Thursday, July 31, 2008

Zipporah the Wandrin' Jew

Moses married a Midianite woman named Zipporah. I named my wandering Jew plant after Zipporah, because as she was a Midianite and not a Hebrew, neither am I of the twelve tribes. Zippy and I were grafted in by a covenant keeper.

I do not know if you can see it in the picture in the "Her name is Zippy" post, but there is new stalk actually growing under water!! I say this all the time to my friends, that life is metaphor. This plant surely manifests that truth. ( Don't freak out reformers- purveyors of propositional truth, metaphor is NOT a bad word)

I am the new stalk growing under water, being transformed from death to life. Baptized into death, I receive life eternal. Know this: the receipt of life eternal does not flow from works, but works flow from the life eternal given.

My new companion Zippy mirrors the work of God in me, in us all. Let me bow, submit, put down roots and grow as he calls me homeward. Do I hear an Amen?

Her name is Zippy

Monday, July 28, 2008


I've a good friend who, a few weeks back conspired with me to take a cut of a Wandering Jew plant at Macaroni Grille. I was admiring the rich purple hued plant; a large flower bed outside the restaurant was covered in it, and I mentioned how I'd always wanted a plant Wandering Jew plant. (Who would not want one, with that fantastically apt name-aren't we all wandering Jews?) The next thing I knew, she took a pocket knife from deep in her pocket, and cut a stalk. Awed, I received it, tended to it carefully until I could get it in a vase, and since that day, over a month ago, I've been waiting for roots to sprout. The first few days, I looked every hour I was home to see whether roots were growing. Nothing. A week went by... nothing. Two weeks, no activity then either. I added water to the vase, and when I could endure with it no longer, I forsook the shoot, by putting the vase between the kitchen curtain and the window, out of sight, out of mind.

Two days ago, I pulled back the curtain to find the struggling plant had now grown a trail of roots suspended in water like hair. Glee is the word I find fits best to describe my reaction. It was a sort of forty year period this long month. Mine was the desert, I turned my back on the frail plant, and did not keep my charge. When I observed the wispy growth, my jaw dropped. I was simultaneously convicted of my forgetfulness, and sobered to realize the hearty plant, to this point, did not need my tending to grow. It seems it needed a time away, much like the watched pot begs me to leave before it will boil.

It was I who wandered off to the task of puttering, writing, preparing to leave for work, socializing, or easing into my arrival from a long work day. All that time, utterly abandoned by me, the Jew simply sat, treading water, simmering in the daytime sun, and brooding in the dark of night. Now that the roots have sprung forth, the real risk begins, where to plant this sapling, this young, vibrant life? How to care for her, what to feed, how much light, how much shade. You've probably already guessed this, but what I know about plant-life can be inscribed on the head of a tiny straight pin. So it will be an adventure, more so for the vulnerable plant, than me. We shall see. Wish us well.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Not Finished

I'm not finished with two other books, but I'm close. I started Why We're Not Emergent, but Should Be, by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck, and, I told you this already, the first installment of Bob Dylan's memoir, Chronicles, Volume I.

DeYoung and Kluck do an admirable job of asserting that truth matters, in fact, they do a fine job of it. So far, what I glean as the solid premise of their book: Absolute truth claims are what distinguish orthodox Christianity from the Emergent movement.

Dylan does a similar thing, asserts that truth matters. I'm still wading through his fine prose, chocked full of metaphor.

If you are a Christian and you don't think truth matters, you might want to re-think why you call yourself one.

Go listen to Dylan sing, it'll jump-start your day, he'll wake you as he cries in the wilderness.


I finished Peter Kreeft's Making Sense out of Suffering. You might recall I posted a few weeks back that I'd begun the book and was quite taken with it. I can commend it to you wholeheartedly. It ranks as one of the best books on the topic, I've read. Kreeft is deliberate. His arguments for considering suffering as part and parcel of pointing one to the Eternal are persuasive. Perhaps the best tool he employs is a dialogue between the Author and the Reader. This was a risky choice that could have back-fired, instead, it drew me in and helped me concede the questions I have about suffering and to whom they are ultimately addressed.
For more on the book, you'll have to read it. I think you should. Yes, I said should.

Another book on suffering I appreciated, R.C Sproul's Surprised by Suffering. A book I cannot say I 'liked', but would recommend as a resource on the subject of suffering is Soren Kierkegaard's The Sickness Unto Death. Inviting title, isn't it??
A similar book worth exploring on death and dying- edited by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, is The Eternal Pity. Essentially it is a collection of numerous essays, both contemporary and ancient on death.

So much for an uplifting post. Go well this day dear reader.

Monday, July 21, 2008

What's happening here?

This accompanying photo is widely known throughout the internet. Were I to title it, I would name it "Squishing the Sun". The image is playful and fun, yet it carries a somber reminder. What I think of when I see it: "...And the light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness overcame it not..."
Folks there's a committed enemy, hellbent on darkness, but he will not win. The light of the Gospel is eternal, ever, true, lasting and faithful. Believe it.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

G.K. Chesterton poem

O God of earth and altar,
Bow down and hear our cry;
Our earthly leaders falter,
Our people drift and die;
The walls of gold entomb us,
The swords of scorn divide;
Take not Thy thunder from us,
But take away our pride.

…Tie in a living tether
The Prince and Priest and Thrall;
Bind all our lives together,
Smite us and save us all…

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Midnight book review: The Stringbean Murders

I could not sleep, I had no business reading either, because I had a headache from hell; the kind that makes you sure the top of your head could cave in or explode, any minute. With a headche like that one, one ought to read Pascal, the Bible, D.A. Carson, Tim Keller, Dostoyevsky, anything that might change your life. I chose a different road, and am glad I did.
In November of 1975 Warren Causey, a former Nashville Banner reporter, wrote a little book on the murders of David "Stringbean" Akeman and his wife, Estelle Akeman. Stringbean was known worldwide for his HEE-HAW comedy, and his banjo prowess, but to those closest to him for his simple lifestyle amid his success as an entertainer. The murders happened on November 10, 1973. The Akemans were downed by a ruthless gunman on their own property; Stringbean was shot inside his home and Estelle ran in a panic when she heard the gunfire, but to no avail, she was shot in the head as she begged for her life.
Why is a book like this worth reading, you ask? The sole reason it is important is this: so that man and womankind do not shirk from admitting that evil is. Period. It is not so we can delve into the personal life of one of country music's most beloved stars. It is not so we can learn the technical aspects of crime and law; especially that, because from Causey's account of events, the evidence was shaky, though the investigation seemed thorough. So, if you are looking for a Pulitzer winning crime drama, this ain't it.
I read it as a curious Nashvillian, aware that I was but 11 years of age when these killings took place. It happened on Bakers Station Road, then completely rural, and only miles from the home on East Cedar Street where my dad was born. Now Bakers Station Road has flourished or descended into mass development, depending on your views. It only retains vestiges of its rural roots, and has perhaps been permanently scarred by the murders of Estelle and David Akeman.
Causey's book was published the same year Marcia Trimble was murdered, 1975. I know this fact was in Causey's mind as he collected what earnings he did. I also learned in the reading of it, that Detective Tommy Jacobs, one of the lead investigators in the Stringbean murders, was mortally wounded himself in February of 1971 on Oriole Place, in the center of Green Hills. He was shot multiple times, inluding the face, arm and back as he conducted an investigation in a driveway on Oriole. I remember when I moved to Eden Avenue, but a block from there in the late eighties, my dad cautioned me about the neighborhood in a cryptic way, specifically pointing out Oriole Place as a street where hoodlums lived. Now, I suspect dad was referencing this shooting of Jacobs, but did not give details on the danger of the place. It was nothing of the sort then, in my mind, but the longer I reflect on it, the more I think my dad was on to something.
What I think Causey wanted to point out to locals that read the book: even here, in the bedroom communities of Nashville, both north and south of the urban area, crime and darkness lurk. It is something all of us in the trade know. There is no safe place. Combatting the evil of which I spoke earlier is a sticky thing; recalling Alexandr Solzhenitsyn's words on the subject startle me:

If it were only so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

This pithy question has led sane men to drink themselves under tables, and mad ones to the altars of confession. I submit this question does not stand for the proposition that men or women who wreak havoc through crime are misguided and unloved creatures in need of treatment instead of punishment. On the contrary, I think it means we are all capable of, indeed all commit great evil. To combat evil is not as simple as it seems, it is not just about weeding out bad people from good. Specifically, fighting crime is about the laborious task of proof, of collecting evidence of giving up exculpatory proof that may exonerate the innocent, and presenting credible inculpatory proof that will damn the guilty. That said, it is vital to remember it is not a game, it is not easy and lives are held in the balance. It is why I go to work; may I ever keep in mind Solzhenitsyn's thoughts on the matter as I labor to do good, knowing I am shot through with capacity for evil.

Home, Sick

That's where I've been, going on the second day, home, sick. It all started with that The Visitation post. My 'visitation' as it were, dehydrated me. Or, I, being less attentive to my frailty, dehydrated myself. Fact is, I do not take care of myself as I ought. I do get better sleep, I don't drink like a fish anymore, but I simply ignore the little things like hydration. My fever has dissipated, I feel more normal this morning, just ate two poached eggs and am drinking coffee. (I already downed a 12 oz Gatorade, for those of you who may be smirking that coffee is not hydrating.)
I've got a friend who suffers physically a lot. Come to think of it, I know many who contend with all kinds of suffering, physical and emotional. From migraines to arthritis, from sciatia to carpel tunnel, from endometriosis to pinniculitis, from fibromyalgia to clinical depression they're all there, slugging it out in the temporal. These conditions or diseases are not what make these folk, though. I know none of them to have succumbed to the clutches of despair, but by man's standards, they certainly would have reason to, and no one could judge them, or me for surrender to pain.
What's funny, is that days before I spiralled into this state of being, I mused on suffering and wondered aloud to someone, (I cannot recall now who it was,) if that is not why we are here in the first place- to suffer. Soren Kierkegaard put it like this:

Listen to the cry of a woman in labor at the hour of giving birth-look at the dying man's struggle at his last extremity, and then tell me whether something that begins and ends thus could be intended for enjoyment.

I imagine, as I nearly always do, that as you read this, you are saying to yourself, well Wallace has been feverish for one too many hours, and now just needs a little rest, that is a little extreme, of course our lives are intended for enjoyment, you say, they sure as hell ought to be.

I can't argue with you on the topic, because there does seem to be ample evidence in scripture that God intended for us to enjoy creation, to enjoy fellowship and to enjoy him. What I offer for pondering is that one dare to believe it is possible to enjoy life and live into the calling to suffer all at once. My premise for this paradox is based in part on homesickness. Not being home, sick, but real, honest to God homesick, the awareness, the inkling that this world is not our home, that there is something greater for which we were born. While I'm home today, I'll think on it if you will.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Tony Snow

As some of you know, journalist and Bush press secretary, Tony Snow died of cancer this past week. Whatever your politics, or your views on the media, I bet you will get a tissue after or during reading this, his commencement speech over a year ago at Catholic University of America. I found it posted at today

The theme of was “Reason, Faith, Vocation.” Some of the advice and wisdom he shared with the graduates:

Socrates was right: Know thyself.
But see, there’s more. Once you’ve gotten past the mirror phase, then things begin to get really interesting. You begin to confront the truly overwhelming question: Why am I here? And that begins to open up the whole universe, because it impels you to think like the child staring out at the starry night: “Who put the lights in the sky? Who put me here? Why?” And pretty soon you are thinking about God. Don’t shrink from pondering God’s role in the universe or Christ’s. You see, it’s trendy to reject religious reflection as a grave offense against decency. That’s not only cowardly. That’s false. Faith and reason are knitted together in the human soul. So don’t leave home without either one.
When it comes to faith, I’ve taken my own journey. You will have to take your own. But here’s what I know. Faith is as natural as the air we breathe. Religion is not an opiate, just the opposite. It is the introduction to the ultimate extreme sport. There is nothing that you can imagine that God cannot trump. As Paul said “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” And once you realize that there is something greater than you out there, then you have to decide, “Do I acknowledge it and do I act upon it?” You have to at some point surrender yourself. And there is nothing worthwhile in your life that will not at some point require an act of submission. It’s true of faith and friendship.
Finally, love. How trite is that? But it’s everything. It separates happiness from misery. It separates the full life from the empty life. To love is to acknowledge that life is not about you. I want you to remember that: It’s not about you. It’s a hard lesson. A lot of people go through life and never learn it. It’s to submit willingly, heart and soul, to things that matter. Love is not melodrama. You don’t purchase it, you don’t manufacture it. You build it.
Every time I buy something gaudy for my wife she says, “Oh that’s nice,” and then it goes away someplace. The love letters she keeps; I don’t know where the jewelry is.
Love springs from small deeds, the gestures that say casually and naturally “I care.” That acknowledge what’s special about somebody else. If somebody’s smarter, quicker, better, prettier, wiser than you, tell them. Learn from them. Don’t be jealous. Glory in it.
Think not only of what it means to love but what it means to be loved. I have a lot of experience with that. Since the news that I have cancer again, I have heard from thousands and thousands of people and I have been the subject of untold prayers. I’m telling you right now: You’re young [and you feel] bullet-proof and invincible. [But] never underestimate the power of other people’s love and prayer. They have incredible power. It’s as if I’ve been carried on the shoulders of an entire army. And they had made me weightless.
When I was your age, I had long hair, a beard and thought of myself as a socialist. You are going to pinball all over the place, from experience to experience, job to job. And I want you to remember that you’ve got company. And that if you engage them with heart and mind, with faith and energy, you are going to find yourself on a cresting wave. It’ll carry you forward and it’ll push you under water from time to time. And some day in the dim and distant future, when you’re looking back at it, you’re not going to think about your car or your career or your gold watch. You’ll think about a chewed-up teddy bear you had as a baby or maybe your child’s smile on a special Christmas morning. The only things that are sure to endure are the artifacts of love. So go out and build as many as you can.
And finally this: Wherever you are and whatever you do, never forget at this moment, and every moment forward, you have a precious blessing. You’ve got the breath of life. No matter how lousy things may seem, you’ve got the breath of life. And while God doesn’t promise tomorrow, he does promise eternity.

The Visitation

My web reading is somewhat limited, but one of my favorite sites (to which I've linked you all at ) is Sand in the Gears, Tony Woodlief's earnest words on family, distress, melancholia, politics, faith, music, et cetera- all told with a wonderful dash of zeal and humor. One of his latest posts, "Whatchamacallits" is no exception. (I've been having difficulty lately with maintaining my blog - difficulty linking you to the correct posts of others, you can find this entry of Tony's on July 11, 2008)

"Whatchamacallits" is his wonderfully stark commentary on the naming of the male genitalia in the Woodlief household. He's a boy, who happens to be a dad, and his language is that of a boy- one of concern and sincerity juxtaposed by playfulness and irreverence. I'll not spoil it for you- go to his link posted above to read it.

Tony's speaking into the chaos of naming has inspired me. Just as his comments could be received by some as childish, over the top and sexist, so may the remainder of this post be for you, dear reader. However, I am coming at this from a different angle. I, a member of the female gender, am possessed of a uterus that rages in torrents for about eight days a month. I've decided to pen a few words on the bloody matter. I have seen portions of the stage play, The Vagina Monologues, and something about that production fits well into this theme- speaking of body parts is not gauche in itself.

Now, there are those, most of whom will be men, right this minute, who'll elect to go read CNN, ESPN or their local weather, all well and good-understood.. Or, given that it is the Lord's day within Christendom, some of you may be wincing and wanting to wash my mouth out with soap. For those of you who've the stomach (most will be women, and that is no mere coincidence) to continue, read on.

Girls become women, not by forfeiting or losing their virginity, but, I submit, by bleeding. You women may recall the day you had your first 'period' or 'menstrual flow'. And the event of going from a relatively carefree, "blood in the veins and arteries where it is contained life" to one where blood gushes from your insides is quite the shock. My mom did her best to educate me with one of those booklets with the black and white line drawings of the vagina, uterus, and ovaries, sat me down, looked me in the eye, and said, read this, but I do not remember if I read it before or after I started my period. I suspect that no matter how carefully and deliberately the subject is addressed, the trauma remains a vivid one for most girls. For those of you who cried tears of joy when you first 'got your period', I do not understand you. I may love you and cherish you, but I do not understand that strange joy.

Much is made of what to call this rite of passage, and heretofore the references of "flow", or "Flo", "my period", which to me sounds so grammarian, and allusive to the time that feels for me like one in which time stops; "the curse", while accurate, hardly seems the word you want to start using at age 12 or so and stick with through your entire life. "My time of the month" was ever popular with some, but so direct and without earnestness, it carried less weight than "my period".

I never did stick with one word. My mom used "the curse" "period", and I said as little about it as possible. If you want a name with shock value, and one in particular to describe that part of your menstruation that doubles you in two and prompts you to want to rip out the throat of the nearest bystander, try THE CRAMPS. "Have you got the cramps?"; or, "God, I've got the cramps, do you have any Midol?"

The previous two phrases are all but lost on the male species, that is, until they are fortunate by Providence or get old enough to have a cramp in their groin muscle; women can then have a strange empathy with them as they moan in dire pain, limp to the shower and stand under running water to alleviate the knot in their muscle tissue while clutching cold tile.

I'd like to delve deeper in theological issues surrounding a woman's menstrual flow, (e.g. blood covenant, blood offering, original sin, the curse, the fall, et cetera,) but I do not want to tread lightly on the topic of my dear Saviour's offering. I'll resort to a banal illustration instead. How many of you are familiar with the band called THE CRAMPS? Not many, I presume. Suffice it to say, their garish make-up, horrible sound, and provocative lyrics are as intense a contrast to the precious blood of Christ my God as is possible for me to convey. I thought I might insert a photo of them, or a poster, but after I looked at google images of them, I decided against it. One poster of theirs had the words Christian death inscribed on it; fitting, both to describe their monstrosity, and the actual thing taking place when we undergo this rite, this comi-tragic cycle.

Call it what you will, I have opted for the neutral words "The Visitation"- describe sort of a spiritual activity and intimates there is, thankfully, an end to the bloodshed. By God's great wisdom, mercy and timing alone, I rejoice that it is one day going to cease.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Holiness of God

I re-read the last post, Superseding Indictment. Some of you might be appalled. My inclination would have been to worry what you think of my post, what you think of me, but, for now, for today, and for truth, that is of no matter. Some of you might be asking questions I've asked myself after the re-read:

-Do you really think that about God, Wallace? Yes, at the risk of offending and/or alienating you,

dear reader, I do.

-It makes God sound so mean. Sound(s) mean- isn't that subjective?

- Poor Wallaces' self-esteem must be riding pretty dang low today. Yeah. maybe so. If my self

esteem stays in the dirt til Jesus returns and I can proclaim the truth of the gospel, so be it. God

alone is faithful, I am weak, He is strong.

-Death, I mean, right off the bat, for the tiniest infraction? His holiness requires it. What kind of

God would he be if his standard was not a standard, but mere whimsy?

-Well, Wallace, you can think that if you like, but I believe God is benevolent, loving and kind.

Here, we agree.

-So how can God be both benevolent and wrathful?

-Only one truly righteous, truly just and truly holy can be both at the same time.

-What are we to do with a God like this?

I thought you'd never ask, receive the Truth as revealed in the person of Jesus.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Superseding Indictment

I'm sort of in a knot. Which should not be much of a surprise if you know me. On the about me page on this blog, I address what activities I spend time doing; one of which, to my dismay, is worry. I wring my hands, I fidget, and I get anxious... and why? My dreadful conclusion is that I am too invested in what you think of me.
Suffering from the miasmic 'me driven' sickness of the soul that I am the center of the universe is sobering. I can imagine some of you are thinking, you don't do that Wallace, you are the least me driven character I know. To which I say-poppycock. If you really knew me, if you could crawl inside my head, you'd be awake to the truth of it. There are others of you who may have said, and rightly so, it is about time you confessed this. If this was your response, then it is likely you know how great your own sins are-what chasm separates you from the holiness of God.

The original indictment reads: On a date certain in April, 19__, in the province of earth, and before the finding of this indictment, Wallace Mercer did intentionally, knowingly or recklessly offend the holiness and complete faithfulness of God Almighty by exercising his or her will in opposition to the holiness and faithfulness of God Almighty; to wit: {here the exhaustive list of errors, great and small are to be inserted} and against the peace and perfect righteousness of God.

The punishment: Death. Period. No quarter. End of Conversation.

The remedy: Is it a promise to do it better? To live with more integrity? To be an ethical person? A granting of a 'do over'. Nope. Don't even go there. It is as I said-the exacting punishment of death is required.

The only remedy, the only sufficient one is a superseding indictment that was drafted in the hall of heaven before the foundation of the world.

It reads: On a date before time was, in the province of heaven, before the finding of this indictment in earthly time, A Lamb was slain, said Lamb being the person of Jesus Christ, who did intentionally enter the kingdom of this world, as human man, while simultaneously retaining the fullness of God; born of a virgin, by the Holy Spirit, he Jesus, lived an utter sinless life, obedient even to death, he subjected himself to the wrath of his Father, by imputing the sins of all to himself; therefore he incurred the full and complete wrath of his father and died to win the bride of his choice, the Church, by pouring out his life's blood as an offering for her, so that those rightly indicted because of their great or small shortcomings might be reconciled to Almighty God the Father by the Holy Spirit; and subsequent to the atoning work of him, Jesus, he, God the Father, raised him, Jesus on the third day by the Holy Spirit's power, and he Jesus, now sits at the right hand of the God the Father, ever interceding for sinners in the hands of a holy and righteous God.

Here's what really rankles me. Christ died for me while I was yet his enemy. His work atoned for my fallen nature before I was ever born. To merit this work of his all I have to do is receive it. I cannot earn it, I cannot get good enough to receive it. I must receive it my badness or not at all. He took my guilt and made it his, yet in his perfection he is sufficient and God the Father smiled on him, reckoning his obedience, suffering and death enough. I have no other who is capable of interceding for me but Christ crucified and Christ risen. May my worry for what you think of me and yours for what I think of you become ash under my feet and yours for the cause of the Gospel.

Soli Deo Gloria, again and again.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


All is vanity. When I write, I become more
of who I was made to be and simultaneously
tempted for the world to read and hear me,
to love and adore me. Let the latter fall away
and may I fall on my face daily before our gracious

All is vanity.

Christ have mercy.