Thursday, July 31, 2008

God in symbol.

I was driving yesterday on a fundraising trip to Tenesse. Driving from Chattanooga to Nashville, TN. As is so much of our economy, and others, we are experiencing a season of giving that is less than our financial needs require. And so the trip, to see what God might do, and lead us towards. In this season, we have had to take a reduction in our pay. This in itself, can be hard when it feels you are working at full force. The simple question, what more can we do Lord? There seems an honest cry in that, along with this sense of, how dare you? We have been working our butts off, don't we at least deserve compensation for that? Full compensation? That is a much deeper wrestling match than it being just about money.

I was driving through, fresh off a wonderful time with a friend, Krue Brock. Heading into Nashville when my wife called. Our wonderful, and giant, mountain dog, Tacoma, was in the vet hospital. He had not been acting himself, and it was quite clear to Jayne that something was up. Our dog seems to eat like a horse, and in his poop I have found everything from a bandana and underwear, to giant rocks. And so, it was quite obvious what had happened.

Here is the picture...

At first, I thought what was in his stomache was that yellow thing. like chinese sticks. I had seen enough rocks in him, to think it had to be more than just that. And somehow, I could see our dog swalling some chinese sticks whole. But apparently that was the pointing device. It was a rock. A massive rock he just swallowed. about the size of an egg.


Expensive surgery. The rock was the symbol of my last month of work. We are on half pay checks, I remind you. Not the time for extra starbucks. Not the time to find a rock from the stomache of our dog. As she told me the price, it was the exact amount we were about to be paid for this months work. My entire half paycheck was about to be coughed over for my damn dog's rock.

If the cost of that surgery was ten dollars more, or fifty dollars less, I doubt I would have really felt the full weight of it. Put it was the exact amount. In one swallow of a damn dogs mouth. The last month of work traded for this thing to be removed. I can't tell you, what that felt like. Futility at its finest. Like a soldier for Iraq coming back to his home, only to find out the government repossessed his house. the questions of, I thought you are supposed to take care of me? I am off fighting this, dont you see? All this with God for me. You have got to be kidding me? It felt like a cruel joke. The exact same amount of money we are being paid this month?

I heard the news after two days of long travels from planes, to cars, to cities with about 7 hours sleep between teh last 48 hours. Being on the road. away from home, exhausted I had even missed eating lunch. I am on an empty stomache, groaning, with now, an empty account.

The irony is, I would normally have got mad, or frustrated, or maybe blew it off in some way. but it just broke me. the exact amount of the surgery for what we will be paid.

I can be a stubborn man when it comes to brokenness and tears, but they came. the tears. the confusion. facing so much frustration with God. was this the enemy? Of course. But there is so much more happening, God after me in some way. wounding me in this place (so perfectly and precisely I might add), for something more I still dont quite understand, yet. But I cried, and put my hearts offering to Jesus, and my longing, and our need. and it felt so raw, so true of the deepest longing of my soul, that I knew it was God. And this was the center of where I needed to be.

how will this trip end? Will God fund us, and put us right back on the path we had planned, and put all our little monthly cash/flow, and statements as what we need, and expected at the first of the year, right on target. Maybe. I hope. It feels like the only way to get out of this mess. but as I drive around, I am just raw with that sense God gives, God takes away. Dust we are made, dust we will return. the often futility of work, and the curse on this earth. you will sweat, and work your butt off, and it will produce thistle for you.

and for some reason, though that feels so fatalistic, and without hope, I dont believe that is the deepest meaning of those phrases. or that it means to give up. But somehow, that God is over all things. supreme. and ruler. and in the midst of pain, hurt, and confusion, and still tears, I am simply called to trust. God will do what he will. And I am to submit, knowing his heart is GOOD, and I am in him. I am called to wake up from this, offer these words as a sacrifice, and head to my next appointment. In hope, and believing deeply in the work Cory, Josh, Jonathan, and I are doing. And march on with that.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Creating or Destroying?

It seemed that when man was fully alive, full restored and free, built up in the life of God, and living from it, he was building and creating. Reflecting the image of God that was most deeply him. The first image we have of God in Genesis is a creator. He creates a world. Filled with beauty of sunsets, and greens, and blues of radiant shine. He creates us, and breathes the image of him in us. The seventh day of creation is explained as a day of rest for God from all his creating. He created so much, he needed a break. And so how might we reflect that image of God the most?

It was doing just that, creating. His first commands to Adam is to rule, and reign. Subdue all the animals.

Dallas Willard explains his command is to build cities and homes.

It was creating in the physical sense, of bridges, and buildings, and fine wooden desks, along with building in the spiritual sense of community, and relationships, and in people. It seemed the mark of God was creation. And the mark of man doing God’s work in the world was bringing this upon places, and people. Creating and co-laboring this with him.

It seemed that the opposite. Destruction. Was the exact mark of evil. The falleness of man, has something else in our hearts. Not the mark of creating, but the stain of destroying.
A seminary professor, Dan Allender, says that “evil can’t create.” He is in himself a created thing, and has not the ability to offer this gift. His offer instead, is destroying creation. Destroying the image of God, and how we were meant to live that out.

This made more sense after talking to a man in town named Jim Henkle who told me about a program he created for young men. He takes young men straight out of jail, and into jobs, keeping them from the streets and more trouble. He pointed to the window at the coffee shop we were sitting, near us and said, “the same feeling a guy gets in putting this window in, these young men feel in destroying it, putting a rock through the glass.”

In the Movie Fight Club, Tyler Durden in his rage over his life says simply, “I want to destroy something beautiful.”

If all this was true, than the feelings of creation and destroying were almost the same. It made sense, creation and destruction were very closely linked. And how even evil’s offer was a pretty good option. It gave us the feeling of power, the sense of building something, but allowed our anger and violence to play out.

I want to create. I want to make something beautiful. And draw people to good things, but often, in the frustration of things not going well, or how I wanted. I want to do the opposite. How many legos sets did I get so close to finishing, only to rip apart in frustration over a few small pieces. There was this fine line of wanting to build, and just blowing the whole thing up.

I want to destroy the thing I am building.

It seemed that most of our life, in a broken, and unhealed place, was anger. That anger, didn’t take us to making things beautiful, but destroying those things. I related to those young men throwing rocks through windows. At its core, pornography, the drug of choice for so many of us men has those same traits. We get to use our violence, and anger, to destroy something beautiful. Instead of honoring, and building up, we mar, and violate the thing we were meant to protect.

I seemed to be a man of two things. Destruction. And creating. One minute I was making something wonderful, the next, I was throwing a rock through it. It kinda feels like being at a beach. There is a great sense of accomplishment in building a giant sand castle. But at the same time, there is something similarly powerful in taking a full dive into a sand castle already built.

It seemed the key was understanding them. And how evil was pulling on us away from that place. The man working with the young men I spoke with said, his goal was to get the young men to experience the same feeling of destroying a window, by teaching them how to install one. The idea was simple. Move from that anger, and destruction, to building.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Enjoying Work.

The shower became a holy place after work. It was like a baptismal pool each day I walked in. The days dust, and spray, and caulk collected on me. I let the waters wash and cleans my body as I scrubbed and scrubbed to remove all the deposit. Walking out of the bathroom, I felt like a new man.

In the midst of toil, and sweat, and complaining, emerged this great sense of accomplishment. It was a bit surprising. I am not sure when the turn occurred, only that I started experiencing more from it. Even if I had spent the day working on something material, and minor. I had worked. I was earning a wage, sanding trim. And unlike so much of my previous life, of academics, and privilege, there was a real tangible sense of what I had accomplished in a day. I could see all the trim now sanded. And watch Carlos spray over it with stain and laquer, and then watch the cabinets installed next to us. It felt as if I was part of the world, part of society, and part of creating, and building it. Even if my contribution was the least thing done in the house, I was part of its construction. I was part of life, and creation. Not just consuming it.

I was surprised at how well I was holding up. I was surprised that I was still alive.

There had always this mental barrier in my mind, that I would die, or peel over, or burn out if put in these conditions for more than a day. My upbringing could not go through this type of experience and come out the other side, much less still a man. Looking at men at construction sites came with this phrase, “you couldn’t cut it there. Stay in school. Use your brains.” A man like me just couldn’t do this type of work, all day for 40 or so for hours straight in the sun or around those type of guys? I was beginning to feel my way through the job. And my balls were still intact.

The mourning routines before work, which I thought would be soul killing, had a rhythm them that I was starting to settle into and enjoy. Waking up earlier than usual, eating breakfast, grabbing all my tools, placing them in the car, and driving to the jobsite with Jesse contained an order and grounding not experienced in the rush and sporadic life before. The simple repetitions of being a laborer and caulking lines over and over brought a peace in the midst of the boredom and grunt work. There wasn’t this list of a million choices before me. Not as many worries about if I was on track and moving up. I simply worked.

There was always this reasoning that my education was so I could avoid this type of life. Parents gave their sons these horrible summer jobs to remind them, this is what you could be doing one day, if you don’t study in school. Like the kind of work I was now doing as a college graduate. They seemed to see this work as some type of punishment. All that money was spent on our educations to keep us from having this life. And that was starting to be the irony of it. It was if these were where all the great life lessons and secrets were. The things that my education and the professors could never teach me. Probably cause their parents told them the same thing.

I still wasn’t good for much. Still not called a painter, just a laborer. So I was usually taping off areas. Sanding. Or caulking. If I was lucky, I might paint a little. For awhile, I had fought it. Wanted the more glorious jobs of spraying, and staining doors and lacquer. Thinking I deserved them and was better than this. An educated man for heaven’s sake. I had prior painting experience. And I felt more qualified than my position. But it was starting to make more sense. I wasn’t supposed to try and move up. And claim position. God had me here to feel it, and be content. And deal with it. I was the lowest guy here. Time to stop fighting it, and take my place as that guy.

When you are the low guy, you don’t have choices. I showed up to be told orders. And not even just from the boss. It came at times from the high school dropout, and any other man. I would have fought it years ago. But it was actually nice to be just told what to do, and to do it. SO much of the crap fed to me as a young man was to pursue our dreams, and work for myself. “Be our own boss.” “Reach your potential.” That is the great goal in life. But it seemed all the young christian guys around me, including me, had bought into that. We weren’t happy unless everything was perfect, and we had the greatest job in the world right out of college. Nothing else would do. We were talented, and gifted. Had things to change, and contribute in culture, and in church.

It felt like this was like a recovery program for that. Like it would beat all of that pride and entitlement right out of you. A few days with John riding you for your caulking was enough to make you reconsider a few things. This was turning out not a bad place to be. I was not having to think so much. Not feeling all that pressure to become that. Or be told the world had a thousand possibilities to follow those dreams and what my heart was saying, and be so driven to fulfill all those places. That felt more complicated, and had got me in trouble already. This elevated thinking that I could change the world, and had made me feel more important than I actually was. This job was sobering me up, giving me a taste of real life I had avoided. And in the weirdest, and most unusual way, I felt the relief, and release of all the other. Maybe I could still find all those things, one day.

And maybe, it actually started here.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


There seemed to be a thread in all this much deeper than just the fishing and hunting, and working. Being in these places, brought with it being around a lot of different men. And not just talking. But doing things with them. There would be the conversations about wind direction, and spray patterns, and all these things they were telling and explaining to me about. But I was picking up more by just watching than anything else.

Each man had a unique piece to offer and teach, whether they knew they were doing it or not. Carlos was the master sprayer, and knew his way around every inch of a house. John was a more technical painter, and always concerned in the details, much like Timm was on the water. Seeing fishing at times as a science to master and understand. But Ron, was more a lover, and had five stories of fish for every hole on the water. He was teaching me about the experience of it all. And why I needed to kiss the trout each time I caught one. Timm was showing me how to actually catch them.

I started to realize, although I was looking for one man to do it all, it was really all of these men offering a part of what this was all about. A community of men, that didn’t know each other, but were involved in raising me, teaching me, guiding me in spiritual matters, and fathering me in these small pieces. These parts that were starting to fit together in this great puzzle, and in this large story that was making more sense. I didn’t need just one man, I was needing them all. Each of their parts of the wisdom to help me.

It started making more sense after I sat down one day for lunch with a man, Dan Rieple. A fine furniture maker. He looks out of This Old House, with his farm land and woodshop that contains the wonder of his own hands creation. He listens to Bach and Mozart, the classics, as he bends, and carves, and cuts the wood into beautiful masterpieces wearing his carpenters hat, and custom made leather apron. He is simple, straight forward, and practical. He plants in his garden the seeds from the food he eats. Leftover watermelon or beans, put them in the ground. In his eyes, why would you not?

We sat on his long porch, chewing on some sausage. He told me that men used to learn by other men. Even during the time of the renaissance, boys who had talents and gifts would be taken to schools or shops to learn trades. A father understood he needed to let his son learn from others. The boys would work for years as the helper to the masters in the shop. Often doing the most menial of tasks. Shoveling hay, removing trash, fetching food. But over time, they became close, they learned at the hands of their master. They were considered apprentices. It wasn’t just a summer internship it was often 7-8 years of doing this. A long process of learning, he explained.

The young apprentice didn’t just emulate and copy the master. The goal was uniqueness and originality. The master knew that he needed more than just his way and skill. And so the master of the craft, sent them to other masters around the area to stay, and pick up new parts, new techniques and skills they did not have themselves. These young men journeyed around, and lived and worked with these other masters in their workshops and home. They were called “journeymen.” When he had combined all these skills, and spent enough time coming into their own, he was considered a master. But only after he created a “master piece.” A piece that was created after the hands of many men had guided and taught him how, and was fitting enough to be considered a master.

As he spoke, it made so much sense. Of course. We needed all that help. Many talented and gifted men to teach us, and lead us into our own way, and how God created us. It was fascinating. Because it made me think of how our families and societies have become. We live in such small worlds, with so few other men. I had looked to my father, but not many other men. I had not been at the hands of others, or experienced other men growing up. And it seemed as I talked to guys, they were in the same boat. They saw their father, but very few other men. We had never journeyed away from our own home, and rarely been around many men at all, and often not even our fathers workplace.

It kinda made sense why so many guys were blaming their fathers, and angry at them. There was only one finger to point to. There wasn’t a community of men, teaching and raising them. We seemed to not even know that was a part of it. Dan was teaching me this stuff, like it was just part of how things work, I was listening like I was experiencing a history book. It seemed so distant from my life.

It also seemed that most of what I was learning and picking up at the hands of men, was being passed, less by words, and more by being with them and watching, learning in their presence. As a man I asked in the fields of New Mexico, a fifth generation Chili farmer. “I just walked with my dad through the fields. He would point to things, and look at things. I just picked up by watching.”

It seemed how hunting experience was gained as well. Learning how to walk through the woods and not make a sound, by walking next to a guy who was modeling it. Same as watching Ron sneak up on a river to keep the fish from being disturbed. And watching Carlos spray a house. Just marveling at it, and watching. It seemed as much as being near, and watching. It was almost this great secret. To shut up. And observe.

My cubicle friend Steve wrote this after a day with his father-in-law,

We woke at 6 a.m. to begin smoking ribs and brisket for our Fourth of July cookout. We spent the entire day together and probably said about 50 words to one another. That included an hour and a half trip to the barn to check on his cows. The man broke four ribs two weeks ago and it was all I could do to keep up with him. When you’re not talking you notice things. His skin, for instance, is like leather. We were messing around with sharp wire and fencing while at the barn and I scraped myself several times. His hands however were like a pair of Carhartt gloves. I thought to myself, “if he had opened that knife that cut you, it would have slid right over the surface.”

All in all, I learned to listen and watch. I learned that a brisket is not supposed to be turned while smoking, just sat fat side up so it marinates itself. I learned that a wasp will not sting you if you just sit still and let it get bored of sitting on your arm and fly away. I learned that sitting in the shade with your eyes and mouth shut, even if it’s just for a little while in the back yard, can be more relaxing than the softest bed in the ritziest hotel.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Making things beautiful.

The more I was working, the more I was beginning to feel part of it. I was bitching less. And was on the early stage of actually enjoying the work, instead of fearing it. There was always this mental barrier in my mind, that I would die, or peel over, or burn out if put in these conditions for more than a day. A man like me just couldn’t do that type of work. I wasn’t cut out for it. That somehow my life, my upbringing could not go through that type of experience and come out the other side. Much less a man still intact. And my nuts attached.

The simple repetitions of caulking lines, to the mourning routine before work, which I thought would be soul killing, had a rhythm to them I was starting to settle into and enjoy. Waking up, grabbing all my tools, placing them in the car, spending time praying, and driving to the jobsite contained an order and grounding not experienced in the rush and sporadic life before. There wasn’t this list of a million choices before me. I was painting. Sanding. Or caulking. That was about it. Simple really. And I didn’t have a choice in even that. I showed up to be told orders. It was actually nice to be just told what to do, and to do it. Not have to think so much. Or be told the world had a thousand possibilities to follow those dreams. That wasn’t my choice here.

I started feeling the pride in my job too. I wasn’t just trying to pass the hours, just staring at the clock, but wanting to do a good job, and make the homeowner happy. I wanted to learn better technique. It wasn’t just throwing paint on a wall. Roll well, and caulk solid and seamless lines. I wanted my boss pleased with the product, and my work at the end of the day. I started admiring the work. Not just heading to the next task, but actually staring at what we had accomplished, so proud of what we had help create.

I started feeling more like a painter, not just the experiment this had began as.

It was also true off the job.

I would step into the evening shower with this feeling of accomplishment. The days dust, and spray, and caulk collected on me. The shower was the proof of my hard labor. Of my sweat and work. To be covered in paint and even needing a shower was proof that I had spent the day doing work, which unlike so much of my life, of academics, there was no real tangible sense of what I had accomplished in a day. I never took showers after 5pm. Never needed to. Studying for a test brought at best the reward of a letter or a number. A, 85,C+,76,F,91, these were how I had spent my entire life to achieve. Like carrots held in front of me, I was told to reach for. Rewards that started with a sticker, and smiley faces, and then were told, “you will need this for college one day.” All that validation did much less than when I came home, peeled off the white pants, and shirt, and started scrubbing.

A few friends told me they were envious. That most of their day was staring at computer screens, checking and writing email, and reports. My friend Brian confessed, “I drive by the guys working on houses every morning on the way to my cubicle, and in my mind I am thinking, I want to be doing that. Why the hell am I sitting at this desk? How did I get here?”

I started realizing there was something very admirable in this type of work, I had looked down upon for so long, as below me. Men were almost looking at me like, I wish I could do that. They would tell stories with faces lit up about how they loved mowing the lawn, or how much they loved their first job working as a blacksmith, or on their little 5 foot patch of garden.

As a sign of freedom, I stopped removing every single paint spot from every single piece of skin during my evening shower. Being too tired, or missing spots, and often just not caring to remove it all. I just left areas of paint on my hands or arms. Sometimes walking into a restaurant with my wife with paint on me, and being ok with it. Almost proud of what I was doing.

I started hearing from friends similar stories. A friend who owned a construction business had told me how he had wrestled with his calling staining concrete surfaces. It seemed so far from a true calling in ministry, or working for Jesus—so unspiritual. He was trying to figure out what he was to do when a man asked him, “what if God called you to make beautiful floors?”

He looked at me, and said, that’s what I realized God wants me to do.

“I make beautiful floors.”

It seemed so unspiritual, and yet, so fulfilling, so deep, and so spiritual. That we were to step into God’s creation, and be creators as well. Make stuff. Beautiful things. Nice things. Good things.

Another friend told me of how his father in law had been diagnosed with cancer. Only a few months to live. In thinking about all the things he could do, he decided to make his city, Chattanooga more beautiful. That is what he felt from God. The place was all concrete. He wanted to make it pretty. So he did. Started stopping at interstate exits, and office parks, and planting trees and flowers. People started joining in. Landscapers began donating plants, and before long he had landscaped the city. Making things pretty.

I started feeling that. I was using my body to recreate rooms and peoples living. It was just a room. But I was changing it. Restoring and remaking something old to something new. There was such joy in it, watching rooms explode in colors and richness through my roller and brush. I felt like I was actually participating in something important, as mundane and small as it was.

It seemed at the heart of every man was to create. To build and work on something. A man in Nashville, a pastor named Randy walked into a muffler shop. He watched the man re-do his tailpipe and exhaust, just mesmerized by it. Amazed at what this man was sculpting with metal. He said, “You work like an artist.” This big all fellow stopped, and with tears in his eyes said, “ya know, I’ve always thought of myself that way. As an artist.”

It started making me wonder, how did we lose that? How did it become that we looked so far down on blue collar workers, and laborers? Why was the man of wealth, and wisdom in an office seen as the ideal life?

I did some research and I found out that much of our western thought of work came from Greeks. Even the new testament is written in the language, that society bringing us the words to use to describe the gospel accounts, and Pauls letters to the church. Point being, the Greeks had a great influence on us, and where we are today. The Greeks were thinkers. Plato, Socrates, Aristotle. Their vision was that real work, and honorable work was in the mind. The body was temporal. Thought was where the real work was, “so to speak.” Having money, and not having to do physical labor, allowed you to concentrate on the mind and more important matters of thought and study.

It seemed as years passed, people adopted this for the most part. We put it into part of our Christian lifestyles. The institutions of learning and education were often only found through the church. The schools were the church. The only people that could read and write were the boys who had devoted themselves to study, and who became the priests of the day. The commoners, and laborers and peasants who did not receive this education came to hear their educated counterparts speak about what the scriptures meant, and what the greek words meant. They couldn’t read or spell, and relied on the thoughts of these men to lead them. The priests studied, while the people worked.

It was kinda ironic. Because so many of Jesus parables were about what the commoners were doing, farming, fishing, and the daily things. All the things the people were doing, but very few of the pastors of the day had experienced. They knew things. Intellectually, but few had put their hands to the plow. They were concentrating on the mind, and understanding of scripture. It was important, and we need that, but it gave the power to the intellectuals.

Quite ironic, since Jesus spent most of his life, as just that a commoner—a carpenter.

It seemed before long, labor and spirituality just kinda was separated from one another. And our spirituality became more intellectual than concrete. The study of scripture, and understanding is where most pastors went, as opposed to walking out into a field, and working. Learning the lessons from hardship and sweat, and labor. Our teachers and pastors told stories of their personal lives, which were often spent in a study with a concordance, and volumes of spiritual knowledge.

Talking with a friend about seminaries today, he said it’s a sad story. All these soon to be pastors who had spent their entire life in education. From grade school, to high school, to college, to seminary. Their experiences have been through knowledge of books and education. Good things. But few in the areas of real life, holding a hoe, or landscaping a lawn. All the things that Jesus seemed to speak of in the stories he told. It was quite ironic.

I started seeing all these blue collar workers as having an immense understanding and knowledge of life. They didn't see it as spiritual. And some of it was not. But it was rooted, and grounded in real life, and hardship. Physical stuff. And a world that I had avoided, and had absolutely no stories or understanding. I was starting to see that there was a reason I needed to come here. And experience this. I was on track to be that same guy, like those priests, all in the head. Great ideas, with no grounding, no real life experience to relate to.

I was starting to see this work, not just as a hard lesson on life. But more like a seminary class through real life. My teachers were Carlos, and Juan, and John. My professors.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Worship in the river.

I went to a conference up in Denver that was dealing with worship and the prophetic. It was a good conference, with a very charismatic leader, who spoke words of the Holy Spirit, and revelation. The teaching was profound. The lady worship singer seemed to love a few phrases that she would sing over and over before we got started each day.

Her favorite was… “In the River.”

She kept repeating the words about being in the river with Jesus. And like so many conferences, there were mostly women there, all of whom were loving this picture, and entering into singing from this place in their heart, closing their eyes like they were in the river. I think the worship lady wanted us to feel like we were swimming, and letting the cool water brush up against our face. Being surrounded by Jesus, and the spirit. There was a freedom, as I felt people letting go.

And my own heart trying too as well.

It started picking up steam, and beat, and a few were flayling their arms, like they were back stroking in the river. And a few of those banners were being waved back and forth in the crowd like it was the river. The whole conference room was moving back and forth. I was actually feeling a great peace in the midst of all this going on.

But after a few more minutes of this, we seemed to still be just hanging out in the river. Again, and again, in the river. Apparently it was a really long river. Too long.

The more I sang, the more I felt like I was drowing in the river. It just kept going. Over and over. More and more in the river words. I was staring at all the women around me captured by it all, and so happy to be in it all. Eyes closed, moving to and fro like they were on a cozy raft cruising down the river with Jesus as they felt the water, aka the spirit, rush around them.

All of a sudden, I started laughing. A thought had hit me. I wanted to be on the banks of this river, fishing. My memories fading to the days of being there with men, like Timm and Ron. I wanted this water. But I didn’t want to be in it, I wanted to be fishing on the banks of it. And yeah, I wanted Jesus there, too.

But I wanted him next to me with an Orvis rod, and a two count rhythm leading me into some good holes. I just pictured all these ladies floating down with their little umbrellas and sunglasses on, as we sneaked by them, and moved up the stream to find a section with some big brown trout. As the ladies kept singing, I just kept picturing it, and kept thinking of heaven, and Jesus, and how I just hoped we would fish. And we would be together on some of those rivers he speaks about in Revelation.

Beyond all this singing, somehow I was hoping this fishing, and our time together would actually be worship.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Why hunt? Why fish?

I started asking guys why they hunt and head out into the wilderness. I would ask at a shooting range, or on the river, or at a campfire. Sitting and standing around a group of men, I would say, so guys… tell me why you do this, why you hunt? Why you fish?

People would kinda start stratching their heads. Looking around. Wanting to avoid it.
It was a party killer. Silence would come. Guys would kinda stare at each other, nervous, and then mad at me for asking such a question. I had asked them to think about it, and it seemed counter-intuitive to why they were here. It wasn’t a place you asked life’s serious questions. You just came out, and took place in it. You left all that at home.

It was weird because people would look at me, like what? Are you really asking me that? Other guys would just have no answer. Avoid it. Turn away. Even though they had been doing this for ages, and ages, they had never thought about it. As one guy said, “ya just hunt.” Another guy told me, “I like to hunt.” Which was not really answering why, but I took it. One man said, “I was asking too many damn questions.”

The weird thing is these men weren’t just Joe Dirt rednecks with a Rambo blood lust. Some were CEO’s of logistic firms, bankers, others drove delivery trucks, engineers, white collar bankers, and blue collar car mechanics, it was a smattering and mixture of a little of everything, every type of man. There was no way to pin down fishermen, backpackers, and hunters. They came from everywhere. And it seemed, few of them were talking about why.

If they didn’t say anything, often I would break the silence by opening my mouth, and telling them what it was like for me. Why I started doing these things. Trying to find initiation, and fathering, and stepping into a man’s world, and where I could experience these things and God.

The air would thin out, the mood would shift. Men would start acting shifty. I couldn’t understand it.

At first, I thought I was being the hero. Helping them. I am a writer, I like words. I thought I was helping them name, and explain things. I thought it was my contribution to these men. Help them out a bit.

The more I went, the more I saw, they actually knew this. Not in direct words, but from their stories, and how they told it. The way their faces light up when they at around each other. You could feel it from the stories of who was with them, when they killed the longhorn sheep, or buck off ranger mountain with their son. All the themes of why I was there, were in them. They just didn’t say it.

They didn’t need to.

It seemed they started getting mad at me for exposing this. They wanted it more of a secret. Even though one guy would say he wanted to kill giant elk, I realized it had much more in it. It was for the men, and what happened with men. The stories, the friendship, the laughter, sitting under a clear sky with a fire. This hunting and fishing thing was just the place it happened, the excuse to experience and feel it. It was starting to make more sense.

I stopped asking men. Started enjoying it instead. Tucking the need to put words to things aside.

I started feeling Ron’s love, when he whistled from down the river when I had a trout on, and said nice fish. I knew what he meant is “I love you, and care about you deeply, and I am so honored to be in your life.” The same when I got a knife from Jere who said, “this is for when you kill your first elk this season.” I knew in that was much deeper than kill elk, what he also meant is, “you have what it takes as a man. And I was thinking about you today when I bought this for you.” If PJ called to want to watch a hunting video, it meant as much that he was kinda lonely, and would love to hang out. It was kind of code. Man code. All of this stuff was.

I started seeing this as I ran across various men in their cubicles, and offices. I would walk into a man’s office, and there were pictures of trout on the wall. Or maybe some mounted ducks. It was kinda of life a sign to other men. Like in the movie Fight Club. Although most people saw it as displays of animals, or death. It was actually a picture of life. Those were the symbols, and signs that said, I am part of that group. Again, no words. But just the signs that said, I hunt. I fish.For those who understood this code, as I was starting to pick up, there was just a bond. A connection.

I started noticing a lot of men at coffee shops, and bagel shops in the morning, hanging out doing a bible study. Grown men, sharing their words, and feelings, about life, and pain, and the bible. I knew it was a good thing, but I wanted to go over, and hand them a gun. I wanted to grab the dudes and take off the white collar shirt, and place them in some camo overall bibs, and say, this is your bible study, go into the woods, and figure this thing out. Pray there. You really need this. You really do. I know it sounds whacky, and weird, and unspiritual, but I promise, you need it.

I started seeing that we had lost that as men, a place to go. Not a place to put words to everything, like sitting at Starbucks, doing a bible study, and sharing our thoughts and feelings.

We needed a place where we could get out, into something larger than ourselves, close to nature, and wild, and feel the dirt and the wind. We needed to sleep on it, have it rub across our faces, and talk about the things that were in creation we wanted to find, hunt, or fish. We needed all that together. That is really why I had come. I had sat in enough square rooms sharing my feelings and using words, but I had not been out in the world, exploring it with men.

It seemed all this hunting and fishing was really just a way for a man to get back in touch with that. As God said, from the dust you were made, and dust you will return. It seemed we needed to enter back into that story, of the ground, and the earth that had been taken from us by all the building and development. We needed to feel the cold water of a stream rushing down the mountains, with the hope of a rising trout, not just the demands of a deadline and numbers on an excel spreadsheet. We needed to head out into the outback of mountains that we didn’t have a paved road, and street light to guide us. We needed to run into the woods with fathers and sons together. We just needed to be together.

I finally came to see there where all these little secrets. And it seemed the best to leave them that way with each other. You didn’t have to speak it, just enter into it. Receive it. Give it back. You didn’t have to spend an hour processing it, and sharing your feelings, and all that. It had been happening for thousands of years, men doing this. That was the sacredness of the time.

I don’t ask men anymore why they head out to fish, and hunt.

Ya just hunt. And you let them figure it out.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Hunting Knife

This happened about two years ago...

We walked into this giant warehouse of hunting gear, weapons, and clothes. It was like Wal-mart meets G.I. Joe’s complete collection of weapon supply depot. I felt like a weirdo, like I needed a card proving my manhood, or flash a can of long cut Copenhagen, to let me in. Everything unmanly I had ever done in my life flashed before me. Was I qualified to enter? And what the heck was I doing here anyways?

There were aisles of fishing lures, rows of camo shirts, and more guns, and more guns laid out like produce at a grovery store. It was if Noah had sacrificed one of every animal getting off the boat to be mounted in this place. Moose, elk, turkey, fish, weird birds, you name it, it was there. Dead, and stuffed. Hanging on a cheap little plaque.

PJ and I walked around looking at the various things. Elk Jerky makers, make your own bullet machines, and a list of hunting videos by bigger rednecks than Jeff Foxworthy that would have rivaled Blockbusters entire selection of new releases. Every Bubba of backwoods Virginia had put out a video. We walked over to the knives, which is why I had come. I was hoping to buy a knife. It was no small display either. Cases of them. This kind, and that. I had no idea what I needed, but I wanted something that was a little on the cheap end, as a beginner knife, and something that would help me cut up an elk if one of my friends killed one.

I laid my eyes on the Grizzly Kodiak knife. It sounded manly enough for me, and had an extra saw blade to cut through bone. I asked the rather intimidating man behind the counter if I could take a look. He grabbed it, laid it on the table. I looked at it for a minute in the container. And everyone was kinda staring at me, like, take it out, feel the blade, see it you fool. What’s a knife in the plastic sheath? So, as they stared at me, I pulled it out.

Again, I was completely new to this, and not sure what I was thinking, but as I pulled it out, I ran the edge along my hand somehow. I felt the cutting of flesh, but was hoping they did not see it. I pretended it did not happen, and started ooing at the features, and the metal, looking everywhere but my hand that was pulsating. I was hoping my movement away, despite the pain, from my hand to the blade would have them miss it too. Within second it was bleeding. The guy behind the counter looked at me like an idiot, and said, “do you want a Band-Aid for that?” Oh, wow. Look at that. How did that happen? Sure, that’s not a bad idea.

I had walked into my first experience of hunting and I had already cut myself. This was not the plan. Or why I had come. I wanted to feel like a man, not like this little kid who needed a band-aid for his ouchy. I felt like a fool. The shame of what I had just laid out before this man. I was completely unaware of how to do anything, even hold a knife.

I bought the knife, and we got in the car, and PJ and I started laughing.

I had drawn first blood.

My own.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


From a story awhile back...

A man told me that I needed to start asking God for gifts. Stop trying to buy my own. It was kind of a weird thing to ask God. For stuff. Replace my Americanized, spoiled, entitled, and full of stuff life, for his stuff.

He wasn’t talking about praying for treasures in heaven, but a few things here and now. A real gift or two.The thought of doing that at first, sounded even worse than just buying it on my own. But his point was, stop arranging your life, and treating yourself, and start letting God do that for you if he wants. Let him give you things. Putting your desire for what you wanted, giving it to Him, instead of your own pocketbook.

It sounded crazy. But I decided to give it a try.

When I went into a store, and saw something, normally I just bought it. I found a way to justify it, like, I need this. Or I really need this. And I still kinda did that. But started feeling more guilty realizing what a selfish bastard I really was. The way the whole thing went down is that I would get something, feel horrible for not asking God, think about it later. And feel even more like a scum bag.

But finally, after enough of this. I did try it. About one time out of ten. I prayed a short prayer, would you get me that? Would you bring it back around if it was something I could have?
I probably did, and did not do this for a good six months. And I really assumed it wasn’t working, and this whole thing was a sham, and God didn’t want me in this stuff anyways. There was so much more important things to be giving people, than more stuff for me.

But then one day out of the blue, a friend and I were coming down from the mountains when he said he wanted to stop at the fly shop. I said, “great. There is one right here.” And then I said, “why?” And he said, “I want to buy a fly vice.” And it sounded weird, because I knew he already had one. And then he said, “its for you. God told me to buy it for you.”

I kinda was stunned. Just stared at him. I felt really like a jerk, because I knew I wanted one. And I thought it was almost like a sick game, that it was happening. I’m getting what I want. I’m getting what I asked for. You selfish man, you.

The truth was, that I had been at the fly shop about 5 times looking at this one vice. I would look at it through the display case, drooling, and staring. Hoping. If it wasn’t so expensive, my guess is that I might have bought it, but I felt bad enough for blowing so much, and so I had prayed, and still desired that somehow it might come around. I just was shocked it was happening.
I kinda thought he was in on it. I thought I must have told him at some point I wanted it. Maybe it was this guy trying to fulfill that desire of mine or something. And so I asked, and he said, no, I didn’t know that. And I thought about it more, and it just kinda blew me away. God was giving me a vice through this man. God was giving the guy with so much stuff, more stuff.

I had felt like Jabba the Hut with gear. A giant stomach saying, “feed me.” But I came to see this one was different. This gift was different than all the ones I had bought myself.
All the other stuff started collecting in the corner, while this vice was kinda on display. Everytime I looked at it, there was something so special about it. When I tied a fly, and looked at the pictures of my fishing pictures, they had such a meaning. I wasn’t sure if God was in all the other purchases but I knew he was in this one. I had a vice from God and a man. I had asked for it. And instead of buying it on my own, God had given it to me.

The weird thing about it was I didn’t need to buy as much gear. I just kinda slowed down my purchases. Thought twice, and thought about my wife, and our needs, and savings. Stopped acting so much like a boy. Things started to somehow lose their appeal. I think it was because I started feeling like God, might take care of me. Maybe I really could trust him with my stuff. He would come through. He would show me the way. The power of things were a little less, and the power that God was a father, and would give me good gifts, felt a little stronger than before.
It was if, knowing God would provide, was the thing I had been wanting all alone. The gift was great, but the greater meaning of someone that I could trust. Beyond me.