A Fist Full of Fiscal Fears


I need to talk about money bad. I need to talk about my fist full of fiscal fears. This has been true for years: I explain how much I make and how much I spend and it doesn’t add up. A living wage for me is about $14.50/hr. It’s been that amount for at least a decade. I worked at CapitalOne for a couple years, lived in a hotel and made $14.00/hr. A big reason for pursuing a leased house was to live cheaper in a better domicile. The hotel cost me roughly $900/month. My house with all the bills costs about $150.00/month less. So, do I have that $150.00/month? I do not.

A Fist Full of Nothing

Where is it? If I had put that $150.00/month in a savings account I’d have $4500.00 in principle. Dave Ramsey talks about having $1,000.00 in cash as a reserve. After paying off your debt the next step is 3-6 months of cash reserve. Assuming it costs me $2200/month to live, I need at least $6600.00 in the bank after becoming debt free. That $150.00/month cost savings is 68% of what I need in cash reserves. I have $500.00 or so.

I haven’t answered the question, “where is it?” Where is that $4500.00? Gone. Spent. On stupid stuff. $4500.00 of FUB.

Promises, Promises

As I type this I am a month behind on my utility bill with the city, I owe almost $400.00 on my cell phone bill and I don’t have the rent money due this week. My car’s inspection sticker expired last October and I have three traffic citations accusing me of driving the Impala with the expired sticker. The car needs another couple thousand to make it right even after spending $3,000.00 on repairs. I owe $540.00 on my credit card.

What I say to everyone is that I am broke. I can’t afford to do the responsible things with my money. Doing the right thing has to wait while I put out one more fiscal fire. I keep putting this off, telling myself that I’ll take care of it once I have a job that pays enough. Just a little longer and there won’t be so many fiscal fears and fires to deal with. When things are better I’ll do the right thing. I’m on the far side of my mid-fifties. Hillel, “אם אני לא לעצמי מי הוא בשבילי? ולהיות עצמי, מה אני? ואם לא עכשיו, מתי??

I promised as 2016 came to a close, to tithe more and save more. It’s what you do when in the company of a case worker. You say the right words about doing the right thing while knowing you are lying. I am tithing less and letting the calls from collection agencies go to voice mail. My promises mean less than Catullus’ words from his avid lover.

 

The Fist Full of Fiscal Fears

One more thing. A couple months ago I maxed out my $750.00 limit on my credit card. Then I made my plans for a trip to South Carolina based on having sufficient available credit. If I didn’t pay off the credit card the South Carolina trip falls apart. So, I started paying $50.00/week and more toward my credit card balance.

The Impala needs too much work. Court dates on the Impala start next month. I need a car before returning to court. There are still bills that need catching up. It is the end of May. My employer is converting me from a temporary worker to full-time. I have fiscal nuclear bombs exploding in my life for the next couple months..

I’ll be getting paid twice a month instead of every week. I won’t see a paycheck until late in the first month. Rent, the utility bill from the city, my cell phone bill, and my light bill, all have to get paid twice in a few weeks to avoid the sort of fiscal nuclear bomb that would put me on the street. Plan for that? No. I ain’t got no plan for that.

Mo Money Mo Better?

Oprah discovered this. It is an easy slide up the economic scale. As income increases we expand our lifestyle to consume the increase. New vistas and possibilities open up as our income climbs. Some of us make polite sounding noises about the increase not changing our lifestyle. Right. Pay cash for a bucket list car? Why thank you, I think I will.

Each step up we say again that we are entitled to the shopping list made possible by the new economic level. It gets easy to forget the old roach and rat infested third floor walkup with hissing steam radiators that only seem to work in the summer. Cash for a genuine Rolex? Definitely.

Yet, when we lived in that dump and rode the bus we made ends meet. The budget balanced because it had to. Now that we have arrived and can buy a watch equivalent to over a year of wages our budget doesn’t balance. Mo Money isn’t on its own mo better.

Money won’t fix it unless you get at the underlying reason why someone can’t keep it together. I have to do the work to heal my broken relationship with money. If I stay the same then my post in December of this year will have nothing to show for my added $900.00/month.

The Challenge

Jesus tells us to take nothing with us. God provides for the sparrow. How much more will he provide for us? We live in an empire that is a top ten all time wealthiest. Our first world life affords us a base-line lifestyle most of the world envies. The challenge is to live a frugal life in this cornucopia of indulgences we bathe in.

This is my challenge also. To live a $15.00/hr. life while earning $5.00/hr. more than that. Resist the natural growth in lifestyle available because of the extra income. My history on this does not bode well.

Jesus Doesn’t Deserve This

A thousand words down and I finally come out with it. I have a huge problem with giving money to the church. I’ve held this grudge since I was a kid. You read pieces of it here. I don’t like blindly giving fish. I wish we in the west would slow down before we fly 10,000 pounds of rice over the African Savannah and push it out of the back of a C-130 because of that doe-eyed kid we’ve all seen in UNICEF TV ads. So much of what the church does with tithing bugs me. I give to the church grudgingly, when I give at all.

I am still a fan of Robert Lupton’s, “Toxic Charity” and Dambiza Moyo’s, “Dead Aid.” I want the church to be smarter about how it does missions and service. Just doing resource dumps is stupid.

But . . . countless times in my nearly three score years the church has had my back. There are many in a number of congregations who are angels to me. It wasn’t always cash. Sometimes it was strong words or prayer. Everything done for me was done without an overt demand for compensation.

I.O. Him

Name for me another organization that would provide food, shelter, mental health services, transportation, access to medical care, religious education and fellowship for free. Where else can you find a scholar deeply educated in scripture who will give of his time free of charge? Grocery store gift cards.

Is the church sinful? Yes. It is filled with people. People sin. Not all people. Enough people to make the two word premise valid. Churches are filled with messed up people who did some fucked up shit. These messed up people are there because something drove them to seek revolution in their lives by following the way of life evangelized by a no-account carpenter from Nazareth who was martyred over 2,000 years ago. 2,000 years is a long time to not screw up.

In 2,000 years, have Christians ever done anything to anger others? Have we sinned? Every damned day. So, I, along with many, who get self-righteous and point angry fingers at the church, need to check our selves. Since when did we gain the right to stipulate that we are without sin but those guys, those Jesus freaks, well . . . they are evil. It is not credible that I could justify my resentment and miserly contributions to the church because those guys don’t deserve it until they come correct.

Money Bull Sh*t

Right, so here we are. The right thing to say is, “I am sorry. I’ll start tithing more diligently.” Those words are crap. What we both know as I type this is that I still have some forgiving to do. I owe the church the recognition of what it has done for me for free in the form of a stack of Benjamins. I ought not continue to judge. My cries of poverty are bullshit. I’ll let you know how it went in December of this year.

Share

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.

✤ ✤ ✤

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.

✤ ✤ ✤

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.

✤ ✤ ✤

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

Fake News

The shock and awe demonstrated by the popular media with the premise that the news isn’t authoritative is funny to me. My diapers were pink, if not deeply red. My Dad tried to escape the insanity of his broken family, his crazy, socialist Mom and his alcoholic father. The man left Berkeley but Berkeley never left him. So says he, Jesus is a Communist. The engineering degree was an e-ticket out of the left-wing Disneyland called California. An article of faith in my family has always been that the press lies to us.

William Randolf Hearst published the San Francisco Examiner, bitter rival to the San Francisco Chronicle. Hearst is the newspaper man who was at the center of scandals over yellow journalism and suspicions that his newspapers bullied the US and Spain into war. Some of what Hearst published was demonstrably false. Hearst was a passionate progressive.

That’s one. Pacifica Radio is another. It was our first public radio network, predating NPR. When I was living in the Bay Area I could count on Pacifica Radio’s KPFA to remind me frequently that what I saw on KTVU and in the Chronicle was establishment pablum pushing a political agenda. It continues to be an article of faith at KPFA that what is communicated through major media outlets is government controlled propaganda.

What is axiomatic for me is that we are all fools and liars. What we find to be true has a lot to do with who we are and our story up to this point in our lives than facts which can be empirically proven. I love repeating with annoying frequency that truth on this blog is an accident. I make no claims as to the factual accuracy of anything I say here. Some of what I say has truth in it, somewhere. So, for the press to suddenly wake up and realize that the inner-tubes are clogged with verbal diarrhea, this is both amusing and definitely not news.

Glen Beck, whom many love to hate, keeps saying that we should fact-check him. We should do our own homework. Find out for ourselves who is naughty or nice. A basementless pizza place the headquarters of an international sex-trafficking ring? Perfectly reasonable. Our leaders turn out to have feet of clay and the same kink that less visible folk have? Shocker. I haven’t listened to KPFA in a while. Back when I did they said similar things. They also loudly declaimed that their listeners should do their own research. Find out if KPFA and Pacifica Radio was practicing the fine art of story telling or in fact, telling provable truth.

RayRoberta Bob, for his part, is all over the #pizzagate thing. It touches all his fears about authority figures. The resonance is so strong for him that my attempt at disputing the truth of it was dead at the door of Itzel’s barn. He really believes that Billary has a harem of nubile virgins serving his and her *every* need. His own harem supplied by his father was an annoyance to him. Ray’s gender fluidity comes in part from growing up with 400 needy girls vying for his attention.

Sorry, every blogger’s cheap tactic to fill a post, a list. Some stories over the years which were truth-ish:

  • A story cited here claiming that Samsung paid their 1.2 billion dollar fine to Apple in nickels.
  • A story that keeps popping up from WWI based on a photograph claimed to be of a firing squad aiming at a spy.
    If you browse to the site you find out the whole thing was staged. This one is good because some stories resonate so strongly that they survive all attempts to refute them. There will be those who can’t accept #pizzagate as false and will invent narratives that explain away all the counter-narratives being evangelized in the national media. These narratives to support the core narrative of a corrupt Billary being a sex-trafficker will gain the gravitas of truth and stick around like a smelly, drunk uncle.
  • Pretty much every week the National Enquirer is published. This week, in fine tradition, they claim that a shadowy fixer for Billary was arranging sex trysts.

Sorry to go all Krischin on the bottom third of this post. The Bible is wary of the tongue. I’ve only quoted James 3: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life,[a] and set on fire by hell.[b] For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind,but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers,[c] these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.”

Yeah, so . . . words matter. Our truth matters. While the national press is puckering their anuses and soiling their panties at getting caught in many lies I have begun to feel smug. What I thought was edgy and provocative isn’t. Writing over 200 essays where I am rather open about the lack of truthiness turns out to be more on point than I could have imagined.

One more quote, Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.”

I’m still learning to fight the urge to preach. Us at the narrow ends of the Bell curve may be troublesome, crazy, a reason to sit somewhere else in the cafe. We are not stupid. If anything, our outlier status gives us less of an investment in the common newspeak promulgated by Uncle Sam. We loose less if we stick to our stories of warehouses of hippies burning to death, aliens invading our brains and the top 10 ways to cook a zombie. It’s what we do. This whole pizzagate thing is awesome sauce for this blog.

Share

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.

Share

Felina Ramos

Felina Ramos is in her twenties. It’s been hell getting here. I was all set to write a blog post about the speed at which many tag a given narrative as proof of rape culture and in so doing, cheapen the phrase. Check your narratives people. And, yes, I am hinting that my story of a young intern flipping out because a coworker smiled at her will continue in this space. Felina, though.

pigface-flowerFelina’s story killed it. I know she’s an outlier, that most women don’t have such an outsized story to tell. I am one who loves to point out that the stories we publish are the ones that have a larger than life aspect to them. Only a small percent of us are black and bullet ridden. Only a few women have survived as much as Felina. The 99% will never have a story worth a blog post. Felina does.

Felina dresses goth, has a bloody rose tattoo on her left arm. She’s in Richmond trying again to get her grades together to return to Stanford where her full ride scholarship awaits. Her uncanny attraction to pigs is a bit unnerving. She’s not attracted to them. Too many come at her with attitude she reads as, “I could get from flirty to dirty sheets pretty quick with you.”

How About . . . No

I see what the pigs see. I also saw the steel and concrete in her eyes buttressing a deep river of anger that made me decide that I’d regret checking her off on my bucket list. The weather has been good so she’s been living on the street. It’s not as if Felina hasn’t been offered help. It is this. The last time she agreed to take a bed in a shelter she woke up to find the overnight worker fondling her. The place promised to be safe, to be somewhere where she could try again to get healthy, was a place hosting a predator.

Felina spent a night in jail recently after she slapped a well meaning woman at the bus stop who offered, “everything happens for a reason. You have to look for the lesson in this.” The things that Felina has survived defy explanation.  The lesson life has taught her is worse than a night in city jail after bitch-slapping that woman.

Felina, 24, born in Haiti to a Peace Corp father. Dad came to Haiti as an aid volunteer for Hurricane Gordon (1994). Mom was Mormon at the time, in Haiti to soak up the sun, eat, and maybe find out about her family’s connection to the island. Dad’s roots were Moorish and Mom’s were Catalan. Felina grew up in Puerto Rico. A fine beginning that went further south for Felina at around age 12.

The thing that has been so stunning is her inability to escape predators. Monsters under the bed? She’s got men wanting her in the ugliest way. Mom & Dad wanted her to break the family curse and so sent her to boarding school. Their idea was that if they sent her to a good boarding school she’d be safe and set for college and success.

Good Plan . . . Gone to a Nightmare.

Boarding school had a janitor (pig #2) who liked them young. His special pet was Felina, who gave herself to him until she graduated with honors. She got a full ride at Stanford, as far away from Georgia as she could manage. Nightmare over? Not even. It was as if she had some sort of invisible nametag that said, “abuse me.” It wasn’t even limited to men. Women would coo that it’s safer with a girl and then bust out the latex and whips.

Childhood in Carolina, Puerto Rico before boarding school was a little better than what TV loves to show. Her parents did better than most. They both worked, her Dad sold shaved ice (Pure Mountain Water!) to tourists and her Mom as an office manager in a doctor’s office. She had one sister two years younger than her and an older brother she seldom saw. The brother was a soaring vulture who was only home when he wasn’t in jail or had run out of money. But, they had a house and a car, which was more than many of her childhood friends.

Felina’s reason for wanting to go to boarding school was a Bambalan (pig #1) friend of her Dad. This bichote started with her when she was eight. Then she got her first period and he told Papa that she was spoiled and could never marry a Catholic. Es lo que hacen los hombres.

Felina Ramos Knows

Felina knows a couple things. She knows that some men are weak against her and will do nearly anything if she asks them the right way. She knows that no one has ever been able to contain her behavior. She can and has done many taboo things. Lately, though, she knows that between bicho and a good book it is the book that feels better. Some rosehip tea, a fleece robe and something by James Patterson are way better than pene apestosas.

She’s on meds and most days her life trying to hold it together almost makes it to sundown without drama. She’s was living at home in Carolina helping take care of her parents for a couple years. She became the parent in the family for her sister and her gilipollas brother. Then a friend of the family told her she could come to Richmond and study at John Tyler to get her grades up and go back to Stanford. One more gallo del paseo who had her crotch in mind. She still hopes to make it back to Stanford some day.

I was ready to launch, ready to yell at those who cheapen the phrase “rape culture” by spewing it with abandon. It was one of those odd moments I’ve had. I saw what the predators saw. She comes across as an easy fuck. Sometimes, she is. Her heart is walled up behind a deep stone fortress of too many men assuming she’d like it quick and rough. She’s been abused too much, taken for granted too many times, had hands and bicho invade her safety. She is the exception that kills my glittering generality. Her story is too oft told, too old for a young woman.

I’m still there. I live here too. I see that the devil is hard at work eating souls. He’s made an oven for us and we are being baked in depravity until we are nicely golden brown and bubbly. I’m past the age where every woman I see is one I want to fuck. If SYHT reappeared in my life offering a bit of bacchanal it wouldn’t be an obvious yes. I flirted with Felina. But I’ve driven too many miles in a cab, carried to many Felina’s to be captured by her spell so easily. Not Felina specifically, but many like her who got with a guy hoping to use him as a lily pad and discovering he was a drunk, an asshat and worse. Women whom I pick up between 3 and 5am who had something in mind that didn’t happen and now need me to get them home.

What Size Are You?

The thing that bugs me is that the young women burning up the tubes with accusations of rape culture present it as a fact as immutable as the sunset. It is again the assignment of a narrative based on the stories of women like Felina as proof that all men are pigs needing castration and a training bra. And again the stipulation that the victims have no agency. They must just accept their fate as jaiva for bicho. They were born this way.

The genius of Christ was this. His revolution started within. He asked us to examine our own lives and the ways we are broken and in need of repentance. I can’t offer an answer to Felina that explains why life has been shitting down her throat. I can offer her hope that the shit-show can be less shitty. I didn’t start out well at age 19. The ending will be a lot better.

Felina and I are connected through social media. Lately I’ve become a ghost to her. If I were younger and hornier this would be a problem. Now? Meh. Some people are with us for a season and are gone. We get to keep the memories. Felina, when I told her I prophesized that she’d be ok, at first got angry with me and then got quiet, mascara and eye-liner leaking down her cheek.

We owe ourselves and Felina a little introspection and as needed, some effort at behaving better. And yeah, this site is for the pigs, the outliers and malcontents, God made them too. I still hope Felina will find the right support and be able to end the nightmare. And . . . allow me my hope that maybe the pigs will get a shock of recognition and perhaps chill the fuck out.

Share

Let’s Do the Numbers Again

We are a nation of roughly 324 million people. We are the third most populous country in the world. African Americans are about 13% of the population, or almost 39 million people. One article in the Huffington Post says that at least 136 African American Men were shot by cops this year. We have this down to a script now. Cop shoots Black Man. The drumbeat starts. CNN goes 247365 repeating ceaselessly the headline, which is about 15 seconds long. The usual suspects say the usual things. There is SnapChat video. Riots, protests, and yet again the vigilantes want the cop’s head on a spear and a law demanding that no cop can ever shoot another black man. A black man can shoot a cop, that’s fine. Hell, we need more people shooting cops just so they understand that you can’t shoot black people. Just never the other way.

08shooting5-master315You are more likely to die of a heart attack than you are to be shot by a cop. Cardiovascular disease killed 46,000 black men in 2016. From 2010 to 2011 4,906 black men were murdered by other black men. A measly 0.00035% of African American men are shot by cops based on the Huffington Post story. But, so says the talking heads on the TV, it’s an epidemic and every African American is in danger.

Ways to Die for a Black Man

Death by Cop 1 in 236,000
Death Black Man 1 in 7,950
Death by Heart Attack
1 in 848

It was an epidemic in the 1980’s when the claim was made that you could not drive while black and complete your trip without being pulled over by the cops.

Here we are again taking the narrow specific case and making the claim that it is general. A tiny percent of African American men are shot by cops. The odds that no Black Man will ever be shot by a cop again are very bad for those who insist it cannot ever, ever, ever happen again. Odds are, it will. The script will get pulled out of its filing cabinet and we’ll do the thing again.

I have a friend who is a prominent physician. His daughter has gotten caught up in the hype and so is going to unfriend some of us because she believes we don’t care. Has she read my blog lately? The answer is, “Do it. Delete me from your friends list.” The risk of this daughter impacting my life by unfriending me is even smaller than the risk of another black man being shot by a cop. The daughter, though, has taken to heart the propaganda and by inference, decided that she too is fated to die at the hands of a white cop. It’s just a matter of time.

As I listened to the radio this morning I was reminded that about twenty years ago the talking heads were accusing the cops of profiling, of assuming that a car full of young black men must be up to know good. I can remember driving to pick up a fare near Market & 62nd Street on the Oakland/Berkeley border. It was in the wee hours between bar closing and Saturday morning weed-whacker reveille. Ray Taliaferro was humiliating yet another hapless conservative who had called in to say that we are overstating the case that all cops always arrest every driver who is black.

Then, like now, there was no talk of owning the reasons a cop might stop somebody. No, it was the cops who were unfairly arresting and ticketing black folks. Back then, it was just assumed that a white man could piss on a cop’s shoes and he’d get a laugh and a hearty handshake. A black man would get his dick shot off. Cray cray is old.

As I made my left on to 62nd street to pick up my fare a car flashed by me, music blasting, a passenger half-out of the window laughing and hollering at a woman on the sidewalk. The car accelerated and as I made my turn I heard screeching tires and a couple bangs.

The fare turned out to be an airport run to SFO for a couple headed to New York for the week. That night as I listened to KGO there was a report of an accident on Market Street that triggered a road rage incident in which several people had been shot. One of the victims was in critical condition. The car was being driven by a star football player for a local college. He escaped serious injury but his friend riding shotgun was the one in intensive care. As usual, though there were bullet holes in people, nobody knew nothing.

Don’t go digging through the Internet to find the above story. I wrote it. Don’t forget that truth suffers in service to story in this space. The paragraph is there because several trigger words will set off images of the boys in the car. Ditto the shooting, the road rage and the football players. I haven’t named their ethnicity because I know the phrases I used will build an image in your head of a presumed ethnicity.

Nothing? No back story growing in your mind? Ok, a little more help. On the news that night was a helpful blonde talking head holding a microphone in the face of the football player’s mother. She decried the treatment of her son by the police because they left him there bleeding in the street for a long time. No first aid for the boy. The kicker? The race card. Mom said her boy didn’t get prompt medical attention because he was black and dressed like M.C. Hammer.

The police were asked about this. The Berkeley Fire Department was on-scene within 3 minutes of the first call, which was estimated to be about 20 minutes after the incident occurred. No, kiddies, nobody had smartphones then. Telephones were in houses and had cords. It took a while for the neighbors to call an ambulance. Paramedics got the football player to Alta Bates inside the golden hour. So, he was alive, a good thing.

We can’t help reading a narrative and having images evoked in our imagination by what we read. My craft is joyous because I get to live rent free in your head through the way I tell my stories and write my essays. Our mental picture of the car and its passengers is built out of our own story up to the moment when we read a story. It matters, though, what that picture is and what our own imagination says and how all that influences our behavior. We can change if we change the way we tell the story.

Cops have been accused of high crimes and misdemeanors committed against African Americans since at least the 1980’s. Just on what I’ve found online and posted here it is again a narrative that is resonating for some folks on a deeply emotional level. They feel this to be true so it is. It becomes self-perpetuating. Black folks ‘spose to get shot by cops because, well, they are black folks. It’s what they do. Instead of an examined life and perhaps a different story, the story pushed on black folks is taken on as fate and enough do what they feel they have been told to keep the narrative alive.

I chatted with that doctor’s daughter last night. She’s fully committed to the pop-culture animus toward cops. Her friend list on FB is smaller as a result. It’s sad that she’s heard the drumbeat and started tapping her feet to a rhythm that is a lie. Yes, cops shoot people. Cops shoot black people. Every death is a tragedy. The lie is that cops shoot black people in high enough numbers that the usual tropes are affirmed. I’m surprised the number of deaths of black men by cops isn’t higher. What would the press say if 46,000 black men died at the hands of cops in 2016?

What would Obama say if on his watch more black men died at the hands of cops than died of heart disease? I’ll spare you my usual blather about owning your shit, living an examined life, shedding yourself of the things that keep you from God, loving all, enemies especially. That’s always there to do. This time, before you jump into the street to protest, to punch a cop, to believe the hype, ask yourself, “who wins because I was suckered into believing the propaganda?”

We won’t stop the killing by killing. More riots and violent protest feeds the narrative and makes Charlie Rose get all gushy and happy. There are plenty who have crossed the divide and engaged those they fear. We need more of that instead of more SnapChat video of yet another protest because there is another body.

Share

!ANXIETY!ANXIETY!ANXIETY!

BANG ANXIOUS BANG FEAR BANG ANXIOUS BANG FEAR BANG ANXIOUS FEAR BANG ANXIOUS FEAR BANG ANXIOUS BANG FEAR BANG. Right. For some, the prior sentence will evoke bad memories of gunshots. 49 people died in a nightclub last weekend. Keep in mind that us old geeks pronounce exclamation points as, “bang.” And I do understand that in the heat of the moment, as fear is screaming in our heads, it’s tough to slow down enough to interpret, “bang” as something other than a metaphor for a gunshot. Stay with me. Anxiety shouts down the voice of God. We can’t hear His love, his calming voice because our reptile brains are screaming “FLEE!, FIGHT!, DO SOMETHING!” For us less sciency folk, it is the devil trying to shout down our Father’s voice.

labrynth

The thing that worked for me, that broke through the devil’s shouts, was the Holy Father making a demand of me. He told me to quit whining, quit crying about whatever thing lately was yelling in my head to “DO SOMETHING!”. Instead, I was to pray a mantra every time the impulse to fear arose within me, “I trust you, Lord.” I did that tens of thousands of times over a few years. Small water droplets of words that began to wear down St. Lucifer’s awesome wall of emotion and let me see out of the valley of the shadow of death, on the living side of the River Styx.

My Mom died recently. While she was with us she suffered from Obessive Compulsive Disorder and tremendous phobias of those who may be offended by her choices and words. Life was a noisy stream of trepidation in which she could not hear that she was loved, that she could love, and that the things which bedeviled her were lies. She lost her mother and the hope that she could hear these words from the woman that gave her life, “Ginny, I love you.” Didn’t happen, so the family legend goes.

The way anxiety works, though my Grandmother could have said the words and still the legend would carry the day. Story, especially story that resonates with our mess, is more powerful than fact. In this discordant, 24-7-365 wired world where we are all immediately connected and deeply alone, rumor that feels true is repeated as fact far faster than good reporting and facts backed up by multiple verified sources. George Zimmerman was acquitted but there are those you can’t dissuade from their certainty that he killed Trayvon Martin in cold blood. My friend Cray Cray won’t listen to words that shift the blame from some vague, big bad other to his own choices. It is someone else that has to fix Cray Cray’s world to his or her satisfaction. Someone else has to save Cray Cray’s world.

I am saved. I gave my life to Jesus when I was 14. Now, being raised in the church and a graduate of catechism class, being saved would be for overachievers, no? Well, one of the little bits of nonsense afloat in the world of the saved is that being baptized a Protestant or Catholic isn’t enough. Nope. You have to get saved by one of those rock-band non-denominational churches, the ones where there is Spirit. Never mind that the Catholic Church was the church for a couple thousand years and us Protestants have been following Jesus as dissidents of the Catholic Churches for almost half a millennium. Those bible-believing, holy spirit, Pentecostal folk want you to come to Jesus in their church for it to be real. So . . . I did. And . . . I was still afraid, am still afraid.

Like my Dad, I wanted, want a better life for my son. My piece of it was to backstop the fear and loathing I felt from my childhood so it didn’t infect my kid. I did mostly ok with this but married a Chinese woman who feels bipolar to me. My ex-wife’s ordinary world is filled with monsters and dragons that keep her day filled with dread. She seldom feels safe. She copes by cycling through storms of anger, bouts of depression and fits of mania. My son was born sanguine so he isn’t as choleric as his Mom. But he isn’t solidly sanguine either. He carries some of his mother’s ordinary world and it bedevils him.

It aches me that he has reached adulthood somewhat unsafe, with his own inheritance of anxiety tormenting him. I watch him make his way as a young man and wish there were some words, something I could do to teach him that fear and loathing is a lie, that God does love us and the shield of Christ will protect us. Though I am saved, should not fear, I do. My son also is Christian, is baptized and saved, yet he too has an inheritance of anxiety. There is knowledge and their is knowing something in our stomachs.

I’m doing better. The answer for me was prayer. I repeated, “I trust you lord” many thousands of times over a few years to slowly drip away at the loud voice in my head that was chanting fear and loathing. That voice lives on as Ray, who I’ve decided will be the hero in my novel. I remain faithful. For all I’ve done to keep my practice as a Christian I find I’m still growing, still deepening my love for Christ. I’m fighting the urge to preach, to tell you that your anxiety has a cure and it isn’t a pill.

I’ll tell you this, that discovering Albert Ellis, Daniel Goleman and the Dalai Lama, that all three say a version of this, that we choose our behavior beyond the initial moments after the trigger, was a huge relief for me. I grew up believing that I was born this way, immutable, fated to be somebody’s punching bag, always bumbling along, something of a near-do-well, always the black sheep, the reason my Dad has to apologize.

That history was not destiny, that we can change, be something more than our circumstances, was big news to me. My head exploded when I met Darlene, who is spoken of on this blog, and she was better at keeping it together than I was, for all my privilege and presumed advantage. This is the thing, what worked for me is a simple prayer, repeated as many times as necessary, to sooth the impulse to panic and quiet the voice of Ray, who is sure the apocalypse is nigh, the sky is falling, the water glass is half-empty and any of a dozen other tropes about how much of a shit-show this world and his life is.

Most of the above is stuff I’ve said in prior posts. This is where I want to end this time: Anxiety shouts down the voice of God. It promises, at best, a fight to a draw. A win seems out of the question. There is no opportunity possible, only a truce where the fight can reawaken to once again scream louder than the Lord. I never considered victory. I never thought of myself as one on the podium speaking about my journey to public acknowledgement of my success. My image is of a near-do-well who bumps along neither a complete failure nor a success. Anxiety and I remain in an uneasy peace with the weapons hot on either side of our DMZ. Ray is a god of the dead at the start of his story. It won’t end like that, though.

What if . . . the things we fear are the ways in which victory will be won? What if Ray’s novel ends with him a god of the living? What if our 15 minutes comes because we are able to turn our weaknesses into strengths, our fears into the ways in which our story is beautiful? There is precedent here. Plenty have been on Dr. Phil because they triumphed over adversity. Those few who spend under a minute answering a question from E-News on the red carpet were not bestowed that moment simply because of their privilege. There was toil and trouble. Tomorrow, after the Klieg lights have gone cold, there will be more hard work. The hard work, the toil & trouble is the constant, not the few brilliant moments in the lights on the carpet talking to a TV reporter. We are lied to by our anxiety that it is the klieg light moment which ought to be our normal with no thought as to how we got to the bright lights and red carpet.

So, what if our the words our anxiety is battering us with became our triumph? Our anxiety is telling us the things it says will happen to us. These are familiar, almost comfortable, like the sweaty pajamas we need to wash but won’t because they smell of us and our partner. These familiar words are lies. The truth is we can win, God does love us and the way to all that is to put in the work. Courage isn’t the lack of fear. It is doing the needful while being afraid. It is accomplishing things while the panic attack is in full-song. Our anxiety has 100,000 words on what it claims will happen to us when we fail. What if we win? What if we have that selfie taken at the top of the Eiffel Tower after a lovely meal in the restaurant? What if we have a short video of safety, of us on-shore after the river rafting adventure? What if we write that term paper and it gets an A? What if we win?

That’s the question I want to end with. Anxiety obsesses with failure, with danger, with some sort of death. It is loud, louder than God. It never considers victory. That’s not part of the storm of words and emotions overpowering us as we feel afraid or anxious. It is the winning lottery ticket thrill not considered by the voice in us screaming to fight or flee. It happens though. It happens enough that we should do the needful in spite of what we feel or hear in our heads. Yes, get support, be around the right people as you let that voice tell you what a shit you are, how disgusting you are, how you will fail again like last time like last time like last time you miserable wretch. We are stronger together. Medication? Not as a chronic, life-long thing. Maybe as a near-term thing to help you turn down the volume so you can hear God and learn behaviors which enable you to get off the medication. Better is this: with support and discernment that this is something you can do in spite of the fears, do it. Win. Boom.

Share

Don’t Touch My Bubble

Ray did this a fair bit last Winter. He’d run from my house yelling, “UNSAFE!!, UNSAFE!!,UNSAFE!!,UNSAFE!!,UNSAFE!!,UNSAFE!!,UNSAFE!!,UNSAFE!!,UNSAFE!!,UNSAFE!!,UNSAFE!!” There was a lot about the world he’d been sent to that made him feel unsafe. He’d do that while running to his F150, getting in, and tearing off to Toano, VA. He’d come back a few days later, hung over, out of gas, & hungry. I like Itzel’s answer. She’d listen to him scream “UNSAFE”, and hand him a hoe, “Eliminar las malas hierbas,” she’d tell him.

RayBob says I am unsafe. He worries about my past. I know too many of the wrong friends–drug addicts, drug dealers, personal chefs with clients who deny affiliation with La Familia. I did time in county jail for spousal abuse. My political views feel a bit too fascist. I am freakishly Christian. He spent most of January writing to his parole officer begging to be given another human as minder. He’s not technically in compliance working at Itzel’s farm. He barely escaped a DUI because the blood test couldn’t recognize his alien chemistry nor Gavilite as an intoxicant. He lives unsafe expecting us to protect him from the things he fears and his choices.

He is right in one respect. Where he does things to cause himself grief I won’t protect him. I believe in natural consequences. The world works because pain is a possible outcome. He comes from a hermitage. He had it good. A few knocks are probably a good thing. As is cleaning the pig sty.

God made an infinite world. Anything can happen. Many things have happened in the 5,000 years of known history. Some of those things have killed people.  This week, because at least 26 people were killed by suicide bombers, the voices in the popular press that are sure the apocalypse is nigh will once again have their day.

I’m not stupid. I pay attention to the news too. Yesterday I said that with each of these tragedies there is a tomorrow. Some survive. Life continues changed.

What Ray wants, a bubble in which he is protected from anything that might trigger him, is impossible. In an infinite world a possible income is an event, maybe more than one, that will be triggering. Ray’s torments won’t go away as hard as he tries to drink them into oblivion and isolate himself in the outhouse, smartphone blasting XHMT, Merida.

I’m that guy that will touch your bubble. This pisses off RayBob. I know that the best way to foster change is to disrupt your bubble, to make you unsafe. The early stages of recovery are brutal. Addicts protest mightily until they’ve been in treatment long enough to realize that they can’t keep being an addict and live. A proven way to treat phobias is to identify the thing feared, get help deciding if doing the feared thing is truly unsafe, and with appropriate help, do it. Rather than try to isolate ourselves, maintain the bubble around us, burst that bubble.

It’s counter-intuitive. If you cower, headphones jammed into your ears, whiskey bottle in hand, your sight picture improves for the devil. You become easier to hit. Your phobias illuminate you as a target. Safe spaces are inherently unsafe because they are a cluster of fearful, angry people who have made it easy for their enemies to find them. It’s as if all the wild turkeys had done the hunters a favor and gathered in one particular forest with Glympse SMS messages declaring their location.

My small bit of defiance is to ignore the terrorists and keep doing me. Itzel is smart in asking RayBob to weed the garden when he begins to feel afraid. I found some money last night while cleaning my desk. I am now the proud owner of a pastry scraper, a box grater, and two egg rings. My shopping trip will go unnoticed. It isn’t remarkable. It is something we all do as needed. But I mention it because people died at the hands of terrorists and the rest of us still have lives to live.

.We have succeeded building a near perfect first world. My purchases today were at a store with so much crap it covers the walls. It’s just one store. That particular store is one of a chain of stores that also have the same incredible inventory. I think nothing of going into a supermarket and finding everything my heart desires. Walmart defies description for someone used to a hunter/gatherer life. RayBob got ten feet inside the Walmart on Sheila Way and ran screaming from it. The decadent wealth on display in that store was too much for him. We are unbelievably prosperous, healthy, comfortable.

Ray’s family is a dynasty of monks who head up the state religion. His way of rebelling was to attempt to accomplish the seven deadly sins, causing him to know personally what escalating negative consequences are. Still, he always had a seat in the dining hall. He was never refused his stipend for his personal needs. The monastery was safe. It isolated him from the drifting political winds and intrigue of the capital.

Earth scares him. He’ll learn, though, what I mean by achieving boring. Brussels isn’t normal. Shit happens, but not every day. Most every day is more dirty pig pens and chicken coops needing to be moved. Most every day is more dishes to wash and laundry to fold. The immortal rhythm of daily life thrums on while the odd syncopated event gets everyone excited. Earth is neither benevolent nor unkind. It is infinite, technicolor, complicated, capable of hurricanes and warm spring days like today. This first world place is healing because all the historic struggles and tensions of survival are largely gone to leave in their place the battles of the mind. We have time to be phobic and heal.

RayBob may not understand the merciful act performed for him by sending him here. He’ll learn, though. I’ve seen it in fellow cab drivers who come here from India. It’ll happen for RayBob as well.

 

Share