Thoughts From World 3


A fool can offer words, a creator can offer worlds

An academic can show you a world, a dreamer invites you into it

Consumers of knowledge are everywhere, generators of knowledge are the rarity

Anyone can summarize the great thoughts of others, yet not simply anyone can have great thoughts

An English teacher can beat a word into submission, a wordsmith can heal its wounds

A protector of doctrine can outline a concept, a lover of the world asks the concept why

A Truth can be hard/concrete or it can be Truth

The beginning of truth is the end of knowledge

Prose can show you the road, only poetry can create it

History can give you a story, the future must give you a home

You can audition for the world or you can make the world watch your audition

God can be your cage or God can be gateway

If God is love than love is our ultimate concern

The letterbox is the world, what do we drop into it

We can use our imagination or we can die thinking we see

Why be busy learning the story of others when you can write the story yourself

Meaning can be learned…might it be better created

Pain cannot be written, it can only be felt

Silence has a voice heard in its speechlessness

Vision is not what you see it’s what happens when you close your eyes

Love is unspeakable; it is the language of her stare

It is not happiness to write, it is sadness to quiet it

Longfellow turned to words, why must you then turn to Law

Thoreau found himself in the woods, after he was lost

Poe saw beauty yet we confuse it with madness

Freud thought the unthinkable and we remain thoughtless

Lacan dared write the real and we confused it with his words

Jesus is the son of freedom and we have preached a gospel of sadness

Faith is never certain and certainty cannot be faith

If you fear nothing than for what do you live






The Well is Dry

empty well

The well is tapped dry.

I dropped a coin over the ledge, leaning my shoulders over the abyss as my arms held me in place.  I listened as the coin plummeted to the bottom of the world.  Then it happened.  It was swallowed by the darkness.  The darkness swallowed it whole, the hole that swallows all wholes; it never made a noise; it never reached its destination; the well was empty with the darkness that swallowed everything.

I cock my head to the left, pitch my ear to the right, and stare at the wooden frame erected over the well that is apparently dry and defunct of use.  The wooden slats are held neatly in place, hugging one another tightly as cob webs are strewn from the miniature trusses that hold this cap over the darkness in place.  There is a pitch that holds the wood together; its boards being aged on the right side of the moon, apparently preventing the shrinking that would have exposed this hole for what it is.  The wood is a dark mahogany, that has grown darker with age, or perhaps it has grown darker from the dark beneath it, just as the moon gets its light from the sun in front of it.  The wood has a precarious position, such as Nietzsche’s sparrow, suspended over this abyss, only it remains without wings and is instead supported by columns that themselves have not the task of sitting over a dried up vitality that is this hidden indentation.

I listen as the coin was swallowed, waiting for an echo, a clink, a subtle sound that might suggest something is alive in the this wholesh hole into which coins go to die.  My ears were attentive, and my hands held onto the wooden beams for support.  No vibration.  No wind.  No noise.  Nothing.  The wood refracts no sound.  It reflects no light.  There is no living water in this well…this well is filled with darkness.  This darkness beneath enveloped in a spacious cavernous pit saliently thrusting itself into the earth, as porous particles of light radiate into this sheet of nothing, a darkness that not even the light can overcome.  Isaiah and John sit speechless peering over the ledge…

Precariously this empty well is contained in its place.  It has stones walls that descend to its presumed bottom and rise up out of the ground, at a quaint 3 and a half feet.  The stones hug one another closely, placed by a master artisan.  The beauty of its construction is matched by the terror of its design.  These stones are impregnable.  They are wed at each joint.  Their rough edges and roundedly smooth surfaces buttress their neighbors in a fortress that contains the darkness of the dry well.

What was meant to provide structure and security, now contains madness and despair.  It contains coins that never return and water that has disappeared.  These stones hold back the nothingness of a creativity that is lost and a exuberance that has been pillaged by the salt of time.  The stones are cool to the touch, just as one’s hand can notice if one dips their arms and phalanges into the crisp presence of the dark plane contained therein.  The coolness is refreshing, but it is a revitalization that betrays our senses.  It is cool to the touch not because it has life but because nothing is there.  Even these stones mock this reality, as mossy edges now cover their surfaces to disguise the absence of dead water and an empty well, a well run dry.

As I sit crouched over toward this wall, inspecting these stones, staring back at this wooden ceiling and hearing nothing inside this cage of nihilistic absence, at once an act of art and now also an act of creational treason, my hand touches these stones.  My fingers, the same ones that grasped into the well disguised as subsisting life, now feel the timelessness of these weathered and empty stones.

These stones seem to mock me with their silence.  They stare at me with their faceless expressions; The moss a testament to my stupidity rather than my anemic profundity.  I sit here, bent over, elbows on my knees, staring at the dry ground around this now dry well, and I do what becomes instinctual.  Like a man so long ago, I write in this dirt beside this empty well.  I write what I do not know, but what must be written.  I stare at the instantaneous production of semiotics.  I stare at the ridges of the dirt made by the tip of my life.

I take both arms off my knees, lift myself up and in a flash of Humean conviction, I drop one more coin, just in case the first careened into oblivion by accident.  To my chagrin, accidents are for Gods, not men.  God’s make gardens and then repent.  Men make a mess and then find no repentance, just a coin that plummets into the well that was never supposed to run dry.

I back away from the well, pulling my head back from under the protective cover of this behemoth of silence, encased by the hands of men and rocks of earth that live to tell us we too shall become empty.  This well, a microcosmic disclosure of the death that is pending…of the death that sometimes kills what we never thought would die even as it still lives inside of us.

My mind cannot handle this dry well.  My hands cannot tolerate grasping nothing.  My body cannot withstand having no one to claim it, nothing to renew it.  As I back away, I crouch once again, and stare back at the ground, my feet having now blurred the writing that was written with words unspoken and a language not yet created.  I sit and stare…in silence…my hand leaning against the encasement of a well that won’t give back, despite the romantic appearance of it architecture.

My head bends down, leaning heavy from my shoulders, as if Atlas can no longer carry the weight.

Sometimes, as one kneels over such places, losing parts of our selves, the coins that once splashed in wells such as this, we stand impotent.  This well has run dry.  The saints used to say the only proper response to such reality is doxology: praise in the darkness.  Yet, such praise is often swallowed by the demons in this well, the apparitions of hopes gone awry.  I cannot sing doxology in this place, not beside this well.  I cannot lie to my soul or myself long enough to speak words over a well that simply steals my voice.

What can I do, as the dirt beneath my feet contains vestiges of words written only momentarily?  I can do nothing but be.  I sit, crouched, yet close enough to my own oblivion to lean my head against its walls, feelings its jagged terrain press upon my forehead.  I hold myself with both arms, leaning forward into nothing, only protected by these barriers of moss and compressed minerals.  I stare blankly at the feet of the well, feeling nothing but gravity pressing upon my frame.

What can I do?  I can do nothing…but weep.  Tears trickle down the arch of my nose, to the tip of my face, the furthermost point a tear can travel and still claim to be mine.  I stare at it as it hangs on this edge of my being, waiting to fall and perhaps water this now barren place.  I wonder as it leaves me, if it will be enough to water this earth, seep beneath this ground and penetrate this stone laden bunker, perhaps convince the darkness that it needn’t be so mean and empty.

Yet, as the second tear crosses the pores of my skin, and moves slowly across the ridges of the face by which people know who I am, I taste the reality that neither doxology nor even tears can erase this beautifully laden scar.


Hamartia and the REAL Faults in our Stars



Hamartia is a lack. A negation. An absence. It is not a sin. It is the absence of landing in the right place, evading ones spot, presuming the spot, or target, was important enough to be hit originally.

The New Testament writers are correct: it is a wide landing, a missing of the proverbial bull’s-eye but the landing in itself implies a landing still.

But what if a ricochet occurs, and not only is the mark missed wide, but what if the “it” never lands? What if “it” transgresses infinity?

What if the hamartia never finds a home. What if what one was doing finds oneself in the place of undoing and the undoing just “is” because the hamartia remains in orbit…encircling everything but never finding anything?

One can peer into the abyssopelagic contours that contain the constant ringing of the hamartia that eternally misses. One can stare into the obsidian destitution that contains a plethora of cascading lights.

But the lights never shine on anything. They only illumine themselves. They are nothing but silent noise. Sparkles of madness.

The hamartia just rings through the halls of infinity.

Hamartia, typically translated “sin” doesn’t have to mean its translation. It can just mean landing elsewhere, even if elsewhere is nowhere. Its precise determination as a resting place that alluded its object.

The object is empty.

But suppose this is not the result of the carrier of hamartia. Suppose it’s a mark missed even when it was attempted to be hit with precision, care and a dream that burned hot until it incinerated its own content; content that turned into Thomistc straw.

Suppose hamartia is the most intended unintentional thing that has ever happened. Suppose volition meets boundlessness and the boundaries become forever blurred. Suppose this happens and it takes itself nowhere even as it misses the place that used to be somewhere.


Hamartia diagram

Hamartia, viewed in this realm, is not the transgression of an originary command or the lack of following the rules of Paul’s Christ. It is, rather, the eternal recurrence of unintended return that starts but has no end. Its end and its beginning is its own endlessness.

There is nothing that can be done about; it just Is. This is the sin that cannot be forgiven because forgiveness is a someplace that cannot hold the no-place. The mark is missed; Pandora refuses her box.

There is nothing more hamartirian than missing wide, landing nowhere and exceeding the balm of forgiveness that disguises no place as placed.

It is the deepest agony. The most profound sense of purposelessness. The ambiguity of ontological ambiguousness.

It is the burning of a thousand hells within, around and enveloping this hamartia because even hell spits it back out when it tries to land. This hamartia finds noplace, not even in the place where God is absent.

The Dark night of the soul is what they call it. The shade of St. John of the Cross patiently offering his silhouette. It is the night that outshines the sun.

Hamartia: the paralysis of going nowhere but having to be somewhere or the somewhere that is the nowhere. The mark that is missed because it can never be hit.

The disenchantment of totem objects decorating the sacred halls that no longer contain the element of the taboo…and lacking this…so too do they now lack our concern, let alone a concern that is ultimate.

The Nakedness of God revealed in the insulation that can no longer warm the heavens.

But all of this could be avoided if the hamartia had never occurred at the originary moment of its release. If the bow of Heracles had never been pulled back and caught in the cross hairs of the Christ.

What if the allure, the whispering from out of the closet, had…
rather than wandering on this Yellow Brick Road?
Ah…the hamartia, the beguiling moment that is never found because it never could be on this journey…the ricochet that never rests. The existent non-existent allurement of the thing that presses itself into creation without having any weight.

Hamartia being lost in a sea of woods, drowning in the idea that will never be thought, on the trip that leads to no place, captured in the words that do not matter and laughing at us from out of the darkness in which no one resides…

At the dream that should have never been dreamt.

This is the REAL Fault in our Stars.

The Hapless Nihil

hapless nihil

Those moments when you want to write, but feel lost in the sea of your own non ideas…As if every ounce of inspiration has been siphoned from your soul leaving you with nothing but a hollow spirit with clanging walls and cold diameters. And this is the nothing that is everything…the nothing that so stigmatizes your soul that it becomes what is…while the space that was once filled with vibrancy and lumination has become the cavern of respite and indifference…the nothing that weighs everything and the nothing that is absolutely the heaviest thing…that can lodge itself in the consciousness of a human being. How can we shake this cold hard absence? How can we embrace rigor mortise before it makes all resurrection impossible?

It’s easy to stare across the wasteland of intention and see nothing but parched land and tumble weeds. Intention is just that, an unrealized act, an unrealized event…the realization that the realized is pure potential without any form or content other than its own absence. How strange it is to feel this space and emptiness in one’s self. To see passersby occupy this same space, to try to lead them through it, to try to make a friend, only to be dismissed as something you are not.

…and the earth simply becomes more parched…unflinchingly absorbing tears as soon as they plummet to the earth in quiet despair. To be in this place and have absolutely no power, yet it is your place. This is Hell. To scream so loudly that no one hears you. To lift the weight of the world with your soul only to find your soul is simply the custodian of the burden. It’s going nowhere.

How, with your head cocked and fingers longing to be free to touch and feel again, how long does one sit in this squalid silence? To want to stand up and move. To want to be in relation with another anything. But feel pressed down by the force of a gravity you did not create nor can you negotiate. To feel absolutely helpless. To remain silent because you can do nothing else.

A cascade of ideas is not enough to pierce this earth and pry back its cracked ground…and force water into the crevices. A cascade of will…this nothing scoffs at. A cascade of desire sits at the fray of this nothing that is more chaotic than all the things created…and desire just sits…lonesome, knowing her other half is most likely never returning. There will be no homecoming.

The nihil is. When all else seems to fail and the great questions of our day are asked…meaning will simply be reduced to a reduction ad absurdum…laughing at us through its slanted eyes and cursing those of us who long for more than a world that is hapless before darkness. It is so difficult to live a new creation when the old one has been remade without our permission.

Shiny New Humans: A Story & Theology of Personhood

old man window

The walls to the lunchroom were tattered and torn.  It gave the feel of a war zone; it was.  Just not the kind most people imagine.

Floor tiles along the corridor were chipped and worn.  The smell of paint filled the air, as if chemical warfare was present and I would stumble into a trench at any moment.  The lights above us gave off the dull buzz of a light trying to pierce more than its fair share of fog.  Dull plastic covers acting as a shield for the fluorescent sun lined the hall above our heads.

The corridor was empty, but lined along its pathway were holes blown into the walls.  Some people would call these rooms; they resembled caves.

Doors open; you’re invited.  Curtains pulled; please rescind this open invitation.

Lies posted on the back of the taverns: “get well soon” and “thinking of you” and “we miss you.”

Lies. There is only one way to leave this place. 

The lie of optimism extended to someone to pacify our guilt as the cave we have built for them will hide their faces from the light of our day.  Visitors are rare; people don’t like visiting the front lines where death and our life finally stare at one another through the barbed wire of uncertainty.

The sign said “excuse our construction.”  I couldn’t help but wonder if any real construction was present in this facility.  The walls could be repaired, the caves could be covered but those living here found themselves at the end of the earth’s garbage heap, discarded to the demilitarized zone of a world only populated by its prisoners and occasioned by those we pay to clean up the bodies.

I came to a break in the path; it led to the place that is somewhere, but when you arrive you have really arrived nowhere. 

I stared out at the lunch room, loud murmurings and crooked faces decorating the landscape.  A sea of white hair, wrinkled garments and arthritic hands betrayed my senses; I sensed more than I wished.  Disheveled masses of flesh… persons, at least I think they were persons, were being attended to in the wasteland of rectangular boundaries.  There was snow outside, 3 inches on the hand rails of the sidewalks; it was colder inside.

I’ve never been frostbitten until I saw the eyes of these no longer shiny new humans.

Someone was humming; She couldn’t hold her fork as it’s blunt clanking against her bowl rang across the room over, and over, and over, again.  Another was wearing a bib that stretched to his waist as he coughed up the food he was attempting to eat.  Saturated in spit, the fellow of no more than 40 smiled, coughed, gagged.  He was wearing a Stetson but this was no commercial.

Another lady, sitting in her chair with supports to keep her upright, could not perform the simple task of drinking her milk.  She was attended to by a few of our mercenaries who took turns.  The milk would hit her lips, run across the side of her face and then down her chin.  She would utter unintelligible profanities, perhaps cursing her plight, cursing that her mind and her body were no longer harmonious; cursing that she could no better drink milk than she could make her mouth utter what her mind contained.

Then I saw him.  The patriarch of the family.

We tapped his shoulder.  He was turned around by a hired hand.  He stared up at us, piercing us with his crystal blue eyes.  I thought I saw his childhood when his eyes met mine.  I saw life.  Recognition.  It’s that kind of look that says “I know you” but “I have no idea why you are so familiar.”  It is fidelity and betrayal in one glance.

Then there was that grip.  No one has a grip like him.  We stooped low to hug and embrace him, shaking his hand with my right hand and pulling him as close as possible with my left.  He knew the motions.

But his hands could still grip like a man 30 years younger.  He had the kind of hands that swallows yours when you shook it, the kind of grip that lets you know this man is more than the shell of his body.  I looked at his hands as he shook mine, his fingers still firm and resolved, and his veins still protruding with intense rage.  I’d seen these hands my entire life, felt them as a kid who wrestled against them and admired them as they incarnated the mountains they once occupied.

Muscle memory.

His body lay trapped in his godforsaken chair, his legs symbolic stubs of atrophy that have finally immobilized him.  From this chair to his bed and from his bed to this chair: his daily journey.

We sat down next to him, pulling chairs up alongside the table where we would share a meal.

Is eating at the same table the same thing as sharing?  We shared space cause words were not present.

We were brought coffee, I got the “good stuff” as apparently everyone else got the “bad stuff,” you know, coffee without the stimulant that makes it worth drinking.  Grandpa had hot chocolate.  Of course he did.  He’s always had a sweet tooth.  He drank two cups.  We helped him stir his cocoa and watched as he balanced the petite white mug from the table to his lips, his hands shaking the entire time.

The image of his once powerful hands now unable to balance an elevated crevice encapsulated with glass.  A feather had never been so heavy.

He didn’t waste time.  He drank his cocoa quickly and then they brought “food.”  They even brought me some.  I ate it out of courtesy and thankfulness.  Grandpa’s food was mush.  He has no teeth now so all his food must be puréed.  He began eating; we watched. 

He fell asleep.

He woke up. 

We tried speaking with him.  He couldn’t speak more than a few words, single sentences, the utterances of a man suffering from the PTSD of losing your wife, losing your home, losing your bearings and, finally, losing your shininess.

One of us left the lunch table to use the restroom.  Grandpa had been asleep a few minutes.  The bowl of portage that was some form of pureed beef stew, now found itself as a thumb rest for his massive hand.  Here lays a human, one that was once so strong and now whose hands had forgotten their place.  He woke up, I held his hand in mind, wiped it clean.  The man who would once refuse the help of anyone, especially when it comes to personal space, now has no choice.  His hand was held there, lofted above the table, as now the one that had served so many people must now suffer the service of others.

When he awoke one of us had returned.  He was startled.

We hadn’t been there.

He stared blankly surprised by our presence.  It was Groundhog Day only it happened in a matter of minutes.  I asked him if he had received any calls from family members.  I named them.  His reply, “They might have.  I don’t know.”

It was not a confident declaration.  It was the timid, exhausted, voice of a man that had resigned himself to his station, trapped in a body that can no longer do what his mind desired and a mind that no longer remembered the desires of its heart.

Then I felt a presence behind me.  A woman in a wheelchair bumped me.  I turned and looked, she is missing her leg from the kneecap down on her right leg.  She says “I’m just playing.  I’m not doing anything wrong.”  She continued…making her way around me and she said again, “I’m just playing.”

She knew where she was.  She was lost.

I stared at her and as our eyes met I wondered what she saw when she saw me.  I saw her.  I saw them.  I told her “it was fine”…but she was promptly exiled away from me and told to “wait” until lunch was over before going to her cave.  She couldn’t find her way alone.  She wouldn’t know how…she could no longer follow the path of her shinyness.

We tarried a little while longer.  We watched him finish his food.  We watched as those around him struggled to eat, struggled to talk, struggled to exist.  What would take many of us a matter of minutes had stretched into an entire hour of eating.  The finished menu you ask?  2 glasses of cocoa, a muffin that crumbled into a thousand pieces when you peeled it off the paper, and 1 bowl of pureed beef stew.

An hour later it was over.

We said goodbye.  We bent down as when we arrived.  We hugged him.  He kissed our cheeks as he has for years.  It was still grandpa…yet there is something also pulling him away that we can’t stop.  Here is the body of my grandpa…his body is here, it is still him, but inside he is fighting the war no one else can see…it’s a war we know is happening because now he’s at the place where we put all the humans that no longer shine.

Theology of person

As I recount this narrative, the sounds, sights and smells of visiting my grandfather in his extended care facility on New Year’s Day, a care that is necessary due to medical complications and logistical circumstances that are too much to overcome, it occurred to me that such places are where we put the humans we no longer want.  As a society, these places are not even human recycling centers; they are just drop offs.

There is nothing flashy in this insight.

But it struck me anew because at one time all of the people by whom we were surrounded were once shiny new humans.  As I sat and observed these folks that could no longer “function” in society, the people that required care due to some medical condition beyond their control, it struck me that these same lives that are now in the process of being forgotten were at one time the occasion of smiles, swooning admiration and the pride of their parents.  At one time, these people who now defecate on themselves can hardly stay awake during a meal, whose minds are being riddled with dementia and whose limbs are no more of a hindrance than a help…these people were once celebrated.  They were new at one time.  They were shiny and lustrous.

They were shiny new humans.

That’s hard to imagine isn’t it?

It’s hard to imagine that the lives of those that might now trouble a weak stomach by their very appearance, at one time, were the apple of someone’s eye.  At one time they were held up in a church, dedicated, or baptized.  At one time, their mother held them to her breast and kissed their heads; they were the prize after 9 months of laborious carrying and birthing.   At one time they ran on playgrounds, made their parents proud in a spelling bee.  At one time they sat on their fathers lap, heard bed time stories and were nestled in the sheets of a home filled with the warmth and love of parents.  At one time, they were new and shiny.

At one time, they were human; they were desirable.

They are no longer so.

In places like this they reside, proverbial warzones, with all the usual characters waiting to take their lives and harden the siege upon their bodies.

When there is no one left to call our name, our name is lost in its unspokenness.  Or is it?

A simple visit to an extended care facility can become the catalyst for some profound anthropological questions.

What makes us human?  When we have removed the person from the community of which they are apart, either the community that is public, private or ecclesial, from where does their humanity come?  Are we known as human because of some biological trait or does our humanity come from having our name known and spoken?  Is this final act of separation, one that may or may not be justifiable, our attempt to dehumanize these masses of flesh so that eventually, stripped of all personhood, we can rid ourselves of their uselessness?

If our humanity is such only because of others, what becomes of those who have lost all the others?  The question gets even thicker, and more dialectical, in its irony as we consider what it is that constitutes the human being.

Unlike Kant would suggest, our worlds are not given to us via experience alone.  It is our lone ability to apperceive that gives us our personhood and makes us an agent.  It is indeed our apperception that fits into transcendental (above the person) categories through which we can arrange and make sense of the world, but that world is never absent the one that taught us to speak and welcomed us into it.

We are all members of an originary community.

There is no premature material that we arrange to gain our individuality.  Individuality, in the strict Kantian sense of perception that sifts and arranges data, is impossible because such arrangement is the result of our public consciousness via experience with others in the world they gave to us.  As theologian Robert Jenson notes, “The world that I receive and unify in my experience is always already the world interpreted in the discourse of a community, first the community of the trinity, then the human communities I thereupon inhabit.”

Sorry I just showed my theological hand…yet I think a Lacanian hand regarding language is also not too far afield for any agnostic readers.

From a theological perspective the community via which “raw” data is assimilated is a given to us, but only a given via a grace that is God’s triune community in the history of the world, thus making ourselves part of the divine community.  Our first, and foremost, marker as a person is not, therefore, our biology; it is our relationality.  First, as conversation partners with the divine history and secondarily with one another as creatures of grace within that history.

It’s a history we did not choose nor assimilate as individuals, but was given to us.  It’s a history in which our humanity is located as such.

The very people that gave us the world and taught us to speak by holding us in their hands are now being displaced from the world through the very ones that were once recipients of a world they did not create but were given through them.

In a very strict sense, then, the humanity of God is a prerequisite for the humanity of these persons who are now ostracized in the ghettos of the medical community.  As their humanity is found in God, there humanity is also restored and maintained via the life, death and resurrection of the God that became human and restored the dark places where the world attempts to place the dead.  Their humanity is found in this Passion because this Passion is what calls us by name as we stand outside the tomb feeling its emptiness.

While our identity is very much linked to the humans through which we relate, and our negation of life is very much attempted by the world when we reach a certain age wherein we are thanked for our words but dismissed for our bother, our identity is never totally dependent on what us humans cease to pronounce.

To a degree, a proper sense of theological anthropology is predicated on the other, but in another profound way our identity is never lost simply because we are tossed to the margins of the world and put in places wherein our human needs can no longer be a bother for other humans.  This is because our identity is never presumed because we are named by another creature, but because we are named by the one that makes creatures a community!  My identification, the identification of my grandfather, the man that could not eat without coughing up his food or the lady that could not stop her mouth from uttering profanities even while milk seeped over her chin…all of our identities are first found in the human community that is unified in the story of God in Christ, and this story presents us with our identity even when the names and faces of some of God’s human creatures are forgotten.

It is not the case that our identity is primarily spiritual and therefore personnel; it is the case that the identity of our community of humans in the story of God’s relationality with the world (via others) is what first and foremost grants us an identity that can never be taken away even as parts of humanity (who largely have forgotten the triune God) cease to utter our names.

The masses of flesh and bone, of unintelligible words and grotesquely fashioned faces, of people who spit on the floor and others who find their hands covered in beef stew puree…these are all persons whose names are forever spoken in God even as Christ will one day resurrect this miserable life.

Because we are named in God, and God is present in the resurrected presence of Christ via the power of the Holy Spirit, our names are never unspoken and our personhood is found in God and his human community wherever it is incarnated; this universal story that continues to call out our names.  And it is this story that we never leave, even as those around us choose to slowly write us out of the story we gave to them.

So when people forget to call him dad, or grandpa, and his peers have long forgotten French…there is always Christ who calls him son, a son amongst sons and daughters.

In God, our names and identities find rest.

Why You should Love Antiquarian Books

old book image
A prerequisite to loving old books is, of course, an enjoyment for reading. One can appreciate old books, collect old books, and admire the architecture of their spines and ornate cover designs without reading. But this is to love the value of the books or their aesthetic appeal. This is not the same as loving old books. It is not to get caught in the life of the old book itself, to look upon this simple object with words and covers and feel something more than an object of value.

I have discovered that I am book addict. I like books. I buy them. But there is something about an old text, an antique text, that has a whole other appeal to me than the latest modern novel or the latest academic musings.

As I hold an old book I realize a few things.

First, the life of the author rushes through my mind.

I imagine a person that prior to modern distractions poured their shade and energy into this text. Someone who by a dimly lit light, or perhaps even a candle, pen in hand, quarreling with their imaginations how to speak what cannot be spoken. How this pre-post-modern person toiled with their ultimate concern and endowed their characters or their topic with the same passion that occasioned this act of creation at the beginning. Books are pieces of people with dreams, hopes and aspirations. The text is the collision of the author and their context…the latter of which is usually lost on us and the former of which we think to be mechanical.

An example is a recent antique book I bought by Mary Johnston. Her two volume civil war historical fiction, “The Long Roll,” & “Ceasing Fire,” (ca. 1911 & 1912) are fictional attempts to honor and boldly imagine the Confederate struggle from within a Confederate sympathy a generation after the conflict.  Long before the genre of war fiction took hold, Mary Johnston was trailblazing a new way of writing fiction inside history, a bold attempt to give historical figures an additional life.

But what makes Mary so alluring to me as I hold her books is that she was the daughter of Confederate General Joseph Johnston, the last General to make a stand against Sherman in Resaca, Ga, May 1864. Here is the child of a man that made history and was part of the deepest and darkest conflict in our nation. Here is a woman born in the South during Reconstruction, her life animated by the stories her father told her, feelings that have not yet healed from the conflict. Here is a woman that probably still shared the lost dreams, lost hopes, and lost loves of a lost cause. When I hold her book I wonder what was she thinking, why choose this scene, what she felt as she recounted these memories and stories and did she cry as she began to blend history with fiction. Was her book the process of writing her dream and justifying her affections? Were these books exploding inside her or were the words like removing the sword from Kings Arthurs stone?

The thing about old books is that they are written by old people, people now dead but who were once living…people like us. So when I see an old book, I think about the author and I ask, “what was this life that thought writing these words were worth the time, energy and sacrifice?” “What passion is here that I cannot see yet I need to feel?”

Second, I like old books because I don’t imagine we know more than their authors.

One of the most efficient lies of the Enlightenment is that of progress.

The general public thinking they have progressed past the opinions and ideas contained in these old dusty pages. Whole worldviews and animations have been lost because we are so confident that our perspective on history is the correct one. We rarely consult antique books for anything more than mantle decorations when within them one might find that our ideas are not nearly so novel. We think their opinions or stories to be irrelevant on history and we formulate our historical, fictional, scientific, or whatever opinion, absent the people who actually lived and wrote about it as it was happening.

We forget the wise words of Ecclesiastes, “there is nothing new under the sun.”

And this generality extends to fiction as well.

As any great author will tell you, fiction is always contextual, erected from a world of events that make the fiction pertinent. To read fiction as if it is created in a vacuum is to misread it and to think we generate thoughts blindly.

As George Orwell explains in his little monograph Why I Write, “Above all it is your civilization, it is you. However much you hate it or laugh at it, you will never be happy away from it for any length of time…Good or evil, it is yours, you belong to it, and this side of the grave you will never get away from the marks it has given you.”

The context of this passage is the influence of Wells’ Englishness on his work and its interaction with the world. But his point is noted: our writing is always a writing of civilization and generally the really well written fiction is always about imaginatively encountering a non-fictive problem with characters and words that are able to take the heat of criticism and enter places the author would never be able to venture.

Writings is always time-full.

Thus, time would fail us to imagine all the idiots that have commented on Evolution and never actually read Darwin or considered his context!

Time would fail us to recount all the idiot politicians that have never read a stitch of political theory such as Rousseau, Locke or Hobbes, let alone actually read American founding Fathers that read them such as Jefferson and Franklin

Time would fail to note how much anti-southern sentiment has been forged apart from reading any Southern literature from the 1840s-1880’s!

Time would fail to recount all the people that love to invoke Shakespeare because it makes them sound smart yet they have never thought deeply about any play he wrote!

And herein lays the problem: our opinions are often baseless because they are without history, fictive, non-fictive or otherwise. We have our opinions and they are informed by nothing but ourselves…as if our ideas born when they are necessarily implies they are forward progress.

But we should not be relegated to ahistorical opinions because we have old books that allow us to position ourselves historically. Old books contain sentiments against, and within which, we are able to position ourselves and participate with those that have lived and died. We are able to partake of their wisdom, read the words of lives less busy but far more passionate, and imagine a world in which entertainment, education and imagination blend together in indistinguishable ways.

Thirdly, I imagine all the people that have held the book I now I hold.

As I sit among dusty books, many of which as old as my great grandparents x5, I imagine all the hands that have sat on porches or in libraries and held this very book. I imagine why they would bother. What had the hands experienced before or after reading this that would make this book worth their time?

On a daily basis many of us are removed from the dead, they are still and alone in their graves on the outcroppings of hills we have long forgotten. Yet when I hold a book published in 1870 I am instantly in connection with someone that is no longer with us.

My hands are turning the same pages. I am holding the same covers…I am perhaps even placing my fingers in the same places on the same pages as someone who is now deceased but has come to this book for a reason, a reason that might not be dissimilar to mine. I read this old text, write and talk about it with my friends. Perhaps those who owned this book long before me did the same.

Old books are symbols of dead people, writers from which they originated and owners who can no longer hold them because they are no longer physically present.

It is this piece of people and the invisible mark they leave behind that enthralls me, captures me and churns my mind. In an eerie way I feel as if the people I will never know I now instantly know because I have shared history with them…we have shared this book. And long after I am dead someone will share this book with me even if they do not realize it.

Fourth, the smell of old books is the smell of paper that has lived.

There is nothing like walking into a room filled with books, the smell of time bursting through your senses. To stare up at the stacks of time that are lost, yet found, preserved yet forgotten, is as close as we get to an incarnate representation of human creativity. Ancient civilizations have built monuments and stones that are still reminders of their creativity, but these are now giving way to weather and time.

But words…words cannot be destroyed.

They can be torn from their sentences but they cannot be lost. They will always find their way back home no matter how much fire is heaped on the pages that contain them. Roman arches may have fallen and Greek Temples may be decimated, but the words of Parmenides, Anaxagoras, Plato and Marcus Aurelius still live.

Taking an old book into your hands, opening it up and shuffling its pages produces that distinctly old book smell…the smell of time, of aged paper, of ideas inviting you to pause and consider that the smell can take you somewhere.

Old books have lived.

They have been carried through heartbreak. They have been secured in backpacks during wartime. They have been the relief of troubled souls wandering the four corners of the earth. They have been expressions of joy and inspiration for their readers. They have slid around on the floor board of old carriages or sat in the window sills of widows who have lost their loves. They have been hid under old saloon counters waiting to be read by bartenders at the end of the night. They have even been carried by prostitutes and read after a long nights work, feeding the imaginative and intellectual need of a woman or man that had been trapped in this dark industry, the participants of which are now all dead.

Books have lived.

They have been carried by people into countless places, read for a plethora of reasons and now they are still here, speaking to us, as we hold them in the same way as history has always held them since their inception from the press.

So, I confess again, I love old books.

As I hold an old book, I hold poetry that can never be held. I hear dreams that were once only seen. I sympathize with the author and envision them standing beside me. I weep for their loss, share in their joys and continue to toil over the problems their book addresses…and I wonder how many eyes have seen these words in these very pages…stared at them like me…and wonder how much of their soul soaked up these words.

The warmth of hands that held these books long before I was here is still present…and I wonder if hands in the future will feel the warmth of my own imprint on these very books.

Thinking Tombstones & the Grave


Graveyards, Tombstones…the speck of infinity wherein time has stopped.

Here one is able to notice an era of foregone lives and remembrance that is now only marked by stones that are too large to move and to irrelevant to demand attention.  Some stones have been pushed over, some broken in half; others have crumbled from the weight of patience and are slowly deteriorating one speck of dust at a time.

To use a reference from Catcher and the Rye, many even have red crayons on them…tribute of the one who chose to vandalize rather than respect the place where history was completed.

Whatever the cause, plight or age, these weathered stones and sunken grounds populate the landscapes of historic cemeteries and ancient church yards. They reside on hillsides long forgotten or beside sanctuary’s that no longer include them in worship.

There are very few well worn walkways.  Few hillsides with the ghost of Christmas present perceptibly known.  Gothic rod iron fences that envelope family plots now with missing gates…visible signs that not only can no one be kept out, but no one wants in.  The only sign of history is this stone; an anchor in time that refuses to let the yore swallow us whole without some scar on the earth.

Some stones are traditional, rectangular monuments that set upon the ground over top the breath now stolen from distant lungs.  They have rounded tops that slant down like a bell curve with a simple name, dates and perhaps a mention of their prodigy.  Usually one finds a monument with two names, one for each spouse, lives bound by time and not prevented to rest beside one another for eternity…the only thing connecting them…the shingling of their dates.

Other stones are more alluring and rousing, stones that are large obelisks that protrude from out of the ground.  These stones have triangular tops that point to the heavens, as if to direct the souls beneath them the direction of their flight.  They are perfectly square all around with large bases that are able to withstand the very best of Mother Nature, though upon seeing some of them worn it is clear who will eventually win this contest.

Others tombstones, from an age in which honor was bestowed upon the dead recognizing that they are the ones that shaped our present, are tall rounded projectiles wherein cloaks and tassels are carved out of the stone and draped over the marker.  It a sense of humanity wrapped in granite, importance signified by the perpetual wave of nothingness that is their life in the present memory of those who stand before them.

There is a distinctly eerie feeling associated with these stones, these inelastic monoliths that take on a lifelike portraiture of cloaking the one who no longer needs this cloak or these tassels…or the warmth of these cool reminders in time.

Who cares so much about their dead that they give such minute attention to the very stone that will serve no purpose but to rebuke time and demand this life be remembered?

And still others, have pictures of the deceased, old photographs that capture our senses and haunt our memory as we peer into a glimpse of one that is no longer with us; the Aryan blue eyes and blonde hair of an extinguished light that now imperceptibly stares at us through the stone.

We are our images…the stones simply remind us that beneath them is a picture we will never see…and it lies beneath the dates that are now etched into dense constitution of a stone that will one day be a testament to our world once our world and its people are gone.

On one I read, “Baby,” with statue of a stone lamb lying atop the memorial.  A reminder of a life dreams never had and families whose dreams have ended.

On another I read, “Rector,” and I think about the sermons this man preached, the souls with whom he prayed.  Now, he lies lonely…several yards away from the closest tomb and far from the prayers he most likely deserves on All Souls Day.

Surprisingly, I notice another, “Blessed are they that die young…” and at once I am saddened by this child erased from the timeline of history, but relieved of the hurt and pain of living in the world.

And then there are the stones, the markers, usually groups of them together in the oldest part of the cemetery that are nothing more than obscene fragments jutting from the ground.  They are raw deposits of raw jagged rock, raw markers of raw lives, whose very marking in raw and unsanctified stone is representative of lives buried beneath.  They remember those that lived for those that were actually living.  Their tombs are sealed by the rock that says nothing and looks as if it was torn from the side of the cliff and then driven into the ground.

I’ve walked up along these stones, ran my hand over their rough surface and asked the old man beside me, “who are these people?” and “When were they buried?”  On occasion its neighboring stone has become so dilapidated and ruined…that I’ve picked up the pieces still intact and placed those back where they belong.  There are many cemeteries filled with nothing but stones like this…testimonies of people who have been forgotten.


In Resaca, I walked in the penumbra of that Civil War battle where many are laid to rest.  I walked hallowed ground as I stare at names of soldiers now sunken in the earth.  I read the story of women who donated the land, buried the dead, and prayed for their families…I feel the heavy hearts that picked up shovels, opened the earth, and poured the bodies of dead young men into the ground as if watering the soil.

Bright eyed optimism met fear and reserve on ground not far from here…racing pulses and sweaty brows climbed the hills that rise above this cemetery…an indentation of the world where the deposit of aspirations now lie in respite.

The common denominator of these stones, their dwellings, is the telling of the stories that lay beneath them, over this ground, as this part of history closed its chapter and all its hopes, dreams, failure and accomplishments are buried beneath the unforgiving weight of the earth.

We stand before these deposits of human being and we peer through the mist that must have clouded the eyes of loved ones, of strangers saying “farewell.”

These monuments are touching, emblematic of a connection in time to one that shaped the world in which we live, the very landscape that now holds them taking shape by feet they placed upon it.  A lived experience that communities shared of dying young, growing old, and finding purpose…all as we live toward the direction of an earthen house that will mute our voices unless we are able to let a few of our dreams percolate to the surface.

These stones, these grounds, are testimonies of stories that stopped being told.

They are screaming reminders to not forget…to rehearse and retell of these people.  The great irony is that these people are not much unlike us.  We just find ourselves on a different part of the arch of history…and one day, our stones will scream too.

Let’s tell our stories so our stones aren’t left with such a heavy burden all alone.




A Poetic Essay: Writing Love & Poetry with Cixous


Helene Cixous, the philosopher, writer, thinker, novelist, poet…one with the uncanny ability to grasp the impossible and poetically narrate newer possibilities.

As Derrida describes of her, “A poet-thinker, very much a poet and very much a thinker.”

She writes the kind of poetry that describes the conversant and then leaves one asking, “what just happened?”

Cixous writes,

“It is the places that make love.  Places and all their features.  For them to make love (and so that they might do so), the features must combine their forms, their different energies, and their properties in a whole whose total makes god.”

Poetry is poietic.  The mundane becomes the exotic.  Form and content blend in ways that seek an apocalyptically pristine constitution.

Something to deliver us from ourselves.

The more I see of the world the more I become convinced that the world will not be saved by those who can write prose and disseminate its smooth flat reality.  Such only leads to the nothing of no possibility.

What the world needs is the poet.  As poets perish, the stench of the corpse of our imagination begins to intrude into the spaces that are disguised as lively.

And we hear the gasps of death left in the vacuum of the dead poet.

Poetry lives among us and sees beyond us…it sees and feels the rhythmic beat of relationship and gives rolling hills and texture to Tom Friedman’s “Flat World.”

Poetry, as theory and praxis, is difficult.  Difficult because we no longer think poetically; we think matter-of-factly.

We no longer use words in which we may become lost.  In writing our words…we have lost them.

We no longer feel emotions that cannot be harnessed.  We commoditize our emotions through manipulation and consumption.

We see the world in the script of black and white (letters and reality).  When in actuality, reality may be best situated beneath the writing and beneath its margins…imagined in the places we cannot see because we cannot speak them.

Poetry is not merely the art of speaking and rhyme…

it is the very act of taking the actual path that has become grown over through time as we faintly see the footprints of daring poets whose footprints have left vague impressions in the dirt…

Hear Cixous:

“One can’t escape the hidden designs of God.  She has written everything down and we do not read.  We are read”

Cixous, writes and speaks…and she does so poetically.  It is a poetry not bereft of science or prose…but one that writes poetically in response to this world of cold hard surfaces.

She has met Lacan and yet she is still a poet.

She captivates the reader with simplicity in a world filled with complexity…making what is so familiar to us all, the language of love, distantly close.

I ran across one of her texts recently, a text that is as deep as it shallow and as profound as it is complex.

As a lover of the gospel, and its imaginative possibilities to love more deeply and thrive more fully, I embarked on her work “Love Itself: in the Letterbox.”  What I happened upon was the delicate and inter-relationality of continental theory, psychoanalysis, language and deep expressions of love for which I was little prepared.

This is a dangerous text.  It is shockingly simple.  It is infinitely iridescent.

If you want to think and feel the subjunctive character of what is so familiar, then read her.  She writes of the already and the not yet always already.

She makes the simple act of writing love letters, letters in the letterbox, an act of deep reflection and intuition.

She talks of love, its behavior, its appearance and its presence.  She speaks our language, with our language and is yet speaking of the act of writing love past our language.

She is the poet.

Here is the world.

The world does not drown our words…and therefore our interminable possibilities.  The words of the poet open up creation…giving us a new gospel of sorts.

Going to the letterbox, Cixous speaks with us, to us, for us and also past us…about that which is most salient in our lives, either in lack or in excess…the incarnation of this four letter word: L-O-V-E.

The problem with writing love is that it is the problem of writing us.

Our problems are beautiful.

Our humanity can be tragic, but that is what makes it lovely.

Just as Gospel attempts to reforge creation via love located in the depths of what we call God, it being the hearkening from out of our graves into a poetically imaginative and lively world, so poetry speaks words of creativity and new impossibilities into the dirt that attempts to bury our dreams and hide our morbid smell.

This conflict of life and death, of the as is, with the as it should/could be, is the task of poetry.

Poetry is the horribly beautiful description of that which we most long for…but for many of us remains remote.

She writes “love itself.”

She doesn’t create a new world as much as she sees the real world, where routine trips through our lives are given sharper focus and memories become conversation partners with our future.

Wherein our emotions become sensations, we feel with our sight, smell with our hands, and think with our heart.

Thus, in the Spirit of Cixous, I not only form this essay in her simple prose, but I write this short poem pursuant to her vision and to descry the absent presence of love…longing not for a world of continued non-rapport, but for a world were love itself and being itself can finally become one.

Love is Poetry, Poetry is Love

Cixous writes, “I was afraid you would always be there. I didn’t want to tell you that earlier.”

Have I not heard footsteps behind me?  Have I not imagined them as they approached?

I have seen you before.

Your Smile is familiar.  I knew it was there but I did not see it.

I was afraid of this day.  Hopeful it would come.  I have read this story before, even though it has not been written.

The speech that is spoken, I see your lips move, but I am unable to hear.

I see your breath in the foggy, misty morning, but I do not feel it upon my neck.

“I was afraid you would always be there. I didn’t want to tell you that earlier.”

Earlier has arrived later.  I delivered the letter.

The mailbox was empty.  The letterbox was not emptied but my letter did not remain.

I wonder if it was delivered.

What an undone world.  Tears roll down my cheeks.  They collect behind my ears.

The world is lonely.  I am surrounded by everyone.  But I am not surrounded by one.

“I was afraid you would always be there.”

Perfect love?  Gospel?

Love is a nomad that returns to my tongue and restores my despair.

I didn’t want to tell you.  But love casts out fear.

I keep writing love, love writing me.  The letterbox is cold.  It warms my hands.

I leave the letterbox solemnly.  Back through the fog, leaves crunching behind the smile I feel staring at me.

I look through the world.

I say to myself, “I was afraid you would always be there. I didn’t want to tell you that earlier.”