Best of Bweinh! — Let Them Eat Cake

05/7/2008, 10:00 am -- by | No Comments

Originally published March 19, 2007.

When Prohibition swept through 1920s America, the effect was not just limited to the intake of spirits — several major corporations found themselves with, simply, nothing to do. CoorsThe ones that wanted to survive refocused their factories into other endeavors. Coors made malted milk and ceramics, while Budweiser hawked yeast — brand name and logo intact, but a wholly different product.

I’ve recently begun to engage, rather than ignore, some of the new and provocative literary products of our faith — The Prayer of Jabez, Your Best Life Now, and the Purpose-Driven texts that make up the majority of what modern believers rally behind. When I read some of these works I sense, whether above or below the service, embarrassment toward Christ and His message in light of a world ever more aggressive in its dismissal of that Message.

The writers and ideologues behind some of these works seem to have sensed this change, and seek to re-brand the faith in a style more palatable to our sin-soaked society — as if to apologize for the tension caused by our ‘judgmental’ nature. The name of Jesus is invoked and the cross around the neck remains intact, but the message is horribly neutered — a relativism that adds a carpool lane to our narrow way.

Let me tell you about my home. Vermont, for all her lovely rolling hills, has the unfortunate distinction of being the second-most unchurched state in the nation, with 25% of its population claiming no religion at all. (Oregon is number one; Colorado number three… atheism and poor hygiene must be linked somehow.) Of the remaining 75%, the number of evangelical Christians is staggeringly low, so with the level of combat one sees when preaching the gospel kin to that preached by the saints, a somber mindset sets in. I sense, daily, a mobile and coordinated effort to bring our faith to its knees — not in prayer but in defeat — by intimidating us into an intellectual sterilization of the Truth or the loss of motivation to preach it at all.

BudweiserThey want us to change our product.

But in these odd, hard-to-describe times, I’m all about the still. I won’t be selling any yeast like our friends at Budweiser, knowing it leavens the whole lump.

You will find in my message only 200 proof Gospel Truth.

Moonshine and bathtub gin, my friends.

Best of Bweinh! — Dating or Courtship?

04/30/2008, 12:30 pm -- by | No Comments

Originally published November 5, 2007.

Read volume 1 here and volume 3 here!

Q.   How should a young Christian bachelor handle a romantic relationship?

Focus on the Fancy-FreeA.   Hiding in the alleyway to the heart of every desirable, virtuous Christian female I’ve ever pursued was the darkly-shrouded character of Joshua Harris, author of the equally praised and notorious I Kissed Dating Goodbye. In this alleyway I have put up some spirited and tremendous fights, but always seemed to fail, as Harris swung the proverbial tire iron against my mouth just as I uttered a final, desperate “Fascist!” I’d wake up out on the curb the following morning, blinking in the sunlight . . . bruised and battered. Throttled. The loser.

My foil, this Harris fellow. He always seemed to head me off in college, and as time went on, he even seemed to take preemptive steps to ensure my romantic failure. I decided to wait him out, for surely his influence would drop off, and I could mount new offensives on the hearts I treasured. This never happened. I thought these women were asking for the impossible; ironically over-romanticizing our interaction by never allowing for a medium ground. It was go big or go home with these chicks. Suddenly, parents were part of the quotient, friends had to be courted and won over with equal necessity. Anger.

The female I pursued with the greatest amount of energy in my career — Lady Jerusalem of my Crusades — was a devout follower of Harris’s philosophy. In desperation I waited for a time when a friend was working the register at the college bookstore, bought the book with a wink, snuck it back to the dorm and proceeded to read it furiously, not for edification, but as a coach who had miraculously come across his rival’s playbook. Finally, theology to pick apart, poor analogies to dismantle, and an infuriating condescension to inflate and act injured by.

When it was finally fully read (much to the jealousy of my uncracked textbooks), I sat back and realized what was so wrong with the book, where its flaw was most exaggerated.

The book was not written for Americans. It’s written, rather, for some romanticized Victorian-era youth, ripped straight from the pages of Pride and Prejudice. I was infuriated. A little research revealed my suspicions that Harris was homeschooled (as was I; stand by).

I prepared my verbal counter-offensive, deciding that the best way to slip past Harris in the alleyway was to complement him to a degree while roundly dismissing him. I looked to President Hoover for guidance, memorizing his dismissal of prohibition: “Our country has deliberately undertaken a great social and economic experiment, noble in motive and far-reaching in purpose.” Yes, that’s the ticket, I told myself. Americans don’t court, we date. And if we were to attempt a comprehensively Biblical approach to love, we’d do neither, leaving the decision entirely to our parents.

So I played the role of a Benedict Arnold, betraying my homeschooled tribe. I told the object of my desires how flawed his worldview had to be, having been so isolated for so long. I told her I had suffered the same fate, but was smarter than the average bear and came through unscathed. She seemed to be listening anew. I went for the kill, tearing homeschooling a new one, while loving all it had done for me.

Did I feel dirty? Absolutely.
Did I feel bad? Not even a little bit.

It’s a good premise, I assured her, noble and just — just not achievable. I’d love to convince your parents first, but I don’t even know if I want to convince them — eyes sheepishly on the carpet, with a hushed whisper — without knowing if I like you enough. What do you say we catch some mini-golf and a movie this weekend?

I mean, if you had camels, I’d water them for you, but since you don’t, how about we get a couple of slices?

We’re Americans, for the love of Mike — Christian Americans, 8 days a week; but Americans, still. Let’s do it our way. Let’s rebel against this rebellion!

Of course I never offered, and don’t still, any clear response to Harris and his followers, other than the status quo highlighted with Christian integrity. But at the time I was able to offer up a dazzling array of one-liners that kept the defense guessing with every snap.

And while I am, of course, unmarried and hopeless, with zero prospects, I hold it as a point of personal pride (an eternal ego ember, no matter how immature I may have been) that I was able to waltz into that alleyway, after so many repeat beatings, feed Joshy a corner of that proverbial dumpster, then take his recently brain-soiled apostle to see a movie — stealing a kiss during the lull in the story and the climax of our relationship.

Popcorn, Josh. She tasted like hot, buttered popcorn.

Clinton’s Curdling

03/25/2008, 2:00 pm -- by | 2 Comments

“I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.”

The above quote is a patent lie by former first lady, and current Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. This was no hazy recollection or minor embroidering on her 1996 visit to Bosnia, but rather, a huge fumble.

The images currently being looped on cable news are very good ones. Clinton looks comfortable, authoritative, and frankly presidential, as she walks through what appears very much to be a war zone. She looks brave, not dodgy, shaking hands and sharing warm greetings with soldiers and civilians alike. Surveying, empathizing, politicizing. And doing it all, most importantly, without Bill at her side.

This is the first time I’ve seen these images (which surprises me, as an aggressive consumer of all news). It is just the type of spin-worthy capital she needs to convince the electorate that she has some modicum of experience.

But her greed has absolutely spoiled the video, like pouring expired cream into a perfectly good cup of coffee. Curdled, it is no longer of any value to her, but is, instead, something to be poured down the sink. Images of her shaking the hand of a colonel on a shelled tarmac is now proof of a lie, not leadership.

Ultimately, that trip to Bosnia — on which she was accompanied by Sinbad, Sheryl Crow and her daughter — was made after the peace, and served no greater purpose than a photo op.

But this is true of most political visits abroad, so I wouldn’t hold it against her to use camouflage as a prop on the stage of her candidacy. But this mishandling is greed, courtesy of a brain that has entered the realm of untruth and grown unsettlingly comfortable there…

Turns out Bill was at her side after all.

Bweinh! Goes to the Movies: 10,000 BC

03/11/2008, 10:30 am -- by | No Comments

I knew a girl like 10,000 BC once. An entity of enthralling beauty and delicately constructed features, but once I discovered how shallow and plotless she truly was, I came to resent the effort spent on her charms. As such is this movie, a libation poured out on the ground of cinema.

To be sure, the fanboys will have something to text each other about. The graphics are state-of-the-art, at times truly captivating, and there’s enough gore to sate the bloodlust of any desensitized young American man. The cinematography was beautifully captured, and it covered the entire earthscape, from snowy hillsides to dry deserts. But — I say again — I was just appalled that so much effort could be expended to provide this beautiful vehicle of a motion picture, then occupy it with a little runt of a story.

To call it formulaic would give it too much credit. Missed opportunities to force myself to become emotionally invested in characters were all too frequently evident, and the script smacked of having been written in an afternoon. Enthralling CGI manifestations like the saber-toothed tiger were sadly, sorely wasted, and the timeline of technological advances was irritatingly incongruous.

The film is rumored to have cost more that $100 million to produce, which is remarkable for a flick that doesn’t boast one A-list actor. You can clearly see where the money was spent. Please note it wasn’t on acting talent.

The movie has no swearing (of the anno domini variety at least), and despite the loincloth era setting, there was practically no nudity. Also, while numbing, the story is also harmless, and does achieve its thinly stated goal of proving that men can’t be gods. If you don’t mind horribly warping your kids’ sense of history and Egyptian architecture, this could be an easy way to kill a night at the movies.

But as this wannabe epic wound down, and the remaining cents of my $8 gasped their last, I just wanted more. I didn’t want to have any points driven home, and I didn’t want to feel educated about culture and earthly history. I simply wanted to be entertained. I frankly expected this, from the director of Independence Day: more of the ridiculous, yet thrilling, variety of film that doesn’t last much longer than the parking lot, but makes your popcorn taste better in the theatre.

I’m not hard to please, but this film was resoundingly poor, ill-conceived, and executed with only the vaguest of intentions. While it wanted to appear as a revolution in modern film-making, believe me — there was no wheel invented here.

Best of Job — For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow

03/4/2008, 4:00 pm -- by | No Comments

Originally published on Christmas 2005.

On the anniversary of my Savior’s birth, I’ve decided it is time to return the favor for all His grace and sopping up of my sins and whatnot. This time of year is so manic, as we stress about what to get people and what we might get. But the true meaning of this season is the manifestation of the Messiah — it’s His birthday!

We should give Him a gift, right?

But what do you get for the man who can claim every last sin the human race has ever committed? That’s a tall order!

I’ve thought long and hard about what to get Him. I listened intently to other Christians this year, read their devotionals, publications, and blogs, listened to their prayers, engaged them in discussion of their struggles, and through all this, I noticed one thing I should get the Son of God this year.

A total overhaul of his Faith!

During this “makeover” we’ll cut off a lot of scriptural “fat”. You see, we like the Word of God, but must there be so many words of God!?

The first to go will be “Lean not on your own understanding, and in all your ways acknowledge Him.” It’s cute, but it’s so Little House on the Prairie! C’mon on now, Lord, let’s get into the 20th century!

While my insides broil with wild insecurity, self-doubt and loathing, I am so much better at faking it when I lean on my own understanding. You don’t want your followers running around acting insecure, do You?!?

Of course not!

If I can delicately, artistically and smoothly integrate worldly things into a quasi-Christian walk, I’ll blur the line between faith and opaque hedonism so seamlessly that I’ll put the world on its head faster than You can say “Kanye”!

“I fooled you about the depth of my Christian walk and I give all the glory to God.”


Number two — only one way to the Father? Tsk tsk!

Can you imagine if Disney World only had one entrance? They’d hardly get any business at all, and that’s the happiest place on earth! In all seriousness, Christ, this is pretty potent, hard-to-swallow stuff. We need to water it all down (some doubt about scriptural integrity, the true nature of the Biblical narrative, the essence of grace, etc.) to pave the way for a “catch-all” deal, where even the people who patently reject You are still accepted.

We’ll call this “progressive” because it’s kinda sexy that way. I’ll make it seem like I’m compassionate and understanding — even loving — toward people of other religions. I hate to be harshly and crudely judgmental of them, so I’ll carefully renegotiate the fact that I am only loving myself (and my carefully prepared self-image) by not wanting to appear as a closed-minded prude lacking the intellectual integrity to see the peace and beauty of other religions.

I’m a modern man, for Christ’s sake!

And if this convoluted, turncoat love actually winds up damning souls to hell, at least I won’t have to face their aggression, contempt and incredulity here on Earth!

Phew! Dodged that bullet!

(James, you and your five chapters were fun, but we’re all set now, I think. You can probably catch a few gigs at a Greek Orthodox Church or something. Thanks for coming out.

And hey, when you see Peter, could you ask him, hypothetically, if his two books were drowning, which one he would jump in and save? This sheep is plenty full.)


And last, I think this whole thing will click much better if I finally acknowledge that it’s all about me. I will pray, incessantly, about tired and petty subjects that concern only me and my endless cycle of relational and financial problems. I will reduce the world to such a small scale that the idea that it will go up in spiritual flames won’t occur to me — unless it happens at work or in my bank account.

I will try to please fickle humans consistently, and You collaterally. (Hopefully.) (Kinda.)
I will worry about tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that.
I will be passable at what’s good, while fully immersed in what’s evil.
I will rarely finish what I start if it demands too much of me.

Throughout it all, I will summon the gall to call myself Your follower, and in a sense of obligation, I will say I love You more than anything or anyone else, put You above all else, blah blah blah.

And the world will know us by our love! *wink*

Happy Birthday!! I hope You like it!

Who Will McCain Court Next?

02/26/2008, 6:00 pm -- by | 1 Comment

Snow on Snow

01/29/2008, 10:00 am -- by | 1 Comment

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.

Why We Believe: Vol. 8

01/20/2008, 12:00 pm -- by | 1 Comment

This and following weekends, we will share the brief salvation testimony of each Bweinh!tributor. Read the previous seven right here.

There was a time in my life when I was living with a woman who was not my wife. I spent half my day crying and screaming in fits of inconsolable rage, drinking between 2 and 3 bottles a day — and then I turned two and moved onto solid foods.

This was how Houghton College’s Dr. Doug Gaerte began his chapel testimony, before a shocked, then hushed, then suddenly relieved student body, as he was one of the most gentle and Christlike professors on campus. He went on to explain that he had avoided giving his testimony before then because he felt, as do I, that his testimony was simply just not interesting enough. Like me, he was born into a Christian family and had been through the blitz of Sunday School and VBS to such a degree that the exact sea change of his soul was hard to pinpoint. And like me, he had to agree that that is a great testimony in and of itself.

But the fact remains that while a Christian heritage breeds a certain lifestyle that can be blessedly cyclical, the giving of one’s soul to Christ is not something that can be done for you. While I had a firm understanding of Jesus, and of grace even, at a tender age, it would take years to wrap my mind around my own salvation. My testimony doesn’t climax with my first altar experience at a camp in Northern Maine when I was 14, or at my baptism, or on a missions trip to Mexico when I was 16. These usual suspects were all pivotal, but they are, by no means, the true meat of my salvation.

As most people who know me somewhat intimately will tell you, I rarely exhibit Christ in any classic manner. I’m argumentative, counter-cultural, judgmental and oftentimes appallingly solo in my use of time, money and talents. I must strike many fellow believers as a builder who laid a real humdinger of a foundation, but seems content to live in a ramshackle lean-to atop it.

My struggles with other Christians and the constructed institution of Christianity is such an oozing scab that some might think a testimony from me — the clay that is apparently still drying — is a bit previous. But when I testify my faith, I feel no need to tell my story, so decidedly unfinished, unglamorous and incongruous. I’d just rather tell the story, as I glow with joy, of Christ’s death and resurrection — and no matter how I grapple with theology and fellowship, I do BELIEVE in it! I believe in the Jesus of the gospels and am never shy or ashamed of that.

For all of my faults, and the clumsy manner in which this testimony continues to grow and fester, I know I have a love for Jesus that will always rally. This hardest of hearts will always rise to the occasion, from no doing of my own but from a deeply seeded faith, as relentless and compulsive as gravity itself. This is Christ in me. This is my story. His story is my story, and I am plotless without Him.

Focus on the Fancy-Free Vol. 3 — Babies

01/8/2008, 9:00 am -- by | 5 Comments

Read Volume 1 and Volume 2 !

Q.  Dear Focus on the Fancy Free: Babies are so expensive, smelly, messy and time-consuming. Should I really have a quiverful? — Jeremiah, New York

Focus on the Fancy-FreeA.  Thanks for writing, Jeremiah, and thanks for giving me the opportunity to say that most beautiful word — “No.” Not only are babies extremely time-consuming and high-pitched, they are also narcissistic. Their focus on being constantly held, hand-fed and coddled, while making every social event a personal stage for their tears is a classic example of conceit and self-absorption.

In short, babies need Christ — but I do not feel called to that mission field.

I adopt the Shaker stance of non-procreation. The Shakers were a British religious group who came to the States and established a series of hard-working and harder-worshiping colonies of Christians. They believed that if no one had babies, the end times would somehow be expedited, but they were so successful that there are currently only four of them left, in one small community in Sabbathday Lake, Maine. I guarantee they’re not interviewing youth pastor candidates. Their congregation is not rife with petty jealousies, discussions about introducing a drum kit into the worship service, or talk of bake sales — but most importantly, they do not have to endure the spine-shattering wails of an infant.

I would probably become a Shaker if it didn’t require such long hours of intense manual labor — another Shaker tenet.

Anyway, I know it’s a tough question. Many women can’t imagine a life without a baby, and most men can’t imagine a life without those same women. This type of algebra almost inevitably produces tots, with their Oshkosh overalls, plastic sippy cups filled with “juthe,” and back pockets full of crushed Cheerios.

Kids are simply unavoidable, so the discerning male must avoid these bambinos in any great amount. They are all-consuming! One either spends all his time severely spoiling the youth, aggressively rebuking them, or broiling in self-doubt about whether they’re doing one or the other, too much or not enough.

So yeah, have a baby or two. But show some restraint! Skip that third child and buy a nice home in Florida instead. Not only will it prove cheaper, but it will also give the kids you do have a tidy inheritance — which will help assuage their sadness over your years of distant and detached parenting.

Boaz Bloom and Tumble-Down Row, Part Seven

12/11/2007, 10:00 am -- by | 3 Comments

The last of the Best of Job, continued. Lost? Read part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, and part six!

Well, Grandma, I did my deed. Your sweaters and stuff are now at the Salvation Army, your pictures boxed and shipped to New Hampshire. I’m sorry to take them from the heartland.

Your house was sold to a young couple from Texas or something. I thought you’d appreciate that. I found that $10 bill tucked in your TV Guide and took Becky to Dairy Queen with it.

We’re gonna write.


My last day in Chap, I ate all three meals in town and made my rounds, saying goodbye to a few people. Becky was on vacation with her family. In the diner, I saw the government man down the counter. Being two outsiders we naturally let our conversation fall into orbit, and I asked if he had the aerials with him, and if I could see them one last time. He obliged me and pulled them from his case, while encouraging the waitress to warm up his coffee. I thumbed through them casually at first while still maintaining a conversation with him, but then I began to become further engrossed in the photos.


I thumbed back…then forward again.

Whoa whoa whoa.

I laid them out on the counter, moved the salt shaker, and laid out some more. Sound rushed into my ears and my brow grew hot. For the first and only time in my life, I placed my hand over my mouth in instinctual shock.

From the air above Chap, in a series of photos, I saw Boaz’s daily path complete. And I could see, before tears clouded my vision, that the path carefully, artfully, in cursive — wrote out the name “Amelia.”

Directly above the town, lovingly carved into the earth with vulcanized rubber, funded by aluminum, powered by 200 lbs. of ballast and the thrust of two tired legs.


The man noticed my reaction and asked me what was the matter. I explained in stutters.

“Holy sweet Jesus…” he said with a gasp.

In a daze he added, before we parted, “He did everything but dot the ‘i’…”


So I went home, got my car — not a Honda — and went back to school.

Graduated. Married.

House on Long Island.


I’ve rethought that summer over and over again and I think of Boaz often, still — a man I will always admire but cringe at the thought of becoming.

I’ve replayed conversations over in my mind — you know what I mean. His death always bothered me. It was such an inglorious end for a man who turned out to be one of my life’s heroes.


But, hey, listen, let me tell you something and then I’ll let you go, aye?


On a rainy night last May, I was lying awake, with my wife on my shoulder, thinking. As you know, 2 a.m. is no man’s land for thought, and I let my mind wander if I can’t sleep. Car payments, my son’s touchdown last year, my first dog.

I smiled about the sculpture out in Missouri and wondered how it was weathering the years of rain and snow and wind without Boaz’s upkeep. Amelia was probably dead now too, it occurred to me — buried next to that rich punk. All of hers and Boaz’s little spots down in Florida overgrown or developed into housing units — the place where they’d met now a mini-mall with 50% off Dockers or something, ya know?

Rain steadily thumped my roof. In my drowsy haze, I retraced the lines of Boaz’s path in my mind, in service to him. Upkeeping the trail in my mind.

“Did everything but dot the ‘i’…”

I suddenly shot up in bed, rolling Katie over. Closing my eyes, I feverishly envisioned the photos as best as I could after 20 years. I could see the name “Amelia” in the hillside; up above, the highway.

And I thought, and envisioned, and gripped my comforter — and could see the ‘i’ in “Amelia” rising up and pointing at the highway, directly at the spot where Boaz had died.

Died, and dotted an ‘i.’

I fell back into the pillows.

My friend Boaz had died a cucumber.

Boaz Bloom and Tumble-Down Row, Part Six

12/4/2007, 2:00 pm -- by | No Comments

The last of the Best of Job, continued. Lost? Read part one, part two, part three, part four, and part five!

Tumbledown Row and I were through. Back to Dean’s truckbed and talk of the Kansas City Royals. I drove the Buick up on the highway one day to see the spot for myself. It was marked with a few flowers and if you could understand Chap and Boaz’s route at all, you would be mystified by the spot. It made zero sense. The bus driver said he came out of nowhere on his bike. Thought he was a deer at first.

Made me miserable. Made the town miserable. I missed my friend.


The weeks passed pretty quickly. I left the sawmill having saved up more money than could really be spent in Chap, and set my sights on getting the house ready for the realtors to take over. I elected to seal the basement myself (we’re a capable lot, we Theins) and just get back east as soon as possible. I was down at the hardware store buying the sealant (heavy stuff, dontchaknow?) when I overheard a man speaking with Rick, the store manager, about aerial surveying being done by helicopter for the government.

“Might be gopher burrows,” Rick told him as they looked at pictures strewn over the counter.

“I thought of that,” the man said, between long sips of coffee. “But look, it’s too straight in places. Are there old lead pipes in those hills?”

“Lead pipes? Nonono… there’s nothing in those hills except for gophers maybe. Well, maybe this one…” Rick hunched down further over the photos. “This one runs up through Tumbledown Row…that might be pipes or something.”

“Tumbledown Row?” the government man asked, adjusting his cap and smiling a little.

“Yeah, just a series of old houses, destroyed by a tornado way back.”

“Earthquake,” his wife corrected him, hunting flies above the stove.

“Right,” he said absentmindedly, still focused on the pictures.

I edged closer to the photos and inspected them, curious to see the Row from the air. The visitor stepped aside willingly. I could see the Row all right — my stoop and the old well — and I could also see the anomaly he was curious about. From the air it looked almost silver-colored, cut into the hillside in definite patterns.

It hit me, and I said it as soon as I realized it — “Boaz’s path!”

I looked up, pressed my finger into the photo. “That’s Boaz’s path.” Rick’s wife was at my shoulder. “You’re right…look, Rick. This is where he finished the day by the IGA.”

We confirmed by the other photos.

“Boaz? I don’t….” the surveyor interjected. Rick’s wife sighed and told him the story with some sadness, but I noted a lot of pride as well, as she told of his funny patterns and interesting relationships in town. I felt some privilege welling up inside me as well.

The government man smiled. He wasn’t from around here, I could tell. He was a little suspicious.

“Those are some pretty interesting paths to take on a bike…daily.”

“Boaz was interesting,” Rick said defensively. “Daily.”


I saw the man later on the hillside inspecting the trails personally. He must’ve been truly mystified and I can’t blame him. I would’ve been too, if I hadn’t met Boaz.


New Dan Brown Novel Asserts Jesus was Just Feeding His ‘Network’

12/3/2007, 10:38 pm -- by | 2 Comments

In a controversial follow-up to the best-selling The Da Vinci Code, author Dan Brown will assert that Jesus Christ was merely “feeding His network” when he reportedly fed 5,000 people at one time in Galilee, circa 30 A.D.

Brown recently appeared on Larry King Live to discuss his new book, Jesus Crisis, and Brown’s main theory that Jesus was a loyal Verizon Wireless customer who would have been a challenge to the network, requiring them to traverse rough terrain and savage deserts. Having to feed His network would’ve logically been a subsequent trial.

Brown pointed to the passage in Matthew 14 where Jesus was said to feed 5,000 with just a few loaves of bread and two fish, then noted that just a chapter later, Jesus fed only 4,000. “Obviously,” Brown told King, “He was in a place with poorer reception.”

The new book also alludes to the “Bill of Turin,” which apparently shows incontrovertibly that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a “family plan.”

Boaz Bloom and Tumble-Down Row, Part Five

11/26/2007, 2:00 pm -- by | No Comments

The last of the Best of Job, continued. Lost? Read part one, part two, part three, and part four!

Boaz and I talked about pretty much everything under the sun. Tumble-Down Row was like our own little Acropolis, and we laughed, disagreed and found common ground — just basking in good-natured, unexpected, mutually beneficial interaction that spanned generations and geography with effortless ease.

I was self-indulgent one day and blabbered on about an ex-girlfriend and all the things about her that had annoyed me. Boaz was silent for a long time, staring down the row. But when he responded, it was with the single wisest thing I’ve ever heard pass from a man’s lips — wise, oddly freeing, and mutedly passionate.

Sticking his hands out with his palms up, looking at them as if they were him complete, he said, “If I can live with all my faults, I sure as hell can live with the faults of those I love.”


Summer was passing pretty quick. The only thing remaining was to get the basement sealed — and the only guy for miles who did it was backed up with basements all over Chap. I told him to take his time. Becky had this thing she did when she kissed ya, dontchaknow, and well…


Boaz spoke of Amelia only once to me. I asked him for his funniest memory. He told me about a Saturday they spent in Georgia going to a wedding of a close friend of hers. The reception was a good three towns over, and the two of them followed a few people who knew the way. Boaz was driving the Chevy and Amelia announced that she had to go to the bathroom. “She was trying, God bless her,” but consumed lemonade was overwhelming her. They couldn’t pull over or they would get separated.

Boaz tried to distract her, but with every mile, it just got worse and worse. She was not smiling anymore, and she gripped the door, pressing her legs together. She looked at him with pain. He smiled at her.

“Just go,” he said.


He told her again to just go — right there on the seat.

She said the embarassment would kill her.

He took her hand. “I’ll go too.”

Her eyes lit up. He smiled at her. She smiled back.

“Ya promise, Bo?”

“I promise.”

And right there on the interstate outside Savannah, Boaz and Amelia relieved themselves. They found a thicket behind the reception hall where they parked and changed into the jeans they’d brought. “We danced up a storm too,” he said, looking away.

Soiled a bit, but in love and in denim, they were free to enjoy themselves.

I could tell he loved her dearly.


Becky and I were down by the hardware store when we heard about Boaz. McCallister told us with labored breaths, wiping his glasses, that Boaz had been hit by a bus up on the highway skirting Chap.

Killed instantly.

Nobody understood. It was way off his usual route.

“He must’ve gotten lost,” McCallister said, not believing it.

Do you believe I cried?

I did.

Do you believe I lied?

What a punch to the gut.


Boaz Bloom and Tumble-Down Row, Part Four

11/19/2007, 1:00 pm -- by | No Comments

The last of the Best of Job, continued. Lost? Read part one, part two, and part three.

I learned that Boaz’s main mission in life was the collection and redemption of aluminum cans, which he placed in the basket of his brown Ross bicycle. That was how we first talked. He had rested his bike along his path (He never rode off his trail; he’d tenderly dismount, carefully lower the bike to the ground, and hoof it in search of cans, which he’d turn in at the IGA for the Iowa 5-cent deposit. They had some arrangement, I guess. His bike was crap in a succession of crap — Becky said he got a different one every year or so from a yard sale, and some people in town made it their tradition to throw old bikes on the lawn in front of his trailer. They were always funny-looking and sometimes funny-sounding but he kept pretty good care of them. Too long an aside? Sorry. Patience with me?…) and walked over to pick up some Coors cans from the well — and he nodded at me in a very kind way. I nodded back and his face exploded into a smile.

What a reward, a smile from Boaz.

Every time he smiled, he drew in a satisfied breath that made a little wheezing sound. He wasn’t a serial smiler but he wasn’t stingy with them either. As he returned to his bike with an armful of cans, I asked him if he wanted my Sprite can. He peered at me through his thick glasses, standing over his bike. “You betcha,” he said, drawing in a breath and smiling widely, as he looked around excitedly for a place to put his silver haul. I still had over 1/2 of the soda left but successfuly had it finished by the time he had walked over.

And it was thus. I built a bridge to Mr. Bloom over a river of Sprite.


Boaz, for all my affection for him, was not well. I mean, aside from over 30 years of compulsively riding the same route day in and day out in search of cans, he had some very interesting and unconventional ideas. He told me on more than one occasion of his absolute certainty that Hondas were meant to destroy America. He wasn’t racist against the Japanese or anything, but he had an elaborate theory that every Honda was rigged as a bomb, set to go off at the same time. Rush hour, probably, he posited, they’ll all go off, killing their occupants, creating roadblocks and confusion. Garages would be blown sky high, and fires would engulf everything the Hondas were near. Mass carnage, dontchaknow?

Then, while we were all scurrying around dealing with exploding Hondas, the Japanese would invade. “But I don’t mind sushi,” he’d say with a grin.

And oh…the Wrigley’s sandwich. As he got to know me better and found me to be a willing ear, he’d spend pretty much my whole lunch break with me. He religiously turned down anything I offered him, but would instead pull from his pocket a fistful of gum wrapped in newspaper and sit next to me. He did this thing, see, where he’d make a Wrigley’s sandwich — sticks of Doublemint, Big Red and Juicy Fruit placed back to back, then stuffed into his mouth.

“What’s that taste like?” I asked, trying, lazily, to hide my grin.

“Big Red is the winner usually,” he responded, as he sucked the sugary saliva to the back of his throat. “But Doublemint won once, so I keep waiting to see if he can repeat.”


“About 40,000 nickels,” he said in response to my question about how much he paid for his first car. He always had a complex way of saying simple things. And he’d never had a pickle, but he’d had a few pickled cucumbers. I think he resented the notion that being submerged in brine for long periods of time changed the essence of what a cucumber was.


Boaz was from Florida, I learned, and had come to Missouri with the Forest Service to dismantle old railroads and return the ground to its natural state or whatever. He told me about finding fish fossils under the railroad ties. When they were done fixing the fields, he stayed in Chap.

I coaxed from Ginnie, the gal at the post office, that the reason was lost love. Some girl back in Florida had married another man while he was gone, a real spurious event. Her family was in severe financial trouble, and a suitor with all the answers, and all the shekels, had come along.

Boaz never had a chance to fight; she had a new last name and zip code by the time he’d heard anything about it. He had been notified through a letter Ginnie had sorted. He was crushed, and the town was pretty hushed in talking about it. They were always pretty protective of their little oddity.

I guess Boaz and that girl were really in love. But these things happen sometimes, right? Romance can be a cruel world sometimes, and I pity the person who loves without thick skin. But if you knew Boaz, a spent man tinged with remarkable intelligence, whom you knew would die where you met him, you’d wish you could get some answers.


Boaz Bloom and Tumble-Down Row, Part Three

11/13/2007, 10:30 am -- by | No Comments

The last of the Best of Job, continued. Lost? Read part one and part two.

I didn’t mind the work at the sawmill actually, except there was absolutely no talking or singing while you worked, or you’d spoil your appetite on quarts of sawdust. But it was solid work, the kind that builds muscle with power.

“Localized power,” a friend in Maine used to tell me. “When you get attacked by a man in your home,” he said, “you’re not going to settle it by asking him to see who can bench more weight. You’re gonna wanna get his blood flowing into his eyes so he can’t see, and then you’re gonna want to work him over real good, top to bottom, so he can’t run very far. And you’ll need power for that. Localized power.”

Lifting wood at a steady pace is pretty local. And while I enjoyed the opportunity to think, I sorta began to dread lunchtime a little — the only time during the day when the drone of the saws died down, and everyone could talk about last night’s game or whatever. We’d all gather around Dean’s truck bed to eat, but I found their conversation hard to engage.

They went to pretty good lengths to let me join in, but in the end, my presence was a little disconcerting for everyone, what with my choice of somber silence or lame attempts at noise. I didn’t want to eat apart, but still at the mill (lest they get the impression that I thought I was better than they were), so I elected to simply make myself scarce for the 45-minute break.

And that’s where I met Boaz.

The mill was built into a hillside (or what passes for a hill in Missouri), and behind its sheds was an old portion of the town — abandoned, I was told, because an earthquake 80 years prior had shifted the ground in such a way that almost every foundation had been ruined. Roofs had collapsed and entire structures softened. I guess the Midwest does have a pretty big fault line under it. I read about it at the library once, but those kinds of books need more pictures.

Devastation requires more than Times New Roman, if you ask me.

The buildings had been scuttled of their valuable parts, with siding and shingles taken down to the lower portion of Chap and put to use — but frames and some of the cracked foundations of the old homes and bank were left. Over time the town came to refer to this area with equal amounts of affection and embarassment as “Tumbledown Row.”

I had a good doorstep, covered in shade by an oak that must’ve slept with one eye open (with the mill chopping up her kin right behind her), and this was my lunchtime throne, from which I surveyed my 45 minutes of quiet kingdom. Sometimes I’d see the carcass of a beer party strewn about an old well ten paces to my left. It did have that quality. If this were New Hampshire, my friends and I woulda claimed this place too for such things. It had the romance, ya know?

I enjoyed Tumbledown Row. The devastation must have been shocking and tear-worthy back then, but what was tear-worthy then was a punchline of a picnic table for me now.

My third day eating lunch on the Row, I heard some jangling coming up the hillside. It had a musical quality with a steady rhythm, and I didn’t feel imposed or intruded on in the least — which is a good way to remember first seeing and meeting Boaz. The jangling was the chain on a bicycle, and the rhythm was Boaz’s steady pumping of the pedals, as he crested the “hill” and entered the Row. What a sight.

The going rate in town for his age was 67, and he was pure bald, with an upper torso that must’ve weighed an easy 200 lbs. alone, full of a big, bulbous gut that was far too curious-looking to be repulsive. I only knew Boaz in the summertime, so I can only dress him for you in the series of Navy blue T-shirts, tube socks, thick glasses and gray Ocean Pacific shorts he always wore. And my noon hour interactions with him were always after he had pedaled himself into a red, flushed face.

But this man’s legs were massively powerful, and with every stroke he took on his bike, every step he strode, his legs came to life with a flurry of muscle and vein. This was a man who lived on his bike, and he was an interesting composite of its ill effects and positive benefits.

Boaz rode his bike on an obsessive-compulsive path that I later learned was his own creation, from years and years of riding the same route. It was a solid, packed length of earth about 4 inches wide that spread around Chap’s upper half. I’d run into a section of it once behind the IGA, when I went to get some ice from their machine, and I saw the trail cut straight through the field, then disappear as it ran into Fair Street.

I distinctly remember ignoring it; I figured it was a Missouri thing. Something religious, or mule deer, an old boundary or something.

Indians maybe.

Oh, and the ice was for my shoulder. Localized power, dontchaknow.


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