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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Entry 14: Dissonance

April 29, 2014

Dear Friends

Re:  Entry 14

O my God in you I trust, Do not let me be ashamed; Do not let my enemies exult over me”.  This is from Psalm 25 and is a more or less recurrent theme of David’s in the Psalms:  Fear of his enemy, seeking protection of the Lord, taking comfort in the promises of God, and so forth.   The “enemy” is often unnamed; at least by David in the Psalms, but in reading the rest of the Bible the enemy is very real.  It occurred to me one day while reading the Psalms that I always tended to see myself as David, and I wondered how many other people did this—put themselves in David’s shoes, read the Psalms in the first person, saw themselves as the oppressed.

Some time, about two years ago, I was driving down the interstate listening to the radio.  It was a rental car and it had a little button on the steering wheel that let you scan to the next station.  It was a very boring drive, also a very easy drive, I was not really thinking of anything else but I noticed something:  I knew at least some of the words to every song on every station.  Maybe it was some amazing run of luck, if there is luck, or coincidence, but every time a commercial came on I switched stations and I would know the song on that station too.  This was pretty amazing.  There is no longer a show “Name That Tune”, but I would not only have been able to name it, I would have been able to sing along.  At one point I counted twenty-seven (27!) songs in a row.  I happily did this for about an hour, almost subconsciously when I got bored with a song, or when a commercial came on, I would hit “scan” and it would go to the next station.   At one point I sang, all the lyrics from “Sweet Talking Woman” by E.L.O, “Country Roads” by John Denver (I really yelled this one out, it was a warm day, I had the windows down, I don’t have to worry about my hair being messed up), “I Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash and “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles (pronounce that in a fake English accent:  “the BATE-els”). 

[Now an aside.  Some announcer on the radio (maybe Don Imus?) asks guests who would be on their “Musical Mount Rushmore”.  Mine would be Johnny Cash, John Denver, John Lennon and Jeff Lynne.  Some will say this is crazy, I have my reasons for all of them, and I’ve remained pretty faithful to that list.  In cash you are wondering, Jeff Lynne was the guy behind the Electric Light Orchestra which to me represents the best band ever, even including the Beatles. Chew on that list for a while.]

Back to the rental-car-radio-interstate-windows-down-song-knowing thing:  After a while, about an hour or so, I realized what I was doing—it was so subtle, I was even fooling myself—when I didn’t know the song, didn’t recognize it, or it was a station that played a format I could not possibly understand (that would be rap or classical, both mysteries to me), I would simply skip over it.  Psychologists call this “cognitive dissonance”, which is essentially only picking up on those facts that agree or support a certain point of view; to paraphrase my grandmother “you only see what you want to see”.  And yet it was true, it was exactly what I was doing, and it was so subtle it alarmed me.  That I could beguile myself into this on so trivial a basis, I had to wonder:  Do I do this in other things as well?

And did I do this in reading the Bible?  I believe I did.  I tended to put myself in the role of the oppressed and not the oppressor.  Is it conceivable that I was only the recipient of pain, grief, angst, whatever—or is it possible that sometimes I am the cause of that in others?  It has transformed how I read—put yourself in the shoes of Caiaphas, and be honest in that role and what his responsibilities were.  Or put yourself in the role of Judas and ask yourself if you can see how he failed?  Most of us, including me, cannot really do this because it is too painful; it goes against the grain of what we know to be.  We can’t be the oppressors can we?  That would somehow imply that we were and could be wrong. 

It is really hard to imagine never being wrong (seeing as I feel like I am mostly wrong).  I have always thought that one real difference between Peter and Judas was while both had betrayed Jesus in his own way; both approached that sin and its resolution differently.  Judas could not, in his life-view, countenance what he had done, he knew just like Peter knew that it was wrong.  While probably truly sorry, Judas sought to reconcile what he had done with his own vision of himself—and by extension sought out his own death to end his pain.  Peter, in all his reactionary, bombastic, sometimes wrongheaded ways, ultimately reached out for the forgiveness of the Lord.  Remember, the Lord told him-“and when you recover, strengthen the others”, because he knew what Peter would do even when Peter could not imagine it.
Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is to look into yourself.

I remain


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Entry 13: The Rime of the Ancient Lovesack

April 23, 2014

Dear Friends

RE: Entry 13

(Note: What follows is an old standard from 2009--a failed submission to win a free beanbag chair--called a Lovesack--in a radio contest. Another example of "overwrought" writing style)

The Rime of the Ancient Lovesack

The woods were angry that day, my friends, like a toothless squirrel in a peanut factory. And I sat, ensconced in my blaze orange trimmed in berber plaid, atop my tree stand on that glorious Barbour County morning, waiting, watching, dreaming, hoping.

The sun, that geezer of the sky, throwing off its tantrum of heat like an armpit bitten by fireants, had just arose--a blazing, blaring, old lady screaming in the vegetable aisle for 10 cents off. 10 cents more. Only 10. It was then, in that juvenile light of that hate-filled day, I first saw it. Walking, stepping, creep, creep, creeping--stopping to look, to listen for the click clack bang boom air-ripping travel of the bullet to its brain. The Lovesack stepped gingerly on the dewy meadow. Ever vigilent, looking, looking, not knowing that its death had drawn nigh.

I lifted my 45 ought 6 tenderly to my shoulder, clutching the cold steel of the foregrip like a guy cooking chinese food with a cheap wok. It was with agony, a rebellion of my mortal soul, that I put the cross of the crosshairs across the very beating heart of the Lovesack.  I pulled on the trigger and, in that instant before the powder could ignite, a thought bore through my head like a freight train passing a hobo: "No!".

Alas, the Lovesack was staggered, stumbled, felled...lying there, pink and perfect and dead as George Washington's pinky toe, oozing its Lovesack innards over that hallowed ground. I climbed down from the tree stand, bawling like a dairy cow taken of her calf in the cool of a summer night. Wailing. I resolved to wail my words from then on in repentence of my unforgivable sin. "I have shot the Lovesack....I have killed the Lovesack...humanity has foresaken me...agony beguiles me" and on I wailed until the light of the geezer sun died in the West.

It was with no memory I gutted the Lovesack, dragging its hopeless carcass three miles over stem and stone. Wailing. My soul had gone out of me, it had left me that day, like that flea bitten neighbor cat that you feed that brings you no comfort on the chill of the January eve. Even that flea-bitten comfort could not mollify a Lovesack killing soul. I had died but was not dead.

Time went on, as it has a way of doing, ticking ticking, cleansing your heart like the new Loufa you got for Christmas. And the Lovesack found its way to my parlor great room, mounted in a pose by a skilled taxidermist, a man who looked and smelled of guts--mounted much as in life, hanging from my parlor wall, keeping company with the antelope aardvards and the ruminating tiger cows of the Serengetti. The Lovesack had with them, the trophies of a life burned crispy on their killings, reached its apex: I had forgotten the sheer horror of that wailing sun loved day.

And then I realized...I have no where to sit. 

I remain


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Entry 12: Same Scene Different Style

April 22, 2014

Dear Friends
RE:  Entry 12

Same scene, three different writing styles:
Fifth Grader Essay Style

A man pulled up and stopped a truck and opened the door to get out.  He noticed his boot lace was broken, so he put a new one on.  He got out.  He got behind the seat and got the gun out.  It was a rifle in a case.  There was a bunch of junk on the back floor of the truck.  He took the rifle out and threw the case onto the front seat.  He opened the rifle bolt and looked inside to see if it was loaded.  He then closed it and locked the truck and left.  He made sure he had bullets.
Pulp Fiction Author Style (I like to call this style “overwrought’)

He stared longingly at the chrome-covered inside door handle of the 65 Ford F 100.  Had he unlocked the door?  Ah, thought he, this is a Ford, you can just pull the latch and it opens.  The sun was rising over the majestic fire-colored leaf-arched horizon, another day on Mother Earth as he thought of the double espresso he used to consume as a freshman at Harvard, watching the self same sun rise over the Cambridge plain.  Curses, he exclaimed, as he jerked the remnants of the dry rotted boot lace, his hand banging against the underside of the steering column, the pain reminding him of his time in Vietnam’s Hanoi Hilton, just before being awarded the Medal of Honor.  He slowly wove the new boot lace through the eyelets of the calfskin, mocha-colored RAT boot, the only kind he ever bought, and tugging the laces into submission, tied his boot on.  The other one, no longer now a twin, at least in lace, he ignored.  He was like this often, this indifference to others.  It was a reason his third marriage was on the rocks.  He put on his kid leather gloves, not as supple as the Isotoners, but flashing nonetheless, in a Dash-Riprock sort of way.  Now standing on terra firma, he reached behind the old truck’s seat and pushed it forward.  The creaking of the hinge reminded him of his father, who bought this truck while he only son was in ‘Nam, knowing one day he would return.  He never saw his father again.  But in the truck, which he restored by hand, while on sabbatical from his research mission to Antarctica to find a cure to eczema, he found peace.  The gun was behind, among the debris-strewn floor, covered in the detritus of his chaotic and full life; a torn copy of Esquire, with him on the cover;  a Faberge Egg given to him by the Sultan of Brunei; a first edition of The Great Gatsby.  The gun, in a Galco leather case, was once owned by Charlton Heston, given to him as a gift for years of work behind the scenes to promote the NRA to inner-city children.  He took it out, and felt the smooth cool walnut, even through the leather gloves.  It was a Remington Winchester, a one-of-a-kind, chambered in .293, a caliber he perfected while stalking the wild tigercats of the Serengeti.  He opened the bolt as smooth as silk and silently gazed into the chamber before working the action forward.  He had arrived, as if all creation rose up in a denouement of adoration for this glorious time in this perfect day in this epoch of his life.  Turning, he stepped onto the road and down the path and into the rest of his life, right hand in his pocket, fondling the cartridges.

Understated Realist Style (my favorite)
He opened the truck door and swung one boot, the left one, onto the door sill and relacing it, put back on his gloves and stepped out onto the dirt road.  He reached below the seat on the driver side, to the right at the bottom and worked the latch, rolling up the seat forward and took the gun out of the cloth case from the storage area behind.  It lay among assorted things, a torn shirt used as a rag. A broken coffee mug, one jack stand with the pin missing on the riser, an empty glass Coca Cola bottle and a crushed roll of paper towels, half soaked on one side with oil.  Turning, he pushed the front seat back and put the gun case across it, sliding the gun out, opened the bolt and looked at it, closed the bolt.  He pushed the lock on the truck door down, swung the rifle out over the door and closing it in one motion, walked down the road patting his right side pocket for the shells.

I have read many books from many authors in many genres.   Current literature leans toward the incoherent, with the overwrought being the worst, the kind of books that portray unbelievable characters in unbelievable situations, like everyone in them were birthed by a parentage of Ian Fleming and Tom Clancy.  (for an example of this in real life, try listening to the NBC Nightly News anchor read the news in that same overwrought style, it is really amusing).

Please don’t try to find a meaning in any of this. I just enjoyed writing the same paragraphs three different ways, all describing the same thing, to see what it was like.

I remain


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Entry 11: The little man

April 8, 2014

Dear Friends

Re:  Entry 11

He always pictured thoughts and feelings as a little man.  A little man, alone but not lonely, living infinitesimally small in his head.  He would often think of the little man in those terms, or picture him during various times.  When he was thinking about complex things, he would picture the little man wrapped up in a net, unable to move, twisting or thrashing about.  During other times, like those when he was confused, he thought of the little man swimming slowly across a murky pool, unable to see the other side.  When worried or troubled, or especially when his mind was racing and unable to concentrate, the little man would run in short, laconic strides, covering much ground but seeming to run in place.  When afraid, the little man had varied actions--at times cowering in a corner, unsure of action, and at times shouting, fighting, running to and up and over the wall to the other side.  When the little man was serious or determined, he wore green eyeshades and black silk arm sleeves, and wrote furiously in a little lined notebook, often stopping to hand a note to an unseen helper.  When the little man was tired, which was not very often, he would sit idly, as if waiting for the sun to pass from one side of a room to the other.  Sometimes, the little man was wrapped up in paper, bound, unable to move.  Sometimes the little man was expansive, magnanimous; other times he was petty and pretentious. He pictured in times of leisure the little man marching around, like a drum major in red uniform with a shako with a plume on top of his head, and a baton, with spats on his shoes, taking those long kick steps across an unseen parade ground.  Or, he saw the little man dancing, in a crazy jazz dance, all flailing arms and legs with a Gene Krupa drumbeat in the distance.  And maybe a coronet.  Maybe the little man once worked for Benny Goodman.  Now he works for me.

The little man often did not sleep, and during those times he was most restless, he would put on shows.  Some were glorious in color, light, shade and sound with plots and subplots and characters.  Sometimes, the shows were just people talking, sometimes people long gone who I had longed to talk with again. These were some of the best shows.  They were never scary nor creepy; the little man saw to that, they were mostly just sad in a satisfied way.  It is very hard to explain.  Some shows were scary but for other reasons, some were thrilling.  There were tests and classes, always a weird recurring theme.  There were chases and unknown places, and things happening which the little man either didn’t show or didn’t explain.  Often times, he was working out things that were unspoken or unthought.  Sometimes the shows were just snippets, but they seemed to be part of some grand serial of which I understood the beginning before and the end to come but could neither conceive of nor explain them later.  In most of those snippets, the back-story was simply implied and understood, yet inexplicable and without later understanding.  One time, the little man’s show involved a dark night with people packing for survival after some great catastrophe, an older man turns to a woman and says, leave all those rifles, take the 22 and the 12 gauge. The little man didn’t own guns.  Somehow this all made perfect sense, as if the lesson underneath was apparent to the woman and everyone in the room, since they immediately complied.

One time, the little man placed me on a narrow road with highwall sides and a stream, a little torrent beside the road.  The car I sat in was a white station wagon, and I had with me a little boy of four, my son, in the front seat next to me.  I had stopped as up ahead some large beast was lifting itself off the ground to a terrifying height and I realized he was bigger than both me and the car. My mind raced as I tried to think of what to do, how to save the boy, as the little man’s scene was such that I could neither turn the car around nor back up without going into the raging stream.  During the time it took to gather these thoughts the large beast stood fully on its back legs high in the air and roared.  I immediately became resolute, told the boy to get onto the floor and said that if I was going, I was going swinging and stepped on the accelerator.  The little man never let me see what happened, but I have never forgotten the imagery.  Besides, I understood the meaning before my eyes opened.  I hoped it was how I would be if faced with it.

The little man often saved the best shows for difficult times.  In one such show the little man displayed magnificent production qualities and directorial flair, a combination of times and people and places gone, and some still.  Some of the people were frozen in time and age, people long gone, but they were there still to talk with and reminisce.  The places were both a combination of new and old.  In one a man and women walked through the streets of an old town, many people gone were there.  The little man had such details on display as cut stone walls and Boy Scout events and Methodist Church bazaars and fried brain sandwiches and redpop, and the smell of wet burnt wood and smoke and fall.  In the final scene, people gathered on a hill to watch the sunset, the sun was abnormally large, shockingly so, and as everyone watched all at once it crusted over black, and nearly as quickly the light broke through.  It happened again, and a third time.  By now the first shock wave rolled across the dimly lit scene.   People gasped, others screamed, and the man turned to the woman, unafraid, and calmly said give me your hand.  This is the end of the world.

I remain


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Entry 10: Three Questions

April 1, 2014

Dear Friends

Re:  Entry 10

For I am obligated to both Greeks and non-Greeks, to the wise and the foolish.” Paul wrote that to the Romans. Obligated.  That means to be indebted to.  We all understand debt in America. We have the most advanced financial markets established in the history of the world.  We trades pieces of paper—heck, they’re not even paper any longer—and call them stocks.  We own bonds, which are promises to pay from others passed through middlemen and washed until they seem sterile and become “investments”.  I once thought about every stock I ever owned or wanted to that it only represented something so long as the person obligated to keep up their end of the bargain remain obligated.

Obligated. We saw that definition stretched in 2008, during the financial crisis.  Most people were oblivious, but how many people could have lived with the money they had on them, or in their houses, if the payments systems melted down  (as an aside to this, how many of you reading this really know what almost happened in September, 2008?  Imagine if no one could pay anyone, and it cascaded across the economy, causing waves of people not paying not because they didn’t want to but because they couldn’t get access to assets or cash to do so.  It is better to remain oblivious).  We rely on the obligations of others, have such great faith in them, use them as stores of wealth, measures of promises pending or kept, and underneath all along the dark little secret is that they are just that…promises. Promises to fulfill and obligation.  Have you ever looked at a dollar bill?  It is basically a piece of paper. Nice paper, no doubt, but paper.  What it represents is someone’s promise to pay you.  And there are lots of those promises out there. Every month we print billions more!  Some day those obligations may overwhelm all of us.  Sometimes people borrow having no intention of ever repaying, but I would imagine that is very rare.  Most people take on obligations—promises—ever optimistic that someday some way it will all work out.

God has obligated us.  Our salvation, his Son, has made us debtors, obligated to Him.  But this obligation is to spread the gospel; it is the only way we can satisfy the obligation.  I suppose we could die as debtors never having lifted a finger to acknowledge, let alone stand in awe of the Obligation.  How then, have we managed to flip around the obligation on God?  It is often said that the best way to avoid ever seeing anyone again is to lend them money (make them an obligor).

And if God has made me an obligor to the extent of the Gospel, to everyone—as the famous movie line goes—E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E!—fools, non-fools, haters, the Good, The Bad and the Ugly (Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach, respectively!), how do I fulfill that obligation?  

That was the first question.

“Judge not that you shall not be judged.”  Most of us have always used that as a defense, as in “don’t you judge me!”  But there is another side of it, if you walk around to the back of the mirror and gaze into it, it becomes something to use on the offensive as in “I don’t have to judge you”.  I have always thought they were both true—especially since the second part of that verse (the part in Luke that isn’t in Matthew) where it says “Do not condemn and you will not be condemned”.  How easy it is to judge with the intent of condemnation!  Now, lest any of you scurry off to report me to the higher authorities that I don’t believe in discernment, I do.  I think judging is particularly appropriate, because we are constantly asked to judge people or situations—I consider that more discerning than judging.  Judging implies condemnation.  And that is a very, very easy to do and a slip slippery slope.  I imagine we go through most days unconsciously judging those around us based on all sorts of things never taking into account the command—lets call it advice, its better advice even if it is a command.  I hear Christians all the time wanting “fire and brimstone” preached, and I doubt their intent is not much more than to condemn someone for their sin.  Jesus made it so simple and we complicate it so.

The behind-the-mirror view that you don’t have to judge—now that is what Jesus demonstrated, when he ate, sat, gathered, otherwise hobnobbed with the lowest of the low (as we would call them today).  If you want someone to go to Hell, it’s a little hard to preach the gospel to them (remember Jonah), at least with any kind of conviction on your part.  That kind of Christianity is often, and unfortunately, the only kind the world sees.

Can you judge not?  That is the second question, and do so in a way that fulfills your obligation to the Lord?  That is the third.

I remain,