Impending Doom

28 06 2012

The earliest nightmares I can remember were all of fire. The most vivid played out like an old side-scrolling video game as I scurried through a maze whose walls were all of flame, seeking desperately for my sisters, searching frantically for a way to get all of us out.

Not one to submit to the phantasms conjured up by my imagination and too many episodes of the Power Rangers, I claimed fire as my constant companion. We developed a strong working relationship, her and I, as I conjured her to consume an ever increasing variety of offerings and she teased me with the promise of submitting to my will. I grew to love the flames, welcoming them in to my most holy moments of grief and celebration.

This week I am reminded anew of the terror intertwined with such shimmering, ephemeral beauty. Madame Fire has danced through canyons and over ridges, leaving in the wake of her merrymaking nothing but the skeletons of those partners which could not match her whirling energies. She has come to the garden of those very gods who gifted her upon humanity. We the people flee from her exuberance.

(via: 1, 2, 3)



10 06 2012

This is going to be disjointed, for I am dozens of people–each volunteering the other to take the stage, but shrinking from the lights when their turn is due.


(Portrait of Ross)
Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1957-1996)
HIDE/SEEK exibit

We don’t know how to function, she said, without an enemy.

We cannot function, she said, if we cannot reconcile with ourselves. Own the betrayals, the sabotage, the hate, the men with the guns that spit poison and leave us wasted away. Dying from the AIDS we gave ourselves.

The specter of rejection stands before and behind, we know, surrounding us on every side. It is an emptiness that devours our every ray of colored light. It is insatiable.

It is us, too.

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27 05 2012

Once a woman who had lain naked and terrified in the house of her captor managed to escape. She ran away through the forest behind her prison, though her hands remained bound by the last, unbreakable, chain. At first the trees were wicked, perverted from their natural grace by the evil that emanated from the house. They reached out with thorns and branches to bar her way, ripping a thousand angry wounds in the woman’s tender flesh, but she would not be slowed nor turned aside. As she left the influence of her captor the forest mellowed and directed her to a stream which merged into a creek and then a river that flowed into the sea.

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Jessie, tell me a story…

25 11 2011

The scene:

Breakfast at Portage Bay Cafe (where Michael and Heather and Jacquie work) with family: mom, sister, sister, adopted brothers. The place is full, and loud. I ask youngest sister to tell me a story, and she asks “about what?” This is what I say to her..

The Parameters:

I want zombies, and I want them to be the good guys. I want to root for them to eat all the brains. I want them to be so good that, when the story is over, I want to BE a zombie. This is the tale she told..

The Story:

Amanda Barbee is a zombie.

This makes Tom really upset, because he was starting to think he really liked her. He is not at all happy about having to kill her this early in the relationship. Furious, in fact. In order to blow off some steam before the mercy-killing he knows must come, Tom runs out into the streets of Seattle to slaughter some zombies. He bashes in heads by the Space Needle and squishes faces at Gas Works. He chops off legs at Golden Gardens just to watch them crawl through the sand–and laughs. Eventually he wears himself out, returns home, and collapses into bed.

Sometime in the wee hours of the morning Tom awakens to find Amanda looming over his bed. “Oh no,” he thinks, “now I really do have to kill her, or she’ll turn me too!”

“Wait!” Amanda cries. “Don’t you see, this is the next step in our evolution. We must become zombies to be freed from our chauvinistic ways!”

This makes perfect sense to Tom. Of course zombies would be freed from the scourges of kyriarchy! Is that not what we’ve been working toward all along? He reaches out to Amanda and she tenderly chews off a hunk of his flesh, infecting him with the virus that will bring equality to all of humanity.

The End.

He Who Walks Behind

8 11 2011

i enter in peaces

filled and emptied

filled and emptied

emptied and


with strength

she comes as

a child.



tall, dark, and


never seen

–always felt

His weight does

not bend her

but makes her


for a moment

i stand


my shoulder


the rents from

His wrath



10 10 2011

The incomparable James Alison spoke to our class this past Monday. His message of kindness, wit, and valiant courage was insatiably consumed by my raw and weeping heart. According to him, faith is a “stable disposition placed in you by someone else” as “someone does something for you that enables you to relax enough to do something else,” and in that doing, “the clearly impossible becomes not just possible, but normal.”

For Alison, Jesus is the ultimate daredevil; the one human who was bold enough to do the impossible and enter death, not as its slave but as its triumphant Lord. When embraced, his example should lead to a profound sense of relaxation within us as the impossible–confronting the death* both within us and out in the wider world–is made absolutely unremarkable. In faith we have the power to take death for granted in the same automatic way as we do our impossible ability to walk. If you see someone who can walk, Alison said, you can know without a shadow of a doubt that at some point someone cared for them, however imperfectly; cared enough to teach them step by painful step to lift themselves up from the ground; cared enough to nurture them into freedom from impossibility.

I have a particular story to tell about how I have been nurtured thusly, but I’m finding it infernally difficult to pinpoint a beginning. This story is about my first unguarded tears since July 5, which were drawn forth by the presence of my practicum facilitator. But my tears on Tuesday make no sense without the context of my friend’s tears of desperate longing from the previous morning, or the dream of four days earlier in which I was entrusted with the impossible task of restoring the mad King’s sanity, or the day I was forcefully confronted with the depravity lurking in the heart of my family, or the year I spent frantically courting my sorrow, or the twenty-two years I poured into expunging from my conscious thoughts any awareness that my life was not exactly what it seemed on the most superficial level and the concomitant need to appear to be the master of my own inner world at all times, to stuff down any pesky emotion that might rise up and disturb my equilibrium.

One of the strangest myths I ever used to describe my experience of my Self imagined the core of my being as a little boy skipping down the road, carefree and confident and safe. At the time of this first telling I was explaining why I was such a loquacious storyteller when face to face with one other person and so, so, so quiet in groups. My interrogator postulated I was scared of all the strange people, but fear–though it defined my stance toward everyone–was something I could never confess to experiencing. So I imagined myself skipping, imagined it so vividly that I professed it as my Truth even in the turmoil of my neurotically anxious mind. Anything less whimsical than skipping–my sorrow, fear, anger, lust, humanity–was demanded to never penetrate deeper than the surface of my skin, to wash off without ever touching the core of my “I.”

It was patently ridiculous, a recipe for disaster.

I still live out of that myth more than I would care to admit.

So, when I came to Tuesday to speak about Monday, I used phrases like “overwhelming emotion,” “out of control,” “whole body tensed and quivering,” and “if those cookies hadn’t been waiting for me I would have completely lost it!” What I was telling my PF, and what she heard so well, is that it is impossible for me to be seen as other than in control. I’ve been radically redefining what “in control” means to me, shaping it to include such  formerly verboten things as tears in public and speaking silliness with strangers, but the new must always come on my own terms. It is not allowed to sweep me away unbidden. When it seems to be threatening to do so, decades of practice in running for the hills in order to blow off just enough steam to survive immediately kicks in. I flee into solitude.

Only, for the last year I have Known that continuing to “deal” with things on my own (read: repress, avoid, deny) will destroy me. Call it intuition, a hunch. I would even go so far as to say that God Herself told me so, making a covenant with me that my tears, my healing, would never come to me in the absence of another’s face. I love this promise, and I despise it; I hate the death it calls me into. I have two decades’ worth of repressed emotions clamoring for my attention, and they are so much vaster than any ability I might wish I had to pretty them up, control their expression, choose at what intensity I will lay them before your feet. When I return voice to them they will scream their existence from the mountaintops. I am, frankly, terrified of what they will say.

And this is where I come full circle and join back up with Alison’s faith: living in the courage to burn with all of my passion, rather than just flashing little glimpses here and there when I feel you can handle it, is my impossibility. I simply do not have those muscles to support myself. Tuesday, Heather sat with me for an hour in gentleness and acceptance and strength as I flirted with my emotions, leaning progressively closer but always pulling away the moment they showed signs of wanting to press their lips to mine in turn. She held me upright when I wanted to do nothing but crawl, was always right there when I fell again, again, again. And then she said,

“My hope for you is that someone will make a place for you at their table where you may feast.”

and I replied,

“Me too. I am so tired of having to make it all myself.”

Those simple words, spoken from the very bottom of my heart, brought with them a flood of tears. Sobs wracked my body. And a tightness, a clenching, a walling off of myself from myself was loosened, broken down. The impossible happened, and I relaxed. And I could never have done it alone.

love & snugglies


*for any readers not already primed by Dan Allender to think in terms of entering death (or those who are and want to see something of a different take on the matter), let me point you here and here


28 08 2011

I need words tonight. Some outlet for the chaos in my gut.

Ironic, then, that I just spent the evening surrounded by friends who have seen the worst I have to offer and come back for more…and it wasn’t until I was alone that I had anything to say. Goodness, do I ever have things to say.

My therapist, God love him, tells me I am now entering the fire, the crucible, where the dross of my soul will be identified, separated, discarded. He says this as a statement of fact: inviolable, inevitable. That I’ve done it all before and know exactly what will be asked of me only makes it all the more terrifying.

Once upon a time, my crucible was physical. A freshman in high school, I was newly infatuated with this thing called “backpacking”–you mean, using nothing but the power of your own legs, taking nothing you weren’t willing to carry on your own back for dozens of miles, you can get to alpine lakes of neverending depth, meadows bursting with wildflowers, and stars in their billions?! I’m never going home–and, even more so, with the supreme confidence, and joy, and flourishing that my Wilderness Expeditions heroes and heroines seemed to effortlessly embody. I lived summer to summer those years, with every moment between my mountainous adventures dull and meaningless by comparison. But I digress. That year, the crucible came in the form of a ridge straight from hell: 3000 feet of vertical ascent in less than a mile, after a full 12 miles of hiking under the relentless Colorado sun. Being young and in shape (and an utter fool) I figured in for a penny, in for a pound–I wasn’t just going to climb The Crucible, I was going to run up it. With 50 pounds strapped to my back. And no water to speak of.

Did I also mention I hated myself more than a little that week? I don’t remember why (something to do with porn?), but I do remember saying to myself “Tom, you may be a pathetic failure back home, but on the mountain you have the chance to make up for it. Run all the way to the top now and you will be worthy of forgiveness. Fail and you will always be a nothing, a liar, deserving of hell.”

My legs gave out beneath me a hundred yards from the top.

My therapist, God bless his soul, tells me we have but one metaphor for times like these: Gethsemane. Pleading, betrayal, kenosis. Kenosis: the utter emptying of self. There’s something wretchedly therapeutic in pushing your body to the point of collapse; hearing, and then rejecting, its increasingly strident complaints until the nervous system throws a little tantrum and you’re reminded, violently–I Am Not God.

Am I crazy enough, gutsy enough, strong enough to push until the point of collapse now, when the muscle giving up will be my heart?

If I am–what then? That backpacking trip, after a few minutes of rest and a little help from my friends, I was back on my feet and pushing onward. We summited that mountain together, me and the youth group who once named me “Quiet Confidence.” Is there a summit to my life, even a false one, a simple moment where I can stand triumphant, or is there just another crucible lurking in the distance, harder and hotter than anything I could imagine tonight?

My therapist, praise God for him, tells me he knows I will not quit. He says this as a statement of fact: inexorable, irrevocable.

Sometimes I even believe him.