Chronicles in Ordinary Time 59: It isn’t supposed to be this way…

November 24, 2014

sorrow

‘She went into the situation armed with an 8th Grade Biology class and a belief that the world is a decent place…’ from the movie, “trust_” The story is of a 14 year old girl, wanting to be older and less awkward [as we ALL are at that age], who becomes friends with “Charlie”, a compassionate ‘friend’ on a teen chat site. Charlie starts out being 16, but during a couple of months of ‘relationship,’ turns out to be in his late thirties, and he’s a sexual predator.

In the world I grew up in, predators were creatures in movies. The odds of running into a predator in Portland were pretty slim. In Corvallis I learned that predators could live in the dorm with you. A jilted lover who murdered a girl with a knife; and the scarier, in-house ‘security patrol’ who traveled the hallways at night, armed with whatever weapons they had handy. The murderer was a mixed-up kid whose intelligence was larger than his maturity. The farm kids who were out to ‘shoot a varmint’ were more scary, in my mind.

I encountered evil in Eugene.

A brief encounter, probably no more than an hour total. I realized that something other than my physical body was in danger; my soul was being threatened. I know now that my soul wasn’t really in danger; my Creator was at my side; but at the time, I was terrified by a guy dressed in white who apparently had tracked my movements across campus. Without GPS, which didn’t exist.

The Internet is, in my opinion, ‘Free Will, Writ Large’—there really are no limitations on what one can do via the Internet, thanks to the digital revolution that occurred while I wasn’t really watching all that closely. I used to think I was near the forefront of digital illustrators—I started drafting in Wordperfect Draw—something similar to Microsoft Paint, but more versatile. I still use some old graphics programs that are similar to GIMP; the ‘magic’ in digital art comes from the .psd file—computerspeak that allows one to create multiple transparent layers in a single image. The digital version of Walt Disney’s illustrators & animators creating paintings on transparent plastic sheets. I watched a Pixar biography tonight, and realized that I was doing a tiny version of their own experimentation with my own work. Seeing how far I could stretch the abilities of ones & zeroes to create an image. However, in the time that I was experimenting while trying to earn an income, digital art blew right past me. The growth of ideas has become exponential; as a result, incredible achievements are being accomplished by brilliant teenagers who don’t have the patience for the classroom. As a result, an intelligent child can learn how to create a bomb. A not-so-intelligent child can learn how to brutalize people more effectively…

We now live in a world where everyone is everywhere all the time; and the outcomes, sometimes, aren’t so good. Beheadings in the Middle East have been occurring for millennia; today they are filmed and broadcast around the world as public statements. A kid with access to a computer can learn all of the things their parents did not want them to know until they were mature enough to handle the psychological trauma that can accompany such knowledge. Our government can spy on us in ways that we never imagined; and there really isn’t a concept of privacy any longer. There will probably come a day when people’s DNA information is put on file at birth; ‘for our protection’. Police have DNA matches on serial criminals they cannot find, because they don’t know who the DNA belongs to; they simply know that the DNA belongs to a person who is a predator.

I am a follower of Jesus Christ, the Creator of the Universe poured into a human being, to the extent that a human being can hold Eternity and Infinity. I believe that the incarnation of Christ happened so that we could have a picture of what a life of Grace and Love and Freedom could be like. There are a lot of theological beliefs that accompany that picture; at the moment, I’m thinking about all of the evil that exists in the world. Most of that evil comes from people not that unlike ourselves. How can a “Loving God” allow such evil to occur? Where would a “Loving God” stop that behavior from occurring? Today I also watched a biography of Richard Pryor, whose father was a pimp who abandoned his family; whose mother was a prostitute; and who was raised by his grandmother, the owner of the brothel where his mother worked. Pryor’s comedy was ‘white bread’ until the seventies; when the young people of my generation started protesting the hypocrisy that was rampant in American society. I remember the conversations in college. The anticipated outcome from our ‘honesty’ was NOT a society where the government is run by corporate America, for the benefit of corporate America. Ironically, Wall Street was fed by the ‘entrepreneurs’ of my generation, who learned that morality can simply be a word that some people use to get what they want.

But it wasn’t supposed to be that way.

One of my mentors, Steve Brown, posted this on his website:
“The law reflects the parameters of God’s desire—not the parameters of his love. When those two get confused, then the law is used improperly.”

The Law of Moses and the subsequent books of the Bible were written to show us how things could work; teaching a society of slaves to live as a free people. One of the reasons that the Creator did not want the Israelite people to have the King that they wanted, in order to live like other people, was ‘you won’t like the outcome.’ Jesus was born around the time when the Roman Empire was at its height; and the Roman system of roads could provide reasonably safe passage through much of the world. Once again showing people a Way of Life. Foolish creatures that we are, we turned it into Rules for Living. Free Will does not like Rules. We aren’t meant to live under Rules; we are meant to live under Freedom; freedom that does not exploit the freedom of others.

 

 

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 58: The Examined Life

November 24, 2014

valley of the shadow_crop

Yesterday, I thought I’d seen it all
I thought I’d climbed the highest wall
Now I see the learning never ends
And all I know to do is keep on walking
Walking ’round the bend singing

Why, why, why
Does it go this way
And why, why, why
And all I can say

Is somewhere down the road
There’ll be answers to the questions
And somewhere down the road
Tho’ we cannot see it now

Somewhere down the road
You will find mighty arms reaching for you
And they will hold the answers
At the end of the road

Oh, keep on walking

Somewhere Down the Road Amy Grant, Wayne Kirkpatrick

“Someone will say: Yes, Socrates, but cannot you hold your tongue, and then you may go into a foreign city, and no one will interfere with you? Now I have great difficulty in making you understand my answer to this. For if I tell you that this would be a disobedience to a divine command, and therefore that I cannot hold my tongue, you will not believe that I am serious; and if I say that the greatest good of a man is daily to converse about virtue, and all that concerning which you hear me examining myself and others, and that the life which is unexamined is not worth living — that you are still less likely to believe.”

Plato, Apology

Possibly the one advantage to living with pain for several decades is that it has given me a lot of time for examining my life. When all one can do is get horizontal in the dark, and hope that whatever method of pain relief one is using will kick in soon, one has a lot of time to think… I’ve spent a lot of time examining my life, and I have decided to cultivate faith in things that many people are unable to see; ideas they can’t understand.

One of the things I’ve learned is that I can’t fix people. The most that I can do is provide an environment where ‘fixing’ can occur, if someone is inclined to becoming ‘fixed’. Most of the time, we aren’t even aware of being broken. I think there are probably a lot of house pets that would object to the concept that the trip to the veterinarian ‘fixed’ something that wasn’t broken. It was merely inconvenient. ‘Fixing’ a human is far more complicated than some minor surgery.

I started realizing that the world is really messed up while I was in high school. High School, particularly an all-male high school in the sixties, was so different from high school today. At a guy’s high school in the sixties, if a food fight developed in the cafeteria, a coach simply went up to one of his players throwing food, and decked him. End of food fight. No counseling, no lawyers, no fuss. There were switchblades in my high school, and chemistry students making explosives [contact explosive on the legs of the teacher’s desk, which went off when the teacher slammed his briefcase onto his desk—probably the last time he ever did that to get his class’s attention].

During my senior year, I started reading stuff I never would have thought to read, and had to start writing essays on “Appearance vs. Reality as Demonstrated in Kafka and Camus.” I was also introduced to transcendence, in the form of “The Man of La Mancha”:

“I shall impersonate a man. His name is Alonso Quijana, a country squire no longer young. Being retired, he has much time for books. He studies them from morn till night and often through the night and morn again, and all he reads oppresses him; fills him with indignation at man’s murderous ways toward man. He ponders the problem of how to make better a world where evil brings profit and virtue none at all; where fraud and deceit are mingled with truth and sincerity. He broods and broods and broods and broods and finally his brains dry up. He lays down the melancholy burden of sanity and conceives the strangest project ever imagined – -to become a knight-errant, and sally forth into the world in search of adventures; to mount a crusade; to raise up the weak and those in need. No longer will he be plain Alonso Quijana, but a dauntless knight known as Don Quixote de La Mancha.”
“I’ve been a soldier and a slave. I’ve seen my comrades fall in battle or die more slowly under the lash in Africa. I’ve held them in my arms at the final moment. These were men who saw life as it is, yet they died despairing. No glory, no brave last words, only their eyes, filled with confusion, questioning “Why?” I don’t think they were wondering why they were dying, but why they had ever lived. When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? To surrender dreams – -this may be madness; to seek treasure where there is only trash. Too much sanity may be madness! But maddest of all – -to see life as it is and not as it should be.”

Being mostly a geek through my childhood and high school, my behavior stayed within certain boundaries because life worked better within those boundaries. In college, I learned that there really aren’t any boundaries. By the end of my sophomore year, I spent a lot of time in depression—like Senor Quihana, my brains began to ‘dry up’ as I witnessed man’s inhumanity to man in Vietnam, and in Chicago, and at Kent State… “When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? To surrender dreams–this may be madness; to seek treasure where there is only trash. Too much sanity may be madness! But maddest of all-–to see life as it is and not as it should be.”

During my third year, at a different college, I discovered my Creator; and I learned that the idea of ‘life as it should be’ wasn’t simply some sort of behavior that my parents had tried to instill in me. One can instill behavior in another person, either in a positive way, or by coercion. To discover a way of living life that transcended behavior, and for me, was the beginning of a journey on ‘the road less traveled’. The vast majority seek a different road.

There are two people in my life who I wish I could help. “Help” in this context means to see life through my perspective. Seeing life through my eyes would not ‘fix’ them; their bodies betray them in ways that are similar to my 30+ years of pain. I’d like them to know that there is a reserve. That no matter how many times they find themselves stumbling on their paths, no matter how many wolves are waiting in the wings, Goodness and Mercy are always following them, protecting their souls. I believe their souls are protected, even if they don’t believe they have souls. Somewhere down the road, they will learn this. In the span of Eternity, our lives here, no matter how broken, are like the blink of an eye. We are as eternal as the stardust from which we are created.

Created. Such a strange concept in today’s scientific world. We learn so much and the learning costs us perspective. The explanations imply that we are machines of some sort, with predictable outcomes. We grow from the joining of two microscopic cells, in much the same manner as all life on this planet exists. Because we are grown, rather than manufactured, there are flaws; there are limitations. I believe that enough generations have passed to cause more flaws to occur. There has been enough contamination to the original strains that more of us are susceptible to breakage; more of us that experience life as it was not intended to be. Bad design? Perhaps. Perhaps it is simply that the raw materials are so fallible. And we are taught that life can be guaranteed. It can only be guaranteed to bring trouble.

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 57: we are all mortal

October 8, 2014

“Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet.
We all breathe the same air.
We all cherish our children’s future.
And we are all mortal.”
John F. Kennedy

My daughter-in-law [11 days from now] has cancer. Surgery has just been done; more treatment will be required. Being diagnosed with cancer, a month before one’s wedding, is bad; major surgery 12 days before the wedding dampens the joy a bride and groom are supposed to be able to feel at this time. Fortunately, further treatment can wait until after the wedding. The discussions with oncologists may not be able to wait… It’s challenging to think about the joy of weddings—two families becoming one larger family—in the midst of cancer.

“In 2014, an estimated 232,670 new cases of invasive breast cancer were expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 62,570 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer.”
http://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/understand_bc/statistics

A friend of mine, who started as a client, is in remission from liver cancer; and his current health challenge may be a result of his treatment. He is angry with god; he doesn’t accept the idea of a god who allows people to suffer. For me, the problem with his concept is that the Creator doesn’t create cancer. We do. We, the human race; specifically the human race in the 20th Century… we are a cancer.

“Cancer is a group of diseases characterized by uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells…”
http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@epidemiologysurveilance/documents/document/acspc-036845.pdf

Uncontrolled growth and the spread of abnormality. Not that I’m a big fan of ‘normal’…

we are all mortal

Over two thousand nuclear weapons have been exploded in our shared atmosphere or in our shared oceans or in the earth itself. Particulate matter from these tests falls onto the soil of the earth, or upon the surface of the oceans.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJe7fY-yowk

“As of 1993, worldwide, 520 atmospheric nuclear explosions (including 8 underwater) have been conducted with a total yield of 545 Megaton(mt); while the estimated number of underground nuclear tests conducted in the period from 1957 to 1992 is 1,352 explosions with a total yield of 90 Mt.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_nuclear_weapons_tests

In World War II cities of Germany and Japan were fire-bombed by allied forces.

“In a meeting with the Chiefs of Staff Committee, Air Vice Marshall Harris enunciated his boss’s policy: “We shall destroy Germany’s will to fight. Now that we have the planes and crews, in 1943 and 1944 we shall drop one and a quarter million tons of bombs, render 25 million Germans homeless, kill 900,000 and seriously injure one million.”
“The bombers pounded Germany with 48,000 tons of explosives in 1942, and with another 207,600 tons in 1943. Night attacks escalated, targeting Germany’s most populous regions: the Ruhr, March to June, 1943; Hamburg, July to November, 1943; Berlin, November, 1943 to March, 1944…”
http://www.century-of-flight.net/Aviation%20history/WW2/bombing%20raids.htm

German forces, determined to stamp out ‘undesirables’ destroyed Warsaw.

“The city must completely disappear from the surface of the earth and serve only as a transport station for the Wehrmacht. No stone can remain standing. Every building must be razed to its foundation.”
—SS chief Heinrich Himmler, October 17, 1944, SS officers’ conference
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planned_destruction_of_Warsaw

Cancer does not come from the Creator.

 

According to the laws of physics, there is no darkness; there is the absence of light. There is no cold; there is the absence of heat.
Perhaps there is no evil on earth, only the absence of goodness. There is a spiritual side to evil, and there is a greater spiritual side to goodness. However, physics has little to say on this subject.

Somehow we assume that our planet is self-sustaining; that all of the debris from thousands of bombs is somehow cleaned from the atmosphere. The garbage in our air does not go into space; it goes into the soil and into the oceans.

However, we have also polluted that part of space inhabited by our planet. This is essentially the same view of the earth as the idealized view above. The planet earth is in the center, underneath the dots:

space debris

Debris plot by NASA. A computer-generated image of objects in Earth orbit that are currently being tracked. Approximately 95% of the objects in this illustration are orbital debris, i.e., not functional satellites. The dots represent the current location of each item.

Chernobyl, Fukushima, Three-Mile Island. Chemical pollution, depletion of the ozone layer, those who believe that mankind is not significant enough to affect the environment.

If God is all-powerful, why doesn’t he stop us from doing all the damage we do?

Where would he start? Stop all of the scientists who learned to split the atom? Stop all of the generals, all of the politicians who feel power is more important than people? Stop all of the children who pull legs and wings from insects, for their own amusement?
We were created with Free Will—the ability to make choices about what we do. The science community, who in their search for knowledge decide to do that which is very unwise to do. The military leaders who decide that ‘collateral damage’ creates ‘acceptable losses’ in wartime. Leaders who decide that carpet-bombing is the most effective method of dealing with civilian militia on ‘the other side.’ There are no more ‘non-combatants’.

Greed, addiction to power. “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

In one century, mankind in his ‘wisdom’ brought the world to the brink of destruction during the Cold War [which really hasn’t ended], have destroyed huge amounts of wilderness, plowed-away the American plains, caused the extinction of thousands of creatures on land and on the sea and in the air. In today’s news, war rages over much of the earth; ebola is killing thousands of people; with no end in sight. During the 20th Century, political and ideological zealots killed hundreds of millions of people for not looking at the world in the same way that the zealots see. Fourteen years into the 21st Century, I don’t see much improvement.

I am becoming of the opinion that most of the behavioral injunctions written in Scripture were the Creator’s effort to enable the human race to survive long enough to create the wonders that have come about in the last 114 years.

Wonders are being created every day. We just have to make the time to see them.

Some quotations to end with:

It has become appallingly clear that our technology has surpassed our humanity.
Albert Einstein

Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.
Helen Keller

Everything difficult indicates more than our theory of life embraces.
George MacDonald

 

 

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 56: The Value of Altruism

September 19, 2014

“Before the names Theodore, Eleanor, and Franklin were indelibly etched into the American consciousness and the course of human history was forever changed by their individual endeavors, a prominent family made a point of teaching the value of altruism, the power of perseverance, and the virtue of helping out one’s fellow man.”

Ken Burns’ The Roosevelts: an Intimate History

TR
I’ve been enthralled, watching Ken Burns’ “The Roosevelts: an Intimate History” on PBS. TR has been one of my heroes for years; and the above drawing does not really do him justice. I will probably try it again at a later date.

While I hate to admit it, I don’t always ‘hit the bull’s eye” when I create drawings. This one is my first pencil drawing in the last month; maybe less. I’ve been working digitally since then. If I don’t draw regularly, I get rusty. I’m working on a new set of illustrations for a children’s book; so it’s time to get the ‘oil’ back into the joints…

Theodore Roosevelt was a complex man; from a complex family. Born with severe asthma, doctors didn’t expect him to live past his fourth year. His father, Theodore Sr., was unwilling to allow this to happen. As an infant he carried Theodore night after night, so that TR could sleep vertically and breathe more easily. His father drove him through the streets of Manhattan at night, at high speed, to force air into his lungs. When TR was a boy, his father encouraged him to work out in a gymnasium in his home; forcing his chest to expand. When, as President, he was shot in the chest by a would-be assassin, his doctor stated that he’d never seen a man with chest so well developed. The bullet was lodged less than one-quarter inch from his heart as TR gave an hour-long speech to a hushed crowd. He had checked to see that his lung wasn’t punctured; the rest was simply ‘leaking’ that needed to get plugged, when appropriate…

One historian states that if TR was a child today, he’d probably be given Ritalin, and would become a terrific car salesman, and we’d never hear from him. TR was a flawed man; many of his beliefs conflict with 21st Century ideals. The irony is that he set the stage for many of our 21st Century beliefs. He was an imperialist; he earnestly believed that America had a place on the world stage; comparable to the British, French and Spanish Empires, that still existed in his time. He read 1-3 books per day. He could recite from those books, 5 years later. As a college student he became an expert on the Naval War of 1812. He had immersed himself in world literature, and developed the belief that Warfare was the place where man achieved Glory. The histories of war are always written by the winner. As World War I killed his youngest son, and severely injured his other sons, he learned about the personal cost of War to the families of the soldiers. He learned that War is not Glory.

Theodore Roosevelt Sr. taught his son that those who were privileged in society had the obligation to use their wealth for the benefit of those who were not as fortunate. The wealthy should invest themselves in the Arts and Sciences, since society does not realize the value of the Arts and Sciences to society. TR became one of the foremost Naturalists of his time. TR changed the face of politics in America. Politicians in the 19th Century were considered a class of society with which a Gentleman did not spend time; TR had decided he wanted to belong among the Governing class of people. He believed that the virtue of helping out one’s fellow man was a ‘divine calling’ for a person of privilege.

TR’s cousin Franklin idolized him; and wanted to emulate TR as much as possible. TR could easily have served three or more terms as President; he chose to make a promise to the American public he later regretted–after his election to what was substantially a second term in office, he promised he would not run again for another term. George Washington served two terms in office; it was considered ‘improper’ to serve more terms than the nation’s founder. After one term served by his hand-picked successor, TR decided to enter Presidential politics once again, splitting the Republican vote with his Bull Moose/Progressive party, awarding the Presidency to Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat. While TR became a ‘persona non Gratia’ in the Republican Party in 1912, there was talk of TR running again as a Republican in 1920; the year in which he died; an old man who had never fully recovered from a near-death foolish expedition in South America.

The Roosevelt name became one of the most revered and most hated names in American politics. I am now benefiting, in a new way, from Franklin’s belief in the virtue of helping out one’s fellow man, in that I now am a recipient of Social Security Income. The American people owe Social Security, Medicare, Unemployment Compensation, Minimum Wage/Maximum hours and dozens of other benefits to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. A huge portion of the American landscape exists today as a tribute to the Roosevelt Presidencies.

I am still figuring out what a ‘semi-retired’ life as a partially-disabled person looks like. I owe too many people too much money for me to stop working; but I can now be more selective in the work I take on. Travel is difficult; my lack of sensory nerves in my mouth make ‘culinary experiences’ somewhat lost on me. One of my sons is a Sous Chef, a maker of what I understand are outstanding dishes. Sadly, to me, it is simply ‘food’. His skills are wasted on my appetite.

This is not the ‘retirement’ I imagined, when I bothered to imagine. However, it’s the hand I’ve been dealt; and I have a choice as to how I live out this life.

and the monstrous creatures of whales

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 56: Incredible Friends

September 12, 2014

new faces“New” faces; mostly from my latest project, “The Book Lover” by Roger Burke; due to be in print by the end of the month. Someone has written that the eyes are the windows of the soul; they’re probably right. I find myself fascinated with faces. If the eyes are the windows, then perhaps the faces are the window treatments; how the individuals decorate their souls…
I returned from Colorado at the beginning of the week; a 2200 mile round trip, living out of my mini-van for a couple of weeks. A few nights in motels. Some Colorado germs apparently finished their incubation while I was driving home; the Sunday stretch from Baker City to Portland is sort of a blur. Monday I ‘died’ on the living room couch, watching movies. Now, Friday, I feel over the worst of the illness; but it’s still time to give my right arm a rest—tendonitis. Too much awkward mousing; too many boxes lifted.
2200 miles provides a lot of time for listening to music; I don’t pay attention to the number of hours. A key to Life Success: time is only important when you choose for it to be. Not all time is equally important. Sometimes time is irrelevant. Another Life Key: I’m fairly selective about my audio entertainment while driving; I long ago came to the understanding that music—audio input—is “brain food”. I listen to music that helps me become who I want to be, rather than listening to music that simply reflects our culture; music that someone wants to sell.
From Todd Agnew’s “My Jesus”
‘Cause my Jesus would never be accepted in my church
The blood and dirt on His feet might stain the carpet
But He reaches for the hurting and despises the proud
And I think He’d prefer Beale St. to the stained glass crowd
And I know that He can hear me if I cry out loud

Helping someone move from one home to another is probably a true test of friendship; those who show up, and those who don’t. There were many who didn’t show up; a handful that did. I spent a couple of days working alongside two amazing people; busy farmers that dropped their lives for a few days, bent plans around, and did more than could reasonably be expected. I’ve only seen this dedication in the context of ‘church’ or ‘mission’ or ‘Scouts’. People who believe that by serving they are doing the work of the Creator; using Jesus as the example of the true Servant.
JT and her foreman “would never be accepted in my church”…nor would they want to be. I don’t know their stories, but ‘church’ isn’t anything like their world. Much like myself 40 years ago. A lot of ‘trash talk,’ a lot of profanity; that in itself doesn’t particularly bother me, I spent a lot of years in the construction industry. For most people, words are fairly meaningless. From my perspective, their efforts were True Grace on legs; from their perspective it was mostly because they knew that the family we were helping would do the same for them, if needed. Friendship built over a lot of years. Perhaps it’s more of a rural phenomenon; the concept of helping a friend simply because ‘that’s what one does, for a friend.” Having spent most of my life in a metropolitan environment, it seems rather odd. But I generally don’t go out of my way to interact with people. When I go to such lengths, it’s because I realize that this is what Jesus would do, odd as that seems to outsiders.
Parenting can open one’s eyes. Doesn’t happen automatically, it seems that many are ‘blind.’ I have three adult children who are following paths I didn’t expect, when they were kids. “Church” isn’t necessarily an important part of their lives—three kids, three distinct relationships with their Creator. None of them see the Creator in the way that my wife and I do; and I probably won’t understand that until I’m Home. Faith is a gift of Grace; I got God-smacked when I was in my twenties; they either ducked or didn’t need to. Life without the Creator doesn’t make any sense to me; and I never would have believed that I would say that, back in the fall of 1972, a Junior in College. I’ve been learning not to compare my life with others; a difficult thing to accomplish.
Cold hearted orb that rules the night,
removes the colours from our sight.
Red is grey, and yellow, white,
but we decide which is right,
and which is an illusion.
“Morning Glory,” The Moody Blues

My wife and I raised three incredible adults; and they have found some fairly incredible friends. A rare commodity in this world.

LAURELHURST PARK

 

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 55: Defining Ourselves

August 17, 2014

Medicine BottleI wrote about this subject not long ago; [Chronicles in Ordinary Time 47: Black Care] I still don’t have any answers. So why am I writing about it again…
A comic genius died this week, a man who was one year and eleven days older than I am. A man I’ve never met; a man I’ve spent hundreds of hours with over the last 40 years. A man who made me laugh. Making me laugh isn’t all that easy.
Parkinson’s apparently was the straw that broke his will. Or not; ‘why’ probably isn’t our need to know.

For “15 minutes” the American public is going to be all concerned about depression. It’s a normal response; how one responds to a situation that is foreign, not part of our experience; one doesn’t really understand, and one can’t fix it. My guess is that if they are like myself, people suffering from Depression don’t talk about it all that much. I talk about it here, because this place is fairly anonymous; I could be a 14 year-old teenage girl… But I’m not.

I’m watching “Pay It Forward” as I write; probably not the best movie to watch when I’m in this kind of space. Or maybe it is… Haley Joel Osment just asked, “Is the world just shit?” And he just found out that it isn’t, always. There are lights in the darkness.

I’ve been on anti-depressants since the 80s or the 90s; for most of that time, I’ve thought of them as something that helps me sleep. I can prove it by the dosage I take. But, they’re still a chemical that affects the brain; they’re still an anti-depressant. Prozac got added, a year or so ago; maybe two years. This one I know is for the Depression.

Why is the Depression here? I do not know. My kids don’t know this, I never talk about it. I had an alcoholic uncle; he was a real SOB. A very controlling Dad; my kids know about him. Implies something about my grandparents. Genes.  How much of what we are is genetic? I think maybe we aren’t controlled by our genes. I think they are a powerful influence, but I think we can be larger than our genes. Sometimes it requires some assistance.

I think some people are too scared, or something. I guess it’s hard for people who are so used to things the way they are – even if they’re bad – to change. ‘Cause they kind of give up. And when they do, everybody kind of loses.” Pay It Forward [2000]

I believe we can be more than our genes because I have had some success in getting past myself; getting outside of myself. Being the person I am, I’m going to attribute this to the Spirit of the Creator at work in my life. I’ve never been seriously suicidal. Meaning, I’ve never made an attempt. I’ve contemplated it a lot over the years; I know how I’d like to do it, if I ever got there. With my body “dissolving” the idea tends to seem more worthwhile…The ‘problem’ is, that there’s always a new day when I wake up. This should not be presumed to mean that I wake up in the morning feeling good; I suppose the event may have happened some time in the past, beyond my memory [and I just remembered an instance]. There were mornings at our family cabin. My bed was under the roof, at the end of the stair opening; from my bed I could see the fireplace. In the morning I would wake up to the sound of a crackling fire, the smell of woodsmoke, the knowledge that my grandfather was following his normal routine of making the morning fire to heat the cabin…

For years I’ve awakened each morning feeling crummy; my CPAP machine hasn’t helped. While each new day feels bad, I know from past experience that this probably isn’t the way I’ll feel all of the day. Some days it’s most of the day, and those days are the difficult ones. I get through these days because I am aware that the alternative will hurt my family; and that isn’t an acceptable solution.

I was writing a friend the other night; while writing, I described myself as a sort of ‘monk’. A monk with a wife, with kids and a home and a job. My wife added the label, “a Contemplative.” That works, too. A long time ago I gave my life back to my Creator; an odd thing for an atheist to do. I’ve made an effort to not become religious; and in spite of my efforts, I seem to have become really ‘spiritual’ compared to the people I know, that don’t give much thought to spiritual matters. I find myself coming away from conversations about Life, asking myself, ‘how did I become so darn spiritual?’ It certainly wasn’t my intention. And since I don’t have any answers, unlike so many religious people I’ve known over the years, it seems like an inappropriate allocation of ‘spiritual’. I sort of think of myself as being similar to Ellis Peters’ “Cadfael”—the soldier who became a monk in the 1100s, having grown tired of war during the Crusades—but I know nothing about herbs, and have never seen a murdered body; and I’m not very adept at solving mysteries. But I think about ‘God-stuff’ all the time. Being a commercial artist by trade gives one a lot of time to think. A lot of art is repetitive, and it doesn’t require continual thought to accomplish a task.

I’m doing Physical Therapy to help with the effects of the neuropathy; I’ve never been a guy who is into fitness. I find that I’m needing to ‘write’ a new definition for myself. I’m a guy who has defined myself by my work for four decades; willing to abuse my body to accomplish work-goals. That definition isn’t working anymore. I’ve purposely stopped looking for new work, in preparation for ‘retirement’—whatever that means. I can’t yet imagine not working.  I think it means that I’m going to start working only on projects I’m interested in, rather than taking whatever project comes along that will pay something. And I’m learning how to get interested in taking care of my body. I know that I’m supposed to reverse the last two sentences.

I do most of what I do by routine; if I have a routine, I don’t need to think about it all that much. So now I’m working on making new routines; and it’s amazing, when I step out of myself, to see how difficult it is to make new routines. And how difficult it is to think of myself as the guy who takes better care of myself…

 

Della p7dwg

 

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 54: “Souls on Board”

August 4, 2014

people collage 2

No one talks about souls anymore. Like all generalizations, this one is to some degree inaccurate. Passenger carriers—ships, airlines, etc.—still use the term to describe numbers of people on board; surprisingly, a Google search doesn’t really provide answers as to why.

Science-oriented folk, particularly those with a dislike of religion, tend to say that we don’t have souls because there is no scientific proof for the soul. Urban legends aside, no one has measured the weight of a soul, and a soul can’t really be detected by modern science. Therefore, the soul can’t exist; right?
X-rays didn’t ‘exist’ until 1895, when Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen “produced and detected electromagnetic radiation in a wavelength range today that was known as X-rays or Röntgen rays, an achievement that earned him the first Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901”. [wikipedia]
Except that x-rays have existed as long as the electromagnetic spectrum has existed. We just weren’t aware of them. I find it interesting that in the first chapter of Genesis, Torah states that the Creator created light before creating the sun. Visible light is one portion of the electromagnetic spectrum; wherever the electromagnetic spectrum exists, light exists.

C.S. Lewis wrote that we are not bodies with a soul, we are souls with a body. Years ago I spent time with people who talked about how we aren’t bodies with a brain, we are a brain with a body. Consequently, we are souls with a brain and a body. If souls exist, and are eternal, then they really are different than our time-bound bodies. Is it probable that we can really understand the concept of an eternal soul? Perhaps our brains are merely the interface between our very physical bodies, and our very non-physical souls. Perhaps it is simply human arrogance that we think we can understand the workings of the universe.

I spend a lot of time thinking about things like this. I distract myself from thinking about the pain my body experiences, by thinking about stuff. I use music as well, and movies; if I’m awake, there is a soundtrack. In reality, there’s a soundtrack 24/7 in my house. I have music playing all the time. In theory I can’t hear it when I sleep—the office is too far away from my bed; in theory maybe I hear the music even then. The sound drowns out the whining in my head caused by tinnitus—the ‘gift’ I received from spending too many years as a foolish contractor using power tools without hearing protection. The lyrics of songs also become the means by which I ‘program’ my brain—upgrading my software. There was a time when I had silence in my life; one of my delights while my sons were in Boy Scouts was walking down to whatever body of water was present at the summer camp, and watching the stars, listening to the silence. The worse the tinnitus got, the less enjoyable the experience of sky-watching.
Movies help drown out the ‘noise’ of aching joints, aching bones; the sharp pains that come when neurons act out.

One of today’s movies was “Hereafter,” Clint Eastwood’s exploration of the ‘white light’ phenomenon associated with near-death experiences. The ‘text’ of the story is that the idea that when the ‘plug is pulled, the lights go out’ is inadequate. Something exists beyond life as we know it. There isn’t a lot of scientific proof [although the dialog hints at more scientific evidence than I’ve heard about]; but there is a preponderance of experiential evidence.
For myself, I have no doubts about the existence of my soul. I was aware of my soul before I’d even heard of a soul. In my early twenties, during the seventies, my soul was troubled by the hatred and fear I found in our society; a hatred and fear I hadn’t known about as a kid. I spent lots of hours grieving over the emptiness in our society that I hadn’t known about before I started thinking about more than myself. When I asked the Creator into my life, it was a matter of that emptiness becoming filled.

My soul is troubled by the violence and hatred in today’s world…The “top stories” on BBC World News are that today is the 100th Anniversary of the beginning of World War I; and the co-existing facts that Israel’s attacks on Gaza have resulted in the deaths of 1800 Palestinians, mostly women and children; and the deaths of 66 Israelis, mostly soldiers. A ‘fitting’ testimony, in my mind… We never seem to learn that death doesn’t solve life.

String Theorists suggest that there are 11 dimensions compared with the three we know from geometry plus time. I am of the opinion that one of these dimensions is a dimension of the soul; a dimension that has no clear meaning for us today. The fact that we don’t understand does not mean that these other dimensions do not exist, any more than x-rays didn’t ‘exist’ in 1890. We just aren’t able to see them.

Through hardships to the stars

 

 

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 53: The Nothing

July 22, 2014

I’m addicted to movies; I have been for nearly as long as I can remember. My two favorite places to be, when I was a child, were the family cabin in the foothills of Mount Hood; and the movie theater. While I devoured books, I also loved to see the illustrations come to life on the silver screen. I became an illustrator because I was born at the end of the Golden Age of Illustration, when ‘adult’ books came with illustrations. The works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Jules Verne, Howard Pyle, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Illustrators like N.C. Wyeth, Frederick Remington, and countless others. My hope was to join that fraternity of illustrators who brought the Classics to life. I’ve come close, in that I illustrated a Korean version of a Sherlock Holmes story, “A Scandal in Bohemia.” I hoped for others; the company went out of business.

Scandal_P21Watson, Holmes, and “The Woman,” Irene Adler

 Our granddaughter visited us from Colorado, for close to a month. We haven’t been around her for that length of time since she was 3 years old; she’ll be 12 soon. Among the movies that was watched was the 1980’s classic, The NeverEnding Story. I have always been touched by the dialog at the end of the film:

G’mork: Foolish boy. Don’t you know anything about Fantasia? It’s the world of human fantasy. Every part, every creature of it, is a piece of the dreams and hopes of mankind. Therefore, it has no boundaries.
Atreyu: But why is Fantasia dying, then?
G’mork: Because people have begun to lose their hopes and forget their dreams. So the Nothing grows stronger.
Atreyu: What is the Nothing?
G’mork: It’s the emptiness that’s left. It’s like a despair, destroying this world. And I have been trying to help it.
Atreyu: But why?
G’mork: Because people who have no hopes are easy to control; and whoever has the control… has the power!
Atreyu: Who are you, really?
G’mork: I am the servant of the power behind the Nothing. I was sent to kill the only one who could have stopped the Nothing…

We suffer the attacks of The Nothing—the killer of hopes and dreams. My neurological challenges are an example of the Nothing. The Nothing is nearly everywhere one looks; and one has to make a special effort to see that The Nothing hasn’t killed off all of the hopes and dreams. The high school girl who invented a flashlight powered by the heat of one’s hand…towers in the desert that will one day be filled with water, sucked out of the air…the earth is also teeming with dreams that can come true, if they are allowed to flourish.

One of our most treasured National Monuments stands in New York Harbor:

Liberty“Mother of Exiles.”

I am the son and grandson of immigrants to this country. My mother was born in Norway, my paternal grandmother’s parents were still speaking Swedish when they baptized their daughter here in Portland. My paternal grandfather’s line goes back to Nottingham, England, back in the 1600’s.

Being a son of the American Legion, and all of the God and Country messages that go with that heritage, I grew up respecting that statue in New York harbor; welcoming those who came from Europe, Africa, and lands to the East. Some, more welcome than others…

Those who keep track of such statistics report that there are over 50 Million refugees on this planet, the largest number since World War II. Half of these refugees are children, many of whom will end up in the human trafficking “industry”. Thousands of these children are reaching our border from Central America; that portion of the Americas that our government has been screwing with for decades, helping to overthrow democratically-elected governments that weren’t to ‘our’ liking…As with all of our “Wars On…” we have created problems, rather than solving them.

I was discussing this with a friend last week, who mentioned the importance of protecting our borders; and how when our country can’t even feed our own people, we can’t afford to feed refugees.

It isn’t that our country can’t feed our citizens; the reality is that those with the power to do so WON’T do what it takes to feed our citizens, to create jobs that will enable the populace to thrive. The Stock Market is at all-time highs; Robert Downey Jr. [“Iron Man”] is the highest paid actor in Hollywood, earning $75 Million/year to make comic book movies.

There are close to 400 Billionaires in the US. #100 owns around $4 Billion. Each of these individuals could donate/collaborate/invest $1 Billion [I hear that it’s possible to get by on $3 Billion], and create a $100 Billion fund from which new companies could be created; companies that would create something like the WPA and CCC, and rebuild our country’s infrastructure. The problem isn’t lack of money, the problem is lack of WILL.

I have trouble with the concept that this country of immigrants is just too selfish to open its doors to refugee children; children who didn’t volunteer to be born into the slums, ghettos and gang-infested countries of this continent. Gangs that were trained in American jails before they were deported. The selfishness isn’t on the part of the people; the selfishness is that of those who have the power to create positive change, but don’t have the guts to do it.

There are those who mention the concept of “pitchforks and torches” as a way to facilitate change. I can’t think of any way in which pitchforks will actually work. Homeland Security now has its own arsenal.

Ashes of Hiroshima

 

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 52: Secret Identities

June 12, 2014

heroes1Secret Identities.  We all know about them. All of our childhood [fictional] heroes had secret identities in order to protect their families and friends, and to avoid a source of moral blackmail.
So what about the rest of us?
I grew up with these heroes; they were my role models. I had working parents, my first babysitter was a rectangular box with a fuzzy black & white screen. I spent more time with these heroes than with my family.

So why do I have a secret identity?
I’ve never been very heroic, I’ve never feared for my family, based on my heroic exploits.
I’m just not very fond of people.
I like persons. Over a long period of time, I’ve learned that you only get to know persons by putting up with people. It was awful for a long time. Some days it’s still awful. But not for as long, and not to the same degree.
When I was a building contractor, in my 20’s and early 30’s, I hid my identity behind a beard; supposedly it made me look older, but in retrospect, it made me look scruffy.

I got into sales. I studied personality, sociology, psychology and  self-esteem for years. Tapes and books whenever I wasn’t working at my job. I wore a suit. Shaved the beard, got haircuts regularly. My secret identity. Clark Kent, hiding Superman.
After a few years, I finally realized that I was viewing people as prospects and potential customers; not as persons. In the process of becoming a better me, I found out that I really wasn’t becoming a better me.
I dropped the suit; didn’t visit Marsha as regularly for my haircuts [she’s been cutting my hair for 30 years]. I tried to be more real with people, and to listen to what they were saying. To get a glimpse of their Secret Identity.

My Secret Identity today?
Mikey bushesMikey. My inner child. The kid who embraces zip lines and COPE courses; the kid who gets in squirt gun fights with other kids; the kid who plays with kids. The Secret Identity working in reverse. Clark Kent protecting Superman.

Another school shooting today; another ‘random act of violence’ here in my home town. And all of the ranting about guns and ammunition; and very little public ranting about broken souls seeking attention, seeking to act out their anger… People looking for meaning, or trying to cope with their lack of meaning, and acting out their pain.

Does violence happen more often because there are so few heroes today?

heroes2I think this is the reason. We live in a society of instant gratification, instant fame, instant popularity. People become ‘heroic’ by performance in a video game, and that heroism becomes more gratifying than life in a cubicle or life behind a food order.
And I think that we realize that it’s a game. We fear that it will always be only a game. I played games within games. My family’s favorite card game involved bidding on the number of hands that you would win per round, based on the cards in your hand and on the table. My cousin counted cards; I never had the patience, the planning. So I decided that I wouldn’t try to win, I would aim for winning a certain number of hands, which often meant sacrificing good cards in order to hit my number. I often won. Lost the game, won my game.

I knew a man who spent a lifetime beating on industrial sawblades with a hammer–hand-tempering industrial sawblades. Big discs of steel with teeth. Day-in, day-out for 40 years. He couldn’t understand that his son, and I, could not find jobs to stick with. In his private time he served his church congregation, carved wood and trained plants. He made his world a better place, and that was enough. A different pace for a different time.

I think there is a movement today toward longer-term thinking. It’s a movement that is being drowned out by the clamor of the 24-hour news cycle and the latest technology being obsolete in 2 months.
To succeed in this endeavor, it requires a willingness to step away from our Secret Identity and become real. To be willing to be willing to walk a different path–one that treats people in the manner we would like to be treated.

My wife is one of my heroes. She treats all people equally. She treats the homeless person in the same way that she treats those in authority over her. She doesn’t fear for her personal safety; she fears for people’s well-being. She’s an odd person, and she doesn’t care. Because she loves people. Far from perfect, prone to moods; and at the same time, willing to stop her world’s schedule in order to make sure that a dead possum gets moved to the side of the road; so that it can have a more-dignified death.

My goal in this next chapter of my life–to become more fearless in my willingness to live honestly.

 

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 51: Teleology

May 12, 2014

Part of me keeps wondering why I bother to write this stuff. Part of it sharing stuff that I’ve learned, that seems important to me. I suppose that mental health is involved in some fashion.

Teleology…a new word for me. “…ology” always means ‘the study of…’ so, at first glance my inclination is to think that it means something like…

media_head…the study of television.

But it isn’t. Teleology is the study of Purpose.

Do we have one…what might it be…why it would be…all of those kinds of questions.

I seem to be thinking about this a lot these days. I have a client who appears to be in remission from liver cancer. I spend more time listening to him, and discussing “purpose” than I would have imagined. Illustrating his book appears mostly to be a reason for me to be in his life. We have a lot in common. He’s in a lot of pain and discomfort most of the time, as am I, but for him it’s a new thing still. Not surprisingly, he hasn’t figured out how to integrate it into his life; and he wonders how much he has left. As do I…

I believe that my life is in the Hand of my Creator; my client is angry with God, and doesn’t want him to be in his life. I know I have a purpose, even if it isn’t clear to me; because I was created for a purpose. My client isn’t sure he has a purpose, now that his life goal may not be realized due to illness.

I was talking with my friend, Marilyn Keller, a couple days ago; she’s getting ready to head to Australia for her annual international jazz/gospel tour. I’m watching one of her performances in Perth, as I write this. To my surprise, in earlier years she worked with her dad in a chlorine gas manufacturing plant. They manufacture chlorine gas by running extremely high voltage through brine [saltwater]. She was telling me about the precautions needed in order to work on the machines, and being around 20,000 volts of electrical current. How much of the work is simply that of resisting the magnetic current that is created by high voltage. Having to force the giant wrench to stay on the giant bolt, when magnetism wants to suck it away from the bolt.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the concept of the Creator as pure energy. The Bible doesn’t contradict science, although there are a lot of people who seem to think that it does. At times in the past, I’ve felt that way myself. One has to realize that the Bible had to make sense to people who were very literal about life, thousands of years ago—what you see is what you get—the earth is mostly flat; the sun revolves across the sky, which is something that is possibly held up by tall mountains. The stars are lights in the sky; the sun and the moon are bigger lights…Some people feel that in order for the Bible to be True, it has to match our understandings of science today…Only, it’s not a science book. The Bible is a multi-thousand year ‘journal’ of man’s interaction with our Creator.

I’ve written of this idea a lot, I may be repeating myself—I was sitting in the yard one day, and turned over a rock; and all of these squiggly critters started running around. A couple thousand years ago the Creator entered time and space in the form of a human. Not unlike the concept of my deciding to enter the world of those squiggly critters under the rock; in order to help them understand how to make sense of their world. Only I wouldn’t do that. I have trouble leaving my office and interacting with friends; reaching out to strangers is extremely draining. The Creator entered time and space as a human infant, about the most defenseless creature on the planet; in order to understand our lives, and to give us some instruction as to how to make our lives better. And the message started getting messed up, as humans do, shortly after His time here was completed.

To the Creator, in some sense, the Universe is small. In the same sense as with the people who design an aircraft carrier. To a naval architect, in some sense an aircraft carrier is small enough to fit into the imagination.

The Universe is so immense that the planet Earth is a flyspeck in a small suburb of one of the millions of galaxies in Creation. We are so infinitesimally small that the Creator would have absolutely no reason to pay any attention to us. Sort of like those critters under the rock. But if the Creator is Infinite, what is Large? For that matter, everything, including flyspecks, are small, compared to Infinity. I believe the Creator is still Creating today; that’s what Creation is about. I’m losing my ability to draw; I’m losing my ability to write legibly, and pressing these keys requires more effort. And I keep looking for ‘work-arounds’ that will enable me to keep making illustrations. I can’t stop. My life only makes sense to me if I’m creating images. I expect that this is a gift from the Creator; part of my being Created in [His] image. I apparently also need to learn how to make sense of my life when I can’t to this stuff anymore. I’m not there yet.

I’ve created some characters in my career; they’ve never been famous. I still keep using these characters over and over again in other illustrations. I like them. In some sense, I love them. They are important to me. At their most tangible stage they are lines and shading on pieces of paper; at their most developed, they are bits–electrons on a monitor, or ink/toner on a piece of paper. I rarely throw drawings away [I have stacks and gigabytes of them]. Small images that are a part of some larger image remain in my files, and only leave when absolutely necessary. Like when I spill coffee on them, and the ink runs…they become ‘broken’ and I dislike losing them. They aren’t evil; usually they didn’t even choose to become scrap. But that’s what they’ve become.

There are a ton of people who are angry at God, and those who blame/credit God for nearly everything, no matter how nonsensical. I don’t blame them; I used to be one. Religious people can be very annoying, even if one shares their views. I’ve been thinking a lot about how the life of the religious is like a bubble—self-contained and purified. the universe in his hands_1

But the modern Urban world is a bubble as well. Not as pure, not as simplified as the religious life. And I walk a road that wanders in and out of both bubbles. There is no gate between the two, although some think there is. One can wander in and out.

The Creator is Infinite and Eternal; we are very finite and very time-bound. While we are Created in the Creator’s image, it is a large mistake to believe that the Creator exists in our image. The Bible makes a lot of statements that are generally interpreted to mean that the world is filled with ‘bad’ people—“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”. That Jesus, the Creator’s presence in this world, somehow absorbs the Creator’s anger over our wickedness. He protects us from…Himself? Seems like that would mean that the Creator is schizophrenic. While the world is no doubt filled with a lot of bad people—read the headlines on any day—I think that the reality is that while Created in the image of the Creator, it is our human limitations/liabilities that are incompatible with the nature of the Creator. Like humans and high-voltage.

I’ve done a lot of electrical wiring over the years. I have this tendency to choose not to flip the breaker before starting to install electrical outlets. It works, if one is careful, and insulated. With 110v, one can get zapped if one does the wrong thing, but if one isn’t standing in a puddle of water, and is wearing rubber-soled shoes, one can get zapped and still get reminded that it would have been much smarter to flip the breaker… I’ve never been this stupid with 220v—I’ve heard too many stories. Suppose the nature of the Creator is more like high-voltage than it is like being human. Grab hold of high-voltage and you are toast. The Bible talks about how, at the end of time, all that we are will be burned as if in fire, and that only ‘the gold’ will remain [remember, this was written so that people living a few thousand years ago would understand—it isn’t necessarily wrong, but there was no electricity when Jesus was doing carpentry in Nazareth]. The smelting of metal made sense as an illustraton. To me, this seems to be consistent with the idea that the Creator is pure energy—high voltage—and we need to be changed in order to be compatible with Eternity. Turning our Free Will toward the Creator, rather than our own foolish pleasures. Things I do for myself vs. things I do for others. I think maturity is learning to focus my attention on others, and on things that will last, rather than things that fade with time. Like bodies.

the universe in his hands_mer
There’s a part of me that wants to write something that will solve most of the world’s problems–that will bring peace where there is anger. That will bring the assurance that we are Loved as we are; and that everyone doesn’t have to agree with each other in order to live together. That my having doesn’t take away from you, and vice-versa. We’re making a mess of this world, and we don’t need to; but it requires a ton of cooperation and a willingness to change for a higher good; a willingness to make some sacrifices. It means sharing, and that, in human beings, does not appear to occur naturally. It has to be learned, because sharing means overcoming the fear that there won’t be enough. That sharing means that we all deserve to live harmoniously with our world.

But I doubt that this will occur in my lifetime.

 


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