Nutcracker Ushers

I have to get something off my chest. I met some nutcracker ushers the last time I was in the valley. One particular Baptist Church likes it when I usher while they are here. I’m the token backsliding gringo who is a reason to pray for protection. Ushering for them is a double bonus. They get to signal their hospitality to odd people while trying again to convince me that a blue suit is a better look for me.

That’s one piece. The next bit is that I’m not a nutcracker usher.  These Baptists are a Sunday best sort of church. Their ushers stand at their assigned door like nutcrackers. You approach their door, they open it to let you in, maybe hand you a bulletin and then let it close. Lord almighty if you speak to them. Never do that.

Nutcracker Usher

Though, funny thing. If a friend approaches their door, whole other thing. It’s smiles and chatty and they spend a minute catching up. I’m a damned Yankee. I walk toward a manned door and it’s like I am a leper. They open the door arms stick straight, keeping their distance from me.

  • My first sin is that I had my hands in my pockets just after greeting someone. Really? That’s the thing that makes me a bad usher? Let’s not stop with my hands. Most of the time I am in sandals, beach shorts, and a tank top. I have a closet full of Hawaiian pattern shirts. I am the epitome of boomer gringo on holiday.
  • B) Some more. I tend to have over the ear Bluetooth headphones around my neck. You can hear Jimmy Buffet leaking out of them.
  • I also kept picking up church bulletins from the careful piles for each nutcracker. Instead of sticking to the rules and only handing out from an assigned pile I took them from whichever pile was nearest. For that I am apostate. I am a bad usher needing to be scolded.
  • Still not done. I made the entire foyer of the church my turf. I greeted whoever entered, through whichever door. The nutcracker ushers stood mouths agape. This is not how it is done.

You Are Doing It Wrong

You are right. It is now how it is done. Ushers with some boogie and charm don’t fit the stiff blue suits that guard the doors to the chapel. I mean, I look like I am dancing while I flit from person to person greeting them and ensuring they are welcomed.

Let’s repeat something. Jesus is absurd. Christ chased the money changers with a whip. He broke bread with prostitutes and tax collectors. Jesus healed the sick on the Sabbath. He said that the meek and poor in spirit are blessed. That bastard Nazarene carpenter told a wealthy man it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for that man to enter heaven.

Keep that in mind as I say that this country is in an imperialist/legalist mood. The answer to most problems is more and stricter law. Lately, London’s mayor has decided that the answer to a rise in murder by knife is to ban knives. He forgot about acid.

Baptism’s dark side is similarly stiff and authoritarian. Many Baptists cannot hear the loving voice of Christ over the shouting they internalize–they are not good enough, every exhale is a backslide, every inhale another ingestion of worldly decadence. The answer is to insist that people must know Jesus because that would solve it.

Nutcracker Ushers in the Valley

Those nutcracker ushers are not in the Valley to show us the Mercy of Mother Mary. They are here to save us from the depravity they see all around them. They see us and there is too much of the world in us. Yep. We just toast them and tell the band to crank it up.

Jesus came to fulfill the law. The whole miracle is wrapped up in how he fulfilled the law. Hillel’s summary of the Torah, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah.” Christ flipped the script, Mat 7:12So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” All this bickering over things like whether it is proper for an usher to have his hands in his pockets is a trifle needing charity. Yet there are Baptists who can spend hours arguing over this and whether intinction is proper.

Meldenius, “Necessariis unitas, quae necessaria libertatis et caritatis cetera.” I get annoyed at those who would judge my fielty to Christ by my manner of dress, the placement of my hands, and the music leaking out of my headphones. It’s not very far from that to judging someone by bloodline or skin color. I have a hard time believing my stated sin of having my hands in my pockets is a necessary concern requiring unity. But . . . I’m Presbyterian and we decided to punt when challenged on whether fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman is a requirement for our clergy, so there you go.

Let’s Eat Hummus and Revolution

We are a Middle Eastern religion born out of a rebellion against the church and Rome. Our truest nature is that of malcontents. We are odd. Once we stop being outliers we dim the lamp of the Holy Spirit. Ours is a traditional way of life with rules that are essential and thus, require unity. I wonder, though, if the man who praised a woman for pouring nard on him and turned water into wine would obsess over the position of the hands on an usher.

As to fundementalism, I like what Shane Claiborne said. Since we are dissident Jews our fundamentals ought to be Arab and Israeli. I am amused at the thought of a rabbi giving a homily in a ‘merican church. It would be an uncomfortable few hours for the nutcracker ushers.

Here are some of my essentials: I find myself hungering for service to everyone regardless of their rung on Jacob’s Ladder. I am alive because of God’s Amazing Grace. It is out of gratitude for His grace that I keep saying we should lead with grace. Jesus said a lot in the short time he was here. Some of my favorites are the Beatitudes, Acts Chapter 2 and Romans 12.

I repeated the Meldenius quote above. Asked to boil my essentials down to a paragraph I would say we are to love our enemies and neighbors as ourselves, treat others as we wish to be treated, diligently seek to perform small acts of kindness with great love, pray, worship, tithe, and read scripture.

The Good Fight

If there is anything that is characteristic of us it is this: we never stopped arguing about what we believe.  It is why I love Meldenius’ words. We all have to pick our essentials that are not up for debate. After that the rest is fungible.

I know the nutcracker usher who chided me for having my hands in my pockets. His faith is fluid. He fights that first step, admitting we have a problem we are powerless against. Like many, when sober he is brilliant. His inner child became an overachiever because that way his parents would be safer. There is safety in law for him. If there were a law and we would comply it would be so much better.

So he comes to the valley to tilt at our absurdities. We need to come correct so he can be ok. If we knew Jesus and all that. I suppose Fr. Thomas doesn’t know Jesus. The nutcracker usher has been to confession. He found it troubling and attractive.

I’ve crossed paths with him at the cathedral. He’s been at the club when I walk through to my flat upstairs. I think I get where the thing about my hands comes from. It’s easier to fight for kings and law to solve our problems. Christ is tough. His way is absurd. Rather than lift a sword he died and lived. Bickering over hands buried in pockets is a lot safer.

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You Can’t Repent

You Can’t Repent. You are Irredeemable. Oprah, Queen of Kleenex has declared this. She has sent forth her Amazonian Army to castrate you. You need to get used to being a monster in the eyes of the Queen.  Being castrati won’t be enough. There is another who made a Way. Read on and find out.

Psalm 1:1-4—“1 Blessed is the man[a]
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law[b] of the Lord,
   and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.”

Matthew 5:6—“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

I lost count the number of Sundays my ass stuck to the lacquer paint of a pew as another pastor droned on about the Beatitudes. This Sunday was one more. The pastor’s frame of reference was that these two passages were about us, about each of us and the ways that we should individually hunger for a deeper discipleship hewing closer to the law. Noble idea. And worthy. And for me . . . a bit annoying.

Israel, when Christ was alive, had the law.  They had/have commentary on the law as given by God. Ask a practicing Jew about how to honor the Sabbath. Though, block out some time for this because it will take a while. All of it focused on trying to get a thick-necked people to behave better. None of it much good for its intended purpose.

Get Out There

There is an introspective aspect to hungering for righteousness. We should deepen our understanding of what it means to follow Jesus of Nazareth. Then we ought to maintain our vigilance in living out that understanding. It doesn’t stop there, however. Jesus wasn’t commissioning a bunch of temple living hermits. He commissioned a bunch of troublemakers like himself who were to make all nations disciples of the Way. So, where activism, social justice work and the lot are within the practices of the Way, we ought to be doing that as well.

Jesus asked us to serve prisoners, the sick, the poor, the persecuted, among others. Go back and read the Sermon on the Mount again. It has both an inward, personal growth aspect and an SJW aspect. It’s not enough to grow personally. We have to get out there, afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.

A Kleenex Empire

Lately, after a rousing acceptance speech at the Golden Globes, Oprah Winfrey’s name was bandied about as a possible candidate for President. Oprah is the goddess of Kleenex, of the teary, emotional moment. The Kleenex Goddess made her wealth on leering at the miseries of others. She cannot afford to have a baddy repent. Though, people seem to be an infinite fount of bad behavior. She is in no danger of running out of baddies to excoriate on national TV.

You Can't RepentMy name is Alan Webb and I am a wife-beater. It’s been sixteen years since I last hit my ex-wife. I still worry that it is half-time for me and the next relationship will be just as destructive as my first marriage. For all my therapy, classes and introspection the jury is still out on whether my next girlfriend and I can navigate through a relationship that is safe and healthy for both of us.

You Can’t Repent

I have people in my life who will not let me repent. I am a monster. Nothing I say or do can change that. I learned a long time ago that there is no gain in fighting to a victory with someone who believes my nature as a monster is immutable.  It’s better to let them believe I am a monster and go about living an honorable life.

Two things of note regarding repentance. One, in our ADHD 247365 shitstorm propaganda cycles, repentance takes too long. The data stream we get is tuned to keep us amped on OMG. because while amped our reason is swamped by our reptilian brain. Our reptilian brain wants to stay alive and fuck. High minded ideas like repentance just don’t get on our reptilian radar. It makes us putty in the hands of those who lead us.

Stay Asleep

So, for the dear leaders, us holding resentment is part of the stew that keeps us compliant. To be woke is a thing for some. Let me suggest one way to be woke, to be aware of the ways that you are being led by a bull-ring made up of propaganda delivered through social media and more traditional news sources like print, broadcast and cable TV. That ring feeds you emo stories meant to keep your reptile brain afraid that it might die, might not be able to eat or worst of all, be unable to fuck.

One more thing. I saw this in my 1100 hours at the table at Boaz and Ruth. The guys that fell back into ripping and running were also guys who could not answer this question, “what do you want to do?” They were really good at their chaplain speeches. They were very clear that they did not want to do what got them arrested and a spot at the table at Boaz and Ruth. What did they want? That . . . that question was tough.

I don’t want to be a monster anymore” is an easy answer. Kind of. First, you are not allowed to stop being a monster. If you ever collected the ire of someone who believed you behaved in a monstrous way then you are a monster and like me, you cannot remove that moniker. At best you can gain a grudging trust that you haven’t been monstrous today.

Do What?

Second, you won’t last on the street unless you find your purpose. It’s not always some grand thing. Sometimes it’s as simple as line cooking or sewer pipe trenching. Mike Rowe made 169 episodes of dirty, skilled labor jobs. Those can be a purpose as noble as anything white collar that you think your parents would approve of. It can be something absurd like writing almost a half-million words ranting about what’s wrong with everybody. The key secret to life as a monster is finding that purpose. And . . . do us all a favor and pick something other than predatory behavior. Thanks, bunches.

Last, repentance takes time. Obvi, no? You would think so. But the town criers that fill our social media feed don’t want us calm enough to reflect on the time it takes to give life to a promise to repent. We are more malleable if we stay amped on the latest OMG to drop. It’s better for our dear leaders if we keep eating the bitterness they feed us.

Now, let’s talk about Purpose. This is one of the big hairy questions we all stumble into. I’ll let you in on a secret about me. I have no fucking clue. I made it through nearly six decades of life just following my nose. There are minor purposes, reptilian ones. But a big, elegant, life-giving purpose? Nah. Hold my covfefe. I mean, yeah, contribute to making the world more peas and fewer big-eyed, starving TV kids? Sure. Write too many words on a blog that no one reads. Did that, doing that. Bring a son into this world with a Taiwanese Mafia Princess? Check. Just . . . I never answered the question, “what do you want to do”?

No Answer is an Answer

I still don’t have an answer. I’m a bit like the other guys at that table at Boaz and Ruth. I know I don’t want to do monstrous things and collect prison time. I know I want to live a life that keeps me as safe as possible so the chances of doing monstrous things are minimized. But . . . as to what I want . . . I don’t know.

The small purposes I found, keeping my house and my car, seeking small acts of kindness done with great love, and embracing a stable life, these have been enough. One of the absurdities of God is those Egyptian monks who sought to isolate themselves as completely as possible and left behind words that became world famous. Something cliche and something true, that we are not to worry about what God does with our pittance of a life. We are to simply live. My pedestrian life driven by reptilian desires that sometimes rise to slight elegance in the small acts of kindness I have done will have to be enough.

Purpose, when you are young or misfortune has stolen your position and now your rock must be pushed up the hill one more time, is useful. It helps clarify which choices fit and which don’t. You begin to hear the siren call of the Queen of Kleenex as the dangerous clanging gong that it is. Truth is, we are finite. The day does come when we become legend only alive in the stories of those we leave behind. Choices get made that set a direction. So, being intentional about purpose is useful.

The World is Absurd

Lovely, no? I didn’t do that. I did whatever I damned pleased. My life never had a carefully crafted purpose beyond making sure I had a roof over my head and food to eat. I’m not MGTOW by choice. It just sort of worked out that way.

You Can't RepentPut me with those who find this shitshow I was born into to be absurd. Life has no grand purpose. We are pissing, shitting fucking beasts with a remarkable talent for hurting each other. Altruism, when it happens, is great. I’ll grant you that most of the Bell curve is unremarkable and never does anything story worthy. But . . . I am nearer to the monster end of the curve than I am to the untested saint end.

Except . . . this crazy, criminal, ghetto-boy carpenter born to a whore a couple thousand years ago started a revolution that continues to this day. He said we ought to hunger for righteousness. The world is absurd and God sent us an absurd leader of a new kingdom after all else failed. A criminal is crucified by the Romans at the request of his church leadership and three days later is alive? That’s cray-cray right there.

Oprah as president is a leadership rooted in bitter unforgiveness. Remember this? Some who worry that if we truly knew them we’d shun them. To which we in the church reply, if you really knew us you would stop worrying. Jesus offers us a cause to pursue and a purpose for our lives absent from the Kleenex Empire. We meet every Sunday, usually, around 10 am or so. I hope you will join us.

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Good Night Sweet December

Of Lost December Regrets

Good night sweet December. Another year, another season, another reason to talk about regrets. One more sunrise in which winter gives way to a hangover and promises to be better this year. It’s that reason for the season and the concomitant credit card debt. Christmas is my grumpy time. I’ve already phoned in the lament about our month-long binge of spending, feasting, and drinking that culminates on New Year’s Day with a solid hangover. If you want to read it, click here.

Good Night Sweet December TitheI was raised in the church. I’ve been a saved Presbyterian for most of my life. I know the reason for the season. And . . . you didn’t ask but my Google Search for the phrase, “the reason for the season” turned up 291 million hits. I think we have that topic covered.

I can say goodnight sweet December with a smile. My regrets faded to amusing stories of my salad years. My brand’s emotional melody resonates more love ballad than down and dirty blues. So, rather than blather on about how my cupboard is bare, my wallet wanting cash that isn’t there, I’ll live another day in my little heaven.

Y’All are All Pigs

Quickly, if you are a pig and are taking advantage of your privilege or position to get sex, you deserve every bit of consequence coming your way. Consent is a thing. Power imbalances are also a thing. Celebrate, flirt, do you. Just . . . the easy ignorance of boundaries was a boomer thing the youngins are not having. Defy that at your own peril.

Good Night Sweet December Naughty ListThat said, the noisy minority that is doing the usual and taking instances of the few to claim that the general is all like that, they need to check their narratives. Are there pigs? Sure. Do pigs deserve consequences? Yes. To say that the pigs are the way the rest of us are is not helpful. Saying that everyone is a pig just fills the headlines and does nothing to foment constructive change.

It’s all emo and whatever to scream at someone that they are a pedophile Nazi because they don’t agree with you in a manner pleasing to you. I know it feels good. Protip? All it does is make you look like an ignorant toddler. Merry Christmas Gene!

HanaKwanzaXMas from Us on the Naughty List

It’s Christmas Day as I type this. I’m at my usual Starbucks on Robinson Street. Inger’s place is an easy walk from here. She’s home but not the sort to appreciate an unannounced door knock. I texted her and got a Minions Merry Christmas gif in response.

Ray is with Itzel at the farm. I hear that Itzel got him a crocheted seat pad for his Ford 9N tractor. Ray arrived a nominal monk who knew a lot about meditation and squat about tractor farming. Since moving to Itzel’s farm he’s become enamored with old Ford tractors. Crocheted seat pad? Ask a farmer who has to spend 10 hours a day on a tractor during planting season.

Gene made it back to Oakland and the ashram. I hadn’t heard anything from him until my most recent piece. It seems I am a Nazi sexual predator. I was worried about Gene. He’s become almost normal in the last few years. It’s good to hear some passion in him.

 

I haven’t heard from Felina in a while. She’s back in Puerto Rico with her family trying to help rebuild. They got hit pretty hard.

As for me, I’m good. In 2016 I made the conversion from temp to permanent at work. This removed a layer between me and the client. It also solidified my status with my employer. I get PTO and health insurance in the deal. I also got a nice raise.

Normally on the Naughty List

I depict myself as an outlier in this space. At 19 I thought I understood what an evil hypocrite my Dad was. My troubles were his fault. Answer? Don’t live his life. Do something else. I never quite answered what else. Instead, I fell into cab driving and later, technology support. It’s been almost forty years. The recurring theme has been a tension between what I feel is the path my father set before me and my quest to find another less traveled road.

Since that cross-country bus ride to my grandma’s house in Albany, Ca. I’ve made a quixotic life following my nose. It came out ok, kind of. For the last decade, I’ve been regaining my seat at the table of my kin. We are WASP, from the landed gentry, found at interesting points in history making our small mark on crucial events. I inherited an expectation that I would settle into a white-collar union job, vote Democratic, marry, have some kids and stay in my lane until it was time to collect my gold watch and frequent flyer miles.

Something more interesting happened. Bits and pieces of it appear in this space. I wrote this if you want more than a hint.

Copacetic

Things are good. Yes, I am finishing the year with a mostly empty cupboard. But . . . the lights are on, the space heaters are making their annual feeble attempt at keeping the house warm, I still have my house and my Jeep.

My usual move at a time like this is to find a way to eat the comfort. I am alive when things are really shitty.  I’m absurd. I like it when things are fucked up. It’s my normal.

I want 2018 to be abnormal. Rather than live at the limit and sometimes over it, maybe inhale for a bit. Slow down I move to fast, got to make the moment last . . . sorry. In 2018 I want to solidify my position so that there is some ramp.

Goals

New Years Resolutions don’t usually make it past the month of January. Our normal grind catches up with us. I stuck with the one about working out. I didn’t lose weight. Money? Money is my kryptonite. That and consistently going to the gym before work. And lifting weights. Lifting weights are really my kryptonite. The cool thing about New Years Resolutions is that December repeats until we become worm food. We get to make the promises again.

You can lump my list of resolutions into one bucket: things that I am conflicted about doing and are good for me. Without further, the list:

  • Work out in the mornings
    • Lift weights
    • Lower body and core strength. Because you can’t make me do crunches and I should.
    • Swimming
  • Complete at least baby step 1 of Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps.
  • Tithe at least 5% of my money. Tithing is one of my major malfunctions. I have fought this since I was a kid. With that, stop doing the person-to-person small acts of kindness as my primary means of giving to God. It’s time to settle my beef with the church and surrender to Him at the offering plate.
  • Purchase tangible goods like gold to build a better fiscal foundation.
  • Do the needful to reduce my debt and improve my credit score.

Give First Fruits

So . . . I have a short list of things I have accused the church of which justify my refusal to tithe. They are bullshit. The church is not the institution. It is also not the building. The church is its people. We remain a thick-necked and ornery species.  It should not surprise me that the church reflects our thick-necked and ornery nature. But it did. I still carry that water as I near my sixth decade of life.

Jesus is an absurd king. His church is an absurd church. I am an idiot for expecting absurd, thick-necked and ornery disciples of a martyred carpenter to behave in a way pleasing to me. Yet I do. So . . . the tithing thing isn’t about the money. Nor is it about the ways in which the people of the church behave in ways I find obnoxious. It’s about trust and surrender.

After posting Hair Ache I had ambitions to live on $4.00/hr. less than what I make. I said I’d report back this month. This is that report. Did I accomplish my goal? No. Well . . . a little.

In 2016 I made my pilgrimage to Mount Pleasant, SC to see the eclipse.  Earlier in the year, I celebrated Chinese New Year with my first flight/hotel/rental car vacation. Bertha, my old cop car, got too expensive to fix and instead of adulting and getting another car I let the expired inspection tickets pile up until I was in danger of losing my license. Enter Arty, my Jeep Liberty. 2017 was a year of using my resourcefulness to keep the throttle on my life mashed to the floor.

Good Night Sweet December

So I need a year to catch my breath. The thing I never count on in these cyclical bust/boom things is inertia. It takes time to pay down the cost of my bad behavior. There are things I do when money is scarce that are not smart. But . . . in the moment they are necessary for survival. What’s new is that with my job and such I can relax a little. At least, I will be able to relax a little after I clean up some of the messes that piled up while I stayed in survival mode.

What has to change is a shift from FUB and survival to a more settled fiscal diet. Leave some assets in my life instead of burning through them. It’s a counter-intuitive revolution. Move toward more boring. One of the methods is to tithe.

I’ve been syncopating my giving by tithing directly to those I encounter who seem to need a little help. It is how I avoided my beef with my fellow thick-necked disciples of Christ. It’s time to quit avoiding the fight and engage. With that said the charitable giving I’ve done person-to-person has to stop. In its place is the thing I’ve said I am justified in refusing to do: tithe.

The Talk to Walk

As always, there is the plan and the execution. I’m smart. I write great plans. As I say goodnight sweet December the task remains to execute the plan well. More about my progress in a few months.

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Fear

I wrote a post I titled, “Anxiety“. I wanted to be done with it. I am not done with it. I am not over it. Fear touches me in two ways lately. My son, who I don’t usually write about, suffers from anxiety that causes depression for him. This is actual for him. There isn’t a “just get over it” for him. When he gets knocked by life it takes him out. Recovery is never sure and can take months. It hurts and no amount of tough love will move the ball for him. Yeah, he is a millennial, something of a snowflake. The angst is no less powerful for him.

That’s one. The other is the intense tantrum the press is having now that HRH Pimp Daddy US has left the building. Their king, their god, their bhodisatva, did the horrible thing and let Cheeto Satan move in. It’s the end of the world as we know it. A bajillion women worldwide marched and carried protest signs and sang and spoke of wanting to burn down the White House. The *White* House. Shouldn’t it be something else, maybe the 1600 House or something. I mean, seriously, “white” House. Isn’t that racist somehow? All that strom and drang and what of it? Not so much.

I have a question for all those who are trying to learn to contort themselves so that ass and lips can meet. Who is your lord and king? Who is your Daddy? You knew this would end. Pimp Daddy US said so. Is that it? Is that who you worship? A dear leader who committed a venial sin and simply walked away from being the most powerful man on earth? You are that simple, that empty, that you worship a pimp? No wonder you are a mess.

This was going to end. It has to. It’s been a century of diddling about with socialism, either more or less of it. Every election cycle the offers of mo money came and went. Every election cycle we found out that the offered mo money was more money for our pimp, not for us. Instead of less tricks it was more. When we tried to object we got hurt.

The Soviet Union collapsed. Spain’s flirtation with anarchy fell into authoritarian socialism and after some bloodshed, came around to democracy as the least evil way to run a society. China is a mix of places. Where the party still dominates it is a shithole. Where capitalism has infested places like Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and Shanghai these places have exploded in wealth and disparity. We are at a generational turning point where the old guard of the last century is dying and losing elections. Sorry to say it, baby-girl, but this is the beginning of something impossible to avoid.

It’s one of the freakish things about abusive relationships. The victim keeps going back and the abuse keeps escalating. The cycle is well known. Obama was an abuser. Sorry, that’s what his term in office felt like to me. He spoke sweet words, said a lot, but his outcomes hurt us. Each time he would promise to treat us better, do some therapy, be a better pimp, and beat our ass back into the hospital. All the while making sure that we were out in public looking fine as fuck.

After all that, and now that he is gone, we somehow forgot the abuse and want him back. If we can’t have him then we want his bitch-in-chief, Billary. None of what we said in the hospital to the social worker means shit now. Jimmy Choo’s y’know. He took our Jimmy Choo’s with him. We want our pimp back.

The press is doubling down on the propaganda of Pimp Daddy US. They insist that Pimp Daddy US’ story was accurate. It was one of fear, of an unspoken fist in our stomach if we got out of line. Pimp Daddy never hit us in the face or above the neckline. Nobody ever saw the scars. We had to bring him his money, after all. The scars are there. Our John’s saw them.

Now that we don’t have Pimp Daddy we don’t know how to live. Self reliance? What is that? We haven’t shopped for ourselves in Walmart in 8 years. The people who shop at Walmart are missing teeth and can’t speak proper English. You want that for us? We always went to Nordstrom to the personal shopper desk with Pimp Daddy’s card. He always ordered in from a stack of takeout menus. We got thick but he said he liked it.

He’s gone. We went to the doctor and doc says we are diabetic, have high blood, are ?!obese!? and could die if we don’t quit living this way. The HIV test was negative but doc wants to test us again in 6 months. Our pimp daddy god-king left us to go on vacation in Palm Springs. How could he?

Yes, self-reliance. change the things you can, let go of the things you can’t, and pray for the wisdom to know the difference. Nothing changes if nothing changes. We who spent time in meetings have a bunch of these. Change who you worship. Get a new god-king because the one in Washington D.C. dates “models” who turn up on porn sites. Melania is just a high-class mail order bride. Think what you will of the last 2,000 years of idiot followers of that martyred Nazarene carpenter. I’ll put my martyred carpenter up against Cheeto Satan Melanic Dumpf all day. We try to use foundation to cover the bruises but we are not so different from you.

Who would you give your fealty to? A magic brown man who didn’t care enough to shoot Cheeto Satan? Cheeto Satan himself? How about . . . that dead guy the Romans killed whose followers claim is still alive and conduct a cannibalistic ritual meal of his blood and flesh? Is fealty to him, to the Nazarene carpenter any less insane, less absurd than fealty to a rich John with a taste for expensive whores?

In an insane age, in an age where the dominant language is imagery and video, the image of the crucified Christ remains powerful and good. The cross makes sense in this bonkers shit show we were born into. Cheeto Satan will do whatever. The teeth knashing over his latest crime against socialism will continue until he leaves office.

For eight years I deepened my marriage to the cross. I prayerfully sought ways to serve my neighbor, my kin, and my enemies. I have been blessed to be granted chances to do small acts of kindness, sometimes with love, sometimes not. That doesn’t change because Pimp Daddy US is out of office and playing golf until winter break is over and his daughters have to come back to school. Cheeto Satan is just a side show as it concerns the practice of my faith.

Last year some protesters stood across the freeway and stopped traffic for half an hour. They wanted us to care about black people, to understand that black lives matter. Not more than a mile from their protest is public housing where numerous churches and NGO’s are working to get the residents out of there and into stable lives. It is hard, frustrating work that goes largely unnoticed. It is stunning to me that a dozen people would block traffic and claim that black lives don’t matter in complete ignorance of the work under way in Richmond’s public housing. This says a lot about the protest community.

Cheeto Satan? Whatever. Some of what he’s doing was going to happen either by intent or by disaster. Pimp Daddy built a house of cards that was going to collapse anyway. At least Cheeto Satan wants to take it down card by card rather than just let it collapse.


I’ll end here. If fear is a powerful force in your life then you have surrendered to a false-god. You worship a lie. God made you fearfully to love him more dearly. He loves you and wants you to thrive. There is no such thing as courage. Courage is what we say about someone who was terrified and did the needful. To conquer fear get a new god, a real god, who is love. The threat to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego was not myth or an empty one. The miracle would be less amazing if it were not as the bible tells it. Yet these three men were willing to die for their faith. They risked death and found freedom. That’s an awesome god, way better than Pimp Daddy or Cheeto Satan.

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Felina Novella

#felinaramos. Felina Ramos is my own personal, IRL soap opera. She is my guilty pleasure. I unfollow her on Facebook and then lurk. Everything about she and I is trouble. Yet I still vacillate  between following her, ignoring her, lurking her and going back to following her.

Yeah, what now? Right. She puts a message out on her wall that after she has had some sleep she wants a ride to a fast food place. Her offer is to buy from the dollar menu and also pay for a meal for her driver. I said I could do better than that. All normal and not blog post worthy. This is Felina, though. I get there and unlike previous excursions she comes out the door shaking. There is a tempest alive in her house between her cousin, her auntie, and her. Cops have been called. Contraband hidden. 3 latina women in full battle mode doing their level best to tempt the other into a fight. Entertaining for me and sad to see.

The cousin is learning a hard lesson. Once you escalate to fists there isn’t much else you can escalate to and have the same effect. The next level up is bloodshed and either a combination of jail and hospital or the morgue. The cousin’s attempts at psychological warfare are falling flat. She’s already used the nuclear option so another nuclear option is greeted with, “meh.”

I spent a few minutes with Felina on the front lawn teaching her some basics of sword fighting that enable a warrior to be cold in the middle of a fight. Hollywood has orgasms telling pornographic depictions of war as passionate. Actors get to display great emotion, to *ACTING* on camera. It’s all bullshit. A good soldier is no more excited by battle than he is by his morning shit, shower and shave. This is achieved through training and some simple techniques. I showed Felina some of those techniques so she could sooth herself and be effective.

A little more about the technique. You have seen Bruce Lee and others go through dramatic motions and vocalizations to focus their energy. That’s for camera. The real technique isn’t obvious to those uninitiated. It also doesn’t stand out because a swordsman should live this way so that there is no shift between battle mode and life mode. It is the way he is. He is never not practicing bushido.

Back to Felina. After the cops came, after the cousin lost the momentum, we went to the bodega to make groceries. Felina is a hot mess. She is also a good catholic girl who can’t escape her confession of faith nor her anger at the church. Felina, when she begins to be attracted to a guy or a girl, has expectations of the prospective partner. One of them is that when she complains of being hungry said partner should offer to feed her. Whelp . . . the current bae is a very fashy boy. He is tall & skinny, olive toned, of non-obvious lineage, with sharp green eyes and fiercely blond, nappy hair. He favors androgenous fashion, mixing thick cowboy belts with leggings, ripped jeans and wildfang sweaters. He is also a rather fine snowflake, expert at the approved fashy signals.

So, we’ve all been there. You go to the kitchen, hung over, dreaming of a favorite cure, and upon a search of the cupboards, find that the cunt cousin has scarfed down what you had hoped to eat. Through the fog of the hangover you remember that you ended last night having to get the bae to pay for your Uber home because this week’s check got smoked on a bar tab. There was a fight with the bae because he was not being very copacetic and you were drunk. So, the refuge of a millennial, social media, becomes a place to shout out your annoyance and desperation. What’s the reply of all those fashy friends to your plight? “Wow, that sucks. Wish I could help but . . .” Bae isn’t returning your texts or replying to voice mail. A quick trod around the tubes turns up a thread on gab.ai where the bae is flirting with some yup bitch. Asshole.

Yeah, so . . . all that virtue signalling about the plight of the downtrodden and when one of ours is ass-out the sincerity is smoke on the water. This isn’t just a thing with the fashy protest crowd. My brethren, confessed Christians, do this. Actuality is scary. It threatens our bubble and we react by trying to push it away. Guys like my Uncle Gary and people like Felina, who are an affront to a few orthodoxies, at first generate an itch to shun.

My Jesus was a badass. He was a carpenter who ate with thieves. He did scandalous things that insulted the establishment of his day. I don’t hear him saying to me, “Wow, Felina is a handful, stay away from that mess.” No, he says to me, “learn to love her as I would love her. Serve her as I would serve her.” Ruh roh. That’s not inside my comfort zone. Watching three women go at it is not my idea of a pleasant Sunday afternoon. Listening to Felina hope that her cousin is arrested isn’t the sort of Gauloise fueled conversation I imagine I could have with a girl like Felina. Yet, here I am, leaning on the fender of my Impala, waiting for the storm to subside.

She had me on her front lawn and bae on the phone. Fashy boy was begging off. He had to work overnight at Denny’s and didn’t have any clean uniforms. The circle of friends she engaged with on social media evaporated as she posted about the fire fight under way between cousin and auntie. Everybody was broke, out of town, had to work, car trouble . . .

I did my small act of kindness with some love. I dunno about great love. Felina is on my list of folk who are a challenge to love. She is this big storm of hot mess that seems untamable. At the bodega she lit up buying Haitian items. I had a whole different list in my head when I offered to make groceries. No matter. Part of my task is to do these acts of kindness agenda free. It was illuminating to see what she bought.

On the way back she was negotiating a night away from the house. Bae wasn’t pleased. He didn’t get that a standard piece of advice is to stay away for a bit until things calm down. She was just going to drop the groceries and get a ride to the friend’s house. Cousin’s parting shot was a post on social media that Felina was trading nekkid favors for what I spent at the bodega. As if. But, in the hour since we left the cops had calmed things down and the auntie had started some red rice and stewed chicken. So, from my passenger window she said her goodbyes and went back inside.

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Money

1 Timotheum 6:10, “Radix enim omnium malorum est cupiditas quam quidam appetentes erraverunt a fide et inseruerunt se doloribus multis.”

Money is neither the answer nor the problem. It is not, by itself, the root of all evil. Money is how we have chosen to conduct our barter to acquire the things we want and need.

Deep in my genealogy is British landed gentry. When times were good and we hadn’t decided to tell the crown to piss off, we didn’t need a job. We had our estates and the staff that ran them. Life was good. Wealth wasn’t defined in terms of the fatness of our wallet. Wealth was defined in terms of your position and the health of your land. We had money but it wasn’t a primary occupation for us.

Then we sided with the more obstreperous minorities within the Reformation and began to insist that the king was apostate. Kings. Kings can kill you because they are the law. We would not shut up. So, out of mercy, the Dutch let us move to Holland. What of our land? Gone. Everything that gave us status was lost. But . . . we were fighting heresy, so we were good with it.

Much happens and we end up in two places, Plymouth, Maine and Jamestown, VA., where many of us die trying to farm strange land using seed and methods from our manner homes. It didn’t help that the staff we had back before our departure to Holland were the subject matter experts. Still, there were heathens to evangelize and a utopia to make. Plus, the King of England wanted us dead. The heathens only wanted us to leave them alone.

This falls to me as a presumption that I am entitled to a certain degree of deference and station. Which, I worked hard at shedding. I was successful enough that I’ve been broke most of my last 36 years with times when I’ve called a shelter home.

I hear this a bunch from some, “If I had money I’d be straight.” To which I want to start talking about the lottery winners and other windfall recipients who blow through the money only to find themselves worse off. Just having money isn’t the answer.

In Christian history are many who read Luke 9:3 and abandon everything for faith that God will provide. Todd White is part of a long tradition of ascetic Christians. Todd is one of the few who succeed at living on 5% of their income. He’s not as extreme as some of the Egyptian Desert Fathers who chose completely inhospitable land to locate their hermitages. It can be done. It is done. Could I do this? No. I’m too soft, too attached to my heritage.

Todd and other ascetics could not survive if there were not a much larger majority of dutiful working stiffs who faithfully tithe, do their annual two weeks of vacationary, serve on church committees and so on. For a time, it was a grudge I held against God that I wasn’t more like Todd. Why didn’t status fall from the sky? Why didn’t someone recognize how awesome I was? Why was I yet again elbow deep in a commercial pot-wash sink cleaning pots after a church supper? Don’t they know who I am?

Yes, they do. Which explains why I end up pot washing. An old aphorism, “Live on 80% of what you earn before taxes. 10% goes to charitable giving and the other 10% goes to savings.” Right. If I did that it would ruin my current financial habits. I could not live as I do on 20% less of what I make.

It is almost the end of 2016. My troubled relationship to money goes way, way back. Money for me, is for spending. A highlight of my week is the Saturday afternoon grocery run where I shop for what my heart desires. Within a few hours I have lots of stuff and less money. Like an old heroin addict I know I have a problem but keep being addicted because it is how I feed the monkey and avoid feeling sick.

I keep having the same conversation with a parade of kin and friends. They ask how much I make and how much my bills are. I answer and the stark truth is there is a wide gap of unaccounted money between what I make and what I say my bills are. My claims at being unable to tithe or save because I can’t afford it don’t ring true. With each conversation the kin or friend walks away suspicious that I am not being completely honest. I’ve been asked many times where the money goes.

You can ask me. I use Quicken diligently. I balance all my accounts to the penny. I make an effort at tracking how I spend my cash. I can almost answer the repeated question with some accuracy. Quicken in its own way embarrasses me because it too can’t figure why I finish each month scrambling to make the rent. It too, though inanimate, wonders where the money goes.

This is the time of the year when I feel the ache of my spendthrift ways rather acutely. I am scratching the itch to once again promise that next year will be different, again again times 36. Rather than iterate the same old tropes about Dave Ramsey‘s Baby Steps, Rockefeller’s 10/10/80, and others I’m spending these 1500 words confessing my failed habits with money.

And talking about some goals which will demand that I do what I have promised for almost 40 years—treat money as something to be saved. My rented house is valued at $33,000.00. Realtor.com pegged it’s sale price at $41,000.00 or so. That works out to around $370.00/month. I pay $600.00/month in rent. There is a lot of room for cost reduction if I am able to buy my house on a 15 year fixed rate mortgage.

All well and good. How much money do I have saved for this? You guessed it. 0 Zero Nada Nothing. Typical me. Great ideas, terrible follow through. And another thing. I like travel. I like the trips to Boston I’ve done for Chinese New Year. This year I am pulling this feat off in a last minute binge of cab driving on the weekends. Why haven’t I saved for this? You don’t know me well enough. I said it above, for me, money is for spending. One more. I ain’t so young anymore. It’s not that long before I am expected to quit my day job and live on my savings. My non-existent savings.

Ok, one trope, forgive me. Us who have hurts, habits or hangups have a high tolerance for pain. We continue our malfunction way past when most people would have sought help changing. It has to hurt bad enough that we are moved to not just initiate change, but stick with it. 36 years living this way is a lot of stubborn loyalty to being a spendthrift. So . . . saying here that 2017 will be different doesn’t mean much.

Rehab, hospital, jail, or all three repeatedly until something changes or the something that changes is a move to the morgue. There may not be as severe a risk with money that there is with other hurts, habits or hangups. Still, I’ve been homeless more than once living as I have. You would think I’d have ached bad enough to keep behaving better. You would think.

This week the press will exult in all the promises we make for 2017 that we made for 2016 and kept up for a month or so. Gym memberships will spike and then collapse by March. Some of us devote hours to lovely looking spreadsheets projecting great progress on our debt and spending habits which become so much bullshit almost as fast as we upload them to the cloud.

The end of this story can be told in two years. If, by then I have changed my ways and spent 24 months using money as something to be saved it will be a trend worth noting. It’s been almost 40 years like this. Two years of fiscal responsibility will be something radical for me. If I am only my past then in two years I’ll have yet more stories to tell of FUB‘s and near disasters as I keep doing the painful things I’ve done so far with my money. Mark your calendars. My history isn’t encouraging.

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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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Knowing You


The last question in the Explore God series was, “Can I know God personally?” There is no reasoned answer to this question. That said, nearly 500 years of Calvinist tradition says, yes, yes you can. With something like this, though, tradition and reason are not enough. You either feel it as a yes or you don’t.

First, our pastor Sarah Marsh, said this in her sermon. Next, my first reflex was to say, no you can’t know God personally. The God I know is a jealous god. He is uncompromising in his demand for surrender and devotion. If you want to know Jesus a lot of the life you have now is going to die. Remember, this is a god who launched a new kingdom by being martyred.

Another reason you can’t know God personally is modern science. Jesus is booga-booga-booga weird. We tell people that they have to die to live, to give to get, serve to be served, be a servant to lead. Being Christianity is living in a topsy-turvy world where Carol’s Wonderland is not strange. A lot of the Bible is starkly bonkers. Knowing God is the realm of the heart. If you try to bring empirical reasoning to understanding God your head will hurt. God isn’t reasonable. He is reliable. To know God you have to surrender some of that itch for utopia we get from my Puritan ancestors and some of that surety that through science we can understand how many angels fit on the head of a pin.

Next, I was raised in the church. I’ve been saved longer than I’ve not been. I’m not perfect, far from it. Dig far enough back in this blog and you’ll find plenty that I have had to apologize for. I spent some of my youth accusing my Dad and the church of various high crimes and misdemeanors. For a time I knew God as a stern taskmaster who disapproved of me and my behavior. It hasn’t been that long since I surrendered deeply to God.

img_jesusWhich, sort of makes me the worst one to write about this. I already believe. I know God, know Jesus. It took me a while to come around to this. I was/am a fan of apologia, of criticism of the church. Damned hypocrites, look at them.

You are going to hear all the standard answers from ordained graduates of seminary. They studied hard and I applaud them for their hard work and consequent knowledge. Their answers are worthy. Mine is not. Mine is the answer of a cantankerous man who wasn’t always this devoted to God. Mine is a lifelong relationship that has swelled and faded. God never stopped knowing me nor loving me. It is I that have shunned him at times then come home like a repentant prodigal son.

When, for the first time in my twenties I quieted down and started to listen, God had some stuff for me to do. First, shut up. No, really, be quiet. Next, all my bluster about how no one is doing anything for that little kid I saw on TV growing up, the one staring up at the camera with big eyes, God said this, “You do it.” Me? Help? When I am a wretch? When I am the one entitled to being protected from my own hot mess, coddled and spoon fed. Yep, I am to do it. I and all the other hot messes that came to Jesus.

The creator of the Universe talks to me, to this hot mess. I hear voices, hear His voice. Crazy, right? Yep. I’ve heard him since the age of 14 when he appeared to me in a vision I had while praying at summer camp. Though, his voice isn’t the lovable, round Pappa I want him to be. He’s a carpenter. He’s short, brown-skinned, curly haired and a bit thick by modern standards. His language is rough. He knows me so when I try to game him it doesn’t take him long to checkmate me. He’s the one that was in my head cussing me out when I complained yet again that I was out of gas, out of money, out of cell-phone minutes, without even change for the parking meter. He was the one laughing at me when lately I tried to catch a kitten and failed in entertaining ways.

I can’t make you agree that you can know God personally. I can only tell you that I have come to count him as an intimate friend. Know this, I tried other ways of living. I tried to keep God out of my head. All those years of Sunday School, my baptism, catechism class and the many books I’ve read and still, there is no place like my usual spot on the left side of the sanctuary, toward the front, singing hymns badly and listening to Keith and Sarah and others talk about Jesus.

The third thing God asked of me is to work for change within the church. This means I had to sign up for the full program. I am responsible for my own worship, prayer, tithe, study and service. I have to show up. Beyond that, I have to participate. Beyond that I have to contribute. Beyond that I have to serve, to serve without hope of return or desired outcome. Out of these five responsibilities I have built my relationship to God, to Jesus, to know Him. And out of *that* I can become a voice for change within the church.

Husbands know this. Many times the sexiest thing a man can do for his wife is dishes. Families are hot beds of chaos and strife. The kids are taxing, the workload withering, the ways it fails constant and numerous. Into that a guy tries to hug her and ask for a little affection. One more demand of her, one more too much. But, he’s entitled, right? It’s all over the Bible, that guys come first, get served, helped by their wives. Uhm, actually . . . no. Knowing God is a kind of death to all that came before, all that binds us to the worries of the world. Dishes are the least of it. And . . . if you remember, it is Adam that is cleaved to Eve and her family, not the other way around.

God is in some ways, a jealous husband and we are his bride. He demands that we give and give and give and it just doesn’t seem to be fair. He is demanding, his people are hotbeds of chaos and strife. Church people are taxing, the commitment withering, the ways that sin intrudes are constant and numerous. Into that arrives you, full of anguish and hope that this Jesus thing could work out for you, with your one more demand too much. Yet these Jesus people seem to be crazy in love with an absurd God. Either they are nuts (we are) or there is something to this God who does a reset by dying.

The central narrative, metaphor for life in Reformed faith is the cross. It is in death and resurrection that we find our knowledge of God and a life as a disciple of Christ. Our greatest heroes are those who made deep sacrifices, even unto death. So, I almost don’t want you to know God. You have to be ready for this. You have to risk your life to gain it. The prayer itself is trivial. Altar calls are ecstatic experiences for some. I worry about the commitment, the days after, the work of being in a relationship with God. All five of my responsibilities involve sacrifice of some sort. Are you ready for this? Are you ready to die on the cross to be reborn stripped naked and having to start over?

I’m really good at words. I’ve been in enough therapy, sat through enough Sunday School classes, that I can confess like the best. It’s all a front, though. My slings and arrows flown against the church accusing it of hypocrisy said a lot about my own life. God took me all the way to the street and to jail. He met me in my truck, out of gas, out of money, out of cell phone minutes, homeless, a convicted wife beater, in a phone call with a cocaine addict who wanted a ride to the grocery story. Boom.

If you are ready, cool. There are plenty who will welcome you and become your family in Christ as you live this new life. It doesn’t have to be me. Most Sundays you can find me in my usual spot, singing praise songs badly at St. Giles church. If you do choose me, beauty. We can walk together as we live out our promise to be a disciple of Christ.

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Is the Bible Reliable?

No. That’s why I like it. That’s why I believe it is true. People are unreliable. Truth is fluid. At one time the earth sat at the center of the waters under the waters. Then by observation we come to understand that the earth circles a star. Over the decades we learn more and the truth changes again. A religious text that wasn’t a hot mess is to me a suspicious text. I’d expect a species that is a hot mess to write a hot mess book. What? People are not a hot mess? Seriously?

1cor134Mohamed declared he had recieved a revelation. He wrote the القرآن الكريم. He wanted the Bible to make sense. It does not and neither does the Q’uran. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, annoyed at the flaws in translation that have crept in to the Bible over thousands of years, did the scorched earth thing, and started from scratch. They messed up. But, since, they’ve gotten on their high horses and declared all of us to be apostate. No, they are right and we are going to hell. Some Muslims, impatient with God, have decided that the way to bring about a post-apocalyptic paradise is to force God’s hand and have that final calvary battle in Syria.

Sure, God is going to reward a bunch of zealots a post Revelations paradise on earth, with Mohamed returned, because they charged across a battlefield in Syria waving swords and firing muskets at the enemy while riding horseback. That’s not nuts. That’s rational.

Let’s not forget the numerous Christians who isolated themselves somewhere yelling that the rapture was nigh and they needed to be ready. The moment comes and the less insane of them realize that the buzzer on the dryer has gone off and one of the kids is crying because it’s time to eat. Life. Intrudes. Or the more insane of these sects that loses their damned mind and immolates or drinks poison.

If you brought me a religious text designed by Apple that was all bauhaus and logically (Aristotle’s logic) solid I’d not want it. The meaning of the word “bible” is library. It is a selection of religious texts argued over from the beginning. If there is any feature of Christianity it is our love of debate and apologia. We get it from our Jewish ancestors. Our central religious texts reflect that.

How much more loving, poetic, and accurate is a canon of 66 books which have stood the test of time. And, yes, we can’t even agree on a consensus of which books belong in the bible and which should be left out. So, 66 books is a fungible number. There isn’t even one bible. BibleGateway offers roughly a hundred editions of the Bible in various languages and from different sects. Over these books a grand narrative plays out from the creation story(s) in Genesis through to the Revelation of John. It is us. It is reliable in its depiction of the core values, core beliefs of us, of followers of Christ.

Please, though, stop trying to make it into something it isn’t. The foolishness of some, that want to bend the bible into a modernist, utopian exegisis of orthodox truth, reliable in its facts, historically accurate down to the angel on pinhead count, this is nonsense. The bible is a canon of the heart and stomach. It is absurd when viewed through 20th Century, rational eyes. Let it be what it is and the beauty of its truth exposes itself.

John 1:1-John 1:5 ESV In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” One of the oft-quoted mistranslations by the Jehovah’s Witnesses is:  “In the beginning was the Word,+ and the Word was with God,+ and the Word was a god.*+  This one was in the beginning with God.  All things came into existence through him,+ and apart from him not even one thing came into existence.” Much is made of a small change, “Word was a God“.

The whole debate makes my head hurt. You can read one article on it here. It is significant to this piece because in spite of our continued wrangling over what we believe, what should and shouldn’t be part of the canon, the Bible thrives. One answer for many is to dismiss the whole mess out of hand because there has been so much hypocrisy, so much evil done in the name of the Lord. If that is you, fine. If humans have any constant, it is our talent for strife. We know the right thing to do yet we still do things we should not.

To repeat something I said in another post, my world is nuts. It is absurd. Nobody behaves, not even God. Them that throw tantrums because there are too many that don’t behave in amenable way are entertaining idiots. As I write this there is a small group of protesters who have decided to occupy a bridge. The idea is that they can stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.  Many beloved tropes about evil oil companies are sung as hymns by the press and fellow travelers. Those evil oil companies want to pipe oil across sacred Native American lands, ruining the water table, despoiling Mother Earth and worst of all, make money. This is sacred truth for the protest bunch. We who might disagree are apostate. We are ipso facto fascist.

I’m sure, were I able, opening a conversation with the protesters that challenged their orthodoxy, would not go well. They know their truth is accurate, factual. Me, the WASP, just doesn’t understand. If I understood I’d agree with them. The bible is reliable because it accurately reflects us. We are obstinate, sure of our orthodoxies, intolerant of opposition or differences, quick to speak with two mouths and close one ear.  For some, my drunk alien is more true than some wild-assed fable about a martyred carpenter from Nazareth. An absurd word of God works for me.

The books we keep resonate across time. Of all the greek plays to keep we kept Oresteia. Of all the inspirational books across time there are 66 which persist in spite of everything. They reflect who we are and how we can be better. Their very absurdity is what makes them beloved by me. Last bible quote as I end this, Colossians 3:16, “ Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” Ok, actually, a couple more: John 1:9-14, “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

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