Monday, November 24, 2014


Maybe no one told you there is strength in your tears.
(Kelly Clarkson, If No One Will Listen)
I once heard a Christian pastor explaining how it is that all people have sinned, as Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans. Anticipating his practitioners’ questions, he also explained that even babies sin. “Have you ever heard a baby cry when it’s hungry?” he asked. He then went on to explain that, when a baby cries in this circumstance, it’s actually a lie, because…
…actually, it’s hard to say exactly why he thinks it’s a lie—maybe because the baby doesn’t actually need anything, I think was his point(?)
At the time, this struck me as odd. I didn’t necessarily have an opinion on it one way or the other, but it sounded peculiar. Could it really be a “sin” to cry?
Now that I have a son, I have a more solid opinion on this pastor’s idea.
And I think it’s bananas.

Never have I thought Emerson was trying to lie to me when he was crying. When he cries, it’s because there’s something he needs or wants, and he doesn’t have the words to communicate it in a more appropriate, agreeable, effective, concrete way.
Crying is a form of communication. In fact, it’s our first form of communication. Before we have words—before we even have smiles*—we have tears.
Tears, then, must be important.
It was then that I realized that forever is in your eyes
– the moment I saw you cry.

(Mandy Moore, Cry)
Not only is crying a form of communication for babies; it is for you and me as well. It was true then and it’s true now.
We cry when words fail, because crying is more primal. It is more intimate, and it expresses what words simply can’t.
All this to say:
Why do we tell people to stop crying when we’re trying to comfort them? Maybe they have something they need to express, and there isn’t any other way.
Why is crying considered a sign of weakness, or of being overly-sensitive? Crying is more real and more raw than language. What is “weak” about this?
Don’t apologize for all the tears you’ve cried
– you’ve been way too strong now for all your life.

(Mat Kearney, Closer to Love)
Maybe, conversely, we would do well to cry more often. Not that we need to look for opportunities to cry, of course, but…maybe we shouldn’t be so judgmental or annoyed or put-out when the people around us cry. And maybe, just as importantly, we shouldn’t be so adamant about fighting back our own tears.
Maybe crying is just a way of asking for empathy.
I saw my tears are in your eyes.
(Michael W. Smith, Everybody Free)

* * * 
*This is true—maybe I was naïve, but I didn’t realize that babies don’t know how to smile when they’re first born. I didn’t learn this until Emerson was born, and I had to ask why he wasn’t smiling.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Through the Tunnel

I finally figured it out.
I could never quite decide if am truly a “city person” or not. Certainly I’m not a “country person”—I’ve never been especially into outdoor activities—but…do you really have to be just one or the other? I enjoy my occasional trips to the mountains, and sometimes it’s nice to get away from town for awhile. Can you be somewhere in between? Could I be somewhere in between?
Perhaps this is what the suburbs are for—you’re constantly on the fence, at the edge of both worlds, without having to fully commit to one or the other.
But for myself, I finally figured it out.
Yes, in fact—I am a city person.
It’s the lights.
They glow. And when they glow, they do something to you. If you let them do something to you, that is.
I’ve been to Phoenix several times now, for various lengths of stay. This time around, Emily, Emerson, and I were in town for three nights.
Somewhere along the I-10 in Eastern Phoenix—a bit near Mesa, to be more precise—you drive through a tunnel. And that’s when I knew: It’s the lights. It’s the way they color the skin on your hand, one split-second at a time, as you’re driving through the tunnel and holding your left hand out the window, being transfixed by the persistent coming and going of this small aura.
That’s when I realized that I’m a city person.
For all its pro’s and con’s, this is something that I sorely miss in Albuquerque. We have lights. And when you’re driving into town at night, coming in from the west on the I-40, those lights put on a wondrous display. They make Albuquerque look bigger than it is, and more lovely—this is true of all cities, I think; the lights at night can be awfully, beautifully deceptive about the size and grandeur of even the smallest towns. And those Albuquerque lights seem to say that there is something here, just above the city, hanging in the air like a low-lying cloud, ready to weave its spell in between the yellows and reds and greens. For better or worse, they certainly have their own enchantment.
But in Albuquerque, there are no tunnels. At least, not like the tunnels in Phoenix. Not like along the 101 Highway just a bit north of Santa Barbara. Not like in Chicago and Dublin and San Diego.
It’s the lights that I miss; it’s the lights that remind me why I really am a city person, through and through. They do something to you, if you let them.
So let them.

Friday, September 19, 2014


I saw a homeless person on my way to the hospital, and another on my way back.

On my way to the hospital, there was a man on the side of the road, in his mid-to-late twenties—my age, in other words, more or less—holding a tiny cardboard sign that was too small to read from the center lane. He was smiling, and almost had a slight spring in his step.

On my way from the hospital, there was a girl. She was in her early twenties at the oldest, and had much less positivity in her demeanor. It was about 8:30 at night; she was standing in the small halo cast by a streetlight. Her cardboard sign was larger, more legible. It read:


This struck me as a very peculiar statement for a homeless person to make while asking for help. A hundred or more thoughts ran through my mind about her story, her situation, about what her motivation could be for deciding to write this bold, uncanny statement.

Was she saying that she had given up hope? That she didn't know what to believe in? That, if there is a god, surely he wouldn't have allowed her to come down so far?

Was she saying something about Christians? Has she been burned by Christians? Had they done this to her? Has her general experiences with Christians left her with the impression that she was more likely to receive help from people who do not identify themselves as Christians?

Or perhaps she wanted to distance herself from other homeless people, wanted everyone who passed by to know that she was different from the others. Maybe she simply wanted to be completely honest. Maybe she was trying to say, “You—whoever you are, whoever your god is—you could end up here too.”

It was not until I passed by, seeing her sign from a slightly different angle, that I noticed her hand had been covering the 'b'. In actuality, her sign read:


On the one hand, this clarified quite a bit. This was more standard. At least superficially, the one letter can make a world of difference; it gave her humble sign almost the opposite meaning. Most probably, none of those thoughts or questions would have crossed my mind if I had seen the 'b' from the beginning.

Then again, on the other hand, I wonder if this one letter still doesn't tell the whole story.

God or no god, was she giving up hope? What did she believe in? Had she ever imagined herself here?

God or no god, was she being honest? Did she sincerely wish God would bless everyone that passed her by, in all of the ways that she herself was not being blessed?

In the end, I'm not so certain how much the one letter mattered.

'B' or no 'b', she was a young, homeless mother in desperate need of help.

Incidentally, an experiment: in that last statement, replace the letter 'b' with the word 'god'.

'B' or no 'b', she was a young, homeless mother in desperate need of help.
God or no god, she was a young, homeless mother in desperate need of help.

The devil is in the details, they say. But then again, perhaps God is too.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Invisible Children

There is a war going on. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Maybe you haven’t.

And I don’t mean that in a clever way. I don’t mean a “war of words”; I don’t mean a disagreement between the left and the right, the old and the new. And I don’t mean the spiritual war that your pastor is always talking about, between the forces of good and evil, or the “powers that be.”

Actually, maybe I do mean a spiritual war. Because any way you look at it, something isn’t right here. Something that needs good people to stand up and do something about it.

But I also mean the kind of war that uses guns. Hate. Molotov Cocktails. Torture. Rape. Displaced children. Missing persons. Homes torn apart. Young boys forced to become soldiers in an army that is ironically, purposefully called the “Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).”

Young boys forced to slaughter their own families.

This is the war I’m talking about. This is the war that is happening in Africa right now, as you read this, as I write this.

If you haven’t heard of Invisible Children, you need to.

In short, they are the ones who are actively, restlessly, passionately working to undo this wounding, scratching, screaming, tear- and blood-soaked war. They are the ones who are calling the soldiers to lay down their guns and come home—telling these soldiers that the open arms of family and community are still here, that an education is possible, that peace can actually happen in this world, in their world.

And, if it helps, here are 85 reasons that Invisible Children does precisely what they do:

·         On August 4 of this year, a 16-year old boy defected from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), ultimately arriving in safety in Nzako, Central African Republic (CAR).
·         On August 9, 13 women and children were released from the LRA.
·         The next day, 33 more women and children were released in Digba, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
·         On August 27, 12 men, women, and children escaped from the LRA in the Bili-Ango-Digba Triangle, DRC, during a reported clash between the LRA and Congolese security forces.
·         On September 2, 26 women and children were released from the LRA near Kiliwa, DRC.

This comes to an unprecedented 85 escapees/returnees from the LRA, in a matter of only 28 days. 
In 28 days, 85 men, women, and children got their lives back.
In 28 days, 85 men, women, and children got another chance at happiness and normality.
In 28 days, 85 men, women, and children got to take their hands and use them for peace instead of for destruction.
In 28 days, with our help—that is, with yours and mine and your friends’ and my friends’ and even the people we don’t know or like—imagine how many more reasons Invisible Children will have to keep up the fight, to undo the hurt, to show the wounded that they still have a home.
What have you accomplished in the last 28 days? More importantly, what can you accomplish in the next 28 days?
Invisible Children is—quite literally—changing the course of the world.
Invisible Children is—quite literally—introducing hope where there is none.
Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


A few nights ago, Michelle came over for awhile. We started talking about a book I had just recently started reading (The Open Road by Pico Iyer), which is a sort of biography of the Dalai Lama. Michelle started asking me about the Dalai Lama—who he is, what he does, how the role of “Dalai Lama” becomes assigned to him, etc.
Emily was in the next room putting Emerson down for the night. When she came back, the conversation naturally--obviously--drifted into a discussion about the "Tibet Question" (you know: all those “Free Tibet” bumper stickers you see, what they mean, why it matters).
Michelle and Emily continued to ask questions, and I answered them the best I could. I’ve researched quite a bit about the Tibet Question and certainly have an opinion about it; I was able to answer most of the questions with at least moderate confidence.
But of course there are always other truths out there, other stories I haven’t heard, other perspectives that I haven’t considered.
About a year and a half ago, I became deeply interested in Tibet. Certainly it’s become my "dream trip" to go there.
But I’ve become a bit worried about taking that trip. Not because it’s particularly unsafe—Tibet has a very good reputation with handling foreign tourists. Rather, it’s because I’m worried Tibet won’t be what my mind has painted it up to be.
When I first started learning about Tibet, it was this land of old ways, of mysticism, of a deep reverence for the universe. The more I read about it, however, the more I come to understand that those things are slowly disappearing, that the old ways, the mysticism, the reverence are all fading, nearing the end of their millennia-old lives.
I’m not really interested in taking a political stance on the Tibet question. (Actually, I am rather interested in that—but not here, now, in this context.)
What I am interested in, however, is that the Tibetan past is losing its place in history. We can blame this on the Chinese, or on the Tibetans, or on any number of other people or things or forces. But no matter who is doing it, or how, or why, the fact is: to erase the past is to erase pieces of the present. Isn’t it?
If this moment is the total sum of every single other moment before it, then you cannot remove pieces of the past without removing pieces of the present as well.
Yes, I still very much want to visit Tibet. And in my imagination, Tibet is still in sync with its history. But in the books I read, Tibet is losing touch with its past. In my imagination, visiting Tibet is possible. In the books I read, this is not possible—at least, it is not possible to visit that Tibet.
Or perhaps I should say: time is running out. Because once that Tibet loses its place in history, there is no recovering it.
There is a difference between progress—which is the stated goal of the Chinese—and reverence—which is the goal of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhists. Which is better? Which is more important?
Each has their pro’s and con’s; there is no doubt of that. To deny progress is to move backwards. As Joseph Campbell said, “By going backwards, you throw yourself out of sync with history.” But then again, to deny—or to erase, or to belittle—history is to deconstruct the present.
Either way, it is clear that the Tibet that interests me, that I fell in love with from a distance, is slipping away.

Monday, July 28, 2014

the Man Who Might Have Disappeared

As I was sitting at a red light, I saw him across the street, standing at the bus stop. Only he wasn't standing. He was dancing. He had a guitar strapped to his back, the neck pointing downwards and to the left. It would be impossible to say what he was listening to through his oversized, white headphones. Clearly it was something worth dancing to, worth getting excited about.

I watched him for the length of the red light—watched as another man walked up to the bus stop from the far side, watched as the two men started talking. For a moment, I thought they could be getting into a fight. But no, seconds later the dancer was jovial again, the other man placid.

The man with white headphones and dreadlocks spun the guitar over his hip and began to play. A variety of cars passed, and each time, he leaned into the street just a bit, playing for the drivers. This lasted only a few moments—certainly no more than a chord or two for each car—before the guitar was returned to his back, his dancing recommencing.

I did not know how long he had been there, nor how long it would be until the next bus pulled up to the stop.

Since I was at a red light, cars continued to pass perpendicularly to me, causing the entire scene to unfold in quick flashes. He was there, he was not there. He was there, he was not there. The dancer in sight, a car, the dancer, a car...

I thought, I would not be surprised if this man suddenly disappeared as one of these cars passed by my field of vision. Just like in the movies.

Are you watching closely?

Soon the light was green. I drove forward, passing the man who might have disappeared while waiting for his bus.

He didn't disappear. I was the one who came and went, not this dancer with white headphones and a guitar and dreadlocks.

Or maybe he simply hadn't disappeared yet. Maybe his disappearing act was meant for someone else.

He was there, he was not there.

I was there, I was not there.

Monday, July 21, 2014


First of all, a tiny preface:

Yes, I like playing video games. Despite this, I’ve tried to avoid the topic of video games in my blog here. I know they simply don’t interest everyone, and, anyway, I have plenty of other things to talk about besides nerding it up and talking about whatever cool new game I played recently.


Thomas Was Alone is a masterpiece.

The narrative structure presented in the game Thomas Was Alone is truly exceptional, easily on par with some great post-modern pieces of literature.

The plot is extremely simplistic: some lines of computer code become self-aware, including the little red rectangle Thomas, who finds himself inside a set of geometric cells. There is portal which leads him out of one cell and into another, and along the way he meets several friends—other quadrilaterals of various sizes and colors—all of whom have distinct personalities.

Yes, rectangles.

The official website for the game describes it as “a minimalist game about friendship and jumping and floating and bouncing and anti-gravity.” This sums up the gameplay, sure. But the characterizations are brilliant, evoking personalities that go deeper than many popular movies and books out there.

If a game can make you care about sentient rectangles—make you anxious about if they’ll achieve their goals and learn to work together and overcome their self-esteem issues—then it must be doing something very right.

Thomas Was Alone could have easily been a children’s picture book (except, perhaps, for a single use of the word “damn,” a few minor pop-culture references, and the highly-conceptual nature of various ideas here and there). On the printed page, however, we would have lost the British narrator, Danny Wallace. A word on Danny Wallace: I’d even consider listening to Twilight if Danny Wallace narrated it; he was that good.*

Throughout the 100 levels of the game, each includes 1-4 sentences/lines of story, many of which include the thoughts of the various quadrilaterals—let’s average it to about 250 narrated lines.

All this to say:

Utilizing only about 250 lines of text (in other words, about 4-6 Microsoft Word pages) and a few variously-colored rectangles, Thomas Was Alone achieves more with its structure and its characterizations than many feature films or full-length novels out there. It is a brilliantly told story that any writer should take seriously, regardless of his/her impressions of video games.

Really, it’s nothing to me if you play it. But it might be something to you if you do.

*Actually, this probably isn’t exactly true. I don’t think anything could make me want to listen to the Twilight audio book. But Danny Wallace is as good as they come.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Thought on Romeo and Juliet

I think that one of the problems with our society is that we have this intense focus on romance. We have thousands and thousands of books and movies and songs all about romance, its ups and downs and inspirations and shortcomings. It doesn’t help that we’re barraged with the Romeo and Juliet story—or allusions to it—every which direction we turn, in our English classes and in the movies and by approximately half of all Taylor Swift’s songs and in books about vampires and their pedophilic, forbidden love with human girls.

This single-mindedness when it comes to romantic love, however, causes us to lose sight of any other sort of love that is out there. Love has many faces. There is not only one type of love, one highest type, one most fulfilling type. And the longer we continue to look at only the once face of love, the more we allow the others to slip away from us.

And so it is that the loss of a romantic love is considered and felt to be such a tragedy. If you have boiled your entire love experience down into only this one type of love, then of course it feels like a tragedy; you have not allowed yourself to become familiar with any other face of love.

The real tragedy with Romeo and Juliet is not that they couldn’t be together, or that their love was forbidden, or even that they died. No, the real tragedy is that they willingly closed their eyes to anything but each other. Romeo mistook Juliet’s face as the face of love—as if love couldn’t look like or be anything else. And Juliet did the same of Romeo—as if love could only come from him and from nowhere else.

This isn’t sweet or heart-melting, and it certainly isn’t a good example of what love can and should be.

Rather, this intense focus on romance is much more harmful than anything else. We feel unfulfilled if a romantic love is not in our life or in our present circumstances, because it is the only type of love that we fully accept, the only type that we choose to let in, to make us feel satisfied. And so we don’t allow ourselves to see or to feel all of the other loves that are out there, pressing in on us. We feel as though we are no longer loved once our boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse leaves us or dies or disappears or betrays us, even though there are a great many other faces of love ready to show us how important we are, and how much of a light we bring into the darkness of the world. Surely all love is a light, a sun. But we only allow ourselves to see the small flicker that is romantic love.

Please, forget about Romeo and Juliet. Their tragedy is their own; it does not need to be yours and mine.

Know that you are loved. Every moment of every day you are surrounded by love. Of course it might not always be romance. But it is love, of one sort or another, and it is enough. At least, it should be—we are the ones who choose to not let it be enough.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Piano Men

I’d never had the chance to play the piano in the middle of a street before. So when I was walking up 16th Street Mall this past weekend and saw an upright piano just sitting there, how could I refuse?

—just some simple blues improv, and then into a rendition of Hotel California by the Eagles. Nothing fancy, nothing groundbreaking or difficult. Mostly I chose Hotel California because I knew Randy didn’t like it; we had just been talking about it in the car the day before.

There was something very surreal in the scene. I think I’ve probably had this dream before, in fact: there I was in a foreign city, a piano with cracked ivory just sitting there silently, boasting a miniature mural of blue flowers and other non-geometric swirls, waiting to be played by any random passerby. The middle ‘E’ was broken, but all the other keys held their own surprisingly well.

Emily and Michelle and Randy sat behind me on the curb, resting their feet from all our walking, listening, watching me play, chatting idly amongst themselves. A couple of people stopped to listen for a moment, went on their way. Michelle came up to me and took a few pictures—or possibly a video of me playing; I’m not sure which—and then Randy came over for his turn at the piano.

Once upon a time, Randy used to play the guitar in a Johnny Cash tribute band; we’ve all heard him play the guitar and all knew he loves music. He had just given us a fun, interesting discourse on music the day before, in fact. But the piano?—I’ve known him for years and never knew that he played.

You think you know someone…

He sat down, played a bit of Tom Waits (or was it Tom Jones?), and then onto the main hook from some blues piece or another—maybe Swanee River(?) I’m not sure. I leaned into Michelle, whispered, “I didn’t know your husband knew anything about the piano.”

Michelle whispered back, “I didn’t either.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “Life is a series of surprises, and would not be worth taking or keeping, if it were not. God delights to isolate us every day, and hide from us the past and the future. We would look about us, but with grand politeness he draws down before us an impenetrable screen of purest sky, and another behind us of purest sky. ‘You will not remember,’ he seems to say, ‘and you will not expect.’” (from his essay, Experience)

Sometimes life catches us off guard—even when we think we’ve got it all figured out. Sometimes people surprise us—even the people we’re closest to.

Plans, knowledge…sure, these are helpful. But surprises?—now those are much more interesting, aren’t they? More interesting, and altogether more worthwhile.

So then, a tip, if you don’t mind:

Let yourself be surprised. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

You Too?

Before the trip was even over, Michelle asked us all our favorite moment from the trip. It was hard to answer this. Not because I didn't have one, per se, but because it was difficult to explain the why.

For a few moments here and there, I allowed myself to think that Denver isn't as impressive as I had imagined it would be. But this isn't very fair; certainly Denver left an impression on me. If nothing else, it is impressive by the sheer fact that I will think of it again.

I will think of how sad it was to say goodbye to my son, knowing that I wouldn't see him for 36 hours, and that there was simply no way to get him to understand that this was happening.

I will think of hearing Randy be completely absorbed in his element, getting the chance to talk about the history of rock and of radio and of how we define musical genres.

I will think of how tightly I had to grip the steering wheel as we passed through Pueblo, because the wind there can be insane.

I will think of how I very nearly lost my mind in Manitou—but we don't speak of that anymore.

I will think of the fact that there are times you're actually supposed to throw spoons in a movie theatre.

I will think of outdoor escalators.

I will think of how surprised I was to learn that Mt. Rushmore isn't nearly as far as I had always assumed.

I will think of eating Taco Bell three times in two days.

But mostly I will think of the stories we tell, and of how no matter how well you know someone, there's always more there to learn. It's a beautiful thing that we can never fully know someone else, that there will always be just a tiny bit of uncrossable distance between ourselves and any given human being out there.

That said, I think my answer to Michelle's question would have to be:

My favorite moment was the stretch between Manitou and Denver, when I simply sat back and listened to their stories.

There is something profound and beautiful to be said of hearing your words come out of someone else's mouth, to hear that someone else shares your same thoughts and feelings and joys and frustrations and doubts.

I once read that a friend is born in the moment when you can look at someone else and say, “Wait—you too?” and I think this is very true.

What is also true though, is that any friendship can—in fact, should—be full of these moments all throughout, not just at the very beginning.

We share words, and sometimes in doing so, we find that we've always shared thoughts and ideas and beliefs too, without even realizing it.

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