Somebody Can’t Breathe

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

Somebody Can’t Breathe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Tuesday Tuneup 68

Q. What’s going on inside?

A. Processing.

Q. Processing what?

A. Thoughts.

Q. Where does this occur?

A. In the brain.

Q. Not in the mind?

A. No.  The brain and the mind are two different things.

Q. How’s that?

A. The brain is the physical organ inside the body whose function is to process the thoughts that are formed in the mind.

Q. And the mind is not in the body?

A. No.

Q. Where is it, then?

A. That question is difficult to answer, because I have never been out of the body.

Q. You haven’t?

A. OK I take it back.  I have been out of the body.   It’s happened several times during sleep paralysis.  But I don’t know the name of the place that I go to when I have left the body.

Q. Do you enjoy leaving the body?

A. Not at all.

Q. You’re not into astral projection?

A. I understand that some people astral-project on purpose.  For me, that would be like sky-diving or bungee-jumping.  No thanks.

Granddad Jumps With Granddaughter In Skydiving Adventure | Aero-News Network

Q. Why not?

A. Why?

Q. Isn’t there a sense of adventure involved?   And exploration?

A. Sure there is.  But there are many other realms to explore where I have found adventure.  That just doesn’t happen to be a realm I am interested in exploring.

Q. Why not?

A. Why?

Q. Why are you avoiding the question?  Are you afraid of astral-projecting?

A. Wow, we are really off the subject!

Q. What is the subject?

A. I was hoping to talk about thought processing.

Q. Can we discuss that later?

A. I suppose.

Q. So what is it about astral projection?

A. My God doesn’t want me involved there.

Q. Why not?

A. He says that this kind of practice is unnecessary and unwise.  

Q. Are you sure you’re not just afraid of it?

A. Well, to be honest with you, once I was out there for a really long time, and yes it was scary.  It was as though I were immersed in a raging river, struggling to stay afloat.  I felt as though there were rocks on either side of the river that I might have been dashed against. I heard three male voices right nearby, saying things like: “This way!”  “Keep him from heading that way!”  “I got him!”  “He’s safe!”  It felt as though these beings had been assigned to keep me from my ass kicked out there.

Q. But you eventually came back?

A. Three times.  When I came back it was like being washed ashore.  But then I went back into the paralysis, and soared up into the “Beyond” again —  and the same thing started over again.   After the third time, I gave up and went to the Emergency Room.

Q. What happened there?

A. I told the doctor exactly what I just told you.

Q. What did the doctor do?

A. He said: “Your description was very poetic.”  Then he dished out the benzos.

Image result for benzos

Q. Is that what you wanted?  The benzos?

A. Not at all.  I hate benzos.  They had me on 6mg of klonopin a day for almost ten years.  I got off it cold turkey on May 10, 2004 and have been hyped up ever since.

Q. Well, what did the benzos do?

A. They enabled to get back to sleep without entering into paralysis.

Q. So they worked?

A. Yes — for a one time shot.  I didn’t take any further, after that.

Q. Then you admit it was scary?

A. Yes.  And it wasn’t comfortable.

Q. But don’t some people astral-project on purpose, and enjoy it?  

A. Of course they do.  I’m just not one of those people.

Q. And you believe your God has told you not to do it?

A.  Yes.  

Q. How did He tell you this?

A. Look.  I seek Him all the time, all day long, moment to moment, throughout each day.  He says in His Word to “seek first the kingdom of God, and the rest will be added to you.”  Seeking the kingdom means setting priorities.   This isn’t a priority in my life.  There are other priorities that are far more important to who I am and what I am here to do.

Q. Like what?

A. I think you know what I’m about.  I’ve got all kinds of things to do besides waste my time soaring through the Beyond wondering how long it’s going to be before I come back.

Q. So you are calling the place where the Mind exists the Beyond?

A. Yes, I recall now, that’s what they called it.

Q. They?

A. They.

Q. They who?

A. I don’t remember their names.  

Q. How did you meet them?

A. Channeling.

Q. You were channeling?

A. Yes.

Q. Aren’t you a Christian?

A. I prefer the term Christ Follower.

Q. Aren’t Christians not supposed to channel?

A. I was doing it anyway.

Q. Then you disobeyed your God?

A. I did.

Q. Why?

A. Well — it was all part of a larger disobedience.   I was inquisitive as to a greater picture.  

Q. A greater picture than what?

A. Than what’s ordinarily available through the usual methods of research based on empirical data and sense experience.   I wanted to learn some secrets, that’s all.

Q. But isn’t God capable of revealing any information worth learning?

A. He certainly is.

Q. Then why didn’t you just turn to Him?  And to His Word?

A. Because I was tempted.  So severely tempted, that I succumbed.

Q. Why did you not resist?

A. Because I suspected I would learn something.  And I wanted badly to learn.

Q. What did you learn?

A. Mostly that in seeking greater knowledge, I lost sight of love.

Q. So you regret the search?

A. Not entirely, no.  It might be that the search can still be conducted, though not at the expense of love.

Q. How was love sacrificed?

A. Damage to essential self.  Self in need of self-care, of love.

Q. Self-love has been difficult since then?

A. I emerged with incredible boundary issues, to be honest.  I go about trying to serve others, as a Christ Follower.   But often I neglect my own needs in trying to serve others.  And then, sadly, I wind up not helping the others much either.

Q. Are you sad?

A. Not particularly, no.  I’m just trying to focus on other ways to be of service.   Astral projection and channeling are not ways for me to be in service to others.

Q. Where were you when all this happened?

A. Outside.   Sleeping in strange nooks and crannies.   This particular experience occurred in a stairwell attached to Berkeley City College.  

Image result for sleeping rough clipart

Q. Why is this all coming up now?

A. Because the things I learned are beginning to come back to me.   Like the word “Beyond” for example.  

Q. Why do you think that is?

A. Passage of time is clarifying the message.   And I’m getting better sleep. 

Q. Why is sleep so important?

A. I’m not entirely sure yet.  But it has something to do with the realm of Mind as it relates to sleep states and dream states.

Q. Do you think it will all come back?

A. Only the good and useful parts will come back.

Q. Not all of it was good?

A. No.  Some of it was clearly good and breathtakingly beautiful.   It bespoke an incredible array of hope for the human race.  But its glory was obscured by all kinds of garbage.  It was as though the garbage were thrown in there by malevolent entities in order to keep me from getting the Beauty.

Q. And your job was to edit out the garbage?

A. It could have been.  And it still might be, in some ways.  It’s just that — it seems I can’t possibly serve the good of the planet at the expense of my personal health.

Q. But didn’t Jesus do just that?

A. He died, yes, that many others might live.  But He also rose again.  If I destroy myself, I doubt I will rise again.  I am not God.  He was.  Or that is, an incarnation thereof.  

Q. But aren’t you a Christ Follower?   Don’t you believe that if you died in Him, you will also live in Him?

A. Sure I do.

Q. Don’t you believe that, even if you destroy yourself, you will rise again to live on in heaven?

A. Why are you tempting me to destroy myself?

Q. Why are you unwilling to do so?   Did not Jesus destroy himself?

A. No he did not.

Q. How can you say that?   Didn’t he have a choice in the matter?   Couldn’t he have refused to take up his cross?

A. Had he refused to do so, you and I might both be burning in hell.

Q. But don’t you feel that you may have a special calling?   A mission to delve as deeply into these dark ethereal waters as you can, in order that humanity will receieve a needed message?

A.  I feel that I am delving deep enough into dark enough waters as it is, without risking destroying myself in the process.   And humanity will receive whatever message it is that I am meant to convey.

Q. Well then — can you at least give me a rough overview of what you learned?

A. I’ve given you enough information — for now.

The Questioner is silent.  

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A little bit goes a long, long way. 

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.  

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
A little bit goes a long, long way.  

 

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 928

(1) Managed to get some sleep last night.  Although I awoke after one hours sleep to a punk kid in the hood ringing my doorbell at 3:15 in the morning, at least I didn’t wake up to two rookie cops shining their flashlights directly in my eyes and telling me to “move on” on Christmas Day.

(2) Ran two miles yesterday and did 18 push-ups.   Easily, too.  I guess I still have it in me.  Most guys my age can’t run down the block.

(3) I can still kinda play the piano.  Some people even say I’m getting better at it.

(4) I’m in good health.  (Physically, that is.)

(5) I’m alive, and I believe I am going to heaven when I die; because although I have many sins, past present and future, I sincerely believe that Jesus died for them all.

(6) I like my church.  In fact, I love my church.  I even like the pastor.  I’ve never liked a pastor before.

peg(7) I’m not in California, where everybody treats me like I’m crazy.   Nobody up here treats me like I’m crazy, and I am so so glad.  They don’t treat me like I’m worthless.  Their smile toward me is genuine.  They don’t get into my shit, and I don’t get into theirs.  Nobody’s trying to change me.   Nobody’s trying to put one over on me.   Everybody accepts me for who I am.  The prayers of years have been answered.  I love North Idaho, and I super love this town.

(8) It’s always darkest before the dawn.  There will be a light at the end of this winding tunnel; and this too shall pass.

(9) I don’t like my personality very much, but at least I’m not a deceived Nazi Aryan white supremacist violent idiot.

(10) At least I have my space.   I’m an Artist.  I need my space.  I pray I put it to good use, after this.  For so many years, I did not have my space.  And people mocked me because of my devotion to my Art.  They kept trying to transform me into somebody I was not, and they laughed at me when I didn’t conform to the mode – as though I were a curiosity piece, a knick knack, an item of decor, placed on their dinner table for their entertainment.  I still remember the two of them, whom I thought were my friends, finding hilarity in the fact that I was having a first-time manic episode and losing my shirt.  But nobody treats me like that up here.  Nobody mocks me.  Nobody jeers at me.  Nobody scoffs, or sneers.    And I love it.    I hope I never again forget what I’m truly about.   God help me, if I ever again forget who I am.

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Tuesday Tuneup 18

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. Yeah.  You’re a pain in the ass who darkens my door once a week, annoying me with an incessant series of inane questions, challenging my patience.

Q. So why have you summoned me?

A. What choice did I have?

Q. Aren’t I supposed to be asking you the questions?

A. Supposed to schummosed to.  I’m totally disgruntled.

Q. Whatever for?

A. I don’t know.  The whole thing just seems to be — on me. 

Q. What whole thing?

A. Forgiveness!  Why am I the guy who always has to focus all his energy on forgiving all these other people?   If even one of them would so much as give me the time of day, it would sure make it a lot easier.

hillary forgivenessQ. Easier on who?

A. On me — obviously!

Q. Why don’t you make it easy on them?

A. Don’t insult my integrity.  I’m already trying to do that, and you know that.

Q. How?

A. By apologizing to them.  By asking their forgiveness.  Like the Bible says.  Like Jesus says.  Like we’re all supposed to do with each other.  But they still won’t —

Q. Give you the time of day?

A. Right.  How do I know they’re even reading my emails?  Or listening to my voice mail messages?  Or even reading my carefully, prayerfully worded snail mail letters?   I wouldn’t be surprised if whats-his-face just ripped up the letter I sent to his home address, without even bothering to open it.

Q. But why would he do that?

A. I don’t know.  Fear of its contents, I guess.  Or disrespect for me as a man.  Hard to say.  Maybe his wife doesn’t want him to have anything to do with me.  Maybe his doctor told him to avoid “toxic people,” and he decided I was “toxic.”  Or maybe he’s just a cowardly wimp who can’t face up to his own bullshit unless he’s painted into a damn corner.

Q. Do you really need this guy?

A. No, not really.

Q. Then what do you need?  

Pause.

A. I need to forgive him.  To be free and clear of all the lingering resentment over the way I was treated — and the way I treated him.   To know that he has received my apologies, my requests for forgiveness, and that they matter enough to him — that Jesus matters enough for him — to say “I forgive you, Andy.”  And then we can both move on.  Or even be friends again, who knows?   God only knows.

Q. How long has this been going on?

A. Five years now.  

Q. He hasn’t talked to you for five years?

A. Not just him – but all kinds of people.

Q. Why did they all stop talking to you?

A. Probably because of the way I was coming across at the time.

Q. How were you coming across?

A. I was desperate.  I was homeless.  Sure I had all kinds of other problems, but I couldn’t solve any of them from homelessness.  And none of those damned group situations that were always recommended ever worked out for me.  They only surrounded me with thieves and criminals, and furthered the violation of my person and my property.   I was down in this hole that was so deep, I couldn’t climb out of it myself for the life of me.  I kept beseeching them, please, let me stay with you, just for a while, just for a month or so, till I can get my bearings, get some sleep, and see a way to maybe get back on my feet.  But nobody would budge.  They all rejected me.  Most of them without even a word of notice or warning.  They flushed me down the toilet like I was a total piece of — piece of — piece of  —

Q. Shit?

A. You said it.  

Q. Why did you internalize their opinions of you?

A. I couldn’t help it.  I knew I was coming across in a way that freaked them out, or pissed them off even.  But all the gross details of homelessness, the sleep deprivation, the constant insinuation from everyone around me that I was this worthless piece of crap, that my music didn’t matter, my singing, my piano playing, my writing, my public speaking, none of the good things about me counted!  I was just supposed to cram a bunch of damned pills down my throat that I knew would destroy everything I had going for me, and get into some group home where they monitored all my meds and only let me out under supervision on Sundays.   

And I had already tried all that.  And I just couldn’t do it!  I’d have rather slept alone out in a field somewhere.  So I did.  But then — all the other crap set in.

Q. What other crap?

A. You know something?  I really don’t want to talk about it.

Q. Then why are you?

A. Because of you.  And all your damned questions.  Go away! And don’t come back till Tuesday!   Tired of your robotic, unfeeling crap.

The Questioner is silent.

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In Spirit and in Truth

There is something in the human spirit that makes people want to feel that they are moving forward in some way.   No one likes to feel as though they are stagnating.  We all want to feel as though we are somehow progressing.  When we feel that we are progressing, it seems that our lives have meaning.  When we feel that we are stagnating, it seems that life is meaningless.

Moreover, it seems that different people have different ideas regarding personal progress.  Some people view progress in terms of their monetary advancement; that is, their financial growth.  The more money they make, the better they feel about their progress in life.

Others view progress in terms of their spiritual growth.  Are they becoming better people in some way?   Are they more responsive to the needs of others?  More giving?  More honest?  Less self-serving?  More capable of standing tall in the face of adversity?  More courageous?  Wiser?  More patient?  Or, most of all, more loving?

The latter seems to me to be the higher view of personal progress in life.   But it eludes many people.  People become trapped in the worrisome cares of this world.  And many of those anxiety-ridden concerns are centered around the love of money.

Consider the words of Jesus:

“No one can serve two masters.
Either you will hate the one and love the other,
or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.
You cannot serve both God and money.”
– Matthew 6:24

I’ve always wondered why the two poles chosen were those of God and money.  Why not God and sex?  God and drugs?   Or God and (heaven forbid) rock ‘n’ roll?

Having reflected quite a bit on this dynamic throughout the past two years, I believe I am beginning to understand.  To pursue financial gain as one’s top priority in life is energetically incompatible with the pursuit of personal, spiritual growth.  

God and moneyThis is not to say that a person whose primary focus is on making money cannot do good things with their money. But the good uses of one’s money can take place without there necessarily being any positive change in that person’s character.   A money-hungry person, after all, could conceivably find themselves at a loss for true friends, since people are naturally put off by the energy of greed.  That person might then reason that if they were to offer all kinds of goodies to a less privileged person whom they happen to like,  then that more impoverished person might cling to them as though a friend, and they would not be so lonely.

But money cannot buy friendship any more than it can buy true happiness.   The money-focused individual in this case is not really giving of his essence as a human being.  Rather, he is giving of his excess – and perhaps even getting a hefty tax write-off in the process.

It is also not the case that if one is primarily focused on spiritual growth, then prospects for financial betterment will elude them completely.  It only means that the spiritually-minded person does not base their self-worth on their net worth.  They do not identify themselves according to their financial stature, but rather according to the actualization of their true selves.

People like these feel no need to lavish pricey gifts upon others in order to secure the loyalty that only true friendship can secure.  Rather, they seek out like-minded people, people with whom they would naturally best relate, because they share similar values and interests.  As a Christian, I further believe that the Father of Life also seeks out such like-minded souls.  

But the hour is coming, and is now here,
when the true worshipers will worship the Father
in Spirit and in Truth,
for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.
 

God is Spirit,
and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and Truth.”
 

– John 4:23-24

It is a mistake to think that the presence of money will necessarily negate the possibility of true moral character.  Many wealthy people are legitimately concerned for the plight of those who are suffering.  But it is also a mistake to think that one’s primary aim ought to be the acquisition of great wealth, rationalizing that some of the money will be offered to tax-exempt charitable contributions.  My experience has been that the more I stay focused on the actualization of my true self — the person whom God desires me to be — then the more my needs are adequately met.

The more I love God, and the less I love money, the better off I am.  It is then that my words and my music best reflect my concern and my hope for humanity.  And while it may cost me some money to render these gifts, the ultimate value of this form of genuine self-expression is far beyond that which money can buy.

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Published!

To those of you who might be more accustomed to getting more substantial pieces of prose or poetry published in more prestigious periodicals, my excitement about having been published yesterday may appear to be entirely unwarranted.  Therefore, I will try to subdue it.

As I mentioned earlier, I submitted three short pieces of prose to a San Francisco Bay Area newspaper called Street Spirit.  The pieces I submitted were Homeless Tinge, I Told Them I was Homeless, and A New Pair of Glasses.   Yesterday, I was informed that “A New Pair of Glasses” had been published – although the publisher change the title to A New Way of Seeing.  I didn’t mind the change, however, in light of its having been published.  I also find the layout to be very professional, and the illustrations to be marvelous.  Both are duplicated here below, with a link to the story itself sandwiched between them.  

Scavengers-1

A New Way of Seeing

Forgotten

The publisher Terry Messman offered to send some hard copies of the newspaper to my home address here in Moscow.  If anybody wants one, please leave a message on my Contact Page, and we’ll take it from there.  

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A New Pair of Glasses

The first time in my life that I had ever lost a pair of glasses was on May 20, 2004, when I awoke in Golden Gate Park and realized that I had casually tossed my glasses down in the foliage when I was about to go to sleep the previous night. I and another person spent about a half hour trying to find them, then concluded they were lost. Since I had only been homeless since April 1, 2004, I had not yet come to terms with the many subtle nuances that would distinguish my homeless life from my previous life. Losing a pair of glasses is one of them.

When I lived in a house, I might have casually tossed my glasses onto the rug of my bedroom floor. I might have spent a few minutes looking for them, possibly even more than a few minutes, depending on the nature of the toss and the location of the landing. But once I had found them, I could not truthfully claim to have lost them. I had only misplaced them. The $300 pair of corrective reading glasses that I lost on that morning can never be replaced.

This is telling. Homelessness is not about misplacement. It’s about loss. In some cases — in my case, for example — deep loss. Loss that a person doesn’t get over very easily. In some cases, they might not get over it in an entire lifetime. In my case? Well, the jury is still out.

As I walked toward a certain cafe that morning where another homeless person was going to buy me a cup of coffee, I told myself: “Now I really *have* to do something about my situation! I’ve got to stop being homeless before this gets any worse. All kinds of things have been happening since I’ve been homeless that I could never have predicted would happen. Problems that used to take me five or ten minutes to solve have been setting me back for days.”

But then I thought: “How do I stop being homeless?”

I did not know the answer then, and I do not know it now. That was twelve years ago. Now is now. You cannot imagine the number of “subtle nuances” that have accumulated in those twelve years. If I became cold when I lived in a house, I turned on the heater. It took me less than one minute.

If I become cold now, I go about town looking for extra layers of clothing outside the good will stores, in the “drop boxes.” and on the ground. And remember – there are about a thousand other homeless people living in this city. Many of them are very much like me, and so many of them are doing the exact same thing. We fight each other over a pair of pants. It can literally take me days to turn coldness into warmth. Sometimes you don’t even bother. You’re starting to become hardened. You’re tired of fighting another homeless person for the only sweatshirt in your size.

This, too, is telling. Homelessness is not about warmth – it’s about coldness. It’s about discovering that your lifelong friends and family members, the very people whom you thought were truly supportive of you, are suddenly very leery of you. They won’t take your truthful statements at face value anymore. They keep looking for the “reason” why you’re homeless, and in so doing completely ignore the obvious fact that you are homeless because you don’t have a home.

So you turn to them for support, just the way you always used to, in the hope that they might help you to find a home, just the way they always used to help you help you deal with a difficult co-worker or help you after the break-up of a relationship. They cannot seem to imagine that all these problems you are having are the result of the conditions of homelessness, and not the cause. They find that while you always used to be noted for your punctuality, you suddenly are showing up late. They correlate this with your increasing instances of absent-mindedness, and conclude that you need a psychiatrist. You know in your heart that as soon as you are no longer homeless, you won’t have these problems anymore, so you start to feel a bit brushed off.

They brush off your need for a place to live by providing answers for all the other problems, while ignoring the fact that these other problems are related to all the “subtle nuances” that distinguish your homeless life from your previous life. You suddenly realize that half of these people you thought were so supportive never really did a damn thing for you at all. Anybody can give advice. It takes somebody who really loves you, to let you in much farther than that. But they’re not letting you in. You thought they loved you. But where is the warmth? Why is your own brother, even having a spare room in his house, forcing you to sleep out in the cold?

Finally, you yourself become cold. You thought you were warm, but all these cold blasts are turning down your temperature. The cold blasts accumulate. You used to be able to handle cold weather, but you’re getting older, and it’s getting harder. You used to think you could endure homelessness till the ends of your days. Now you know that if you don’t get inside soon, those days will be drastically shortened. The many unanswered pleas for dignified shelter accumulate. The failed attempts at getting a stint in a homeless shelter to lead anywhere but to another homeless shelter accumulate.

The subtle nuances themselves accumulate. When I lived indoors, how many times did I lose my cell phone? If I recall correctly, none at all. Since I’ve been homeless, how many different cell phones have I had? It pains me to count. “Why is Andy losing his cell phone so often?” I seem to hear them ask. It’s not just because there’s a drastic increase in Andy’s absent-mindedness. It’s because homeless people steal from homeless people. If there is a cell phone in my backpack, I can guarantee you it will be gone within a month or so. Usually, within a week.

As far as the $300 pair of protective reading glasses is concerned, talk about your “luxury” problem! I’ve been buying non-corrective readers for $1.10 at the dollar store for as long as I can remember. And the rate at which I am losing them is steadily increasing. I cannot solve this problem – of losing my glasses 3 to 5 times a week – without help. Real help. From someone who cares. Somebody help me. Let me keep a pair of reading glasses everywhere I try to use this computer. Somebody help me. Give me a place to live. Somebody, somebody, somebody —

“Why isn’t Andy helping himself?”

Because Homelessness is not about love. It’s about hate. Jesus could have had a place to live, you know. He could have lived anywhere he wanted to. So why did he choose to live outdoors? Well, look at this way. If Jesus had been living in some nice plush three-story house and living the good life, how would that have prepared him for the event that He knew was coming, when He would have to endure the mockeries of those who tortured Him to death out of pure hatred for anything so good as Him? How would He have been tough enough do produce enough love to compensate for all the hate in all the history of the world?

The thing is, I’m not Jesus. I’m not headed toward that kind of event, but I am headed toward an event that will be sufficient for who I am. Let me in, please. Before it’s too late.

Andy Pope
Berkeley, California
June 12, 2016 7:52am

lost pair of glasses

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