Tuesday, January 31, 2012


"Yes, I know what he said. (Pause) No, I'm not confused about anything. (Pause) You're not listening to me. I understood him perfectly. PER-FECT-LY! It's not that I don't understand what's going on. You're just having a hard time realizing that I don't give a rat's (expletive deleted) about any of this.(Pause) Okay g'bye, thank you!"

Exasperated male, middle-aged and balding slightly with a muscular build, speaking on his cell phone to an unknown second party. Strawberry Creek Shopping Plaza Parking Lot- Idyllwild, CA

Inventory Poetry

Chesterton famously observed about the list of things that Crusoe saved from his wrecked ship that the most romantic sort of poem is the inventory.  His point was that, as with the soggy things that Crusoe dragged gratefully to shore, everything in your sock drawer was saved from a ruin.  Everything in your pockets survived this morning's potential cataclysm.
Anyway, I found myself covering for the maintenance director at the local elementary school a couple of days last week.  The job involved a few light duties and a lot of sitting at this desk waiting for the school secretary to call and alert me to vomit in the hallway somewhere between the kindergarten and the nurse's office.
So this is an inventory of the contents of the flat drawer above the knees in the desk of a very capable man.

Keys, worn and mostly lockless
Screws in pouches
            loose and rattling
            wood, machine, self-drilling
            philips head, conventional
                       otherwise and odd
Paper clips plain or red, twisted and twisted back
Nuts and washers
Allen wrenches
Flexible rulers for conquering distance
Tattered pouch of spiral screw extractors,
            the green plastic brittle and greasy
Padlock, locked with no sign of a key
A pager, its battery dead
Pens, pencils, a sorry eraser
Scraps of paper with obscure notations
A book of matches
            from Stop & Shop Groceries
            which must be closed before striking
More keys and more keys
            the life gone out of them
A magnet on a stick
            only hope for little screws
            beyond regretful finger's reach
Box cutter
Key chain
A cotter pin and drill bits
A calculator
A tester for live circuits
            itself long dead.


Sunday, January 29, 2012


1. Purpose was that man's medecine. It kept him alive.

2. How quickly the voice of a loved one strikes the ear and vibrates through the heart.

3. I like the sound of tires on gravel.

4. The nap window opens from approximately 1:30 pm until approximately 4:00 pm. If I am tempted to succumb to a nap it'll surely be during that perilous two and a half hours.

5. I hate styrofoam. I hate everything about it. I am banning styrofoam from the Bummer-Free Zone.
I remember a morning
In late November
When the rising sun
Spread its warmth
Over a field of
Frozen, brittle grass.
I remember how
It made the field steam,
and how the mist
Rose in wispy tendrils
From the hip-high grass.

As the frost melted,
Sliding down stems
And into the dirt,
The field turned
From silver to gold-
Gold like the sun.


I'll be bringing the message at Lake Manor Chapel in Chatsworth, CA on March 4th at 9:30 am. Thanks to Pastor Dale Dawson for extending me the opportunity.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


Loving God
Loving Others
Love in Action

A sincere love for God will always find expression in a love for fellow man, the latter overflows from the former. Biblical love is never just a feeling or just words. Biblical love is an active love. We are commanded to love one another as Christ loved us. How did Christ love us? Among other things, He loved us actively, and also sacrificially. In loving others we express our love for God. It's a great loop. Loving God leads to loving others, and in loving them actively we express our love back to God.

Someday I would like to write a book entitled "The Love Loop," which will explore this idea in greater detail. Keep an eye on your CBD catalogs. I also want to write two other books, one entitled "The Main Character Problem," and yet another called "Worshiping the Creator Through the Five Senses."

Thursday, January 26, 2012

8 interesting things (this is an octagon after-all):

! While 4 Republicans are vying to become the 45th President of the United States at the expense of the 44th did you know - and can you contemplate - that the 10th President still has living grandchildren? Blows my mind at least.

2. A fun game you can play with an age-appropriate contemporary is something Lis and I call "pre-dating". Think of products, institutions etc that you personally pre-date. As a man born in the final weeks of the 70's I pre-date cellphones, the Reagan Administration, Hip Hop etc. The truly intrepid will play "Pre/Post-dating...things you predate and postdate like, for me, the NASA shuttle program. Count your rings, tree trunk!

3. The National Soft Drink Association estimates that the average American consumes over 56 gallons of Soda every year. If soda were gasoline and if my Jeep were running at its optimal efficiency I'd be able to travel 952 miles on the amount of soda I drink...but what is most interesting to me is that, if bought in 20 ounce increments, I'd have spent close to $10.00 a gallon to do so. Makes me glad I only spend what I do on gas and - on a cold, snowy night like this - makes me wish I had 952 free miles at my southerly disposal.

4. Within that same vein it is estimated that the average American worker spends over $1000 on coffee every year.

5. Sweet Moses...an electric unicycle courtesy of Honda:

6. Have you ever heard of the "uncanny valley"? Mori's original hypothesis states that as the appearance of a robot is made more human, a human observer's emotional response to the robot will become increasingly positive and empathic, until a point is reached beyond which the response quickly becomes that of strong revulsion. However, as the robot's appearance continues to become less distinguishable from that of a human being, the emotional response becomes positive once more and approaches human-to-human empathy levels.

7. Check out this home made from the fuselage of a Boeing 727.

8. And coming full circle (or octagon) - The last outspoken widow of a confederate soldier passed away in 2008 but there are two more confirmed (one in Tennessee and one in North Carolina) living widows of Confederate Soliders who prefer to remain anonymous. (the last Union widow died in 2003)

-Job Tate, fellowship of the Octagon.


I can roughly separate my socks into two broad categories- white and black. (That sounds like a town from 1960's Mississippi- a veritable tinder box of racial sock tension. You probably imagine the drawer containing the black socks as a sad sort of ghetto next to the underwear with a broken handle and tracks which do not slide smoothly. My socks are totally racist because they say that we should never mismatch white and black socks. It is so racist that they describe such a combination as a "mismatch." My socks are not very enlightened. I think on the next MLK day I'll make a point of mismatching, their word not mine, my socks to teach them a lesson. I'm like the Abraham Lincoln of socks. ) However, I digress, within each category, black and white, there exists various subsections. Tube socks, quarter socks, varying shades, designs, socks with holes in them, socks without a mate, etc... Most days I wake early, before the rest of the family, so quite often I find myself trying to put together a matching pair using only my sense of touch. The task has become difficult enough using my sense of sight. The result is that I often wear mismatching socks- at times I have unwittingly managed to create some forbidden, unholy combinations.

Well, I have had enough of this. I'm throwing them all out and starting over. I'm going to buy all white quarter socks, and a package of tall black socks. I would feel bad about throwing away some perfectly good socks except they're totally racist. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012


What masterful combination of words could ever give full and perfect expression to the sensation I had as a boy when I stepped outside on those mornings and breathed in the quiet mystery of the woods? Or who can capture the smells of  those mornings- the wafting smoke, the lake, and the duff slowly turning to soil beneath the big trees- and assign them words that would cause you to experience them as I did? My own abilities fall short, but if such words could be conjured I would want them for myself, and not just for you, so that I could experience their fullness again which the spectral quality of my memory denies me. I remember clambering down the slippery path to the lake, grabbing tree trunks and snatching at branches to steady myself as I made my way down. There I found a circle of gray ashes in the midst of rocks of a darker gray, and beyond was the lake, brown like tea and quiet. The forest crowded the shore. Mist hung in the trees. The excitment of last night's bon fire still hung to the place, and using a stick I dug in the ashes until I found an ember, which I used to coax the fire back to life.  On those mornings I knew a more perfect freedom than at any other time in my life. Nothing marred the day. No anxious thoughts. No troubled conscience. No strained relationships. I felt nothing but a heady excitement to see what the day contained, and delight in the world all around. Innocence was a shield protecting such moments. Yet, even so, it can be argued that even moments as satisfying as these were, in truth, spectral in nature and one day we will know a fuller flavor in heaven. For then we will know a deeper and truer innocence. No eye has seen. No ear has heard. No mind has even conceived of such a thing, and nothing will mar those days as they stretch into eternity!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

From John's Quarters

I know far more than I understand.  Just how many truths I hold that can't be applied in some profitable way is hard to determine.  Sadly, much of the truth I have in store I acquired in the same manner that I acquired what food I have in store.  I didn't grow it, farm it, or raise - I bought it.  That doesn't mean that I don't have it and that it's not good and nourishing - it just means that I can't produce more of it for anyone else.  I can only point to the market and encourage the purchase.  It's time I take inventory of my avowals and endeavor to understand them all.  A cowboy may corral a hundred fine horses onto his ranch; but he will not own their speed, strength, or wits as long as they buck the saddle, reject the reins, and spit the bit.  Before I come up with another metaphor to mix up into this thing - know that I simply long to think.  I need to think!

p.s. I love the overstuffed leather chairs in the Octagon's study!


...so why not consider donating toward my MDIV degree?  It's for a good cause!

See sidebar for more information.
P.S. United States currency preferred. I've looked into it, and even though I tried to explain that the national currency of the BFZ are jokes, chuckles, and warm-fuzzies the lady in their financial aid department, I think her name was Kim, said they could not accept that kind of currency toward my tuition expenses. Racists! Anyway, I guess I'll just have to play by their rules. I'm glad I've got all of you guys, and your deep pockets, in my corner.

Hail to the Chief -- and This Time I Mean It!

I won't be voting for President Obama this November. My preferred alternatives include:

(1) Paul Ryan;
(2) Mitt Romney;

(3) Tim Pawlenty;

(4) Jeb Bush;

(7) Daniel Chamberlain;

(12) Marco Rubio;

(37) Rick Santorum;

(184) Tim Tebow;

(185) Josh Tate;

(362,437) Sarah Palin;

(112,382,939) that creepy Six Flags mascot;

(112,382,940) Ron Paul;

(112,382,941) Hillary Clinton;

(112,382,942) Flo from Progressive;

(214,889,567) Bronson Pinchot as Balki Bartokomous;

and (232,902,215) Newt Gingrich.

But I have found a place to unashamedly cast a vote for our president -- American Idol!

Honestly, that was awesome! Why can't he take a little time to lay down the whole cover track and release it on iTunes? Or YouTube, like one of those annoying proto-Biebers? How about an Oval Office karaoke concert opposite one of the Republican debates?

No! I've got it! We all know Joe Biden has had plenty of time to practice his beat-boxing and dance skills the past three years. If those two decide to forego the re-election campaign to record and release a fusion R&B/whatever the heck Joe is into album this fall, I promise you right now, I will buy 15 copies. Let's get Vladimir Putin and Dennis Kucinich in on this while we're at it!

On second thought, let's leave Dennis out. Probably better to leave him out.

President Obama, your oh-so-brief song made me smile. Now -- please make my joy complete. Use that soulful baritone to truly unite America for a change. Do it...for the children.



For Christmas I got my oldest two, Bowden (8) and Lucy (6), fishing rods. It's part of my ongoing commitment to be intentional about building in activities with the kids that are fun, but also naturally create opportunities to talk and hangout. My hope is that they will love fishing and over the years we'll spend a lot of quality time talking about stuff as we cast and retrieve, cast and retrieve, cast and retrieve. Plus, fishing is just plain awesome. I love fishing. For my birthday I bought myself a fishing rod and a license. I'm all in! Let's do this thing.

The only problem is that this past Wednesday we went down to Lake Fulmore and spent two futile hours fishing. During the first several casts I watched with joy as Bowden and Lucy were totally caught up in the excitement of fishing for the first time. The lake became a mysterious and wondrous thing as they imagined how exciting it would be to feel a tug on their pole. You could almost read Bowden's mind as he watched the bobber and imagined fish investigating the meal worm and power bait on the end of his hook beneath the murky water.  However, as time went by and nothing happened they began to turn aside to other pursuits. Bowden laid his pole aside and declared that he was going to go explore the lake shore. Lucy amused herself finding sticks to throw into the water before catching up with Bowden who had discovered a dead fish among the reeds a few hundred feet down the shore. They were both excited at the discovery because it proved that there were fish in the lake. Apparently they had begun to doubt that. So for a time they resumed casting, but then Lucy wondered out loud if the dead fish they had found may have been "the last one." Then they both put their poles down again and continued their exploring.

Now I know they're young, and I can't reasonably expect them to display the patience of one who is more mature in years, but I'm afraid if the next fishing trip and the one after that likewise fail to deliver up a fish the kids will lose interest in fishing altogether.

Do any of you Southern California types know of any good fishing spots?

Friday, January 20, 2012


"I just hope she is her Mother like she says she is."
Middle-aged, white female to a male of like age and race, who I assume was her husband, as they exited Red Robin Restaurant. My mind swirled with all of the dark possibilities. Sometimes I would pay money for more context. Red Robin- Temecula, CA


Mikey Paquette was a mentally ill and homeless man who lived in the city where I used to work as a police officer. He was generally harmless, but sometimes his eccentricities would cross the  line into the realm of criminality. That line was kind of fuzzy in his mind but sharp and clear to the rest of society. He always seemed genuinely surprised when the police showed up and carted him off. The look on his face seemed to say, "What could possibly be wrong with walking into the pizza place, sitting down at a booth next to a horrified family and helping himself to fistfuls of pizza and a swig of a little girl's root beer."  I remember that he also had this bizarre and comical habit of admitting to crimes before he was ever accused of them. Sometimes he would call, other times he would show up at the front desk with his belongings piled on top of an old backpack in the corner, and in a round about way make his confessions. For example he would say things like, "Ossifer Tate, I just wanted you to know that I did not take twenty dollars from my sisters purse. If she calls and says I did that I want you to know it ain't true," or maybe "Ossifer Tate, I wanted you to know I was not drinking behind the library yesterday. If that library lady, the one with the glasses, tells you that I was back there drinking beers she's lying. I just wanted you to know, Ossifer." In this manner Mikey would inadvertantly keep me informed of his criminal conduct by giving me periodic updates on what he wasn't doing. For whatever reason I was his favorite "Ossifer" at the department. He would even go so far as to wait until my shift began to call in and report what he might, potentially be accused of in the coming days, but, of course, he was innocent, or so he assured me. I was never sure if I should feel touched or burdened by Mikey's attachment to me. It was actually kind of a mystery why he sought me out. In truth, nobody had arrested him or detoxed him more than I did during those years. Once I caught him in the very act of smoking marijuana while I was out on foot patrol in Taylor Park, and when he realized I was standing directly behind him he threw down his pipe, and declared, "I was not just smoking marijuana!" Nevertheless if he shuffled up to the front desk and learned that I was not coming in that day he would leave and come back the next day, or he would sit in the lobby and wait patiently for my shift to start. He seemed to like me, but I was never sure why.

I remember one day I was called in to assist with the investigation of an attempted murder. A mentally ill woman named Sherry Bevins had walked up behind an elderly gentleman who was out walking his dog on High Street in the early morning hours and had plunged a kitchen knife into his back eight times before fleeing the scene. The man did not know Sherry, and sherry did not know him. There was no motive apparently. Captain Renaudette summed up the question of motive by saying that Sherry was "nuttier than squirrel s**t." The elderly man was rushed to the hospital but would eventually die from his wounds.

The stabbing was big news in our sleepy town and everybody and their Uncle was called in to assist with the man hunt. The next day we were still looking for Sherry. As I was on patrol driving up Congress Street I remember Mikey flagged me down. "Not now, Mikey," I muttered to myself. I very nearly drove past without stopping, but Mikey seemed so desperate to get my attention that I pulled over to the curb and asked "What's up, Mikey?"

He leaned in through the passenger window, his eyes as big as coffee cups, his foul breath filling the cruiser, and breathlessly said, "Ossifer Tate, I wanted you to know that Sherry Bevins did not spend last night with me at my camp up on Hardack."

"Thanks, Mikey. That's good to know. Sherry's a dangerous lady. You let me know if you find out where she's at, okay?"

"Okay, Tate. I will, but she did NOT spend last night at my camp."

"Yeah, I know, you told me. Where is your camp anyway, Mikey?"

(For the rest of that bizarre story click here.)

Mikey was denied housing assistance because he had burned bridges with every homeless shelter and halfway house in the county. The last time the state had paid for an apartment for him he set his mattress on fire, seemingly on purpose, and he had been homeless ever since. He was a difficult case. Finally, at the police department's urging, the city petitioned the state to give him a second chance, and the state once more rolled the dice and paid for a small Section 8 apartment on Upper Welden Street. A week after he had moved into his new digs his sister stopped by to check in on him and found him passed out and unresponsive on the floor. By the time I got there along with the paramedics he had passed through the veil and was gone. It was later determined that he had overdosed on an ill-advised mixture of prescription drugs and alcohol.

Back in my cruiser I saw his sister, the one who had found him, walking away down the sidewalk (nobody in his family owned a car). I pulled up alongside and offered her a ride home, which she accepted. We drove across town in silence, but as I dropped her off she said, "Thanks for always being so nice to Mikey, Tate. He always told me how much he liked you, and how you treated him good and everything." I said something lame like, "I'm sorry for your loss." Then she got out and went inside.

Mikey's death touched me more than the other "untimely's" I responded to. I have never been able to explain why, but I felt a strange tenderness toward Mikey, almost like an older brother. I actually attended his funeral at the big Catholic church down on Lake Street. I was on duty so I stood in the back where the crackle of my radio wouldn't disturb anyone. The place was basically empty except for Mikey's two sisters, a couple of guys I didn't recognize, and the priest.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


His transient influence seemed a feeble striving against the powerful current of her past. The ripples effected by his words and example were swept away and swallowed up by all that had been modeled to her. In her heart she feared that the weight of her circumstances would drown her if she did not allow them to catch her up and bear her along. He was encouraged when she nodded her head and cried, but all the while she was slipping away like water through his fingers- caught up in the ruinous current.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

We flirted like skirmishers meeting in the woods ahead of our respective armies. The unspoken message in the engagement was that the full weight and passion of our hearts was on the march, and would soon be there- both of us stood determined to conquer the other, yet also content at the prospect of being conquered.

Monday, January 16, 2012

7 reasons I gave my Fiancee a thimble instead of a ring

1. I'm from America and we don't really have a lot of diamonds here - I think it's silly to buy something that is supposed to symbolize so much from a country these feet have never traversed. I'm not saying Hondas aren't great cars or that Toblerone isn't smooth but they don't symbolize anything. I was able to find a silver thimble that was smithed in Baltimore after the Civil War - and was able to buy it from an antique shop in the town of my birth.

2. Lisa is about as rare and wonderful as it gets. Lisa IS a diamond. She deserved something unique...couldn't have a diamond walking around carrying a diamond on its finger.

3. Proverbs 31 describes the wife of noble character - I ask you to read that scripture and tell me which would be more becoming of that woman: a thimble symbolizing tender industry or a diamond ring symbolizing any number of stumbling stones.


5. You don't build a house from the roof down. I think it is a gross tradition in this country that when a couple is just about to start out the man goes and blows 4 figures or more on a piece of jewelry. It might be a different story if I had oodles of disposable income which, like most Americans, I don't - or if I didn't have student loans which, like most men in my station, I do. I spent a good deal of money on the thimble and on an amethyst ring (mined in Maine and set in Barre, Vermont during the Depression) but not an amount that required a payment plan or a steadying gulp. Some people have intimated that I was like school on saturday (no class) by doing this but I think the soberminded man who knows the value of a dollar and seeks to marshall his resources wisely in a way that ensures the safety and comfort of his bride is a much more fitting way to take a knee and ask for that bride's favor.

6. The tradition in a wiser and more industrious America was to eventually cut the bottom off the thimble and size it to wear as a ring. Over time, as finances allowed, many would adorn the ring (typically with pearls). This tradition speaks to me so much more than starting off with the adornment - It is my pronkly held belief that a marriage that begins by acknowledging that it's humble and that asks both persons to carry their share of the water will be the marriage best primed to succeed - not just in the economic realm but also in the spiritual and interpersonal realms as well.

7. Despite many jewelers profuse claims diamonds are oftentimes harvested through cruel and inhumane practices that aggressively and greedily exploit and dehumanize individuals. I want no hand in that and don't want it on Lisa's hand.

*Job Tate - fellowship of the Octagon.


 As I was walking home from the Post Office the other day I encountered a man and woman in front of the BBVA Compass bank. I asked the man if I could photograph his beard, and he good-naturedly agreed.
I wanted to photo-document this beard because it is different than the hill-billyish specimens which are more common to Idyllwild. This fella had a rather neat, put-together vibe about him which is rare in these here parts. He was a good sport about letting me photograph his beard, and I always appreciate that.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


...wherein I refuse to take an oath promising never to kill a bigfoot.


Somebody needs to make cookies, cakes or even a pizza in the shape of a bigfoot track. They can be sold in different sizes, baby, mama, and papa. Perhaps some of my readers in the Pacific Northwest are picking up what I'm laying down. I don't even want any money for the idea. I might occasionally want a free cookie though.


...wherein I tout the virtues of "The Bible Experience" audio Bible.
Quick as a cricket
And lickety-split
Over the hills to home

Under the thicket
And over the ditch
Running along to home

Through the wicket
And on for a bit
Until we come to home

Friday, January 13, 2012


Dear Fellowship of the Octagon,

Greetings Brothers of the Octagonal fellowship!

I trust you have found your accomodations to your liking. Feel free to move things around and arrange things to suit your tastes. I left two keys on the window sill in your room. One is to the house so you may come and go as you please. The other is to a Vespa Scooter parked in the breezeway. Steve's is the green and white one. Job's is blue and white. Joel's is red and white, and John's is kind of a periwinkle color. Mine is white all over. I thought the scooters might be handy for gadding about town. Plus I think it'll look tough if we all venture out in company.

I have a quick housekeeping item to bring to your attention. A reader, who is thrilled by the concept of the fellowship of the Octagon, has asked that we come up with some way to better distinguish who is authoring each individual post. Might I suggest concluding each post by signing in this manner- YOUR NAME, Fellowship of the Octagon, or indicate the author in the subject line as John did the last time he posted. That might make it more plain who is doing the posting.


 Josh Tate, King of the BFZ and Lord of the Octagon

Let the Countdown Begin

I'm afraid that I've known from the moment that Josh invited me to contribute to the Bummer-Free Zone that it would only be a matter of time before he found it necessary to make the Bummer-Free Zone a Joel-Free Zone.    When the time comes it will be as a result of impossibly long and self-indulgent posts, because of my apparent inability to adhere to the blog's ethos, because of questionable content and for a host of other reasons.
Why, you might ask, am I drawing things out if I am resigned to the fact that Josh will inevitably have to purge me for the sake of his regime?  Why don't I just force the issue by posting something egregiously over the line?
Good question.
I guess I'm going to draw this thing out because, unlike revenge, remorse is a dish best served at room temperature.

Bringing Down the Walls of Jericho*

I keep hearing young Christians say things like “Getting married to have sex is like buying the 747 for the sake of the free peanuts.” Where did this come from? Why is this the conventional wisdom of young Christian nincompoops these days?
I'd like to be really clear about this: sex is a very good reason to get married and the bizarre prudishness of unmarried young people perplexes me. They make this declaration with such smugness, as though they know lots of people whose careers and whose prospects for meaningful service to Jesus were interrupted by ill-considered marriages undertaken for the sake of conjugal enthusiasm. But not them. No, they are so mature, so self-possessed. So . . . so . . . neutered? What gives?
First of all, sex is really fun and pleasurable. We all know that, even those of us who've never experienced it. And it is also a prerequisite for procreation which is also fun and wonderful and also a commandment. So if you want to be fruitful and multiply you've got to have sex. And if you want to do it right you've got to be married to the person you're having sex with.
And marriage has all sorts of other upsides. So if you are young and in good health why wouldn't you want to get married and have sex?
Would these people that inexplicably sneer at this commonsense motivation say of a friend “Oh yeah, Tony went and got a job. Can you believe it? He said he wanted to get a job to contribute something to the world and to help him realize his potential, but I think he did it for the money. I think he really likes to earn money. What a fool! I tried to stop him. I told him that getting a job is a big deal and he could always earn money later in his life, but he wouldn't listen to me.”
Now it would be unwise, I'll grant you, to be swayed by the promise of a big paycheck into taking a bad job, one that would be a source of constant frustration for you. But that would be less unwise than choosing to be impoverished and unemployed.
Bottom line: sex is a good and perfectly sufficient motivation for getting married but a wise person will take things other than sex into consideration when selecting a marriage partner.
One other observation: some young Christians are old-fashioned enough to get married in order to act married (if you know what I mean) and when they are sanctimoniously dismissed by other young Christians something odd is at work. When a young Christian falls in love and eros is kindled and his hormones tell him to have sex and his God tells him to get married and the woman he loves agrees to the plan and he finds himself at that heady intersection of biology and piety where, in the marriage bed, it seems that the whole universe says with one voice “yes,” why do some other young Christians for no apparent reason speak up to raise their prissy objection? Why are they embarrassed by the possibility of peers who are both sexually motivated and relationally forthright? That's a question.
I think that perhaps what we are seeing is the success of the assault on marriage. We have heard it rhetorically asked again and again “What is a family but two people who love each other and are committed to each other?” This is the way in which the evil one has subverted our thinking. He has encouraged us to spiritualize marriage to make it into such a fine and ethereal thing that it seems profane to associate it with anything so crass as sex. And I'm afraid that some of us, even though we still object to gay marriage, have bought unwittingly into that way of thinking. It appeals to us because it feels like the high road. It sounds so lofty.
But marriage is not lofty. It's sweaty and clumsy and delightful with an unexpected intensity. It is often profane, and always specific. It involves one big and hairy person and one smaller and softer person. It involves a womb that might possibly ripen and swell because of something that happened during one particular hour in one particular place.
To say that marriage is a committed relationship between two people who love each other is banal and horribly insufficient, not lofty and idealistic.
The best way for Christians to oppose the world's promiscuity and sexual dysfunction is not with excessive chastity but with fulsomely enjoyed marriage. And I commend the young Christians who get that and, as a result, get it.

*If you'd like to catch the reference in the title watch the delightful black and white film, It Happened One Night.

Joel Tate, Fellowship of the Octagon


This is a new feature, which I will be assigning the unimaginitive title "JOSH TATE'S OPINIONS." I have decided to expand on my BFZ SEX TALKS to include open letters to my children on a number of different topics. Just in case I die unexpectedly and they never get to know me as well as I would have liked.

I'm sorry it's soooooooooooooo long!

Dear Kids,

Your Dad is a teetotaler, which is to say I don't drink. In fact, I have never knowingly drank alcohol in my life. Once, as a wee lad, I accepted a drink of "super apple juice" from your Great Grandpa McCuen, which I am pretty sure was beer, but otherwise I have remained virginal all these years. Some wag their heads and pity me for all the delights I've denied myself. Others look at me with an expression which seems to wonder, "Are you amish or something?" Others state that they wish they could say the same and then launch into an account of the miseries alcohol have visited on them or somebody they know. As I have grown older I have become increasingly reluctant to share with others that I am teetotaler. It's usually awkward, weird and uncomfortable to do so. They wonder if I'm making a preachy point by telling them this or perhaps bragging about how amazingly righteous I am. No and no. I suspect that most drinkers suspect that I privately judge them. Typically when drinkers learn that I am a teetotaler they feel judged to some extent, and sometimes to ease the ensuing awkwardness and unease I crack jokes about drinking which perversely reinforces their suspicion that I am privately judging them. I'm learning to just avoid the topic entirely. 

I don't want to avoid the topic with you however because you are my kids, the very fruit of my loins! I want you to know and understand me. I feel that I owe that to you. That's why I am writing this.

I'll allow that as a  boy I naively assumed drinking to be sinful, but as I grew older and was confronted by sincere believers who were also known to occasionally imbibe I ran to the scriptures thinking I would find arguments against them, but found instead an abundance of evidence to the contrary. Remember, the scriptures ought to be our sole authority for faith and practice. If you can't make an argument from scripture you should think twice about making it at all. Allow scripture to shape you, and, as much as possible, try not to impose your prejudices and perspective on scripture. My views necessarily evolved to concede that there is nothing sinful whatsoever in the drinking of alcohol. Drunkenness is undoubtedly the stuff of sin, scripture is clear on that point, but declaring all drink sinful is likewise sin... the sin of legalism. Not everything that we hold as a private conviction can be imposed on another's conscience. In fact, in many cases we shouldn't.

Nevertheless a teetotaler I remain. Why?

I have to answer the question of why I don't drink in three parts.

1. My decision to become a committed teetotaler occurred on a sunny afternoon in the spring of 2001. I had been working at the St Albans City Police Department for a few months and as part of my new job I was experiencing prolonged and daily interactions with individuals who were 10-56 (or "drunks" as you civilians call them). Drunks, drunks, drunks and more drunks- some days it felt like I didn't meet a sober person all day. One day I pointed out to a fellow officer that I thought it was kinda ironic that I dealt with so many drunks but had never personally experienced alcohol in my life. He counseled me to drink a beer, or better yet a bunch of beers. His theory was that if I got a little 10-56ed myself I might gain some perspective and insight into the mind of the drunks I was dealing with. At the time it sounded like good advice. So as I was buying some groceries one day I slipped a six pack of budweiser into the shopping cart. (All my friends who drink say that budweiser was a horrible choice, by the way.)

I recall that the 6-pack sat in my refrigerator for weeks and weeks. I just couldn't bring myself to drink it. Everytime I contemplated drinking that six pack I became flooded with an emotion that I find difficult to describe. Maybe we haven't words for what I experienced. I think there are many things we don't have words for. Let's make a word to fit my experience- how about "FLUG." Yes, that's it, every time I thought about drinking that beer I felt FLUG in my heart. I'm tempted to ascribe supernatural origins to the feeling, but others might just as accurately say that I had not stepped out entirely from the norms of the home I was raised in. Your Grandpa and Grandma Tate were likewise teetotalers. The Tate house I grew up in was a dry house. Also my old alma mater, Houghton College, maintained a dry campus. In fact, Houghton went so far as to buy all of the town's liquor licenses so that no no one in town could sell alcohol. (Three miles down the road in Fillmore, NY they were all to happy to profit from the college's stand.) So, perhaps, to some extent I felt like drinking the beer would be a horrible betrayal of some important formative influences in my life- my parents and to a lesser extent my college.

I remember one day as I was sitting in my apartment thinking about how my parents would have to come and clean out my place if I died. (I have always been the sort who thought through the effect of my death on others as this very letter indicates.) I thought how weird it would be for them to find a 6-pack of budweiser in the fridge. I imagined my Mom making the discovery and muttering to herself, "I never knew him." With that thought I walked over to the fridge, pulled out the beer and proceeded to pour all six cans down the sink. Then I tossed the empties into the recycling bin behind my apartment. I instantly felt relieved. The FLUG was lifted and I decided in a firm sort of way never to revisit the issue personally. For me, the decision not to drink is one of the ways that I have decided to honor my parents. Although I have never talked to Grandma and Grandpa Tate as a grown man about drinking I suspect that it would be troubling to them on some level if I took up drinking. Why would I do that to them? That would be kinda shabby of me. Besides, the very thought of drinking fills me with that mysterious FLUG. Enduring FLUG is not worth it, whatever it is.

2. My second reason for embracing teetotalism was also born out of my brief tenure as a police officer. Being a police officer has turned more men to the bottle than away from it, but I am one of those few who came away from the experience with a deep and abiding wariness of the stuff. I've seen what alcohol can do when it takes over, and I decided not to even flirt with it myself. Homes, lives, careers, health, and relationships are being torn apart with frightening regularity in every community because of alcohol abuse. You would only have to go to a few alcohol-fueled domestics, bar fights or car wrecks before you would see where I am coming from.

Your Great Grandpa Tate struggled with alcohol before coming to know the Lord, and I think that the history of Tate teeetotalism (Say that five times fast!!!) can be traced to him. I am personally convicted that I have benefited from that legacy, and I desire to continue it. Some of my close friends who are responsible Christian drinkers have counseled me over the years that I am perhaps doing a dangerous thing by not modeling for you responsible drinking. By totally abstaining, they argue, I'm setting you guys up for trouble down the road. I hope I am not doing you guys a disserivice. I would never knowingly harm you. Their argument is possibly not without some merit, but I have decided on a different course. My goal as your Father is to raise you for the Lord, and to equip you with the tools you'll need to make good decisions in life. My own personal conviction regarding alcohol is that not everything that is permissible is also profitable. Sure, I couold drink without sinning, but what would I have gained? As I said earlier, other Christians will make their own judgments regarding alcohol, and I do not judge them for that that. They do not sin in making a different decision than me. When it comes to alcohol you are likewise free to make your own decisions once you're old enough, but as your Father who loves you very much I feel duty bound to warn you that alcohol can be a dangerous thing. My job, at least at present, is to protect you while you're fragile so you can grow into a strong and flourishing person who, in turn can be a blessing and a help to others. You will make your own decisions, but I want you to know my thoughts on the subject.

3. My last reason for being a teetotaler is brief but not unimportant. Read the admonition in 1 Corinthians 8 against being a stumbling block to a weaker brother or sister. I think alcohol has the potential to be such a stumbling block and so I have chosen to refrain from it.

I love you kids, and I am praying for you. May you grow to be sturdy and sincere followers of Jesus, eager to do what is good.

Your Loving Father,


Thursday, January 12, 2012

My 27-month suspension is over!

Nothing is worse than shopping for a car. Except shopping for a car while suffering a debilitating attack of gout. Or perhaps shopping for a car while Newt Gingrich sits atop your chest, giving a rambling speech on Chilean monetary policy and the Yalta Conference. Or, now that I think of it, shopping for a car in a strange dystopia where the HeadOn commercial plays non-stop on every sound system.

So, yes, now that you mention it, my topic sentence was flawed. Some things indeed are worse. But you'll do well, my friend, to note what all those nightmarish scenarios had in common: shopping for a car. It's no coincidence.

If all goes well and Newt stays off my sternum, I'll buy the sixth car of my life this fortnight, and I couldn't be less thrilled. The first four, combined, cost less than the fifth; the sixth might well double the first five. Delightful! I might have to sell my autographed Josh Tate Bible study notes. The bidding starts at €3 (he's huge in Luxembourg).

I'm currently fielding emails from sales managers with poor reading comprehension and (apparently) no sense of a work-life balance, and I up and gave my cell phone number to cars.com tonight, like a desperate chump! What was I thinking? What can I do? Who will deliver me from this body of death???


From John's Quarters

Lisa and I traveled down to Torrington, Connecticut this past Sunday morning so that I could bring the morning message at the Advent Christian church there.  As we sat in one of the forward pews listening to the organ prelude - I perused the morning's bulletin and its inserts.  I smiled when I saw that a copy of Have a Good Day was included.  The church we Tate boys grew up in - Chillum Community Church in Chillum, Maryland - subscribed to this little periodical filled with inspirational thoughts, historical tidbits, interesting facts, and light comedy.  I loved that little read and was always pleased to see it tucked into the Sunday bulletin.  There I was - chubby little kid, legs swinging from the wooden pew, slick'em in my hair, a scratchy sweater over a collared shirt, chewing gum on the sneak, thinking far too much about the promise of punch and ice cream following the morning service, and reading the Have a Good Day.  The days of wine and roses!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Obnoxious Poem For the Day

Joshua Tate, in addition to all the other hats he wears, is obviously the poet laureate of the Bummer-Free Zone, and I have no pretensions or aspirations in that direction.  But while mopping floors early this morning I came up with some hostile doggerel (which, as poetry, has a certain virtue all its own).

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
You like when things rhyme,
Too bad for thee.

Friday, January 6, 2012


They say the nose is the sense most closely linked to memory. Today as I was walking into town I passed a spot where three smells intersected in my presence for the first time in decades. I had smelled these three smells in concert before, but only once, and that as a small boy. For the first time since I was a child I experienced pipe tobacco smoke, newly cut pine, and twin-cycle fuel harmonizing in my nostrils. I was instantly transported to a warm August day in the 80's. My Grandpa McCuen was taking a break from cutting down some pine trees with his chain saw. After refueling his chainsaw he smoked his pipe and stood for a moment sizing things up before getting back to work. It was a quiet interlude.

I was arrested by the vivid memory, but once my mind caught up and I began analyzing the experience I instantly began to enjoy it less and the memory grew less sharp. I'm a cerebral man, but I will concede that thinking too much about things can completely ruin moments that are simply meant to be experienced. I tried to hold onto it, but like grabbing water the harder I squeezed the more quickly it ran out. The memory grew fuzzier and fuzzier before fading entirely. Then I was left with the smells but none of the poignancy and emotion. I tried to conjure them again, but they would not make an encore appearance. Then I questioned if the whole thing had been just a product of my imagination to begin with

I don't think so though. For just a moment, a vivid poignant moment, I was transported. I tell you I traveled through time today.

Monday, January 2, 2012


As I entered the Octagon, an expressionless, dapperly arrayed, little cipher of a man took my bags and slid them into a large locker in the entryway.  "You needn't have packed Mr. Tate." The slight little man, whose occupation in the Octagon was still unclear to me, continued to speak as he led me in: "There's nothing you brought that you'll need here.  You may collect your things as you exit for Massachusetts."

The Octagon!