You should read the story called True Believers before you read this.
I should have called Sparks before I went to New Orleans. Why? Because he’s one of those guys who just knows things. If it’s strange, unexpected, out of place, forgotten, or downtrodden, Sparks knows about it. I should have called him. I should have.
Instead I went to the French Quarter, down St. Ann street, through the little green door and back down that alley. But Bayou John’s voodoo shop was gone. The door was locked and there was a for rent sign in the window. I cupped my hands over my eyes and leaned into the glass. Carl’s counter was at the back of the store. A mug and a can of Diet Coke lying on its side were on top of it. There were a couple of cardboard boxes on the floor along with a chair and a mop.
I stepped back and looked at the door, hoping there might be a note or some clue about where they went. But of course there was nothing. I knew there wouldn’t be. Carl doesn’t leave forwarding addresses, and Bayou John isn’t concerned with anything that’s not happening in the present moment and right in front of him.
It took me a month to find them, and that would be a whole story itself if I had time to tell it. The short version is I talked to all my marginal friends. People living on the ragged edges around the boundaries of various spiritual and philosophical systems. No one knew anything. I finally got a clue from an old chatroom I used to frequent with Sparks. They call themselves “The Pirates.” They said Carl was in Waco somewhere south of the Baylor campus. Continue reading
All the metaphysical questions remain alive within me, burning and roiling. They are my birthright and will not go away. The family of questions surrounding my physical reality in this culture and world have faded and finally become almost comical, like the old silent cartoons of cats and dogs, bobbing and grinning.
There is an entire universe within me. A unique vision and voice, given to me as it has been so given to every person who has walked this world. It is a secret reality, one that can never be communicated, though I’ve tried my best to tell my story. I plan to explore this inner reality during the second half of my life. One can’t, really, in the first half. It’s second half work.
I’ll never be finished, but damn if I don’t expect it to be a helluva journey.
Not really on speaking terms.
I don’t go to church anymore. That’s the down-and-dirty truth of it. I don’t. And I don’t plan to go back. I don’t plan not to go back. I just don’t plan. I don’t think about it one way or the other. So that’s what it’s come to. Real Live Preacher stopped being a preacher and then stopped going to church altogether. Now I’m one of those guys who wakes up on Sunday and says, “Hmm. What do I want to do today?”
I know some of you have never been church people, so you don’t get why this is even a thing.
You don’t go to church? So what? Church is boring and they ask for money and they’re always telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. It’s icky and creepy and weird. Why would anyone be part of that?
I totally get you on this. I understand. I do. Yep. Continue reading
It often begins with crazy people. They sense a deep movement, like animals feeling a coming tsunami. They howl and emote and act out. Their gibberish is like a dream. If you took the time to listen you’d find clues to the coming storm.
Then we hear from the iconoclasts. They aren’t pure in heart. God no. They love a fight and if possible they want to be the one who started it. They can’t seem to live in polite society and are always looking for cracks and pain and confrontation. They write and protest and send letters to the editor. They gather disciples and start moving off into communes.
Soon the scales begin to fall from the eyes of the masses. The top end people get on board. A few years ago they had not thought of this new thing but now they jabber away, excited, as though it was their idea. These are also the folks who figure out how to monetize the new way of thinking and being. The beneficial economic possibilities are what often bring us to a tipping point. Continue reading
Sometimes it is a good thing to give away something that hurts. I have given two such gifts in the last decade.
First, I sent the small New Testament that I studied from, read personally, and used in the pulpit to someone as a gift. I wore that Bible out. Battered, beat up, filled with little notes. I sent it to a man who lives across the world from me, geographically, philosophically, culturally. I don’t expect he will ever read it. I didn’t send it to him for that. I assumed that, as he is a man of extraordinary taste, he would recognize the inherent beauty of any well-used tool that was once in the possession of someone who worked with it for their living and life.
A voice spoke to me from within. I shit you not. “Send your Bible to ____.” So I did. Continue reading
Jeanene and I were sitting in Rosario’s a few weeks ago on First Friday. That’s a street festival held in Southtown San Antonio the first Friday of each month. Artsy. Lots of hipsters. Very cool. You’d like it.
We always eat at Rosario’s on First Fridays, and I always get the Fideo, which is a Mexican soup with spaghetti in it. I know that sounds weird, but it’s the kind of thing your Abuela would have made for you back in the day. I also usually get a top shelf frozen margarita. I know it’s not as sophisticated as the on-the-rocks ones, but I drink straight whiskey now so I don’t have to prove shit to anyone. I like them frozen.
Anyway, the people-watching at First Friday is also top shelf. I was by the big window that looks out onto Saint Mary’s street watching a guy riding a fixed gear bike and wearing a storm trooper’s helmet. My head was turning to follow him as he rode by when I noticed two gay men walking with a child. There was something about the way they interacted that made me know this was a family. Continue reading
It’s year six and I am officially in the Negev now. And only now am I beginning to understand what is happening to me.
I spent the first five years after I left the ministry lingering near the border, afraid to commit to the wilderness, looking back to Egypt and dreaming of halcyon days, fleshpots, and beauty. Yes, beauty. Egypt was so lovely that sometimes my soul would shudder. And the thing is, there are no cathedrals in the wild places. That is the thing you must know about the Negev. You have to let go of all that. Continue reading
I grew up in a world where one did not miss church on Sundays. Ever. It just wasn’t done, at least not in my family. We were among the insiders of the church who never missed, gave generously, and basically ran the show. There were lesser-committed members who attended maybe half the time. They weren’t exactly looked down upon, not exactly, but they were encouraged in sermons and Bible studies to step up their game and be a little more committed to the church, which we equated to being committed to Jesus.
There was also the C&E crowd – Christmas and Easter – who showed up twice a year to perform some sort of holiday penance. They sat awkwardly in the pews and struggled to comprehend the nuances of our liturgy and worship practice. They were welcomed warmly and made to feel at home, but they were clearly outsiders and pretty much the same as the people who
All. Continue reading
We’d need a place for this. Hopefully a place that is beautiful. My old church would be perfect. So would the Quaker meeting house here in town. Some place like those.
This place would be open for five hours on Sunday afternoons. A curator or spiritual guide would open and close each week. Come and go as you like. Come for thirty minutes or stay for the entire time.
There would be art supplies. There would be books. There would be tables with pens and paper. I would probably donate a drafting set and a copy of Euclid. There would be beads to make rosaries or maybe you just want to slide beads onto a string while staring out the window. Some people might bring things unique to their journey, so the room would be filled with a diverse collection of catalysts to fire the imagination, inspire conversation, make us think, lead us into prayer, or just help us quiet down and get through an afternoon without all the noise.
Some people would gather and talk. Others would want to be alone. Whatever you need. It would be our Sabbath place. A place for laying down burdens. No agendas. No labels. All would be welcome. We wouldn’t care what you believe or don’t believe.
No money. No budget. No staff. No overhead. Nothing that might derail the purity of our time together.
I’m thinking we would need two rules: No phones. Be nice.
This might be what I’m looking for.
When my faith went it did not go down the way I imagined it. And yes, I used to imagine what losing my faith would look like. Years ago at the church, alone on a Friday, standing before the empty room, working out my sermon and I would wonder just how much of this does the preacher actually need to believe.
And I would imagine what I would do if I didn’t believe enough anymore. How would I leave my beloved little church? And I did love that church with all my heart.
I thought losing my faith would be like a seduction. That sexy voice from my shadowy depths would finally work her way to the surface. She would sweep into the room and make public her claim on my heart. She would run her fingertip along my jawline and look right into my eyes.
Now you don’t really believe any of that nonsense, do you? Continue reading
Where is this Jewish troublemaker, this messiah, or king, or whatever it is he calls himself?
He’s in the antechamber your grace. He has been…softened, as it were, in preparation for your interview.
Bring him in.
Jesus is thrown to the floor.
Oh good god, they’ve overdone it. Albus this man is clearly no danger. Why is he in this condition? Continue reading
The first one eased out the door after 18 months of using her bedroom as a dorm, having no curfew, coming and going at all hours, driving us crazy with worry, and losing her religion joyously, like a kid throwing confetti into the air and with no apparent shame as she said to us, “Yeah, I don’t go to church anymore.” Continue reading
And so it has come to this. I’m going to leave for awhile. For a time. For an unspecified sabbatical. Maybe forever. Who knows? It certainly has a forever feel because I’m going out into the wild woods of the world and I’m not leaving bread crumbs behind me.
For now I still count myself among you. If asked I’ll say I’m an Episcopalian carved from untamed liberal Baptist stock. An iconoclastic Heyoka sort of character. The crazy cousin. The madman down by the river. Huck Finn on a raft with Jim and never comfortable wearing shoes or being indoors. If asked that’s who I’ll say I am. But I don’t expect anyone will ask. Why would they? Continue reading
Hello dear one.
Yes it’s me.
It HAS been a long time. Yes.
I haven’t been anywhere, really. Just away.
I DO love you.
I do. Continue reading
It’s Gordon. Again. Um, you know my deal. Of course you do; I’m just saying.
Hmm. Okay. I’m the worst. I mean, I know I’m not the worst; I’m exaggerating. But seriously, I am the worst at some stuff. Definitely. All the little details I miss. Definitely not a detail guy. I would say I’ll try harder but I’m 53 now and we both know I’ve said that many times before. I might just be the sort of person who’s pretty sucky at certain kinds of detail-oriented work and related responsibilities. My shit is definitely not squared away. I know that. Continue reading
The prayers of the people Form II in the Book of Common Prayer are beautiful if prayed with the intent to receive from God the energy and desire to make these petitions a reality in the lives of people around us.
Without that intent, those same prayers become a shameful abomination, a petty and callous attempt to shrug off responsibility in the face of real human suffering.
Sometimes the boundary between good and evil is nothing more than human intention, which is like a layer of Graphene resting on the surface of a jagged and erupting world.
“Hey, we need a new organ.”
“We sure do. And you know who has a great organ? First Baptist Church in Johnsonville. I hear their organ sounds great.”
“I’ll tell you what. Let’s visit there on Sunday and listen to it. If we like the way it sounds, we’ll go back Monday night, break in, and steal it.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Continue reading
Our world is full of music. Filled with it. But you will have to learn to hear this music. Or rather, you will have to unlearn the annoying and persistent habit of listening so that you can hear again. And that’s not an easy thing to do. Listening is what you’ve been taught. Listening is seeking meaning behind the sounds. Hearing is the older and more primitive use of your ears. And by now you will have just about forgotten how to hear.
You can practice the ancient art of hearing by paying attention to the sounds of people talking in a crowded room. You will hear the buzz of their voices but will not understand many of the words. This is hearing. And the sound of a herd of humans vocalizing is a lovely thing. Continue reading
This time he was under the freeway at I-10 and Wurzbach next to the guy with the walrus mustache who sells newspapers. Hitchhiking as usual. I couldn’t believe he was wearing my red Monty Python Spanish Inquisition t-shirt that my daughters gave me. It was hard as hell to pick him up too. There’s no shoulder on the road so I had to let the cars pile up behind me while he took his precious time getting in. A couple of people honked.
I didn’t look at him or say anything. He sat patiently in the passenger seat. I turned at the Pizza Hut and pulled into the Saint Francis parking lot. I shut off the car and took a deep breath. I hate looking at him, but it’s impossible not to. I turned my head and there he was looking back at me with one eyebrow raised, amused.
My eyes went to the top of his head to look at his hair. Of course. Then his glasses. The short beard. Slightly chubby midsection. Legs were muscular. Shoulders. Then his blue eyes. He looks just like me. That’s always hard to get used to. Continue reading
Near the beginning of the Episcopal worship service we sing a hymn called The Gloria. One stanza from this song has an eerie power over me. Specifically, it’s the last three words that I cannot ignore.
Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father,
Lord God, Lamb of God,
you take away the sin of the world:
have mercy on us;
you are seated at the right hand of the Father:
receive our prayer.
Receive our prayer. When we sing this line we stretch out the word receive in a way that I find compelling. “Receeeeeive our prayer.” Continue reading
I am drawn to the mystery of our ancient ancestors and obsessed with their god-like silence. Having no written language they left us nothing ephemeral but instead laid a foundation of guttural sounds and gestures from which we formed our modern tongues. What they did pass on were things older and deeper than writing. Archetypal stories and myths that are long gone but gave birth to other stories that in turn gave birth to ours. What fills our stories filled theirs. Love and loss and fear and gods and darkness. Heroes and villains and fire. Devils and sacrifice and salvation. I long to know more of our ancient mothers and fathers, but they marched mutely to their stone age graves and left us only what our experts can surmise from sifting through their middens and studying the odd pieces of art that survived. Continue reading
If I could hear just one word from you. Just one clear word and everything would change. To hear the church people talk, your words are a dime a dozen and fall like rain upon the just and the unjust. Broken souls who stumble in the church’s back door leave singing their own magnificat and I’m not hearing a thing.
Not in the book. Not during my prayers. Not from your Church. Continue reading
I have a problem with food. I know what the problem is. I eat compulsively. I can name the problem. I just don’t know what to do about it, exactly.
Or maybe I just don’t want to do anything about it.
What do I mean when I say I eat compulsively?
- I eat when I’m not hungry. I crave food when I’m not hungry, and in that moment I will get food and eat it anyway.
- I eat when I watch something on a screen. For reasons I don’t understand, watching a show or movie makes me want to eat. And you know what happens when I want to eat. (See #1)
- When I start eating for compulsive reasons, I don’t stop when the pleasure is gone. I continue well beyond the point of having fun. Sometimes I even begin to feel bad and yet I keep eating.
- I have a strange compulsion to eat all of whatever it is I have. If I buy a pint of ice cream and eat some of it, I’ll be watching something on a screen (#2) and my mind keeps returning to that half empty pint in the freezer. Eventually I’ll get up and finish it off. Sometimes I get the strangest feeling of satisfaction too, as if by eating all the cookies, I’ve got the cookies out of the house now and won’t be tempted by them anymore. In my bizarro eating world, finishing all the cookies is somehow a healthy move to make and will benefit me tomorrow. You know, tomorrow, when I start eating right.
- Rather than make and eat healthy food, I give in and grab a burger or something unhealthy and eat that for a meal, even though I don’t really enjoy it and would save time and money by eating something lighter and healthier that I could make myself.
Being the last gasps of my dying competitive spirit
Twenty-five miles in and there’s a rabbit up ahead. Some young guy with baggy shorts and a bike he got for Christmas. Look at him adjusting his ear buds. He has no idea what he has. Time for him is eternal and energy is always there for the taking. I coast briefly while I decide if I’m going to take him. I keep my eyes on him while I take a squirt of water. You don’t want to pass someone and then die a mile beyond him. If you go by him you just bought yourself whatever pace it takes to stay ahead. And he’s moving along at a decent speed. I’m averaging 17mph, which for a ride of this distance means I’m pushing a little. I’m not settling for what my bike and legs will give me.
Fuck it. I’m taking him. One last time for who I used to be. One more time to take the pain and love the hurt of it. My will against the ancient gods. My middle finger raised against the sunset. I will reel him in. And I will drop him. Continue reading
What you will notice first is the people. Look at them. See how they gather together in this place. Apparently this gathering ritual is a thing people do. And they are so at ease with it, gliding between the pews, exchanging greetings, having conversations before the service, waving across the room to their friends, sinking quietly into their seats to court silence before it begins.
Almost everything you will see has ritual significance. There will be so many rituals. Major rituals shared with the ancient Church and minor rituals particular to this congregation. Don’t try to sort out the rituals. Just watch them and be with them and soak in them for now. Continue reading
Some say we humans are made at the moment of conception. But I don’t agree. That’s when our bodies begin to be made, yes. But our souls are knit together in tragic and heroic moments, sometimes years before we are born, when the messages of our families are formed in the crucible of human experience.
What follows is an important moment in the making of me. It happened in 1957 on a typical Saturday afternoon at a shoe store in Marshall, Texas. Continue reading
Sunday, 22 March in the season of Lent
My God, my God, why have I forsaken You? Why have Your words, echoed through the ancient and holy Church, turned to babel in my ears? Why has my heart turned to stone? Did You harden it, as You hardened the heart of Pharaoh, for some mysterious purpose I cannot know? Why has apathy taken root in my soul?
What happened to my pathy? Continue reading
I read recently that men are statistically more likely than women to be narcissists. The story was in the Washington Post and quoted an article from the journal of the American Psychological Association, so it seems to be a valid study.
My own half century of interacting with men and women certainly does not represent numbers that would constitute any sort of meaningful cross section of humanity. But my limited experience leads me to think that the study is probably true. You take a hundred men and a hundred women, and a greater number of men from that group will be selfish and self-absorbed.
I comprehend the truth of the study, but I’m not sure what you and I should do with this newfound knowledge. If only one woman in a hundred was a narcissist, and if only one man in a hundred was not, what would that fact mean to you if you were to find yourself face-to-face with the exception from each group? Continue reading
This is the completed short story that is a companion piece to The Ministers’ Morgue, which you can read here. It’s not dependent on that other story at all. They are just written in the same style and address some of the some themes. I posted part one of this story back in October. But the opening has changed, so I’m posting it here in its entirety.
I could tell you the story of how I found Carl in New Orleans, but it wouldn’t do you any good. Carl moves his shop whenever the mood strikes him. During a stretch of time in 2008 he operated out of the back of a van. If you need Carl you’ll have to find him in your own way.
In my case, after some years of asking around, I ended up headed for New Orleans with some sketchy directions scribbled onto a scrap of paper in my wallet. I was supposed to look for a green door in a wall that led to an alley on St. Ann Street between Bourbon and the river. No address. Carl doesn’t really do addresses.
The French Quarter looked pretty much like it does in the movies. Narrow streets with wrought iron balconies on the second floors. I walked up and down St. Ann a few times, cursing when I noticed that almost every door is green. Eventually I found it. A narrow wooden door that looked like it was a hundred years old. So many layers of paint that the edges of the boards and even the hinges looked soft. Behind the door an alley twisted back between buildings and turned to the right. Around the corner was a dimly lit shop called Bayou John’s Voodoo Supplies. Continue reading
Monday, 2 March in the season of Lent
We eucharistic visitors have no truck with theology or philosophy when we are sent out into the world with our small box filled with the consecrated elements of our shared communion.
The box in which the bread and wine are carried has a handle on the top. I don’t trust the handle. I don’t trust the handle because Brian Zook doesn’t trust the handle, and he is the one who taught me the ways of the eucharistic visitor. Once Brian was holding the box by the handle – like a lunchbox – and the latch almost gave way. Imagine the bread and wine spilled onto an asphalt parking lot or into the floor of your car. So Brian holds the box in his arms. Therefore I hold the box in my arms too, and think of him every time I touch the handle, feel the fear of not trusting it, and tuck the box into my arms instead. Continue reading
Wednesday, 25 February in the season of Lent
Sometimes I visit Covenant Baptist Church on a Sunday morning. Not often. A few times a year. It’s always nice. I’m happy to see my old friends and they are happy to see me. I always experience powerful feelings there. How would you describe feeling very happy and nostalgic and introspective and a little out of place, as if time had moved on and you’re stuck a few years behind everyone else?
The last time I visited they were singing old hymns that reminded me of the faith my grandparents gave to my parents and they gave to me. Spirit of the Living God, O Worship the King, Breathe on Me Breath of God, We are One in the Bond of Love.
I fought tears throughout the service. That doesn’t always happen when I’m there. I think I was feeling particularly lost that Sunday and Covenant is a place where I remember not being lost.
Sunday, 22 February in the season of Lent.
In the Episcopal prayers and liturgy spoken during the Eucharist can be found this delightful paragraph:
At your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home.
This fragile earth. Our island home. These two phrases speak powerfully to me. What a fragile thing is our faith. Held together by hope, tradition, longing, practice, imagination, dreams, legends, and myth. We have no assurances that our faith is connected to any physical reality beyond our species, nor do we have any way of imagining how tenuous any such connection might be. Continue reading
I may have been given a great and terrible and sorrowful gift when I left the ministry. I did not ask for this gift; it came upon me like a palsy. I shook and trembled. The sight of the Church blurred and the words of church people turned to babel. The gift – or it might be a curse – is of new eyes and new ears. I see Christianity with the eyes of the outsider, and I hear our words with the ears of the stranger.
I speak of this gift or curse without pride, since I don’t want the damn thing. I was content in my dogmatic slumbers. I was happy when the words of the Church made sense to me and I saw my life and purpose safely nestled behind her walls.
But I left that life. I walked away. I told people I couldn’t be a pastor anymore. Said I couldn’t keep doing that. That’s all I knew to say then and it’s all I can think to say now, if anyone asks and mostly they don’t. Continue reading
If I had my way the Church would never speak of hell again, having lived in a purgatory of hellish conversations, devilish manipulations, and brimstone abuses for long enough. Let’s put that one to bed. For that matter, we’ve been talking too much in general and should perhaps consider a monastic period of silence for a hundred years, that silence broken only for internal communications and hospitality, should anyone ask us a question. This century of silence would be an act of penance and an attempt to restore our damaged reputation. Continue reading
I could tell you the story of how I found Carl in New Orleans, but it wouldn’t do you any good. Carl moves his shop around town whenever the mood strikes him. During a stretch of time in 2008 he operated out of the back of a van. If you need Carl you’ll have to find him in your own way….
This story has been completed and can be read here.
Four years ago I was somebody. I made a lot of words in those days. I was a word maker. Talking talking talking talking. Writing writing writing writing writing. Talking and writing. In my defense, there were people who wanted to hear me. There was even a group of people who paid me to talk to them every Sunday morning. It was a straight-up gig. On the level. I made words for people.
So many words. So very many words.
So I was at the talking place one Sunday morning, doing my talking thing, when I began to feel that I had said enough. My mouth slowly closed until it was small and round, like the mouths of the kids singing at the end of A Charlie Brown Christmas. And then my lips came together and no more words wanted to come out. Continue reading
While my father was in seminary he was the pastor of New York Baptist Church, which is a country church near New York, Texas. Recently I dreamed that I was going back to New York Baptist Church for some sort of reunion. My dad and I were driving there together. New York Baptist Church was on the 11,000th block of a major street in New York, Texas, which in my dream was a much larger town than it actually is. And the church building was carved out of solid rock. There was a huge rock face, and the church entrance was simply a door in the side of the rock.
The old man opened the door to the cafe and stepped inside. He put one hand on the counter by the cash register and took the measure of the place. His head moved slowly back and forth, pausing as he looked at the people sitting in the tables and booths.
He headed for his regular booth by the window. He was close to the booth before he noticed a man and his wife were sitting there. He stood beside the booth looking at them. The man smiled at him and said, “How you doin, sir?”
The old man didn’t reply. He looked at the man and then at the woman. He looked at the chips and salsa on the table and at the beer in the man’s hand. Then he tightened his lips in a disgusted look and walked away. The woman’s eyebrows lifted. She bared her teeth and sucked in her breath. She whispered “What the hell did WE do?” Her husband looked at her and shrugged. Continue reading
Take thou thy compass and describe a circle with center point A. Let this circle be called Circle A.
Neither increase nor decrease the angle of the hinge of thy compass. Let thy compass remain as it is.
Now take thy compass and place the needle at any point on the circumference of Circle A. Describe thou a second circle with center point B. Let this circle be called Circle B.
Let thy compass remain as it is.
Behold how the circumference of Circle B passes through the center point of Circle A and the circumference of Circle A through the center point of Circle B. The curtain of the Holy of Holies is before thee. Let the reader understand.
Thanks be to the Old One. Continue reading
i let him out after 39 months in solitary
i hadnt planned on it but my new friends are so nice and they asked if i would teach a bible study but just for three weeks so that was fine and of course i said okay because i like them and im happy to help out
i hadnt checked on him for so long and i wondered if maybe he was dead but he came right out and started with the usual demands he wanted his favorite books and an easel and a bible map and a big table and a bigger chunk of time and of course for me to get up early the morning of and pay the required emotional fees Continue reading