Hair Ache

I have a Sunday afternoon hair ache. As 2016 came to a close I wrote “Money“. Two weeks into this year as we were all making promises to do better this year I wrote 更多錢 (More Money). In May I posted “A Fist Full of Fiscal Fears“. 4500 words or so on a topic that hurt my heart since I was a kid. I love saying we can live on less. You need to live on less. Me live on less? How about, “no“.

Hair AcheIn 更多錢 (More Money) I promised to report back at the end of 2017. I need to spill so I don’t feel my hair ache so much. How am I doing? Terrible. I’m really good at hustling when the expenditures exceed revenue, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for FUB reasons. This, living on less when I am making a dollar an hour more than what I made in 2001, not so much.

I made all those nice resolutions about living on less right when a lot of us do. Since then I managed to pay for a flight/hotel/rental car trip for Chinese New Years, put a down payment on a redunkulous (24% for 4 years!) car loan, and not end up destitute in Mount Pleasant, SC after a road trip and hotel stay to see the eclipse. Most years, asking me to find a couple grand above my usual bills for travel would be too big an ask. It is too big an ask. I hustled, worked my ass off, and made it so.

How’s That Hair Ache?

In “A Fist Full of Fiscal Fears” I talked about the fiscal nuclear bombs set to go off in my life this spring and summer. It is the last week of August as I write this. The kids are back in school and though fall doesn’t officially start for another month we are all acting like summer is over. The bombs went off. I came out the other side still housed and still possessing my car and its loan. I made it through.

It is two-thirds through 2017. I used all my bad habits to get to this month with a better car and two big travel events in one year. So, clearly, when I want to, I can live on less. Yeah, I know, why not live on less and be a grownup? Y’know, pay down debt, save for retirement, keep my rainy day money instead of using it to buy yet more new shiny things . . . that. Tithe? Don’t say that word.

I write about money roughly quarterly. The topic keeps coming around to me and making my hair ache. This is yet another promise to actually, physically, truly be authentic when it comes to money and do what I keep saying I ought to do.

Things Work Out

Here I am again, with a Sunday afternoon fiscal hair ache on a payday weekend. One more time I don’t know how I am going to take care of myself for another 11 days. I used to start scheming, deciding who I’d boo-hoo at, pleading for money. But . . . being nearly 60 and able to work, working in fact, and the sympathy card lost its power.

But . . . as I like to say, “and then things work out“. I get in trouble and manage to come out stronger. I started 2002 a convicted wife beater, jobless, homeless, estranged from my son and his mother, and shunned by my family. As I sit in my favorite seat at Starbucks I have a house, a nicer car, better relationships with my son and his mom, and the family is grudgingly accepting the idea that I’m the titular patriarch on our bloodline. I’ve had the same job for almost 18 months. I’m doing ok.

To get here I maxed out the credit card and took money I’d budgeted for car payments to pay for my travel. Now that it is Sunday afternoon and my hair aches, I have to pay off the credit card and get back on track with car payments. I am behind with the City of Richmond so water, gas & trash collection are in jeopardy. Verizon is reminding me that I promised to pay them and I have not kept that promise. Verizon’s response? My phone is off until I pay.

Promises Are Free

Promises only gain credence in retrospect. Until they are fulfilled they are “Sed mulier cupido quod dicit amanti in vento et rapida scribere oportet aqua“. So, rather than spend another 800 words convincing you that this time I really am going to make a change I’ll just say this: it’s the third quarter and I feel like I’ve failed. I accomplished a hair ache.

If only I had a house I could accomplish my goals. Once I have a car I’ll be able to get things done. I need to make more money to enable me to achieve my bucket list. I have the house. Cars have been the way I get myself around for most of my life. This job pays about 40% more than I really need. My excuses for not living on less are evaporating faster than moonshine spilled in the Mojave Desert.

I’ve said I’d live on less for years. And for years there have been seasons of fiscal storms that give me a reason to live on more. This year, though I am making a living wage, I had to replace my car, I was behind on my bills (wtf? how?) and it felt like a ceaseless march of fiscal thunderstorms across my checking account. Each of which became a reason why I’d start living on less next payday–for 40 years.

Tipping Points

The hair ache has to get bad enough that the pain of change is less than the pain of staying the same. That is the tipping point for most of us. For 40 years I’ve been more stubborn, more willing to tolerate misery, than it takes to move me away from my bad habits with money. This has included being homeless more than once.

I can’t say why I am promising again to live on less or whether this promise is the one that will stick. I’ve seen many of my peers rise out of their homeless and criminal past to get comfortable only to backslide into another iteration of jail/half-way house/recovery. Will that be me? I hope not.

I am in a comfortable place. It is easier to slide into living on a bit more than what I make. Four decades of living paycheck to paycheck is a lot of momentum to overcome. But, quoting a Fellowship cliche, “nothing changes if nothing changes.”

Talk Walking Out a Hair Ache

My biggest grudge against God, against the church, against most everyone, is a failure to do as we say and say as we do. Virtue signaling is a venial sin. Don’t signal. Do. This puts an onus on myself. I am no better than those I accuse of sophistry if I too signal virtuous fiscal habits and still belly up to the buffet of first world resources possible with what I earn. Hypocrisy, more than a fear of backsliding, is what eats at me as each paycheck arrives and is spent.

It is the first day of September as I make this edit to the post. 2017 is nearing an end. The trend is toward another year of spending a bit above what I make. It is a “pick your moment” moment.

Goals for the second half: Tithe $1200.00. Pay off the credit card. Catch up all my bills. Complete Dave Ramsey’s “Baby Step 1”. So far, these promises are no better than Gaius Valerius Catullus‘ words from a lover. It’s the third quarter and I’m down by seven points. For better or worse, I’m stronger when I am losing. Will I win? Wait 4 months and find out.

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It Worked

Nobody Wins When the Violence Starts

I speak from experience when I say that once the fists fly the subject being argued cannot be what it was at the start. Now it must be about the fists or worse. There is another way and further on I’ll tell you that it worked.

It Worked
Flower Power, 1967, photographed by Bernie Boston on October 21, 1967, while he was sitting on the wall of the Mall Entrance of the Pentagon

I am sitting at a table in a Starbucks in Richmond, VA. The people around me are chatting about things important to them. I have a mug of coffee to enjoy. The HVAC system is dutifully cooling me down and evaporating off the sweat on my Eagles t-shirt. It is a pleasant Saturday afternoon. Charlottesville is a ninety minute drive from where I sit. As I drove over here I listened to reports on WRVA of a car driving into a crowd of counter protesters who were leaving the mall. One more act of senseless violence added to our legacy. WTVR reported that one person died and 19 were injured.

The event was marketed as a protest against the removal of a statue of Robert E Lee from Emancipation Park. I’ve planted my flag against removing symbols of history that conflict with desired narratives. We should not attempt to bleach history of stories we dislike. My reasons why are explained in a previous post. That said, nothing justifies using a car to murder people.

It Does Work

I couldn’t enjoy my coffee and type this without saying something about today’s events. Violence ruins any hope of talking about symbols and signals and a desire to rewrite history in a more desirable narrative. Still, I’ve given over 300 words to something ugly that is not at all what I wanted to post today. So . . . moving on. Sorry, but I am moving on to what I wanted to write about.

I’ve said repeatedly that bullies are an opportunity to engage in creative mischief. The way you defeat a bully is to mess with his heart. Victory comes when he or she has lost his or her desire to continue the aggression. One condition of this victory is that the bully has to be capable of continuing the aggression. It is a tricky thing to do. It is not what most of us do when we feel threatened. Fight or Flee, are the two usual things.

So, an example from history and two from my own life are needed.

Flowers in Gun Barrels

The first example is from October of 1967, when a Vietnam War protester placed a flower in the barrel of a gun. Wikipedia, “When the antiwar demonstrators approached the Pentagon, Boston was sitting on top of a wall of the Mall Entrance when he saw a lieutenant march a squad of guardsmen into the crowd of demonstrators. The squad then formed a semicircle around the demonstrators, the young man in the photo emerged from the crowd and started placing carnations in the rifles.” David Montgomery wrote in a 2007 Washington Post piece that the person photographed putting carnations in gun barrels was George Edgerly Harris III.

I remember this wrong. I have it that Berkeley’s Bubble lady did this in the same time period as she faced down a company of national guardsmen who were blocking access to People’s Park. No matter, it is exactly the sort of creative mischief I speak of.

Git!

My second example is from last spring when I picked up a passenger from the Omni Hotel who said he wanted to go to the McDonald’s on Brook Road. He got into the front seat. I don’t expect you to know Richmond well enough to know that there is no McDonald’s on Brook Road. It’s cool. I’ll tell you as I told my passenger that the closest McDonald’s to Brook Road is on Chamberlayne Avenue. It’s about a $10.00 ride from the Omni to that McDonald’s One the way he decided that he wanted to sit in the back seat. So he crawled over the seat to sit behind me. And he began to tell me to turn down streets that were not on a cheaper route to his destination.

I’ve been a cab driver on and off for over 20 years. I make it look easy. When you ride with me it seems like I’m not that busy taking you to your destination. But . . . I am. One thing I am doing is deciding if I like your behavior. When I don’t your ride ends short of your destination.

This guy was weirding me out. I knew when he got into the cab at the hotel that I was doing the Omni a favor and had already decided I’d do the ride for free. It stopped being about money as he walked up to the cab. So . . . at the destination when he offered me $5.00 I told him, “git“. Not the right answer. But . . . I don’t care at this point. I want him gone. So, being something of an ass and not a very good cab driver is and was what I did. “Out! Time for you to go!” He got, cussing me out as he did. Whatever. I’m worth something more than $10.00.

It Worked Twice

#2. I have a coworker I’ve named Chihuahua. His first answer to everything is, “no.” It’s a bullshit refusal because most of the time if you wait him out he’ll do what he just refused to do. He’s also something of an Eeyore. Somehow God delights on pissing on him and him alone. Nobody knows the trouble he has seen. Also bullshit. But, you need to know these three of his attributes so that the following narrative makes sense.

I am a cube rat. I pay my bills fixing broken computers for a building populated by cube rats. My job comes from trouble. I like this. Now, to chihuahua. We got a request for web cameras from a VIP. Because some rats are more equal than others, this request got a more rapid than usual response and was handled by chihuahua. Chihuahua is accountable for the web cameras because our company sells both the thing and the service for the thing. There are invoices that must be generated for these web cameras. Stay with me, I’m getting to the point.

Our system of record is ServiceNow. Any work we do or equipment we issue has to be recorded in ServiceNow. Chihuahua refuses to use ServiceNow. He has a rats nest of paper scraps and post-its that he uses to track his work. Great . . . except paper in our digital tubes world is invisible. Only chihuahua knows what chihuahua does. When I asked him (finally I get to the story) if he had recorded his work in ServiceNow and assigned the web cameras to the VIP he said, “Piece of shit system. I don’t use that.”

Just So You Know

Ok, one more bit of back story. I campaigned to take over responsibility for logistics and inventory. Any movement of inventory affects me. The web cams going to a VIP affects me and those I answer to, “can you please update ServiceNow so it stays accurate.”

Ruh roh. Chihuahua does not like being challenged or held to account, “why should I do that. Isn’t that what you do all day? Or . . . maybe you think your stupid B-29 YouTube videos are why you get paid? Would you like to talk about B-29 videos to our boss?” Yeah . . . boom.

Now, as he said this he approached the door to my office and started to close it. This was going to be a closed door argument where chihuahua controlled the battle ground. Not. One thing the social workers tell you in domestic violence prevention classes is that if you feel trapped in a space gently try to escape. If your opponent won’t let you out then barricade yourself in a closet or bathroom or other safe space and call the cops. So, no, not staying in the office behind a closed door.

Trapped?

Thankfully, he did not. Our argument spilled into the common area outside my office. And this happened . . . he stopped barking. He was no longer on safe battleground. His trope, of being a boss lecturing a recalcitrant employee, popped like a soap bubble. Now propriety interfered with his idea of dressing me down and winning the fight. It didn’t help that I said, “the only one with a problem with using ServiceNow is you.”

I’d shut him down. +1 for me. But . . . chihuahua doesn’t give up so easy. On round two I repeated my walk through the door to my office. Once again, being in the common area outside my office disrupted his idea of being a boss. He went to his office and slammed the door shut, locking it. I heard later that he cussed out our boss and declared me to be the biggest asshole in the history of assholes. Yes, I am. My boss’ response? ✌

t’s too late to know if creative mischief would have changed any outcomes at the protest event in Charlottesville. When we are that heated it is our reptilian brain that is screaming at us to fight or flea. It takes extraordinary self-discipline to be the outlier and abstain from getting your licks in.

Bark First, Agree Later

I checked ServiceNow later and found that Chihuahua had created 6 requests for web cameras destined for the VIP. My inventory showed 6 fewer web cameras. Still a bullshit refusal.

I am supposed to ask you to seek out training in the sort of behavioral judo I practice. 1 dead, 19 injured. Too late. Except . . . the reason I have not been hurt in over two decades of cab driving is that I am weird. I do crazy shit that disrupts the usual tropes. I don’t know what that will be for you. Just . . . I keep finding ways to mess with people who want a pound of my flesh.

It’s working for me. Maybe it will work for you as well. Maybe we can tell difficult stories, keep symbols of a bitter past and do simple things like love kin, neighbor and enemy alike.

This posted after I published my piece. Worth a look:

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Secrets

Let me explain the title of this piece. This aphorism, “secrets have a way of getting out,” was in my head as I watched our local TV station report the march on Broad Street because Dumpf was inaugurated. Dumpf’s opposition is desperate for a secret that will kill his ability to be President. The secret that keeps revealing itself is our national general anxiety now that Pimp Daddy US has flown to Palm Springs to devote himself to golf.


NO TRUMP, NO KKK, NO RACIST USA! NO TRUMP, NO KKK, NO RACIST USA! NO TRUMP, NO KKK, NO RACIST USA! NO TRUMP, NO KKK, NO RACIST USA! NO TRUMP, NO KKK, NO RACIST USA!

I said in an earlier post that anxiety never speaks of life or victory. It speaks of death and injury and misery and trouble and toil. It is what God gave us so we don’t get eaten by a sabertooth tiger. I’m making this edit three weeks after I first posted this piece. Our current national mood feels like an anxiety fueled tantrum where we don’t want to understand that this was inevitable. The secret is that Dumpf is destiny.

It’s a lot easier to be against something than it is to be handed the royal scepter. I can happily write a million words of snark, never advocating for an answer and it is of little consequence. We have had a professional class of agitprops for as long as I remember. These folk make it their career to be agin it. It doesn’t matter what the thing to be agin is. They are just agin it. It has happened in history that the agitprops win and have the scepter because they killed the king. For the bulk of human history the way the regime changes is through war. Equally constant is the use of genocide to control a king’s enemies. One reason we are exceptional because we have been able to change kings without bloodshed for over two centuries. Trump is finding out that being mouthy and agin it is very different from being king.

I used to try to engage with them, to ask what they wanted. The answers were usually some foolish platitude like giving the people a fair deal. Anarchists would say they wanted to just wreck everything and replace it with governance by community boards. The Communists have tried in numerous places to enact their utopia only to find that the wealth moves into the black market and ignores them. Socialists are just communists that are willing to allow some private ownership of capital and tangible assets. Same deal, the core belief is that the community in the form of government is the better operator of the enterprises of an empire. It fails.

Now I leave them alone. I am a follower of the Way. I believe that Jesus of Nazareth died and was raised again on the third day. Read Σύμβολον τῆς Νικαίας for the rest of it. I don’t need to hate or fear or bother myself all that much with what happens in Washington D.C. The change I seek comes from being it. I’ve written extensively here about what that looks like. I’ll not repeat it here. The PUDFRB agitprops throw bricks through store windows with the same religious passion that I sing Amazing Grace. It’s a waste of time to deal with them. They are walking dead incapable of being light and salt.

We were headed, may still be headed for a Nazi America. We are almost there. We just need a leader who leads by either overarching patriotism or by a constant drumbeat of reasons to fear everything except the dear leader. Trump marks a delay in this, maybe. His opposition seems intent on furthering their goal of revolution to be replaced by some childish fantasy of what would make America great for them.

✠ ✠ ✠

It is a tactic. Find some juicy rumor about somebody and beat it to death on social media. Muster up a ton of righteous indignation. Keep at it because if you repeat an accusation enough times it gains the heft of truth. Lately, it is a finger pointed at the left, who have become obsessed with the idea that our president hired Russian prostitutes to piss on the bed that Obama once slept it. This is added to the steady drumbeat that Putin personally hacked the election and caused Cheeto Satan to be the most powerful man in the world.

✠ ✠ ✠

That’s one. We have Bradley Manning, nee Chelsea Manning, who has garnered enough sympathy by choosing to cross-dress that Obama commuted his sentence. This one goes way back for me. When I was naturalized as a citizen of the Peepul’s United Free Demokratik Republik of Berkeley I had to pass a quiz and sign a loyalty oath. I was given a classification: zzcc, for apprentice cab driver in a collective. It’s not a very high status. I would have scored higher if I had agreed to be classified after getting my first crazy check. High status goes to an African-American lesbian who has six kids by six different fathers and is on TANF, SNAP and so on. Even higher status is awarded to her if she is an addict.

What’s happened since is that guys have heard the unspoken message and decided that gaining status to get the girl means agreeing to be gender fluid. The penultimate is the love-fest for a treasonous spy simply because he decided to wear a training bra. See if this doesn’t sound nuts to you: that one could do anything, any depraved thing, and get a pass because they self-identify as trans-gender.

Young women are my krypton. I am a creepy old guy lurking about the tubes ogling women young enough to be my daughter. But . . . Chelsea Manning is my savior. I can simply declare that I self-identify as a twenty-something lesbian and solve my ethical issue. Since I now am Alice and not Alan, I am 22 and a lesbian, I gain status in my old PUFDRB home. I qualify for attaching Go-Pro’s to my shoes to get video of panties worn by SumYung HotTea and others. When challenged, I get to claim that I was born this way and am fulfilling my destiny.

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We are in trouble if your train of thought is, “sure, if that’s what makes him happy, let’s set up a personal shopping appointment at Nordstrom’s and drop some cash on a new wardrobe.” One of the inanities of some is that their rules are ok but those old rules by people they dislike, those rules are not ok. I’ve been in so many seminars by agitprops where after hours and hours of discussion the core boundaries that emerge have a strong resemblence to either the القرآن الكريم or the Bible. Efforts at wiping the slate clean are amusing to me because very often even though the past is disregarded it has a way of sneaking back into the resulting decisions.

✠ ✠ ✠

I am writing this on the Saturday after Trump’s inauguration. I had to turn off my phone because Inger is apoplectic. She started blasting Ray last night, who turns out to be surprisingly empathetic to Inger, and me and Felina. Through the fb meme storm, the story seems to be that she has made a home for herself in a house leased by Felina, who is the one among peers with the most legit presence. Inger is recently out of rehab and at risk of arrest because she’s blown off her drug-court judge and social worker. I don’t think I am giving too much away in saying this. So . . . yeah, Inger has garnered the ire of her housemates because she launched an epic fit. Nothing damaged that threatens the security deposit but also the house has a long weekend cleaning up. Felina doesn’t have a license. It was never necessary. The one vehicle owned by the house has expired tags. This is not a bunch that gives a rip about compliance. Felina is herself capable of epic latina angery storms. Ray and Felina managed to drive Inger to the psych ward without getting arrested. Not bad.

Inger’s tantrum seems to be an attempt at being pissed off enough, ugly enough, that she will be heard in D.C. and they will come correct and make Billary president. Inger is one of those who spent a few hours being booked and released from Richmond City Jail. She was charged with public intoxication and assault on a cop. That went well. Inger is still learning that attempting to motivate and lead by force of negative emotion is a game of diminishing returns. More hate has the opposite effect of what is intended. It’s power over a group diminishes to arrive at indifference. Inger should be out next week. It’s going to be rough because the hospital followed protocol and contacted her probation officer. Her near future will not signal very much virtue.

✠ ✠ ✠

There was a picture that raced about social media that claimed to be of a dead woman who had been left out in the cold with her child. So it was said, she and her child died on that bus bench because no one had stepped up to help her. The proffered answer was something program, NGO or government above and beyond what we are already doing. There was very little bandwidth given to the thought that we, without a program, could bring a cup of soup to that woman and sit on the bench with her, talking. No, it had to be Pimp Daddy US who had to do something more.

✠ ✠ ✠

Service is ugly. It messes with your orthodoxies. The usual tropes, that the guy asking for help is somehow damaged and undeserving of mercy, get stomped on. The other, that we are not enough, or that sacrificing will put us in jeopardy, are both shown to be false by the many who have sacrificed to give mercy and find that God has blessed them.

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Back to Chelsea. I have no interest in what underwear you choose to wear or whether you decide to be something other than whatever ugly you were born with. Neither is it noteworthy to me if you love a partner who shares your same genitals. There are two things I care about: parenting and dysfunction. For me, there are two genders: parents and non-parents. If you are a parent then I care about how you raise your kids and what that will mean to us as we have to cope with your progeny. Dysfunction should be obvious. If the reason you have decided to be an outlier and choose some gender identity that isn’t cis-male or cis-female is some bitterness or mental health thing–fix that. It’s the bitterness and the cray-cray and the way that makes an impact on us that matters to me. Whether you end up as two sausages or two oysters or whatever but are otherwise mostly healthy it is the healthy that I wish for.

I am struck by my encounters with some within the LGBTQ world. Rather than take what is noble and good about men or women they seem to like being obnoxious. The caricature they present as their true selves isn’t what we would wish from the better parts of what masculinity or femininity means. No, it’s the trashy stuff, the stuff where men or women are being asshats. That’s what seems to define the transgender set. They choose the aspects of men and women that are shameful and shove it in our faces as the real identity. It makes good copy and a terrible lifestyle.

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Things are going to change. It looks like a lot of the bribery of the Demokrats that they were using to stay in office is at risk. I am ok with this. What the Demokrats were offering through Billary was something we couldn’t keep doing. We are broke, America. Pimp Daddy US doesn’t have our money. The only difference between Dumpf and Billary was the severity of the collapse. With Billary the PUDFRB agitprops would get their D.C. in flames and a government that would have to shut down because it could no longer pay its bills. With Dumpf it may still happen but not as soon as it would have with Billary.

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I’m repeating myself  in this next. Empires come and go. Emperor’s rule and die. Dynasties rise and fall. The circle of life continues. Dumpf is done in at most, eight years. In the meantime, if you want to change the world the means to do so hasn’t changed. If you have not befriended your neighbor now would be a good time to do so. If you are renting now would be a good time to look for land to buy. You want something with a lot big enough to support a small garden and maybe a few chickens. If that’s illegal where you are maybe use all that political animus to get the county or city to approve of keeping chickens. Humbly seek to strengthen your relationships to those around you. Trust your instincts. Listen with both ears and be slow to speak. You’ll know what to do.

We change the world by being the change we seek. I know, it’s a cliche. Whatever. Still, do the small acts of kindness, be merciful and gracious first. Remember this? אם אין אני לי, מי הוא בשבילי? אם אני רק לעצמי, מה אני? ואם לא עכשיו, אימתי? This also: עשו לאחרים את מה שהייתם רוצים שיעשו לכם – זאת תמצית התורה ודברי הנביאים.

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Hello 2017

I don’t have 1500 odd words on a single topic. I have a storm cloud of random thoughts buzzing around like knats on meth. So, this post will be a little (a lot) scattered. Your normally crazy-making, pugnacious blog posts will resume soon enough.

♦ ♦ ♦

We have been told for a century that we have no agency, we can’t do it ourselves, we must keep taking what pittance Pimp Daddy US deigns to grant us and praise him for his benevolence. We don’t need to burn down D.C. or anything that dramatic. Just move our commerce into the black market. Yes, some of us will get arrested for failing to pay taxes and such. That’s the cost of doing business in an authoritarian, socialist republic. Pimp Daddy US has never been able to completely shut down the extant black market so I don’t see him able to do so anytime soon. Self-reliance, the thing of 2017.

♦ ♦ ♦

These are the current cabinet departments under the Executive Branch: State, Treasury, Defense, Attorney General, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Health & Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Education, Energy, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security. 15 huge bureaucracies that have an enlightened self-interest in continued existence. In addition, there is the White House Chief of Staff, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Trade Representative, the Ambassador to the United Nations, the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors, and the Administrator of the Small Business Administration. 7 more bureaucracies that are treated like Cabinet level offices in the Executive Branch which also want to continue to get funding.

Congress has its own administrative organization feeding from the trough of Pimp Daddy US. You have to also add in the lobbyists, who are a hidden fifth element of the federal government. Much of the sausage making of governing this empire happens inside the offices of law firms lobbying on behalf of their clients. They provide the staff needed to write the laws, provide congress with the digests of the legislation written, advocate for the laws desired by their clients and provide cover for congressmen and senators who want to claim that the junket to the Turks and Caicos was a working one. We won’t be able to do much with the licentious relations happening on K-Street. Free speech, etc. There are things we can do, though.

We are a multi-trillion dollar economy. We are one of the wealthiest and largest empires in history. It takes a government of a certain size to run this massive empire we have made. That said, we have built an unwieldy and ineffective bureaucracy in the Executive Branch that has become a tail eating serpent. It no longer exists to serve the President or us. It exists to serve itself and to grow. We will not fix our present malaise unless we cut this cancer on the republic down to size. So, if I were king (no danger of that), I’d do several things. First, day one,shut the government down for a hundred days. Essential services like Defense and Homeland Security would stay in operation. Everything else, though, would be shuttered. All Executive orders would be suspended pending review. Next, these cabinet offices would be kept: State, Treasury, Defense, Attorney General, Commerce, Transportation, Homeland Security, White House Chief of Staff, Office of Management and Budget. The others would be shut down over two years. The work they do would be turned over to private, non-profit entities with supporting law and/or regulation through the Attorney General to ensure they behave themselves. These entities would not receive federal funding.

Dumpf campaigned on “Drain the Swamp”. The first president to take a serious whack at the bloated fourth branch of the government will get crucified by the press and those with a vested interest in sustaining it. The opposition will unleash all the political dirty tricks they have. It will be a fight for power unlike anything we have seen since the Civil War. If that president survives the fight and manages to eliminate the Cabinet departments I’d like to see gone it will have the effect of taking money out of Congress’ hands and out of the kitty of any following President, maybe. Anything done on an Executive Order can be reversed by succeeding Presidents. Part of the victory will be to tie the hands of any successors so that putting back the eliminated Cabinet Departments will be too politically expensive. Swamp drained. Power in Washington reduced. Both good things.

I am not so naive as to believe that shrinking the Executive Branch will make the government less corrupt. Wealth and power are like water. They find their own level. In the absence of power vacated by the Executive Branch something will step up to fill the void. We’ve had our century of feeding on Pimp Daddy US’s benevolence. Government is already corrupt. I’d like to try allowing that corruption to go somewhere else. Gone out of the White House maybe we can find a better battlefield on which to fight it to the death.

♦ ♦ ♦

I am reading James O. Hannay’s, “The Wisdom of the Desert”. Holy Crap! We are a bunch of glutinous wussies. I keep talking about living on less, devoting a whole blog post (Money) to it recently. I haven’t changed my habits. I still fuss over finding an afternoon at Starbucks on one cup of coffee to be too expensive. Will I follow through in 2017? The new year is 2 days old. We have 363 more days to see if I do.

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Ray RobertaBob’s rules to live by:

  1. Lidera con compasión y misericordia. Solamente después de que su encuentro con alguien desafíe su opción para comenzar con la compasión usted encuentra maneras de limitar creativamente su misericordia hacia ellos. Incluso entonces, considere a los monjes y su voluntad de sufrir más allá de lo que la mayoría de la gente consideraría sana.
  2. El perdón te hace libre.
  3. Constantemente pregunte si sus elecciones actuales le acercan a su deidad o interfieren con su relación con su deidad. Todo lo que te aleje de una relación sana con tu deidad debe dejar tu vida.
  4. Un poco de miseria es bueno para el alma. Algunos de lo que quieres sólo pueden venir a través de la lucha.
  5. El rey no es tu papá de azúcar ni tu amigo. Deja de esperar que él te cuide.
  6. La sabiduría comienza con parientes y amigos. Amad a vuestros parientes, amigos y enemigos por igual.
  7. La forma en que usted califica para ser servido es servir a otra persona.

♦ ♦ ♦

That’s pretty much it. I joined my local YMCA as 2016 neared an end. I’ve done 3 workouts so far. I’ve been on diabetes meds long enough to be addicted and overly tolerant of their effects. Bringing my disease under control will mean more addictive/damaging/powerful meds or a much more impactful change in habits. If you want to pray for something, pray that I’ll get it in gear and eat better/exercise more. I’ve said enough about my money dysfunction. It’s not a matter of more knowledge or more words. New Year’s Resolutions are slow-news-day filler. I am a writer. Talking about doing something isn’t the hard thing. It’s the follow through. Stay tuned. This story will play itself out over the next few years. Keep reading the blog to find out how it ends.

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Is There a God?

1 Corintios 2:14 “El que no tiene el Espíritu no acepta lo que procede del Espíritu de Dios, pues para él es locura. No puede entenderlo, porque hay que discernirlo espiritualmente.”

Right. An omniscient, omnipotent diety gives a shit about me. That’s not crazy. Nope. This diety won’t interfere with my choice to act out and will keep me from harm even though I am causing harm to myself and maybe others. He (?He? not s/he, s/him, or whatever?) What kind of patricarchical, obtuse, obscene, oppressive, phallic bullshit is this that God has to be a cis-guy? How do we know that this is all an illusion. That I am alone in my world, there are no others, what I percieve is wind, water, smoke, mirrors or all of that? Why would solipsism be false?

We have science. For 800 years the record has been corrected. Truth identified and documented. The farce of the bible exposed. Nietzsche is deep, “God is Dead.” Can we just get on with it and dispense with all this religious folly?

To which I have questions. What of women? Women are emotional, irrational, demanding, frustrating and desirous beyond reason. Some wicked demon made it such that a pleasure equal to eating demands that we deal with women. How sick is that?  Women are trouble. Yet, they are inescapable. More of the shitshow we arrived in. Woo. More questions. Are there exceptions to the law of causality? How does the quantum description of reality give rise to the reality we perceive?

I’m a bard, a bad one at that. I succeeded in my effort to avoid science as much as possible in college. My drunk alien RayRoberta Bob as god is almost plausable to me were it not a lifetime of indoctrination in the Reformed Tradition of the Presbyterian Church. So, I am going to add to my list of literary offenses and fail to answer the questions I posed.

My failure is not without purpose. First, I can’t begin to answer the physics questions I pose. I’m a stupid English major from a California State University in a time frame when degrees were being granted to proud C- students like myself. I graduated, but barely. Second, my world is absurd and mysterious. I’ve given up debating with God over whether the seven creation epochs were 7 Gregorian Calendar days of 24 hours each. The Bible and much more fails when made to survive an examination through Western scientific methods. I surrendered and in that surrender found my life to be better. God made the world in six phases and rested on the seventh. Good enough for me.

I mentioned Inger in a previous post. Inger, along with her self-serving approval of mincome, is annoyed with truth. The world consistently disobeys here desire for a modern, angular exegesis of reality. Absurdity and mystery piss her off. It should make sense. Everything should make sense. That it doesn’t is an affront to her stainless steel and concrete aesthetic.

Inger has not yet given up her fight with the universe. She means to win this one or die trying. So, all the kings men who have tried to put her back together in a less intense and more curved shape have failed. OCD much? Yeah.

I quit fighting my past. I am the dutiful first born son of a Presbyterian mother and Methodist father who became Presbyterian when he began dating my Mom. The older I get the more comfortable my same spot in the pews has become. Presbyterian Orthodoxy is an inescapable part of who I am.

So, my direct answer to the question of the existence of God is a reflexive, “yes.” No, it isn’t well-reasoned any more than my annual itches for an impossibly perfect Christmas that rattle about thanks to my Mom’s life-long fight with her sister for approval from their Mom. My belief in the existence of God is an act of faith, irrational and at odds with the world Inger wishes for. There are very few truly straight lines in my world.

Nothing I say can convince you of the existence of God. Either you agree he exists or you don’t. I’ve also lost my taste for winning the argument on this. I am quite happy in my little shack on a less traveled road in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. My call is to serve regardless of the object of my service’s beliefs regarding God. Sometimes, when you are hungry, a hot meal is the best altar call possible.

Wikipedia has an article on the question here. Allow me to offer a chain of reasoning that is weak but for me, worthy. First, does love exist? If it does and God is love, then since love exists God must also exist. Further. Love is a verb and by inference we witness the existence of God in his actions demonstrating his love for us.

Love is a weak voice shouted down by all the dissonant noise alive in the lives of us who found comfort on the shores of the River Styx. Crazy is our normal. Altruism, true altruism, triggers suspicion for us. There has to be something behind it, some gain or motive, some desire that drives the act of kindness. We find it hard to believe that self-less acts of kindness are possible. That there could be a deity who would want us to experience altruism seems impossible.

Hebreos 4:1-2, “Cuidémonos, por tanto, no sea que, aunque la promesa de entrar en su reposo sigue vigente, alguno de ustedes parezca quedarse atrás.Porque a nosotros, lo mismo que a ellos, se nos ha anunciado la buena noticia; pero el mensaje que escucharon no les sirvió de nada, porque no se unieron en la fe a los que habían prestado atención a ese mensaje.”

Yet, we live insane lives so Inger’s desire for a rational world hits our ears as a dissonant minor chord. The God I know fights being contained in a bakelite trimmed stainless steel and concrete temple. Left alone Chernobyl is overrun by moss and plants that ruin its modern architecture. His world is at least fractal in its complexity. He made a world in which Quantum theory helps make the calculus work. Why not an insane, absurd God for this shitshow?

I believe God exists for completely selfish reasons. I grew up in a house infested with mental illness. I was tormented by anxiety from a very early age. Anger became my binky. I could have what I wanted because I was able to cajole my parents into indulging me. This lasted until 1979 or so and my initial years with my paternal grandmother. I returned to Earl Palmer and the First Presbyterian of Berkeley seeking answers. I wanted something of home, even as fucked up as home was. Earl is brilliant and patient with yungins. It was after many Sundays listening to him preach that my heart was softened and I was ready to let God in. I believe God exists because that belief keeps me sane.

Later in life, as I came to understand that my life was going to collapse again and I’d have to rebuild for the fourth time, I needed a family. I found that in St. Giles, in the Men’s Fellowship. Without them I’d either be dead or in prison. Along the way I’ve experienced miracles of grace and mercy that knit well with my Protestant upbringing.

I believe God exists for irrational reasons. I attribute some of my experiences to him against reasoned deduction. It is a knowledge I have always had and found comfort in. Mine is not the place to win the argument. Mine is to serve you anyway, to share and walk with you as we count down our sunrises until we are rowed to the far shore of the River Styx.

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Mincome

Salmos 84:3, “Señor Todopoderoso, rey mío y Dios mío,
    aun el gorrión halla casa cerca de tus altares;
también la golondrina hace allí su nido,
    para poner sus polluelos.

Sweet! I can live on the dole and pretend I am a writer who makes enough to support his addiction to useless work! Stellar. I love my fellow red-diaper babies. Especially the anarchist ones. We’ll tear down the government and make one of our own. The community will own everything. Everybody will be guaranteed a base salary regardless of whether they work or not. We’ll make education free. We’ll make health care free. We’ll eliminate income taxes. We’ll legalize all drugs, opioids, marijuana, all of it. Let’s make sex workers a protected class. LGBTQ Forever! We can set up houses all across the land where you can get your freak on and be stoned! Awesome!

Never heard of this? Think this is a pipe dream of a hippie wanna be millennial? News Flash, we did this. We hated it. What happens when you guarantee income to us, the dysfunctional end of the Bell Curve? Good things? No. We become more fucked up than we were before you made it possible us to expand our man-caves in our parent’s basements and buy better pajamas. If you haven’t noticed, dysfunctional people do dysfunctional shit. Giving us a monthly check just means we can do more dysfunctional shit. It’s awesome.

Mincome is a solution looking for a problem. It is an overly simple framing of the problem as lack of income. It ignores much about us, about people, especially my us, the dysfunctional at the scary end of the Bell curve. The potential for unintended consequences is stunning.

But, we have some who pitch ideas like mincome as the reasonable thing to do. These folk desperately cling to their pumpkin spice latte’s and Nordstrom credit cards (badly over their credit limit) and other social signals to prove that they are the good folk. Mincome is another way to signal that they care. And, after all, it is the strength of the caring signal that is the important thing.

One of Felina’s friends is like this. Felina met her at Stanford. She’s picture perfect NoCal grunge with a bit of goth added. Felina liked her because the girl had the best weed she’d ever smoked. Oh, oh, OH! you are horrified that a hot mess like Felina gets high? Just . . . go away. I’m not going to get dragged into a 1500 word rant that boils down to Nancy Reagan, “Just Say No.” I’m busy with another axe I want to grind. Y e e e s I am a Dad and I inhaled and now I don’t and as-far-as-I-am-concerned addiction is a deadly short game. B u u u t . . . this isn’t an anti-addiction rant.

Where was I? Oh. Felina’s friend, Inger (pronounced anger). No, I am not going to describe Inger’s age, hair, her figure, all that. There is enough free porn on the Intertubes that you can rub your sausage or clam without my help. Is she hot? Are you stupid? Inger is all about protests and grunge guys who claim they are musicians because they can crush Dragonforce’s, “Through the Fire and the Flames” in Guitar Hero. Inger is also, lately, off the radar doing another stint of rehab. Don’t get your hopes up. She drifts about various soup kitchens somewhat volunteering but mostly eating and live tweeting.

Inger is all about mincome. She totally cares about poverty and world peas. She’s punched a Planned Parenthood protester in the face more than once. After graduating from the county’s Anger Management class, twice. She also, before rehab, was depressed because she wasn’t able to get this year’s Nordstrom BP Cotton Anorak. Inger wants mincome for herself. And free mental health care, especially free mental health care. Legal weed, maybe also. Actually . . . legal weed first. Until rehab happened.

One of the many things that mincome ignores is something we Reformed Tradition Christians have heard all our lives, men are made for work. We don’t need more money or a guaranteed minimum income that means we don’t have to work. We need a cause to pursue, we need work. Not so we have access to necessary resources. It goes deeper than that. Idle men, especially idle young men, are fertile ground for trouble. Mincome takes away a key component of our reason for existence–our work.

Women are different. Women are made to help men love God more dearly. They are also the bulk of the work of birthing and raising the next generation. That secondary purpose, kids, is preoccupying for women. Women should and do work, but their two responsibilities mean that they are not first made for work in the same way that men are. I’ll grant you that for a woman, mincome can feel like a solid plan. Inger agrees.

These childish platitudes keep being pushed by left-wing media. Poor people? Give them money with no strings attached. Done. Hungry? Feed the hungry. Homeless? House the homeless. If we do enough of this we’ll accomplish an end to poverty, hunger, and homelessness. New Deal? New Frontier anybody? How about the Great Society? The War on Poverty? How is that working out? An unacknowledged elephant in your safe space is that simplistic solutions like this surface disastrous unintended consequences.

2 Tesalonicenses 3: “Porque incluso cuando estábamos con ustedes, les ordenamos: «El que no quiera trabajar, que tampoco coma.»”

Todo 2 Thessalonians 3 vale la pena leer. One of those unintended consequences is a non-verbal insult to men. Through mincome you are telling us that we can’t provide enough to our kin, that we are not enough. This is demeaning. So much so that our answer is to take your mincome and use it to run black market businesses where we can feel pride of ownership and the satisfaction of being providers to our kin.

We have dumped trillions in foreign aid into third world countries. These trillions have spawned countless acts of evil and corruption. Our trillions we intend for the poor and suffering enrich government bureaucrats and corrupt NGO’s. Yet we continue to be told that we are not doing enough, that we have to dump more cash into the life of that big eyed kid on TV because he or she is still miserable. And that the problem is that we are not trying hard enough. These Utopian fantasies of an end to misery will work if we just apply ourselves with enough due diligence. Did you fill your UNICEF box this Halloween? It’s not our fault that after 73 years these endeavors have entrapped those we sought to help. You really want Grandma to live on cat food? What’s your answer to a single mom with a dickface baby daddy? Grow a garden? Raise chickens? Seriously?

Yah, yah. All this government funded mercy does some good. Cities that have done, “Housing First” have had some success with it. You can listen to the Freakanomics story here: Most of the time when a story of this sort is aired it is presented as the most original, best idea ever. No one has ever thought of this. Why not just pay a guaranteed income to everybody? Poverty solved. I mean, what reasonable person would oppose that? Grandma could afford wet cat food.

But . . . whatever. Do it. Pay a guaranteed minimum annual salary of at least $40,000.00 with benefits. Give women free child care, free maternity leave, and 320 hours a year of paid time off. Ignore Cuba, the USSR, China, North Korea, Venezuela and others where such nonsense is the rule. Ignore the half-century of experience we have in this country with presidential initiatives like Roosevelt’s New Deal and Grandma Billary’s proffered Fair Deal. Us deplorables will happily use your benevolence as we have for most of a century. We’ll cash your checks and take that cash to the black market where we can get all our gluttonous heart desires. We’ll occupy ourselves with grey and black market businesses to give ourselves the work we can’t get because we accepted mincome. Thank you and please, may I have another?

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F R E E D O M ! ! !

Explore God: Is Christianity Too Narrow?

Christianity has too many rules. If I want to party all night long to loud music while my buddy boffs a hot chick, why not? I mean, it’s my life. Fuck off!

Let’s see . . . creepy fifty-something guy trying to relive his despicable twenties. That’s not a problem. No. It’s fine. Yeah. Totally fine.

Some two-year old’s discover a certain word and find it to the the most powerful spell they can utter. It’s one syllable. It’s total bad-ass magic. What’s the word? “No.” That child utters that word and suddenly the world stops. All the grownups perk up. Some of them freeze. It’s awesome.

Right around puberty we learn a word-storm that boils down to, “the grownups are stupid. I’m old enough. I should be able to do what I want.” Some of us do and get noticed by this space. Those that do make great copy. We love them.

The question for today in church was, “Is Christianity too Narrow?” I had a reflexive, “no” come out of my mouth before I had a chance to stop it. You can click away now because I’m going to say triggering and macro-aggressive things next. Gone yet? Go. Git. Seriously, this is not the blog post you should be reading. Go back to YouTube for more kitten videos.

The ones I want gone are the ones who will not listen to what’s next. According to them I am intolerant, racist, misogynist, lbgt hater, alt-right freak, etc. Because of my adjectives I am innately at odds with the orthodoxy of the day. Because of my history I cannot shed the scarlet letter that binds me to shame. Nothing I can say is sufficient. It is I who has to change, who has to behave in a way amenable to the haters of this blog. It is I that must continue to ask for supplication from my haters and fail to get it. So, I’m not talking to my haters.

I loved the word, “no” so much I kept saying it all the way to my grandma’s house in Albany, CA where I found someone who had me before I could say it. It wasn’t until I was fifty-something that I could sing, “I’m Trading My Sorrows” and feel it deep in my belly.

It was once I began to say, “Yes Lord” that a lifetime of Sunday’s in worship began to make an impact on my life. None of the altar-calls before the last one stuck. I’m alive today because of Jesus.

Tommy Nance gave the message last Sunday. He made a challenge to those present. He asked us if worship could be a sin. He asked us to wonder if all we do is warm a pew on Sunday whether our comfort in that pew could be used to coddle us into a dead reflection of God’s image birthed in us when sperm & egg became zygote. He challenged us to get out of the church and be the church in our communities. He accused us of brilliantly winning debates against unbelievers who challenge our exegesis. He described listening evangelism where we let people tell us about God.

You have met us before. You know us better than we know ourselves. You see us come down the street and go inside your homes to wait us out. We are the traveling sales people of the church. We door-knock, bibles at the ready, locked & loaded to capture more heathens. The only win is one where you give your life to Jesus right then. What we want is to close the sale, win the deal and bring home another buck for the church.

That isn’t me. I wasn’t asked to sell you so you become a Christian. I was asked to shut my pie hole and serve you. I am narrow in my beliefs. I do believe that a lot of the current orthodoxy about inclusion is the very opposite of inclusion. I don’t get what I want most of the time because my way of life as a Christian forces some difficult choices.

I’ve had it good. There is very little I can’t have or do if I set about to accomplish it. I’m almost 15 years into boot-strapping myself to where I am today. The devil’s buffet was a delight for some of my years. Until I pushed away from it and left my dirty plate and half-empty soda-pop at the table. To root myself in a 2,000 year tradition, to know that many have gone before me with similar questions, didn’t become a reason to reject my heritage. It has become a comfort.

When you have privilege, when the world is your oyster, your presence as a citizen of a first world nation gives you access to uncountable wealth. Oh stop. I know. The vast majority of the world lives on a few dollars a day. Our richest 1% controls an obscene percentage of the world’s wealth. I won’t hear a pitch that the answer is to take all that wealth and give it to the 99%. Go away.

Well, not yet. The wealth redistribution project that has been under way for almost a century has cost in the hundreds of trillions. We have sent boatloads of cash to that doe-eyed kid on TV who just wants a few cents a day from us to be able to eat a couple crumbs of leftover UNESCO rice. That kid is still in the late-night TV ads with a tear in his (?her?) cheek. Multi-trillions of dollars later and the claim is that we have not done enough. I’m in my mid-fifties. I first saw that ad as a teenager. That kid is old enough to be a grandparent. Somebody must not think I am very bright.

I need to stop at one paragraph of that. This is what I want to say. My privilege did not fix my major malfunctions. Quite the opposite. My privilege enabled me to have my major malfunctions. I could, to a great extent, use my position to insulate myself from misery. The idea that the answer for that doe-eyed kid is a first world life of privilege is an idea ripe for this space in its absurdity and folly. What I need is structure. It is miserable to choose a life which demands I wake at 4am for chapel and includes a reading schedule that will get me through the Psalms in a week. I count that misery as joy compared to having tasted the Devil’s buffet and pushed away from the table.

All of what the Devil has to offer has a short half-life. Early on it is grand. You want that early experience. Soon enough, though, his appetite for your soul begins to drain the euphoria out of his buffet and the bleed of your joy and spirit begins. Each attempt at recovering that early ecstasy diminishes the pleasure and increases the soul-sucking pain. These should be familiar outcomes: morgue, hospital, rehab and prison or jail. Some or all of those happen more than once except the morgue. If you are there then you have been eaten and there is nothing left to eat.

Jesus offers us an examined, disciplined life of self-sacrificing love. Those aspects of our lives that need to die are offered up to the cross in repentance. Christian life is a constant sacrifice of those aspects of ourselves which hinder a deeper relationship to Christ. It is narrow by design. And their lies the problem for anyone like myself that has a first-world life. We are asked to give up all the perks that come with being who we are in this time and place.

I part company with evangelists because they run right past this truth: this life isn’t for everyone. Christ died to live and to be his disciple we must also die to the world in order to live in Him. It is a high price to pay for a life that does not assure comfort. No, actually, being Christian has been and continues to be a miserable life for many. Saying the prayer and joining us isn’t ipso-facto, life-time warranty, 100% guarantee acquistion in 5 easy payments of a release from strife. Nope. I did both. I supped at the Devil’s buffet and realized he was eating me. Then I knocked on Heaven’s Door and Jesus let me in. That has made all the difference.

 

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Does this evangelism tract make me look fat?

First Posted 06-Jul-2014

At church today we started our conversation on missions to our neighbors. It was the same old same old. Lots of brainstorming around our strengths, how to make ourselves more attractive to our neighbors–like some dejected debutante who is freaked out days before the cotillion because no one has invited her. We talked about stuff we’d done in the past and I got kind of annoyed at all of it.

watchtower-magazineThe big problem is that we go into our own neighborhood with the wrong attitude. We want them to come to us, to be part of our church and don’t pay much mind to who they are, what their strengths are, their hopes & dreams or whether they are already part of a church. It’s an altered version of the Jehovah’s Witness door-knock bit. We go through the neighborhood, knocking on doors, wondering if we chose the right dress, if our hair looks good, if we picked the right perfume, nervous about what to say . . . all about us.

We’ve been a church at this location for 75 years. The neighborhood knows who we are and they don’t like us. By now, we are that bible toting old bitty in the ill-fitting blonde wig and crooked lipstick who accosts each neighbor she encounters with, “are you saved?” We park outside their homes instead of across the street in front of our own building or in our own parking lot. We make noise at times when they wished we were quiet. We don’t bother asking if they are Episcipalian. No, we hire expensive, outside consulting firms to compile census data and tell us the demographics of our neighbors. We think we are great and wonder why our neighbors don’t agree. We really haven’t changed, in some respects, in 75 years. We are still annoying.

What’s the answer, then? We are pretty enough, or were at one time. The attitude we fail with is the assumption that we are there to meet needs that remain hidden behind locked doors so that more folk will fill the pews on Sunday morning. We are not. We are there to identify strengths to be enhanced and ways in which our needs can embolden our neighbors to take care of themselves[Lupton, 2012]. We are there to help them help themselves.

It doesn’t matter that all of our best dresses are in the cleaners and we can’t afford to get them out. That we haven’t had our hair done in a month because pesky things like the mortgage and the car payment, the Internet and light bill, got paid first. They don’t care that our French manicure is two months old for similar reasons. What matters is what we can help them do for themselves. Regardless of the holes in our jeans and the rips in our flip-flops, we can still provide knowledge and resources. Also, I’d bet, behind those doors are strained relationships no less intense than what we might find in “ghettos”. Upper-middle class life comes with its own traps and chains. The only reason we don’t see addiction, abuse, abandonment or adultery is because this crowd can afford to hide it better. It’s there and through seeking to serve them, to build on their strengths, the needs will reveal themselves.

So, yeah, do events, wear last year’s dress and ask that pimply, near-sighted, scruffy guy if he’ll go to the cotillion with you; find ways to engage in conversations with our neighbors. But, in the talking, remember that we are not selling timeshares in the Bahamas or indulgences assuring entrance to Heaven. We might discover, by listening, that the pimply guy put out a Kickstarter proposal for an animated watchband that was a $50,00.00 ask and raised 5 million. That pimply guy, cleaned up, ain’t half bad. That the sudden windfall of wealth has created unintended problems you can help with. We should be humbly seeking ways to serve through identifying the strengths of our neighbors and ways in which we can build on these strengths.

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I Live in Heaven

First Posted 21-Sep-2014

This is a favorite of many Sunday School teachers. It’s the class they do where they talk about gratitude. A typical exercise is to list 50 things to be grateful for. I’m good for a list of a dozen or so. 50 is hard. It’s not that I am ungrateful. I have a hard time being put on display like that. I am grateful. I didn’t get here alone. There is a large crowd of people who contributed to this point in time in my life. I am blessed and that crowd had a lot to do with it.

“I live in heaven”. If you have known me for a bit you’ll hear me say that. I’m not being foolish. I’m not dead or some special angel sent here from heaven. I haven’t been insulated from strife. If you doubt me, scroll through my Facebook page. I’m just a guy. But, I do say that. I do say I live in heaven.
stairs-to-heavenI have that list also. The one the Sunday School teacher doesn’t want on the Sunday when they teach gratitude. Things which might cause me to lay prostrate before the alter at church and ask him, “Why?!” Some include being divorced from my wife of seven years, watching my son grow from age eight to eighteen from afar, being an ex-offender, been to jail, been homeless, penniless, unable to own a car, pretty much the whole bucket list of horrors promised to me by my Dad if I didn’t get it together. Were I of a mood to cry, I have plenty I could cry about. For a time, I did cry, blaming my father for my troubles, also blaming Uncle Sam, various friends, and God.

This could be that post, the one where I keep going for 500 words or so about the reasons why I should be pissed, sad, depressed, worse than I am. The claim that I live in heaven is a bit incredible. In addition to my personal, dark bucket list of unwanted hard times, there is all that is messed up about the world. The fact that Satan is in charge and he takes great delight in making as big a mess of things as he can. The starving children in Africa and elsewhere, the current evil, idiot violence of radical Muslims seeking to restore the Ottoman Empire (good luck with that), our now forgotten outrage over the death of Michael Brown, our current outrage over the domestic abuse being committed by athletes in the NFL . . . I could fill a year’s worth of posts just detailing all that Satan has under way to cause us strife.

yinyangI have friends who have been captured by the allure of this. They are Christian, decidedly so, but the life in Satan’s bar is seductive. Great food, great people, amazing music, best well drinks anywhere, all of whatever makes you feel good you is there for the taking. It comes at a price, of course, but it’s there and you can have as much as you like. Pastor’s and ministers who spend years sermonizing about the boogey-men alive in the world, its dangers and pitfalls, pleasures to be warned against and necessity of sticking to the laws of Cheeeezus.

These friends make me sad. I’m not blind. I see it too. I see the ugly in God’s creation. But God made an infinite world where there is light and salt as well. There is standing on top of Grizzly Peak in Berkeley, CA on a night when the fog was low over the San Francisco Bay and glowed orange from the city lights. There is dim-sum in Oakland’s Chinatown with Julie Lucchesi for about a year while I talked her into being my girlfriend. My two vacations to Taiwan, which were life-changing and still something I talk about. My son, Tim, who was the world’s best kid and is now becoming a man I admire and happily count as a friend. Watching young women walk down Bancroft Avenue alongside the UC Berkeley Campus each spring, like orchids newly bloomed. Ten thousand things that God made as part of His light which bring me to say I live in heaven.

I don’t want to preach this time. Do you. Do whatever. I’m not the one who will cajole you with promises to get things done or fulfill your every whim so that you’ll come to Jesus. I came to Jesus because each time I ran away he was still there with hot soup in a smoldering hearth and just let me talk. Often, the beginnings of it are not heaven. I have to fight the urge to whimper that it’s never been good, it’s always been horrible, I have no friends, nobody loves me, nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen and this is the worst thing I’ve ever done. He’s always there whittling by the hearth. He knows I’ll come around in time.

I still found heaven in the croissants and coffee at Au Coquelet in Berkeley, CA. I still lived in heaven even in the depths of my worst times. If there is any message in these words, it is that you can probably find heavenly beauty in your own life, right now, as you are, with all the good and mess in it, no altar call or preaching needed. Ok, a little preaching. It is better with Christ. It really is.

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Good Old ‘Merican Krischeeanity

First Posted 28-Sep-2015

It’s how we do it. There is a bunch of music & singing, with a rock quartet, sometimes a choir also, some guy gets up and takes 30 minutes to say some simple words: if you want something, give your life to Cheezus. Maybe some prayer, again to say, if you want something, give your life to Cheezus, maybe some folk are up there at the alter getting prayed over for healing, for help with hard times, with whatever.
Country ChurchIt is the brand of Krischeeanity that is like a room full of time share sales people. The whole point of the endeavor is to close the sale, to get those who are not saved to give their life to Christ, to say the prayer. That done, there is a lot of Alleluia and Amen and Praeeeeze Cheezus and Praeeeeze the Lawd and then? Then? Nothing. Crickets. Job done, right? We saved a soul, we sold Cheeezus to someone, good job no? No.

For one, every moment, every second after the prayer has been uttered, is a moment the church is responsible for. The newly saved and their business has now become our business. There is a whole lot to living as a disciple of the Way. That you or I, or anyone else said, “I give my life to Christ,” six words, is both meaningless and meaningful at the same time. It is meaningless if it means nothing in regards to how you live, how you behave. You can give your life to Christ with every shot of whiskey you drink, promise to go to meeting as you down each one, and it is bullshit.

Priests are not free of crime or sin. We get news stories of adultery, embezzlement, sex with children every decade or so. All that training, their ordination, and the life since, meant not a whit. They were (are?) still creatures of the world enjoying its many fruits and pleasures. Deciding to be a disciple of the Way can, in the near term, make a mess of your life. The choice only has meaning in how you live after saying the famous six word prayer.

There are a whole lot of churches, though, that annoy me because I might as well be signing a contract agreeing to pay $650.00/month to Wyndham for points toward my annual two weeks at one of their resorts. It’s almost the same thing. I can get a lot of free stuff, maybe even some attention from the girls in the young-adult group, to induce me to say those six words. I sat through a sales presentation by Wyndham a few years ago so my Dad could get a discount toward tickets at Busch Gardens. The Wyndham sales people just wanted us to say one word, “yes.” But, during the four-hour sales pitch, I got the impression that Wyndham cares a lot more about the experience of its owner/guests than some churches do in the many moments after the six words are spoken. Every Sunday a new sales, pitch a new pitch for more newly saved, relentlessly, and like timeshare sales, what was done last week means nothing. It’s this Sunday, this week’s sales numbers that matter. Maybe also similar, that anything less than a spectacular increase in newly saved is a fail, a reason to just go eat worms and die. Leaving me, in the sanctuary, feeling like an even bigger, more miserable wretch than I did before worship. Thanks, pastor.

Homeless with bare feet
from

Why, again? do I show up here every Sunday to be upbraided again? It is how many churches do American, non-denominational Christianity. Those that do this? Fie on you. It’s not enough to just get someone to say those six words. We also have to disciple and serve them as they grow in their new life. I’m not part of the sales team. I’m there serving those who have yet to say the six word prayer and serving those who, though they may be saved, their life isn’t praiseworthy. I want to see a little less selling of Cheezus and a little more footwashing.

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