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My Tiny Tim Fantasy

“Do you remember two kinds of Christmases? There is one kind in a house where there is little and a present represents not only love but sacrifice. The one single package is opened with a kind of slow wonder, almost reverence.”
(John Steinbeck, from a 1959 letter to Adlai Stevenson)

Christmas is to most a time for celebrating good fortune, spending money, feasting, and giving gifts. I don’t think the message of Christmas is really lost in this; in my observation most seem to remember and appreciate Christmas as a time of genuine goodwill even in spite of rampant consumerism. I don’t see any problem in consumerism if it’s done for unselfish reasons. If there were ever a time to be a rampant consumer, Christmas is it.

This year, my parents began their transition to the “big” city of Lansing. No, they don’t have empty-nest-syndrome or postpartum-depression from losing their precious baby son. They didn’t move to follow me, they moved to be closer to their wild-and-crazy interracial church, and probably in an attempt to cure that special strain of cabin fever that can only be brought on by 15 years in Coldwater, MI.

Nevertheless we kept Christmas in Coldwater this year. The floors were stripped, the cupboards were bare, the fridge was empty, and the air was cold and dry. A tiny Christmas tree was perched atop an old end-table. The heirloom mahogany dining table was replaced by a rickety fold-up card table covered with a poinsettia table cloth and surrounded by lawn chairs and old office swivel-chairs. There remained only the sofa in the living room, and a single small ottoman on which to rest our feet. The family dog was absent, having died months ago (remnants of her hair and dandruff still to be kicked up and inhaled, inciting sneezes of remembrance).

Our traditions remained the same, but tapered down to fit a more meager situation. Christmas eve dinner was at a local restaurant, and was mediocre at best (what all-star chefs work on Christmas eve?). Without a piano or hymnal, we sang Christmas carols a cappella and from memory. We passed around my mother’s Bible and read the Christmas story from Matthew and Luke. We opened our gifts. The DVD player was broken, so we piled on the couch drinking wine and gorging ourselves on Christmas cookies, and watched a strange movie on TV about nuns. On Christmas day, we had leftover turkey from Thanksgiving, went to the movie theater, and watched Jeopardy.

This all could have been really depressing, but instead there was a special joy in the whole thing. I’ve never seen my father laugh until he cried. We decorated cookies and didn’t care if sprinkles got on the floor. We made hot water for hot cocoa and coffee in old pots that had been packed away. We laughed a lot. We reminisced every unique ornament on that tiny tree. We hobbled around boxes piled high, and we laughed some more. We drank more wine, piled on that single couch, falling half asleep watching old episodes of Star Trek, and laughed. All the while, snowflakes were gently falling outside, illuminated by a single strand of Christmas lights on that tiny tree purchased from Goodwill. And what a source of goodwill it was! It was probably the best Christmas ever.


Bells at Christmastide

crescendoing (no faster
than snow can slip)
your quiet limbs
sang into silent
fir trees

growing soft green
foliage of truth,
leaves of my open eyes
hanging from heartstems:
ornaments of deepest
Gabriels shining
up-up-up the loudest

then—oh my
suddenly God—He
appeared, the Son
of all green
flowers, of all

of all that is
quietly singing
out of my



There is something horribly, horribly strange about Sufjan Stevens's latest album. I literally cannot listen to his last album (Age of Adz) for this reason... it shreds my heart, and not in a good way, really; in a mystical, terrifying, relentless, strange.

It makes me feel the way I remember feeling when, as a child, I found myself fixated on strange and bizarre images while lying awake in my bed (a mangled tree stump, a spindle of glowing silver thread, a sarcophagus that bridged a river), and would come sheepishly downstairs to sit with my parents half panicked, half consumed with melancholy, half afraid the universe would swallow us up without warning or mercy (yes, that's three halves).

After I sobbed for three hours one night last year while listening to "Futile Devices" on repeat, I knew it had to stop. This music is not right. It is strange.

This new 58-track album of "Christmas" music is everything that terrifies me about this universe. I cannot endorse its consumption. I think it is the songs of terrible angels, or of ancients, or of aliens.


You and I are not suns

You and I are
not suns, aeons apart, vibrating
slow churning cello-strings of space;
we are not trees who staring unforgetting
at the sky thousands of days at a time
find that they understand stars
much more clearly than you or I.

No we are not very old yet,
our rings will be fewer than our
backyard tree and still fewer than
Saturn's long strands of ancient hair
(fed by the very stones of eternity)
no, we will never be that far apart—
two thousand miles at the most,
maybe just chairs away at the least.

Still, I hear your voice as clear
as emptiness when I am wandering
down the short trails of your handwriting
on an old scrap of paper, also when I am
praying myself into galaxies so distant
even God himself should sleep
half the journey.


Century Egg

Well, everyone, I finally did it. I've been clamoring for a century egg for some time now, and I finally found some at an Asian grocery store in my new home of East Lansing. My roommate pointed them out to me, only to realize in slow-motion horror that I hadn't been kidding all these years.

These were duck eggs preserved in the traditional style with salt and lye. They were not refrigerated, and were not shelled. What follows is an illustrated account of my solitary quest to discover the mysterious flavors and textures of the century egg.

Each egg was individually wrapped with loose plastic:
The membrane directly under the shell was speckled:
Peeling back the membrane, the egg itself appeared to be black and glossy (I later discovered it was a very dark, translucent amber, as expected).
The fully peeled egg:
I will say that at this point, the smell of the egg was quite strong. Difficult to describe, but if I had to characterize it, it was something like a combination of urine and rotting potatoes.

Having sliced it apart, I did take a small bite, despite the foul odor. In truth, it was quite bland... the white was close to the consistency of a gummy bear, but a little firmer, and had almost no flavor whatsoever. The yolk, apart from its coloration, tasted very much like the yolk from a regular fresh hard-boiled egg. On a scale of 1-10, (1 being foul and inedible, and 10 being scrumtrulescent) I would give it a 3. I certainly wouldn't eat one if I were looking for a snack, but if I were starving, I'd have few qualms.

Bonus! Characteristic "pine-branch" patterns, which I observed upon holding the white against the light of the open window!


Pausing in the West

The Clouds that gather round the setting sun
Do take a sober colouring from an eye
That hath kept watch o’er man's mortality;
Another race hath been, and other palms are won.
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears. 
(William Wordsworth, from Intimations of Immortality)

Driving along the scenic backways of Utah, through the Dixie National Forest, light is quickly scampering on the feet of sheep and deer, running deeper into the Western hills and valleys. We wind along and around, chasing the light until we reach a fork in the road. One road leads North, up and out of the forest; the other South, deeper into the mountains and away back to the city. But it is neither North nor South that has captured us; it is the Western heavenly—no, celestial, perhaps cosmic—light that is calling us into the deadly devastating canyons bathed in hundreds of colors of radiant, crepuscular beams. Strong, sculpted bodies of clouds at the edge of the earth seem to be struggling to hold up the firmament itself.

Speechlessly we approach the edge of this great open mouth of earth and stone agape before us. Delicate purple flowers brush against our feet, and in awe we stand breathlessly searching for comfort and reconciliation from the crushing sublimity. I surrender to this moment of virgin solitude, accepting that even filled to the deepest, untouched corners of my soul, my heart is full of this thing. I cannot accommodate the deluge; it is spilling over into my mind, which opens its floodgates as I desperately search for understanding. Although it seems as steadfast as the monolithic, eternal stone that frames it, I know that it is in motion, hurtling toward the ends of the world: it is nothing more than an apparition, a glint of gold in a rapid, cold river that will never be recovered to reveal its source to greedy hands.

In this infinitesimal instant I am reconciled to a kind of strange stillness—an acceptance that there are no words, no feelings, not even thoughts that can atone for the tragedy and joy that mingles before me in the sky. Even tears are beyond it, for I know it is the music of the universe itself—it is the poetry of God.


Difficult Answers

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.”(1 Timothy 4:1-5 ESV)

The funny thing about Truth is that nobody ever agrees on it. Human beings are individuals—we each live an island existence—each with a mind that is alone in the universe, disconnected from all other consciousnesses. And so, on our quest for Truth, we will each discover something slightly (but impossible-to-know-ly) different from our neighbor (quantum status of consciousness? Schrodinger’s Cat brains? Indeed, a scary thought). This could quickly become a major ontological discussion, but those of you who know my views on Christianity know that I believe the Holy Spirit guides and directs our thoughts and hearts, and is responsible for creating harmony between Christians despite the fact that each believer must discover Truth for himself or herself. The Christian message is not a brittle set of rules, it is at once a flexible, evolving philosophy, and an absolute Truth. Check out 1 Corinthians 9 for a refresher on the somewhat confusing semantics of the flexibility of the faith. It’s not easy to digest, but most Truths aren’t. That’s why as Christians, our personal testimonies are so important. Each believer who houses the Spirit in his or her heart has something revelatory to contribute to the faith, and it’s that unmediated communion with God that makes Christianity so special and so True. We support each other in the Truths that are revealed to our hearts and minds through the Word of God and prayer.

Human beings are equipped with powerful minds. Our cognitive states are overwhelmingly complex, and so we have developed some peculiar and complicated systems of social interaction to deal with our needs in a way that pleases God—marriage, for example. Christians largely hold the mantle of marriage in Western civilization. Yes, marriage has become a political institution—but to a Christian, it is first and foremost a spiritual one. And no matter what liberals or conservatives say, the two sides of the debate today are steeped in religious (not social) convictions. If you believe gay marriage is wrong, I can guarantee that you also believe God thinks it’s wrong. And if you think it’s right, then you probably either don’t believe in God, or you think God thinks it’s right. What I mean to say is, I don’t think I know any atheists who oppose gay marriage.

I was raised by two of the most remarkable people I have ever encountered; I have never met two more grounded individuals. My parents were well-equipped to teach me the importance of believing in and fighting for Truth. They taught me never to accept “no” if you knew the truth said “yes.” They marched in parades, picketed, and never missed a vote (it’s a miracle I’m not more of a social activist). They also taught me that the right answer is usually not the easiest one. Discovering everything that it means to be a gay Christian was an experience full of difficult answers; I had never been so shocked by what the Spirit had to say to me, and listening to God continues to be hard, especially when He challenges my preexisting beliefs.

While I don't pretend to understand all the secrets of God’s will, I’m confident that He wants all people to be stewards of Love. This means being true to anything that requires the heart to respond. There was a time when I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do about my sexuality; I didn’t understand why God had allowed me to be gay. The moment I fell in love for the first time, all that confusion vanished. It took four years for me to reconcile that realization with the intellectual components of my faith—this was done only through continual prayer and reading scripture. In hindsight, I can see that that Love single-handedly acted as a divine, revelatory force, and quite literally forced me to see the will of God in a new, uncomfortable light. If I hadn’t been listening, or if I had been too stubbornly steadfast in my old beliefs, I would have missed God’s call. I thank my remarkable parents, friends, and the Holy Spirit for reminding me to keep an open, discerning, and prayerful mind.

I take 1 John 4 literally. I believe that Love is an incarnation of God Himself, and that anything founded upon an honest expression of Love cannot be sinful. For a Christian, feeling Love is more than just getting butterflies in your stomach, listening to sappy music, and wanting to be near someone. Love is an act of worship—a true sacrament—a communion with the Heavenly Father. I know that if one day I meet someone with whom I share a true enough love to marry, God will bless that marriage, because I will consecrate it before Him. I have never, even for a moment, felt that my sexuality has conflicted with my growing relationship with the Lord. This does’t mean that I haven’t made mistakes, or done things I know the Lord wouldn’t want; but when that happens, the Spirit is equally clear! But the few short moments when I have been in love have been the times when I have felt the least separation from the Divine. These were moments of clarity and peace that are second to no other spiritual experience.

I know that the world is changing. I know that Christ’s message was one of change, and the kingdom that He left behind is one founded on the notion of the freedom to change. I am proud of the Church for its willingness to flex through the ages, to continually adapt to bring the timeless message of Christ into immediacy and relevance. I know the Spirit has called me to testify according to these revelations, and I also know that every honest Christian in my position won’t come to the same conclusions (and that’s ok). Most of all, I pray that every Christian who reads this will be called to ask these difficult questions, and call upon the Lord for difficult answers.


Finding Michigan

Finding Michigan
just the way Jesus left it
will be remarkable:indeed
I should say I hope to find
happy families of sunsets; the song of
organstops, souls rising—rushing
into the Elysium of eternal,ecstatic golden
cornfields of memories of mountains
meandering melancholic Christmases, and
yes, I even expect to find my dreams

Finding my way home is not
such a simple thing, finding you isn't
either, and I guess finding love is hidden
more of all—even so(and most beautifully
or)I will come back to find
simple starlight, and
Something softer
than snow


Truth is

Truth is
not an idea, or
a memory, it is not
a creed, a prayer, and
it is not a person.

Truth is a house that builds
itself around us, it is
a fire that warms and sometimes
burns us.

Truth is a fine white linen
that wraps our bodies;
it is a fragrant mist of
pure ocean breeze, and it is
lightningbugs scintillating
the darkness of summernight.

even now, Truth is
touchingfollowing us, and we are
breathing in Truth, and (my Lord)
it is so very beautiful.



O joy! that in our embers
Is something that doth live,
That nature yet remembers
What was so fugitive!
The thought of our past years in me doth breed
Perpetual benediction: not indeed
For that which is most worthy to be blest—
Delight and liberty, the simple creed
Of childhood, whether busy or at rest,
With new-fledged hope still fluttering in his breast. 
(William Wordsworth)

Listening to the choirs at Westminster these past weeks been both comforting and disturbing. While hearing music, I have found myself fixated on two distinct ideas. The first is magnificence: I do not mean it in the colloquial sense (something exceedingly excellent or glorious, although in that sense the choirs here are indeed magnificent'). But in a deeper ontological sense, the word comes from an ancient root which means to magnify, to make greater, or to elevate. I am fascinated by the suggestion that what we do when we sing together is something as miraculous as life itself: the formation of a thing that is at its very core generating a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. The second thought is that music is expressive of something abstract, something ineffable. I have been perplexed by the notion that while the linguistic and visual arts are often directly imitative of our experiences and environment, music is abstract—only imitative in a qualitative, emotive sense.

My mother wrote poetry in college. One of her poems begins with a shockingly angsty line: the agonies of being are far greater than all else. While this is a profoundly sad thought, it is a nevertheless resonant one—indeed, much of our existence is defined by a perpetual sorrow which daily accompanies us. The blissful joy of childhood has faded, and our most profoundly meaningful thoughts are nearly always our most deeply melancholic.

Yet! Just when these “agonies of being” are so great that it seems we will crumble or break, a Truth that lingers saves us in our most beautiful thoughts: breathing in the cool moisture after rain, watching in awe as strong hands spring from the earth, reaching out and grasping strands of the clear air, running down a hillside so fast your legs seem to move themselves, looking up at the blank sky until stars wheel out from dark cupboards, and staring into someone else's eyes and feeling so hopelessly full of joy at knowing you are both alive that just one lifetime full of music could never express it.

In these crushing moments, we magnify ourselves by singing together. The chorus (somehow!) contains enough magnificence to tell the impossible story of our overwhelming existence. In this expression, we are comforted: not by the affirmation of others whose spirits are invaded and redeemed by the sounds we create, not by the towering intellectual achievement of the order and proportion of tones and time, and not even by the pulsating, nourishing emotional catharsis that music evokes. No, the comfort and Truth of music is in the knowledge of beauty: the realization—the revelation, even—that the universe is indeed beautiful, that in the space surrounding our bodies and within the combination of our voices, there is something so much more beautiful than inescapable sadness. Music is not abstract, yet it is every bit as mysterious as language: it simultaneously exposes, imitates, and quenches the ineffable and excruciating beauty of life. The reason we sing is the same reason we look at the stars.


what I wouldn't give

oh, what wouldn't I give
to be back on that dark lawn
laid out on damp blankets
under the cold, dry stars,
wide-eyed until our corneas smart
from the stillness of night air.

what wouldn't I give
for those days, when the
greatest joy was knowledge, and
the greatest fear was darkness (say,
how little has changed!)
and everything was smaller.

listen to the since-years,
and while you listen, I'll tell you,
quite simply, exactly what I wouldn't give:

the joy of seeing you grow up,
the music of the latest night,
and the indescribable feeling of
being in love with this memory, and realizing
just how desperate(ly hopeful) we truly are.


every word

Say, for example
you were talking to someone,
you were looking at him,
you could hear him,
you could see him, and
when you thought about what he was saying,
as it would look written
on an imaginary page,

it (just for a moment) was as if
every letter was a sentence,
every syllable was a chapter of
every clause, which was a book in which
every phrase could be a library, and
every sentence could be the entire world.

Then, my love, hearing your
voice for less than a moment
could open the most beautiful flowergalaxy, and
it would be the whole universe
on your lips
without saying a single word.


These mornings

These mornings are different
sitting next to a coffee cup
and silently remarking how little
it reminds me of you

These mornings
are quiet-strange
they are not bright:they are pale
they are tiny choirs of dust
settling like pilgrims on the chair across the table

These mornings are wonderful—
like flinging onehundredthousandwildflowers
into the air and wondering(not knowing) if
they will ever return to earth

These mornings are not you,
because I have forgotten how much
I need to remember how
to forget you



Lately, I’ve become interested in the English Standard Version translation of the Bible. I was raised on the New International Version, which I do value for its highly readable syntactical structure, and because I like the fact that when it was published in 1978, it was a completely new translation, fresh from the Greek and Hebrew, and did not rely on traditional wordings from archaic translations like the KJV. The ESV (released in 2001) is even newer than the NIV, but unlike the NIV, it stands in a lineage of translations starting with the 1611 KJV. Unlike even the NKJV, which is merely a lexical update to the 1611 wordings, the ESV is the latest in a tradition of new editions of the KJV text, which with each revision (RV, NAS, RSV) have revisited the Greek and Hebrew, while evaluating the clarity of the text to modern English readers. In this way, the ESV is sort of distilled, and as an academic, I’m attracted to that kind of “edited” approach.

But I was still skeptical of any translation that followed in the tradition of the KJV, which was initially translated with some techniques that I find questionable, such as the use of the Latin Vulgate as a partial source (alongside the Greek and Hebrew), making it a sort of tertiary translation. But I was also skeptical of the NIV, which uses a kind of “idea for idea” (rather than “word for word”) translation philosophy that, while making sentences more colloquial, has huge potential for being influenced by the ideological bias of the translators. The ESV is more literal, and is thus less prone to bias, but lacks a certain stylistic candor that endears the NIV.

So, I decided to compare a few New Testament passages to each other, and to the original Greek, and was shocked by what I found. I largely chose passages at random, looking mainly at passages that came to mind as well-known or ones that have strongly traditional wording in English (the Lord’s Prayer, for example).
Take a look at Luke 1:46-55 (commonly called “Magnificat”). It is Mary’s reaction to the Annunciation. The opening phrase reads
 NIV: “my soul glorifies the Lord.” 
The traditional wording used in countless songs and recitations is
KJV: “my soul doth magnify the Lord,” 
which sounds quite archaic to someone unfamiliar with the tradition. A compromise is found with
ESV: “my soul magnifies the Lord.”
Now let’s look at the Greek. The phrase reads
“megalunei he psuche mou ton kurion,” 
which translates literally to “magnifying (is) the soul of me, the Lord." The word in question here is “megalunei,” which is translated as “magnifies” in the ESV tradition, but as “glorifies,” in the NIV, which means something decidedly different. Even more problematically, the word usually translated as “glorifies” in the NIV and other places is “doxasei” (or other forms of “dox-” where we get words like “doxology”). To me, both theologically and literarily speaking, to “magnify” means something very different than “glorify,” yet the NIV translators apparently chose not to say “magnify” because the precise meaning might seem ambiguous(?), but to me the ambiguity of what it means to allow one’s soul to “magnify the Lord” is part of what makes the passage beautiful, and theologically significant (what is Mary’s role as a Saint? What is it about her unique position in the gospel that magnifies God? These are important things to consider). 

Take another part of the Magnificat, where the lack of literal translation is more obviously problematic. v.51:
NIV: “he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts,” but 
ESV: “he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.” 
While the ESV (and likewise, the traditional KJV) mentions the word “heart,” the NIV translates this as “inmost.” The Greek word is “kardias,” where modern English inherits terms like “cardio,” which are (obviously) related to more than just “inmost” things. To re-word this is to move into paraphrase territory, which is my primary reason for shunning almost all other Bible translations (New Living Translation, Common English Bible, GOD’S WORD, The Message, need I say more?)

So far, I’ve been extremely satisfied with the way ESV approaches the marriage of literal and idiomatic translations. The general word-order and the words themselves seem quite well-chosen, and for parts that are exceptionally difficult to convert to clearly-worded English, the text is very well-footnoted, sometimes giving upwards of four or five alternate wordings depending on conflicting manuscripts or conflicting philosophies between members of the translation team. Most importantly, the plain presentation of the words leaves plenty of room for interpretation—to me, a hallmark of Biblical reading, and something which I fear I might unknowingly hinder when using NIV.