Saturday, December 04, 2010


The wind mounted again and John risked another step, guiding his boot through the fallen leaves with painstaking care.
He froze mid-step, as the wind slacked suddenly; a gulping breath.
Ten long seconds trickled down through the trees and he remained stationary, as effortlessly immobile as the young black locust beside him.
The spidery extremities of the locust suckers clutched at his woolen gators, and a low branch of the tree forked over his right shoulder. He leaned into it gently, gaining a measure of stability.
His grounded leg began to quiver, and he melted the tension of his flamingo pose.
Looking down slowly, he searched for a patch of moss and found one, but two feet away, just beyond his stride.
He eased his foot down, canting it on edge to minimize the noise.
Then the wind nudged again, and he skated ahead to the patch of moss.
Planting his right foot, a huge stride, he gained two more quick steps, his feet preceding the rest of his body in the gait of a barnyard fowl.
Breeze plunged through the treetops and slipped crackling across the forest floor.
He moved with it, plotting his steps, island hopping.
Ten more rooster struts brought him along side a modest cedar, and here he reconnoitered.
He reckoned his quarry to be 150 yards down the draw.
The periodic shuffling noise had drawn him over 200 yards and a half hour.
He had been on another course, intent on crossing the plateau above him to the next ridge over when he heard it.
It was intermittent, only enough louder than the scurrying of a squirrel as to suggest something larger at first. The noise ceased for a full two minutes while he debated his course.
Then a definitive crackle of deadwood sealed his decision.
He angled down the far side of the draw, judging the wind to be slightly crosswise to the gully, moving down the opposite side and flowing back up the flank that he now worked his way down.
The sound teased him, occurring only at every critical juncture of indecision. He would have forsaken his quest ten times, only to be lured on at the last by one more ambiguous rustle.
The pale yellow sun drew down far away across the next mountain into bubbling salmon cumulus and stringy orange cirrus, and the half-moon floated overhead, still outshone by the sinking sun like a flashlight beam in the daytime.
He took a knee incrementally, reverently.
His patella found a rock skulking beneath the forest carpet and his mouth twitched but he absorbed the impact into the tendon below his kneecap without flinching.
. . .kept looking ahead, taking in the big picture, searching for horizontal lines out of place, a betrayal not synchronized with the respiration of the wind.
He saw nothing.
He mapped out another twenty steps.
To his right, the angle of the hillside steepened sharply and the trees staggered up the thinning soil.
The earth atrophied in toward the spine of the ridge, and limestone vertebrae sloughed off the crumbling clay, studding the sharp crease with protruding teeth.
To his left, across the gully, the trees were thick and the undergrowth impenetrable.
His path was fraught with cedars, big, brushy swags that carpeted the ground underneath them with yielding compost and feathered the passing hunter silently.
The only detour lay around an ill-placed elderberry grouped close together with a low-sprouting cedar. To go around on the upside would grant him little cover, to find his way on the downside would crowd his prey too soon. He would have to belly crawl under the cedar.
He wanted the noise before he moved again, to zero in on his target.
He got it.
A dull thump, the sound of his boot on the bedroom floor when he shucked it off, preceded by a rustle, the sound of a baseball rolling through the fallen leaves in the front yard.
He waited for the next passing sigh.
The wind muffled his next ten steps, masked his slither underneath the cedar, and died on the other side.
He lay among dead brambles and pungent cedar and glassed the gully with his scope.
Suddenly starting at a fuzzy blur of white and buckskin appaloosa , he glared over the top and made out a peeling sycamore with a low, deformed offshoot running almost parallel to the ground.
He deepened his breathing, slowing his heart rate, barring the floodgates of endorphins, preempting sweat and lowered his head again.
With the falling temperature sucking the breeze harder down the ridge, now was no time for perspiration to dilute the carefully applied scent mask.
He lowered his head to his extended right arm, just listening.
He knew he could hear anything within 600 yards in the dead pause.
The trees, excepting the evergreen, were unseasonably naked, the green flexibility of branch and leaf drained and withered. Sound moved through the shivering trees unhindered.
On top of the plateau, perhaps a quarter mile behind him, a squirrel prattled.
Across the gully, a sapless branch only just bigger than a twig toppled and clung in a black walnut tree.
Twenty feet ahead, one remaining oak leaf died and rasped down through the harsh web to join the cycle of death and life and death.
Nothing moved silently in this brittle arbor.
-Except him.
There came a sound to the void that grew upon him, quintessential not only in its stealth, but also in its organicity. When at last it leaked from his sub consciousness to the more forward corridors of his mind, it irritated him that it had stolen upon him so unawares.
He stole a look upward, craning to locate the source.
Off to the left, a faint contrail enlarged and dissipated in the high sky.
Ahead, the offending aircraft caught as much of the waning sun as a flinging drop of water.
What irritated him as much the noise was the obtrusion of the passengers slouched in their respective rows.
Casting a jaundiced eye upon them, he saw in rear coach a pudgy, wobbly, self-satisfied man doffing his Longhorn’s cap over his fleeing hairline, fingering Sky magazine with oily fingertips. In front coach he saw a family of three, screaming and cajoling, the mother looking wistfully at a full-page travel advertisement of rippling bronze and silky russet swept round in elegant swimwear, of perpetual sunsets and frothy breakers. He saw the business traveler set apart from them by the veil, as highly symbolic as that shroud of concealment hung upon golden rings in Solomon’s temple, but sadly, not as thick. He saw the dashing lines on the Blackberry, the dancing fingers on the Mac.
Perhaps most infuriating was the sleeper two seats ahead, presumptuously arranged just so in a window seat with her coiffed hair salvaged by a tubular flight pillow tucked in the curve of her neck. The sun, not so dimmed by its proximity to earth’s atmosphere, slanted in the multi-paned Plexi-glass, firing up millions of invisible scars left by 700 mile-an-hour airborne sediment. Blinking daintily, she reaches groggily for the shutter, nails softly scrabbling, and shuts out all that does not pertain to her nap. (That scraping keratin set his teeth on edge at least as much as the screaming turbines.)
In the cockpit, the pilot and co-pilot discussed the recent emasculated mediation of their union and the voracious consumption of their retirement accounts.
Back on earth, a jaunty sow bug scaled a perpendicular twig eight inches from his face.
Slowly, he crooked his right arm back and tucked his forefinger behind his thumb.
Clenching teeth, he flicked so viciously it shook his shoulder and for a falling moment the roly poly paralleled the trajectory of that airborne vessel.
He fixated again upon the constellation of trees that contained his prey.
Short cedars clustered so tightly with scrub oaks that the evergreens appeared to sprout deciduous branches from their folds. From the midst of the gathering sprung a black walnut, so towering and so spreading even in its autumnal embarassment that it might’ve hatched from rotting hull when the hunter wore leather on his feet and fur on his head.
Beyond and obscured by that historical marker was the approximate ground upon which the potential trophy stood, perhaps even now suspecting that it was hunted.
A sudden, boyish smile, suppressed and crooked, creased his face beneath the mask.
He saw the upraised head, the molten gaze, the trembling, ungainly crown.
The thought converged energy and focus and he gladly waited longer.
With the onset of dusk, it would doubtless emerge on the uphill side of the grove. If he was any competent reader of sign, it had not passed this way, and was doubtless en route to better grazing on the plateau above.
He melded with the ground, a perfect predator.
The sling wound around his right forearm and his left hand cradled the barrel of the Ruger.
The day’s growth on his chin conceived an itch and he scraped the stubble against the synthetic stock, working his jaw in the manner of those aboard that disappearing jetliner with pressurized heads.
The breeze came again, slipping over the ridge and plunging downhill to find its level.
. . . Gusting.
He took advantage and wiggled his left ankle which was beginning to ache and flexed his right bicep which was beginning to cramp.
The wind ratcheted up and he strained to hear.
Leaves rattled. Acorns rained.
The smaller trees quailed.
A sudden dissonance in the wild song startled him, as did the sight of a scampering object, cylindrical and pinkish.
He seethed. The sun-bleached Coke can ambled over dried leaves and clattered over protruding stone, flushed from its hiding place by the wind. It spun and tumbled end over end in the gale, and the popped tab rolled about inside like the ball in a jingle bell.
It found its next home in a bramble bush, joyfully leaping into the tangle with a screeching din.
He grimly glassed the grove again and thought of the one who had let fall such an object in such a place.
A group of them, roaring through the glade on ATV’s or worse, dirt bikes. His blood curdled at the scream of two-stroke engines trampling upon the solitude, running wild like un-churched toddlers through the Sistine chapel. They had swarmed up the valley with the tranquility of a flock of swamp-boats, veered up the draw, then up the steepening grade because. . .it was there, and idled here, laughing at nothing.
One of them pulled a Coke from the back boot, and popped it open, swigging it down, guzzling carbonated caffeine, and artificial flavor, and caramel coloring.
Another pointed up the draw and revved his engine. Draining the last draw, the cretin held the can up high like a trophy, snapped the tab inside, crumpled it with a flourish, let it free-fall to the ground, and flung earth from his tires after the others.
He saw it all and wondered: If litter has lain so long that it has become as native as the youngest saplings and the decomposing deadfalls around it, does it become such a part of the composite that its raucous relocation becomes as mundane to the ears of wildlife as that of a dropping walnut or falling tree?
The thought, as helpful as it might be, pained him.
Would a trout in a mountain stream not dart away at the sight of cellophane wrapper, or did caribou really group around the Alaska pipeline?
He almost snarled. Would a city fright at the sight of a mounting Teton in the midst of its downtown grid, or would subway passengers yawn at a timber wolf rising from the floor?
The sun bled like a punctured yolk and pooled all over the boiling clouds and the osmotic chill probed up through the wool and the flannel.
It came again, the sound he waited for.
The wallop of a boot dropped on carpet, the crunch of a ball in the leaves, identical to the former sound.
Quickly, he ducked his head and glared through the glass at the magnified arboreal tangle. He thought he saw a branch nodding with the acknowledgement of some passing force.
If he were immobile before, he now became as inexorable as the eroding soil. His breath escaped from his lips as silently as the vapor dispersed.
His focus gained interminability. A glacier might have overtaken and buried him. Yet, his blood was quickened and warmed.
He felt the unforced keenness of feline intensity measure every movement.
His relaxation balanced unconcernedly on the edge of a knife
The term “buck fever” brought another blurting smile to his face.
The climax of the hunt brought him anything but uncertainty. Rather, it distilled all the forces of instinct and habitual skill he had acquired into an effortless concentration.
The utter joy of his ability surged in his flowing blood.
He had plenty of hunting buddies that dissolved into thumbs and nerves at ground zero.
Their passion undid them at the crucial moment.
He thought of that well-meaning enthusiast that had accompanied him two years ago on a guided elk-hunt in the Rockies. After two nearly successful kills, spoiled within inches by his clumsy friend, Roger, the guide had jokingly referred to him in the terms of an amorous adolescent boy. Whether it was the guides remark or his own amusement that he didn’t attempt to conceal, Roger had fallen uncharacteristically silent, and minutes later announced he was all in, and going back to the campsite.
Within an hour, they had made a kill.
“Hope I didn’t offend him.” the guide offered as they field dressed the elk.
To which he had responded with a cryptic chuckle. He knew his friend well, since high school, and knew that his fragile ego was no doubt completely disassembled and when they returned he would be well on his way to erasing his many thwarted attempts at hunting and adolescent exploits with the aid of Jim or Jack or any other of the empathetic spirits packed in the Igloo cooler. Tomorrow, he would awake with a splitting headache but his pride would have made a miraculous recovery, a triumph of medicinal whiskey.
In particular, Roger would be swilling away a memory of their high school prom night.
Eight years prior, a 3 a.m. conclave of giddy, freshly graduated eighteen year old boys lounging on tailgates and sprawling on hoods was surreptitiously joined by the stocky second-string lineman. John was sitting in his truck, nipping a bottle of Corona. Roger had found him quickly, and snatched a communal flask balanced on the top of his pickup. He choked on it, and began sobbing softly. Head tucked, he jumped into the cab of John’s truck. Ill-at-ease, John had asked nothing of his friend, just turned the music up a little louder. A half-hour later, with the glow of the dash lights on his face, Roger unloaded with the abject pathos of a penitent sinner in a dark confessional. When he related the conclusion of his failed conquest, “I . . .couldn’t.”, John asked, “Couldn’t what?”
Roger swore for a solid thirty seconds, claiming back some of his obliterated manhood, punctuating his outburst with a vicious punch at the dashboard. It was then that John had broken into a premeditated laughter, gulping hysterically, his beer shaking in his hand. Some of the other guys gathered in to share the fun, and Roger had quietly opened the passenger door, and stumbled for his car, taking the flask with him. Amidst demands for the joke, John protested mildly, snickering between sips, and then proceeded to let it be dragged from him. The punch line left several helpless boys lying gasping in the gravel, and several more sagging against the bed of his truck, pounding feebly on the rim of the bed.
He told himself the next day it was the liquor that had loosened his tongue, and when Roger had rejoined him two days later, mumbling that the girl had apparently “kissed and told,” he cussed her along right along with him.
Laughing, he told another friend about it later. “Only thing wrong with that is, there never was a kiss!”
He never drank anymore. He didn’t need alcohol. He didn’t need to forget anything.
It wouldn’t be long now. He stretched imperceptibly, thrusting his legs out behind him and slowly rotating both ankles. Then he swiveled his head, his eyes never leaving the grove in front of him.
The noise came again, more definitely this time, maybe closer. He never moved.
The sun had submerged into the roiling cloudbank, and blasted rays of purpling light up over the horizon.
The day was dying, and a confident knowledge of the habits and feeding patterns of large bucks rooted him to the spot.
Glancing up at the void sky where he’d last seen the west-bound jet-liner, he just made out floating puffs of exhaust, blotting the darkness with faint sponge-marks.
The wind was picking up even more, with slight pauses where the infrequent breezes had been an hour before.
He flicked his tongue out of the left corner of his mouth, moistening the skin next to his lips. Then the right side. The left daub dried quickly, the right took longer. The wind was still in his favor, if only slightly.
He waited patiently, only clenching his teeth occasionally to assuage the tightening sinus pressure across his cheeks and temples.
The last rays of the sun vanished, the swift shroud of a late fall evening drawing quickly over the overhead dome, sprouting dim stars in its advance.
He waited still, not particularly bothered at the prospect of an illegal kill, but as the last light hemorrhaged into the dusk, he weighed his narrowing time window against his night vision and began to consider the idea of stalking again, but on his hands and knees.
The idea grew on him as the night grew on the day.
Imperative as time was, the challenge it presented made a stronger argument. To enter that lair and steal upon his prey. Not to outwait, but to outwit.
Eagerness spread through him quickly and he blessed the wind as he rose to all fours.
It was an absolute Indian aspect he presented, a formless patch of charcoal in the gathering gloom that did not move, no, it seeped across the diminishing yardage of egg-shell leaves and ceramic twigs.
He entered the upside point of the cluster of trees ten minutes later, and melted further inward, slithering, all elbows and toes.
When the sound came again, it was so close it sounded as the thud of a hoof and he petrified, for fear the prey had caught wind of the predator and was bolting.
But nothing except a soft rustle trailed the impact.
He strained to see now, unwilling to go further until he had made out some aspect of his quarry.
At last, he made out an intermittent movement, a horizontal image stirring with the unconcern of a buck nipping at foliage.
Nerves he had now, not jumpy, nor of steel, but of spider silk! They only swayed in the heated blast of adrenaline, holding strong, but not taut.
He rose like a mist from the forest floor. He found no clear path through to the target, so in the absolute supremacy of the perfect predator, he stood majestically, all joints silent, even in this cold, head level, rifle butt growing up into his armpit.
At last, he leveled and looked through the sights underneath the scope. He could now make out the network of antlers, nodding and swaying.
He took the trigger breath; long, steady inhalation, brief hold, then longer, steadier, exhalation, finger pressing the trigger like a plunger, knowing the exact ounce of pressure that drove the firing pin into the awaiting primer, releasing the kinetic death that went where he sent it.
He paused. This moment contained the essence of life. It was in these seconds, when he weighed death in his hands, that he knew what he was made for.
He had always believed that every soul held the potential of a diamond. But few withstood the pressure to harden past coal.
He’d discovered the joy and realized the passion. The rest of his life worked well. Everything else fell into place.
Why would anyone be given such a proclivity? If there were a purpose for everything, a mission for every talent, what path might his inherent skill lead him down?
His eyes narrowed, smiling.
Encapsulated within his gift was one small counterweight to the balance of nature.
He was the yang to his prey’s yin.
If there was a time to kill, there were those gifted to kill.
Benevolence swelled his soul, gratitude toward all things living that contributed to the whole ordered universe.
The grass gave to the rain, and the rain to the grass.
But also the rabbit to the wolf, and the wolf to the rabbit.
He pulled the trigger.
The trees around him blanched and he barely heard the sound, never felt the recoil.
Before the last echo had escaped from the winding valley below, he had slipped the mini Mag Lite from his belt and flooded the grove with LED.
He stepped forward, and saw a young sapling bent almost parallel to the ground. At its end grew a curiously perpendicular network of branches. It was nodding slightly, like the ungainly antlers of a foraging buck.
Behind him, something bolted.
Swiveling in his tracks, he clapped the light alongside the raised rifle.
Thirty yards away, a huge buck scrambled up the draw, flaring white tail stark in the dusk.
Without thinking, he slid his right hand back to the trigger and planted his right foot.
Something large and round rolled under the sole of his boot, and he went down hard, light splashing off branches, deafening report resounding off the hills, nose scraping on the ground, cheekbone crunching into the abrasive forearm of his Ruger.
He heard the bounding escape receding up the grade.
In the shock of silence, one more hedge-apple fell from high above, crackling down through the dead leaves, striking him on the shoulder with the thud of a hunting boot falling on carpet, and rolling through the leaves like a baseball, coming to rest in the bluish glare of the LED Mag Lite.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Nothing Much

There is a weekly radio program on NPR that my wife is fond of.
Besides Car Talk, I mean.
"From The Top" is a procession of young musicians and occasional vocalists distinguished by their ability especially in light of their age. Some of these kids are 11 years old and can polish off pieces by Mozart that I can't begin to even understand, let alone follow, let alone play.
One Saturday evening as we sat listening to some flawless movement or other, I asked Devan if these kids ever got on her nerves.
These prodigies are often accomplished not only in their chosen music field, but in several other areas as well; academia, athletics, arts . . . and that's just the a's.
I admire people distinguished in one particular field. But when that genius undertakes another venture and succeeds brilliantly and yet another and another, I begin to become annoyed.
It has been my contention that you will excel in an area only because you care deeply about it, and I am puzzled as to how these wunderkinds can possibly care so deeply about so many different things.
What drives them?
. . . See? By framing the question in such a way I reveal an assumption that they are being propelled as opposed to being drawn after something. Because I simply cannot conceive of such ambition and I'm immediately suspicious of it.
What mad thirst for validation or fame drives these maniacs?
I cannot obsess about more than one thing.
If I'm walking, I'm walking. If I'm chewing gum, I'm chewing gum.
And, to my shame, having a forty-five to fifty hour work week seems to preclude any other serious endeavors.
On one hand, I'm philosophical. I don't envy most highly successful people because I know that success is proportionate to the amount of life poured into it.
The ubiquitous success icons of our culture, doctors, lawyers, and CEO's work constantly until they are sixty and by then have often lost all sense of priority and spend their twilight years repenting their lifelong pursuits.
On the other hand, when I'm not obsessing about something else, I feel a little guilty.
At least a hamster on a wheel has an excuse. He has no place else to go. Besides, he's getting in shape.
I know, Confucius say "Choose a job you like, and you will never have to work a day in your life."
But I can't help thinking we've been snookered on that quote.
I firmly believe some snake-oil self-help guru crammed those words into the late Asian philosopher's pudgy mouth and then pulled them back out again in some New York Times Best Seller.
After all, what was there to do when Confucius walked among us? Or sat among us.
There were few superfluous occupations back in 500 B.C. So, aside from the remote possibility that every one in China actually wanted to be either a fisherman or a farmer, or, if you were lucky, another corpulent philosopher, this ancient wisdom is about as helpful the modern admonition to "Don't Worry, Be Happy," or about as inspiring as those mass-produced scenery photos with one word captions such as "Dream," "Cooperation," or "Goals."

The above rambling is an attempt to push past a bad case of blogger's block.
This is what happens when you ignore road signs and forge ahead.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Decisons, Decisions

If you live in Kentucky, and you are a Republican, and you vote, you are to be forgiven if you are confused.
If you look to establishment endorsements from familiar GOP politicians or conservative activists for clues, you'll find new meaning in the term "mixed signals."
The interesting political microcosm stands so: Jim Bunning, former baseball star and current Kentucky GOP senator fell from fundraiser favor in the past two years. Bunning has been a standard party soldier but a substandard public figure. He is the Republican negative of Joe Biden, the human gaffe machine. His foot-in-mouth disease is likely the largest contributing factor to his decline in popularity. But you may also know Bunning from his most recent headlines foray as the lone opposition to the extension of unemployment benefits. Citing President Obama's pay-go philosophy, he insisted we pay for the extension rather than finance it. It was a Quixotic stand, something he no doubt was fully aware of, and you have to wonder if he would have been so principled were he planning on a reelection bid.
On Primary Day, May 18, the vacated seat could have been almost a coronation event for KY Secretary of State Trey Grayson, had it not been for an eye doctor from western KY with the same DNA and same hot, cross-voter, small government appeal as '08 presidential candidate Ron Paul.
Last time out, in an election environment largely unfavorable to Republicans, Grayson won reelection by 14%.
And, considering that Ron Paul was certainly no party loyalist, and considering that Rand Paul is certainly his father's son, if somewhat less libertarian, Grayson had every right to expect smooth sailing.
But Grayson is fighting hard for this seat, and looks ready to lose to Paul.
Guilt by association has been one of Grayson's campaign tactics against Paul.
He ties Rand to his father on issues of national security. Neither Paul is a dove, but both tend toward isolationism, and a decidedly anti-Bush approach to the "spread of democracy."
Grayson also makes hay out of the fact that some of Ron Paul's money goes to fund his son's campaign in an effort to portray Rand as beholden to out-of-state interests.
And in a largely conservative state, Grayson has loaded his gun with some teflon-coated ammunition and blasted away at Paul's pro-life credentials.
But a look at the endorsements garnered by both candidates tells an interesting story.
On a national level, Dick Cheney has endorsed Trey Grayson. So has Rudy Guliani. So far, not so good, socially conservatively speaking. But then throw in Rick Santorum, former congressman from PA, known for his pro-life advocacy.
On a state level, the GOP establishment has endorsed Grayson across the board. Mitch McConnell, eastern KY congressman Hal Rogers, and a whole raft of GOP state-level office holders. One notable, fascinating, and possibly telling exception has been the outgoing Bunning.
And Grayson no doubt blesses the day that the Kentucky Right To Life gave him their endorsement.
But the puzzle is well illustrated by the reversal of Dr. James Dosbon.
Not more than two weeks ago, my answering machine fielded a call from Dr. Dobson.
His recorded voice urged me to vote for Trey Grayson, the best choice for social conservatives.
Well, no doubt you've heard, but Dobson has since retracted that endorsement, citing bad intelligence from GOP contacts, and thrown in with Rand Paul.
And add Sarah Palin to Paul's growing and impressive list.
And Concerned Women for America, and Gun Owners of America, and Steve Forbes, and if you weren't conflicted enough already, the Northern Kentucky Right To Life chapter.
Gay marriage is practically a non-issue in KY. Same-sex marriage has as much likelihood of happening in Kentucky as a concealed-carry law in Massachusetts.
But Rand Paul has mixed his own signals on this issue. As of now, he talks like a true "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" kind of guy. But in the past he has advocated more of a state by state position on this issue, a position unlikely to curry favor with social conservatives, but since we're dealing with the past . . .
Sec. Grayson has his own checkered past. He used to be a Democrat. He was in fact, a Clinton delegate in 1992.
At this point I would like to bring up Santorum's endorsement. In '08, Santorum completely floored me by favoring Mitt Romney for president. Romney's pro-life credentials don't even deserve the label "suspect." They don't, in fact, exist. He changes them according to what office he's running for.
Grayson's conversion was not so recent and so obviously convenient as Romney's, but canvassing for Bill Clinton certainly doesn't add to his conservative luster.
Paul's opponents have also brought up the ubiquitous Israel issue.
No clear answers here, either.
Paul vehemently denies any anti-Israel position, voicing a desire for a recommitment to our ally, but his reticence to engage in affairs around the world could be construed, perhaps legitimately, as a signal to the nation of Israel that they are on their own. But is this stance anti-Israel, or "pro-get out of Israel's way? Is it anti-Israel to unleash Israel? This is a seriously contentious issue, but I do believe Israel has been hindered almost as much as it has been helped by the U.S. Time after time, we have held our allegiance over Israel's head as leverage to make them stand down in their difficulties with their enemies.
And, for what it's worth, in Dobson's endorsement, he takes care to mention this issue that he knows is near and dear to the evangelical heart, saying that Paul "supports Israel."
Another caveat to the Kentucky RTL's endorsement of Grayson.
Does anyone remember when National Right To Life endorsed Fred Thompson for president?
Fred Thompson, you'll remember is the man who has lobbied for abortion clinics, and when pressed about the discrepancy, compartmentalized his positions as "business" on the one hand and politics on the other.
I have to say I'm leaning toward Paul, but with some reservations.
Bunning's endorsement, oddly enough, may be the deciding factor. Bunning has nothing to lose, nothing owed to his former buddies in the Kentucky GOP.
Of course, his endorsement of Rand could be attributed to mere vindictiveness over being abandoned, but Bunning's last stand over the unemployment extension signal more of an agenda of principle than revenge.
If only he had spent more time standing on his own two feet as opposed to continually placing one or the other appendage in his mouth, maybe we wouldn't have to make this decision.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

What Keeps Me Going

I love a good two-by-four upside the head.

Epiphanies grant a fresh start. The probably illusory effect of striking, profound realizations gives a feeling of enthusiasm to a tired person. Armed with this new knowledge, you feel you could go on indefinitely.
Now that I know this, now that I have learned this secret, I will not be so easily distracted from my purpose.

It is the feeling of a new diet or the purchase of a treadmill or a good pair of bright new running shoes and a brisk, fall day.
Of course, the diet will eventually turn into one more day of eating food you don't like, the treadmill becomes a wardrobe, the shoes get dingy and the brisk, fall day is a good excuse to light a fire in the fireplace and cook up a steaming pot of chili.
To take an analogy from the world of politics, an unwise move perhaps, remember the sad sack days of the GOP in the aftermath of the '08 election?
The GOP was the ninety-pound weakling on the beach getting sand kicked into his face by Charles Obama Atlas while the adoring American public looked on.
The Republican spun in a circle, looking for a new direction. Someone suggested they might try simply adhering to their core principles.
Admittedly, this lacked sparkle.
Imagine an an up-and-coming exercise guru being introduced on Oprah. After all the applause dies down and O! the oracle begins to ask the fitness expert what his philosophy is, the answer delivered to a breathless studio audience and millions of fat Americans watching at home is just this:

"I think we should eat healthy food in smaller portions and try to exercise more."

The studio audience wishes they had waited to get tickets until Tom Cruise was on again and the millions of fat Americans watching at home get discouraged with the idea of fitness altogether and switch over to the food channel.
Because this is old stuff. It's boring. Maybe it works, but it's boring.
Give me something new, something crazy, something that sounds like it would never work.
Give me As Seen On TV! gadgets and herbal laxatives.
Give me colon cleansers and diet pills.
Give me a Hollywood diet program with before and after photos with a time lapse of eight hours and clothes that won't fit any more and weight loss measured not in pounds, but inches.
I know it's a little prosaic to bring in the old spiritual parallel right here, but I didn't spend the last ten minutes just to end on a rant about an acai berry diet.
I'm always on the lookout for a new mindset. Some new revelation that will transform studying to show myself approved into a wealth of suddenly acquired, instantly recalled knowledge.
Something that will cast everything in my life in a glow of spirituality.
And there is plenty of gravy out there for me to sop my roll in.
So many "life-changing" books, DVD's, programs, mindsets, prayers and purposes.
It's safe to say that there is at least one revolutionary new concept to red bull my spiritual walk for every day of the year. And, to be fair, probably most of them contain some useful tenets.
(As sick as I am of purpose-driven everything, the opening salvo of Rick Warren's original work was, and is, jolting and refreshing. 'It's not about you.')
But there's always a post-discovery let-down.
Screwtape told Wormwood that God allows "this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavour. It occurs when the boy who has been enchanted in the nursery by Stories from the Odyssey buckles down to really learning Greek. It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together. In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing."
As much as I love stumbling onto an ice-cold spiritual energy drink on a long, hot, dry day, I know what really keeps me going.
Faith. Faith that sometimes feels so dry.
Faith that feels like its pulling me along so slow that the only logical explanation for moving mountains is that they simply crumbled into dust before I could get to them.
One foot in front of the other, fueled by a slow, time-released work of grace.
God knows what I need. And He gives it to me in "just-enough" portions every day.
And I am so . . . unspeakably grateful.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

March Insanity

I have had a bad case of, well, I won't say writer's, but blogger's block.
But for those addicted to my blog (stranger addictions have enslaved people; sniffing paint, drinking Drano . . .) I have called in a pinch-hitter, a guest blogger who has been pestering me for years for their big break. It was getting a little pathetic, entreaties kept coming accompanied by ProFlowers, candygrams, and once, weirdly, a PajamaGram. I was feeling stalked, so I relented.
Really, I was surprised by this article because I was feeling a little like the only nut in a sane asylum, or whatever. I like college football, but . . .
Just consider this a plea for common sense from a person living in Kentucky where the whole town, already suffering from early onset March Madness, is on the edge of a sports driven mass hysteria. Just today, the Wildcats destroyed their arch-rival Tennessee, and if the jubilant blue-clad throngs weren't flooding the streets, they were by-George flooding the restaurants and retail outlets following the ill-timed midday game.

Sports Fanatics | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Comments, please. Especially, if you disagree.

Sunday, February 07, 2010


There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Iluvatar; and he made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made. And he spoke to them, propounding to them themes of music; and they sang before him, and he was glad. But for a long while they sang only each alone, or but few together, while the rest hearkened; for each comprehended only that part of the mind of Iluvatar from which he came, and in the understanding of their brethren they grew but slowly. Yet ever as they listened they came to deeper understanding, and increased in unison and harmony.
And it came to pass that Iluvatar called together all the Ainur and declared to them a mighty theme, unfolding to them things greater and more wonderful than he had yet revealed; and the glory of its beginning and the splendor of its end amazed the Ainur, so that they bowed before Iluvatar and were silent.
Then Iluvatar said to them: 'Of the theme that I have declared to you, I will now that ye make in harmony together a Great Music. And since I have kindled you with the Flame Imperishable, ye shall show forth your powers in adorning this theme, each with his own thoughts and devices, if he will. But I will sit and hearken, and be glad that through you great beauty has been wakened into song.'
Then the voices of the Ainur, like unto harps and lutes, and pipes and trumpets, and viols and organs, and like unto countless choirs singing with words, began to fashion the theme of Iluvatar to a great music; and a sound arose of endless interchanging melodies woven in harmony that passed beyond hearing into the depths and into the heights, and the places of the dwelling of Iluvatar were filled to overflowing, and the music and the echo of the music went out into the Void, and it was not Void. Never since have the Ainur made any music like to this music, though it has been said that a greater still shall be made before Iluvatar by the choirs of the Ainur and the Children of Iluvatar after the end of days. Then the themes of Iluvatar shall be played aright, and take Being in the moment of their utterance, for all shall then understand fully his intent in their part, and each shall know the comprehension of each, and Iluvatar shall give to their thoughts the secret fire, being well pleased. --J.R.R. Tolkien,
The Silmarillion.
In church, we've been discussing heaven. This opening chapter of Tolkien's posthumously published history of his fantasy creation always comes to my mind.
Tolkien said "I dislike Allegory- the conscious and intentional allegory-yet any attempt to explain the purport of myth or fairytale must use allegorical language."
Tolkien's mythical history of Arda, the Earth, is so analogous to the Creation Story it is impossible not to juxtapose the two when reading the opening chapters of The Silmarillion.
And his imaginative narrative of God and his angels before Creation is rich with meaning.
It gives me some idea or at least prods my imagination toward what we will be about in heaven.
And I can't tell you how exciting this is for me.
No death wish here, just a longing to know my true purpose in God's ultimate plan, and to know from which part of the mind of God I came.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Church Stuff

In church, I am outwardly the proverbial bump on the log. Since my younger days, my reticence extends to arguably obstinate eccentricity. I don't exactly feel comfortable not responding when the preacher says, "Everybody that's happy in the Lord, raise your hand.", but I prefer the discomfort to the manipulated feeling I would suffer if I complied.
It is nothing personal to the preacher. His urging may be an earnest attempt to engender a consensus of corporate worship, and not a deliberate contrivance for control. But I know myself, and I know what one step down that road of, "It can't hurt." can lead to.
When it comes to impressions from God, erring on the side of maybe is dangerous. One too many times, I responded to ambiguity, and so doing, followed the trail of crumbs just far enough. The door slammed shut and the lights went out and I suddenly had no idea where I was.
If looking in the mirror one too many times was a sign of vanity, which time was too many? Before long, it becomes vain to comb your hair, and your appearance degenerates into that of a very sanctified bohemian.
If you can never pray too much, what minute is just enough? After a time, you begin to dread morning devotions and every moment spent in any activity other than prayer or Bible reading carries with it potential guilt.
If fasting one meal a week is good, then why not one meal a day, or two? God will surely see to your health even if you cease eating altogether, and the protestations of common sense are marginalized and evicted and stand outside hammering on the door demanding to be let back in.
If music can be a vehicle of the devil, then not listening to it at all must be the safest route.
If the sight of a woman can arouse lust in your teenage hormones, then casting your eyes down in public will preclude any possibility of sinning with your eyes.
Before long, you are completely neutralized as an effective saint, miserable and hopeful only of death, and even here, doubt prowls. If I were to die, would I really go to heaven?
But, I digress. And digress. And digress.
So, how important is harmony in corporate worship?
Belonging to a very small congregation pastored by a man with which I'm completely comfortable (except when I'm used as an illustration) isolates me somewhat from the issue.
But I remember what it is like. And being so accustomed to sitting under the ministry of a pastor whose tastes and deportment are so oddly like my own, I squirm all the more when I'm in an unfamiliar church setting and the pastor or song leader (worship leader to you contemporary worship parishioners) asks for a show of hands on anything from loving the Lord to being happy in the Lord to being happy to be in church tonight, amen.
And the cheerful suggestion of a nice round of hand-shaking and one-arm hugging to the tune of "I'm So Glad I'm a Part of the Family of God," is enough to turn me into an absolute extension of the seat itself; a veritable pew ornament as wooden as the hymnal holders and as stuffy as the padding.
I feel manipulated, and I think it's corny. If I really wanted to go tell Bro. So-and-So how glad I am to see him and how much I appreciate him, I'd go tell him without any prompting from pulpit authorities and if Bro. So-and-So isn't a dim-bulb, he'll get a lot more out of the involuntary appreciation as opposed to the church-sanctioned variety.
Advocates will tell you it's just an opportunity for everyone to take a break from the ordered portion of the service to greet everyone and foster camaraderie.
I say, then what is all that jawing in the back thirty minutes prior to and following the service? Warm-up and after-glow, I guess.
And the "How many (insert platitude), raise your hand and say amen" thing is a complete mystery to me.
When did this start? And why?
Are they hoping the wet blankets will out themselves? Looking for lightning rods? Looking to bolster their own stage confidence?
How much of corporate worship is uninhibited burden sharing and accountability and how much of it is peer pressure?
I know there is a place for one and none for the other, but I'm beat if I know how to tell the difference. And don't we need to somehow distinguish the sometimes uncomfortable moments of one from the sometimes embarrassing fiascos of the other?
I know that in church you have people which can occasionally lead to messy, merely sentimental situations and not every moment in church can be deeply, quietly spiritual.
But I also feel that somewhere along the line we've allowed a lot of stuff to attach itself to our church practices and it has weighed us down, like those ads keep telling me that hamburger I ate two week ago is weighing down my colon.
So, anybody else out there?
Or, am I just being a stick-in-the-mud?