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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The Beautiful Gate

One afternoon Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those entering the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter the temple, he asked them for money.

Peter looked directly at him, as did John. “Look at us!” said Peter. So the man gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!”

Taking him by the right hand, Peter helped him up, and at once the man’s feet and ankles were strengthened. He sprang to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and leaping and praising God.

When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the man who used to sit begging at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

— Acts 3:1-10

 

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The Death of Death

I wasn’t sure what to offer you for Easter Sunday, when a story popped into my head.  It was something that happened way back in the 70’s, when I was hanging out in an all-night restaurant.

A man entered.  He seemed to have a mental health condition.  He took a napkin and a pen, and drew the famous equation:E Equals Mc Squared Calculator | Komseq
“You know what that means?” he asked, smiling.

I looked up from my seventh cup of coffee.   “Energy equals matter times the speed of light squared.”

“Ha!” he said.  “He knows!  But that’s only half of it.  It actually is about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

“How do you figure that?” I asked.

“The only constant in the Universe, according to Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, is the speed of light.  The only constant in corporeal life is death.   The speed of light squared is the speed of light times the speed of light.  Death squared is death times death.  In multiplication, the word “of” is often used as a multiplier.   Therefore, we are dealing with the death of death.

“Matter corresponds to the corporeal body.   So, matter, times the death of death, equals what?  Energy.  In other words, everlasting life.

“Are you a Christian?”

“No, I’m not,” I replied.

“You will be,” he said mysteriously, and walked out of the restaurant.

An interesting word of prophecy, as it were – for I eventually did become a Christian (though possibly not as a result of his bizarre analogy.)  I could tell you how I became a Christian, in the Spring of 1983, but that would be a theme for a much longer, larger post.

For today, I only want to say that I went running along a strange and merry trail, where no other runners were.   A lone rabbit eased up towards me, on the other side of the creek, and surpassed me at amazing velocity.

“Aha!” I proclaimed.  “There’s the Easter Bunny!”

He is risen! He is risen indeed.

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Gratitude List 1116

(1) I’m in good spirits this morning, and rested, after a lengthy period of anxiety and self-doubt.

(2) I’ll be turning 66 on Wednesday, and I have yet to have a serious physical ailment beyond a flu or a common cold.

(3) I’m at a new clinic where I have finally begun to receive effective treatment for my Severe ADHD and Dyslexia.

(4) Though I awoke discouraged, I found myself encouraged after a long talk with my good friend Danielle, wherein I was reminded of all the many positives in my present life.

(5) Just after Danielle and I got off the phone, I received a first-time call from Jennifer, the new behavioral health specialist at the clinic.   As a result of her influence and insight, I am uplifted.  I am now encouraged to focus on that which I am able to change; i.e., my own self, and not on those whom I am unable to change; i.e., most of my old friends and family members in the State of California.

(6) Alastair not only published two of my articles in the April issue of Street Spirit, but is giving me the opportunity to write regular monthly articles on a certain exciting theme, and also is willing to recommend my work to three major San Francisco Bay Area newspapers.

(7) I have found a publishing house in White Plains, Michigan willing to publish the anthology I am compiling of stories I’ve written about homelessness in America.

(8) Two weeks ago, I received a definite offer for a production of an unstaged concert-reading of Eden in Babylon at a local community theatre company.  The only reason I’ve not yet said “yes” is because a fully staged production is in the works at a much larger venue on the University level.   

(9) I have not met one person in this city who does not want to see Eden in Babylon produced here and elsewhere.   By contrast, there was not one person in the last city where I lived who cared about my musical at all.

(10) Three years ago I was in that city — and I was sleeping under a bridge.  I had been homeless and borderline-homeless in the San Francisco Bay Area for twelve years — and life was getting worse and worse.  Everybody I knew had given me up for gone.   Everybody I knew was just waiting to read my obituary, and I myself expected to die a miserable death in a California gutter.   Now, three years later, every prayer that I prayed to God in anger, yea, in outrage – is being answered – in spades.

Life will always have its ups and downs, and we are none of us perfect.   But the fact that I am not only alive and healthy, but also in the process of fulfilling my life’s dream, is little short of a miracle.  Glory to God – to the One True God — Jesus Christ the Same: Yesterday, Today, and Forever.

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The Challenge of the Wealthy

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

“Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.

–Matthew 19:16-24

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Tuesday Tuneup 35

Q. Where would you like to be?

A. I would like to be with Jesus Christ, in the Day when there will be a New Heaven and a New Earth.  In that Day I will drink new wine — with Him.  For the form of old wine will have passed, and there will be no drunken stupor, but only the intoxication of the Spirit.  Among us will be many others of the Resurrection Family, as we revel in a realm of unimaginable beauty and glory.   A realm where everybody is equal, and where no one need be told to know the Lord. 

For we will all know Him — from the least to the very greatest.   There will be neither male nor female, neither Greek nor Jew, neither slave nor owner thereof.  For we will all have been loosed from the bonds of oppression, and liberated into the freedom of unhindered, unrestricted, unrestrained Flow of Life.   We will drink freely of the Water in the River of the Water of Life, and in that Baptismal Water, Christ will be born in the hearts of all who live forever in His Spirit.

And God Himself will be among us, and we will be His people, and He will be our God.  And in that Day we will need no lamp, nor light from the sun, for the Lord God will give us Light.   And God will wipe every tear from our eyes.

The Questioner is Silent.

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The Eye of a Needle

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’ ”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

–Mark 10:17-24

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(Talks 2018) – Talk No. 2

Here’s the second talk in my Talks 2018 series, intended to illuminate the realities of the Homeless Experience to those who have not yet been there.   This talk shows how a person having found themselves winding up homeless more often than not might eventually make a conscious choice to live outdoors, rather than inside an untenable situation.  

Homeless by Choice

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The Resurrection and the Life

Lazarus.jpg

This time-honored story, while not dealing directly with the Easter story, nevertheless reveals the realities of resurrection and of eternal life that have to do with the saving grace and power of Jesus Christ.  I hope you all have a blessed experience of God’s undying love on this day.

When Jesus arrived at Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, and many of the people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house. Martha said to Jesus: “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”

“Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.”

Jesus told her, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Anyone who believes in Me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in Me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?”

“Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” Then she returned to Mary. She called Mary aside from the mourners and told her, “The Teacher is here and wants to see you.” So Mary immediately went to him.

— John 11:17-29
New Living Translation

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I Never Meant to Hurt You

I tried three times throughout the week to do a decent take of this old Laura Nyro song.   I think this might be the one.  I thought it would be a nice gesture for Good Friday.   There are a lot of people, including Him, whom I did not really mean to hurt.   But I hurt them anyway, although I loved them.  I am glad He paid the price for all of that.  It’s a far greater price than I could pay.

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What’s in a Name?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And most of all, to the Name of God. 

God bless us, every one.

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Culture Shock

I haven’t been active here lately because I’ve been trying to deal with complex issues related to my mental health and my Christian faith.  Much of this is explained in a 27-paragraph Facebook timeline post that prints out to 16 pages double-spaced.   It’s extremely lengthy and revealing, but if you want to read it, I will of course be highly gratified.  I’ll post again with a progress update once the smoke clears from this most recent explosion of nerves.  Take care in the meantime, and God bless you.

CULTURE SHOCK

Whenever I’ve had a Facebook in the past, there has usually been a much larger number of “friends” here, and I have created timeline posts of substantial length and content much more frequently. This wasn’t such a bad thing, because it provided a forum for the expression of some of my rather unusual personal views. However, it also got me into trouble. Not that I couldn’t handle the lively debate I had in fact been hoping to incite, but that sometimes I would be misconstrued in my core intentions. Sometimes, people would become concerned about me personally, when basically all I was trying to do was render a social statement based on my experience.

The classic example in my history would be the event of having three Oakland city cops knock on my door and haul me off to a loony bin over something I wrote on my timeline. To this day, I’m not even sure what I wrote, or how it was thus misconstrued. If I recall correctly, it had something to do with the ownership of a certain type of firearm, and how it related to 2nd Amendment rights. It was *not* along the lines of my being about to *use* a firearm on anybody. In fact, I have never owned a gun in my life. But this is the kind of thing that can happen here on Facebook. It was an unfortunate event, but like all unfortunate events, it did motivate me to think a few things through. I am always grateful that God gifted me with an unusually analytical mind, because the intellectual analysis of social details is invariably far more pleasant and productive than any mere depression in which I might otherwise engage. So – call that sublimation or what-have-you. I am an Artist and a Writer – or at least, I think like one. As such, any negative experience I have will immediately become source material for a future work of Art. That’s just the way I roll.

But many other things about my relationship to Facebook concern me. They seem symptomatic of a larger ill. I am never quite sure how much is *my* ill – my boundary issues, communication problems, impulse control issues, impatience, and so forth – and how much of it is due to the fact that the world is simply evil, and that Facebook instantiates the evil that is in the world already. If so, it’s a pretty huge, multi-billion dollar replica of that evil, and not just something to be trifled with. Whatever the case, Facebook is a lot more manageable if I keep it on the down low. But I will keep it. There are people in my life who will never answer my emails or even check their email. There are people in my life who won’t even call me on the phone or answer back if I call them. If I want to find these people, I know where to find them: Facebook. It’s a fact of modern life, just like the damned smartphone that so annoys me. The O.G. is just going to have to live with it.

rotary telephoneFor my part, I would rather we all still had rotary land line telephones that had only one function. Nowadays the smartphone has so many hundreds of functions, it frustrates me no end trying to keep track of them all. My sense of isolation from humanity is completely fed and fostered by modern-day technology. Am I the only person who has all these weird issues around Internet communications and social media? Maybe I’ve just never really bothered to explore it deeply enough to learn what’s truly useful and enjoyable about it all. But it just seems to me that all these different devices, and syncing them together, and two-step verification, and all that other rot is essentially a ploy on the part of the Powers That Be to rob us of our privacy and personal sovereignty, under the guise of increasing our security and convenience. Then again, I can never quite tell how much of this is *me* and how much is *it.* So I take the middle road, and have a smaller Facebook that I use much less frequently. Life is easier that way — for me.

Life is easier for me in a lot of ways, these days, than it has been for many years. This is why I am writing tonight. I haven’t created too many lengthy or meaningful timeline posts, and it’s about time I made a contribution. The lamentations that I have indulged regarding modern technology and the effects of classism on our culture were once those of an embittered old man who assumed he was on his way out. Despite my dreams, despite the worldview about which I am passionate, and despite my God-given talents, I was consigned to die a miserable, meaningless death on the streets, among others who were slowly doing the same. I would have died, as Cervantes wrote about the soldiers he saw dying in battle, not wondering why I was dying, but why I had lived. When I moved from Berkeley, California, to Moscow, Idaho, all of that changed. The sense of culture shock, though still quite shocking, was at the same time a true inspiration.

culture shockBut don’t get me wrong. I still believe what my unusual experiences have led me to believe. I still romance the year 1975, when we all had rotary land line telephones with only one function. But it was remarkable how many things that I loved about the seventies, that I thought had disappeared for good, were obviously still alive here in Moscow. So any despair I might have felt over the state of affairs here in America was instantly removed from my system of social perceptions. I almost feel guilty expressing optimism at this time in our history, but if you can get a grasp of the hugeness of the culture shock, and of its overall impact upon me, you will understand why. I simply did not know there were any places left in America where people still trust each other and believe in each other, where the average person has no reason to suspect that his neighbor will steal from him, and where it is ordinarily assumed that the person in his midst is a competent individual, capable of making rational choices and earning his own living. You have no idea how encouraged I have been to have made this discovery.

Even so, people in California warned me that I would find Idaho to be “backwards, bigoted, and behind the times.” Even as I gushed about how thrilled I was to have finally been able to pick myself up off the streets and craft the lifestyle I had been longing to know for years, many of my friends from California would only emphasize the negative. This could have been a reaction to the effusive and sometimes hyperbolic nature of my ravings. Or perhaps they were jealous that my life had suddenly become easier than theirs. Maybe they just wanted me to chill out, or calm down, or not to fly too high. What happened when Icarus flew too high? He crashed and burned. People who have known me for years know that I have this tendency, which in modern terminology is known as bipolar disorder. But there are other ways to frame the effects of this tendency rather than to treat it as a disease. I got a little bit hot under the collar when I was trying to express how wonderful life had suddenly become, and most of my friends in California were responding by telling me to go see a psychiatrist. Whatever the case, the inability of almost everyone I knew in the State of California to simply be happy for me, without inserting uninformed criticisms of the State of Idaho into their responses, angered me to the point where eventually, I decided to cut all contact with people from my previous existence. This was a rash and blanket, catch-all decision, which after a few weeks I recanted. But it kept me focused at a time when I was, in fact, beginning to “fly too high,” and I needed all the focus I could get.

So let’s take a step back and analyze the gist of their warning. Essentially, the warning states that Idaho, and every other State besides California (with the possible exception of Oregon and Washington) is “backwards, bigoted, and behind the times.” I hesitate to speak for “bigoted” because of the obvious fact that there is no distinct race in Idaho with a large enough population to comprise a target for bigotry, other than the White race. For bigotry and racial tension to be active in any environment, there would have to be at least two races of substantial population in that environment. However, I also want to say that I haven’t really met anyone here who expresses prejudicial or bigoted sentiments. I include this information partly because of something that Julian Hoover posted on a meme recently, regarding the Trump administration, and how racial tension and distrust have increased since his election. This may be true, but since I personally am emerging from a background of such *extreme* racial tension, it’s difficult for me to imagine how much worse it may have gotten since the election. After all, I’m not there anymore. I can only read about it in the papers. But when I was there, in the situation I was in, I was constantly being accused of being a racist by people who did not know me at all, who made this accusation on first sight, merely because my skin was White. Now in that dynamic, who exactly is the racist?

soical-stigmaThis is not mere prejudice. This is stigma. It is the event in which, as the sociologist Erving Goffman wrote in his work on the subject, “perception spoils identity.” I was being judged, not as an individual with his own unique identity, but as a member of a social faction that, in the perception of the person making the judgment, was composed completely of racists. It’s like assuming that the man begging for change on the sidewalk is a drug addict. Or that every drug addict is a thief. Neither of these things is true. In my opinion, the sooner we can all relax and see each other as the unique individuals whom we are, perfectly molded and crafted through our DNA by intentional divine design, at the hands of an invisible and ineffable Creator who knows exactly what He is doing, in a manner that we mere human beings cannot even conceive of, then the better off we will be. This is another reason why I was so overjoyed in coming to Moscow, Idaho. It was the first time in years that anybody was bothering to take me at face value for who I appeared to be, and not just lump me into some box. In the previous world, I kept feeling that the representatives of a political philosophy were trying very hard to put the round hole whom I am into the square box whom I am not. They almost succeeded, because their influence was so pervasive, I almost came to believe that they were right. Had I stayed in that environment much longer, I might have lost my identity completely.

Then, as far as “backwards” and “behind the times,” I think we need to take a look at this as well. For one thing, I have really come to question what is “progressive” about a society in which people have no good reason to trust their neighbors. Have we “progressed” to the point where there is so much theft in our worlds that we turn a blind eye to it, and much of it goes unreported? When I left my wallet at a Starbucks in Berkeley, it was gone fifteen minutes later. I had to replace all the cards, and of course I never got the cash back. When twice I left my wallet in the laundry room of my apartment building here, each time it was returned to me within three days by the janitors, once with $75 in cash in it. I also bought five cell phones during a five year period of time. With the exception of the one I sold when I was destitute, all four of them disappeared from my backpack overnight, whilst I slept. Finally, as most of you know, I had four laptops stolen from me in a three year period of time in Berkeley, and a fifth in Oakland, during that same period. Two of the Berkeley thefts were strong-armed robberies, meaning that I was pistol-whipped in the process. Outside of having to deal with the indignity and trauma thereof, I was extremely frustrated for the interruptions. I had work to do that was important to me, if to no one else, and I was tired of not being able to have a solid place where I could sit down, plug in my laptop, and resume my projects. Finally, I bought a laptop from Bill at the Used Computer Store on Shattuck Avenue, then quietly left Berkeley without saying a word. It has been over a year now. I still have that same laptop today. How long would that laptop have lasted me in Berkeley? Your guess ought to be as good as mine by this point, but I can guarantee you it would not have lasted an entire year.

get-a-jobWhen I lived in California, it was generally assumed that I was unemployable, due to an alleged mental health condition, the veracity of which dates back to January 1, 2007. On that day, I made the two biggest mistakes I have ever made in my entire life. Both mistakes were a direct result of my having bought into the lie that I was unemployable. The first mistake was that I placed myself on Social Security Disability Income at a time in my life when I was easily young enough to be working – and was, in fact (unbeknownst to them) still working. To what degree this was a “scam” of mine, I honestly cannot say. Most of us are glad to receive extra money, no matter where it comes from. But as I accepted the $875 monthly government crazy money that I had not earned, along with the $15,000 back payment that I did not deserve, I had to see the words LEGALLY INCOMPETENT placed in capital letters on a bizarre document informing me that I could not, and should not, ever work again. And, as I saw those words, I believed them. Why did I believe them? Well, that has to do with the second big mistake, which was even bigger, and which we need not discuss at this time. (You all know what it is anyway – or if you don’t, I’ll write a book about it and get back to you.)

Dealing with the rising cost of living as we all were down there, and working less and less the more I leaned on my government money, I eventually landed on the streets. There, I lived for years, desperately trying to find my Andy, and get my Andy back, while not one person validated for me the notion that maybe I could still work. Local agents of the Powers That Be incessantly kept trying to put me into some kind of institution, agency, program, shelter, halfway house, board and care home, or other such strictly structured residential environment. Only once did a stranger passing by me look down upon me, and shout: “GET A JOB!” You have no idea how good it felt to hear those words, when all around me, it was assumed that I was completely incompetent, if not gravely disabled, and in need of some sort of assisted living situation. Honestly, I still remember looking up silently at this total stranger, and hearing him shout: “GET A JOB, MAN! GET OFF YOUR BUTT! GET A HUSTLE!” All I could do, after hearing everybody else around me only tell me where the free food was and how to get a bed in a homeless shelter, was to look up at the guy, and silently think: “You know something? He’s right.”

But the pervasiveness of the identity-crushing, dehumanizing ideology that insidiously weaves its way into the hearts of every free speech advocate who dares take up residence in the city of Berkeley was overwhelming. I consistently thought that I was wrong, and that all of them were right. I couldn’t possibly be right, and the whole world wrong, could I? I must be wrong, I thought. So I permitted them to place me into all kinds of programs and facilities, only to my hurt. For whenever I did succumb, and try to take up residence in one of those God-awful situations, I only found myself surrounded by other people who were also thought to be completely unemployable, if not criminal, and I only drifted further away from my simple goal of regaining the Andy whom I had lost. I lost him when he was smothered in the maze and mire known as Stigma. I would last maybe five weeks at most before it finally dawned on me that I was happier pitching a tent in Tilden Park and quietly saying my evening prayers to the stars. In that solitude, there was a glimpse of the Andy whom I had lost, and even a hint of hope that I might regain him. But I honestly never dreamed I would truly get my Andy back, or even a part of him, until I moved to Moscow, Idaho. Here, after years of living on the streets, I had a job within three weeks after my arrival. Backwards? Behind the times? If this is “backwards,” then give me “backwards.” If this is “behind the times” — all I can say is: Bring It On!

The move I made was phenomenal, abrupt, swift and unforeseen. It seemed to everyone I knew that one day I was dying in a gutter, and the next day I had a job and an apartment in another State. Four days after I arrived here, I signed a one-year lease on an apartment. Would that ever happened down in California? Not on your life. There would have been a complex series of providing references from past landlords as well as personal references, not to mention a credit check and a criminal background check. In the process, some other applicant would have beat me out. But here, when my present landlord even hinted at querying about past landlords, I only had to tell him that they were all a bunch of lying crooks, and that if the tables were turned, I would never provide a reference for any of them. “You, on the other hand,” I smiled, “seem like a genuinely decent fellow.” That was all it took to get a one year lease on an apartment. He trusted me; I trusted him; we still both trust each other. In Berkeley, even after four months of renting a room in an old Victorian, there was never a moment when the landlord and I truly trusted each other.

And the cost of living? I was paying $900/mo. for a place just like this in Berkeley six years ago, only without an on-site laundry room. Here I pay only $285/mo. — with all utilities paid, and free wireless Internet. One might wonder, then, if the clientele consists of completely dubious characters. I can tell you for a fact that I am easily the most dubious character of them all – and that I truly try not to be. I have stolen from no one, nor would I. No one has stolen from me — nor would they. Nobody has assaulted me, or accused me of being a “racist” or threatened to knock the crap out of me, only because my skin is White. I still have the exact same laptop that I bought on the day I left Berkeley. In Berkeley, I had been frustrated that I couldn’t finish a large project – a full scale musical with a cast of 27 – throughout the whole five years since I had conceived of the idea. In Moscow, I sat down between Thanksgiving Day and March 4th of this year at the Moscow Bagel and Deli, and finished the entire thing, all 135 pages of it. I had been furious that I could not score any of the music I had been composing, a song cycle including 18 songs, and a certain instrumentation. I sat down in the One World Cafe in Moscow, Idaho, and I finished the whole damn thing, 400 pages of music, fully orchestrated. Given those personal successes, weighed against my background, one would think I would have no reason to complain about my life at all. And I basically don’t, except for one single horrible, inescapable truth:

I, Andy Pope, have not changed. Oh, I got my Andy back all right – and when I got him back, he was same arrogant, obstinate, stubborn, touchy, finicky, over-talkative, over-sensitive, boundary-breaking, foot-in-the-mouth son-of-a-gun that he always was and probably always will be. (Guess it’s the DNA I was gushing about, and maybe a little of that “divine design.”)

change-231x300I need to change. If I cannot change my heart, which is deceitful above all things, than I at least have to change my approach. Everything that happened before I left my church job on April 15th was stuff that could have easily happened down there, were it not for my circumstances. But I never changed inside of me. I didn’t even try to. I didn’t want to. All that happened was that I got to show my good side for a change, to myself, and to a bunch of other people whom one year ago, I never dreamed I’d have met. But that’s not enough in the long haul. The reasons why my job began to frustrate me were no different than they have ever been in the past, except for maybe that I’m older now, and my ability to roll with the punches of normal workaday stress is even more diminished. I’ve always been too sensitive. I’ve always been too absent-minded. I’ve always stressed out too easily over things that weren’t stressing the others out, leaving them wondering what the problem was. But to move from those relatively minor shortcomings to LEGALLY INCOMPETENT was a big mistake! All it did was to erode my confidence even further, in an atmosphere where everybody around me believed it, and I dared not think they all were wrong. Believing that lie has led me nowhere but to the unenviable position of unemployment in which I find myself tonight.

In the past three months, I have watched myself do everything I have ever done anywhere else in the world in order to shoot myself in the foot. I have committed the same sins I have committed at any other time in my past, whenever I have “crashed and burned,” and in so doing, inexplicably destroyed everything it had taken me months to build up. But what is different is the type of responses I’ve been getting from people in the community here. I have been stopped by cops three times over situations that, had I remained in California, nobody would have cared about. This is great. It means that I am getting wake-up calls for the very same things that would have been completely dismissed down in a State where the jails are too overcrowded for the cops to care. I have had a lady approach me to tell me that she saw a private message I sent to her son and had told him to delete me from his friends list. This is also great. Now I might start being a lot more careful about who I accept as a Facebook friend, and what I say in a private message. I have learned that personal emails I’d sent of a highly sensitive nature, erratic emails that I sent when I was in a volatile state, were shared by the recipient with her associates. This is even greater. Maybe now I will finally be able to address my perennial “email problem,” because in the past whenever I have sent such emails, everybody ignored them, and nobody even cared enough to call me on my stuff. But the most painful thing of all was the sudden rejection I received from a young friend whom I genuinely loved, when he inexplicably blocked me and made communication with him impossible, immediately after informing me that these emails, not intended for him in the first place, had been shared with him. But something stood out in all the mysterious things he was suddenly saying about me. It was his cryptic statement: “You only care about one thing.”

Of all the totally weird things that have happened to me in the past three months, things that would never have happened in California, that was the weirdest and by far the most hurtful. It has been almost impossible to find anything positive about somebody whom I loved absolutely refusing to talk to me, for reasons about which I can only speculate. But for anybody who knows me at all to declare that I “only care about one thing” is a total red flag. It’s a bigger wake-up than any of the other things that have thrown me off balance in the past three months, at a time when my main focus has been trying to regain my balance. The truth is that, in a sense, there actually is only One Thing that I care about. Any caring I might have for anything else stems from that One Thing. And yet, I am completely negligent in letting anyone know what that One Thing is. Most people don’t even want to hear about it, but the plain truth is this. If I don’t start being more vocal about my Christian faith, then the second of the two mistakes I made on January 1, 2007 will rear its head again, for the fifth time in the past three months. In that event, any words I may speak pertaining to the Person of Jesus Christ will be completely ineffective, if not ludicrous and disgusting. And as for Stigma, my avowed nemesis? I can only be grateful to have finally learned just how unscrupulous and indiscriminate my enemy can be. Stigma marches militantly through the narrow minds of the deluded and the depraved, like a ruthless crusader on a quest to rob each and every person on earth of their true and valid, God-given unique identities. If I thought Stigma was my mortal enemy in Berkeley, I had no idea how lethal it would be up here in Moscow. I will attack that monster with all my strength, before it kills me, and every word I write will in some way address its poisons, until I finally get my message across. As I said, every negative thing that happens in my life immediately becomes source material for my Art — and this one is just about as negative as they come.

After informing me that I “only care about one thing,” the young man also very kindly suggested that I ought to save up my money and move back to Berkeley to be closer to my daughter. It was a nice sentiment, and I know that when he said that, he was remembering that I also care very deeply for my daughter. But I have to tell anyone who has bothered to read this whole thing that I am not about to go back to Berkeley. After all the things I just told you (and that’s just the tip of the iceberg) why would I? Sure, I miss my friends from California, people who have known me since the 70’s I so fondly revere, people with whom I hope to always retain contact. But that doesn’t mean I am going to move back to the dangerous, costly, life-threatening situation that I have just now attempted to describe. In California, generally speaking, if I had a problem, everybody ignored me. They decided that it was my stuff, and that I had to work it out on my own, or at best, at their most compassionate, they referred me to some agency that would help me deal with it, claiming that they did not have the personal expertise to address my issue. As near as I can see, if I have a problem here in Idaho, everybody rushes up at me and gets totally in my face about it. I would say that I honestly don’t know which is worse, but that would be total bullshit. It’s a lot better to feel cared about, even if the caring is misplaced or misguided, than to feel as though nobody cares about you at all. So once again, thank God I am in Moscow, Idaho. I was born here, and I will die here, so help me God.

The difference between Moscow and any other city where I have attempted to live is this. By and large, except for a few minor, regrettable events, you guys have not tried to put me in a box. All of you, Paul and Niko and anyone else with whom I’ve talked to any meaningful extent, have obviously accepted me for who I am. This may seem very normal and commonplace to you here in Moscow, but outside of a few close friendships, it’s not something that I have in my experience. Whenever I was asked to resign a job at a Christian church, it was with the strong inference that they did not believe I was a Christian. And yet, my friend Danielle with whom I would talk every day on the Internet, had no doubt that I am a Christian. And this woman is easily one of the strongest Christians I’ve ever met. So what’s up with that? If, in my earlier exuberance for my new life here, people couldn’t even tell that I’m a Christian, then that’s a pretty huge problem — and I will definitely make sure I do something about *that.* A large part of being a Christian is to identify as such, and to let people know about it. It’s a difficult thing to do in a world that has disdain for Christians, but it is a necessary thing. It lets people know where you stand, and it keeps you from falling into sinful practices that could easily ensnare you if you are leading people to believe that you’re all right with those practices. I have to remember that Jesus warned us all that the world would hate us because of our beliefs. He said that the day would come when those who killed us would earnestly believe that they were serving God in the process. But he also said that if they hate us, to remember that they hated Him, before they hated us. They hated Him enough to nail Him to a Cross and force Him to endure the mockeries of those who tortured Him to death, while He was in the process of performing the greatest act of self-sacrificial love that has ever been accomplished in the history of the world. Had He not done that, I for one would be burning in hell. If you don’t believe this, that is perfectly understandable. There was a time when I didn’t believe it either. But there came a time when I reflected, and I realized the truth in it, as well as the power. Maybe that time will one day come for you as well.

View from northeastWhen I left the church job that I had somehow managed to keep for nine months, despite my alleged incompetence, I was discouraged. But again, the discouragement was overpowered by the essential difference between Moscow, Idaho and any other city where I have attempted to live. I was not rejected for blowing my gig. I was not ostracized or abandoned or deserted at a trying time in my life. I did not leave a church – I only left a job. As far as my faith is concerned, Moscow First Presbyterian Church is my home. If I made a mistake in Berkeley, if I messed up somehow, I woke up in the presence of other people who had fallen into the same hole as myself, many of whom were making the same kinds of mistakes that I was making, and many of whom did not care. That kind of environment offered me no incentive to rectify my error. If I make a mistake in Moscow, I awaken to a beautiful city that has received me when I was at my best, and that has every reason to deserve my best. If, at some earlier time in my life, I could not tell how much of it was *me* and how much of it was *it,* then it might well have been because my self-esteem was so low, that I really could not tell how much of it actually *was* it, and how relatively little of it actually was “me.* Here, the disparity is much more glaring. I think I can honestly tell how much of it is me (a lot) and how much is *it* — (relatively little).

You see, I am a Christian. Part of being a Christian is to recognize that our true home is in heaven, and that we are all pilgrims and strangers on the earth. Our true body is a spiritual body, that we already have in heaven, and that will be made manifest instantly at the moment of our deaths, when we finally shed this fleshly body, which is only temporary. We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. I think this sentiment is prevalent among all the major religions, the perusal of which I also enjoy. But I remain a Christian, and Jesus Christ is central in my life — or if He’s not, He should be. But like Icarus, when I was flying higher than I’d ever flown in my life, I almost thought I had literally died and gone to heaven. But no way had I died and gone to heaven – I had only moved to Moscow. As a military brat and a lifelong wanderer, I have lived in so many different cities. They all have their different pros and cons. But as a Christian, I believe the words of Hebrews 13 and all the other Scriptures hat I clandestinely have referenced in this post: “We have no continuing city – but we seek one that is to come.”

My true home is not any of the cities or states I have been talking about. My true home is in heaven, where my place has been secured before the foundation of the world. I err when I empower Moscow to such a degree that its positive power becomes akin to that of God’s. I err when I think that Moscow will overpower or overwhelm me if I stay, and that I must then move — to where, exactly? Where else do I go? And when I go there, what will I find? I will only find the same arrogant, obstinate, stubborn, touchy, finicky, over-talkative, over-sensitive, boundary-breaking, foot-in-the-mouth son-of-a-gun that I always was and probably always will be. If I give this city so much power that I feel I must escape it, then I only rob power from the One who has all the power. So why should I empower any person in this city more than I empower God? I know these words may make no sense at all to anyone who is not a believer, but I write them in the hope that they make sense to somebody other than myself. It is God who effected the change that was “phenomenal, abrupt, swift and unforeseen.” I could not possibly have effected such an enormous transition on my own power, without invisible, superhuman, supernatural aid. It is He who snatched me up so suddenly out of all of that chaos, and plopped me down onto Friendship Square on July of 2016 — just the same way that He took me out of an untenable situation in Antioch, CA in September 1990, and I suddenly found myself in Burlingame CA in a three piece suit at a piano job that I was able to keep for nine more years. At no other times in my life has anything like that happened. I could not possibly have created all the sudden conditions that would enable such a dramatic shift of circumstance on my own. It is not a coincidence that I am here. If I were to move, I basically would be denying my faith in the very God in whom I try to put my trust — the very same God I initially thanked so much for putting me here – the God whom I need in order to live, without Whom I am nothing.

homeless-sign-3In the final analysis, God is the One Thing I ought to be caring about. Any caring I might have toward any other human being will then only result from the caring I have toward God. So, if I am to care about God, then I need to ask myself: has God told me to leave this city, just because times have gotten hard, and I am beginning to fall into old patterns that I had hoped to leave behind me for good? After blasting me with so huge a blessing as this, why would God be telling me to go anywhere else at all? You see, all my life I have moved around, first as a military dependent, then as an itinerant theatre person accepting jobs at different regional theatres, and finally as a confused, compulsive, chronic relocator who couldn’t seem to settle down for the life of him. So if I might have mouthed off lately about going back to Berkeley and sleeping on a stairwell while making meager bucks and an occasional slice of pizza flying a sign on a sidewalk, please know that any such sentiment stems from self-delusion and despair — not from any values I would truly wish to cultivate and embrace. I can only thank the Lord that all the insanity of that negativity has provided not only source material for my own Art, but for the ever-evolving, enduring work of Art that is continually being created by the most brilliant Artist of them all. Who am I to challenge the ultimate, perfected Artistry of the Divine?

Nothing in God’s Universe happens by accident. All things work out for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. It is not a coincidence that my sister saw the piano on which I learned how to play being wheeled out of the van of a door-to-door piano salesman in Moscow, Idaho, in the year 1953 when I was in my mother’s womb. It is not a coincidence that Idaho Repertory Theatre was founded in Moscow, Idaho in 1953, the year I was born. It is not a coincidence that there is a school of Reformed Theology directly across the street from me, and that the name of that school is “New Saint Andrews College.” My friends have been calling me “Saint Andrew” ever since. It is not a coincidence to have gotten into long-distance running, and to find that there is a running shoe store on the very corner of the building where I live. It is not a coincidence to have found out from my sister, God rest her soul, where to find the house where I was born, and that in walking up to that house, the cross-street read “HOME STREET.” Most of all, it is not a coincidence that although I only lived here for the first year of my life, I came back in my 63rd year to see what this town was like, and I loved it so much, it almost seemed custom-designed for me. To leave this beautiful city, only because I began to have the same problems I have had in every other city, everywhere else I have tried to live, for the past 34 years of my life, would truly to be to kick a gift horse in the mouth, don’t you think? Far better it will be to remain here, and actually deal with those problems, rather than continue to escape from them.

II was born in Moscow, Idaho, and there’s a good chance I will die in Moscow Idaho. Now how beautiful of a creation is that? Glory, I say therefore: Glory! Glory to God on High! I thank God that if I seek love, I now know where love can be found. If I looked for love in the “wrong places,” I need do so no longer — because I know where the Right Place is. Glory to the One who loves the unlovable. Glory to the Name of God.

Andy Pope
Moscow, Idaho
July 20, 2017

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