Posted in Beauty, Health

The Deep

This is one of the oldest, most natural and primitive of human fears. It is the tohu wa-bohu (Hebrew: תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ‎) that was in “the deep” better translated as chaos than “formless and void” in the Genesis myth. It is why ancient myths predating that had gods carving up the world out of conquered sea monsters or serpents.

It is almost always true that when I am not writing as much as I would like on the interwebs, I have not been writing enough elsewhere: In that journal that sits by my bedside and in my poetry journal. I have a tendency to forget the importance of processing life as it happens. Really, it’s not so much that I forget. It’s more like I am afraid of what I’ll write. As a species, we humans have conquered the void. We’ve sailed to the “edges” of the earth. We can board a plane and sail on wings, high above the sea, and travel to another continent in a day. Most of us believe, we even put a man on the moon. What I think a lot of us are really afraid of – what I am really afraid of – is the sea of chaos that resides within: the anxiety, the fear, the painful memories, the wonder, the mystery, our great potential to both heal and destroy.

My eight years of academic training in religion primarily consisted of writing research papers on some topic of dispute in Christian circles. I was trained to do weeks of research and reading, weighing and considering three sides to every story, before I sat down to write. I would evaluate all of the possible data and opinions I could find. I would read twelve different translations of a single Bible passage or study multiple theological positions about everything from “predestination” to human sexuality. And then I would sit down to tentatively write a paper. Almost everything began with a title that hung my weeks’ of preparation, investigation and my hesitancy out for my professors and my peers to see. Everything was: Towards a Theology of… [fill in the blank with divisive theological or social issue].

I can’t fully blame the training. It only reinforced a fearful and hesitant predisposition. My professors always encouraged me to argue more, to take more of a stand on an “issue.” But when I did it seemed to get me in trouble. Like when I turned in an “extremely well written” final paper exploring the instructions for warfare in Deuteronomy 20. I contended, and still do, that there is no way a god of love would ever command “holy war” or instruct for women and young girls to be taken, listed right next to livestock, as spoils of war. My professor found me to be “treading into heretical waters” but still gave me an A for arguing clearly and concisely.

Fortunately and unfortunately for me, writing is the primary way I process life. And I have often approached life, and my writing about my life, the same way I approached those papers. I stopped writing when I met my ex-wife. I didn’t write through our engagement. I didn’t write about our wedding day on or remotely near the time it happened. Instead, I found myself 6 months after we had been married, cracking open my journal and writing about the events of the year and a half that had past. My children were each at least a year old before I reflected on their births in my writing. The same with my subsequent divorce. My lifelong friendship with Amanda, that blossomed into something new and beautiful, yet deep and rooted. My ordination. My 2 year struggle to find placement in a church. My expulsion from the first church I served. And deconstructing a lot of things I believed for the first 35 years of my life, about god, the world, and myself. Much of this showed up in series I wrote last year around this time. It’s no wonder that in much of my writing, I am still wrestling with the positive and negative impact of my mother’s life on me, nearly a decade and a half after her passing.

A few months ago, something in me snapped. In October, my daughter who had been expressing suicidal ideation since July expressed it for the first time in front of me. I came home and wrote about it that night. While my heart was broken (and still is), I think the change within me was less of a breaking and more of an autocorrect to a lifelong pattern of dealing with and processing my surroundings. In December we received the results of her extensive psychological evaluation. And I have sat on them more than long enough:

We have known since she was four years old that my daughter – like me – has the neurological disorder, Myoclonus Dystonia. This disorder primarily affects the muscles, causing sporadic twitches and muscles spasms. We have known for nearly as long that she has some sort of “mood disorder.” The severity of that has increased with time. Over the last several years, that has been complicated and exacerbated by divorce and living in between two households.

What we didn’t know – what I didn’t know for ten years – is that my daughter is on the Autism Spectrum. She is a High Functioning Autistic little girl, a “pattern consistent with Aspergers.” What we didn’t know – what I didn’t know – is that this whole time this has heightened and intensified her mood disorder. Or as the doctor who performed her evaluation informed me and my ex-wife, more likely, the Autism could be a primary driver for her anxiety and depression.

I worked for a year as a social worker with at-risk teens, struggling with depression anxiety and suicidal or violent tendencies, when the search for ministry placement wasn’t going anywhere. After my short time serving as a pastor, I work another two years, serving adults with developmental disabilities, many of them on the Autism spectrum. And yet I felt utterly ill-equipped and unprepared for this diagnosis.

But, I have spent more than enough time in my own “deep” battling the monsters and serpents that have reared their ugly heads and have raged within me. I have spent hundreds of hours in therapy recounting and learning coping mechanisms for my own crippling social anxiety. I have spent the better part of the last four years boxing with my own demons publically in the arena of spoken word performances.

Last year during Lent, I aired out a lot of that struggle and triumph in this space. The theme that I explored that I come back to most often, is the concept of the ripples. I never want to underestimate the impact of my own words and actions on the world around me, especially those closest to me. I have undoubtedly – and often unknowingly – fucked up. I have yelled, cried, begged and pleaded with my daughter to tell me why she is feeling a certain way when she literally cannot do so. I have often thought she was being willful and obstinant when she was rather frozen by going into a social situation with family she doesn’t often see or making a transition that from her mother’s house to mine or back, that her neurotypical brother seems to (in relatively little time) learned to do with ease.

Yet, I am not utterly ill-equipped and unprepared. I have those years working with troubled teens and adults with cognitive and emotional disabilities. More recently, and perhaps more importantly, several young adults on the Autism spectrum have found a home in the open mic community that I have the privilege to facilitate and host each week. I am learning from the fearless public performances of these brave souls and in private conversations, what to say and do and what not to say and do, when it comes to dealing with a child on the Autism spectrum. One friend and amazing poet who is on the spectrum, upon learning of my daughter’s diagnosis sent me several helpful websites and gifted me with a book for Christmas: What Every Autistic Girl Wishes Her Parents Knew. With each passing day and week, I am learning a little bit more about “life on the spectrum.”

We often don’t like to see in others – especially those we love – things that remind us of our own “deep,” the monsters we fight, the things we don’t like about ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I have a tendency to project my own inner world on those people, and thus fail to see them. I want to see my daughter. Her deep is not mine. Her parents did divorce. But her father is not largely absent from the equation like mine was during my most formative years. I know about my own anxiety and depression, that developed in a dysfunctional home and was compounded by a lot of toxic by religiosity.  But everything I am learning about Autism is from doctors, books, websites, and most importantly from the friends dealing with it that the universe has brought my way. I need to be careful and more mindful of the ripples I send out. But I am also deeply and profoundly thankful for the ripples the universe has sent my way, preparing me for this, for the beautiful yet complicated gift that is my daughter.

Posted in Health

On the Ledge

On the ledge is where I found my daughter tonight. She was holding onto the fence and holding one foot out over the water. Fear and trepidation don’t even begin to describe what I felt as I quickly contemplated moving towards her. One’s mind doesn’t even begin to calculate all of the logistics and possible outcomes until after the panic has subsided. After the child is safe: The stream is only about a foot deep. The water is cold this time of year, but moving very slowly. The drop is probably only 6-8 feet. She would be okay. She would likely be hurt, but relatively intact. As quickly as it began, she ran at me – seemingly as if into my arms – then ran off again in anger. But safe.

Everything feels like a relative term these days. What does it mean that she is safe tonight? What does it really mean that she might have been okay? That she might have survived? This is what life looks like for all involved these days: For me, her mother, her brother, my dearest Amanda who has fallen head over heels in love with my kids in the last two years. We are all living in a blur of fear, anxiety, and hurt. This is all punctuated by frenzied moments like tonight when my daughter has a fit of rage and everything seems to move in rapid-fire succession and then by moments that turn into hours and feel like days when she is sad, angry, or obstinate and the world stops to revolve around her feelings. Her refusal to go to school, to transition to my house, go back to her mom’s house, or simply shower or get dressed. Our needs to go to work, meet deadlines, do homework, our desire to play games, have family time, enjoy each others’ company – in either home – all seem obfuscated by her emotions, which seem to grow larger by the day.

In between, we do manage to do all of these things. I go to work. I host an open mic. I am excited to be going out this weekend to speak to youth about poetry, stage presence, and performance. I try to write new poetry regularly. Her mother is working two jobs. Amanda works 70 hours a week and still somehow pours out an inordinate amount of time and energy into my children. And my son continues to go to school, do his homework and play video games. But it is all marked by the tension of the everpresent now: a 9-year-old little girl, who has some serious mental and emotional health issues.

This is why I have been off of the blogging grid since spring, and generally unable to write in prose. I am scared of what I will write down. I don’t want to look at any of it in print. The good times, laughter and lightheartedness of the summer passed too fast. And it was all marked by my daughter being in an inpatient treatment facility for most of July. It was a place where she was the only pre-teen in a “home” that was not my home, not her mother’s home, a place I felt she should have never been. Not at that age. Not surrounded by teenagers.

Likewise, Fall has almost slipped completely by, with weekly follow up meetings with counselors and social workers and genetic testing, to find that two of the medications that various doctors have put her on so far are both very unfitting for her genetic makeup. Last week, on World Mental Health Day, my ex-wife and I sat for an hour with an intake specialist at one of the best mental health facilities in West MI. A full and extensive psychological evaluation is forthcoming.

She has not outright threatened suicide. I am not even sure the word is in her vocabulary unless she learned it during her stay at the inpatient care facility. She has said things like, “Everyone would be better off without me… run me over with the car… and I want to hurt myself.” She has destroyed other people’s property: her Grandparents’ and her brother’s, her parents and other significant adults in her life, and even her own.

I am beyond scared. I am worried about my daughter. I am worried about my son, who is – as hard as we try not to let it happen – being robbed of precious time he needs. Time to play, be lighthearted and soak up positive affirmations.

Everyone is one edge. It feels as if we are all out on the ledge. I am trying, straining, to live in the now. To measure and evaluate all of the variables of the present logistics, the situation we all find ourselves in. And I am striving – we all are – twisting and contorting not to preoccupy ourselves with the infinite possible outcomes.

Posted in Beauty, Health

The Aftermath

25 years ago today, a jury acquitted Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell, Theodore Briseno, and Timothy Wind on charges of assault and use of excessive force in the now infamous caught on tape beating of Rodney King. In some ways not much has changed in 25 years. Now the footage is captured on iPhones instead of camcorders. But police brutality, especially against people of color, is still rampant in the United States. Victims of police brutality are still scrutinized and blamed. Rodney King certainly wasn’t an innocent man. Amadou Diallo was! But in either case – or any of the plethora of like cases we have been inundated with over the past quarter of a century – the narrative is always similar. It always becomes a story about how much the victim did or did not deserve the severity of force rather than primarily about those who abuse the power of a badge and a gun.

These are things I have been thinking about, at least since the fall of 1992. Ice Cube released his third solo album, The Predator. From beginning to end it was a scathing indictment of police brutality and race relations in America. And from “We Had to Tear This Mothafucka Up” to “Who Got the Camera?” it was a completely different commentary than what I got from the Evening news with Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather and drastically different than what I heard from my parents. I am not being hyperbolic or speaking flippantly when I say that listening to that album with my headphones on was a large part of why I ended up going to seminary. I just no longer see the church pulpit as my avenue for trying to be an agent of change in a sick and heartbroken society.

What I haven’thought a lot about is the aftermath of a highly publicized event on a city and all of its inhabitants. From the violence that erupted in L.A. to the mostly peaceful demonstrators and vigils in Ferguson, there is some level of violence, lots of civil unrest, negative impact on local businesses, whether from looting or the enforcement of curfews. Already tense relationships between law enforcement and disenfranchised communities are heightened. And in this state of affairs the media descends on a city and saturates the entire country with coverage of their story… until the next big headline. I say none of this to minimize the importance of the people being heard. It is more of a judgement about our poor listening skills, about how we only talk about ugly truths when the worst things happen, we turn people and whole cities into talking points until there is another headline about a President’s tweet, or the unrest in Syria or a viral video of a bluegrass band covering AC/DC diverts our attention.

I am thinking a lot today about what the aftermath must be like for the communities affected. I am thinking about it largely for two reasons. Yesterday I listened to a heartbreaking report on NPR on how L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley and sports and business mogul, Peter Ueberroth’s attempts to Rebuild L.A. were in large part a failure. And in many ways the city is still reeling from the aftermath of the verdict and the subsequent civil unrest.

I am also thinking about it because one year ago today in a much less publicized case I was a “defendant” for the first time in my life. The plaintiff was my ex-wife. We stood in front of a judge. There were no lawyers. He didn’t even bang a gavel. He simply pronounced us divorced. We had already been separated for 6 months. We had been growing apart for years, creating a void that was almost unbearable for all, including our two children. People find all sorts of ways to cope with the dysfunction of an unhappy home. I was distant and drank too much. I threw myself headlong first into the search for ministry placement. Then after a heartbreaking two year search and a very short lived time as an underpaid “resident pastor” I threw myself into being an online, Christian “social justice warrior.” My family suffered, I suffered, my art suffered. But divorce, while many things, is not a cure for dysfunction or broken hearts. The civil unrest of divorce creates a vortex of new pain and an aftermath that requires a lot of rebuilding.

I am working my ass off to rebuild. I am working to resurrect a bridge of communication that was completely dismantled between my ex-wife and myself, so that we can successfully co-parent two children whose dreams of a happy home and a white picket fence, with both parents together were shattered. I am working on reestablishing a relationship with the two most important people in my life, my 9 year old daughter with trust issues and clinical anxiety and my wide-eyed, usually optimistic but heartbroken 7 year old son. Some days the effort seems futile and fruitless when my daughter calls me the night before a “daddy’s weekend” and says she is not coming to my house anymore and hangs up on me. There are lots of fits, temper tantrums and some trying to play mom and dad against each other. But there is also a lot of precious time spent playing baseball in the yard, letting my son get unlimited turns at bat to kick my ass and letting my daughter make up her own 15 strikes before your out rule. There is ice cream and hugs and snuggles. And I cannot let myself forget things when they break my heart or during the void I feel, the 10 out of every 14 days that they are not here with me.

The aftermath is hard. Somethings take a lifetime and constant effort to rebuild. Time certainly does not heal all wounds. But love – love and tireless effort – can bandage those wounds and hold us tight as we walk through the flames and sift through the ashes and strain towards compassion, growth and new ways of navigating life and finding joy.

Posted in Beauty, Health

Lent 29

I am exhausted. And I am sitting down to tackle two pieces of daily writing with an hour left in the day. Tomorrow we have an 8 am doctor’s appointment for my son. Then I have to be to work at 9:30. The kids are spending the day with Amanda. Then tomorrow night dinner, a little play time, then back to their maternal grandparents early Wednesday morning before I am off to work again. I imagine myself, roughly in this same place again tomorrow night. Though, hopefully an hour earlier.

Tonight we played the kids’ favorite game “hide the stuffed animals.” It’s just like it sounds.  When it was my son’s turn to hide things, he lost his own Pikachu (the replacement we just got him because he lost one at school on the playground). He started to freak out. Showers were delayed. We overturned couch cushions, looked in every drawer, the shower, refrigerator and oven (these are all places our plush little friends have went to hide before).

You don’t have to be the most intuitive reader to sense the cliché coming right about now. I found Pikachu when we all gave up looking, in a place we had already looked 10 times. He was behind my son’s box of Hot Wheels cars and tracks. Technically we had only looked frantically inside of the box, digging through piles of tracks and mirco-sized hot-rods, El Caminos and fire trucks.

Such is the way of life. People often find this true with possessions, with contentment, with finding the right job, with finding true love and on and on. We give up, we let go and then poof: we find what we were looking for in all of the wrong places. Such was certainly the case in my life when a only a month after my ex-wife and I split up, I asked Amanda on a date. I have known her since 1996. She is one of a very few people I have had a sustaining friendship with, throughout my whole adult life. I can count them on one hand. I thought about asking her out once in 1996. But a mutual friend at the time beat me to it an before I knew it, I was in their wedding. She came to my wedding.

Then things fell apart for us both around the same time. We started hanging out more to commiserate about our common experiences of heartbreak and failed marriages. Then the unthinkable happened. She took me to See “Inside Out.” She took me because she knew how much it meant to me on so many levels. I had seen it just a few months earlier on opening weekend. It was the last movie I ever saw with my children and there mother, the four of us together. I was crying – like snot running down my nose crying – throughout. This was not the first date! That was yet to come. This was a friend who decisively does not love all things Disney-Pixar the same way I do, going to see an animated film with me on a Saturday night, at the cheap theater, right before it hit Blu-ray and digital release. We could have waited a couple days and rented it. But she took me just because she deeply cared about me. People don’t just do that kind of shit. They really don’t. It is a lucky person who can count more than one friend that is so willing to forgo their own interests on a Saturday night to watch you blubber during a children’s film. It’s the same kind of person that a year or so later, gives up their Saturdays off in exchange for Tuesday to pick up your kids from school, so you can continue to have one night with them each week. She’s a keeper for sure!

But there is a danger when we take these amazing, life changing kind of experiences, moralize them and couple them up with a phrase from Jesus or Buddha: “He who loses his life will find it” or “He who envies others does not find peace of mind.”

Sometime you don’t find Pikachu. Sometimes you can give up, let go, be as relaxed as possible about the job interview and still not receive the call back. Sometimes you can give up on looking for love, friendship, happiness and still find yourself lonely and depressed. There is a danger in making moral lessons out of our good fortune. Because it is just that. I don’t use the word blessing often anymore because of a lifetime of negative connotation. But I am hard-pressed to find a better word to explain the way I feel about the second chance at life and love and fatherhood, all with this amazing partner I have by my side. I no longer want to tout my good fortune/luck/blessings to others like ‘If you’d only _________ everything would be okay.’ I lived that way most of my life and still found myself in what seemed like a bottomless pit.

I am thankful we found Pikachu. I am thankful Amanda and I found each other. But I never want to stop looking. Not for another Pikachu. Not for another partner. But for all of the many ways I can be a better father, better partner, better friend, a better human being.

Posted in Beauty, Health

Lent 25

The first time I really heard Ed Sheeran’s song Photograph, I was driving. My kids were with me. I was balling at the wheel. They were confused. I had just picked them up from school, to take them back to the home I knew we would not share much longer. I thought there really was a chance this might be it for us. I seriously feared that my kids might grow up only remembering their father in a photograph. I feared their love (or hate) for me would one day be immortalized in a picture their mom had taken. I feared the unknown more than I ever did before or have since in my 40 years of life.

The life I knew imploded, the same way the Character Mike says he went broke in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. “Two ways… Gradually and then suddenly.” Things had been falling apart for months, years. The couch or computer chair was my bed. I drank way too much. We barely communicated. But I just thought it was the new normal. It was a horrible way for us all to live. But I was raised to believe in death before divorce. In all honesty, I think I was beginning a slow descent into the former. I think my ex-wife may have saved us all from a far, far worse existence when she filed those papers.

But I never saw it coming. I was gearing up to move into a rented room with no bed, no car, only a 44 inch TV and a job that I had for about a month to my name. I really feared that I was going to lose all contact with my children.

That was a little less than 2 years ago. This morning the song was playing while I dropped my kids off at school, like I do every Wednesday morning. As I watched my daughter run to the school door with her school backpack, her overnight bag and her coat all in her arms, I took one of those snapshots that we all take in our heads. A picture of joy, captured by memory, no film or digital pixels.

The adjustment has been very hard for us all. The adjustment has been very good for us all. There home is no Thomas Kinkade ideal homestead. They have two homes. One is with me. One is with their mother. Difficult days come. We deal with feelings of anger and hurt and confusion as they surface. But we are no longer in danger of becoming the family on the cover of Marilyn Manson’s Portrait of an American Family.

I no longer worry they will grow up with nothing but a picture of me, or us together, inside the pocket of their ripped jeans. I no longer worry they will grow up hearing nothing but whispers from me on the phone, forever waiting for me to come home. We will not have to make memories for ourselves where our eyes are never closing,
our hearts were never broken and times is forever frozen still.

I am not trying to justify my failures as a husband or a father. Divorce is not a band-aid for love gone bad, ever, especially when kids are involved. It is a tearing. And it tears up my heart that their lives will be marked by those scars as they grow. But I also know the pain of growing up underneath two adults who love each other but never learned how to properly express love, never developed the emotional capacity to communicate with compassion, even when hurting. I know the pain of the loud outburst and the long periods of silence that follow. For me the silence was always scarier, more heartbreaking than the volatile outbursts. Those weekends with my father gone or sleeping on the couch, my mother crying in her bedroom, the walking on eggshells, knowing one wrong move could make you the target of their anger toward each other, they still haunt me.

What we have is not perfect. But it is what we have. That may be the most obvious thing I’ve ever wrote. What wasn’t always obvious is that there is hope. The future is uncertain, sure. But there are rays of light that pierce our darkest days. And there are seeds of new life, a different life, a difficult life but a life of love. And these seeds are everywhere. Today it was in hearing them sing along with Ed Sheeran on the way to school. It was in my son asking if he could throw his apple core out the window on the way to school to plant a tree. It was in watching my daughter run – not care free – but happy nonetheless towards her school. It was in watching her run and not fearing that she may never run into my arms again. I think I heard Ed Sheeran’s Photograph for the first time today.

Posted in Beauty, Health

Lent 22

 

I had a good day with the littles. Their school had a book fair at a local Barnes & Noble. They had readings, face paintings and other activities. The face painters had a paper with the different cartoon characters, animals and facial “tattoos” of hearts, rainbows and spiders that they were doing. Both of my kids asked for custom jobs. My son got his whole face painted like a Creeper from Minecraft. And my daughter who is obsessed with Animal Planet as of late, asked to be a gazelle. We also walked away with a Hardy Boys book and A Wrinkle in Time.

I almost didn’t get the books. We almost left after about 10 minutes with faces unpainted and one crying little girl. It is really hard to watch both of my children struggle with being shy and unconfident, scared to talk to strangers, even when I am right there with them, their friends and teachers are around, in a kid friendly environment and the “strangers” are two college aged girls offering to paint their faces. It is especially hard because I know it is a mix of genetic predisposition and learned behavior that they have inherited, in part, from me. It is even harder to watch my daughter, whose reservation and nervousness is compounded by clinical anxiety. She refused to talk to the young lady who was pleading with her to let her paint her face and was clinging to me. My son was just waiting to follow his big sister’s lead.

My daughter’s anxiety and my own came head to head and we almost left the bookstore. I had said before we set out that I could not afford to buy books today, but we would just go and enjoy the free activities. They both agreed. Until we got there and they were scared to talk to the face paint lady and their friends’ hands were full of books and one of their teachers asked them “Are you guys gonna get some good books?” They started grabbing at your average overpriced, mass marketed drivel that too often passes for children’s literature and begging. I said, “Let’s go. You promised you wouldn’t do this.” We made it all the way to the door. I was stressed watching my daughter stress. I felt embarrassed and guilty that I can’t always get for them the things I desire to provide for them. In the entrance, a scene started to play out that was exactly like one from my own childhood: “Why can’t we get books?” my daughter asked, her eyes welling up with tears. “Because I am poor,” I retorted. “Because I have x amount of dollars to get through the week and still have another bill to pay.” My eyes were now flooded too.

Then I was flooded with an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. I had been here before. I had been in her shoes. My mother had said those same words and forced adult realities and anxieties upon me that I was not ready to process. I said, “Fuck it! We’re going back in. I want you guys to get your faces painted – because you’ve talked about it all week – and have fun and talk to your friends.” I apologized for overreacting.

They lightened up. I lightened up. While they were getting their little faces painted, I went and picked out two books that I could afford and that are actual literature at their reading level. I told them they were books I could afford and enjoyed when I was their age. They were more grateful than a thousand Christmas mornings. Not because they understood the sacrifice I was making with my debit card but because I was filled with joy when I presented them to them, and maybe because I was a little bit assertive with my my suggestion, “I will buy you these books, if you still each want a new book.”

I don’t go back on my word often. I don’t plan to do so often. I know it can be confusing for kids and they need consistency. But I also know these two timid little ones don’t need this day or any other to be marred by the memory of their father’s anxiety, embarrassment and real life adult shit that they don’t need to be thinking about just yet.

We had a talk on the way out. I apologized again for my outburst. And I pointed out how far we’ve come. My daughter’s anxiety and my own have came head to head before, especially in crowded, social situations where she was indecisive and flooded with various emotions and I was scared about money and angry because she wanted 4 books or 3 pairs of jeans, because she couldn’t decide on one or two. We’ve left those situations before in a haste of tears and anger. I was vulnerable. I told them I have often been a bad example. I asked them to remember today. I asked them to remember that they not only got over their fear and talked to a stranger, but got two of the coolest custom face paint jobs of the day (the young lady even asked if she could take a picture of them to add it to her repertoire). I asked them to think about how their daddy is changing for the better and we are changing for the better as a family, becoming less explosive and talking things out. I asked them to remember the good time we ended up having today when we all relaxed. They said, “Okay.”

They had their painted little noses in their books all of the way home.

Posted in Health

Lent 16

 

And to love: a god
And to fear: a flame
And to burn a crowd that has a name

It was not a very flattering cover art. A preacher-man, holding a Bible, his head lifted above those clinging to him, some of them scantily clad. The title of the album was “Throwing Copper.” I have heard it rumored that Ed Kowalczyk meant for the cover art and lead single “Selling the Drama” from Live’s break through third album “Throwing Copper” to evoke phony TV evangelists. It has always reminded me of Johann Tetzel’s supposed quote that helped spark the Protestant Reformation, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs”

I struggle a lot with the fact that I am a capitalist. I don’t want to be. I don’t want to have white privilege either. But this is the skin I was born in. My meager efforts to speak up and be a voice for change for my black brothers and sisters does not change the fact that I don’t have to worry about walking down the street with my hoodie up after dark or being harassed by police like my friends of color. Likewise, I can appreciate other failed economic systems from a cursory view. I can move into a hippy commune and eat only organic vegetables. But there is only so much social conditioning and context that you can undue. I don’t know if we can ever fully and completely “re-wire” ourselves.

I often struggle with the vernacular of “sales” that I am responsible to offer up to customers 40 hours each week. But in reality, I have always been in sales. I used to have to try to “upsell” soda and gum as a retail clerk. I had to propose big-box retailer credit cards and “club memberships.” These days it is my responsibility to talk someone’s HR or administrative assistant into buying more employee recognition products.

But make no mistake, when I was in seminary and a pastor, I also had to do sales. Sales, trade, commodity, is a language that long predates the hyper-capitalism of our day (or any of the other possible equally flawed economic and social structures). My first two sermon assignments in seminary were daunting. They were both about “the cost of discipleship.” The first sermon I had to write was about the Church in Pergamum (Revelation 2:12-17). It is one of the places that even the most critical of scholars believe at least some real, localized persecution of Christians was happening. According to the good ‘ol book it was a place where ‘a faithful witness was put to death; a city where Satan lives.’ But to ‘the one who is victorious, Jesus would give some of the hidden manna and a white stone with a new name written on it.’

It was my second sermon assignment that really hammered home the language of “exchange.” After saying, “None of those who were invited will taste my dinner” Jesus turns to the crowd and says,

Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

Sometimes this passage is a “hard sell” even in the most devout and sectarian of Christian communities. Explanations for what Jesus didn’t mean abound: ‘Surely the one who said elsewhere to love your mother and father didn’t mean to literally hate them; only that we should love him so much and be so devoted to him that all of our other loves should look like hatred in comparison.’

It is a sales pitch. And taken holistically, into the broader context of the Bible and the framework of Christianity, it is doublespeak. “The gift of God is eternal life.” It only, “demands my soul, my life, my all” (as the old hymn says).

Despite my cognitive “all or nothing” distortions I am a bit of a mystic. I too am attracted to mystery and paradox. But some things are just plain contradictions. I don’t want to hate my mom and dad, my children, Amanda, my brother, my sister or my fucking life!!!

Nonetheless, I am still a bit addicted to Jesus. I mean I am taking a 40 day writing challenge and framing (some of it) with Lent and the concept of following Jesus into the desert and facing my own demons head on. If you call me at work Monday – Friday I will do my best to sell you something. But I don’t want to sell you any drama anymore. You are here. I am here. We were all dealt a shitty hand with at least some good cards. I want to make the best of it. I want to make the best of my conditioning by a hyper-capitalist society and evangelical Christianity, my dysfunctional but loving family. I want to love. I want to love the world that formed me, even as I resist some of its trappings. I am dust. I will return to dust and in between I want to sow seeds of love that I hope will take root and last, and last, and last -even in this dusty land – even after I am sprinkled out to sea (or hopefully Lake Michigan).

Posted in Health

Lent 15

 

There are is a lot of folklore about St. Patrick. He did not chase all of the snakes from Ireland. He did not lead the defeat against the Druids. It is more than likely that the story of him using a shamrock to teach people about the Trinity is an invention of much later Christians. He probably did not single highhandedly convert droves of Irish folks to Christianity. There were more than likely Christians in Ireland by the time Patrick arrived there as a priest.

But he was a captive herdsman in Ireland who escaped. And he did return as a priest. He did do a lot to increase the spread of Christianity across Ireland in the mid 400’s. He is said to have died on March 17, 461.

Before St. Patrick’s Day was an official holiday in Ireland (or anywhere else) it was a Feast Day in the church. Feast days are special days when people remember a Saint and go to church. Till this day, when Saint Patrick’s Day takes place during Holy Week, it is commemorated on a different day.

In seminary I always felt kinda funny, guilty really, about having a party and drinking Jameson and stout in the middle of Lent. In truth, I drank too much. I wasn’t alone. And I wasn’t without a hundred external stressors to pin the “blame” on. There were midterms and finals, paper deadlines, internships and sermons to write. My ex-wife and I had both kids during this busy season. I had bariatric surgery, shortly before my daughter was born… my first semester. I have spent too much of my life escaping my anxiety and fears with alcohol, food, cigarettes and any form of mindless escape that presented itself.

But the guilt, the guilt has been equally – if not more – soul crushing. Guilt has kept me locked in a prison of anxiety and fear far too much of my life. For me it was always cloaked in the religious language of “conviction” and “repentance.” But repentance literally means to turn – about face – from a destructive behavior. Guilt only serves to keep one locked in a sick cycle: rinse wash and repeat. If the definition of insanity is truly “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” then guilt is the very essence of insanity.

Guilt has pervaded my life and more often than not crippled me emotionally, mentally and spiritually (whatever the hell that means). I am striving to become…

I want to become a man of temperance. I want to become a man who can genuinely rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. I want to become a person who is able to let people in. I want to be able to say I am sorry, and I forgive you and I love you with no strings attached. I feel like I am beating a dead horse at this point. We cannot love others well unless we love ourselves. But I will say it until I can live it.

Tonight I am having a low-key St Pat’s celebration with Amanda. We are sipping whiskey. Amanda scored a 4 pack of this season’s KBS. We are watching Entourage. No big parties. No guilt. No shame. I wish I could say no fear. But real life is scary. I have bills. I have creditors that are relentless. I pay $600 a month for insurance that won’t cover my medical bills until I meet my $1,300 deductible.

But my life is rich with people who love me: My children, Amanda, a few close friends I don’t call or text enough, and some amazing like minded folks in the artistic community who really care. I want to praise them all! I want to give thanks for each and every person that has hung in there with me. I want to lift their fragile hearts high with all of my might, like an ancient giving thanks for fire, like a villager giving thanks for the harvest. And as anti-intuitive as it may be to me, this means I must first hold my own calloused, yet fragile heart high and be able to truly say: I’m sorry for keeping you locked in fear. I forgive you for leading me down some broken paths. And… I love you. I raise this glass to me. Don’t get wasted. And don’t be prudish. Just enjoy this night. It is after all a Feast Day! Happy St Patrick’s Day!