Saturday, March 29, 2014

Like a House

O Lord,
The house of my soul is narrow;
enlarge it that you may enter in.
It is ruinous, O repair it!
It displeases Your sight.
I confess it, I know.
But who shall cleanse it,
to whom shall I cry but to you?
Cleanse me from my secret faults, O Lord,
and spare Your servant from strange sins.
                                    --St. Augustine

Lent is about halfway through and my house [soul] is still a mess.  It's a crack house, a whorehouse, a poor house, a rent-controlled shack.  Every confession cleans it up a bit, but the filth comes right back.


Image courtesy of Pikkatze




I let in the dirt, knowing my LORD wants it clean.  I should dwell in a spotless tent, but I've turned it into a latrine.  Why do I return to my vomit?  Why is that more attractive than the face of Beauty?
Give me a spirit of purity, humility, patience and love, LORD.

How is your Lenten journey progressing?  What is the condition of your house?



Friday, January 31, 2014

"It's About Control..."

I remember back in Sunday school when I was 14 or 15, and Sister "B." asked us what person from the Bible we most identified with.  I don't remember whom I chose--I do remember struggling with an answer--Moses, maybe?--but most of my peers chose the famous, the strong, the victorious: Peter, Paul, David, etc.  Those people all seemed larger-than-life, how could I identify with them.  They are in THE BIBLE, after all.
Flash forward 30 years and here I am, unemployed, bounced-off unemployment insurance (for doing the right thing, I believe), struggling to find clients for my business, driving a 15 year-old vehicle that won't last much longer and wondering where is the favor of God?
As the days roll on, and possible employment opportunities or clients become just smoke, I find myself tied up in a plastic bag full of fear.  The fear expresses itself as anger at God, which morphs into guilt.  Guilt because who am I to lash out at God when I could be a Syrian refugee; I could be a victim of trafficking; I could be shot at in Afghanistan; I could be homeless like a family member of mine presently is; I could have no food in the house because of an error at the state's welfare office which has happened recently to someone I know.  In short, it could be worse.
     So, what Biblical person can I identify with now?  At the moment, I'd say Abram and Sarai in the 16th chapter of Genesis--this was before YHWH gave them new ID cards.  They had been promised offspring, even though they were already beyond the usual age of fertility.  Yet the couple kept aging and time kept blowing by like a strong breeze and they still had an empty cradle.
     They do what most of us would do--if God's not coming through, it looks like it's up to us.  Sarai tells Abram to have sexual intercourse with her young Egyptian maid, Hagar.  This works like they thought it would, Hagar is impregnated and delivers a son, Ishmael.  However, doing things their own way brings about the mythical origin of the Arab-Israeli conflict.  Ishmael and Hagar are banished when Abram and Sarai's promised son arrives.

     I want to hijack God's plan for my life (whatever that might be, I'm never privy to these things) except I can't.  I can't make clients hire me; I can't produce money from oxygen molecules (I suspect I'd be a lousy counterfeiter, too); I can't do much of anything.
     What I can do is trust and let go of the fear (1 John 4:18 & Revelation 1:17-18) though that, as the proverb says, is easier spoken than acted upon.
     I cry out to God, I stare down my icons of Jesus, and I think those sounds and gestures never penetrate my roof line, but somehow when I least expect it, He comes through, He provides.  Not how I would have it done, mind you (my lottery tickets have never netted me more than $10), but little things fall into place.  Little by little, He shows me how stupid I am to doubt Him.
     His love is hard, like a solid tree trunk at times; a love to be feared because it can't be reasoned with or cajoled, but it is the strongest love one could ever conceive of (or even the creation of one million and one monkeys banging away on typewriters, keyboards, and tablets).

"It's about vision/my vision..." 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Three cubed or The Ninth Day of Christmas

 Note: This is going out a wee bit later than planned, but that's mostly due to an unplanned overnight stay in Milwaukee.
Note 2: All images from this post were carelessly cut and pasted from the internet without proper citation.

What is the best gift you've received?  Here on the Ninth Day of Christmas, we can reflect on, obviously, the number nine.
It is an amplification of the sacred number of three--in some circumstances the thrice cry of believers of "Kyrie Eleison" is heard three times.  There are supposedly nine angelic choirs scattered about the supposed nine cosmic spheres.
We do know, as St. Paul attests, nine fruit(s?) of the Holy Spirit are available for those who seek.  This fruit might be why there are nine ladies dancing.
They dance the dance of love
           They dance the dance of joy
They dance the dance of peace
They frolic for longsuffering
They waltz with kindness
They caper for goodness
They cavort with faithfulness
They gambol for gentleness
They flit with self-control (if that's not oxymoronic)

Of these nine fruit/gifts which have you received?  Of these nine fruit/gifts, which is the best?


January 3rd is also the feast day for Malachi, St. Genevieve of Paris, and Peter of Atroa.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

It's 2013, so where's my rocket pack?

At my worst I am misanthropic and certain technologies feed my disorder.  However, in this case, humans are much better and faster than machines.  Perhaps the lowly cashier deserves a tip jar?


Friday, November 22, 2013

Costs and Benefits

     Recently, I accompanied my son's class on a trip to Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan.  If you're unfamiliar with the place, it's a collection of actual buildings of historical import moved there at Henry Ford's direction.  He was trying to bring a bit of America's (and a smidgen of Europe's) history to the Detrioit area.  Of course, there is an emphasis on the Industrial Revolution and its subsequent developments and technology.
    
So, the narrative at the Village (OK, there are actually three--farming, handicrafts (including glass blowing, pottery, and textiles), and the wonders of mechanical energy) is all about the benefits of steam, coal, and electric power.  Nowhere to be found, however, are the costs stemming from the Revolution.  Nothing is mentioned about the home economy that was swallowed, the great migration to cities and industrial centers that created slums.  Absent as well are the ecological costs of extraction, manufacturing, and consumption.  Nothing but shiny, mechanized PROGRESS.
     Lest I sound like a crank, I was reflecting on mechanical energy when I was at my second backyard a few weeks later (I own some property a county away from where I live).  A friend and I were clearing out Autumn olive (Elaegnus umbellata) and chipping that invasive shrub to make a pathway through my woods.  We were able to down at least a dozen of them (they rarely grow taller than 25 feet--these were about 4 to 8 feet tall) and had enough woodchips to create a path about 3 feet wide and over 30 feet long.  None of this would have been possible (at least in 5 hours) without gas-powered saws and a chipper.  Not to mention the milled handles on the rakes and shovels, the forged rake and shovel heads, the wheelbarrow with the plastic bucket and rubber tire, too.  It wouldn't do to forget the truck that brought us and the equipment there as well.
     Ease, speed, efficiency: these are legacies of the Industrial Revolution. We could have felled the trees/shrubs with axes, but I doubt anyone turned limbs and branches into woodchips prior to internal combustion engines.  That probably would have been viewed as wasteful.
     As with any new technology that comes along, people tout the benefits, but rarely trumpet the costs.  Cell phones, computers, MP3 players, streaming movies and music, ATMs, GPS units, they all provide benefits but how have they changed the human person in negative ways?  Why aren't we talking about this more?  We all want the new X-Box One, but we don't want to think about yet another electronic device that uses electricity and sucks our time away.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Giving Universe?



“You can’t out give the universe” –business writer posting on the internet

  A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!"
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
“A sense of obligation.”
--Stephen Crane

I’m not sure where the first writer gets her ideas about the universe giving anything.  When I think of the universe, or even a bit closer, nature, I picture an indifferent void.

Does the universe give anything?  Sure, it gives energy, or rather dissipates energy leftover from its creation.  But it is “giving” only because it is radiating ontologically, it can’t do anything else until all that energy is gone.

But there is no motive there; no good will, altruism, generosity.  That’s like thanking a rock one slipped into one’s pocket for good companionship.  Sure, the rock accompanied that person, but only because the rock was kidnapped grabbed. 

Neither does the universe possess malevolence.  It may seem cruel, hurtling life-extinguishing rocks from space, churning up waves from the ocean that fill the lungs of a quarter-of-a-million people and empty the life from them. 
Photo credit: Gisela Giardino (creative commons)

It just is.  Though I would argue it is a creature—one way beyond our comprehension, but still…a creature.

If there is any generosity, any gift-bestowing happening it is coming from the creator of the universe.  Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”

Neither does wickedness originate with this transcendent author as the Psalmist declares: “For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; No evil dwells with You.”

I suppose the “spiritual, not religious” crowd like to credit the universe for good and bad (though they mostly talk about all the good the universe is doing, not the rising toll of deer-motorist crashes.) 

I don’t know about you, but I like to give credit to people responsible for whatever praise or blameworthy actions they perform.  It’s tough to do that with an airless, soundless void.
.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Taken

     I don't know about you, but I almost always feel a twinge of guilt when I walk past a homeless person.  Something in me says, "That's a human, made in the image of God, that you're walking past right now who appears to need help."  Some Many of them are scammers, but many aren't; the trouble is trying to discern between the two.
     I got a phone call from a friend on Monday, just shortly before I had to take my children to school.  It seems he had let a stranger spend the night with him and needed someone else to be with this stranger before he could be taken back home to North Dakota.  I hesitated thinking about how inconvenient this would be, how I couldn't do all that I wanted to do that day because I was adult-sitting some stranger.  And there was a bit of fear.  "Look, he's a Vietnam vet, he was tortured by the VC, he's got no teeth.  He's an old man; if he overpowers you, you're some kind of pussy."  I should mention my friend is a recovering addict and AA had contacted my friend because this out-of-state stranger was in need.  My friend has a much more open heart than I do, and didn't hesitate to take this guy in.
     So, I agreed.  If my friend could vouch for him then things would be fine--inconvenient, but fine.
     I picked "Harry" up from a Tim Horton's and was going to take him back to my place, chat with him for a while and then entertain him with the electronic cyclops i.e., TV, and then get some of my own work done.  He was smaller than I had envisioned.  He wasn't tiny, just not a big soldierly body.  Shortly after driving and talking with him, he indicated he had severe back pain and had to go to the hospital.  Wonderful!  Now I'm going to spend several hours waiting and waiting in a hospital.  The guy was in pain, he was old, a vet, I said OK.
     "Do you know of any good hospitals," he said in his deep south slur--he had no teeth--none!  I named a couple that were very close to our location.  "Naw, they told me to stay away from them.  You know any others?"  I wasn't sure who "They" was, but I was working on sacrificing my time.
    "We can go to Providence.  I was born there.  It's pretty good," I assured him.  As we drove, he told me some of his story, how he was a trucker, couldn't find any lodging in Ann Arbor Saturday night because of the U of M/Notre Dame game (Michigan won, Go Blue!) and wound up in Livonia and then connected with my friend Sunday.  He related his fear of Detroit, hailing from Black Hawk, North Dakota, a town of 300 where he had to drive twenty minutes to church and an hour for a grocery store.  Somewhere in the back of all of this was the thought that my friend had said something about his wife and daughter recently dying.
     After a short wait in the admitting "lounge" we sat in a sterile room waiting for medical care.  He told the nurse, the resident, and the doctor the same story.  He was a vet, had been a POW in Hanoi, his left big toe had been amputated--he pulled his sock off every chance he could get to show us--and the VC had removed all his teeth.  His lower back was sunken in from some obvious surgery and he describe his throbbing pain to them.
     During the inevitable waiting he told me about attending an Assembly of God church, his Master's degree in teaching and psychology, how a boy from North Dakota picked up a Southern accent while schooling in Louisiana.  I asked him about his wife and child.  He said they had been killed in an auto wreck Saturday night in Minnesota and that his mother-in-law blamed him for their deaths by his absence from home.  He was strangely unemotional about this horrific fact.  I chalked it up to being stranded in a different state and suffering from an eight in pain "on a scale of one to ten--ten being the worst pain you've ever had." 
     Two nurses, a resident, and a doctor later he had his prescription.  We had it filled and then I took him to lunch.  He continually complained about the fact that many people turned him away when he asked for help.  I told him not to judge them too harshly as one doesn't know what other people are struggling with.  I dropped him off at an Alano club, where I supposed he was going to be picked up by his trucking partner.  How many truckers drive with a partner?  I don't know.  It seemed strange.
     Later that evening my friend called to see how things went.  We started comparing notes.  Harry Williams was Harry Malone to my friend.  Harry had complained of back pain and my friend took him to two hospitals for pain relief.  My friend had contacted Harry earlier in the evening and wondered what he was still doing at a hotel in Michigan.  "That's the trucking business," Harry replied.
     I had to laugh in spite of the time and money spent on this shyster.  "People they ain't no good," sings Nick Cave.  He's right, except he's not.  For every Harry, there are ten like my friend who opened his home and his wardrobe to someone he thought needed some help.  Sure, we got taken, but that won't stop us from reaching out in the future.  We just might be better served by paying attention to our "Spidey-sense tingling" telling us that something just isn't right.