Tag Archives: Hunter S. Thompson

I still don’t understand grace, but do I have to?


I don’t sleep in much these days.

My son was supposed to go to a track meet at 8:45 a.m. on Saturday, so I rolled over in bed around 7:45 a.m. and grabbed my iPhone to see what I had missed out on in the last 8 hours.

On Facebook, I came across something I hadn’t seen in a while, a Brennan Manning quote: “How glorious the splendor of a human heart that trusts that it is loved!”

But it was followed by something that shocked me.


The old ragamuffin had finally given up the ghost, it seemed.

I read on, and sure enough it was confirmed by others. Brennan Manning, the writer who taught me more about grace in two books and one speech than 18 years of Sunday school did, was gone.

I’ve always liked the bad guys, the two-time losers. I’m an unabashed fan of Charles Bukowski, William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and of course, Ernest Hemingway.

They were substance abusers, womanizers, absentee fathers, hypocrites and prophetic poet kings.

Manning didn’t achieve the literary class of those gentlemen, but he didn’t have to. He understood grace where they desperately searched for it in words and deeds.

I don’t know how Manning died. Some men die well, others die poorly. But it’s just another of the steps on the journey. Hemingway, Bukowski and some of the others did not die well.

But Manning paved the way for the Hunter S. Thompsons of the world, those tortured souls who didn’t understand or know of grace during their walk on this mortal coil.

Surely Manning’s understanding of grace applied to those guys as well.

I thought about Manning all day, and Saturday evenings are dinner and a movie night at our house, so it was either intentional or not that we watched “Les Miserables.”

And the kids asked all kinds of questions, and I wanted to answer every one of them with grace. It’s because of grace kids, grace. What don’t you understand about that?

But I don’t understand grace. Even after Manning and Luther and all the others who’ve taught me on the topic of grace over the years. I still don’t get it. I see it, I think I get the concept, but I just flat-out don’t understand it.

If Manning was right, I don’t have to.

Even if I don’t understand grace, but I can love my neighbor regardless of our differences, do I really need to understand it? Grace is executed, not learned.

My kids protested watching “Les Miserables,” and I don’t blame them. It’s a musical, which should naturally send them fleeing with excuses. But Carson is a history buff, and Gabbers is a performer.

They were enraptured by the film, asking us all sorts of questions, like: Why was Jean Valjean in prison for such a puny crime?

And all through the film, I kept seeing Manning’s message. But it was so mechanical to me. Jean Valjean was heroic grace, rescued and then imbued with grace and then a dispenser of grace.

His grace was so mechanical that Javert killed himself, because like staring at the sun, he couldn’t look grace in the face.

But it’s beautiful nonetheless. Because we don’t have that many artistic portraits of grace.

Is it because we don’t understand it? Our human interpretations can be flat or even heretical. Take Martin Luther for instance. Take “Les Miserables” for instance.

Even Manning could only present a one-sided image of grace. That of a disgraced alcoholic priest who was ultimately forgiven and accepted for who he was. And in this way he learned to accept himself. It wasn’t grace that he understood, it was grace that allowed him to accept himself.

Yes, the concept is good. And proof of concept is essential.

But that is where grace eludes us.

For in the human context I think it is unknowable.

And I’m a believer in science and in evolution.

Where does science explain grace?

Of all that is spiritual, of all that is heavenly and ethereal. Of all that is unknowable, grace is king.

Manning laid it out there for me. “Les Miserables” displayed it as art. Luther set the bar.

And they were all just going off an affable old character who in spite of being maligned by history, discarded, disbelieved, cast out and accused of being made up, first modeled grace for us.

They called him Jesus.

Starting Something – Else

I didn’t want to save journalism until I knew it was dying.

Maybe a Florence Nightingale syndrome or something much worse.

I should’ve listened to the great prophet Hunter S. Thompson or G.K. Chesterton before him.

I liked the idealism of it all. I wanted to be a foreign correspondent in a rough place. Eventually I’d be bureau chief. My kids would go to the English or the French school. My wife would have a book club with ladies wearing ḥijābs and gossiping about their husbands and the little freedoms. I would guide the daily coverage of the struggle. Whatever struggle currently defined the greater human struggle

Today I work at a standing desk in a second-floor office I share with two of my employees at a television station in Anchorage, Alaska. I stare at three screens all day, my phone, my iPad and my laptop.

Like a child trying to fit a triangle block into a square hole, I spend a lot of time squeezing, pushing, pulling, begging, pleading and crying.

I’ve been a city, county, state, health courts, mobile, video and digital journalist, back when beats were beats.

I like to think that the foreign correspondent pathway closed a long time before I decided to become a journalist. The Times and the Post both started closing bureaus before I even graduated from j-school.

In my second year, I cultivated a source in the Oregon National Guard, then readying for deployment to Afghanistan. I worked my way up to a proposed embed with the guard only to have it ripped away from me by a senior reporter.

You learn hard lessons easily in this line of work.

I reported from Cuba on the day Castro stepped down and from India after the Mumbai hotel bombing.

Other than an internship at the Kyiv Post during the lead-up to the Orange Revolution, these constitute the closest I’ve come to realizing my journalistic dreams.

But dreams have a funny way of playing out.

Missed opportunities lead to new jobs and new adventures. The green valleys of my Oregon youth gave way to the Rocky Mountains and stories from the plains of eastern Montana and deep in the wintry solitude of Yellowstone National Park. I spent the night on a mountain side next to a photographer as we tried to capture the life of a Mexican shepherd hired to tend the sheep eating noxious weeds for the city of Missoula. I documented a damn taken out, freeing the waters of the Blackfoot and the Clark Fork to merge naturally for the first time in 100 years.

I got laid off.

I covered the election of the first ever female write-in candidate for senate, a 2,000 mile snow machine race that Sarah Palin’s husband Todd nearly won. I interviewed Sarah Palin, and race officials took my kicker quote and made it in to a bumper sticker you’ll see mostly on the bumpers of trucks in Wasilla, Alaska.

I covered ice crabbing on the frozen Bering Sea, the Iditarod dog sled race, the release of a rehabilitated snowy owl on the tundra outside of Barrow. I went shark fishing for work in Cordova, flew over Arctic sea ice on the Chukchi with the Alaska National Guard in a C-130.

I helped Santa Claus deliver presents to children in the Arctic Circle town of Allakaket, and I watched the northern lights with 30 Japanese tourists at Chena Hot Springs trying to stay warm at 35 below zero.

I flew in the last commercial Grumman Goose to cover the largest fish processing plant in North America in the Aleutian Island community of Akutan.

How do you look back over that short list of things done and not appreciate the diametrically different blessings of dreams and reality.

My greater point here is that when you start out to do a thing, you often do it differently than you intended. It may look nothing like you intended, in fact, but it is a thing.

I suppose at this point I should probably get around to saving journalism.

Or maybe I’ll just read more Hunter S. Thompson and G.K. Chesterton.


The Village of Allakaket at 50 degrees below zero