Posted in Beauty, Health

Lent 29

I am exhausted. And I am sitting down to tackle two pieces of daily writing with an hour left in the day. Tomorrow we have an 8 am doctor’s appointment for my son. Then I have to be to work at 9:30. The kids are spending the day with Amanda. Then tomorrow night dinner, a little play time, then back to their maternal grandparents early Wednesday morning before I am off to work again. I imagine myself, roughly in this same place again tomorrow night. Though, hopefully an hour earlier.

Tonight we played the kids’ favorite game “hide the stuffed animals.” It’s just like it sounds.  When it was my son’s turn to hide things, he lost his own Pikachu (the replacement we just got him because he lost one at school on the playground). He started to freak out. Showers were delayed. We overturned couch cushions, looked in every drawer, the shower, refrigerator and oven (these are all places our plush little friends have went to hide before).

You don’t have to be the most intuitive reader to sense the cliché coming right about now. I found Pikachu when we all gave up looking, in a place we had already looked 10 times. He was behind my son’s box of Hot Wheels cars and tracks. Technically we had only looked frantically inside of the box, digging through piles of tracks and mirco-sized hot-rods, El Caminos and fire trucks.

Such is the way of life. People often find this true with possessions, with contentment, with finding the right job, with finding true love and on and on. We give up, we let go and then poof: we find what we were looking for in all of the wrong places. Such was certainly the case in my life when a only a month after my ex-wife and I split up, I asked Amanda on a date. I have known her since 1996. She is one of a very few people I have had a sustaining friendship with, throughout my whole adult life. I can count them on one hand. I thought about asking her out once in 1996. But a mutual friend at the time beat me to it an before I knew it, I was in their wedding. She came to my wedding.

Then things fell apart for us both around the same time. We started hanging out more to commiserate about our common experiences of heartbreak and failed marriages. Then the unthinkable happened. She took me to See “Inside Out.” She took me because she knew how much it meant to me on so many levels. I had seen it just a few months earlier on opening weekend. It was the last movie I ever saw with my children and there mother, the four of us together. I was crying – like snot running down my nose crying – throughout. This was not the first date! That was yet to come. This was a friend who decisively does not love all things Disney-Pixar the same way I do, going to see an animated film with me on a Saturday night, at the cheap theater, right before it hit Blu-ray and digital release. We could have waited a couple days and rented it. But she took me just because she deeply cared about me. People don’t just do that kind of shit. They really don’t. It is a lucky person who can count more than one friend that is so willing to forgo their own interests on a Saturday night to watch you blubber during a children’s film. It’s the same kind of person that a year or so later, gives up their Saturdays off in exchange for Tuesday to pick up your kids from school, so you can continue to have one night with them each week. She’s a keeper for sure!

But there is a danger when we take these amazing, life changing kind of experiences, moralize them and couple them up with a phrase from Jesus or Buddha: “He who loses his life will find it” or “He who envies others does not find peace of mind.”

Sometime you don’t find Pikachu. Sometimes you can give up, let go, be as relaxed as possible about the job interview and still not receive the call back. Sometimes you can give up on looking for love, friendship, happiness and still find yourself lonely and depressed. There is a danger in making moral lessons out of our good fortune. Because it is just that. I don’t use the word blessing often anymore because of a lifetime of negative connotation. But I am hard-pressed to find a better word to explain the way I feel about the second chance at life and love and fatherhood, all with this amazing partner I have by my side. I no longer want to tout my good fortune/luck/blessings to others like ‘If you’d only _________ everything would be okay.’ I lived that way most of my life and still found myself in what seemed like a bottomless pit.

I am thankful we found Pikachu. I am thankful Amanda and I found each other. But I never want to stop looking. Not for another Pikachu. Not for another partner. But for all of the many ways I can be a better father, better partner, better friend, a better human being.

Posted in Beauty, Health

Lent 28

Because I love poetry, or because I am a masochist or simply because I am absurd, I am seriously contemplating taking up a second and overlapping, 30 day writing challenge for April, which is poetry month! 30 days. 30 different poetic forms. Not sure yet if I want to just do this in a private writer’s group where less people will notice if I miss a day, or take it here to the blog as well.

This could be very good for me. I have a problem with the substance of my poetry that I want to tackle. Too much of my poetry exemplifies a broader problem in my life. It is a problem that affects my mental and emotional health as well as my relationship to others. I have a much easier time expressing disappointment, disillusionment, depression, sadness and anger than I do expressing comfort, contentedness, contentment, happiness and joy.

Throughout my life I have rarely written about those I love in poetic form. The most noted exception has long been, if they have hurt me or I have hurt them in some way, then they show up in a poem. The other exception has been if I am expressing love in the form of anxiety. These poems have mostly been romantic in nature. From adolescence through my former life as a husband, the substance of my romantic poetry has largely been, ‘I love you, please don’t leave me.’ Or, ‘I love you! Thank you for saving me.’ In high school I wrote a poem for a girl who had just broken up with me about how I was just watching the clock waiting to die. The first poem I wrote for my ex-wife was – in retrospect – as ugly as it was beautiful. The setting was a surreal nightmare in which my whole life I had been prisoner of “black on bone grey devil” and a “dragon.” In the poem, she “woke me from my slumber” and “cut the head off the dragon.”

That is a lot for one person to bear. Too much! I am sorry in so many ways and to so many people that it took me so long to realize that I am responsible for my happiness: my mental, emotional, and physical salvation.

If I take up this additional writing challenge, I want at least 1/3 of the poems to be about love: love for someone or something or love for life. The one I wrote today wasn’t. Alas, I’ll write another day.

Maybe I am truly a glutton for punishment. This Lenten writing series has already ripped me open, raw, and found me writing at my most vulnerable and exposed. Now I am contemplating a 30 day challenge with two rules and adding an additional rule of my own. It sounds like I’ve talked myself into it!

I have been trying to write a poem about my sister since I was about 15. I have started it at least 100 times. I have a book she gave me for Christmas when I was about 13, Charles M. Sheldon’s In His Steps (the book that coined the phrase “What would Jesus do?). Tucked away in the middle of the book is a letter that my sister wrote to anyone who would read it: “Hi my name is Brenda. Not every day is good for me. Sometimes my parents fight. Sometimes my dad leaves.” I snatched it up. I have longed to answer her letter in a poetic form, find some way to say, ‘Here is the happy life I would give you. I love you. Don’t give up.’

I am changed. And I am changing. It is wonderful and wonderfully frightening. A few months ago I wrote a love poem for Amanda called “Hearts in Calloused Hands.” It wasn’t about hurting me. It wasn’t a plea for her to save me. It was all about how love, real love requires of us to hold our own fragile, broken hearts in our own calloused hands and be able to say “I love you!” Before we can really reach into another’s chest-cage and hold their heart high, giving thanks, giving praise for the joy they bring, we must first do the same with our own fragile hearts.

In the days to come, you can expect two post each day until Lent is over. To be sure, some of them will be dealing with my depression and my fight for mental and emotional health. But hopefully some of them will be silly, funny, irreverent, short (*gasp!*) and some of them will be about love! Challenge accepted!

Posted in Beauty, Health

Lent 26

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

I have been waiting most of my life. I have waited since 1994 for the “next Seattle.” 20 years ago I was waiting for The Verve Pipe to make Grand Rapids the next Seattle. 10 years ago I was waiting for some of my favorite rappers in Grand Rapids to turn GR into the next NYC of Hip Hop. 5 years ago I was waiting for Sam Lachow and Raz Simone to turn Seattle into the next Seattle, only this time with urban angst instead of Teen Spirit. Instead the world got Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. As much as I love pop music (now that I am 40 I can finally admit that), I am still a champion of the underdog and the underground.

I have waited for weightier things. I waited for my parents to become something they were not. I waited for love to find me. I waited for the Holy Spirit to take away all sexual desire. I waited god to heal my mother from a rare neurological disease. I waited most of my life for Jesus to come back and part the sky and set the world right.

That has been the hope of religious faithful (at least in the Abrahamic religions), since way before Jesus. As the writer of Ecclesiastes goes on to say, “God will call the past to account.” But he also said, there was a time for everything under the sun. And thanks to Pete Seeger and The Byrds we all know how it goes:

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep

There is a lot of ugliness. Some things are inexplicable to me. Torture, genocide, sexual abuse, Donald Trump. I can’t understand why if there were someone or something that could step in and make all things new, it wouldn’t make a little more haste to step in and bring a little more beauty into the ugliness of the repetition. I stopped waiting for the the final resurrection, for the trumpet to sound, for someone else to make everything right.

I no longer think all things can or will be redeemed or that sending something or someone to a fiery inferno can somehow right the wrongs of the past. More suffering? More pain? But like a fool returns to folly or a dog returns to his vomit, I always seem to return to hope. I see beauty in the repetition of the sunrise and sunset. I believe in beauty rising from the ashes. I guess not even the existential crisis of the last few years has killed my firm belief in redemption. I guess I haven’t stopped waiting altogether. Maybe I am just waiting for different thing. Or better yet, I am trying to become an active agent of change for the better, as far and as wide as possible. I want to be a better father, partner, son, brother, friend. I still want to be a light in the darkness, even if I am not always so sure that the darkness can be overcome.

Grant me the serenity it takes to never except the things I cannot change and goddamn me if I fail to make a difference! Maybe it’s better that the next grunge movement or British invasion doesn’t happen. Maybe the commercialization and commodification of artistic beauty, any kind of beauty ends up lending itself to the ugliness. Maybe somethings are better in the underground. Maybe a thousand little grassroots movements are what it really takes to change the landscape of music, of politics, of injustice. I am fine in the underground. I have a little light and it can’t be hid or blown out oh no! And maybe things will never be perfect, but things could be better, if we shine our lights together.

Posted in Beauty, Health

Lent 25

The first time I really heard Ed Sheeran’s song Photograph, I was driving. My kids were with me. I was balling at the wheel. They were confused. I had just picked them up from school, to take them back to the home I knew we would not share much longer. I thought there really was a chance this might be it for us. I seriously feared that my kids might grow up only remembering their father in a photograph. I feared their love (or hate) for me would one day be immortalized in a picture their mom had taken. I feared the unknown more than I ever did before or have since in my 40 years of life.

The life I knew imploded, the same way the Character Mike says he went broke in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. “Two ways… Gradually and then suddenly.” Things had been falling apart for months, years. The couch or computer chair was my bed. I drank way too much. We barely communicated. But I just thought it was the new normal. It was a horrible way for us all to live. But I was raised to believe in death before divorce. In all honesty, I think I was beginning a slow descent into the former. I think my ex-wife may have saved us all from a far, far worse existence when she filed those papers.

But I never saw it coming. I was gearing up to move into a rented room with no bed, no car, only a 44 inch TV and a job that I had for about a month to my name. I really feared that I was going to lose all contact with my children.

That was a little less than 2 years ago. This morning the song was playing while I dropped my kids off at school, like I do every Wednesday morning. As I watched my daughter run to the school door with her school backpack, her overnight bag and her coat all in her arms, I took one of those snapshots that we all take in our heads. A picture of joy, captured by memory, no film or digital pixels.

The adjustment has been very hard for us all. The adjustment has been very good for us all. There home is no Thomas Kinkade ideal homestead. They have two homes. One is with me. One is with their mother. Difficult days come. We deal with feelings of anger and hurt and confusion as they surface. But we are no longer in danger of becoming the family on the cover of Marilyn Manson’s Portrait of an American Family.

I no longer worry they will grow up with nothing but a picture of me, or us together, inside the pocket of their ripped jeans. I no longer worry they will grow up hearing nothing but whispers from me on the phone, forever waiting for me to come home. We will not have to make memories for ourselves where our eyes are never closing,
our hearts were never broken and times is forever frozen still.

I am not trying to justify my failures as a husband or a father. Divorce is not a band-aid for love gone bad, ever, especially when kids are involved. It is a tearing. And it tears up my heart that their lives will be marked by those scars as they grow. But I also know the pain of growing up underneath two adults who love each other but never learned how to properly express love, never developed the emotional capacity to communicate with compassion, even when hurting. I know the pain of the loud outburst and the long periods of silence that follow. For me the silence was always scarier, more heartbreaking than the volatile outbursts. Those weekends with my father gone or sleeping on the couch, my mother crying in her bedroom, the walking on eggshells, knowing one wrong move could make you the target of their anger toward each other, they still haunt me.

What we have is not perfect. But it is what we have. That may be the most obvious thing I’ve ever wrote. What wasn’t always obvious is that there is hope. The future is uncertain, sure. But there are rays of light that pierce our darkest days. And there are seeds of new life, a different life, a difficult life but a life of love. And these seeds are everywhere. Today it was in hearing them sing along with Ed Sheeran on the way to school. It was in my son asking if he could throw his apple core out the window on the way to school to plant a tree. It was in watching my daughter run – not care free – but happy nonetheless towards her school. It was in watching her run and not fearing that she may never run into my arms again. I think I heard Ed Sheeran’s Photograph for the first time today.

Posted in Beauty, Health

Lent 24

There is a beautiful passage in Ezekiel that some pastors will be preaching on this coming Sunday. The prophet has a vision of a “valley of dry bones.” This is not representative of literally dead people coming to life, but people who feel lost and dead from living as captives. The passage reads, “I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live.”

Our bodies are really important. I didn’t always know that. Throughout my life I have struggled with a lot of guilt and shame about my body. It started even before puberty and the guilt and shame that came with discovering I was a sexual being. My mother told me masturbation was a terrible sin. Jesus said that anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. A youth pastor upped the ante on that and said that if you lust for someone and it is not a “mutual lust” it follows that your lust is akin to rape (as apposed to mere adultery). Add to that my discovery at a young age that I was attracted to females and males, the latter which is considered an “abomination” by the writer of Leviticus and much of the church, and I had a recipe for a lot of self loathing.

But it started even before that. I have struggled with my weight my whole life. At home it was “Fatty fatty two by four can’t fit through the kitchen door,” from my father. At school it was “fat ass” and fat slob” and “fat piece of shit,” depending on what grade level we are talking about and the vulgarity of the bully. But at church it was always, “Your body is the temple of the Lord” and “Gluttony is a sin.” When I had sleeve gastrectomy in 2007 and lost a lot of weight, quite rapidly, it was often (but not always) Christians who asked things like, “So are you doing it the real way or did you cheat?”

There were a lot of mixed messages in the conservative Christian culture of my youth about our bodies. On the one hand, the body was so important that it seemed like touching my penis or eating too much could damn me to hell. I mean my body was the temple of god. On the other hand, there was a glorification of escape from the body. It was viewed as a cage or prison of sorts and escape was the goal.

Granted, not all Christians or Christian communities are like this. I am grateful for my time in the reformed churches. It is true that at times reformed theology puts so much emphasis on the notion of divine sovereignty and doctrines like predestination, that god seems even uglier and more arbitrary than in other Christian circles. But those reformed folks – at least some of them – do place an awful lot of emphasis on the importance of the body. The most consistent reformed folks even have an embodied eschatology (that is theology of “the last things”). They don’t believe “the dead in Christ will rise” to be a metaphor. They don’t believe in escape to a heavenly other world, but in god – in Christ – returning to reign on earth and people eating and dancing and never growing old.

Of course, the most conservative among them also believe that half the world or more was damned to hell before the beginning of time. But I digress. People of all different sects, and religions, and people with very little or no religious faith, all seem to be able to find various reasons to believe that the body is important. And along with that, they find various reasons and methods to care for and nurture it. I want to do that too.

Just like my mental health, it takes concentrated effort. Just like my mental health, I have some genetic predispositions and modeled patterns of behavior that make it more of a challenge. My mom struggled with her weight much of her life. My dad was an alcoholic. And I have self-medicated with both food and alcohol in my life. I don’t think I have been shy about sharing that here. What I am a bit hesitant about is articulating any sort of action plan. My mental health is easier to talk about because despite obstacles of guilt and shame in that area as well (both religious and “secular”) I have simply been working on it much longer.

But in the end mind, body and “spirit” (whatever that is) are all just components of one unit with one life to live. Each and every one of us! Jesus, Hitler, Reagan, Thatcher, Dahmer and Gandhi, we are are connected by the same particles of star dust “made” flesh and dwelling amongst each other. I want to treat this pile of dust like the sacred vessel that it is (with or without a creed to tell me to do so). It probably won’t start with going to the gym every day or beginning each day with flaxseed and kale smoothie. It can start with passing on the doughnuts on casual Fridays. It can start with working out once a week – not to look like a Greek god – but to take better care of myself (I mean I’m pretty damn sexy already). It can start with having one or two beers after a stressful week, rather than four. It can start with not using the excuse that I haven’t become like my mom or dad used to be to coast until I do become like that. I want to feel my flesh, my skin, my breath, my bones and be as attuned to the heart that beats within as I am to the fragile state of psyche, I have come to take greater care of.

Live! Live! Live!

Posted in Beauty, Health

Lent 23

My mom talked a lot about her suicide attempt when I was growing up. She was 16. She had been abused by her father. She had known a life of dysfunction unlike anything many of us will ever know. Including me. Despite enduring more than my fair share of shit growing up, both of my parents did try to break the cycles of dysfunction they grew up with. But they fought. A lot. My dad drank. A lot. They separated, usually a couple of months a year until I was about 15. She laid hands on us. I do not believe that spanking is ever good for a child’s emotional or neurological development. And a few times she crossed the line from what folks would have called a good ‘ol fashioned ass whoopin’ (even back in the good ‘ol days) into abuse. The way she told the story of her suicide attempt, we lived right across the road from the woods where she had attempted to take her life as a teenager.

My mother never ended up taking her own life. To the best of my knowledge, she only attempted it that once. But she had enough of a documented history of depression that when she did grow ill, it was originally misdiagnosed as a nervous breakdown. We only found out a few days before she died that she had the extremely rare neurological condition, Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease.

This depression and anxiety shit runs deep. Part neurological predisposition. Part patterned behavior. I am not as interested in nature vs nurture debates as I am breaking the cycle and living as healthy as I can.

But growing up in a vortex of dysfunction and depression, with my mom often talking about her own suicide attempt, it was only a matter of time before I started contemplating my own. I was maybe 12 or 13 when my brother yelled out for my mom because he had caught me rubbing the dull blade of my jack-knife against my wrist. I was 15 when I wrote my first “real” poem: “To Whom it May Concern.” It was a suicide note:

To Whom it May Concern, you know why you’re gathered here today
You know how you died; but “why?” You can’t quite say
I lived ____ years of anger, But when I was 12 I knew my fate
I smiled when I was loved but I always felt the hate.

I left a blank, that I was convinced I would fill in some day. When I was turning 21, I had a bit of an existential crisis. I kept telling myself that was the year I would fill in the blank or turn into my dad.

At age 40, I think I have successfully done neither. But I’d be lying if I said there weren’t dark days when the thoughts come. That ideation I have known since adolescence. That dark cloud that was severely exacerbated by puberty and sexual awaking in a very conservative church culture I was saturated in.

Sharing all of this is not a late night cry for help. It is a war cry. I am here! I am standing. Sometimes my head hangs low. Sometimes I don’t make it through the day without tearing up, sometimes at “inappropriate” places. Some days are a little bit harder than others to get out of bed. I do not have a “god shaped hole” that Jesus or Zoloft can fill. I do have an inherited pattern of depression. A therapist, and occasionally medication has helped.

At the end of the day, some very hard ones – like today – I have to learn to love me. Yes! Even to do that which was I was taught was a cardinal sin by my mother, pastors and some Christian professors: to live for me. When we merely survive for those around us, we are not loving them our best. When the darkest days come, they can even become the targets of our resentment: ‘Don’t hurt me! I am staying alive for you.’ I said a firm “no” to that way of thinking some time ago. But living it, embodying it, making it my truth, writing my own story is a life long task. I’ve made it twice as long as I thought I would. And I plan on making it to the day I am a cantankerous (but loving) old man. If your skies are dark today, if your chest is heavy, if your thoughts are rushing and you don’t know if you can make it another day, please know that you are not alone. I know that sounds so damn cliché. Maybe it is. But I’m a realist. The night will come. And darker days may always lie ahead. But there is freedom. There is freedom in loving yourself, so that you can go forth and love others and even love life for the shitty, beautiful mess that it is.

Posted in Beauty, Health

Lent 22

 

I had a good day with the littles. Their school had a book fair at a local Barnes & Noble. They had readings, face paintings and other activities. The face painters had a paper with the different cartoon characters, animals and facial “tattoos” of hearts, rainbows and spiders that they were doing. Both of my kids asked for custom jobs. My son got his whole face painted like a Creeper from Minecraft. And my daughter who is obsessed with Animal Planet as of late, asked to be a gazelle. We also walked away with a Hardy Boys book and A Wrinkle in Time.

I almost didn’t get the books. We almost left after about 10 minutes with faces unpainted and one crying little girl. It is really hard to watch both of my children struggle with being shy and unconfident, scared to talk to strangers, even when I am right there with them, their friends and teachers are around, in a kid friendly environment and the “strangers” are two college aged girls offering to paint their faces. It is especially hard because I know it is a mix of genetic predisposition and learned behavior that they have inherited, in part, from me. It is even harder to watch my daughter, whose reservation and nervousness is compounded by clinical anxiety. She refused to talk to the young lady who was pleading with her to let her paint her face and was clinging to me. My son was just waiting to follow his big sister’s lead.

My daughter’s anxiety and my own came head to head and we almost left the bookstore. I had said before we set out that I could not afford to buy books today, but we would just go and enjoy the free activities. They both agreed. Until we got there and they were scared to talk to the face paint lady and their friends’ hands were full of books and one of their teachers asked them “Are you guys gonna get some good books?” They started grabbing at your average overpriced, mass marketed drivel that too often passes for children’s literature and begging. I said, “Let’s go. You promised you wouldn’t do this.” We made it all the way to the door. I was stressed watching my daughter stress. I felt embarrassed and guilty that I can’t always get for them the things I desire to provide for them. In the entrance, a scene started to play out that was exactly like one from my own childhood: “Why can’t we get books?” my daughter asked, her eyes welling up with tears. “Because I am poor,” I retorted. “Because I have x amount of dollars to get through the week and still have another bill to pay.” My eyes were now flooded too.

Then I was flooded with an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. I had been here before. I had been in her shoes. My mother had said those same words and forced adult realities and anxieties upon me that I was not ready to process. I said, “Fuck it! We’re going back in. I want you guys to get your faces painted – because you’ve talked about it all week – and have fun and talk to your friends.” I apologized for overreacting.

They lightened up. I lightened up. While they were getting their little faces painted, I went and picked out two books that I could afford and that are actual literature at their reading level. I told them they were books I could afford and enjoyed when I was their age. They were more grateful than a thousand Christmas mornings. Not because they understood the sacrifice I was making with my debit card but because I was filled with joy when I presented them to them, and maybe because I was a little bit assertive with my my suggestion, “I will buy you these books, if you still each want a new book.”

I don’t go back on my word often. I don’t plan to do so often. I know it can be confusing for kids and they need consistency. But I also know these two timid little ones don’t need this day or any other to be marred by the memory of their father’s anxiety, embarrassment and real life adult shit that they don’t need to be thinking about just yet.

We had a talk on the way out. I apologized again for my outburst. And I pointed out how far we’ve come. My daughter’s anxiety and my own have came head to head before, especially in crowded, social situations where she was indecisive and flooded with various emotions and I was scared about money and angry because she wanted 4 books or 3 pairs of jeans, because she couldn’t decide on one or two. We’ve left those situations before in a haste of tears and anger. I was vulnerable. I told them I have often been a bad example. I asked them to remember today. I asked them to remember that they not only got over their fear and talked to a stranger, but got two of the coolest custom face paint jobs of the day (the young lady even asked if she could take a picture of them to add it to her repertoire). I asked them to think about how their daddy is changing for the better and we are changing for the better as a family, becoming less explosive and talking things out. I asked them to remember the good time we ended up having today when we all relaxed. They said, “Okay.”

They had their painted little noses in their books all of the way home.

Posted in Beauty, Health

Lent 18

 

Yesterday I took a break from prose to share a poem. The other Lazarus is certainly the lesser known of the two named in the gospels. The famous Lazarus is said to have been brought back from the dead by Jesus. The lessor Lazarus’ only claim to fame is that he is the only person ever given a name to in the parables that the gospel writers ascribe to Jesus. Everyone else is a rich man, father, household owner, dinner guest, servant or slave. At least the lessor Lazarus gets something. He doesn’t get much else in the story. He begs for scraps from a rich man, dies poor, then goes the live in “Abraham’s bosom” where the rich man watches with envy from “Hades.” He begs Abraham, “Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue.” Abraham says, it’s no go. He then he begs for Lazarus to warn his five brothers not to live like greedy shitbags so they can escape his fate. Again, Abraham says nope: “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

Some academic Bible scholars and progressive theologians speculate that John’s Lazarus, rising from the dead is a grandiose retelling of Luke’s parable. Jesus raises someone from the dead and the religious leaders still disbelieve and crucify him. Some pretty crazy conservative theologians, who take all of these stories literally, go a long way to speculate in the opposite direction. Some even go so far as to suggest that the revived Lazarus of the fourth gospel may have actually been “the disciple that Jesus loved;” may have even penned the anonymous gospel often ascribed to John. These days I’d rather deal more with the plain reading of a passage than a fanciful speculation (whether I believe them to be historical or not is almost beside the point).

That poem has been in the works for a few months. In it, the Lazarus of the parable becomes a symbol for how I have felt too much of my life.  ‘You’re poor. Just live right and believe right. You’ll get your day.’ Unfortunately, that’s not a far stretch or some fanciful reading of the text. We live in a time when a Kansas congressman and freaking doctor applies Jesus’ saying “the poor you will always have with you” to his mission of repealing the Affordable Care Act, with a few additional repugnant remarks. That is the world I grew up in. And I believed it, even when I got state subsidized free school lunches and church members brought us our Christmas presents.

Some of Jesus’ teachings are great! Love your neighbor. Judge not. Even turn the other cheek definitely has it’s placed (though that too has been grossly abused). But most of his parables, unlike his moral sayings, are about “the last days” and “judgement.” They can make it really hard to live into the spirit of his moral teachings. The apocalyptic parables can be used to keep oppressed people content in their misery, even undergird a sort of “spiritual” pride about one’s suffering. All of this while fostering some eagerness for the end, “the separation of the sheep and the goats.” ‘Love your enemies. But just wait ’till Jesus gets a hold of ’em!’

I have only shared that poem a few times at open mic. Not because of its personal nature. Most of my poetry is pretty personal, downright vulnerable. A friend in the scene calls my work, “self-lacerating.” I suppose some of it is. But I am not sure if I like that description or think that it’s completely accurate. That poem is about searching for love, healing, and hope in this life. It is about finding community when you have long felt isolated. And to be perfectly honest, it is also about finding sexual healing in a life that has been marred by guilt and shame about being a sexual being.  It’s about desiring a world where “goodness” or “morality” isn’t inextricably intertwined with – or defined by – hating one’s own life or hating others to feel better about one’s own lot in life. It’s about wanting to no longer hate “my enemies” or even the enemies of justice and equality. But rather it’s about just wanting to see some damn justice and equality.

I said on day one of this series that I intended to take up the three fold practice of acting justly toward god (or the universe), towards myself and towards others with renewed intention. But in truth, that’s what I hope I do with all of my writing and all of my life, beyond these 40 days.

Posted in Beauty, Health

Lent 14

 

Today was Epic! I heard the title track to Father John Misty’s latest album, Pure comedy on my way to work. On the way home I heard JJ Grey & Mofro’s This River (another title track).

In between, I had a better than normal day at work. I sold a bunch of stuff. And I had a good performance review. Then, I got out of work and my day really began.

We had a fantastic open mic tonight. Singer songwriters, poets, a comedian, even a video crew. They are shooting a promotional video, filming scenes at many of Grand Rapid’s thriving open mics. And the All Access family really came through. So many of my favorite people where in the same room at the same time. It was a night of amazing art and coffee, and a bit of Old Style (the coffee shop is right next door to a decent little bar).

I closed the show as I often do, with a rendition of my piece, Van Gogh. It is probably the single piece of poetry I have worked on the longest. It will probably never be finished. It is an outgrowth of several lines from a paper I wrote in seminary. I first turned it into a poem shortly thereafter. But it was upside down. It originally started with a reflection on what a beautiful place the world can be; and it ended with a meditation on the darkness that lingers. In the first major revision a few years ago, I stood it on its head. Or probably better to say I finally flipped it right side up. As it stands now, it begins with some words about how cold and brutal the world can be at times; and it transitions into how good and beautiful the world can be and could be. It ends with a plea for artists to splash their colors, or chord structures, or words – their truth – across the face of today.

It has become somewhat of a tradition to improvise the piece live and write stuff down later. Other poems have grown out of these improvisation sessions. I have done a “Christmas edition” a “40th Birthday” edition. Tonight’s poetic freestyle was about “the spotlight.”

I used to want to be the next Bono
But I could never fill those glasses
I used to want to be the next Scott Stapp
I believed if I could just spread my creed
across the land
I could save everyone who heard
I used to want to be king
I used to want to be king
I used to want to be king
Now I don’t even want to be a prince
In this sick society
I prefer to spill my guts on the floor
My gut used to be nearly 4 feet ’round
Everyone thought I looked sick
When I got down to nearly 200 pounds
I used to want to be king
Until I saw Scott Stapp and Kid Rock
Getting blowjobs from drunk fans
Saying it’s good to be king
Now the silence at the end of every show
Is my favorite sound.

Today was Epic! I am so privileged to be surrounded by so much talent. Amazing people with amazing voices. I am ending my day by listening to Firing Squad by J. Cole before bed…

“While the people debate who’s the king of this rap game
Here comes lil’ ol’ Jermaine
With every ounce of strength in his veins
To snatch the crown from whoever y’all think has it
But rather than place it on his head as soon as he grabs it
Poof, boom, paow, it’s like magic
With a flash and a bang the crown disintegrates
And falls to the Earth from which it came
It’s done
Ain’t gonna be no more kings…
Today I know that we are the same, are the same, you and I
Different kind of skin, different set of eyes
Two different minds, but only one god
It’s for all the kings
Cause I know deep down every poet just wanna be loved”

Posted in Beauty, Health

Lent 13

 

In those days, the reign of Jimmy Carter was in its waning hours. The terror of Reaganomics was yet to begin. But the great realignment of the two party American system, that was impacted by the Civil rights movement, the “Southern Strategy” and the the Republican appeal to religious voters was well under way. And it seemed every Christian in America went to his home town to vote for Ronald Reagan

So, Sony had also came back up north from the Florida to the town of Middleville in Barry County, of Western Michigan, near the the city of Gerald R. Ford. They conceived and gave birth to one child just 16 days shy of being being born out of wedlock. And they sealed their nuptials on the Birthday of that great spiritual leader and cultural accommodator, Elvis Presley.

And unto you, this very day, the 15th of March, 1980 a child was born, in the city of Gerald R. Ford. And this will be a sign to you: you will find the child wrapped in typical hospital garb and you will name him James Edward, meaning: One who follows, yet guards. And his older brother will have a scowl on his face and cry, “Take him back! Tack him back! I prayed for a sister! Take him back!”

I don’t think it really happened exactly liked that. I doubt I said awfulness more than once or twice about my baby brother. I am not even sure anymore if my mom’s story was true about chasing my dad to Florida and proposing to him after he knocked her up. But that is how I here it in my head, complete with Charlton Heston sounding narration. And this is how mythologies – both mundane and world changing – come to be. Someone tells a story, rooted in historical residue, warped by memory, retold and re-purposed, regurgitated by the next generation, through the filter of their joys and their wounds, their hopes and their longings.

I kept that scowl on my face until my 20’s. And my little brother, Jim and I have had our share of ups and downs. But I love him dearly. I am so thankful for this day! His day!

We are so different. He is much more gifted visually (a graphic designer by trade). And I am more auditory. Yet, he writes songs and loves music. He is celebrating his birthday by taking his son to his first concert tonight. And I appreciate aesthetics, from a very cursory viewpoint. He crosses over into my world much easier than I do his. But we both cross that river. Perhaps that is because that is where both of our worlds began: In interplay between our mother’s Bible stories, vivid morality tales and our dad’s sad country, soul and classic rock soundtrack always blasting in our ears. I’ve grown to love Hip Hop and Jim has a very peripheral grasp of it. I was trained to be a pastor and walked away. He trained to be an artist and works for the church.

But in reality we are for more alike than we usually admit. But I don’t mind admitting it. Especially not on this day. His Day! We are both incredibly stubborn. We both struggle with anxiety and have awkward and sometimes painful muscle spasms from our shared affliction: Dystonia.

But far more importantly, we both love and love vigorously! We both well up with a mix of pride – healthy pride – and tears when we talk about our artistic passions. We both work our asses off to provide for our children. Perhaps it is because both of our middle names have guard or guardian in their meaning.  Or maybe it is a shared nurturing instinct that we get from our mom and a strict work ethic we inherited from our dad (though hopefully we are both more tempered in our approach than them).

He is an amazing human being. I am lucky. I don’t care how the story really started. It is our turn to tell it. Our turn to write and right our history. We may not see eye to eye. But I see the best of myself in you. I love you. Happy Birthday little Brother.