The Grind

The Grind, Repeat

Before I get back to Inger’s Finger I need to talk about something. It’s something I saw in myself and in other cab drivers when I was a yungin. We all start the same way. Young and naive, full of energy and surety that we can slay every dragon that crosses our path. We meet dragons, slay dragons, go home with the boon, rinse, repeat, for a while until the dragons get wise to us and change the way they fight. We want to keep winning so we start the grind.

This photo of Royal Enfield Bike Tours & Rentals is courtesy of TripAdvisor

The grind is exciting at first. We have our health and it feels like we can do this forever. We can’t. 60 hours a week driving a cab builds into 120 and that early taste of easy success fades with a half-life we didn’t expect. It takes every bit of those 120 hours to chase down the money we need and even then, we fall short.

Some of us start with a familiar spot in a pew, graduated from choir boy to altar boy, on the cusp of college and a bright future. Cab driving is just a summer thing to get some extra money before heading off to college and an education in defeating really, really big dragons. Then something happens. Either bad news or good, either work. And the fall start of college fades further into the future.  We start to grind, trying to save that bright future from the scorch of a dragon’s breath.

El Camino Real al Infierno

Some start with a less admirable story and try to use the cab to grind our way up from the gutter where society tossed us. Sometimes it works and we make it to the curb. Yay. This space isn’t for the ones that make it. We are the other end of the curve, down there on a rock-strewn road through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

It’s a frog in a pot thing. The heat rises in our lives, we become more frenetic, try to work harder until we collapse. Outside my cabin, on El Camino Real al Infierno, are rotting corpses of those who didn’t quit until their grind ended here. If folk are lucky the collapse gets them a ride to the hospital, jail or rehab, maybe all three. Whether their grind makes them a dragon scat neighbor of mine is determined by whether they stick with the truth that this is rock bottom and the way back up is life changing and very tough.

Wayne Ziegler’s moment came when he got hurt on the job as a contract welder. He was being paid under the table, had a functional addiction to cocaine, whiskey, and weed. He loved and left a long string of women who thought they could fix him up into the Daddy they never had. Women–don’t try this at home. Someone like Wayne will just break your heart. Go flirt with that guy in church you know. Much better.

Wayne’s Hell

So, Wayne came to Napoleon Taxicab with his health and a good head on his shoulders. But his knees were shot from welding for so many shifts. He had the usual middle-aged first world satellite of health problems–high cholesterol, high blood, high sugar, and chronic pain. He was used up.

But welding isn’t kind to old men like him. The big money jobs require physical stamina that he had lost. For a while, the three sirens–cocaine, whiskey and weed, could shout down the pain. Until they could not and he failed a piss test after getting hurt.

Cab driving was good for him while things began collapsing in. His longest girlfriend left with their daughter for a DC lawyer she met at Paper Moon. He couldn’t afford the house by himself so he moved to a no-tell motel. No job and thus, no medical insurance so his legal drug bills skyrocketed.

He started with the White Nurse. As always, it was good at first. And as always, the early good began to eat his soul. More grind. His even horizon narrowed from weeks down to days down to hours down to minutes. The addict’s choice: drugs or food, drugs or shelter, drugs or her, came down on drugs. He lost the hotel room.

The Street Doesn’t Love You

Wayne in the hospital. He couldn’t afford his drugs so his dealer said he could fight somebody for a little bit of White Nurse. Wayne, before all this, was 280 pounds of six feet eight muscle. He won bar fights when someone threw the first punch and Wayne didn’t feel it. When Wayne punched back the loser felt the punch in his toes. That was then. Now he was in the ER with a severe concussion and contusions near his kidneys. It hurt to breathe. He needed his White Nurse even more.

The ER doc called the social worker who started the intervention speech. Right, right. He was a mess but all he needed was a little taste and he’d be ok. He just wanted to get back to work in the cab. He’d be fine.

Hospitals can’t keep you if you insist on leaving. Wayne insisted. The Town Motel took sympathy on him and believed him when he said he’d have money for the room after his next shift. The taxi gods smiled on him and at 9:00 am he got a cash trip to Fredericksburg.

The street put him in the hospital and the street teased him with just enough money to get him through the next fourteen hours.

This is the end. The street doesn’t love you but it may give you what you need if you fight to stay healthy. Wayne fought to stay a step off the gutter and the street ate him. In eighteen months Wayne went from the gutter to the grave. He died from complications related to opiate addiction.

This is the Beginning

The grind is corrupt. It is evil. It wants your soul. If it takes killing you, so be it. There is a way to make the grind rock bottom. It takes discipline and strength from God. A place to start is Celebrate Recovery’s Eight Recovery Principles.

I didn’t imagine there were 1500 words on this until I met two corporate executives who were grinding at an expensive level. They worked 16-18 hours a day, flew over 200 days a year, seldom saw their families, and were shallow husks of humans. Nothing was left but the grind and it didn’t love them the way they wished it would.

400 words left. I lost my job. I am an UberX partner. It’s cab driving with better dispatch, nicer cars and shorter hours. The money is less than cab driving. I’m 58, almost 59 as I type this. I could be Wayne. No job and Medi-Share is stupid. It’s Obummer care but run by Christians, so that’s supposed to make it better. I can’t get my diabetes meds covered by Medi-Share. They don’t cover routine care. It’s only once I get sick enough to require hospitalization that they will step in. Sucks.

The right way to do cab driving or RideShare is the way the Henrico County Sherrif’s Office said they wanted to see it done. Each driver should create an LLC with its own tax id and run the money through the LLC. Do all the smart things one does to make a small business a success.

Transit Webb

So . . . out of the comforts of corporate cube rat life into the grind as a small business owner. Baugh Holding Company operates Transit Webb, which is the UberX business. In process is a second vehicle that will do Amazon Flex.

I’m too old for more cube rat life. There isn’t enough time left before I’m expected to retire to accumulate enough assets to secure my post cube rat life. Thus, I’ll go back to what I know, to the grind in a cab, with the hope that I can build a business which will pay me beyond the days when I can run 30 fares in 10 hours five days a week.

Transit Webb has been in business for only a month. There is no guaranteed outcome. I could join my festering corpse neighbors along the Royal Road to Hell. It could work and I could be fine. Time will tell.

Most of the entreprenuers I have met tell their rock bottom story. A retail fixturesmanufacturer who didn’t know that stores order their fixtures in the summer to be delivered in November and paid in December. His first year he lost $300,000.00. A brewpub owner who was a month away from breaking even and out of cash. He had mortgaged his home to start the brewpub. In a month he would either be homeless or assured of limited success. Transit Webb is limping along in a rented SUV with all my bills past due.

The stories have a theme: it is the end, the dragon is chewing us after dousing us with ketchup. All seems lost and yet, like the archetypical heros tale, something happens and we come out victorious. I don’t know yet what that will be for Transit Webb. I do know that for 16 years I get into these places where it looks like my new address will be a cot in a homeless shelter and then things work out. If you ask me how I feel as I type this I’ll tell you I feel like dragon scat. But so far, I’ve survived. More on this in upcoming posts.

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Akio

Akio creates a problem for me. He was born fucked. Two addict parents self-medicating to cope with a buzzing swarm of mental issues. Generations of living on the dole. Akio is an addict. Depending on his mood, he feels either schizophrenic, anxious or depressed. He is homeless, in his first year out of jail, and surviving by being a hobosexual for a string of women.

Akio Winston

Survive

The survival technique is a bastard instance of the Oedipus complex. He wants  a woman who will mother him, marry him, not trouble him too much, and sympathize when the voices in his head say he needs to piss on the statue of Robert E Lee. I count seven attempts at being Oedipus. The current bae is pregnant and both of them say they are staying together. She says she can rescue him from his troubled past. I dunno.

The bae called a shelter program home until a well meaning Churchianitan woman rescued her. The brand is familiar: non-denominational, strong on virtue signal and evangelism, weak on missions and follow-through. Things were good when it was one Churchianitan woman doing a solid for the bae.

Add Akio and things went south. The woman is captive in her own home. Let me explain before you go calling the cops. Churchianitan is wheelchair bound and needs help getting up and down the stairs of her two story condominium. The bae is a sometimes nursing student when she isn’t stoned. Churchianitan is on prescription Oxycodone. Add Akio and the occupation of the house is feeding monkeys. I’m waiting for the phone call telling me that one or more of the three is hospitalized, incarcerated or toe-tagged.

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Last week Akio and the bae fought. She blames him. He blames her. The apology was underwhelming. At least one wall has holes in it. The flat-screen TV exploded after Akio punched it. One corner of the kitchen floor has scorch marks and smoke damage from a phone thrown in anger. There is no food in the house. Everything that could be stolen and sold is gone. A good deed thoroughly punished.

Your miseries cease being an excuse somewhere mid-twenties. Akio had it bad. I get that. He is one of many who ate an abundance of bitterness. The bitterness eaten by him does not excuse away his continuance of the life in spite of escalating negative consequences. Nor are we obligated to him because his portion was so large. His day when his blues justified his behavior have passed. It is no longer his fate at the wheel of his life, it is him.

Akio answered his fate by achieving early success as a drug dealer. We teach young black men that the only acceptable roles for them are sports, entertainment, crime or indentured servitude to crackers. Akio is tall enough to be dominant on the basketball court. Like many his age he believes himself to be a rap singer. The only trope he didn’t take up is indentured servitude. His greatest success was selling crack cocaine.

Five and six. The other approved path is college, a white collar career, a woman, kids, a mortgage, and so on for the next sixty years. It is the path well traveled Frost and I did not take. Akio is too messed up to make it work. Six is some low rent blue collar jobs and one more plebian tragedy.

Failure to Thrive

Behind Akio is a trail of well-meaning Churchianitans who tried to turn the course of his life. All have failed. Akio still gets high, still sells weed and cocaine, still finds willing women who help him try again to marry his mother and murder his father. He has not changed.

This is the problem Akio creates. All the usual racist tropes about why young black men self-limit don’t explain Akio. Everything usual that can be done to get him to change his ways has been done. He remains the same. It is easy to yell at the snowflakes on campus who have privilege and abuse it by trashing the school and enforcing an orthodoxy of resentment. Their crayons, blankets, low-lighting, soft music, and strict rules about what can and cannot be spoken within safe-spaces are easy targets. Yelling at Akio? About what? Many have yelled at him. He is still doing himself.

I wish it were that easy. A strong fatherly lecture about the deadly course of his life would bring about the epiphany we all want for him. It isn’t so easy. Addicts have to die to their old life before they can live the new one. Said death hurts. If the addiction is deep enough the death is sometimes actual.

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Addicts are not flawed nor stupid nor weak. To be an addict requires tremendous strength and intelligence. Addicts consume taboo habits they buy on the black market under threat of arrest or violence. Drug dealers are remarkable business people because they cannot write down anything they do. It all has to be remembered even while being stoned or drunk. You can’t have a permanent location selling something illegal. The business must thrive in spite of a lack of place. A good drug dealer is a remarkable and perishable thing. Addicts survive things that would kill someone weaker.

Maybe I could explain Akio in terms of his past–addict parents then foster care then adoption late in childhood, an ancestral legacy of criminal life, all the tropes about living on welfare in public housing. All of that is a cliche so common you wonder if it isn’t just lies. Is the sorry story just a hustle to get more? Maybe. Only Akio really knows.

Maybe the cause is us. Boomers did such an awesome job insulating our kids from the slings and arrows of outrageous first world life that they never learned how to cope with misery. We are able to ingest drugs to shut down our lives and sustain the bubble we believe is a right. We don’t have to suffer in this place and time. Every whim is available to anyone that seeks it. Pursuing the seven deadly sins as a bucket list is possible and perhaps, worthwhile.

Monkey Hungry

His past does not explain him. Nor does his residence in a first world city and time. Yes, he was born fucked. Yes, his single score of life featured a cornucopia of bitterness. No one taught him how to be resilient because it isn’t necessary when cocaine, heroin, codeine and much more can protect you. That is the hand life dealt to him. It is not, ipso facto, his fate. He is old enough to have his fate in his hands. His monkey can be starved out of Akio’s life.

Akio’s monkey would eat me if it could. It ate the Churchianitan. He recurs in my life, eats a piece of me, then gets angry because I am not enough. Which . . . actually . . . is a good thing.

I don’t like strays​ or damsels in distress. There is an alley cat living under my shed. Were I someone else that cat would join me in my house. I am not someone else. The neighbor adopted the cat and got him to a vet who got him healthy. Once healthy the cat tore up a couch because it made such a nice scratching post. I saw the couch on the curb last month. I’m not unsympathetic to the fate of the alley cat. He is staying outside. Akio wants more of me and disappears when I won’t give it. Fine.

The Tao 道教 of Akio

Nothing in my past prepares me for him. Therapy? He does that. Social Services? They signed him up for a crazy check and a SNAP card. Section 8? He got public housing and used it to consume bae #6. #6 put him out of his own public housing apartment. All that I know for getting one’s shit together doesn’t move the needle for Akio.

I love introspective conversations about why I am a hot mess. I’ll wrestle the great questions with you: what is my purpose? Why was I born? Is God a Loving God? Why do bad things happen to good people. Akio is occupied with finding his next meal. A daily goal is to get through it without bullet holes. The merits of Socrates compared to Gampopa? He ain’t got time for that. Mercy is a dollar menu cheeseburger.

I have books in me. My gift to him is words. He can’t eat words nor get high with them. They are useful as tools for getting sex. Words as an end unto themselves are foreign to him. He asks me how to spend the night inside and I answer him with Emily Dickinson. We are from completely different worlds.

The True Road 真道

He aged out of the window where blame can be assigned and a responsible party held accountable. It’s on him. All I can do is watch him die through repetitions of new bae, a honeymoon spate, promises to make it stick this time, a period of calm then escalating negative consequences and predictable jail or hospital time.

There are thousands like him in the inner city. They are the intractable metastatic cancer treated with Uncle Sam’s money for a century. I wish I had a solution for the problem he represents. The only thing I have is that his disease has to run its course. Whether it kills him and along the way takes out others with him is something only time will tell. Churchianitan is learning that rescuing him only feeds his monkey with her soul. I hope she puts him out soon. The boy is bad news.

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Even Churches Die

Horses know that old hay is no good. Why do we hoard old, moldy hay like it was more precious than gold?

Even Churches Die. One change to my writing is that Yoast SEO likes it if the “slug” the name of the blog post, appears near the start of the post. It makes the software happy. The software also has opinions on what makes my work easy to read. The software and I disagree. It wants a style of writing taught in Freshman English 1A. Yeah, so . . . sorry, no. If I comply I am promised more eyeballs, a good thing. Yes, even churches die. It’s not something that we want to think about. We want our churches to be eternal. We don’t want them to die.

They do die, though. The church dies and is reborn. This cantankerous rebellion started by a martyred carpenter from the ghetto in Nazareth follows the narrative of its founder. It dies and is reborn. If the first death were the end we would not be over 2,000 years into our dispute with Judaism. Over two millennia and we can count billions as followers of that no-account, troublemaking rebel who overturned tables in the temple and chased people with a whip. Although churches die Jesus of Nazareth continues to attract new followers. Crucifying him just made it go viral.

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This story was fact checked by the Journalistic Integrity Committee of the Peoples United Democratic Free Anarchist Republic of Berkeley and rated, “pants on fire”.

There are two services at my church. The early one is a traditional service like I grew up with. The hymnal contains nothing newer than a hundred years ago. It is Catholic Mass denuded of everything the Protestants believed was not Biblical. It is the liturgy of my youth. I have no truck with it. It’s fine.

The other service, the contemporary service, would have my Puritan ancestors declaring us apostate. There is *dancing* and singing and short skirts and boys in tight t-shirts, practically naked by 17th Century standards. At full song the service is hot and sweaty. We have amplified voices, electric guitars, electric pianos and a trap drum set. It is the furthest thing from what my ancestors considered to be pure faith.

There is a stark contrast between the earlier traditional service and the later contemporary service. I went to the 9:30 service two weeks ago. It felt like an unending dirge mourning another moldy scarecrow buried. Weddings among this clique are rare and wakes are frequent. Compare the early service to 11:00am when we raise the roof. There is life. There is noise. People pray loudly. I’ve seen friends fall out full of the spirit. There are new people showing up. New kids trailed by young parents. It is as alive as the earlier service is morbid.

We have an awesome building. Our pastor is everything we wished for when we called him. The associate pastor is awesome. We have great music, do the worship thing well. We do all the things you expect and yet our membership is declining. We are dieing. The traditional service is not gaining new members. Something has to give or we are dead.

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Northminster Baptist Church was a fixture on the Richmond religious scene for over six generations. Old in this country is anything older than a generation. Six generations is positively immortal. Northminster Baptist Church died. It is no more. What killed it? A wealthy, dedicated minority who controlled the leadership and vowed to die before they allowed necessary changes. They kept their vow. They and the church they led is no more.

Every Sunday at 10:30am at 3121 Moss Side Avenue in Richmond, VA there is raucous worship.The Northminster Campus was a sorry mid-century corpse until it was given to Atlee Community Church. Today it is reborn.  The old pipe organ was given away to another church that wanted to appease scarecrows insistent on remaining Orthodox Baptist. Where the pipes were are large flat panel televisions. The pews are gone, donated to still another church that has a majority zombie leadership. In their place are stackable chairs. There is a rock band. There is that revival feeling to the worship service. They do an altar call at every service. It’s a completely different church. It is alive. It is disruptive, seditious, temple table turning crazy for the scarecrows and zombies. I love it.

More crucial to me are the reasons Northminster died. Northminster scarecrows were old money Democrats who built a legal fortress around their church to protect themselves from intrusion by outsiders. The deeds to the houses had red-lining clauses in them preventing the sale to anyone not part of the inner circle. These wealthy Baptists were a fountain of evil against a city that is one corner of the slave triangle and was once one of the largest slave markets in the South. Underneath all that holy ghost stuff was racism of a truly ugly sort. They survived long after Kennedy was shot. For them, nothing would change until they died. Yep, that’s how it went.

Today in the room they protected from outsiders there are colored folk of every stripe learning how to get a job. Most of them are exactly the kind of undesirables that the old guard kept out. Mind you, these are the good Baptists who have done everything right, went to good schools, graduated from good colleges, had the usual upper-middle class professional careers. They ran the PTA and the boy & girl scout troops. In every respect they are the heart of the country. Except . . . their NIMBY created a deeply evil racist attitude toward their neighbors exactly against what Christ taught. I’m glad they died. It was time.

That room is filled with the sort of “go fishing together” local missions deeply resisted by the scarecrows. Missions was a two week trip to Central America to build a chapel and save souls. The rest of the year it was another check written for the special offering that week. Locals needed to get themselves to the altar and beg for a fish. They were a Feedmore.org distribution site. Missions was something done to others so they could signal their virtue. They had the ability and felt obligated to fulfill perceived needs.

St. Giles is at a crossroads. We are Northminster about a decade before it died. We have enough scarecrows in key leadership positions that making necessary changes is hard. Our scarecrows have threatened to leave us and take their money with them. We don’t know how we can pay our bills without them so the threat carries some weight and we still do things to appease them that put us in compromising places.

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We don’t know how this ends. Jesus was such a threat to the church of this day that they had him killed by the Romans. At the start we were an annoying band of dissidents who seemed to be of no-account to Caesar. Four centuries later Constantine was so desperate to win a battle he offered himself and the Empire to God if God would grant him this victory. Constantine got his victory and the Empire was never the same. Everywhere scarecrows try to hold on to last year’s dessicated hay as the only hay they will fill themselves with. Jesus is holding the gates of heaven open and burning the the old hay. Jesus has never stopped being a change agent, a maker of new hay.

I hope the scarecrows die off. We can’t survive as a church with them and we are afraid we won’t survive without them. The one certain thing is that they are old and musty and the hay that stuffs them full is moldy and decaying. They will die. We won’t have them or their estates forever. Nothing is immortal.

St. Giles is younger than Northminster by a half century. We are over 75 years old. We are old enough that our founding members are going home to Jesus at an increasing rate. The memory of why we left Grace Covenant Church and much later, why we joined the split from the Presbyterian Church of USA is so yesterday. We are not yet zombie old. We are close, though, and our scarecrows seem set on having their old ways, old hay even to the death of us.

To be Christian is to agree to let die the aspects of ourselves that are out of kilter from what Jesus taught. Death to this world is a part of life in Christ. This means that the old scarecrows, if they are to have their church, must find ways to recruit new, young members and hand over the reigns. This is never easy. Those rascally youngins want all this change and innovation and there is always tension between tradition and necessary disruption to the old order.

Time will tell. We might still be a church if we are able to let the old scarecrows die, if they will surrender to inevitable change. If not, we will join the many churches that once had a heyday and now are legend and ruins.

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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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Weapons Hot

Guns bother me. I don’t like it that there is a tool sold which is designed to kill. I get hunting. Venison is good eating. Our cops, military and security professionals are paid to face impossible choices and at times, take life. There are also people with a strong enough signal that they collect haters who go further than nasty words. They need guns. Everybody else? I wouldn’t ban guns. If you want one you should be able to buy one. But . . . my God asked me to love neighbor and enemy alike. So, the stinking turd of a question is, why own something made to facilitate killing?

You know this one: revenge is a dish best served cold. A variant: weapons purchases are best done coldly. If you have any dissonance, darkness, evil, or trouble in your heart, fix that. Fix it before you invest the time and money needed to buy a weapon. Definitely, if the reason for the weapon purchase is aggression against someone who has transgressed against you, don’t buy the weapon. As you stand at the counter choosing a weapon to purchase, you need to be clear and cold.

Weapons are tools for a deadly purpose. People are disturbingly talented at finding ways to hurt each other. Take away guns and we come up with something else to use with deadly intent. We should have the ability to buy and own a weapon. We also need to own the responsibility that comes with owning a tool made to kill.

Too, if you are still a boy in a mans body and want an impressive looking gun that signals your badassery, you are an idiot. We are a first world country. We are also a nation that is incredibly good at selling things. There is plenty you can spend your money on to signal what a stud muffin you are. It doesn’t have to be a gun. I won’t try to judge whether you need a .50 caliber pistol. If you want one, buy one. Just. . . I hope you aren’t buying it out of a need to make your mark among the guys. And if you do buy a .50 caliber pistol, put in the time and money at the range so you can actually hit what you are aiming at.

A little back story. My buddy, who moved to California just as I was finishing college, has decided that his safety is improved by owning a small armory. He’s already bought the dollar store version of the Mossberg 500 shotgun. Also on his shopping list is a .22 caliber long gun and a semi-automatic pistol. I think he’s an idiot for at least two reasons. First, in most self defense situations the distances are well within the range of a pistol. A shotgun could be a liability. Second, he’s doing this hot, out of fear.

I asked him about this post. His reason for starting with shotguns and low caliber long guns was ease of use. At close range a shotgun doesn’t need a skilled marksman to be effective. This is a comfort to him. And a .22 long gun has very little recoil and tends to be fairly accurate, again, relying on the weapon to compensate for poor marksmanship. Rather shitty reasons to own long guns. I hope he puts in the range time to keep up his skill with the weapons he owns.

A katana in the hands of a beginner is a reason to worry. The student and his weapon are a little too uncontrolled to be safe. It is why I was never allowed to practice with steel. Steel was for black belts after many years of repetitive practice with wood. Even then the black belts demonstrated with steel solo. I feel similarly about any gun in the hands of a poorly trained marksman. The marksman makes the gun more dangerous because of the low training effort and consequent poor skill.

It makes more sense to me that you would pick a weapon with the most utility given your needs. For me that is likely to be a semi-automatic pistol. Then, having made the choice you start with training and then maintain your skills through continued practice and training. Ownership should come at the end of an initial session of training. Everything you need to know about weapons can be learned at the range with a semi-automatic pistol. Master your primary weapon. After that, if you want other weapons and can buy them cold, have at it.

There are plenty who buy weapons, live long and go home to Jesus never firing a weapon in anger. For those that own weapons and enjoy them safely, good on you. I have no truck with your hobby. Y’all are not blog-post worthy. Us, the noisy and dissident, we are what generates content and posts like this one. It is us that need to check our narratives to explain why we want to own a weapon.

Self-defense. This one is tough for me. I’ve been a cab driver for almost 20 years. I’ve driven over 500,000 miles without endangering my passengers or being robbed. In all those miles I’ve never had a gun with me. The same behaviors which have gotten me to this point are what will continue to keep me safe. But . . . I am successful in a narrow circumstance where I’ve become skilled at staying safe. The world and the risks in it are way bigger than me. It happens that for some a weapon is needed for self-defense.

Just . . . after 5 years of training in Aiki Jujitsu and all those miles I can’t accept that your only option is a weapon. You have to be creative and smart when presented with a threat that could be shoot/don’t shoot. I’ve been through intense situations where a gun would have been an antagonizing addition. I got through them without a weapon. It can be done.

A small confession: I’ve been gun shopping. I looked at pistols at the counter at Cabella’s. The kid talking to me was in love with an off-brand .38 special revolver. I asked him about semi-automatic pistols and he showed me these made-in-north-korea knockoffs that were branded something like glok or smiss & wexxon. It was a short conversation.

Colonial Shooting Academy here in Henrico, VA was a more impressive experience. The guy talking to me was my age or so and really seemed to know his stuff. Felina was with me. I couldn’t get her to come over to my house for Halloween. I mentioned that I was going to window shop at Colonial Shooting and she was all about it. She had eyes for the Smith & Wesson 500. I thought she was stupid for liking it. The Shooting Academy guy showed me a couple Glocks. Nice weapons. The Glock 19 fit in my hand and felt good as I manipulated the slide and checked the magazine for rounds. His reason for recommending 9mm pistols was the price of ammo. Range ammo was really cheap and more deadly ammo was still inexpensive. He also said that ammunition makers have been working to improve 9mm ammo over other common sizes like .38 ACP.

Then Felina asked if we could put in some range time. I wasn’t ready for that. Felina can be a bit much. I rented a Glock 19 and she rented an AR-15 after I refused to buy range ammo ($4.00 for one round) for the 500. Whoa. Very tight groupings with the AR-15. She was scary good with the Glock.

I know a little about guns. I don’t know enough. I shot .22 rifles at summer camp as a Boy Scout. I had a British buddy in college who wanted to rent all the Hollywood guns–.44 magnum, 9mm Beretta, etc. We spent a couple hours murdering paper targets with guns he could not get at home. I shot a .22 Ruger competition pistol that was pretty easy to handle. Bigger than .38 caliber and I was a danger to myself and other people on the range. Plus, handling guns is an emotional thing for me. I quit shooting part way through the hour. My head was banging with the knowledge that these weapons were made to kill people.

That knowledge still bothers me. Both the Cabela’s visit and tonights visit to Colonial Shooting Academy were emotional experiences. Felina wasn’t helping. The sales guy at Colonial Shooting was a big help with her and with explaining things. Not sure knowing Felina is a fan-girl of big guns was reassuring. The sales guy had me at the Glock 19.

I wrote this last night while watching the final episode of Survivor: Millenials vs. Gen X. I tossed and turned last night. There was a quote I stumbled across online commenting about the Glock 19 from a Latina woman. She spoke of having a love/fear relationship with men. A gun was power for her. Power she wanted to use against men who scared her. Unpacking that is probably more than 1500 words. Still, I wouldn’t want laws in place that were intended to prevent her from owing a gun and feeling safer.

Women, I hear some of you. The world is not safe for you. Felina Ramos has been in Biloxi for the last few months. Another guy, another misadventure with a man. The guy is photogenic and fabulously fem. When they rode with me the other night the body language was story worthy. She was cold to him, stiffly giving him affection while he was annoyingly yappy. After we dropped off Buddy, Felina filled me in. Buddy was starting to creep her out. They were over the initial hot & horny and starting to know each other on the dark days. He’d turned possessive and demanding of her attention. When they were out he’d get all happy when she made the drink orders and chose what to eat. Felina has dealt with that before.

That wasn’t it. A few nights ago in Biloxi a guy asked them for a dollar. They mumbled a refusal and he started following them, calling them names, insisting that they give him money. Buddy was as useful as a Vietnamese dong. He kept whimpering that they should just give him money. Felina had to confront the homeless guy. Buddy was ever appreciative and thankful.

Felina’s big issue is trust. She trusts no one. From jump, she assumes she is going to get hurt. It takes a lot for her to relax and feel safe. Felina has never done the responsible thing and gone to safety classes or legally gotten a permit to carry. Her range time happens off the radar. The point for me is that Felina isn’t so enamored of Buddy after having to save his ass.

I get it that some women come to decide that they way they are going to make their world safer is by owning a gun. I wanted to deviate from my theme a bit to acknowledge that weapons ownership can mean different things for women. Along with women needing agency, needing a voice in policy and law, they need safety. It’s #2 on Maslow’s hierarchy, pretty important. We shouldn’t get in the middle of the choice to own a weapon for women that choose to do so.

I can be at peace with owning a gun and its responsibilities for reasons similar to why I liked owning a katana. It is an accomplishment to practice marksmanship and become skilled. I started this with, gun purchases are best done cold. I’d rather join those who own and master what a weapon can do than live with fear and conflicted feelings about a tool made to kill. Maybe it’s not a more reasonable justification than my buddy’s who is afraid of a nebulous threat from left-wing zombies. He responded with Luke 22:36, “He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one“. Jesus said this on the night before his crucifixion along with telling Peter that he would betray him. I’m a poor bible scholar. Read all of Luke 22 to get a fuller understanding of my friend’s quote.

I’ll leave you with this: the highest form of swordsmanship is living so you don’t need a sword. You can’t achieve that jerking a protest sign up and down in a picket line shouting, “no more guns, no more wars!” Nor is your safety assured locked in a university study room designated a safe space with demanding rules declaring what is and isn’t safe behavior. My readers would take great delight in literally shitting on your term paper for women’s studies before setting off a string of lady fingers in the room. We are like that. Learn to fight and win. Master your weapon so you live free of the need for a weapon.

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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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Pain Forecasted

The King James version has Exodus 20:13 as “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” The ESV has it as, “Thou Shalt Not Murder.” What do you do with a bully? There is also Matthew 5:38, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic,[a] let him have your cloak as well“. Yet, a bully is driven to cause misery, to intimidate and injure a victim. Turning the other cheek seems like exactly the wrong thing to do.

bullyIn my neighborhood the way we figured you out was to tease you. We bullied you to understand what you were like when faced with aggression. If you stepped up and won a few fights we liked you. If you let us be ugly to you we shunned you and you became prey. I did not know how to make my place among Eric’s friends and honor my father. My Dad, confessed Christian and red((pink)er) diapered son of card carrying communists, understood the Bible to say that we ought not fight. My Dad is a good man and sincere in what he believes with conviction. When I was young I thought he was evil.

Eric and his buddies lived down the street from me. We all went to the same school from kindergarten until fifth grade. I failed Eric’s attempt to figure me out. I honored my father and refused to fight. That hurt, still hurts.

Eric was my nemesis. He headed up a clique that took great delight in my misery. He was the one guy who I could not defeat without defying my father. Not then, not with what I knew then. These days, if I could talk to my younger self, we’d deflate Eric and be done with him.

I thought then, still feel at times, that what Eric needed was a black eye, a fat lip, and maybe a nice bloody scalp wound. To respect my father rule meant I had to find ways to avoid Eric. I got very good at being where he wasn’t. He and I fought a maneuvering war that lasted through fourth & fifth grades. It felt like a 100 years. Sometimes I’d lose the maneuvering war and have to engage with him. Now I was caught. If I fought I’d piss off my Dad. If I didn’t it hurt. My memory, now colored by time, is that it seemed like every day was a battle. Eric and I did fight once or twice over two years. I lost each time. And my Dad sat me through a long lecture on honoring your parents. Bleh.

I make a lot of noise about mercy. I say that forgiveness is central to the way I live. If you ask me if I’m a lover or a fighter I’ll tell you I’m a lover. Mostly because I figure being a lover is the more socially acceptable answer. There is still a boy in me who’d like to kick Eric’s ass. Am I a lover? Am I a fighter? Do I have to choose? I think I lean more toward fighter, toward warrior. I am not, though the fighter my younger self was. I hold rank in a martial art that teaches non-violent variants of old hand-to-hand combat techniques. Victory is the defeat of the enemy’s will to fight. This is not the boy-soldier life of my youth. It is much closer to the grown-ass man life of Musashi with an oak practice sword. The misery of the playground was resolved by moving me to Mullica Hill Friends School. I thought that if I changed schools my days of being bullied would be over. Not.

Brian Sykes, a star athlete at the school, picked up where Eric left off. I taught Brian how to treat me. It took another decade or so for me to learn that our internal battlefield travels with us. Our minions, dragons & demons remain no matter how agreeable our domicile is. Our fight with them only escalates if we attempt to outmaneuver them or ignore them. The misery of the playground will continue until you engage. This is really what Eric wanted. He wanted to engage. He wanted to win. All I had to do is run toward the fight and win. Between defying my father and letting the misery continue I ended up choosing to defy my father.

There are ways to engage Eric, though, that settle it and leave him able to attack. That is the art of war we should be learning and embodying. I’m a loving warrior. I fight for peace. I fight to find ways to transform my enemy so that we can engage and build healthy relationships. Pain is possible, as is striking and grappling. Weapons are used–Musashi’s oak sword and lengths of staff from 6″ to 8’ as examples. The boundary is this: if you are able to continue the fight then it wasn’t violent. Within those boundaries I fight to strengthen relationships and make allies of my enemies. What if, though, you find an enemy who won’t quit. Today is a good day to die for them. This gives us a choice. Do we die and be martyred to protect our principles or do we attempt to destroy the bloodthirst of such an enemy, knowing that if it can’t be defeated we may have to choose whether we live or our enemy lives? I don’t know what I would do if it came down to it.. I’d like to believe I can end it before I have to make such a choice. Between, “thou shalt not kill” and “thou shalt not murder” I tend to agree with those who read that commandment as “thou shalt not murder.” I pray I live a long and rich life before I have to choose. Not very definitive but there it is.

Bullies are not warriors. Bullies want pain. Warriors fight to end it, to end the pain, to regain peace. My twist on it is the setting of a rule of engagement. Victory comes in the defeat of the enemy’s will to fight. Defeating a bully comes in transforming his or her heart so he or she no longer hungers for the pain of others. We can do this in artful ways if we are humble before God.

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Gun Control

This originally posted 08-Nov-2015.

This morning (07-Jan2016) Whoopie Goldberg made news because she said we should ban automatic weapons that were banned in 1934.
In 1989 California banned assault weapons and large capacity magazines. Gun manufacturers modified their semi-automatic rifles so that they could still be sold in California. The main difference? A California AR-15 has a fixed magazine holding no more than 10 rounds.

The headlines which prompted this post have fallen out of the news cycle. The press is bored with the story and has moved on. Lately, it’s Billary & Sanders who have their attention and whether Billary was derelict in her duty as Secretary of State while our embassy in Benghazi, Libya was being attacked. The spin being espoused has a lot to do whether you believe in the orthodoxy of the Republican establishment or the puritanism of the Democrats.

Back to what this post was about—gun control. Several people were killed in the shooting in Wuerenlingen, northern Switzerland.I have a hard time with any phrase that is xxxxx control. Drug control, crime control, gun control, blah blah control. I distrust the success of any law attempting to impose control on us. Somewhere in me is an abiding suspicion that I and those like me are incorrigible. We outliers are the minority exception to the majority rule. Yes, some of us get caught and spend time in jail. Some get tired of the criminal justice system and quit behaving in ways that cause them to catch more cases and time. Some don’t. Some die unrepentant.

Propaganda that pitches the need for gun control as, “there was a person shot to death with a gun today. That’s one too many deaths by guns. We have to ban/control guns to stop this onslaught of gun violence and death“, just annoys me. It sets of a tough to resist impulse to scream and yell at the TV about the stupidity of that problem and solution statement. The blame is placed with the weapon used to commit the crime. The conclusion pitched is that if we remove the weapon we’ll stop the crime. And the sad truth is that humans intent on murder have been rather darkly ingenious when it comes to the means by which murder is committed. Without guns we’ll invent something else, suicide bombs anybody?

As I type this a woman drover her car into the crowd of the Oklahoma State homecoming parade. 4 people are dead and 50 are injured. This may not equate, but I’ll say it anyway. If removing guns from the hands of people who shouldn’t have them will reduce gun crime then can we also say that removing cars from the hands of those who shouldn’t have them reduce car crime? We don’t know yet the status of this woman’s driver’s license. I doubt she was worried about that as she decided to plow into a crowd of innocent people and kill 5 of them. Also, since this post was first drafted some crazy person found a sword and used it in Switzerland to kill two people and injure two others. The optics were earily similar to our mass shootings at public places which were a favorite story of the press for a while.

We are scarily talented when it comes to conceiving of ways to kill each other. A lack of guns isn’t the impediment to violence we wish it would be. Swords can be just as deadly in the wrong hands. We have the logical fallacy of taking the specific instance and trying to generalize from it. One more crazy person shot up another public place, this time a college in Oregon. And so the propaganda that we have to make sure this never happens again by ensuring that no more crazy people can get a gun. My itch to scream at the TV is getting much worse. Us, the outliers, are not dissuaded by laws saying we can’t do what we do. I don’t wish to see another shooting at another public place. I like the idea that we could do something so that this last shooting remains the last shooting. But I’m an outlier and I have friends. There are too many of us who won’t obey the law for me to be comfortable with another iteration of laws attempting to keep us from getting guns.

The problem isn’t the weapon, be it a gun or a sword, or as C.S. Lewis spoke of, a baseball bat. Gun control laws have not prevented the crimes we were promised they would prevent. Miyamoto Musashi (宮本武蔵) won deadly duels against steel katana and trained solders using a red-oak practice sword. The problem is the collective heart of the country reflected in the leadership we have in office. Our collective heart is in a rather dark place and some of the ways this darkness is manifested is through these mass shootings. The solution is not a legal one but a spiritual one. We need a change of heart, a change toward compassion and leadership to help us with that.

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Asshole Filters

This is funny to me. Siderea describes asshole filters here. She finds it epiphanic that there are assholes afoot and that you can behave in ways that filter out other people to leave only the assholes. Siderea, baby, hey, yeah, uhm, I’m one of those, one who would be left in with your asshole filter.

assholeSiderea writes of Fred, who produces conferences, and his duplicitous use of a personal and conference e-mail. He asks that for matters related to a conference being produced people use an address set up for the conference. Then, he doesn’t work that e-mail address effectively so it becomes a black hole from which no action is ever taken. He compounds his troubles by revealing to certain favored insiders that they can get him to take action if they use a personal e-mail address and gussy it up with subject headings and introductions which take on a Chicken Little tone.

So . . you can attract assholes to your life and you can attract drama to yourself. This is news? This was worth a blog post and a thread of flattering comments? Wow. Siderea. I am one of those. I am that guy who has been called an asshole.

Lately, because of the mood of some, my letters, WASP, male, over 30, born of upper middle class parents, college educated, deemed privileged, I am ascribed by some as the reason for all their troubles. Whatever it is miserable that befalls them it is my fault. Worse, I am divorced from my wife because I abused her. I was convicted and served time for the two instances of abuse that the courts know about. I am that guy, Siderea, who would be the soon fired thorn in Fred’s side.

Siderea, my name is Alan Webb and I am an asshole. Those that blame me for all their troubles flatter me. It is humbling to hear that I hold such power over their lives. Though, I don’t want the power that they accuse me of having. I got older. I am more than two decades past age 30, when I realized I couldn’t do it like that anymore. I read John Bradshaw, tried AA meetings for a while, went back to church, and slowly tried to make the last night in jail remain the last time. What has worked for me best is to study church history and learn how to emulate Christ as many did in the early centuries of the church before Constantine came to Him. (Actually, of all the assholes ever, Constantine is one of the greatest. You could also argue that Jesus was an asshole to the church of his day. Herod wasn’t too fond of him either.)

Siderea’s post is funny to me. You can absolutely screw yourself by not establishing and enforcing boundaries and rules. Lately, upon return from a temp job that had full-time travel, I’ve got a backlog of personal business to attend to. One bit is my car, which isn’t legal and needs fixing to make it so. When I got home this week I tried to start it and found that the battery had gone flat. The Chicken Little tactic would mean that I’d light up my contact list with some story about a world ending apocalypse if someone didn’t drop everything and devote the next few days to helping me start my car and get it legal. That’s the asshole move.

My friends should, and did, yawn, crack open another Bud Lite and go back to watching “Let’s Make a Deal”. A few more days waiting for the things I need to jump the battery and get the car to a mechanic won’t accomplish the apocalypse I could have suggested. People do that, though. They make it about themselves and narrate the story such that everybody has to jump to attention and deal with whatever misery has befallen them lately. Though, usually, it’s just raining.

Us boomers, who were seduced by the idea that freedom from the rule of law would foster the utopia we sought–to be coddled and protected in a cocoon where we could fuck every woman who passed our way, blast loud music all hours of the day and night, consume food, alcohol, drugs, whatever debauchery flitted into our fancy, and escape all consequences of our bacchanal, we thought we could do this by ignoring the rules and declaring a reborn Eden operated by anarchy. Then we turned 30. Our failing health betrayed us. The string of women we slept with started demanding child support. Our arrest record got long enough that we no longer qualified for drug court or weekend jail. We tried to have our glory rave at 32 the same way we did at 22 and those 19 year olds started to look at us like creepy old men. There are four roads ahead of us, more hospital time, more jail time, another stint in rehab, or death. Except for death, each of these roads can lead to health and a diminished role as an asshole to society. The choice is ours to make and not all of us repent.

Siderea, guess what. The world has assholes in it. Get used to it. God’s creation includes free will, including the will to be an asshole. Because there is free will we can also make choices which push the assholes in this world away from us. A few nights ago I was approaching a street-car station in downtown Dallas, TX. There were a half-dozen street people on the opposite platform. This has all the markers of a potential mugging and a half-day dealing with the cops and maybe the paramedics. If I made my train I’d get to the airport, make my flight and get home on time. If things didn’t go well getting home would get rather expensive and take a lot longer. I’m sure there have been some in my circumstances who did get caught up in a maelstrom and got home days later, much worse for wear. Because I am an asshole, because I have learned to deal with my kind over the years, it was a nervous half-hour on that street-car platform talking to the street people (mostly drunk) and paying a dollar each to two of them. And then my train arrived and I made all my connections, eventually arriving home in the afternoon as scheduled. The trick is to shut down the will to continue to be an asshole. Disrupt the behavior right then. Make it fail. The art is in doing so in ways that preserve the ability to continue the behavior but interferes with the desire to do so. Also, to keep a merciful heart surrendered to God. We are not going away, us assholes. But we can be dealt with in a way that makes things better for everyone.

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It’s Eve’s Fault

My fellow blogger Aubrey Eicher posted an essay on Eve and the apple.” She writes, “When we love, we do not want to do anything to hurt the heart of the person, or in this case, God.” Which are fine words from a young Christian woman writing in 2015. We have at least five millennia of experience in what is and isn’t out of bounds behavior. If you doubt this, do something out of bounds to a woman and see what happens. Actually, don’t. There is enough out of bounds behavior without my encouraging it.

Smoked-RattlesnakeNeither Adam nor Eve had knowledge of how you love, what love is/was, and what is and isn’t out of bounds behavior. *Everything* is new, a first, including what it means to be a partner to someone. Aubrey says, “Surely, myself included, we would love to go back to the garden and slap the fruit out of Eve’s hand, and give her a piece of our mind, ‘What ARE you doing, you dumb broad, didn’t you hear what God said? Yes, Aubrey, she did. Eve didn’t have the benefit of a few thousand years of hindsight. Worse, not knowing of good and evil, she had no way to express nor process events and behavior that felt out of bounds. Adam could and probably did, do things that caused Eve duress. But it was all good (right?) because without knowing of good and evil there is nothing that is out of bounds. Last, a word from us, the malcontents, we know, she knew and it wasn’t enough, isn’t enough.

I find it beyond reason that the purported prior-fall Eden was entirely sunshine and lollipops. God created a world in which free will exists. This includes the freedom to use his creation for ill as well as good. C.S Lewis, in his, “Problem of Pain“, talks about a baseball bat being a tool for sport as well as a weapon. God made the baseball bat. Man makes a choice and it is either used for sport or for crime. He leaves it to us to decide what to do with His creation. Google News will give you plenty of examples of poor choices. I find it hard to believe that the lack of knowledge of good and evil would obviate the possibility of ill will. Either he made an Eden where free will was impossible, and thus made a couple who were not completely in His image, or he made an Eden where they didn’t know what was and wasn’t in-bounds behavior but could, out of innocence, still behave in ways that were transgressive. You could slap the fruit out of Eve’s hand and she would still be stuck with an impossible to understand feeling that some of what Adam did was not right. Enter the serpent. Eve had her reasons.

To recap: the serpent tells Eve that if she defies God and eats of the forbidden fruit she will gain the knowledge of good and evil. She ate and fed some to Adam as well. In all the sermons I’ve heard and retellings of this tale I can’t remember any time spent in the run-up to her choice. It’s narrated as a series of disconnected events, the serpent talking to Eve, then Eve eating, then Eve feeding some of the fruit to Adam, then feeling shame at their nudity, then clothing themselves, then hiding from and being found by God, then banishment and consequences. It is beyond reason to me that Eve was not talking to Adam through all this. On many Sundays in the sermon I’m told that Eden before the fall was a paradise where evil was impossible. Paradise for whom?

The bible is conspicuously silent on what Eve was going through in her early days. Or that Eve wasn’t processing the events of her life and trying to figure out (a) what it all means and (b) what she should do about it. It was all new to Adam as well. He had no frame of reference, save what God had been telling him, of how to live on God’s good side. Not knowing of Good and Evil, without the law, he had a hard time with Eve, who was not as rebellious as Lilith but was still crazy making. There was no one he could commiserate with, no parents to talk to, no fellow newlywed men to joke about married life with. He had to bootstrap all of this himself. Eve, younger than him, didn’t know either and for all it mattered, was dumber than a box of rocks.

There is another discredited narrative lurking about in Jewish folklore–Lilith. She, it is told, was the first woman, created of the same soil as Adam, and banished from Eden because the fight between her and Adam got so severe she fled to the desert, spewing threats and curses the whole way. One more element. We don’t have a story that connects Lilith to Eve. Lilith exists in Mesopotamian folklore and predates Judaism. If folk tales of Lilith and Eve exist they have not survived. Suppose these two women were alive at similar times, are we sure they never spoke? We can’t say because we don’t have anything to connect the two. But . . . this space is the realm of the bard. This is not a limitation here. This blog can say it, taking the privilege of the story teller, and proceed from there. We’ll say Lilith was able to fill in the details of the dispute over a salad of smoked rattlesnake, sunflower seed and kale dressed with a lime, cilantro and peanut oil vinaigrette served with a nice Riesling. Eve would hear that she wasn’t the first, and why Lilith lived in the desert, shunned.

This means that if she was to get along with Adam she could not merely defy him. She could not plant her flag on equal liberty with Adam and expect to gain his assent. There had been too many words between the angels, Adam and Lilith, too much done, to make that reasonable. Eve needed a new way to be with Adam. Could it be that if he knew what he’d done wrong, if he could be made to see the error of his ways, that there could be rapprochement in Eden and the strife of the past could remain in the past, leaving Eve safe?

Consider Eve’s position. She is newly made of Adam’s rib. She is physically a woman, fully capable of everything God expects of her. Adam has all these “should’s” and “spose-to’s” from his disastrous relationship to Lilith. He’s still seething at the mention of her. He feels entitled to being treated a certain way, full of rants about being respected and the proper place of a . Though she is physically mature she is still young to this life and so much is hard to sort out. Knowing the right thing to do isn’t straightforward. She has no history to refer to, no older kin to speak with. Her only source of reference is God, who is at a turn loving and paternal in frustrating ways, and Adam, who isn’t helping.

Eve has no friends save for these two men, one her father, the other her husband. They are men. They try when she wants to talk. But . . . guys are not girls and though they mean well, it’s not the same talking to them. Lilith is banished so getting to speak with her is extremely difficult. Eve and Lilith had that lunch but since then God has had angels watching her so getting out hasn’t been possible. Adam and God have no clue what it’s like to be a woman in this paradise. Instead, there are legion expectations and pompous, chest puffed, chauvinist ideas about what an ideal woman should be. Into this comes the serpent, who is wise enough to know when to shut up and let Eve talk.

God’s call to Eve was to be Adam’s helper. God keeps talking about children and that’s just disgusting. Adam has a lot to say about this, much of it conflicting with her conversations with God. God wants Adam to love him more dearly and wants Eve to help him with this. Adam seems to want sex (which, btw, could not have gone well at first, “You pee with that thing. You want to put it inside me and pee inside me? That is so not happening ever.” hot meals, a willing ear and someone to clean up after him. No mention of loving God in that. No shortage of what God owes Adam, though. So, here she is, newly made, newly married, to this creature who is inconsiderate, stubborn, resentful, angry at his ex, loudly declaiming that God owes him, and demanding of her. The serpent says that if Adam knew the difference between right and wrong maybe he’d understand the error of his ways and stop being such a prick.

Keep things the same in the garden, tolerating Adam and his anger toward women, toward Lilith and by extension, Eve, trusting God to work it out, or . . . disrupt, defy and in the defiance maybe get this lughead to come to his senses. Yes, the price was death but as in many of these broken relationships, physical death may be threatened but it is the spiritual death long ago initiated that has destroyed the souls of those involved and made physical death seem comforting. Plus, the serpent kept telling her that she would not physically die, not really. She would know from Lilith that the price was more probably divorce from Adam and banishment. So, it became a choice miseries.

Eve chose to eat of the apple and lived to suffer another day. Adam it seems, became a farmer and settled down enough to father Cain and Able. For Eve, good enough. She could live as a farmer’s wife and let the raucous early days of her life fade into fond family stories. For the rest of the story you can read your Bible. It’s all there.

Eve’s sin is still the sin of hubris. Though, not the sort of pride I’ve heard in so many sermons on so many Sundays. No, the old lie the serpent tells us and that we still fall for that we are alone, that no one else understands our problem the way we do, and that we have to take care of it ourselves. It is a pride that comes from fear overtaking our trust in God and in turn letting Him open our eyes to the hidden love and solutions possible once we stop being so scared and proud. Eve was young, thought she had to figure it out for herself, and listened to the serpent as he talked her into feeling isolated and desperate. It doesn’t justify her sin. It’s maybe like Chris Rock said about OJ Simpson–it isn’t right but you can understand.

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