Monday, November 24, 2008



Even as I begin this first sentence of a piece about writing, I begin to think that I have nothing to write. The question is whether to push through and perhaps find something in my meanderings that's worth giving to the world.

I have a strange relationship with writing. When I do write, I often get nice compliments. I suppose I'm not a bad writer. I keep a blog, though I don't post as often as other more prolific bloggers. I think that's because I don't like to write about nothing. God knows we don't need any more blogs about how cute a person's pet is or how my friend is being a jerk or how stupid people can be. I want to communicate something profound, something that I have to reach down into my heart to retrieve.

But life doesn't always feel profound, and profundity is often stumbled upon in the mundane. I suppose that means I need to allow myself to just write, whether I think I have much to say or not. Chances are, I'll find something, or something will find me.

So life is in the mundane. Nothing new being said there. Merton and Nouwen have said that better than me. But perhaps it's important to keep saying it in new ways. A small tree changing colours outside my window isn't just dying as it does every fall. It's bursting into flames, and if I stop to look at it for a while, I'll see that it's not being consumed. When I take the time to see that, I might hear the voice of God telling me that I'm standing on holy ground.

So perhaps my job as a writer, even a sporadic writer like me, is to find the burning bushes. I don't need to worry about how many people will read what I've written. I don't need to worry that the volume of my collected works could be read in a couple of hours. I simply need to write, because to write is to stop and take notice of the Angel of the Lord, burning like fire in the trees all around me. To write is to notice the profound lurking beneath the mundane and say, “I must go over to look at this remarkable sight.”

And maybe that's something worth giving.

Thursday, November 13, 2008



The Central California Valley stretches from Redding, in Northern California, all the way down to Bakersfield, not far from L.A. The northern section is known as Sacramento Valley, and its southern section is called the San Joaquin Valley. The meeting of these two sections is at a delta where the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers meet.

I live in the San Joaquin Valley. Geologically, a valley can sometimes be referred to as a depression. Sometimes, it feels as if I live in the San Joaquin Depression. I don't know exactly what it is, but it seems the valley I live in is a place where people feel trapped. All that pollution gets trapped in the valley with no place to go, and prevents you from seeing the foothills, the mountains, that are just a few miles away .

The airport I usually fly out of is in San Francisco. You drive through the Altamont pass to get to and from there, through the foothills. Sometimes, when I've been away for a while and feel refreshed and ready to come back to Modesto, I drive over those hills and start to feel the oppression and overwhelming sadness of the valley. For some reason, this valley seems to be a place where hope dies, and people lose vision for a real, full life. I hear story after story of people who came here hoping for work and a new life, who now only want to get out because work is scarce and life is hard.

Last Sunday morning, I took Chris to the airport. I was driving through the familiar Altamont pass, noticing the earliest signs of green coming to life on the brown hills. I rounded a bend and saw the wide open valley lying before me, and I suddenly realized something. Valleys supposed to be a place of life. The valley looked beautiful. It was green and full of life. It looked like a place of safety, sanctuary and refuge. It looked like a place where hope could gather.

The San Joaquin Valley is still very rich in agriculture. For all the orchards that have been stripped away for track housing, many more remain. There are rich farmlands here, some of the best in all of the United States. Clearly, this valley was never meant to be a place of stagnation and hopelessness.

God made this valley. What God makes is good. He said so. He surrounded it with mountains to remind us of his greatness, and he gave it these rivers to remind us of new life. The Central Valley is not the Valley of the Shadow of Death, nor the Vale of Tears. It's a place of life, if we remember the life in it. It can be a place of hope and renewal. By our own choice, we can co-operate with God in making it so.

I live in the valley, and I choose life.

Monday, November 10, 2008



I'm unable to hold it together lately.

I mentioned in my last entry that I've cried a lot. I think the tears I've been shedding are an answer to a prayer. Many of my tears are not sad ones, but come from an overwhelming grace that reduces me to a joyful sobbing.

In the last month, I've been getting to know a new friend I met on Ninth Street. “Maximilian” is an honest and kind-hearted man who has experienced God in the last year in new ways. His heart has opened up to God and God has begun a real work in him. He also battles drug addiction. I love this guy a lot, and my heart yearns and breaks to see him completely free.

In all of this, I've asked God to give me a real and true hope for Max, a hope that is grounded in the reality of what will be. In answer to my prayer, God has shown me Arley. I've written about Arley before. Three years ago, he was just another wino in the park. Today, he's a strong man of God, filled with a love that flows from him like water from the temple. Lately, I can hardly think about Arley without breaking down. The reality of what God has done in his life overwhelms me. It overwhelms me that I had anything whatsoever to do with that work. I feel absolutely humbled and honoured to know and love Arley. I can't take any credit for what God has done, and yet the Father saw fit to make me part of Arley's story of redemption.

The other day, Arley and my friends and I sat by the river and prayed. Maximilian was on my mind, and when Arley began praying for him, I wept. Arley's story is different than Max's, but the heart of it is the same. Arley can pray for him in a way that is very special. I know that when Arley prays for someone who's in the midst of heartbreak and addiction, God listens.

I know that my friend will be okay. I know God will set him free. I know that it may take some time, but I'm sure it will happen. I only need to look at Arley, so free and alive, to be assured of how God tells a good story.

Hope is real and advancing upon us. I can try to despair, but I am unable.