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A Plumber’s Feast

On Christmas Eve, right before the family’s grand feast, the pipes broke. It was unfortunate, really, the geyser rising then falling from under the commode. The youngest of the cousins found the expanding pool before the rest of us and squirted soap on the wet tile. It was her raucous singing of “Jesus’ love is a bubblin’ over” that led to the discovery of the problem and the eventual phone call to the plumber.

“A Christmas Eve plumber’s rate,” Dad said, “is going to be painful.” He was prone to prophecy on liturgical holidays.

Anna was pulled from the rising tide of suds that were expanding like some nightmarish Mr. Bubble commercial. Adults rushed to contain the spill by a seawall of monogrammed towels and chamois from the back of uncle Ted’s BMW. The plumber arrived and we all breathed a collective sigh of relief. He could work a Christmas miracle; we were sure of it.

Dad was a good man, really. Back in those days doctors carried pagers but he had turned his off for Christmas Eve dinner. We retired to the table to feast—turkey and ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, creamy green bean sludge with crispy fried onions, wine for the adults, and sparkling cider for the children. We prayed thankfully; ate fully. Dad read the manger story. Aunt Judy cried quietly, saddened that the God-baby was born to die.

After about an hour the plumber walked into the dining room, interrupting Aunt Judy’s snowballing lecture on justification. The Presbyterian in the family of Catholics, Aunt Judy was prone to theological ramblings on protestant holidays. “I capped the pipe,” he said, “but the fixin will have to wait until after the holidays.” Dad asked him to sit and eat but he declined. Mom gave him coconut pie on a paper plate and a Styrofoam cup of coffee.

As they walked to the door Dad offered a back-slapping “Merry Christmas, Joe.” Joe offered a slip of paper in return, an invoice of Christmas cheer. After unfolding it, the old man gasped and exclaimed “that’s more than I charge for two hours of surgery!” Joe turned to my father slowly, solemnly.

“Well doc, you had the same career opportunities I had,” he offered as if contemplating the priceless gifts of the magi.  “Merry Christmas, Doc.”

Within earshot, Uncle Ted recognized the fulfillment of prophecy and his booming laughter all but blew out the candles on the Advent wreath.

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To Amber

This is a confession.

On my twenty-first birthday, that night when I walked into your dorm, that night you walked down the stairs like a holy jean wearing Scarlett O’Hare, I wanted to unwrap you.

We’re among friends here, right?

We walked to the coffee shop off campus, the one with viennas and turtle cheesecake.  You took your napkin, unfolding it delicately. With the ballpoint pen that served as your Psalm marker you wrote, “Am I a Baptist?” a secret whispered on a napkin in a den of disbelief.  A secret translated, “I could love you.”  You asked if we could pray.

You unwrapped me first.

In the end, you are not Baptist and that’s probably best.  You are less holy jeans and pixie haircuts, although both have made comebacks.  You are certainly a southern accent, but not a Scarlett one. 

Eleven years in.  I want to keep unwrapping. I want to memorize you.

Happy Aniversary.

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The Written

Hosea 6:3 

So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord. 

His going forth is as certain as the dawn.

And He will come to us like the rain,

like the spring rain watering the earth.

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an uncomfortable gospel (revisited)

I wrote this a while back for Amber’s blog.  There are themes in it that we have been discussing, so I’m reposting it here.

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I wish Jesus would have said, “it is easier for a camel to walk into heaven than for a rich man to walk through the eye of the needle.” Then, we could all move to the middle east and hitch a ride with the nearest caravan.

I wish Jesus would have said only “love the Lord your God with all your mind and strength.” Then, doctrine and moral uprightness would justify our exclusivity, our honor for a good Pharisee.

I wish Jesus would have said “render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesars and leave a tenth for me.” Then, by my estimation, I’d get to keep about sixty-five to seventy-five percent of my honest-day’s wage, depending on my current tax bracket.

I wish Jesus would have said, “go give your pops a proper funeral before you follow me.” Then, I could hold out until my dad dies.

I wish Jesus would have said, “unless you eat a cracker and drink some unfermented grape juice once every four months or so, you have no life in you.” Then ritual would take the place of metaphor, making my Sunday mornings much more appetizing, though admittedly less intoxicating.

I wish Jesus would not have said, “if any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sister, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Then, I could continue to elevate country, politics, holy wars, and my opinion of each over the homesickness of faith.

This space is difficult and uncomfortable. But no matter how hard I try, I cannot stretch myself thread-thin. I am part of a people. And we are all trapped between earth and the eye of a very small needle.

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Letter to a Friend

Friend,
 
Lately I’ve been thinking about your first visit, that time you and your wife drove up from Texas to spend the weekend.  We were all standing in the kitchen and you were easing us into your story.  I remember something about a train, and foreign living–English teacher was it?  I remember you telling me that you had this notion of grandeur, the confirming presence that real existence lies somewhere above the perfunctory protestant life.

I was standing at the sink scraping crimson pearls from the center of a pomegranate.  They fell into a glass bowl filled with water so that the pith would rise to the surface.  No one likes a mouthful of pith in their pomegranate.  At least that’s what Amber said. I couldn’t actually recall eating pomegranate pith and neither did you.
 
You told us of that day when you stood on the beach throwing rocks into the ocean.  Something about the promise in an infinite circle of ripples.  Something about dying, falling in tandem with the baptism of the rocks.  Something about meeting Jesus in a metaphor that was meant for you.  Amber stood in the corner and cried “amens.”  Matt and I stood still, quiet.  I looked down into the bowl to make sure the pith was rising to the surface.

The kitchen was a sanctuary that morning, quiet and brimming with good food.  I skimmed the surface of the glass bowl, pulling off the inedible innards and washing them down the sink.  The water spiraled counterclockwise, east to west on a compass dial.
 
Sometimes a kitchen is just a kitchen.  Sometimes it is a sanctuary for the Church.
 
Thank you for your story.

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