June 2009


They didn’t say it to my face. They told me through sayings and proverbs and clichés and truisms like “gravity always wins” and “the only things certain in life are death and taxes”. They told me it couldn’t be done. That even trying would be an affront to nature itself.

But they were wrong. It could be done and this morning, it was done. I did it. I stood up to the self evident truth and challenged it to a duel. I spit on the ground at its feet, slapped its face with a glove, raised my clinched fists to signal my readiness for battle. In my bathroom at approximately 10:36am EST on Saturday June 27, 2009, I put toothpaste BACK in the tube.

I am taking a  creative writing class this summer. Some of the exercises are interesting, so I will post the output here from time to tome.

Readers should note that story below contains a particularly nasty word (which the person actually said). If you are offended by smoking, old people or the F word you should not continue reading this post.

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Charlotte Kauffman massaged her wrinkled hands to ease the arthritis pain. She made a loose fist with her right hand and used it to knead the palm and fingers of her left hand. We sat in wicker rocking chairs, angled toward one another. The wicker made a muted squishing sound as we rocked in silence.

She had stopped talking in the middle of a story about how, in 1952, she decided to transition from acting to directing in what I discerned to be the Manhattan equivalent of community theatre. She constantly rubbed her hands together, stopping frequently to take a long pull from a Pall Mall. She had an elegant and mesmerizing routine of taking a drag from a cigarette, then quickly sucking in to her nostrils a small cloud of smoke which came from nowhere.

I noticed the silence and turned to see that a man named Dennis had captured her attention. He was wearing a black mesh hat with “82nd Airborne Division” written in gold thread on the front. He always wore this hat. He had an astonishing forest of silver and black hair in his ears and eyebrows. He wore thick metal framed glasses and a blue flannel shirt tucked in to black sweat pants. Because Dennis was so short, he was able to stand fully erect as he used his walker to shuffle around. I judged him to be very appealing to the ladies of Autumn Park who would invite him to sit and smoke and flirt.

He plucked yellow and pink tulips from the dirt and held them between his hand and the handle of his walker, which he then pushed back to the sidewalk. He scooted around the front of the porch to its entrance and toward Corrine who was sitting two wicker chairs away from me. She turned her head and pretended to not notice him until he stood in front of her. He pushed his walker aside and held out his white hand which quivered gently. She put her tiny, black hand in his. He pulled her hand to his face and put it against his nose and lips, closed his eyes, kissed it and gave it back to her. He gave her the flowers and she put them in a bag attached to her walker then thanked him by smiling with her mouth and eyes. Dennis motioned to ask if she would join him for lunch. She shook her head no. He motioned again. She reached her hand out and he helped her stand. Their walkers touched several times as they walked side by side through the narrow porch.
I turned back to Charlotte in time to see and hear her inhale a tiny bit of smoke in to her nostrils. She touched her chest gently with the fingers of her right hand and said “Oh that was fucking beautiful.”

On the right hand side of my main page (here) just below the twitter updates is a section called “Tags” which contains a list of words I have chosen to associate with my posts. The more I use a word to tag a post, the bigger it appears in the list – I have written a lot about reading, but not very much about enchiladas. The tags section is visual evidence that I have tagged more posts with the word Jesus than anything else.

Yet I have intentionally not been talkative about what Jesus means to me. This is partially because I have had little to say beyond the feeling that my faith has spent the last several months in the shop for repair.

But there is an even bigger obstacle.

Jesus is hard to write about.

Whenever I try, I tend to scrap the effort because:

  1. I produced a list of things I believe about Jesus. While the list could be interesting (Jesus was masculine), it is usually forgettable because I was hiding behind sarcasm (JEEzuz served Cheetos and KEWL-AID at the last suppr OMG LOL!!!!!) or a too-faithful reproduction of core beliefs from a church website.
  2. The Jesus I wrote about is actually me with a halo.
  3. I wrote the spiritual equivalent of an inside joke – requiring so much background, explanation and summary that the story reveals nothing interesting about myself or Jesus.

Since item #1 in the list above seems like the least of the evils, here is my spiritual output for the day. I would love to read your list too.

I believe that:

  1. God is a hard worker and expects us to work hard too
  2. God is creative
  3. God always leaves opportunity for doubt
  4. God is approachable
  5. God reveals himself and his character through stories and history
  6. Things are not as God would like them to be
  7. Jesus is his solution for #6, but how is not yet fully revealed
  8. Jesus’ death was a game changer
  9. Jesus really walked out of that grave – also a game changer
  10. God is love. But “God is love” is not as comfortable as we want to think it is

I loved every minute of listening to this book. I have worked hard in the last year at developing appreciation for the depth of biblical stories by exploring the human element. For a long time, too long, I’ve committed the sin of seeing people in bible stories as pawns in a theological lesson. And my theology informed how I read these stories, rather than me humbly allowing the stories to shape me.

This particular story was the fascinating, imaginative, fictional yet informed telling the story of Jesus’ childhood from his point of view. The story was essentially the unfolding of self-discovery that Jesus went through as he left Egypt (where his family fled when Herod was killing every boy under the age of two) and returning to Israel.

The story was amazing and because of how good it was, I was very eager to read the author’s notes at the end of the book which have been, possibly illegally, reproduced in their entirety here.

  1. Outliers (read)
  2. The 7 Triggers to Yes (read)
  3. East of Eden (read)
  4. Duma Key (listened)
  5. Past Caring (listened)
  6. Jesus Wants to Save Christians (listened)
  7. Ladies and Gentlemen: The Bible by Jonathan Goldstein (read)
  8. Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt by Anne Rice (listened)
  9. The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett (read)
  10. The Go Point (In progress, reading)
  11. Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal
  12. Peopleware
  13. Back of the Napkin
  14. Over the Edge of the World (Magellan’s terrifying circumnavigation of the globe)
  15. Lisey’s Story
  16. The Time Paradox
  17. The Creative Habit
  18. Revolution by George Barna
  19. The Relational Way
  20. The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance
  21. Spin Selling
  22. Genesis
  23. Exodus
  24. Leviticus
  25. Numbers
  26. Deuteronomy
  27. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  28. Emergency Sex
  29. Founders at Work (http://www.scottberkun.com/blog/2007/book-review-founders-at-work/)
  30. E Myth Revisited
  31. ?
  32. ?
  33. ?
  34. ?
  35. ?
  36. ?

I had no idea what Magellan’s journey around the world was like. I had no idea that he defected from Portugal to Spain to get financial support for his armada. I did not know about how much fun his crew had when they stopped in Brazil. I had no idea how hard it was to navigate a boat around the cape of a continent. I had no appreciation for how driven, ambitious, brilliant, unappreciated and arrogant Magellan was.

Most of all, I somehow never knew that he was killed (for pretty good reason) in the Philippine Islands — after making it only half way around the world.That’s right,  he didn’t actually circumnavigate the globe. Sorry, history teachers, I guess I was daydreaming when you mentioned that.

This book was written in large part thanks to the unbelievably detailed journal kept by Antonio Pigafetta (say it just like it is spelled) who was the actual hero of this story. It contains political intrigue, mutinies, scurvy, murder, adventure, daring, bravery, honor, and on and on and on. As people processed his journey he was viewed as a failure. Only 22 of the original 260 men he took with him survived the trip. A bunch of others mutinied and went back home as he entered what is now known as the Straight of Magellan. But as Spain sent out several more missions to follow the same path, all failed. It was only after everyone else’s failures that people began to comprehend the brilliance and success of Magellan.

So, if you are a poet, adventurer or president, you should be prepared to be disliked and unappreciated until after you die. Sorry.

I read a recommendation of this book on Scott Berkuns’s blog and am so, so glad I took the time to listen to it.

  1. Outliers (read)
  2. The 7 Triggers to Yes (read)
  3. East of Eden (read)
  4. Duma Key (listened)
  5. Past Caring (listened)
  6. Jesus Wants to Save Christians (listened)
  7. Ladies and Gentlemen: The Bible by Jonathan Goldstein (read)
  8. Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt by Anne Rice (listened)
  9. The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett (read)
  10. Over the Edge of the World (Magellan’s terrifying circumnavigation of the globe)
  11. The Creative Habit (in progress, reading)
  12. The Go Point
  13. Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal
  14. Peopleware
  15. Back of the Napkin
  16. Lisey’s Story
  17. The Time Paradox
  18. Revolution by George Barna
  19. The Relational Way
  20. The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance
  21. Spin Selling
  22. Genesis
  23. Exodus
  24. Leviticus
  25. Numbers
  26. Deuteronomy
  27. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  28. Emergency Sex
  29. Founders at Work (http://www.scottberkun.com/blog/2007/book-review-founders-at-work/)
  30. E Myth Revisited
  31. ?
  32. ?
  33. ?
  34. ?
  35. ?
  36. ?