Friday, January 27, 2012

The Rebel Jesus

It has been my tradition to write a few posts about Christmas every year.  Most years however, it is well after the Christmas season.  For one thing, it is hard to consider the actual Christmas message for me right at Christmas time.  Does that sound silly?

At Christmas we are inundated with creepy stories of people going into violent frenzies, hurting each other in Walmart or Kmart so they can get the best deals on Christmas presents for their loved ones.  Hmmm.

This is from the Christian Science Monitor on 11-26-11

Aisle-bumping, line-cutting, and parking lot rudeness is to be expected on Black Friday, the annual post-Thanksgiving shopping extravaganza. This year's event, however, saw more mayhem than usual as throngs of competitive shoppers tussled and growled over waffle irons and Xboxes, with altercations turning violent in at least seven states.
As in years past, stories of "competitive shopping" gone bad abounded, but with a new edge.
In Los Angeles, a woman pepper-sprayed at least 20 fellow shoppers to save some money on an Xbox console, paying up and getting out before cops arrived. In Ohio and Michigan, women "came out swinging" over discounted bath towels. The results were at times serious, with several shootings reported and one confrontation ending with a grandfather lying bloodied and unconscious.

The hustle and bustle, the pressure for getting the right gifts, getting out Christmas cards, the regifting, the gift exchanging, the gift cards for those we care a little about but not enough to think deeply about a present.  There is a national sense of economic well-being from people overspending at Christmas and a darkness that falls when sales aren't what we expect.  If we, as a people, spend less than the year before it is a bad sign for our economy.
Even the term 'BLACK FRIDAY' is sort of creepy.   "Black Friday" indicates the point at which retailers begin to turn a profit, or are "in the black". (Wikipedia)  

How many times have you seen signs that say, "KEEP CHRIST IN CHRISTMAS" or "JESUS IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON" or hear of people who get angry at stores because their employees are saying, "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas"?  To me, Christmas is the time when we wear our hypocrisy on our sleeves.  We may put a bumper sticker on our car or cry out against the commercialization of Christmas, but what do we really do to demonstrate our sincerity?  It seems to me that most of us go out and define materialism by our annual habits.  
At Christmas time this year, the Downtown Church in Columbia, SC stood out from the messages I have heard over the years at the many other churches I have attended.  The band played one of my favorite Christmas songs, Jackson Browne's "The Rebel Jesus".   My son Colin played in that service.  
Realizing that I too buy into the materialistic aspect of the holiday season, I write this thinking about the real meaning of the season and in an effort to make myself more mindful of Jesus' message that we must all be about the business of making this world a better place.
  For everyone.  
Merry Christmas!
(I didn't get out my cards this year.)

All the streets are filled with laughter and light 
And the music of the season 
And the merchants' windows are all bright 
With the faces of the children 
And the families hurrying to their homes 
As the sky darkens and freezes 
They'll be gathering around the hearths and tables 
Giving thanks for all God's graces 
And the birth of the rebel Jesus 

Well they call him by the prince of peace 
And they call him by the savior 
And they pray to him upon the seas 
And in every bold endeavor 
As they fill his churches with their pride and gold 
And their faith in him increases 
But they've turned the nature that I worshipped in 
From a temple to a robber's den 
In the words of the rebel Jesus 

We guard our world with locks and guns 
And we guard our fine possessions 
And once a year when Christmas comes 
We give to our relations 
And perhaps we give a little to the poor 
If the generosity should seize us 
But if any one of us should interfere 
In the business of why they are poor 
They get the same as the rebel Jesus 

But please forgive me if I seem 
To take the tone of judgement 
For I've no wish to come between 
This day and your enjoyment 
In this life of hardship and of earthly toil 
We have need for anything that frees us 
So I bid you pleasure 
And I bid you cheer 
From a heathen and a pagan 
On the side of the rebel Jesus.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

My Mom's Porch - (unfinshed)

I wrote this piece in October 2011 while my 3rd grade class composed their own stories about a favorite place.  A few times each year our district requires an “on demand” writing sample so we can score their writing with a rubric – or list of qualities we wish to see present in their writing.  So we all chose and wrote about one of our favorite places. 

This piece of writing is not finished.  “My Mom’s Porch” means something different to me now that she has passed on.  This writing is a time capsule, a window into thoughts of another time. 

A couple of weeks from now I’ll visit my mother’s home, and my mom’s porch, one final time, with my brother Dan and two of my sisters, Ruthie and Anne.  We’ll settle things with some banks, meet with the realtor, and likely finish up some painting and cleaning.  We’ll probably give her last few remaining possessions away and just enjoy time in each other’s company. 

We’ll spread her ashes. 

It will be the last time we meet together in that beautiful house, the final time we’ll laugh, and perhaps cry a little, on my mom’s porch. 

This piece ends without proper closure.  Just like life.

My Mom’s Porch

One of my favorite places of all is my mom’s back porch.  It is a simple structure in a magical place.  The floor is made of two-by-fours with enough space between to see the deck below.  Behind are the wooden walls of the house and large glass sliding door.  Ahead is a large screen.  Beyond is the canopy of mixed hardwood trees of the North Carolina mountains.  Beyond that is a beautiful, clear mountain lake with sun sparkling off its surface or the reflection of clouds or a shimmering moon.
A few days ago, when I awoke there on the living room couch, it was still dark and cold.  I sat on that porch alone, with a cup of strong black coffee, while the morning light eased across the low gray clouds.  The small lake below was covered with fog, which rolled over the dam as a slow motion liquid into the river valley below.

A great blue heron emerged from that low hanging cloud; a prehistoric ghost, silently pulling feathery wisps of fog behind it.  It was a scene so peaceful, so serene and real that I wish I could have shared it with someone.  But then again, maybe those few moments alone on that old porch are an important memory because I was alone.  My mom would be awake soon.  I would tell her about it.  She would appreciate it. 

The company kept on that old porch is also what makes it one of my favorite places.  My mom is my best friend.  The time we share there also includes other family members, but the time spent with my mom alone is among the most precious moments in my life.  On that porch we speak tenderly of the past and loved ones who have died.  On that porch we laugh until our faces hurt and we gasp for breath.  On that porch, late at night, lit by a single candle flame, with wine glasses between us, we cry and hold hands and wonder about the future and count ourselves lucky to still appreciate each other’s company. 

I never spend enough time on that old porch. It slants down – away from the house.  That has always bugged my mom.  But she is finally convinced that it was built that way on purpose.  There are always a few spider webs in the corners.  But I don’t mind.  They never bothered me. I sort of like spiders.  There is a glass table on that porch and some outdoor chairs.  The screen doors are a little uneven due to the slanting floor.  There are some two-by-fours stacked under them to keep out the chipmunks and other creatures.  I remember when there were nesting birds in there. 

The most important people in my life have spent time together on that old porch.  My own Devin and Colin and Heidi, my step-dad, Big Jim Burns, my brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews – have often hung out on that old porch making each other laugh, one upping each other’s wise cracks, sipping wine and smirking, poking fun and getting serious.  We relive the old days when we were young and our folks were young.  We share stories of the crazy people we used to know and all of the ridiculous things we got away with.  My mom smiles and is forgiving of us all.  What else can she do?

We’ve shared many meals on that porch.  Big Jim’s famous goulash, Heidi’s grilled chicken salad, my pasta.  My mom was never crazy about cooking, so often it is sandwiches and salad and lots of fresh fruit.  But it isn’t the food that makes these meals among the best ever.  It is the company.  And it isn’t just the people.  We share that tree-top porch with birds and raccoons and squirrels. 

In the fall that porch is nestled into brilliant colors that can dazzle you and take your breath away.  When the leaves have fallen you can see the lake with occasional ripples from surfacing bass, or trout, or bream.  In the winter there is often snow and ice glazed branches and sun on that sparkling lake.  In the summer the light on that porch is just… so… green.  My folks often refer to their home as a tree house.  And it is. 

When we are on that porch we speak the truth in unguarded words.  There is such honesty and love there that it hurts my heart and stings my eyes to think about it. We talk politics and religion and news and all of the topics you don’t touch in polite company.  We are brash – we tease and make fun and share everything that is in our hearts and on our minds.  On that porch there is no pretense, few filters between us and what we really mean to say.

Perhaps the most important part of being on that porch is the loving companionable silence between the words, the time we spend together gazing out at that natural beauty, as we share that time, that space, that air…

When my mom and I said good bye to that old porch for that last time, just before she got on the plane with my brother Dan that took her from her beautiful tree house in North Carolina to New Mexico and her last few weeks - we held each other.  There was nothing we could say.  We looked out through the trees and felt the beauty and magic of that place. 

But she was strong.  Much stronger than me. 

There will always be special places in our lives, right?  Places where we spend precious time with people we love.  But that porch, in those mountains, will remain with me forever.  

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Heidi found this little pink slip of paper taped to my mom's window just in front of her sink when we went to her house the other day.  On it were words I'm sure she used for comfort when her beloved husband died last summer.  Now that she is gone, I find comfort in knowing just how natural it is to grieve.

I miss my mom.

Grieving is as natural as
          crying when you are hurt,
          sleeping when you are tired,
          eating when you are hungry,
          or sneezing when your nose itches.
It's nature's way of healing a 

          broken heart.

Monday, January 9, 2012



                                    It's not time to make a change,
                                    Just relax, take it easy.
                                    You're still young, that's your fault,
                                    There's so much you have to know.
                                    Find a girl, settle down,
                                    If you want you can marry.
                                    Look at me, I am old, but I'm happy.
                                    I was once like you are now, and I know that it's not easy,
                                    To be calm when you've found something going on.
                                    But take your time, think a lot,
                                    Why, think of everything you've got.
                                    For you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not.
                                    How can I try to explain, when I do he turns away again.
                                    It's always been the same, same old story.
                                    From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen.
                                    Now there's a way and I know that I have to go away.
                                    I know I have to go.
                                    It's not time to make a change,
                                    Just sit down, take it slowly.
                                    You're still young, that's your fault,
                                    There's so much you have to go through.
                                    Find a girl, settle down,
                                    If you want you can marry.
                                    Look at me, I am old, but I'm happy.
                                    (Son-- Away Away Away, I know I have to
                                    Make this decision alone - no)
                                    All the times that I cried, keeping all the things I knew inside,
                                    It's hard, but it's harder to ignore it.
                                    If they were right, I'd agree, but it's them they know not me.
                                    Now there's a way and I know that I have to go away.
                                    I know I have to go.
                                    (Father-- Stay Stay Stay, Why must you go and
                                    Make this decision alone?) 


                                    This Cat Stevens (now Jusef Islam) song was my absolute favorite as a kid.  When I was 12 or 13 this was my anthem.  From an album given to me by my rebellious, anti-Vietnam War sister Ruthie. I WAS the son in this song.  My parents would never understand my heart.  We were simply worlds apart.  We would always be.  To say that I was a contrary kid would be an understatement.  If something was black to my parents, it was white to me.  If they were Republican, I was a Democrat (even though I didn’t have much of a clue as to what that meant).  They wanted me in Catholic school – I knew it wasn’t right.  Short hair? Long hair!  Straight legs? Bell Bottoms!

                                    Was it biological?  Do kids, as a way of transitioning away from their parents, naturally push back to  prove their independence; to make the inevitable break from home easier? 

                                    When I got my first guitar, a three-quarter sized Toyota for 60 bucks from a pawnshop, “Father and Son” was one of the first songs I learned.  And I sang it loud.  With a purpose.  I was the Son.  How can I try to explain?  When I do he turns away again. 

                                    While my parents took care of every one of my basic needs, there were long stretches of time when our conversations did not go very deep, when we were passing ships, when we tolerated each other but did not really connect. If they were right, I’d agree, but it’s them they know not ME.  Now there’s a way, and I know that I have to go away. 

                                    When it came time for me to leave to go to college I was ready to go.  It was time.  And I carried that song with me.  Some of my friends knew it and we sang it together.  We were the sons.  Our parents couldn’t understand us.  We were on our own and glad that we no longer had our folks hovering over us.  And I know that I have to go away.  I know - I have to go. 

                                    After college, when Heidi and I were a couple of DINKs (Double Income – No Kids), I still played that song but I was ambivalent.  While I was still a son, I wasn’t the Son.  My folks and I came to love and appreciate each other.  I still played that old song, but I did not feel that huge divide. 

                                    Years later, when I had kids of my own and I played them lullabies and my old folksongs, “Father and Son” was still in the mix.  By then, it was just a great song from the old days and brought back the memories of my foolish anger and pride.  I was a father but I wasn’t the Father.  Not yet. 

                                    Now that our boys have grown to young men I have this peculiar knowing that I am on the other side now.  At 54, having now lost both my parents, I find myself looking into the eyes of our kids and wondering where did that time go?  And how did this happen?  Because our guys are just about ready to both be gone for college, and while I know they’ll come back – it won’t be the same.  They will be the ones happy to be on their own, independent, wanting to move forward into their future and not thinking much about looking back.  While we have provided everything they needed through good times and hard times, they’re on their way.  And I am the one who doesn’t understand  - my Sons.

                                    It's not time to make a change,
                                    Just sit down, take it slowly.
                                    You're still young, that's your fault,
                                    There's so much you have to go through.
                                    Find a girl, settle down,
                                    If you want you can marry.
                                    Look at me, I am old, but I'm happy. 
                                    I know that I have said it before, I LOVE these two handsome men.  But I will always miss those two cute little boys who played naked in the surf and woke up with messy hair and crawled into bed with us when they needed to.  I miss those guys who cared about what we thought, who sought advice and asked for help, who I bathed and read to and sang silly songs with. 

                                    But it is THE WAY.  I know that now more than ever.  They will have these feelings too one day.  And while “Father and Son” is not their anthem.  I recognize the Son’s feelings in them.  And I also know that some day they will probably connect to the Father.

                                    Stay Stay Stay, Why must you go and make this decision alone?