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A foxhole gospel

How shall the dead arise is no question of my faith. To believe only possibilities is not faith but mere philosophy.”

–Thomas Browne

Easter is not my favorite holiday. It should be, since I adhere to the Christian faith, and the event that this holiday commemorates is Christianity’s central fact and sine qua non. The resurrection of the Christ from death to life, the final impossibility and the signal that we, too, are more than, eternally more than the dust and ash we inhabit in this physical life. It’s the best news ever. He is risen. Hosannah in the highest!

With deft strokes in the comic tradition, cartoonist Shannon highlights the fact that Jesus folded his wrap before checking out.

With deft strokes in the comic tradition, cartoonist Shannon highlights the delightful fact that everyone raised as a Christian remembers…that Jesus folded his wrap before blowing the grave.

But it’s the very focus on that impossible fact that makes me fidgety. Faith is a strange thing for me these days. I don’t worry as much as I used to about what I call the “mechanics” of Christian doctrine, that part that explains how “the cross” is central to the entire “plan” that God has had in place since the dawn of time. I’m not exactly precisely concretely sure what I do believe anymore, but I know I don’t want or need my belief to be an edifice of logic or some scientifically arrived at construction, where failure in one part of the system means collapse of the whole. So the matter of whether Jesus rose from the dead is not as critical an item as it used to be for me. But the question doesn’t go away. We celebrate the resurrection and have done for two millennia, and we celebrate it not as metaphor but as an event that took place. So what do I believe really happened? Do I believe Jesus rose up from the dead?

Even the doubter has a place in God's kingdom. The Incredulity of St. Thomas, by Caravaggio, 1602.

Even the doubter has a place in God’s kingdom. The Incredulity of St. Thomas, by Caravaggio, 1602.

When this question presents itself, part of me answers No, of course not. I don’t believe that because it’s impossible. That answer has frightened me in the past, but I’m learning to accept it. It’s the only answer that a rational creature of earth, which is what I am, can return. The Reasoner in me says, people don’t rise from the dead, not by my experience or by any logic I know.

But I am not ONLY a rational creature, and in fact I consider it likely that my internal Reasoner is the least part of me. I am also spirit and body, and as I mature (if I mature), I become more and more alive to these other aspects of who I am. I think most Christians are able, unlike me, to convert or silence their Reasoner, or at least teach it to relinquish the wheel. A few let their Reasoners become monsters. Lately, my Reasoner is mostly asleep at the back of the bus, but this question is framed in such a way that it can only be fielded by the Reasoner. It’s a question about a fact, so I handle it in terms of likelihoods and probabilities and known data points. The answer that comes back is no, I don’t believe that Jesus rose from the dead. He could not have done.

And yet I pray to God every day with this same risen Jesus at my side, in the deepest place of belief inside me. I strive to live as though his resurrection secures my own, not only from a someday physical death but from my hundred daily deaths, my cowardices and failures and wrongdoings. I remember Thomas Browne’s dictum and tell myself that it is not necessary that what I believe in my heart be acceptable to my Reasoner. After all, everything physically possible is also merely inevitable; it’s the miraculous that makes the journey worthwhile. But if my Reasoner takes over, I lose my spiritual buoyancy.

The wrong time to ask the wrong question. Lego scene by

The wrong time to ask the wrong question. Jesus catches Peter as the disciple’s reason interferes with his deeper belief. Image of Brendan Powell Smith’s Lego scene found on Godbricks.com, used without permission.

There are many questions one could ask, and many ways to ask any given question. Since I desperately wish to be a capital B Believer, I don’t often ask myself whether or not I really think that this-and-such actually, factually happened. For all I know, nothing happens and everything I see and hear and think and do are just the eddies bouncing off of Cheerios in a bowl of milk in a dream inside the mind of a giant tortoise in a lagoon at the back of the North Wind. Those questions become increasingly unhelpful.

What is more interesting and more helpful to me is asking, where can I find evidence today of the God that I hope exists? I never have to look very far if I am open. And on Easter, I might ask what am I willing to let go of — what long-held grudge or too-cherished conception am I willing to let die with Jesus on this day, so that what rises up may be a better version of myself, and by better I mean more useful to others, and by useful to others I mean instrumental not toward some idea of their “salvation” in some prescribed way but toward the working out of their God-given journey however and wherever it may lead them.

I like William Bouguereau's vision of the women arriving at the tomb (Le Saintes Femmes au Tombeau, c.1865) because it's spooky as all get out with that angle only half visible, and because the women express not only joy but also...something like worry or doubt?

I like William Bouguereau’s vision of the women arriving at the empty tomb (Les Saintes Femmes au Tombeau, c.1865) because it suggests that even the first ones on the scene experienced confusion, worry, and maybe even doubt?

It may be a small faith and easily overwhelmed by the voice from the back of the bus, but it’s enough to celebrate with.

Pie

We got our pie at last. I’ll tell you about it, because it’s just plain damn time for a happy outcome. In fact, just because I’m feeling generous and expansive I’m going to tell you the whole story again, even though I’ve told most of it before, because someday I want my children to say of me, even if exasperatedly, that I used to tell this story about the apple tree, and that will necessitate my having told it at least twice. Maybe I’ll tell it slightly differently this time. Maybe not.

Our family apple tree, rooted in a new place.

Our family apple tree, rooted in a new place.

Mom demonstrates the dough nap.

PopPop always got a kick out of the idea of the dough “napping”. Gramma demonstrates this important step.

I grew up with this apple tree, you see. It was a Transparent, and every year when the apples got a yellow blush on their mostly green cheeks and started falling to the ground we would gather them up in the white porcelain bowls we called “basins” or in brown grocery bags and put them in the laundry room, and then Dad would help Mom core and peel them and then Mom would bake some of them into pies and bake the rest into applesauce with cinnamon. A
dish of my Mom’s applesauce, served up in a colored plastic bowl, was a treat like no other on the earth. To this day I do not eat applesauce of any other kind because by comparison to my mom’s it will be bland and watery. The applesauce produced at 1653 106th Avenue Southeast in Bellevue was dense, tart and — in summer when it was just made — warm from the pot. As for the pies, I will not set myself up for failure by attempting to describe the rarefied heights of ecstasy to which I was wafted upon the eating of same. I will say only that I once argued with a man — an apple tree specialist — at a fruit tree expo that I as a fledgling nurseryman took the opportunity of attending, because he dismissed the Transparent in favor of any number of newer cultivars that make for “better pie apples” and he was wrong. There is no better apple for an apple pie than a Transparent. I will say that and also this: my mom makes pie crust the way she was taught by “Creedy”, an old woman she first knew when my parents moved out West from Baltimore in the very late 1950s. It is a way that must be learned at the elbow of someone who has mastered it and it makes the most mouth-watering pie crust that ever was.

The tree was destroyed in the fall of 2006 when my parents suddenly, as if they were packing up to stake a claim in the goldfields of the Yukon, sold the house I grew up in and moved out of it. A matter of weeks later the house was bulldozed. I have not returned to the street since that happened, but just before it happened, while it was still legally my parents’ home, I went round there with my Felco #2 pruning shears and cut fifty of the suckers that sprouted from the top limbs every year, and brought them back to Seattle and stuck them in a bucket of rainwater until I could:

  • chop the suckers into eight-inch sections with at least four nodes each
  • wrap them half-a-dozen at a time into bundles in moist paper towels
  • seal the bundles up in baggies
  • put the baggies in the refrigerator

These were instructions I had been given by a fruit-tree growing friend (a friend being someone who does not try to talk you out of your apple love), who told me October was the wrongest time of year to cut scions from fruit trees and try to graft them onto new rootstock, but said if I was careful and lucky I might just be able to keep the scions viable until late winter.

I was careful and hoped I would be lucky. I rewrapped the bundles in new paper towels every six weeks through the winter, and in late February or early March I took some of them to the Fruit Tree Society’s convention in Ballard, where they had volunteers performing grafts on rootstock they had for sale there. I came home with eight newborn Transparent trees with their bare roots wrapped in plastic. I potted those in ten gallon pots with good soil and fertilizer and lined them up in the driveway where they’d get sun and rain, and proceeded to watch them all sprout a single leaf and die.

Her fingers fairly fly.

Her fingers fairly fly.

Mom taught two new generations of pie-makers that day.

Mom taught two new generations of piemakers that day.

All but one. One of the trees lived through the summer, having grown almost not at all. We moved that fall and I brought it with me and nursed it through another winter, remembering to bring it into the garage when the winds came down from Canada and the cold went deep for several nights in a row. Finally I planted it in our backyard up among the rhodies, where children playing wouldn’t step on it. It produced one tiny apple the next summer, and two the summer after that, but they didn’t grow to full size. Mara and her friend Gwyneth “accidentally” picked the two little apples the second year, but I doubt they would have grown much more anyway. The tree needed more sun than it was getting, I was advised by another knowledgeable friend. When cold came I moved it to a different spot, and it has slowly flourished there. I only got two or three tiny applets the next year and the squirrels got those, as they did the five I got the year after that. But this year 22 of the apple blossoms closed into little lumps and grew into apples, and I covered the tree with a net to keep the birds and squirrels off, and only six of the fruits fell off prematurely, so I ended up with 16 apples by summer’s end. They were not as large as the ones I knew in my youth, but they were the product of the same tree, genetically. The long journey was over.

I called my mom and asked her how many apples it would take to make a pie, and she said about eight apples “the size of tennis balls”.

These were not that big.

“What about sixteen apples a little bigger than ping pong balls?” I negotiated.

She said bring what I had, we’d make it work. So we kept the apples in the refrigerator for two weeks — Mom’s schedule was as busy as ours and it took that long to meet up — and then took them to her house in Issaquah (Dad died in 2011) for an historic baking.

I peeled, Angela sliced, and Mom prepared the kitchen for the event. Mom then showed me how to make the crust, including letting the dough “rest”, the part about which my dad, we always note aloud, used to say “the dough has to take a nap”.

This aroma unleashed will call me out of any corner of earth with a fork in my hand.

This aroma unleashed will call me out of any corner of earth with a fork in my hand.

She's eaten half of it already, but you can still get the idea.

She’s eaten half of it already, but you can still get the idea.

Miraculously, we had enough sliced apples for two full-sized pies, one that Mom made with me watching and one that I made with Mom watching, and even a little one that Mom (Gramma) helped Millie make. With extra dough, she showed Mara how to make what we always just referred to as a pie crust, a simple baked crust sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, for a snack. Everything came out of the oven looking and smelling and tasting just the way it should. Sometimes we get lucky, and love makes up the rest.

So this odd migration of our family apple tree is finally at an end, or at least an oasis. If we move from our current home someday, the tree is coming with us, one way or another.

My J.P. post gets republished

My friend Elisa is editor at ParentMap, a parent’s resource magazine that is both a monthly printed magazine and a website and blog. She asked me if she could republish on their blog the story I wrote last fall about J.P. Patches, who was created and portrayed by Chris Wedes, who died over the weekend at age 84.

I said could she ever. She did a great job of it. It’s here:

http://www.parentmap.com/blog/12281/the-city-dump-will-never-be-the-same-a-patches-pal-remembers-jp

GSGH #5 winner limerick

Issy, who won the sixth installment of our Great Seattle Gargoyle Hunt, has also gone back and won the fifth. She correctly identified the location of the grimacing gargoyle in GSGH #5 as the old Coliseum Theater on Fifth and Pike, now the Banana Republic store.

Gargoyle #5

I’ve been waiting for a non-rainy moment when I could take a picture of the venerable movie palace to include here, but instead I’ll include another photo by the ubiquitous Joe Mabel, who seems to have photographed every interesting building in Seattle and then licensed all the images to the public. (Thanks again, Joe.)

At least it's still standing. Our gargoyle is to the right of the entryway about fifteen feet up. Image by Joe Mabel licensed through Creative Commons.

My history with this place is that back in 1990, my friend Marni called me and told me that the Coliseum was showing its last movie and would be closing afterwards and that we needed to get down there. At that time I knew little about Seattle’s historic buildings and didn’t even know what the Coliseum was. It was stunningly beautiful inside. We saw Tremors*, a horror-comedy about giant earthworms starring Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward, and at the end of the movie the staff dropped a cloud of balloons down on us from the balcony. Thanks to Marni, I got to participate in this historic finish to a great run.

Wha-----------------!!!!!!?????

pshhiiiiiiiiirrrr!

My friend Pedro and I recently went in there hoping to be shown around the old balcony, which is still up there behind the remodeled interior, but no soap. Pedro had previously used his effortless charm on the clerks to wheedle his way into the hidden historic spaces, but the policy had changed when he came back with me for another go. We hit them on a jittery day this past summer, when management wasn’t taking any chances about lawsuits (or, you know, just being fired for letting people off the street claiming to be history buffs walk around in the back rooms of their business place).

Stucco entities rescued from the theater's interior now work security for the Banana Republic. I don't know whether these are the original decorations or castings made from them.

I told Issy that repeat winners don’t get additional limericks, but she suggested I write one for her as “Isabelle”. I’m not that gullible, but I am that much of a wimp, and so I relented. Plus, her husband (or at least someone CLAIMING to be her husband) made a funny comment on that gargoyle page.

Here you go, “Isabelle”. Thanks again for participating!

Isabelle said, “I know this old Liam.
In my mind’s eye I certainly see him”
The way that she’d go
When she’d step out for joe
Led her back to the old Coliseum.”

*It’s on my list of favorite movies of all time, and Fred Ward is one of my favorite actors.

Great Seattle Gargoyle Hunt #6

We go lion-hunting again for the sixth installment of the Great Seattle Gargoyle Hunt. I’d be inclined to rate this an easy one, but no one has yet even taken a wide swipe at the still unsolved GSGH #5, which I would have thought was very easy, so who knows? For rules of play see the first entry, here.

Where are these lions? Use the comments to submit your answer. Again, past winners play for love, not for limericks.

"Down on the corner where the cats hang out" was a lyric by the '80s band Timbuk 3. These corner cats are the subject of GSGH #6


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The Great Seattle Gargoyle Hunt


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