Lead Me on Level Ground

Hear my prayer, O LORD;
give ear to my pleas for mercy!
In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness!
Enter not into judgment with your servant,
for no one living is righteous before you.

For the enemy has pursued my soul;
he has crushed my life to the ground;
he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead.
Therefore my spirit faints within me;
my heart within me is appalled.

I remember the days of old;
I meditate on all that you have done;
I ponder the work of your hands.
I stretch out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.

Answer me quickly, O LORD!
My spirit fails!
Hide not your face from me,
lest I be like those who go down to the pit.
Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.

Deliver me from my enemies, O LORD!
I have fled to you for refuge.
Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God!
Let your good Spirit lead me
on level ground!

For your name’s sake, O LORD, preserve my life!
In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble!
And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies,
and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul,
for I am your servant.

— Psalm 143

Did Jesus Ever Doubt?

Somebody messaged me the other day saying they had a “religious conundrum” they wanted to run past me. I told them I wasn’t sure I could be of much help, but that I would be happy to entertain their conundrum. It was then that they asked me: “Did Jesus ever doubt?”

Yes,” I answered. “He doubted because He was human.”

Then I cited two instances where I believe Jesus expressed doubt. One was the famous event at Gethsemane, when He prayed that, if it were possible, the cup might pass from Him. He also prayed: Not as I will, but as You will.” (Matthew 26:39) So the way that Jesus distinguishes Himself from the Father may seem to contradict one of the more notorious of His statements: I and the Father are One.” (John 10:30).

However, as I told my friend, Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. He was human, born of his mother, and divine, born of God the Father. So the human part of Him doubted — thus He spoke: “Not as I will.” I, in this context, refers to the agency of his humanity. “You” – in this context — refers to divine agency.

But what did He doubt? I don’t believe He doubted God’s sovereignty. He knew He was about to be subjected to brutal torture, whipped and beaten and nailed to a Cross for hours on end, culminating in the death of his human body. Naturally, this made him afraid. So, in my opinion, what He doubted was His own ability, as a human being in the flesh, to handle it.

Then a second instance came to mind. As he neared death, after hours on the Cross, He cried out: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34)

As I see this, He was so near to death by this time, that He envisioned the separation of His Spirit from his body, and his highly weakened human self was despairing. But then (after a period of time), He said something else: “Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit!” (Luke 23:46)

The way I read this, He had a moment of doubt, feeling that God had forsaken him, but as he overcame that doubt, He gained in faith.

Consider also where the words of his question originated. Psalm 22, a psalm of David, begins “My God, My God, why have you forsake me?” It goes on to describe a situation not unlike Jesus’ agony on the Cross — even though the Psalm is attributed to King David, who lived many centuries before Christ.

““I am poured out like water, and all my bones are disjointed. My heart is like wax; it melts away within me.” (Psalm 22:14)

This could easily describe a state of agony that our Lord was experiencing at the time.

For dogs surround me; a band of evil men encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet. I can count all my bones; they stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.”  (Psalm 22:16-18)

These verses enter a level beyond speculation. The Lord’s hands and feet actually were pierced, as He hung crucified. The centurions actually did divide his garments, and cast lots for his clothing. These words, written long before the Crucifixion, depict a very similar, very challenging event.

But as the Psalm proceeds, David begins to call upon the Lord, despite his initial despair:

But You, O LORD, be not far off; O my Strength, come quickly to help me. Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of wild dogs.”  (Psalm 22:19-20)

As the Psalm progresses further, David changes his mind about his God having forsaken him:

For He has not despised or the torment of the afflicted. He has not hidden His face from him, but has attended to his cry for help.”  (Psalm 22:24)

Then the rest of the Psalm is full of expressions of praise and thanks to God.

Could it be that after Jesus expressed his moment of doubt on the Cross, He then silently recited the words of Psalm 22 within himself? Could He possibly have gone through the same progression — from doubt to faith to prayer, and finally to praise?

I don’t doubt it. This is a progression that we believers are called to enact. Our first reactions are always in the natural; that is, in the flesh. In order to do the right thing, we need to effect a progression from natural to spiritual; that is, unless the right things have become ingrained in our beings.

As Jesus returned to a position of faith, as the Psalmist had done long before Him, He then took the leap of faith: “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit!”

Jesus was humanly compelled to sin as we all are, yet He remained free of the sins He was tempted to commit. (Hebrews 4:15). Had He yielded to sin, had He acted on His doubts, He would not have been able to die on the Cross for all the sins of humanity.

So my answer is “Yes.” Jesus doubted because He was human. But He did not yield to His doubts — because He was divine.

© 2021 by Andy Pope

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A Personal Note

This may turn out to be a slightly more personal post than I’m inclined to produce. Not that I’m experiencing a quandary in my personal life — in fact, I’m not even sure I have a personal life — but that I’m experiencing a quandary in my spiritual life.  It’s a quandary that I’m inclined to share.

A strange conflict is taking place between desire be positive and optimistic in life, and my moral obligation to assume responsibility for my choices.

It may seem at first that the two are unrelated.  How would a sense of obligation to assume responsibility for my choice conflict with a desire to remain positive?   Aren’t the most happy people the ones who do assume responsibility for their personal choices, rather than blame their misfortunes on others?

Happiest People Meme (2)

Apparently, this is the case.  So let me explain what I mean.

I am a very introspective person who is continually examining his behavior.  I often find great fault in my choices.  Then I feel guilty for having made the wrong choice.   The more wrong choices I make, the more guilty I feel.   When I feel sufficiently guilty, I find myself despairing.  I believe that my personality is impossible — that it will never become any better than it is today, and like-as-not worsen with age.

Today I happen to  be in a very good mood.   I slept a good six hours and had a nice two and a half mile run in the morning.  A good night’s sleep followed by a good run tends to lift my spirits.   So, while I’m feeling good, I’d like to examine this dynamic.

First off, it is possible that some of the choices over which I feel guilty are not actually wrong.   For example, I felt guilty for not being there for my daughter last night when she wanted critique on some of her work.  But was it actually wrong that I was unavailable?   Not really.  I was simply unavailable.  Not everything that one feels guilty about is an indicator that one has done something wrong.

Secondly, it’s possible that I am forgetting that Jesus died for all of my bad choices, and that I am cleansed from my former sins.   I almost hesitate to include this part.   We’ve probably all met believers who rationalize all kinds of immoral behavior on the basis of having been “forgiven.”  For these people, the words of St. Paul in Romans Six are lost:

Shall we then sin that grace my abound?  God forbid!   — Romans 6:1

But I don’t think I fit that modus operandi.  I’m a lot more uptight about my personal peccadilloes than many believers.  Often, people tell me I’m “too hard on myself.”  While that may be true, I don’t think it ought to be a justification for moral laxity.

For example, I sometimes don’t exercise due restraint in social situations, or over email.   I feel as though I am spewing my overactive mind upon innocent recipients of email replies.  Then, I have to apologize for the behavior, which leads to an unwanted discussion with said recipients.  I feel as though I am often having to “put out fires” that I myself have started.

So now you see how my desire to be fully accountable for my actions can make a dent in my positive spirit.  What is tempting – and what I try not to do — is to base my positive feelings on a comparison between myself and others.   Suppose I say: “Well, at least I’m better than John Doe.   At least I don’t try to pull that kind of stuff.”  If I do so, how is this any different than refusing to look at my own actions?

Not much, I fear.   Or am I only being hard on myself?

Maybe you know.   Until recently, when someone said — yet again – that I am “too hard on myself,” I honestly had no idea what they were talking about.  In my world, if anything, I’m too lax.

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The Knowledge of God

If you accept My words
and hide My commandments within you,
if you incline your ear to wisdom
and direct your heart to understanding,
if you truly call out to insight
and lift your voice to understanding,
if you seek it like silver
and search it out like hidden treasure,
then you will discern the fear of the LORD
and discover the knowledge of God.
     Proverbs 2:1b-5

Classism, Stigma and Long Distance Running

This is going to sound horribly crass, but I keep thinking that only rich people are supposed to be about long distance running.   I keep thinking that we poor people are supposed to be wasting all our money on drugs, cigarettes and alcohol in order to cope with all the miseries of poverty.

But as I analyze that sentiment, I begin to wonder about it.  Let’s cite three specific wonderments, for the record.

(1) Why on earth would I be relating something so simple as health and fitness to financial status?   

Well, I think it’s safe to say that criminalization of the poor is a real phenomenon.  Impoverished people in our society are not only criminalized by those who are well-off.  We are criminalized by some of the very poor people we find in our midst.

Often, when I mention to someone in my financial bracket that I am going on a “run,” the word “run” is interpreted differently than I intended.

“A food run?” one might ask, supposing I’m about to go to the Food Bank or grocery store.

“A drug binge?” one might ask, since a “run” is colloquial for a bender.

When I tell them what form of running I mean, I have sometimes heard this reply: “You’re not going to see me running anywhere, unless I’m running from the law.”

Why is it that when a poor person is seen running, it is associated with running from the law?

For one thing, I don’t exactly have fine Nike shoes and Gore-Tex running suits.  I run in my normal duds, wearing old beat up shoes with holes in the soles.  I’m lucky if I even own a single pair of shorts for that matter.  The ones I run in now have tears in the sides.  But hey – how much of a priority is it to get good running clothes when one goes broke midway through every month?   At the risk of further crassness, let’s get real.

If a person is a bit better off, they can afford expensive running gear, and expensive race registrations, for that matter.  Not so with the poor folks.   So we have the association of visible poverty with criminality.  This cannot be overlooked — but let’s move on to the second question.

(2) Who dictates what one is “supposed” to be doing in the first place?   

While this is a very important question, I don’t think it warrants much extra analysis.  Once a person is a grown adult, no longer under parental guidance, no one dictates what that person is “supposed” to be doing.

No one but God, that is — and even in the case of God’s “dictates,” there is plenty of grace and room for personal preference.   The idea that poor people are “supposed” to be spending all their money on cigarettes and alcohol is only a social stigma.   That many poor people do smoke is quite true, and quite sad.  Cigarettes cost a lot of money, and poor people do not have that money.  But cigarettes are also very highly addictive, and that addiction is hard to break — for rich and poor alike.

(3) Is poverty really all that “miserable?” 

Personally, I don’t associate poverty with misery.  I associate poverty with inconvenience.   But inconvenience and misery are two different things.

Say I have a number of errands to do, as I did yesterday.   Say my bicycle is in the shop, as it was yesterday.  The errands take a great deal of time.   At one point, a drug store that I was depending on turned out to have gone out of business.  I then balked at making it all the way over to the next nearest drug store, which was miles away.   All of this stuff is inconvenient.

But was I miserable once I had finished my errands?   Not at all!  To the contrary, I felt great satisfaction in getting them all accomplished, even though the process was time-consuming.   In fact, if I had a car, I would be paying for upkeep and maintenance, if not car payments.   The bicycle consumes more time than a car, but it’s a wonderful way of getting around — given good weather conditions — and one gets one’s daily exercise in the process.   It also points to the beauty of the “middle place” – that beautiful place where one finds a healthy balance between extremes.

The Bible makes it clear that many blessings are afforded to poor people.   And no one relates God’s blessings to misery.  In fact, the words “happy” and “blessed” are interchangeable in Old Testament languages.   The words “Blessed are the poor” appear verbatim in the Gospel According to Luke, and slightly qualified in the Gospel According to Matthew.   The words “blessed are the rich,” on the other hand, are nowhere to be found.

Now the Word does say: “The rich and the poor have this in common: The LORD is Maker of them all.” (Ecclesiastes 22:2.)  This is one of many fine Scriptures, along with Colossians 3:11 and Galatians 3:28, that point to egalitarianism.  (Even the Scriptures suggesting that women are to be submissive to their husbands are usually followed by Scriptures suggesting that husbands ought to be submissive to their wives — but for some reason we don’t like to look at those parts.)

Outside of Scriptural documentation, common sense suggests that we are all equal in the eyes of God, and that we should be equal in the eyes of each other.  In my opinion, the only people who need to be robbed of certain rights to liberty are hardened criminals who should remain behind bars, as they would otherwise remain threats to society.   But whether one is rich or poor — or anywhere in between — does not alter their essential humanity.  We have a lot more in common with people in other social classes than we think.   We are all human.

The Bible does however go a bit harder on the wealthy.   There are scores of warnings delivered in the Word to those of high stature.   James 5:1 and Mark 10:5 come to mind immediately — but there are many others as well.  On the other hand, very few warnings are delivered to the poor.  In fact, the Prayer of Agur is just about as close as they come:

Two things I ask of You—
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and deceitful words far from me.
Give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the bread that is my portion.
Otherwise, I may have too much
and deny You, saying, ‘Who is the LORD?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
profaning the name of my God.
—  Proverbs 30:7-9

This also points to the beauty of the middle class: the middle class that is gradually disappearing from our social structure.   We have recently seen billionaires in the Cabinet.   Decent people — I repeat, decent people — are strewn about the streets of Seattle and San Francisco, drowning in a culture that no human being should be forced to endure.

But in the middle place there is balance.  One will neither think of God as unnecessary, nor curse God for apparent failure to provide.

If this new job works out — which so far, I am sad to say, it does not appear to be — I may be able to reach that middle place.   If not, the words of St. Paul still ring true:

“For we brought nothing into the world, neither are we able to carry out anything. But having sustenance and coverings, with these we will be content.”  — 1 Timothy 6:8

There is a certain measure of comfort in that directive.   That comfort may be felt by anyone who is human, and who believes.   But to equate a quest for greater health and fitness with having the money to afford high quality health food and fancy running gear is to miss the mark.

Digest the Word.  Soak it in.  Find in the Word the Beauty and Truth thereof.   “It will bring healing to your body, and refreshment to your bones.”  — Proverbs 3:8

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Tuesday Tuneup 111

Q. Where would you like to be?

A. In a place of greater satisfaction.

Q. Do you feel unsatisfied?

A. This morning I do, yes.

Q. Why?

A. I’m not sure.   It may just be a Tuesday morning mood.

Q. Without basis?

A. Not entirely.   I’m dissatisfied with certain aspects of the way things are going, invariably related to behavioral patterns of mine that need to change.

Q. Like what?

A. I seem to often make blanket decisions when I am dissatisfied.   And later, I am dissatisfied with those decisions.

Q. Like what?

A. A while back I decided to stop posting piano pieces on Fridays, at least for a while.   In my heart, I felt a huge desire not to post any further piano pieces at all, to be honest.   This is a “blanket” decision.  It’s black and white.   It goes against the gray areas that comprise reality.

Q. What else?

A. I recently decided to stop writing about homelessness.

Q. Why?

A. Because I was dissatisfied with it.

Q. Why?

A. It’s not objective.  It’s emotional.  It derives from subjective personal experience.   It relates more to my own personality than it does to any concrete statement about society.

Q. Are you sure about that?

A. Yes.

Q. But can’t you do anything to change this for the better?

A. I probably could.  I recall reading yesterday the last words of Romans 12:

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Q. How do these words apply to you?

A. I get overcome by “evil.”  I post piano youtubes and look at them in disgust.  For one thing, I never seem to be able to lose enough weight to look thin or healthy enough to satisfy me.  For another thing, I never seem to get it together to obtain new clothes or an interesting wardrobe.

Q. Why is this?

A. I think my priorities are screwed up.

Q. So you are dissatisfied with your priorities?

A. Yes.   They need to change.

Q. Let me see here.  If you don’t prioritize writing about homelessness, and you don’t prioritize playing the piano, what will you prioritize?

A. The answer is at the end of Matthew Six.   Surely you know this!

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God — and His righteousness — and the rest will be added unto thee.”

Q. Have you not been seeking first the kingdom of God?

A. Not always, and not lately.

Q. What have you been seeking first instead?

A. Isn’t it obvious?

Q. I don’t know – is it?

A. Obviously, my first order of business is to seek the production of my musical.   This is the real reason why I am tired of writing about homelessness, and tired of playing piano solos on my youtube channel.   They take so much energy, they take away from the energy I feel I need to put into my musical, in order to get it produced.

Q. But if you were to seek first the kingdom of God, what does that mean exactly?   What would it entail?

A. It means putting God first.   Serving others — not self.   Finding out what He wants me to do — and doing it.  Not just doing what *I* want to do, at the expense of helping others.

Q. But won’t your musical help others?

A. Not if it’s my first priority, it won’t.   I’ll become so obsessed with the musical, it will override all other concerns.   Not just the piano.   Not just the journalism.   But everything!   I will cease to eat.  I will disdain sleep.   My house will deteriorate into a filthy mess.  I won’t lay hands on a vaccum cleaner, for fear of taking precious time away from working on my musical.

Q. And then what?

A. Then something will go wrong.  Terribly wrong.   And I will be tempted to drown my sorrows.

Q. As in drink?

A. I do not drink.  There are other ways for one to drown one’s sorrows.   Unfortunately, these ways are illegal in the State of Idaho, though I notice they are legal in adjacent States.

Q. When was the last time you drowned your sorrows?

A. It was right after the close of the Pandemic Workshop.   I had thought we were ascending to higher heights.  I had thought everything was expanding.  And then — suddenly — everything collapsed.

Q. Are you to blame for this?

A. Not entirely.  But I do know that I failed to seek first the kingdom.   I was seeking first the expanding production of the musical.   And then, seemingly at that moment, it ceased to expand — but rather contracted.

Q. Have you learned from this?

A. Yes!  I am doing everything I can to make sure it doesn’t happen this summer.

Q. But you still feel that your priorities are screwed up?

A. Dude!   When was the last time I washed the dishes??

Q. What can you do about all this?

A. Just what the Bible says.  It must become more important for me to be of service to the people around me, than it is for me to produce my musical.

Q. How can you better be of service to the people around you?

A. What I have to give to them, to offer them, needs to become more important than what I think they should be offering me.

Q. Does this apply to any group of people in particular?

A. It applies to all people — of course.

Q. But aren’t you thinking about a specific group of people right now?

A. Of course I am.

Q. Then isn’t that a part of the problem?   Why should that single group of people be more important than any other group of people?

A. They shouldn’t be — it’s just that — they’re the people I am called to serve . . .

Q. Called to serve?

A. That’s an interesting expression.   Not sure why it came out of me.

Q. Are you beginning to rethink the situation?

A.  Somewhat, yes.

Q. How so?

A. It cannot be denied that the Lord does put certain people into our lives for certain reasons.   Undeniably, we are called to serve those people.   That’s what love is.

Q. Do you feel that you are unloving?

A. By nature, yes.  But I’m not so bad off that the situation cannot be remedied.

Q. So you have found the problem?

A. Yes.  I have found the problem, and the problem is me.

Q. Anything else I can do for you?

A. See me next week.   Let’s pursue this theme further.

The Questioner is silent.  

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Re: Everything Must Change

I briefly posted my version of “Everything Must Change” yesterday, prior to promptly removing it from the public eye upon recognition of bloopers too big to bear widespread disclosure.  

Specifically, I kept forgetting during my improv around the standard changes to enter into the repeated modulating passage that precedes the signature hook.  Anyone who knew the correct changes could easily raise their voice in justifiable objection.   So I had to remove the rendition before any further foreseen damage could be effected.

I’m headed up to the church at this moment, confident in my capacity to create a conducive restoration of the formerly misshapen theme.  So convinced am I in my competence to thereof, that I even have dared to announce it beforehand, though one knows not what the future brings.

The piece had been on my mind for two reasons.  One is that it seems fitting in this time of temporal transition, with Good Friday representing the power of Christ’s sacrificial love, wherein there is a death to the flesh in its formerly all-inclusive nature, to be followed by a promised rebirth of a far more transcendent form of life.   “Everything Must Change” can be said to embody this theme, in its core essence.

A second reason is that its chord progression resembles that of another piece that had crossed my mind recently; and that, in fact, I had already performed on a video recording.  “All in Love is Fair” is a song by Stevie Wonder that was popularized in roughly the same era as “Everything Must Change.”  Their chord progressions are similar though not identical.  My mind, while improvising around the progression to “Everything Must Change,” kept forgetting which tune it was that I was supposed to be embellishing.  Many odd short-circuitries of mortal mental prowess transpired.  The upshot was a failure to honor the essence of either piece.   A reconstruction of said construction is therefore in order.

That’s about it!  I’d hesitated to offer what might be interpreted as a mere disclaimer — but then I had a hunch that the explanatory information might be useful to someone, on some level.  I’ll be back within a few hours.    

From the Outside Looking In

This, the final column in a five-week series, was first published on Spokane Faith and Values on Wednesday the 17th of this month.   Reprinting it here (with significant edits).   I hope you like my work.     

In keeping with the imbalance of all of these inequities, this is perhaps the most profound.

It was often assumed that people who lived inside had a lot to teach those of us who were outside.  It was rarely supposed that we who lived outside had a lot to teach people who never had done so. 

When you stop to think about it, this one isn’t even a logical assumption. If someone were to have seen me flying a sign in 2016, they would have seen somebody who had lived inside for the first 51 years of his life, and was largely outside for the next twelve. Naturally, I knew what it was like to live both inside and out.  But the person approaching me, having always lived indoors, lacked a good half of that knowledge base.

How the outsider is perceived

This led to a serious cognitive dissonance in how the outsider was to be perceived. On the one hand, they were in an ostensibly superior position; that is, a position from which one might feel qualified to render assistance. On the other hand, they were in what was actually a foreign position. No matter how much better one’s lot in life may seem, if the variables of that life were utterly foreign, then how can one presume to be of help?

“How could they possibly be telling us anything we don’t already know?” we would query amongst ourselves. “Or worse, how can they advise us on matters we do know something about, that they don’t?”

They should be listening to us!” we eventually concluded. It was such an inescapable conclusion that we marveled at those who would persist in its denial.

But persist they did. People would relentlessly assault us with bits and pieces of perfectly impertinent, irrelevant information. They would tell us where the feeds and services were, as if we did not already know. They would present us with fliers that any one of us could receive daily at the doors to any of those events. Even when I was busking, even with my own guitar, they would tell me what I should have been doing instead.

Granted, not all passersby were of this predilection. But the saturation was severe enough that those who were not really stood out. How great it felt when my friend Neil and I were busking, and someone simply put a $5 bill into the jar and shouted: “You guys sound great, keep it up!” At least our street craft was acknowledged for what it was meant to be — not for something else.

Given that the disparity in perception was so huge between those who observed us, and we who were being observed, how best could our own aggregate head-space be described?

While attitudes varied from one outdoor dweller to another, there was naturally a thread of common interest in the details of outdoor living that, for some reason, most of those who approached us from inside were not interested in.

Seeking Self-Protection

For one thing, talk of self-protection was very common. We all felt vulnerable — so much so that talk of vulnerability as it was experienced in the relative safety of indoor seclusion often seemed empty and meaningless. We were concerned with getting through the next night, with not being found by assailants in our sleep, with having the semblance of a visible weapon for self-defense, with having those nearby who could watch out for us.

In trying to get on in the wilds, I felt drawn toward guides from the past, bodies of knowledge I never thought I would ever revisit. The Boy Scout Handbook was one such book of knowledge.  Even knowing the right kinds of knots to use to secure my tent was a great bit of useful information, not to mention all kinds of things long forgotten: carving paths, leaving landmarks,  telling which way was North, starting campfires, and making them last.

I found myself also referring to more mystical works that had influenced my youth. “The Castaneda Series” came to mind. Principles from The Yaqui Way of Knowledge that clearly pertained to outdoor living surfaced in my psyche.  There was the principle of finding my place–or “spot”–wherever I decided to stay and sit, and thus maximizing my energy there. There was also the principle of disrupting the routines of life. These are skills that, while they seemed inapplicable to the workaday mainstream, were very useful in the new life that where I had found myself.

It was not uncommon for us to marvel in how separate this new existence seemed from the world to which we’d been accustomed all our lives. Indeed, those who still inhabited the previous mode of existence appeared to be strangers, and alien to us, even though they had once been our kith and kin.

The perception that even friends and family should in this fashion seem suddenly alien, combined with that of an unusually strong bond we who were outside together all shared one with another, further served to illuminate just how much we all looked to be outsiders. Indeed, we were but “strangers and pilgrims on the Earth,” similar to the identification of the sojourners among our progenitors, those who in Hebrews 11:13 lived by faith.

Turning to Scripture

As a believer, I found myself taking to certain Scriptures that, while they had always seemed true to me in a way that transcended the tedium of regular workaday life, now they took on even stronger, more glaring meaning.

I heard people talk about how the people who were still inside were unaware of how there was no hope in the “mainstream” — that meaning the vast social entity from which we felt we had been expelled and flung full-force into this new realm of being. We knew there was no hope in the mainstream, and we were thankful for having been released from it. In my case, I likened it to the “world” as used in the Scripture, Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

When I was still in the mainstream, struggling to fit in and to function, I was unable to see how it failed to form a foundation from which a healthy spiritual life might spring. It was more accurately the case that it rather replicated the world system to which we are not to be conformed. And now that I was outside, I saw this clearly.

Not only this, but the Lord himself positioned himself as an outsider, much the same as we living outside now experienced ourselves to be.

“So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” — Hebrews 13:12-14

So it was inevitable that we who believed and who were left outside discovered a deeper identification with our Lord and Master, at the same time as letting go of a much shallower identification with the world.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” — Philippians 2:5-7

Here was the sense in which our New Testament identification in Christ was made so much more accessible through the nature of the situation in which we all found ourselves, and its being opposed to the world.

“And Jesus said to him, ‘The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere He might lay the head.’” — Luke 9:58

This became our experience.  It wasn’t just His being a model or example.  It was we ourselves living out His life in that manner through ourselves and our present-day experience.  We felt it night after night, day after day.

For we brought nothing into the world, so we cannot carry anything out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.” — 1 Timothy 6:7-8

It was interesting also in reading these time-honored words anew, how the author does not refer to “food and shelter.” We are to be content with “food and clothing.” Many people lived nomadically in those days, without shelter. Shelter is not a necessity in the sense that food is. This is one of the first things we learned, that we all came to accept, in order to cope with the radically different details of life outside.

“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”  — 2 Corinthians 5:1

Our Reality

While earlier in life I could see in this Scripture a note of hope, I now was able to embrace it as a living reality. For these indoor dwellings with which we used to be content were not our true homes. Rather, our true home is in the indescribable realm of the heavens, of which we, being freed from our indoor dwelling places, were now granted an ephemeral glimpse.

So, with all this naturally going on in one’s mind, as one continues to face the wildly unpredictable vicissitudes of life outside, do you see how much of the narrative we were made privy to, on the part of whoever had always lived inside, seemed frivolous and trivial in comparison? So complete was our absorption in this new kind of life, it came to baffle us that others, ensnared in physical boxes much like those we had already shed, still thought them to be containers of life.

For us, they were not, and really never could be, quite again.  For it was so often thought that those who lived therein had something to teach us about life.  It was rarely if ever thought that for those of us who lived outside, our lives had just begun.   

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More about Science, Theology and the Wearing of Masks

Hey I should have my version of a famous Fats Waller tune as soon as I get my hands off the computer keyboard and onto the piano keyboard (give or take a few hours).  Let’s say we shoot for 2pm PST.  I’ve been busy and a bit batty up since three in the morning on a buzz.

Specifically, I’ve been obsessed with what I hope will be a final script revision based on all the things we learned during our workshop.   I’ve got a zoom meeting with Kelsey at 10 pm, so I’ve got about an hour and a half to clean up the embarrassing last scene.   (All seven scenes beforehand are pretty cool, however.)  

In the meantime, here’s another excerpt from the discussion we had a while back.   The man in the beret is the linguistics professor named Kurt, whom I often speak of very highly.   The fellow named Doug to whom he alludes is a local pastor of dubious persuasion.  Not sure how many cups of coffee I had before my own presentation (I only know how many I’ve had this morning.)

Anyway, hope you enjoy this.   It’s about four minutes long.   

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Gratitude List 1654

(1) Taking a week off from EIB rehearsals was just about the best thing I’ve done for myself in a long time. I caught up on my sleep as well as on reading and housecleaning. Was also able to devote more time to my daughter and to my friends. Grateful for the power of rest.

(2) The first column in the five week series is beginning to take off, surprisingly enough. Though the essential message — having to do with stigma — is a challenge to articulate, I have confidence that after five weekly columns, I’ll have gotten the point across. Grateful for the opportunity.

(3) I’ve sold five new From a Distance piano albums already. Taking the cash bit by bit to the Dollar Store for groceries is reminiscent of a former time of thrift, when all throughout the 90’s I took my tip money four nights a week to a Lucky grocery store after getting off my regular gig at Gulliver’s Restaurant. Never had a food bill in those days, never had to go to a food bank, never went hungry.

(4) I was a new man when I arrived at the recording session yesterday. The spirit of professionalism was striking, and we nailed “Turns Toward Dawn” on the 3rd take. The way that Liam and Cody work together, both with expertise in their respective fields, neither having known the other before a few short weeks ago, is beyond impressive. After the session, we ran “Oracle.” This was the first time I’ve accompanied it since Cody took over teaching the choral parts, and it rocked. I was blessed — I was jazzed — I was proud.

(5) Grateful for my church, where I’ve been a member now for over 4 1/2 years. They have supported me in my best and put up with me in my worst. Very thankful for my new life in Idaho, after years of struggling on the San Francisco Bay Area streets.

Don’t lose faith. Promise yourself that you will be a success story, and I promise you that all the forces of the universe will unite to come to your aid; you might not feel it today or for a while, but the longer you wait the bigger the prize.   — George Bernard Shaw  

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Tuesday Tuneup 102

Q. Where are you coming from?

A. A place of extreme excess.

Q. What do you mean?

A. I’m extremely excessive.

Q. How so?

A. Well, for one thing, I talk too much.

Q. But aren’t you an Introvert?

A. That I am.

Q. But aren’t most Introverts very quiet people?

A. Probably.   I’ve met a few others who are pretty chatty, though.

Q. Do you find those people to be extremely excessive?

A. No, not really.

Q. Then why do you think of you yourself as such?

A. Well, it’s not just that I talk too much.

Q. What else do you do?

A. I don’t think before I speak.

Q. Do you speak too soon?

A. Yes.  And often, there are consequences.

Q. What kinds of consequences?

A. I wind up annoying people.   Being in a leadership position, I give instructions that somebody begins to act upon, and later I realize the instructions were incorrect, and I alter the instructions after the fact, expecting them to switch gears and act upon them.  Very poor leadership, on my part.

Q. So you’re saying that you “jump the gun?”

A. Yes.

Q. Has anyone conveyed to you that they are annoyed with you?

A. No – not exactly . . .

Q. Why do you think this is?

A. Well obviously, they’re too polite to tell me, and they’re afraid of hurting my feelings.

Q. But you are convinced that they are annoyed with you?

A. Yes.

Q. What does it matter what they think?

A. Oh I don’t know.  I guess it doesn’t matter what they think, so much as it matters whether or not I do the right thing.

Q. And what is the right thing?

A. I’ve already told you!  I need to stop talking so much, and I need to think before I speak.  But that’s not all.

Q. What else is there?

A. Sometimes when I get super-stressed, I deliver a message to the wrong recipients.  A message that is supposed to go to say, a therapist or counselor, somehow goes to one of the people who is working for me.

Q. So you dump on them?

A. You might say so.

Q. Now what do all these things have in common?

A. Impatience.   I am too impatient.   Maybe not the talking too much — but the jumping the gun, and the need to vent — it all points to a spiritual problem.   I must be more patient.

Q. Can you now begin to do so?

A. Only if I trust God for the results.  I tend not to do that.  I don’t trust that the Universe is going to unfold as it should — if only I get out of its way.  Rather, I think that I have to do everything myself.

Q. Where does that come from?

A. Lack of faith.

Q. So you need more patience and you need more faith?

A. It would seem so, yes.

Q. Seem so?

A. Things are not always what they seem.

Q. What do you mean?

A. I already have faith.  I already have patience.  These are fruits of the Spirit.  And I already have the Spirit.  Faith, patience, love, joy, peace — these are all in me.   They’re inbred in our Divine Design.  I just need to exercise them — to practice them.

Q. Are you perfect?   Doesn’t everybody make mistakes?

A. But Jesus said: “Be therefore perfect – even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”

Q. Why do you think he said that?

A. He wanted to inspire us to the highest possible standard.

Q. Has anyone ever achieved the highest possible standard?

A. Only one man has done so, in my opinion.

Q. So if only Jesus has achieved the highest possible standard — in your opinion — why are you so hard on yourself?

A. I don’t know.  It just seems that — nobody has ever accomplished anything truly great by going easy on themselves.

The Questioner is silent.  

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Won’t They Ever Learn?

The fool says in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt; their acts are vile.
There is no one who does good.
The LORD looks down from heaven
upon the sons of men
to see if any understand,
if any seek God.
All have turned away,
they have together become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.
Will the workers of iniquity never learn?
They devour my people like bread;
they refuse to call upon the LORD.
There they are, overwhelmed with dread,
for God is in the company of the righteous.
You sinners frustrate the plans of the oppressed,
yet the LORD is their shelter.
— Psalm 14:1-6

Tuesday Tuneup 98

Q. What’s happening now?

A. Self-doubt.

Q. Isn’t that a good thing?

A. What do you mean?

Q. Well, why should you have any faith in yourself?

A. Why should I not?

Q. Are you not completely flawed far beyond your capacity even to know it?

A. That’s what the Bible says, yes.  But still, I think in practical reality, it somehow doesn’t help for me to grasp how completely incapable I am.

Q. But isn’t God fully capable?

A. Well sure He is.  But so what?   God’s not going to come down and tie my shoe for me.  There are some things a person just has to do for themselves.

Q. How many times has God come down and helped you find a missing item?

A. Many times.  Sometimes I just shout out: “Where’s my glasses?” Then I find myself looking straight at them.   But He still won’t help me tie my shoe.

Q. Are you having a problem tying your shoes?

A. Not anymore.  Not since I’m no longer being ridiculed about the way I tie them.

Q. Who used to ridicule you?

A. Oh, the kids on the playground.

Q. Wasn’t that a long time ago?

A. Yeah, but it stuck with me.

Q. So what did the kids say when they ridiculed you?

A. Apparently, I’m throwing some kind of extra movement into the tying of the shoe that doesn’t need to be there.  They laughed because I don’t tie my shoes the right way.   I only tie them my way.

Q. But your way still works, doesn’t it?

A. More-or-less.  I do notice I have to bend down and retie them a lot.

Q. And what else do you notice?

A. Sometimes I forget to tie them entirely.  I just go about walking with them untied.

Q. Then what happens?

A. Depends on whether I’m alone or with another person.  If I’m alone, I just wait until there’s a logical place to tie my shoe without having to bend down all the way to the ground.  Like, you know, a fire hydrant.  Then I tie my shoe using the hydrant.

Q. What if there’s another person with you?

A. Usually, they notice that my shoe isn’t tied, and they tell me to tie my shoe.

Q. What do you do then?

A. Well, I certainly don’t tie it just because they told me to!   I usually respond with an expletive, adding that I’ll tie my shoe when I’m good and ready.   

Q. Do you have issues with authority?

A. I have issues with people issuing direct imperatives, yes.   Especially if they are not an authority, but an equal.

Q. Are authorities not equals?

A. I suppose they are.  They just don’t act like it.

Q. So you dislike not being treated as an equal?

A.  Dislike doesn’t say it.  I despise it.  We’re all equals and no one has the right to treat someone as a subordinate.  Unless, of course, you’re in the military or some other form of hierarchical structure to which you’ve signed on.  And in such a case, you asked for it.

Q. You did?  What if you got drafted?

A. Good point.   I’d have escaped to Canada, myself.

Q. Might you still?

A. Might I still what?

Q. Escape to Canada?

A. At this point, that would hardly be an escape.  More like a practical maneuver.  But I doubt they’d let me in.  I think I have to marry someone there, or something like that.

Q. Would you like to marry someone from Canada?

A. Sounds pretty romantic, but probably unlikely.    

Q. What about a marriage of convenience?

A. I wouldn’t know anything about those.  I’ve only been in a marriage of inconvenience.

Q. What was inconvenient about it?

A. Uh — conflict of lifestyles.   But aren’t we getting off the subject?

Q. What was the subject?

A. Something about equality and authority.

Q. Ah yes, how could I forget?

A. I have no idea.

Q. So — as I was saying, do you dislike being treated as an unequal?

A. Of course!  Who likes to be treated with condescension?  

Q. Why is this on your mind?

A. Something disturbing that happened a few days ago.   An unpleasant interaction with an old friend of mine.

Q. Who did not treat you as an equal?

A. Well – triggered the memory thereof.  The memory of —  almost never being regarded as an equal.  A time in my life when I just accepted the uneasy fact that most people looked down on me, as though I were despicable.

Q. Why would you have been despicable?

A. Uh — homeless — and homeless in the Big City.   It’s cold enough in the Big City to begin with.  When you become homeless, you find out just how cold it can be.

Q. But you’re not homeless now, are you?

A. No I’m not.

Q. Why are you so hung up on the past?

A. That, sir, might be the most important question you have ever asked me.

The Questioner is silent.  

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Health Before Wealth

At around eleven o’clock yesterday morning, numerous members of a right-wing group called “De-Mask Moscow” barged into the large TriState Outfitters sporting goods store in Moscow, Idaho, refusing to wear masks in compliance with store policy and the city-wide mandate.   Also included in the barrage were members of ChristChurch, a cultish megachurch here in town that gives a bad name to the Reformed Christian doctrine and I and others endeavor to embrace.

According to Doug Wilson, the pastor of the church, this stunt was carried out in order to “bless the business” that no doubt was “caught between the demands of the city government and the realities of keeping a business open.”

I have a few problems with this.   Apparently, Joe Power, the President of TriState Outfitters, did too.

“We were not asked,” wrote Power, “if we felt we were caught between the demands of the city government and the financial realities of keeping a business open.”

To the contrary, the employee-owned company had decided to put “health before wealth” this year.  “The risk to our employees’ health this year is far more important than putting a few extra dollars in the registers,” said Power.

As the anti-maskers insisted on remaining maskless, TriState responded by closing the store and demanding they leave the premises.  The police were called in case they did not comply.   Mask-wearing customers were allowed to complete their purchases, and a half hour later, once the anti-maskers had dispersed, the store was reopened.  However, doors were kept locked for several hours, and a number of employees stationed at the entrances made sure that no one would enter the premises without a mask.  

Apparently, this unfortunate event resulted from a memo that Wilson had sent first to his congregation and later forwarded to De-Mask Moscow.  “If you are out Christmas shopping today (without a mask),” wrote Wilson, “I would like to ask you to hit Tri-State between the hours of 11am and 1pm.”  (Note usage of the word “hit.”  Italics mine.)

Fortunately, the event was aborted shortly after eleven, before who knows how many unmasked citizens would have invaded the store property with a flagrant show of unwillingness to abide by the ordinance that our Mayor had established for the sake of the health of the community.

That this is microcosmic of a greater ill in our society is obvious.  It is not Christian love to flaunt one’s affection for “freedom” in such a way that it infringes upon the free rights of others.   Mask-wearing shoppers obeying store rules were inconvenienced, and the store itself probably lost thousands of dollars in the process.

The Apostle Paul makes it clear throughout his letters that we are to abide the laws of the land except in the event that these laws directly contradict the laws of God.

“Let every person be subject to the ruling authorities, for the powers that be are ordained by God.”  _ Romans 13:1

Now you tell me — does the simple act of wearing a mask violate a law of God?   If so, I would certainly like to see that law.  And if Jesus Christ made the supreme sacrifice of his entire life during hours of grueling torture suffering on a Cross — that we might have everlasting life —  why can some Christians not see that the simple sacrifice of complying with a city ordinance is trivial in comparison?

For Doug Wilson and his congregation to regard the lawfully rendered mask mandate as “demands of the city government” is to ignore the fact that this ordinance is being followed by the vast majority of the Moscow community who do not regard it as a “demand.”

This present day issue dividing maskers from anti-maskers has nothing to do with “left-wing government oppression.”  If you want to see government oppression coming from the Left, look at the likes of Joseph Stalin.  That we in America should feel so inordinately entitled that the simple concession to wear a mask is seen as a restriction of our freedoms is frankly ludicrous.   Moreover, if people believe that we all should be perfectly free, then why are they going about obstructing the freedoms of others?

This is not Christianity.  It is anarchy.  And this act of reactionary pseudo-Christian impudence has nothing to do with Jesus Christ — with His Spirit, His ministry, His teachings, His life, or His love.

Do I need to put a “thus saith the Lord” after this one?  Or is this message not obvious to anyone who truly endeavors to follow Christ?

Submitted to Spokane Faith and Values, December 11, 2020.

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Eleventh Hour Appeal

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

Will 82% of Evangelicals Really Vote for Trump? 

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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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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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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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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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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.

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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 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 

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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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Faith, Science and Masks

Just had my 8th column published in Spokane Faith and Values.  It’s an effort to find commonality between people of faith and those of science, and to urge all my fellow believers to please wear their masks.  

Science and Masks: Why Christians Ought to Listen

These days more than ever, we find ourselves caught up in talk of an alleged conflict between science and religion. This has been dramatized by the controversy around the issue of wearing a mask. In general, those who wear masks understand and believe the recommendations of the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control. These recommendations are based, in a general way, on findings of science.

In general, those who decline to wear masks are skeptical as to these recommendations. Many people don’t trust science, especially if they are influenced by our current administration.  The president and others in his circle continually downplay the benefits of scientific research. Also, many religious people don’t trust science, on the basis that the One whom we’re supposed to be trusting is God.   

That this distrust should have come about is only natural. Scripture adjures us not even to trust in “man” or our fellow humans, so complete is our understanding of the Divine as being the only One who is worthy. “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the LORD.” – Jeremiah 17:5 NLT.  Ultimately, God is the only One we can completely depend upon and rely on. We should be wary of placing our trust in anything or anyone else, lest we fall prey to idolatry, and make other objects of our devotion more important to us than God.

It is also pretty easy to understand why some scientists may be skeptical of certain religious principles as well as religious people. The principle of faith, so essential to Christian practice, is often presented in such a way as to render it incompatible with reason.  But faith and reason are not mutually exclusive. If faith and reason were mutually exclusive, there would never be a Bible Study. We would never scour the Scriptures in search of wisdom and revelation. For all these matters are gained through reasoning.  “Come, let us reason together,” says the Lord (Isaiah 1:18), Biblical study is not at all an unreasonable pursuit, and it has attracted some of the most intelligent and logical people I’ve known.

But in deference to the skepticism of some scientists, there is also such a thing as “blind faith.” This is the form of “faith” that does not question what it is being told, usually by a human voice that one has come to depend upon for truth.   But no human represents the truth perfectly. In fact, excellent liars are skillful at using the truth to obfuscate their lies. So when a person decides not to wear a mask because they “trust in God, not in science,” it is unconvincing, because the attitude in that facsimile of faith is blinded to any ongoing search for truth.

I once had a job in which my boss had to pick me every morning at a train station and drive me up steep, curvy mountainous roads until we arrived at the job site.  Two things about her driving disturbed me.  First, she drove alarmingly close to the cars in front of us.  Secondly, she never wore a seat belt.

While I of course wore a seat belt, it was small consolation. So I asked her why she had to drive so close to the cars ahead of us.  She told me flat out that because of her faith, we would not get into an accident.

Somehow this was not reassuring.  If she wanted to risk her life in that fashion, that’s one thing. But should I have to die because the person driving me won’t wear a seat belt and won’t stop tailgating? It seems to me that this is analogous to the quandary one finds around the topic of wearing a mask.  I may well never catch the virus, or be harmed by it. But someone a few feet away from me may not be so lucky.  Why should I endanger them by refusing to wear a mask, if it can help them? Similarly, why should my boss have endangered me by refusing to keep a decent distance from the cars in front of us?

It doesn’t seem that to refrain from tailgating is a particularly huge sacrifice to make, when one considers the possibly lethal consequences of tailgating.  Unless one has a medical condition that causes wearing a mask to endanger them, I don’t think that to wear a mask is an unreasonable sacrifice, either. I have found it a mild inconvenience, at worst.

So let’s look at how a scientist will naturally feel when confronted with this disagreeable opinion, having been offered no proof as to why it is believed as firmly as it is, other than the strength of a “faith” that seems subjective and inexplicable at best. If I were a scientist, and somebody told me flat out that to wear a mask was unnecessary — perhaps even ungodly — and that all their scientific research is useless, I would naturally be skeptical, if not insulted.  That person has given me no reason to be persuaded of their position.  

If, on the other hand, the person says something along the lines of: “You know what? I cannot prove the existence of God. But many things have happened in my life that are best explained by the agency of some kind of invisible superpower who is concerned with my affairs, and who pretty much lines up with the biblical description of God.  Would you like to hear what some of these events have been?”

I have never received a scornful response from a scientist when I have introduced my testimony in such a fashion. Worst I get in such a scenario is:  “Perhaps some other time.” But scorn or mockery is not generally received by scientists in such a situation.  

Why not?  Because the scientific method is essentially a search for truth. I frame my Christian conversion as the result of a search for truth, and I tell people that my search for truth has not stopped there — because Jesus is the Truth — and if I am to claim devotion to Him, then I am to continually seek Him.  Otherwise, I fall prey to complacency, and feel falsely that I have “arrived.”  (1 Cor 10:12, Philippians 3:12). 

People may disagree with my characterization of Christ as personifying the truth, but they cannot refute that my Christian experience has come about somehow as the effect of my personal search for truth. Because the scientific method is also a search for truth, it would seem that this commonality is a lot deeper than many of the supposed incompatibilities between religion and science.

At the very least, it’s a starting point. What is sad is when we as believers become so set in our own assessments of current events — often differing not widely from what we hear from our own pastors and from the particular teachers whom we follow — that we blind ourselves to further seeking. We ought all to listen to the well thought-out positions of others, even if — no, especially if — we disagree. 

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I’m Seeing Red

In light of “3/11” I decided to do my version of the song “Love is Blue” yesterday.   I’ve been a conservative Christian throughout most of my adult life.  But as of POTUS and Wednesday night, I’m “seeing red”  — for what it is.

There are unfortunately issues with the video.  I will be posting the SoundCloud version as soon as I can get it uploaded on the appropriate computer.

As a side note, it’s very likely that someone hearing this, perhaps of the more classical bent, will protest that Beethoven is probably turning over in his grave. This would be due to my overt references to the 2nd movement — the Allegretto — of his brilliant 7th Symphony.

All I can say to that is that he died on my birthday, and I therefore am his reincarnation.  ;) Neither of us is turning over in any grave right now.   But the national situation is grave. God bless us every one — and God bless America.

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Tuesday Tuneup 74

Q. What’s going on inside?

A. Sorrow.

Q. Sorrow over what?

A. Past behavior of mine.

Q. Isn’t it past?

A. Evidently not.

Q. How so?

A. I wouldn’t be so cocky if I weren’t in such denial.

Q. What’s that supposed to mean?

A. I have been denying that my misfortunes down in California had a whole lot to do with me.

Q. But doesn’t stuff just happen that’s beyond your control?

A. Sure it does.  People get deadly diseases.  They get hit by cars.  None of that is their own doing.

Q. But didn’t you have some kind of mental health breakdown in 2004?

A. I harp on that — and yes I did.  But still, lots of stuff that happened, especially in terms of valued friends rejecting me, was entirely my doing.

Q. How so?

A. I found some emails I sent to some of my friends in 2015 when I was homeless.  They were pretty vitriolic, downright hateful, accusational.  I was accusing everybody of being uncompassionate.  There were expletives involved.  So it’s no wonder they all fled from me.  Nobody wants to deal with that.

Q. But weren’t the circumstances that led to those angry emails really beyond your control?

A. The circumstances were.  But a lot of us were experiencing those same circumstances.  How many of us sent angry emails to our friends and family members?

Q. I don’t know – how many of you did?

A. I don’t know either.  But they couldn’t have been as bad as the ones I sent.

Q. Why not?

A. Probably because I type about 120 wpm and so my emails were longer as well as angrier.  My anger was more detailed.

Q. But you don’t send those kinds of emails to people now, do you?

A. I’m not homeless.  I have no reason to.  

Q. Can’t you just be thankful for that and move on?

A. Probably, eventually. This doesn’t seem like the kind of guilt that will destroy me.

Q. Is there any kind of guilt that doesn’t destroy people?

A. Yes, there is.   There’s the kind of guilt you get when you realize that you’ve done something wrong.  It makes you want to never do it again.  

Q. So your sorrow is actually a good thing?

A. Yes it is.  It brings me closer to my God, rather than further away.   In the Bible, in 2 Corinthians 5:17, this is called “godly sorrow.”  It’s the kind of sorrow that leads to a change of heart — and it is not to be regretted.  But the other kind of sorrow, that contains the other kind of guilt, is called the “sorrow of this world.”  It leads to despair, and ultimately, to death.  It’s best I mourn the death of my former self, and proceed with the Self that’s New.  

The Questioner is silent.  

Growing Up In The Word : A Contrite Heart

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I Will Pour Out My Spirit

“Fear not, O land;
be glad and rejoice,
for the LORD has done great things!
Fear not, you beasts of the field,
for the pastures of the wilderness are green;
the tree bears its fruit;
the fig tree and vine give their full yield.

“Be glad, O children of Zion,
and rejoice in the LORD your God,
for he has given the early rain for your vindication;
he has poured down for you abundant rain,
the early and the latter rain, as before.

“The threshing floors shall be full of grain;
the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.
I will restore to you the years
that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent among you.

“You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the LORD your God,
who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
and that I am the LORD your God and there is none else.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.

“And it shall come to pass afterward,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.

  — Joel 2:21-28 ESV

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Dangers of Liberation (Part One)

This post was lifted from its original manifestation of approximately one year ago.  I didn’t feel ready at that time to produce the next four parts of the series.  I do now.  

On August 8, 2006, I sat at the corner of Shattuck and Kitteredge in Berkeley, California, three blocks North of the Royal Grounds Cafe, where I had just spent my last two dollars on coffee.   

I had walked back and forth, to and fro, not knowing where I was going.  It gradually dawned on me that I had nowhere left to go.  I had spent my entire severance check after leaving my summer job as a singing teacher with Children’s Musical Theatre San Jose.  I had spent it all on taxicabs, meals in restaurants, and motel rooms.   So I sat down, expecting to enter into total misery.  Instead, I entered into total bliss.

Mihai Eminescu Quote: “I understand that a man can have everything having nothing and nothing ...

I finally had nothing.  Nothing to prove anymore.  Nothing to hold on to.  Nothing to need to protect or salvage or horde.  Nothing that could be coveted or stolen.  Nothing that I needed to accomplish or achieve.   

And in having nothing, I realized that I was open to everything.  In an instant, everything that the Universe had to offer came soaring into my consciousness.  All the gifts of life — the very gifts that my worldly concerns had blinded me from seeing — were now not only visible, but tangible, accessible, and omnipresent.  

I found paper and pen, and I wrote down these words:

I have indeed hit bottom.
And at the moment when I reached my bottom,
I realized that I had reached the very top.
At that moment, I was Buddha.

While this surprising sense of liberation was very real, and while it was destined to impact me for years to come, its accompanying bliss was short-lived.  Within three days, I was to see its downside in a dramatic way.   And the bittersweet dynamic thereof informed my later thought.

So I’ve decided to use the next several Thursdays to post my thoughts on this theme as best I can.   There are distinct dangers involved when one permits oneself to receive gifts of joy and happiness from sources commonly associated with misery and despair.  I’ll do my best to illustrate what the years following that experience have held for me.  Hopefully, I can do so with clarity.

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Tuesday Tuneup 65

Q. What are you doing here?

A. Why do you ask?

Q. Isn’t it Wednesday?

A. So what?

Q. Aren’t you supposed to write these on Tuesdays?

A. How consistent have I been with that? 

Q. Didn’t I ask you?

A. Well then.  You have your answer.   It’s Wednesday morning.   It’s Christmas.   I wrote two of them yesterday and hated them both.   I’ll be tempted to delete this one, like I deleted both of the others.  I hate this day.  It’s a day of celebration for others, and of mourning and grieving for me.  It’s this day that I used to love and have come to dread.  It’s finally here.  It’s upon me.   And I’m miserable.

Q. Aren’t you forgetting the “reason for the season?”

A. Thanks for reminding me of the most ludicrous cliche imaginable.  If Jesus Himself  down and expressed His own disgust with this ridiculous sham of a so-called holy day, would you ask Him that same question?

Q. Aren’t you only projecting your own disgust onto Him?

A. I beg your pardon!   I’m only asking a question.  To be honest with you, I don’t believe Jesus has any particular opinion about this holiday at all.   I believe He relates to individuals on an individual basis, whoever it is who seeks relationship with Him.  He is therefore pleased with some people on Christmas, and not others.

Q. And you are one of the ones He is pleased with?

A. I didn’t say that!   How can He possibly be pleased with me if I am not at all pleased with myself?

Q. Are you suggesting that He would suddenly become pleased with you if you were to become pleased with your own self?

A. Of course not!   I could become pleased with myself over the slightest success or victory at damned near anything — whether Jesus was tracking with it or not.

Q. Seriously?

A. Yes – seriously!  I’m the type of person who feels good when he’s accomplished something successfully, and feels lousy when he hasn’t.  Isn’t that obvious?  Aren’t I transparent?

Q. When was the last time you accomplished something successfully?

A. Too long ago.  It’s been days, at least.  Maybe weeks.

Q. So then it’s not really Christmas that is the issue, is it?

A. No, not really.  But I’ll make no bones about it.  I do not like this holiday!  I don’t believe it has much to do with the birth of Jesus, or His life or teachings, much at all.  We hear the stories at church, if we go to church, and then leave them behind.   It’s a sham; it’s disgusting – but yes, you’re right.  That’s my own disgust, not His.

Q. So why the disgust?

A. Because — it used to be — there was family.  There was connection, there was warmth.  We opened gifts.  We had a Christmas tree.  I played the piano, and we sang carols together.

Q. What happened to all that?

A. At some point, I just became  —  I don’t know.  Uninvited.   Mom and Dad are long gone, there isn’t a “parent’s house” anymore.   I tried to reestablish family, but I failed.

Q. Why is everything about your personal success or failure?

A. I don’t know.  My dad was kinda hard on me, kept saying I couldn’t do anything right.   I just want to prove that I can do some things right.  When I get something right, I feel warm inside.  Like loved.

Q. Loved?

A. Yes. Loved.  God loves me because He lets me get some things right.

Q. Isn’t that a rather limited view of love?

A. It’s a start.

Q. Wouldn’t you have started long ago?

A. Of course.  But maybe I was barking up the wrong tree.

Q. What do you mean?

A. It might not be in my destiny for me to be a very successful family man.

Q. But are you content to be alone?

A. Usually.  But not on Christmas.   And not lately, to be honest with you.  Ever since my daughter left, just kinda — lonely, and feeling like I failed.  

Christmas loneliness and grief 'very, very common', says clinical counsellor | CBC News

Q. How is it that Christmas brings about these feelings of discontent?

A. It is on Christmas that the pain of knowing that other people are with family, seeming to have a good time, is most highlighted.  The pain that I am excluded — for some reason.  Naturally this leads to misery.  Especially when combined with the fact that everything closes down.  No food services.  No Starbucks, no MacDonald’s.  No library.   No restaurants.   How do I get food?  I have to stock up — well, you know, you get through the season, you get through the day.   I’m thinking MacDonald’s might be open till noon on some kind of truncated schedule.   Might as well hoof it down there once this thing’s over.

Q. So that is your idea of Christmas?   Spending the morning at a McDonald’s?

A. No.  My idea is still to gather around somewhere where there’s family and play a piano — but that’s long past.

Q. Could it not also be future?

A. Do I have a very good history at holding a family together?

Q. Could you have given up too easily?

A. Perhaps.

Q. Might you be blaming yourself too much?

A. Maybe.

Q. So what is your strategy?   How will you get through the day?

A. Well – I can start by repenting.

Q. What sin have you committed?

A. I mean – repenting of my attitude.  Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.  I lack faith right now.

Q. How can you get faith?

A. By choosing it.

Q. And what then?

A. Um –  I can pray.  I’ll start praying again.

Q. Why and when did you stop?

A. It was a few days back, after — something horrible happened personally, involving the loss of a friend — or maybe just the misplacement of the friend — she did wish me a happy Christmas back this morning, by text —

Q. Then she has not abandoned you, has she?

A. Maybe not.  Then again, she might have just been being nice.

Q. Isn’t that a start?

A. Yeah.  Lots of things can be starts.

Q. So what’s the strategy?

A. You make it sound like I’m fighting a war.

Q. Aren’t you?

A. I shouldn’t be.  I should just be surrendering, trusting in God, having faith, looking expectantly for the good that will inevitably come . . .

Q. On this horrible day of Christmas?

A. You said it.

Q. I’m curious, though.   Why did the severance with your friend cause you to stop praying?

A. She has always reflected Christ in my life.  I can’t explain it.  Maybe I put too much of a burden on her.   There were times when nobody else even believed I was a Christian, and yet she still had faith in me.  And now she’s gone.

Q. Can you — pray anyway?

A. And not be reminded of her?   I can’t even read my Bible anymore.  I read it — but it’s not the same.  It’s as though I’m reading her Bible, not mine.   

Q. So you’re — experiencing loss?

A. Loss upon loss.  Here I’ve already given up.  I’ll just say it:

Christmas in America is a time for people of privilege to enjoy the presence of other people of privilege.   They could at least invite those who lack over to their houses.  But they don’t.   And what’s that got to do with the so-called spirit of Christmas?  It’s not spiritual in any sense to exclude others from a gathering that is supposed to be held holy and pleasing in the eyes of God.

Q. Come on now!   Do you truly believe that Christmas has been reduced to only this?

A. Only this and worse.  I used to have a friend.   And I don’t any longer.

Q. But don’t you have a friend in Jesus?

A. I do.  And honestly, thank you for reminding me.  If I can just make my mind turn to Him – maybe when I’m on the way to that McDonald’s — I bet they’re open — and it can’t possibly be as bad as that one Christmas was when I was homeless and it was raining — and nobody would let us in  . . . 

Q. Your Christmas has been a lot worse than this one, hasn’t it?

A. Well yeah – it beats that one year, I think it was 2015, the only people I saw all day were about twenty-five other angry homeless people, it was pouring rain, I remember logging onto Facebook and just screaming at everybody — it just seemed heartless that they could keep flashing all these festivities on their timelines — if one even suggested being invited over on Christmas Day, they made you feel like you were a horrible person for even thinking such a thing . . . 

Q. But you are not homeless now, are you?

A. No I’m not.   

Q. And have you not become heartless in your own rite?   

A: I have not!

Q. How many homeless people are you letting in on Christmas?

Pause.  

A. I’ve let a lot of homeless people in this house, and you know it.

Q. What about Christmas?

A. You know I have my reasons.

Q. Didn’t they all have their reasons?

A. No doubt.  To put it mildly, to let strangers inside your house is risky business.  But I wasn’t a stranger to any of those people I was buzzing on Christmas Day on Facebook in the rain that day.   They all knew me.   They knew exactly what my situation was.

Q. And their response was?

A. Denial and disdain.   

Q. Why do you think that was?

A. Who likes a party–pooper?   Why should I be raining on their parade?

Q. You’re not raining on them now, are you?

A. Not that I know of  —  unless some of the more lurkish among them are reading these words, and feeling the storm.  

Q. And you’re not being rained on now either, are you?

A. More like snowed on.  But not at the moment, no.   I’m indoors – and I should be grateful.

Q. Are you?

A.  Grateful?   One wishes the word did not apply.   But yes, come to think of it, I am grateful.   I should be, after all.  Things could be a lot worse.   I could be robbed of anything approaching a First Amendment right in some parts of the world.   I could be put to death just for writing these words.

Q. So – what’s your strategy?

A. Well . . .  I don’t know how strategic it is, but I just made a decision.   This tuneup needs to be wrapped up anyway.   It’s dragging on kinda long.

Q. What’s your decision?

A. I’m going to go down to that McDonald’s and find someone more miserable than myself.

Q. Then what?

A. I’ll take it from there.   I’m at least usually a happy person.  I can share my happiness with them, even if I don’t experience it at the time.

Q. But won’t you just be just like the people on Facebook, flaunting their festivities?

A. I’ll try not to be.  Thanks for the warning.

Q. Anything else?

A. Not that I can think of.

Q. Cold feet?

A. Some.

Q. Just do it?   

A. Wish me luck.  

The Questioner is silent.  

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Vanguard

Between the vestibule and the altar
let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep
and say, “Spare your people, O Lord,
and make not your heritage a reproach,
a byword among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples,
‘Where is their God?’”

Then the Lord became jealous for his land
and had pity on his people.
The Lord answered and said to his people,
“Behold, I am sending to you
grain, wine, and oil,
and you will be satisfied;
and I will no more make you
a reproach among the nations.

“I will remove the northerner far from you,
and drive him into a parched and desolate land,
his vanguard into the eastern sea,
and his rear guard into the western sea;
the stench and foul smell of him will rise,
for he has done great things.”

— Joel 2:17-20

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Flagrant

Your hurt is incurable,
and your wound is grievous.
There is none to uphold your cause,
no medicine for your wound,
no healing for you.
All your lovers have forgotten you;
they care nothing for you;
for I have dealt you the blow of an enemy,
the punishment of a merciless foe,
because your guilt is great,
because your sins are flagrant.
Why do you cry out over your hurt?
Your pain is incurable.
Because your guilt is great,
because your sins are flagrant,
I have done these things to you.
Therefore all who devour you shall be devoured,
and all your foes, every one of them, shall go into captivity;
those who plunder you shall be plundered,
and all who prey on you I will make a prey.
For I will restore health to you,
and your wounds I will heal,
declares the LORD.

–Jeremiah 30:12b-17a

 

To Those Who Are at Ease

Woe to those who are at ease in Zion,
and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria,
the notable men of the first of the nations,
to whom the house of Israel comes!
Pass over to Calneh, and see,
and from there go to Hamath the great;
then go down to Gath of the Philistines.
Are you better than these kingdoms?
Or is their territory greater than your territory,
O you who put far away the day of disaster
and bring near the seat of violence?

“Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory
and stretch themselves out on their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock
and calves from the midst of the stall,
who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp
and like David invent for themselves instruments of music,
who drink wine in bowls
and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!
Therefore they shall now be the first of those who go into exile,
and the revelry of those who stretch themselves shall pass away.”

— Amos 6:1-7

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Tuesday Tuneup 62

Q. What are you doing here?

A. Getting my bearings.

Q. What happened??

A. I stressed out at the church service, and my heart started beating out of my chest.  They kept making me do things that are really really hard for me, but that are really easy for most people, and it stressed me out.

Q. What kinds of things?

A. Oh, uh – page turns.   Fumbling with bulletin inserts.  Trying to get to the right hymn in the right hymnal at the right time.  And worst of all, we had to put these ornaments on a Christmas tree, and the hook of my ornament fell out.

Q. What happened then?

A. I went and showed the guy with the ornaments, assuming he would give me a new ornament with a more secure hook.

Q. What did he give you instead?

A. Another hook.

Q. And you weren’t able to put the new hook on the old ornament?

A. Well, I fumbled with it for long enough, and I know myself well enough, that I determined fairly quickly it would be impossible.

Q. And what did you do then?

A. I gave both ornament and unhooked hook to Amanda.

Q. Who is Amanda?

A. The person standing next to me.  She’s a speech therapist and works at a hospital, so I figured I might luck out and she might understand why it is actually impossible for me to put a hook on an ornament.  I mean, done deal.  It’s a disease.  It’s called ADHD / Dyslexia and High-Functioning Autism.

Q. What did you say to Amanda?

A. I told her it would be impossible for me to put the hook on the ornament in order to hang it on the tree.

Q. How did Amanda respond?

A. She nodded her head in compassionate understanding, then deftly placed the ornament on the tree in my stead.

Q. Were you thankful?

A. Uh — more relieved than anything else.  But now that you mention it, gratitude is certainly an appropriate response.   It’s rare that somebody believes me, in such situations.

Q. Then what did you do?

A. I sneaked out of the church, placing myself in the middle of a long line, so that no one would notice my swift departure.

Q. Why did you depart swiftly?

A. Because by that time, my heart was beating out of my chest, and I was having a major panic attack.  I mean, it was like — I was under pressure, in a line, with people waiting on me – and everybody could see that I was fumbling with the logistics of trying to get the hook on the ornament and the ornament on the tree — it was like — Mainstream Stress – the kind of stuff that made me homeless in the first place back in 2004 —

Q. Mainstream Stress?

A. Yeah.  The kind of stress you get when you’re pressured to perform under time constraints, with people observing you, and people to answer to, under deadlines —

Q. What other kind of stress is there?

street person stress.jpgA. Street Stress.  It’s a horse of a different color.   It’s the kind where you’re not under time constraints, but at the same time, you never have time to check in with yourself and feel what your actual feelings are.  You’re in a state of shock at all times, as though in a battle zone, ready for anything, at any time.  No time to feel.   Anything.   

Q. Where are you now?

A. At the local cafe.

Q. Do you plan on returning to the church?

A. Yes.  After I’m through getting my bearings.   I can make it there for the Fellowship, where my mental health condition will not be so severely challenged.

Q. May I ask two more questions?

A. One will do.  I’m running out of time.

Q. What does all this have to do with the birth of Jesus?

A. Don’t ask me, man.

Q. May I please ask the second question?

A. Shoot.

Q. Why was the church service being held on Tuesday?

A. It wasn’t.   Today is Sunday.

Q. It is?

A. I told you I was neurodivergent!   Now get outta here!  

The Questioner is silent.

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Inequity (Part Five)

Of the five “inequities” that I have chosen to discuss in an effort to illuminate how the world appears from the eyes of those who have been chronically homeless in large urban areas, this one will probably be the most controversial.   There is a huge disparity among all those who dwell on this subject as to how the homeless person can actually be helped.  

When I made the decision to join an intentional homeless community on April 15, 2011, I was thrown into a group of people who were predominantly White, mostly male, and mostly people who had worked all their lives until some costly crisis landed them on the streets.  Most of my fellow White male homeless people were lifelong conservatives, and it was bizarrely expected that all of them were supposed to change their lifelong political ideologies, and become “liberals,” only because they had fallen on hard times.

Why?  Because in the failed social experiment that is the City of Berkeley, the pseudo-socialist leaders of the churches that were feeding us believed that, because we had become homeless, our life-philosophies must have failed us, and they were eager to teach us another way.  The idea that anybody in the San Francisco Bay Area could have become homeless due to socio-economic factors entirely beyond their control — viz, a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco might rent for upwards of $3000/mo — was never brought into consideration.   So we, who comprised approximately 35% of the then one thousand visible homeless people in Berkeley, were lumped into the same group as practicing thieves, hustlers, and hardened criminals on the one hand, and completely developmentally disabled (or at least chronically unemployable) individuals on the other.

In the process, we found ourselves continually demeaned and dehumanized by social workers whose politics invariably leaned to the Left.  My lifelong identity meant nothing to these people, and the none-too-subtle message that I would be homeless for the rest of my days — and rightly so — was hammered into me day in and day out, until I found myself beginning to believe it.

Those who leaned to the Right were another story.  I usually did not feel dehumanized per se, but I often felt stereotyped and stigmatized.  An example would be in Salvation Army workers trying to “save” me or convert me to Christianity, when the truth was that I was already a Christian who was clinging to Jesus more than ever during an uneasy, unsettling time of life.

My first experience at a homeless “feed” was that I and others were treated with complete indignity.  It was assumed that we were either criminally minded, completely mentally handicapped, or both.  Security guards barked orders at us and herded us around like cattle.  All this to get a bite to eat?   No, thanks!

Somebody I met throughout this process told me I ought to try “flying a sign.”  I had no idea what the expression meant at the time, but he showed me that all I had to do was sit silently on the sidewalk with a piece of cardboard and an explanatory statement, and I would probably get cash and food within a three or four hour shift.  (I’m glad he included the word “silently,” because I tried using the words “can you spare some change?” once and only once.  The judgmental shaking of the head and scornful reply, “Not for you, buddy!” was enough to convince me that verbal begging was not for me.)

But in displaying my sign in silence, making eye contact with passersby, I found that I averaged about $17/day working three hours daily at my “spot,” and often got a sandwich or two as well.   I usually sat there between about 9 am and noon.   After that, I felt free to vacate the homeless pandemonium, get on a BART train, and find a place where I could chill out, plug in my laptop (if it hadn’t gotten stolen) and gather my bearings for the next morning on the streets.

Those with whom I associated agreed with me that all of these homeless services, aside from being demeaning, primarily served to keep homeless people homeless.  And as far as the homeless “feeds,” it became clear after a while that they were simply feeding the wrong people.

Think about it.  If you were a street hustler who never cared to do a lick of decent work in your life, and you wanted to get food without working for it, where would you turn?  Of course you would head to one of those community meals.   You would do anything you could to get something for nothing — even steal.

The sad thing is that people with legitimate disabilities who needed caregivers and case workers, and who would thrive best in situations like board-and-care homes, were also mixed into the batch.   Many of them were stuck in the cracks of the system, and I saw quite a few die on the streets.

Another sad thing — or rather a maddening thing — is that it was assumed that I and my similar companions were unemployable, assumed we had landed on the streets due to drug addiction or alcoholism, assumed  we were insane, and basically assumed that unless we thought as they did, acted in the manner they wanted us to act, and believed the ideology that they wanted us to believe, then there was something wrong with us.  

Although I did vacate the premises after 19 months in order to rent a cottage in a rural area in the Central Valley — and there created nine talks on the subject based on what I had learned thus far — I wish I hadn’t been so eager to get inside.  The place I landed was in a horrible area, surrounded by tweakers, and it dawned on me that there weren’t too many places in that part of California where I could get a place in the $400/mo. range that were going to be any different.   So, once I finished the 9th talk, I returned to Berkeley for more research.

That might have been a mistake.

Three years later, I was having the devil of a time digging myself out of the hole that had been dug.   Years of sleep deprivation began to wear on my mental health.   I was constantly being awakened in the middle of the night by other homeless people (if not cops or security guards), my belongings would disappear over night, and I even dabbled in street drugs in an effort to keep my sanity and desensitize myself from all the chaos.

My self-esteem grew lower and lower.   Social workers who wanted to “help” me referred me to all kinds of programs with strict regimens, and I found I didn’t belong in any of them.  Not to mention, I’m one of those Introverted types who cherishes his privacy, and I learned that I would rather sleep outdoors in secluded spots on the outskirts of town, than stay crammed into a homeless shelter with about fifty other guys, where the rate of theft was even greater.

Finally, after one particularly disturbing instance when I was kicked out of a homeless shelter because I had caught the flu there, I got down on my knees and shouted to Whoever might hear my prayer:

“I do not care who they are telling me I am!
I do not care about drug addiction, alcoholism, mental illness,
or being a loser, or being a lazy bum, or being a worthless piece of crap!
I care about HOMELESSNESS!!
Please God put on end to all these years
of totally unpredicable, totally unreliable,
anything can happen, anytime, anywhere, HOMELESSNESS!!!”

I literally screamed that petition to the stars of a seemingly indifferent sky, hurting my knees from the impact of the concrete outside the Sequoia Station in Redwood City.

Long story short (and it’s a story that has been often told elsewhere), within three or four weeks, I had an affordable room in North Idaho, renting for about one fourth of what it would have rented in Berkeley, and a job playing piano at a small church, after being considered unemployable and mentally insane in the State of California for years.

How did I get there?  It wasn’t from a handout.  It was from a hand-up – in the form of a $200 bus ticket granted by an old associate of mine, a retired music teacher whom I’d worked with years ago on the San Francisco Bay Area Peninsula, before all of the sordid homelessness began.

Which brings me to my point.  The only homeless people who are into receiving “hand outs” from the system are those who either cannot fend for themselves, or choose not to, because they’d rather work the system.  The rest could use a hand-up.  I got one, and three and a half years later, on Thanksgiving Day, I must say I am thankful.  I’ve paid my rent on time in a place of my own choosing, a place of solitude and dignity, since September 1st, 2016.

So let that be food for thought on Thanksgiving Day.   You may use this information as you choose.   Maybe if somebody gives a hand-up to a person who could truly use it, then Somebody will give a hand-up to you.

Can I give you a hand? (Words and phrases for helping others) – About Words – Cambridge ...

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The Homeless Inequities

Happy Thanksgiving — to those to whom it applies.   Here’s a little talk I created yesterday.  It’s about twenty-five minutes long, explaining how my recent “Inequity Series” came about, what it means, and what we probably should be doing about it.  I’d be happy if you gave it a listen.

The Homeless Inequities 

We who live indoors have a lot to be thankful for.  I say, let’s give a “hand up” to those who could use it.  God bless you — and God bless America.

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Tuesday Tuneup 60

Q. What are you doing here?

A. Thinking.

Q. About what?

A. About what to do next.

Q. What are your options?

A. Well, I can start working on one of two stories due Friday, I can continue working on my new musical, or I can do neither of the above.

Q. What will happen if you do neither of the above?

A. I’ll probably flop down on the floor from exhaustion.

Q. Have you been working too hard lately?

A. You might say so.

Q. Why?

A. Because everybody else says so.

Q. I meant, why you have been working so hard?

A. Because I’ve been hurt.

Q. What is the relationship between your working hard and your having been hurt?

A. When I’m hurt, I don’t like to experience the super-painful feelings.  So I dive into a creative project of some kind.  Something so engaging that it takes my mind off the hurt.

Q. Isn’t that unhealthy?

A. Why would it be unhealthy?

Q. Aren’t you supposed to face the hurt directly?   Walk through the pain?   Experience it fully until it has been processed?

A. Why would I be supposed to do that?

Q. Wouldn’t you be in denial if you don’t?

A. Denial of what?

Q. Denial of your feelings?

A. I don’t think so.  I already know how horribly painful the feelings are.   That’s the reason why I turn my attention away from them in the first place.

Q. In other words, your creative work is your painkiller?

A. You could put it that way, yes.

Q. How long have you been doing this?

A. I believe I was seven years old when I began to do this.

Q. What happened when you were seven?

A. Somebody hurt me.  And that same year, I learned how to play the piano, write music, write stories, and draw pictures.

Q. Who hurt you?

A. God.

Q. How could God have hurt you?

A. He hurt me in the sense that He created death.   Before I found out about death, I assumed I was going to live forever, in a very happy place, with a loving family.  Naturally, when I learned this was not the case, I was shattered.   And not only on my own behalf.  I was shattered on behalf of the entire human race.

Q. Would it be better if we all lived forever?

A. Yes.

Q. But won’t we all live forever anyway?  I mean, in heaven?

A. We’d certainly like to think so.  But apparently that statement has been the theme of much debate.

Q. Would you like to engage in such a debate at this time?

A. No, I would not.

Q. What would you like to do at this time?

A. To be honest, my heart is hugely into this new musical of mine.  When I was super-hurt yesterday, I sat down and cranked out five songs for the first scene — songs I’d already written (music only, no lyrics) and saw in a very short time how they could form the exposition and a good part of the development of an engaging new story line. And I’m psyched! This really could be the best of all the musicals, if I hunker down.

Q. How many musicals have you written?

A. Five.

Q. How many have been produced?

A. One.

Q. Why only one?

A. Because the process of trying to produce a musical is tedious, cumbersome, arduous, uncertain, stressful, frustrating, maddening, and painful.

Q. And you don’t like to face those feelings?

A. You know I don’t.

Q. So what do you do instead?

A. Usually, I write another musical.  But not immediately.  I have to let the last musical set for a while.

Q. What do you do in the meantime?  I mean, if you get hurt?

A. Depending on the level of the hurt, I either write a poem, an essay, or a song.  Unless the hurt is really really huge.

Q. What happens when the hurt is really really huge?

A. I jump the gun and dive into the next musical.   It’s the way I roll.  When my mom died, I wrote a musical.   When my wife left me years ago, I wrote a musical.

Q. And you’ve started yet another musical?   A sixth?  And you knocked out the first Scene with five songs in one morning?

A. Yes.

Q. How hurt must you have been to do something so huge!?

A. It’s not really important how hurt I was, or who hurt me, or why.  The important thing is that I’m tired.

Q. Tired?

A. Tired and weary.

Q. Tired of what?

A, Please move on to the next question.

Q. So what is this new musical going to be about?

A. The original hurt.

Q. You mean, when you were seven?

A. No.  Even more original.  I’m talking about what happened in the Garden.

Q. You mean, Eden?

A. Eden.  The Garden that we’re all unconsciously trying to return to.

garden.jpg

The Questioner is silent.  

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The Least of These My Brothers

Then the King will tell those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you; or thirsty, and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger, and take you in; or naked, and clothe you? When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?’

“The King will answer them, ‘Most certainly I tell you, because you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Then he will say also to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you didn’t give me food to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and you didn’t take me in; naked, and you didn’t clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

“Then they will also answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and didn’t help you?’

“Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Most certainly I tell you, because you didn’t do it to one of the least of these, you didn’t do it to Me.’

–Matthew 25:34-45

Inequity (Part One)

When I made the decision to join an intentional homeless community in the city of Berkeley on April 15, 2011, it was widely assumed that I had become homeless due to having lived a completely mistaken life for 58 years prior.

In this light, I noticed that if a person were a conservative, and they had become homeless in that community, they were often told that they should be a liberal “because the liberals were feeding them.”

However, if a person were a liberal, and they had become homeless in that same community, they were often told that they should become a conservative “because the Salvation Army was feeding them.”

dont judge etcIn general, no conclusions that any of us had drawn in all of our lifetimes prior to becoming homeless in Berkeley were regarded as being of value by anyone other than homeless people.   You don’t know how many people came up to me in an effort to proselytize their particular brand of Christianity, without even bothering to ask me if I identified as a Christian in the first place.

Why should a person change all the conclusions that they had drawn throughout 58 years of living, only because they had fallen on hard times?   If anything, my faith was needed more than ever.

The reason for this, simply put, is that it is widely assumed that a person becomes homeless due to some flaw in their character.   It is almost never supposed that the person might have become homeless because of a lack of affordable housing.  Yet, if that were not the case, I wouldn’t be sitting here today.   A renter in San Francisco might be paying $3000/mo. for a one bedroom apartment.  Here, I am paying $450/mo. for the same.

Yet the number of people who think that I experienced a total psychic change during a one way 48 hour bus trip to a low rent district in other State is staggering.  Some people even insist that it was then that I “found God.”  The fact of the matter is — and I hate to break to anybody — I did not change on that trip at all.  As for having “found God,” the notion is equally ludicrous.  I prayed more prayers to God when I was sleeping in that gutter than at any previous time in my life – and I’m fairly sure you would have too. 

What I found was an affordable place to live.  When will people listen to reason, and to the simple truth?

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Tuesday Tuneup 58

Q. What are you doing here?

A. I have no idea.

Q. None whatsoever?

A. None at all.

Q. How could this come to be?

A. Not sure.  My guess is that it may be due to an emptying of the mind.

Q. Are you trying to tell me that your mind is empty?

A. Well — emptier.  It’s usually full of all kinds of fancy notions.   It seems to have been cleared of many of them.

Q. What kinds of fancy notions?

A. Oh, this and that.

Q. Can you be more specific?

A. Well — it used to be, not too long ago, my life seemed to depend on certain things falling into place.  Certain things happening.   

Q. What kinds of things?

A. Professional things.   And some personal things.

Q. Too personal to discuss?

A. Next question, please.

Q. Are these things no longer happening?

A. Not exactly as I’d expected, no.  But bright things are emerging, both in personal and professional arenas.

Q. What kinds of things?

A. New things.

Q. New?

Q. Yes.  My world has been emptied of old things.   Things no longer pertinent to a newly emerging life.

Q. Do you know exactly what the new life will entail?

A. Not at all, sir.  I can only say that I’m very much looking forward to it.

Q. How did this all come to pass?

A. Through meditation.   And surrender.

Q. Surrender of what?

A. I already told you, sir!  Of old ideas.   Please don’t pry.

Q. Am I prying?

A. Yes.

Q. Should I apologize?

A. Only if it makes you feel better.

Q. So after you emptied your mind, did it come to be filled with new things?

A. Not filled to the brim.   But there’s a process of its being filled.

Q. By whom?

A. By God.   He can’t fill a full cup.  He can only fill an empty cup.

Q. Do you believe in God?

A. I do.

Q, How do you equate such an antiquated belief with your intellect?

A. The Word “God” is only a Word.   Words have meaning.  Ask yourself what the Word means.   Then read John Chapter One, Verse One.   Use the Berean Study Bible for ease of use and accurate translation.  Or the Revised Standard — that’s my suggestion.  Start from there.  Just try it.  And then — don’t read cover to cover.  The Word is not a novel.  Read where the Spirit leads you.   

Q. Why?

A. Because I did.  And another intellectual did — someone whom I love.   And countless others.   Believe me, it’s worth the search.   

The Questioner is silent.  

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