Gratitude List 1634

(1) For about a day and a half, I found myself in a place of self-pity, in which past regrets played a greater role than present hopes. The way I got out of it was through prayer. I twice prayed on a walk to the nearby twenty-four market, and when I got back home after the second prayer, I noticed that the regrets over past mishaps and breakups had disappeared, and had now been replaced by an appreciation of the present day and an enhanced sense of hope for the future.

(2) I am grateful on this Thanksgiving morning for my church. In the past four years, they have put up with my unusual personality and have seen me through all kinds of trials. My pastor/counselor has been particularly patient with me, and I have learned that I can be completely honest and open with him, without fear of judgment. The church has given me my own code to enter the building, they have let me play their Baldwin grand piano whenever I choose, and they even have let my musical team rehearse our project free of charge in the sanctuary. No other church I have known in my life has offered me any of these things.

(3) This may sound trite, but as an extremely absent-minded person who loses at least five masks every month and has taken to buying multiple dollar readers at the beginning of every month at the dollar store (since I can’t possibly hang on to a single pair of glasses throughout an entire month), I want to give thanks that in the past four years, I have never once lost the gray beanie that I wear “for security reasons” at almost all times. (Currently, however, it is hanging up to dry in the bathroom, after I unwittingly wore it in the shower.)

(4) In a few short hours, I will observe the Thanksgiving tradition I’ve held sacred since 1976. I will go out for a four mile run, having missed only three years that I’ve counted since I first began running on April 9, 1976. (It’s always possible I counted wrong about there being only three years I missed. In this case, however, a “recount” is not possible.)

(5) There’s a lot for us all to be thankful for, and to look forward to after many of us got the crap kicked out of us by 2020. It looks like there’s a vaccine on the way, and the upcoming administration is at least putting an emphasis on unity and healing, rather than on perpetuating division in order to retain power. But in my personal world, I have to give thanks that, after basically being laughed at for years and told that my priorities were all screwed up, I have found a number of talented young people who believe in me and in my work. It may not seem like much to my naysayers, but it’s a start — and a good one. And my naysayers have nothing on me. I’m thankful that I’m a survivor, and that I’m not the kind who gives up for good.

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Tuesday Tuneup 94

Q. What’s happening now?

A. Anger.

Q. Anger? Over what?

A. These two guys who ghosted me.

Q. Friends of yours?

A. Yeah. Or so I thought.

Q. What makes you say they’ve ghosted you?

A. Because they haven’t gotten back to me, no matter what. One of them I’d been buzzing a lot on Twitter, hoping he’d converse back with me. But he kept ignoring me. So I finally blocked him.

Q. You blocked him? And not the other way around?

A. That’s right. I blocked him because I got tired of never hearing back from him, no matter what I said.

Q. Wasn’t blocking him a bit severe?

A. I suppose.

Q. Couldn’t you have just stopped buzzing him, but remained friends?

A. You call that “friends?”

Q. Okay, well what about the other guy?

A. Same thing. I even issued a heart-felt apology at one time, and he ignored it completely.

Q. For what did you apologize?

A. For snapping at him when he was telling me how I was supposed to eat, and criticizing my long-distance running, and general over-criticism of my personality.

Q. Why do you hang around people so critical?

A. I don’t know.  It just seems like, for a while there, everybody I knew was critical of me. It just seemed par for the course.  And there are likable things about critical people. I don’t know. You put me on the spot.

Q. Say, uh — how much do you value these friendships?

A. I value them immensely. Why do you ask?

Q. Why do you think?

A. What are you driving at?

Q. I don’t understand — WHY do you value these friendships?

A. I don’t know. Friends are hard to come by, I guess. I figure if I’ve managed to stick it out with somebody for forty or fifty years, then it’s valuable.

Q. You’ve been friends with these guys for that long?

A. Yup.

Q. Well then, why not just call them up? Ask them what’s happening? Ask them why you haven’t heard from them? I mean, why not?

A. I don’t know. Maybe I lack the courage.

Q. What’s to be afraid of?

A. Further criticism. And I guess, to be honest with you, I’ve taken to criticizing them back recently. I didn’t used to ever do that.

Q. Why not?

A. Low self-esteem. I just assumed that their criticisms were true, because they were somehow better than me, for some reason.

Q. So you’re not going to bother calling them? Even to say hello?

A. Why bother? They’ll just let it roll over into the voicemail.  They don’t want to run the risk of my criticizing them.  Why should they?   They’re the ones who are supposed to be criticizing me.

abandon

Q. So you think they were only using you?

A. If they’ve truly abandoned me, then yes, they probably were.  And anyway, there’s no sense beating a dead horse. If somebody repeatedly refuses to return your messages, even well wishes and apologies, doesn’t it stand to reason that they might not want to talk with you?

Q. Where’s your courage?

A. Discretion is the better part of valor.

Q. So you’re choosing wisdom over courage?

A. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

Q. Are you trying to tell me you’re letting go?

A. If you love someone, let them go. If they come back, they’re yours. If they don’t . . .

The Questioner is silent.

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Gratitude List 1633

(1) I’ve recently noticed a direct correlation between the quality of my sleep and the quality of my exercise the previous day. Thankful for the ability to exercise vigorously. Thankful for sleep, and for a safe and quiet place in which to obtain it.

(2) My daughter and I have been writing a song together, our first collaboration. It’s about ghosting. We’re going to try to record it thousands of miles apart and present it on our respective platforms. Excited about this!

(3) Thankful for a budding new friendship here in town, with an intelligent journalist whose ideas appeal to me and with whose life-situations I can identify. I’d thought we’d made fast friends, then it seemed he may have ghosted me. So I withdrew and didn’t pester him, and now it appears that we’re still friends, as the other day I ran into him and we had a fine conversation.

(4) I finished the vocal score that had been hanging over me. Now I can focus on doing the edits for the Audio Show. Good to be in the groove.

(5) Grateful that Governor Little rolled Idaho back to “Stage Two.” No gatherings of over ten people are allowed. I’ve returned to more intensive sheltering in place, and the team is working toward doing the Audio Show from our various abodes. Thankful that life seems a bit more well-defined now. Thankful as always for the Gift of Life.

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Vocal Score

Finished this last night. It’s the third draft of the vocal score to my musical. Music, lyrics, and vocal arrangement.  Maybe you just heard that song “Daylight?” Here’s a screenshot:
And here’s what a considerably more complex page looks like: Capture You may not read music, but there are plenty of words involved, too!  If if you feel like checking it out, you can always click on the link with the title below.   This way you get the whole 90 pages of it:

EDEN IN BABYLON VOCAL SCORE

Hm, it just crossed my mind that maybe you do read music.   You probably even know how to write it.  In that case, don’t judge me too harshly for my many peccadilloes.   I’d rather have you help me score all this stuff out, because believe me, getting all those little black dots in the right places with Finale software can be a real pain in the you-know-what.

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Daylight

This is just a snippet of a much larger piece we pulled out of Tuesday’s rehearsal.    Keva Shull sings “Daylight,” the second movement of “Awake the Dawn” (the opening number of Scene Five in Eden in Babylon.)   All very informal — I’m at the piano.   Lyrics here, if you want them.   

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Gratitude List 1632

(1) Though a more devastating blizzard has been foretold, thus far it’s not been a deterrent to my getting out of the house.  Peak winds have been 17 mph so far, and on each day the weather’s been conducive to a long brisk walk or jog.

(2) Having determined new functions for three of my team members, we now add to the previous roles of Cody, Richard and Zazen the duties of musical direction, orchestral direction, and stage management respectively.  This not only takes a load off of me, but also it enhances the overall team spirit, giving a couple of our Actors and one musician more of a role on the team outside of that of being a performer.  It’s all about optimizing each individual’s  contribution while gradually reducing the size of my own role.  And this is a good thing, for the overall team.

(3) Zazen reports that people have sent their schedules to her, and she’s already scheduled a big “Sirens of Hope” rehearsal tomorrow afternoon.  The delegations — and semi-delegations — appear to be working.

(4) Somebody whom I probably need not identify was there for me at my lowest moment, and I felt the love and support that’s real, that’s based on something that’s not only promising in the long run, but tangible in the here and now.   In fact, a number of supportive people then arose to encourage me, and that included most of the members of the team, and beyond.  It has been this great, unprecedented experience of massive love and respect.  Moreover, to top it all off, yesterday there was another unexpected anonymous one hundred dollar donation.

(5) In pastoral counseling this afternoon, it came about that I am to be thankful for this new sense of community that has been formed in our Eden in Babylon team.  And there’s no reason for me to deprive myself of a due experience of enjoying that community, even to the casting aside of reservations and doubts.

“Unity is strength. Where there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.”
— Mattie Stepanek

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Turns Toward Dawn

Cooper Knutson and Keva Shull singing the song “Turns Toward Dawn” from the new musical Eden in Babylon at a rehearsal this past Tuesday afternoon.   I’m on the Baldwin GP-190 concert grand, and we used one “snowball” mike, situated approximately twelve feet away from the piano, with the two of them standing six feet apart on either end.   It’s raw and real — I hope you enjoy it.   

Andy Pope · Turns Toward Dawn

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The Show Must Go On

The current snowstorm is coinciding with a sudden urge to remain horizontal as well as unconscious. I have now slept for fifteen hours, barring brief periods of time when I arose only to send concise texts (and in one case a lengthy text) to people whom I hoped would be concerned.

I thought I was feverish again but it appears to have passed. Moreover, the feverish fervor with which I have forced my fantasy upon an innocent group of young people also appears to have passed. I saw myself through new eyes at yesterday’s rehearsal, and what I saw was not a good man.

Admittedly, it was a difficult number, and I could have been more prepared. At one point I left the musical direction up to Cody. I observed him at that point to be a much more competent musical director than I. I had taken a break, ostensibly to use the bathroom, but more poignantly to see if someone other than myself could possibly take over that function. That is, the function of Musical Director (not the bodily function involved in going to the bathroom — I still have competence in that area.)

When I had been trying to teach the big choral number, “Children of the Universe,” even though I had written and arranged the piece myself, I could not possibly keep track of all its nuances. At one point, I was reading notes as though they had been written in bass clef, whereas in fact I had written them in treble clef. This shows how little ability I have to remember even my own music that I myself have composed.

The voice inside me that kept telling me I was “not good enough” was so strong and ever-present, it actually generated a self-fulfilling prophecy. I could not possibly focus even on the aspects of the project on which I remained competent, for all the noise in my head advising me how incompetent I truly was.

When Zazen agreed to position the iPhone for me so as to video the piano piece for Friday, as she has been doing every Thursday, I found I could not get through an entire song. Tears fell thereafter – but now I’m getting personal.

I like my home piano, the Howard upright, and I have playing it more frequently for emotional release. If I can figure out how to position the phone, I may still produce something today. I’m not going outside. The weather suggests hunkering down.

My internal climate is like unto the weather. It suggest some form of retreat and deeper reflection. As of today, I have no remaining energy to be involved in my musical project. I feel that, in trying to get the concept of my story across to these very talented and dedicated young people, I have unwittingly engaged them in my undying personal fantasy — a world of my imagination, quite incompatible with the reality that we all must share.

It is unconscionable that I have done so. But God may have been merciful. If any group of people could possibly determine how this show could conceivably be engineered without me, it is they. I will henceforth seek to remove myself gradually from any involvement with this musical.

That said, the show must go on.

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An Interview with Matt Perez

This Wednesday’s audio presentation is an interview with Matt Perez, who is currently playing the part of John James — a street hustler, drug dealer type — in our current workshop of my musical, Eden in Babylon. I know that not all of my followers take the time to listen to these talks, but if you can manage to fit this one in, I think it’s unusually strong. Then, if you feel like backtracking for further info, all six of the interviews have been posted on this playlist.

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Tuesday Tuneup 93

Q. What’s happening now?

A. Another Tuesday has begun.

Q. And what will this Tuesday bring?

A. How should I know? It might bring happiness. It might bring sorrow.

Q. How does that differ from any other day?

A. It doesn’t.

Q. But did I ask you about any other day?

A. No, you did not.

Q. Then why don’t you answer my question about today? Isn’t today Tuesday? Why did you generalize? Why did you extrapolate? Why did you just answer about any old day?

A. Wow – you’re certainly firing a lot of questions at me!

Q. Isn’t that my job?

A. I imagine so. But in this case, the rapid-fire is a bit overwhelming.

Q. Rapid fire? Am I firing at you? As though I intend to harm you? Do you see me as an enemy? An adversary?

A. You might well be.

Q. Why would that be? Why?

A. Well – think about it. If one is trying to be confident in what one does, and another person is questioning them constantly, wouldn’t that undermine their confidence?

Q. Are you suggesting that my role is to undermine your confidence?

A. Uh — er — not exactly. At least, not all the time. You seem to — um — wear different hats, and —

Q. Why are you hemming and hawing?

A. I wasn’t aware that I —

Q. Do you think you can pull the wool over my eyes?

A. Well, I haven’t really thought of it in those terms, although —

Q. Although what? Why are you beating around the bush? What are you really trying to say? Why don’t you just come out with it?

A. I — uh — er — am — um —

Q. I uh er am um? What on earth is that supposed to mean?

A. I — uh — er — am feeling a bit intimidated at the moment.

Q. Intimidated? Why in heaven’s name should you feel intimidated? Am I not the most harmless character you’ve ever run across?

A. I can’t say that you have ever harmed me physically, no.

Q. Are you suggesting I have harmed you psychologically?

A. Let’s just say you’ve sometimes shaken me up a bit.

Q. Am I shaking you up right now? Am I?

A. As a matter of fact, you are. And you’re reminding me of someone.

Q. Who?

A. About five years ago, there was a man who shook me up on the streets. He was a very aggressive man. He would not take “no” for an answer. Always trying to sell me marijuana. I would tell him I had no money. But he would insist I could pay him later. I would tell him I wasn’t interested. I would say this and that, but kept on insisting.

He was a very strange man. He kept a King James Bible on the dashboard of his car, and showed up regularly at the Bible Study. At first, I assumed he was a devout Christian. But as I got to know him, I realized his Christian veneer was but a cover. The King James was merely a good luck charm, and he attended the Bible Study largely to find customers to whom to peddle his marijuana. That, and to schmooze with attractive Christian women.

Q. Why didn’t they kick him out of the Bible Study? Isn’t such behavior ungodly?

A. This was in Berkeley — a city noted for tolerating what it shouldn’t, and not tolerating what it should.

Q. Should you have tolerated that guy?

A. Well, I should have put up with him. But I shouldn’t have caved in to his conniving nature.

Q. How did you cave in?

A. By not saying “no.” The easiest thing to do was to accept the marijuana and tell him I’d pay him later. That way I could finally get rid of him.

Q. Do you have trouble saying “no?” I mean, in general?

A. Yes.

Q. So why did he shake you up?

A. Obviously, he shook me up when I failed to pay him.

Q. Are you saying you smoked the marijuana, but did not pay him?

A. If I recall correctly, the last time he did this, I instantly gave it all away to people more interested in smoking it.

Q. You’re not interested in smoking marijuana?

A. Not really, no. At times I have been, but not in recent times. And not back then, either.

Q. How much did you owe him?

A. In that case, $120. Earlier though, I only owed him $20. And that was when he shook me up.

Q. He shook you up over twenty dollars? Why would he do such a thing?

A. Probably because he felt disrespected.

Q. How did he shake you up? What did he do to you?

A. He saw me walking down the sidewalk in his direction, took off his jacket, glared at me, and hit me on the right shoulder with one hand, on the left side of my waist with the other. Then he walked off, pointing back at me, and admonishing me: “Don’t f—k with me!!”

Q. Were you hurt?

A. Not at all. Just a little shook up.

Q. So how do I remind of you of that guy?

A. It’s your aggression. Granted, you’re not always this aggressive. But neither was he. On some days, I find you more annoying than others. This particular Tuesday, your level of annoying aggression approaches that of the aforementioned adversarial entity.

Q. Entity?

A Well — I would have said “asshole” to complete the alliteration, but I don’t like to cuss.

Q. Why do you think I’m being so aggressive? And why have you thought about that fellow?

A. Not sure. Maybe it has to do with the letter I got in the mail recently.

Q. The letter from Mike?

A. Yeah. I took his good will at face value. I wrote back, and even left a return address.

Q. And you’re suggesting that Mike might not be trusted with your address?

A. Well, I usually don’t give it out to anyone. I don’t even let people in my home community know where I live. But the content of Mike’s letter warmed my heart. So I made an exception.

Q. Do you feel that you might have “caved in” to Mike?

A. Interesting question. I feel that I trusted Mike. But I also feel that the trust, in this case, was a risk.

Q. Why?

A. Because I like my anonymity. I like to be reclusive. I’m an Artist — I like to create. And I don’t like people to mess with me. I prefer that no one knock on my door.

Q. Did you get messed with on the streets?

A. Yeah. They were always messing with me. It interfered with my desire to produce my Art.

Q. Are you afraid that this guy might come up and mess with you?

A. Which guy? Do you mean Mike?

Q. No – no – the dealer. The guy who shook you up.

A. Now that you mention it, yes.

Q. Isn’t that highly unlikely? Don’t you live about a thousand miles away from him?

A. I do, but so what? Many things happen that are unlikely.

Q. Do you still owe him money?

A. It’s not about owing or not owing. It’s about respect. That’s what the streets are all about. When someone feels disrespected, they being to plot vengeance against those who have disrespected them.

Q. But wasn’t that about five years ago?

A. Ah – but in those five years, nothing has changed.

Q. Do you respect that guy?

A. I’ve given him no reason to believe that I respect him.

Q. Do you respect me?

Pause.

A. Yes, I do.

Q. Even though I remind you of that guy?

A. Yes.

Q. Why?

A. Because you’re another story. And because this life, where you and I have engaged, and where my Art has been produced, is not like street life. The Old Story has passed. We’re all living in a New Story.

The Questioner is silent.

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Gratitude List 1630

(1) I’m feeling more peace about things than I’ve felt for a long time.

(2) I’ve been playing piano tunes lately from my set list at Gulliver’s of San Francisco, the gig I held throughout the 90’s. They seem to reflect a happy, more contented spirit than the earlier, more tumultuous, more boisterous stuff.

(3) Finally made it to Winko’s last night. Nice of Susan to give me a ride there and back. I had planned to buy $260 worth of groceries, eyeballed it at the store without a list, and came home with $261 and change. Pretty sure I’m good for the month.

(4) The team had a great meeting yesterday afternoon, in which our direction was clarified. We’re focusing on the Audio Show now, and I’m enjoying receiving lines that everyone records into their phones and mixing them at home using Audacity. Also, we’ve been getting more donations lately on the site here — some from entirely unexpected sources. It’s encouraging to see us all having a good time with the project, and it’s a good feeling to know that people are drawn toward it.

(5) I don’t know how to say this, so I’ll just say it. I’m thankful that I don’t live in California anymore. It can be a beautiful place, but it’s just so nice not to be struggling to survive in that chaotic, cut-throat culture. People up here are just nicer enough and I have just enough more breathing room, that I no longer feel incapable of doing the things I enjoy, for all the struggle I was having down there trying to “make it.” I’m thankful for my retirement income. I’m thankful that this month marks three years where I’ve paid rent on a place of my own, where I’ve lived in peace and quiet. I would have died in a gutter down there. I’m thankful for my life.

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” 
-Harriet Tubman

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Tuesday Tuneup 92

Q. What’s happening now?

A. You again?

Q. Why do you ask?

A. You left me alone last Tuesday. Why couldn’t you leave me alone now?

Q. Am I that much of a bother?

A. Never mind.

Q. What’s on your mind? Why are you being so weird?

A. You know what Tuesdays are like.

Q. Aren’t they usually your busiest, most stressful day?

A. Usually.

Q. Then why aren’t you always so weird, every single Tuesday?

A. You know the answer to that.

Q. Something about the election?

A. That, and a general sense of powerlessness.

Q. What do you do when you feel powerless?

A. Me? Well, ordinarily, I think of positive things.

Q. Can you think of any?

A. On this day? I’m hard-pressed. Within forty-eight hours, irrespective of the outcome of the election, it will be end of life as we know it.

Q. May I quote you on that?

A. Please spell my name right.

Q. Where have we heard this before?

A. Heard what before? About spelling my name right?

Q. No no – where have we heard you say your quote about the outcome of the election?

A. Oh – I said it once before. I said it earlier this morning.

Q. To whom?

A. I believe it was to Sally Hindman, the director of Youth Spirit Artworks.

Q. What had she said to you?

A. She said “We will get through this.”

Q. And then what did you say?

A. I said: “Within forty-eight hours, irrespective of the outcome of the election, it will be the end of life as we know it.”

Q. Is that all you said?

A. No – I added something else.

Q. What?

A. I said: “But you’re right. We will get through this. For we are the Human Race.”

Q. Do you believe that?

A. We’ve gotten through everything so far. The Human Race has an uncanny ability to pull itself together just in the nick of time. We’ve done it throughout history. We may bicker and procrastinate until it’s down to the wire — but when we need to, we pull together.

Q. What about now?

A. What about it?

The Questioner is silent.

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Re: “She Called Me Dad”

I have a Tuesday Tuneup planned but am foregoing it – and all other things — until this piece of social activism has been submitted. This may be a trigger for some people.

Something happened yesterday by surprise that was so emotionally wrenching, I burst into tears in the midst of all else that is going on at this time.

A few days ago I heard from Alastair (the Street Spirit editor) that they’d received a letter at the Spirit Office that was for me. They said a man had walked the letter into the office, unaddressed, and asked if they could please get it to Andy Pope.

Me being me, I naturally was fairly convinced that it was from some street hustler whom I’d offended, possibly with a threat against my life, or else contained some horrible blackmail attempt such as a photograph of the time I practically defecated in public I couldn’t hold it any longer. In fact, one of any number of high-profile formerly private activities could have been filmed or photographed — the privileges that one sacrifices when one gives up all privacy by living on the streets.

Instead, it was a handwritten letter from a dear friend named Mike. Mike and I had been homeless together for years down there, and we had a mutual friend whom I shall call “Maria.” Mike said that he had been reading my columns for “a few years” and that he especially appreciated the one I wrote about Maria.

Of course, I had been hesitant to write about a real person, and I changed her name to “Maria” when I wrote the story. I wrote nothing bad about her, but still feared it would embarrass her if it got back to her, or anger some of her friends. Still, I was moved to write a column called She Called Me Dad because this young Hispanic woman with a severe mental health condition — possibly Dissociative Identity Disorder — sat across from me where I had my spot where I flew my sign, and pretended I was her Dad so as to protect her.

As a severely disabled young woman alone on the streets, she was very vulnerable. Tweakers took advantage of her all the time, and Berkeley cops could have cared less, because people with conspicuous mental health disorders were generally lumped into the same bag as the other “losers and dirt bags” who appeared to populate the streets.

So Mike sent me two pictures of her — I wish I could scan them and show them to you — but of course I can’t do so without her consent. And like as not, I will never see her again, let alone do I know how to reach her.

In one picture she is seen holding one of two newborns in her arms, obviously caring for her baby as any mother would. In the other, she is seen at the Spot we shared, though of course without me.

He related that she had again been raped (I have no idea how many times she had been raped previously), went through with the pregnancy, and gave birth to twins. The twins of course were immediately taken from her by Child Protective Services.

I stared at the words and the pictures, and tears flooded my face. I’m not a crier, you know. That is, I don’t cry readily or easily. But it was too much for my heart not to be softened and touched.

Mike also shared that “Peaches” had died — which I had already learned from Kathy Kitzman, who was the Admin of Homeless Lives Matter at the time — and that my friend “Lillian” who had had three strokes and suffered from psychomotor impairment had come back for a while and then disappeared again. His reports brought back a panorama of a Berkeley that I’d forgotten about.

I usually think of Berkeley as this horrible place in time where a number of us did our best to look after each other while being routinely treated like shit by practically anybody who lived inside, and by at least half of the people who lived outside. I usually think of Berkeley as this horrible world. What I forget is how much LOVE there was among the decent people who had wound up homeless.

In a way, I’ve lost a lot of that love because life hasn’t been hard – I even get bored these days — which for me is inexcusable. Did I ever get bored on the streets? I remember how when we were homeless, if someone managed to score a hotel room for a week, it was a joke to say: “Wow – you might even get bored!”

Homelessness in Berkeley was a lot of hard things and a lot of good things, a lot of pain and fear and anger, and a lot of fun too. But it was never boring.

“What right have I?” I asked myself when I saw the two pictures of Maria and the vulnerable look in her eyes, “to be bored?”

I have a calling, I have a purpose. I better get on the ball.

Please help raise awareness as to homeless rights issues.
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Anything Helps
God Bless!

Eleventh Hour Appeal

Wrote this yesterday in a spontaneous reaction to the Spokesman-Review having endorsed Donald Trump for President. This morning, Tracy Simmons published it on Spokane Faith and Values — all 1829 words of it — and did not change one word. This appeal is directed at fellow followers of Jesus Christ who may still be undecided as to which way their vote will be cast tomorrow. I hope it helps.

Will 82% of Evangelicals Really Vote for Trump? 

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Gratitude List 1629

(1) I seem to be slowing down in every respect. In my case, that might be a good thing.

(2) We’ll be rehearsing tomorrow for the first time in ten days — even as votes are being counted. Something tells me this will be a very important rehearsal.

(3) I was just looking at the famous Scripture of Matthew 7:1 and, as you can see by clicking on that link, a lot of effort was put into telling us what the Scripture does not mean. I’m kinda curious what it actually means.

Say, if I judge somebody — say, somebody who pressed too many of my buttons a while back — am I going to be judged in the exact same measure as I judged that guy? And if so, by whom? And will I be judged for the same things as I have judged another? And if so, by whom? Or does it just mean that GOD is the One who’s going to judge me? That if I don’t want to be judged by GOD, then I better not be about judging people? Like many Scriptures, it gives much food for thought. I personally am thankful for that Book — and in particular for the profound words of Jesus recorded therein.

(4) Boy, this coffee is going down good! My coffee maker broke last week (which might have been part of the problem.) Then, on my doorstep I was pleasantly surprised to find a nice white Mr. Coffee maker and a bag of Costa Rican. It’s a good feeling to know that somebody had my back.

(5) I have a bit more energy than I did at the beginning of this post. No doubt a lengthy bike ride is in order. Thankful for the beautiful day.

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The Ballad of Lester Hayton

These are the Wendt brothers, Cody and Ian, both of whom are now playing roles in my musical, Eden in Babylon. Cody wrote this song for a centennial memorial dedicated to Lester Hayton of Palouse, Washington, a city near me in the Palouse Region where I live. Hayton had served in France during World War I under the famous General John Pershing and went missing in action at the Battle of Chateau-Thierry. The ballad is moving and beautiful, and I am very lucky to have both of these musical brothers on my team.

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Champagne

I think I’ll do it over again. The song, that is.  I’ve been under the weather, hadn’t played for a week actually, was kinda tight. Low key body ache, soar throat, sniffles, low energy. Canceled two rehearsals, one on the morning it was supposed to happen. That’s not like me, and I feel pretty strange about it . . .

Hm, but you know what? I think it’s time for a regular old flu shot. Just because of Covid doesn’t mean other stuff isn’t going around. Anyway, come back tomorrow or Sunday, for more champagne.

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Gratitude List 1627

(1) Though I was running on empty for quite a few days, I slept ten hours last night and feel like a new man. Thankful for sleep and its restorative power.

(2) Richard the bass player brought over some home-cooked curry and rice last night, which was a welcome and healthy restbit from my usual diet.

(3) Thankful for the smile on Cody’s face during the crescendo to the second repeat of the chorus in “Turns Toward Dawn” at rehearsal on Thursday. I’ve seen that smile before — and I know what it means — but not for a long time. It was refreshing.

(4) Ran into Kurt, the retired linguistics professor, on the way home from rehearsal yesterday. We wound up talking for about an hour. He’s a person whose biblical exegesis and overall unique political worldview makes for extreme intellectual stimulation, not without true inspiration. We arranged to meet again on Zoom on Wednesday, and I’m jazzed.

(5) Just met with the team on the group chat on Messenger. We’re going to put this week to good use — and that involves my slowing down quite a bit. I tend to push myself a bit too hard sometimes, and we all understand that. But I gotta say, we’re making the most out of all the theatres being closed for the pandemic. The team spirit is like nothing I’ve ever known — and I’m thankful.

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The Quest for the Truth in Love

In a recent column, I suggested that we shouldn’t be too hung up on the “context” of certain Scriptures, if the passage expresses a universal truth. I used Leviticus 19:33-34 as a topical example, illustrating that we are to treat those who are not among our native-born as equals. Another example would be this:

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.(1 Corinthians 8:1)

While the immediate context has to do with food sacrificed to idols, the next two sentences in the Scripture express absolutes. All have knowledge. And while knowledge “puffs up,” love “builds up.”

The accumulation of much knowledge will ultimately lead to arrogance; that is, if it’s not balanced out by good will toward those who may not be “in the know.” Many knowledgeable people become impatient with those who lack their depth of understanding. At the extreme, certain forms of theoretical information will become misconstrued for absolute truths. This happens when the learned person becomes so steeped in a particular doctrine or ideology, that they cease to see the validity of differing points of view.

We frequently see this dynamic in religious and political discussions. One can sense that someone is frustrated with their opponent in a debate. They may be thinking: “But if only they knew what I know, they wouldn’t come across so simplistic — so out of touch!” But let’s take a step back from that.

Are all the details of our knowledge really more important than their simplicity? That would indeed be the case, if someone were stubbornly hanging on to a comfortable little fantasy. Sometimes people prefer to believe something pleasantly simple, without being willing to consider the details of a more intricate, truthful picture. But more often than not, I have seen knowledgeable people get lost in the details of their own ideology, to the point where they can no longer see the forest for the trees.

I’ve always been stricken by the use of the word “simplicity” in this verse:

“But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” — (2 Corinthians 11:3)

Outside of context, the Scripture clearly states that devotion to Christ involves simplicity. But how often do we complicate our devotion by adding to it our defense of knowledge we may have gained? Whether it’s biblical knowledge per se, or knowledge of a certain doctrinal slant — Calvinism, Arminianism, etc. — at what point is the pursuit of knowledge a deterrent to that of a godly simplicity?

A Bible study is always most inspired when all the participants continue to seek the truth — when all remain open to the ultimate truth that there is in Christ. The picture of the classic theological argument among die-hards is quite a different picture than the quest for the truth in love.

I’ve been to all kinds of Bible studies. Ecumenical, evangelical, Reformed, charismatic — you name it. Frankly, I’ve enjoyed just about all of them, because I am a person who appreciates the Bible. It’s possible, however, that I have enjoyed the ones that contained a boisterous debate just a wee bit too much.

Recently I argued with another believer over the issue of wearing masks. I confess to have enjoyed the argument immensely, even as we both screamed at each other — hurling Scriptures back and forth, rebutting with other Scriptures, and having a grand old time. But is that really what we’re meant to do with Holy Scripture?

In that case, my anti-masker opponent and I parted on excellent terms. He respected my integrity and I respected his — even though we disagreed. And yet, how much more powerful is the experience of watching believers of opposing positions become silenced by the power of the Holy Spirit, when an atmosphere of humble reverence consumes every person in the room?

The Holy Spirit is, after all, the spirit of truth, as identified in the Gospel of John, chapters 14-16. And we are to “speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15). How many times have we spoken the truth without love? Probably, for most of us, many times. And how many times has that been effective? Very few times, I’m sure.

To whatever extent knowledge has “puffed us up,” I will pray that love, to that same extent, will build us up. Then maybe we will see with clear eyes the abominable nature of the contentious controversies and doubtful disputations we have engaged. Then maybe we will begin to rebuild the bridges that the divided heart of this nation has burnt.

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Tuesday Tuneup 91

Q. What’s happening now?

A. Winding down.

Q. How?

A. Strawberry milk, tylenol, water, and benadryl.

Q. Why?

A. Long day.

Q. Sleep all right last night?

A. No.

Q. Why not?

A. Too much on my mind.

Q. Why?

A. Too much to do.

Q. And now?

A. Tired.

Q. And?

A. Brain-dead.

Q. And?

A. Hoping to sleep soon.

Q. What’s keeping you?

A. Not sure.

Q. Any ideas?

A. Too many. They make my head spin.

Q. What about images?

A. A few. Good and bad.

Q. Can you focus on a good one?

A. Why?

Q. Might it bring you peace?

A. It might.

Q. And once you are at peace, might you get to sleep?

A. I might.

Q. Can you try?

A. All right.

Pause.

A. I think I found one.

Q. What is it?

A. An image. A picture of smiling faces looking at me, and me being at the piano, and our just having finished rehearsal, and me realizing that — it’s actually happening. I didn’t die a meaningless death in a gutter. I didn’t die abandoned. I lived, and I was given a chance to realize my dream.

The Questioner is silent.

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Gratitude List 1626

(1) Thankful for the phenomenon known as “sleep” and for a safe place in which to obtain it. On three hours sleep, staring at all those black musical notes on a Finale template, they might as well have been a bunch of flies I was supposed to be swatting. What happened after six more hours of fine, unadulterated sleep? The picture is considerably prettier.

(2) After a good third session of pastoral counseling this afternoon, I find myself thankful for the current overload. At least it’s not an “underload” — an idle brain being the devil’s playground, and all that.

(3) Thankful for a very positive friendship with my one and only daughter. How many dads can claim that they get to talk to their daughters every single day? Maybe more than I know, but I still feel very fortunate, and blessed.

(4) Thankful for the good friends I’ve made and kept throughout my life. About to catch up with my friend Holly down in California by telephone. Good to have friends.

(5) Thankful for the cooler temperatures lately, it being only 58F degrees right now, though it’s three in the afternoon. I no longer have to restrict my daily exercise to the early morning or late evening hours. Looking forward to a nice run, round about four. Life is good. :)

” Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think on these things.” — Philippians 4:8

Isolation and Superstition

This is going to sound incredibly superstitious, because — well, it is. A long time ago somebody at some church somewhere told me I was supposed to read a chapter of Proverbs every morning, according to whatever day in the month it is. After all, there are 31 chapters in the Proverbs of Solomon. So on a long month I get up to Proverbs 31, and start the whole thing over the next month.

Don’t get me wrong. I love that book. But there’s something in that practice that doesn’t seem quite healthy for me. For example, on the 18th of every single month, an old resentment returns to me. I read the first two verses, and I see myself in Verse One, and the person I resent in Verse Two.

Observe:

“He who isolates himself pursues selfish desires; he rebels against all sound judgment.” (Proverbs 18:1)

That’s me all right. Especially since Quarantine. I isolate myself; I prefer to isolate myself; I like being alone, and guess what? I wind up rebelling against all sound judgment. Seriously! In fact, I’ll prove it. Look at Verse Two:

“A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in airing his opinions.” (Proverbs 18:2)

I see that, and I think: “Yeah, that’s that guy who used to lecture me all the time as though I were an idiot. Never cared what my perspective was. Totally disrespectful! If I tried to get my two cents in, he would just go “Whatever!” As though my opinion didn’t even matter. And then, he would go right on with his undying lecture, telling me what I was supposed to do all the time.

A man happily showing his friend and telling him about the world they lived in. - Download Free ...

“Now that I see this Proverb, I ought to give that guy a piece of my mind! I ought to show him I haven’t forgotten what he did to me! I gotta show him that I still have his number.”

Then (every time the 18th rolls around, by the way), I start to text the guy with the biblical quote; that is to say, my estimate of him.

But then I see the first verse, and I think: “Oh that’s right. These thoughts only arise because I’m isolating myself, and therefore rebelling against all sound judgment. It’s not sound judgment to buzz this guy — I’ve already told him off a million times, and he never answers me. It’s better for me to take the first verse to my own heart, and stop isolating.”

And now you know what happens on the 18th of every month. Quite unlike the 16th, when I think that God is about to honor all my professional plans, and I get to verse 7, and I realize that if I only I please the Lord, even that guy who lectured me all day long will be at peace with me.

“When a man’s ways please the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” — Proverbs 16:7.

That’s what I really ought to be doing! If only it were still the 16th, and not the 18th, when obviously I have other things on my mind.

Sigh. I suppose it could be worse. I could read a horoscope every morning. I even tried that — but all they did was talk about my “love life.”

Love schmove. Never touch the stuff.

Hm – maybe that’s my problem . . .

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Tuesday Tuneup 90

Q. What’s happening now?

A. Interpretation.

Q. Of what?

A. Of an event.

Q. What sort of event?

A. An event that contains too much synchronicity to be coincidental, but that at the same time has the feel of somebody messing with my head.

Q. Messing with your head? Are you sure that’s the best way to describe the experience?

A. Without using the f-word, yes.

Q. But are you sure it’s only your head that’s being messed with? What about you? All of you? Your total being?

A. What are you driving at?

Q. On the streets, what did somebody mean when they said that they f—-d with you?

A. It didn’t mean anything negative, not in street slang. It only meant that they were willing to deal with me. Others they may have ignored, but me they interacted with. They probably even transacted with me. It meant that I mattered. That I was important to them.

Q. So when you feel that somebody is messing with you, what do you really feel?

A. Important.

Q. Come again?

A. Important.

Q. Say what?

A. Important! I’m important enough for them to bother messing with me.

Q. There you go! Now — who do you think has been messing with you?

A. Good question. There’s a sense of omnipotence and omnipresence. So it could be God. But it doesn’t seem to have the love that one associates with God. Maybe it’s an Agent or Angel of some kind. There’s a bit of an evil vibe to it. I don’t want to think it’s the Devil. Maybe it’s merely a gnome, or a poltergeist.

Q. Poltergeist? What kind of event are you talking about?

A. You really wanna know?

Q. Why else would I have asked?

A. All right. As you know, I don’t have my MediCare card. I was in the position where I would be billed for a service if I could not provide my MediCare number. The potential creditor only had my MediCaid number.

New Medicare Cards Coming Soon

So, to obtain the MediCare number, I took the little yellow slip of paper on which I had my MediCaid number written down, and I headed for the low income clinic. I figured there somebody might know me, and they might give me my MediCare number, especially if I could prove I was me, by showing them the MediCaid number.

But when I got there, I reached for my pocket, and the little slip of paper was gone! Oh well, not a big deal, as it turned out. The nice lady there got my name and birthdate, and soon handed me my MediCare number on a very similar little slip of yellow paper.

But then, when I got home, I reached for my pocket, and the little slip of paper she gave me was gone! What was there instead was the slip I’d thought I’d forgotten at home, the one containing my MediCaid number!

How could it be? It couldn’t be! It couldn’t possibly be that the slip of paper first vanished, then was replaced by a similar but not identical slip of paper, which was then mysteriously transformed into the first slip of paper. Poltergeist! Somebody was messing with me!

So I rode back on my bicycle and requested the MediCare number all over again. Then, when I returned home, I found I had both numbers on two little yellow slips of paper, which I then crammed down deep into my wallet. Moreover, I saw on the floor a third slip of yellow paper, this one containing my MediCare number! So I wrote my MediCaid number on the new slip of paper and stuck it on my refrigerator. Now I won’t lose my numbers – but I’m sure Somebody Up There was messing with me. They were just trying to let me know that They had my number (so to speak).

Q. Did you feel like you were being tested?

A. Yeah – that’s it. I was being tested. They were testing me, to see if I would blow.

Q. Did you blow?

A. No — not this time. I usually do, you know, whenever I think that they’re messing with me. But this time I kept my cool — and I kept my mouth shut.

Q. How did that make you feel?

A. At the time, pretty frustrated. I wanted to scream! But afterwards, upon reflection, it made me feel encouraged. I felt that I had passed the test.

Q. So how do you interpret the event?

A. As an honor. Just like it was an honor on the streets for someone to care about me enough to want to mess with me.

Q. But didn’t they only mess with you because you were an easy mark?

A. That’s right. And these Supernatural Guys — they think I’m an easy mark as well.

Q. Isn’t that a bad thing?

A. Not necessarily. I survived the streets, didn’t I?

Q. Why do you think you survived the streets?

A. Because there was always something they could get from me. I was useful.

Q. What about to the Supernatural Guys? What about to God?

A. To God, you ask? It just might be — just maybe — that to God, I am useful too.

The Questioner is silent.

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Gratitude List 1625

(1) As I heard the rain outside my slightly cracked window last night, I felt a sense of peace, knowing that I have a roof over my head.

(2) Although I’ve not had phone service for a few weeks now, I am finding more and more that I don’t miss the modern day mobile phone device. There are lots of other ways to communicate, and there is great joy in the simplification of life.

(3) Come to think of it, it’s now been almost fifteen years since I’ve driven, and I don’t miss driving a car either. Thankful not to have to deal with car payments, cost of gas and maintenance, road rage, gridlock, and (above all) falling asleep on the road and rear-ending an SUV.

(4) Yesterday afternoon was nice in terms productive meetings with Z. and Kelsey. I’m glad I take the Sabbath on Saturday and glad my church lets me use the building.

(5) Grateful for my two computers and hi-speed Internet. My daughter and I have been chatting every day on Facebook video chat, which is also how I met with Kelsey, who’s important. I’ve also been using Finale 26 to score vocal parts. Many things can be done at home, while sheltering, while raining. Life is full of possibilities, even still.

“The superior man is distressed by the limits of his ability. He is not distressed by the fact that people do not recognize the abilities that he has.” — Confucius

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Strange Synchronicities

1. I awoke the other morning after only two hours sleep before a very busy and seemingly important day. Going to the computer to check the time, I watched the clock turn from 5:59:59 to 6:00:00 before my eyes.

2. Knowing it was time to issue a newsletter, that morning, I did so. As I submitted it, the clock turned from 8:59 to 9:00.

3. This week, I wrote a Tuesday Tuneup, knowing I had scheduled the previous day’s gratitude list to post at 7:30am on Monday. As I submitted the Tuneup, I watched the clock turn from 7:29 to 7:30, just as I clicked on “Publish.”

4. In the year 2018, I decided to calculate the first day that I ever slept outdoors, after years of sleeping inside.  The calculations are preserved in this blog post.  It was 11:50 when I finished the post, so I set it at midnight.  The next morning, I looked at the computer clock and realized I had made the discovery exactly fourteen years after I had first slept outdoors.  So I discovered on May 17, 2018 that I first slept outdoors on May 17, 2004.

5. Incidentally, that same year, I was talking with Lauren Sapala about the use of meter in prose.  She mentioned that Neal Cassidy had done this, and I said I also had used it in a piece called The Temple of the Human Race.  Lauren wrote back asking me if I knew that it was the same day as the date on the piece, or if I had changed the date.   I had not changed the date – for why would I have?  It turned out I had written the piece on March 23, 2007, and sent it to her on March 23, 2018.

6. Finally, feeling full of synchronicity, I decided to count how many days it was that I was homeless.  I first became homeless on May 17, 2004, as I have told you.   I got down on my knees outside Sequoia Station and screamed at God to put an end to twelve years of homelessness on July 17, 2016 – as I have told you — and knew somehow that my homelessness was over – that the prayer was valid, and the needed action would be revealed.  Interesting that it was the 17th of each month.   Counting the days between the two dates (it can be done!) it turned out to be 4,444 days.

7. And to make a nice number seven, I must ask the question: “What does it all mean?”

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The Context Trap

In 1983, when I first became a Christian, I was very zealous about sharing my faith. As I did so, I often heard unbelievers telling me: “Judge not and ye shall not be judged.” Because they didn’t seem to be know the context of that passage, I was quick to bring it to their attention. In so doing, I came across as even more judgmental, thus only validating what they thought of me in the first place.

Many times since then, I have heard people employ the use of Scripture, only to be told by someone that the Scripture was “taken out of context.” But there is a trap here. Many biblical Scriptures reflect universal truths. As such, they are applicable both in and out of context — because they are simply true.

Not too long ago, a Lutheran friend whom I’ll call “George” posted the following Scripture on his social media:

“When a foreigner resides with you in your land, you must not oppress him. You must treat the foreigner living among you as native-born and love him as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” — Leviticus 19:33-34

Instantly, George received a retort from “Gary,” a member of a large evangelical church. “Of course, George, you are taking those verses totally out of context!”

Naturally, my friend George asked his friend Gary: “What is the context?”

“I don’t know,” said Gary. “I’ll have to look it up.”

While this may be amusing, it points to a phenomenon that I find a bit disturbing. The idea that someone is taking a biblical passage “out of context” is often used as a bluff. It’s very possible that Gary figured he knew the Bible better than George did. But when George called his bluff, he came up empty-handed.

We have to be very careful before playing the “context card.” In this case, the Scripture is a good example of something that is true outside of its specific context, because it conveys an absolute standard. If a foreigner comes into our land — whoever we are, and whoever they are — we are to treat them as an equal — as one of us.

If a person is particularly obsessed with context, they might object. “Well no – it applies only to the ancient Israelites, who were literally foreigners in the land of Egypt.” But that objection doesn’t hold water in light of a deeper study.

Many times “Egypt” is typed in Scripture as a former place of bondage. Similarly, Sodom is typed as a place of gross departure from the ways of God. This is why Revelation 11:8 refers to a place “figuratively called Egypt and Sodom, where also our Lord was crucified.” Yet we know that our Lord was crucified at Golgotha. He wasn’t literally crucified in either Egypt or Sodom. These references are figurative.

So we have a couple broad considerations here that may serve to lift us out of the Context Trap. Many biblical passages can be taken both literally and figuratively, and many verses can be taken both in and out of context.

I have to confess that I sometimes become frustrated when I see someone “wielding” a Scripture in order to win an argument. It seems to happen all too often. Also, the instances of this abuse of Holy Scripture are not restricted to Christians of any specific leaning. Ecumenicals and Evangelicals alike may be prone to this tendency. To my way of thinking, this is an abuse of something that we are to hold sacred. The Bible is largely intended to teach us how to live — not to teach us how to emerge victorious in a theological debate.

When I become sufficiently frustrated — as I was after hearing the dispute between George and Gary — I have a tendency to scour the Bible immediately to confirm what one might perceive to be my own bias or agenda. In other words, I want to “win.” I want to “prove” that I am “right.” In doing so, am I any different from the other believers whose approach I have found objectionable? Not at all.

A better approach would be for me to ask myself, for example: “How do I treat someone from another country when they move their family into my neighborhood? For that matter, how do I treat a Californian when they move up to Idaho? Am I welcoming of people of all races, genders, orientations, ages, and abilities? Or am I threatened by them? If I am threatened, what is it that threatens me? Do I regard all people as equals, as “one of us?” Or do I see them as somehow unequal — as the “other?”

These are the kinds of questions I feel we should all ask ourselves, whenever we encounter powerful passages from our holy books. How do these words apply to our own behavior, in a world full of conflict, suspicion, and distrust?

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Tuesday Tuneup 89

Q. What’s happening now?

A. Transformation.

Q. Of what?

A. Of character.

Q. What brought this transformation about?

A. Realization.

Q. Of what?

A. Of behavior.

Q. How had you been behaving?

A. Angrily.

Q. Recently?

A. Recently, somewhat. In the past, a great deal.

Q. But you are no longer angry?

A. Not at the moment, no. Far from it, in fact. But that’s not the point.

Q. What’s the point?

A. That my anger naturally caused people to distance themselves from me.

Q. And now they are no longer distant?

A. The people whom I got mad at two days ago are no longer distant. There have been apologies, forgiveness, and healing. As for those whom I got mad at in the past, they remain distant.

Q. How long do you think they will remain distant?

A. I don’t know. Perhaps forever.

Q. Why would that be?

A. Because people are not comfortable with anger. Or, because they’re offended by it. One way or the other, they either feel they can’t deal with it, or they believe they shouldn’t have to.

Q. Are you comfortable with anger?

A. Listen man — I lived on the streets for years. We all got mad at each other, back and forth, day by day, almost as a routine. We all screamed and yelled and cussed. We got used to it. We couldn’t get away from each other anyway — not even if we tried. Somebody can scream and yell and cuss at me all they want. It doesn’t make me uncomfortable nor does it offend me. If anything, it’s refreshing.

Q. Refreshing?

A. Yes. It makes me realize I’m not the only one. In fact, it even awakens my compassion. I feel for the person who’s getting mad, because I know what it feels like.

Q. How does it feel?

A. It feels lousy. You feel guilty. You feel like you might be hurting somebody. And you feel like you’re losing control. But you see, on the streets, it became par for the course. Half the time, we didn’t feel anything at all.

Q. What about off the streets?

A. There’s a lot less to be angry about. That is, in my own world. Plenty to be angry about in the world on the whole, especially as pertains to my own country. But my life is a breeze compared to what it once was. So of course I don’t get as angry as I used to.

Q. Are you saying that your temper was a product of the streets?

A. No – and I didn’t mean to imply that. I was angry before I landed on the streets. People didn’t know it. In fact, they often characterized me as “serene.” But I was not inwardly tranquil. I had inner anger that I’d learned through various means — medication being a factor — to manage. But the streets brought my anger to the surface. The streets gave me an outlet for my anger. They exacerbated it. They magnified it. They illuminated it — and I was angry for a long time even after I got indoors.

Q. What were you angry at?

A. Injustice and inequity. But even that is not the point. It’s more like — who I was angry at.

Q. Who were you angry at?

A. All these people who distanced themselves from me. Especially if they distanced themselves to the point of total disappearance. Those who dropped out of my life without notifying me. We wouldn’t have been able to do that on the streets. So, people who lived indoors were exercising a luxury we street people did not have.

A. Did this make you jealous?

Q. Not so much jealous. I was jealous of them because they lived indoors and I did not. But I was not jealous of their ability to remove me from their lives. I was only angered by that.

A. Why anger?

Q. Because I didn’t think it was right. The right thing would have been to inform me. To let me know that they were done with me.

A. But is it ever right to be done with somebody?

A. Not in my book. But that’s a pretty strange book — and I could elaborate. God’s Book is the Book in question.

Q. Is God ever done with anybody?

A. That, sir, is the Question of the Ages.

The Questioner is silent.

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Gratitude List 1624

(1) I just turned in my October column for Spokane Faith and Values concerning the use and abuse of Holy Scripture. Grateful to have gotten it done, and grateful for this ongoing opportunity.

(2) I recently channeled an insane crush by writing three stream-of-consciousness sonnets in iambic pentameter. Seems a good thing to do when strange feelings occasionally distract. Got them posted on the Sonnets Page in case anyone’s down to take a peek. (Go ahead and laugh, by the way, I won’t be offended.) Grateful for WordPress, since it gives me a nice place to post my various pieces.

(3) Began pastoral counseling again today. My pastor and I are meeting on Zoom every Monday at 1:30 now. We got off to a really good start, and I’m grateful.

(4) A lady from my church gave me a ride to Winko’s and back so I could stock up on a month’s worth of groceries. Grateful for the help, and for my own kitchen, and for the pleasure of being able to eat my own kind of food — the kind of food I enjoy.

(5) Last but not least, I am moved to tears with gratitude for the talent and devotion of the current musical team. These wonderful young people remain a joy and inspiration to me at this trying time in all of our lives.

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Keva’s Song

This morning I’d like to present a one minute audition video recently created by Keva Shull who is playing the female lead Taura in the current workshop of my musical Eden in Babylon. Keva had approached me earlier in the year when I’d offered to tutor Music Theory and Composition and Creative Writing of Fiction over Zoom as the pandemic first put us into quarantine.

It turned out that she had written a musical about the stigma surrounding mental health disorders. I naturally asked her how she chose me of all people, because I have written a musical about mental health conditions myself (my earlier musical, The Burden of Eden.)

Must have been meant to be. I eventually cast Keva in the leading role.  As you can see and hear today, I am very happy to have done so.

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Tuesday Tuneup 88

Q. What’s happening now?

A. Nothing.

Q. Nothing?

A. Nothing.

Q. But isn’t that impossible?

A. What do you mean?

Q. Aren’t many things always happening, all around us?

A. You’ve got a point there. But there’s nothing happening inside me.

Q. No feelings?

A. None.

Q. Numb?

A. Numb.

Q. How long have you been this way?

A. I’m not sure.

Q. What made you this way?

A. A lifetime of overreacting to each and every vicissitude.

Q. Vicissitude?

A. Vicissitude.

Q. What does “vicissitude” mean?

Vicissitude: Today's Vocabulary word, an a2z post - In ...

Q. Is that your answer?

A. Yes.

Q. So you are no longer overreacting to every vicissitude?

A. Correct. I no longer react. I merely observe and absorb.

Q. How long do you think this will last?

A. Who knows?

Q. Are you happy to be numb?

A. Neither happy nor sad. I experience no reaction whatever to my numbness.

Q. Empty?

A. Empty.

Q. Done?

A. Finished.

The Questioner is silent.

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Gratitude List 1623

(1) I’m developing good friends in this town among vibrant young people who I can relate to –people with ideals and values not unlike my own. Had a three hour Zoom conversation with one such person on Saturday when she was on a long drive. Hadn’t had such an in-depth meaningful talk with anyone for a long time. It was reflection of God’s love on the Sabbath, and it made me feel warm inside.

(2) My four mile course is becoming my favorite loop to run. I’ve done it on three consecutive runs recently – and it’s starting to feel a lot easier, too. I walked four miles last night, am going on a bike ride today, and I get to run the course again tomorrow. Exercise is good.

(3) People are starting to tune in to the Zazen Interview– with some happy results. I then asked Keva if she wouldn’t mind being interviewed this week. I’ve never done any audio interviewing before — it’s kinda fun, and as well as useful. The acoustics are really good in the church sanctuary, and the iPhone 11 that my daughter got for me has a fantastic microphone. Plus, I get to edit it and spice it up with Audacity later, which is even more fun. Thankful for new horizons.

(4) My daughter Angela wrote a new song that I love. She’s also doing really well these days. New horizons seems to be the order of the day.

(5) When I sat down on the lawn chair for the outdoor evening service last night, I realized I had not even left the house since Thursday, except for running four miles on Friday night. Getting out for errands on my bicycle now. I don’t mind sheltering in place, and I don’t mind being alone. But making sure to get outside once a day really helps. Which brings up another thing I’m grateful for — I’ve got decent snow boots, I like cold weather, and I don’t mind the snow. Every cloud has a silver lining.

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” — Helen Keller

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Tuesday Tuneup 87

Hey I wrote this on Sunday night, at the end of a classically bad day during which, at one point, I threatened to leave WordPress out of total annoyance with the new editor, combined with a seeming inability to return to the old editor. I’ve revised my position, though I am just as annoyed. I’ll continue to post as I’m able. 

So — I permitted my feelings on Sunday night to result in this tune-up, which turned out to be a positive introspective exercise.  Hope you can relate (at least some of the time).

Q. What’s happening now?

A. Pain.

Q. Physical pain?

A. No. The other kind of pain.

Q. Mental?

A. Or emotional. Or spiritual, or existential. You know the pain I mean.

Q. Existential?

A. Best describes it, yes.

Q. Elaborate?

A. Emptiness.

Q. Who can fill that void?

A. You know the answer to that. Only God can feel the void. But God is —

Q. Intangible?

A. Bingo.

Q. Doesn’t God work through people?

A. That’s part of the problem. There aren’t any people around to work through.

Q. There aren’t?

A. You’re kinda boring tonight, do you know that?

Q. Boring, like — empty?

A. Yes.

Q. But isn’t that merely a reflection of your own internal emptiness?

A. I suppose it could be. Boredom, emptiness, loneliness — they’re all kinda connected.

Q. Are you lonely?

A. Right now, yes. Usually, no. It’s because of stuff that happened — bad stuff — stuff I wish I didn’t have to face or process —

Q. And if she were here, you wouldn’t have to?

A. I see what you’re driving at. If she were here, and I were in this mood, she would just become a sounding board. It would dehumanize her. I’d be using her. That would be lousy. You’re right — I’m best off alone. That way I won’t subject anyone to myself.

Q. But doesn’t she love you?

A. I believe she does, yes. But she loves the right things about me. That’s why I love her. Not many people have ever come along that even see those things in me.

Q. So — are you saying — you don’t want her to have to see — the wrong things?

A. Not the wrong things — the bad things. The things that are hard to live with. The things that make it hard for me to live even with my own self. Nobody should ever have to see those things — not even me, really. And yet, because I am me, I am consigned to see them all the time.

Q. Tell me: what do you see when you look in the mirror?

A. Oh come off of it!! You’re starting to sound like a pop psychology guru! I had enough of those cats in the seventies, for crying out loud.

Q. But what do you see when you look in the mirror?

A. I don’t know – let me go look. Brb.

Pause.

A. I see a guy who could use a shave.

Q. Is that all? Nothing else?

A. Not to speak of. It’s the unshaved look — most glaring.

Q. When was the last time you shaved?

A. Probably the last time I had a razor to shave with.

Q. When was that?

A. Oh, I don’t know. Five days ago, maybe.

Q. When is the next time you’ll have a razor?

A. Probably tomorrow. Razors are on my list.

Q. But why is your unshaven appearance the main thing you see?

A. It’s what’s on my mind, I guess.

Q. Not shaving?

A. Never mind. Some items are easier to hang onto than others. Razors go quickly.

Q. What else goes quickly?

A. Coffee. I rip right through that stuff.

Q. Could you use a cup of coffee?

A. Not anymore. I had a quad espresso earlier, when I finally got it together to figure out the easiest softest way to get caffeine into my system.

Q. When was that?

A. At about five in the afternoon.

Q. You didn’t have a cup of coffee till five in the afternoon?

A. No I didn’t. I also didn’t get a damn thing done all day.

Q. What about after the quad espresso?

A. By that time, I was brain dead. Long story.

Q. So you had a bad day?

A. You could say that, yes.

Q. Isn’t tomorrow another day?

A. Look buddy – how many tomorrows have we got left? It’s not as though we can afford to have too many more bad days. Every day is precious – the times are evil — we need to redeem the time —

Q. Why are you carrying the weight of the world on the shoulders?

A. Who else is going to do it? Atlas?

Q. Well there must many others who are equally concerned with —

A. Yeah – and you know who they are, don’t you?

Q. Not — exactly —

A. They’re a secret organization of cats from another dimension. Somehow they have successfully infiltrated the earth with an organized plan to save the planet. Only a select few of us even know they exist. They have taken great measures to conceal their identity, even from the Internet —

Q. Woah! Aren’t you sounding like a conspiracy theorist?

A. No! I’ve actually met these guys! And they swore me to secrecy, and —

Q. Are you on the level?

A. Why would I not be on the level?

Q. If the things you’re saying are so outlandish, how can you expect others to believe you?

A. That’s why I don’t usually talk about them. People will only think I’m insane.

Q. Are you insane?

A. Maybe more so on days like today than on other days. You see, if she were here, I wouldn’t be so alone, and my thoughts would not take me off into those strange conspiratorial dimensions.

Q. She would ground you?

A. I don’t know about that. But she would take my attention away from darker matters.

Q. Is she a lighter matter?

A. I believe so, yes. She understands me. Most people don’t. How can I not love her?

Q. So you love her because she loves you?

A. Yes.

Q. Do you love just anybody who loves you?

A. Who else loves me? She’s the only one who loves me. She’s the only one who even understands me.

Q. How do you know this?

A. I can tell.

Q. Has she ever told you she loves you?

A. No. But I can still tell.

Q. Then why don’t you let her in?

A. I don’t know. It seems — wrong. She will eventually see the bad stuff in me. And it will burst her bubble. And I will feel bad. And it would be better not to take that risk.

Q. What about God?

A. What about Him?

Q. Maybe only Christ can fill that void – you know?

A. I know. I’m supposed to love Him because He first loved me.

Q. Then what’s keeping you?

Pause.

A. A couple things, actually.

Q. Shoot.

A. First off, what is love?

Q. How can you ask that question?

A. Why shouldn’t I?

Q. Haven’t you already implied that you know what love is, since you know that she loves you?

A. That leads to the second thing.

Q. What’s that?

A. Who is she?

The Questioner is silent.

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Gratitude List 1621

(1) Unusually beautiful morning. Walked slowly to the church humming the song “By My Side” from the musical Godspell. Played it on the piano for the first time in forever, along with a couple worship tunes and some jazz improv. As awful as yesterday was, so is today wonderful. Isn’t that the way it always goes?

(2) Just had a really nice talk with my pastor. Cleared a lot of things up.

(3) I haven’t gotten any work done for three days and have felt like I’m lagging far behind the reasonable goal for what I’m doing. However today I feel like I can probably get a little work done (I’m having to totally revamp the Vocal Score based on what’s been learned at rehearsals) – and I also am feeling that if I don’t happen to get any work done, it’s not the end of the world and I won’t beat myself up over it, as I usually do.

(4) Slept unusually well last night — seven hours solid. When I awoke I was a new man, and what can best be described as a “medical issue” yesterday (involving extreme bodily discomfort affecting my mind) has gone away (for now). Actually feeling pretty good today.

(5) Something has changed in terms of my ability to do once again some things I used to do very well before twelve years of homelessness affected my head. I’m getting back the ability to vocal-direct and to conduct musical rehearsals. I’m also blessed with a great group of people, whose professionalism and devotion definitely help me to stay on track. But mostly I am blessed with the revelation that God loves me. He shows His love for me by permitting me to engage a joy that I had feared was long past.

In light of that revelation, it almost doesn’t even matter if the musical is never produced, or if I never see its production in my lifetime. Each day, working with those Kids — if I can even call them Kids — is a joy unto itself. God’s blessings are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness.

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Somebody Can’t Breathe

My tenth column has been published on Spokane Faith & Values, thanks to Tracy Simmons.

Somebody Can’t Breathe

Has anyone noticed how many impressions the Universe has been sending forth, to the effect that somebody, somewhere cannot breathe? I can think of four for starts:

1. The Covid-19 pandemic strikes the planet Earth, bringing on a deadly disease that attacks the lungs, restricting the breathing of many of the earth’s inhabitants.

2. As Dr. Anthony Fauci and other knowledgeable health officials rise up to emphasize the benefits of wearing masks, a movement of “anti-maskers” rises up in return. We often hear them proclaiming that to wear a mask restricts their breathing, as well as other freedoms associated with being an American. 

Although I do not identify as an anti-masker (and I do, by the way, identify as an American), I have also felt the restriction of breathing that we all certainly notice – however slight or negligible – when wearing a mask.

3. The world watches as a group of callous cops casually sap the life out of George Floyd throughout nearly nine minutes of brutal torture. During this time, Floyd repeatedly shouts: “I can’t breathe!” 

Then, similar stories emerge. Many are the accounts of people of color who have been treated in a similarly heinous fashion. Many of them also uttered the words: “I can’t breathe.”

4. Wildfires have engulfed the Pacific Northwest.  A few days ago when I stepped outside my house, I literally saw smoke emerging from the two big breaths that I took without thinking. After 10 minutes of a phone call with a friend, I went back inside the house, because my breathing had been affected by the sheer force of the fire that rages throughout the present day.

What does all this mean?  I am no prophet, nor do I claim to know the answer.  But one cannot help but have noticed the eerie commonality in all these events. 

Are we allowing each other to breathe? Or are we virtually choking each other to death, in the ongoing Internet shouting match that is promulgated through social media?  Are we giving grace and peace to those with whom we differ? Or are we, as the Scripture says, “biting and devouring” each other, in light of our unwillingness to love?

“The entire law is fulfilled in a single decree: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  But if you keep on biting and devouring one another, watch out, or you will be consumed by one another.”                             Galatians 5:14-15

The time-honored words of St. Paul are no less true today than they were two thousand years ago. But included in that warning is a note of hope. No matter how hard we may have wielded the power of hate in the first century A.D., we did not succeed in destroying ourselves altogether.  Nor need we destroy ourselves now, if we but heed the call. The antidote to hateful behavior is the fulfillment of the law — in Love. 

The words of Jesus have rarely rung more clear: ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me.’ (Matthew 25:45).  If we make it difficult for any of us to breathe — literally or figuratively — then how can the Spirit of Christ breathe freely among us?  Let us cease to restrict the breathing of the Lord and Giver of Life!  

That man hung on a Cross and endured torture for hours on end, in order to spare a fallen humanity the fate that arguably, we all deserve. We need to come to realize, as a people, as a planet, that God is Love. We need to remember what this nation has all but forgotten. We are to love one another, rather than bicker with each other in mean-spirited pettiness — propelled by social media and especially by Facebook. In doing so, it as as though we seek to put Jesus Christ to death for a second time. We need not do so, nor is it humanly possible. He will always live and show Himself in this world, despite our efforts to eradicate Him. He will always be the sovereign source of life. But do we allow Him to live in our hearts?

Jesus gave his last human breath that we might live forever. We need to honor that act of sacrificial love, if His spirit is truly to live and breathe throughout our land.

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Tuesday Tuneup 86

Q. What’s happening now?

A. Paralysis.

Q. Meaning?

A. I can’t move.

Q. Can’t?

A. Well — maybe “won’t” would be a better word.

Q. Can you tell us the difference, please?

A. “Can’t” connotes actual inability. “Won’t” only connotes unwillingness.

Q. Are you saying, therefore, that you actually can move, but only that you won’t move?

A. Actually, now that you mention it, I not only can move, but I probably will move — eventually.

Q. Eventually? What’s keeping you from moving right now?

A. I don’t know which way to move.

Q. Why is that?

A. I could move in a number of different directions. But I don’t know which is best.

Q. How can you find out which is best?

A. Obviously, by examining the nature of each different direction, and deciding which direction is the priority.

Q. Well then! What are the various directions?

A. I could work on the three columns of the five columns in the series that I have not yet turned in.

Q. Columns? Series?

A. You heard me! My editor wants to do a series of my columns, one after another I believe, with some regularity, between now and Election Day.

Q. What happens on Election Day?

A. God only knows. But the point is, I have three more columns to turn in before Election Day. And in fact, I have stated that I would get them done within the next three weeks.

Q. So – is that the top priority?

A. Not necessarily. But it’s the first thing that comes to mind.

Q. What else must you do?

A. I’m getting frightfully near the completion of a die-hard project that I began in June. Only a few short steps remain in order to complete it.

Q. What project is that?

A. It’s called the Ode Project.

Q. Ode? As in “Ode to Joy?”

A. As in “Ode to the Universe.”

Q. What is “Ode to the Universe?”

A. It’s a crazy concept I came up with about ten years ago. I had the idea to write a zany “ode” designed to be sung by anybody at anytime, anywhere around the globe, to the end that maybe we could get the entire human race together at one moment, and sing one song at one time — to the Universe.

Q. Isn’t that a bit ambitious?

A. I can do it! I truly can!

Q. Now is this really a priority on this particular morning, when you have all those columns to write?

A. No no – let me explain. So far I have nine videos of nine people performing the piece in different places and different times, accumulated over the past four months or so. I’m supposed to submit the videos to the videographer, who will then create a nice 3 by 3 set of frames, and —

Q. May I interrupt?

A. You already have.

Q. How long will this take you?

A. Well, I’m nearing the end — I have to do my video over — I think the mix of the nine performances needs to be synchronized a bit better — I can’t quite find the trumpet player’s video – and the trumpeter has not gotten back to me about it —

Q. So you don’t know how long it’s going to take, correct?

A. Correct. It may be nearing completion, but it depends on a number of unknown variables.

Q. So is there anything else you need to do today? I mean, on this very day?

A. Yes.

Q. What, may I ask?

A. I need to add three more piano tracks to this folder, so maybe my cast members will be able to listen to them before we rehearse them at 3:30 this afternoon.

Q. What time is it now?

A. About 10:30 in the morning.

Q. So you have five hours?

A. Correct.

Q. To record three songs on the piano?

A. Well, the sooner I do them, the sooner they’ll have them.

Q. How difficult will that be?

A. Not difficult at all.

Q. So what’s keeping you?

A. Nothing, anymore — now that we’ve thought it through.

Q. We?

A. Don’t you know two heads are better than one?

The Questioner is silent.

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Gratitude List 1620

1. Grateful to have gotten a good night’s sleep and to be “up and at it” on a brand new day. There was a time in my life, not too long ago, when a good night’s sleep was out of the question.

2. Grateful to be working with such a fine team of talented, dedicated young people. Particularly grateful for the new team member, who appears already to be just as great as all the other great people on the team.

3. Even though our small, close-knit artistic community has been somewhat shattered by the Pandemic, I find gratitude in the fact that we still interact positively online, and that occasional real-life gatherings have left me feeling warm inside, with a renewed sense of hope.

4. Grateful for the Black & Decker coffeemaker and for the tasty Columbian coffee I was able to obtain at low cost at the local Winko’s. There was a time in my life, not too long ago, when obtaining a morning cup of coffee was a real struggle.

5. Grateful for the gratitude that the Giver of Life imbues upon my spirit, every time I ask for help in the morning. Grateful that, despite the pandemonium of the present day, life can still be beautiful — one day at a time.

“One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.”
     ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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