One Hundred Words (41)

02/8/2009, 9:00 pm -- by | No Comments

“What are you? All religious and s***?”

My favorite question. A compliment, really, in its purest form. The s*** is the kicker: it signals that the questioner realizes you’re more than a churchgoing charade, a moon orbiting your parents’ beliefs. It betrays that someone who was “all religious and s***” once worked on the asker — and the s*** went after their spiritual jugular.

When I’m asked this question, I glow inwardly, with the keen joy early Christians must’ve felt at seeing a fish painted on a wall…knowing that kin were there before.

After all, you can’t spell “Christ” without s***.

–JBT

Best of Job: Snow on Snow

01/27/2009, 1:00 pm -- by | No Comments

Originally published January 2008.

SnowflakePerhaps you’ve heard of Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley, a Vermont farmer, turned amateur photographer, turned amateur scientist, turned mild sensation. In the early 1900s, Bentley used his 5,000+ collection of snowflake photographs to prove in a series of articles in National Geographic that no two snowflakes are exactly the same.

This sparked a romantic intrigue in readers and scientists alike, and his assertion was later proven true — that no matter how hard storms may precipitate, blanketing the vast acres of land in Siberia, Alaska, Tibet or Vermont, no snowflake will ever have an exact duplicate.

This is a compelling idea to consider as we step on, shovel through and wipe from our windshield the relentless number of snowflakes that visit us each year. I was recently indulging in this mind-expanding exercise while I watched it snow steadily, in weather warm enough that it was also melting and dripping off the roof in a reflection-inducing rhythm. Once perfectly unique crystals, now joined with others in a similar globular fate, speeding their melted way to form a drop falling off an eave. Never documented, never looked at, and never to be seen again.

The intricacy of a snowflake’s formation is too intense to ever truly comprehend, but its fragility pounded home to a level this human could master. I thought of a fetus — how at its very conception, it is immediately distinct, unique, exclusive and unrepeatable. Fetus But unlike a snowflake, it is not made by the chance encounter of high and low pressure systems, but rather the massive chemistry of human biology, emotion and decision.

And unlike a snowflake a fetus is not meant to quickly melt but rather grow, breathe, emote, possess fingerprints, and wrinkle. Despite its small size, a fetus — like a seed — carries the complexity to burst out, to mature into something astonishingly more. In fact, this is its very design, inexorable and compulsory.

But perhaps a fetus is most unlike a snowflake because one snowflake doesn’t require others to see it through to maturation.

And perhaps they are most similar in that all snowflakes — and all fetuses — have the same end together, in the ground.

Presidential Haiku Prediction 5

11/3/2008, 2:56 pm -- by | No Comments

They say Mack can win
with some help from a redskin
I can blush, Meghan!

Best of Job — All Your Base…

10/28/2008, 10:00 am -- by | 3 Comments

Best of Job, originally published in February 2006.

I was reminded this morning of a prank I played in college. I was initially taught this genius by my brother Joel who would, of course, in his current pastoral capacity, deny it. But I had a giggle fit remembering it this morning, and now that the statute of limitations has passed, I will share it with you.

On one of the few occasions I was in the Houghton library, I noticed my arch-nemesis hanging out at a table with some of his henchmen, reading and carrying on. Armed with only a Russ Picardo, I felt the unholy, unhealthy urge to suddenly assert my dominance.

I made a beeline for the psychology section and searched for the most twisted title the shelves offered. I settled on “Homo-erotic Tendencies in Young Adults and Theories Toward Their Explanation” or something similarly-titled (ed.’s note: my search in the online catalog suggests it was “Homosexual behavior among males; a cross-cultural and cross species investigation”).

Perfect.

Rustler and I settled down at a table near the Pharisees and waited patiently. Finally my arch-nemesis and his minions went off to scope out the air-conditioned room upstairs for chicks to flirt with.

Quickly, and with Russ watching the stairs, I slipped the book into What’s-his-face’s bag, behind his binder and some looseleaf paper.

We moved over near the periodicals and waited. It was almost time for dinner. We would not have to wait long.

Here they came, laughing like drunken frat boys. Past the circulation desk. Towards the door. Through the scanners.

**BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP**

Looks of honest incredulity, as they tested themselves individually, narrowing it down to the evil one — who opened his bag at the circulation desk.

“That is NOT mine!”

It was a good dinner.

Trust me.

Best of Job: My Worst Teacher

10/21/2008, 9:30 am -- by | No Comments

Originally published in May 2007.

Whether holding my hand over the fire pit of his analogies or examining broken twigs on the trail of his meandering reasons, never track his logic could I.

I always felt like I was a few days behind him, pressing through the dark forest of my instruction — trusting, hoping that his point lay just ahead, around the bend. I never enjoyed the chase, and there’s a thin line between being challenged and harassed. I came to a particular point in my trek when I determined that when a point is that well-hidden and obscure… when it requires that much angst to merely understand it… only a fool would spend his time rotting in the woods trying to catch it. The best in life is easily understood, and truth despises fog.

My worst teacher.

A man who bristled at the notion that you might think differently than him, he sent you his own copious notes before class and asked that you not take any others. They distracted him. If a question endeavored to stampede the discussion away from his notes, the energy he’d employ to corral us back into line was almost pornographic. Bullying, effacing and no-kid-gloves sophistry were never below him.

Sadly, these tactics were never below me either, and we butted heads to such a degree that he eventually asked me to drop the class. Success in his class was conformity to his thinking, a convincing imitation of it, or the old B-minus silence — none of which seemed a workable solution to me. My parents had taught me to speak my mind and to be aware and wary of socialist thinking. To him I was ruined.

While he had earned tenure, a doctorate in sociology, and ample respect from his colleagues, in turn he asked his students to simply piggyback on his experiences, judgment and morality. To just trust him. Our own conclusions were not encouraged, but headed-off.

But perhaps in being the worst teacher of my life, he is slowly morphing more readily into the best. He is the one who taught me that when it comes to faith, love and logic, I will only embrace them when I am tracking the truth — not, alone, someone else’s version of it.

From the Phone 4

09/17/2008, 1:01 pm -- by | No Comments

“The McCain website should debut a feature where you can sign up to receive a text message when Obama picks a NEW running mate.”

For Argument’s Sake

08/21/2008, 9:30 am -- by | No Comments

Christians love to talk shop. This isn’t alarming; it comes as no surprise, really. Any group of people who find something mutually yoking will almost invariably talk about it to the point of conversational exhaustion.

People of political persuasion will discuss candidates and pithy comments. Skiers talk slopes and are prone to waxing about, well, waxing. And fans of entertainment — TV shows, movies, bands, et al. — spend hours in circular conversation and unaggressive debate.

Christians are no different. Within our faith, we all know, lies an endless and renewable source of discussion on a vast range of subjects. We are encouraged, from an early age, to adopt certain viewpoints, and to be prepared to defend them.

Whether we like to admit it or not, there is a part in every believer that enjoys the exclusivity of Christianity: not in the sense that we enjoy the Faith being so different from the world, but rather that we enjoy having a different point of view for its own sake. We like our unique stances and are occasionally thrilled to run into another believer with differing positions.

The American in us would be sorely disappointed in Christianity if it did not allow us so much room for disagreement, and not just in the easy and obvious denominational breakdowns. I’d like to get under the hood and understand why we make it rain just to jump in the puddles that follow.

Best of Job: For Mr. Slevenzinkin…

08/11/2008, 10:00 am -- by | No Comments

Originally published here on March 27, 2007.

She and I had this game we’d play, you see. We called it “Tumult,” where we’d talk for lengthy periods of time about two different topics. It was a give-and-take conversation with pauses and eye contact as normal; you just weren’t allowed to engage the other person’s line of conversation at all. This included laughter, eye rolling, and — if I was “on” — even blushing. If you did engage the other person, you lost the game, and the $2.85 for the banana split. Banana

“So Ernie, from Sesame Street, died of AIDS,” she’d begin, turning her coffee mug in a slow circle. “Bert’s sad and all, but he likes the extra closet space.”

“It was like no other town I’ve been to,” I’d respond, flashing my eyes for emphasis and picking at imaginary lint on my sleeve. “The ’57 Chevys looked, for once, like they actually were from 1957. Rusted through, door hinges re-welded countless times, but still dutifully making their daily trips to the Circle K for cigarettes. The 15-year-old girls ever plotting their escape while unwittingly taking the steps that would inexorably keep them there forever. 40 ounces. 40 ounces can change a life, they say in Banning, California. Or, rather, can keep it exactly the same.”

“Gum?,” she offered, sliding the silver-wrapped piece out at me in a fluid motion. I was no fool.

“The President has his own movie theater in the basement of the White House, ya know? I bet he’s watching something right now, too; I know I would be. Newsies — the director’s cut.”

She paused, but not enough for me to claim. She always defended Newsies.

“Radiohead’s new album? I hear it’s just going to be 12 tracks of straight static. But angry, artistic static.”

I was the one that paused this time, but only because I contemplated claiming victory. I always defended Radiohead, and she was returning my volley, a plausible bungle. Not now, I cautioned myself. You can get a sure victory.

“See this?,” I asked, pointing to my forearm. “That’s where it bit me. Latched right on and started to roll, carrying me down into the dark depths of the swamp. I screamed and screamed, but still we sank, leaving my world for his — wanna know how I got out?”

“If something ever happens to me,” she responded, thoroughly unimpressed, “I want you to take this to a Mr. Slevenzinkin in Prague. Hotel of the Revolution, room 214.” She slid me a butter knife. “He’ll know what to do. Then head to Haiti and never look back.”

“Job? Never look back.”

She peeled the bananas by saying my name like that, looking me in the eyes. I knew I had to strike before she regrouped.

“That’s a nice shirt you’re wearing . . . does it come in your size?”

 

—–

Laughing, eye-rolling, blushing and kicking me suddenly in the shins — all ice cream where I come from…

Girl Dumps Boyfriend To ‘Get Closer To God'; ‘God’ Apparently Another Guy

06/24/2008, 9:00 pm -- by | No Comments

–GROVE CITY, Penn.

B.J. Dillon’s romantic and theological worlds were rocked this week when his girlfriend of 8 months, Sara Ryan, ended their relationship after telling Dillon she needed to “focus on her relationship with God.”

But God, Dillon reports, debunking thousands of years of theory and faith, is apparently fellow Grove City junior business major Seth Nelson. Adding to the bruising emotional effects of rejection and loss, the religion major must now cope with recent revelations that God is younger than him by two months, nearly flunked biology last semester, and works at the gym snack shop.

Dillon is also grappling with the fact that he has hated God since freshman orientation weekend.

“When Sara suggested that we take some time off to grow closer to the Lord, I heartily agreed, hoping it would serve to more firmly establish our relationship,” Dillon reported from his dimly-lit dorm room. “Of course at the time I thought God was, like, the desert-dwelling, Philistine-smiting Dude from the Old Testament — not some jerk whose parents bought him a brand new Jetta freshman year.”

“Allow me to be clear,” he added. “I will not be growing any closer to ‘God’ during our ‘time off.’ ”

Despite Dillon’s reservations and religious confusion, his ex reported excitement with her blooming relationship with the Lord. “I will always care for Beej,” Ryan noted, applying her makeup with more attention to detail than she has shown in over 7 months. “But I felt our relationship was distracting me from my walks, in the woods, with the Lord.”

Ryan did report some anxiety about an upcoming weekend retreat at the Nelson family home in suburban Philadelphia, where she hopes the Lord will grant her the gift of tongue.

Best of Job: A War Too Civil

06/10/2008, 3:00 pm -- by | No Comments

Best of Job, originally published in February 2006.

This past July I ducked into Denny’s for some ice cream on the most obnoxious of hot and humid days. Claiming a booth and reading an expired USA Today, I settled into my peach dessert. By and by, a group of Revolutionary War re-enactors, still dressed in their period garb with artfully placed smears on their faces, came in and bivouacked diagonal from me. They ordered their meals and began commiserating about the Battle of Hubbardton, where all had just died, yet survived. You can imagine what a colorful treat this was for me.

They spoke of stirring deaths, gung-ho dives into tall grass, how old some re-enactors were getting, how great the smoke looked this year. You know — re-enacting type stuff.

With my ice cream an orange puddle at the bottom of a deceptively shallow bowl, I gave the war boys one last once-over with my eyes and left. I left, feeling sure that they would soon be in the dust heap of my memory.

But they didn’t retire so easily. The image bugged and dogged me for months. There was something about the situation that haunted me, and I racked my brain for an answer like I was trying to remember the last name of an old friend.

Finally, it hit me. I knew where I’d seen it before.

The patriots reminded me of Christians — and not pleasantly so.

Ever feel like our faith has become somewhat of a holy hobby? We love to talk shop and impress on each other our deep knowledge of muskets, field maneuvers and brilliant battlefield tacticians. We argue pre-trib/post-trib like a climber debates the nutritional value of Power Bars and Clif Bars. And we compare stats, never outright but just below the surface, like vicarious fantasy league fanboys — without any real athletic cache or sore muscles.

Church sometimes carries for me the uncomfortably queasy likeness of a Star Trek convention — we think a tiresome day in the battlefield is conversing with a Mormon over coffee in an airport diner, and we are more elated by the opportunity to share the war story with other believers than we were to share the Peace story with the unbeliever.

We stress about relevance in the world. We develop a complex if our music isn’t especially pleasing to human ears.

We’re petty and hypocritical. We’re competitive; we turn on each other.

We defend unborn children out of one blubbering side of our mouths, yet condemn a murderer to death out of the sneering other. An acrobatic feat worthy of those so well-versed in the game of Christianity.

We re-enact.

We quote Peter, and invoke Paul — still frames, never a movie.

The smears on our faces are for dramatic effect, never earned by actual warfare.

We re-enact.

And the most unsettling thing for me is that I am one of the worst. Granted an upbringing in a Kingdom outpost, given a stellar education, blessed with many gifts, and best of all, possessed of that beautiful itch for a fight.

And to use all that just to argue incessantly? I hate quitting and losing, but I’ve become a man who fights to win the argument, not the soul — a sophist who offers all rhetoric and no recourse. All cake and no bread. As James would call me, a waterless cloud.

But we’ve been called, friends. Not to re-creation, not to “name it and claim it,” but to an actual showdown with live rounds exploding around us. This is not a re-enactment.

But what a comfortable thing it is for us, eh? To wear the uniform for a moment, feel the fleeting thrill of the fight, then retire to discuss it over a hot meal before returning to the workday world and bundled Verizon package.

It’s so pleasant to live in the vicarious fog of an epic struggle, when we won’t acknowledge its demands for boots on the ground, rather than a roll call in the pews.

The Apostle’s battles were theirs.
These battles are ours.
The victory is His.

We Shall Not Be Moved

06/5/2008, 12:00 pm -- by | No Comments

Allow me to be clear: Barack Obama is the very antithesis of what conservatives hold dear. He is an amalgam of the passions of the moment, a man beholden to virtually no voting record, yet still rated as the most liberal senator in the United States. Armed with a fully Democratic Congress, he would, as president, set about making good on his fevered promises ”” retreating troops, universal health care, liberal judges, and other vast, vast gains for the left. The idea of four years with Obama as president sends (literally, now) a chill up my spine.

In speaking to other conservatives, I find similar emotions, even to the point that we shy away from talking about it at all. It is unnerving, nightmarish and nauseating. It is apocalyptic. But talk about it we have, the intrepid among us, and I have found a common thread in our hushed whispers that is uniquely interesting and has made me feel strangely warmed. I have not heard one conservative, either on the personal or media level, talk about moving abroad if Obama should win.

Such a little thing, but to me, titanic in its implications.

Back in 2004, when President Bush was hanging tough enough in the polls for liberals to imagine their own doomsday scenario, I remember four people I know personally who said they would move abroad if he won. Now, as a Vermonter, I am subjected to a rarer and more robust species of liberal than others might encounter, but the theme remained true throughout donkeydom.

Of course I knew even then that it was pure desperation, not genuine sentiment ”” and sure enough, all four of those people survived to crawl, weakened but gasping, through the thick battle haze of a destroyed and dismembered America to valiantly place freshly-peeled Obama ’08 bumper stickers on the back of their Subaru Outbacks.

Allow me to be clear. No such statement will pass these lips. In fact, if you hear any conservative say it without irony, go buy a lottery ticket. It’s like an albino polar bear ”” the American conservative who would imagine leaving America to those people. The difference in vision is subtle but all-important. America isn’t just my residence. This is my land and you are my people. If she is attacked — from inside or out — we can be depended upon to defend her.

If Obama wins, I will be distressed, but I won’t be disembarking. The thought would simply never cross my mind.

One Hundred Words (15)

06/5/2008, 9:00 am -- by | 1 Comment

It’d be like Happy Christmas and Merry New Year. Gentlemen and Ladies, Brothers Warner.

Ernie and Bert, corn creamed.

Sirhan Sirhan.

Trojan Appaloosas, seeds of sunflowers — Roll n’ Rock 7/24!

Like the Unbelievable Hulk went to his throat, nose and ear doctor with mouth and hoof disease.

The Pips and Gladys Knight — ya feelin’ me? Catch my drift, Yoda?

It’s why I didn’t, knowdontcha?

I could’ve told her I loved her. It would’ve been accurate.

But it sure wouldn’t have sounded right.

The glass wasn’t half empty or half full — the glass was completely neutral.

That’s right — I have a Swedish glass.

–JBT

One Hundred Words (8)

05/27/2008, 9:30 am -- by | No Comments

In the spirit of Proverbs 10:19, our newest regular feature will be a series of posts of 100 words — or fewer. Comments under ten words!

My Orioles have failed me again.

Against seemingly insurmountable odds, the Baltimore Orioles have risen from the smoky ruins of this past winter, where they traded off their stars and paired down their lineup, to present themselves as contenders against some of the league’s best teams and arms. This has included, up till this week’s series, the highest-paid team in baseball history — the New York Yankees.

So yes, they’ve failed me this week, but they’ve done so reeking of determination… and with the stench of class.

So it’s true: I guess the O’s just stink.

–JBT

A Living EthanHell

05/19/2008, 2:00 pm -- by | 5 Comments

A story is told — one you are probably familiar with — about a trap in China, with a hole just big enough for a monkey’s paw. Inside is a morsel of food; when the animal grabs it, his paw is too big to remove from the trap. Whether due to pure instinct, stupidity, or simply primal greed, the creature is easily captured — or so the story goes — caught because it refused to surrender its prize, because it failed to grasp how simple escape could be.

In the middle part of this decade, the drums of ethanol began to be beaten, along the river of rising energy costs. The President, along with our vast and intertwined agricultural and industrial lobbies, greedily stuck their proverbial paws inside the trap and grabbed fistfuls of corn, wheat, and even switchgrass.

The idea was, and is, a seductive one. A sprawling American breadbasket (you know the one, laid out in neat little squares 30,000 feet below our airplane seat) that can suddenly Abracadabra! fuel into our Fords, the dark shades of Big Oil and Sheikdoms plotting and profiting half a world away replaced by the light hues of soft-spoken Iowan farmers talking baseball at the Agway. The government seemed unusally bipartisan, aggressive, and strangely on board. There was an energy and a drive: incentives, programs, plans, timelines. It was the magic bullet to free us from the burden of dependence.

Silly little monkey.

Ethanol was not a necessary step towards energy independence, but rather a poorly timed distraction from it. In a time of obvious instability in global markets, a devalued dollar, and a two-front war in Oil’s own backyard, ethanol has served to make food scarcer and more expensive. It has demanded more attention for superficial environmental restrictions that push the dream of more refineries and nuclear facilities further into exile, and it has yoked oil companies, agriculture, and the government into an unseemly, uneasy, and overwhelmingly unproductive union.

In other words — not only do I spend nearly $4 for a gallon of gas, but I will soon spend that same amount for a bag of broccoli, while the few continue to profit immensely at the cost of the many, and the government comes to look more and more silly. When we expend more energy than we get in making the energy, the math is not hard to compute.

And it says, “Let go, remove your paw, and run like Jehu, little fella!”

Best of Job: That Stupid Little Von Dutch Hat

05/14/2008, 10:00 am -- by | 2 Comments

Originally published March 6, 2007.

Von Dutch hatHe wore it all the time. Legend was he even slept in it. And hating him, we hated that hat. So we came to the decision one night, over IBC root beer and Oatmeal Creme Pies, that the hat had to die, and die spectacularly. No simple grab and run, throw on the top of a roof scenario. We desired a true, live-wire Mafia hit.

But it never left his smarmy little skull. We knew we’d have to bide our time.

For an entire semester we did just that. He was from the other dorm, South Hall, and was one of their pedigree front men. Our disdain for him had to be carefully veiled, lest we upset the precious balance that kept relations between the two houses of Houghton at a somewhat reasonable peace. Oh, to be sure, he hated us just as much. In fact, we two vied for the affections of the same young doe-eyed lass. But the passive observer would’ve thought we served in ‘Nam together or something, with our back-slapping brand of camaraderie; elliptical orbits taking us in and out of the same groups of friends.

His mistake was the Homecoming Dinner, or rather going to the Homecoming Dinner…the type of event one does not normally wear a stupid little Von Dutch hat to.

My friend (we’ll call him Rick, although this was not even remotely his name) and I made eye-contact over a row of tables when we saw him enter the cafeteria, hatless, but compensating with some doe eyes on his arm.

We knew the time was now. I was Homecoming King, of all the freaks of nature, and Rick had the prettiest girl at the dinner, but we knew the moment demanded an expediency of action that superseded these elements.

I nodded. He nodded back.

What began over IBC and Creme Pies was finished by abandoning sparkling cider and filet mignon. We excused ourselves and reconnoitered by the coats, breathless. Down the trail to South Hall we ran, the campus eerily empty.

Into the hated hall, somewhat confused by the unfamiliar layout, we found the hunted’s lair.

Inhale, exhale.
Looked to the left.
Looked to the right.
Still breathless.

The door was unlocked!

We bum-rushed the room, expecting a difficult search — but there, like the golden chalice, sat the stupid little Von Dutch hat on top of his Aiwa stereo.

Our hearts pounded a jungle beat. I was blinded with opportunity, revenge choking my vision. Those doe eyes squeezing shut with the laugh he had just given her.

Rick to the rescue. A pair or scissors glinted under the light of the Lava Lamp.

Deftly, smoothly; more for me than for him.

A gray, sweat-stained Von Dutch hat cut neatly into three pieces.

They spelled out, on his pillow case:

R.I.P.

Our filet mignon was still warm.

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