Moment of Turning

All nations surrounded me.
In the name of the Lord, I cut them off.
They surrounded me — surrounded me on every side.
In the name of the Lord, I cut them off.
They surrounded me like bees.
They blazed like a fire of thorns.
In the name of the Lord, I cut them off.
I was pushed hard;
I was falling,
But the Lord helped me.
The Lord is my strength and my song —
And He has become my salvation.

Psalm 118:10-14 RSV

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Brotherly Love

As any of my close readers surely know, I’m a person who made a dramatic shift in  location and lifestyle round about July 2016.   So dramatic, that I’ve been having some difficulty relating to old friends and family members.

I don’t know if age is “relative,” but I do know that as I’m about to turn 65, I feel like a fit and vigorous, healthy man. Even though I earlier lamented that I’d gained weight and that my vital signs no longer boasted a 55 heart rate and a 100/65 blood pressure, I found recently when I had a check-up that my pulse is still 60, and my blood pressure 112/80.  Although I suppose it’s inevitable that I eventually contract a serious disease, I’m not any more worried about it than I was twenty or thirty years ago.  The idea that life stops at 65 flies in the face of the fact that after twelve years of homelessness, I feel that my life has just begun.

So when old friends contact me, I often feel a tinge of depression.  Most of them are so depressed and distracted by life.  Of course I have moments of depression, but I don’t live there.  One of my friends never even laughs at my jokes anymore.  It’s not that I mind being around depressed people when I’m not at depressed myself.  I’m not that insensitive.  It’s that it’s hard for me to deal with their expectation that I, too, am “supposed” to be feeling depressed or miserable, at this stage in my life.

At the local Recovery Center where I volunteer, I try to help other men who have had similar issues as my own, whether derived from homelessness or from some other form of sustained trauma.   So I asked my counselors there about this dynamic.

One of the counselors suggested I don’t contact any of these people at all, even the ones whom I’ve always gotten on well with.  She said that to continue buzzing them is only preventing me from fully embracing my new and better life.

Then I asked: “What about my brother?”

“That’s different,” she said. “Contact him about three times a year, unless he contacts you first.”

At that, I figured it was about time to contact him.  So I did.  He hasn’t contacted me back, but that’s just Steve.  In some ways, he’s about as opposite of me as they come.  Whereas I tend to use too many words to convey my point, he tends not to use enough.  Also, his issues are much different than mine – what I know of them.  Basically, he was brought up by my logical-scientific dad, and I was brought up by my emotional Sicilian mother.  Somehow, she favored me, me being the first-born son.  But Dad favored my brother.  As the first-born son, I was supposed to follow in his footsteps.  But the logical-scientific stuff was just — not me.  It was Steve.  So Dad taught my little brother everything he knew — so much so that Steve got 800’s all across the board on his achievement tests: physics, chemistry, and Math Level 2.  He graduated with a 4.0 from the California Institute of Technology.   I haven’t graduated from anywhere.

Not yet, anyway.

The above is my rendition of an old Hollies song I kinda like.  In this day and age, we often feel that our siblings have been a burden to us.  I often think I must have burdened my brother quite a bit when I was still homeless, continually looking for help that he was not disposed to provide.   Similarly, I wonder if he feels he was burdened by me.  It seems to be a dynamic in modern life that one brother will “succeed” financially, and the other won’t.   I wonder if I gypped him out of some of his success, by leaning on him, as I did.

In any case, I thought of him as I played this song.   If only we, as Christians or spiritual people, could freely bear the burdens of our birth brothers and sisters, the way we so readily bear the burdens of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Here’s hoping.

I love you, Steve.

Treasures in Heaven

In my blog, I often discuss how homeless people are stigmatized in our society.  I  have also identified myself as a Christian. But the identity of a Christian is spoiled by stigmatic perception every bit as much as the identity of a homeless person is thus spoiled.   Therefore, I think it’s about time I did my part to diffuse a few of these stereotypes.

I almost fear telling others I’m a Christian, because I am often assaulted immediately with accusations of being a sexist and a homophobe.   But what is more germane to the present-day purpose of this blog is how much classism seems to run rampant in American Christianity.  This is especially evident in what is often called the Prosperity Gospel.

The Prosperity Gospel, in short, is a particularly inviting deception that equates spiritual blessings with material success.  Of course it is entirely conceivable that once a person decides to live according to spiritual wisdom rather than careless foolishness, one might find oneself advancing in material gain.  If one, for example, has been blowing all of one’s money on drugs, hookers, and other forms of escape, one would naturally notice a pleasant increase in one’s financial status once such expenses have ceased.  The Proverbs of Solomon are all about that distinction.  However, we find such wisdom in many sources other than the Bible; and I for one would submit that most of the Proverbs are merely common sense.

Besides, it is also quite plausible that a person can be extremely happy living a minimalistic lifestyle with very few possessions at all.  In fact, in Matthew 19 and Mark 10, we read of a young man who had “great possessions” who walked away from Jesus in sorrow when advised that he should give up all he owned in order to inherit eternal life.  Does such denial of worldly goods equate spiritual blessing with prosperity?  Obviously, the opposite is the case.

treasuresConsider also these very famous Scriptures:  “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:24)  “The love of money is the root of all evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10).  And without bothering to quote every word, passages such as James 5:1-11 and Luke 16:19-31 hurl severe warnings in the direction of the wealthy.  But where in the Bible are such warnings thrown in the direction of the poor?  Nowhere.

To the contrary, Luke 6:20 includes the words: “Blessed are you who are poor.”  Where in the Bible do we find the words, “blessed are you who are rich?”  Again, we find them nowhere.

A proponent of the Prosperity Gospel will almost always cite Jeremiah 29:11 from the New International Version of the Bible, as follows:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord,
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future.”
Jeremiah 29:11

Although it is true that the word “prosper” figures in this translation, a quick scan of several other popular translations will reveal nothing of the kind. In the English Standard Version, for example, the phrase “plans to prosper you” reads “plans for welfare.” The same phrase in the time-honored King James reads “thoughts of peace.” So this single verse, taken completely out of context in a modern American translation, is hardly a valid rationale for a deception as extreme as the so-called Prosperity Gospel.

In the Bible, once again, where exactly are material acquisitions equated with the kind of provision that brings real fulfillment, inner peace, personal happiness, and eternal security?  Nowhere, really.  The only time when material gain is cited as a blessing from God is in a context where the greater blessing would be the evidence of God’s love; for example, the last chapter of the Book of Job.   And love, according to 1 Corinthians 13, abides forever.  Material blessings vanish at the grave.

In conclusion, I would contend that we who are spiritual ought to set our affections on the things that are above and beyond our material disposition (Colossians 3:2), rather than on the passing pleasures and comforts of this world.  The expression, “you can’t take it with you,” ought not to have been coined in vain.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,
where moths and vermin destroy,
and where thieves break in and steal.
But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,
where moths and vermin do not destroy,
and where thieves do not break in and steal.

For where your treasure is,
there your heart will be also.”
Matthew 6:19-21

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For the Director of Music

Lord, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you.
May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.

I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.

You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
my eyes are dim with grief.

I call to you, Lord, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.
Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction?
Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

But I cry to you for help, Lord;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, Lord, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?

From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.

–Psalm 88

What’s in a Name?

I hope you all have a very blessed and meaningful day today; and that whether or not you are a Christian, each of you will take a few moments to reflect upon the person and character of Jesus Christ.

No matter whether one believes that he was the Messiah, or a great prophet or teacher, or an incredible psychologist or magician, or the Son of God, or even God Himself, I think there can be no doubt (as Emmet Fox said) that Jesus Christ has had more impact on humanity than other single figure in the history of the world.

“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name.”
– Philippians 2:9

What’s in a name? A lot more than one might presume. The Greek word for name, onoma, is defined in the New American Standard New Testament Greek Lexicon as being “used for everything which the name covers, everything the thought or feeling of which is aroused in the mind by mentioning, hearing, remembering, the name, i.e., for one’s rank, authority, interest, pleasure, command, excellence, deeds, etc.”

whats in a nameApply all that to the name of Jesus Christ, as opposed to say, the name of Roy Moore (to cite a random example) and I’m sure it won’t take much more than a few minutes’ contemplation to discern that there’s a lot more to the Name of Jesus than meets the immediate eye.

Think about it! This is my gift to you, and your having pondered all this would be more than sufficient gift to me, on this blessed day.

Finally, I gave myself a number of gifts last night; and why don’t we all give ourselves some gifts today. Let’s gift ourselves with the things that will truly be live-giving in our spirits and cause us to reflect more life, love, joy, peace, and happiness to all those around us, and moreover, to our own selves.

And most of all, to the Name of God. 

God bless us, every one.

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By Nature

Note: I tried several times to post this on my facebook timeline (where it belongs) but they wouldn’t let me do so — for some reason.   So here goes.

BY NATURE (an excerpt from my personal diary)

It seems I often awaken in a depressed state these days.  But the depressed state usually is based on extreme black-and-white perceptions about what others think of me.  These perceptions soften within the first ten minutes of the day, as I gradually realize that everything can or should be viewed in black-and-white terms.  While it is true that I often feel extremely misunderstood, it is not the case that everybody misunderstands me.  I can think of four people who understand me right off the top: Norman, Kathy, Danielle, and Jack.  And I’m sure there are others — or at least there can be, if I branch out and start meeting the right people.  

Yesterday morning was a case in point.  black and whiteI awoke depressed as usual, but was able to transform the depression into a sense of quietude. In that quietude, I prayed for all the people who had been troubling me. Then I sipped my coffee, and it was the best coffee I had ever tasted. I felt blessed, for having done the right thing. I even felt I could go back to bed, and I had the time to do so, to catch more sleep before Writer’s Guild.

Instead, I logged on to Facebook. It wasn’t long before the sense of over-stimulation, combined with loss of control, me becoming rattled, my nerves being strip-mined, my balance off-set by all the notifications, buzzes, comments, etc. was too much for me. Trying to order my responses seeming next-to-impossible, while imposing chat windows pop up in the way of my efforts to moderate the new Lincoln Summer Theatre group, and all kinds of other stressors, gradually put me into battle mode, feeling as though I was a soldier in battle needing to fire at the nearest, most dangerous approaching tank.

My sense of peace shot up to high anxiety within an hour or so, as my sense of inability to control the Power Greater Than Myself that is Facebook expanded beyond all reasonable proportion. I enjoy being connected with wonderful people from the “past” (?) in the “present” (?), but isn’t this all a but unnatural? If there were a meeting in quote-un-quote “real life,” where there were twenty people in the group, and I didn’t like one of them, I would either stay in the group, or drop out of the group. I wouldn’t have the unnatural social power to simply “block” the person I didn’t like, not see him or hear any of his statements, and yet still interact with the other nineteen. This is unnatural.

It is unnatural, and is what is unnatural healthy for us? I begin to doubt it.

What is natural is that life runs its course from birth to death; we move from job to job, town to town, and in some cases, from marriage to marriage. I’m a Sicilian who has a hard time letting go of people, places and things. By nature, I am never done with anyone. By genetic nature, I either stay friends with them, or if they dump me, I am still not done with them, because I will track them down to the ends of the earth. By nature, I reward loyalty and punish betrayal. That’s my nature, and I struggle to overcome the extremism thereof by exercising restraint and observing traditional standards of morality and etiquette. For another person, this may not be so much of a struggle, because it is not their nature, and their nature may provide them with other struggles – as well as other strengths – naturally.

So is it healthy that I, who already is struggling against my nature telling me not to move on, not to let go of people, places, and things that haven’t worked out for me, to be enveloped in an atmosphere that continues to flash the very people in my face that I am already struggling to let go of? Twice now — and I am not faulting anyone for doing this out of utter innocence and good nature — I have had to see the face of a person whom I thought was a very good friend of mine, flashed in my face (so to speak) on Facebook Messenger, knowing that this person had told me never to talk to him again and that any further contact from me would be considered harassment.

This is not natural. It doesn’t happen in what we used to call “real life.” I would have never reconnected with that individual (on Facebook) to begin with. He would have been somebody I’d have stopped seeing whenever we first parted ways — by nature — back in the seventies or so.

I have enough trouble “moving on” and “letting go” as it is. Does anybody feel me?

Here’s what happened to me personally after I had been rattled yesterday morning by making the dumb decision to log on to Facebook at a moment of idle down time. I became progressively more uptight, and finally drained. I had only slept three hours anyway, and I figured I had about an hour to kill before Writer’s Guild, so I went down for more rest. But did I rest? No way.

Me personally, I was almost instantly assaulted by what seemed like a demon spirit from hell, grabbing ahold of my neck and my back, thrusting his/her arm around my waist, and taunting me with the words: “Okay, Mr. Wonderful – how does *that* grab you?”

Now I’m glad I no longer live in the State of California or a densely populated urban area, where even making that admission might cause somebody to dial 9-1-1 and I find all my artistic progress further delayed by yet another pointless stay in a psychiatric facility. Just for speaking my truth.

The point is, had I not logged onto Facebook, had I followed my gut and gone back to bed while in a rested state, I would not have become so uptight that I would have risked entering into an hour’s worth of hell in sleep paralysis, fully conscious of my surroundings, knowing that I was dreaming and having a specific sort of nightmare, and unable to move my body for an entire hour, except for rare intervals when I came to, through the use of a couple techniques I learned through research, and then descending into sleep paralysis again. It is not fun.

Nor is it caused by Facebook. But if that’s the kind of height of anxiety that Facebook can trigger (not *cause*) in me, (not *you*), then what the heck am I doing here? This is the 5th Facebook I’ve had in ten years. Every other one of them imploded. Who am I trying to fool? Will I be any better able to handle this Facebook than any of the others?

rotary telephoneOf course not.

So here’s what I am going to do. I am going to go down and get a rotary telephone, like we had back in the Good Old Days, when the phone would ring, and we all would simply answer it. We weren’t afraid of each other in those days. We didn’t have the unnatural power to block out any and every person we didn’t happen to want to deal with from our lives. We didn’t burn bridges left and right. We built them — in ways that are natural. I’m going to plug it in my wall, and I am going to make sure there is no Call Waiting in any form attached, no touch tone, nothing.

Even when two of my Facebook friends were cool enough to actually indulge my natural neurosis and agree to talk with me on the phone, the very next day I had to contend with the phenomenon of Call Waiting, whereby I couldn’t even get through a conversation with before the little “bloop bloop” that tells me somebody else is calling kept continually interrupting my focus, as though this new person calling in was the “most immediate and threatening danger on the battlefield.”

I’m not saying that you guys necessarily encounter these same difficulties. But there’s a reason why I do, and just has to do with the way I’m wired. Call it ADHD or what-have-you. Every single time a Facbeook Messenger box pops up while I’m trying to do something else, my attention is *immediately* diverted to the Messenger, I ex it off, and then I return to whatever I was doing before, asking myself, “Now, where was I?” Sometimes I even forget completely what I was doing before. Sometimes I even forget that what I was doing was the only reason I had logged on to Facebook in the first place, like, for example, to find somebody’s phone number that they had given me in a Facebook comment, or to ask the previous tenant of my new apartment how to turn on the heater.

THIS IS NOT NATURAL. And correct me if I’m wrong. Am I the only person who is tired of having to tolerate all these unnatural social media weirdnesses? Probably not. And that’s part of the reason why this time I will not destroy my Facebook, I will not give up yet again, only to find that I miss everybody, wonder how they’re all doing, and start a Facebook again. I will take my lumps, I will take my chances, and I will bow before the monarch that is Facebook, while at the same time doing my best to give homage to my own King, whose name, by the way, is Jesus.

So – not upset, not defeated, not exasperated, not infuriated. Just a little miffed, and figured it was about time I spoke my piece, as cogently and clearly as I can.

But do me a favor. Let’s not make this entirely about my “mental health,” OK? I decided my mental health was either shot to smithereens and irredeemable, or else completely irrelevant when I first made the decision on August 8, 2006 to drop out completely from the Mainstream of Modern American Life and try to become the best Writer I could be. After all, every effort to become the best Musician or Teacher I could be was pretty much consumed in a confluence of losing one job after another due to things like absent-mindedness, tardiness, or general inability to keep up with the insanely fast pace of workaday urban life.  I’ve got a fast enough pace going on inside me as it is, without anybody else having to add to that velocity.

I’m a Writer. I wrote an entire musical about social dropouts, why we drop out, and what we can all do about it. To hell with my mental health! Click on the link below, and LET’S GET THIS SHOW ON THE ROAD.

Daylight’s burning. I’m not going to be around forever.

Please consider making an any amount donation to Eden in Babylon at this time.  The stuff that gets people interested in original musicals by unknown playwrights unfortunately does not grow on trees.   


Anything Helps
God Bless

Please note.  As of October 30, 2017, all donations to this cause will be sent to my assistant, Danielle Stephens.  Further information as to this arrangement may be found here.   Donations in any amount may be made safely here.