Friday, April 24, 2009

Punchin' That Ticket

On occasion when my wife, LaVonna, and I commit a good deed, we'll remark that we're punching another hole in the ticket, meaning the ticket to heaven. We usually refer to this metaphorical step toward eternal salvation when the task is one that isn't convenient. Our thinking goes like this: the more we go out of our way to do the favor, the larger the hole (the greater the number of "brownie points.") We say this jokingly, but our traditional upbringing is still imprinted somewhere within.

Easter Sunday, we heard a sermon that was probably similar to many Protestant preachments on that day. Our pastor spoke of Jesus' resurrection and the promise of eternal salvation for his followers. As an adult, this approach has bothered me.

It seems like the hook that seals the deal, the big "What's in It for Me?". Take the steps to become a Christian (and hopefully a practicing one) and you cheat death. You die, but are raised and achieve eternal immortality in paradise. No car dealer can offer incentives like that.

As a parent and former teacher, I see this as similar to paying a child to make good grades on a report card. If the student learns the three R's and other stuff, that's nice, too. But such a plan of reward may do little to inculcate a love of learning or to grant insight into application of the facts the child can recite or write at crunch time in school.

When I taught, I used to ask my students--especially the more flamboyant Bible thumpers: "If you somehow became convinced that there was no afterlife, would you still try to live a good (Christian) life?" I posed this as a rhetorical question, but still I got no affirmative answers.

And living a good life does not seem to be enough for many Christian theologians' satisfaction. An atheist or Muslim or Hindu who otherwise follows the Golden Rule and obeys the laws is still doomed to hellfire and damnation because he or she does not subscribe to a particular creed.

What happened to virtue as rewarding in and of itself? What becomes of loving the unlovable or feeding the hungry because it is the right thing to do? I'm going to presume to think like God, here. D-a-n-g-e-r-o-u-s I know. But wouldn't God be more pleased if we'd just learned to get along with one another and to protect the planet because we wanted to?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Going Postal on the Mail Carrier

It's been one of those days. Where are do-overs when you need them?

First, I went to pay for some groceries at Walmart. No wallet. I went out to the van and looked all around. No wallet. I guess it fell out of my lap or pocket or something, and someone picked it up. Now comes the fun of replacing credit cards, insurance cards, driver's license, et cetera, et cetera.

Later, we were eating a tasty meal at an Italian restaurant, and our great granddaughter upchucked all over the carpet. So, we stopped mid-meal to clean her and the floor.

But the thing that really stuck to my craw was the sticker on my car window. We'd been babysitting in our grandson's neighborhood. There are a lot of starter homes there with mailboxes every few feet and small driveways. I had to park on the side walk. to further congest matters, it was trash pickup day.

The sticker read: "Please do not park in a manner that blocks the mailbox. The carrier is unable to deliver the mail." Or something to this effect. All the carrier had to do was move his or her @!%!#$**@! ass and walk over to the @!#$**@! box and put the @!%!#$**@! mail in it. What's so @!%#$**@! hard about that? No wonder we have so much obesity in this society. Every one's getting too @!%$**@! lazy to walk. I bet the mail carrier's fat. In fact, I hope s/he/it is. @!%!#$**@! that carrier and @!%!#$**@ anyone who doesn't @!%!#$**@! that carrier. And now I've got to scrape the stubborn paper-torn remains of that @!%!#$**@! sticker off my window, so my vision won't be obstructed the next time I see a mail carrier coming down the street.


Well. brethren and sistren(?), don't believe everything they tell you. Even nice guys have a dark side.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Gardener with a Pen

Last month, my wife and I attended a literary event, compliments of a friend whose philanthropic organization sponsored the gathering. The panel consisted of three noted regional authors, one of whom, Crystal Wilkinson, has written Blackberries, Blackberries and Water Street. These linked short story collections have influenced my own work in progress, Matheson Station. It was another panel member, Rebecca Howell, who caught me square between the eyes and opened my heart to an aha! moment.

The topic had to do with writing about the land and its influence on that writing. Ms. Howell grew up in Perry County, Kentucky, and--as part of her payback to the land--has worked against mountaintop removal. She likened the work of a writer to that of a gardener, and I was instantly moved.

You see, I love to garden, especially with vegetables. I like the solitariness, the soft breeze and warm sun on me, the closeness to the land on my life-long home here at the farm. I enjoy some semblance of control as I run the tiller or hoe the soil. There is a fascimile of order to life when I lay out the rows and plan what to sow or plant. Then, mystic, anxious waiting ensues. Will rain and sun and nutrients be sufficient for actual germination and growth? Will this plot of dirt transform into green, blooming, tasseled beauty? Can I keep the birds and rodents out of the garden or at least from taking more than a share of the produce? Finally, come the majestic moments of budding, of full fruition! And to dig potatoes. No fabled pirate ever thrilled more over uncovering buried treasures.

We writers plant the seeds of words and imagination. In fact, we plow our unconscious mind, unearthing many of the inspiring ideas we use. We place these elements in some kind of order and nurture them through vision and re-vision. Finally, in the most fertile of soils and by diligent sweat behind furrowed brow, we bring forth our harvest--the poem, the essay, the story or memoir. Like the good gardener, we share these fruits of our labor with many others for their enjoyment and growth.

The garden figures in my writing another way. The first and most storied garden is Eden, the earthly paradise where beauty and balance rule and nakedness is not to be feared or ridiculed. Utopian literature inspires me. I write to eventually create utopian fiction. Fiction yes, and not everyone's idea of a perfect place. But a writer's reality is rooted in the stuff of dreams.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Holy In Deed

I could have stayed home. I had plenty to do on a beautiful Sunday. A travel writer is coming Monday night to stay with us. Naturally, we want our bed and breakfast to make the best impression possible. And a cold, wet weather pattern was scheduled to move in later that day--yesterday.

But I had administrative duties to attend to. And Palm Sunday kicks off Holy Week. So we went to our little church in the country.

It was a pleasant enough service. Life-long friends sat throughout the pews. The children marched in, waving palm branches. We laughed during Bob's levity-filled announcements. We reverently interceded for sick folks on our prayer list.

We have a small, but dedicated choir. But, yesterday, Wendy our choir director sang a solo. This is always a real treat, for her voice is powerful and sweet and sure. And she launched into "The Holy City." Now, I knew why I'd gone to church. See, my father sang many solos at our church during his lifetime. "The Holy City" is one of the most memorable. And Mrs. Stubblefield would play the stirring piece to perfection. She had to be more than perfect to match his sometimes-varying tempo. To make yesterday's moment sweeter, her two daughters were in the choir.

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, lift up your gates and sing ...." Wendy's soaring notes caressed every inch of our sanctuary's cathedral ceiling. And Svetlana's piano accompaniment was right there for every beat. And my full heart was right there as well.

I remembered a poem I'd written, called "My Daddy Sang."

...In the wedding for a loved one,
weaving music to the mem'ry,
crowning hope for rich tomorrows
Daddy sang.

Kentucky Home and Holy City,
For His Eye Is on the Sparrow,
and Let Me Call You Sweetheart
Daddy sang....

...In my heart and in my mind,
where Daddy sings
today it rings.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Sunday's sermon was on self-giving love. Our minister used Jesus the Christ as the sterling example through his crucifixion. Bob also alluded to different kinds of love--eros, philios, storge, and back to agape.

In his brilliant little book, Love, Leo Buscaglia says that there are not different kinds of love, but rather different degrees of love. I tend to agree, and I would add that we choose different ways to display or act out our love.

A Course in Miracles holds that every act is either an act of love or a cry for love. Powerful stuff, this love business. We spend a liftime (or two) to get a handle on it all.

Dr. Buscaglia also admonishes us to not try defining love. To define love is to "delinit" it. I agree here, also, but like the child who must touch the forbidden hot stove, I'll give it a shot.

My understanding of love is that it is an intense and unconditional feeling of good will. Love opens us up. It reaches out, often in immaterial as well as material ways. We may not always be in control of our loving, but it is intentional early on. Real love is endless, so it has to be without conditions. We'd like to get love in return for love. We'd like for our love to make a positive difference in our loved one's life. But, love be free-flowing. It must say, "I want what is best for you whether or not that 'best' includes me."

In my writing, I explore human relationships. I seek to answer questions about the nature of loving. Hopefully, I'm not being too Freudian when I say that I suspect there are elements of the erotic, the selfish, the selfless, the platonic, the reckless, the premeditated, the conscious, and the unconscious in the way love plays out as we make our journeys across the stage or my characters trek across the page.

Another understanding--largely from a lifetime of church attendance--is simply(?) that God is love. So, is the converse not also true? Love is God.


Set to clear the breakfast table, I notice the platter of leftover fruit. Sun streams through the east window, surrounds the crystal in shimmering haze. Vibrancy leaps from grapes and orange and pineapple slices. "I should have taken a picture," I tell my wife. She replies, "There will be other opportunities."

We've finished another meal, this one with English muffins and baked oatmeal from an Amish recipe. Our guest was Rob, a New Zealander. This man of means, whose humility and graciousness strikes us as precious, has left to enjoy the day with associates.

I scan the dining room of my family home. Parchment-hued walls and China cabinets shelved with heirlooms shine back at me.

I spread the covers on our bed, a queen with its white ornamental headboard. Actually, it is creamed, a change wrought by blended smoke stains. Our 19th century home survived a fire not long ago, another miracle. Pillow cases feature a wildflower pattern. I gaze at the quilt sewn by my mother-in-law. Double-warmth.

Massive white furniture my father made houses our clothes. A gray plastic tub holds toys for our great granddaughter's delight and exploration. The lustrous pine floors, on which everything stands, date back to 1869.

Again, I peer out a huge window. The yard, the farm, birds swooping through sundrenched air--all this fills me to lightness of being.