Cold Fire

At the end of this Christmas holiday, I had some time to be outside and feel the crisp air on my cheeks. The cold weather tonight is knocking loose a few odd memories, particularly this nugget from the year 1984 which, dare I say, is the golden age of heavy metal and hard rock.

Dokken wasn’t exactly a band I followed religiously. They were on the radio for a span of time during my formative teenage years. But, taken out of context, their lyrics are fuel for all of the Satan-rock street preachers who had screamed for our rapt attention in that era. There were so many bands out who played up the Satanic connection just to increase their magnitude and pump sales. Unfortunately, most of the kids in my world (and some adults, sadly) bought into it and thought they were the real deal; the same kind of chumps who would carve “666” into their schoolbooks and think they were summoning the Dark Lord himself.

Really, “Into the Fire” was the inner struggle of a man that keeps running back to a bad lover who burns him on every touch. Image notwithstanding, that’s basically all it is; a bad relationship that he won’t let die. But the over-the-top music production, the expensive video, and everything about the entire product screams excess, waste, and sex for the sake of itself.

That sound still sticks with me decade after decade.

And don’t get me started about “Dream Warriors” — that’s wedged so deep into my psyche, it’s soothing to the touch.


driving around texarkana area tonight. wandering. thinking.
funny how the new happens, old memories still return.
north jefferson. in the highbeams, telephone poles look like crucifixes. fields of them. three sixteen. gethsemane. sheol. texarkana.
sugarhill road. old beech street haunts, youth groupers lived there. parents successful. edge of town, suburbs.
sanderson lane. saw stars. cassiopeia. mash of others. streak of cloud confused the glow of the milky way. blurry x in the sky.
distant stars. distant headlights startled, mustn’t get caught on the side of the road looking up.
mustn’t be caught wanting to be alone. inviting inquisitions. accusations. trouble.
started car, drove away.
waffle house. read dharma bums over coffee. found a chum behind the counter, told me to read palahniuk. told him to read miller.
cruised the downtown. bright lights, empty city.
turned right. hwy 82. widened to 4 lanes. still 45mph.
turned left at orphanage, where first girl laura lived. confusing times, those. longest month. first 2 weeks in love, remainder alone together.
drove to rondo, turned right. cruised past amy’s house; father ministered rondo methodist church. retired. house has changed hands.
phil and sandy’s old place. now just sandy’s place.
turned left, 82 outbound. thinking. remembering. upward bound trips.
stars through the window. geolocation by the domes of light on the horizon. there’s hope.
there’s nashville. there’s ashdown. there’s magnolia.
stars and moon came up. the old man. the half moon. the couple arising in glory. winter’s first glimpse of orion, my old, old friend. memories.
fields at ouachita, talking, communing with the old man. asking questions, questions.
stars in the window on my radio. wrapping it around, inspired returning to the inspiration. the born back to the place of birth.
heavy moment and smiles.
found myself in stamps. tiny sleepy burg. orange lights, dusty houses, gravel garages and propane tanks.
ez mart has no bathroom. sacred and profane. u turn and found a boat ramp. pissing in the river.
made something live. left my dark mark on the light caliche. train whistles and dark lights. key to pedal to getting out of there.
returning. remembering. arkansas life. distant memory, but soaked into the makeup of me.
had a tough time of it then. knew things but didn’t know things. smart but stupid. brilliant but ignorant.
built the half moon and old man i am.
dreams. had dreams. spoke poetic jibberish, it all came from here, but needed the distance to speak the verses.
no support structure, no friendly air.
but in finding my people outside, i found my voice. then i lost my people along the way.
and then austin.
those voices spoke poison. so ragged and bedraggled. so negative. so cruel.
enough time with them, my own voice stopped. creativity shriveled. mustn’t get caught looking up.
mustn’t be caught wanting to express. inviting derision. humiliation. trouble.
why did i care about their words? why close lips and hope to sneak on by?
texarkana. the source and fuel for my psyche. texarkana. where i lost my soul. fields of crucifixes. three sixteen.
our god is an awesome god and holy holy holy.
no way. no fucking way.
43 and on mute. 25 years hence trying to find myself. ongoing battle, eternal war.
turning. wandering. searching.
searching for the voice.
seeing yesterday.
remembering the dreams.
i miss tomorrow. tomorrow is not what it used to be.
ever hoping, but driving into the uncertainty.
eventually. eventually.
anyway. anyway.


Do you know what I miss? I miss the headspace I could afford without a screen constantly in front of my face. Sometimes i remember my early 20’s before always-on communications, when I could sit in my room for hours and write, read, build, craft, think, dream the big dreams. The world outside was just over the horizon, calling to me to consider it. I felt it in my soul. Made plans to go out to it (instead of having it barge in on me). I’d visualize it like radio waves reflecting off the ionosphere, like a dome of light from a nearby town at night. Thoughts as deep as clouds are high.

Now, shallow thoughts, distracted thoughts. In my opinion, less a factor of age and more a factor of scattered attention. There’s a red flag on my screen with a number inside. There’s a tab with “(2)” on it. There’s a notification on my phone. There’s always something to answer.

It’s getting awfully crowded in this headspace. Not enough room for this addiction to confirmation, for this empty stand-in for real connection and friendship. When I turn face from the screen to do something with my time, the world moves on and I feel lost in a game of Catch-Up when I finally come back to the screen. That desperate emptiness kills me. So what is the solution?

Gaslight in our Front Yard

Gaslight comes through the window of my bedroom.
Its incandescent hues cast a broken square upon my wall.
It makes the old paint glow a faded yellow-white.
I can see the moving shadow of the curtains
blowing to the beat of evening breezes.
Lying in my bed, I feel so much;
only a child, but experiencing a memory of the ages.
Two other beds beside me.
In them, my cousins lie;
some on beds,
some on cots below,
and I’m the last awake.
Worn out, we’ve had a busy day
down in the river.
I can hear the traffic go by, to the late-night tempo,
down the street, just one block down.
The grownups are in the living room
talking, laughing, living.
I will remember this.

The Gentle Question of Faith

Reconnection and an Old Kinship:

A week ago, I received a particular letter from an old friend of mine with whom I have recently begun corresponding again; he is one of my friends from my years at Ouachita. Our first acquaintance was in 1991 during the beginning of my second, and his first, year there. Through our short several years of walking along the common path, this man became one of the few people whose spiritual steadfastness, flexibility, and common sense I had come to respect over those years and beyond; even though I left Ouachita as a nonbeliever, I still respected him and admired that he still, to this day, would not settle for anything less than What Is Right.

We Felt The Answers As We Walked:

In our early years at Ouachita, he and I and a several other friends would gather together ad-hoc and discuss our religion, our bible, our lives, and our faith. Sometimes during our chats we would delve into something we were studying in our bible courses or foundational theology classes or perhaps something from a lecture or sermon we attended. Sometimes we’d discuss the things that weighed heavy on our hearts, minds, and souls. Being a faith-based college, these kinds of discussions happened quite often all over the place. But even with these given surroundings, very few examinations, and fewer examiners, I feel, went as deep into faith as our particular circle of friends. Though my major, minor, and work-study kept me away in parallel but close circles, I had the great fortune to join with them on many occasions.

On a cold, damp, overcast evening some time near the early winter of 1992, we wrapped ourselves up in warm clothing, put on our hiking shoes, packed up our flashlights, some snacks, water bottles and bibles and we hiked, the five of us, to a small clearing in the woods between a large pasture north of campus and the Ouachita river to its east (an area where I had enjoyed hiking alone many times). As we talked about some heavy and important things like personal inner struggles and problems, and as we touched on some inner places where we needed help, we felt the Holy Spirit move us. So we talked, opened up, and shared. To us, true change was to begin on the inside.

In one spontaneous instant, one of us stood up, held up their hands, and started praying, opening up the conversation to our Lord. The Spirit was calling and we answered: we locked together, arms around each other, huddled close for warmth and healing, and we prayed the prayers of five humble mendicants, five believers who intensely needed strength to make it through our days. The Spirit moved us, and we kept praying, kept pouring tears; some of us knelt down, some of us lay prone, but we kept praying. When we felt our hearts were about to burst, we stopped, ended our prayer with blessing and praise, then we opened our eyes and perceived that something had changed. Upon picking up our satchels, we wiped away our tears, smiled, and quietly streamed our way out of the woods towards the nearby pasture to return to campus.

It was then, as we neared the edge of the woods, that we noticed the big white fluffy flakes of snow. If my memory serves me well, at that early in the winter season, snow was possible but improbable, and it was not on the forecast. Knowing this, we looked at each other and scratched our heads, expressing wonder about the possibility, any at all, of any relation between the two events — the prayer and the snow — and we laughed, elated, agreeing that whether it was a sign to us or not, the snow was provided to us by our Lord. Bless God! Bless God! On our trek back to campus, we were giddy, our spirits lifted, and we knew that everything was going to be alright.

Walking Into the Debate — the Reversed Roles:

Some years later, I had been walking around campus late on this one particular evening. My mood had been foul for a few days, and I was deeply troubled, hence the walk. After having lost and left my faith a few months prior, I was still wrestling with questions that I could not answer without the faith that provided those answers. As I walked, I crossed paths with my old friend by happenstance. At that time, our paths in life had diverged a bit but, given our proximity, we still ran parallel. So, with our first chance to talk in months, we stopped for a light Chat About Things and found ourselves sitting on the streetside steps of Lile Hall for the better part of 2 hours. I confessed to him my recent loss of faith. I presented my new views, and he played (for lack of better terms) Devil’s Advocate against my views; he grilled me, presented logical arguments, scripture and doctrine, allowed me some space to cast some doubt on my own doubts, and generally shook me up. I was some small measure offended or taken aback by his grilling, but only offended to the extent that he, quite necessarily, probed and questioned where others would have backed away. Chilled and sore from the concrete steps, we said our goodnights. As I walked back to my dorm, I was visibly shaken. His questions made me reconsider my own questions of faith.

Our paths diverged a little more steeply after our conversation that night. This probably had less to do with faith differences and more to do with social circles, but the agreeable schism was still there: he was still a believer, I was still an agnostic. About a year later, our circles crossed over again when my friends, mostly theatre majors, were involved in a production of “The Grapes of Wrath”. Through a twist of coincedence, this friend was also on the cast; his role was that of the Reverend Jim Casy, a preacher who had fallen from faith. Superb acting and delivery aside, I felt that the coincidence of his role to our prior discussion was quite heavy and a fair amount ironic.

In December of that year, about a week before I was due to leave Ouachita for perpetuity, I crossed paths with him again at the student center. We had some time to kill, so we had a quick chat, catching up on my leaving school and what’s been going on in the past year or so. I brought up the subject of his role in “The Grapes of Wrath”, and expressed to him that the character he played was the very definition of what I had become in my own loss of faith some time before. I believe this gave him pause to reflect. We wished each other well in our lives and parted ways. It would be a few years before I would see him again.

The Travel Alone, and a Quiet Agreement:

We have recently reopened communications after several years of lost track. In the 9 years since I left Ouachita we have both been down long roads; he has brought me up to date with the major events in his life so far: marriage, seminary, international travel, divorce, wandering, reconstruction, return to school, and so on. A lot of changes.

It was in this recent letter that he confessed to me that he, too, had lost his faith. It was during his time in seminary; with each passing year, he felt less certain about his faith until it had simply evaporated and vanished. This was similar to my own struggle, insomuch that when faced with religion day in, day out, when it’s in your face everywhere you turn, when you’re forced to address it in its big and small forms, in its feelgood and stoich means, religion itself grows threadbare and worn, and you begin to see the thinness of the threads of faith which keep it held together. His news came as a mild shock to me, but given what I had read of his writings online and from other context clues left around the net, I did have some expectation that his faith had been left behind just as it had happened to me and to many, many others in the world. But it was still a mild shock.

Genesis To Exodus — My Own Answers Destroyed:

At some point along my path at Ouachita, I poked my head up and looked around; to the left and to the right I saw instances of the extremes of religion and faith. One morning, for instance, I counted no less than 20 “Jesus shirts” on my trip from my dormroom to my first class of the morning; this was from seeing only 30 people within the distance of 150 yards. My world, on that baptist university campus, was the utter reflection of a church camp. It was in this environment that I saw too much of the ridiculous, I heard too much of the insane, and I tasted too much of the nauseating. This troubled me, and after several more observations, tests and expositions, and I had had enough. In trying to boil down my religion into the essences of pure faith, in trying to get to the golden nugget of God inside it all, I started asking questions, I started examining for myself what was said, what I had previously taken as gospel truth. It was in this examination that things fell apart for me. If I had a strong doubt about one portion of my religion, my faith in the other portions was highly suspect; the supporting evidences for those remaining portions were dubious at best. I had to have truth, validity, proof. Faith’s suspension of disbelief was no longer enough.

Historical record, alterable as it is, tells us that indeed there was a man named Jesus, born in Nazareth, and that he, at the age of 33, was led up to his crucifixion following a particularly complex betrayal snafu. But, without the shelter provided by faith, I cannot tell you, and believe it for a minute, that he was the one true Son of God in Flesh who came to die for us and to symbolically save us, His beloved, from eternal punishment and abandonment in hell fire for our sins. I cannot believe that; at one time I did, but I cannot any longer. I can no longer have life-committing faith in the unprovable. I cannot prove that we have souls, that there is a Heaven, a Hell, a Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. My hands are empty.

This is the place where faith falls short; it evaporated when I started asking questions, and disappeared when the feel-good numbness of Being Right died from my head. Doubt has been cast into the fold. Party over. Faith is belief regardless of proof; the presence of proof supports belief, the absence of proof supports faith. Given the lack of proof and my newfound loss of faith, I could no longer believe.

On To Revelation — the Question Mark At the End:

Over the years I myself have travelled around and back, holding onto a diminishing hope that there might be Something Higher, something guiding us or fueling us from and/or towards the spiritual realm. I sought something else, thinking maybe some other religion would pick up where Christianity failed. I examined other religions and schools of thought. My self-guided studies ranged from Taoism, Buddhism and Zen to Paganism, Wicca and, to a small amount, Satanic/Humanist dogma. From those studies I picked up many threads and found things that were similar or universal, things that we should all hold close to our hearts and take to task: Golden Rules, the “love your neighbor”, “do not raise your hand to murder” stuff. Those tenets do not require faith, only community. But everything else about those religions and theologies, the supernatural stuff, required faith. And it was there that I met my stumbling block; I could not get past the issue of faith. If I could not believe and maintain faith in the Christian idea, without the support of proof and evidence, I could not believe and offer faith, completely, in any other religious ideology. Whether I have failed to see something or I have succeeded in seeing something is an unanswerable question, but this has become my view and my life.

So what have we now? We have a question with no answer. I have no answer to this gentle question of faith. In the complete absence of proof, how can I believe and continue to believe?