I had them when I was a child; maybe you did, too. I’ve always felt too ashamed to admit it publicly, but now I must.
We all must.
For the children..
I had them when I was a child; maybe you did, too. I’ve always felt too ashamed to admit it publicly, but now I must.
We all must.
For the children..
If I give in to my first and oldest thoughts on the subject, here’s what I believe about God:
1. He’s vaguely shaped like me- he walked around in the Garden of Eden, after all. (Genesis 3:8) And Moses got a glimpse of his backside. (Exodus 33:23)
2. He is a he.
3. He is jealous, easily angered, arbitrary, vengeful, violent, and holds grudges. But..
4. God is love.
That’s enough to begin. These thoughts were all formed early on, during my childhood, from numerous Sunday School handouts, a voracious appetite for every tract, magazine, and some bizarre little books I would find at my grandparent’s home. (I wish I remembered what they were; I only remember the covers on them would often have pictures of beautiful angels and lascivious devils. Yes, I was weird.) I also, even as a kid, would watch TV preachers. This was the mid- 50s, so it was Oral Roberts on a folding chair in a tent at noon on Sundays, and, at 6 p.m. everyday, just after “The Little Rascals,” “Suppertime,” a locally produced show starring the lesser known brother of Rex Humbard, Clement, and his family. (wife Priscilla, and daughters Rebecca and Delilah. See? I told you I was weird!)
Together, all of that data ran together in my 7 to 12 year old mind, and God the walking, talking, prissy and pissed god, emerged. But he loved me, somehow. I can’t make that elementary version of him go away, not completely, no matter how hard I try. It is one of those childhood-formed chunks of misinformation that has concretized in my mind to the point that I will still, incredibly, default to it at times. (Here’s another example of that kind of information which I apparently hold dear, because it won’t leave me: somewhere along that time, I got the idea in my head that goats and sheep were the same species. All the goats were male, and all the sheep were female. On first glance at either kind of animal, that is still my first thought.)
I mention all of this because, I have found, many adults also carry with them some anthropomorphic ideas about God that were forged in the halcyon days of childhood, when new information about the world was flooding our minds, and the cognitive means of evaluating/rejecting/accepting that information were not yet fully formed. It doesn’t matter, at that age, that the information doesn’t fit together that we are absorbing; it finds a place to take up (apparently) a permanent lodging place in our minds, anyway.
When that information, right or wrong, is an ingrained part of the culture we grow up in, it becomes important and life-affecting. When it concerns goats and sheep, it is only a minor and very occasional irritation. It is easy to see, therefore, that the God of my childhood still enjoys a well-tended residence in the minds of many, many people. It is an idea that is nurtured and fertilized, and so satisfying (again, apparently) to so many people that it affects how they vote, how they say it’s important for other people to believe, and how they raise their children.
Thinking critically about God- rather, about that image of God I’ve had in my head for waaaay too long- is a never ending process. I don’t want God to be as small as my imagination, and I sure don’t want God to be as small as the authors and artists of those tracts and books tried to make God out to be. I want to both understand the metaphors for God used by the biblical writers in the context of their time, and to think about new metaphors for God in the context of our time. I want to reconcile the stories of God’s bloody and horrific vengeance on persons other than Jews (Deut 20:16-18, et.al., et.al.) with the statement, “God is love.” (1John 4: 8), if they can be reconciled. I want to get by the saccharine nonsense that God dusted the heavens with stars for human pleasure, and the maudlin idea that God allows babies to die because of God’s selfish need for flowers in heavenly gardens.
I want to know God better, even as I know I will not even come close to knowing God fully. I want the goofy image of God I have stuck in my brain to be put to pasture with the he-goats and she-sheep.
The post below needs an addendum, because things have changed. Not the world, not Mom, not her prognosis. It’s me. Having written what I wrote, I got some advice from someone who’s been through a similar parental illness, and it has made a world of difference. I share it here for two reasons:
1. So you don’t have to worry about me going insane.
2. So, in case someone reading this might be going through a similar situation, you can perhaps benefit from my own mind-shift.
I’ve given lip-service and lip-service only (I now realize) to the fact that Mom will never get better- not in the remainder of her life, not for a single day. There may be moments when her sense of humor or sensory abilities are better than other moments, but- overall- there is a decline in her physical brain and that will continue.
My own frustrations with that situation were born, I know now, from my stubbornness in letting her go. I wanted, if I could, to keep her the way she was, in whatever small ways I thought there were to do that. Thus, I would get upset at her for her continual accusations that staff people in the home are stealing her refrigerator goodies. I’d tear down her hand-written sign of the day, warning them to stop taking stuff, and tell her upsettedly to stop that nonsense!
I’ve been doing that for two months now and it hasn’t helped at all, nor will it ever help at all! Therefore, my advisor suggested, I might try just going along with where my mom’s mind is, instead of trying to push and and pull it back to where I want it to be. And, that attitude has worked for me for three days in a row!
On Wednesday, I put the sign which I had torn off on Tuesday, back up on the refrigerator (as I was filling it with more goodies). “If they take these yogurts, tell me, so I can replace them,” I told her. She was smiling as she promised to do that. So was I.
Her complaining about ears and eyes? “Let’s talk to the Doctor about that the next time we go there,” is my now already-much-practiced response. Instead of trying to prove to her again, to no avail, that we have been to both ear and eye doctors very recently, I’m simply allowing her brain- as it exists this day, in these moments- to be that to which I respond. I’m not trying logic anymore with the mother I used to know, in order to get her step forward from some “hiding place.”
There is no such hiding place, of course. Mom is not making a conscious decision to be suspicious, forgetful, frustrated, or weird. That’s her brain. And there’s not a thing I can do about it other than humoring her, agreeing about everything with her, and keeping her supplied with shelter, food, medications, and my..
daily presence. You read that right- I’ve been there daily for the last three days, and have left each visit in a good mood, not feeling frustrated, and with at least a little hope for myself. I had been losing that, as I knew I was losing her.
So, I’ll be supplying Mom and the entire county (if that’s what she thinks) with snacks for as long as she is able to go the refrigerator and get them. I’ll put more flowers in her room, and more of the halfway-pleasant me back in her life.
I’ll let you know how it continues to go, as a way of saying “thank you” to those who could see what I wasn’t seeing.
Father, forgive me for I have sinned. This was the first trip to my Mom’s since Christmas Day. There are no excuses- she only lives two miles away- except one: it feels to me like more and more of a chore to go see her.
And it is.
Once she recognizes me when I come through the door, she is glad to see me. But there is no conversation possible anymore. The three events which she can hold in her mind at a time, are simply repeated over and over. (Did I already tell you about….? Yes, you did. But then she tells me about ‘it’ again anyway.) Each of the three events “happened” yesterday, no matter when they happened. Here, for your edification and enlightenment are the very shortened versions of those events:
* A woman with whom Mom eats, eats very slowly. The ‘young girls’ who work in the dining room want the woman to hurry, so they can go home and go their parties. Yesterday, they made the slow-eating woman cry.
*They– the “they” with no faces, no names, and no visibility- are taking the yogurt I bring to Mom from her refrigerator. Mom makes signs for the refrigerator door: “No More Freebies.” I tear them up and tell her to stop it. But, yesterday, they were at it again, so up went another sign.
*Her hearing aid doesn’t work- “Can’t we get a different one?” She needs new glasses- “I can’t see anything anymore.” I remind her, with pictures that I took, that we have been to audiologist and an ophthalmologist. She can’t see the pictures or hear what I’m saying.
In fact, she is voicing what is the god-damnedest problem about Alzheimer’s that I hadn’t known about, and which is, in fact, horrible. Just as her brain has less and less capacity to remember, her brain also has less and less capacity to make sense of what she is hearing and seeing (and tasting, feeling, and smelling). She can see and hear, but what she sees and hears is not being translated by her brain into anything coherent or understandable. So she thinks she is simply not hearing and not seeing, and those maladies, to her, should be fixable.
One of her relatives in Ohio called the home administrator to make sure my wife and I were telling the relatives the truth about Mom’s condition. These relatives are well-meaning, of course: they love the woman Mom was, too. But the woman Mom was, is not the woman Mom is! 90% of the time, that woman they knew is gone! One of them tells me they will be praying for a healing from God for Mom. My increasing bitterness over the disease actually tempted me to point out that out of the 30 million prayers for the healing of Alzheimer’s patients prayed so far, not a single one has been answered. It actually makes me want to wrench what hope may exist in another person’s heart, out of that heart! And that worries me, about myself!
I’m open for suggestions. I’ve looked around some of the Alzheimer discussion boards and I find no real hope for any better tomorrows. Worse, I find some of the same cliches that I used to get tired of hearing in AA meetings: “One day at a Time” and “Let Go, Let God.”
I can’t even cry anymore. And while I might sound angry, I’m not. I’ve just become passive to Mom, almost neutral in my feelings toward her.
And I’d rather be crying, or angry. I hate what this disease is doing to Mom. But I don’t like what it is doing to me, either.
I wrote recently about my lack of enthusiasm for chicken-fried steaks. I’ve gotten comments and emails from people in Alabama, Utah, Washington D.C., Louisiana, California, and- of course- Texas (El Paso, Dallas, Arlington, and just down the street), who all say that their CFS would change my mind.
So, besides the point I am leading up to, let me say this: have at it, you optimistic CFSers. I will take up you on your offers anytime we are in approximate vicinity to each other. Except don’t ask me to slather anything with white gravy. I just can’t do it.
OK, now to the main point. As I thought about those who made this offer to overturn my CFS bias, I realized that I am looking at a group of people who would, in the same room at the same time, enjoy each other to no end and come away from such an encounter with their circles of consciousness made wider, thus better.
What they all have in common, right now, is a love for good CFS (is that possible?) and some knowledge of me. They could bounce those two subjects back and forth for a few minutes as a dialectical means of establishing some community, but then..I know this is true..one of them would say something which would cause another one to say “Aha!”. The rest would lean in to hear what followed (because all of them know- I also know- how to listen), and a human explosion of thought would begin that would leave everyone there reluctant at evening’s end to go home. But everyone would leave nourished and grateful for another community of which they were a part, but which had also taken them beyond themselves.
We all have the opportunity to make connections with people: between ourselves and others, and between others and others. In doing so, we advance humanity. I’ll go ahead and say it this way, so you know how important I think that work is: By bringing certain people together, we can change the world.
And, of course, that can be for good or for bad. At some point, in the late 1920s, someone said, “Adolph, I’d like introduce Hermann to you.” But for those of us with genuine concern for the world and all of its creatures, for those of us who feel the circles of our love straining for larger diameters, the opportunities to affect the ideas that could affect goodness in the world, are present almost daily. We all know people who don’t know each other who should know each other. We all know of synergy which is waiting to sizzle if only two or more special minds whom we also know, could be brought together.
At that’s all we really have to do. If we trust that our instincts and forethought are correct ones, the natural desire for creativity on the part of others will take over. We, then, can sit back and be a part of the synergy instead feeling like we must lead, form, and guide it according to our own personal expectations. My group of CFS aficionados might not come from their evening together with a solution to end of world hunger in hand, but they might be ready to get together for a CFS cook off, from which there might emerge, in a generation a two, an idea for the speedy transportation of surplus foodstuffs from one nation to another. Who knows?
Which is the real point, I guess to all of this wondering: nobody will know what the potential results of such a meeting of like-minded individuals will be if it never happens. Each of us can be the estuary where new relationships, new community, and new ideas evolve from their present forms.
And there is no way to make white gravy palatable. That’s the only thing I will not allow on the agenda.
Here’s a picture of white gravy from a breakfast I attended this morning. The breakfast was wonderful. But I didn’t try the gravy..
Why I Will Never Be 100% Texan
I went to a Christmas gathering the other evening (5 down, 17 to go), where chicken-fried steak was the predictable entree. Before I tell you my real opinion, allow me to describe this carnivoric concoction for those who may think I’m writing in oxymorons:
Chicken-fried steak is steak fried in chicken batter. It’s that simple, but there’s more. The steak in question seems always to be the most grizzle-permeated, toughest slice of beef from the oldest milk cow ever to be sent, in the name of McDonald’s hamburgers, to the slaughter house. As the various cuts of beef are making their way down the conveyor belt to be ground and smashed into all-meat patties, there is a wizened old man who watches all day for those chunks of meat with no marbled fat, no discernibly chewable texture, and no possibility- none- of being cut into stew meat or turned into a chopped BBQ sandwich. If there are big tough ingrained tendons still hanging from it, so much the better. Our wise old man grabs that piece of meat and sends it to the chicken-fried steak slicer.
Where it is inspected one more time. If any parts of the cut can be saved for dog food, they are cut away and put aside, so that the butcher now has only the bottomest-of-the- barrel beef with which to work. He then sets about slicing that meat into the thinnest portions possible that will still meet the FDA’s definition of “steak.” (That’s .0078 of an inch, about the thickness of two playing cards stacked on top of one another.)
At this point, the slices are packed and shipped to banquet managers all over Texas. These are the party planners who work for companies and organizations that want to give their customers and members the impression that they are down-home, sh*t-kickin’, good old boys, who- by god- remember Grandma’s chicken-fried steak just like the best of ’em. “Git ‘er done” they order as they pass on the pitiful pile of pinkish “meat” to the batter specialists.
The batter specialists are immersed all day in vats of flour, Sysco System sized cans of Crisco and chicken broth, and other stuff that I don’t know about and will never want to know about. They slather the meat in a mixture of all the above, then set the meat to frying in pans full of not-hot-enough grease so that calorie-laden fat has the optimal opportunity to soak through to every molecule of this mess. But, once cooked and cooled down to to a tepid temperature for serving, there’s one more coup d’ grace to be performed:
A big spoonful of white gravy is plopped down over the entree. White gravy– you read that right: tasteless and coagulating the moment it hits the cold, grease-sodden entree of the evening. It looks like this:
Now, in this picture, the gravy is on the side, but- be assured- it won’t be for long! I chose this picture, so that those who have never seen a chicken-fried steak may now know one of the archetypal psychological horrors that Jung never had the chance to write about, and which haunts some of us transplanted Northerners to the point that we are unable to relax- ever- when we know there is a banquet we must attend. (“Please, God, a steak, or chicken- grilled, baked, broiled, even boiled- but NOT chicken-fried steak! Please, God, in your mercy..Amen)
Real Texans love their chicken fried steaks. But, just so you know: I don’t. At all. And that’s why, despite the fact that I love living here, and will consider myself one day lucky to be buried here, that I will never be 100% Texan. I will have to be happy, as will those around me, with only being a 98.9 percenter.
(for a slightly less biased view, Wikipedia has the inside story here.)
That was the top-of-the-page headline in this week’s local paper. Really.
In a small Texas town, it’s sometimes a challenge for editors to fill a paper with enough “news” to be able to pretend that it’s the news, and not the advertising, that is the reason for the paper’s existence. This is not to say, of course, that the local paper doesn’t have its share of “normal” bad and unsettling news, but the weeks between “Major Drug Bust on West Side of Town” and “Local Man’s Death Going to Grand Jury” are way more numerous than they are in, say, Dallas or Fort Worth.
So why do I love reading the local paper each week? It’s precisely because headlines about driving conditions are the norm and not the exception. Local newspapers do not have as their primary purpose the scaring of their readers into a state of fear and submission to advertisers for more information about pharmaceuticals, better security systems, and this weekend’s local Gun Shows. Small town newspapers, quaint and funny as they sometimes are, reflect lifelong local attitudes that have been shaped by less noise, less hurry, and- around here anyway- this:
This is the moon. I can see it almost every night, along with stars, planets, and the occasional meteorite. If it’s not cloudy, I can watch the sun rise and set by looking east or west from my backyard. If it is cloudy, I can join the rest of the town in hoping that it rains, or snows. Snow here is not only rare and pretty, but, like the rain, life-giving. It’s not an inconvenience on the 40 minute morning commute through traffic fumes and toll booths. It’s moisture for the fields, ponds for both the cattle and coyote, and the promise of springtime wildflower extravaganzas.
The rhythms of rural areas and small towns are determined by the land upon which they sit and the skies under which they are nestled. Going to bed with the glow of the moon coming through the bedroom windows is- for me- a far superior way to go to sleep, than with the light from street lamps, Taco Bells, and passing police and fire trucks ever was. (24 years in Dallas; almost 5 years here)
And while I have no way of measuring it quantitatively, I wonder often how it is to experience such an earth and sky centered existence for a lifetime? I wonder about that because, having lived in both urban and rural settings, I observe a richer awareness by people here in the countryside of where their humanity is rooted. The explosion of wildflowers every spring may, for some people here, become passe. Nonetheless, they are seeing them; the colors are filling their minds whether they are aware of it happening, or not. The Big Sky they have looked up at everyday since they were bouncing in backyard strollers, is an ever-present reminder that humans are not at the top of any apex concocted in a corporate boardroom or automobile showroom.
I wonder about those things, because not only do I observe them, I feel them. I can hear ducks out at the lake, coyotes in the early evening, and the rustling of mesquite and mimosa trees almost anytime. I can see people I know driving by the house. I never hear obscenities like “Hump Day” and “TGIF” from people bound to share their misery at work that day with me. I feel the calm of the moon on the horizon and I feel a serenity in the calloused hands of ranchers as well as in the sounds of the Friday marching band on the football fields a few blocks away. I’m reminded of truths which really matter- like, ‘road hazards affect driving conditions.‘ And I’m not so prone to be addled by the subtle but relentlessly fearsome noise of emergency vehicles and morning drive time.
I have a clearer, more ready, less encumbered, and desirous view of this:
You cannot buy happiness. For anyone- not yourself, your spouse, your children, or your boss. You can buy a brief period of satisfaction. How brief? Watch the kids tearing into the next present..and adult attention spans aren’t that much longer.
The GREAT LIE in America is that happiness (as defined by television script writers) is available to anyone whose means and desires coincide. And advertisers keep the sweet carrots dangling just a little bit beyond everyone’s reach, so that no one is ever quite there, where X marks the spot that happiness, true happiness, will finally begin. (Even Lottery winners get the blues: there are many sad stories in that chapter of the New American Dream.)
Last week, I stood in line at the local Fred’s behind a couple who were juggling two credit cards to buy what looked Round One of their Christmas gift orgy. Among the items was a battery operated model of Bill Clinton playing a saxophone. Here’s what it looks like:
Yeah, that’s all it does. How quickly will Uncle Bill tire of that thing? That thing will be in someone’s yard sale by April. Along with probably 25% of December’s Gross National Product, which is quickly becoming China’s Very Gross National Profit. How many gallons of foreign oil were used in this year’s manufacture of those Bill Clinton saxophone toys? And, how much landfill space will they still be occupying 30,000 years from now when the plastic in them finally begins to break down?
So here’s my point: There are alternatives– places where you can spend money and affect the future in positive ways for generations to come. Here are three:
Kiva is a micro-lender. You can make loans to small business people in places around the world. Your $25, $50, or $100 is added to similar amounts from other lenders to finance the $500 to $1500 loans being requested. The payback rate is close to 100%, and when your money is paid back, you can either get it back or re-invest in someone else’s business. Some people on my list this year are getting KIVA gift certificates so they can experience the same fun I’ve had giving six women and three men on four continents a real hand up in their lives.
The SEVA Foundation is also in the business of fighting poverty and disease through self-help projects. And the array of those projects is fascinating. Last year, my wife received a gift from me, given in her name, which enabled two Mayan women in Mexico to be trained as mid wives.
The Heifer Project is an elder statesman in the world of really good places to share your resources. Last year, each of my three children received a flock of ducks, going to Cambodia. Others received from me a flock of chickens, a goat, and some trees. All of these things are given to the recipients with the understanding that they will use the gifts for both food and income, and that they will give away some of the new chicks, kids, and saplings that result from their work. They are gifts that keep on giving for real.
Two years ago, I received from friends a llama in Ecuador and part of a community water well in South Africa. I’ve never seen either of those gifts, but they are the ones from that Christmas that I remember best. They are making a continuing difference in the lives of people, as they continue to make a difference in my own.
It’s a pretty cool bandwagon. Jump aboard! We’ll meet there at the X where real happiness is always waiting.
Miranda, one of my favorite bloggers (here), began some discussion about the Flaming Lips song, “Do You Realize?” It was a song I’d never heard of, but now have watched the video of about ten times since she brought it to my attention. Watch it, then tell me or tell her what you think. Or read what my son says about it – AFTER YOU”VE WATCHED IT! He’s nailed it. (Like son, like father..that is so much fun to say!)
An excerpt of my son Joshua’s comments on this video:
“That’s pretty heavy: Death, then, is only an illusion. It’s not an end, it’s not even real, and certainly not something to fear or dread. Hmm…
“From where I’m sitting, the sun is setting outside my window. But it’s not setting. Nor is the sun rising elsewhere. The sun isn’t even moving. And that is what The Lips want us to see, that we speak and think in antiquated terms. That the definitions of our world (and ourselves) are still flat conceptually.
“Now you’re job is to let your loved ones know that. Only, of course, you can’t, because you don’t know that yourself yet, because it’s the hardest thing you will ever come to know, so hard only the best among us ever figure it out.
“And here we see what the song is really trying to do. It’s not trying to tell you that you’re going to be okay because the worst thing that’s going to happen to you in your life is that you will die, and that dying isn’t that bad, because dying is just an illusion caused by the world spinning round.
“No, it’s asking you to tell that to someone else. Knowing that if you can tell someone else that, and explain it to them so they will understand it and be comforted by it, then you just might begin to understand it yourself. And what a thing that would be. “
(I love it when it when I get to learn stuff from the younger ones. Really! Thanks, Miranda. Thanks, Joshua. I love you, too! And you get it– that’s too cool!)
I ran across this phrase, and it fascinates me:
It is fascinating to me because of its Simplicity and Truth. And that Simplicity and Truth is found not only in the images or recollections which the phrase gives rise to in our imaginations or memories; it is the clean nature of the statement itself.
Build a shelter of light and air
Stated in the imperative, it is like a command that has been waiting to be spoken. It is a place which I am perceived to be ready for now- by whom?- and being invited to enter. But first- the imperative- there is work to be done, assembly to be undertaken.
The first task, for me, is disassociation from those things- things, stuff, material- that I have allowed to define me and, in the process, bend me. Because that is what stuff does, it bends the shape of the Image of God, the humanity in us, into the shape of whatever shiny baubles attract us. I have learned to feel my way in the dark with my wallet. I breathe in the smog of others’ desires for me to have the satisfaction that only they can sell to me. I am vulnerable and I have been injured, over and over, because I have traded too many times the security I was born with- the security of community with others- for the individual and illusory safety of bank account numbers and one more gadget.
I have forgotten so much about sharing. But I have remembered enough to know that holding my hands outward, toward others, is eminently more rewarding than holding them clenched and thrust within my pockets. I want to make room for the Image of God to be growing again, through the presence of others, and not stunted any longer through the weight of all my stuff. So it begins there.
The second task is to “let there be light.” Yes, that Light. The Light that comes not from the sun, and certainly not from any incandescent or fluorescent light bulbs; I want more of the Light the ancient rabbis called First Understanding. I want the Light of more Knowledge, yes, but even more than that, I want the Light of Appreciation and Acceptance of what I already do know. I want to spend less and less time criticizing, evaluating, deciding, and then second-guessing, than I do in feeling passionately about and cultivating the facts, ideas, and opinions that are already in me and that I know to be valuable. I want to continue moving from whatever is dark in me, toward that which is Light, and awaits me.
And then, to breathe. I want to breathe through walls which separate me from the pulse of the world around me. I want the Air, the lightness of being which surrounds us all, to be the only barrier between myself and others. I do not want to fight for air behind musty walls of tradition, or within stale spaces of ancient standards. I no longer want to gasp for air within the stench of dogmatic death.
I want to feel the ruach, the breath of God, always blowing against me, always being drawn into my being. I want to feel led by the Spirit into open spaces, and not pushed by the status quo against the brick walls of fear built by others.
I want to build a structure of Light and Air with others, for others, because of others, and live there, too.
That is the only structure, a structure of Understanding and Freedom, that will withstand the onslaught of those who live, instead, in forts, ready to fight and die for the beliefs they cherish and store within dark, thick, impermeable walls. It is the Structure of Light and of Air in which I will live and toward which I am moving.
I beg you to come along. We will need each other, to help each other disassemble, unpack, and even tear down some of what we thought, by ourselves, was precious. We will need each other to remind the other that the Light is sometimes uncomfortable but always illuminating, and that the Air is often harsh and cold, even as it is life-giving and clean.
We will build a structure of Light and of Air and we will say, “Welcome” to all who come nearby.