Photo Bonus

About seven years ago, my friend Kenn and I went to Chicago over Spring Break. It lived up to its billing in every way. We had to buy discount winter hats from Marshall Fields for freezing rain and wind. Of course, the restuarants and museums and stores were fantastic. Any city is a wonderful place to take a camera. This post is as much a reminder to myself to get out there and have fun with the camera as it is anything else.

Searching for Audrey Hepburn Posted by Hello

Not even close, but worth a peck. Posted by Hello

An Odd Prose Piece

This is a short piece of fiction I wrote about 5 years ago. It derived from an actual birthday party at which I was present. This story was my processing of my attendance there. Of course, the stripper in the gorilla suit wasn’t English (as far as I could tell) and he didn’t stick around to “have a chat” with us all. Ah, but what might have happened if he did
The Full Banana

The last thumpings of the techno beat were drowned in the ending crescendo of synthesized horns. The gorilla had ended with gyrating hips, a dramatic pelvic thrust to the final beat, then the raising of his arms, and a fling of his head forwards, looking for all the world like a grotesque crucifix. After the applause he collected his clothes from around the room and turned to put them in his bag.
A man got up from his position behind the couch from where he had crouched and watched the performance, and headed toward the door.
“Well, see you all later. I’ve gotta go.”
“You’re leaving, Dave? You’re not mad are you?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I don’t suppose it matters either way, though.”
“Oh, come on, there wasn’t anything wrong. Stay for a while.”
“No, I need to go. Hey, Steve, thanks for getting the pizza.”
With that he opened the door and walked out.
“Pious jerk!”
“Pious jerk? Who is that?,” asked the former gorilla in a crisp English accent as he turned after having deposited his mask on top of his bag.
“Oh, the guy who left. He’s kind of a Puritan. He never wants to have any fun.”
“So, he’s the one you mentioned on the phone, and the reason I’m still in the gorilla suit and not my skivvies just now?”
“Well kind of.”
“He’s gone now, though, isn’t he. I could still give you ladies a good show, if the remaining gents don’t mind. I could even give you the full banana, if you wanted. No extra charge”
“No, we probably better not. We don’t want anything more either, really.”
“Oh, so its not just the portable conscience who just left that’s issue. I suppose it might have something to do with that cross on the wall over there.”
“Yes, all we wanted was just a little harmless fun, that’s all.”
“Well, you should be careful, even with the instructions you gave me, if you had gotten Patrick then the fun might not have been so harmless. The ‘pleasing’ we generally aim for isn’t so wholesome. I am a stripper after all.”
“Well, yes, we know. Anyway, thank you for coming out.”
“Hey, you ever do this kind of thing dressed up like James Bond?,” a man seated in the corner asked.
“Yeah, you sure have the accent for it.”
“Well, yes, I have thought about it before. The Bond music even works well and my actual name is James even. And I’ve even got the gun, eh!”
Half of the people in the room broke into laughter, the others nervously looked down.
“Oh, sorry, I really oughtn’t speak so vulgarly I suppose.”
“Oh, don’t worry. We don’t really mind. You should hear some of the stuff we say around here anyway.”
“Hmm, its odd that you wouldn’t mind. I don’t know, it seems to me that perhaps you should. At any rate, that’s your affair. The reason I don’t do Bond, though, is that it doesn’t seem to work philosophically.”
“You actually get philosophical about stripping?”
“Well, you lot are the Christians who hired a stripper, so what’s wrong with me being a philosophical stripper?”
“O.K. you have a point. We didn’t have you strip at all, though, you know.”
“Ah, I see you must be applying that Scripture that delineates the line of approval between lewd sexual gestures and actually stripping.”
Silence and confused glances all around.
“Oh, I’m only having you on. The reason I don’t do Bond is that Bond would never work as a stripper. It’s not in his character. He’s always the exploiter and not the exploited. If I did him, then I would come in a tuxedo with a martini (shaken not stirred), I would sit in the corner chair, and then all you ladies would strip. Then I would take the one I fancied and head for the back room. If I had Bond himself strip, Ian Fleming would roll over in his grave.”
“Who’s Ian Fleming?”
“Oh, he’s the bloke who wrote all the Bond novels.”
“Hey, what did you mean about being exploited.”
“Well, I didn’t start stripping for the honour of it you know. I was in New York and I needed some money fast. If you want to chat, though, let me get out of this suit first. Its boiling. And don’t worry I’ve got jeans and t-shirt on, I was going out after this.”
With a hurried unzipping, James stepped out of the suit.
“Voila! Instant evolution, eh? I don’t suppose I could get a glass of water, could I? And then if you had some tea that would be magic.”
“No tea, we do have some soda, though.”
“Oh, the water will do, thank you.”
The glass of water was drained in two long gulps.
“Oh, thanks. That was grand.”
The next few seconds were filled with an uncomfortable silence.
“Odd night this, isn’t it. I mean itŐs all rather bizarre, for me a stripper to be sitting chatting with his audience, who really had no business hiring a stripper anyway, and for whom he really didn’t strip. But that’s all right, I do enough corrupting as it is. This is a nice change. You Americans are an odd lot, though, aren’t you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Well, you’re odd, particularly when it comes to religion, eh?”
“I don’t know what you mean. We have the highest church attendance of just about any nation.”
“Oh, I didn’t say that you weren’t religious, I said you were odd. You’re rather schizophrenic about God aren’t you. Half of you have this super-pious front and then mess about in private, and the other half claim to be Christians and it doesn’t seem to make a bit of a difference in what you do. It all seems a bit silly to me.”
“You seem to have an awful lot of opinions about Christians.”
“Well I was one once you see, or at least I went to Church with my Mum. But when I moved out I made my own choices and that was that. It seemed to me that you had to choose one way or the other.”
“Well may be so, but we as Christians are supposed to influence the world. Even though we’re probably not doing a real good job just now.”
“Influence is one thing, but on some issues I think its supposed to be like oil and water, they don’t mix, right? You Americans seem to be like a great jar salad dressing, all mixed up. Just for example, everyone raise your arms up just now.”
Every one raised their arms, although some go up somewhat more tentatively than others.
“One…two…three. Three of you have them.”
“Have what?”
“Oh those WWJD bracelets. What the Hell do they mean anyway? You know I’ve seen them in the oddest places, even around the wrist of a hand that was putting a dollar in my g-string. Sorry for the image. But what do they mean? Do people forget they have them on? Is it just an amulet? What is it?”
“Well…”
“Oh I didn’t necessarily want an answer. I know what they’re for. Its just so silly, if you don’t really mean to take it seriously. After all it is a good question.”
“What’s a good question?”
“What would Jesus do? That’s the question we’re talking about isn’t it. I mean certain things I know that he wouldn’t do. Hire a stripper for example. But you know the passages in Scripture where he spends time with prostitutes and sinners. I love them. But I want to know more about them. Lets say Jesus is at lunch one day and somebody pops off a filthy joke. What does Jesus do?”
“I don’t know is this question some kind of joke?”
“No, I’m dead serious. I want to know the answer. I know you might think a stripper may not think of these things, but I do at times. I don’t suppose he would have the harsh judgment of the fundamentalist or the quisling acceptance of the liberals. It would be something completely different, and I wish I could see it.”
The deepest silence yet pervaded the room.
A girl who sat leaning up against the love seat broke the silence, “James, it seems like you do a lot of thinking. Way to much for a stripper anyway. Why don’t you just quit. I mean is this what you really want?”
“What do I want? That’s a question that really doesn’t matter anymore for me, I don’t think. It impossible you see to get what I really want.”
“Nothing is impossible…”
“Oh, don’t tell me that. You’ve never been on a stage with people eyeing you like you are a piece of meat and they are all dogs. And then see over in the corner a shy girl averting her eyes, because she came with her chums and really didn’t want to. And your heart aches because you fancy her and you think, ‘If only I could be with her and we could live quietly together some place.’ And you know that that could never be because its you that’s spoiled her innocence, and you that will do it again the next night, and the next, and the next. So don’t tell me about possibilities. Especially, you, all you half-hearted pricks.”
James rose from his chair, went to the couch and picked up his suit and bag and headed for the door. As he grasped the knob he turned and lifted up his head.
“Look I’m sorry for all of that. I am sorry for getting upset and for mocking your religion. It’s just that I guess I take it all pretty seriously. I still remember lots of things. I remember watching Mum go up to the altar rail for her wafer. I never did make up to that rail. I wouldn’t go to the confirmation classes. I do remember, though, when I was young just looking at the big crucifix on the wall. It always seemed to me such a hideous and shameful thing. And recently I’ve been wondering if that nakedness and shame, just may do something for mine. I don’t know. I don’t know.”
With that he walked out into the night.

You the Man!

Two Old Testament Case Studies

Hittite (II Samuel 11)
His heart was pierced
Long before the arrow found its mark
Bleeding to see the king
Who drew him from the sway
Of heathen kings
Meet him with glazed and hollow eyes
His spiritŐs burning fire
Drowned in decadence
He went to the feast
Given in his honor
Fighting his bodyŐs yearning
To sink into its softness
As he had fought the night before
To not yield to the solace
Of a softer softness still
He choked down the wine
Offered
But more commanded
Again and again and again
And struggled against its heaviness
That pulled him towards oblivion
He rose to go
Cheered on by his debauched lord
To lose his cares for the night
He cast one glance back
Then went with holy, sotted stumbling
Back to the palace door
___________________________
And, now the rest of the story. David was the man! in all sorts of studly, godly, ways. In the next chapter of II Samuel, though, he is told “You the man!” in a way that brings him to one of the lowest lows in his life (and, boy, did he have a lot of lows). In this very same chapter, though, we see once again why, despite his screw ups, David is indeed “the man,” a man after God’s own heart, as he repents, is restored, and returns to his kingly duties. Oh, to be the man! like David, but far better still, there is this other Man…

Two On Lust

A Stand Alone Piece and one from AFE.

carne

when i let him
incarnate my dying flesh
with the vileness that
he is
it makes me meaty again
and wanting more
and more
and more
till like him
i am
writhing, restless, flesh
spirit dying,
dying,
gone?
o
LORD,
DELIVER
me,

Agag (I Samuel 15)

Like Saul I let my Agag thrive

As lustful thoughts that thrill my mind
Stay captive, bound, but still alive
Seduce and then their captor bind.
__________________________
O God give to me Samuel’s steel
To face my Saul, his sin decry,
Make cherished thoughts before thee kneel
And wield Thy power to sanctify.
Reading the Old Testament can be at times difficult reading if we our honest with ourselves. We struggle to reconcile the images of seemingly excessive violence commanded by One we identify as a God of love. Did God change, we ask, between the two testaments? Admittedly the difficulties are great, but they arise largely out of an improper and incomplete understanding of God’s character. We forget that God is also holy as well as loving. The Old Testament reiterates with alarming clarity that God is a holy and jealous God. And lest we think that he has changed with the advent of Christ, we need only to read the passages concerning the coming judgment at the end of time. And, conversely, if we think that suddenly God adds love to His character under the new covenant, we need to go back and read passages in the Old Testament to hear of his patient wooing of His wayward people Israel and His expressed desire that all people come to know Him.
God doesn’t call us today to utterly destroy entire tribes of people to preserve the purity of His own people, but the call to personal holiness is in stated just as startling language. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount stressed the importance of removing sinful influences in our lives, starkly stating that if our eye or hand cause us to sin that we should remove such parts from our bodies. The language again is harsh, but serves to make a point. We like Saul cannot cherish Agags in our hearts that God has commanded to be destroyed, even when those Agags are so intimately related to us that to remove them seems as painful as hewing off a part of very own bodies. Whatever it may be: a sinful habit, a grudge we have been nursing, or a wrongful attitude, it must go. If we cannot do it we must bring it to Him to destroy. We will resist this with any number of rationalizations and procrastinations, but if we are to go on in our walk with God the cancer must be destroyed.

A Hetero Talks Straight

I am not straight.
Crooked in a thousand different angles
Of lust and pride and hate,
I cannot claim to rule
The lines of your existence
More Incongruent than my own.
So, let us kneel and work and wait.
Let us, together, submit to pains
Of Bending.
Let us weep and wait,
Together,
For the Ending,
That brings the world in line,
In great joy,
With Straight.

Weekend Edition

Here is the essay I produced for an assignment in Advanced Compostion class in 1994 which required we write a “nostalgic essay.” Later we were also required to write a “humorous essay” and a tabloid-style article about the same event on which we chose to write our nostaligic essay. The former will appear later; the latter is lost to posterity, I think.
Nostalgic Essay

On July 10, 1987, a world came to an end. You say you don’t recall any cosmic catastrophe occurring then? Well, you are right. We still have our eight dancing partners for our waltz around the sun–at last check anyhow. But, nevertheless, a world did come to an end that day–my world. That day, rolling along its well worn track, it hit a hard, immovable object and shattered into a thousand pieces. On that day, at around eight in the evening, I graduated from high school…. (For full story click “Permanent Link” below)
If the truth be known, it didn’t entirely come to an end. I happened to pick up some of those thousand pieces to comfort myself and before I knew what I was doing, I stared to build a new world. And I didn’t even know you could do that. But I am getting ahead of myself. My world began in a dusty corner of Pakistan in the relative cool of the winter. My childhood was normal, I suppose, if that statement can ever be made without being made an oxymoron in light of the varied and creative exploits of children. But it had its share of joys and fears and tears, and in the sense that every childhood seems to have each of these in some proportion, my childhood was indeed normal. Being normal, though, did not mean that it was not unique, and from the start it was apparent, though thankfully not to the mind of a child, that my life would be lived in various different worlds.
Mom was from Southern Illinois and Daddy from Pakistan. She was a nursing student in Boulder and he a psychology graduate student in Austin. And somewhere in the Rockies, in the dead of winter, the spark was kindled that would leap into the flame of a blessed life together on the steamy plains of Pakistan.
Such were the contrasts into which I was born, but thankfully they were never set in antagonism to one another. And even though our home environment was western, the local dialect rolled off my tongue as easily as English until I was twelve and local children were welcome companions in childhood games: the games of war with clods of dirt in our expansive garden or playing hide-and-seek long into the warm summer nights, sometimes varying it under the intrepid leadership of my oldest brother to a game of “scare the night watchmen.” Then we would crawl on the roof above where he was on watch and loft projectiles into the bushes. The poor, old man, being virtually blind and armed only with a club and flashlight, would leap up and cry “Who’s there?” much to the delight and encouragement of us on the roof.
Life was peopled with a variety of people: my aunts and uncles and cousins and grandmother of my father’s side of the family; then “aunts” and “uncles” in the missionary and local community; and on the occasional furlough to America, still more aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents from my Mom’s side of the family. I am fortunate to be able to associate those words of “aunt” and “uncle” with closeness and concern and with people deserving honor because of the influence and love I received from these varied sources.
If life were peopled with variety, its experience was varied even more greatly. The influences of East and West flowed into my mind as naturally as the tides and sought to mix into some common level It was Mom, really, who made of these parts a consistent whole. She worked creatively to maintain the American side of our heritage, giving Christmas and other holidays their traditional American flavor, while at the same time celebrating them with vigor in Pakistani setting as well.
Christmas meant stockings and stories and Christmas dinner and singing carols around the glow of the advent wreath as we contemplated the meaning of the season. Christmas also meant going to a plethora of dramas at local institutions; greeting the local carolers with traditional oranges and peanuts; watching the midnight procession to the church with its camels and candlelight; going to church, burgeoning with a perennial influx of members; then going home to have dinner with our extended family, with spicy curry and meatballs and rice. The differences were less like the two sides of a coin, than the separate threads of a tapestry, woven together into a whole, mainly because of the influence of Mom.
Her life testified to the understanding that all people were important. She worked countless hours at a hospital, but sill managed to teach me through third grade and my brothers through fifth and seventh, to provide a quality English education for us. She walked to work, an unthinkable action for even middle class people in Pakistan. Her route took her through often squalid streets, sodden with backed up rain water, and past the walls of houses patterned with drying buffalo chips, the fuel of the indigent. And when she saw need or a woman who would greet her, she would stop and talk, often bringing much needed medicines, to the effusive thanks of those who received them. At work, she would often roll up her sleeve to give blood when a patient’s relatives refused to do so. Among our family in Pakistan and all others who knew her, she was loved beyond words. There were a thousand other things that I cannot begin to write about her, but simply stated, her life was a testament and a model which has shaped mine more than I will ever know. The first day of fourth grade found me walking nervously into class of a real school. And in that walk, wobbled by hesitation and dread, my world changed for ever. It was not a destruction of my previous world, but merely an adding to it, an adding, though, that would enlarge and deepen my world. The school was Murree Christian School, a boarding school in the foothills of the Himalayas with the coziness of having just over a hundred students in twelve grades from close to twenty countries and fifty or so staff representing equal diversity.
Boarding life was not easy at first; many a night in those first years tears soaked my pillow and I anticipated holidays with gleeful impatience. But while life without Mom and Dad was rough, life with a cluster of new friends became more and more pleasing all the time. And through the years we discovered together that rather than simply being friends, we were really more like brothers and, to a lesser degree, the girls our sisters. I say “to a lesser degree” because you don’t really want to date your sister.
We were under the care of house parents for all our years at school and in the early years they closely resembled parents, soothing us when we were hurt or homesick and making certain that we ate properly and got enough sleep and dressed and washed properly. Under their supervision, I continued much as before in the reckless pursuit of play, with a whole new set of friends to play marbles and “dinky” cars and games of chase with; and in the holidays there were Mom and Dad and all my old friends as well. Life was sweet indeed.
Growing into junior and senior high, our house parents mirrored those whom they replaced, both in allowing us to grow in independence and in dealing creatively and collectedly with the flood of energetic that such growth produced. Life was living together, studying together, worshipping together, and together experiencing a host of simple pleasures: picking up a game of basketball on lunch break, moonlit walks to the local village for tea, or camping on the top of a windswept mountain.
People came and went; there were those you had know for years and there was the serendipity of newfound friends. But the reality was that you had to get along with everyone at least at some level since you went home with them at night. And while life together was not always idyllic, friction provided the benefit, perhaps only seen in hindsight, of learning to live with people you did not like very much at first. And there was friction over any number of things like nationality, personality, and even theology. the picture of junior high boys alternating bedtime discussions on different nights between which girls they each liked and a heated debate over predestination seems somewhat amusing now, but we were earnest in our seriousness as well as our frivolity as perhaps only growing innocents can be.
It was not only people that made Murree so endearing, but the place itself. To this day, my images of beauty in nature are largely shaped by those images, and the deep feelings the elicited, that I encountered in Murree. There was the beauty of subtle beams of sunlight filtering through pine trees to fall dappled on the forest floor carpeted with rust colored needles. There was the wet, grayness of fog that rolled over the hill when the rain was taking a respite during the monsoons, which would ensconce mountain, wood, and village in a shroud of silence, punctuated only by the drip of water and the eerie call of the cicada. There were the true mountains that rose across a vast valley, as naked, jagged peaks in the summer and were softened in the fall and winter and spring with a covering of snow. And when the winter came to our own hills, there was the silent falling of snow that clothed the pine trees in white and beautified the dingy village. All these images spoke quietly and deeply to my mind and wove an underlying strand of glory into the tapestry of life.
The crescendo of life a MCS came in my senior year. At the beginning of my senior year, a major par of my world was shattered before it totally shattered in July. My mother was killed in an accident. By some reports, four thousand people came to her and the impact of her life became apparent. Life for me would never be the same. But go on it had to, as it always does, and grief and memories slowly eddied into the still backwaters of my mind as I returned to the busy-ness of school.
As senior years always are, ours too was a series of “lasts.” Thirteen of us sighed as we went on our last campouts, our last sports tournaments, our last prom, and as we experienced a host of common activities that before we had taken for granted but that now took on a glowing, golden luster as the sun began to set. Would we ever sing and worship with friends as we id on Sunday nights? Would we ever know such fellowship again, of being able to enjoy the pleasure of simply walking or of drinking tea and talking together? Would we find new friends at all? And as these questions echoed, slowly and relentlessly the end of the year approached, with its promise of new possibilities, yes, but also with the dread of having to leave so much behind for the unknown beyond.
The final weeks were filled with dinners and dramas and recitals and ceremonies, and then finally it came, the Friday night we had all been waiting for. There was the gymnasium packed with most of the missionary community of Pakistan. Then came the ceremony with “Pomp and Circumstance” and addresses and consecration, and then, with the flip of a tassel, a world came to an end.
It would not sink in just then, however. Next there was the receiving line. The “wailing line” we used to call it, and everyone in the entire gym would walk by to congratulate you and you spent the next hour alternately giving a polite handshake or “wailing” on the shoulder of a friend you might never see again.
Now the destruction was starting to sink in a bit, but not really, there was still a formal reception and an entire night of fun. Then somewhere in the wee hours of the morning, it was time for good-byes, as one by one friends would leave. Then the tears would freely flow and, finally, there was nothing left to do but to stumble home to bed, to sleep, and to oblivion. I do not claim to know how the survivors of Hiroshima felt as they rose to look at their ruined city, and I hope not to do them an injustice by comparing my relatively painless experience with theirs, but in some small way I think I felt as they did on that “morning after” graduation. It was afternoon, actually, when I got up, but I can remember feeling at first just dead (probably from the lack of sleep), then empty, and, finally, devastated by emotion. Today, friends I loved would be flying off to different parts of the world; and a large number would be staying as I too would leave for America in a few weeks. It was like having pieces of my heart torn and taken to the far corners of the globe and the tearing was painful, unendurable, I thought then, and for weeks and even months afterwards. This then is the beginning to the ending. As to how the ending became a beginning. . . well, that would take too much time to explain just now, but though my world did come to an end, a new one was already begun as I picked up those pieces, cherished them, and looked to see how God would cause the pieces of the future to fit in with them.
Worlds collide all the time.
Not with cosmic clouds of dust
Or fire in the sky,
But silently,
Within my mind.

Ringbearers IV

These are the final poems in the Ringbearer cycle. And they are my favorite, perhaps because Sam is my favorite character in the stories. He is simple and yet deep, deep in loyalty and faithfulness. He is unlearned, yet full of wonder and curiosity, that lead him to experience piercing joys, and also pain. Of all the hobbits, he perhaps best represents the ordinary life of most Christians;to be obedient when called upon in situations big or small, and accept and enjoy the blessings of hearth and home, while keeping ever mindful that our hearts’ true home is across the sea.
Frodo was called upon to embark on a different course. He, almost like a missionary or priest (or in some ways like the great High Priest Himself), is called to bear great suffering, even special suffering, which in essence precludes him from being able to experience the domestic joys that Samwise does at the end of the tale. In some ways it is tragic, yet gloriously tragic. He does experience great joy in the Shire, if only vicariously, and is given the gift of partaking in deep healing and joy sooner than his friends.
This is discourse is not meant to bifurcate Christians into ordinary and super Christians. That dichotomy is false; we are each called to obedience. Yet, I think it is clear that our calls may, indeed, be radically different, and some (Paul, Francis, Theresa, to name only a few of many) may be called to be holy, suffering, wanderers, in ways above the common lot. In a conversation last night with my good friend Kraus, we each wondered whether we thought we were more likely to be like Frodo or Sam. The answer we each gave to that question ultimately is not so important. What is important is that we each accept whatever call we are given with obedience.
Shire Gossip Concerning Sam
And did some laugh to hear the Gaffer’s son
So named? How could one born to earth and root
And sod claim such a name? Such names are won.
And only through great toil come to their fruit.
Why should a gard’ner ever tend to more
Than to roots of glorious taters. Thanks be
For those, and fruit and flow’rs. So why put store
In more, in your fancies wild and airy?
Dear, simple Samwise you, of all, should know
Strange, wondrous weeds will grow from wand’ring seeds.
Lad, be planted here. Think of only how
To care for Roses. Have no other need
For wizard dreams and mountains cold and Elves,
For old, fool Hobbits who forget themselves.
S A M W I S E

Gandalf to Samwise at the Grey Havens
Dear, Samwise, you now see you are well named
True wisdom ever shoots from lowly roots
Of those who faithful stand and seek no fame
You now belong to taste its well-earned fruits.
Your love of tree and earth, all living things,
Of holy Elves and song, and wizard tales,
Your guileless keeping of the guilty ring,
Your simple wisdom praised in Lorien’s vale,
By Lorien’s glorious Lady and her gifts,
Bring to the Shire its Healing and its Rest.
With Rose and Oak now golden Mallorn lifts
Its leaves to bless and Elanor, gold-tressed,
Your joy begins. So, Ringbearer, through thee
To Iluvatar may praise and glory be.