true faith?


A friend writes:

“I think I’m learning what true faith is and that I don’t have any. I think when we say we have faith, we have things like “what we’ve always been used to” or “I think I’ll believe this because I don’t like the alternatives and I haven’t even bothered to consider them”. Things like that. I think true faith must be running out of all rational reasons to believe in something and choosing to still do it–and what an extraordinary, near impossible (ridiculous?) leap that is! Things like “life after death” are what I’m talking about, for example.”

In response, as the culmination of 4 distinct conversations on faith subjects today, I improvised the following, which is revealing even to me:

I sincerely appreciate that idea of true faith. It seems to me to be an act of desperation, a response to the futility of human efforts at self-preservation, defying the rational constructs of our typical ideologies.

In other words, I’m not sure I choose it or I come to it having exhausted myself pursuing all other ideas, then realize the ridiculous, the incomprehensible, irrational are all that could possibly respond to the yearning. Whatever is the answer, the deepest desires of the human heart must be outrageously ridiculous; preposterous even.

Jesus is a safe bet on those terms, and I fall back upon him for hope again and again.

Now, life after death, whatever the hell (no pun intended) that means, is another thing entirely. I cannot fathom, nor even extend my limited hope to that great length. It would be nice, but the speculation is too much for me – not only in regard to its existence, but the how’s and why’s. [To be clear, I heartily believe in heaven, and need it, but the comprehension of it, and the apprehension of it for today’s needs, as it’s typically conceived, is beyond me.]

Besides, I’d much rather have, and am more readily drawn to, life during life. Life after death seems only more appealing than that in the sense that because it is so speculative it seems to be more plausible, because the plausibility of the absolutely unknown always seems greater than the plausibilities of the preposterous within the known. But how much more glorious and meaningful would it be to have the reality of that visionary ideal in the present.

I don’t even know what that means – the coming of Christ?, some sort of rapturous transformation?, the end of the world?, world peace? – and it seems impossible, but with all the incredulity piled high, I confess it is my ultimate longing.

Less so, though, because I choose it, but rather it seems to have chosen me.  Captivated by the foolishness of hope.

God knows I’ve given what I believe to be earnest effort to cast it off, to no avail. God help us.

One further thought:  maybe, just maybe, as “I am crucified with Christ […] and the life I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the son of God” (Gal. 2:20), life after death and life during life are not so far removed from one another.  At least they are related and share some “genetic” material.

the reality of souls absent

Rushing to arrive at an empty space with no deadline or outside force compelling urgency.  The rush comes from within.  Something of the ego-driven desire to be first, to seem omnipresent.

The parking lot outside the office is empty at 6:30 a.m., my most frequent and preferred time of arrival.  Like an empty canvas, filled repeatedly with colorful variety, then whitewashed for another days creation.

I park in the same spot, the farthest from the doors, in spite of the lack of competition – my typical, stubborn desire to avoid the clamoring near the closest or most convenient.

With keys and bag in hand, I climb the small hill to the doors, bend to pick up the daily paper in its plastic sheath and stride over the curb to the double glass doors.  Insert the key, pull the door to me so the latch will turn away, and lock it again behind me.  Locked in, comforted by the temporary barrier, soon to be breached by those also in possession of a key, but pleased with the temporary isolation.  Another door, another lock, then the alarm code, and silence.

This is my favorite part of any day.  It’s the emptiness; not devoid of humanity, but filled with its ghostly, empty presence.  Lives at work, and their evidence fills this space.  Darkness, quiet and the reality of souls absent.

My mind imagines a time lapse of this place as an entity of its own, quiet in darkness, then filling, overflowing, billowing with activity from outside itself, as a flower garden dawning to the swarm of the worker bees, then relishing the reprieve of the sunset, when its fruit can be replenished with vitality for another day.

The comfort, the secret joy of such a space, I imagine, draws its appeal from from my own deep-seated, pastor’s-kid memories of empty church sanctuaries, dark but for light pushing through stained glass.  The walls still dripping with the songs, prayers, sermons, and the silent cries of the human heart, and the aroma of the one to whom they have all been addressed.

I’m sorry you’re so mean

Sometime after the fight, the tears or the yelling, or the silence, when the calm settles in again, and a right perspective forms on the horizon, we can laugh about it.  Somebody volunteers the words, those too weak to push through the clog of emotion until the clog-clearing powers of need and empathy and loneliness and love have their effect over time.  Time, the great healer, comes to the rescue, though often too late for some of the vitriol to seep through to the surface leaving scars or marks of erosion, wrinkles, you might call them, in the fabric of our selves.  Time flows through like fresh water, persistent in its pursuit of gravity, and leaves the sediment behind.  Thank God for time; another day, or just an hour, maybe only a moment of reflection.  Over time, things change.

Then, we say the words.  They are so simple.  So difficult to speak, yet so simple in form and function:  I’m sorry.  I love you.  I don’t know why, but I shouldn’t have.  I hope you’ll forgive me.  I hope.

Then, maybe, if the light is shining just right, and grace flows out from those words to rearrange the corner of a mouth or to generate a twinkle in an eye, and a bubble of a laugh rises to the surface, then . . .

One of us will say, I’m sorry, too . . . I’m sorry you’re so mean.

We both laugh, in spite of ourselves, through the tears and the attempts to cling to the last vestiges of self-righteousness, and moral gravity.

We are caught, exposed, uncovered, and the silliness, the preposterousness of our vanity clears away – naked at a formal party.  What really matters?  There are so few things that matter.

I’m sorry you’re so mean, too.

Sayings of wisdom in the old vernacular:  “A kind word turns away wrath.”  And, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”

Or, a bumper sticker that used to be popular:  “Mean people suck.”

there was God, of course

Just a quote, after all this.  Just a quote.

Both for the writing, and the content, a perfect example of why I love Frederick Buechner; from The Final Beast:

“Why should he stay?

There was God, of course, but God made Irma Reinwasser very angry.  He asked so much of His servants and rendered so little:  marry and bury, christen and counsel, joke with, solicit from, try somehow to live by Him, live with Him.  It emptied a man.  Yet skinny and bright-eyed in his black robe, he still had to stand up in the pulpit Sunday after Sunday and speak to Him and about Him to that big, white, half-filled meeting-house of a church with the turkey-red carpet, “And when they tell me he looks like Abe Lincoln,” Irma said, “I tell them after Abe Lincoln got shot is what he looks like.  If you got God for a friend, you don’t need any enemies.”  What did God give in return?  A dead wife, knots in the stomach.  She plucked up the bacon with a cooking fork and flipped it over.  It spat at her.  Why should Bluebeard stay for the sake of God?

Or was it maybe for the sake of God that he had gone?  Sobered by this possibility, she sucked her wrist gravely where the hot fat had scalded her.  You could never be sure about Bluebeard and God.  There were times when she felt that each must take the other as a kind of joke, and when every night just after her light was turned out Cornelia began with “Our Father who aren’t in Heaven” instead of “Our Father who art,” you could imagine both God and Bluebeard laughing as in fact sometimes Bluebeard actually did laugh, so soft you could hardly hear it as he sat there on the child’s bed with his eyes closed.  But his were closed; that was just it.  That was why you could never be sure what Bluebeard felt about God or what his lightheartedness meant.  It might not be a joke at all.”

public service announcement

My caring sister just informed me, in the course of sending a gushing email about how great I am, that I stupidly turned off your ability to post comments to my last blog, unpublished drafts.

After careful consideration, against my better judgement, I have been afflicted with compassion toward you, my patient and adoring readers, realizing how frustrated you all must be at being prevented from sharing your 2 or 3 cents in response to my pitiful ramblings.

So, I’m here to announce relief.  Comments are open again.

Go ahead.  Type.  Let it out.  You’ll feel better.  Don’t crowd, there’s plenty of room for everyone.

I love you, too.

unpublished drafts

Drafts of 16 posts written by my eldest son, William, remain unpublished in the list of posts that I’m able to see as the administrator of the blog I set up for my kids.

William is an excellent writer, and the unpublished drafts include works of fiction, poetry, journaling, and philisophical observations filled with honesty of emotion.  His mind engages his environment with insightful and introspective clarity.  I’m sincerely impressed, and not just as a parent-fan, and I’ve told him so.

He has a litany of reasons for not publishing his thoughts.  “It’s all crap,” he says.  “I can assure you it isn’t,” I reply.  He laughs.

I have had difficulty conversing with William, always, but more lately.  Arbitrary, superficial, tyrrany-of-the-urgent stuff usurps a dominating role in our lives, but that’s not the full explanation.

In the flash-flood of my all-too-often, anger-fueled lecturing tirades, he has struggled  to keep his head above the water.  I heard somewhere once that in spite of theatrical evidence to the contrary, it’s impossible to cry for help when you’re drowning.  Apparently, you can’t gasp for breath and verbalize your need at the same time.

William and I are quite alike in so many ways that I’ve often belly-ached to God for his cruel mockery of my weaknesses by having them appear so obviously in my son’s predisposition.  Of course, William also has been gifted in ways for which I’ve only wished and prayed.

I love him fiercely.  I’m often caught unaware by the depth of the emotion of it.

Unpublished drafts give me a window into his thoughts, those he portends with silent, desperate gestures as he drowns in my flood of words, or the expectation of them.

I wonder about the misunderstandings of so many relationships incurred by the inability of one party to gain administrative access to the unpublished drafts of other parties.

So much is left unsaid, unpublished.  So many misunderstandings persist, and become historical fact, under the constant pressure and pace of time, and our passive-aggressive ability to assume and impose motives and rationale on the empty spaces of conversations.

Imaginations run wild, offense is taken, defense is mustered, assumptions make what they will of us.

After going to bed last night with misunderstandings busily building mountains of molehills, it took 2 calls and 45 minutes this morning for me to hear my wife clearly, and to explain myself adequately to draw out her typically gracious response to my shortcomings.  “Thanks.  That helps,” she said.  That was an understatement of abundant grace akin to Jesus saying, “Father, forgive them.  They don’t know what they’re doing.”

Lives become past-tense with unpublished drafts of real words divulging truth only to audiences who remain perpetually unaware of their existence.

God forbid, please God, that precious gifts and their days are wasted without notice on misunderstandings borne and sustained by silence.

God, please, make me a listener, especially to the silence.

And grant me, always, please, administrative access to unpublished drafts, or at least to the knowledge of their existence, so that I might, with love and grace, persuade their publication.

And thanks, God, for the depth of the well dug in William’s earth.  May it be a fountain of living water.  May your grace be sufficient for us both.

May your grace be sufficient for us all.


I have borrowed from all of my tomorrows to fill today with more than it can contain in a poorly-conceived, idealistic grasping after comfort.

My fears, my certainties of inadequacy, are driven by such bonds of debt, obligations to tomorrows which cannot be met in today’s currency of unsecured hope.


In folly, I have borrowed.  In arrogance, I have stumbled.

My weakness has produced and strengthened my chains.

My chains have brought me unto a death.

A death has prevented life.

A death has borne life.

“For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake . . . ”

For Jesus’ sake, but unto death nonetheless.

Sounds noble, is painful.  Vain?  Like dying.

Dying to be living?

“Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

“So then death worketh in us, but life in you.”

Who?  You?  Us?

“Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus . . .”

But I came here of my own weakness, my own vanity, my own folly, my own ingratitude, my own, mine.

“Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

“That sin, by the commandment, might become exceeding sinful.”

Debt.  A promise which tomorrow cannot bear.  Tomorrow is only real when it is today.  Today is always inadequate to its obligations.

Where then is hope?

In weakness.

“Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.”

“Take no thought for the morrow . . .”

But I have sold myself into slavery unto it.  It lords over me in expectation of calamity, in the assurance of brokenness.

“The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath set me free from the law of sin and death.”

“There is therefore, now, no condemnation . . .”

“The assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.”

Bankruptcy.  Emptiness.  Vanity.  Overwhelming need coated in desperation and soaked in abject poverty.

“Corruption must put on incorruption.”

“Apart from me, ye can do nothing.”

“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”





“Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death:  because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.”




“Nevertheless I live.”

a novel idea

Have you ever tried to write a novel?

The trick of it, apparently, has a lot to do with figuring out where to jump into the story, and what to include in the details of the story.

Conventional wisdom (which may be a hideous oxymoron) is that when writing a novel you have to stick to the story and use nary a word that doesn’t participate in moving the story forward.  In addition, a novel-writer should refrain from being overly descriptive, which is only a slightly different principle, I suppose.

All of that, of course, reminds me of the scene from The Princess Bride in which Westley, having just been revived by Miracle Max from being mostly dead, is trying to understand why he, Inigo, and Fezzik are about to storm the castle gate, so that he can come up with the plan (which is the whole reason Inigo had to find Westley and have him revived).  Inigo, in a hurry to storm the castle and find the six-fingered man who killed his father, says to Westley, who is also in a hurry to storm the castle and stop the wedding of Prince Humperdinck and Buttercup, his true love, “Let me explain.”  Then he pauses, shakes his head, and starts again with, “No, it’s too much.  Let me sum up.”

Now, I realize that, as Christians, we’re uncomfortable with the idea of spending valuable time reading, much less writing, novels because we’re serious people about serious business, and novels, being make-believe and all, are hardly serious, unless of course, they are allegories and devoid of profanity and/or sexual references and/or sarcasm.

So, I suppose the same principles can be applied to nonfiction, or even creative nonfiction, based on the evidence presented in the Gospel of St. John, in which John himself confesses to leaving out some elements of the life of Jesus from his account, by saying in the very last verse of his last chapter, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.  Amen.”

I’m not one to criticize Biblical authors, but I have to roll my eyes a bit at John for that exaggeration about the whole world not being able to contain the books.  On the other hand, John’s awareness of the actual size of the whole world may have been a bit misinformed.

Nonetheless, I get his point.  He had to stick to the central story, as he saw it, either for lack of knowledge, lack of parchment, lack of time, or lack of the ability to otherwise keep the interest of readers.

Beyond all of that, though, there’s another point we have to consider, if we have to consider this topic at all.  We have to consider the idea of engaging the readers in the creative process in at least as much as they are translating the symbols we call letters into ideas and mental images of those ideas.  Whether fiction or nonfiction, the reader is going to envision the story based on his or her interpretation of the written words.

This is dangerous, but necessary.

In the same way that every reader has distinct fingerprints, and DNA, and odors, they will have a distinct interpretation of every element of a story.  They must.  And not only is that a factor for consideration in the writing, it’s a necessity.  You have to stick with the story, using words as economically as possible, knowing that readers will each have unique images of what you’re describing, and in order to keep them engaged in the story, you have to leave out just the right elements to engage their imaginative processes and envision whatever it is that will keep them interested enough to keep reading.

Or, so I’m told.

Too much descriptive information, and they’re sleeping on you.  Too much boring dialogue, and they lose track of the point.  Too many pages, with obscure, ancient maritime references, as I found with my most recent attempt to digest Moby Dick, and they put the books back on their respective shelves, probably in the wrong locations, with disgusted looks on their faces.

But – and that’s a very big but – this is of critical consideration for all of writing, reading, and life.

We are constantly editing in the process of writing, reading, and living.  Constantly.  Always.

Some of us are not good at this.  Others are better.  None of us are perfect.

Take a minute and look around the room in which you’re sitting.  Try to think about how you would describe the room.  Try to think about every detail and imagine putting words to it.

Or, take your experiences today.  Think about describing every detail of every step of everything you’ve done today to someone else who has no contextual reference for your life.

Yep.  I know.  Maybe John was right, after all, about filling the whole world with books, right?

We take a lot for granted.  We filter out a lot of noisy details without ever recognizing we’re doing it.  Our minds do this instinctively – constantly translating data perceived through our senses, imaginations, desires, and abilities of spiritual discernment.  It’s a necessity and we’re better for it.  We don’t, and can’t, consciously process every data point that enters our realms of experience.  Thank God, we don’t.

Of course, and here’s the rub, if we, either acutely or chronically, filter incorrectly, perceive incorrectly, or imagine incorrectly, in this incessant dance between writer and reader, transmitter and receiver, leader and follower, savior and sinner, we may alter the story to something that bears no resemblance to the author’s intent.

Our contribution to the story, even as writers for whom the prerequisite of all writing is reading, in more ways than merely literally, is absolutely critical.

Stick to the story.  Use words economically.  Balance description with room for interpretation.  Do so with precision and skill.

This is a nearly impossible task, which great writers complete with the illusion of ease.  I’m listening to the audiobook version of Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens.  He’s a great writer, and his work is classic for that reason.

John was a great, or at least good, writer, and his subject matter makes up for any of his shortcomings, and that’s why his work is classic, even though he left out so much stuff.  I wish I knew more of that story, more of those unnecessary details.

As a reader, I can get distracted.  I skim, I skip, I rewind, I misunderstand, I misinterpret, I give up, I want less, and I want more.  I am also moved and inspired and enlightened and humbled.

As a writer, I write too many words, trying to convey an idea without risk of misinterpretation because I have difficulty trusting readers to get it right.  Then, I lose the story, and the reader.

See, I did it again.

I have to keep telling myself:  trust the story, trust the reader, trust the heart . . . trust the friend, trust the child, trust the vision, trust the author.

Trust the author.  Let the author tell the story.  That’s a novel idea.