Friday, September 30, 2005

Zeke the Adulterer on Grace for the Gays

I'll never forget my first encounter with evangelical attitudes towards gays. I was a baby Christian, just recently attending a Calvary Chapel church in my home town and drinking in everything about being in Jesus. Reading the Bible voraciously, praying and thinking about Jesus constantly, and watching very carefully what the more mature Christians were saying and doing.

I quickly joined the church's men's group which was led by our pastor. One evening before the group began a number of us were sitting around chatting with each other and the pastor when the issue of gays came up. He blurted out, "Those disgusting fags..." and I lost the rest of what he said in a blur. I remember turning to a new friend with an incredulous look on my face: Did our pastor just say 'fag'? I couldn't believe my ears, and wrote it off to just an unguarded moment from a regular human being who forgot that he was a pastor and gave in to a particular prejudice. I should have listened more closely.

While I haven't heard that particular epithet in normative churchly circles since, the same fear and resentment has been present. It just manifests itself differently, primarily in an unshakeable conviction that unless the church "takes a stand against" homosexuality we are headed the direction of Sodom. We can't expect anything other than the wrath of an angry God unless we, the safekeepers of social morals and integrity, do our level best to resist the perversion (and perversive influence) of homosexuality. If we are ever to expect America to be spared painful judgement by a God that expects certain standards to be upheld--and will hold his Church accountable for not upholding them--we had better get out in the streets, write letters to our congressmen, and preach against homosexual perversion and toleration of perversion from the pulpit. Evil triumphs when the good do nothing!

I don't want to debate the Biblical standing of gays in this forum. For the record, I don't think that those that believe that gay sexual relationships can meet the standard that God has set for men and women have a scriptural leg to stand on. I think their arguments are exceptionally weak.

But here's the thing: I'm really one to talk about sexual standards anyway. Those in favor of the normalization of Christian gay relationships point out that Jesus was not recorded saying anything one way or another about homosexuality are certainly correct, though I'm not sure that that really contributes anything to the debate. But this much I know: Jesus had some strong things to say about divorce. This one hits home:

"Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery."
-Jesus, as quoted in Luke 16:18
Mrs. Zeke was divorced before I married her. According to the plain, indisputable teaching of Jesus, Zeke is an adulterer. I was certainly well aware of the existence of this scripture when I was considering marriage to Mrs. Zeke, and we spoke openly of it. Ultimately, we saw the hand of God in our lives and we felt the strong conviction that God had plans for us in marriage, plans for service and mission. So we married, and we became adulterers.

I should point out that there have been zero penalties for us within the church. No one has "taken a stand" against this adultery. To the contrary, I serve on the church board and am a respected member of the congregation. I've taught from the pulpit and been appointed over ministries. When I've raised this issue to others in my congregation, they responded to me with grace. No one refuted the scripture or tried to put it "in perspective." They simply gave me grace and forgot about it.

This is not hypocritical or heretical. It's simply grace. I have received grace in abundance from God and from my Christian neighbors despite violating a direct teaching of Jesus. That grace has enabled me to have a blissful (if storm-battered) marriage and to serve openly in my local church.

So why should I, recipient of such grace, deny it to others? And why should my Christian brothers and sisters, so many also recipients and givers of grace in the area of divorce and remarriage, deny it to others?

So here is my personal commitment, and simple request: Give grace to gays. For as we have received it from God and each other, so we should give it.

Don't ask me what that looks like; I'm just figuring it out myself. For my and Mrs. Zeke's part, we took in a gay homeless couple that showed up on our church's doorstep hungry and with nowhere to sleep. They still live in an apartment set up in our garage, living an open and unrepentant gay lifestyle with no interest in attending church or accepting Jesus. So we give them some more grace. Sometimes I get fed up with it, and then I remember grace. And if I forget, Mrs. Zeke reminds me.

So, my Christian brothers and sisters, is there any reason that with regard to gays--especially those that confess Jesus--we couldn't, to conjure up Jack Nicholson from A Few Good Men, extend them a little flipping grace?

Aw, Hell

The doctrine of Hell has always been a terrible struggle for me. Not because I think everyone deserves heaven because of their good behavior, but because even in our lack of good behavior, even in our routine failure to love our neighbors, it just doesn't seem like the punishment fits the crime. Especially when we consider that traditional evangelical doctrine believes that everyone who has heard the gospel and rejected it is hellbound. Your mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, wives, husbands, children, neighbors, co-workers, the little old lady down the street, your grocer, your kid's schoolteacher--they burn without Jesus. Not for a while, to extract a proportional measure of punishment for their personal contribution to world misery, but forever and always. Torment without end. The most pleasant, servile Buddhist suffers right alongside Mengele.

Anybody who doesn't choke on this, I just don't trust. Of course, I fully understand the underpinnings of the doctrine. The perspective that supposedly makes this sensible is that we all deserve it. Those with Christ are just the incredibly fortunate ones. For the hyper-Calvinists, those with Christ are like the winners of a celestial lottery: picked by God for his own reasons, which have nothing to do with the relative merits of the chosen. They should read Matthew 25 and the parable of the sheep and the goats, by the way.

I despise the sinners-go-to-Hell doctrine for obvious reasons, but I've reached an uneasy truce with it. I know from scripture that it is beyond my authority to assume that I can discriminate between chosen and despised:

24Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

27"The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?'

28" 'An enemy did this,' he replied.
"The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?'

29" 'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.' "

Again, a parable of separation of sheep/wheat from goats/weeds. But note that Jesus tells his servants (that would be us) that if we try to pull weeds, we may pull wheat instead. What this tells me is that we are not capable of discriminating between saved and unsaved in this life. We can speak comfortingly about the departure of a Christian from this life and say they went to heaven, but we will never know while we occupy these bodies what the disposition of any particular person is in eternity. All we can infer from scripture is that few choose Jesus' path but if you want to settle the matter for yourself, follow Jesus and love your neighbor. A wise choice, by the way, no matter what you believe about Hell.

But even believing in Hell (while hoping against hope that I'm wrong, and Jesus will pull out a mindblowing miracle and figure out a way to save everybody), the only way I can operate is to assume that somehow, any particular person I encounter will go to heaven. Since I can't know for sure, can't I be an optimist?

And no, I won't miss an opportunity to share the gospel with them because I've become complacent about their destiny. I have yet to meet a single person that fears Hell more than they desire Jesus. If they don't want Jesus, Hell is meaningless to them. How could you believe in Hell but not Heaven? It just doesn't make sense to me, but that's allright. Christianity has gotten along fine so far without me needing to get every aspect of it.

For my part, I'm putting Hell in the "I'll get it later" category. One day I will know fully even as I am fully known, and my sincere hope is that I will be pleasantly surprised how empty Hell is.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Sheep and the Goats: Parable or Prophecy?

I think the Bible is the literal word of God. I also think that we can never pretend to fully understand it, and that we should be wield it with great caution and humility. This much I know for sure: all the laws, the moral codes, the exortations and commands, are sumed up in this: love God and love your neighbor. And how do we love God? We love our neighbor (see Matt 22:38-40).

The best illustration of this--loving God by loving our neighbor--is found when Jesus speaks of separating the sheep from the goats at the end of days. Read the whole story in the 25th chapter of Matthew, but I'll boil it down for you: after Jesus' return, he gathers "all nations" before him and separates the sheep to the right and the goats to the left. Goats burn, sheep go to heaven.

Now, we who take a literalist interpretation of the Bible (insofar as the Bible is the literal word of God, not that every statement is to be read literally) have a decision to come to when Jesus speaks: is he telling a parable, or making prophecy? In other words, is Jesus looking into the future and providing a literal account of what will happen at the end of days?

I always thought so. But then while I was driving today, I recounted the dialog between Jesus and the goats and sheep. Jesus spoke first to the sheep--who he called "righteous" (which I imagine drives Calvinists crazy)--and then to the goats on his left. Here's the exchange with the sheep:

34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Being a Christian, and having put some conscious thought and action into serving the hungry, sick, poor and strangers, of course I expect to be among the sheep (what do you want me to do, assume I'm a goat? Just being honest...), which brings me to this: if Jesus is prophesying the future, won't we sheep know that this is coming? Won't we remember this scripture when Jesus sorts out humanity? Wouldn't we be sitting there saying, "Yeah, I remember this part! This is where Jesus sorts the sheep from the goats, and tells us all the great things we did for him, because we did it for other people!" I daresay that a good number of Christians have heard this scripture dozens if not hundreds if not thousands of times. But no one in this scripture seems to remember that Jesus told them this was going to happen.

So I am forced to conclude first, that this is not prophesy but a parable. It is not Jesus literally foretelling the future. That was the aha moment I reached in the car.

The second conclusion is that Jesus took this opportunity to remind everyone that his church is not about religion--even casting out demons and performing miracles (see Matt 7)--but about loving your neighbors, especially the least of them, in a tangible way. Not just praying for them, or voting in their best interests, or demanding increased government spending on social programs. Getting out there and loving them personally.

Meanwhile, so much of what we do is just religion. So all of us should take heed and not think of ourselves as being secure because of our religion. Nor should we assume that those who we don't choose to cover with our religiosity security blanket--gays, maybe, or Democrats--are in the ranks of the goats. We may have the sides confused. Sure enough, somebody's going to be in for a surprise...

More on Godscrum

I posted earlier on Godscrum, an upcoming podcast that will feature several bloggers discussing issues relevant to trying to live a Jesus-following life in this modern (some say post-modern) world in which we live. No Christianese, no stupid church talk, and no barriers to honest discussion.

I've had some inquiries, and a practical concern has risen that I'll deal with first: How would we actually do this thing?

Well, it is being done out there right now using chat clients like Skype, iChat, and Google Talk along with recording software. I can handle the recording on my end, though I make no pretenses about being a production guru. But I'm techie in my own way and can figure it out.

The second, not really voiced concern but present nonetheless, is What would we be trying to accomplish, and why?

Well, think of Godscrum as a real-time blog conversation. For instance, I moved in blog circles where someone will create a post that will stimulate a wider exchange of comments and posts, and a conversation develops over the span of several hours and several days. I'd like to take that same blog circle--a portion of it, anyway--and have a conversation in real time. I believe that the character of those conversations will be uniquely beneficial to those of us who participate and to those who listen.

Finally, as a listener of podcasts myself, I've been wishing there was such a thing out there. So why not create one? Belive me, there are vast numbers of people who are discovering podcasting every week, and there's a real thirst for quality content. I know from the quality of the blog-based conversations that it will translate well to the spoken medium and through the burgeoning podcast movement, reach a lot of people that might never stumble into our particular corner of the blogosphere.

I hunger for a more authentic Christian life, and I am learning more every day from the souls that I'm interacting with in the blogosphere. I'd like to take it to a different place, one which I am confident will be worthwhile to share in.

This Was Gigi. We Miss You, Pooch.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

She Got to Me.

I've heard Philip Yancey and fellow blogger Ninjanun rave about her, but until just now I passed on giving Annie Lamott a try. I read some of her Salon commentary and her blog at TPM Cafe, and it struck me as just a left-wing version of the same kind of Christian punditry that we get from right-wingers Chuck Colson, David Limbaugh, or Cal Thomas. Don't take my word for it, just go read for yourself. More stupid-Bush-lied-blood for oil-Halliburton vitriole that I can get from just about any left-of-center politics blog or the opinion page of 95% of U.S. newspapers.

But I knew, from Yancey in particular, that she had a real Christian testimony. Given that one of the areas of growth that I have taken on in my life is to try better to understand my brothers and sisters on the Christian left, I decided to just grow a thick skin and let the bad-stupid-evil-Bush stuff just roll off me.

So, flush with book credits from I downloaded Annie's latest non-fiction work, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith. Right off the start she began laying into Bush. Groan.

Fortunately it didn't last long and she settled into a narrative that was real to me in a way that I could truly relate to. Honest, heartfelt, vulnerable, loving... I felt as if I was having a conversation with a woman from my own congregation. She could have been in the car with me, just sharing from her soul. Yes, I thought, this is what Yancey was talking about. I was moved as she wrote about her only son, his struggle to find his father, and the death of her invalid mother. And then she started talking about Sadie, her beloved labrador retriever.

Now, let me digress for a second here. I've been writing about the Spider lately (how I refer to a depressive episode), and one of the things that I've noted is that when the spider has lingered for several days and/or I am going through a particularly tough episode, I get... well, weepy. No other way to put it. I just get rubbed raw, and the junk comes up.

This makes me angry too. Nothing like being angry and weepy at the same time. This is when my language--which I try to keep under wraps--goes hogwild.

So, when Annie described the loss from lymphoma of her 13-year-old pooch Sadie, of course I immediately recalled having to put down Gigi, our beloved golden retriever, my constant companion when I lived in the hills above Hollywood, with the family since Missy was two, a dog of such a gentle spirit and giver of such joy. I remembered the reluctant family decision, when she lost her bladder control, eyesight and hearing, to end her discomfort... being in the vet's office, my arms wrapped around her neck as the vet inserted the syringe with the life-ending brew, apologizing to her for bringing it all to an end, reduced to a blubbering fool in front of my teenage daughter.

And then I started swearing and weeping at the same time.

"Sh**! F***! I miss you... g****mnit! Sh**!... Aw, f***!"

So Annie got to me, despite the (frankly, kind of embarassing) anti-Bush talk. On Interstate 15 on the way to a business meeting in Las Vegas, I might add. Blowing snot out of my nose while I made sure not to run off the road.

Some say it's good writing, and I'd have to agree... but more than that, it's a woman's ability to be real and touch the heart of another believer in a chamber we share in common. Well done, and much recommended.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Return of the Spider, No. 2

Six days into my spider visitation (a personal and descriptive way of talking about a depressive episode), I'm getting some insights that I'd like to share in the few minutes before I leave for a work appointment.

First, it struck me while I was walking the dogs this morning that I've been in circumstances the last four or five years that contain all kinds of triggers for me. Every month has been a financial struggle, debt mounts, Mrs. Zeke's health doesn't significantly improve, and I can't find the money or time for a decent vacation. My work hasn't been very successful, and my church life is... well, it just is.

Above all, I have the pervasive sense that I am not doing what I am supposed to be doing. And worse, I'm not really sure what it is that I'm supposed to do insofar as it has professional implications.

But the big insight is that I received confirmation in my heart and mind that I am making progress, that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and it's all right if the depressive states don't stop coming. That there's a way, in the midst of them, to endure and even overcome.

It's just the how that I need to work out... but you can't get to the how without the hope.

Seven Things About Zeke That Would Surprise His Friends

There's been a challenge passed around in certain blog circles recently where one blogger can ask another any 3 personal questions--with no restrictions--and they have to be answered honestly and completely.

I'd like to play, but given that I'd have to restrict up front any disclosing of identities of me and my family, I have to beg off. Instead, I'll play another game that I've seen on the web: Seven Things About Yourself that Would Surprise Your Friends.

1. I am an (almost) certified massage therapist. Yup, I completed massage school. The occassional friend and Mrs. Zeke are my only customers, and I've never taken a dime from anybody. But I am good... or was, really, because my hands got pretty fried.

2. I am a level-one Reiki practicioner who hasn't practiced in years and never will again. Part of my new-age wilderness wanderings.

3. I once worked cleaning Mexican grocery stores at night. They would lock me in the store at ten at night and open the doors up at 7 in the morning. I used to wonder, looking at the bars on the doors and windows, what I would do if the store caught on fire. I took the job from an illegal alien who lost it because his agency got audited. I did it until I got a full time job so that my days would be open to look for work. It gave me carpal tunnel so bad I almost couldn't sleep at night from the pain.

4. I play bass, and played in a garage band in high school. Good memories and bad. I love to play, but I haven't always had the best experiences playing.

5. I smoked a lot of pot in high school and early college. And I'm not proud of it, and I don't have the remotest desire to ever do it again. Not that I judge those who do, I just can't stand what it does to my brain. I did it because my friends did at the time, and some of them still do over twenty years later.

6. I have been diagnosed with depression and was on medication for a while. This surprises friends because so many of them think I come across as very peaceful and relaxed. Comes from a lifetime of faking it, I guess.

7. I've dated women who were more than 10 years younger than me--and that was when I was 30. I classify this with my potsmoking experiences: I'm not proud of it, and have no desire to ever do it again.

Other items that could have made the cut but didn't are: I've completed the Anchorage Marathon, I used to write and recite poetry, I used to have a gay man as a roommate, Mrs. Zeke and I waited until our wedding day even though neither of us were virgins, I would be dead except for modern medicine, I used to be in the Star Trek fan club, I got in trouble as a kindergartener for giving my neighbor girl an uninvited kiss, I went from being deathly afraid of public speaking to going undefeated in my college debate club for two years, I wrote erotic short stories that I now wish I had never shown another human being, and much more.

Anyone care to take up the challenge? Post a comment here if you do with a link back to your blog.

Monday, September 26, 2005

It's Been a Long Day. 'Nuff Said.

On the iPod: Lincoln's Melancholy

One of the most striking characteristics of Abraham Lincoln, to those who knew him, were his bouts of severe "melancholy." Friends and associates described his persistent sadness, which evidently showed up not only in photos from the period but was a regular expression of his. He wore it everywhere he went, and wrote frequently of his low moods and sense of futility.

Joshua Wolf Shenk has taken this increasingly well-known facet of Lincoln's life and thoroughly examined its impact on his life. Unlike so many depressives, Lincoln overcame the natural retarding effects of the disease to achieve greatly and endure some of the most trying circumstances that a man in leadership has had to bear. This is worth taking a close look at. Not just in general, but for me in particular. I'll let you know what I think.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Coming Soon: The Godscrum Podcast

I'm ready to take the podcast plunge, but I don't want to do it alone, so... I am opening an invitation to Christians of every stripe who want to join in a weekly/semimonthly godcast. No talent or experience necessary, obviously. I am just looking for good, honest dialog. No Christianese or silly church talk, and no politics. Just a group of 3-4 thoughtful Christians dealing with real spiritual issues. No other limits imposed. I am committed to this being a place where you can be who you really are, unlike most churches. No one is expected to be on their best behavior.

The point will be to engage more than entertain, but I would hope that we throw in a good 10-20% funny in to keep things from getting too heavy.

If this strikes a chord with you, I invite you to drop me a line at and we'll take it from there.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Keeping the Christian Ghetto Pure

From the AP: A Christian school in Ontario expelled a 14-year old girl because she had lesbian parents:
Stob wrote that school policy requires that at least one parent may not engage in practices "immoral or inconsistent with a positive Christian life style, such as cohabitating without marriage or in a homosexual relationship," The Los Angeles Times reported in Friday's edition.
Well, isn't that speeee-cial... stupid church people are at it again. Not to be confused with Stupid Church People, who are calling stuff like this out.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Return of the Spider, No. 1

The spider is back... the familiar dark state of mind that steals enthusiasm, joy, hope, reason...

I think that I've exhausted in past posts the usefulness of describing what the presence of the spider feels like. In my ongoing attempt to just try to make sense of it, I think I'll focus on what could have triggered it.

Certainly, absence from my wife and daughter play a role. Having them a state away is still, after six or eight weeks of this, very uncomfortable and disconcerting.

Also, money is so very tight these days with little immediate (apparent) prospect for change. There are men in my life who excel at coming up with creative solutions around making money; I really admire that and keep wishing some of that would rub off. Anyway, to return to the point, not being able to pay some bills on time really screws with my ego and sense of integrity. More ego than integrity, to be sure.

I'd also like to talk a little about my self-treatment mechanisms that I try out. One is to set myself on accomplishing some type of short-term productive task while the spider's around. This morning it was washing the dishes, sweeping the floor, feeding the cats, and petting the dogs. If I can just start checking off to-dos, at least I can have objective evidence that I am living a useful and productive life no matter what I feel on the inside.

It also helps to remind myself that I have been down this road before, and that there is a beginning, middle, and end to it. That the spider has come and gone many times, and I am always still alive and on my feet.

What makes me more hopeful now that the spider can be managed is that only now, with this blog, have I been able to go back to earlier visitations and see what I had to say about it at the time. Irrationality is an intrinsic part of this--disease, I guess--and reading what I wrote before is like an infusion of sanity into this insane state of mind. So I am optimistic despite the spider.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Value of Posting

I am in the midst of a blizzard at work, and time pressures have caused me to reevaluate what I invest my time in. The first thing I did was uninstall RTCW: Enemy Territory. That will get me a good 15 hours a week back right off the top. Unbelieveable, when I think about it.

Man, that's a fun game, though. Total guy game. Nothing but blasting butt with automatic weapons.

Anyway, nothing great was ever accomplished without sacrifice. Which brings me to the value of posting on a blog. It's tempting, after all the "0 Comments" I've seen on my blog and on others to consider this a vain effort, or like Steve and Josh were talking about on their podcast recently, an exercise in ego. No comment on the ego part, I just am what I am. But with regard to the vanity (using the "futile" definition of the word) of posting on a blog, I don't feel that way at all. I have found very meaningful nuggets posted on others' blogs, and the form of human interconnection that it enables is special. I can also testify to the personal value of getting these thoughts out. Journaling is a long-established beneficial practice, and I've certainly used this blog more like a journal and much less for commentary (unlike so many of the punditry blogs). It also helps me keep up my writing chops, which is important to me.

I also know that others have mentioned that a post I made had value for them in their own lives, making them think or helping them to relate. That's definitely worthwhile.

So, ego-driven or not I will continue to post here and hope that it proves useful and productive.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

As I write this I am on the first flight from Los Angeles to Oakland for a day of meetings, bleary-eyed after a long night of driving and just a few hours' sleep.

When I consider the question, I admit yes-my work is meaningful and makes an important contribution to society. I help to foster the growth of renewable energy, which is increasingly the obvious alternative to a clearly destabilizing fossil fuel market. We are truly feeling the pinch, as I paid more than $3/gallon for gas on my most recent trip to Arizona. Just a few years ago, on my last real family vacation, I was shocked when one gas station (at Chiriaco Summit, always the most expensive) was pushing $2/gallon when most other stations were around $1.60. That was in my old Suburban 4x4, which now languishes at the back of my house. It took $50 to fill up back then. That would be more like $80-$90 these days.

Most days however I don't feel much passion about this work. The fact remains that there are plenty of companies competing to do what I'm doing, and would be happy to take my business from me. Many are more successful at it than we are, some wildly so. So what good am I really doing here?

This is when the refrain of Ecclesiastes is helpful: "Folly, folly..." Through this toil and trouble, it is increasingly clear to me that my impact can only be measured by the individual people whose lives I touch, starting with those closest to me. What I collect a paycheck for is not as important. Giving love and being Jesus in peoples' lives (and yes, how very imperfectly) is what really matters. Making that service part of everything I do on my job is what infuses my work with meaning that will last beyond the inevitable wasting of this world when its creator replaces it with the next one.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Scares of Life

Mrs. Zeke has been taking care of my mother out of state, and my mom's beloved pooch has a recurring staph infection. When Mrs. Zeke, who is very sensitive to health issues, showed up with a rash on her back this morning we were shaken by the possibility that this could be staph that has spread to her. Her medical conditions make her difficult to treat, and our medical plan doesn't have network in my mom's home state. Besides, a trip to the doctor would force our daughter to care for my mom.

It's at times like this that it's tempting to wonder why God, who should be blessing for my wife's (many and varied) hard work and sacrifice, isn't making things easier.

At church, when we pray about these kinds of things, it's common to remind God of what he said: "Lord, you say in your Word that..." as if to acknowledge that we know he is a God of his word and that we know we are supposed to rely on that. I wonder just who it is we are reminding, him or ourselves.

So forgive me Lord, in my doubt and complaining, and protect and keep my wife who wants only to have the physical strength and security to continue to give of herself.

A Difficult Morning

24 hours after a very pleasant Sunday morning, I awoke earlier than I wanted to beset by worry. Bills that need to be paid, meetings to prepare for, a long drive home ahead, and the ongoing financial crisis that never seems to abet and that I see no clear way out of, and that will soon consume my mother too whose savings has run out and does not have quite enough to meet her expenses. So I wonder to myself what kind of son not only doesn't have enough for her but comes up short on his own family. I'll also be leaving behind my wife and daughter for another work week to face all this stuff alone in California.

So, I observe this and write about this anxiousness, for no other reason than what I mentioned before: maybe it will help me or someone else to just look at it and describe it.

Lord, help me just to focus on what I need to do to turn things around. Help me also to get my mind off of my own problems and on to the needs of others.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

My New Project

Last night I embarked on my new project, the story of the life of Mrs. Zeke, my lovely wife. She has led an absolutely fascinating and inspiring life... born with a genetic disorder, sole survivor among her peer group of kids, enduring a sexually abusive father and violent mother, drug-hazed, wandering teenage years, bearing a child at 20, stripping to pay the bills, miraculous conversion, single motherhood, then meeting me, enduring yet another life-threatening chronic disease, and then marrying me. Miscarriage, near death experience, taking into our home two needy young women, caring for her dying mother, and then caring for my own mother after her breast cancer and stroke.

Her life has been and every day is an inspiration to me, and I know it will be to you as well. We are contemplating releasing it serially as a podcast, and I'd like to know if you would be interested in listening. Please let me know.


Some Simple Blessings

This morning I woke up next to my wife... took the dogs out for a walk in a pleasant, cooled-down Phoenix morning... listening to Jennifer Knapp on my iPod Mini, a completely unexpected gift I couldn't afford from a cousin who is closer than my own brothers. A quiet Sunday morning, where all is well and life has new meaning.

Thank you God for this life of mine and for making it exactly as it is, with warts and all. Most times I overlook the treasures you lay before me. This morning is different, and my heart fills with warm joy.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Stones or Consequences

In this post, I called--to put it bluntly--for the public shaming of those responsible for a teen pregnancy. I received an anonymous comment that sardonically suggested we stone them too.

I understand the sentiment. Part of me shares it. As I get older (I started this blog in July on my 40th birthday) I have come to realize that most of the sins that bother me in others I have committed myself in thought or deed. Those I haven't committed, I feel that "there but for the grace of God I go."

For the record, yes I have had sex outside of marriage, just not as a teenager. That's not to say I didn't want to or try, so my hands are just as unclean as the kids at Timken High. I'm not casting stones here. I'm calling for consequences.

There are two kinds of consequences: real and imposed. The real consequences of an action are the ones that you don't have to invent; they come with the territory. Stick your hand on a hot stove, and you get burned. It's not optional.

Imposed consequences, on the other hand, are the ones that we create for ourselves and each other in order to avoid or reinforce the real consequences, especially when the real consequences are difficult to appreciate ahead of time. Parents threaten children with a spanking for walking into the street alone because is just isn't enough to warn them about getting hit by a car. Education, in other words, is not enough. Book learning is not a substitute for real life experience in many situations, especially for young people. They count on their elders to create imposed consequences in order to protect them from the real consequences that they lack the life experience to appreciate.

In our evolving culture, we have moved away from imposed consequences in favor of education, as illustrated by the response to the runaway teen pregnancy problem at Timken:

School officials are not sure what has contributed to so many pregnancies, but in response to them, the school is launching a three-prong educational program to address pregnancy, prevention and parenting.
(article link is here.)

So, rather than impose consequences, Timken officials are turning to education. They will fail.

Why do I sound so confident? Because unlike the educrats who endlessly experiment with our childrens' futures, I appreciate the accumulation of thousands of years of parenting wisdom. It doesn't all represent narrow-minded paternalistic old-school control-minded authoritarian whatever, like the 60's kids (and their intellectual progenitors and heirs) believe.

The fact is, people have been living and learning and adapting for many, many generations on this planet. Almost universally, our ancestors approach to pregnancy out of wedlock was to shame the parties involved (unfortunately, disproportionally the females). Social stigma is a powerful lever, and it's kept millions of boys and girls from the trap the kids at Timken have fallen into.

Yes, it's painful and uncomfortable and yes, it feels judgmental. But it isn't. It's just an effective imposed consequence, one that has worked for thousands of years. We abandoned it for a variety of wrong-headed reasons, including misplaced compassion. We should bring it back for the kids' sake. They need it more than they need our books and lectures.

Friday, September 09, 2005

An Anxiety Observed No. 3: Emerging

The very day that I took on to write about my anxiety/depression bout, I began to emerge from the other side. It was when I was on the freeway, driving to a Kinko's, and I realized that I felt physically different before I realized that I felt mentally different. I feel tired and wasted now, but with the lightness that comes from a post-workout endorphin high. Very much like that, in fact, which is really odd and may point to the physiological manifestations of the comings and goings of chemical imbalance.

I can feel that my blood pressure is lower, colors seem brighter, and I actually feel relaxed and positive. More normal, in other words.

Man, if just writing about it can make it pass, then I'll be right back here when the dragon casts its shadow.

Fascinating, as Mr. Spock might say.

An Anxiety Observed No. 2

Just one quick new observation: I've found that in addition to having lower energy levels, which I have definitely observed during my workout, I also have a much lower pain threshold. My muscles ached and burned much more quickly than normal. I hadn't noticed it before, probably because when I am in a bout I rarely exercise. But there it is. This study found that there is a relationship with pain and depression insofar as chronic pain can bring on depression, and that the relationship is "possibly reciprocal." Interesting, for what it's worth.

An Anxiety Observed

No man in his right mind should relish such an admission, but I suffer from bouts of anxiety and depression and have my entire life. I'm not proud of it, and I don't want to use it to excuse a single action on my part. I don't identify with it, and I don't want sympathy. I just want it to go away, or at least take away its power over my life.

I first admitted that I had a serious problem with it during a period of extended underemployment in 2001-2002. What I needed to do at the time was make more money, and I found paradoxically that this was the last thing that I could muster up the energy to do. I knew at every level that the simple, commonsense thing to do was to put out more resumes, go on more interviews, and hit the phones to stir something up, but the constant refrain in my mind was "Hopeless, hopeless... Pointless, pointless..." Thank God for Mrs. Zeke, or I probably would have just curled up in a ball and waited for disaster to strike. She suggested that I go seek treatment for it. A few days later, after no more than 15 minutes with a psychiatrist, I had a prescription for Zoloft in hand and a referral to a support group.

So then I'm medicated and sitting in a circle with a bunch of other depressed, angry, and fearful people. One guy said he was still full of rage about September 11th, almost a year later. One woman just hated herself. Another found it exhausting just screwing up the courage to leave the house. I felt relieved to a point that my condition wasn't so desperate, and I appreciated for the first time how difficult it must be for others to live with depressed people. I didn't like being around them, and I was one of them.

That was now about three years ago. I am no longer on the Zoloft; the side effects were unpleasant and constant. It sapped my libido and dulled my enthusiasm even as it dulled my anxiety. Dull doesn't work for me, so I tossed the pills and decided to deal with the bouts in another fashion. A prescription for Ativan followed, and I just took one or two when I felt particularly anxious. The side effect of Ativan was reliable drowsiness, so I ended up using my prescription primarily to help me sleep, and I continued to endure the anxious bouts during the day without medication. My Ativan ran out a few months ago, and I haven't refilled it.

Prior to this week's bout, my last bout was a couple of months ago. Also pretty severe, it ran for about 10 days. I'm on day 6 now.

For those of you who do not have this particular cross to bear, all I can tell you--and I'm not prone to exaggeration--is that it is a special kind of hell. I pride myself on being a pretty commonsense kind of guy, and anxiety and depression are insanity by comparison. Imagine getting consumed by fear of nasty circumstances, and having the most difficult decision being the one that is most likely to remove the fear. I mentioned already my problem with underemployment (which is a nice way of saying I don't make enough money), and there are a thousand things I can do to change that. But its all hopeless, hopeless and pointless, pointless. I don't just think that, I believe it right down to my core. Going through the motions to change it feels like trying to become a prima ballerina. What's the frigging point? The grip this illness has on my mind really is that powerful. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.

Being a Christian adds another dimension to both the illness and the treatment. Is the illness a demonic attack? Is it a manefestation of sin nature, or just my cross to bear? Is prayer all I need to overcome it? If I pray in faith in Jesus' name, can I trust him to remove it? Is this illness present in my life to teach me a lesson? To make me more compassionate? Is a victory in the wings that will serve as a testament to God's work in my life?

I have no answers to any of these questions as I sit here in a funk. All there is is the funk. Just the haze and buzzing in my head. Just me and the chattering monkeys that are the array of my fears.

Still, it helps to talk it out, and if another person reads this post who suffers from this ailment or has a loved one that does, then yeah... maybe it will be helpful to another person and become something more than just cathartic. I sure hope so.

So I'll end this in a common prayer of mine: God, remove this burden from me and heal my mind. But if it's not your will, provide a way for this to become a good thing in my life and the lives of other people. Take what feels like waste and make it treasure for the good of you and the people that you love.

(By the way, the image above comes from the website of artist Zsuszanna Szegedi, and I pimped it without her advance permission. I'm sending her a note now to ask, and if she says no I'll take it back out.)

Hunter Thompson: "No More Fun," So it's Time to Die

Last February bizarro journalist Hunter S. Thompson shot himself. His suicide note was titled, "Football Season is Over." Apparently a huge NFL fan, he like other fans found the February following the Super Bowl to be full of loss now that there were no more football games to watch.

He also just plain didn't like aging:
No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun _ for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age.
Hunter had been in pain from several recent surgeries and had lost a lot of mobility. I know, from watching loved ones age over the years, that a lot of discomfort can come along with the deal. It's loss, frankly. Not as fast, strong, limber, or energetic as before. I can sympathize with that.

But the reasons that Hunter gave for his departure--old age isn't fun and hasn't been since he turned 50--is just ridiculous. I don't want to get into the practice of criticizing the dead, but the fact that this human being considered the worth of his life in terms of how much fun he was having is a tragic waste. And it makes me wonder just how worthwhile his celebrated contributions really were anyway. I endured "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" several years back, and I thought at the time that this was more a sad commentary on wasted talent than it was funny or edgy.

However, I can't escape the logic of his final conclusion: if life is supposed to be about fun, and the fun stops, then life should too. What a sad perspective. What a waste.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Grace on Four Legs

This is my dog Loozy, a constant source of a gumbo of good emotions: peace, comfort, humor, excitement, and simple joy are served up daily. Yes, sometimes she poops and pees in the house. She tries to kill the cats. A couple of times she jumped through our living room windows. Through the glass.

But amidst it all, she has brought us a lot of happiness.

For instance, yesterday during a particularly acute spell of one of my periodic anxiety/depression attacks I walked into the room where she was napping and my blood pressure dropped like a rock. Endorphins flooded my system, and things were okay with the world again. What's that all about, I wondered. What is it about a dog that can change a man's mood on a dime?

And then I hit on it: dogs are grace on four legs. Pure, unequivocal, unconditional acceptance. They love, love, love, and then come back and love some more. They don't care how much money we make, how well we do our jobs, what the other people at church think of us, whether we have had the oil changed in the car, or whether the world will end tomorrow. As long as we are home, they are happy, and if we pet and play with them, give them a treat, or take them for a walk--well, life doesn't get any better than that for a dog.

I am convinced that dogs are a metaphor for us to learn about the impact that grace can have on another human being. How they are with us is how we are supposed to be with each other. Imagine that--what if everyone you met wagged thier metaphorical tail when you looked them in the eye, and if everyone you knew wanted to jump on you and lick your face when you came through the door? What kind of pure joy would that be?

God, give me the awareness, the strength, the courage, the love and grace to be that for other human beings rather than being so tied up in my own personal meaningless nonsense.

Church is So Much Easier When... don't actually know the people you attend with. I went out to lunch yesterday with a couple of fellow board members, and learned that the nice old lady who gives me a kiss every Sunday morning harbors some poisonous grudge against another woman in the church and has been known to make totally inappropriate comments about her in the foyer. Unbelievable.

And then I'm reminded that were there are plenty of things about my life that would come as a total revelation to the people I attend church with. I swear far more than I should, I am a total screwup with my finances, and I harbor thoughts that I don't ever want to share with another soul.

But my real point is that after the awkwardness of discovering unpleasantries about another person, what should prevail is grace. I need it, she needs it, we all need it. God gives it abundantly, and we can and should be conduits of that grace to each other. Confessing the truth about the sins we commit shouldn't invite alienation or condemnation, it should invite grace.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

When Love of Money Strikes

I wonder what to make of the apparent fact that the United States, the world's unquestioned power, is open and susceptible to every kind of criticism from without and within, is the subject of almost regular international and domestic finger-wagging and defiance, and the fact that the US holds such power is hardly cause for concern. Critics are free to criticize. This is how it should be.

And then there's China. When it comes to the billion-man market, countries and companies apparently will bend over backwards to accomodate them out of fear and greed. Oppression, militarism, slave labor, intimidation, all this and more is tolerated by those who have the power to influence and choose not to for their own self-interests.

Take, for just one example, Yahoo! this week. The internet company, desperate to get a foothold in the vast Chinese market, apparently cooperated with Chinese authorities in tracking down a journalist who had posted information on the internet detailing Chinese restrictions on the press. As detailed by the French press watchdog association Reporters Sans Frontiers, Chinese journalist Shi Tao was tracked down by thought police after Yahoo! provided an IP address that linked Tao to the posting of the text of an email from Chinese authorities warning journalists about "the dangers of social destabilisation and risks resulting from the return of certain dissidents on the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre". This information was treated as a state secret. In other words, what the communist government did at Tiananmen Square should not be written about, even 15 years after the fact.

This is evidence enough that the supposed irresistable winds of freedom that would blow away the edifices of state control as the Chinese people become more wealthy and economically free are more like a limp breeze. Companies are proving Lenin's old maxim that they would compete to sell the communists the rope that they would hang the capitalists with, and governments are following right along. And so a corrupt elite rules unquestioningly over the repressed masses.

Thanks, Yahoo!, for helping to make it happen.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Morning Moment

I've been paying attention lately to how I wake up, noticing what the first thoughts are that break into my mind. Discovering that they're generally worrisome, I understand now how I have been setting the pace for my day right in the early moments of awakening. That can only be habit, so I've taken on a discipline to break myself of that habit.

Funny what you notice when you pay attention.