30 November 2006

Still partly cloudy...but clearing

See: http://the-m-blog.blogspot.com/2006/03/imperfect-vision.html

And: http://the-m-blog.blogspot.com/2006/03/more-on-that-man-thing.html

Back in March I wrote that Imperfect Vision post and then the second one a few days later. While it's been stewing in my mind, I hadn't gone back and read those again until just now...it's fascinating the ways in which those way-out-there vision casting posts have proven, in fact, to be prophetic. But what I really wanted to talk about was more
of the same.

This last week I had the opportunity to take a DAWG day and it was awesome. 30 or so acres of Washington State park, closed for the winter and deserted except for the quail and coyotes, snug up against the grand Columbia River - an excellent place indeed to seek the Lord of Angel Armies. I got out there and found the gate closed, which meant the firewood in the trunk wasn't going anywhere unless I carried it, and that wasn't going to happen. But God, surprise surprise, is faithful. I trekked back to the far corner of the grounds and found a giant fire pit with all the wood already laid out for me, all I needed was a match. (Once again Michael - the normal rules do not apply to me...)

The Lord had a lot to say that day but I specifically wanted to talk about where I see all of this Wild at Heart business going. It's really a development of the posts mentioned above but the details are starting to come into focus.

The point that came clearest to me was this - the real purpose of all the Wild at Heart type stuff I've been working on is not really about rescuing these men's hearts. Of course that occurs, and it's glorious to behold, but that isn't the reason What's really at stake here is the next generation of boys who will be raised by fathers with ransomed, restored, and deputized lives.

It's about Odin.

It's about Will and Ben. (somehow, I think it's very much about Ben...)

It's about Poncho and Denver, Cameron and Christian, Micah, Christian, Andrew(s), Evan, Austin,
Ethan and a million other little boys to be ready for the moment they were made for. So when their cue comes - in
fifteen to twenty years - they'll know it and be ready.

You see, when we reach out and pour into a man's heart, we change a life and the Word tells me that such a task is as Christlike as possible. Leave the 99 to save the one, sell everything to secure the hidden treasure, party with the Archangels at the redemption of a single soul.


Raise a generation of men who have known God's voice since they were born, men powerfully confident in their faith, mightily armored against the enemy, and you can change this country - perhaps the
world. And that, my brothers, is also as Christlike as possible.

There's a lot going on up here with BootcampNW these days and I can't wait to see what God's going to do, but it's certain that some big things are afoot. That said, I can really see this movement/ministry building momentum and starting to reach back to younger and younger men with exactly this mission in mind. Camps for adult men grow into camps for college age men, then high-schoolers...at each phase we're deepening the bench and building a sort of secret army within the body of American Christians. I don't know about anybody else, but seeing just one guy find his life and look up as if he was suddenly, right before my eyes, is truly born again, would be worth a whole lot of misery and strife. To see hundreds has been almost too much to bear. To know thousands...I can't imagine.

I feel like I should say something about our daughters...but I don't have anything. I don't doubt for a moment that God has something up his sleeve on that front as well but He hasn't shared it with me. I could certainly say something uplifting and all that, but a huge amount of damage gets done by folks who feel compelled to answer every call,
even when it isn't theirs...but that's another story. For the time, suffice it to say that God's been talking to me about guys and about sons and I need to stick to what I know. :)

17 November 2006

Getting Promoted...

I only have time for a quick post, but wanted to write this down – I get the opportunity to speak on spiritual warfare at the next Boot Camp Northwest event in February.


I must say, that’s something that I’ve really always hoped for but didn’t want to push for it. The speakers team is already in place and I don’t want to be in the way. But the Advanced camp in Feb is something new – so everything is on the table.

Anyway, I still owe this blog a far more substantial post on the last Boot Camp (I’m so glad you made it Mike!) but not now. It’s late and I need to get to my snuggly wife.


23 October 2006


“Afterward, Jesus found [the healed paralytic] in the temple and said ‘Behold, you have become well. Do not sin anymore so that nothing worse may befall you.’” - John 5:14

What happened to Lazarus after Jesus raised him from the dead? Or the little girl who had ‘fallen asleep’? Or the Centurion’s servant? Can’t we safely conclude that all of them died again? And yet, isn’t there also a part of us that wants “...and God healed so-and-so” to be followed by “and they lived happily ever after”, or even “The End.”

Given an opportunity to think on this topic though, I realize how foolish that is of me, how childish. This part of me that wants the healing to be the end of the story isn’t bad – quite the contrary. That same spot in my heart is the one that longs without words for this fallen world to be restored, for justice and love and peace to reign where we labor under Satan’s yoke of misery, sickness, and death. In fact, I need to guard that childlike part of my heart jealously because it points me toward my eventual future (“He has put eternity in our hearts.”) But that part of me is also naive; we’re not in that chapter of the book yet...

What do we do with Christ’s warning to the man he just healed, “You’re OK now – but don’t go back to your old sinful ways or something worse than paralysis might happen.” or the image of a demon being cast out only to return with reinforcements.

Knowledge is not healing.

Healing is not restoration.

Restoration is not permanent.

A man came to Boot camp last year who was deeply broken and suffering mightily. He was knee deep in an affair, losing his business, and habitually using prescription drugs to dull his pain, all while serving as the lay men’s minister at his church, and on their board. Just before coming to Boot camp he had been discovered and stripped of his ministry positions. There’s no question that the man was sincere in his brokenness or his contrition and   don’t mind saying that he some special attention and treatment – he needed it. He also made some dramatic steps in recovery including dropping the drugs, quitting the affair and beginning the reconciliation with his wife. But today – he’s in a new affair. I frankly don’t know about the drugs but it does appear as though he’s abandoned his original business and started a new one in a new town where his reputation hasn’t followed.

This fellow was in deep pain a year ago and he reached out to Christ. Jesus, in his mercy, reached back and put this man on the road to true recovery and freedom and soul-level healing. But for some reason, and I wouldn’t presume to know what that reason is, the man returned to his sinful ways and I fear that something worse will soon befall him.

Christ’s warning to the paralytic tells us that while we can reasonably expect that a healing would be life changing, it’s not a sure thing. Ten lepers were cleansed, but only one returned to give thanks. The thing about healings is that the dramatic ones  typically come when someone is desperate and their heart reaches out to Jesus as a sort of last resort. At that point in their misery, the leprous, the lame, the hemorrhaging – all they want is to have their lives back – regardless of what those lives were. When healing intersects at that point, it can easily seem like license to return to whatever one was doing prior to the sickness – immoral or otherwise.

I see a similar situation with the people who discover their own deep wounds that had been hidden before. Suddenly understanding yourself  can be a powerfully liberating experience especially for a Christian who has a ‘thorn in their flesh’ that they’ve wrestled with a long time. But it’s a huge mistake to think that understanding these wounds is enough to defang them or render them impotent to continue influencing us. The other mistake is to see the wound and then embrace it – allowing it to define our lives. (“I am an alcoholic – and always will be...”) There’s no question that knowing ourselves, and understanding our story is a potent weapon, but diagnosis ultimately does nothing to heal us.

We’ve all heard about how tuberculosis is making a comeback – how TB patients have consistently failed to finish their courses of antibiotics. After half the pills were gone, the patient feels much better and decides they don’t want to take any more medicine, leaving the TB weakened, but still alive. As the saying goes – what does kill TB, has made it stronger. So in the course of 50 years, a disease that was once the poster child for the success of antibiotics has now evolved into something that borders on unkillable.

Sin in the life of a Christian can often be life that. We find ourselves in pain one day, often without really knowing why, and we go to the doctor. In our misery and discomfort we can cry out to God, I’ll do anything you ask, just stop this pain! But how often do we get just enough healing so we can tolerate the discomfort and then climb off the bus? Sometimes it’s because the diagnosis never really seemed true to us – we don’t believe that we’re infected with pride, or lust, or greed. Other times it’s that we secretly relish the sin and we’re not quite ready to be rid of that particular habit. But those are the exact situations where the problem will relapse. In time we’ll find ourselves in pain again, another broken relationship, another  one-night stand, another bad loan. And that cycle can easily go on and on, year after year – and typically, each cycle is worse than the one before it.

Part of that problem comes when we wind up seeing life as an exercise in arranging the details of our life to create maximum comfort instead of a journey that is actually going somewhere. But more of the problem comes from childishly thinking that  any step in this walk is the last step – from thinking (longing?) that Lazarus lived happily ever after or that the paralytic carries his mat around Jerusalem to this day.

Knowledge isn’t the answer – it’s an invitation.
Healing isn’t a conclusion, but a prologue.
Restoration isn’t an end – but a means.

04 October 2006

Another old poem

Sing to me of Zion, Father
Sing to me of Peace.
Sing to me of Justice, Father
Sing to me of Peace.

Sing above the clamor
Hum beneath the winding sheets
Sway beside the shuddering
Dance amidst the shrieks.

Sing to me from Zion, Father
Sing to me your Peace
Assure me there is Justice Father

Sing to me,

03 October 2006

An old poem

So I was rummaging through a valise filled with old writings and came across several pieces that I think I may post in the next several weeks. Believe it or not, the original thought behind this blog was not the ongoing internal monologue, laid bare for the world to see, but rather a place to work on a few writing projects that wander around in my head. Anyway, with the idea of writing in mind, here’s a poem from several years ago. I’ve been playing with this idea of a multi-threaded poem for several years, but I’m not sure it makes sense to anybody but me. Anyway, here goes nothing.

Knowing her has been bittersweet

a constant conflict between feelings, principles and states of mind

To remember

lingering in reverie

To remind

advancing apprehensively

A doubled mind reeled and trebled

as our paths approached diversity

To smile warmly,

sincerely, fondly,

but only warmly.

Restraining the




Accepting the moment's


Recognizing its momentum

carrying when

          to now

                    to then.

Leaving memory

leaving friends.

To run wildly

terrified, protective and wailing.

Enraged at the fates

making me meet her



Curse the circumstance!

Sever the fingers

that pulled us together

at the knuckle

never look back



the anger is diluted in frustration

both distilled from the tears

that seem to think never

was better than now.

To kiss deeply

electrified, abandoned

fascinated by the depth

of her


the clumsy, impatient


of longing timidity


in her lips

the fullness of which




the hollow

of the heart

they fill.

If she'd never suggested she knew

matching my confusion

with her passive resignation

I might have left content to be conflicted,

immune to the consequence of inaction.

Instead a unanimous unspoken conspiracy came

discouraging discussion and forbidding distinction

decisions disallowed by virtue of their clarity

unable to embrace the growing complexity.

With proximity receding, replaced by dissolution

the half of me remaining wanders.

To remember


in reaction to inaction

To restructure recollection

straightening and sterilizing

uncomfortable edges

perceiving it best

to forget.

27 September 2006

What to say?

Whether actually perceived or only imagined, I’ve had this feeling that several people are waiting to see what I will post about Odin’s ordeal. Not that they expect it to be groundbreaking, or wise, or even interesting – just the sense that I obviously need to say something.

But really – what can I say?

The truth is I’ve never been so physically, spiritually and emotionally exhausted as I am today. Despite a powerful sense of God’s hand in the immediate crisis, I find myself today cowering in a hole, simply trying to survive what feels like a long, dark night. Oddly enough, it’s from that pit that even in the last couple of days I’ve seen God speak powerfully through me to at least three people – in weakness His strength is made manifest I suppose – but I feel sort of like a meat puppet. Used by God, sure – but only marginally in the space myself.

Last week Odin had a cold and he was coughing like he had TB or something. He would be so hungry and tired, and we would try to feed him, but in his rushed feeding he would always gag and start to cough violently again. Then he’d throw up what ever he had managed to eat because he’d worked himself into such a lather. He was so very, very miserable and this went on for most of a week. Rebekah and I barely slept and when we weren’t sleeping we wept. When we weren’t weeping, we stared blankly at a wall or some flickering, mindless sitcom.

I found myself in deep despair one evening, so frustrated that the baby wouldn’t stop coughing, and wouldn’t stop crying, and wouldn’t JUST STOP! And at that moment, it’s not just the baby, it’s everything. It’s so incredibly unfair. He’s supposed to be a happy little baby, doing cute little baby things as his proud and doting parents look on at this little blessing from Heaven. But instead he’s born broken – critically ill from his first moment on Earth and nobody knows. Ten days in an ICU violated by more tubes than he has fingers, another three days poked and measured and calibrated like a lab rat only to be followed a few short weeks later by a solid week of constant drifting between a racking cough (in his barely healed throat), constant hunger, and dropping to sleep from sheer exhaustion – I swear I want to fucking scream!

I wanted so very, very much for God to heal Odin in that hospital. I gave everything I could to faith that surgery wouldn’t be needed. I wanted so very, very much to rely on God’s hand, not the hands of a surgeon. And I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t powerfully disappointed. I’d be lying to you if I said this season isn’t trying my faith in a very ugly and vivid way. I’d by lying to you if I said I knew for certain how this will all turn out – where I’ll be or what I’ll look like from the other end.

But for the moment – I have nowhere else to go.
I have no one else to look to.
Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him – blessed be the name of the Lord.

08 August 2006

A letter to friends

I haven’t had a spare moment to write since last Wed. but I’m at my desk today trying to keep things running and I’d like to pipe in with a brief overview of what I’ve been through this last week and how it has appeared to me.

Back on July 28th, my wife gave birth to our first son, Odin Levi Skaggs. The labor went really well, there were no complications at all and we were in and out of the hospital in 24 hours. But he was fussy. He was always happy to eat, but then would quickly spit up. While it was troubling, we were assured by others that this sort of behavior wasn’t uncommon. After a few days of this we were getting concerned and brought him to the doctor who weighed him and discovered that Odin had lost almost 20% of his birth weight in 5 days. Some weight loss is normal, but this was something else so he sent us to Legacy Emmanuel hospital. After about 24 hours of profound anxiety, we discovered that there was no connection between Odin’s mouth and his stomach – his throat was simply a dead end pouch. Here, by the way, is only the first indication of God’s hand – how does a newborn survive for five days with no food or water? He should have been dead, or at least suffered some serious problems like kidney failure, but really he was just hungry, dehydrated and mad. (Tough little guy!).

As it turns out, this is not an unheard of condition and there has been a tried and true surgical procedure that doctors have been doing for 70 years, but it involves unzipping the baby like a winter coat and often creates long term problems like scoliosis. But our doctor said, “While I’ve never done it before, I’m pretty sure I could do this through the scope.”...and so he did. With four incisions about the size of rice grains Odin’s esophagus was repaired and he’s spent the last three days recovering and hitting or exceeding every benchmark along the way – so while we aren’t done with this drama, we’re definitely over the hump.

But here’s the thing – the overwhelming experience here hasn’t been fear and anxiety, but rather God’s immediate presence. Before we even knew what was happening I was drawn to Philippians 2:30 which in my pocket Bible reads “...he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.” At the time, I read it as God speaking to me about Odin (not Paul talking to the Philippians about Epaphroditus). The idea that this event would serve to ‘complete’ my service to God really set me down a train of thought that had a lot to do with the work I find myself in these days, particularly BCNW, and how I’ve wound up picking a fight with the enemy in some sense. By reaching out to men and trying to live from my own true heart, I’ve caught the devil’s eye as a soldier who’s popped his head out of the foxhole.

Now I don’t know if Satan reached up and cut my son’s throat in two, but I certainly know how he hovered at my shoulder through all of this, whispering despair and fear and lies of the ‘How can a loving God allow this” variety. And yet, by God’s grace and the perspective I’ve learned these last couple of years, it only served to make his BS more obvious. His line was never attractive, the deception was at no point convincing and I found myself less and less afraid and more and more angry. That this battlefield my son has been born into, this dreadful, bitter conflict that is forced upon every son of Adam, rests squarely on Lucifer’s shoulders.

There was a powerful moment of clarity where his attack was heavy and I was exhausted that I remember some primal, spiritual growl rising in my throat. “Even if you take my son,” I said, “You will not crush me. You will only piss me off and add fuel to my rage against you.”

It’s so very true that a man truly alive is a real threat to the Kingdom of Darkness, and the Devil will strike at us from any place he can. But we do not mourn as those who have no hope. I’ve told many men that the offer presented in Wild at Heart is not an offer of safer, calmer life, but just the opposite. The offer is one of risk – and it’s truly in the furnace that we find the depth of our own strength and that of our sustainer.

Stay the course.
Fight the good fight.
Finish the race.

23 July 2006

On Authority

Remember the bumper sticker “Question Authority”?

It’s not as popular as it once was, but I still see it for sale at Saturday Market, the weekly garage sale under the Morrison Bridge dominated by Rastafarian motifs and hand made “glass ware.” Saturday Market is largely  a collection of ex-hippies, current hippies and wannna-be hippies who sell their crafts to Portlanders with elephant ears and shaved ice. Don’t get me wrong, strolling through the booths is fun and you can find some cool stuff there, but the overarching hippie vibe is pretty hard to miss.

But I was talking about the bumper sticker; more to the point, I was talking about the attitude behind the bumper sticker. In many ways and for many reasons, I’m more and more aware that Americans in general have a problem with authority.

Take for instance the political realm. By and large there is a cynicism about all politicians and all politics. We seem to have an assumption that the only people who would seek to be political leaders do so out of megalomania or a lust for power. As a result, every election becomes an exercise in discerning the lesser of two evils. Likewise, despite the obvious fact that the President (any president) has access to far more information than I do, I’m completely comfortable to second-guess and debase any and every choice he makes. I read evil or stupidity into actions that I am in no position to understand because my model of political authority asserts that they are all corrupt anyway.

Police are in a similar situation. My base model is that policemen use excessive force, unfairly persecute certain people, and are basically jack-booted mercenaries hired by the government that is corrupt as previously demonstrated. Now it’s only the hippies who will generally vocalize the stereotype in those stark terms, but the underlying distrust seems to rest in the minds of most of us.

Teachers, priests, bosses, coaches...it’s all the same. It wasn’t very long ago that if a priest brought your teenage son to your door and said “Mr. Jones, I’m sorry to say that we caught your son doing such-and-such.” that Mr. Jones would absolutely trust the priest’s word and Johnny Jr. would be grounded. But it’s different now. Some of you are or were teachers – what percentage of parents took your word as an authority figure over their snot-nosed 13 year old? It used to be my responsibility to make sure my boss approved of my labor – not hold him hostage to my “expectations “and 5-year plan.

I’m not so naive to think that we don’t have historical basis for being cautious about authority. There are lots of stories about corrupt politicians, cruel cops, and manipulative teachers. So to some degree I believe a willingness to question authority is healthy and essential to American thought. But it feels like we’ve come instead to a point where we don’t question authority – we categorically reject it. We fail even to recognize the existence of legitimate authority, much less the very good and important role it plays in every civilization.

In the church this shows up in several places that at first glace seem inconsequential, or at least within our highly developed sense of ‘rights’. Do we see our pastors as having legitimate spiritual authority over us? Or do we see them instead sort of like salesmen. I’ll attend this church exactly as long as I like and approve of what they are selling. One sermon that makes me squirm, one child-care worker with a crooked smile, and I’ll take my business elsewhere. Does God assign us to a particular body, or do we ‘shop’? Does even God have the authority to make such a decision for me? After all, it’s important that I feel ‘fed.’ And let’s be blunt – if my pastor flat out screws up does that negate or diminish his authority over the body? Over me?

And what about mentorship? I know that mentors and discipleship programs are very popular right now, but how many of those people, either the mentors or the manatee, really see that relationship as having an authoritative component. Again, we’re far more likely to see these in terms of sales and product. I may be willing to listen to your counsel, but only so long as I agree with it, or at least recognize its wisdom. If you dare say “I want you to do such and such” and I’ll go look for another mentor. But that’s a long way from the biblical or historical model of mentorship. It used to be that a teacher was well within their role to beat the unruly student. A recalcitrant student who refused to pay attention or was incorrigible could be dropped without explanation and without recourse. A student in that position was unlikely to find another mentor who would accept him.

The outgrowth of that structure was that a person who wanted to learn something sought a good teacher and truly good teachers were deeply valuable to a community. A potential student knew they were making a serious and enduring commitment to that teacher AS an authority – they were deliberately seeking an authority to be submitted to. Likewise, teachers took their role far more seriously. It truly was a calling and not a job. To take on a student or an apprentice meant that you were willing to accept a large degree of responsibility for that student’s growth and success. The relationship was not one of peers, it was obviously one where the teacher had and exercised explicit authority over the student. In most cases it was vaguely sacred – a relationship that the student’s friends and family deeply respected and declined interference. We’re not so far from this image of authority though that we can’t understand it anymore – just think about Star Wars and the development of Annikan/Darth Vader. Think about Annikan’s moment of commitment to Darth Sidious – it’s a bowing of the knee, a ceremony of submission – he knows exactly what he’s doing and he takes it seriously. (Of course it’s also his prior rejection of authority that gets him here. He thinks he’s better/smarter/more powerful then the Jedis above him so he imagines their intentions to be wicked, mistaking sound judgment as ill intent and seduction as kindness...but that’s another post).

There are really two sides to this topic that I want to explore, but one at a time. The first is this general sense that we have come to a place where all authority is subject to our evaluation and approval and how this state of thinking seems increasingly bad to me. But it’s bad in a subtle way – hard to really put my finger on (hence the wandering of this post). And I realize that I’m simply a child of this generation in that there are precious few (if any) men who I would actually submit to based on a sense of their spiritual authority. But that seems wrong to me – I’ve missed something important, something that Jesus wants in my life that I’m only just know even recognizing as valuable. And while the implications for my faith are what are really driving this topic in my head, the social implications loom large. If we loose all confidence in our government and our social institutions – if all authority figures are stripped of the very essence of authority – society has to devolve. If we refuse to submit to and support the authorities we ourselves elect, then what remains is the illegitimate authority that gets forced upon us. Without a conscious decision to create and maintain government...social contract anyone...we’re right back to a ‘might makes right’ kind of situation.

I guess at the heart of this post I’m recognizing that I’m too selfish and too independent. Seeking a mentor requires a bit of humility on my part as well as a recognition of a person who at least in some way is better than me. Similarly, it reaches out to that person and seeks to build a community bond. Without question, that act of submission is solid practice to submitting to God – but more importantly, it’s when I submit to God that I should be willing to submit to others – specifically the authority figures God places in my life. I shouldn’t be giving to Caesar only out of fear of the sword, nor a sense of bitter obligation – I should obey because it’s right, and it’s good for me.

I reckon I’m looking for a new bumper sticker, because it seems there is a message that we really need to ponder at length.

“Recognize Authority”

03 July 2006

Which Way Europe?

Please see:
And “Of Paradise and Power”

One of the foundations of Cold War Europe was an American military presence large enough to make the threat of American retaliation to a Soviet attack believable. In other words, there had to be enough soldiers there so that if they were killed – we’d be pissed enough to start and finish another world war. By the time I was growing up in the 80's and was first becoming aware of geo-politics it was a matter of dogma that World War III would be fought between NATO and Warsaw Pact forces in Europe. NATO was best understood as US forces with a handful of German and British support units. Warsaw Pact forces were Russians...just Russians. To put a finer point on it, we had this euphemism that pitted the "East" against the "West" and imagined a "World War" but what we all really meant was that The United States and Russia would fight, but not on either's home turf. Even "The Soviet Union" was a kind of distortion of reality since the other union members weren't there willingly, and would not willingly participate materially. So for about 50 years Europe, both east and west, lived under the shadow/umbrella of the two superpowers and was like a kid caught in the middle of a divorce and bitter custody battle; with both parents so caught up in defending their stuff that the child just becomes another extension of their warring egos. It’s funny how well that metaphor anticipates the end. One day, one of the parents ran out of money...and dropped their case. The Berlin Wall came down and the Cold War was over.

But with no need to fight over or defend Europe, the United States wasn’t quite sure what to do with the ‘prize.’  It seems that Bill Clinton’s ‘Peace Dividend’ was our way of saying “The danger is over now. You guys can stand on your own two feet now. Have fun.” The aside to the audience would have read something like, “I’m glad that burden is off my shoulders. I’m going to go over here now and look for something more fun to do.” Then in the mid 90's, Europe had a problem in its own back yard - Kosovo. In time, after much debate, they decided that military intervention was needed. But even in this "European" enterprise, a relatively meager distance from France, Germany and England - something like 70% of the equipment and personnel used in that campaign were American. In all those years under our wings, the entire continent had forgotten how to fight for for themselves. More specifically, their militaries had atrophied to almost nothing in both hardware and know-how. The main training mantra in all those years had become “When the going gets tough, call the Yankees.”

If you’ll remember, when we were building up to the war in Iraq, there was this big fuss because the US felt that our European allies weren't stepping up when we needed their support. Many Americans felt as if these nations owed us a degree of deference and loyalty because of all the years we had risked our own blood and treasure to defend them. I was one of them. But since then, I’ve come to think differently. I realize that the use of military force is not a realistic option for Europe. Of course they're reluctant to fight, because their capacity to fight is so limited. Conversely, our capacity to fight, more specifically our remarkable capacity to win with increasingly small loss of life and property, has made the use of force a rather attractive option for the United States (perhaps too attractive, but I’m not at all certain of that conclusion). Please don't misunderstand - the loss of almost 2500 American lives in Iraq is in no way being trivialized, but when one considers that more soldiers were lost in a single training exercise for D-Day, to say nothing of the lives lost in that single battle, it's hard not to notice that the risks are much smaller than they used to be, at least for the US. (the guilt associated with that preeminence is another topic I’d love to explore, but not here.)

Where the US is emboldened by our success, Europe has been weakened by their dependence. We weren’t their ally, we were their protector, and it weakened them. Not just in the number of tanks and jets, but in their hearts. All that time spoke one message loud and clear – you are incapable of defending yourself. And the mission in Kosovo must have driven that point home even deeper. And so now, trying to find some hook to hang their pride on, the leaders of Europe look to their seats on the UN Security Council as the one place where formerly great nations still wield real power. They resent the US for our pride, our success and the help we gave them starting with the Marshall Plan. It’s odd to look at W@H as a template to understand politics but I have to say...the shoe really fits here. The template of the wound and the vow and the false self – it all goes a very long way to understanding Europe in the double-oughts.

What happened to Europe over the last 100 years? At the beginning of the 1900’s Europe as a whole was ascendant. Internal bickering aside, the continent led the world by a large margin in economics, politics, military might, intellectual thought, etc. etc. But then it’s as if they just self-destructed from the inside out. These two events we call the World Wars really weren’t world wars at all – but by centering on Europe they affected the entire world. What caused them to eventually combust? Pride at what they’d accomplished? Guilt over colonial sins? I don’t really have an answer here, I’m just wondering. While we don’t generally look at the last century as having a unit called “Europe” it certainly applies to some degree. The amount of intellectual, cultural, and economic interchange has made Europe a distinct and coherent thing since Roman times.

So today, with an obviously atrophied military they continue to desire a seat with superpower status (see: UN Security Council) even when the term ‘superpower’ is almost defined by military power. Similarly, they want to have a world court, a single currency, a grand unifying constitution, etc. etc. It's like there is this vision of something bigger in Europe, something that would empower Europe with real relevance and vitality...but they can't quite seem to get it done. It's almost like the overweight, spoiled kid of a rich dad who earned his fortune by hard work. The kid has seen big ideas work but has had everything handed to him for so long that he doesn't know how to balance his admittedly beefy checkbook.

As the Cold War recedes farther into the past, and as the US draws away, most likely to face the rapid and exciting changes in Asia, Europe is getting acquainted with some harder realities that it's been largely insulated from over the previous 50 years. They're finding that the world is a lot more competitive these days. They're finding that without  a common enemy, they have a lot of old animosity between them that hasn't been settled. They're finding that a military costs money and requires support if it's going to ever figure as a factor in international politics. It must seem like a cold bucket of water in the face after the Cold War, where they were able to live in a sort of Kantian paradise and the bills were always paid by somebody else - us.

There is another aspect here that I’m at a loss to account for, but must be important – the fact that Europe now sees itself as Post-Christian. I guess as I say that I must conclude that this matter is in fact MORE important than the economic, political or military aspects of Europe’s path. The truth is that I haven’t done my homework and I have no sense of where or when Europe’s faith started its nosedive. But in my (unverified) image of 1901 Europe - it sure looks as if Christianity was still alive and well at that time. It seems that it only fell apart in the next 100 years. Was it less? Was Europe still Christian in 1950? My gut tells me that the death knell of European Christianity was World War I. The brutal futility of trench warfare, the appearance of mustard gas, the helplessness with which nation after nation was drawn into a conflict by force of treaties that were intricately designed to prevent war.

Perhaps it largely comes down to modernity.

20th century Europe was built on the foundation of modernity. It’s rise to power hinged on technological advances, the promise of progress and an abiding faith in man’s ability to better himself. It was the Enlightenment and humanism and the Age of Reason. For the most part modernity had no problem with Christianity. Sure there were tensions like that mess with Galileo and the Pope, but the bulk of Enlightenment movers and shakers were at least deists. Still, at some point that would be hard to define, a belief in human potential became a belief in human independence and God became at first distant, then disinterested, then dead. Christian faith went from pivotal, to parochial, to problematic. It was The Enlightenment Unchecked that brought us mustard gas and machine guns and coal soot so thick it changed the color of the peppered moth. And as 1917 closed, standing atop its massive cathedrals and looking over their profound ability to slaughter one another by the hundreds of thousands Europe must have wondered, Where is God in all of this? But it was then, like in Forest Gump – that God showed up. Out of nowhere rose the Spanish flu, and the world witnessed death on a scale not seen since the plague. Millions of dead in a single year and all of man’s great potential and power was unable to cause or prevent it. The Enlightenment had failed. Its premise was demonstrated to be false by its own methods.

When modernity lost its connection to God, it essentially lost its anchor to reality and to life. At that point, its eventual decline into morbidity was inevitable. Look, I’m not one of those guys who thinks that all of modernity was bad, but cut free from Heaven and Hell it was just another Tower of Babel. The root problem that Postmodernism seeks to grapple with is a world where nothing means anything, all symbols are referential, and all truth is relative. When people say that Europe is Post-Christian they are recognizing and opposing one fact – that Europe was built on Christianity for the previous 1600 years. But they are forgetting or ignoring a much more germane point – that Europe worked hard to break free of Christianity in the most recent 100 or so years, and most of the pain and misery at issue came after that break, not before.

There’s a saying that great civilizations fall from within, they are not conquered from without. It’s as if somewhere in the mix of the two world wars and the rise of Communism that Europe grew somehow disgusted with itself at some level and it balked at the future. The US, I suspect, could not have risen to power as it did unless the European powers invited or allowed it.  In a way, WWI, WWII and the Cold War are the stories of Europe needing to be saved from itself. Like we interfered in great acts of self immolation...and perhaps Europe resents that like a jumper who’s violently yanked from the precipice. To that degree, America’s continuing Christianity perhaps  seems  offensive – they are the cynics who bark at the optimists – “Grow up!”

Boy, this post started in one direction, veered sharply to one side and now drifts slowly into a third...sorry for the rambling.

But I started with a thought on Europe’s future. Let me make something clear - I'm not sassing Europe in this post. I'm just describing what I see. I think Europe is at a crossroads and I'm curious to see which way they go. On the current course, I think they are most likely headed toward a ‘remember the glory days’ kind of stagnation and eventually irrelevance - BUT...I also think that they'll change. While Postmodernism could be described as a rejection of truth, it could also be seen as a (albeit cynical) search for truth...and in that case they will find it. There is a tremendous spiritual hunger out there. At least twice in this post I’ve likened Europe to a child and I think that’s accurate in many ways. On the point of religion I see Europe in a kind of teen-age rebellion, throwing down their parent’s faith in defiance of what they see as hypocrisy and foolishness. But teenagers grow up when they get kicked out of the house. What makes sense from your upstairs bedroom doesn’t wash in your own apartment. I suspect that even now, the regular folks in Europe are sniffing around the edges of Christianity and finding that it is not the same as modernity, it just has something to say about it. Nor is it imperialism or socialism or capitalism – or any of the other things that turned out to be false idols. I suspect it’s at that point when the deep laid seeds of European Christianity will start to bloom again.

22 June 2006


So for the last 3 weeks I’ve been heading up a small group of men and we’re going through the Wild at Heart DVD series. It’s a structured way to get fellows who aren’t familiar with the book to get introduced to the concepts and start talking about it. In a way, it’s a mini-bootcamp on more comfortable ground like somebody’s house or church.

Anyway, this week’s topic: The Wound.

In W@H-Speak, The Wound is essentially a denial of our Question. For men, the Question is “Do I have what it takes?” and The Wound is something, or a pattern of things, that says - “No. You don’t.”

While we usually talk about “The Wound” as if it’s a singular thing, but we find out over time that in fact we take many wounds in life, some bigger and more traumatic than others. The first wound we might identify through this process may only be the most obvious, or the most recent. These wounds are important to identify because they can shape us in ways that we are unaware of. But without getting into the whole wound thing here, allow me to just say that this has been a very important theme for me in this trip, particularly the wound that said “To be yourself will mean hurting the people you love.” Exploring the contours of that wound and its effect on my life has been really quite revealing but I also felt like I had a handle on the whole thing.

Flashback to a couple of weeks ago. I was having a discussion with a young woman on the same topic – the wound. In her youth she had had an abortion and we were looking at things in her life that had wounded her, but the abortion seemed conspicuously absent from her list of formative events. “Here is arguably the single most morally weighty event in your entire life. Since then you’ve heard people indirectly (it’s a secret) call you a monster, heartless, and a murderer. And yet in a discussion about emotionally and psychologically charged events in your past, this doesn’t even make the top 20. Does that seem odd to you?”

Flash forward to our W@H group. The cute little “facilitators guide” says that I should read the following:

“For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me up...ahhh shit.” - Psalm 27:10 (NAS/Vulgarian)

As soon as I read the verse I knew what was coming down the pipe and I wasn’t entirely happy about it. Luckily the guys in the group weren’t totally thrown by my extemporaneous commentary, ahem.

For anybody who doesn’t know, I was adopted when I was just a wee nugget. In fact the whole thing was arranged and notarized before I was even born. As soon as I was old enough to understand, my adoptive folks told me all about it. There was no shocking discovery of the papers one day or anything like that. I’ve known I was adopted for as long as I can remember and I has never mattered at all to me. Not one bit. Though my father and mother have forsaken me...but in a discussion about emotionally and psychologically charged events in my past, this doesn’t even make the top 20. Does that seem odd to you?

The truth is, I don’t know where this will go. I still don’t have any particularly defined feelings on the matter one way or the other, but I’m pretty sure that’s where Jesus and I will be traveling soon. I don’t know if this is a little firecracker land-mine or that kind of totally repressed, poison the well, subsurface hydrogen bomb kind of thing. And I guess it’s OK with me either way. Jesus has got me this far and he’ll be with me for this trip as well. I trust him. If that’s where he says we go next – I’m going.

The way W@H suggests we approach these wounds is this: over time God will cause certain events to jar our memory of a wound. A bad day at work might remind of that time your dad said you were worthless for example. We pay attention to our hearts and when we see it reacting to a circumstance or an event that seems disproportionate, we want to look under the hood. Why is this movie making we cry? Why did I snap at that waitress? When we suspect that God is rocking our boat, the trick is to accept it as an invitation.
“Dear Lord – so you want to talk about that? OK. Come on in and let’s see what happens.”
It’s here that Christ can heal these wounds...when we let him.

So I’ve done the RSVP thing here and I’m waiting to see what happens next. I suspect I’ll eventually talk about it all here but that will likely be a while. It seems these wounds need time to digest – time to process. But I ‘preciate the prayers of you folks who read this. We’re in for a bumpy ride.

09 June 2006

Recent email thread...

I thought this was worth sharing since it opens up a common question/concern regarding Wild at Heart. The original writer is responding to the first session of the Wild at Heart DVD series that I recently started.

Hi Chris,

I came from Monday very enthused, especially to search the Word to see what is true.  My school with the Assemblies was appropriately enough called the Berean School of the Bible.  I went home to search the Word with the specific masculine aspects of God in mind.

I have come away, once again, in awe of Him.  I am unable to find anything regarding masculinity or maleness in regards to God, with the notable exception of God the Father.  (He also created them in His image, male and female he created them.  That is an interesting but singular verse.)   I am currently involved in a study to learn more about that, in fact that journey has been ongoing throughout my life and recently has come to the front burner again.  I find it very comforting that the various names of God in the Hebrew, Jehovah Nissi, Adoni, etc, the one He refers to Himself by the most is.....Father.

I am keenly aware of the boundaries set at the outset of the group, and do not wish to push them specifically concerning the teaching of doctrine.   If it would prove useful and seem appropriate as well as Spirit led, perhaps we could explore for a time the Fatherhood of God, since that seems to be closest to His heart in describing Himself and His masculinity.  I am with Matt, if manhood is galloping around on horses in Colorado, shooting live bears (or desert rats) hoo-ra Navy Seal stuff that does not resonate with me.  As you said, one of your friends is an engineer and he likes to go around and measuring things.  I have friends as well who feel this same way.

The Fatherhood of God, or God the Father, is something that does resonate.  The Hebrew father had a lot to do with his sons, particularly the oldest one.  The oldest one inherited everything, or most of it, not because of some archaic custom but because there was no social security and the eldest son had the responsibility to care for the aging parents.  What if mom  and dad did not have much stuff?  Tough luck, still had to take care of them.  So the father was very concerned with coping skills, survival skills, business skills, marriage partner, etc.  You  simply had to be successful or everything fell apart in the patriarchal times.  I have much more to say, hence the preacher in me, but will leave it alone.

Thank you also for your warm encouragement for me to attend.  I know I can at times be a handful, not everyone is comfortable with me when I show up, and you have made it very easy to wish to come.  I do know how to submit myself to authority, so any decision on the direction of the group will be solely at your discretion.

Hi M,

I appreciate the homework – way to go Berean!

For the purpose of the Monday night thing, I think I’ll just be sticking with the series for now. Not with the expectation that everyone will or should buy Eldredge's position lock, stock, and barrel, but rather just to let him finish his thought. The folks who come can either take it or leave it, but I’ve made a commitment to facilitate this material faithfully and I reckon I ought to let the DVDs run their course.

That said, I’d love to continue the conversation with you on these topics – perhaps between sessions. My own story is one where I was intrigued by the W@H material when I first encountered it, but had my own reservations. But over time, as I’ve grappled with the topics and brought my concerns before God and other men who’ve been working with W@H, I’ve basically come to believe it more and more as opposed to less and less.

I would point out that Eldredge doesn’t really say that God is particularly ‘male’ or ‘masculine’, but rather that human men embody certain aspects of God and by definition those aspects are identified as ‘masculine.’  He’s not making a point about God nearly as much as he’s making a point about us. And it’s meant specifically as an answer to the message of the sexual revolution and radical feminism which wants to claim that human men and women are essentially identical except for their jiggly parts.

The purpose of drawing attention to some of God’s ‘masculine’ attributes isn’t to suggest that God is a man, but rather to give men the opportunity to see some of their deepest heart-desires reflected in God. In essence, the help men recognize God’s image in themselves. Again, it’s meant as an answer to an image of Jesus that has been profoundly feminized. We tend to focus almost exclusively on Christ’s compassion and never his wrath. We always see the guy with a lamb on his shoulders but never the guy with a sword in his hand.

And it’s important to point out that Eldredge never suggests that women aren’t equally image bearers of God – but AS women. The more characteristically ‘feminine’ qualities of God are just as real, just as deep, just as important. If you’re interested in Eldredge's vision of women, read Captivating.

Anyway – let’s talk more. This is a rich topic. I’m a fan of Aldridge's material but I’m not a groupie. :) I’m happy to discuss this stuff and listen to contrary points.

30 May 2006

Raven and Emerald

I met her for the first time in high school, in the hallway outside J1 with bright, spring sunlight in the sky – a girl with long, curly black hair and giant green eyes – raven and emerald. I was dating her best friend who had long, curly blonde hair and cornflower blue for eyes – sand and sky. Before I had even heard the brunette's name I said to myself “That’s the girl I want to marry.” And at that moment I became an adulterer.

I say adulterer, but it was never about skin, never about lust. My affair with the brunette was always a matter of the mind. That semantic distinction, the fact that we didn’t kiss, tricked me into thinking that I wasn’t doing anything wrong. It allowed me an intellectual sleight-of-hand to keep my sense of morality in check. I wasn’t being unfaithful to anyone – we were “just friends” after all. Nor was I lusting for her in my heart, so I could even sidestep Christ’s pointed words. True enough, the brunette was lovely, but that was never what I was driven by. Regardless of the reason though, I gave her a piece of my heart, a part of myself, the part that housed my hope for the future, and as such, I couldn’t give that part to anybody else. For instance, not to the blonde who I was dating, and who introduced us, a woman who remains perhaps the sweetest, kindest, most gentle hearted women I’ve ever known, and it was to her that I was probably the most cruel in all of this. But my cruelty, my folly, by no means stopped with her.

Our affair started with a few clever remarks. A quick turn of phrase lead to a witty riposte which was met with a combined literary reference / double entendre. “Here’s a smart one.” I thought, which was attractive because I was young enough to think myself smart. She’s a ‘good Catholic girl’, but still somehow worldly, seductive. That too was attractive because we smart people can’t be too constrained by religious shackles, and yet solid character is important – so long as it doesn’t get in the way. Don’t ask, “In the way of what?” because we clever people don’t need to ask such boorish questions, we just know. We wink and nudge and pass knowing grins as if we’re in on the joke when in fact we’re constantly hoping that the other smart people will let slip some telling detail that will finally reveal what it is we’re all actually winking and nudging about. That was also the brunette’s most mighty charm, an ability to make you feel as if she were letting you in on a secret, like she was telling you something, or sharing something that she had never shared with anybody else. Without needing to really say anything tangible, she made me feel like I was special to her.

Without question, that sort of coy, inscrutable posturing was absolutely representative of our entire relationship: mile upon mile, page upon page, year upon year of things that were never said, only implied, and all the insecurity and confusion that kind of thing produces. I, for example, couldn’t risk saying anything that might expose my vulnerability, or my intentions, or anything too personal. That too was part of the game, not just her being suggestive, but my ability to keep pace with my own suggestions.. I wasn’t able or allowed to actually say that I wished there was more to our relationship. Oh, it was acceptable to vaguely talk about romantic possibilities between us, but never to come right out and say it. So we built our friendship on this pattern of not communicating, not saying what was deepest or truest in our hearts, at least not about ourselves or each other. In one way, it created a sort of mystery that added excitement to our relationship. Looking forward to seeing her, I would hope for the off chance that her tongue would be unguarded and she might ‘accidentally’ tell me that she loved me too. I groaned and fretted over whether or not I should contrive to ‘accidentally’ say that sort of thing myself. In time, that escalated to involve alcohol. We would drink and I would look for opportunities to do or say something that I couldn’t bring myself to do or say sober., just to reach out to her in some way. At times, that would lead to a ‘meaningful look’ or some slurred confession of possible interest. But in the morning, it couldn’t stick. I was drunk after all, so clearly nothing I said or did was ‘real’ nor did it need to be dealt with, and so the game continued. I think we even called it that for a while – the game. The regular dance of implication and innuendo, it was like a game of chicken really. Who could get closest to saying “Please, please, please stop this.” without actually saying it, without admitting that the game, in fact, hurt. It’s true that in the beginning it just seemed a matter of bad timing. We were never single at the same time, so we remained friends. But in time, that excuse wore thin and yet we still stayed that step apart.

What was really in my heart all those years, what I was totally unwilling to admit to her or my girlfriends (who were not her) and not even to myself was that I was powerfully hung up on that woman. In one way, to say I was in love with her seems the appropriate description, but in another way it seems inaccurate. So much of her had to be read between the lines that it’s difficult to say what I truly knew and what I only projected. Since the game was built on suggestion instead of communication, it’s impossible to really say or guess how much was real and how much was simply misinterpreted or hoped at. There again is that word – hope. I think that’s the crux of it. For better or for worse, I vested my hope in her, in having her, and that hope saw only what it wanted and little of what it should. The Word says that hope deferred makes a heart bitter and that was very true for me. The longer I went, the more frustrated I became. I hoped – for many years – that she would see through my constant hinting and cut through it all, taking the risk to simply say “Me too.” But in fairness, I was so twisted up in the game that I probably would have played her candor off as just another feint. I certainly know that there were times where I said something or other and thought that I couldn’t have been plainer, only to have my gut-wrenching confession treated like I was obviously joking. Who knows how many times she may have bared her own soul, taken that risk, and I missed it, or laughed, or couldn’t believe what I was hearing...so I didn’t.

One bitter outgrowth of all that is that I was an asshole to the various women I dated in those years. I was the classic “physically present, emotionally absent” man. As I said, the brunette had a part of my heart that I was unable to share with anybody else. Now I don’t mean to say that I was deliberately deceitful, nor consciously unfaithful. My mental sleight-of-hand had fooled me as well. At my clearest moments, I might have recognized that there was something broken in me, but I doubt I could have laid my finger upon it. At least one girlfriend was perceptive enough to know exactly what my problem was, and she pointed it out. “It’s that brunette.” she would say. “No, no, no. It can’t be. We’re just good friends.” These women, at least so far as I know, were at least in earnest about their desire to pursue a relationship, even to consider marriage. But I was unable to do the same in return. I wanted to go there – I really did. There was a big part of me that truly wanted to make a relationship work and I had plenty of “What the hell is wrong with me!” rants.

In truth, I owe each of them an apology. If I had been honest with myself I would have known that I wasn’t able to see that kind of relationship though. I was entering into an agreement that I couldn’t keep and I caused a lot of pain and misery with my double-mindedness. And breakups in those years were bloody, ragged, awful things that dragged on for weeks or months, or even years. Half of me knew it couldn’t work because of the brunette and the other half absolutely resented the fact. I was like my own hung jury, totally unable to decide my own fate, so justice and fairness get trampled under.

If, by chance, any of you read this – I’m truly sorry for the grief I know I caused you, particularly you sand-and-sky. It’s taken me these years, and this distance, and God’s gentle hand to help me understand how badly I mistreated you, each of you. I hope you know that it was never my intention to hurt anybody, but I certainly hurt people all the same. This all comes too late of course, but at least one of you gets to say “I told you so.”... and it would be out of character if you didn’t rub my nose in it...as a sister in Christ of course...

What was happening for all those years, was I was waiting for the brunette. I was waiting for her to make a move that it seems I couldn’t. At the time, I wouldn’t have said “couldn’t.” Instead, I would have said that I wouldn’t, and I’d have said that it was out of respect for the brunette. That to pursue her would have been to impose upon her, and that wouldn’t be fair. But in fact I was just chicken shit. The risk of rejection was profound and each passing year only made it more so. You see, I was also bringing my biggest Question to her - “Do I have what it takes?” In this case, “Do I have what it takes to earn your love?” And what I heard her say was “No. Not quite.” It wasn’t enough that sand-and-sky or girl-in-boots were happy to answer my question in the affirmative because I wasn’t asking them. I shouldn’t have been asking any of them that question, but the fact remains that I was, and the brunette’s answer, or the fear of it anyway, locked me into a loop I couldn’t break out of. A simple ‘No’ would have been easier to deal with. At least then I could move on, but instead it was more like an ‘almost’ which only made me want to bridge that last gap. I paid rapt attention to the things she said about her boyfriends (she too was dating, but not marrying). What was good, what was bad, and I tried very much to mold myself to that expectation, hoping that I could turn an ‘almost’ into a ‘yes.’

I realize that up to now it must seem as if my relationship with the brunette was this tortured thing full of miscommunication and unmet expectations, but that isn’t it at all. Despite this recognition of where things went wrong, that friendship was rich beyond measure. We talked about everything, share big ideas and small details, dream, and ponder, and laugh at most everything, including ourselves. There was a self-consciousness about the warped love/friend thing we had wrought, and it was a frequent topic of discussion – we just didn’t know what to do about it. In many, many ways that friendship was, and remains, unique in my experience. The fact that we weren’t physical meant we engaged in other ways that might otherwise have been neglected. We told stories, we completed one another’s sentences, we had more private jokes than public jokes. Plenty of times we were mistaken for a long-married couple by folks who didn’t know us, and we could sit for hours saying nothing at all without a hint of discomfort. And by herself she was a remarkable woman. Bold in a way that was inspiring, extremely bright with a razor wit, loyal to the point of recklessness and her entire family was a tableau of feminine archetypes, not counting Dad of course. She was a woman of tightly help principles and vivid idealism. So it’s not for nothing that my heart was divided. I remember concluding at one point that if things were to only remain as they were, with never a kiss between us, that would be enough. I felt that I could be content to have this good a person, this good a friend and forego a wife.

But in the end, that was untrue. The root of my consternation was the fact that ‘friends’ seemed short of what we could be. If for some reason a deeper relationship simply weren’t possible, if one of us were married say, I would have been OK with ‘friends.’ But there wasn’t anything like that in the way. I think I also could have done without sex if for some reason that were the price to be together, like I said, it really was never about lust. What was too much for me to bear was the uneasy knowledge that eventually one of us would go away to marry somebody else, that I would lose her not by choice, but by the slow, simple wearing of time.

In those ten years between J1 and GFU, life happened. We trudged through the punishments and disappointments the world offered us, including those we made for ourselves, and this special thing we had, our intimate friendship, seemed more and more precious, more and more fragile. And so it was that our friendship sort of fossilized. It became a thing to put high up on a shelf above the reach of grabbing hands and in time we weren’t really willing to even look too closely at it ourselves for fear of breaking it. It’s hard for me to see how those years changed me since I’m too close to it, but I saw how they seemed to change her. I suspect those perceptions were as much my own, my perspective shifting, as her actually evolving. But I remember realizing that we had moved from optimism, through sarcasm, and into cynicism. Her eyes were no longer emerald, but jade. I was growing in bitterness toward our perceived unwillingness to really talk about the elephant in the room. Oddly enough though, even that seemed somehow to draw us closer in some ways. It was as if we were soldiers who kept surviving battles that we shouldn’t have and even the steel that was settling into our gaze was a thing we shared. Increasingly battered by life, continually rejecting perhaps the one relationship we actually believed in, it was like we congratulated one another, and respected one another for still living, but never really admitting or mourning the loss.

Along the way, I remember a girl I met while in the Navy named Melissa and the Dear John letter she wrote while I was at sea. By the time I was stateside again she was getting married and had invited me to come – I asked the brunette to be my date, like I had to a dozen other weddings. Driving to San Diego I had my one and only proper panic attack. I was driving toward one broken heart with the biggest of all my broken hearts in the seat beside me. The irony of it all was so overwhelming that I started balling hysterically...not a good idea at 70mph. So instead I flipped the car around and tore ass to Palm Springs where I drank a lot of sake. Sitting there next to the brunette, freaking out about Melissa – another botched relationship – there came this crystal vision of the life I was in, and it seemed like some kind of Victorian love tragedy.

No doubt, the brunette had her own Questions. If she were asking me “Am I worth fighting for?” my stupid answer was “Um....I don’t really know how to do that.” She went through a nasty car accident with a drunk driver that nearly took her life and scarred her face. If her question was “Am I lovely?”, I wonder how often she looked in the mirror and answered that question for herself – perhaps unable to hear from me or anybody else that her beauty wasn’t diminished in the least. I know that I was not the only boy to give her a piece of my heart. I know that I’m not the only boy who thought I was special to her. But regardless, and even now, even after the part of the story I haven’t told yet, I still believe that what we had was important to her – different. But that said, this isn’t her story, it’s mine. I couldn’t tell her story if I wanted to, nor would I if I knew every twist and turn. I’m just thinking about the ways in which I failed to understand her and the ways in which I mishandled her heart, and her questions. For all that my devotion to this woman cost me, you would think I would have been more deliberate, when in fact it was probably the relationship in which I was the most reckless. I operated on some foolish notion that it would simply ‘work’ if it were supposed to almost regardless of what I did or did not do. I was always thinking about the brunette, but I rarely considered her – how she felt, how something I did might effect her. For crying out loud, now that I’m talking about it, I’m not even sure that I ever really thought about how I might win her. Instead I just wanted it to snap smoothly into place when all the stars were right – so I see that I was an assshole to her as well...figures.

I should point out, in the spirit of full disclosure, that I did in fact kiss her once. There was a brief moment, about 96 hours, where we tried on the boyfriend/girlfriend clothes. One day I said something like “I can’t do this anymore. I need to know we’re going to at least try and make this work or I need to walk away before I go mad.”, after some thought she gave in. You see, I pushed her. I made her choose between the unthinkable and the unbearable and I regretted it almost immediately – I couldn’t stand the fact that I had forced the issue like that in a season of weakness and I took it back as soon as I could, where things went back to almost normal.

It’s funny though, it was also in that moment when I was most honest with her and myself. It really was driving me absolutely crazy – to not be with someone you love sucks, but to be WITH someone you love and can’t have, that’s torture. So in my fit, what escaped was my true desire, and it scared me. Also I wonder if that moment didn’t reveal her hand as well. After all, she did decide to give it a shot. She could have said “No.” but instead she was willing to take a big personal risk rather than loose me entirely. The shitty thing wasn’t for me to force the issue – the shitty thing was to snatch it back and try to act like it never happened. To treat her risk, a risk she took for my sake, as if it were nothing. God I hate myself sometimes.

Really, I don’t know that things ever quite recovered after that. I’d broken it.

Bly talks about the Golden Haired Woman who haunts the dreams of every man. She’s the archetype of beauty and femininity but only so long as she remains in the distance. Once a man is close to her, once she gives him what he asks of her, she becomes only another girl and the hollow man suddenly finds that the Golden Haired Woman is again to be seen on the horizon. Lather, rinse, repeat. Eldredge talks about Eve in a similar manner. That Eve will paradoxically remain unattainable so long as we seek after her. Instead, we must seek after God and in so doing we find Eve – our Ezer Kenegdo.

In the midst of all this, sometime around 1994, I guess I got religion. My faith in Christ was ignited and the slow process of adjusting to a new reality started. In 1997 I left SoCal for George Fox University. I left behind another muddied, wounded girlfriend. At least with her I think I said something along the lines of “Hey, I’m kinda screwed up in the heart department so, ya know, caveat emptor.” I don’t think she really heard it, or chose not to, but I guess I felt like I had covered my bases. Regardless, when I got my acceptance letter from GFU, and started packing, I heard God say, “You’ll meet your wife there. She’s a redhead.”

For the first year, I didn’t date anybody. Truth is, I was having a lot of second thoughts about girl-in-boots. I was sick to my stomach about how I couldn’t get this girlfriend thing right and I was approaching the point where I just wanted to get off the frakking roller-coaster already. So that year by myself was really good for me. I had a lot of time to think and pray and I was building a life in Oregon that lacked any of the baggage from SoCal – it was a clean start in a lot of ways that I needed. Of course I was keeping one eye out for any redheads and I still had the other eye on the brunette in SanFran. She was dating somebody and it seemed pretty serious, so I’m sure some part of me was trying to get to a safe distance where a wedding announcement wouldn’t kill me.

Then I went to Kenya for a semester.

Kenya is far, far away from everything familiar, and I mean EVERYTHING. It was under African skies, where Scorpio looms over your night and jackals bark where you were used to coyotes, that God started unpacking my baggage. I only realized it years later, but I started a journal on that trip and page after page after excruciating page was about women. About how I saw them, how I saw my past relationships, how I was so deeply confused about what I wanted and what I wanted to want. In those four months my journal probably heard about every female I had known: my mother, my hot 4th grade teacher, the gravel-voiced, sad-eyed actress all the way up to another brunette I met at Daystar. Let’s call her Blue for the sake of clarity.

Blue and the Brunette had the same first name, though neither of them used it. They had the same middle name, they had the same last initial. They had the same kind of eyes (except Blue’s were... well...blue), almost the same hair, and the same size and build. Not only did we have a lot of things in common, we had the SAME things in common as I had with the brunette. Listen to me – not the same kinds of things, the exact same things. As the two of us talked over milky chai it was really quite surreal. The parallel details went on and on and on, and on both sides. For every detail in which Blue was like the brunette, I was like a lifelong friend Blue had back home. We sang the same obscure folks songs, quoted the same silly movies. At times, the details would shuffle a bit, but they were always there. Blue’s older sister wanted to grow up to be a fire engine. The brunette’s younger sister wanted to be a fire engine  – I’m telling you it was absolutely bizarre and we both stared at each other in open-mouthed disbelief. Looking at her was like looking back into the past, to what the brunette was when we met, or what she might still have been if life hadn’t happened. I say that because Blue was about 10 years younger and still innocent in a lot of ways. There were no broken hearts, or drunk drivers, or pregnancy scares in her life.

Meeting Blue – 10,000 miles from home – just about cracked me. It was so very bittersweet. It was almost like a second chance, and yet, there was no chance. Sure, in four months we wouldn’t be 10,000 apart, but we would still be 1,000 miles apart. Plus, she had a boyfriend cum fiancée and she wasn’t damaged goods like I was. I knew that Blue did not honestly represent a potential wife, but she had to represent something. It wasn’t possible that this nearly perfect copy of the woman who haunted my life was here, on the other side of the world, in a tiny University out in the Kenyan bush, by accident. The only thing that quite makes sense to me is that she was an image of something I had just about forgotten – how good and wonderful a person the brunette really was. By that time you see I was disillusioned and part of me was angry with the brunette for not choosing me. Of course it was totally unfair to her, but it was dawning on me how much I had sacrificed on her alter and I had nothing to show for it. The recognition of my own role in that transaction hadn’t yet arrived...

As I journaled page after page, telling my story to myself as God dictated, Blue reminded me of why I had been so smitten by the brunette in the first place. And at the same time, it was made painfully clear how much I needed to let both of them go. Please understand, I couldn’t have formed that last sentence at the time – it’s an idea that’s taken an additional few years to germinate, but I can see now that my time in Kenya was an emotional detox in preparation for meeting Rebekah. That’s where I got all my crying and screaming and mourning out – stuff I’d failed to do before.

Across a dirt road from the University was a sprawl of 10 x 10 plywood rooms called Hostel B. It was a maze of dead-end alleys and random clothes lines where the less affluent students lived while they studied. A few of us Americans, including Blue and I, had made a friend in Hostel B and we often sat in his box making avocado and butter sandwiches. In the last days at Daystar, I was wearing an Indigo Girls concert shirt that the brunette had given to me as a gift a few years before. It seems sort of silly, but that shirt was pretty symbolic to me at the time. You see I was supposed to have been at the concert with her, but I missed her...because of miscommunication...and all I got was this lousy tee-short. You see the joke right? Anyway, Blue and I and Tony and Gump were down in Hostel B killing time when a fire broke out. In the next fifteen minutes, all 60-odd units burn to the ground. I’m kicking down doors looking if anybody is asleep, trying to rescue important belongings from rooms that aren’t totally engulfed in flame and a family history with fire-fighting puts me somehow in a place to help lead the flying squad. 15 minutes and a million things happened, including my Indigo Girls shirt being ruined. Completely saturated in smoke, peppered with pinhole burns from falling embers, and Emily’s face welded into several kaleidoscope blobs...it’s no longer really suitable for the public.

Was that fire auspicious in some way? An omen of what was about to happen? - I don’t know. In fact, the story and its parallels have only just now occurred to me, but it certainly seems prophetic in hindsight.

Two things happened when I returned from Kenya: I moved into an apartment right next to a redhead who I thought was a stoner (that’s my wife, Rebekah, who in fact was not a stoner, but just liked hippie stuff), and my last semester of school started with all the term papers, and thesis writing, and final grades that entails. Of course I also wanted to call my best friend, the Brunette, to regale her with stories of endless wildebeest herds and hoping Massai warriors. If memory serves, that turned out to be easier said than done. It seems that there were multiple failed attempts, probably separated by weeks of busybusybusy but that kind of thing had never been a problem before. Once she moved to the Bay, it was common for us to go for months at a time without speaking and we never lost anything. We just picked up the conversation where it had left off without missing a beat. I can’t say I was planning to tell her about all the things I had been writing about, nor was I planning to mention how I met her younger doppelganger, Blue – even had I wanted to share those things, the Brunette’s deeper connection to all of that had yet to be made clear to me, I was still processing.

When I finally did reach her, I could tell something was wrong. There was a great deal of tension in her voice and she said next to nothing. No “How was your trip?” no “Welcome home” just a few mumbled words through what sounded like clenched teeth. This must be a bad time I thought. Maybe I caught her in the middle of a fight with her boyfriend or something. So I said I’d call again later, and hung up. “I sure hope everything is OK.” was what I said to myself, but didn’t think much more of it. When I called again, I discovered the same tension in her voice as before. But this time I noticed that her “Hello?” seemed normal enough. It was when I said, “Hey, it’s me!” that everything in her voice changed.

That second conversation was only marginally longer than the one before it, but those few words broke my heart.
“I’m so upset with you that I can’t even talk.”
“How dare you?!”
“Don’t call again.”

I was shocked, stunned, wounded, totally confused, and it was probably the heaviest blow to my heart that I’d ever suffered. Filled with joy and excitement and tales to tell from abroad, I found my dearest friend, the person who I cared more for than anybody else on the planet, livid beyond words...and I had absolutely no idea why. That was around six years ago now. I wish I could tell you what her anger was about. I wish I could confess some wicked deed that drove her away from me, but to this day, I still don’t know what upset her. We haven’t spoken to one another since. I tried for a while to reach her through other means, for instance I sent her birthday cards that I I really don’t know if she ever got. I also tried to reach some of the people around her to try and discern what sin I had committed. In all truth I would have confessed and apologized for killing President Kennedy if that would have soothed her ire – but alas, I’m as ignorant today as I was that day. For all I know, she was mad that I hadn’t written more or called sooner.

After some initial scrambling, a vain attempt to fix whatever was broken or atone for any possible insult, I got angry. Angry because I felt that I had been treated unfairly. Angry that she would do such a thing to me after all that we had been through together. Angry that she would throw down one of her best friends without so much as an explanation (which I clearly deserved) or giving me the benefit of the doubt to hear my side of whatever story there might be to tell. In that season of anger, I’m pretty certain I just stewed. I didn’t try to contact her, I didn’t fret over the mystery of what I had done to her. Instead I rehearsed and crafted deeply biting comments and lectures. Preparing a quiver of bolts against the day I saw her again. I practiced my indignation and righteous rage and had long dissertations in my mind on how her anger was always more important to her than her relationships. Oh, I had a lot to say, and I knew her well enough to put those bolt where they would hurt the most. Thank God I never had the opportunity to release that rage or I’d regret it to the end of my days.

But in time, the anger passed too. In time I prayed that she would forgive me for the things I had thought of her, and also for whatever it was that I had done to start thins in the first place, if indeed it was anything deserving so dramatic a response. I also made it a point to give my anger and frustration and accusation over to God – to forgive her for the wrong I perceived, since I couldn’t determine if I deserved her wrath or not. In short, probably a year and a half later, I moved on.

I really never found out what it was that drove her to sever our long and powerful friendship. She’s not an irrational person, so I must assume that she had her reasons. She’s not fickle nor flighty, so I have to assume that they she weighed my error against my friendship and chose one – which is to say I must believe they were good reasons. But all that said, I really only know that she broke fellowship with me without an explanation and as far as I can tell, that was the end of my affair with the Brunette.

With another four years of hindsight I see now that she did me a tremendous favor – she pulled a thorn from my flesh that I was unable or unwilling to pull myself. At the perfect moment – she released me, released me from herself.

I say it was the perfect moment because this was all happening at the same time that I was getting to know and love Rebekah. The first time we were introduced, like I said before, I was certain that she was a pot-head. Her duplex was covered in psychedelic mushrooms and tie-die and smelled of sandalwood and patchouli. Re is very quiet and laid back (read: stoned) and her roommate greeted Jamie and I with a sleepy look and a pan of stereotypical stoner food, “Hey, would you guys like some broooownnnnnies?” she said in her over-calm manner. But as I walked backed to my apartment God said ‘That’s her.” and I knew exactly what He meant. If things had been the same with the Brunette, then things would have been the same with Rebekah – the same as they had been with the other women I dated during my serial monogamy. If things had been the same with the Brunette, I would have been unfaithful to my Redhead. My heart would have remained deeply divided and as one half of me stepped into a relationship with Rebekah, the other half would have dug its heels in and remained behind, trapped in the grasp of a woman half a continent away, waiting for something that was never coming.

The breaking of that bond was incredibly painful, and I resented her the stroke for a while, but I would never have come to where I am today if the Brunette hadn’t cut me off. Instead I would have been single, aging, and bitter, or perhaps married, aging, and bitter. You see, given what I saw as God’s direction I still might have gone and married Rebekah, but I’d be just as double minded as I’d been before only now the stakes would have been higher. By now, the hope I had invested in the Brunette would have been deferred too long and the bitterness that had begun to sprout up those years ago, would be in full bloom, poisoning my marriage. I’ve said before that what I’ve found so striking isn’t that I love Rebekah more and more each day, but that I continually discover new capacity to love that I didn’t know existed. My ‘love tank’ isn’t being filled, it’s growing. I have to credit a large portion of that to the gradual reintegration of the various shards and tailings of my heart. The huge chunk that was missing in all my previous relationships has been recovered and I’m finding rooms and halls in there that have lain unused for long years. I was blind, but now I see. I was lost, but now am found.

While I would honestly thank the Brunette today for saving me, it seems unlikely that saving me was her intention. With all things considered, I think a more likely explanation of everything that happened was the enemy saw an opportunity to destroy me and he took his best shot. With all that I had been going through in Kenya, all the God-driven reflection and revelation, finally meeting my wife and quickly falling toward her - it was a perfect moment to cut me down, perhaps for good. It sounds a little weird to say that the Devil used the Brunette against me, but I do think that’s what happened. If you’re not familiar with all the spiritual warfare I’ve been talking about these last years, don’t read too much into that. I’m not at all suggesting that she was evil or possessed or anything remotely like that, just that the enemy is an opportunist, and a single whispered suggestion can turn a small thing into a world war. If there was one person on this planet who could have slain me with a glance, it was her...and she did.

But what was meant for evil turned out to be for the good. In ways that are almost too much to explain, that death was prerequisite for the life that followed - the life that I have now. A two barreled, full-throated, hair-on-fire life where my whole heart is united and engaged. Not that it looks like something particularly special on the outside, but on the inside, where The Spirit speaks and I weep or laugh or question with boldness and without fear. You know, just now I’m realizing something. I’ve been chewing on this letter for about a year now, piecing it together bit by bit. And I’ve always been thinking of it in terms of how my restored heart made it possible to bond with Rebekah. But I also see how critical it was for me to make my bond with Christ. The overarching theme of the last few years of my life has been this concept of a whole and integrated heart. Raven-and-emerald, it seems I have this also to thank you for. To that end, I can’t discount the very real possibility that this blow wasn’t orchestrated by Satan at all, but by God. Given all that it has accomplished, the timing, and the surrounding circumstances, I can also see it as a kind of surgery, the excision of a tumor. Perhaps in time, the agent responsible will be made clear, but I’m not certain it matters much either way.

You see for all those years I was a kind of ghost – trapped between one world and another. One foot here, the other there, and unwilling or unable to commit to either side. My deep and abiding double-mindedness lead to a profound inability to commit to much of anything, especially a woman. It turns out that Hamlet was right after all – “To be or not to be” really is the question. My indecision, my unmanliness in that regard, not only tortured me, but it caused a lot of misery to the people around me who were counting on me to commit, for my word to mean something, for my “yes” to be a “yes.” I don’t want to take myself too seriously here, or think my actions one way or the other were critical moments in the lives of the women I dated, but at the very least I wronged them to the degree that I said I was them and wasn’t. I failed them insofar as I claimed to be the man in their lives, when in fact I wasn’t. I was, instead, ephemeral, ectoplasmic. Present only in this fragile mortal coil that we all know turns to dust and ashes, just a tissue-paper image of a man. The part of me that is eternal, the part of me that God calls out to offer strength to my mate, was AWOL, trapped inside a kind of stunted, aborted relationship that I couldn’t let go of. So my heart, my soul, spent all those years never living, only waiting, waiting, waiting.

I do need to avoid that peculiar Christian trick of history where we see a thing redeemed, an unexpected blessing coming from dreadful spell, and conclude that it must have all been God’s plan after all. The fact that my marriage to Rebekah is far more than I expected or hoped for, and the fact that the path I just laid out is what lead me to her, cannot absolve me of the fact that I sinned. I can’t look at the chain of women I was intimate with, but never married, and act as if that wasn’t wrong just because I stand here today, restored, forgiven and happy. I can’t hold up my inability to commit to any of them as proof of anything other than my infidelity of the heart. It’s true that you wouldn’t have been able to convince me at the time that my relationship with the Brunette amounted to adultery since we remained platonic, but that’s only because I was lying to myself and doesn’t mitigate the truth of it now. To somehow twist and warp all of this and somehow conclude that I was being saved for Rebekah would be to say that God’s plan included my disobedience, which is utter nonsense. There is an important difference between providence and redemption that we can sometimes skip over when we fear that to recognize our sin would be to cast a shadow on the grace and blessing that we received despite it. To say, “God can make good of all things...” should never be confused with “A Blessing in disguise.” or “God works in mysterious ways.” There are a lot of things in this post that I just as well had not have said, nor shared. There’s a lot here that reflects quite poorly on me and the choices I made. The moral of the story is not that it’s difficult to see through the ordained twists in our paths. The moral is that we regularly make our own paths so crooked that they loop back on themselves, becoming impossibly tangled, and yet God snatches us, as from a fire, for His own glory.

Having come through that now, and having some distance to see the broader strokes, I’m mortified by the fact that I was so unable to see my own story, my own ingrown path. I also rue the thought that at some point in these last years the Brunette might have thought to herself - “Oh no, what have I done?” but never reached out for fear, or pride or apathy. Romantic aspirations aside, she and I were mighty friends, and I miss that relationship...I wonder if she does as well. Even more, I hope she isn’t still nursing her anger, whatever it’s original cause. I know how powerful a poison bitterness and resentment can be, and how healing forgiveness is. I hope that she too found some unlooked for blessing through all of this, even if that’s simply to be rid of me. And really, I don’t mean that that in some self-deprecating, woe-is-me sort of way. I may have been a close friend, but I also know that toward the end I put a great deal of undeserved pressure on her. I held her accountable for my frustration and at times for the collapse of relationships that she had nothing to do with. To that end I’ve asked for, and sought her forgiveness in many ways and many times and I have to console myself that that’s about all I can do in that regard, which in all honesty feels pretty damn unsatisfying.

But perhaps no small part of this letter is my chance to return the favor, to release her. To say publicly that, for my part anyway, there are no hard feelings, no held grudges. I can offer up my own forgiveness for what it’s worth, perhaps unsought and undesired.

Dear, dear friend - I’m very sorry for all the ways I was unfair to you, expecting things from you that I shouldn’t. For my failing to be either a proper friend or lover. For missing your heart for the trees of your intellect. Though I was angry for a time, I recognize that you no doubt did only what you felt right at the time and I can’t hold that against you, nor would I had I the strength. My forgiveness and my good will are here and freely given. Take them or reject them - as you wish.