hammer

Under the crack of the enduring Silence
the clay boy
quakes

As a hammer the windless echo descends
in yellow night
crushing

And the storm ends and the rain quits
and there is naught
but desert

He waits in fear for the scarring blow
long forever years
It comes

This silent era of prowling wolves
the boy stalked
despairs

The wordless prayer brings Silence more
the deliverance
detained

Hunching broken lost and fearful
child of mud
crushed

Before the foretold stroke is wrought
the hurt already
shatters

The air between is weapon fierce enough
to break fearful
a heart

Scatters the crafted dirt by feeted trample
passing sojourners
ignore

Clinging to clothes and hands the broken
travels the world
around

His name forgotten his time relinquished
as should be
should be

paper

And what are these paper scraps that fall from your hand?  Does your skin fall from duress, the affliction of air? Your look is wonder.  Horror? Question?  Why, oh lady, does the snow fall?

And what inks your papyri skin, lady white?  Whose name do you bear? And whose do you shed? Mark of honor, mark of shame, what notes do they play?  Sing a song with these stories of tattoo.  Lend a page, a hand, a cheek, a writ.  Tell me a story from your head's crown.  Is your own Name to be found on your fair hide?

Beware the foul Wind.  Sail it not, dear one.  It would blow you to terra's end and then a world more.  Far from the shores of your day, into the pass of Night.  Pay heed to the howl.  Hesitate not.  Run to the rocks, a shelter.  Give the Wind no hold.  He loves you not.

Do you waste? What are these flakes?  How do we save the tattered and lost?  Walls?  Can I build you a fortress?  A pasting adherent?  A paint to make you anew?  How do I save and protect you?

Or is this the beauty of your form?  The torn edge, the transparent arm?  That a blade could cut and never kill?  White lady, does your paper form hide the strength of thunder?  Loud and cracking, wild freedom.  Is your strength your weakness?

And what are these paper scraps that fall from your hand?

closing

As doors open and close, it is easy to forget that which has passed.  So with gratitude I reflect on the things I have been allowed to be a part of these past few years through my employment.  I was perhaps just a small cog in the machine, but I raised millions of dollars for good work to be done...

•  Feeding orphans, the destitute, the starving, the homeless
•  Giving clean water to those whose only option had been tainted, poisoned
•  Disaster relief: earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes
•  Medical care and supplies for those with nothing else
•  Support for those bringing the life-giving Word of God across the world, including those where the name of Christ could imprison the minister of the gospel
•  Support for those suffering extreme persecution; help for families whose loved ones are in prison for the name of Jesus
•  Bibles in many languages into the hands of the searching
•  Bibles and spiritual provision for the soldier
•  Battling the stress and strain of the return from war with counseling and the Word
•  Leadership training for building churches in spiritually starving countries
•  Supporting ministries across campuses
•  And so, so much more

If one life was saved through these efforts, it was worth the years.

Ransomed.  Adopted.  Redeemed.

inexplicable

I test his name on the wind and you laugh
I balance his weight in the currents and you frown
And I know that I don't know
But I try and I am sorry

So I cede the field of this battle
Retreat to tend the wounds
Of the veil of fears that sunders
Our hands

Tin is the ring of the rod
On my back and flames are
The toll of the breath
That I breath

Aflame I am scoured and ascarred
To bleed the dross of my words
But unlike the soldier my cast
Is the form non-thing

And I try to say blue and you ask yellow
I attempt the song and you beat a droll rhythm
And I know that I don't know
But I try and I am sorry

communion

My church has a very particular way of serving communion.  Two believers stand before the congregation holding the bread and the cup.  As believers feel led, they come up and stand before the two holding the elements.  The participant takes a piece of bread and rips it from the loaf, and the one holding the bread says, "Christ's body was broken for you."  One takes the broken bread and dips it into the drink beside, and the other holder says, "Christ's blood was shed for you."  My general practice is then to return to my seat and pray before I take in the given reminder.  It has often been a powerful time, but each time I take communion, I am reminded of one particular instance of recalling our Lord's sacrifice amongst my church family.

It is very common for me to feel other.  Other, outside, alien.  Strange and different.  And the cost that this has through the currency of my pride is to grow consumed with feelings of worthlessness and the assumption that people would not desire my presence.  Which of course gives me challenges in being present, especially amongst gatherings of people.  This leads into a little over three years ago pushing myself to go on a men's retreat with my church.  I knew of a lot of the people going, but they did not necessarily know me.  Something that comes from being the quiet and listening type (and not feeling worth their time).  As I first arrived to the retreat center, I did get in conversation with a couple men: one of them in particular I had remembered a little from my days in college, and then from attending the same church for many years, along with being in a book study with him though in all that time we hardly got the chance to interact.  On this Friday night though we more officially exchanged names and talked a little, nothing profound, but he is a man that you know loves well as soon as you talk with him.  It was not a shock to me to know he bore deep love for others, but I was surprised to see how evident it was that he very quickly and easily loved me through our short talk.

Unfortunately as the week continued, I never really got in conversation with him again.  I found myself battling my pride through some of my fears and doubts and hurts, though I would not mark this as the worst of occasions.  I still found myself alone a lot, watching and listening.  This itself is not a bad thing, it is a very necessary thing, but it can itself make me feel different and strange if I think of people noting it.  The weekend went along, and I did have the conversation here or there that was important, but come Sunday morning, as we met for the final time before heading home, some of these feelings of being strange and otherly began to take hold.  And I was alone.  Sitting in a crowd.

To close our time we took communion as brothers in Christ.  And in the midst of feeling undeserving of being with these great men of faith, feeling it a lie to call them truly brothers, undeserving to break the bread of our Lord with them, I walked up to the front to take part in the feast of redemption.  And I took from the bread, breaking off a piece, and heard, "Christ's body was broken for you."  I moved over to the cup, dipping in my meager bread and heard, "Christ's blood was shed for you, Andrew." And I looked up to see the smile of the dear brother who I had gotten to talk and share with on the Friday night before.

This may seem a small thing.  But to one who feels often forgotten, the use of one's name can be a powerful thing.  I wasn't just one of the men in the line.  He was remembering me, and my story when he spoke to me.  More, he was being Christ to me in this instance.  This man knew me, and loved me, undeserved as that was, just as Jesus knew me and loved me, undeserved as that is.  I returned to my seat overcome with Jesus' mercy and grace and overwhelming love.  I smiled and I prayed and I cried. Ever since, when taking or serving communion I remember that day and I remember that man, showing the love of my savior.

And today that dear brother is Home.   Geoff Dykstra, the kindest man you could ever meet (and if you know my hesitancy to use -est words, you know I mean this with my full heart) lost a months-long battle with leukemia this past Saturday morning.  Or more accurately he won the battle, never giving into doubt, fear, anger.  But continuously praising his Lord and his God.  The accounts are abundant of the ways he ministered to all around him in the midst of his illness.  I know I will miss his smile and his heart: his quick and ready love.  But we grieve in faithful hope.  Knowing he wakes to new life fulfilled.  If you think of it, pray for his wife and five young children he has outpaced on the journey Home.

Thank you, Geoff, for being the love of Jesus to me.

biblioteca

"I've developed a great reputation for wisdom by ordering more books than I ever
 had time to read, and reading more books, by far, than I learned anything useful from,
 except, of course, that some very tedious gentlemen have written books." 
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

I enjoy encountering lists of favored things and perhaps meeting new items of interest or being challenged to look at something I had earlier encountered, in passing or in full, under a new lens.  I, however, find it very difficult to make such lists because of the desire for precision and accuracy that leaves me lame in many areas.  And yet, I am tasking myself with making just such a list.

I read a fair amount of books this year.  Probably too many to be honest (this is why I am not setting a reading goal for 2014).  So here, is my list of the top 10 books that I read for the first time in 2013.


“I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed
 a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and
 went out of the room.” 

10. Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler

This was the hardest choice for me, as it requires me to eliminate so many other worthy choices.  This may be getting awarded for the merits of the fair number of other Chandler novels I read this year as well.  But this was the best of the bunch (because I read The Big Sleep last year (2012) and plan to start The Long Goodbye, today (New Year's Eve 2013)).

I have come to learn that I adore Chandler's writing.  So many people imitate him.  Heck, he's technically imitating Hammett and the like.  But he does it better than the rest, or I'm a stuffed duck.  His fast flying wit can balance the profound with the ribald as if they both were feathers (and yet both can easily unbalance such a story).  He will paint a powerful metaphor, then shoot off the slyest of jokes.  Chandler is a master, but is perfectly comfortable writing a pulp detective novel.

Read The Big Sleep.


"By night and by day I hear a double step upon my trail. When I turn my head it is as
though one had hidden himself from me that instant. I go to look behind the trees and he is not
 there. I call and none cry again; but it is as though one listened and kept back the answer. I lie
 down, but I do not rest. I run the spring running, but I am not made still. I bathe, but I am not
 made cool. The kill sickens me, but I have no heart to fight except I kill. The Red Flower is in my
 body, my bones are water—and—I know not what I know."

9. The Second Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

I had read The First Jungle Book many a times with the full intention of reading the second in following.  But it kept not happening for various reasons.  So I just started at the second this time, and lo and behold, I finished the darn thing.

My listing this comes with a caveat; the same caveat I have for the first one.  I love the Mowgli stories.   The others I can basically do without.  The Mowgli stories are tremendous.  Kipling's language comes alive when he is creating this world for the little Man-cub, the frog.  It is a living moving world, apart from Kipling himself.  It is a world he fell into, rather than created.  Where the Law's of the Jungle pre-existed him, he was merely their prophet.

Read these.  Read them now.  Learn of the frog who was purchased at the price of a bull.



"It often seems to me that of all the good things in the world, the only ones humanity can
 claim for itself are stories and music; the rest, mercy, beauty, sleep, clean water and
 hot food [...] are all the work of the Increate. Thus, stories are small things indeed in the
 scheme of the universe, but it is hard not to love best what is our own."

8. The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe

Gene Wolfe.... Some consider him one of the best writers running only impaired by the fact that he chooses to write genre fiction (Wolfe counters that 'literary' fiction is a newer invention than fantasy, heh).  This series is often considering his masterpiece.  It is at times, mind-bending, frustrating, seemingly juvenile, unapproachable, and cryptic.  And yet the knowledge that there is always more going on underneath the murky water... the ripples, and sometimes you can see the glimmer and movement of this glorious thing, a light from below the waves.  And you are always hungry for another glimpse, another gasp of recognition.

I shall continue to scour the waters that Wolfe muddies, in the hopes of finding the golden beast that rides the current beneath.  If you are wishing to try, I would recommend his series The Wizard Knight as a jumping on point (He may have others, but I am still limited on my ability to help with this).



“You have wakened not out of sleep, but into a prior dream, and that dream lies within
 another, and so on, to infinity, which is the number of grains of sand. The path that you
 are to take is endless, and you will die before you have truly awakened.” 

7. Short story collections of Jorge Luis Borges

I came into the possession of Borges's complete story collection; I have yet to read them all.  I have read about half presently.  And of that half, I have perhaps understood a tenth of what I read.  No, that is way too much credit.  Borges was an influencer of writers who is just now coming into his own fame, it seems.

His stories entrance, enchant, entangle, and baffle.  He took a look at the mysteries of the world, stared into the limits of infinity, and comes back frozen by the gorgonic emptiness of the view.  His stories seem to be his search, his continual quest against the foes of language and time, mortality and soul.  He poses questions and theories, throwing darts to see if any pierce the hide of truth.  It is quite the experience.  I look forward to continuing my journeys through his labyrinths.

Stories I enjoyed (that I can recall...):
Man on Pink Corner
Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius
The Circular Ruins
The Lottery in Babylon
The Library of Babel
The Garden of Forking Paths
The Shape of the Sword
Death and the Compass
The House of Asterion


“We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. 
How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important,
 about something real?” 

6. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

It is a curious thing: I rated this book 5 stars on Goodreads and yet there are books I am listing better on this list to which I gave 4 stars, and yet I do not question my ratings.  It seems the reason why is that I feel Fahrenheit is a near-perfect execution of what it sets out to do.  I could not find a means of docking it a star as it seems to totally fulfill itself.

I came into this book hearing that it was a response against McCarthyism and the censorship that comes from it.  Perhaps the short story it was originally based on was, but this book was not, and for that it was much much better.  Not that McCarthyism doesn't need some opponents (we can still credit The Crucible as that), but the source of the censorship in Fahrenheit is someone else entirely, someone far more relevant to any day.  Me.  My own comfort.  My own laziness.  Bradbury eerily predicts social media, reality TV, and our regression towards non-literacy. This book stabs at the heart of our current culture.

Of the 3 big dystopia novels, this one apparently wins out as my favorite (though Brave New World still stands up as quite relevant).  Bradbury has become a must-read for me.  (Though I found it sad to see in some of his comments in the afterstuffs the feel that Bradbury wrote to overcome his mortality.  It seems like such a sad sad life to be so bound up in your legacy that you write out of necessity to live beyond yourself.  Pride and folly... This will always be a sad sidenote to the idea of this story for me.)



“And everywhere people asked him why he was walking through the country.
 Because he loved true things, he tried to explain. He said he was nervous and besides
 he wanted to see the country, smell the ground and look at grass and birds and trees, 
to savor the country, and there was no other way to do it save on foot. And people 
didn't like him for telling the truth. They scowled, or shook and tapped their heads,
 they laughed as though they knew it was a lie and they appreciated a liar. And 
some, afraid for their daughters or pigs, told him to move on, to get going, just not 
to stop near their place if he knew what was good for him. And so he stopped telling 
the truth. He said he was doing it on a bet - that he stood to win a hundred dollars. 
Everyone liked him then and believed him.” 

5. Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

Or Let Me Rewrite the Novel that Made Me Famous Only I Will Focus on a Different Monterrey Populace.  You cannot read Cannery Row without thinking of Tortilla Flat; I know some who prefer his earlier work, but I found myself loving "the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses" more.  Why is that?  To me, Cannery Row retained Tortilla Flat's humor and ragamuffin quality, but I think it better represents Steinbeck's ability to cut into being human and serve it up in slices of a curious experience.  I think he is just showing his growth as a writer.  And I like it.  (I like Tortilla Flat too.)

I am realizing that far too much of this work has already slipped through the cracks of my memory which is making me want to reread it.  I would recommend this book to anyone who has ever liked a Steinbeck novel.  And if your only reference for Steinbeck is The Grapes of Wrath in high school, maybe still give this a try (or give East of Eden a try first.)



“It was not the house that grew dull, but I that grew dull in it."

4. Manalive by G.K. Chesterton

The above Gene Wolfe once noted how Chesterton has fallen out of the spotlight though he predicts a coming return of his works.  It may in fact be happening.  At the very least, I am discovering him, and I will never be the same.

When I began Manalive, I think I was at one of my wavering points of focus in reading, and had trouble getting my mind to illustrate what I was consuming.  And so it took me some time before I began to realize the power of this work.  This realization still continues to this day and I suspect a reread will happen soon.

In this little work, Chesterton tries to reveal what true living is, and how our eyes wander.  As his protagonist says, "I am going to hold a pistol to the head of the Modern Man. But I shall not use it to kill him—only to bring him to life."  No book on this list may change my language more than this one.  And yet there is an element to which the purpose overtakes the story.  I am not opposed to a well done didactic story as is common, but it does still rob the work of living breath.  

Still, read it!  I have actually had the desire to get a group of people to read through it and discuss it, as I think it would be a fruitful event... Just sayin'. 





“He knew only that his child was his warrant. He said: If he is not the word of God
 God never spoke.” 

3. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

My first venture into McCarthy's dark worlds and it proved quite the sojourn.  Much has been made of McCarthy's style of prose, for both good and ill; in the end, I enjoyed his Hemingway/Faulkner superblend (apparently his editor edited Faulkner).

This story attempts to answer the question of how could a man hold on to his humanity in the midst of a world where right and wrong is discarded for the sake of survival.  What could be the light that one holds on to.  Full of symbols, unanswered questions, McCarthy takes you through a journey of storms and quiet gray contemplation.

This is perhaps not a happy book, but a hopeful one.  I have since read All the Pretty Horses by McCarthy as well, and plan to continue through his books, but I think I would recommend The Road as a starting point from what I know of his works.



“We are all resigned to death: it's life we aren't resigned to.” 

2. The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene

Honestly, if I were to fully lay out the happenings of the story, alongside how much I loved this book, you might consider me afflicted.  In fact, if you were to read the book, you may think even worse of me than you already do.

Ultimately, The Heart of the Matter is an adultery story.  Combined with Greene's Catholic guilt and duty, you find the main character unraveled and destroyed by his own sense of unattainable responsibility.  And yet, what better marks the travails of man than our attempts to be 'enough'.  To be enough of a man, enough of a husband, enough of a faithful believer, enough of a friend, enough enough enough.  We weigh ourselves down with every burden and ideal.

What this book left me with was something another man once said, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."

Greene has become a writer that I will continue to pursue and grapple with, as he has canny insight into the human condition and a masterful way of portraying it.  However, perhaps I should encounter one of his comedies next time... just to shake it up a little.

I would probably very rarely recommend this book to others for fear of people only getting the tragedy and not the Grace.  At the very least I would point a curious reader to another of Greene's great works, The Power and the Glory, first.



“I am grateful for all those dark years, even though in retrospect they
 seem like a long, bitter prayer that was answered finally.” 

1. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

And here is the year's winner, as well as the 2005 winner of the Pulitzer Prize.  This book paints the struggles and doubts and nobility of an honestly Christian preacher in the small town of Gilead.  It has the man of John Ames looking back into his own past, his father's past, and even his grandfather's past (both having been preachers in the same town as well) for the sake of looking and speaking into his young son's future.  It is the tale of generations of faith and long-suffering endurance. Waiting through the sound of silence.  John Ames made an easy step into my list of favorite literary characters (a possibility for another top 10 list, but one that would cause me far more frustration and blood-letting).

Of all of the books on the list, I do not question this placement in the least.  It is possible that Manalive may change me more through my remaining days, but in this book, Robinson hits my heart with every inkéd arrow she looses.  In this book, I love and I hurt, I long and I cry.

I already know from experience that not every reader's heart greets this story the way mine did.  So I recommend it with fear and doubt, as I do most books that I love.

muster



"But on him mighty doom was laid,
till Moon should fade, an orbéd star
to pass, and tarry never more
on Hither Shores where mortals are;
for ever still a herald on
an errand that should never rest
to bear his shining lamp afar,
the Flammifer of Westernesse."
The Fellowship of the Ring


The longing has come upon me once more.  My eyes have seen the sea and my heart longs for the Distant Shore.  The draw to rereading The Lord of the Rings has become too strong to ignore.

But I want to challenge myself in the rereading of it.  And that's where you come in.  I have a few ideas in my head as to the how, but cannot yet decide as to the which.

• First idea: Write up a little response to each chapter like I did for The Hobbit a few years back (which I actually never finished...)

Second: Try to draw my way through the reading.  I have always wanted to do this, but am greatly afeared of the project.  I warn you, if you pick this option, you will very likely see nary a hair on a hobbit's foot of my drawings.  (and I will likely give up very quickly, hah)

Third: This option could be dangerous to you... In this I would try and muster a troop of like-hearted readers who would want to read through it communally.  And some form of communication on the reading would accompany this option.  Whether it be an online book club thing like what The Rabbit Room did with So Brave, Young and Handsome, or meeting up in person to discuss it, or some other option still not yet seen.

• Fourth: Probably the easiest, but the most likely to bring out the curmudgeon in me, is to read through them and then do a 'review' or play by play watch through of the movies full of my complaining and crying (and occasionally complimenting) the adaptation.

• Fifth: Other.  You'll have to leave the suggestion in the comments.

Please vote on the poll to the left.  (If you want to join in the reading, I have extra copies...)



I presently need to finish one book which will take me a bit longer, and then I will probably whip through The Hobbit really quickly.  After that I'll be raring to go.