Bits and Pieces: March 2018

More snippets from my journaling of March 2018. I am omitting names and events and bursts of anger. Consider these as fragments, adding up to form a semi-accurate sense of myself.

A safe place to lay out my heart… that’s what I can be with You, Lord. The phrase resonates with me, who grew up unsafe… as did all we humans.

I have so many things to thank you for, Lord, most of all for saving me from my sin. Thank you for the dynamo of your Power that revved up next to me on August 30, 1978. Thank you for the sacrament of Holy Communion. You rescued me from my active addiction and from the worst consequences of my alienation from God. I could thank you for a million things. As I say frequently, God is good.

The lesson is: when I focus on my disappointed expectations, I get disappointed… What I see, I magnify. Either plus or minus, I magnify it… I love NA and sometimes I don’t like it… But it has taught me so much. I owe it my life and sometimes (a lot of times) I forget that… I didn’t get to 29 years by sitting on my ass.

When I look at my complexity, I would really like to be balanced by a woman who has simplicity in her, who just likes to be around me, who I just like to be around… My goal is to recapture that simplicity in my life.

Putting myself out there. A theme for this year. Boost a little confidence, a little experience making mistakes.

I think my own high standards for myself have seeped over into expectations of others… who have years clean.

Maybe I do use my education as a means to feel superior. It’s a fine line between taking pride in one’s ability and being prideful.

This is my season to grow. Can’t rush it, though. Waiting and wondering is part of the territory. I have to believe it will all be worth it one day. But first comes preparation. And in the meantime, receiving blessings with open hands.

Help me Jesus. Please help me through this night and tomorrow. I am feeling week and need your strength. But I cannot live in the future for a call/text that may never come. I have only the now.

I feel that you God are failing me. I am putting my heart and soul into this, and you are giving back nothing in return. Apparently you want to see me get hurt to teach me some sort of lesson. Well, enough. I feel hurt, okay?

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The Word Became Flesh. Really.

The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us (John 1:14). What happens when someone lives among us? They come to know us, to learn our ways, to experience our ways of togetherness and celebration. They learn what makes us angry, sad, giddy, ecstatic, lonely. Maybe they don’t become one of us, but they come to know us intimately.

We under the Cross believe in a familiar God, one we can call by name. Our Baptist sisters and brothers speak of a personal relationship with Jesus… which may have the unintended effect of blinding us to the communal Jesus.

Yet he began his while among us as a stranger, an oddball, the only human being not created inside the womb. We thought we understood him, but as time passed, and the full import of his message sank in, we grew only more perplexed.

This outsider perspective led him to preach some very strange things. Bless your enemies. Love the undesirables. Exchange your precious, unique life for an uncertain existence grounded in an unseen god. Respond to an economy of scarcity with five loaves and two fishes. In short, be very very different.

Oh how we adore the acceptance, the applause of others. I want to be cool, part of what the Sixties called the in crowd. So many times I place money, power, and prestige in front of humility, other-serving, and repentance.

(Repentance is one of those words the preachers and theologians have worn out. All it means is: you know you did wrong, and you stop doing it. Simple.)

You can offer a thousand reasons why so many reject Christianity—the hypocrisy of Christians, clergy abuse, blind nationalism (all important issues)–but perhaps the main reason has to do with our lack of power. We (or most of us) intend to do right, but we fail. We trip over our own self-centeredness, and we fail. And no amount of therapy or self-actualization can prevent this. On our own power, we cannot be good. We have to let God be good for us.

Many preach a comfortable, prosperity-making gospel. This ain’t it.

I would rather be rich and comfortable, with every desire seen to, every whim obeyed.

It is simply not in the cards. A life like that would kill my spirit. Maybe it would work for you, but then you would be getting your reward in this world, and not the next.

The Word lived with among us for a while—a short one by today’s lifespan. It is more than past time for we who claim the blessing of the Word to live outside of our privilege and dwell with the very people we want to forget.

Shrive* (After Raging at God)

Christianity is not for the faint of heart. If you take God’s promises seriously, sometimes you will be let down.

I have been so angry at my Creator I could not talk, only type. Last night I reached an impasse, and in an intuitive, desperate leap, I began talking to Mary.

This is unusual behavior for this Lutheran. My church frowns on the idea of Mary being a kind of fourth person of the Trinity, as being necessary to speaking to Jesus who speaks to God. I believe she was an amazing woman. (Think of it—little Jesus must have been a handful.)

Nevertheless, I called her name. Years ago, when I was hurting, I encountered a statue of her. Her arms were outstretched in stone tenderness, and her face was kindly.

Last night all my friends were unavailable, so I poured out my sadness and disappointment to her. She listened and stayed with me a while.

To have been shriven (as in Shrove Tuesday) means, in my experience, to be completely known for one’s weaknesses, and accepted anyway. To have revealed to oneself the yawning gap between one’s intentions and one’s performance, the roaring space between what you are and what you want, the gulf you can not cross under your own power.

Sometimes there are no answers to the demanding questions, at least not in the moment. Others may hear voices from God. I don’t. Still, being heard and being shriven is enough for this one day.

* to free from guilt. intransitive verb. archaic : to confess one’s sins especially to a priest.

Lunacy

I thought I had heard every possible example of venality and ignorance from the American right wing. I thought they had plumbed the depths of flat-out stupidity.

I was wrong.

Fox News is now whining about First Man, the film biography of the first man to walk on the moon. The film opened at Cannes—it’s apparently a very good movie, with high marks given to Ryan Gosling for his portrayal of Neil Armstrong. The book it was based on was also highly acclaimed.

So what’s to dislike? Apparently, plenty. Most movie protests involve scenes that offend one group or another, usually on religious grounds.

Fox News commentators have gone one better. They’re mad at what isn’t in the film.

According to an article in the Guardian, First Man does not include the scene of the American flag being planted on the lunar surface. In the eyes of the right wing, this is offensive to their tender sensibilities.

Never mind the director stated his intention to focus on the lesser-known aspects of the adventure. Never mind the flag appears in other Moon scenes. Never mind that every American manned and unmanned mission has flown with the Stars and Stripes prominently displayed on the spacecraft. Never mind that the Saturn V was assembled in a gigantic building with an equally huge flag painted on the side. And especially never mind that the flag ceremony was witnessed by over one billion human beings on live TV… including a young boy of 14 in Raleigh, North Carolina.

None of this matters to alleged journalists who make their money getting in a snit over imagined offenses. This pernicious movie was put out by Hollywood, which as we all know is ground zero for snowflake anti-Americanism.

I was never prouder to be an American than in 1969, when our people led the effort to take humankind’s first baby step into the Universe. When I am at a public event, I put my hand over my heart out of respect for the glad –and the Republic for which it stands—and I sing the National Anthem, of which I know every word.

I feel the American flag is one of the most beautiful objects on Earth. It stands for the idealism, intelligence, and pragmatism of our Founders.

Apparently that is not enough for the alleged patriots who can’t comprehend that the First Amendment guarantees you the right to make any movie you want, with or without flags.

I thought there was a limit to bloody-mindedness masquerading as devotion to country.

I was wrong.

Bits and Pieces: February 2018

I am a little desperate for blog material today (September 3). I can sense the backlog shrinking and I feel lazy, so I am doing some recycling. What follows are excerpts, taken way out of context, heavily redacted and lightly edited, from a journal I did for Lent last February. (Lent always catches me by surprise.)

If you are curious about the 95% I left it… it was all names, dates, and bullshit. Dearest reader, I leave it to you what to make of this:

I had nosebleeds all week. I despaired of recovering from them, what with all the things being stuck into me at great expense. I recall vividly the big drops of blood dripping from my nose over my sink. I reflect on this, and think now it serves as a tiny tiny reminder of your suffering. You saw the bright red fluid pour out of your wounds. Artists paint it brown, but it is bright red—what am impression art would make if your blood was made crimson? “Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” I recoiled from the ugliness (and the beauty of the shade?) of my blood and now pick bloody black bits from my nose. Your death was real and ugly and concrete, for our sake…

Yet I hear softly the word “surrender”… I am from dust and to dust shall return. Having to surrender bothers me. I want control. Yet I must admit, some of my decisions have been poor, and in the recent past.

The only answer I know is to live moment by moment, surrendered. Easier said than done, but I have some practice.

I have learned at long last you can’t make people love you, no matter how much passion you apply. I have learned that arguments can be gotten over. I have learned that you can be longtime friends and yet be annoyed by their less-than-strong points. And that you can stand up to people from time to time

I am tired of suffering. I am tired of doubt… I want to go back to bed. I woke up angry and it’s affecting me in bad ways. I want to indulge a few bad habits today… About the only thing I am grateful for is my unbleeding nose.

Thank you that I can experience both hope and realism. Joy and sorrow. It was so nice to wake up feeling good.

Blood is life. Jesus gave his lifeblood for me, despite my prejudices, narrow-mindedness, resentments, aches and pains, bitching about life, calling other people names, self-obsession, hardness of heart, lust, objectification of women, bigotry toward the bigoted, fear, self-centeredness… the list goes on. I believe I am being healed of my wounds. Yes. I am.

Right now I feel a quiet assurance that things will turn out fine. I guess I had to go through the fire on this one, through a valley of hopelessness to get to a good result. Smile.

I want to be true to someone.

What I am left with is a simple desire to love someone, and to be loved for who I am. I am getting older and I feel this is my last chance. Time is passing and my youth will not come back. I have so much love in my heart to give, so much room to receive… and it’s hard when I can’t find someone for a Saturday night.

Pastor’s sermon was amazing—he didn’t leave us an out on this one, nor close with glory. You demand my life of me, and I resist, even though I know your way is better than mine. Please forgive my wrongs… which I also resist identifying.

Sometimes I feel my engine is over-revving. I want things so badly, I get all frustrated for things I want/think I want.

Relationships are a mystery to me… but my heart is resilient.

Thank You

Thank you for the Love that moves me, in which I have my being, where lives the essence of my soul. Thank you for my journey through the fire of life, for bringing me safely to a place of content and yes, happiness.

Thank you for photography, for the dance of light and dark that paints the sensors of my cameras, freezes images, and reveals truth I cannot comprehend with words.

Thank you for music, for the organized rush of sound that vibrates our beings, lifts us up, makes us whole, makes us dance and sing like freed youths. Thank you for the raw energy of rock ‘n’ roll and the serene power of classical, and all that lies between.

Thank you for prayer, the link between the unknowable and our mortal, fleeting flesh. Thank you for the times I sit in contemplation of your ineffable beauty.

That you for language, the field in which words play and jostle for attention, informing, persuading, prophesying, healing. Thank you for the many writers who guide my way.

Thank you for books, the encapsulated experiences of humankind in all its fullness, the comfort and anticipation of turning each crisp page to see what comes next.

Thank you for sex, for its unpredictability and suddenness, for its power and comfort, for the wildness of desiring another, for the creativity and tenderness it releases, and the lives it creates.

Thank you for children, living out their dramas and comedies in miniature, showing us the inestimable gift of being ourselves, demonstrating possibilities we grownups had forgotten.

Thank you for the galaxies, the billion and one burning lights that rage forth inconceivable power and deepest majesty, the stars that draw us onward from the cradle of our Earth.

Thank you, finally, for the cool hour surrounding sunrise, when the night terrors fade and the soft earth awakes, granting its benediction again, unbidden and unhurried, awaiting the arrival of fresh time.

Paradise

I found Paradise. It is in Boone, North Carolina, away in the Appalachians. A longtime friend says he found it in Hyde County, North Carolina, but, much as I love him, he is quite sincerely misguided. To get to heaven, climb up US 421 from Winston-Salem, and take a left.

Paradise is a little cabin in a hollow beside a creek. It is quite small—a living room, bedroom, and a tiny bathroom. Of course, it has the conveniences of a TV, DVD player, and I think wi-fi, but I needed none of those.

Its most salient feature is the porch with two rockers. The rockers overlook the creek, which is shaded by several large trees.

The creek is home to ducks, who waddled up its banks and posed for my smartphone when I arrived, bedraggled from the interstate.

I learned that creeks do not make only one sound of babbling. I closed my eyes and listened. After a while I detected three separate rhythms, flowing in an ever-changing counterpoint. Jazz.

For two evenings, after sightseeing and getting lost numerous times, I rested on the porch, anchored to reality by a Dr. Pepper and KFC.

My soul, weary of the city, took delight. I lost track of digital time, and marked its passing only by my breathing and the sinking of the sun into the woods.

It was so green and calm, embodying serenity, the peace beyond understanding. I could easily imagine my Lord, seated to my right in the rocker, chatting with me about mental upheavals and small gratitudes. Listening to my soliloquies on this charmed stage.

My heartbeat slowed. The buzzing of thoughts and questions gave way to a soft murmur as I shed my many burdens. Water flowed and bounced over the wet stones, as they had since before I was born, as they would long after I was gone.

Here and now, in the sacred moment… Paradise Found.

Seventeen Years Ago

Was it really that long ago?

There are now millions of children and adolescents who were unborn when 9-11 happened; it is now the stuff of history for them.

Here is my personal history of 9-11. I was working as a telephone researcher on that day, which was a Tuesday, as it is today. As I logging into the phone system, someone said that a light plane had flown into the World Trade Center.

Instantly I was reminded that in 1945 a B-25 bomber flew into the Empire State Building. Fourteen people died, but the building stayed intact and opened for business the next day. I was concerned, but not worried.

Several co-workers accessed the news websites. Soon I knew the truth. It began to dawn on me that history was taking a catastrophic turn, right here in supposedly invulnerable America.

One of the supervisors was crying. She had family in New York and could not reach them. It seemed a good time to pray for her family and mine.  I had abandoned all thought of working. No one wanted to be on the phone with a stranger on this day.

I took an excused absence at 10:30, after finally getting through to my Dad on a landline. He was as shocked as me, as he told me the Pentagon had also taken a hit. It all reminded him of Pearl Harbor. As I left, the receptionist said, “the second tower just fell.”

We’re at war, I thought.

As I drove home, I caught up on NPR. I dreaded what I would see on my TV when I arrived, but I knew I had to watch.

The first thing I saw was the smoke cloud over Washington–gigantic, black, viscous. Then the video feed came to New York. There was the 757, burying itself in the tower. I felt I had been punched in the gut when it struck. A loud, sharp groan escaped my chest.

I spent the rest of the day, like most of America, watching the aftermath unfold. The dust hung over lower Manhattan like a thundercloud come to earth. Later I discovered it was visible from space.

For several hours the President’s whereabouts were unknown. I found that profoundly unsettling. Exhausted, I finally took a fitful nap that afternoon.

The days passed and the details emerged of that ghastly day. As I was out walking on Saturday, I looked up as a jet trail etched itself across the sky. Commercial air travel had been suspended, and seeing that white line against the blue reassured me that life was returning to normal… a new normal in which we collectively looked over our shoulders.

Since then, I can’t look at a tall building without wondering if it will be next.

Years later, I had a vivid dream in which 757s flew as in a video game. I could twist a knob and divert them from the towers. They crashed, one at street level and one in the Hudson. In the dream I wept copiously as people died, fewer than in reality, but nonetheless gone.

Dark times. May they never return.

My Second Mother Dies

Written mid-August 2018

I knew her for fifty years. Our communication fell off in later years, but she was always in my heart.

Every kid needs a second family, one to visit when things get too rough in their home. She was my second mom, always welcoming a little boy who loved their many books. The father was a novelist with shelves full of his books. To this reading-besotted child, he was a god.

My best friend was her middle son. We were inseparable, put together by a kindly fifth grade teacher. He had missed school for European travel, and I was a reserved kid who needed a best friend. We got into scrapes, talked about girls, and talked about everything. Once we cut windows in a milk carton, labeled it school, and set it aflame—the fantasy of every American child. Great fun.

The family was a package deal. He had two older brothers. I came to love all three of them for their literacy, puns, and dubious wisdom. They were my kith and kin, and they were absolutely necessary to my happiness.

The father was a large man of considerable appetite. Although he was often in the back of the house writing, his presence was palpable. He was funny, literate, and he gave sterling advice on the art of writing to a young sprout like me.

They were all larger than life, and I felt honored to be included among them.

She was a woman of the theatre, and after the father died, she opened a costume shop, entertaining a mad rush of customers seeking outlandish inspiration, especially at Halloween. She hired and mothered countless women, as well as the host of daughters and sons of her second husband.

She was quite amazing. She was what we Southerners call a character.

And now she is dying. Her mind lives, but successive strokes have left her unable to eat and barely able to speak. The nurses stick IVs in her and administer ice cubes to feed her. The boys are keeping vigil, waiting, waiting.

I feel sad at the vanishing of my second family’s happy days, and guilty for my absence. The last time I saw her after the first stroke, I found it hard to see her so diminished. Diminished, but unvanquished.

Under my sadness, a rivulet of anger flows. It pisses me off that she lacks the strength to rage against the dying of her light. I imagine her supple mind trapped inside a failing body.

I believe in heaven, and I am pretty sure that in a little while she will join my first mom, who we lost in 1998. They were both animated and theatrical and passionate for all the right things, and I know they will throw a wing-ding for their reunion. (Do they have wing-dings in the afterlife? They better.)

I grieve for the suffering of her sons and family and friends. I grieve for myself, since I too have an appointment with death.

You can utter the cliches about going to a better place and even worse, that God must have needed her in heaven. (Talk about unbiblical and cruel. Platitudes are a refuge for the weak-minded.) All I know is, there will be a hand on her shoulder to walk her across the great divide into a promised land.

She will be gone soon, leaving a wake of tears and remembrance. It calms me to know she will live in so many memories.

I will remember her Warrenton accent that never left her during her world travels. It sounded like honey tastes, gently rising and falling in waves of rich vowels. I will remember her snub nose that barely supported her reading glasses. I will remember all the times she skunked me in gin rummy, the trips in the family station wagon, the tranquility beneath family mishaps, and the inviting sprawl of the home she made.

I will remember all these things, and a thousand more, but most of all, I will remember the day she called me son.

Reminders

You are not the center of the Universe. You owe the world a living, not the other way around. In this life you will suffer.

God hates injustice, bullying, self-seeking, power-lust, and a lack of empathy.

The other gender is not your plaything. Sex is not a tool.

Your harsh words deeply wound people.

One day your sins will find you out. You won’t like this.

Everyone you love will die.

You are the crown of creation. Your presence completes the Universe.

God loves kindness, encouragement, seeking the welfare of others, willingness to share power, and having a heart for others.

The other gender enriches you. Sex is an art form.

Your kind words will make someone’s day.

This day your blessings will come back to you. You will cherish this.

Everyone you love lives now.