Thursday, May 31, 2012

Theology Thursday #10: Etiology and Wisdom

Who in the heck is General Tso and why is there a chicken dish named after him?

Is there really a difference between ketchup and catsup? (And who calls it catsup, anyway? In fact, as I'm typing this for my blog, the spell-check has it underlined in red as a typo.)

Why is corned beef 'corned' when corn is never used in the production of said meat?

I've always been fascinated with the origins of things. Etymology is definitely a lost art. Certainly, it is a vocation which doesn't pay well, since nothing is produced other than a "well-I'll-be-darned" from the readers.

But the origins of words - and, more importantly, of rituals - have to have meaning attached to them, otherwise going through the motions of a ceremony or the utterance of a word or phrase degenerates into another meaning, which has nothing to do with the original implication of the word or act.

Let me give you an example:

A friend told me a story in graduate school about his church he went to in Illinois as a child. This church, being a modern house of worship, included laity in their liturgical activities. Typically, for the first and second readings, the pastor recruited a lay reader to recite the texts. However, before the lay reader would ascend steps leading to the lectern in the front of the church, he or she would bow, lowering his or her head.

My friend who told me the story said that he always wondered why they did this; perhaps they did it out of reverence for the Holy Bible. Or maybe they were paying homage to the altar, also located in the front of the church. As a kid, he never found out. When he got to college, though, he worshiped in other congregations and noticed that the readers there never did this. So he took the initiative one Sunday to ask an older parishioner concerning this odd act. He said that when he asked, the older member laughed out loud and told him: "No! The reason why they bow before they go up to read is that there used to be a railing you had to duck to get under as a person climbed the steps. After they took the railing out, the people kept on ducking!"

Here's another:

Once in a Pastor's text study in North Dakota a more traditional colleague of mine bemoaned the loss of the second-person pronoun used for God in the King Jame's Bible: Thou. He told me: "I don't see why we have to translate the new translations with You when someone is addressing God. After all, we should be more formal with God since He is our creator." (I intentionally capitalized he in that quote, since that seems to be another fetish with traditionalists.)

I tried to inform my esteemed colleague that Thou was the familiar form of You, a form most commonly used with children, family, or very good friends. I told him it was very similar to the German Du and Sie. In fact, I apprised him that German Bibles reflect this in that they use the familiar form when addressing God. So, Thou isn't really formal at all. God is supposed to be someone with whom you can chat like a buddy.

He didn't buy it.

But it's true.

Often we find that the origins of things are so lost within the tangled buckthorn of history, that they entirely lose their meaning or gain another, wholly different one altogether.

Within the fields of politics, history, theology, spirituality, and linguistics, I think it is necessary to have a comprehensive understanding of the etiology of the particulars to gain a true - and more comprehensive - understanding of the whole. It's what holistic, liberal education is all about. is the beginning of wisdom.

Oh, by the way...

General Tso (or Zuo Zongtang) was a Chinese statesman and military leader in the late Qing Dynasty. He had nothing to do with the chicken dish we now order in Chinese restaurants. It probably was a late 19th Century or early 20th invention in the United States. (source: Wikipedia)

Still - it sure is tasty...

Oh, and if you're still interested:


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Flash Fiction Friday #9: Liminality is a Wonderful Nighttime Snack

The 9mm Glock is a great gun.

It rarely, if ever, jams.

In fact, when Glock GmbH, an Austrian-based knife and fine cutlery firm first designed the model 17, their goal was to have no more than 20 malfunctions permitted during the first 10,000 rounds fired, not even minor jams that could be cleared without the use of any tools. Nobody thought Glock could do it. The laughed at the little knife maker who had never even attempted at producing a firearm before.

But Glock did it. All because of new materials and ingenious engineering.

The Glock 17 was so aptly named because the Austrian military had seventeen different criteria which needed to be filled for a new handgun for purchase in 1980. A competition was held to find the new gun. Glock set to meet all the criteria with flair.

They won the contest, hands down. The tough little plastic gun that just wouldn't jam.
Except for mine.

I wonder how many times a camel has changed history.
Fine, I know, I dropped it in the sand. And a camel walked on it. And shit on it. But that's beside the point.

Youseff bin al Harlas was in my sights. And I pulled the trigger. Nothing.


At least he didn't shoot back. I don't even know if he had a gun with him. He just smiled that sly, wild dog smile that he's smiled before and walked off.

We had tracked Yibber (the nickname we gave him - personally, I think it's much better than "the Comet", which is the codename Langley gave him) for the past seven months. Al Qaeda's cells have gotten much more dispersed since Bin Laden was taken care of. We really have them beat, you see. But they keep adapting, changing. We don't even call them Al Qaeda anymore. We call't talk about that.


There I was in south central Yemen, a government attache to the Swiss consulate on trade, and my Glock jams on me.

There are certain points in history in which we realize that a chance has been taken and is now lost. That was one of those times; a threshold between two existential planes about to be born.

The only way I can find any consolation now is to fantasize, right before I go to sleep, that had I had another chance, I would have done things differently.

I would have left Sana'a (Yemen's shitty capital) an hour earlier than the Swiss consulate. I would have made the excuse that I don't like traveling at high noon. It's the heat, you know. Lots of excuses, really.

I would have, then, never met the dusty caravan trading machine parts for oiljacks. My privacy, then, would have left my gun devoid of camel stomp and shit when I dropped it trying to conceal it from the little boy from the caravan, who was far too nosy for an eight year old.

Then, I would have met Yibber by myself at crossroads 67. He would have asked me for a light, and BANG! Thup. Yibber's dead. Medals for me. Maybe retirement in Europe. Somewhere nice like the Italian lake region in the north. Lago Maggiore or Locarno. Yes.

But no.

The Yibber smiled at me.

And my Glock had sand and camel shit stuck in it.

Sometimes, that moment of historical significance, that liminal edge of making it big, slips away.

And all your left with is your what-if-fantasies.

But maybe it's better this way. I still have a story to tell my grandchildren (I was this close to him!) And I didn't have to kill someone; even a religious nut like Yibber. That's good, right?

What would my life be like had I done it? I don't know.

But I know that tonight I'll sleep well. Because, tonight, I'll toy around with the what-ifs again. Then I'll sigh.

And I'll drift off, wondering.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Theology Thursday #9: The Gift of Perspective

The Rocky Mountains cast a long shadow.

It's a special kind of shadow. It's a rain shadow.

Because of the effect of North America's generally west-to-east prevailing winds and the tremendous capacity of the Rockies to precipitate moisture, a wide, dry swath is cast from approximately Billings, Montana to Alexandria, Minnesota in the north. In the nation's midsection, it's not as wide. There, the mountains cast a shadow from about Denver, Colorado to Topeka, Kansas.

The lack of moisture - some parts of eastern Montana only receive twelve inches of precipitation per year - prevented trees from taking root. Because of the lack of trees and the region's proclivity to suddenly catch fire and spread for miles, we have what we know as the Great Plains.

One gift of the Great Plains is the prairie. Diverse grasses and a multitude of forbs thrive in the semi-arid environment.

The other gift is far sight. A person can see the horizon on the prairie.

When I lived in North Dakota, one of my friends would often tell me that he hated visiting the mountains or a woodsy state like Wisconsin or Eastern Minnesota. He said to me that it bothered him that he couldn't see the horizon. "You can't see the weather that's coming," he remarked. I can see his point; it's nice to see what's coming.

Although I hated the wind in the Dakotas (it sucks the life out of you, literally) I loved how far you could see. There's a reason why they call Montana "Big Sky Country." The gift of the prairie is that you can see where you came from and where you are going. In fact, early settlers noticed this. They would tell stories - no doubt these weren't exaggerations - where a family in an oxcart would put out a campfire in the morning, travel all day, and then when they would retire for the evening, they would see their own fading campfire smoke on the horizon where they had camped the prior evening.

The size of the shortgrass prairie is daunting. On our family's land we used to own near Killdeer, North Dakota, I would walk through the restored native prairie and feel so small. It was a good thing, because I often get so wrapped up in the everyday worries and stresses and forget the truth that I am not the center of the universe.

Far sight is the gift of the Great Plains. It is a gift that I hope to take with me in my new life in urban Minnesota. As a believer in a larger purpose of life through what we metaphorically call "God", I believe that far sight - wisdom, sagacity, erudition - is something towards which I do not naturally gravitate. In fact, I think it's a rare person who naturally has far sight. This is especially true in a person's youth - my father tells me he was once as wild as I am, but he has better perspective in his years. However, as a believer, there is a source of far sight beyond the horizon of our own understanding.

What is this source?

I think it has something to do with the collective wisdom and history of a faith community. The natural source of this for Christian communities is in scripture. I write this with some hesitation, however, because the usual tendency for short-sighted people is to take scripture's witness out of the context in which it was written. That is to say...times do change, so I realize that scripture isn't the whole of far sight.

Another source is found in the silent meditation and compassion of the soul. I have never been so entranced with the prairie as on a July summer evening when the wind, finally, is silent. It doesn't happen very often. When it does, it is amazing. Finding time and space for silent reflection is one key to finding perspective in our everyday troubles, in our petty worries.

The point is, we have the land to teach us how to live. Wisdom, I find as I grow older, is found in many places. Far sight exists, because there is land where the horizon is free. I hope that place remains, because it has something to teach us.

O the gifts we have to learn from the prairie!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Flash Fiction Friday #8: I Guess 73's My Year

I've been wanting for some time to write a short, powerful death scene in the first person. It was harder than I thought. Can't really say "Enjoy!" to my readers on this one. I suppose "Appreciate" would be more apt. Yeah. Appreciate...

"I don't feel good," I said to the little kid in the school hallway. What's his name again?

"What's wrong?" the kid asked.

"It''s my heart. I think. I think you better get an ambulance...go...get--"

"I'll go to the principal's office!"

I slumped to the linoleum floor. I haven't had heart issues since '64. That's what my wife, Franny, called it, my problem - heart issues. It sounded like something I just heard on the evening news with David Brinkley: "Tonight, viewers, we have issues in the oval office. President Nixon stated once again the fact he was not involved in the Watergate Hotel break-in..."

Issues. Issues! God, this hurts!

I'm looking at my green overalls. I'm thinking: my life is flashing before my eyes...

Flashing. Flashes. I'm seeing Franny. We're getting married. I love her.

It wasn't like this last time. It was more...I dunno, around my heart. Now it's in my arm. And I feel sick. I can't breathe!

I'm six again. Growing up in South Dakota. My older brother is dunking me under water. Jack! Stop it!! I can't breathe!

The bell rings.

Kids are coming out of their classrooms.

"Mrs. Finnicum! Come fast! Mr. Westermeyer's on the floor!!"

Mrs. Finnicum comes quickly. What a class act! That lady. Still wore makeup in her forties and everything. Not like those liberated women. Look at me. Can't even stand up for that lady. I'm so weak. So...

Her face. What's wrong with her face?

Oh yeah. I'm having a heart attack! I'm dying!! Jesus, help me!!

"Luke, go to the principal's office and call an, what's that they use now? Nine-one-one!! Call them!" Mrs. Finnicum said.

I think I'm passing out. The pain. My arm. Is this what it's like? I thought I'd pass easy. Why can't it be easy? Help me!


"Don't worry, Mr. Westermeyer, we're getting help for you!"

"Why's he turning blue?"

"Quiet, Susan!" Mrs. Finnicum barked.

"Jack. Jack! Can you hear me?"


"Don't speak. Just wait." Mrs. Finnicum reached behind my head.

"Susan! Get Mr. Smith...the fourth grade teacher, now! He knows CPR."

Susan ran. The kids were all around me now.

And then...


The pain was gone.

I heard a rushing sound, like when you're a kid and you hold your breath and then finally let it out. The sound in your ears. You know that sound? It's a rushing sound in your ears!

I feel okay now! Hey! I'm okay!

Except I'm not saying it. Why not?

The kid's all have glowing lights around them. They look like little angels. Little, corduroy-clad angels.

And Mrs. Finnicum. She's an angel too. Are you crying? Don't cry. I'm okay now. Franklin Elementary's Janitor, Mr. W, Jack W, he's okay now! What's happening to me? Everything's weird.

And it's okay.

That wasn't so bad.


The stars...

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Theology Thursday #8: Spirituality?

I just returned home from a service commitment I do every week at a hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota. Like, moments ago. I love this time. A bunch of guys I care about deeply go with me to share their stories of addiction and renewal with other great people who are suffering from alcoholism and drug addiction themselves. As you might have guessed, our commitment is at a treatment center in the hospital.

My friend, Eric, picks me up the same time every Wednesday in his blue Subaru wagon with Tennessee plates. (He went to Hazelden, like me, to get sober. He lives in a sober house in St. Paul.) After sharing our weekly nice-to-see-you-again conversation, Eric picks up a couple of other guys living in a different sober house. (St. Paul is filled with them. Ahhh, Minnesober.)

The weather is perfect. I should be grilling. But here I am.

Why? Just read on...

We get to the hospital. He parks the car and we walk pass the Dorothy Day house downtown with run-down folks waiting in line to get their supper. We walk to the hospital entrance on Exchange Street and talk about the weekly chatter in the recovery community: another guy in the sober house has relapsed. This time, it's a guy who went on a $1K crack binge in Minneapolis. We shake our heads and stand there, thankful, that we are sober, realizing how close all of us are to that rocky cliff.

When we pass the hospital cop, he waves to us. He knows our faces. We're there every week. One of the guys tells a joke and laughter breaks out in the elevator as the little bell rings, telling us we're on the second floor.

Floor two is abandoned, except for the southwest corner, the CD Unit. A friend is there waiting for us and we find out he's celebrating sixteen years sobriety. He gives me a hug and tells me, "Good to see ya, brother. How you been?" I tell him that I'm fine. More than fine, actually. I'm great. I feel special, mostly because he's a really cool black dude from St. Paul and he likes me. We're both damaged goods. But, here, we are brothers who have found a new life.

The nurses station has a tired, middle-aged, Asian woman sitting behind the desk. A subtle Mona Lisa smile comes when she sees us. "Nice that you came. We really appreciate you." No, Ma'am, I appreciate you. I know that addiction is everywhere and your job will never go away. I know that you clean up puke and deal with assholes like I was in the throes of withdrawal, the wee hours of detox, the early sunrise of recovery.

Another nurse takes us to the group room, which is a long, yellow chamber with nothing but old chairs circling it, like an eighties, institutional asteroid belt. The "patients" trickle in. They are a cross-section of St. Paul: blue collar, aging drunks from the eastside; tweakers from Minneapolis that somehow ended up east river; an attractive, twenty-something Hmong woman comes in--is she pregnant?; young white guys who shoot Heroin-the old problem that is now the new problem in the Twin Cities, thanks to Mexican gangs who discovered a new niche; but, all of them, once babies who were rocked to sleep by their mothers. They are worth it, because I am worth it. Because God says we have value and I believe it.

We share. We cry. We recite How it Works and the Twelve Steps. More importantly, we share what it was like, what happened, and what it is like now. I try to make it simple as possible. I remember what I was like and I know that I needed compassion and acceptance, as well as hard, harsh honesty.

We talk about God, prayer, and all that spiritual stuff. Some of the folks shudder. It's not where they are coming from.

A realization comes to the guys I came there with and we seem to get into a theme with our sharing: spirituality shouldn't be religious wackity doo-doo. Spirituality is just about life. It's finding the center that has always been there, but we often don't hear because our fears and our self-will run amok yells too loudly.

The people start to listen. We are listening to ourselves as we share this. We know it's true and it's a truism that has been hidden somehow. Like a shadow in your peripheral vision, spirituality as "simply living" is something you know to be true, but you somehow just don't want to accept how easy it really is.

We finish with the serenity prayer and people come to us, thanking us that we came. We thank them and they look at us perplexed. Yes, you keep us sober. The Spirit is alive, because pain shared is somehow less painful. We are on the journey together and we feel as one.

Spirituality is just learning to live, finding our true selves. It's the best high you can ever get. And it's natural and free.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Flash Fiction Friday #7: The Phloating Phiddler Crab of GJ 667AB

They said it was a Super-Earth.

That's not to say that the planet was "really great" super. It was super as in it was like earth. Kind of. Only that it was four times as massive as Earth.

It isn't that great, actually.

I came here alone. After Earth's astronomers had verified that GJ 667AB, a trinary system in Beta Hydra, indeed had liquid water, I decided to make the little trip (a mere 22 light-years from home - and I say mere, because for the Halvras Drive, it was nothing to get here.)

The thing is, it was a one-way trip. But I only found this out after I got to the damn ball of water.

You see, the Halvras Jump Drive requires thulium, a rare-earth element needed to bring the jump drive to super power and thrust it into an artificial singularity created at the tip of the ship. Don't ask me to explain it, I just know they don't have any goddamn thulium on this planet. Not any I can access, anyway.

Oh, you're asking why I didn't bring extra thulium?

Good question. Except the answer is really quite simple: I wanted to save money.

Instead, I brought along recent technology's most advanced mining robot. The company even gives your mining robot a name. Mine's "Phred." Kinda cute, eh?

I thought I'd mine my way back home from this tri-starred system. Well, it only stands to reason that such a massive super-earth type planet would be rocky. Rocky equals rocks, and rocks equals thulium, no? I could even take back extra thulium from my mining excursion. It was great! Right?

Well, no.


Because this planet is covered in oceans fourteen to two-hundred fucking miles deep! My robot "Phred" only can go in oceans one to two miles deep. I thought this would have been fine, plenty of wiggle room. Besides, I thought most of the mining Mr. Phred would be doing would be on land, not underwater.

I had a little conversation with Phred about this. He's got an onboard conversation computer, see. I told him that he would have to strengthen his outer shell so he could mine below the water. He told me it was impossible. He said that he would be crushed, not only by the water pressure at such a depth, but the planet was so massive to begin with, that there was no way he could survive in those depths to even search for thulium. Survive? You're a robot, Phred. Buck up and get down there, I said. He refused. It's part of his programming to self-preserve his robotic "being."

Phuck you, Phred.

Now I'm stuck on this water world. I don't see Kevin Costner coming around the bend on a homemade boat, either.

In fact, there's no life here as far as I can see at all.

Just me, my ship ( bobbing like a cork on the alien sea...nice that some company's promises are true), and Phred the Phat ass lazy mining robot, phloating along on a world where I weigh 315 and there's no way to get home.

I can make it at least a year. The water's fresh, too. Maybe I'll try swimming. Maybe I'll push Phred off the ship. I could celebrate his downfall. Eh, better not. A year alone on the open sea can get pretty lonely. I bet Phred and I will be old buddies by then.

Too bad you can't teach mining robots how to play cribbage.

I'm sure someone else will come to GJ 667AB.

And maybe they'll bring extra thulium.


Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Theology Thursday #7: Sea Change

I don't care for reality shows.

Mostly because they're not REAL. I admit, they're entertaining. But, let's face it, no survivor reality show would ever let any of their contestants die in a tropical wilderness. And no social show would really allow somebody who was mentally ill to continue participating within the show.

I even found out recently that a favorite show in our household is as contrived as a "reality" show. HGTV has a show called House Hunters - my wife, Carol and I love to watch it. Just two weeks ago, however, I found out that the buyers on the show actually have already decided on a house before they come on the show. I guess the producers do this, because, if they didn't, the buyers might not like the choices the show gave them for a house and they'd end up houseless at the end. Can't have that... can we?

Life's not like TV?
Life's not like TV.

Life is messy. And many times there isn't a happy ending.

TV has contrived endings and is far too neat.

Life requires compromises in the face of radical changes - sea changes. A sea change is a major change, a change that stirs everything up. Much like a baptism, it is a change where coming up out of the water one is wholly, totally different.

The United States is currently experiencing a sea change with the topic of gay marriage. In fact, it's more than a change. It's a culture war.

Like any war, there are casualties. It seems to be a null sum game. That is, there are winners and losers. Both sides feel in a visceral way how their argument is right and the other is wrong.

I'm not going into the Biblical argument, because it's been hashed over a zillion times, and quite frankly, I'm sick of it. Maybe this will turn off some of my readers, but I'm not going down that path. We all need to come to terms with the fact that daily we all make decisions about things that aren't in the Bible. That's because the Bible isn't concerned much about modern life. That's not even getting into a First Century understanding of science. Folks, we just don't live in that world anymore.

If you remember nothing else about this Theology Thursday, remember this: gay marriage is not an "issue" and being gay is not a "lifestyle."

Gay marriage is about people's lives.

And, although there are some who may not like it, it's not going to hurt them. Not in the slightest.

But to those who only want the right to live life to its fullest with the one they love and have a legally accepted relationship - so that when their loved one dies they have a legal right to be there at their death bed - it means everything.

Why can't we (meaning the heterosexual majority, of which I am a part) give that to them?

The sky will not fall. The earth will not quake. People who love each other will have legitimacy within our legal system. (And, yes, I know that their love needs no nod from "us" to be right in God's eyes. Love conquers all. It can't hurt to acknowledge the human need to say "I do.") Unlike a real war, the casualties of this culture war will ultimately be phantom wisps. Fifty years from now, we'll look at how silly some were. The change will come. Maybe not so soon in North Carolina, but it will come.

The phrase sea change comes from Shakespeare's The Tempest. The spirit Ariel (which, interestingly, has historically been played both by male and female actors) has a wonderfully evocative song acknowledging the change of Ferdinand's father by the sea:

Full fathom five thy father lies:
Of his bones are coral made:
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange. 

The new reality that we are entering is that there shall be no longer male or female, no longer Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free, no longer gay or straight. In God's eyes, we are one. 

Let two who are in love be one. Let them be and love the rich and strange changes that are coming.

I'll think you'll find after you get to know these new couples (men with men, women with women, and transgendered, too), they won't seem so strange. They'll just be... people.

At least not as strange as some of the reality shows out there.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Flash Fiction #6: Needle & Thread

 The following is an excerpt from my novel Needle & Thread. All text is copyrighted and may not be reproduced. Enjoy reading!!

"Hard to believe that one night more than sixty years ago, during a dance that had turned rowdy, someone hit Lawrence Welk over the head with a brick in Hague, North Dakota."
- Ian Frazier, Great Plains

The dog quivered, eyes wide and body frozen as he stared into the grass. Landon crouched behind him, grasping the check cord with two hands. He was caught in the rapture of the moment, his lips spreading open and a faint smile steadily growing on his face. The dog was on point.
    It was nine in the evening; at this latitude in early June, the sun’s warmth glowed on Landon’s skin. He closed his eyes while the dog held steady, statue-like, immersed in the moment. He breathed deeply and slipped into non-time, the realm of the transcendent. Although the sun’s heat continued to resonate through him, distant clouds obscured the day gradually, like theater lights dimming, signaling the commencement of a play. He opened his eyes and looked at the dog, whose eyes gaze was still fixed and remembered the work at hand.
    As a trainer, Landon’s job was to hone the dogs’ instinct to point. This was to instruct them to resist the temptation to break their trance and flush the game prematurely. He thought hunting with pointing dogs for upland game birds as more an art form than a necessity. Anyone could buy frozen chicken breasts from a grocery store. Taking the time to find, shoot, clean, and cook a wild bird was a luxury, primitive yet elegant. The dogs’ passion to find birds was beautiful; bounding and leaping to find the game, the sudden stillness of a dog standing point took his breath away.
The pointing instinct never failed to amaze him. A vestigial behavior from ancestral wolves, medieval dog breeders took the trait and refined it. Generation after generation each dog inherited the wolf’s instinct to stare down their game the location of the quarry. For pointing dogs, this instinct was amplified so the dog would freeze up when he smelled any trace of game to signal his pack leader – the human hunter.
Breeders developed this trait in dogs as a strategy to capture game. When a bird or a rabbit felt threatened, there were two ways it might react: one response was the animal would run; the other instinct was to bury itself in cover and freeze, hoping the predator will miss it. Pointing dogs were the trump card for the second response. They could find and pin down the location of the game so the hunter could bag it. While the Thirty Years War raged in central Europe, breeders quietly developed this breed of dog. The hunters tossed their nets in front of the dogs’ noses and gathered the day’s table fare for their lords.
As technology progressed, hunters exchanged their nets for firearms. The dogs, whose progeny developed into dozens of breeds, assisted the new generation of hunters. Instead of throwing a net, the hunter would kick the grass and shrubs concealing the bird in front of the spellbound canine. Then, bursting in a flurry of wings, the pheasant, woodcock or grouse exploded into the sky just as the shooter took aim.
Landon imagined the medieval hunters felt the same pride and fascination with their dogs’ ability that stirred in his heart. Holding the check cord firmly, he repeated the whoa command and stroked the dog’s sleek fur. As the pigeon took wing, he couldn’t help but think that the dog’s cocked ears and outstretched tongue signaled a smile.
The trainer stood from his crouch and released the check cord. The dog vaulted into the open prairie, content that he had done well. Tall, puffed clouds continued to shroud the fading sunlight in the west as Landon looked into the broad vista of his training ground.
“Looks like rain,” Landon said as lightning flashes silently threatened in the distance.
The Badlands of the northern plains were in thunderstorm season. The gods of summer frolicked in pyrotechnic insanity, meandering across the prairie sky, emptying their chalice, whose mix was both life and destruction on the plain—precious water, flame, or flood.
The clouds were white and bright. Tall, leaning themselves into the eastern blueness, they seemed like gods imposed on the infinite canvas of grass and buttes and sky that was Dakota.
“See that one?” Landon pointed. “That’s a cumulonimbus.”
“You mean the one that looks like a big-damn-white wall of death?”
Landon raised one eyebrow, turned his eyes toward his assistant, Wade, with a bit of contempt and amusement, adding, “Yeah, that one.”
 He loved this time of year. Training was underway, grass was green, and the storm season was upon them. He liked thunderstorms in the Great Wide Open of western North Dakota. A transplant from the east, he never got over how big everything seemed. And how small he felt within it.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Theology Thursday #6: Obdurate Sin

I recently finished Stephen King's Novel 11/22/63. It is one of his best and I enjoyed it immensely. The plot revolves around the main protagonist Jake who travels back in time to the late 50s to eventually try to prevent the assassination of JFK. King is a master of description without being wordy. He's intelligent while not being highbrow. (In fact, he can be quite lowbrow at some times, and I appreciate it!) One phrase that sticks with me is: "the past is obdurate." (I know, this is a highbrow word. I couldn't help myself.)

Without spoiling the story (which is bloody brilliant, by the way) the meaning of this phrase is that the past "does not want" to be changed. Jake finds proverbial wrenches thrown in his plans to change the past at every turn. It made me think of how the past - one's own past - does not change. It can haunt you, if you let it.

Ancient Israel called sin hamartia, or missing the mark. The sin of a person's selfishness misses the mark only insofar as it harms both parties affected. "Sin" is such a loaded, judgmental word that I don't even like using it. Unfortunately, another one hasn't been found. To deny its existence because overtly religious folk have abused and twisted its meaning is simply burying one's head in the sand. Evil happens. Sin is. And our sins and regrets from the past seem obdurate, stubborn. They are sticky, like gum spit out in July on hot asphalt. You step in it, you'll know its stickiness.

In Hazelden's devotional Twenty-Four Hours a Day a phrase continues to be an earworm from my treatment days: those two awful eternities. Basically what they are saying is that the past and the future, with its sticky sins and its terrible fears does us no good. Here's the quote:

Anyone can fight the battles of just one day. It is only when you and I add the battles of those two awful eternities, yesterday and tomorrow, that we break down. It is not the experience of today that drives us mad. It is the remorse or bitterness for something that happened yesterday or the dread of what tomorrow may bring. Let us therefore do our best to live but one day at a time.

Sin may seem to stick to us. The past may continue to haunt us. Obdurate and stubborn, sin missing the mark is difficult to shake off (especially for perfectionists like me). But as a believer who hears the story as "truth-building", I believe that the haunting of the past or the fear of the future are just phantoms of a different reality, a reality without Jesus of Nazareth. 

Fortunately for us, we have a different story.

It makes the sin a whole lot less sticky. I hate being sticky, don't you?