Pat the Pony

Old friends cannot be created out of hand.  Nothing can match the treasure of common memories, of trials endured together, of quarrels and reconciliations and generous emotions.  Antoine de Saint-Exupery

966265_10201512623720341_135588622_o“C’mon, Kamm, pat the pony.”

And for this I had no response. I had just introduced Amy to one of my oldest and dearest friends, a man known for his (hilarious) irreverence at times but not complete lunacy.  So I just stared at him.

He clarified: “She’s great.  Pull the trigger already.”

That kinda helped, but I was stuck on “pat the pony.”

“Pat the pony?” I ask.

“You know, you’re at a pony ride, and the pony comes by, and you like the pony and want to take the ride, so you pat the pony. So, pat the pony already. Marry her.”
Continue reading “Pat the Pony”

Catechizing Thing 1 and Thing 2*

What you have as a heritage, Take now as task; For thus you will make it your own!                               Goethe, Faust

78073_482647991796_4316742_o The following is a fairly verbatim exchange in my effort to catechize (train up in matters of faith) the boys. I use the catechesis here.  It’s long and very Reformed – an emphasis on God’s sovereignty and human depravity – so the boys have these great Reformed buzzwords – glory, sovereignty, covenant, sin – rattling around in their brains. Bracing stuff for little blonde examples of the law of entropy. Still, we soldier on:

Me: “OK, next question. Richey.”

Richey: “HOLY. . . . GLORY.” In an excess of enthusiasm he likes to blurt out words that might, vaguely, be answers.

Me:  “No . . . ok . . . just . . . wait for me to read the question. Ready?  What happened to our first parents when they sinned?”

Richey: Tilts his head back, rolls his eyes up and tries to look thoughtful. “ummmm . . . THEY BEHAVED INPROPRIATE.”


Me: “Hey, that’s pretty good Robby. Here’s the answer. Instead of being holy and happy, they became sinful and miserable. But disobedient is darn close.”


I kid you not. Exact words. And just like that the conversation devolves into a discussion on Adam and Eve’s bathing habits, which raises a very fair question. Why try, always awkwardly, to catechize the boys? How could these old stories, this strange belief in first parents and expulsion from a mythical garden, be of any help to them?
Continue reading “Catechizing Thing 1 and Thing 2*”

True Believers

For now, we see through a glass darkly, but then we will see face to face.  1 Corinthians 13:12

The danger of reading the bible in snippets – searching for proof texts to buttress faith or piety – is that we create an unrealizable (and unrealized) version of what Jesus-followers should be.  Spend some time instead wallowing in biblical stories; they’re refreshingly gritty.  People do horrible things, fail one another and God, bungle, trip, doubt, fear and generally make a mess of things.  (I don’t want to glorify debasement; I do want to be reminded that God can only redeem those who recognize they are debased.)  One imagines Jesus banging his head on a lintel because, yet again, his disciples are stubborn, obtuse, vain and self-centered.  We easily forget that after years of intimacy with Jesus, after healings and teachings and long days traveling, eating, sleeping and working together, they all (at first) completely miss the message, which means they missed him.

Even John the Baptist, created to ‘make straight the path’ for Jesus, wavered and wondered in the end.  Remember that when John was born his father said of him, “And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.”   Later in the gospels we see John preaching in the desert, eating bugs and honey, cut from the cloth of the Old Testament prophets – wild, unruly and true.  When John saw Jesus he simply knew, could not doubt; “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  John baptized Jesus, setting him on the path to Golgotha.  He then thunders to all who would listen of repentance and a new kingdom, a kingdom Jesus would bring.  No one was more likely to get it right.

And yet, shockingly, after John is arrested and jailed we hear the following question from him to Jesus:

Continue reading “True Believers”


by guest poet Ruth Kamm

Hands are soft and calloused and the whole spectrum of ignorance and experience.
Hands are clammy, moist, and slippery; altogether nervous things.
Hands are dry, cracked, and firm, utterly smiling and sure.
Hand are cradles for the lines of a downturned face or the curve of a hesitant neck.
Hands are the weapons of lovers and the slaves of killers.
Hands are fickle, fastidious things; in one moment the are caress and stroke and skin, and in
another they are fist and claw and bone.

Hand are makers of music, writers of novels, and wielders of blood-stained swords.
Hands are the physical extensions of a formless soul, curious and free.
Hands are the strong, seamless bits of flesh and bone that tremble when a father holds his
crooning child in perpetual surprise of its first breaths.
Hands are the molders of clay and dirt and brick and dust.

Hands are limp, lifeless limbs that hang like dead lilies or straight, sure scepters that shoot into
the sky with sanguine triumph.
Hand are the difference between a woman’s cold, hard glance and soft, knowing gaze.
Hands are prim sheets of paper resting on one another in amiable acknowledgement of their
assumed order.
Hands are quaking birds that flap wildly at the slightest disturbance.
Hands are storytellers and story makers.

Hands are the grim collectors of memory, soiled with tears, blood, sweat, grit and disease.
Hands are the resilient companions of a mother who has reared one child too many; They are the
abiding friends of a man who has built his life out of dust.
Hands are the patient tools of a carpenter who smears mud over the eyes of a blind man.
They are the dirty bloodstained servants of a king pegged to a tree, raised in perpetual worship
and grief.
Hand are potential and anticipation and waiting.

On Gettin Low

There are no events but thoughts and the heart’s hard turning, the heart’s slow learning where to love and whom. The rest is merely gossip, and tales for other times.  Annie Dillard

Just before my freshman year in high school my rock solid fundamentalist grandparents drove me and Doug (my, at the time, slightly uncontrollable cousin) from Phoenix, Arizona to Branson, Missouri – 1,800 miles and 3 days in the back of a brown Cadillac Seville.  To this day, I haven’t the foggiest idea how I passed the time.   I do remember Doug trying to sneak out of a hotel to find cigars.  (It will surprise no one that he is now a successful CEO).  Our goal was Kanakuk, a Christian sports camp, tucked away in the dark green hills of Missouri.  We arrived to 98% humidity, lots of testosterone, mosquitos the size of humming birds and the promise of horrific sunburns.  The heart of the camp took place every evening after sunset when we were hustled into a brightly lit multi-purpose room with an air of great expectancy.   Each presentation revolved around one storyline: the end was near and some would be ‘raptured’ (taken up, in the blink of an eye) while others would remain to suffer with those ‘left behind.’   Where did we want to be?

thMost of this was new to me and seemed eminently plausible, in fact likely.   I was shaken and wanted to avoid the cataclysmic events sure to come soon – and certainly didn’t want to be left with all the losers.   So one night I prayed that Jesus would come into my heart, and I waited.  Antsy and apprehensive by temperament, I couldn’t be sure something had happened and this troubled me.   So I asked my counselor who reassured me that, in fact, I had been saved.  I wonder if all conversion stories are so fraught with muddled understanding and self-serving expectations.  Maybe not all, but perhaps many.   And yet it would be easy and juvenile to remember only through cynical eyes or, worse, smirk at the simplicity of my fundamentalist forbears.   Their forgotten genius is the belief that we are somehow lost and desperately need help ‘coming to ourselves.’  And so, at Kanakuk, I was told there was light and dark, and I was asked if I wanted to be part of the light.   And in response I moved – infinitesimally, gropingly and fearfully – toward God. Continue reading “On Gettin Low”

Malls, The Tooth Fairy and Wonder

Wonder is like grace, in that’s it’s not a condition we grasp; it grasps us.  David James Duncan

Amy and I are not mall people or shopping people.  So, we hate shopping at the mall.  The mall changes me – I become an over-fed, over-stimulated consumer with less money and decidedly crotchety.   Yet, when the two little guys were three and five, I had to take them to the mall for reasons now forgotten.  It never occurred to me that it would be an event for them until I walked through the doors and their little hands tightened in mine.   They were uncharacteristically silent and still; eyes wide, mouths open, they huddled up to me as we walked by shops, enthralled by the lights, colors and noise, a little scared and overwhelmed.   To me, all excess and consumerism run amok.   To them, it was a wonder, and they stayed close to me the whole time, never letting go of my hand.

247645_10150211564306361_1613434_nI was reminded of that experience when, a year ago, Robby came shuffling out of bed, blanket trailing behind him, tears in his eyes.  (This exchange is seared in my memory.  All true.)

“Daddy, the tooth-fairy didn’t come.”   Nuts.  Totally forgot to be tooth-fairy.

“Well,” I told him, “the tooth fairy died in a horrible farming mishap in Dublin, Ohio.”  No, actually, I didn’t say that, but it did cross my mind.  Thinking fast and noting it was Sunday I said; “Ah, of course not bud, the tooth fairy doesn’t work on Sabbath.  Let’s try again tomorrow.”  (Amy had to hide a snort.)   This actually mollified him a bit.  Sadly, just last week, Richey came snuffling into the room with the same complaint.

“What happened to the tooth-fairy?” he asked.  (Let’s just say we won’t be written up in parenting magazines anytime soon.)  For a moment, I considered it a small act of grace that Richey, too, lost his tooth on a Saturday night.  As I begin to launch into my tooth-fairy Sabbath observance explanation, Robby my budding cynic blurts out:

“NO, IT’S BECAUSE THE TOOTH FAIRY ISN’T REAL.  THE TOOTH FAIRY IS JUST MOM AND DAD!” Continue reading “Malls, The Tooth Fairy and Wonder”

Do the Next Right Thing

“Why, even the hairs on your head are numbered.”  Luke 12:7

Early in my daughter’s softball career she had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad coach.   Figuring I couldn’t do worse, I signed up and quickly became a world-class coach, until my daughter fired me. “Hey, dad, you think someone else could coach me next year? I just want a someone new.”  It sounded a whole lot like a high-school break up – “It’s not you, it’s me.”  So,  Ouch.  Ironically, I was just getting to a point where I could give signals to my batters without everyone thinking I was having a seizure.  The single most important lesson I learned as a coach is that when they make a mistake, it’s not an opportunity to teach the mechanics of trapping a grounder: “HEY, CLEMENTINE, KEEP YOUR GLOVE DOWN,” is completely ineffective, because when Clementine misses a grounder she is thinking: “I’m a loser.  Everyone hates me.  Bethany won’t invite me to her party.”  The trick, and it’s quite a trick, is keeping them “up” and “in the game” when they muff a play.  So, I learned to open every season with the following Dr. Phil-esque training. Pretty much verbatim:

scan“Hey, girls, how many of you have made a mistake in a game?” After what seems like interminable feet shuffling, and a bit of cajoling – “C’MON.  Really?  No one?”  – everyone finally raises their hand, uncomfortable.

“Wanna know a secret? You’ll make more mistakes. That’s a promise.”  Now they’re just bummed.

“You know what to do after you’ve made a mistake? The next right thing . . .  Do the next right thing!”

This is actually a Narcotics Anonymous theme which, in hindsight, may have been a bit strong for such a young audience. I saw a lot of blank stares from the girls, at first.  Notably, all the parents would reflexively nod their heads and “Pops,” a grizzled, tattooed, former Marine really latched on.  Every time I saw Pops, he’d growl, “Do the next right thing, baby. Do the next right thing.” So, I hammered the idea into the team as often as I could, because it’s a great lesson, and I’ll be darned if it isn’t a lesson I desperately need to learn. Easy pop-up dropped? “Do the next right thing.”  Strike out?  “Do the next right thing.”  Lose the game forgetting to run home because you’re making sure your socks are the same height?  “Do the next right thing,” which, at that point, included eating ice-cream and giggling. Continue reading “Do the Next Right Thing”

Of Don Draper and Dante

 You taught me hour by hour / How man makes himself eternal – Inferno: XV 83-82

Don Draper reading Dante's Inferno on the beach. (Apparently, classics of western thought was the go-to reading before the invention of people magazine.)Every time I watch Mad Men, wearing a fedora seems like an excellent idea.  Sadly (or thankfully) Amy has informed me, in her wonderful Idaho bluntness, “Yea . . . no. That really wouldn’t work on you.  You’d look kinda ridiculous.”  Still, if anyone could bring back the fedora, it’s Don Draper.  Mad Men fans may recall that Season 6 opens with the camera slowly panning over the supine body of Don’s young wife, Megan, lolling on the beach in Hawaii.  Next to her, Don holds The Inferno (book 1 of Dante’s Divine Comedy) while the voiceover (Don) reads the opening lines:  When I had journeyed half of our life’s way, I found myself within a shadowed forest, for I had lost the path that does not stray.   A moment later, Megan pops up with a fruity drink.  It’s actually a little jarring.  Knowing that The Inferno is about Dante’s journey through hell, I half expect her eyeballs to start spinning or something equally creepy.   No such plans in the script.  Instead, we see Don living what appears to be an idyllic life.

Leaving aside the (fair) question of who reads The Inferno while relaxing on a beach, we can assume that the writers are using the text for a reason.  At this stage in the story, Don is a successful, named partner at a New York advertising firm.  He’s very good at his job – creative, tough, brilliant, confident and a genius in ‘the pitch,’ the point at which he is selling an advertising plan to the C-level managers of a company.  True, he’s had what might be generously described as rough patches in life, but now he appears to be at the top of his game and is in Hawaii with his (some would consider ) beautiful wife.  Is Don now lost, even though all the trappings of his life seem to indicate he has succeeded brilliantly?  Possibly.  We don’t get a sense that Don has, in any sense, found his ‘true north.’  His various vices, particularly infidelity, plague him.  There’s a foreboding to the episode.  Something’s off.  And the writers, using a sledgehammer of foreshadowing with lines from The Inferno, alert us to the possibility that all is not well. Continue reading “Of Don Draper and Dante”

Being Princely

The fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization, and, above all, by the ‘disenchantment of the world.’  Max Weber

“Look,” I said in exasperation to my two little anarchists in training, ages 6 & 4, “This isn’t a democracy . . . it’s a benevolent dictatorship.”

This sort of thing actually buys me some time as they noodle over the new words.   Really.   New words might mean there’s a treat somewhere in the equation.  “Benevolent” could very well be a new flavor of ice-cream, so they paused and waited for an explanation.

302690_10150296614656361_1087186_n“That means I’m king and you’re not.”

My youngest immediately lost interest.  He doesn’t like words like “not” or “no.”  His older brother, insatiably curious, furrowed his brow and asked:

“Well, if you’re king, what’s mamma?”

Potentially treacherous ground.  “Well, I guess she’s queen,” I replied.

“Does that mean you’re her boss?”

“BAHAHAHA . . . . no, no, no.  Nope.   Actually, we kinda lead in different areas, in different ways.”  I started losing him.  “Anyway, it means we share power.  But you know what else that means?”  I asked.


“It means you are princes.  And you know what princes do?”

Continue reading “Being Princely”

Sabbath-ey Rhythms

“Time to us is a sarcasm, a slick treacherous monster with a jaw like a furnace incinerating every moment of our lives.”  Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath

When I started attending Church of the Ascension – a small, quirky, Episcopal church in Sierra Madre, CA – the rector explained the theological distinctive of Episcopal worship:  “For Episcopalians, time and space matter.”  I remember nodding, trying to look sage and thoughtful, but it took me at least 4 years of weekly attendance to understand his words.  Space matters: the physicality of our worship – what we see, hear and smell, the position of our bodies – impacts our spiritual disposition.  Time is broken into seasons – Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, ordinary time – and these seasons give a certain texture to our life, a movement that, we hope, reflects the biblical narrative.  Episcopalian worship weaves the rhythms of faith into the passage of time; it uses all the senses to draw the worshiper into the liturgy, the work of the people.

Paying attention to time and space was a slow, experienced revelation for my faith and ultimately led me to consider taking the Sabbath more seriously.  That and a study of the Old Testament during which I could see no definitive reason why I should dismiss the 4th of the 10 Commandments.

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work . . . For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.  Exodus 20:10

If our call to “be fruitful and multiply” and “subdue the earth” is lived out in the work-week, then Sabbath is a time for rest in the fact of our existence, a moment of pause and thanks.   Notably, the first use of the word holy is attributed to the Sabbath.  All the goodness of creation is exactly that, good.  The fact and remembrance of Sabbath, on the other hand, is holy.  On Sabbath, we remember that God is revealed as creator, redeemer and sustainer.  We also try really, really hard to learn (way deep down) that we are, in the end, none of those things.

 Sabbath is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.  (Heschel)

How does a fidgety evangelical practice Sabbath?

Continue reading “Sabbath-ey Rhythms”