Playing with Fire


‘If the landscape reveals one certainty,

it is that the extravagant gesture is the very stuff of creation… 

The whole show has been on fire from the word go.’

(Annie Dillard)

for almost a month, my beloved city of Missoula has been blanketed by billows of smoke.

and where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

over a million acres of fire, to be more exact, burning in surrounding areas. people have been periodically evacuated from their homes, or instructed to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. firefighters have been bravely battling the blazes, growing weary but undaunted in their efforts to protect and serve literally ‘in the line of fire’.

by contrast, us ‘city dwellers’ have only had to deal with the smoke. meaning more and more school athletic events are being canceled or rescheduled, and more and more residents are donning masks as they make their way around town.

in other words, ALL of us in this region have been impacted by the fires. and ALL of us are sick OF them, or FROM them, or both.

but as i look out over the hazy horizon here in the ‘Zoo (which i can actually SEE, at least in part, this morning), i’m reminded that fire is not merely a force of destruction and despair.

fire is an image of inspiration and imagination.

a portrait of power and passion.

a representation of remembrance and revelation.

a likeness of the light of Love.

and i’m taken back to a time earlier this year, a brilliantly bright and beautiful day in April.

the opening day of the Montana Five Valleys Special Olympics Spring Games at Big Sky High School.

over the course of three days, Special Olympians would celebrate and compete in track and field, bowling, and swimming. they would enjoy a special dinner and dance. and as they usually do, they would inspire and delight all who came out to cheer them on.

but in this instance, i think of opening day because of a very special opportunity and privilege that was given to my VERY Special Olympian…my son, Ian.

he got the chance to bear the Olympic Torch.

in our society, someone like Ian, a person with autism who has special gifts and special needs, would usually not be entrusted to carry a fairly heavy cauldron filled with fire.

so having my son be the torchbearer of the Spring Games was just another natural way to exhibit the supernatural Spirit of the Special O experience in the realm of Special Olympics, the focus is less on disabilities, and more on possibilities. but this is Special Olympics, a movement that has done so much to subvert societal stereotypes and empower extraordinary human beings who face seemingly insurmountable challenges in life to display their unique talents and amazing character to our local communities and to the world.

and in true ‘Ian fashion’, he did not simply bear the Olympic torch.

he was beaming and bouncing so much throughout the experience, he became the Olympic torch.


his peer tutor friends joined him for the grand march around the track, and their encouraging presence obliterated what can be the isolating ‘bubble’ of autistic reality, and lifted his countenance and spirits up into hitherto unexplored regions of the stratosphere of loving connection and community.

he received a Police motorcycle escort, and he had so much sheer joy propelling him as a result, he might as well have been wearing a helmet right along with them.

‘Olympian Jim’ was radiantly shining with a glory that reflected the miraculously brilliant Glory that not only supposedly set the face of Moses on fire, but also set the cosmos ablaze. from the word ‘go’.

my beautiful boy was playing with fire…a fire that could burn him…a fire that ultimately blessed him to be a beacon of inspiration and imagination, power and passion, remembrance and revelation, light and Love.

like many, i am a person who has been both burned and blessed in life.

but on this day, i found myself empowered by my son and by Spirit to run the risk of playing with the fire of powerful passion, to bask in the radiant brilliance of the Special Olympic ‘Burning Bush’, gazing at Glory, giggling with Grace.

kissed by my kinetic carrier of unlimited kindness and unconditional Love.

embraced in ecstatic, extravagant acceptance and joy.

reminded of the One who came not to ‘set everyone straight’ and maintain the societal status quo…

but to set the world on FIRE.


i’m a wanderer and a wonderer. a pastor who isn’t sure he’d attend church if he wasn’t pastoring one (and currently, i’m not), living with my unique and special family (my wife, Kirsten, and sons, Ian and Trevor) in a unique and beautiful place (Missoula, Montana). restless and lazy, usually amazed, always in process, i’m continually surprised and usually delighted at discovering the extraordinary in the ordinary, the ‘sacred’ in the ‘secular’, the shafts of light that sneak into the shrouds of darkness. i drum decently, surf poorly, love multicultural food, music and community, and living in the ‘Zoo.

To see more of Brian’s writing, check out the Brian Marsh main page here at Make it Missoula, and for even more, check out his personal blog, Apocalypso Now.