Give or Take the Hippies

At 30,000 feet Jimmy Ray of Prairie Grove spilled his Wranglers, chip-kickers, and conversation into the aisle. I was reading the July Harper's magazine. The cover read "Broken Heartland." Jimmy leaned across the aisle and introduced himself. Was I working on some kind of school project or something, he asked, and was that a liberal rag or a conservative one? I rattled the melting ice in my Delta cup, told him I'd long since quit the schooling business and I couldn't attest to Harper's politics, which both surprised and satisfied him. It's probably liberal, he said.

Jimmy tore the tin foil package of salted Delta peanuts and said that Harper's orghta visit an Arkansas cattle farm this year if they wanted to know something about being broke. The drought's been on, he said, and he with hay is king. Jimmy didn't have enough hay, so his wife kept reminding him that he was not a king.

Jimmy laughed self-deprecatingly.

Where you coming from, I asked. Portland, Or-eh-gone, he said. I ain't seen that much rain or that many hippies since Forest Gump; rains every day in up in Or-eh-gone. Then he said he'd kill himself if he had to live near all them Patchouli-wear'n, bicycle commute'n, rain drenched hippies. They just end up smelling like wet dogs. The irony, he said, was that he and his new angus calf would readily kill for a few weeks of rain in Prairie Grove.

Give or take the hippies.

He'd calved too early this year, right in the middle of the drought and the ribs of his youngest heifer were visible. She's flirting with starvation so they'd been bottle feeding her. If she makes it, Jimmy said they'd have to keep her as a pet. That'll be a sore loss, indeed. His face broke wide into the smile of a old-timey cattle salesman.

I'm nothing if not a softy at heart, he said.

I looked out the window and every square inch of grass was the color of Carhartt overalls. I thought of that song from Catholic school, the one wherein a singular spark gets a fire going. I imagined an apocalyptic inferno engulfing Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma, then I whispered a prayer for John and his friends in Colorado.

That's when I saw it.

There was a road stretching northward across the great plains. Its straight spine split into a T, giving the allusion of two outstretched arms. Just above the T was a perfectly round cattle pond. Along the spine of the road were 8 chicken houses, four on either side. The ribs of this industrial skeletal sketching were rudimentary, but from 30,000 feet things seem much more clear.

The citizens of the heartland, we are dry. But we're still here. God as my witness.

*****

Thanks for joining me in this experiment in dialogue. And, by-the-way, I linked out to John's place because he's been crushing it lately. Yes... there are more of us than you think.

If I Stand...

This morning I woke up with the bars of an old Rich Mullins tune in my head.  It's the song that I used as my morning alarm in college (oh grand Sony CD alarm clock, where ever did you go?). "Stuff of earth competes for the allegiance I owe only to the giver of all good things." 

After humming a few bars I made my way over to John Blase's place.  He's a Colorado native, so I reckon you right-well know what that means.  I read "The List..." and figured a prayer for John.

Christ, have mercy on our Colorado friends. Some of them are good people.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_K93ebKnmhs]

Life Parables [a re-post]

I posted this piece in August of last year and it seemed an appropriate day to repost. This summer has turned into yet another drought and we're all waiting for two parts of hydrogen and one part of oxygen to fuse and fall. Still waiting. And while we're exploring metaphors, check out Amber's exploration over at Ann Voskamp's today. Ann continues to labor in the upside-down, unshakable kingdom, and she's invited Amber as a co-labor. You can find water there.

*****

August 1, 2011

“Blessed is the time of waiting, when we stay awake for the Lord, the Creator of the universe...."  -- Columbanus

It’s the any-dayness of this late stage of pregnancy that serves as the metaphor. Amber sits on the couch, groaning quietly under the pressure of a contracting uterus. They are coming more consistently now. Harder. Longer in duration.

She lays awake mostly, the infernal sword of Damocles hanging over her neck. There is fear in the labor. Birthing is violent. I have seen this three times now. There is glory in the end; she knows that. But the anticipation of new glory is sometimes overshadowed by the anticipation of the process. She is, after all, only human.

Today the contractions will cease for a bit, and she’ll be convinced that she’s only been experiencing pre-labor pains. We’ll have an almost normal day, I expect. And tonight when we sit on the couch, when she drinks her raspberry leaf tea, the contractions will resume. Harder, still. Longer in duration, still. We’ll try to watch a movie or read a book. We’ll try to distract ourselves from the anticipation, but you cannot ignore labor pains. They always come like a thief in the night.

*****

My world, the one in Northwest Arkansas, is turning to ash. The grass has withered. The flowers have faded. The trees have tanned under too much sun. They beg for a drop of relief, groan in anticipation of spring rains.

I pay a migrant worker to mow my lawn, the lawn that lays dead or dormant outside of my sunroom window. It hasn’t needed mowing in a few weeks now and I wonder how he’s making due. Sometimes work dries up and blows away. It’s happening all across this great Midwest. Work and weather can both be so fickle, the misery of both so persistent.

He and his wife lay awake at night too, a different kind of sword hanging over their necks. It’s hard to put food on the table when drought has robbed you of work. They groan with creation, “Lord, a bit of rain please.”

*****

I have these friends, a couple married for many years now. They have lived through the anticipation of birth, the raising of children, the matriculation to a near empty nest. It’s a lonely place, the growing apart. They’ve considered the neighbor’s spouse, the coworker, the friend at church. They’ve considered anyone but each other.

She’s strayed, and maybe he doesn’t know it yet. Or maybe he’s strayed and she doesn’t know it yet. They lie together at night, silent on their separate sides. They wish it weren’t this way, believe it could be different. They silently pray for salvation from a dead marriage. They silently pray for the resurrection of dead souls.

Tomorrow they will visit a family counselor who will remind them of their vows. He’ll tell them that the covenant covers infidelity. He’ll remind them of Hosea and they’ll work through the metaphor. They’ll groan in anticipation of healing, eye-roll and sigh through many an argument. Repairing a marriage is a violent process. I’ve seen it many times now.

In the end they’ll lift arms in adoration, four limbs melded back into two. They’ll rejoice in the coming of the new, the passing of death. They’ll have another twenty good years, I expect. That’s how redemption works.

The metaphors are all around me. If only I could learn to listen.