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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.


What? January 14, 2015

Posted by michaelnjohns in Uncategorized.
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The last post left readers saying, “what?”  Yesterday I tried to write analytically about emotions and that’s very difficult for me to do, especially when I’m just feeling hurt and angry, or reflecting hurt and anger from recent experience.  I wonder if any of my readers ever wrote a letter and then decided a day later not to send it because of the damage it might do.  In the modern age of instant delivery, we rant and shoot off an email or a tweet without much thought of how it might hurt the person it’s being sent to.  Or bounce back and hurt the sender.

Most people I know are all genuinely beautiful, fragile creatures who put on a hard exterior show because they don’t want to get hurt.  Most people I like are those I’ve embarked on the journey of real friendship and we’ve lowered our guard.  There’s a language to friendship just like there’s a language to love.  The scary part of that is that everyone seems to speak their own languages and we’re all like travelers in another country when we start that conversation.  We know some of the words because we were curious, but we aren’t by any means fluent.

Maybe that’s half of the problem.

If you don’t speak the language you don’t know what’s offensive.  It could be a word, a phrase, a laugh at the wrong time, even a gesture or a facial expression.  We all come with baggage of our past histories.  I’ve probably offended people unintentionally just by expressing my opinions on this blog.  But my opinion is as valid as the next persons.  I don’t claim to be expert at anything, but I know what I know, think what I think, and believe what I believe, and I try to be logical.

Love doesn’t mean validating a behavior choice.  People say they don’t choose certain habits, they are born with them, and I agree.  When we are children our habit betrays us- we like to do the thing, whatever it is, that is dangerous, and it’s a parent’s job to intervene.  The parent who is wise knows a destructive direction, and either has to divert the child, or pick up the pieces in the aftermath.  The child doesn’t know and is curious, but chooses to do the thing.  So a loving parent does not validate the child’s curious behavior choice.  The parent either corrects, or diverts, or sweeps the brokenness up later.  I can love you and not validate the way you choose to behave, if I think it’s unwise.  If you ask me, I can teach you that there’s a better choice.  And you, another adult, can tell me where I can shove it.  And I can choose to point out that it’s impossible to do that.  It’s your choice as an adult to reject wise counsel.

This opinion of mine doubtless offends people who need or want my validation of their behavior choice.  I’m a Christ follower, I read the New Testament, and I think there’s wisdom there.  I read the Old Testament and there’s wisdom there too, but I don’t get all nit-picky with those details of God’s instructions to the Hebrews, lest someone decide I’m a bigger hypocrite than I am.  I’ve said it before.  If my wisdom, that I didn’t write down for myself, proves right and your house crumbles, call me and I won’t say I told you so.  I’ll just sweep up the pieces with you.  (and if mine does, kindly do the same.) When my child grabbed my coffee cup and accidentally dropped it from counter to floor, first I checked to make sure the child hadn’t been burned by hot coffee.  Then I removed the child from the dangerous broken shards, and swept.  I did tell my child to please be more careful in the future, and I did say, “I love you,” just so the child knew they were more important than a coffee cup.

OK, the pre(r)amble is over.

Q:  Who has offended me, who has disappointed me, who has lied to me, that I ranted so long and weird about yesterday?

A:  Lots of people.  I learn, and these lessons perpetually assert themselves annoyingly into my life, on a regular basis.

These are my lessons, my laws of relationships, not yours, but maybe there’s a kernel of wisdom in them for you to apply for yourself.  When I say “you,” insert “the writer,” if they don’t fit your experience.  With a proverbial grain of salt, here they are:
Postulate:  People are naturally critical.  One thing that unravels a relationship faster than anything else is a critical spirit.  It’s equally fatal at work and in a relationship.  But we’re naturally critical creatures.  I’m not pointing a finger of blame, but if you go into a room that’s freshly painted, you’re going to notice the spots the painter missed, before you commend them on the beauty of the coat of paint that covers the rest.  It’s natural.  But it’s dangerous, if taken to an important relationship.  If you are overly, or publicly, critical of an employer, they’ll very likely fire you in favor of someone who supports the company goals (or the bosses desire to get what he wants out of the relationship).  If you are critical of your spouse, they might try harder next time, but if the criticism continues it’ll fester and boil and bubble and eventually burst. If you want it to work, try praise, or constructive criticism.  A little honey goes a long way.  But this builds the foundation for:

Law 1:  People are going to disappoint you.
People have a funny way of showing you they love you, if they love you.  They’re going to communicate it in their own language, which is not going to match what you want or need from a loving relationship.  That’s going to disappoint you.  They’re going to give you what THEY need, not what YOU need.  It’s going to disappoint you unless you get a clue and start to give them what they want, which is what they gave you.  There’s time along the way, unless you take some drastic love-amputation action, to discuss as loving adults, what you want.  And when you do, they’re going to further disappoint you when they don’t change.  Your expectations and hopes are not going to be realized unless the person already speaks love in your language, and they don’t.  They have to learn it.

Law 1, Corollary Theorem A:  People don’t change.  They’ll try hard if they really love you, and they might even learn how to speak that love language for you, but it’ll be the hardest thing they ever do, and old habits die hard.  They’re going to relapse, or hate you for asking them for what you need.  (Whoa, “postulate?”  “Law?”  “Corollary theorem?”  Who knew this was going to be like your math or science book? – cue my involuntary flashback to Sam Cooke’s “(What a) Wonderful World (This Would Be).”  The truth is, we don’t know much about any of those subjects and love is possibly the most difficult class, even for those who are avid students.

Corollary Theorem B:  People lie.  I know why that is.  They love themselves.  They want what they want, even if it’s a short-term quick fix.  People go into life with their own agendas.  Sometimes they are transparent, other times it takes a little layer-peeling to figure out if they’re hiding something, or a few bad experiences.  Have I ever lied?  Sure.  Who lies?  People who want what they want, with reckless disregard for other people.  Who has lied to me?  Lots of people.  They got what they wanted, I learned what I learned, and I got out of the relationship as quickly as was possible for me.  Or I’m getting out, if I’m stuck there for some reason.  No, I’m not leaving my wife.  She’s quirky and speaks my language with this weird accent, I’m trying to get used to it and also learn her language.  She knows me better than anyone else, and if there’s a lie that would wreck it from my viewpoint, I haven’t figured it out yet.  It’s been 22 years, and in 22 more we’ll probably still have weird accents when we communicate that we love each other.

If an employer lies, it’s a bit more difficult to unravel, and to extricate yourself.  One needs an income stream, even if the employer lacks integrity.  That is on them.  So employers that have lied to me have gotten away with it until I was able to get out, which leads me to:

Law 2:  Get it in writing.  They have employment contracts, and they have marriage contracts.  If you really want it, get it in writing, or refer to Law 1.  If your would-be employer verbally communicates some promise before you sign on the dotted line, get that in writing before you sign or it’ll be worthless and they’ll do what their integrity (or lack of it) allows.  If your marriage is built on some foundational pillars that are different than mine, get that in writing too.

I have a verbal contract with God that should properly govern my conduct within our relationship.  I also have a verbal contract with my wife.  It doesn’t always get me what I want, and I don’t always do everything I promised in the way that I originally intended.  But we’re still working through, and occasionally enjoying, the relationship.  It’s very difficult, maintaining the effort.  And if I say that it means she’d say it too.  But when Pastor Hosea said “as long as you both shall live,” and I said “I will,” I meant it.  He was a great pastor.  For her, under his wise counsel, I memorized the entire chapter of Ephesians 5.

Guys love the part where it says “Wives, submit to your husbands as unto the Lord.”  But it says “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for her.”  All she has to do is render respectful submission.  But he has to love her to death, to earn the respect!  Ugh.  So difficult to love, even if, and especially when, it means putting my wants to death.  The wants keep resurrecting, don’t get me wrong, and she has her ways, with that accent, of keeping me quite content.  But it’s with an accent, meaning it’s not spoken the way I think I want it spoken.  And if you asked her she’d say the same about me.  I hope. (Makes me a little fearful just thinking about it.  It’s why the character Tevia from Fiddler on the Roof was written the song to his wife, asking if she loved him.)

I have a verbal contract with my wife.  I agreed to stay married to her for a term of 99 years, with the option of 99 more if she agrees to it, unless one of us dies in which case our contract is dissolved.  I also contracted that if she ever decided to divorce me she gets full custody of the kids.  And she also gets full custody of me.  Because I don’t really ever want out.  Compared to every other relationship I hear about, ours is pretty awesome.  I don’t ever want to leave what I know, for the level of uncertainty that comes from starting again.  I feel very much completed, by her.  If there was a missing piece in me, before we were married, it was her.  I don’t believe, when I’m happy with her, that I could be happier with anyone else.  And I could be much less happy if I tried with someone else.  The eye candy shimmers and glitters in the window.  It’s beautiful, and I leave it in the showroom.  Tomorrow it’s still shimmering and glittering and beautiful.  Sometimes I wonder, and sometimes maybe even doubt my choice.  And I leave it in the showroom because I can’t afford it.  Trust me, you don’t want to pay that cost, and if you’re paying it, or if you’ve paid it, you know what I am talking about.

Law 3:  God is not a vending machine.  Sadly, the truth is that I’ve even been disappointed with God.  As the rain falls on the unjust, so also it falls on the just.  I won’t claim to fit in the just category.  But I’ll say that when I read the Bible, things I read into the promises aren’t always intended in that contract.  I’m misinterpreting when I read it that way.  Just because I ask God for something doesn’t obligate him to give that to me.  Contrary to some preachers, God doesn’t seem to intend that all of his followers be rich and successful and happy with their circumstances.

I wish they were right, but Jesus taught, “you will always have the poor.”  Many, maybe most, of His early followers in the church were very poor.  Who’s to say that by modern standards you might find yourself rained on economically, just as everyone else is?  And while persecution and martyrdom may mark a “success,” it’s not a happy circumstance.  And just because I can see the words in the Bible that some use to justify their opinion or their belief (or mine) doesn’t make it a correct way of handling the Word of Truth.  It’s not so much that God allows bad things to happen to good people, so much as that God allows people to be selfish and evil and in His mercy waits and doesn’t destroy the wicked immediately.  And thank God for that, because I have moments of selfishness and evil.  Not that any of you ever would.

So although my prayers have been answered with “no,” or “wait,” it only makes God a good Heavenly Father, a good Heavenly parent, redirecting or correcting.  My spiritual three year old still wants what he wants, but can’t have it.  I wish I could say I haven’t ever thrown a temper-tantrum about circumstances as an adult or as a child.  I can’t say that.  I wish I had that wise fatherly view over myself, to understand how His “no” or “wait,” whichever one it is, was in my best interests.  But I don’t get it.

God is intervening, redirecting, diverting me when I’m choosing a thing, because that thing isn’t His best, or my best, for my spiritual growth and development as a child of God.  I have to trust Him and believe that He loves me.  I’m not on His level, nor do I understand things the way He does.  It sounds so cliche, but He knows what is best, and we have to learn what He says is right, or tell Him where to shove it.  And He will then gently let us know why that’s impossible.  Or not- He’s not required to answer.  “Because I said so,” is a perfectly valid answer for a parent to offer their child.  At some level, a child trusts their parent, at least until they’re maybe 14.  Maybe I’m not a three year old, I’ve become that self-reliant, petulant, mistrustful, disrespectful, eye-rolling 14 year old- I still need His help, but I wish I didn’t.  It makes me angry that I haven’t inherited independence and strength sufficient to go on my own.  Trying to be entirely self-reliant only leaves me wishing I had remembered to do my homework, and dreading the failing grade that’s coming.  And I wish I understood what He knows and what direction I should take.  I wish I just trusted and knew what He wanted me to do.  I wish I could communicate in His love language.

And in human love, and in human friendships, we have to trust each other, try to figure out how to say what we need to say to each other, how to say it so it’s understood, , and work hard not to betray that trust.  We need to speak the truth in love, not just the harsh, critical sounding truth.  We need to encourage one another.  If we fail, we’re going to break.  If we succeed, by our labor, we’ll grow up well, and become stronger together.

True Stories, Plot Spoilers, Supporting Characters and Romance September 8, 2014

Posted by michaelnjohns in Uncategorized.
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Plot Spoilers.  We all hate them.  A friend saw the big game and we recorded it so we could play it later.  He calls with the score and did you see that last play?  Ruining a great cliffhanger of a game.  In idle conversation, some work associate saw the show before you could catch up and tells you some critical plot point.

Two blogs about Dexter in a row.  My daughter has seen all of the episodes of Sherlock, the new Doctor Who’s from nine through eleven and bits of twelve already, Black Butler, and Supernatural.  I work, or I would be caught up with her.  She isn’t allowed to watch Dexter because of some strong adult themes.  But I like it.  It was almost inevitable, I started watching the show and got interested in the characters, so I started reading about them, and some important plot points were revealed in my “vetting process.”

Dexter has his own “vetting process” used on potential victims to make sure they fit his code.  The plot is spoiled; I know in advance what will happen.  I still have just over a season of episodes still to watch before the show’s finale.  I know what’s going to happen, but I still want to watch.  Same thing with Black Butler, Sherlock, Doctor Who and Supernatural.  She’s seen them all and let some important plot details slip.  She’s made me watch some episodes out of order.  I’ve looked them up online.  But I still will watch them, in order, time permitting.

I am watching the shows in spite of knowing the plot, because I love the characters.  Dear, deadly, devilish Dexter, kills off his victims because they are bad.  The code he follows usually prevents him from doing away  with any “innocents.”  As if anyone really was “innocent.”  And Deb uses profanity in every possible presentation, in literally every possible part of speech in the English language, including a few I think the writers invented.  I find her character sad, touching, loveable, attractive, and hilarious.  I know what’s going to happen and I still have to watch to the last episode.  And the other characters have me hoping for a spinoff show.  Lumen is the most likely candidate for a sequel series, with cameo appearances by Dexter when plots demand them.  I could write it:  Something bad happens to her and she snaps and becomes the Avenging Light (Lumen), after having experienced Dexter’s darkness, and her own life’s trauma haunts her. These characters are so good I don’t want the show to end, although the writers ended it a year ago.

I can see why my daughter loves her shows as well.  I grew up watching and enjoying the slower moving Doctor Who, which has picked up the pace considerably in recent times.  Sherlock is brilliant and quick and connects the dots in amazing ways, as we would expect of a well-written character.  And Supernatural, for all of its’ demonic darkness, has entertaining moments touching scenes, and a good soundtrack.  What’s not to love?

If my life is to turn out well, I would love a plot spoiler even though it would mean I know how things turn out.  If my life is to turn out poorly, however, please just surprise me.  A plot spoiler would encourage me while I’m plodding through the slow-moving, boring stuff I have to go through to get to the good stuff.  It’s going to take me a while to catch up to my daughter with her favorite shows, but I see why she likes them, and it is a way for us to be connected through her sometimes uncomfortable early teen years.  She is a really delightful character.  I love her dearly in real life.  I hope I’m always a part of her fandom, always excited to watch the next episode unfold.  And unlike Dexter, I hope the Writer lets her stick around for a long time, and lets her supporting cast, including me, stick around as well.  But please, no spoilers for her life.  There are things I don’t want to know.  I just want to encourage and love her more every season.  Maybe I can be a part of the vetting process for her choice of a lifetime partner.  Or maybe I should just trust her to practice wisdom and follow her intuition and her heart.  If they’re bad I hope she gets rid of them, and then, of the good ones, I hope she chooses the best one, like her mother before her did.  She’s a lovely, priceless treasure and if she needs me to, I want to be there to run off the lesser candidates.

For my son I feel exactly the same way.  He has his own likes and dislikes, his own favorite shows.  I can’t possibly keep up.  And his preferences are decidedly still child-like, which I adore.  The heroes are super.  The tales are epic.  Like I hope his life turns out.  But please, no plot spoilers.  I want to encourage and love him more every season too.  He is super, epic, heroic and adorable, and I know his life will bear these traits out.  He’s a good one already.  He’s going to be a trophy husband and a winner.

Sometimes I’m watching and it’s the best comedy ever.  Sometimes it’s sad and I want to cry.  Sometimes it’s so complicated I’m worried.  Sometimes I do know how things will play out.  But most of the time I am concerned and intervene where I can be helpful.  And occasionally I don’t make the best decisions.  But I can’t stop watching and loving these characters.  I just really, really hope for the happily ever after ending.

For my wife, I want to be just a little more than a supporting character.  I want to be THE one and only strong leading man in her life, the one who sets the standard for how much a man can love his wife, encouraging her to be her best while seeking to be the best.  The leading man in a good story frequently goes through the storms that come to every character’s life.  I want to survive the storms and come out on the other side even more strong and loving.  And no plot spoilers please.  I don’t want to know what happens in my series finale.  Just don’t write me out of the story line any time soon.  If there is a high point I’ve already seen in this show, it’s my family.  And if anything is to be spoiled in the plot, let it first be my family, spoiled by their adoring husband and father, followed by my grandchildren, whenever they come along.  Completely spoiled by their adorable, supporting grandfather.

It’s Not the End of the World June 26, 2014

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I talk to smart people.  I read stuff that smart people say.  And then I get the comments from my ordinary friends, from the news spin doctors, from the internet.  And then I have to make up my own mind what to think, if I haven’t already made a choice.  And what I hear the smart people saying is that it’s the end of the world.  It’s been the end of the world since 1947, according to the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.  I’ve heard that one before. Tick.  If people were panic stricken and prayerful when that clock was established, I only heard about the panic when I read about it in school.

If people were panic stricken and prayerful when Obama took office, they were even more panic stricken when he won reelection.  I heard from a few of them, both ordinary and smart people, all offering their thoughts on what Obama might do.  And I continue to hear from them, about what he’s done, and the track that America is on based on what he’s done.  Tick.  I heard more about the panic than the prayer back in 2008, and even less about the prayer in 2012.  I’ll admit, the lack of a prayer response from people I once respected left me wanting, and not a little disappointed.

We’ve got global warming warnings.  We’ve got earthquakes in diverse places.  The latest earthquake I was told about was a big one just off the Alaska mainland.  From 2011, we’ve got a nuclear meltdown and polluted oceans after an earthquake and tidal wave, and when the next one will be is anybody’s guess but the scientists warn it is coming.  We’ve got economic crises looming.  Those are brought up in the news whenever it’s convenient for a politician to sidestep another scandal.  And we’ve got political scandals.  We’ve got bank fraud, on a global scale.  We’ve got identity theft.  We’ve got whatever the latest version of typhoid fever, or malaria, or bubonic plague or severe flu virus.  Swine flu, avian flu, shark populations exploding, We’ve got STDs and immuno-deficiency disorders.  We’ve got gas prices soaring amid speculator investments bubbling up, and food prices going up because of weather phenomenon and supply rumors.  We’ve got fast food vendors who are in trouble for selling their food-related products, because we don’t know about all the processing that goes on to make those delicious burgers and someone took a few pictures so now we’re all supposed to become vegetarians and give up all of our delicious meat.  And in regard to that, we’ve got rumors of related diseases and a looming healthcare crisis.  And yesterday, the big news was that in America’s heartland, right here in Indiana, there are people who don’t wish to adhere to Judeo-Christian norms, and they’ve gotten a judicial foothold.  Tick.

Am I supposed to be surprised?  Am I supposed to be alarmed?  Am I supposed to be fearful?  Am I supposed to suspect, and propose, with other observers, that it’s the end of the world?  Am I supposed to jump up on a bully pulpit somewhere and tell the world how wrong it is?

I’m afraid I gave away my opinion in my title.  Sorry for the plot spoiler. I’ve made my mind up on lots of things, but lots I still ponder, and I bet you do too.  But amid the worry of the world, why am I so calm?  Am I independently wealthy?  Not yet, but keep those dollars rolling in and someday I will be.

It frustrates some of my people that I am calm, because they know why.  I don’t care.  Truth.  I don’t care that people are afraid it’s the end of the world.  I don’t care that people are facing global plagues.  Well that’s not entirely true.  I do care about incurable  and curable diseases.  I think the curable ones should be eradicated, and the incurable ones should be researched to prove they aren’t curable.  I do care about famine.  I think hungry people should be fed and not subjected to the greed and incompetence of world leaders, despots and wanna-be’s.  I do care about war-torn peoples and innocent people, children especially, who have to face the consequences of the decisions and choices of adults in the world.  I am in favor of peace and safety, but then I don’t live on that planet.  And I do care that the price of things has gotten so out of hand that it’s difficult for me and my family to survive on my income, much the more for homeless and even lower income people.  I think we should all have a safe place to live and care for one another.  If you want to help me get closer to finding my utopia, once again, keep those dollars rolling in, because there’s hope (for me and mine if you do).  And if you ask me what my standards are, or have any other questions about what I think, feel free to ask, and I’ll decide whether I care enough to answer, or if your question isn’t relevant to me.  

Here is why:

The scientists and researchers and war-mongers and child abusers and politicians and other criminals and news media people and special interest groups are yanking everybody’s chains.  They want you to buy something.  It could be a new product.  It could be their new book(s).  It could just be their theory.  Some take their theory and drive it around and repeat it and repeat it and repeat it until others just surrender and accept it and let other people tell other people as if that theory is a fact, when it’s still just a theory.  Social theory.  Evolution theory.  Big Bang Theory.  Creation theory. Grand Unification Theory. Trinification, Flipped, or Left-Right theories. String Theory. Conspiracy Theory.  It could be that they just want you to accept whatever they’re peddling as if it’s good for you, or that it’s harmless to you.  They could be selling an idea or an ideology.  Even in America there are religious groups that peddle nothing but hatred for everyone who isn’t like them, and who do things of which they disapprove.  And there are groups that say that what they are doing is okay and should be socially acceptable and normative, although other groups don’t agree with them, and historically their behavior choices haven’t proven to have the best of consequences for them or their victims.  I mean, participants.

I’m saying there are lawyer groups who represent bankers who say it should be okay for bankers to misappropriate funds and get bonuses for doing that.  I’m saying there are lawyers who represent the people who overspent the Social Security fund that taxpayers still pay into, who say it’s okay for them to “borrow” from that fund and not pay it back.  I’m saying there are special interest groups for pedophiles, who lurk in wait to abuse children, and they want their behavior normalized, though thankfully so far society is not ready to accept that.  I’m saying there’s probably a special interest group for kidnappers and rapists who want their behavior kept hidden, or if in the light, brushed under the judicial carpets.  Thank God it’s not popular in the era of social media to talk about those abuses and tendencies without getting your head bitten off.  There’s a pro-gun lobby and an anti-gun lobby, a pro choice and a pro life lobby. All sorts of stuff to distract people with, including whatever’s on the nightly news tonight. But adulterers are so commonplace, nobody bats an eye until it’s the conservative pastor who’s now some kind of worse sinner because he did what the world has been doing since almost “in the beginning.”  

Why does the world want to hold a Christ-follower to a higher standard?  It’s only fair.  “Do not judge, or you will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1)  And I may be throwing a pearl or two at a pig (Matthew 7:6) in this article.  I await your responses to see.  But Christ Followers, or those who claim to be Christ Followers, are some of the most judgemental people I know, and I’m one of them sometimes.  Just not today.  The pendulum may swing back; we’ll see.  But for now, let me be the first to say that offering Christ’s pearls of wisdom and holy things to pigs and dogs will backfire.  So, officially, I don’t care what the world does.  You may be headed for hell in a handbasket, but until you’re ready to receive holy things and Biblical wisdom, or until I’m a paid preacher targeting my audience carefully, I’m holding my tongue.

Except to say this:  What you are hearing is not necessarily the truth.  What you are thinking, if it’s what you’ve been told, is not necessarily the truth.  It’s just possible that it’s someone’s agenda, and motive, and spin, and sales spiel, and not rational, and not right, and not unbiased.  Do you know what you’re falling for?  Do you know what you believe? Is it rational or does it fall apart under close scrutiny?  And do you know why you believe that?  Was it something someone told you, or showed you until you figured it was right because it looked normal to you?  Are there consequences to you if you go along quietly, or actively participate?

And now I’m yanking too.  There are many theories about the end of the world, but most of the doom-sayers are proven wrong.  At least the ones who’ve jumped the gun on the date.  They draw large crowds of idiots with their fine speeches and their calculations, who throw vast sums of money at them.  Send me yours and I’ll tell you it’s NOT the end of the world.  Yet.

I’m not sure if it’s a pearl or a holy thing, but my Bible tells me the end of the world isn’t for at least another 1000 years, give or take. So “un-tick.”   As with everything else, it depends how you read it.  If you read Revelation 20 literally, it says the earth has to last for another thousand years after Satan gets locked in the Abyss, and then he gets out for a while to lead people astray, and then it’s the end of the world.  That clock isn’t ticking yet because Satan isn’t locked up right now and my headlines say Christ is not reigning in everyone’s hearts.  If Christ were reigning in everyone’s hearts, would he allow the poverty, broken hearts, captivity, darkness, sickness, mayhem and destruction, or would he allow good news, healing, freedom and light? (see Isaiah 61:1)

You don’t have to choose to read the Bible, although I’d encourage you to see for yourself what all the fuss is about, and read it for yourself.  When you read your Bible, if you read it, I encourage you to read what it says, considering each message and its’ primary target audience before you start getting mad or trying to redact the text to fit your choices.  When you read your Bible, ask why the message was offered to the target audience.  Was there an undisclosed medical or social reason for the instruction, that we should know about?  

Like slavery.  It was just as wrong in Exodus as it is today, but back then they had instructions in their society that said to take care of each other, whether slave or free, and the Jewish culture had a tradition of setting slaves free on a given year. Before you label me pro-slavery, I’m only reading the text, and I’m against it. It had bad consequences for Egypt in Exodus, and when we started enslaving people in America it was bad before and after 1865. I think America is still paying for it, though not the way some feel it should be paid. The Jewish people were slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years, growing worse and worse in treatment every year, so they wrote about it, fresh on their minds, as a socially accepted practice of the day to say they didn’t want people abusing other people, as God doesn’t want people abusing other people. Same with in the New Testament. If someone works for you, or is your slave, you shouldn’t mistreat them. If you work for someone, or are their slave, you shouldn’t be lazy.  It wasn’t known back in Bible times, but there are bacteria that infest raw meat, and if you choose to eat it raw, you can get sick and die.  Hand washing.  That’s just a good practice.  Does whatever instruction you’re reading apply to you?  Ask if there’s a more hopeful choice you could make, than the ones you’ve already been predisposed or taught to choose.  Ask what logical consequences and observable outcomes are still apparent in the modern world, if one should decide not to do the things we’re told to do, or do the things we’re told not to do?

Just like avian, bovine, equine and swine flu, the stuff you do has rippling effects spreading out from you and touching the world.  (Cough, Cough)  So think for yourself about it.  Are you just another goat following the herd, accepting what people have told you is right or are you exploring it for yourself?  Are you, or those who think like you and maybe taught you, making the world full of more poverty, broken hearts, captivity, darkness, sickness, mayhem, and destruction?  Or are you, or they, a messenger with good news, healing, freedom and light?  And before you throw stones of judgement, or ill fitting labels at me, remember, I don’t care what you choose to do, and in the aftermath of whatever your choice is, if I live through the natural consequences of your actions (and mine) I’m stuck on the same planet and have to help clean up the mess because Christ Followers are supposed to help (Galatians 6:10).  So although I don’t care what you choose, I’m stuck caring for whatever’s left when you’re done.  I’d prefer you keep it clean and safe and nice, and when you’re messy and dangerous and mean, please just stay away from me and my family and friends.

Thanks for your cooperation.  

The end of the world is coming, it’s true.  But not like you think.  It’s just possible that you could die without ever figuring out what the truth is and what the lies are.  If you believe the lies, you just might be headed down the broad road that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14), and that’d just be sad.  A lot of people think they have it right, but according to Jesus as told by Matthew, they don’t.  And that’s something that was in the Old Testament (Proverbs 14:12) that was repeated in the New Testament.  I figure, if it’s in the Old Testament taught to the Israelites, AND in the New Testament to Christ Followers, maybe I ought to pay close attention and figure out if there’s a way I fit into that context.  Like in the Pirates of the Caribbean movie.  I need to listen to things that threaten my life, and listen intently to things that threaten my soul. (Matthew 10:28)  It’s not Elizabeth, it’s God holding the proverbial gun, and he doesn’t have to negotiate.  It’s not Lord Cutler Beckett, it’s I, who must decide whether to accept God’s terms or not.  If I died before accepting His terms of surrender, it would be an eternal tragedy for me.  How about you?

One of my encouragers popped in my email to remind me and his group of this text, and I think I said the above with the right tone. It’s my intention to encourage you to find out for yourselves, not to point out errors I might think I see in your life.  If I point out your errors, who’s going to help me with the plank in my eye before I try to help with the speck in yours?  (Matthew 7:3-5)   “Help others with encouraging words; don’t drag them down by finding fault.” (Romans 14:19, The Message)

I’ll just encourage you to search out the true truth, not the spun messages spinning all around us.  And I’ll encourage you to pray.  If there is a God and He hears and answers prayer, then it couldn’t hurt to pray.  And if there isn’t, you’ve done no harm by praying and then getting up from kneeling to do what you know is right.  Maybe the panic should remind all of us to pray.  But I don’t hear a lot of people in America doing that.  Maybe because it’s more fun to panic, or more comfortable, or more socially acceptable.  If you need me, I’ll be over here, praying.  


Crushes, Puppy Loves and Other Warm Fuzzies June 2, 2014

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I was reading another blog today, and the author encouraged us to comment on our first loves.  

My first love was a beautiful blonde girl in first grade.  There were many other crushes. We went our separate ways, and none of them ever really seemed to notice me. I could call them by name– to this day, their names are branded on that “childhood memories” corner of my heart.  And my adolescent corner.  And my adult corner.  Of course they are years older and a lot different looking than in grade school.  And of course I love my wife passionately, but I think I still love each of the objects of my school-boy crushes.  Through the miracle of social networking websites, I have reconnected with this girl, and she is still beautiful.  But unlike those romantic hopeless ones who have reconnected after years and left their spouses for one another, no, we are both in good committed relationships.  So we’re just good friends, and I think she’s turned out pretty cool.

My wife and I met a lady a few years ago and for several years she lived next door to us.  We had meals together all the time, laughed a lot and cried too, sometimes, and weathered crises, including weather related crises and relationship crises.  Nothing ever came of that but she knew how I felt about her.  I met a lady more recently and we got to know each other through talking every day at work.  Nothing ever came of that, but she, too, knew how I felt about her.  I had fallen in love with them, in that schoolboy type crush kind of way.  Nothing could ever come of it, in my mind because I am in a solid, committed relationship and that’s where I want to stay.  But I loved their laughter, their smile, the way they thought and dreamed, the way they talked about life, and yes, I thought they were very pretty.  And even more recently, I’ve added to my list two writers, fellow bloggers.  I look into their writing, I see their souls, darkness, light, and in between, and I see those faces and those eyes in their profile pictures, and have met both of them face to face at least once, and I confess, I am infatuated again.  And again.  And again.  But I’m steady, I’m set, I’m not fickle, if the last almost-30-years say anything about it.

My Grandpa said “all women are the same,” and never really elaborated on it. I don’t profess to understand what he meant by his (probably sardonic) comment.  I loved my Grandpa and I thought he was fun when I was a boy, and even funnier when he let me in on more of the adult-ish jokes he told and comments he used to make.  The older he got, the more outspoken he got about things, so I imagined the remark was intentionally cutting about women.  He was married until she died, and didn’t remarry.  I hear people say similar things, like how they’re all crazy, all mean, all self centered, all that.  And that may have been true for them.  They weren’t often touchy-feely, and my dad grew up learning that kind of non-expressiveness.  But I know Grandma loved Grandpa in that crazy way my mom and dad still do.  Why don’t you take better care of yourself?  Why don’t you drink less?  Why haven’t you fixed this?  Are you going to finish that?  And so on.  Maybe he meant it in a kind of frank decisiveness, I’ve made my choice and there’s no reason to look at anyone else, since they’re all the same.  Which is kind of romantic.  And I looked into Grandma’s eyes and knew, she also loved him in that sweet, romantic way I love my own wife and don’t want to figuratively “go shopping” ever again.  

The crazies may be accurate, but I look around and if I look closely enough at any one, without fail, I always see that fragile, frightened, sometimes scarred or hurt, self-discovering, slowly opening flower blossom side.  It’s what charms me.  I have the same reflection in my own soul.  In a warm fuzzy way, my own way of thinking about grandpa’s comment, I think he was right. All women are alike.  They’re all amazing, beautiful treasures.

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.

Suits and Damages March 28, 2014

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“My wife is leaving me,” said my dad to his friends. All of them were surprised as he had been married for a long time. They all gathered around to show their support. And then he said, “Yup, she’s going on vacation, and taking the kids with her.” (insert comedic drum beat) I grew up and learned his comedic timing, although I know I’m not as funny as I’d like to think I am. I wonder if my dad knows, sometimes he’s not either.

When speakers speak, I often wonder how fragile their souls are. Where are the dings in their armor, where are the gaping wounds of their hearts that they have bravely covered? Will they show us a battle scar? How close are they to breakdown? When I speak, I am keenly aware that I am damaged and very, very fragile. But other speakers, I admire, as they set aside their personal fears, their stage fright, and press on with their messages. Even pastors. They put on a suit jacket and slacks, or jeans if the atmosphere is casual, and they put their best face forward to the audience to deliver a message to encourage, to teach, to admonish. And they themselves are looking in a mirror as they speak, viewing their own damaged lives as if they were naked. No one else can see them like that, but inside I bet they feel the frailty, the exposure, the cracks in their veneer.

How do you speak to a crowd of people, or even one other person, when you know that every time you open your mouth you give them a view of your failures and your heart? How do you speak to others, knowing the message you’re offering is mostly a pep talk you wish someone would give you?

Today I went to a breakfast meeting and I heard a speaker. He was given 30 minutes to speak. He presented about 15 minutes of information, after prefacing with about five minutes of jokes. I think the joke is often like a gambler’s tell, that gives away the secrets about the scars hidden inside. If that is the case with my dad, how fragile must he have feared his marriage was? Our speaker today was a lawyer who told jokes about his life and his career to break the ice. One of his jokes was that although he was happily married, he had been through so many marriages he couldn’t count any more. Then he added, that he had been officiating over the other couple’s weddings.

It’s not very funny that life is very hard and we all have uphill battles to fight. I think everyone has tried to dig their heels into whatever ground they could find, only to feel themselves sliding slowly downhill. Or maybe that’s just my own journey of life at the present time. It’s not very funny that marriages are fragile, about half ending in divorce, leaving broken ex-husbands and ex-wives and children with weak roots. They bravely may joke about their ex-es, but the painful scar or wound is still hurting there under that tell.

There are so many situational comedy TV shows about relationships, from the early years of Burns and Allen, The Honeymooners, I Dream of Genie and Bewitched, to the more modern and more broken Friends, How I Met Your Mother, and Two and a Half Men. Even the animated The Flintstones, Jetsons, and the more modern The Simpsons and Family Guy milk the comedy from the brokenness of relationships and how we muddle through.

I think some of us do a better job than others of hiding our tells, and some of us, thankfully, aren’t clued in well enough to look for them. I think we are all damaged goods in some ways, and we all have to muddle through. If my wife owes me one apology for something in our relationship, I owe her a thousand. If my kids owe me an apology for some minor infraction, I owe them for not being a better life-model.

I pray that God forgives me for all of it, but more than that I pray He helps me to heal, so maybe the scars I’m acutely aware of, and the gaping wounds I’m more aware of can turn into better life lessons I can share when I am older, wiser, and more weathered. The season has been harsh and my hull is battered and scarred and in need of serious repair. Some things I can hide behind jokes, others I won’t even talk about any more because they just hurt.

My wife is leaving me. After more than 20 years of marriage. She and the kids are going on spring break to see grandma and grandpa and some aunts and uncles and cousins. (insert comedic drum beat) She should be back late next week. And if my wife and kids decide not to forgive me for my failings, after today, I know a good lawyer.