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January 4, 2016

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I sat in church for the first Sunday of the year, yesterday, and feel this so bad it hurts.

THIS!  This is what I want for the new year.  Dear God, please,
“Wake me up inside.”

“…Call my name and save me from the dark
Bid my blood to run
Before I come undone
Save me from the nothing I’ve become

Bring me to life

Frozen inside without Your touch
Without Your love, Darling
Only You are the Life among the dead.”

One of our pastors spoke in his own simple eloquence, about us determining whatever it is God wants us to do and who He wants us to be.  I know the answers to those questions, what I lack is the inner life to do it, to be it, to live it.

I feel dead inside.

I feel frozen inside (no Disney jokes, or songs, PLEASE).  I’ve become less than worthless, I am nothing, I am negative.  I look backward and see chaos, madness, sadness, destruction, sin, loss, debt.  I look forward and see the labor required to dig out, and it’s hopeless.

I admit it.  I did it to myself.  Partly.  I starved myself spiritually, only having the meagerest of snacks maybe every other day, but I knew I was missing out on the banquet.  I did it to myself because I feel kind of abandoned by God.

Say it all you want, if you’re one of those conservatives you’ll believe that if I feel the abandonment, it’s because I abandoned Him.  That may be true.  That the spiritual “snack” was there at all says maybe God was there sustaining me through the spiritual “drought.”  Or maybe like Cain from Genesis, I offered what I thought was the best I had to give, from a heart that was as good as mine could be, and still felt rejected.

I’m going to try something different today.  And maybe, this year will be different.  I’ll let you know, if I live to tell about it.  If He is “the Life,” maybe He’ll share.

On the positive side, I feel “only mostly dead,” which, if you’ve ever seen The Princess Bride, means there’s hope, but “it’ll take a miracle.”

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The Truth in Love: A Dangerous Thing March 10, 2015

Posted by michaelnjohns in homosexuality, sex.
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I wouldn’t have thought this was a really drastic change of position if I hadn’t lived through it.  Swept along by a wave of peers, I missed something.  In large part I agreed with them.  And in part, I was dead wrong for it.  These peers? Well meaning Christ-Followers.  I’ve been processing this still, so if I’m repeating myself, just move along to the next blog you like.  My feelings won’t be hurt, I promise.

I’ve been accused of thinking dangerously, or maybe that my thinking is dangerous, or maybe they weren’t thinking and they thought the fact that I was, was dangerous.  My fellow seminarians joked good-naturedly that they would pray for me even back before I got here.  Some of them would be spinning in their pulpits if they knew what I think now.  Farbeit from me to think I’m special, revolutionary, radical.  I’m no trail-blazer, like a Martin Luther.  I don’t think I could even come up with 95 theses, but I have one:  “the truth in love.”  I’m captivated by the power of the phrase, from Ephesians 4:  15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

What if God’s love is more radical than even Christ-followers give it credit for being?  If we really understood it better, and embraced it more fully, I’ll bet we would reap a few benefits.  I’m only going to share two I believe are available.

Benefit # 1:  We grow and become like Jesus.  This makes us different from a lot of people in the world, and that might just make us dangerous.

I Corinthians 13 extols the virtues of love, and proclaims, “…if I don’t have love, I have nothing.”  “I am a sounding brass, a tinkling cymbal.”  (I used the loudest-sounding translation)  For years I thought nothing of my fellow Christ-followers proclaiming the evil of sin, the final destination of unrepentant sinners.  I saw nothing wrong.  But their focus seemed to change.  I think it became too narrow.  I think it became unloving.  We went back to Jewish legalism, for people who aren’t Jewish, for people who don’t even follow Christ yet, expecting them to live by some hand-picked set of standards out of that Old Testament law code.  Sinners who are well-aware that they are sinners are rightly calling us onto the carpet for it.  It’s not loving.  It’s not gracious.  It’s not Jesus’ method.  And we don’t even live by the letter of the law we’re offering the world.  Well-meaning Christ-followers are blindly falling into it.  It’s wrong.  It’s sin, and some are still ignorant of it, or worse, in denial about it.

I hope you can stay with me, this is going somewhere dramatic.  Trust me.  This is what I’ve been meditating on:

Some Christ-followers are operating under the misconception that sin is a choice.  This has never been true.  The question that came to my mind was, “What is a sinner going to do?”  And obviously, the answer is, “we’re going to sin.” I said “we.”  It’s a radical challenge to what I have heard a lot of well-meaning people trying to teach recently, as if it were the truth. And it’s a drastic change to my prior thought process as well.

Here’s the revelation, if I dare call it that:

Hatred quenches the Spirit of God.  Hatred stops any good from coming out of your part of a situation, no matter how well-intentioned you are.  Your hatred isn’t going to change a single sinner into a not-sinner.  You can tell the truth, without love, and your true words won’t change a single sinner into a not-sinner.  Sometimes the truth alone can quench the Spirit too.  You can love, tolerating and embracing and accepting, and your love won’t change a single sinner into a not-sinner.  Sometimes just expressing love quenches the Spirit as well.  A balance of both is required.  Jesus was “the way, the truth, and the life,” but he was also very loving, which is why the people flocked to him.  Nobody but the mob is flocking to certain churches, because they don’t really “love.” They just “truth.”  And sinners who feel affirmed are flocking to churches that embrace the sin as well as the sinner –  flocking to a place where they can hear what they want to hear, nothing uncomfortable, nothing that demands “Go and sin no more,” but that’s equally wrong.  They just “love,” they don’t really “truth.”  As a Christ follower, my message is empty if I deny the sin, just as empty if I embrace and accept the sin along with the sinner.  As much as I want to teach about your sin, or their sin, I feel compelled to confess first, I’ve got a plank in my eye too.  Christ commands anyone who would follow to first repent, or turn away, from sin, and then take up their own cross and follow Him.  I have a hard time with both of these commands.

In Psalm 51:5, the writer says he was conceived in sin, and born into sin.  In Ecclesiastes 7:20 the writer proclaims “there is not a righteous man on earth, who does what is right and never sins.”  Isaiah 53:6 the writer says we’re “like sheep” and we all want to go our own way, but we’re being led the wrong direction by our selfish motives.  In Jeremiah 17:9-10 the writer says we are all crooked, “desperately wicked,” and ultimately God “rewards” us for what we do.  The story doesn’t change from Old to New Testaments.  Romans 3:23 says we’ve all sinned and none of us can even dream of reaching God’s perfect standard, His “glory.”  So we’re all sinners.  From the first time when you’re a baby and mom says “no,” and you do it anyway, or try to do it anyway, it’s sin.  But if we’re going to live by the letter of the law we should be aware of II Corinthians 3:6- the letter of the law brings death, but the spirit (intention) of the law brings life.  The letter of the law, a slavish obedience to an impossible law code, or disobeying the perfect standards of God, only bring us to eternal death.  The spirit of the law, as distilled by Jesus into just two neat commandments, gives life like in John 10:10 and John 14:6.

Guess what?  Nothing can change a sinner into a not-sinner.  We can only resist, with the power that we have inside ourselves, and that’s only if we know something is a sin and we decide we don’t want to do it any more.  It’s more blinding, more powerful, more seductive than alcohol or tobacco or any other drug.  In the flesh, we are all going to fail, and stumble into sin, even the best Christ-followers.  It’s true that we have a choice, but the choice isn’t whether we’re going to sin.  It’s what kind of sin are we going to choose?   Some well-meaning Christ-followers think sin is a choice, but it’s not.  If you believe the Bible, you should believe that we are all born into sin and we have no power to escape without the grace of God.  And some well-meaning Christ followers preach judgement and condemnation and hellfire and brimstone on certain people’s sins, while ignoring others.  Especially their own.  The only way to escape is through the truth in love, which allows the Holy Spirit of God to work on our hearts.

The pharisees used to do that back in Jesus day.  They held people to that impossible standard of behavior, “the truth,” while at the same time treating others without any regard to mercy, or “love,” which was why Jesus was so upset.  He quoted the Old Testament, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”  And he specifically told the pharisees, I paraphrase: “On the outside you look great, all freshly whitewashed, just like a tomb.  But on the inside you’re ugly, full of evil things, corruption and rot.”  (Matthew 23:27)  Those pharisees were ignoring their own sins of hatred and pride, while pointing out other people’s specific sins with all kinds of judgement and condemnation.  Sound familiar?

The more I consider it, the less I think of myself, because personally, I am good at the above, because I suck at love, but I know all about truth.  I can hate all day long, and I can use the truth to defend my stronghold and crush the opposition with words, thrown like stones.  I can judge and condemn, just like everyone else.  It’s easy.  I can get all caught up in my fancy proofs of whatever the thing is that I don’t like, either because it’s not my choice of sin, or because no one knows I’m another definition of “sinner.”  There are plenty of sins to habituate.  I’ve picked mine, you’ve picked yours, they’ve picked theirs and we all point fingers at each other.  I have an audience.  They think I’m so good because of the whitewashed outside.  And from there, the mob mentality is too easy to just join in, grab the big rocks along with everyone else, and start flinging.  Don’t deceive yourself into thinking you should follow me.  I do it wrong, in my own way, all the time.

That woman “caught in the very act of adultery” was a test case for Jesus.  He let the accusers think on their own hearts and decide if they were sinners themselves.  And he said, after they all left, “where are your accusers?  I don’t condemn you either, but go and sin no more.”  She was about to be stoned to death for her “sin.”  Jesus dismissed the mob though, and then quietly talked with her about her choices.  And Jesus said it was “sin.”  It was the sin of adultery, big enough it made God’s top ten list back in Exodus.  What’s “adultery?”  Any kind of sexual relations outside of “marriage.” And what did Jesus say was “marriage?”  Matthew 19:5 and Mark 10:7 have Jesus quoting Genesis 2:24, validating the text like it’s his own personal stamp of approval. “Marriage,” sorry to say, as defined by God and verified by Jesus, consists of a man and his wife, nothing else.  Anything else is “adultery.”  So I’m not discounting what she did, or what anyone else, including me, does, that God says is wrong, as if that wasn’t sin.  I’m saying we should teach things differently.  We have to dismiss ourselves from the mob mentality, drop our rocks, consider our own thing that we do that’s wrong, and turn away.  I think we lead by example, and who wants to follow a rabid mob that operates based on its’ own standards, judging harshly and without any mercy?

Jesus’ first message to everyone was that we needed to “repent,” which meant to turn away from sin, and go toward God.

I’ll still agree with the mob that sin is evil.  I still agree with the mob that unrepentant sinners go to eternal torment and hopeless separation from God.  But I think we need to shift our message to something different.  Let’s understand, before we preach against one form of sin or another, that we all sin.  That’s the truth, and it makes us more gracious.  It puts the speaker on the same level as the audience.  No denial here:  there is such a thing as “sin.”  Anyone who reads Romans 3:23 will tell you that, and it hasn’t changed from Old Testament Jeremiah 17:9 to Romans 3:23.  The heart is crooked, no one can fix it for themselves.  Only when we get to Romans 6:23 do we realize there’s any hope.  It’s the gift of God, further clarified in Ephesians 2.  We should be teaching that, instead of just the condemnation, the straining of gnats of other people’s small misdeeds, while we pass the camel of our huge self-righteous judgmental hatred.

Romans 9 is quite clear:  Israel’s standards are out of date after Jesus’ sacrifice.  The law isn’t going to save anyone, it’s only going to convict us.  Once we decide to follow Jesus, we can look into what’s important.  I for one don’t want to go back to Israel’s standards.  They had over 600 rules to obey, from clothes to food to how and when to party.  Do I really want to invest the time to figure out how to do, or not do, all of that?  Might be fun to figure out the party schedule.  But I don’t relish the idea of trying to do all the rest.  But until we decide to follow Jesus, there’s no point.  There’s good news from Romans 10:4-13.  Once and for all Jesus paid the price for my past, present, and future sin.  And if I want to follow the teaching of Romans 10:14-15, I should be an ambassador teaching that forgiveness is available through Jesus’ sacrifice.  Not only forgiveness for yesterday, but also the strength to repent, and choose not to sin, for today.  I’m so happy that forgiveness is available, even for a failure like me.  I mess it up every day.  That whitewash I show on the outside is a whitewash.  Ignore it.  It’s nothing.

All you church people, let me challenge you first, like I did myself:  Love first.  Then speak the truth in love.  Don’t leave out either part.  If you do, the audience will miss out.

If I’m nothing without love, I’m nothing without the truth as well.  But with the truth in love, expressed with grace, I bet I’ll see Benefit # 2:  “The power of God  that leads to Salvation” that Paul wrote about in Romans 1:16.  Even he put the love first, before he started talking about what was sin and what to do about it.  And after I decide to follow Jesus, Jesus boils it down to a really simple standard without all the nit-picky laws:  Love God wholeheartedly, and love others as I love myself.  I don’t think you can go wrong with those two rules.  I think if we really followed them, we might see other people deciding to follow Jesus, too.  And we all have to figure out how to love God on our own, although we can encourage each other.  That’s why there’s a church and you should go.  Yes, it’s full of us hypocrites- we’ve all stumbled at some point, on the journey of life, while attempting to follow Jesus.  Me included.  But if you come and encourage us, we all might become better Christ-followers.  A good church is welcoming (love) and challenging (truth).  Maybe you think the church isn’t welcoming.  Maybe your church isn’t challenging.  Maybe you aren’t going to a church at all.  I invite you: come and see.  If the first one isn’t welcoming and challenging, maybe the next one will be.  I hope you find a good one.

II Corinthians 5:

11 Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 13 If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin (Jesus Christ) to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Media and The Fall (and Rise?) of Man September 12, 2014

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There’s a great writer and singer I used to listen to a lot named Carman Licciardello, who talked about dealing with temptation.  In a hilarious moment he talked about going to the beach and looking “stupid with [his] big old head stuck in the sand,” and admonished the listener to “keep your eyes on the Creator, man, and not on his creations.”  He’s got a bunch of other great songs demonstrating a brilliant sense of humor with solid teaching.  Give a listen if you feel so inclined.  I’m sure you can dig up dirt on Carman if you look hard enough and want that kind of spin.  I’m not in full-time paid ministry or under tight scrutiny from the press, or you might find my dirt, too.  But please don’t.  Suffice it to say that “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23) including me, and including you.  I’m not going to pretend I’m perfect.  And that’s why I’m the perfect person to write about temptation and failure.

The press loves this kind of thing.  Drag someone’s name through the mud, throw it up on the TV screens and magazines and newspapers and “news” blogs for all to see.  And they do it so well.  Sex sells, violence sells, and money sells.  The hype feeds itself until the readers and listeners and voyeurs are all whipped into an orgasm frenzy of hating the person they’re told to hate, or disrespecting the person they’re told to disrespect.  Instead of leading to healthy resolution for anyone, including the audience, the press drops the story right after the fall and never shows the grace that leads to restoration.  We drop them while they’re in the mud, and we leave them there to run after the next salacious tidbit, the next story of someone who did something “bad,” the next disaster.

Doctors who study behavior describe some less dangerous, non-addictive drugs as “Gateway drugs.”  The theory was, experimentation with a gateway drug like alcohol or marijuana might lead to more dangerous drugs like cocaine or heroin or LSD.  I think sex and violence have gateways too.  Turn on your TV (or don’t) and you’ll see the gateways.  Makeup commercials.  Underwear commercials.  Hamburger commercials that look like underwear commercials.  TV shows depicting illicit sexual relationships and questionable predilections, downplaying their dangers and proclaiming their “normalcy.”  And then think about the hypocrisy of people who want to proclaim these as normal human social interactions who drag one person’s “normal” life into the spotlight to say how bad they are for doing what the critic would advocate for another person.

If it’s “sin,” then it’s wrong for people who want to avoid sin, they should steer clear.  There are obvious things that everyone who’s not a sociopath would agree are universally wrong.  We have legislation that says stealing is bad, murder is bad, lying is bad, adultery is bad, assault is bad.  The gateways stab at the wrongness of adultery and throw up the possibility that maybe it’s not bad, or maybe you’ll be the special one who’ll get away with it without facing consequences.  And people fall for that, even people who would normally tell everyone that’s bad.  If it’s universally wrong and you want to stay out of jail, you’ll avoid breaking the law.  If it’s situationally bad, even if it’s not against any laws but you know it’ll possibly have natural consequences you want to avoid, you’ll avoid doing that.

People don’t like to think through their actions to their natural logical consequences, to their bad ends, but they should.  Even when I was younger I tried to think through at least some of the stuff I wanted to do, and chose not to do it because it was risky and might not have had all good rewards even if I “succeeded,” or got away with it.  Kids need to think things through, and stuff is being pushed on us at a younger and younger age.  I think of six and eight year old beauty pageant contestants. Is that really something you want little kids fighting over who’s best, or should we just tell them they’re all beautiful and encourage all of their talents to shine?  People need to think about the messages we’re giving to each other, especially what we’re saying to kids.  And people need to be wiser about their choices, including me.  I don’t always want to think about the consequence, just about what I want to do.  And my temptation leads to my failure, just the same as it does for you.  But what are we dwelling on?  What are we thinking about?  What’s put in front of us all the time, even when we’re not making an effort to think through things?  The more we dwell on something, good or bad, the more we’ll want to do that, or the more we’ll think it’s normal even if it’s bad.

If you say in one breath that certain behaviors are “all right” or “normal for everyone,” you have no right to say that for a certain segment, or worse, a certain individual, of the population, that same behavior is “wrong.”  It’s hypocritical.  Leave the preachers alone.  Leave the celebrities alone.  Stop airing their dirty laundry (or more apparently their lack of it) on the TV and news outlets.  I would rather see the news media burying sins and never reporting on them.  I would rather see stories of people striving to raise themselves to higher standards, and the good that comes of someone making restitution to society, and paying something back, or better still paying something forward.  But the rabid audience demands blood, and if it can’t have blood it wants sex, and if it can’t have sex, it wants scandal, theft or some other kind of mayhem or destruction.  I don’t want to know who’s sleeping with whom, and I wish I didn’t have to change the channel or turn off the TV to avoid hearing about it.  The news wants to tell me that he’s sleeping with her but married to her, or that she’s sleeping with her and they’re getting married.  I don’t want to know.  Some things are personal and should be private.  Stop telling me about other people’s private affairs.  Stop.

I used to like Andy Griffith, and I watched other TV shows as well.  I’m almost embarrassed to say I have enjoyed an adult show at night called “Dexter,” about a serial killer who avenges murders and prevents the killers from killing again.  It’s got a lot of adult themes, but I watch it at night after the wife and kids have gone to bed.  During normal daylight hours, I like to watch cooking shows.  Most of them, at least the ones without the rabid, expletive-shouting chefs who are angry for the sake of anger, are safe for me and my kids to watch.  But anything else on TV, I question.  I like family comedy shows, but frankly they’re gateways because the writers want to put new complications on their characters, which are very different than in the days (before my time) of George and Gracie and Mayberry and Father Knows Best.  We like to push the envelope in every area of life.  Society is being groomed for a world where everything is right and nothing is wrong, which is what Rascal Flatts was singing about- they missed living in a world “where everything is black and white,” meaning we knew what was right to do, and we were encouraged to do the right thing.  Now we’ve got crude animated shows replacing the silliness of Bugs Bunny and Popeye, and crass, highly sexualized TV shows replacing Father Knows Best, and ego-maniacal, profane chefs edging out Julia Childs.

I’d like to see the media outlets stop pushing envelopes that glorify or aggrandize the negative behaviors, with the negative consequences.  I’d like to hear about the farmer whose crops are feeding the hungry.  I’d like to hear about the company that’s hiring people and the politician whose work is genuinely stimulating the economy, not the spun report at re-election time that shows the one good thing they do that’s supposed to atone for all the bad.  I’d like to hear about the ex convict whose ministry helps other ex convicts get good jobs and keeps them on the road toward making a positive contribution to society.  I’d like to hear about the company whose CEO and management helps people get trained to advance toward more responsibility and better wages.  I’d like to hear about the charity that helps feed the hungry and provides a safe, warm place for homeless people.  I’d like to hear about the civic organization’s good work, people who pick up the trash left by others, people who work for a cleaner environment.  I’d like to hear about how people organize to help in recovery efforts after a natural disaster.  We could have a hero of the day, and report nothing but good news.  There’s room for a little sensation in my kind of news report:  Tell the citizens if there’s a rash of burglaries in a given area, so we remember to lock up and set the alarms. Tell us if there’s an assault, and where it happened, just so we know to watch out for ourselves and each other. But please, tell us how to encourage our local heroes- sure, the obvious, the firemen, and policemen, but also other civil servants:  Teachers.  Civic group leaders.  Charitable organizations and leaders.  Even good students who are on a good path.  People who are making the world a better place.

If we raise the standard for what we see on the news and on TV shows in general, maybe we’ll be inspired to avoid temptation and the inevitable fall, and start seeing society making positive progress.  I’m just thinking and hoping out loud.

I’ve had an overflowing earful, far more than enough, of hearing about the evil things that people do.  Let’s tell our kids we love them and we hold out the highest expectations and hopes and dreams for them. Let’s tell our neighbors we really care about them.  And let’s make our society-bettering heroes more well known, and better rewarded, than our criminals.

In the Dark (Short Story) July 2, 2014

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I wrote a short story for my lovely writers group meeting since I had the quite rare opportunity to actually attend.  The assignments are supposed to have a word count limit of 500.  This summer has been a working one, without a great deal of time to write or do much else.  I’ll be working again from the middle of July to the end of August, probably, so I’ll likely miss at least one more meeting before fall.  It was great to see friends I have missed for several months, as we all shared our stories and poems on the theme, “A House and the People who Live in it.”  I originally wrote it without the final section.  I thought to stop after the word “invitation,” but I decided I didn’t like that, leaving the reader in doubt about my character’s choice.  Since you know there was a draft ending there, maybe you can tell me if you think one way is better than the other.  For me, I decided it would be better without that loose end.  So here, without further ado, is

In The Dark         7/1/2014              Michael N. Johns

     In the house, all shadows and pitch and palpable darkness, he saw them all, as if in the morning light.

     His wife.  He watched her dance playfully in her sleeveless summer dress, full of magnificent beauty and curve and subtle power.  She saw him notice and smiled that closed-lipped half-embarrassed smile she always gave when he admired everything about her.  He felt himself reacting to the vision.  She blew him a kiss, and then he felt as though he were riding a bullet train that now made an emergency stop.       

     And she was gone.

     His head hurt.

     He shook it off.  The cheap beer sweated from the heat, on the small, sturdy table beside him.  He took a sip, then closed his eyes, knowing he’d regret opening them.  Damn.  He saw his beautiful daughter now.  Innocence and blonde curly hair and those passionately deep blue eyes that reflected whimsical skies- now clear, now cloudy, now violent, then clear again.  She lay in the grass, reading.  She turned.  He heard her voice asking for a glass of lemonade, and then, felt the sickening lurch once more as she dissolved into thin air.

     Nausea and pain gripped his abdomen.  He felt weakness from his shoulders to his knees, grateful he was sitting.  He felt the tears and running nose, and fought it all back.  His eyes closed reflexively from the combat.  Damn.

     He kept his eyes down, staring at his hand.  He saw his wedding band, yellow-gold, Cheshire grinning, just as quietly manic as the Lewis Carroll character.  Another sip of beer, keeping his eyes focused on the ring.  He heard the carnival music, and it was his black-haired son, asking for another cotton candy and money for the roller coaster.  He didn’t have to look, to see.

     Why?

     They weren’t real but he heard them, saw them.  For God’s sake, he smelled his wife’s perfume.  She always dabbed, just a little, in that spot that made him want, like wildfire wants air.  It had been years, but they were still there.  And still gone.   He had helped pack the bags, sending them to a vacation trip while he stayed home to work.  And then he heard the news reports.  The rest was a hazy blur, but he didn’t want to focus.

     The other metal glinted at arms’ length, on the table beside him.  Beckoning, stark obsidian reflected in the clouded moonlight.  It was an open invitation.  He considered the objects on the table and, this time, again, selected the beer, lifting gently by the top of the neck.  He himself rose from the chair and then began to slowly dance.  Dancing to the door, he reached into his pocket and retrieved his wallet.  He took the cash and flung it into the air, and then his wallet followed.  Then he walked outside, lay in the grass, considered the moon, wished he had some lemonade instead of this cheap beer, and cried.

Backspace June 3, 2014

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Backspace sounds like a great name for a sci-fi book. Maybe I’ll write that someday, if I ever get the other stuff finished. Note to self. Finish the other books and then write that.

As a writer, I think the one key on the keyboard I strike the most is the backspace key.

I’m a fan of Doctor Who. In my childhood (this will tell some how old I may be) I watched Tom Baker, with his curly, out-of-control hair, and that outrageous, beautiful scarf. Doctor Who is a “Time Lord,” who has adventures through the universe, helping people defeat various enemies, romping from planet to planet, from past to future to past. The Daleks. The Sontarans. The Master. Zygons, Cybermen, more recently The Silence, and the Weeping Angels, to name a few. Internal conflict. Misunderstanding. Scenery from Scotland and England was prominently featured, and absolutely beautiful, as were period costumes from journeying to the past.

I loved the stories, the humour, the companions, the Jelly Babies as a gesture of friendship. Jelly Babies are still made in Sheffield England, and I just had to order some last year to try them for the first time with my family, as my kids had discovered they rebooted the show and it was just as good as ever. And jelly babies, the real thing, are delicious. We watched Tom Baker episodes on a DVD and had a sweet treat. I recommend it as a bonding experience. “Have a jelly baby” and watch Dr. Who with family, it’s fantastic.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jelly_baby
I ordered them from Bassetts, only $5 plus shipping, it was delightful.
http://www.amazon.com/Bassetts-Jelly-Babies-215gr-7-6oz/dp/B000KCXKOQ

That’s right, #Bassett’s of Sheffield. Free advertisement.
http://www.englishteastore.com/bassetts.html

If I were a Time Lord, with my own TARDIS to travel in, assuming it didn’t violate all the laws of time and space, I’d go back and fix it. It’d be a big backspace key on my life. But I love my backspace key because in writing, as in life, I make mistakes. How many times have my fingers stumbled just typing this short note so far, and I’ve already used the backspace?

I’m not just using the backspace from accidental keystrokes in the middle of a word, or from having my fingers in the wrong places on the keyboard. My fingers get into habits, too. At work I type the names of clients and people, and it starts. My fingers habitually type certain streams of characters, and they go on autopilot because it just feels right. When I mean to type a word, the autopilot kicks in and I have to remove the half-typed name of a customer.

Our life’s choices, the bad ones and the good ones, develop into habits the same way. We get to a comfort level doing whatever it is, good and bad. The bad choices, I’ll just call those “sins.” We know it’s wrong to do that, because we have a conscience. But sin feels somehow so very natural that when we catch ourselves in doing the thing we know in our hearts is wrong, we do it anyway, because, is there a backspace key in life? Can’t back out now. Might as well go forward with it and live with the cost and the guilt. What’s one more sin, after all?

Adultery. Just a lingering, lusty look is all it takes. It doesn’t feel wrong at all. And can lead to broken families, shattered hearts, destroyed relationships. But it just feels right, or super exciting, at the time. (Matthew 5:27) It happens all the time. Murder. Just an angry word or gesture can start someone down that road, and in the moment it just seemed like the only thing to do. Lying. Yup, I do that a lot. Bet you do too. Coveting. Yeah I saw a midnight blue Mustang that was a work of art. A travel magazine, a home and garden magazine. An article about a famous writer’s latest success. It doesn’t always motivate me to work harder, sometimes I just wish I could have that. Idolatry. Money. Food. Power. I’m my own favorite idol, and I want to do what I want without consequence, with the minions buzzing around serving me like bees serve their queen.

If there was a backspace key on life, I’d hit that thing all the time, I hope. Undo those mistakes, fix them. But there isn’t. So in lieu of that, I have a strategy, but like everything else in life, I’m trying to learn how to do it right.

Step one: make it right. For me it started with not understanding John chapter 3 in my Bible, and reading until I thought, well, maybe… So I kept on reading, not fully understanding. On through Romans chapters 1 through 3 and 10, and then First John (there were 3 letters) chapter 1. Despite my lack of a complete understanding, I started by believing I could ask for grace from God to follow and obey, and ask for forgiveness from old sins. This I take as making it right, getting the fresh start, being “born again,” from John 3, starting to follow Christ, with hope. But I’m still learning to do it right, so mistakes are made. It’s not exactly a cosmic backspace key, it doesn’t undo what was done. But God “is faithful…and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from unrighteousness.” The assertion from I John 1 is awesome comfort to me, because I am still frequently unfaithful and I make mistakes. The habits of the past, the new mistakes of the present, I trip up and blunder into it, when I know looking at it that it’s wrong. So even as a Christ follower, I still need that grace.

Step two: start over, and leave the past in the past. Philippians 3, around verses 12-16, but the whole chapter encourages me to keep going. And even Paul extends God’s grace to the reader- only strive to do what you know to do is right, and to not do what you know to do is wrong. Which means we don’t have to know everything, just what we know. We have to study and pray and keep learning, to find out what we don’t know.

Sadly, there isn’t a cosmic backspace key. There isn’t a TARDIS. We still have to live with the scars and consequences of the past- our mistakes, other people’s mistakes, but we’re able to press on. And there is time, while we are alive, to make things right with God, and to try to make them right with other people, and start fresh. Trouble with us people is we don’t always get it right, even when we try to make it right, or other people try to make it right with us. Be patient if you are working on reconciling with people. They’re not as ready as God is to extend forgiveness or grace.

Ephesians 2:1-10 encourages me too. After we figure out the first part, God puts us right to work on the good things He plans for us. Jesus forgave Peter and gave him a job right after Peter denied Jesus and Jesus was crucified. After Peter’s moment of pride and failure, when Jesus came back from the grave, one of the first things he did was to mention Peter, then to call Peter, and then to give him his task: take care of the rest of the Christ-followers.

If you’ve never read any of the Bible, I know it’s heavy reading but if you’ve bothered getting through reading all of my ramblings I’m confident you can figure the Bible out and find it worthwhile and encouraging reading. I recommend starting with just the sections I highlighted, but I believe the rest is good and trustworthy, too. Go slow, it’s not something meant to speed-read, it’s meant to linger on, contemplate and digest slowly. But as Augustine famously is said to have heard, “Take it up and read it!”

http://aureliusaugustinus.wordpress.com/2007/12/04/tolle-lege-take-and-read/

Based on what I’ve just read, I’ve got stuff to do, and I’m encouraged to work on it. I hope you are, too. To quote Tom Baker as Dr. Who from 1975, The Ark In Space, “Steady on!”

Dang April 25, 2014

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I know an absolutely beautiful lady, who writes beautifully about life.  She has books published, I am so jealous.  And I’m married, or I might tell you she’s a complete knock out.  I hear my single readers saying, who is this lady?  You need to introduce me.  Nope.  If it’s right, she’ll find you and she is absolutely worth every second you’d wait.  She has her flaws and scars, just like all humans do.  They make her more interesting, more humble, more experienced.  More attractive.  Seriously, without exaggeration, she has the second prettiest eyes I’ve ever seen an adult possess, and I dare not get descriptive about any other observations I may or may not have made.  I’ll plead the 5th amendment.  The prettiest eyes, for the record, are my wife’s.  They aren’t just an inspiration for poetry, they ARE poetry.

My writer friend writes about dating guys and she is hilarious.  So far, she’s only writing about the reject pile of resumes applying for the title, “winner.”  She gets to observe, take her time, write it down, mull it over.  What did he just say?  What does that mean?  How did he behave?  Is that a lie?  Because ladies have a b.s. detector.  Hemmingway said a writer has to have that to make sure his characters sound real.  And women need that because guys are frequently full of it.  Or full of themselves, which isn’t far enough away from full of it.  Women have a b.s. detector, and occasionally guys will find the girl to be so desperate as to have shut theirs off.  Lucky for the guy, maybe, but how long is that going to last?  When she finds out you’re a liar, she should rightly kick you to the curb.  My friend’s detector is fine-tuned and permanently on.  Ladies, take a lesson.

And then her way of describing these poor guys is hilarious.  And sad.  Notice I said, “these poor guys.”  Because I really do pity them. As a married man, I’ve won.  The text says “He who finds a wife finds what is good, and receives favor from the Lord.”  (Proverbs 18:22)  No place anywhere does the text say anything about “she who finds a husband.”  Dang.  So I understand where these guys are.  Single. Un-chosen.  Alone.  And then they meet this priceless woman, whose presence takes them so off guard…  And they do what us guys do.  They screw it up.  

They lie.  Loser.  They brag.  Loser.  They don’t want to hear more about her.  Loser.  Worse, they minimize what she does.  Loser. They’re shallow.  Loser.  They’re illiterate.  Loser.  They don’t think there’s room for self-improvement.  Loser.  Momma’s boy.  Loser. They want too much, and they offer too little.  Loser.  They are pushy, or downright aggressive.  Loser.  (Having power doesn’t mean you have to assert it.)  Or they try a little too hard, too desperate.  Loser.  Or they’re scary.  Loser.

This woman is really brilliant.  And did I mention beautiful?  Yeah, guys are just dumb schlubs, even if they clean up nice and can wear a suit. I watch her, I read her writing, and I think, it must be nice to have the self-confidence to wait and take your pick.  And then I have to ask, how in blazes did I get so lucky as to fall into my wife’s life, and better still into her arms, which I now affectionately refer to as “my spot.”  You know, Dr Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory calls that spot on the couch “my spot,” and demands everyone respect it as “in a state of permanent dibs.”  My wife is so beautiful.  More than 20 years and she just gets prettier to me, it’s awesome.  It’s a profound mystery to me.  If I never figure it out, I don’t care as long as I don’t mess it up.  Every time I’m in “my spot,” I feel like I’ve won the lottery somehow, because she chose me.  In the same way, whoever my friend chooses is a winner.

Note To All Women Everywhere:  You are the treasure.  Don’t let the losers drag you down.  You choose the winner.  You have the power to do that, and not him.  Sorry, guys.  Ladies, like the nursery rhyme and your “mother told [you], to[, you should wait and] pick the very best one.” In my childhood I never knew you could say “my mother told me,” or “my mother said.” These options change the final outcome of the selection process, which seemed random to me when I was young. Oh, childhood. I am still pretty naïve. When will I become wise, and why does it have to be after the hornet-stings, before I learn they’re mean? After the “match burn twice” trick burned me when I was a kid, and after learning what bullies people can be, I learned people can be mean too. But I still put out a courageous vibe, bravely meeting other people despite my profoundly deep introversion and fear of being burned by something that looks harmless.  You have the power of the choice:  “my mother told me,” or “my mother said.”  Choose wisely.  Reject the losers.

So my friend writes and she says things like “rugged” and “hunk,” and how hot the room feels, and I realize, she’s talking about one of the losers.  And I think, Dang.  I wish I was a “rugged hunk” who made the temperature of the room go up.  Alas, I’m only a hopeless romantic poetry writing schlub who worships the ground my wife walks on, and her eyes, and as another poet has aptly described, “all her curves and all her edges.”  Thank you, John Legend.  That song, “All of You,” is the kind of poetry I want to be writing. Sadly, writing poetry hasn’t make me rugged or hunky or rich.  (Yet?)  Nope.  I’m still slightly overweight, grey-bearded, and approaching 50 at warp speed.

The songwriters get rich and famous writing about women who like their tequila and their whiskey, or who like to dig for gold, or who live exciting lives spending lots of money and looking good.  I’m not hearing a lot about 22 years of stability, working hard, making a brilliant choice and staying with it, and living for solid good old-fashioned true love.  I’m there, writing about it and not making myself rich or famous.  (Yet?)  Because whiskey and tequila and money and clothes and cars and shallowness aren’t the things that turn her on.

I’m in a stage of my relationship where I want to rekindle whatever fire she felt when she said “I do.”  I’ve been there, working on the rekindling for 27 years.  We’ve been married 22 years.  There’s no magic elixir or spell.  She doesn’t like my poetry, which is about all I have to offer. Drinks put her to sleep.  There are acts of service–washed feet (a great flirtation device) put her to sleep; back rubs (another one) put her to sleep, household chores, which I do cheerfully as long as I’m not half-asleep myself.  And I tell the truth:  I’m a slightly overweight, grey-bearded (she hates the beard but I hate shaving more), guy approaching 50 at warp speed, a hopeless romantic poet and novel-in-progress-ist, who dearly and desperately loves his wife and family.  I do all of that, and it’s not enough.  She’s hard to turn on.  Worth it, but hard.  Those moments when the moon and stars miraculously align and my kids don’t bang on the door…

There’s plenty to repair if I were any good at that.  Cars and plumbing and computers, sure would be nice to be able to fix those things myself.  I’m good with electricity, now, finally.  I can wire some things, or fix a short circuit.  I can repair our vacuum cleaner, and I can clean things you wouldn’t believe.  But if you start telling people how I do windows, I’ll plead the 5th again, claim Mission Impossible, and disavow all knowledge of my actions.  I used to change the diapers and coddle the kids, when they were of that age.  Now I put notes in their school backpacks and try to encourage them when I’m not working.  It’s not enough.  If I had enough money, I could have a proper midlife crisis, with the new sports car (I’d choose a Prius, and how lame is that?), and the new career (I’d choose poet and published novelist instead of day job worker and writer-by-night, and how lame is that?).  If I were cool, and rich, there’d be a Ferrari and I’d be a famous singer/songwriter like John Legend.  A lot of guys choose a new wife.  But if I were rich, and if I did have the crisis, if I were wise, I’d still choose my wife.  Though I loved her first, she made this loser feel like a winner, and she still loves me best.  So maybe, just maybe, it’s enough.

But, Dang!  It sure would be nice to be a sexy, rich, rugged hunk, whose presence heats up the room.