lenten journal: unsummarily speaking


    One of my least favorite things is to enter a theater after the movie has begun. I don’t just like to be there for the start of the film, I like to be seated and settled for the previews and even some of the ads that flash by while the projectionist is killing time. I want to be in the room for the start of the story, rather than having to lean over and whisper, “What did I miss?”

    Truth is I’m always missing something. My life story is a patchwork quilt of unfinished and interrupted stories combined with other continuing tales that I’ve entered long after they began. It’s hard to get the whole picture.

    One of the more curious things about being a part of the blogging world is the meme. Part of the curiosity is the word, as it’s spelled, harkens back to my French class days where it is translated as “same.” In blog land, it’s all about answering the same question: sort of a cyber-icebreaker, if you will. I will admit I don’t usually respond when tagged for one (such interesting vocabulary), but Jason at Ogrepraxy invited me to participate in the 1-2-3 meme and it kind of fits with where my mind is this morning. The task is to grab the closest book, turn to page 123, find the fifth sentence, and then share the next three sentences. (A little complicated – do I include the fifth sentence? – but here it goes.

    The book closest to me this morning came in the mail last night. My friend Billy is the owner and creative director of the Blue Rock Artist Ranch (does that make him an artist wrangler?) and Studio in Wimberley, Texas. Once a year, he publishes the Blue Rock Review, an interesting collection of writings and interviews from folks connected to the place. Page 123 is the middle of a short story, “Chlora Plays Poker,” by Ginger Henry Geyer. Here are the three sentences that follow the fifth, plus one:

    They chuckled about smoker poker as they puffed on their cigars and pipes. The room swelled with a sweet haze of cherry tobacco. It lingered, blended with the musty smell of old books, and embedded in the mahogany walls and drapes. The room was like a small cathedral coated with centuries of incense that carried the prayers of the people into every nook and cranny that God stuck his nose into.

    I’ve never been much of a poker player and my pipe and cigar days are long gone, but I know what it feels like to be in a room with people I care about – most such memories are around the dining table – letting our laughter and love infuse everything around us with meaning and friendship. When we lived in Charlestown, our Thursday Night Dinners were gatherings of anyone who wanted to come eat. We had a group of twelve or sixteen people who would come over in various collections on any given Thursday and we would eat and drink and talk late into the night each week. On its own, each evening could have been described as just a meal together, in the same way as I’ve pulled four sentences out of the middle of the longer piece, yet together they told a story that didn’t require one to come in at the beginning but simply to pull up a chair and join us.

    My breakfast reading this morning was the most recent AARP Magazine (damn, I lead an exciting life), which had an article called “Movies for Grownups Awards.” What caught my attention, more than the “winners” themselves, was the one sentence summaries they gave for the runners up:

    • The Kite Runner: A childhood friendship transcends war, time, and even death.
    • Atonement: A love story told on an epic scale.
    • The Bucket List: Dying friends learn to live for the moment.
    • The Savages: Selfish grownup kids learn that a parent’s mistakes are no license to screw up their own lives.
    • Juno: A pregnant teen and an adoptive couple have a lot to learn from each other.

    For all I don’t want to miss, hearing only three or four sentences of the story is much more compelling that being told the whole thing in one. In short: summaries suck. The true story is told in the details. Put years and miles between friends, and it gets tough. My friend Burt and I have been playing phone tag for a week. He’s in Texas and I’m here in Durham. We both have new jobs in the last couple of months, we both have lots going on, and, when we finally do get to talk to one another, we will have to work to not settle for summaries and lean back into our history of details to find each other again.

    For many years, Billy and I talked everyday. We were writing songs together and inextricably connected in our details. The wonderful thing he has going at Blue Rock is in a different orbit than mine as a chef and a writer. We are both doing interesting and meaningful things that are less connected than we once were. We, too, have to fight the slide to summary when our lives intersect. We are lifelong friends, which means, for me, I’ve got a couple of nights ahead when I need to dive into the details of the Blue Rock Review to find my friend and let him know I found him and I’m with him.

    Lent, also, is a descent into the details. For me, “Jesus died for our sins” is summary that leaves me lacking what I need from this part of the journey. I want specifics. I want to read of them gathering in the upper room, much like grandpa and his buddies gathered for smoker poker; I want to listen closely to his words, to follow his steps, even as I listen to the words of those around me this year here in Durham and to the farthest outposts of friendships.

    I’ll skip the summaries, thank you, because I don’t want to miss the real story.



    1. Beautiful. The letting go does happen, as Gordon says, but something remains; and when opportunities come to transcend X, grace appears.

      Love the analogy with Lent and seeking the real story, the details, of Jesus.

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