Incarcerate the Mole

First Posted 21-Oct-2014

My friends in recovery were the moles whose heads had popped up to be whacked. Through the 12 Steps these friends are learning to live more sedate lives without the hurt, hangup or habit that made them whackable. Those spots where they were whacked may have healed. The memory of how it hurt doesn’t heal as easily. One way this plays out is a fear of anything which would push their head up above the level playing field and perhaps make them a whackable mole.

whack-a-moleA couple decades ago some jails got painted pink because some academic did a study which asserted that pink was a sedating color for prisoners. The answer to the problems of jail or prison was the color pink. Uhm, no. Most of those inside are there because they didn’t know when to quit and became a whacked mole. It has nothing to do with the color of the walls.

I had dinner with a friend in recovery. It seems that for him, my head is above the plain and very whackable. I stand out. I am brash and difficult to deal with. Yeah, the thing I learned in childhood is that I was smarter than most and could talk my way into or out of most anything. If I want to piss you off I know how. I also learned that I stood out as a target, as a mole that could/would be whacked.

I don’t care. Whack me. Won’t do a damned thing to deter me. A world conformed, everything flat, nothing sticking out or complicated, is a world I don’t want to live in. Give me a world in which things are not merely shades of grey. A world that is technicolor, much more complex and interesting. A world full of hot messes and cold messes and folk who have become clean.

Some of us will defiantly stick our heads up, staring down the one holding the mallet used to whack us on the head. It is our choice, stupid maybe, but still our choice. Pink walls are not the answer. Nor is a nation all wearing Mao suits and memorizing the little red book so that no one’s head sticks above the level playing field. The answer is us, in our mess, learning to serve first, be missional first, and while doing so, love God, neighbors and enemies alike.


The Twenty Percent

Old habits die hard. I’m trying in 2016 to break the habit of preaching. The ethic among those in recovery is to share. It’s a good ethic. This post is a fail in that regard. A couple years ago I was in love with yelling at anybody in earshot that if they had a dollar they could tithe a dime. Most of my ire was directed at a particular friend who had kept up his hungry maw ways. The Calvary came for him, helped out, and he iterated.

by Ken Rockwell
by Ken Rockwell©

Next month, same thing. A poor-mouth speech about how he couldn’t afford his bills and the man was oppressing him and if he could just get that one big score or the man would cut him a check, he’d be straight. Next month, +1 iteration. It got old. He has a late model Cadillac. Whatever thrift store he shops at must have friends in expensive places. His clothes have that “Pimp Daddy” vibe to them. I thought I had him checkmated with the premise that everybody, no matter how broke, can tithe a dime on a dollar. I thought this move was brilliant. It isn’t. The point then was that you can’t really say you can’t afford to tithe. So . . . how did that work for me? Not so well.

Looking at all my income sources last year, I had a decent year. I made $4,000.00 above my 7 year average income. I had that job at Bing Maps and Uber Map Improvement which paid about double what I usually make. With all my bluster about having a dollar and giving a dime, how did I do? meep. Charitable giving was 2%. I gave 2¢ on each dollar I earned.

Let’s make things worse while that turd sits on the screen and reveals me to be the hypocrite. How about savings? Dave Ramsey in his book, “Financial Peace”, recommends that we save 15% of our income. Did I save $5,000.00? Nope. There is a difference between depositing money in an account and saving. I deposited $2600 in my investment banking account. I have $8.00 in that account. In a previous post I gloried in depositing enough money in that account to have Baby Step 1 done. $8.00 of that money is left. So, I have saved $8.00 (0.025%) of my $2600.00. Woo.

Here is what I shoulda, woulda, coulda done, what you can do (sorry, sermonizing). Live on under 80% of what you make. Give 10% to charity and save the other 10%. Yeah, I have that rant in my head, that our tax burden can be a big hit on our net income. If we pay child support that can be a big hurt on the budget. Minimum wage isn’t enough, the job you have isn’t enough. My bills average about $1100.00/month, or about a 40% of what I usually make.

The other turd in my life is that every time I compare my income and expense averages the claim that I can’t afford to live on 80% shows up as a lie. Last year I spent $1200.00 on dining out. I gave fast food restaurants 10¢ of my dollar earned, five times what I gave in charity. Another fine, oft spoken trope about us spendthrifts, if we just stop with the Starbucks and McDonald’s we could easily afford a 20% cut in our spendable cash. I know, we know. It’s not about knowledge. It’s about making the choice (again) and doing it.

You and I that run from paycheck to paycheck, always chasing bills, never quite able to get ahead, perhaps envying the 1%, we have to decide. Do we want to keep being miserable this way or are we willing to invest in a little more misery for the short term to make a change? No, no, I won’t listen to a rant about how if the 1% just cut you a check you’d be fine. Go look at my “Big Score” post if you have forgotten.

I have a nice little thing running. I get a job, I get money, I spend money, the job ends, I cry wolf, the Calvary comes, we eat wolf steak for a bit, rinse & repeat. I’ve slowly climbed from a cot in a church social hall as a client of Richmond’s CARITAS to sitting in the second bedroom of a single family home with all my toys. Yes, it’s a gap time and for now, I am broke as a joke. Some bills will not get paid until I find money for them. As things sit it looks like I might lose my cable TV and wired Internet access. It’s a pause in my growth curve. But as things sit it doesn’t look like I’ll fall as far as CARITAS.

The standing question I haven’t answered, though, is whether I will rinse & repeat or I’ll break my rhythm and do what I so proudly declaim as the right thing to do? Will I live on 80% of what I make, even now, as I am broke as a joke. One of those Twelve Step clichés: nothing changes if nothing changes. I totally get you reading this and snorting with sarcastic derision at me because it’s another iteration of, “I’ll do better this time.” Will I? Will you?


If You Really Knew Me

First Posted 22-08-2015

Heard this one? That if we really knew somebody, knew the shame they carry, we would understand why they can’t go to church. They feel shunned. To which, I heard a response, “If you really knew me you would stop worrying about that.” Sunday mornings are a bit of an artifice. We dress to communicate, may seem like we are phoning it in a bit, and sit in pretty much the same spot because our purpose is to worship. The full weight of our lives won’t fit into 90 minutes, most of which is occupied by worship.

Worship is a couple hours, give or take, once a week for me, more for others. Still, there is a lot of non-worship time on the clock where life happens. If you really knew us during those other hours when we are not worshiping Christ, you would know that your shame has friends. We followers of the Way of Nazarene Jesus are much more of a hot mess than you realize. A lot of us are not in church because things are going well. Nope. We are there on Sunday because church is a hospital for us and Christ is our Primary Care Physician for our soul.

This post was first prompted by a friend who has been saved most recently a couple years ago. He returned to working on his recovery at about the same time. Like a lot of my friends he struggles with mental illness and addiction. He said to me that he was struggling with accepting deeply that God loved him. Shame bedeviled him. He, like me, was raised in the church. He went to catechism and became a confessed member of his Pentecostal Baptist Church as a teenager. I know you are only saved once, that Christ’ precious gift is given freely. Enough out of you with that. He and I are still tortured at times by those bits of our past that cling to us like hot tar.

Those of us who were dragged to Sunday School all the way to teenage rebellion know in our heads that God loves us. We have sung, “Jesus Loves Me This I Know . . .” countless times. We were baptized. Our parents did everything right. So, what’s this business about questioning whether God loves us?

I like sermonizing. Sharing is hard. This post was originally a flawed bit of sermonizing intended to comfort my friend. I am reposting it because in spite of its mistakes I feel like it still has value. “God made us so he knows us in the depths of our hearts, minds and souls. He knows our deepest secrets, our most closely guarded skeletons in our most heavily padlocked closets. He doesn’t need us to confess our hurts, habits or hangups. He knows.

For as much as I’ve screwed up, as big a hot mess as I am, each time I say it, say I want help becoming healthy, God has been there to help. I’ve risen to some degree of success and lost it at least four times. I am divorced from my wife whom I hit twice that the cops know about. Yet, here I am, employed, off the street, making good money with a few of the material trappings that are on my family’s list of “normal”. He has been there through countless people who served me as they felt led. I was not always happy about their ideas of what I needed and what they would do for me. But it was always what I needed.

We know things in our heads that don’t make it into our hearts or our stomach’s. There are things like memorizing the multiplication tables that have little emotional weight but are useful to know. Then there are things which can bring us tremendous joy that our heads know and our hearts sing about. The thrill of the moment when you realized you could ask her and she’d say, “yes,” is one example. For me, the quiet, growing knowledge that my church liked me, even loved me. And the stuff in our stomachs and hearts that needs healing. Those hurts, habits & hangups we have. That’s a place God can move in and give you peace beyond all understanding.

Our heads know God loves us. We’ve  been told this since we were little. That’s not news. It’s the knowing in our hearts and stomachs that can be hard. I’d say, if you want to know God loves you, and know it in more than just your head, pray. It’s what I did. And, in addition to prayer, find a faith community that can walk with you as you grow out of the darkness and into salt and light. Then stick with them. The early days of being Christian, of healing, hurt. Life is not better. Sometimes, early on, it’s worse. But that misery fades to be replaced by a love of God like nothing else. It begins with a word, “yes”, and becomes a new life. God does love you if you let Him.”

Christ On The Cross by Andrea MategnaSomething I’m learning in this version of the blog is how to write without sermonizing. Let my words be miserable. Just share and trust that in respecting the moment, the emotion of my words, it’ll be better than rushing to persuasion. I can feel my Puritan and Scots/Irish ancestors and their romantic hopes of a realized utopia in the New World as I write. That relentless, boundless hope that this time we’ll get it right if we just start with a blank slate. I have bristled at history in the past. I didn’t want to know what had come before. I wanted new answers, new ways of doing things, a blind ignorance to the past. I could not say that I am my past but I am not only my past. History, our story, is crucial. It is the dung from which comes compost and soil in which we plant our mustard seeds.

I feel you if you are like my friend and though you know in your head that God loves you but the feeling doesn’t sink into your stomach but stops above your heart in your esophagus. I want words of comfort for you that are not preachy. I hope you read this and the blockage in your windpipe is eroded a bit. I’m a work in progress. I too have God’s words stuck in my throat some distance from my stomach. It is what made my friend’s confession affect me enough to invest a blog post in response to his words.


An Odd Success

First Posted 24-Sep-2015

It should be from each according to his ability and then to each according to his need. My decade long move toward a stable life is a disastrous idea. It is an odd success in conflict with the values of my pink diaper heritage. I should not, under any circumstances, seek to have my own car, my own house, enough wealth to sustain these, and all the other trappings of first-world life I have acquired.

The highest, most noble person is a lesbian, African-American, overweight, on a slew of medications for the typical satellite of health troubles–bipolar, autistic, addicted to [pick one, maybe more than one], high blood pressure, diabetes, neuropathy, sleep apnea, and for good measure, insomnia. I, sadly, am not any of the things that would make me worthy of public housing, TANF, SNAP, SSI, Medicaid, Pell Grants, an Obama-phone or a free Cadillac. Instead, I’ve had to hold down jobs for a string of evil corporations. I know, so sad, so sad.

prb logo odd successI make an awful candidate for emigration to the Peepul’s United Demokratik Free Anarchist Republik of Berkeley. It’s ok. I left in 1984 and didn’t plan on going back. It is the RePat Squad of the PUDFARB cops that has been lurking about looking for ways to get me to give up my evil capitalist ways and return to being a good hot mess. Those RePat guys are kind of pitiful. I sometimes buy them breakfast out of sympathy. Not an easy job working for a boss that is mental.

I probably could gain the accolades of my socialist friends by declaring myself 100% mentally disabled and in need of public housing, TANF, SNAP, SSI, Medicaid, Pell Grants, an Obama-phone and a free Cadillac. There is history to support this. Grandma was mental, as was Grandpa Wells. My Dad seems to have collected himself together and decided that a life in public housing on psych-disability was not a plan so he put himself through college and became an electrical engineer. My Mom is mental, having been diagnosed with depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and for the last 15 years or so, dementia. At least two of my three sisters are diagnosed with a mental illness. One is badly bipolar. The other, I believe, was treated for OCD and is doing ok. There is a lot of crazy in my family. So, it is within reason that I might be a bit touched as well. To add to the preponderance of evidence is the summer I spent in physical therapy treating a severe inability to coordinate my hands & eyes. And this personal anecdote, that the description of Autism Spectrum Disorder sounds a lot like symptoms I have.

A social worker offered me psych-disability SSI in my twenties. I turned it down. I chose then, going with my gut, to say that I’d rather work. I’d rather have the satisfaction of being tired after a day’s work knowing I’d earned my pay. I’ve suffered for the choice since then but I don’t regret the choice I made that day as I sat next to the social worker’s desk in a prison-made chair.

Odd Success

To each according to his need” is perverse. It sets up an odd dynamic where having wealth becomes a huge problem. It is how I was raised, to have great need so that I could suckle on the teat of Mrs. Uncle Sam. I bit that nipple bloody a long time ago and have struggled to feed myself ever since. Not going to apologize or return to it, nope.

For all the hard times, the four times my life has collapsed, for the wrath I incurred biting that nipple, I’d rather have this life than the other with binky, bottle and free Cadillac. It’s not been that long since I got this job and starting making a lot more than I am used to making. I’m out of the hole and able to breath a bit. As a candidate for being one of the downtrodden I’m doing all the wrong things. I’m screwing that up. But, as a candidate for membership in the silent majority, with bills paid reliably and able to enjoy many of the trappings of first world life, I’m doing well. I’d rather work for an evil corporation.


You Didn’t Build That

First Posted 02-Nov-2015

Melissa Harris-Perry was born to a white mother and black father. She was born in Seattle but grew up in Chesterfield County, Virginia, where she attended Thomas Dale High School. Her father was the first dean of African-American Affairs at the Uni-versity of Virginia. Harris-Perry’s mother, Diana Gray, taught at a community college and was working on her doctorate when they met. She went on to work for non-profit organizations that provided services such as day-care centers, health care for people in rural communities, and access to reproductive care for poor women.
Melissa Harris-Perry was born to a white mother and black father. She was born in Seattle but grew up in Chesterfield County, Virginia, where she attended Thomas Dale High School. Her father was the first dean of African-American Affairs at the University of Virginia. Harris-Perry’s mother, Diana Gray, taught at a community college and was working on her doctorate when they met.

Melissa Harris-Perry, a professor at Wake Forest University and host of her own Sunday Morning news show on MSNBC lecturing Paul Ryan on hard work. Melissa. You can’t be serious. I and Paul Ryan, according to you, didn’t become successful because of hard work. I didn’t build this web site. I didn’t earn the money I’ve been paid to drive a camera car. I didn’t see my life collapse and recover four times and counting and credit my own efforts for the recovery. I didn’t do what it took to be sitting in a warm hotel room with FoxNFL Sunday Night Football playing on a 40″ flat screen TV. No, I was entitled to it through my white privilege. Some beneficent god came from Mount Olympus and bestowed it on me.

I am your enemy, Melissa. I am a WASP. I am a [need duct tape so I can put myself together once my head explodes] cis-heterosexual male who believes that homosexuality is a sin. I am a member of a conservative, evangelical, pentacostal, dissident, former PCUSA Presbyterian Church. I don’t deserve what I have. I have too much and too many have too little. Thus, I should give it back. I should fall on my sword and dissolve in a puddle of groveling tears before some social worker begging to be put on psych-disability, housed in Section 8 housing, and happy that my bag of Food-Bank food hasn’t run out yet. I should gladly spend a full day in line at the VCU Medical Center pharmacy to wait for my medications. I should be glad that my sugar daddy Uncle Sam still sends me a TANF check every month. I should get all giddy when someone tells me that the gift of night crawlers is for food and the shovel for my grave.

I left home at age 19 sure that I didn’t want the life set before me in upper-middle-class Whitman Square in 1979. I wanted to be a Broadway star. I was/am an artist. I feel most fulfilled when I am able to create content. Since the age of 19 I’ve been at both ends. I’ve been homeless more than once. I am an ex-offender. According to you, nothing I’ve accomplished is because I worked for it. No, somehow, some little “g” god of multi-cultural roots gifted me with my single family home, my car, or my big flat screen TV simply because my genealogy traces back through Jamestown. Where were you in 1984 when three men tried to kill me while taking my cab? Did white privilege get me my job at Charles Schwab? You were raised in Chesterfield, VA. Your parents were both college professors. You graduated from Wake Forest. I went to a state university. You want to get after me for my privilege?

Unitarian Universalist. The epitome of chicken sh*t faith. You couldn’t face the radical challenges of Christ so you ran to hide in a church that won’t give you too much grief over your worship of left-wing idols. I dare you to meet Jesus where he lives, in the impoverished streets of Nazareth, in places like Richmond’s Highland Park. I challenge you to let him rock your world and disrupt your careful obeisance to the puritan orthodoxy of the left. You won’t do it. Your world is too cocooned, to protected, too much invested to take on Jesus as He is. St. Giles, like many churches, meets on Sunday mornings. I’ll be there. You won’t come, though. We are too white, too West End, to be a real church. Those other churches like St. Paul’s out on Creighton Road or West End Assembly of God, way too Jesus freak for you? No prejudice there. Nope. Just speaking truth to power are we? When’s the last time you went to worship at Ebenezer Baptist on Leigh Street? Chicken. You know what, though. Stay in your chicken sh*t faith. Do you. Last thing I need is some college professor playing social worker in the pews and explaining to me why I am a problem to some token black lesbian woman.

I find the noise of some of my friends to be stunningly cynical and bitter. Somehow, resenting me and what I’ve done, insisting that I am somehow oppressing them simply by succeeding, that pisses me off. A hard working union man who gets hired at a young age and does everything right will retire rich. He has to if he is to leave his job at age 65 and live on his pension, Social Security and savings for the next 25 years or more. He will be a millionaire. Are we to attack him for his success and forcibly take the fruits of his hard work from him so that someone else whose story didn’t go so well can have a cell phone and a free Cadillac? You would seriously suggest that I don’t deserve this latest climb from the bottom, that I didn’t do the work, that it was somehow a theft of mine from some unnamed po’ folk? That’s justice?

What about my friend Jimmy, who is a defense lawyer with three kids to feed? Should we resent his privilege and maybe send him to Appalachia to cut tobacco (organic, sustainably raised and all) while the farm’s owner comes to Richmond to work as an attorney? Who will work the courts so those accused can get dealt with fairly? The tobacco farmer? Mao tried something similar. We know how that went.

How is it ok for you to benefit from your privilege (since you say we didn’t get our success by hard work) but I and Paul Ryan, perhaps because we are white, should feel guilty for allegedly being given an undeserved advantage simply because of our declared ethnicity? Would you go slop pigs in Stewart, VA and let the pig farmer do your show? What if he spent most of the airtime discussing feed prices? No? Thought so.

Melissa. I ain’t nobody. I started out as a cab driver. I had some success being a computer geek for a few years. I wrote some code, solved a lot of problems, fixed my share of ID10T problems, and helped out where I could. These last few months I’ve been lucky to have a job driving for an evil corporation who pays double what I usually make. I’m not special. There are a lot of us out here just trying to keep our heads above water, keep our bills paid, and make sense of this crazy world we live in. Maybe I’m a bit above some because of this blog. I don’t feel it. I don’t feel better than anybody. I still worry about the rent like many. It pisses me off that you, from where you are, would tell me that somehow I am guilty of some sin because of my gender choice and stated ethnicity.

This is what I know about po’ folk. They don’t like their Sugar Daddy Uncle Sam. They want to break up with him, shun him. But like a pimp who has cast a spell over his girls, Uncle Sam has them believing that he is the only way to survive. Suggesting otherwise is fighting words. Some, like me, have their eyes opened and choose to make their own way in spite of the tough road created by that choice. Hard work will result in material gain. Even the much propagandized minimum wage worker, if he or she is frugal with money, will build wealth over time. And this is the rub—building wealth is sinful in the orthodoxy of the left. Melissa is telling us that we are evil for trying to get ahead. Yet she owes in taxes what it usually takes me 4 years to earn. I am the evil privileged one?

I can’t do it. I can’t end on a sermon. Quoting Ron White, you can’t fix stupid. The reason I still live in Richmond, VA is that the people here celebrate hard work, humility and financial peace. It is such a relief to live here instead of Berkeley where I once felt angst over whether my little piece of the pie was deserved. Melissa, whatever. I know what choices keep me healthy. Si ça fait de moi, un trou du cul blanc privilégié mal, bon.