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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.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.




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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Members of the Team

At this time, I thought you might like to see some work from a couple of the very talented young people whom I am so fortunate to be working with on my musical project. Here is Keva Shull, currently playing the part of Taura, the ingenue in my new musical, Eden in Babylon.

And here we have Cody Wendt, the man on the right hand side of the piano he shares with his brother Ian on the left.  Cody is playing the part of Benzo, one of the antagonistic characters in the show.  He and his brother do an enchanting rendition of “Scarborough Fair.”

If you’re interested in hearing other piano reductions of the musical score, I’ve placed them on a shareable link on my Box drive. These are primarily for the purpose of helping cast members learn the music, but you might find them enjoyable all the same.

Other news is that we have finally found a male lead for our emerging production. I’m eager to begin working with Cooper Knutson, who has been recommended very highly by a number of people in the area. Further information is on our Facebook group. Hope you all are gaining encouragement from our group effort, at this trying time in human history.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

Awake the Dawn

The team thought it would be a good idea for me to record a bunch of piano-only clips of the songs in the score to my musical EDEN IN BABYLON. This one was done on the famous Green Piano in Rm. 33 (of which I’m certain word must have reached your ears).  The Green Piano is an aging workhorse clunker that’s just perfect for the boom-chuck of musical theatre. And anyway, I read my piece “Awake the Dawn” off of my vocal score, and this is the first time I’ve played the tome from start to finish without missing a beat. A little touch of Edvard Grieg at the end, and we’re in business! Enjoy.

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Gratitude List 1615

(1) Yesterday I finished making all the adjustments in my musical script that were deemed necessary after an intensive three week reading and critique.   Grateful for the current team, without whose insights I’d have never made it.

(2) At the end of the day, I submitted the show to some people who might have the power to produce it.  And then, right after I did, I felt a huge sense of peace.    I felt relieved, realizing that I don’t have to mess with that script anymore.  Now I can focus on the music, and on other things.  

(3) Got my iPhone working that my daughter helped me to obtain.   Nice to have a phone again, and I can see why people like this one better than the Androids.

(4) This may sound weird, but I want to say that I’m grateful to be an Introvert and also the kind of person who doesn’t really feel a need to be in a relationship or very dependent on human touch.   It’s true that I haven’t touched another human being for about six months or so.  But it’s also true that I wasn’t very attached to human touch to being with.   So I didn’t have much to lose.   

(5) About to embark on a long slow run.   Very grateful for this particular form of exercise.  I always feel kinda “cleansed” afterwards.  There’s something about running that’s like a sacrament.   I’m glad to have rediscovered it at this time in my life.  It really makes a difference – it really does.   

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Nevermore

Interesting version of my age-old song “The Age of Nevermore.” Not sure about the church environment. This kind of music seems out of place. I do like the tone on that piano, though. It’s almost a hundred years old.

Weird how I still look fat even though I’ve lost 15 pounds from running. It must be my “piano posture,” but let’s face it — that’s not going to change. I look thin as soon as I stand up again. :(

Anyway, nice funky version of the tune, I was reading it off of my vocal score for a rehearsal tape. I pretty much want to abandon the Finale orchestrations and just put a five-piece band together — if and when, if you know what I mean.

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The Conspiracy Theorist

This is the ninth of my monthly columns to have been published for Spokane Faith and Values. I’m going to rev up my search engine and churn out three more columns prior to Election Day in an effort to do my part, and then probably break for a while to work full time on my new musical, Eden in Babylon.

The Mindset of the Conspiracy Theorist and Matthew 7:5-3

Because of certain aspects of my background, I have been quicker than most to let people experiencing homelessness stay at my house. Sometimes too quick.

Twice I had people over whom one might classify as conspiracy theorists. One of them, a Q-Anon adherent, believed that the FBI & CIA were watching her and her ex-husband. The other guest told me of conversations he’d had with Bill Clinton and Steve Bannon, and also claimed to be suing 17 States in a case of mistaken identity.  His tales were very tall, involving altercations with multiple federal agents, from which he always emerged victorious. Furthermore, he claimed to know the brother and ex-husband of the first person I’d had over, even though I’m fairly certain that she and he, coming from two entirely different parts of the country, had never met. 

I noticed that each of these people had one trait in common. Each of them blamed all of their misfortunes on other people, and neither took much responsibility for their own choices. It then struck me that we have a president today who not only gives lip service to conspiracy theories, but consistently blames anybody but him for what is going wrong in the nation.  

But let’s take a look at the raw facts. Forty million Americans have lost their jobs in the past three months. Violent riots are breaking out in many major cities. An untempered pandemic rages chaotically across the country. And worst of all (in my opinion), our country who once identified herself as “one nation under God” is so radically divided, I hesitate to identify as a “moderate” lest I be accused of being a “coward” for not fully embracing one extreme or the other.

And yet, who is responsible for all these problems, according to Donald Trump? From the sounds of him, one would think that the fault belongs to some bizarre combination of Obama, Joe Biden, both Bill and Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, anyone else who disagrees with him, somebody somewhere in the Ukraine — and of course, the Chinese.  

It’s also impossible not to notice that a good portion of our president’s followers appear to do the same. Many Trump-supporters would rather focus on unverifiable conspiracies than on the pressing issues that all Americans face today. It makes me wonder how many of them might be “blame-shifters” in their personal lives. My two house guests certainly were. One wonders what exactly is the relationship between blame-shifting and the mind-set of the conspiracy theorist.

In the Wikipedia article on conspiracy theory, a statement in the second paragraph intrigues me.

“Research suggests that conspiracist ideation — belief in conspiracy theories — can be psychologically harmful or pathological, and that it is correlated with psychological projection, paranoia and Machiavellianism.” Interesting that the concept of “projection” emerges as a factor in the conspiracist mind-set.

Psychology Today defines projection as “the process of displacing one’s feelings onto a different person, animal, or object. The term is most commonly used to describe defensive projection–attributing one’s own unacceptable urges to another.”

In this definition, I am stricken by the expression “unacceptable urges.” For the current president, even in some bygone day, to have glorified the urge to grab a woman by her vagina is certainly unacceptable. Yet there are Trump-supporters who believe the details of Q-Anon; to wit, that the president is secretly in the process of outing a group of pedophiles — most of whom appear to be Democrats – who are secretly running the world and even sacrificing children in Satanic rituals.

Combine that with the testimonies of numerous women who have claimed that Mr. Trump has sexually abused them, and another wonder unfolds. Could it possibly be that an abusive misogynist would like for his supporters to think he is anything but?

Jesus said: “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to notice the beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while there is still a beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! First take the beam out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)

As with many of Jesus’ sayings, He spoke this to “those to have ears to hear.” When I read these words, I am often convicted of my own tendency to pin the blame onto others. In some cases, of course, others truly are to blame. But I believe the point that my Lord is making is a universal one.  

All human beings have a natural tendency to blame-shift. When this tendency is activated to the extreme, one just might believe that the United States Government is to blame for their problems.  While one might well be right, on a certain level, one would certainly need to take the “beam” out of their own eye, before being able to see clearly to solve the problems of Uncle Sam.

Finally, if a person is actually involved in a conspiracy or “cabal,” wouldn’t it be convenient to divert attention from their own nefarious doings, and alert people to the supposed existence of an entirely different cabal? 

For all the absurdity of Q-Anon, its adherents often overlook one simple fact. Donald Trump colluded with the Russians in order to rise to power. And that is the conspiracy we all need to be looking at, as we approach Election Day on Nov. 3rd.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

Corona and Community

Here’s a brief (four minute) video clip from last Thursday’s meeting of “Theology on Tap” on Zoom.  Kurt Queller, retired Professor of Linguistics, is a Stanford Ph.D currently teaching German at the University of Idaho. The “alleged scientist” in the clip is Bob Ritter, who teaches at the school of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University, seen with his wife Sue.  Others present are Garth and Nancy Sasser, Oz and Genny Garton, and artists Chris and Karen Watts.  Chris Watts is a retired Art professor at WSU; and of course, the uneducated boy with the beanie is Yours Truly.

“Theology on Tap” is a low-key theological discussion group created by Walter Hesford, a retired English professor at U.I., and comprised largely of members of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Moscow, Idaho.   In this excerpt, we discuss the political and philosophical issues around the wearing of masks.  The person referred to by Kurt Queller is the pastor of a local megachurch who encourages his parishioners not to wear them.    

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Tuesday Tuneup 85

Q. What’s happening now?

A. Waking up.

Q. Aren’t you an early riser?

A. Historically, yes. These days, not necessarily.

Q. Why not?

A. I’ve been re-enacting a life philosophy that in the year 2015, I referred to as the Social Experiment. Only now, it would be more aptly dubbed the Personal Experiment.

Q. What was the essence of the Social Experiment?

A. May I quote something I wrote about it in 2015?

Q. Why not?

A. Here ya go:

“In the City intended to form a prototype or microcosm of the New City, there is an abundance of resources available to any unscheduled person at any time.  Note how I don’t specify that the person is “unemployed” or, if a student, “unenrolled” — or any other state reflecting the person’s relationship to Time; other than that the individual is “unscheduled.”  There is no form of scheduling — academic, professional, or otherwise — that is to stay a person from exercising the liberty of showing up wherever they want to, at whatever time they wish to. 

“In other words, no human construction of constraints is to be added to the natural constraints on the liberty already effected by Time and Space.  One cannot, geographically, be in two places at once, for example.  “Nor can one get from one place to a much further place in a short period of time.  These are natural constraints — sheer results of the functions of Time and Space.

However, if in addition to these natural constraints there would also be placed constraints made according to an employee’s schedule, or student’s schedule, etc.; then there would be constraints indeed! One finds oneself ensnared in a form of bondage: bondage to the schedules imposed upon them by employers and teachers, for instance. But these are not natural constraints. They are artificial constraints. Without such, one is is relatively free.”

Q. Is that all your wrote?

A. Ha! It’s the tip of the iceberg. I generated all kinds of material concerning the Social Experiment. I referred to as a microcosm of the conditions that will entail in the New City, in the Age to Peace and Enlightenment that is to come — in the world beyond crime – in the world beyond war . . .

Q. Why has this come to mind at this time, five years later?

A. Because of sheltering in place. The parallels between sheltering in place and the place where is no shelter — AKA, homelessness — are starting to unfold.

Q. How so?

A. What was once the Social Experiment, involving the management of time in a reality where time was relatively irrelevant, has now become the Personal Experiment. As I shelter in place, it would seem I have all kinds of time on my hands all of a sudden. Time that ordinarily would be taken up searching for my wallet, my keys, my glasses, and other items. This is the time I would need to spend gathering up my stuff before exiting out the door.

In addition, I would ordinarily have struggled to get to whatever location I needed to get to, at the right time. Now, there is no such struggle. I may have a Zoom meeting at one o’clock on Friday. But how difficult is it for me to get to the computer from, say, the kitchen? Not difficult at all.

On the other hand, I was finding it extremely difficult to have all my things together, and to get to any external location at the right time — without undergoing extreme stress and uncomfortably high levels of anxiety. Now, all that has vanished. I am free of those artificial constraints. Free to explore the Free Flow of the Mind, bound only by functions of Space and Time, and finding myself feeling free — almost completely unbound.

Q. Is this how you felt when you were homeless, as well?

A. Not always. But it was a shining place of awe and wonder, an oasis in the desert that was homelessness. I and others accessed this beautiful place of freedom, as often as we could.

Q. So sheltering in place is not just a contrast to the place where is no shelter — there are also parallels. Am I correct?

A. Correct. The chief difference, in light of those parallels, is that it is no longer a social experiment, but a personal experiment.

Q. Will that always be the case?

A. What do you mean?

Q. Will it always be only a personal experiment, or will it at some point evolve into another social experiment?

A. I’m not sure.

Q. Why not?

A. I don’t know.

The Questioner is silent.

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Gratitude List 1607

(1) It used to be, people either begrudgingly tolerated me or completely avoided me. That these young people not only do neither — but actually appear to look up to me and admire me — is almost more than my fragile ego can bear.

(2) I’d assumed it was still the heat wave when I first stepped out the door to check my mail at around noon. To my surprise, it was cloudy, cool — and perfect running weather. My sunset run is scheduled to be sweet.

(3) Finished sequencing Sirens of Hope last night – check it out. It’s the opening number to my musical – the Kids will be singing to that track in lots of big harmonies. Lyrics are right here. Thankful for being in the position to move forward with this project, after all these years.

(4) I believe I may have found a good therapist at Community Care. They take both my forms of insurance, and I believe the therapist is versed in issues pertaining to PTSD. We begin on Wednesday.

(5) Meeting with the Professor of Journalism on Zoom in three minutes. Still kinda blown away that people like professors with degrees would even associate with me — but on the other hand, why wouldn’t they? Glad I’m finally going to get some help.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

Sheltering in Place: the Opposite of Living Outdoors

Below the image and link is an almost-verbatim transcript of my most recently published column in Street Spirit. There may or may not be one more column. Then for reasons largely related to the PTSD that I acquired while homeless, I have decided to bow out of this particular gig. Alastair Boone the editor-in-chief has been wonderful to work with, as was Terry Messman, the previous editor who first hired me.

A watercolor image of a house.

Click Here for Original Version

When I first heard the expression “sheltering in place,” an immediate thought came to mind. For a long time, during many years of homelessness, I lived in a place where there is no shelter. Now that sheltering in place is required, I am living a lifestyle that is the direct opposite of my previous manner of life. Once I recognized that polarity, it opened me up to a wealth of useful observations.

For one thing, I noticed that the way I had been living since moving indoors was in many ways not so much different than how I had lived when I was still homeless. Before the pandemic, I still found myself wandering from place to place throughout the day, looking for places to plug in my laptop. I still would spend two or three bucks at coffee shops and fast food joints, as though I had just managed to scrounge up that much money on the streets.

Moreover, even though I had lived indoors for almost four years, I was still feeling halfway uneasy in many of these establishments. In the same way as when I was homeless, I felt as though I wasn’t quite “supposed” to be there. But why? 

As I began to shelter in place, I realized that I had still been using the library, the McDonald’s, and even the hospital in such a way that suggested I had nowhere else to go. In any of these places, I would sit down, plug in my laptop, and hang out for hours on end. After all, I live near a hospital where they have free Starbucks coffee and unlimited refills. Seriously! You can even get a nice home-cooked breakfast for just under three bucks.

Since I did have a place to go—my own apartment—it seemed a bit odd that I wasn’t spending more time there. But after the shelter-in-place order, when I was no longer replicating my homeless life by wandering from spot to spot throughout the day, I found that I appreciated my apartment all the more. 

So I asked myself: “Why should I spend hours walking from one building in town to another? Why should I spend money in cyber cafes, when I have my own dwelling place now, with my own power outlets, and food in the cupboard? My rent money, like that of many, is over half of my monthly check. Why was I wasting the full benefits of my apartment by using it only as a crash pad?” 

It then dawned on me that this, too, had been carried over from my former homeless experience. When I was homeless, did I ever go back to my sleeping spot in the middle of the day and hang out there? Of course not! My sleeping space was tucked away where hopefully no one would find me during the night. It would have been pretty self-defeating to hang out there during the daytime, in broad daylight. 

But now that I had my own indoor place, what was the sense in continuing to avoid my own home during the daytime? There may have been a certain twisted sense in continuing to avoid washing the dishes and taking out the garbage, but other than that, it was sheer laziness that kept me from properly accessing and maintaining my own dwelling place, as well as a waste of rent money. 

As I have begun to spend more time inside my apartment, I have also become better at certain household tasks. I am no longer intimidated by the kitchen. I no longer limit the extent of my cooking potential to Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. I don’t fear the condition of the bathroom, and I broke out a vacuum cleaner for the first time in a good fifteen years. 

The things that make a home nice are also being illuminated. Paintings are hanging on the wall now, whereas before they were only leaning against it. All that is changing for the better— and I’m glad.  For where before there was no shelter, and all my deeds were out in the open, now there is only shelter — outside of daily exercise and the occasional errand — and virtually all my deeds are secluded.

With that revelation, finally, there is gratitude. Gratitude for the food stocked up in the cupboard, and for its being the food of my own choice—not food served or granted by those helping me, but food determined by my own agency and wherewithal. Gratitude that the condiments of hygiene may be found in my medicine cabinet; indeed, that I even have a medicine cabinet in which such things may be kept. The grounds for gratitude, for all the simple things in life I longed for in all those years of homelessness, are greatly increased — and illuminated — through the phenomenon of sheltering in place.

Homeless No More is a column that features the stories of people making the transition from homelessness to housing. Andy Pope is a free-lance writer who lives in the Pacific Northwest, and is the author of Eden in Babylon, a musical about youth homelessness in urban America.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

Tuesday Tuneup 84

Q. What’s happening now?

A. Reorganization.

Q. Of what?

A. Of many things. Most important is the reorganization of my mind.

Q. Most important?

A. I take that back. Most important is the reorganization of the Human Race. But each of us has a part in that, and my part is the reorganization of my mind.

Q. Ah, I see! Well then, can you describe the basic essence of this reorganization?

A. I believe so. You see, certain habitual thought processes have often led to false conclusions. The logic may have been sound, but the axioms or postulates on which I based my reasoning were false to begin with. So I’m in the process of altering the axiomatic system so as not to act upon false premises.

Q. Can you say that in English, please?

A. Very funny. Okay, look — I have noticed three things about myself — three commonly repeated mistakes that result from erroneous thought processes. I would like to share them, if I may, from the least important, to the most.

Q. What is the least important?

A. Don’t get me wrong. It’s pretty important. It’s just not as important as the two that follow.

Q. Once again, what is it?

A. I have finally realized that if I embrace a sexual fantasy about someone with whom I am involved non-sexually, it will affect my dealings with that person in a way that is out of kilter with the correct nature of our relationship.

Q. Uh – do you mean — you’ll start hitting on them?

A. Me? Probably not. But I will become enthralled with them, and shower them with inordinate favor.

Q. Isn’t that just a crush?

A. No, not really. We would have to dive into the origin of the fantasy.

Q. Do you wish to do so?

A. Yes. But it would make the tuneup too long for most readers to bother with. The point is that I realized that fantasizing about her was causing me to lose objectivity in a context where I needed to remain objective. So I ceased to romanticize this individual, and now our interactions are better balanced.

Q. How did you cease?

A. By recognizing what I was doing. When I saw how it had all come about — that is, the origin of the fantasy — I saw clearly a mental pathway whereby my thoughts gradually took me from something entirely different toward the realm of erotic fantasy. And when I saw the exact path, I saw how to steer clear of it. It was easy, in fact, for I found myself viewing that particular mental pathway as disgusting, pathetic, and beneath my dignity.

Q. Are you lonely?

A. Not particularly, no. Not quite sure why you asked.

Q. Okay, so what was the second one?

A. I have realized that if I view someone as a potential investor, backer, or patron (that is to say, of my musical project), then I cease to see them objectively — as the true human being whom they are. This is extremely unfair and unkind to that person.

Q. Anybody in mind?

A. Quite a few people, I’m afraid. But it took me realizing that I actually liked some of these people, and these very likable people are not at all to be viewed as potential patrons, but viewed rather as the unique human beings whom they are – with special needs and values, just like my own.

Q. So you ceased to regard them as potential investors?

A. Yes.

Q. How?

A. Again, once I recognized what I had been doing, I felt that disdain, that disgust, that sense of distastefulness – and I didn’t want to indulge it further. It was an ugly thing. It’s my task, as an Artist, to create Beauty. So when I see that I have created ugliness instead, it is fairly easy to scrap that effort, and start from scratch — in an effort to replace ugliness with Beauty.

Q. Fascinating. Does this mean that you’re not so much operating on a moral level, but on an aesthetic one?

A. Ultimately, I believe they are one and the same. I also believe that Aesthetics will replace Ethics in the Age to Come — but now I wax eschatological. The essence of the realization is that it’s unfair to regard people either as potential romances or as potential investors. If I do so, I am no different than a corrupt C.E.O., who only sees people according to what purpose they might serve.

Q. How long have you been doing this?

A. I don’t know. It’s something I’ve been doing unconsciously. It just recently surfaced.

Q. Intriguing. So what’s the third thing?

A. This is the big one. Are you ready?

Q. Shoot.

A. When I was homeless, I couldn’t understand why nobody was “letting me in.” All the people who lived indoors were seen as lacking compassion. I couldn’t understand how they could have a spare room in their house, and let me be rained on and ripped off and basically dumped on — all because I was “one of them.” I couldn’t understand how they could have money to fly to England and back, but somehow not have $60 to help with a night in a motel room.

Q. And now you understand?

A. More so than earlier, I think. The way I was coming across was desperate, insistent, demanding – and often accusational. I would accuse these people of lacking compassion, and try through logic and reason to convince them that I was right. But now that I’ve lived indoors for four years, I can only imagine how I would react if somebody came at me like this:

“Look dude – why aren’t you letting me crash at your house? I could die out here tonight! Don’t you have any compassion? What’s wrong with you?”

Q. Did you always come across like that?

A. Not always. At first my appeals were quite polite. But after hearing the word “no” enough times, I began to lose my natural courtesy.

Q. So what’s the point?

A. I’m leading up to something. I’ve already stated my new policy toward my home in Tuesday Tuneup 57. We don’t need repeated information on this quest. But my statement is a stepping stone to a much broader statement.

Q. About what?

A. About the people whom I have called friends. Those who have happened to have crossed my paths and vice-versa. People with whom I have felt an affinity. But that affinity waned when I had to repeatedly hear the word “no.” And then, even when I did get back on my feet, and was no longer homeless, these people still disdained my friendship.

I thought they were bad people. And perhaps, some of them were. Bad people do bad things in the privacy of their own homes, and naturally they don’t want to be observed. But by and large, chances are they were pretty good people. Just like the people I know today. But if I were homeless, and I started hitting up the people whom I know today for a crash pad, I don’t doubt that my present day associates would not behave the same way.

So it’s not as though the people I know today, who pretty much see my at my best; are any different than the people who knew me back then, who clearly saw me at my worst. The difference is not in the sort of people who see me. The difference is the person whom they see.

Q. But what about what Marilyn Monroe said?

A. I knew you would ask me that! She said: “If you can’t take me at worst, you don’t deserve me at my best.” I embraced that when I was homeless. And you know what? It’s a lot of malarkey.

Suppose I do succeed. Suppose my musical is produced on Broadway. Suppose I receive the Tony award that arguably I deserve. Then, suppose one of these people who has shunned me then has a change of heart. Suppose they approach me and say:

“Andy, I really couldn’t handle you ten or twelve years ago, but the comeback you’ve made, and the way you are today is nothing but an inspiration to me. God bless you, Andy – you are one of the most amazing success stories on the planet.”

Would it really be proper of me to respond with:

“Where were you when I needed you?”

Of course not! That’s mean-spirited! It would only show that I was still holding a grudge. The right thing to do, the Christian thing to do, would be to look that person straight in the eye, and say:

“You know, it warms my heart to hear you say that! Especially when I thought I would never see you ever again! I completely understand. The way I was coming across was more than a lot of people could handle. All I can say is thank you for showing up on the happiest day on my life.”

Q. How did you manage to reach all these needed conclusions in such a short period of time?

A. I’m not sure. I have a theory, though. It’s got something to do with the pandemic — the way this unprecedented form of trial has affected us all. There’s been a shake-up. A wake-up. And I’m not the only one who’s waking. Far from it.

Q. But how did you manage to forgive all these people who wouldn’t let you in? How did you manage to get over the sense of abandonment and loss?

A. Largely, it came by understanding. Once I understood that the people whom I had begrudged were no worse than the people whom I hold in high regard, it was easy to forgive — for I finally understood. But blessed are they who don’t understand, and yet they forgive.

The Questioner is silent.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

Gratitude List 1600

(1) Increased exercise has been having benefits I’d not expected. For one thing, I’m sleeping more – and sleep is good. For another thing, I’m drinking more water — and water is good. The many “fringe benefits” of aerobic exercise are making themselves known. Not to mention, I’ve also lost 15 pounds; plus, my scaphoid fracture has healed, so I can do my push-ups again.

(2) The musical project is also going surprisingly well. It takes a lot of effort to prepare a full-scale musical for production. There have been many critiques and revisions. What’s happening now is a fine-tune polish. I’m grateful for the dedicated and talented people who make up the present team.

(3) In the past couple weeks, I’ve learned at least three things about myself that may prove very useful. A little surprised I didn’t see these things before. I’d elaborate, but I’ll leave them for tomorrow’s Tuesday Tuneup.

(4) I seem to have a lot more energy than I did earlier.

(5) The pandemic collides with an almost untenable national and global crisis in such a way that we have all been forced to snap out of a gigantic laxity that we probably did not even know we had been engaging. The human race has an uncanny propensity to ignore its difficulties till the very last minute — and just as uncanny a capacity to bond together at the last minute to save the day. We will weather this storm, for we are the Human Race.

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Progress

Ode to the Universe

Considering that this was done in about ten different places at about ten different times by about ten different people over a period of what almost seems like ten months by now, it’s not in too bad a shape. I’ll admit this is the “beta version.” Keep clicking on the link, and it will no doubt get better and better. There will eventually also be a big interactive video presentation. But mainly I just wanted you to hear where we’re at with the Ode. Credits revealed after you click.

Midnight Screams

The Ode is being done, like I said, by numerous people in various locations, using their respective smartphones. The nice thing is that it doesn’t cost me a cent. This version of “Midnight Screams” was done on a budget a while back, when I was able to pay for for professional singers at a studio. Quite a different product! (To be honest, I’m not sure which sound I prefer. The best of both worlds is my goal.) Again, more will be revealed once you click.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

When We Were Homeless

When we were homeless, we did not feel we had the prerogative to process difficult feelings. If something happened that was hurtful to us, and we showed our hurt, it would have been seen as a sign of weakness. And somebody on the streets would have taken advantage of that weakness.

What we did instead was to intellectualize. What we did instead was to analyze. We would get together, four or five of us who had not only fallen on hard times, but had ceased to believe that things would ever get any better. Then, instead of facing our feelings, we made an effort to determine what factors in our society were feeding this unacceptable phenomenon called homelessness.

Since we thought of ourselves as intelligent, decent people, we hoped that these sociological analyses would one day be utilized for the benefit of humanity.

Once I found myself in the Emergency Room, again hoping for a three day stay in a psychiatric facility, for the sole purpose that I was tired of being rained on. The E.T. technicians, believing me to be a sane but manipulative man — that is to say, a scammer – saw through my none-too-subtle ploy. As they dismissed me, I asked for a blanket, that I might have covering whilst I slept in the rain.

I was given a garbage bag, as the medical personnel and security guards on the graveyard shift burst into callous laughter.

Who inhabits a garbage bag?

A piece of garbage.

Miserable Male With A Cold stock illustration ...

Now more than ever, when 40,000,000 Americans have lost their jobs in the past three months, and the streets will be brimming with naive newbies, we really need to do something about this unacceptable phenomenon.

I have even come close to petitioning those who have escaped homelessness to consider returning, at least temporarily, to that realm. You and I might be blessed, but half of those newbies wouldn’t last five days on the more treacherous of the urban city streets. They need our guidance and counsel.

But there is a greater need than that. I hope I don’t have to tell you what it is.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

Tuesday Tuneup 83

Q. What’s happening now?

A. Frustration.

Q. Over what?

A. WordPress.

Q. Why?

A. For one thing, the blog posts no longer manifest in chronological order. As soon as I get to The Very Same World, it deviates from the order and throws me onto all kinds of posts that happened forty years ago. This sure doesn’t help when I’m trying to figure out the number of the last Tuesday Tuneup I wrote.

Q. Isn’t there another path of navigation that will lead you to the Tuneup number?

A. Yes. So I googled Tuesday Tuneup 82, which is the last one I remembered writing, but I wasn’t sure. But whenever I put Tuesday Tuneup 82 onto Google, all these other tuneups were coming up, I guess more popular ones, and I could never get to 82.

Q. What about quotes?

A. Eventually I realized quotes could help, and eventually I put Tuesday Tuneup 82 in quotes, and it came up.

Q. Why didn’t you do that in the first place?

A. Just cuz it’s not my practice. I usually find out by scrolling down, and the scrolling down led to weird other places. I figured it would come out without quotes, so I guess I tried it third.

Q. How about just writing down the number of each Tuneup and putting it in a place where you can find it?

A. Why are you on my case?

Q. Why do you think I’m on your case?

A. I don’t know. You’re just kinda annoying me this morning.

Q. Whatever. So when you pulled up Tuesday Tuneup 82. what happened?

A. You know what happened! I got slammed with this new interface.

Q. Then what did you do?

A. Started googling things like “Go back to Old WordPress editor.”

Q. Then what happened?

A. It said to “go to plugins” and then find the Old Editor and reinstall it.

Q. Why didn’t you do that?

A. Because I couldn’t find “plugins.” Looked all over for it.

Q. And now you’re settling for the New Editor?

A. Begrudgingly. WordPressed my buttons.

Q. Which buttons?

A. Resentment against pseudo-authority.

Q. What do you mean by pseudo-authority?

A. I mean the dynamic whereby one thinks that they are an authority, but by all rights, they are NOT an authority.

Q. Can you clarify?

A. Morally, ethically, and in terms of rights, it is not the perogative of WordPress (or Microsoft or Google or Facebook or whoever else), to decide where I should go. If I wanted to go to Phoenix, nobody has the authority to make to go to Cincinnati. That’s what it feels like. I intend, through my executive agency, to go to the Old Editor, and they KIDNAP ME and take me to some foreign editor whom I don’t even know.

Q. But you did give up and try to use the New Editor?

A. Did I have a choice? I’m at the New Editor begrudgingly. Already TWICE I’ve hit some damned key that I keep hitting, maybe five times a day, that instantly eradicates all my work. If it weren’t for the Drafts, I’d have never gotten this far.

Q. Where is that key?

A. I have no idea. I’ve been asking people about since 1999. Nobody seems to ever take me seriously. I wonder if it’s something that only happens on MY computers. But it’s maddening, whatever it is.

Q. So you are basically saying — what?

A. I resent any situation where somebody feels they have the authority to hijack my agency. They should be a gentleman about it. They shouldn’t just throw things on me, no matter who they are.

Q. But hasn’t WordPress been talking about the interface for weeks now?

A. Sure they have. But I haven’t paid any attention.

Q. Why not?

A. Because I figured I would just use the Old Editor. And now I am just frustrated because under the all the other pressure, I can’t find the Old Editor.

Q. Don’t you feel kind of childish?

A. Yes, I do. I feel like a spoiled child. It is not that important for me to be doing any of this right now. I’m pissed off because I’ve been up since 8, I thought I could just compose a simple tune-up that I always enjoy writing, and start the day off on a nice note, and be in a good mood at rehearsal this afternoon for the Kids

Q. Well — uh – I mean, Andy — isn’t your rehearsal for the Kids more important than the Tuneup?

A. What do you mean? I miss the Tuneup half of the Tuesdays or more! I just wanted to do it this time, and do it quickly, and get on with the day.

Q. Do you mean to tell me you have spent four hours trying to figure out how to get to the Tuneup field?

A. Um – er – not exactly – the plumbers came over, I was talking to them, played a little piano, made a sandwich, and did some other things, but whenever I got back to the computer, all that has happened on any level has been navigational stress and failure.

Q. So you’re in a bad space?

A. Yes. And I want to be in a good space — not for me, or for the the Kids. They’re just — too good. And I have worked with Kids who are flaky – and they put my name in a bad light. But these kids – are not like that. They do show up on time. They don’t make lame excuses for not being there that any idiot can see through. They don’t insult my intelligence in that fashion, nor do they have a problem with my authority – which is in this case, is not Pseudo-Authority, but Real Authority. They’re reliable and talented and enthusiastic, and the least I can do is greet them with a good mood.

Q. Have you ever been in a bad mood whenever you’ve seen these Kids?

A. No – next to my daughter, these Kids are the delight of my life right now.

Q. Well then, you could be in a bad mood till 3:30 and then instantly be in a good mood, as you soon as you see the Kids.

A. True.

Q. Do you want to be in a bad mood till 3:30?

A. No.

Q. Then why don’t you just post the Tuneup and get on with the day?

A. Good idea.

Q. Anything else?

A. No. End of rant. Andy OUT.

(There’s supposed to be some thing here that says to donate to Eden in Babylon but I don’t want to stress on figuring it out right now. It’s a beautiful day and there’s music to play. God bless.)

Gratitude List 1573

(1) I’m in an unusually good mood today, but I have no idea why.   If I find out, I’ll be sure to let you all know.

(2) Running at five in the morning has got to be one of the more pleasant experiences in life.   I took a few days off, then ran three miles yesterday, and three this morning.   Each of those runs felt effortless.  I’m sure I ran faster too.   Looking down at my “tree trunk” legs, I noticed they weren’t quite so trunky.   I’m not only losing weight — I’m actually getting into shape.  

(3) Did my first push-ups since the wrist injury, and did okay.  Did 5 three days ago, and 7 today.   I’ll be back up to 25 in no time.

(4) Check out this cool Scripture: “While physical exercise is of some value, spiritual exercise is of total value.  For its value is not only the present life, but also in the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8).

(5) Whatever else has happened, I gotta say that this new team I am working with is anything but flaky.  These Kids are professional, punctual, enthusiastic, talented, and above all: RELIABLE.  There may be hope for this project yet.

“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
—  Winston Churchill 

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

Evolution of a Song: Part Three

So I mentioned somewhere along the line — either in Part One or Part Two, I suppose – that I had decided to write an opera in the year 2009.

The opera I would call Eden in Babylon.   I only wrote the first Act, as it happened, before I burned out on the idea that Eden in Babylon was supposed to be an opera, and not just a regular old musical.

The first Eden in Babylon was quite different.   It had nothing to do with homelessness.   Instead of entering into homelessness after the first two scenes, the main character entered into a fantasy world of the imagination.   Really, only the title remains, as the show has changed its context so much.

In that realm of imagination lived a woman named Helzabel, who objected to all things beautiful.   She held Artists in particular disdain, since they often created the very beauty to which she objected.   The song she sang, Cloaks of Art, played with the biblical concept called “cloaks of maliciousness.”  (1 Peter 2:16 KJV.)

But now that Eden in Babylon had become a musical about homelessness, that fantastical realm where Helzabel dwelt was replaced by the realm of the streets.   And Helzabel became Molly Mortalis — suspicious not so much of Artists, but of people who had become homeless.   A similar character of a similar sentiment — in a wildly different world.

This called for wildly different lyrics.   And a major tune-up on the tune.   So without too much hemming or hawing. I came up with Midnight Screams.

I wonder how many people who read this will actually listen to Cloaks of Art and tell me how much, or how little, it resembles Midnight Screams?”  As for “Child of No Emotion,” the variant in Part One, I’m afraid you will never hear it.   That libretto, I fear, is gone.

But the music lives on.   These three abide — Book, Music, and Lyrics.  But the greatest of these is Music.

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Evolution of a Song: Part Two

In reference to Part One, I sent the post to my brother Steve.   I hadn’t heard from him for quite some time, and it was wonderful to receive this email in the morning:

Bro –

This is so nice and yes, it happened exactly as you
describe.

I’ve always said there are three phases in my musical
life (which is 99% of my life, or something):

Andy Pope
The Grateful Dead
Everything else.

Equally weighted –

And you can quote me on that.

S.

What a pleasant surprise to wake up and see my brother’s email!   But he did not say anything about the libretto.  This leads to a personal confession.

I have been terrible about devaluing the songs I wrote when I was younger.  At one point I wrote a song called “Apologies to Peter Pan.”  It was the year 1974, and I was 21 years old.   Well, I thought the music was okay, but I didn’t like the lyrics.   So, later on in life, in the year 2004 in fact, I stole my own song.

I stole the music of “Apologies to Peter Pan” in order to place that music in a show I was writing, while changing all the words and, in fact, the entire meaning of the song.  One person was honest enough to object.   He explained that the lyrics were not better than the lyrics of the original song (which I do remember, by the way, in full.)

That person was right.   But what he does not know, and what no one knew till now, is the reason why I would do these things:  low self esteem.  

I simply did not believe, at around 2004 or so, that I was capable of writing a brand new song.  I had been involved in the workaday world, zipping from gig to gig on the San Francisco Bay Area Peninsula –  hustling, teaching, doing my gigs, and not really writing much at all.   I viewed writing as something I did as a Kid.   As an adult, I worked.   I taught.  I played music.   I went to PTA meetings.   I taught Vacation Bible School.  But did I write any music?

No.  Not at all.   Why not?   I no longer believed that I could.  

So instead, I thought: “Well – when I was younger, I wrote all kinds of music.   I always remember the music, but not always the lyrics.  Why don’t I just take all the old music I wrote, rearrange it, and rewrite the words?

So I stole my own music, in this pathetic and cowardly fashion, until one night, there was a psychic change.

It was the year 2010.  I was renting a hotel room at a reduced rate, in exchange for working the front desk.   I had time on my hands, and I still made visits to my mentor, Stan Beckler.

Stan Beckler

I had studied Music Theory and Composition with Stan at the U.O.P. Conservatory of Music in the 70’s.  I reconnected with him later in life, and began to pay him visits, during which my orchestrations were analyzed.   He was a wonderful man and a brilliant composer whom I admired very much.  Then in March of 2010, at the age of 86, Stan died.

That night, I couldn’t sleep.   Stan had always wanted me to write a string quartet.  But I never did.  He had also often suggested I remove the drum parts completely.   He appreciated and drew out the classical composer in me.   He’d have rather I had not gotten so heavy into the show tunes.   But he was never discouraging, always warm and wise.  It was hard to get Stan off my mind that night.  But I decided to try.

I opened the file of the piece I was writing.  It seemed that the song, “Child of No Emotion,” might make a better song with different words, to be called: “Cloaks of Art.”  As I began to arrange the music, I decided to begin with a string section.  And I tried not to think about this man whom I had loved, who had always been with me, and who now was gone.

Editing the arrangement, I would often stop and start the music over again.   My perfectionism was at a staggering peak.  I could not get it right, no matter what.  But I kept hammering away, till just before dawn.  And then — something happened.  Something entirely new, unexpected, unprecedented.

As I tried to keep stopping and starting the music, the STOP command ceased to function.  I wanted to stop the music.   But the music would not stop.

It kept playing, even after I repeatedly pressed the STOP key.   So I could no longer mess with it.  I was forced to listen to it all.   I listened to the strings, and then suddenly I realized:

This is the string quartet that Stan always wanted me to write.  And Stan is here right now.   He won’t let me keep messing with the music — because he wants to hear the whole thing!   His spirit is here, approving of me — telling me my work is complete.  I have finally satisfied my mentor.  I have written the String Quartet!

I fell down on my knees.  I thought about how when the prophet Elijah had died, Elisha was sorrowful.  And he asked God to give him a “double portion of Elijah’s spirit.”

I cried out: “Lord, give me a double portion of Stan Beckler’s spirit!”

And I don’t know how to explain it, but never again did I ever feel that I could not write music that was new and fresh.   As for “Cloaks of Art?”   The string quartet is not very long.   Twenty measures or so, before other instruments enter in, and it swells into a more symphonic sound.   But it satisfied Stan, and it marked the beginning of a new life of new music, new words.   I may not be an “entirely different composer.” But the song I sing in my heart today is an entirely different song.

Cloaks of Art

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Evolution of a Song: Part One

I often proclaim — not without pride — that I wrote most of the music to Eden in Babylon in my head, without a musical instrument, without music paper, and without music notation software.   While this statement is true, it is not true of the entire score.

There are two songs in this show that were actually written a long time ago — in 1971 and 1982 respectively.   They had different titles and different lyrics, but the same music.   Also, half of one song was written in 1984, and 1/4 of another song was also written in that period, around about 1980.   Otherwise, all the songs were written between 2010 and 2016, when I was homeless in the San Francisco Bay Area.

These older songs were obviously written by a much younger man.   So it might be interesting to explore how they evolved and found a place in Eden in Babylon.

One of the songs is “Midnight Screams.”  This song has had three different names.  First it was “Child of No Emotion.” This was the first ballad in a rock opera I wrote in 1971, called Euphoria.  

Ah, how I remember Christmas of 1971.   I came home from U.C. Davis, my brother Steve was there, I sat down at the Wurlitzer spinet on which I learned how to play piano as a little boy, and promptly played the first five songs in Euphoria.

I remember after the fifth song, “Child of No Emotion,” Steve smiled, and in an uncharacteristic departure from his usual inscrutability, I heard the words:  “I love you.”

I don’t recall having reciprocated his expression. I have always loved him, of course, but I was so self-absorbed at the time, I believe the next words I said were:

“How does Euphoria compare to Jesus Christ Superstar?” (This being 1971, the famous rock opera from England was making a big splash in the States.)

“So far,” said my admiring younger brother, “it’s better!”

I’m inwardly laughing, because I happen to think Jesus Christ Superstar is the closest a rock opera has ever come to replicating a true classical opera.   I hold it to be a masterpiece.   But back in the Day, I remember my brother and I, in our youthful arrogance, deciding we were “done” with Jesus Christ Superstar.  He had learned the entire score on his bass, and I had learned it on the piano.  We had played the score so many times together, that one day the two of us ran out in the middle of the street and stomped the two-album set — and we’re talking vinyl — to pieces.

Ah, the fond memories of misspent youth!   

I might contact Steve later on tonight because he’s really good at keeping family mementos, and it’s very likely that the Euphoria libretto is among them.   I can’t remember the last time I saw the text.  Knowing me, I probably lost it in some storage unit somewhere along the line.   Unlike Steve, I’m a minimalist.   (That’s a positive way of framing the fact that I’m very bad at hanging onto things — and very good at being able to hit the road at a moment’s notice.)

While I don’t remember many of the lyrics to “Child of No Emotion,” I do remember that the title figures on the fourth line of each verse, where the words “where the wind is howling” and “desperately prowling” are found in the present-day lyrics of “Midnight Screams.”  

I’ll look for the libretto.   Meanwhile, stay tuned for a sequel.  I forgot all about “Child of No Emotion” until I decided to write an opera in the year 2009.   In 2010, I was fortunate enough to have landed an under-the-table gig in a sleazy hotel on MacArthur Blvd, which is when I dredged up the Child and decided it was now a song with new lyrics, called “Cloaks of Art.”

There’s a story around that one that’s just a wee bit more colorful than a tale of two whippersnappers ripping an old vinyl album to bits.    

TO BE CONTINUED

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Isleton

My pockets full of skeletons are rattling my bones​
roaming endless hallways among carefully hidden doors​
to rooms guarded by men with battle wounds from time at war alone
Where the future fights the past to control what the present is for​

If there’s beauty in things broken, welcome to Paradise​

My pockets full of skeleton keys are rattling to the floor
to rooms concealed by trust revealed by truths written in code​
while truth is a lie exposed beyond these impervious secret doors
Pocket full of keys and still a dream of a road that leads to home​

On an isolated island
Streets paved with dreams forgotten
Holding houses built on backs of
ghosts guilty they cannot die​
small town lights flicker over a river
of lies down to the bottom ​
Masks concealing faces of those
who would rather kill than cry​

If there’s beauty in things broken, welcome, welcome to Paradise

©2020 by Angela Mary Pope

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