Everyone Went- A Hutchmoot Reflection.

2015-10-14 11.21.11In one of the songs on his new album, The Burning Edge of Dawn, Andrew Peterson alludes to Thomas Merton’s “Louisville” epiphany in Merton’s book Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander.  Here’s what Merton wrote:
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud… I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
We gathered at Hutchmoot 2015, 100+ total strangers, unable to be “alien to one another even though we were total strangers.”  It was a weekend of walls coming down, of hearts exposed, of giving and partaking of nourishment from the cool waters of new friendship between old souls.  We drank deep.  We took in story- our own and each other’s, and the one Story which connects us all.
Merton wrote “I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate.”  Perhaps it gives some indication of the Hutchmoot weekend that our keynote speaker, author Walt Wangerin, Jr.  said , “There is entirely too much joy in this place.”
The temptation for me right now is to wax philosophical, to try to ascend to that intoxicating cloud of friendship and pipe smoke once again in immediate nostalgic reflection.  To go step by step through the weekend and parse out its significance.  To mention names met and sessions attended.  And I may do that yet in future posts, but things are still “settling” for me.   Plus the fact that I am in my classroom monitoring an essay test.  Ha.  Sure.  At least my students think I look busy grading.
So let me, for now, explain the title of this post, which attends to a very specific post-Hutchmoot experience.
I met two wonderful friends at Hutchmoot, Jonathan and Laure Hittle.  Thinking my goodbye to them was too short, I resolved to ambush them at Nashville Airport for a final, more leisurely goodbye.  A few Facebook messages back and forth found me waiting outside a small Mexican restaurant just outside their gate for what we quickly dubbed “whiskeymoot.”
I waited, and as I waited, had my own mini-Merton experience.
I was scanning the crowds as they moved toward me, trying to discern the friendly bearded face of Jonathan and the freckled smile of Laure.  As I was doing so, I continuously thought I was recognizing other people who had been at Hutchmoot, even going so far as to nearly waving at (who I thought was) JJ Heller and her husband David.  I got some odd looks.  I think my face had a constant, “Hey, good to see you again!” expression- which in my case, includes bushy eyebrows raised, and overbitten smile beaming.  An apparently awkward, gawky, unofficial greeter addition to the airport staff of Nashville International to the strangers streaming past me.
So here’s the mini-Merton moment:  it wasn’t so epiphanic that I saw everyone in the airport shining like the sun.  What I did recognize was that anyone and everyone who was coming toward me could have been at Hutchmoot 2015.  Which says quite a lot about the community I experienced.  Though there were amazing musicians, artists, teachers, writers, mothers, fathers, and presenters at Hutchmoot, no one really stood out- by which I mean, if they did stand out, it was out of the ordinary, universal, and holy of the day-to day journey all of us are on.  Everyone went.
I relaxed my craning, searching neck for a moment, and bent my head in thanks to the realization.  There are so many stories that matter.  As Andrew Peterson wrote in his welcome letter to Hutchmoot “The bricks and mortar of God’s kingdom are not ideas, but people.  It’s not stories, but characters in the Story.”
Then I spotted Laure and Jonathan.  My overbitten smile returned.  I called out “Let Whiskeymoot commence!”
Smiles were returned, as three characters in the Story sat down and broke bread with each other, and toasted the weekend.

Chosen, Holy, and Dearly Loved

Jason Gray’s comments preceding his song “I Am New” at the Community Coffeehouse resonated so much with what was on my heart I transcribed it:

“We do really well with the difficult scriptures which tell us we are sinner saved by Grace, with hearts deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.  And we need to reckon  with those, because that’s true, and those are the verses that God uses to reveal our sin, our need for Christ, our need to be saved.

But once they do their work, once Jesus saves us, we stay camped out here often, staying in the shame and guilt, [or what becomes] shame and guilt.

But Jesus moves on to a new work- after salvation he begins a new work called sanctification, and when He is doing that work He has new things to say about us, new words- things that are even more difficult: that because of Christ we are now chosen, holyand dearly loved– not that we are going to be holy- but somehow, right now, we are holy, and without blemish, and free of accusation.

And then the most mystifying of all: that because of Christ, we become the righteousness of God.

And I don’t believe it when I look in the mirror.  But it’s right there, in God’s Word.  And I wonder if part of becoming new begins with believing and trusting what the Lord has to say about us.”

Thus my prayer:

Help me trust, O Lord, in what you see.  Shame and guilt have been such a large part of my life, that despite Your promises, despite the robe held out by you O Loving Father to this prodigal son, I’m still used to these rags I wear, and am even still rehearsing my speech of contrition while You call for a feast in celebration of my return.

I’ll admit it- shame is easier sometimes than surrendering to Your will.  I squirm sometimes even when close friends and acquanitences give me compliments, and here You are the Almighty saying I am Your own, forever.  That I am cherished, and loved.  Dearly loved.

What to do with such knowledge?

Then I hear the whisper of the Spirit, asking me to be the hands and feet of thee:

“Tell others the same.”

Hello, reader.

Hello sister.

Hello brother.

Hello, friend

You too.

are chosen

are holy

are dearly loved.

Just passing it along.

Amen.

A New Year for the Dead Made Living

We are a sick house here, so 2015 came last night amid sniffles, snot, fever, and crying (don’t even get me start on how my wife and kids were doing har har). Reading often relaxes me in these scernarios (in between dispensing medication, tissues, and rocking babies to semi-sleep), and I came across a great passage by N.D. Wilson‘s Death by Living to start the New Year:

“Living means decisions. Living means writing your every word and action and thought and drool spot down in forever. It means writing your story within the Story. It means being terrible at it. It means failing and knowing that, somehow, all of our messes will still contribute, that the creative God has merely given Himself a greater challenge- drawing glory from our clumsy botching of the past. We are like factory workers in a slapstick comedy, standing at our positions beside the too-fast conveyor belt that flings the future and all of our possible actions at us. Corn syrup and food coloring everywhere (along with cheese and ceramic figurines).

Do your best. Live. Create. Fail.

And from it all, from the compost of our efforts, God brings glory- a world of ripe grain in the wind.

By His grace, we are the water made wine. We are the dust made flesh made dust made flesh again. We are the whores made brides and thieves made saints and the killers made apostles.

We are the dead made living.”

Cheers to all of us living into the Great Story this year.  Cheers to more frequent blog posts :-).

Thanks, Suzie…

super kitty

super kitty

I had to say goodbye to someone close to me today.

But first let me tell you how we met.  And it begins with Dante.

Not the poet, but the dog.  A sweet rambunctious lab mix my wife who my wife and I couldn’t resist as he wagged his tail furiously from his holding pen.  We were shopping at Publix, and a no kill shelter had set up a makeshift adoption center outside the store and was taking donations.

We brought Dante home to what was then a tiny little duplex and proceeded over the next two weeks to understand that dogs are simply furry human babies in disguise.  Crating this puppy for most of the day, we felt, just wasn’t right, and when I came home one day to find my cat Cleo backed into a corner hissing her brains out, Dante wagging his tail like it was a propeller, tongue lolling, cheerfully barking after escaping his crate somehow, and Cleo’s well placed scratches all over his face, I said to myself “This isn’t working.  He deserves better.”

My wife and I get attached easily to animals, so it was with much sadness that we took Dante back to the no kill shelter.  Arriving, Dante jumped out of the car and began cavorting around with his fellow pups.  The woman running the shelter, a fat smiling woman in a pink flowered sundress, with eyes just to the left of crazy, asked “Wanna see the kitties?”

Sure.

We walked over to a crate supported by a couple wooden boxes.  “Three left.  Yeah, that’s the mother- we call her Abby- and there’s her two kittens, Weebles and Wobbles.”

Abby regarded us from a sleek tabby face and disdainful green eyes.  Her daughter Weebles gazed curiously from a small black face with a white mustache.  Wobbles- well, Wobbles was wobbling.  He tried looking at us, but his head jiggled back and forth enough to make him lose focus within a few seconds.

“Yeah,” the woman explained, “Got his head stuck in the bars of his crate a while back, and now his head won’t stop doing that.  ‘Member the toys from way back when?  Little egg shaped people?  “Weebles wobble but they won’t fall down.”  Ha!  Kinda fits, unfortunately.  He’s a precious one, but I’d like to leave him with his Mama a bit more.  Watcha think of Weebles?

My wife, tears still running down her face from the pain of giving back Dante, picked up Weebles, who started licking her thumb.  “Cool,” I thought, petting her.  She seemed like a nice, laid back kitty.

I knew once she was in Erin’s arms, that kitten wasn’t going anywhere but back to our house.  So I turned to the shelter owner and said “She will have a good home with us.”  And with a donation to the shelter made, and a couple of papers signed, we went back to the car, Weebles in tow.

Getting in the car, we sat for a few minutes, letting our new family member settle in Erin’s lap.  “I’m glad we got her,” I said, “But Weebles?”

Doesn’t seem to fit, my wife agreed.

The  name just meandered across my mind, amidst directions home, getting the new one stuff to eat at the store…

“How about Suzie?”

“Suzie?”

“Yeah, she looks like a Suzie.”

“Okay, sounds good.”

In hindsight, I wish naming my son had been that easy…

Driving home, I glanced over and saw something that I will never forget.  Erin still had tears in her eye, and I watched as Suzie looked up at Erin, then over to me, then back at Erin.  And with a confidence bordering on the absolute, with a look in her eye that said “I own these people,” she lifted her paw and began washing herself, content with her new surroundings.

That was about thirteen years ago.  I have never had a cat give so much love and joy as a pet.  So when her tumor developed, it was quite hard to face the fact she would not be with us always.

But she passed away peacefully in my arms at the vet tonight, her battle over.  Our vet, (the best vet in the world), Dr. Hayes, offered to say a prayer over her, and together we thanked God for the gift of her life to my family.  It was hard to say goodbye, but after she passed, I could still feel the vibrations of her purring on my lap, as if it was one of the hundreds of times she had fallen asleep on my lap.

Thanks, Suzie.

“Our homes are under miraculous skies”- GK Chesterton’s “The House of Christmas”

Today marks the end of the Christian liturgical year with Feast of Christ the King.  Today, during the homily, Father Jim urged us to remember that though we anticipate Advent and the celebration of the Incarnation, let us not forget Christ enthroned at the right hand of the Ancient of the Days.

Which I won’t, of course, but I am indulging in a bit of GK Chesterton as evening yawns into night, and this poem came to mind, with all its anticipatory and beautiful imagery.  So cheers to the new year approaching, the night air chill, but the house warm and snug, a house under miraculous skies:

The House of Christmas

G. K. Chesterton

There fared a mother driven forth

Out of an inn to roam;

In the place where she was homeless

All men are at home.

The crazy stable close at hand,

With shaking timber and shifting sand,

Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand

Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,

And strangers under the sun,

And they lay on their heads in a foreign land

Whenever the day is done.

Here we have battle and blazing eyes,

And chance and honour and high surprise,

But our homes are under miraculous skies

Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,

Where the beasts feed and foam;

Only where He was homeless

Are you and I at home;

We have hands that fashion and heads that know,

But our hearts we lost – how long ago!

In a place no chart nor ship can show

Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,

And strange the plain things are,

The earth is enough and the air is enough

For our wonder and our war;

But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings

And our peace is put in impossible things

Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings

Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening

Home shall men come,

To an older place than Eden

And a taller town than Rome.

To the end of the way of the wandering star,

To the things that cannot be and that are,

To the place where God was homeless

And all men are at home.

New England

So far, I’ve not looked out and contemplated the night sky during my New England stay. My nose is too often in books, or on screens, studiously- avoiding is the probable verb- the one Star of which I should be searching. May I have the courage to crane my neck up.

C.S. Lewis on Love

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”