Of Spiders and other Spooky Things

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Author debated

My third child, Robby, is insatiably curious, bright and often anxious. One weekend as we were driving to his friend’s birthday party he offered without preamble: “Daddy, I’d rather have Mamma take me to the party. I get nervous when you take me.” The comment flummoxed me until I realized that Amy’s still and steady presence helps Robby in much the same way it helps me, which makes her like a big, human Xanax for our family. Robby just frets, a form of the “special DNA cocktail of crippling malaise” (said my oldest son) I seem to pass along to my children.

So it didn’t surprise me when, just as I was done tucking the boys in at night, Robby asked; “Daddy, what if a spider drops on me at night?” Before I could answer, Richey from the bottom bunk noted that tarantulas could, worst case, be about the size of his hand. I quickly offered (trying to sound authoritative) that tarantulas don’t hang out in Issaquah; it’s too cold and wet. Without missing a beat Richey chimed in that he is afraid of mean people too. Both quickly agreed that it would be better if there were fewer (or no) mean people in the world. Helpfully, Richey went on to suggest that we couldn’t kill mean people, even though we wish they didn’t exist. “Yea,” Robby concurred. From there, apparently in the “things we wish didn’t exist” frame of mind, Robby noted what an unfortunate development atomic bombs were, and then concluded this anxiety-riff with the observation that death was a bummer. 90 seconds flat; not a word or transition made up.

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Predestination Shmedestination

If the book we are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skulls, then why do we read it? Kafka

If your pastor asks you to lead a Theology on Tap (God conversations at the local bar with fellow church members), don’t chose predestination. Trust me on this. When I saw it on the list of possible topics I thought: “Well, why not? It’s fascinating and profoundly unsettling and just kinda gnarly. And nobody likes to talk about it.” I thought it would be fun-ish. I should have paused when beautiful Idaho gal, she who feigns interest in (almost) all my ruminations asked, “Really? . . . Do I have to go?” (She found something else to do that evening.) Stubbornly, I spent a week or two wallowing in commentaries and creeds and Calvin’s Institutes. I figured I could make Predestination winsome. (Really.) And truthfully, it just didn’t work. At all. There were furrowed brows and sighs and about 15 minutes into the conversation I wondered about the etiquette of shotgunning beers while leading “Theology on Tap.”  (Then I remembered it was a Presbyterian gathering, so no problem.)

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Do Joy

We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.  C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

So Idaho gal leaves for the weekend, gone away with high school girls from church which should earn her, at least, the Congressional Medal of Honor or a bottle of wine or both and in her good-doing I am left with minion 1 and minion 2, caffeinated and amplified minions, their still developing identity spinning out in raw energy and questions, every thought verbalized with great vigor. Too soon all of this energy will go subterranean, sliding incrementally into long sullen silences as they hunker down to figure out who they are and only after long gestation emerge, big and brash, identities all their own.  For now, however, each thought and experience must be expressed and engaged because life is big, interesting and enthralling and they want me to be in it with them, all the time.

474789_10151425069686361_1066219116_oWhich is a time limited good, so I silence my ever chattering call “to do” and settle into the couch to watch a game with them while they yak and eat and dig around in body parts and wiggle, so that watching the game is an aerobic activity and the goodness of the moment is broken by a disagreement, a screech and a thrown lego and minion 2 is sent to his room,  on the way his displeasure made known by wails and weeps, until that wee Job lies on his bed and thump, thumps the wall with the heel of his foot until he thump-kerchunks a hole in his wall and in his distress and fascination with the damage he has wrought he snuffles his way back to the couch, abject and worried. And his furrowed brow is so deeply remorseful that it’s impossible to be mad, so we trot off to the bed, look at the hole in the wall, tut tut together and discuss at great length how to patch drywall, and decide it’s time to visit Home Depot for a patch kit, which leads to long minutes searching labyrinthine aisles while I answer endless questions about the importance of mesh in drywall mud.  And because minion-ing is calorie consuming, we look for a place to eat that doesn’t serve garlic infused french fries because, of course, any variation from normal french fries will cause much head shaking and hand wringing and maybe a little more weeping. Continue reading

Steady On

And while I live my tongue shall always speak of my debt to you, and of my gratitude  Inferno XV: 86-87

God’s sovereignty is absolute (we must hope) but if Dave Winter hasn’t heard “Well done,” who can reasonably expect to hear those words? Is he surrounded by angels and clouds and harps? That’s too easy to dismiss as a moment of overly pious credulity. As part of the heavenly generosity, in which our rightly ordered earthly desires are fulfilled, Dave is more likely sitting at an endless plate of pork ribs slathered in drippy sauce while working with Peter on the ‘Pearly Gates Board of Trustees,’ offering stubbornly prudential thoughts on roles and responsibilities of board members.

The truth is, I don’t have any idea what heaven might be. But if time-bound hints and rumors hold any truth, there must lightness and light and song. Maybe wine. (Who knows?) Laughter too. Our long hope and promise from Isaiah is that “a bruised reed He will not break.” In heaven, the bruised reed – the blind eyes, the cancer-consumed body, the muscles weak with atrophy, the muddled mind – will be made whole again. It will be brought back to its original good-created intent before it was crushed by the darkness of this sometimes unforgiving world. Dave knew darkness of course, and yet:

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Keep Watch

wpid-20150801_173331.jpgAnd you blink and your strong, beautiful daughter steals your baseball cap for work and, later, serves you a beer when you swear, just a minute ago, she was a blond sleepy four year old in a long orange shirt down to her shins, creeping out of her room after bedtime, holding a ratty, blue stuffed bunny and saying, “You can have my bunny if you want,” because she knew you were having a hard night and wanted to help, somehow.  And the young workers who takes your money declines to look at your ID even though you know it’s policy to check everyone’s ID but she says: “Yea, I don’t need an ID when there’s grey hair.”

Right. So you finish pizza with your two yammering blonde cutenesses, boys 7 and 5, all energy and opinion and noise, who convince you to buy them frozen yogurt, which you must do, of course, because it is a glorious Saturday evening in Sammamish, WA,  and at that moment nothing is more important than pausing in the push to accomplish and complete, a push that middle age seems to weave into your every moment except, blessedly, this moment.
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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.”
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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?
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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:

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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