to the stable. And, there was no bed for a baby in the living room, so they used a manger from the stable. Maybe they had to make some room in the stable area? It was most likely very clean.

Either way, they were there for days--no rush--no racing donkey on whom Mary's innards spilled.  In fact, there was no mention of a donkey in the story at all.

And the angels were a fierce and loyal bunch...and ready for anything. And the shepherds were sick with fright and you would be too. But the angels were there to pronounce birth of the one who would bring peace to the world, and the Shepherds had needn't not be afraid--all that is true.

Read Luke 2, Matthew 1 and Revelation 12. Then celebrate.  Celebrate confidently, and celebrate with a mighty force.

God Bless.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Library

Lapidary blue skies consumed the east and the west.
Skies of multiple universes,
mine being an eighty by one-hundred twenty-two plot.

A man walks by, reluctant steps
minding the trees
and the breeze
wishing ne'er the exercise.

I should expect my own
Beleaguered reluctance Would reach my soul
Only some years, and maybe even minutes
behind his.

I remember days when rooms full of luggers,
sheltered midwestern men,
hunkered round' and mocked.

As burlesque players might,
fomented foreign accents, New Englander's mostly,
because theirs was about the only accent
reasonably slander worthy,
those labored with hazy endings and round vowels.

"You won't get faa with that caa paaked in the yaad..."

No harm intended beyond guileless luggers, a table and some beer.

While others in malted colonial street bars of New England
hoodwinked stereotypically "those hicks" somewhere
on the crusted shoulders of I-Oh-Way.

No harm intended beyond ingenuous aquiline eyes,
some beer and a table.

Conversations somehow gave them ownership,
membership of some place,
consistent and yet continuously improvised,
There-in lay the bedrock of invention.

Simply, men closer to their independence
than most.

And Schlitz was the norm,
and a glass-full of bud wasn't more or less filling,
and that was fine.

My need for independence festers
and pours out of me like a wound.
I simply long to sit in still life
and carve shapes into the clouds.

I long for the wisp of a benevolent approver.

I found and tended the Geographer's Library,
and discovered the Cartographer's secret,

That all roads eventually lead to the want of home.

One can tell by some dark smiles
what is of joy and thankfulness
that only the honesty of experience
can bare.

And so it is with multiple universes
That some I have seen
leaves so much past.

It strikes me to think of
who deserve the nurtured
cigarette twixt the first two fingers,

Even the dying plant of summer
and the dry leaves of autumn
borne and died most for those who
dare to listen to them fall.

Lapidary skies
and dust like helium rise
in my wake
like a crematory and a dead man's bowl.

I found life in the Geographer's Library.
I flew in lapidary skies,
more free and joyful  than the reigns
of most men,
and contrails of spit, sweat and tears,
and tongue wagging happiness.

"I am trailed by so much history,"
said the geographer.
Far unlike the pendulum
and greater than the scale
The past far outweighs the present,
and only one second should be my future.

And there it is, my cartographer's rendering,
Hindsight is not twenty-twenty,
but the map doesn't lie.

Withal I stand
on nothing more than now,
on feeble legs
in my plot,
in my feathered present,

And I breath free air
and raise my hands,
flaming cigarette twixt
my deserving fingers
and I dance,

Somewhere within the Geographer's Library.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Let Freedom Ring

Veterans Day came and went.  I remembered, certainly.  

But I got to thinking...

I'm sick of the rhetoric.  "Violence never solves anything," "Peace Matters," "Don't punish terrorists, kill Guantanamo."  There are more and I'm sick of it.  

I don't like war, I don't.  "Fighting sucks," is my understatement for the year.  I can't comprehend a fight behind the mask of an M-14.  I've been scared before but...

I'm for freedom.  I want you to have an opinion.  I want you to say you like this idea, and you don't like that idea.  I want you to believe what you believe, and I want you to like football and baseball, and I want you to not like sports at all.  I want you to worship, or I want you to choose to stay in bed.  

I want for you the freedom to support or criticize.

My classmate Anne, in high school long ago, wrote a prize winning speech called "Let Freedom Ring!"  The speech contained the mantra over and over again: "Let Freedom Ring," she said.

I believe that's who we are.

Leaders have motives and motifs behind their decisions... philosophies behind reasons.  Some reasons may be access to oil, to improve trade routes, to protect the American people from terrorism.  But in the end, the American people and their leaders wanted and want freedom for people.  

American history -- stories of wars between our own people, stories of how America was formed, massive numbers of American-Indian lives cruelly lost and changed--ugly stories.  

But... I can't help but believe that developing vast new cultures that have never been seen before, such as The United States of America beginning in the 16 and 1700's, take unimaginable sacrifice.  The sacrifice becomes even more amazing when we understand that people like you and I have been historically willing to face the sacrifice head on.  They've been willing to endure ridicule and criticism by so many of us, to protect freedom for those same people.  Rough stories can't change what good and strong people really wanted-- despite an imperfect history, we and our leaders desire and desired freedom.  And given enough time, we can now clearly see who of us desire freedom and those who mask oppression with pretty little bows--legislation that serves only to make us more dependent, to deplete our intuition, to internally defeat our own sense of freedom... and deplete the free nation's morale.  However, I believe I'm seeing a people beginning to stand against oppression again...against our own form of the Berlin Wall.  Many of us are speaking out.  You and I have witnessed our nation inspired by freedom and disgusted by oppression, and we should want that now--in some ways we should want that again.

My dad, and my dad-in-law both served in war and, while I could not comprehend their experience, I can boast in my pride of them and those who served with them.  I am grateful that they were willing to allow my freedom, the idea of freedom, and the freedom of others to land squarely on their shoulders.  They are heroes.  I'm thankful every day.  I wake up every day and breath free air because of them and people like them.  I don't want them to regret their fight, because in success, and despite failure, they fought for something--their leaders and commanders wanted freedom for a people, whether they be Americans or South Vietnamese.  In my opinion, my dad and my dad-in-law should be proud of their torrid days in dreaded jungles.  They came home to a silent, ridiculing nation, but they stood...they saluted their nation.  Only recently have some people, some journalists, regaled historical proofs that reveal their heroism, their purpose, and the mantra of leaders who desired nothing less than free people.

Even you and I have ulterior motives behind our decisions.  What I do might seem unwise to you, but be patient and I might surprise you.  That's what men did with freedom in the late 1700's.  Despite a few ulterior motives, so many of us have strived for the pursuit that freedom allows.  Leaders and their advisors decide by their presuppositions, in part for their legend, for their legacy...but also in part for the freedom of the people, by the people and for the people.  On the flip-side, when leaders seem to derail American's freedom, we are constitutionally obligated to contest them, to push them back, and to eventually push them away by our vote.  Demand your freedom...let freedom ring, people!  Because the true worth of our free America reveals a people--Americans rising to every occasion with millions of their own dollars, and pounds of muscle behind every hammer within our borders, but also in Haiti, the Dominican, in Africa, in Asia and in most places of the world.  Americans desire the best, under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.

Despite some strategic mistakes, despite McNamaras and others who defined kinks in the American armor, we wanted freedom for Europe in the World Wars, we wanted a vision for Korea, wanted freedom for the Vietnamese, want freedom for Iraq and the Middle East, we want to protect the Israeli nation and we want to give a new reality to Afghanistan.  

I know what you're saying--I've heard it a million times--"Every nation has their own culture, and we can't hope to make them be 'Little Americas.'"  But look closely...we don't want them to be us...we want them to be them, but a 'free' them.  They'll suffer the change as we did, but freedom works.

History shows that when one nation attacks another, the conquering nation intends to have the conquered nation for themselves.  However, the examples I gave prove America to be different.  American people want freedom for nations.  We want a freedom for nations in which they can exist on their own.  In fact, America's actions have inspired some form of elections in several nations in the last few years.  Our leader's words inspired an oppressive Berlin Wall to fall.

We can tell some horrific stories...but Anne said, "Let Freedom Ring" and Americans have expected and have gotten nothing less--until now, I believe.

I believe the mantra is changing.  Our leaders seem to dampen our freedom bell that was, until recently, heard around the world.

I know what freedom feels like--there's no explanation--take the joy of a Budweiser on a hot day and times that feeling by millions and there-in lies a free life.  

Freedom exists for a precious few nations, and we should want freedom for them.  We should expect nothing less.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hiatus and more of Webster's Conundrums

They call it an "Hiatus."  I guess I've been on one.  I suppose writers suffer blocks of one sort or another.  

I was denied a proof-writing job and that might've contributed.  We all think we're better writers than we are, and we all think we're skilled enough not to be rejected, right?  Most of us will tell each other to get used to disappointment until it happens and then we can't figure out what advice works best.  I can tell you that proof-writing gigs don't come easy.  I had to know Chicago proofing style, and I didn't.  Amateurs like myself should break the books out as often as we do the pen.  Maybe I'm a better writer than proofer.  I'm learning.  There's a lot to know.  Someone out of the Windy City had a greater feel for punctuation than I do apparently.

I don't care about that much anymore though.  I've got more on the plate.  I've got financial situations and friends who are sick.  Of course there's the brooding twelve pound turkey who's death might serve my thankful family well next week.  And well, I took time out to learn how to make biscuits from scratch.  I suppose there's a Chicago Style biscuit to go with the Chicago Style proofing fascist, but mine tasted good anyway.  Soft, warm butter and some huckleberry honey took me to biscuit heaven and I'm originally from Southern California.  Chicago.  Pffffft.

I worked one night at my part time job, and I asked a man, "How's it goin'?"  He replied, "It's a day!"

I don't know what that means.  What does a day have to do with how one is?  He deflected, I get that.  He was probably just fine, but that's more than he wanted me to know.  Someone else replied with equal mystery, "All in a day!"

I don't get it.  All in what day?  Because my Sunday is different than my Monday.

Someone else answered my question about their day saying, "Jiggy."  Huh?  I've also heard, "Fair to partly cloudy," an equally deflective answer, understanding the fact that weather people can't give a clear answer about weather.

I said, "Hello," to someone who replied with two hello's back to me, "Hello Hello," he said as if there were two of me.  I've heard, "Not bad, not bad," as if there are two of them.  I've heard greetings go like, "Hey hey!"  Someone answered my question about their well-being with a "fine, fine."  Does repetition serve to superfluously convince me about your status?

I don't know how to answer the question except for, "I've been on Hiatus."  Except that's not entirely true.  I'm fully engaged.  

Webster says "hiatus" means, 

A gap or interruption in space, time, or continuity; a break.

Am I allowed to be sick of writing for a bit?

All in a day, I suppose.  All in a day the Lord has made.  Might as well be glad and rejoice in it.

So I'm happy to be writing again.

I was on hiatus because I didn't know how to answer the question.  "It's a day," what else can I say?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Fair Warrior

On Wednesday October 21st, 2009 I couldn't imagine one person smiling in Praise all day long.  On Thursday October 22, 2009 I didn't have to.

His skin, fair and frail... sensitive even.  I was with friends at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City and he was there.  His arms were thin; his watch crawled a third of the way up his arm.

His skin was so fair as to be red from his forearm down the sides to his palm and through the pinky finger.  He wore bright white fingernails. I'd seen as much on an infant.  I almost felt that he had only a short time ago been born.

He smiled as if he were woven into the basket of the arms of God, the womb of the groom.  I guess I don't know his life story, I don't know if he's experienced anything.  I imagine a man with arms stretched out that far has.

He was certainly not muscular; medium build I suppose...a small medium.  He wasn't fat, not lanky...not anything except fair.  His orange colored short sleeve shirt ran past his shoulder above his arms, arms marked not by muscle, but by sensitive skin.  A weight lifter's shirt holds tight to the arm, fixed and sure.

I'd take him easy.  Seriously, I'd break his arm if we arm wrestled.  You see, I have strong arms, chiseled even.  I can flex my pecs with the best of them.  Lose a few more pounds and I've got a wash-board stomach.

Yet his arm lifted toward God.  His hands gently swayed back and forth as if God held them and danced--as if God enjoyed the worship with his son.  In fact I can say for sure God did.  

His hands rose high on the pivot point called a shoulder for the better part of four hours--held in praise, held high like Moses himself holding Israel's enemies back.  I don't know what enemy languished by this young man's prayers and praise.

On Wednesday I had a lifter's view of strength.  On Thursday I knew much more strength's definition from God's dictionary.  On Thursday I realized I understood little of might and muscled praise, excpt by the example of a fair skinned warrior in a loose orange shirt.

My shoulders hurt not far after five minutes.

He could take me to be sure.  He broke me after five to seven minutes, beat me by four hours. I'd guess there's no way he'd harm me much though beyond his gentle and trustworthy example ... a slight but kind rebuke from a slight-bodied boy who's wash-board was found closer to the heart.  He'd never hurt me.  We're brothers, the bride of Christ.  By his fruit, by his faith I knew him and his strength.  I saw the ancient faith of Abraham in his mighty heart.  I saw one who knew in whom he believed, like Timothy.  I eavesdropped on one who would lead hosts of Christians, like Paul, simply by raising his hands for four or more blessed hours.

All that and he didn't look like much.  Last in the gym, but by God, first where it really mattered.

I'll find him in heaven one day.  Like with Paul and Peter, Elijah and others, I'll probably have a conversation with him, and I'll take notes.

Notes taken by a muscled follower from an interview with a fair warrior.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Colorful Mish-Mash called Legacy

"Oh, it's my coloring book!  My Oma gave that to me," said Monique.

She wore a nostalgic smile on her face if ever there were a nostalgic smile.  I looked at the colored pictures and touched the color as if it was asking.

"I love it," I said.  "It's hard to explain, but all those lines and shapes were done by such a different you, and still the same you."

"Feeling introspective today love?" she asked.

"I suppose, but you're standing here right now and I'm looking at something a you I never knew did.  I have fun with the paradox."

"You're definitely feeling introspective," she said.  "But it is fun to remember."

Such a long time ago, but her five year old artistry was still there.  A mish-mash of blue and red, yellow and green mushrooms, fairies, princesses, puppies and flowers.

Dust the book for finger prints.  Maybe I'd hope to see five year old mirror image prints of a 30-something year-old woman.  I wouldn't hope for it, but maybe Oma's ("Grandma" in Dutch) prints are there too.

My mom found some old letters that she'd written to a friend when she was twelve.  Her children gathered one weekend and we found the letters on the table.  We enjoyed this hilarious form of history.  Mom is forever branded the gossip queen!  But her children touched the ink, her ink, and read words of their mother.

I've read letters from my Grandmother, written many years ago.  She's long gone, nary a ripple of her breath left, except the letters.  I've touched them, grazed over her finger prints.  We all know the scratches of pen to paper and I can hear that too...the scratches are left in the wind and the ink maintains it's dark sky blue, the blue you see a moment after dusk when the sun's almost ready to turn her lamp off.

I remember the smell of Grandma's house.  The letters used to smell like her house.  I guess maybe it's like wine though...there really is no apricots in Chardonnay, but you can smell them anyway.  I suppose they smell like my mom's house now.

I enjoy the life God's chosen for me, I do.  I can't say that's always been, but...it is now.  I'm writing today, it's me, it is.  I wonder though, are some of my letters out there?  You'll not find any fingerprints here.  I guarantee your computer doesn't smell like my house.

Who delights over an uncle?  I mean I love my Nephews and Nieces and I know they love me.  I have so much fun with them, and anyone who knows me knows that I'd do anything for them; I'd hang upside down on the ceiling if it would make them happy.  I'm elated by them, charmed by them.  I'm gratified by their happiness.  But let's be real; post funeral they won't find my letters and graze their fingers over the ink.  They won't read my favorite kid book "A Day At The Zoo" and listen for my six-year old voice memorizing every word.   They won't.  I believe I'll simply go away.

I don't feel sorry for myself, I'm lamenting and there's a difference.  I enjoy God's path for me.

Siblings remember and remember well, but no one has keepsakes of a brother or sister...not many anyway.  They'll keep something if they die young, but when they die at 40 or 50...they simply don't.  They sinply remember.  My children won't keep my things, I don't have any.  My letters won't find gleeful groups pining for another line.

Don't tell me it's not a big deal, we all think about it...we want legacies, we want a family line.  Many, if not most, if not all of you will live many years after your death by the hands of your children.

I am lamenting, not feeling sorry for myself.  I needed to say that again.  The sky is blue today and I and my bride are headed out doors and I love that!  Maybe we'll hop on the bike and head out toward a late season ride to everywhere, I don't know yet.

Sixty years from now no one will care about my Triumph Adventurer, except for the guy I sold it to that hopefully will keep the classic bike pristine.

Your children will look after you when your gone.  I suppose Angels will tend to me.

Who remembers an Uncle anyway?  Regretfully, I couldn't make it to all my uncle's funerals.  I loved them too.  I wanted so bad to be there, but I couldn't.  I have some photos, nothing else.  My Uncle's children and his bride have the rest. I don't have rights to my Uncle y'know?  I don't have anything and I'm not entitled to it because their children carry the articles of legacy.  I suppose someone will go through my home and hold a big garage sale.  Some of you are in the will y'know.  You won't keep the rest most likely, and I know the Angels won't care one way or another.  But will my nephews and nieces feel like they have the right?  The entitlements?

It's ok actually.  The life God's chosen for me comprises of catalytic adventures and I for one tremble gratefully by the hand of my Abba.

Oh but I love my family.  We gather together like tidal waves and oragami, sometimes we're a force to be reckoned with, sometimes we're delicate.  Actually sometimes we're delusional and sometimes we're amazing and sometimes we're emotional.  Sometimes we're reminiscent and sometimes we're aggressive and sometimes we're happy and sometimes we're soulful and sometimes we're joyful.  We always delight over each other in good and bad, and...we're always amazing.

Maybe I'll go before my parents do.  They'll keep some of my stuff.

I imagine though, that when I'm old, and my nephews and nieces have grown, and my three siblings have grown old with me, that there'll be chatter when I'm gone.  They'll remember for awhile.

Chatter doesn't smell like anything.  Does it need to?  Naw...we'll talk again in Heaven.

But I have some laments, I'm not feeling sorry...my children don't look like me and won't carry my things for me.  I don't have any.

And who delights over an uncle?  Maybe my nephews and nieces will be gladdened by memory of me.  Maybe they'll dust off my old treasure box.  I hope so, and don't call that arrogant.  We all hope so.  It's not self-righteous to desire gladness and not disappointment from friends and family.

I think it's more important though that I won't die alone.  I know my family and I will not die alone.  I am so grateful to God for allowing me that piece of the path.

I realized recently that all of life mirrors God.  Some of you don't believe that.  I can't help that you don't believe, but it's true anyway.  My mom and dad searched me and they knew me.  They followed me day and night.  They knew when I sat and when I rose.  They hemmed me in from either side and nary a hair could fall from my head without their knowledge.  They protected me and guided me.  Even when I strayed they were there.  They and many others banded me by prayer.  Even when I fell their hands raised me up.  Therefore even my darkness was not too dark for them.  Their hands held me fast...

I lament sometimes, I'm not feeling sorry for myself.  You've discovered I'm so very fortunate.

They're just things really; foolish to worry.  Foolish.

Of course I'll wait for you in heaven, of course.  Everything points toward God.

Talk about a legacy.  You and I will not live and will not die alone, on either side of eternal life.  The rest is dust.  But I encourage you to write...actually write something on a piece of paper.  Someone will graze their hands over your ink.  Write something and leave the shiny new computer closed.

Delight in each other...please.

Family--by rje

I do not feign my soul to keep
To hide in wiles of the deep.
I do not take my life so vein
Resplendent in the prospect wane.

In urushiol green the tine have passed,
A peaceful breath and natures last.
My eyes have seen the earthen mast
And driven forth in dreams and asp.

I yearn to reach the thinning skies
Where oft the eyes of effort lies.
To be more blessed by sanguine breeze
Atop the billows and swarthy trees.

And yet supine and undisturbed
The skies unbroken, not a word.
Acknowledge me this very night!
And break in veins to know my plight.

Each day I wake my hand is filled,
Each day alive and love is willed.
To till the earth and reach the skies
To greet the young, consult the wise.

If I should die before I wake
I pray your grace before them make.
I pray my soul be laid with thee.
I pray my heart be saved for these.

I believe in blossomed joy,
Of Heaven’s poignant mirth.
And I believe, bereft of she
A blackened hole of frightening girth.

But God dost know my spirit’s whim
Designed by time, willed by Him.
And I believe before I die
He walks beside the fire and I.

On the wall a portrait be
Pride of heaven joined by thee.
The bride and groom and sunlight’s glee
A sign you’re never leaving me.

Before I wake, Christ holds our soul
Our fallow breath, our whisper low.
The morning dew the cock does crow
And life again within us sown.

And so each morn I wake and write
Lest we forget love’s even sight
A story binds my nest to home
I shall not die alone.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Health Care Reform--and my attempt to remain informed

Representative Alan Grayson, Democrat from Florida made two wild stabs, two unsustainable claims against Republicans last week: Republicans' health care plan consists of urging the sick to "die quickly," and the GOP has no proposals of its own.

Massive politicking does achieve results, no one can argue that.  However, the same politicking often exposes sleaze, lies and corruption, ergo Mr. Grayson.  He's throwing dry spitwads at the board hoping they'll stick anyway.

The first claim does no justice to anyone and deserves nothing if not an incredulous booooo!  The claim has no merit and is terribly deceitful.  The second claim needs a response.

Republicans have presented alternative health care plans and they have presented them often and for several years.  Democrats consistently and unabashedly resisted, filibustered and complained about them.  And today, because of the Democratic Party's strong majority, they easily hide Republican proposals deep in the bill vault.  The Republican proposals might indeed work and work well.  Americans would prefer a unified bill.  However, healthcare seems to be a one way street these days.  A Rassmussen Report in August showed that only 9% of Americans currently support the Democratic Bill proposals on the table.  About 70% don't believe we've seen an active bi-partisan partnership here either.  They believe (in my words) that we're being railroaded.

Democrats seem to need a system in decline so that their majority push for Government health care deems practical to Americans.  They've created such desperate rhetoric that even Hollywood "who's who's" may want to take note.  Even President Obama felt the need to lie about details of stories about patients losing insurance benefits.

Earlier this month, when the President addressed a joint sessions of Congress to push health care reform, he said:

"One man from Illinois lost his coverage in the middle of chemotherapy because his insurer found that he hadn't reported gallstones that he didn't even know about.  They delayed his treatment, and he died because of it.  Another woman from Texas was about to get a double mastectomy when.  By the time she had her insurance reinstated, her breast cancer had more than doubled in size.  her insurance company canceled her policy because she forgot to declare a case of acne. That is heart-breaking, it is wrong, and no one should be treated that way in the United States of America."

ABC news, FOX and other networks researched the stories.  ABC News Senior White House Correspondent said, "In either instance, the stories, as the president told them, were not accurate."

Therefore, I'm going to re-post an article written for the Friday, October 2nd, 2009 issue of Investors Business Daily.  I don't want to draw conclusions here, but I do want myself and you to be informed.  I do support new health care solutions and I'm not entirely sure what that should look like.  The Republican Representatives are fighting a massive uphill battle.  They're a super minority for one.  Second, conservatives around the country are feeling somewhat betrayed by the Republican Party, and for good reason (spending habits etc.).  Republican representatives must work hard, must act like genuine conservatives, to gain their favor. 

I favor tort reforms and I favor choice and freedom.  Today, however, I'm simply in the mood to perform a bit of fact-checking and offer you my findings.

Rhetoric and blow-hards...bloody confusing.  Take time to read--so it takes you awhile.  Today, make it worth your time.

Health savings accounts/medical savings accounts: Americans who hold these tax-free accounts, up to $5,950 for a family, use them to pay for basic medical services.In 1996, the Republican Congress passed a medical savings account demonstration program that, in deference to Sen. Ted Kennedy's opposition to MSAs, severely restricted the number of participants. Kennedy tried to kill the MSA provision, but settled on a compromise — a limit of 750,000 accounts.

He was willing to allow a few Americans to have the accounts because he needed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which the MSAs were a part of, to pass. In the end, Kennedy won. He got the framework of health care rules that were part of the law, and, due to the bill's heavy regulations, only about 75,000 MSAs were ever sold.

In 2003, the MSA program was replaced by health savings accounts legislation, and roughly 7 million Americans now have them. But Democrats including Rep. Pete Stark of California, who called the accounts "weapons of mass destruction," tried to destroy HSAs through excessive mandates in last year's Taxpayer Assistance and Simplification Act. Fortunately, that bill never became law.

In recent years, Republicans have tried to advance policies that would increase the number of Americans who have HSAs. But Democrats have sat on the proposals. They don't like HSAs because they put patients in charge of their own medical care and push government further away from the process.

Insurance competition: Republicans have also been trying for years to change the law that lets state governments bar insurance companies from selling individual health plans across state lines. If the practice were ever allowed, consumers would have more providers and plans to choose from. The competition would, as competition always does, drive down prices as well.

In 2007, GOP Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina offered an amendment that would have permitted Americans to shop for individual plans across state lines. But the Democratic majority in the Senate rejected it.

Tort reform: The Pacific Research Institute estimates that the practice of defensive medicine wastes more than $200 billion a year. With trial lawyers and plaintiffs seeking fortunes through medical malpractice suits, doctors routinely over treat patients to cover themselves in the event they are sued. They also pay higher malpractice insurance premiums because insurers often have to pay dearly in malpractice cases. These conditions increase costs.

For years Republicans have tried to bring down health care expenses though legislation that would place reasonable limits on the amount of damages a jury can award. But they have had little success at the federal level going against the party that's inextricably linked to the trial bar and its generous campaign contributions.

Current legislation: Just this year, the GOP has proposed more than 30 health care bills in just the House. But those bills, which cover issues from costs to portability, have gone nowhere in Democratically controlled Washington. "The White House, in spite of saying they look forward to meeting with anybody who wants to solve these challenges, has rebuffed us at every turn," GOP Rep. Tom Price of Georgia told the Examiner newspapers.

In response to calls that he apologize for his inflammatory comments, Rep. Grayson sarcastically said he would "apologize to the dead and their families that we haven't voted sooner to end this holocaust in America."

Give the first-term congressman credit. Having distracted the media with his sideshow, they don't have time to report on the Republicans' efforts to improve health care in America through consumer-driven policies.

And we don't have to look further than our own borders to see how "Universal" health care might work, and what the actual cost might be.  Kerri Houston Toloczko, Senior Vice President for Policy at the Institute of Liberty and the director of its Center for Health Security and Access reported:

"Hawaii's Prepaid Healthcare Act and its coverage mandates have left Hawaiians with fewer coverage choices, higher costs and nearly double the number of uninsured. Recent budget cuts resulted in discontinuation of its coverage for children.

Oregon's state-controlled care includes an official list that dictates what treatments will be covered based on annual budget constraints. If your disease is above the treatment line, you are covered. Below the line — you're not.

However, patients being denied treatment often receive an additional note in their denial letters — the system telling them it will pay for "physician aid in dying." Oregon won't help you live, but it will help you die.

In the three years since the Massachusetts "universal" coverage plan was launched, the state still has thousands of uninsured, costs have exploded to unsustainable levels, and waiting lists for treatments have appeared.

Tennessee's "TennCare" program, an attempt to expand coverage to low-income uninsured, included dead people, escaped felons and NBA stars. It drove doctors and insurers out of the state, and has been on the brink of insolvency several times.

Tennessee's Democrat governor, Phil Bredesen, recently went to Washington, D.C., to explain to Congress that government health care does not lower cost.

But perhaps the worst — Maine's universal coverage plan is most similar to the plans circulating on Capitol Hill. It was proposed in May 2003 by Democrat Gov. John Baldacci and passed a scant four weeks later. Much like the $787 billion federal "stimulus" plan that passed Congress in February of this year, nobody read the Dirigo plan either.

While greasing the pipeline for quick passage of Dirigo Health, the governor assured that all of Maine's 128,000 uninsured would be covered by 2009, the bureaucracy would be streamlined and health costs lowered, and the plan would fund itself based on system savings with no tax increases — a similar claim to what President Obama has said about a new federal plan.

Six years after it was passed, it has insured only 3% — roughly 3,400 — of the 128,000 promised.

By 2007, the system was so broke that it closed to new enrollees. It still has not reopened and has also cut and capped benefits. The "streamlined" bureaucracy has cost the state's taxpayers $17 million in administrative costs to cover 9,600 people, leading one to wonder if there are more bureaucrats in the system than enrollees.

Systemwide insurance costs have increased 74% since Dirigo was passed, and the governor and legislature have tried — unsuccessfully — to raise taxes to fund the system.

Dirigo's more "efficient" bureaucracy started out with an aggregator agency for health records and a cost administration agency, but it now includes numerous councils to study this, that and anything else bureaucrats can conceive.

These agencies also dictate to providers how much they can spend on new technologies and diagnostic machines even though these costs are borne by physicians and hospitals and not the state.

Dirigo has failed because it lacks market forces, ignores the nature of the uninsured and was more interested in bloating its bureaucracy than providing care to patients."

I'm not sure what plan will gain the most support. Several million of those who do not have health insurance choose not to carry insurance. Others genuinely want Health Care Insurance but can't have it for one or a number of reasons. I'm hoping I'm a citizen worthy of their honest debate, not political trickery.

Government assistance has merit, just ask Military personnel, ADA patients and more about that.  But healthcare on a wide, universal scale may not work at all...in fact global research exposes many problems.

I can't stand the thought of being hoodwinked, even though I'm sure I have been a thousand times over.  I still don't have to like it.  A Canadian friend says one of two things--things can be quite difficult there and good "doctoring" is hard to find. Major procedures can take months and months to complete etc. But for the most part things seem to work well enough and since he doesn't know any better, he doesn't know what there is to complain about. That is a telling statement. We have to be very cognizant about the quite excellent care the many millions are receiving here now...including illegals who need emergency care, and what vast changes might do to that. Other than that, sweeping changes might be a good thing.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Motorcyclist's Championship Bout

The wind sucked.  We rode our relatively heavy Triumph Adventurer 900 sideways.  Monique and I felt like rolling back-slashes.  I mean, begin with this "\", then mentally draw a motorcycle and two freaked people on the seats.  That's us.

We left on Saturday morning to Omaha; a little cool maybe, but we own the gear.  We rode well and besides my somewhat chilled and pickled fingers, the world turned and we rolled.

Sunday.  Went to church on a relatively calm morning, excited about God and the prospect of riding home on a perfect day.  Leaving church however felt more like the disciple's big day on the sea of Galilee.

"This could be interesting," I said.

"Uh-huh," replied Monique, obviously working her Zen.

Hunger.  The prospect of a big family meal held our aversions at bay.

We'd had eggs, biscuits and gravy and all kinds of good coffee for breakfast.  Dinner...King Tut might've enjoyed dinner.  Ham, potatoes, cheesy broccoli, soft baked bread and coleslaw filled our stomachs, and that was before a delicious birthday cake slid gracefully down.

Couldn't ignore it anymore.  Monique geared up looks a bit like the Michelin man.  But the bike goes down and she slides across the pavement like she's on a magic carpet ride and lives to tell the story.  I love my Michelin wife.  Her jacket is actually red and black and her helmet, gray.  The rest of her is back alley black and I find that totally hot.

"This could be interesting."

"Uh Huh".

I like the back roads but interstate 80 is really a lovely ride filled with rolling hills, beautiful flats and on the best days lots of sunshine.

Sunday though... back-slash bikers, "\", ...that's us.  The wind sucked.  The gusts were even more amazing.  War-like.  I'd say it was like the entire Senior High football team testing their metal on the pip squeak.  You ever been sucker punched by a prize fighter?  Me neither, but take a ride at thirty degrees ("\") and there ya go.  Except God was the prize fighter, Rocky freakin Balboa, and I was the librarian who thought nothing of peeing in his ever lovin' shorts.

Forty-five miles.  We rode toward an exit replete with Kum-N-Go and a BP or something like that.  Monique's hand pops into view and points toward the exit.

I get that.  I wanted off.

"Holy Moly," I said.

"My body is stiff from freaking out!" is what Monique said.  "Every time I felt like I was going to be ok another titanic gust hit the bike and I'd rush back to oblivion again."

"This is soooo not my favorite ride."

We stopped every 50 miles or so tell ya the truth.  Stops are good ways to get to know the area.  You look around, breath the air, kiss the road.

Frequent stops provided much needed relief.  Even the hardened need relief.  And still...only took ten minutes to stop the shaking before we were on the road again.

Mind numbing fear doesn't hold a candle to the spirit of the contumacious adventurer.  Believe that.  We were out there.  A lot of people wouldn't be.  Still, our bodies felt more like adventuresome noodles the first 90 miles.

Tell ya something else though...we got used to it.  Sort of tells you how numb our minds were doesn't it?  Besides the interstate 80's Sunday afternoon semi-fleet, and besides the nutty college kids trying to get back to college, and besides our angled ride and the championship bout with God's windy left hook, the ride home wasn't so bad.

The trees and prairie were bending over the rolling hills.  Flocks of geese flew overhead.  The road was straight enough and I can handle the college kids.  The earth turned and the our wheels rolled.

So we tacked another motorcycle adventure underneath our belts.  There were quite a few bikes out there actually and the lot of us waved our way through.  One dude passed us riding his Harley Fatboy.  His cheeks stretched and flapped in combination with strong winds and eighty miles per hour.  I'm sure it took some effort to keep his mouth closed.  He might've easily been in the gravity machine they use to test the resilience of your average astronaut.  He wasn't though.  He and his bike leaned into a steady road and a mighty gale.  Stretched cheeks were nothing compared to the biker's smile reaching both ears.

The adventurous giants we are...some would call us adventurous jack-asses and they might be right.

But we were out there, 'nuf said.

And we were really, really....really glad to be home.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


The farmer's name was Jed.  A farmer named Jed, I can't write a story that perfect.  He lives outside a small town in northwest Iowa.  You can find him behind the dust and rows every Autumn.  You can find him chuggin' another red sunset and burning up another golden sunrise.  I saw him on the road one day and I know he knew me.  He gave me two fingers.  They lifted gently off the steering wheel and then he was gone.  I gave him the same sixty-mile-an-hour greeting at that exact moment.  Why two fingers?  That's how it's done, you don't need to know why.  Three fingers meant you didn't understand the vibrations felt by a Northwest Iowa farmer.  Three fingers mean you didn't get it.  The two finger wave has nothing to do with individualism or unique personalities.  They're not derived from rebellion or defiance. Two finger waves are a time honored tradition, a connection meaning, "I'm, free and I live free.  I've the strength pawns could never comprehend."  They mean they're not the citified junket waving hands and feet and head and hair chaotically if not erratically and joyfully at whomever.  Jed feels there's more power in self-control, more strength within subtleties.  Jed could probably do with a little more expression, but two fingers wield a lifetime of it.  Nothing to prove... just have to know it.

If you wave ignorantly (your entire hand, for instance), It just means you've got a lot to learn about the vibrations of an enormous and free life, and the power of two fingers. The air smells better, feels fresher and rejuvenates robustly on free land.  The dirt feels less like dust and more like potential.  It is after all the beginning of our creation.

I didn't need chores to find a red sun behind his dust.  I needed two fingers.  Jed simply trusted that I knew that my meal that day might've come by him and them.  Understand another without words.

I'm sure he does well enough, but you wouldn't know it by the rust draining from his Ford 150.  I guess maybe he should ask for help more often.  He sometimes takes on milking jobs to get by the winter.  He gets by.  And he lives free.  The motor behind the farmers rusty paradise took him through two hundred and fifty thousand and some odd miles.  Wisdom teaches that some miles aren't always clean and shiny, but you can count on them none-the-less.

Dan called me saying he fixed my motorcycle.  Thirteen days and 9 1/2 hours.  That's how long I'd been without it.  Dan beamed for me.  Really.  He did. He's a biker.  He gets it.  I felt exuberant.

My ride doesn't supply 60% of the nations GDP.  The shop gained some wealth by my misfortune, but nothing about my motorcycle feeds a hungry nation... but not everything has to.   All I did was slice the wind and I became Jed, the free man.  Freedom is the snap of an umbilical chord.  Freedom is leaving the life of childhood and finding your place.  Freedom is a clash between the heart and the heartless.  And a free man chooses to thrive and learn no matter the journey.  Freedom is the pursuit.  The air is fresher and cleaner and more robust.

Those of us on bikes breathe the rushing air, a gush of freedom.

I don't know why God trusts us enough to pound us with burdens.  It is the burden of the wise to give others all the time they need.  Many have never learned the art of leaving, of being cut.  Those who have sleep and wake up the next morning wondering where it all went and move on anyway.  Life like trucks and motorcycles vibrates underneath us and the wind splashes our faces bending the skin until it hurts. Journeymen find exhilaration from the pain and joy from life.  Vibration and wind proves life is.  Jed...his fingers are dirty, having lived in the dust from whence they came.  Dirt is where he finds his purpose and grit is where he understands a free life.  Some people get hands dirty and others write about them.  None-the-less, umbilical-less hands thrive with sin and integrity.

The road was bumpy and magnificent, and my bike purred.  Ridin' bikes is like the ultimate skinny dip.  Layered burdens tear away, and all that's left between you and God is creation and death.

I'm working on a project right now, as we speak.  I've got a long ways to go.  I suppose we all do; have a long ways to go, I mean.  The world is wide and noisy, but rumbles and vibrations and motion pare all things down to a still small voice, and fingers.

I love riding and I loved riding away from the fix-it shop.  Another biker rode toward me, hopefully not to the shop.  I suspect not.  His hand moved from the bars and dropped to his side...at the right moment one finger pointed outward toward the ground, the biker's greeting.  His one finger wave exists in a crowd of a million one finger waves and I returned the favor.  It's just a one-finger wave really.  Just saying "hi", just letting me know I'm out there.  That's what I said, he or she let's me know I'm out here.  Car drivers can be an unobservant lot.  I'm not anymore.  It's amazing how many close calls are made because the car driver can't or won't see me or my motorcycle.  Bikers just want each other to know they're seen... makes the tired vigilant feel safer, welcome.

Either way, It's another wave, the biker's code and I know it full well.  "You've come from somewhere, I get that," he said, "Take in the wind, welcome to the journey, and enjoy the road...you're a free man now."  Like understanding the voice of God, I'm challenged to listen without words.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Lifeboats and Motorcycles

The Triumph Adventurer rolled down interstate 29 south, opposite the direction I needed.  She was shackled into chocks; her muscles failed.  Monique and I had never taken a long interstate run.  We were three hours in and one hour short.  She didn't give up necessarily.  She growled, but had no bite beyond 45 mph.  That was difficult for me.  As those who ride know, the road and wind might as well be vitamin C.

All that gear and no place to go.  The rider stumped and the riderless shackled.

Life gets to me that way.  I've got the tools, the gear.  I ask for one good day, then something breaks.

Many of you have heard the story of the man and the flood.  The man prayed for God to save him from the flood.  Soon a rescuer in a boat floated by and yelled for him to jump into the boat.  The home owner declined believing God would save him.  Another boat came and the same scenario.  The dire moments had arrived and the house would soon be covered by waters.  A rescuer in a helicopter flew in and attempted a rescue but the homeowner again declined, believing God would save him, even when waters rushed by.  The man drowned, and he went to Heaven.  He asked God why he wasn't saved from the flood (The theology behind the story might be debatable, but continue listening!). God said, "I sent two boats and a helicopter..."

I asked for one good day.  We've been stressed.  I called my friend who lives in Sioux City, but he was in Minneapolis vacationing.  He told me, though, to hold tight.  Five minutes later he called me back and said a truck and trailer were on their way.  My friend owns a motorcycle.  Brad petitioned another friend to hitch up his own trailer to his friends truck and go to help me out.  Chris would take my bike to Brad's house, until I returned to Sioux City on Monday, at which point we'd figure out what to do.  I waited forty minutes or so when Chris, the truck and trailer, motored in.

In the mean time my Dad suggested I call my sister and brother-in-law.  My two sisters, their families, myself and Monique and mom and dad were to spend the long holiday weekend together at Lifelight Music Festival, the largest free Christian music festival in the country I believe.  So I called them.  Turns out they were five miles past our location.  They turned around, unquestioningly agreeing to haul us and our gear to Sioux Falls with them.

We arrived at the festival site on Friday night... disappointed, frustrated, stressed and worried.

One good day, God.

We vented a few moments before some of us decided to attend one of the concerts--the group Kutless was playing and I wanted to see them.  They put on a somewhat raucous concert full of haunted lyrics and emotional music.  And yet their show was fun, energetic and uplifting.  The air was cool and the breath fresh.

The flood story relates, you see.  I got rescued.  One good day.  Two actually.  There are no Triumph dealers in Sioux City.  My dealer and service station is in Des Moines, three hours away.  Brad's a police officer and had to work Monday night at Eleven.  He and I met at his house at 4 p.m.  He and I had resolved by phone that he would take me and the bike to Des Moines that night.  Brad felt it to be the best idea out of several difficult scenarios.

And so he did.  He drove three or four hours from Minneapolis, hitched my bike to the truck and drove me three hours to Des Moines and then had to drive back to Sioux City where his job awaited him.

One good day.  The best of friends, God's providence, and miracles galore.

The hairs on my head are numbered says writer Luke, quoting Jesus himself in Luke 12.  And so this morning I learned for the millionth time how to pray.

I'm feeling tired. I didn't sleep last night, but went to my Wednesday morning men's bible study anyway.  At 2 a.m. I was sure I wasn't going to go.  But my friend Neal said that when he's up and can't sleep, he reads his bible, and finds himself at peace.  I did that this morning.  I read Psalm 73, Matthew 4, Luke 12...Neal was right, my angst lessened, and I hung out with God.

So I went this morning--a hundred men get together, have breakfast, chat and study God's word.  We call it "PIGS"--that's "Pretty Important Guy Stuff."  Pigs was pretty good.  Pastor Richard began a series on Prayer.  He said some very profound and simple things.  Like when Jesus taught us to pray saying ABBA.  Richard stopped there.  Abba.

Christians know the prayer..."hallowed be thy name..."  Christians recite the rest of the prayer solemnly and reverently, many times in respectfully toned unison.  Abba, Father.

Christians over time manipulate the prayer into this reverent,  "Thou, Thee, Yahweh" prayer.  We've filled the prayer with pharisaical rancor, denying what God always wanted--to dote on his people.

Thou's, thee's and Yahweh's" actually serves to fill us with doubt.  "God is too big, God is too fearful..."  We want to sound respectful or reverent, but our attempts at "respect" only serve to create distance between God and I and deny the words of Christ who at the pinnacle moment, revealed a God who prefers to be called, "Dad".  Instead, our prayerful words prove to those around us that God is to be feared in such a way that he is almost unapproachable.

So Jesus taught us something different.  And that difference really meant something to me this morning.  In my tired, fearful, disappointed place, were Jesus words, "Abba Father."  And what Jesus began teaching with two words--"Dear Dad..."

One of the lead singers said this weekend to a group of 100,000 people, "We are not the sum total of our choices, no.  You and I are the sum total of God's choices."  My mistakes do not turn away a doting father.  My failures only prove to teach how saved I really am.  This man said, "We are not a people here struggling to be free, we are a people free to struggle and to then have an honest conversation with God."

An honest conversation with God.  There are several contained in the bible, and I've had several in the last few days.  One good day God!  Please!  But, I'm a son leaning on my dad.  Jesus taught me about that.

And so I prayed that way this morning.

"Dear Dad, I know you love me and the hairs on my head are known.  I know, because you are my dad, that you will walk with me and even carry me when I need.  I know you will guide me past temptation.  I know that, because you crown me more gloriously than the sparrow, you will always fill me with bread.  And even if I am hungry, my heart will rejoice because your kingdom comes, and is here.  Your power is, and yet your just ways provided me with mercy and with grace.  I don't understand everything dad.  I guess I am just a kid.  But one day I shall fully know.  What I know dad, is that you are glorious, and I love you."
"One good day God." ... ... "Dad?"

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Unconditional Love Never Needs a Reason

I've spent the half a year really speaking not only of relationships, but what it really means to commit yourselves to them. I've written about myself, my birth defect and my accomplishments. I've written about my wife, her radiance, her beauty, her generosity, her kindness and her love for me and her friends. I've written of the many amazing RAGBRAI riders and how their lives intertwine with others all week long. I've written how none are left alone on the road. I've written how some battle the forces of time by their accomplishments and how others are humbled by them. I've written how the best of men return from battle only to be vilified at home. I've written of their strength while their country turned their backs on them. I've written about how one man, forty years removed from battle, saluted my dad, a Viet Nam Vet and said, "Welcome home brother." I've written about a group of Vets that my Dad-in-law has connected with, and how, even now, their bond brings healing. Even now no man gets left behind.

I've written how it is we ought to live together. I've written that it's okay to disagree, to quarrel, to struggle. But then I told you that together you must find the way to repair each other.

I've told you what it is to love.

I tried hard to help you to view others in light of their story. I've told you that for your story to be heard, you must first listen to the story of the other. I've tried to help you magnify your joy for the triumph of others, and by your joy they will also share your triumph. I've told you to listen to instruction, to gain wisdom from rebuke and to enjoy rewards together.

the best relationships, the best friends are those that bear the joys and trials of the other. The best relationships and the best friends take us with them no matter where that is. The best relationships and the best friends don't need "permission" to take the other with them on whatever journey is being engaged. And committed relationships and the best of friends accept the baggage of the other. They're willing to lug that baggage with them, and in many cases, lug the baggage for them. The best relationships and the best friends know that baggage sometimes takes a long time to shed, walls are sometimes difficult to knock down and illnesses sometimes take forever to heal; sometimes they never heal. The best relationships and the best friends love you till the ending day and even the days after your last. The best relationships and the best of friends want to be there to watch you shed the baggage, tear the walls down, and fight the most feared battles.

The wiles and wills of mankind are often to walk alone, separate from another. You nor I need work long to prove this.

It is often the wiles of mankind to take every disconnect and to threaten, even in jest, to leave another.

It is often the wiles of mankind to spend more energy giving up, giving in, than living hopeful, faithful lives.

Even my last two stories were intended to help you discover another.

Unconditional love never looks for a reason not to love. Unconditional love never desires a reason to leave.

I won't necessarily move away from this theme, but I'm going to look for different themes now as well. Maybe you'll look back at past posts to help you find the best and most courageous of your own path.

The video below reveals a dance about one of our worst fears...breast cancer. By this dance you can find how the strength of unconditional love bridges the gap between fear and courage. It reveals how, even at the weakest points, even when the hurting wish to give up, to run away, the other will be there for them and with them. It will show you the unending strength of those with hope and the need for the truest friends when it seems there is none.

The dance will inspire you to wake up and live now. And it will inspire you to be the most amazing friend, the strongest heart, and the best of companions. The journey never ends--what matters is that you travel together.

Watch and live.