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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Misery in the Valley

A Pastoral Peace

It’s been a quiet week on the farm. Spring is a few months away. There is still winter misery in the valley. Over the winter Ray tore down the 9N and rebuilt it. The chicken coop needs an overhaul, including two tires. It’s been a couple years since the bearings have been changed. Father Thomas’ homily touched on Lamentations. Guys complain about their honey-do lists. Guys that live in 3500 sq ft homes at the end of a cul-de-sac. Men who would shut their mouth after a day of chores on the farm. My Dad offered to help Ray and got to a lawn chair in the barn before he had to sit a spell.

I never lived in a cul-de-sac. My Dad’s house is in a tree covered suburb of Philly. When I headed west in a Trailways bus out of Cherry Hill I was dazzled by the bright lights of the City 3,000 miles distant. The City by the Bay called to me and I answered with a bus ticket. I stopped on the east side of San Francisco Bay at my grandmother’s house in Albany, CA. My Dad said I’d never last living in the city.

It’s been forty years in the city. My Dad has a few chairs on the farm in Merida. One is in the living room with a shoe-box full of remote controls. He commands the entertainment from that chair. Another is an Amish made cane rocking chair with a commanding porch view of the farm. He used to take visitors and talk to the farm hands. Lately, he sleeps in that chair most of the day.

Shall I Stay With Misery in the Valley?

Sixteen years ago the reasons to stay in the East Bay disappeared. The Empress flew to Taiwan with my son. I lost another temp job. My landlord declared that he was converting the entire complex to Section 8 housing. Every tenant had to either move out or qualify for Section 8. Then and still the wait list for Section 8 is decades long. I make too much money so that left moving out.

Choices. Stay on the correct coast where my Dad’s family can trace their California story back through the San Bernadino Mormons or leave the golden state. Then there is the Mayan option—to live with my grandfather’s family on their farm in Yucatan. I chose the third option. I moved from Richmond, CA to Richmond, VA in 2002.

Even when I am in Yucatan I stay in Merida at a hotel. All those years watching the world pass by my taxi-cab windshield make the bustle & noise of the city feel right. Also, I’ve seldom lived in “good” places.  Home has been cars, friend’s couches, hotels and beggar shelters. The house in Richmond is the longest stint of stable living I’ve had since separating from the Empress. My Dad was wrong about me. I did last living in the city.

Tuning to Twilight

It’s twilight. Dinner service is wrapping up and the band is tuning up. I’ve got my Mccauley’s neat and a plate of barbacoa. The weatherman is telling the gringos that this monsoon season will be bad. The train of storms starting in Nigeria is strong. Already they have named 8 storms that have wandered near and then away from Merida.  The 9th, Ian, generated warnings to evacuate. I took another sip of my bourbon.

This is the wrong side of the tracks. It is populated by the bottom third of the bell curve. The normies and good folk fear this valley. They see the shadow of death over us and nod with complicity to their preacher who tells them that we are their fate if they don’t behave. We are good with that.

When I am not in Richmond, Philly or Merida I am here in the bar or in my flat upstairs. The flat used to be warehouse space for the bar. No amount of Pinesol is enough to erase the mix of old bourbon, piss, puke, stale beer, illicit sex, and cigarettes. It has two rooms, a former office in the back with a thrift store sourced kitchen.  Someone before me put a  cheap fiberglass shower with copper pipes green with age into the former office. I’ve tried to clean the toilet but even straight bleach won’t remove the years of beery piss and tossed smokes. The sink stinks of smoked heroin. The big room in front used to store liquor and also has thrift store furniture. It offers no escape from the stench of mortal sins.

Yes I Do

More than a few have climbed the stairs to my loft and exclaimed, “you like living here?!” I do. The noise of the bar plays a melody grounded by the sub-woofer beat of freight trains that pass by every couple hours. They hurry on to feed the hungry maw of the collected mass of normies who worry about me. Let them be scared.

Normie kids come to the bar to get their freak on. This place is exciting. Stuff happens. Girls show up ready to dance, drink and mayhaps give some. The music is awesome. The food is good, even better after a few drinks. People come here to play and then we send them home a little worse for it.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. We don’t want to be less dangerous. It’s a long drive over the hills on two-lane gravel roads to get here. An hour out of town is a gas station inhabited by a shotgun-toting old man with a bad attitude. His nose for outsiders is unfailing. He’s put buckshot into the doors of more than a few who seemed like they were lost and ought to be headed back out of the valley.

Gasoline and Buckshot

Old man Saito does sell gas. You have to get past the initial curmudgeonly greeting. You can’t be in a hurry. Most of the normie kids out for a weekend in town know enough to either tank up before they cross the pass or invest a few hours in drinking rice wine (50 proof!) with him.  Those in the know bring a fifth of Makers Mark with them. He searches their car for contraband and finds it, upon which his attitude improves considerably. Also, let him find a carton of Marlboro Red 100’s. Sometimes the old bribes are still the best currency to buy some freedom.

There is freedom here you can’t find on the other side of the pass under the bright lights of the city. Somebody came to a twelve-step meeting and was nervous that they might be found out as a gender-queer psychiatry patient with a thick jacket of mental ward admittance and city jail time. We were not impressed. We are small enough to not need a recognizable municipal government.

The closest we have is Saito’s son, who can be seen drifting through the streets picking the trash for aluminum cans. He’s out on parole after collecting federal time for punching a US Marshall. Oh, it doesn’t stop there. Once inside a fellow inmate threatened to rape him so Ren killed him barehanded. You have to do better than liking both sausages and clams to be interesting here.

Hard Living

It’s a hard life here. We don’t have public schools, public health services, or a social safety net. There are Ren Saito’s friends and there are those who either die or leave because they pissed off Ren. Those that stay figure out a truce with Ren. To survive here you either need your own money or a way to earn a living. Ren found The last guy to try standing on a corner with a sign asking for money in a dumpster at the back of the bar badly bloodied. He was offered two choices: clean the bar after it closes or leave town. He stayed and is the first to greet fellow beggars with a warning.

You know this one, that when you hit bottom the only direction is up. Our townies leave here stronger, clean & sober. We do for each other. The reason we don’t have a lot of municipal services is that we are small, we know each other, and we don’t hesitate to do the needful for each other. It’s how a lot of small-town America works.

I’ve seen the world from the 31st floor of 101 California Street in San Francisco. My suits from back then cost me what I make in three months. I had a family, a two-bedroom condo with designer furniture and two cars. My travel mug costs a month’s wages for those who don’t live under the city lights. That was then. Things are better now.

Father Thomas

Last thing. The church is here. Father Thomas is a Cherokee, a Gulf War Vet, with a bronze twelve-step chip. He was accused by a parishioner of raping boys. Before all that he was convicted of tax evasion for selling moonshine. The county ADA could never find enough evidence to charge him with rape. The church offered to send him to Brazil. He left instead.

He went back to Seminary and was ordained in the Anglican Church. The rumblings of some that the church was out of sync with the times regarding abortion and standards of fidelity or chastity in marriage drove him to set out on his own. He planted a small monastic order in the valley. His order runs a local school, missions and mercy programs, as well as the usual services of a local parish.

Many have underestimated Father Thomas. One seeker accosted him, wanting to know if he used the KJV, “I do not.” Which one, then? “My own.” Your own copy of the KJV? “No, my own translation.” Oh. You will find the NABRE in the pews of the order’s chapel. The order lives under a modified Benedictine Rule.

Westboro Baptist showed up one weekend and sought out Father Thomas. They expected tv cameras and protestors. They got a church picnic in full swing. Father Thomas approached them with plates. The Westboro Baptist kids were hungry. It was a great time for all.

Bottom Third

Down here on the bottom third of the curve, with places to lay my head in Richmond, the Valley, Philly, and Merida I am happier than I was when I chased status and money. I am free. I may not be successful in building my personal brand such that I collect accolades from the normies. My virtue signal is noisy and dissonant. I’m good with it.

The band started up. Lighting Hopkins stuff. My floor is swaying to the music. It’s a good night for the normies downstairs chasing the light fantastic. I’ll sleep well tonight.

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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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Forecast is Cloudy

Deep South Hot

The forecast is cloudy. It is the summer of 2017 in Mount Pleasant, SC. Jolana, her daughter and her husband are at the KOA with my Pappa and his dog, Dexter. It is hot, deep South hot. This is hours before the solar-eclipse began its traverse of the USofA. It’s not gone well.

So . . . see if this sounds like a plan. Pull a pop-up tent trailer behind a Toyota Hi-Lux 650 miles to a campground in Mount Pleasant, SC. This is Plan B. Plan A was to fly to Portland, Oregon, then hitchhike and walk to Lincoln Beach . . . with the little dog Dexter and my 86 year old Pappa. No problem.

About the tent trailer. Jolana bought it from someone on Craig’s List. It has a toilet, a sink, a two-burner propane stove and a refrigerator. Good, good, right? No. None of that works. The ceiling leaks. The tent has holes. South Carolina mosquitoes, just saying.

The Second Time is Never the Same

I feel for anyone who lives wanting the world to be the way they believe it should be. Jolana’s more perfect world was a two week road trip to see the eclipse on Prince Edward Island in the 1970’s. In the summer of 2017 a total eclipse traversed the continental United States of America. This was a chance for a do-over of a rose-tinted memory of the eclipse of her youth. Jolana wanted to get the signal right. Spoiler alert: she got it wrong.

Last Winter I booked a room in Mount Pleasant just in case I decided to make a road trip to see the eclipse. Richmond saw about 85% totality and I was good with that. What I wanted out of a weekend in Mt. Pleasant was some beer drinking, maybe eating somewhere nice, and rest. The eclipse was a side benefit. Jolana had other plans. It was a Prince Edward Island Redo.

Jolana’s fond memory is tinted by the fog of time. It was not so blissful. There was the fight  where Mamma took the station wagon and left us stranded at the campground. This is of no consequence to Jolana. She is a brilliant author of her fictional world that she inhabits as naturally as most of us breathe. In this world it was bollywood perfect utopia of family and storm free auspicious solar eclipse.

☀ ☀ ☀

It was a stormy drive to Prince Edward Island that only settled down after Pappa found a lobsterman who was offloading and had lobsters to sell. Mamma was soothed by a lobster dinner prepared by Pappa and Uncle Louie. My happiest moment was discovering easily caught flounder just offshore in knee deep water. That the god’s were grumbly was of small concern.

The event itself was magical. Jolana’s memory is of that moment when the sun slipped behind the moon and day became night. That’s do she wanted to redo.

Forecast is Cloudy Then Clear

Jolana and her crew arrived on Thursday to muggy, cloudy and afternoon stormy Mount Pleasant, SC. The KOA was 95% Class A motorhomes and one miserable tent-trailer and Toyota Hi-Lux that spewed out a gout of brown, spanish speaking people. Someone forgot to tell the gardeners that the employee sites were on the other side of the creek. That Jolana had a reservation . . . meant nothing until it did.

I took my time leaving Richmond on Friday and making my way to Mount Pleasant. The leg from Richmond to Kinston, NC was uneventful. I got to the Boiler Room after lunch. I had my butter-bean burger. It’s good. A bit too much like a grilled refried bean patty, but otherwise good. The second leg from Kinston, NC to Mount Pleasant took the rest of the day.

I made a visit to the campground Friday night. The hotel’s policy on pets was that they had to be in a smoking room and there was a nightly $25.00 charge. I told Jolana that it was a “apologize rather than ask permission” thing. For Jolana this was as good as permission granted. My mistake.

Pappy’s Gonna Die

It is Saturday morning. I’m comfortable under the blankets. It’s 6:00am. My phone rings. It’s Jolana, “Alan, escucha! Ésto es una emergencia. ¡Tenemos que venir ahora mismo! Pappa y Dexter se sobrecalientan.” She has a big speech prepared to explain why her crowd *has* to come over, “Estamos ardiendo. Son 93 ° F. Tenemos que tener aire acondicionado para Dexter y Pappa. No quiero poner a Pappa en el hospital. Él no puede hacerlo en este calor. Dexter también está sobrecalentado. No querrá dejar morir a Dexter, ¿lo haría?” Somehow my lazy Saturday has become an IRL telenovela.

Gotta love bipolar people. Everything is full-throttle. The move is to do a little tough love and let them steep in mosquitoes and Mount Pleasant heat. I invited them over. Punchline? Not even. It gets better.Forecast is Cloudy with a chance of cable tvMy Saturday now features a hotel room with Jolana, her husband and daughter and Pappa and the little dog Dexter. No worries, right? If the hotel doesn’t find out then no problem. They found out.

10:00am. Time for maid service. She knocked, spotted Dexter, and walked away. Then the phone in the room rang. It was the desk clerk, “please come to the front desk.” Busted. First of all, I was in a non-smoking room and there is a fine for having a pet in a non-smoking room. Second, it was Saturday and the clerk wanted to charge us for two days of pet presence.

Jolana’s move was obvious. She became coquettish and asked Pappa to pay the fine for Dexter with his card. He did. She promised to pay him back. She’s been promising to pay him back since I left in 1978. If Pappa could collect he’d be a rich man. He is not a rich man.

Punished Good Deed

Pappa and I talk to the desk clerk. It’s $150.00 for the dog. $100.00 fine for having the dog in a non-smoking room and $25.00/day extra for each day the dog is there, “Señor ten piedad. ¿Por qué mi hija es tan difícil? Jesús, ¿qué he hecho para merecerla?” Pappa pays and I hope we are done. We are not.

Jolana stopped at McDonald’s on the way down and got a 20 piece chicken nuggets meal. That was her food budget for a week on the road. Four people, three meals a day, five days, 20 chicken nuggets, a large order of french fries and a big diet Coke. The math doesn’t work for me either. Add me and it’s five people . . .

My plan was to find an open grocery store and buy a bunch of those salad kits. The ones that come in their own mixing bowl and even have a napkin and a fork. And a can of Bustelo coffee, a quart of orange juice, a box of Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches, some lunch meat, sliced cheese, a loaf of bread, and whatever cheap beer the store had. Done and done, about $40.00 to eat for three days. Until Jolana and her crew.

Add One Hungry Maw

My brother-in-law went with me to the store. He only drinks Modelo. Woo. My niece ate all 20 chicken nuggets on the drive down. Jolana asked , “¿Cómo se supone que debemos comer si no tenemos comida?” My brother-in-law made me like him even more, “Nadie te garantizo comida Si te lo comiste todo, tendrás que rezar y ayunar hasta que lleguemos a casa.” We were in the store parking lot. He showed me the stash of beef jerky and corn tortillas in his bookbag. Smart man.

Final total at the checkout stand was almost a benjamin. Pushing triple what I budgeted for food. Between Dexter and a failure to plan I’m down over $200.00 on my budget for this event. I’ve gotten uncomfortable.

We got back to the room, unloaded and I left again to go drive around Charleston and take pictures (and calm down). When I got back Jolana and her family had eaten their fill. I had one breakfast sandwich left. The beer was gone.

One more thing. It was 7 miles or so between my hotel and the KOA. I got to Mount Pleasant with enough gas to make a good start on the drive home. I forgot to mention that Jolana’s HiLux was a sputtering embarrassment to the reputation for dependability of that truck. She didn’t want to drive it until it was time to hook the trailer to it and make the crawl north to home. Add 10 legs driving between hotel, KOA and grocery store and my gas didn’t look like it did when I got in on Saturday.

Precipice

I am fond of saying that I live balanced at a precipice. A lot of my life looks like it will tip into disaster and then ends up working out ok. I’ve had my flights over the cliff to land in a patch of thistle. This leg is 15 years long climbing from the street to a few of the trappings of socially approved living. Along the way many have feared that I’ve hit a peak and am headed back to the street. It hasn’t happened yet.

So, trips like this one are done my way. I have what I need to make it happen. If nothing goes wrong. Add Jolana and my resourcefulness is tested to its limits. I’m the big brother so I’m the junior cash bull and shield from her foolish choices. This does not make me feel very fraternal.

1500 words, the bottom of most of my posts. Quickly, the eclipse was covered by clouds and not the event I had hoped. The cap on all this is Tuesday when I planned on driving back I was out of gas. Jolana hustled the campground to get up some gas money. I think she had to work under the table for a day cleaning latrines. I plead my case to Pappa who made Jolana reach into her bra for my gas money. Jolana had been telling everyone she had nothing left.

Home Safe

Tuesday Google Maps kept me on local roads until the Virginia border. I came home to a full-fridge and enough gas to get me to payday. One of the things I struggle with is the way Jolana seems to be ignorant of boundaries. She authors her truth with a willful defiance of objective fact or the truth of others. In that truth Pappa and I have what she needs. Because she needs it she feels she has a right to it. So, we don’t have a say in whether to provide. From our ability to her need.

I’m ok. It’s the weekend following Thanksgiving as I finish writing this piece. God provided. The hole Jolana dug in my life got filled by Christ’ providence. I’m used to scrambling when things are looking tough. But . . . by way of a conclusion, the above is an answer to why I live in Richmond.

Jolana is my opportunity to minister to my family. She tests my resolve to remain a faithful disciple of Christ. She stretches me in ways I complain about. Still, the “y luego las cosas terminan en armonía con Jesús” remains true.

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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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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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We Elected the Wrong Guy

It’s an itch we keep wanting to scratch. Dig Caesar out of his tomb and venerate his bones. It doesn’t matter whether you choose one of the two proffered candidates. Both of them are either greater or lesser minions of Rome.

This was our choice: a woman who is deeply connected to the establishment and operates an NGO which launders money or a billionaire pitching himself as an outsider because he’s never been a politician. We elected the billionaire. I voted for Dumpf. Why would I vote for the evilist of evil, evil, evil people, a rich capitalist pig whose ill gotten wealth comes from going bankrupt on other people’s money? I am supposed to understand that Dumpf is devil incarnate. Billary is a lovable fuzzball grandmother who just wants to make sure everyone gets their fair share. What’s crazy about that?

Dumpf won. There have been a string of narratives pitched regarding our new fearless leader since the election. The first was that he was a fascist bastard who was going to inter all the illegal aliens, make our gardeners and pool boys even poorer, steal food from the mouths of Appalachian babies and make Grandma survive on powdered milk and USDA bologna. Dumpf hates brown people so all brown people are even more deeply fucked than they were before the election. Brown people can help out by self-interring at the old camps from WWII. He is a real estate barron so obviously he hates the environment and we’ll all be dead from toxic waste before his term is up. Another one was that the Russians, those evil bastards, stole the election from Grandma Clinton. They hacked the voting system, they stole e-mails from her server and spread craptastic stories about influence peddling, an overly cozy relationship with Wall Street, and was secretly sex-trafficking in children sought by pedophile Oil Sheikhs.

This election taught me a couple things. First, we are nuts when it comes to choosing our leaders. We want childish, impossible things in our leaders. He has to be a man of the peeeeepul comfortable in a dive bar drinking light beer, plain spoken, wiser than Solomon, pious as St. Paul, mighty as Caesar Augustus, generous with free Cadillac’s and cell phones. He should be deeply steeped in the secular orthodoxies of the puritan left but not so wonky or stiff that he will enforce said ethics for everyone, just the enemies of the state. We want our leader to provide for us like a good pimp Daddy but not interfere when we decide to behave in transgressive ways. We want s/him to protect us from those who would perpetrate aggression, micro and otherwise, from those who behave in triggering ways while comforting us when our behavior has undesired consequences.

Second, we got played. It was a masterful checkmate. We could have voted for RayRoberta Bob. The establishment had a plan to co-opt s/him and stay firmly in control. It did not matter who we voted for. They had us at P-Q4. The massive civil service bureaucracy housed in the Executive Branch was going to ensure continuity of power regardless of whether Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, Cruz, Dumpf, Sanders, Billary or my favorite drunk alien, RayRoberta Bob won. Us who voted for Dumpf did so because we hoped it would communicate to congress and the bureaucracy that we were tired of the last century of rinse repeat.

I’ve been shut up. My usual narratives that align to some degree with the orthodoxy of conservative talk radio have been shook up. It’s a depressing thought, that hope & change by way of Washington D.C. is a non-starter. I hate the idea that we are not so different from Russia. You can elect anyone you want to be Prime Minister of Russia. He or she will still be a dictatorial bitch unsympathetic to your anxieties about the fate of Monarch Butterflies and Appalachian children. Dumpf turns out to be a kinder, gentler grandpa who wants to fiddle with the edges of our government but otherwise leave it be. Checkmate.

There is such a love-fest afoot with the press and the Obummers. It’s the sort of adoration I associate with socialist dictators in places like Asia or South & Central America. The fear and loathing seems to be a reaction to Grandma Billary’s failure to continue the dynasty attempted by the Obummers. The populist grandma telling us that she is the reasonable one who will fight for the little guy, protect the snowflakes from their own bad behavior and make those evil capitalist pigs pay their damned fair share.

It feels to me like a freed slave who stands in the middle of the road across from his former home on the plantation and realizes freedom is disruptive. He wasn’t free a moment ago before he was handed his papers. A moment ago his life was clear. He knew his fate, knew how he’d get his needs met. It was a familiar devil. Now, papers in hand, nothing is assured. He has to fend for himself. He has no income, nothing to assure his reason for existence or a purpose to pursue. Rick Warren’s book was 140 years in the future.

For some, this was exciting. It was a victory. For others it was disaster. Say what you want about the oppression contained in tenant farming in the south. Not everyone alive in the 19th century antebellum south was happy to be free. Ditto the Obummers. We have folk who are getting attention because what they wanted was a coronation of Obummer and if they couldn’t have that, an election victory that continued the Clinton Dynasty.

We have had authoritarian and socialist government since at least 1913. My ancestors were subjects of the British Empire. They were not all fervent supporters of throwing over King George. The argument over liberty vs. safety is as old as our republic. We started out hating any hint of imperialism. Our distaste for kings has diminished in the centuries since . The trend has been toward increasingly large, ineffective and authoritarian government for at least a century. Caesar is going to rise out of his tomb and be restored to the new empire soon enough. It seems to be what we want.

I voted to prevent what I didn’t want. The Supreme Court is short one justice. The choice of replacement was going to go to either Grandma Billary or Dumpf. Dumpf won. Obamacare is a growing nightmare being exploited to increase the intrusion of government into our lives. The snowflakes are winning the propaganda war and so the expectation is that we will comply. We want energy independence but it can’t come at the price of harming the butterflies or Native Americans. All perfectly reasonable and fair.

Jesus was not reasonable or fair. His message threatened the status quo within the Middle East and Jewish people. Authority came from God directly to the disciples of Christ. We didn’t need intercessors or interpreters of the Torah to facilitate our relationship to God. Caesar was cut out of the picture. The Levites were superfluous. Our rights, our laws, came directly from God the Father through his son, Jesus of Nazareth. These are troublesome words for the establishment of Christ’s day. Troublesome enough that he was crucified.

Empires fall. All of them. Ours is an empire made of a revolution 227 years old. We are fabulously successful. There is no empire in history with greater wealth and military might than ours.

Empires fall and tomorrow happens. Empires fall and there are survivors. Those that remain have to do the needful because their count of sunrises has not run out.

So . . . what? Anarchy? Anarchy is a foolish lie. Anarchy as currently promulgated means the anarchist can dictate the rules on his or her whims while being insulated from the consequences. It is how we self-governed before we had to deal with other kids and out of the purview of our parents. Though we are losing our distaste for imperialism it isn’t gone. Some of us hunger for god and express our appetite through electing authoritarian figures like Grandma Billary and Dumpf. Socialism? Hitler was a socialist before he took a hard turn into genocidal dictatorship, remember? Still, the reflexive answer remains, “certainly not! We don’t want a god-king, king or anything like that. We are a democracy!

Might I suggest something? When our desires for a leader are crazy/absurd an absurd leader becomes the reasonable choice. Who do I think an absurd leader is? Dumpf, perhaps. We shall see. Grandma lost, so that’s not going anywhere. What about that guy, the Nazarene Carpenter of two thousand years ago, who was martyred by the Romans? What about him? I mean, he’s been dead for a while so there is no danger of him getting caught diddling kids or accepting bribes from Wall Street Bankers. He and his followers are pretty crazy, so perhaps hungering after a resurrected dead guy as a leader isn’t any less crazy than having a hard on for Grandma.

Hope and change cannot be found in the temples worshiping our secular gods of democracy. Hope and change is where it has been for a couple thousand years. The Nazarene carpenter’s disciples still follow him. They named themselves Christians. You know them. They are your neighbors. Rather than pray to the false god kings of Washington D.C. go visit one of those churches in your town. Don’t pray. Not yet. Talk to the people at the church. Share your story. Volunteer a bit–something small that can be completed in an hour or two. This is a long game that won’t pay off right away. It does pay off. The anecdotal proofs of how it pays off are numerous and reach back millennia. Ask one of those Cheezus Freak people you see at that church.

King Jesus is an absurd and wonderful monarch. The beauty of naming Jesus as king is that he is dead. It ends up at not having a king or queen, a good thing. Ditto saying that the resurrected kingdom and temple lives in our hearts. I’m counting down my remaining 12,000 sunrises. Hopefully this house of cards we have will stand. Merry Christmas!

 

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Luna de los Muertos

Christmas isn’t my happy place. The popular press has several narratives. One is a constant, Chihuahua on crack exortation to get out there and spend money on gifts and holiday meals. It’s a choir of info-babes and merchants cajoling us into spending money we don’t really have. It’s a season of giving, they say. We are also told we must help the doe-eyed po’ folk they parade before the camera once a year. This is the time when we show how compassionate and generous we are. 1 month out of 12 we hear about kids who are giving coats & blankets to the homeless, the bare shelves at the local food bank, the poor child with leukemia whose parents can’t pay for medical care and some benevolent one-percenter drops a wad of cash to cover the cost, the anonymous donor who pays off the layaways of strangers, the local charities who do the angel tree thing, you know the drill. All the while the merchants continue their nagging that we haven’t spent enough yet. Easy credit, everybody gets approved, no payments until 2115, come on down, prices will never be lower . . .

The other almost fits how I feel. It’s the “reason for the season” thing. I was raised in the church, spending Sunday mornings for most of my youth in Sunday School. I’ve been up there at the alter giving my life to Christ more than once. I am very aware of the real reason for the season. It’s about Cheeezus, and so we should spend the Advent season flopping about the floor in front of the altar speaking in tongues and confessing what a shit we’ve been then take what we were going to spend at Macy’s and give it to the church. You still end up in the same place January 1st–broke, hung-over and a little desperate.

hello-kitty-christmas-treeThough, dumping your Christmas shopping cash into the offering plate will mean some long faces Christmas morning when the family goes to look at the tree and it’s some sad, pink artificial thing with no gifts under it and a short in the wiring which means the lights don’t work and there is a scary smell of burning plastic. If you go this route I’d be careful about eating the milk & cookies. You never know.

I’ve been that grump that stomps about the mall mumbling about the show of wealth on display, how there are starving children in Africa, the world has no peas, Santa is a creepy drunk, and these people need to get themselves to revival forthwith.

This is the time of year when things feel bleak. It’s warm outside but I feel a chill in my home. I’m not in a very celebratory mood. This is when the harvest has come in, the fields are brown with corn husks and soybean plant stalks covered by manure from the neighbor’s cows. It is when the trees look like they died. The whole world seems to have picked up and moved to Hades. Anybody that can afford to has gone elsewhere, to more pleasant climes where the service staff knows the GFE game. The rest of us schlubs are still getting up at 5am to clean out the stalls, put down fresh hay, and try again to get the old tractor fixed. My yard is covered in leaves and the grass is a sickly brown. When I got back from the road the cold that had been lurking about came on full force. I feel like crap.

Something about us, that whistles in the dark against our fears and nightmares, that wants life to always be immortal sunshine and lollipops, that wishes for the days before we knew what the word, “no” meant and could count on the comforting nursery of our mothers. We don’t like to acknowledge the dead, admit that in the spring as life reawakens there are storms which flood and tear down homes. There is something desperate about us this season, as the world hibernates, that wants our binkie and desirous weather. It’s that something desperate that makes me annoyed.

Life inhales and exhales. There are seasons of the dead, of winter and miserable grey skies, the ground sometimes covered in snow, a time to sit close to a hot wood stove and read post-apocalyptic fiction by candlelight. To be asked to binge on giving, binge on food, to pretend it isn’t winter while everything is in Hades, feels like a lie. I don’t want to exhale yet. My sinuses hurt and I’m low on Kleenex. Merry Texmas, y’all.

Christmas is in 9 days. We start a new year in 16 days. Another year gone by, another few months gripping the kerosene lantern and it’s feeble light not quite beating back the malaise of the season. Typical for me, the cupboard is bare, the wallet too thin, I don’t have a job, the job I had claims that I defied some rules so no bonus for me, bills are due in a couple weeks and the well intentioned wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year don’t make me feel better.

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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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What’s the Point?

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope . . . Jeremiah 29:11, ESV

I am not sure there is a point, or a purpose to this shit-show we are born in to. I’m over late night tossing & turning wondering why I was born. I’m here and it ain’t over yet. I’ve still got time to do and while the sun still traverses the sky I need shit and have ambitions. There is world peas to attend to and those kids on TV who look so hungry. Oh and those deplorable white folk who treat black folk like range targets. I mean, somebody needs to do something, seriously.

Dumpf got elected. They are going to build a pipeline across Indian land and ruin it. I saw that kid on TV and this time the voice-over is asking me to donate to UNESCO. I don’t have a job, my girlfriend kicked me out, and breakfast this morning happened at the Grace Cathedral on California street. I tried begging and got arrested. I had to pawn my guitar to get a room for the night. I’m out of meds and the voices lately are really hard to ignore. Maybe I should just eat worms and die.

The depths of my angst never got that deep. My troubles are trifling compared to those of many. There was an afternoon at my paternal grandmother’s house where the huge problem was a lack of a Kitchen Aid stand mixer. There is a kid in my life who is twenty-something and followed a familiar narrative arc for an African American youth living in the inner city. He achieved early success as a drug dealer, gained tremendous wealth and notoriety and now, is living in public housing. The devil gaveth and the devil took it all away.

After two twelve-hour shifts driving a cab recently I arrived at Monday morning, back at my desk, with a feeling of futility. All that work and what I had to show for it was a couple Jacksons. I had magnanimous dreams. I was going to make beaucoup benjamins. I had plans for my hard earned cash. What a waste.

Wikipedia’s article on the meaning of life. You have the Dalai Lama saying that we should seek to be happy. I suspect that the full weight of his words isn’t getting through in English. Tibetan Buddhist happiness is a deep conversation. It’s one of many things that seems simple at the surface but can consume a lifetime trying to know it deeply. So, there is that. Wikipedia tries to provide a broad survey of answers. I need to warn you. This space isn’t good for you if you were looking for comfort and safety. The answers I have here are troubling.

On with it. I’d say that life does not have a purpose. Your reason to be doesn’t exist. All this angst over why you were born is neurotic, narcissistic wind and water. You are alive. ’nuff said. So, average life-span being 70-80 years, or 4 generations or so, you have time on your hands. The first couple decades happen because of your parents. After that, with some exceptions, it’s on you. A reason to be and a purpose to pursue. Well, you are here. There really isn’t a reason why you are here. So, that leaves the next 40 years or so and a purpose to pursue.

Why not 60 years?. Our lives are bookended by childhood and old age. As children we have no choice but to rely on the adults in our lives to care for us. Without them, without their support, we are fucked. Argue all you want about the oppressive tradition of a nuclear family, how it traps women into the oppression of patriarchy. I’ll grant you that embedding that oppression in law and policy is a bad idea. Women should have a voice, have agency and the freedom to pursue their chosen purpose. Please, though, if you are pregnant, or you are a Mom, it’s really important that you put your kids first, even though that limits you. Kids need parents that love and care for them.

Moving on. At the other end, at the phase of my life I am growing in to, is increasing loss. We become more dependent on the people around us for basic needs. Starting at around age 60 things escalate. We become more and more feeble until our time comes and we become epitaph. So, our purpose becomes merely breathing until death kindly stops for us. We come full circle and need to be taken care of.

That leaves the years between 20 or so and age 60 where life happens. That’s the window in which our purpose will be fulfilled. That’s the years in which your story is told. Maybe there isn’t a reason why you were born. I’ll leave the answer to that, to why you were born, to better minds than mine. It is enough that you are alive and beyond the first four levels of Maslow’s hierarchy what you do has an impact, though perhaps small. Your impact matters, thus, you matter.

This space is the house of the odd ones, the trolls, the people who generate regrets. It’d be nice if my readership had a comfortable spot on the fat part of the curve. But . . . I’d have to write about something else if that became the case. From what I know of history I’ll never run out of odd stuff to write about. So, yeah, causes to pursue . . . all that Maslow hierarchy stuff helps a lot. Unfulfilled essential needs can become a consuming purpose leaving you without much bandwidth for anything else.

There is also Ecclesiastes, “Vanity of vanities . . . all is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” Yeah, that’s all warm & fuzzy. Thank you for sharing, Solomon.

Without God, without some sense of identity outside ourselves, life has no meaning. The nihilists are right. Solipsism is epiphany. Death after a meal of earthworms would be mercy. Without God we are supper for Satan and his minions. Things get increasingly morose. Suicide begins to feel like a plan.

God is weird. There is this book that is full of nonsense and ancient myth that some promulgate as the word of God. He leaves behind the words of St. Paul, Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” That’s not crazy, right? Who writes stuff like, “I am the vine and you are the branches.” As if we are twigs. This god that these people believe in is whom I am to find a purpose to my life? I may be crazy but that’s epic.

Does Life Have a Purpose?” Maybe not. But, I am here and the clock has not run down to zero for me yet. If I live to age 90 there are still over 12,000 sunrises to get through. Might as well do something to pass the time. Of suicide, I believe you freeze yourself in the angst that drove you to take your own life. Because you are then frozen in your misery, death offers no relief. In life there is hope. As long as there are more sunrises there are more chances to break out of a solipsistic mood and leave a legacy of light and salt.

My answer to the troubles is a little more village and a little less delicate snowflake. If we allow a more collectivist view of our identity then it’s harder to point a quivering, accusing finger at some boogeyman who has called us a poopy-head. This is a bottom-up thing, not some dictate handed down by a bloated bureaucracy. This is you making a choice to locate your identity in something greater than yourself. When it comes in the form of a dictate from Caesar it’s not the same. With this more collectivist view our purpose isn’t good self-esteem or the markers of success envied by some. It is the well being of our kin and village.

My pastor says in his sermon on this that we need a reason to be and a cause to pursue. There is no reason for me. I exist. For the next 12,000 days or so I am going to rise each morning needing things and wanting to have some purpose to this shit-show I was born into. Now that I am off the ridge and walking into the Valley of the River Styx my legacy, the story I leave behind, is what worries me.

I hope I have served, have touched some and been a point of light that illuminates hope for the hopeless. I am saved. I was lost but now I am found, was blind but now I see. It’s been 4,380 days since I last confessed my faith to my Christian brethren at St. Giles Church. The trans-formative moment for me was a phone call from Darlene. I was to go to work for God with no hope of return or desired outcome. It’s my cause to pursue.

While your sun’s rise and fall to greet the moon I have a request. While you cower in your safe spaces at us the grownups who want you to do annoying self-care things like clean your room and wash some dishes, do a little more than that. Rather than litter the South Dakota desert with your detritus from protesting capitalist oil pigs, volunteer locally. There is something you can do, some place that would love your angst and youthful energy. Use your phone, google stuff, an NGO out there is looking for some help. Go help.

Of worm eating . . . it’s a metaphor. Just saying.

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