Archive for the ‘Friends’ Category


Sunday, February 20th, 2011

I like to pretend.

 Every trip to the post office, every trip across country—it doesn’t matter where I go—I like to pretend I am on a mission.

 Karen doesn’t like to join my team, or army, or panzer group—even when I offer her a lieutenancy. Of course I am always the captain, but that is incidental.

 Karen just frowns at me.

 “Look to the South, Good Buddy,” I warn.  “The Nazis are coming fast . . .”

 “Keep your eyes on the road Jim,” she scolds.

 “10-4,” I respond as I pull the Tiger Tank (aka Toyota Prius) back to the center of the road.

 How about you?

 Why not make a mundane trip to the grocery store into a mission behind enemy lines? Why not make a trip to church into a scouting mission across the Sahara?

 Life is interesting enough, I suppose, without all the pretending  but it is never as much fun.

 My  7 year old grandson Zion will pretend with me.

 Last Christmas high command gave us a mission to take important orders to Second Army (i.e., Karen told me to take a letter to our mail box at the end of our 150 yard driveway. Brave Master Sergeant Zion volunteered to join me.

 “General Granna (i.e., Karen),” I warned.  “Do not be surprised if we don’t make it back alive.”

 “Don’t miss the postman, Jim,” Karen retorted.

 “Yes general,” I deferentially responded. “10-4.”

 After establishing our password, Zion and I grabbed our browning automatics (broken broom handles), grenades (plastic donuts from Zion’s sister’s pretend kitchen set), and bowie knives (Karen’s carrots) and quietly, with great alacrity, approached the dangerous mail box.

 Along the way, of course, we were attacked by banzai warriors (our four barn cats), a German Stuka (our Black Lab), and an enemy patrol (Karen lovingly called Granna).  Against all odds we made it.

 But not without casualties.  I sustained a serious leg injury and Zion was nicked in the left arm.  In fact, we lost several good pretend companions.  Sly Zion, halfway, as we hid behind the chicken coup insisted on a field promotion to lieutenant or he would desert.  I reluctantly agreed.

 After such an arduous and dangerous mission Lieutenant Zion and I celebrated at Granna’s kitchen table.  She served us A-rations (Christmas cookies) and mess coffee (hot chocolate with marshmellows).

 It doesn’t get much better than this, 10-4?

You should see what is under my bed. (Part II)

Friday, April 9th, 2010

I keep one special book under the bed:  my dad’s Bible.  It is an old leather black Bible, expensive leather, worn now, with the edges exhibiting light brown cow leather intruding out of the faded black.  The cover has “Holy Bible” and “Billy Stobaugh” written in gold letters.

Inside the Bible in my Mammaw’s handwriting is “1939. To Billy from Mother and Daddy, 8 years.”  My dad was born in 1932 and apparently this was his 8th birthday present.  When my dad died on Father’s Day in 1982, when he was only 49, my mom gave me this Bible.

I imagine Dad got other things for his birthday.  Toy soldiers?  A pop gun?  I will never know.  But I know he got this Bible.  If you found your deceased dad’s Bible what would you do? I immediately looked for evidence that he read it.  I looked for a mark, any mark, that would evidence that he read it, studied it, applied it to his life.  Nothing.

Nothing.  Nothing in the family register.  Nothing next to John 3:16.   I know my dad knew God loved him.  I heard him say it a few hours before he died.  But no marks in his Bible.

I know I have lots of marks in my Bible.  I can’t keep up with Karen though.  She is the “master marker.”  Her Bible is full of underlines.  Her Bible underlines are straight and neat.  I can’t do it.  My lines inevitably invade other verses.  I gave up drawing straight lines under verses—I now put squiggly lines.  I once asked Karen to show me how she made straight lines under her Bible verses—sometimes without even a straight edge.  She ignored my question.

I don’t have my dad anymore but I have his Bible.  And there is nothing written in it.

I wish my dad wrote in his Bible, the Bible I keep under my bed.  I would like something—anything—that reminds me of him.  I am 56 now and it is 28 years since he died.  I can hardly remember what he looks like now.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2: 3-5—“Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? We don’t need letters of recommendation to you or from you as some other people do, do we?  You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone, revealing that you are a letter of Christ, delivered by us,   written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on stone tablets but on tablets of human hearts.”  My dad’s life is written on my heart.  It gives me pleasure still to read his Bible.

But, parents, write in your Bible!  Even if you use squiggly lines.  Your kids will thank you someday!  But more important, write your lives on their hearts.  That someday, perhaps one cold night, as they wait to go asleep, they will read your Bible, see your marks, and, more importantly, remember that day, long ago, when you wrote your life on their lives.

Rutherford, Wilson & Peter continued

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

After thanksgiving Rutherford, Wilson, and I decided to share a press of coffee in quaint Davis Square, Cambridge, MA. Listening to my two friends’ places in life, how different their situations are, but based on the same problem: they don’t know what they want, and they are not alone.

What I’ve discovered is there is an alarming number of people who are getting divorced from their straight-out-of-college spouses, are unable to commit to someone special, or are getting engaged to someone whom loves them but they don’t love. The decision of marriage is a symptom from the font line of the wasteland, America.

Rutherford has fabricated an ideal woman, piece-mealed from the movie Princess Bride and artist Bob Dylan, to compare every girl to. This is his standard to compare Tela also. For Rutherford to love Tela for who she is would be a compromise and would mean he was not living life to the fullest. I question him on this, and he says, “Well, I just don’t really know what I want.”

Wilson is caught in a web where he thinks marriage is simply the next step and he has no idea what he is looking for. He can fall in love with a million women and since Esther is here, why not? She is no different than any of the other girls. I question him on this, and like Rutherford, he replies “Well, I just don’t know really know what I want.” I wonder if the reason they don’t know what they are looking for is because there is something missing in their foundational thinking. Which makes me glad I met my future wife . . .


Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

Wilson’s girlfriend was Esther. Unlike Wilson’s truthful buildings, Esther was an innocent imp. Have you ever burned the roof of your mouth on scalding pizza? The pain would go away if you could just stop tonguing the wound. Esther is that wound. She walks into the room and people dive for cover. Her idea of conflict resolution with Wilson was a slammed car door, turned off cell phone, and/or slashing comments. But this made no difference to Wilson.

The beast, love, began to tow; and Wilson longed for the jaws of this ride to close around him like a coffin of security. Commitment to him was another building to find himself in. Here, in the present, loving Esther was a brick, another piece as good as the next to mold a truth that his reality can adapt to.

All his life he found solace in the direction his work took him. Design after design he drafted, each, reflected the truth of who he was so intimately. They provided him with tangible evidence of his worth to offer as a sacrifice to up others, to Esther. Upon his shoulders he bore the responsibility to design and erect this institution of matrimony. After all, everything depends on a white wedding dress, glazed with joyful teardrops, inside the stone church.

Wilson’s life was surrendered to constructing wonder out of the ordinary materials within his reach. He had the right tools. No worries. One material was Church. There in the pews, he meditated on the precise elements to his and Esther’s relationship. Slogging through marriage books, he discovered more passageways to his self-consciousness. Peering into his favorite art by Jackson Pollock, he sought justification for rejecting reason. Esther was as random as a thrown paint-soaked brush, dripping, splashing onto to his canvas. He must learn to accept her for who she is, that is love. He would have been better off if he reread the book of Ephesians.

After one particularly violent encounter with Esther, he grinned at me and said, “A gentleman can live through anything.” But in his eyes this was not what he wanted. In his shoulder’s you could make out the tense unspoken words buried deep in his sinews.

His truth came from his constructions; he could always form his reality around an edifice. The driving force behind all his work was a clear sense of knowing what he wanted. Standing at the base of the Cathedral of Learning, Wilson began to fall apart. Peering up, he knew what he wanted from this building, it was simple: the answers came from within him.

Thinking of Esther, he searched inside himself and was left wanting for answers. Marriage, this institution, was a structure whose roof was mortality. The consequences of committing were too great for him to sustain alone. His work had never asked him to look beyond the tip of a steeple for meaning. Now, he strained to see where the steeple was pointing and saw nothing.

Directionless. Pointless. Unsure of what he wanted from marriage, Wilson surrendered to the beast. He left the cathedral mumbling, “There will be time, to prepare a face to meet the faces that I’ll meet.”

Ring shopping, not out of aspiration, but an apathetic stride. Consequences, commitment, had smudged his view of the world with a yellow fog. A cruel woman intruded into his neat spatial drama, coming and going, jawing of Michelangelo, and pinning him wriggling to the wall.

Just before he proposed, he texted me, saying:

“Human kind cannot bear very much reality.”-T. S. Eliot

Rutherford, Wilson, & Peter

Monday, January 11th, 2010

My next friend, Wilson, is quite the polar opposite of Rutherford. An ambitious architect for a well-respected firm in D.C. Wilson quietly dedicates himself to his work, church, and friends with a dutiful reverence. Growing up alongside him was at times exhausting. Though he accomplished his work to perfection at a fervid pace, his “to do” list never seemed to conclude. Keeping up at this pace would have buried me long ago.

“The only thing a man can do for eight hours is work.”- William Faulkner

Rutherford, Wilson, and I used to sneak into the Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh to talk about life. Rutherford would blather about a Bennie Maupin’s role as an influential jazz mutireedist. I would be staring out over the city, watching the sun’s rays play among the tall buildings. Wilson, he would be staring down at the structure of the building, muttering what he would change about its design. His eyes revealed the intensity he felt when surveying the minute details of the painstaking work it took to erect such a majestic object.

Looking back, it was days like sitting in the cathedral that he knew he wanted to become an architect. With a jolt, he would come alive with his own ideas, scratching diagrams and images. Utilizing an arsenal of modern techniques and materials, he would demolish purposeless fluff, added to buildings for popular style’s sake, to pragmatically create a new beauty that worshiped avant-garde efficiency.

Being encased in stone and metal, organized and purposefully place, gave him the sense of right. Buildings to him were like a perfect finger pointing to God in a magnificent display of disciplined work. While most people loved reading in parks, Wilson preferred to read in breathtaking buildings. He always felt more alive, more real, more good, sitting in buildings reading or doing his work. He said once to me, with a wink, “Peter, read Hemingway in a well planned building and truth will fall from its rafters.” Thoughts, for Wilson, were only as clear the spatial drama in his sketches of floor plans.

Rutherford – Part 2

Friday, January 8th, 2010

My friend’s love was Tela, who in all respects seemed perfect for him. She was patient and willing to traipse down any city street in search of the next underground music scene. Her love was strong and affirming. Years passed by as they continued grow more comfortable with each other taking for granted the sempiternal presence of one another.

As things go though, the beast began to heave; the jaws of this ride began to close in around Rutherford. Commitment to him was the removal of freedom. Freedom to my friend had nothing to do with faith or the Gospel. It had everything to do with his own desires. Note: Rutherford had known Christ all his life and had lived a fairly, solid Christian life. But when the really big decisions came before him, he naturally acted out of his carnal nature. Interesting—but another story.

According to him, upon becoming engaged we loose our liberum arbitrium, our free will, our ability to choose with only ourselves in mind. Rutherford fears this. Removing his independence could erase his self-identity, sending him on a ride of despondency, stumbling to the exit of the roller coaster with his romantic angst turned into defeat. Rutherford had forgotten that we are servants of Christ (Romans 1), or doulus “love servants” who choose to be slaves of Christ.

Rutherford left Tela a letter. She let me see it over Thanksgiving, it said:

“Tela, I’m writing you this note from the underground of my heart. I want to be an intelligent man. I must, no, am morally obliged, to be a characterless creature. Loving you, will dawn a man possessing character, a man of action, who would be fundamentally limited. I want to be limitless. My very own free, unfettered desire, my whims, no matter how wild, though sometimes roused to the point of madness, is my most advantageous advantage. I am a sick man…¦ I am a most unpleasant man. But the most intense pleasures occurs in despair which you haven’t even dared to take halfway…matrimony or dissolution, either or, know that …neither fraud, nor deceit, nor malice had yet interfered with truth and plain dealing’-Don Quixote.”

That was it. Rutherford adorned his pack of essentials like a suit of armor set out to experience his life concretely, face to face with the nakedness of the world. Before he left for some foreign country, he said to me, “Liberty, Peter, my friend, is one of the most precious gifts that Heaven has bestowed on mankind”.


Thursday, January 7th, 2010

Rutherford is a freethinking sojourner hippy that is always primed for a pot of tea and a good beat to jive with. Held down by nothing but his own physical form, he travels the world with a backpack of only essentials, except for one luxury; his precious worn copy of Søren Kierkegaard’s journal.

Life to Rutherford was all about living passionately. A shared libation to conversation, he conveyed how it was our responsibility to bring meaning into our own lives. Our experiences were to annex our substance. There really is no good or evil measured by an objective standard, just obstacles to overcome in order to refine our internal spirits. He viewed himself as a free individual with an excited lament, his proverbial angst, at struggling through life as a writer and musician.

Music lessons were out of the question. Only those who wished to kill their creativity would pull out books, mimic a tutor, be unintentionally harnessed by preconditioning. The only way to learn was to connect to the soul. Delicately leaning over his instrument he would tune his instrument. His long brown curly hair drooped over his eyes like a veil partitioning him off from the world. He fingers would pass up and down the neck placing pressure in unplanned rhythm, not for an audience, but purely, unselfishly, surrendering to the guitar until it and his soul were in harmony. Slightly less than all the time, his guitar twanged to some celestial orchestra that the physical world around him was inept and ill fit to hear. And it showed, painfully on the faces of onlookers.

“The task must be made difficult, for only the difficult inspires the noble-hearted”- Søren Kierkegaard