Friday, November 24, 2006


How much can one weak soul endure? This site has been driving me nuts. If you’ve started Xmas shopping I promise you, you will never find a Jack-In-the-Box for a little guy that pops up as reliably and regularly as the pop-ups here. Sure I delete them, Hub cleans up my computer and immediately they’re back. And this has been going on for as far back as I can remember. And as if that isn’t enough, then Blogger tells me this is a climate of instability. Now I’m scared. I’m out of here.

I don’t know if moving will change much but at least I can hope for more stability. Sorry for the inconvenience to those who link to my blog. I hope you’ll all come a-calling at my new place.


Thursday, November 23, 2006


Yesterday I made the dreaded trip to town. In the dairy aisle I reached for sour cream. I checked the expiration date. It said "December 22". Scared the hell out of me. That is when I realized Christmas is just around the corner and I have nothing done.

"Oh my God", I cried out in disbelief. A shopper nearby responsed by closing in on me and asking what was wrong.

I showed her the stamp on the sour cream container. "Look at that," I ssid. "No one told me Christmas was that close. I didn't realize it until I saw that date stamp and now there is so little time and so much to do."

"There's nothing to do," she said with blank eyes and a passiveness that was irritating. "No one has to bake or shop for Christ's Birthday" Then in those blank eyes a sudden flicker. "Would you look at that? I didn't know they put expiration dates on sour cream containers."

And the irony is, if she never noticed that sour cream has an expiration date, how likely is she to notice when December 25th arrives? She'll probably miss the party. So there is no point in me explaining to her that Christmas won't happen, no matter how she perceives it, without excitement and involvement and a sense of awe and wonder.and focused attention on the expiration date!

Monday, November 20, 2006


Imperfect Faith

Now I need to assure you that I am not writing this assuming authoritative wisdom. Because these thoughts stem from Hazel’s stoic influence, rather than any independent wit or wisdom on my part.

It is because of her influence that I remain so emotionally embedded in the story I just wrote. How agonizing the story was to write. My mind constantly dueling between skepticism and fanaticism. And the struggle I had to find a path between faith and doubt. And how perplexed I was to discover (and this Hazel pointed out) that my faith is such an imperfect faith. And ultimately wondering if such insecurity is good. And you know, Hazel has me thinking that perhaps it is.

How can I, with so many doubts, feel arrogantly self-righteous? With my imperfect faith, I don’t have the strength of conviction to ever wage a religious war. And with my imperfect faith, I can never feel compelled to judge or threaten other’s icons in the public square. I have no compulsion to crush and burn the religious guidebooks or relics of others. What I do have is ‘a grounding’ in my weakness of faith one day and my iron faith the next. Absolute and perfect certainty, whether it be atheism, agnosticism, or church driven, is what makes spiritualism a sword of violence and conflict rather than tolerance and grace. So as much as I, (with my same attributes of human nature that we all have), want to be right, completely right, in the know, when it comes to spiritual stuff, insecurity is really the better place to be. Don’t you think?

And truth is (though it be a closely guarded secret), I think everyone wavers between staunch belief and disbelief. Even the atheist. But somehow society has cloned us to want to be right and prove that rightness by denying all else. Yet, you know and I know, that deep in our souls our convictions are imperfect, no matter what we profess outwardly as a rigid and unshakable belief. In there, deep down, is an uncertainty. We go there but perhaps only subconsciously. We, of course, never voice our doubts out loud. Doing that would make us utter fools in a society where one must never admit to insecurity in our principles. After all it is our principles that make us smarter and more sophisticated than others. So likewise, it is smarter for us to shrug off self-doubts and determine to ignore them. And that, I think, is the arrogance that is at the crux of the dire historical record of bloodshed and conflict spawned by religion.

And excuse me, but history is repeating itself and maybe we’re just not paying close enough attention. Where once agnostics and atheists completely disregarded what sectarian religions thought, they are now starting to form into a zealous troop to quell believers with the same malice demonstrated by various religious sects in our historical past.

In my story I felt Hazel was out of place. Her presence was oft an annoyance. Her beliefs far removed from the rest of my congregation. But in the end, she ran no interference, it was just the collective vanity of the rest of us that we were right and she was wrong, that made her presence aggravating. But I’m glad she was there. She had her own lessons to teach.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

# 199 THE RIGHTEOUS FOREST - Conclusion


Stumps are an ugly business when forests are raped and pillaged in great croppings. But the stumps in the Righteous Forest were such a small group, there was beauty in them. Something sweetly appealing in the texture of the bark spotted with silken moss and the color of the exposed wood.

It’s hard to explain but I’ve always had a fondness for raw wood. Finding an undeniable attraction in the warm earthiness of wooden tea crates, apple crates, and wooden spoons. My best drawing pencil that flawlessly formed smooth curves and smart lines was a bit of unvarnished raw wood with a lead sunk down the middle. Even now I have a grand collection of wooden spoons in a large clay pot on my kitchen counter. Everyone always wants to throw out that one large spoon. The one that lacks symmetry, the one with the thick handle, with flawed markings, and looking as if it were carved with a rough stone rather than a sharp blade. But that spoon has character, and girth, and strength. It has come down through ages and ages companioned by a wooden cutting board now so worn with use that there is a distinctive dip in the middle of it. But when I fold my fingers around that spoon and run my palm over the sheen of that well-worn cutting board, they transfer their strength to me. The security of longevity verging on the very cusp of an infinite existence. That’s the beauty of wood and an awkward description of the ambiance to be found in a grove of stumps. Towering trees are arrogant and proud. Stumps have humility that gives them their own distinctive beauty. And let’s face it. We can not have a Righteous Forest populated by arrogance. Only the swell of meekness and humility can appropriately represent the righteousness we seek.

It never occurred to me until this very moment how those stumps in my Righteous Forest impacted my life for all time. Under the snow fall in my yard right now you can see my complex arrangement of stumps that every summer support clay pots of petunias, pansies, and the like (much to Hub’s chagrin). There are not now and never have been any ornate polished or painted columns to support flowerpots in my yard. Stumps provide for me that blend of nature that I am looking for.

But I digress. We originally started this exposé with thoughts about speaking in tongues and that is what I want to return to for the moment.

Did my mother ever speak in tongues? Know what? If she did, I’ve never heard her and amazingly in all our discussions about God, the subject never came up. But even at that, my mother’s religion was a certain thing to me. Yet she never demonstrated her faith in an overt way. She never positioned herself in a front pew waving her arms in the air and yelling out praises. She never worked a prayer altar. And as far as I know, she never spoke in tongues. She was invisible in public and invisible in church. But yet I did hear her pray daily at home for healing and help for others. For herself, her own needs? Nah. In tough times, she could have prayed for a bit more food, but she didn’t, because in her humble mind, frozen turnips were sufficient. A blessing to be grateful for.

And my mother was the one practicing member of the church that I knew intimately in her home life as well as her church life. And I knew she held no anger, no envy, no malice. Material wealth was unimportant. But I also knew that before she had reached a ripe old age, she was physically and mentally exhausted from heavy burdens and daily cares. But even at that, she continued smiling with an every present joy that stemmed from a passion for living that had little to do with anything but the beauty and love of children and creation. Her attitude was so difficult to comprehend and so impossible to model. But our Pastor had me believing that if I ever spoke in tongues I would have that extra measure of grace from God that would make it so much easier to stay the course and sidetrack the world. A path so much easier than the briars my mother maneuvered through. Although my mother may have never spoke in tongues, she was more alive to righteous needs than physical needs. She awoke every morning and lived each day as if it were the scheduled for the Resurrection immediately after washing up for breakfast.

But returning to the Righteous Forest, I know it takes more than a cathedral, with green velvet drapes all round and a warm spotlight on the podium descending directly from the heavens, for magic to happen. Rituals can be observed but no magic will happen if thinking is not geared to more fundamental stuff. And to me those fundamentals are “humility” and “faith”. So to my small flock this is what I must explain.

Now in my younger years I tested God. Always wanting a sign. I started out commanding hills to be moved. Fully expecting it to happen. But in my test scenarios, when the mountains weren’t moved (i.e. the ski hill that was inconveniently some distance from the house that I wanted moved closer to home), I went to simple tests. Praying for water in a can, or an open book to be altered to a different page during the night. The old human nature assuming that if a task can’t be done, then a simpler easier task needs to be substituted.

And so when I complained to my mother that my tests were not working my mother returned to what I call, the ‘frozen turnip theory’.

‘Why would someone who created the world and life within it, who loves and protects our every move, who offers us the magic of nature to gaze in wonderment on each and every day, oblige us with anything more to assert his power? What more could we want?’ (Similarly, why would one plead for food with a cellar overflowing with frozen turnips?)

So now I looked questioningly out over my stump congregation. I could not help feeling a bit annoyed with Hazel. She seemed to be as distracting as a wailing baby in church with her attention focused on that sepulchered-finger pointing upwards. But yet, as I spoke, with my own remembered pain of exclusion at summer camp, I attempted to include her. To direct attention to her corner as well so that she would not feel the exclusion I had felt.

I continued talking about the church minister’s perspective on faith that was so different from that of my mother. He was forever insisting that if the expected doesn’t happen, that is no reflection on God’s power. It is we who err though lack of faith. The minister at camp admonished me (in a way that was deeply hurtful) that I could speak in tongues if I only had greater faith. And always he left me wondering why he engaged in long repetitive sessions of thanks for a miracle that had not yet occurred. Is this how faith is to be demonstrated? By repetitive thanks over and over as if speaking with a deaf God? And here I saw Hazel blink.

Okay, so how does one demonstrate ‘faith’? Mother’s simple answer was to have a confident belief that something would happen, realizing that the happening would not necessarily be of our choosing. It would be God’s choice. That meant that the miracle we wanted might come disguised. So if the happening was not what I expected how was I to discover when the God-given event took place? I might not know ever. But is that a bad thing? To sidestep all the complexity of how and what and when and why and just have a simple faith, like my mother’s, that I am in his care.

Now going back to the Minister’s perspective let us just consider how this appears. If you have rock-solid faith that your friend will remember your birthday with a gift, would you call her up a week ahead of time and thank her for the gift? How despicable and arrogant would that be? Somehow it doesn’t seem right to me. If we are to honor the Creator we need to be humble and subject to him and humility is not happening with assumptions, prior to receiving a gift, are made about when and what and where. It seems that this kind of demonstration of faith warps the whole process. There is of course an obvious advantage. This kind of thinking allows the Petitioner to take/think/assume they have the control in deciding what the Controller will do, and when and how they will do it.

It was a discussion far from finished when my podium suddenly darkened and I saw a black cloud thundering across the sky. Hazel, of course, was the first to point it out. The wind was fast rising and so I hurried to a final benediction. I raised my hands out over my faithful stumps and gave thanks for my mother’s special gift of faith, the miracle of my imagination, and the fantasies that invariably guide the interpretation of truth. And I gave thanks for frozen turnips.

Yes, I will return to this special place but not to plead for speaking in tongues. That is the blessing I sought, but I believe now God’s choice for me was something different. And so my particular blessing came disguised as something else. Like my mother said, it was up to God to choose ultimately what blessing was appropriate for me. And with that I am well satisfied. But still I will return to my Righteous Forest to reflect, pray, contemplate, and give thanks that will parallel the ‘frozen turnip theory’ (for that which I already have rather than what I want).

Rain was now frantically descending from the sky and as I dashed away, Hazel caught at my skirt and tugged it with her long pointing finger. I turned to free my skirt as while doing so I folded my fingers over the raw scarred wood of her sepulchered hand. And in that brief moment we both realized our mutual appreciation for what we had gained in our ‘sharing’ of the Righteous Forest.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006



Right now my mind is so full of stuff that I want to tell you that it feels like it might burst. And I am so overwhelmed I think to myself that it would be better to cancel this effort and go back to writing snips and bits about the mundane. Besides, there is only one reader urging me on. More are sending e-mails or phoning to discretely assess the state of my health and mind. To the latter group, rest easy, my health and mind are fine. All is well.

And so…to continue…

The day after I discovered and baptized my special retreat, it was odd, how compelled, even excited, I felt about going back there. Weirder still, was the feeling I had that I must properly prepare. The Righteous Forest must be kept pristine, free from stain, in the same way that all efforts are made to keep a new dress clean and free from rips, spills or mud. Allow me to explain with a parable of sorts.

Now as a kid, I only ever had one store-bought dress. A lovely little plaid dress my Dad presented to me after going on a trip. I remember how I wanted that dress to always remain as fresh and pristine and beautiful as it was the day I took it out of the box. To never be contaminated by mud or stains. To avoid the threadbare impact of repeated laundering. For these reasons, it was hard to wear, but at the same time it was equally hard not to wear. That was how I felt about my Righteous Forest. I must never let anything contaminate the spiritual perfection of this place. Too much occupation will wear away the magic. So as much as I wanted to be there, it was as difficult to go there as it was to stay away.

But with due preparation, carefully groomed in body and mind, I went to the Righteous Forest and climbed on my podium stump and looked out over my humble congregation. They were a group as anxious to receive a blessing as I. Except for one. At the back left side of the group was Hazel. She had not been carved by a sawyer as the others had. She was split down one side, sheered off and charred and blackened by a lightning strike. She now stood apart with a skeleton finger pointing accusingly at the sky. Instantly I knew this was one stump-soul that had wandered too far from God to ever return. This was one stump-soul that could cry out in her misery but those cries would never be heard. A strong symbolism of deaf-God rejection that was quite disturbing.

The others were keen to get on with it. So was I, but how does one describe God in a way that a bunch of primitive simple-minded dead-headed stumps can understand? I found them keen, quiet at first and willing to listen, but maybe too keen. Keen enough to fabricate stupid questions that I was ill prepared to answer.

From Mrs. Birch, ‘If God is everywhere, if he is as big as the fullness of the earth and sky, should we ask such a spirit of greatest to come into us or should we seek to enter into his grand expansiveness? We are such small specks in the realm of things. There is no room for air and breath and love and prayer and meditation and all the luggage we need to accommodate God in a comfortable way as a guest within us. So maybe we should expect to go to God, rather than expecting him to come to us.’

Sounds really sensible in theory but what if God misinterprets that kind of request as a death wish? It sounds as ominous as that line in a child’s night prayer that says, ‘And if I should die before I wake…’. Why does spirituality always have to be so intertwined with death? Can’t the two be separated for just a time? So that we can pursue one avidly without feeling like we are falling into a trap? Contemplating earthly redemption rather than after-life redemption? And from a more practical perspective loving God only because he first loved us. Loving him as a caring, all-wise creator, rather than out of fear? Even youngsters know that relationships based on fear can’t be, and never are, sweet harbors of comfort.

And then Mr. Barker asks. ‘Can God come to us? Can he sink to our level? Or do we first need to begin an independent effort that can lift us up to him? As a heavenly creature, his spirit is likely to float a considerable distance above the horizon. Maybe before we can conjoin with God, we need to reach a higher plain. Perhaps we need to take fundamental steps without assistance. Maybe we need to practice a level of righteousness, of honor and integrity, without props or crutches. Maybe it is unreasonable to expect God to lower himself to the base level of our natural stubbornness and self-will. Perhaps the Creator expects us to use the God-given intelligence we were created with (authenticated by a logo stamp that says, ‘Made in the Image of God’) to initially raise ourselves up a kilometer or two to meet him halfway.’

Obviously, the congregation of the Righteous Forest fail to recognize that too much keenness brings one to the brink of utter stupidity. Such stupid questions. Questions that had me stymied and Hazel knew it.

…to be continued…

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


I May be Last, but I’m Still First

Now my “Righteous Forest”, although a delightful place, was also as ominous as Stonehenge. Important too. As important as a “Last Chance” gas station before the 300-mile stretch of a treacherous snow-buried mountain pass. Though beautiful and serene, when I climbed on my podium-stump, something relegated me to the same last-chance feeling that my child-soul was growing quite accustomed to. That feeling of exile and worthlessness that made leaving a church more treacherous than entering it. Was I supposed to feel this way? So locked in the fear of being reduced to a bloody mass of lifelessness on the church steps by a wayward out-of-control truck or car? But then – Do you remember the minister crying rivers of tears? ‘Do you remember his warnings? He knew and actually foretold how that kind of death could happen without warning right outside the door.

The whole idea behind self-fulfilling prophecy is that by expecting something to happen, it will happen. I, of course, knew nothing of this when I was a child but yet I had an innate understanding of the theory in my young mind. My conviction was this. Think it. It might happen. Will it, (albeit self-consciously), and chances increase that it might happen. Believe it, and it will happen. And because a traffic death is an occurrence more commonplace in everyday life than speaking in tongues, my thoughts kept slipping from one focus to the other. Until death on the church steps was even more likely to happen than speaking in tongues.

I attempted to focus thought, will, and belief on speaking in tongues but still it hadn’t happened. At the same time I attempted to avoid, with the minimal control a child has over their imaginative thinking, the will and belief that I would be wiped out on the church steps, but it was a thought so pervasive – always there, always there. So amidst such conflict and distraction, I could not focus properly on either of these things. The need to dismiss my fear, and the need to find my state of perfection by speaking in tongues.

And where was God’s will in all this confusion? That was the most puzzling of all. Could it be that my inability to speak in tongues was a kind of safety-net blessing from God? Cause you know as long as I didn’t speak in tongues, I was not in a proper state of ‘readiness’ to be run over and wiped out by a truck. Or was God unwilling to give me the gift of tongues to cause a small seed of distrust in my mind about the Minister’s dire prophecy? A way of encouraging me not to swallow everything hook, line, and sinker that he said. To create doubt in the Man of Cloth’s knowledge and shake up the fatalistic notions he had planted in my small mind that so unfairly and unsuitably filled my young heart and mind with such dread? Being that God is a God of love, and his greatest love is children, that could indeed be the case. At least in my newly discovered “Righteous Forest” the death-on-the-doorstep prophecy is moot. There is no risk of wayward or out-of-control traffic there.

And of course, there were still other considerations that needed thought and interpretation. It seemed the longer it was taking for me to speak in tongues, the closer I was getting to that chasm marking the rigid division between a hearing God and a deaf God as well. So I couldn’t afford not to think everything out very carefully. And so the agitated mind rumbles on pulling in more and more things to consider.

Now I initially thought when I commenced this rant that I would write an original entry and grade (‘member the grading I always do), and grade the response. No comments and I would discontinue the discourse and make a superman leap to other subjects. But today I realized the silence is more encouraging than a resounding clamor. This is a thing, that people want to discuss, but don’t want to discuss. Want to hear, yet don’t want to hear. It invites eavesdroppers and Peeping-Toms.

I find it so odd that in our liberal society we can discuss sex preference and positions without blush. The most intimate and private details of one’s life without discomfort. But yet, but yet, God-stuff causes discomfort, red-faced embarrassment, and a longing to escape as if from a wild and raging beast. But if you come along with me, bravely putting one step in front of another, before we know it, you know we will find ourselves starting down a trail with land mines and quicksand. But it can’t be helped. We are compelled to go on though threatening and dangerous the path may be. The quest is the distinctive mark of humanity, the stamp of our logo that we are made in the image of God. And so that ever-present quest fuels the anxious enigma of our very being. We want and need to search for answers to the mysteries that impede solid purpose and total pleasure. And so, why am I doing this? I am doing it for me. And if you wish to travel along and provide encouragement, you are certainly welcome to do so. But if you wish to slink along, stealthily eavesdropping, that’s okay. Or if you wish to back away out of here, that’s okay as well.

Now back to my rant.

As a child I yearned for understanding and I still yearn for understanding. And similarly, I still yearn as I have always done for a Spiritual Guide that is willing to speak directly about their experiences rather than wrapping everything in trappings. There is too much marketing involved when the truth I am searching for has to come in a carefully crafted setting of a dimly-lit altar, soft pianissimo, tears, and emotional outbursts, rather than in the direct way that I am speaking to you right now. We would expect, would we not, that these Spiritual Guides, so cozy and warm in their robes of unshakable righteousness would be different from us? Not wanting to avoid discussion but welcoming it. But yet, I have found they are in the same trap we are in. Wanting to discuss, but yet not wanting to.

They may have different reasons but they are the same as us. They are not flattered by the questions that we feel a need to ask. Sure, they are confident within their own venue, but when someone is bold enough, direct enough, to start asking about the real mysteries, or point out that maybe their altar commands to their God (that I have already referred to) are falling on deaf ears, they become exceedingly uncomfortable. And the issuance of warm grace and love I expect from them turns into shunning. A wish to escape uncomfortable interrogations and return to their own kind. It is almost as if they identify with the Top Guns in an organization that are unwilling to share their knowledge in case they could be replaced. And equally unwilling to share their inadequacies should such confessions force them into the Public Square to eat, (while the rest of us watch), a hearty three-course meal of Humble Pie.

To explain further, have you ever heard of anyone standing up in church and saying, “I think God is dead. The children are sick, I lost my job, my wife is having an affair, and I am feeling ready to discard this whole deception.”

I know what the righteously-dignified would say. “Sit down, be quiet. That is not a testimony.” But that is a testimony. A real testimony. A testimony, that God really does exist, and as a God of truth, demands nothing less than truth. Proof that there is a spiritual blessing within that individual that is real, animate, and tangible. Grace sufficient to nullify politics and forcefully put the whole truth in that person’s mouth. No cloning. No warping. Just pure God-given truth. Some would think this would drive others away from salvation. But I don’t think so. It would encourage all of us to share with total honesty sad situations that make our paths difficult. And that sharing of negative feelings as well as positive ones would lighten every load. Allow us to share the weight. How can we call this church business a unification of ‘sharing’, if that ‘sharing’ is so crippled by what is appropriate and what is inappropriate to share?

At camp when people were testifying, that’s when I was really excluded. Black sheep that I was, with my grievous forgotten sins that made speaking in tongues an impossibility. I was sure the room would titter and rock with laughter if I stood up to say anything. But I wanted to. I wanted to confidently stand and state the obvious. “In case you are unaware I love God and he loves me. I haven’t spoken in tongues yet, but I am not disheartened as you might be because it says in the Bible ‘the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.’ That’s good enough for me. You are all last. I am first!”

Now, if you have ever been in a fundamentalist church, you know that sometimes services are very animated. Creating such ripples, such a backwash, that everyone gets caught up in it, saint and sinner alike. But there are other services when one occasionally senses, with disappointment, a cool and utilitarian aspect to a worship service. Why it happens, I don’t know. It just happens.

Now what I always wanted to ask, but didn’t, was a question that haunted me about a man and wife that went to our church all the years I went there.

I thought it odd that whether the service was as cool as a somber business meeting or as animated as a circus performance, these two always stood with the rest of us for prayer and with eyes closed and gently swaying on their feet, they spoke in a loud outburst, even when no one else was doing so. And for your edification, let me tell you in phonetics a portion of their tongue speak. After a loud, explosive, call to attention, an understandable preface, “Hallelujah!” (rather than ‘Listen Up!’) they continued with, “Ah-sik-ee-ah-hundi-ah.”

Now I don’t want you to practice that, I don’t want you to use that, or to be tempted to find inclusiveness in your church with that. But I do want you to tell me if you have heard that phrase before. I already talked about how suicidal it would be for you to seek inclusiveness by using this phrase. Please don’t do it. I am busy writing a story here. I don’t have the time right now to plead for the forgiveness of your deceit and utter recklessness, as I did for my dear friend in episode one of this rant. But the question that arose from the repeating again and again of this phrase by this couple was about the nature of God. Though God be omnipotent, and never changing, he does flow through all time and space so I am convinced he is not that static. If he was that static, as part of his creation we would all think the same, look the same, talk the same, and tongue-speak the same – wouldn’t we? Yes, we all have the same creator, the same likeness, the same logo ‘made in the image of God’, but we are radically different in all other respects.

Despite the random mix of this rant, these are minor things I felt a need to express before I move to the bigger questions. I should have a plan here but I don’t. The honest testimony I want to share is that if you are assuming that in writing this I know where I am going, the truth is I have not the slightest idea. I have not the foggiest notion where we are going and I have not the foggiest notion where we will end up. But still you’re invited to come along. I enjoy having the company. be continued...