Archive for the ‘self-employment’ Category

Chronicles in Ordinary Time: Non-sequitur

March 14, 2015

Dr.WatsonWhy does one blog… I write as a somewhat therapeutic aid to living with a broken body in a broken world. Therapists frequently suggest ‘journaling’ as a way to deal with one’s inner world. I did that years ago; and the journals are all buried; hopefully no one will ever read them.

This form of journaling is different, in that I hope it will be read by someone dealing with the same sort of crap that I deal with. Or someone who is amazed as I at some aspect of Life.

As a blogger, WordPress filters a whole lot of “Feedback” that apparently arrive to my address. Four-digits every time I check; no matter how often I visit my ‘dashboard’. Tomorrow there will be 4-digits, even though I just deleted 4-digits. Normally, I see huge volumes of spam in the “Feedback,” which I’ve come to expect. Every time one posts something on the internet, the Universe seems determined to respond with garbage.

Today was different. I found stuff in my “Spam” folder that may not be spam. My mental picture is that there is some soul who is sending out marketing spam because that’s their job; and in the midst of doing their work, they happen across my blog. I don’t know if that mental picture is accurate. One gets accustomed to phrases repeated over and again–this stuff I realize is somewhat-more-creative spam…

For those who have written appreciative comments in the past, from the computer of some spam-producing company, I apologize for not sifting through the spam. I don’t have the energy to sift through 4000 comments, looking for real ones. I appreciate the real comments that get sent; whichever ones those might be.

I’ve been trying to understand life for something like 6 decades; I’m not done yet. Hopefully I can be of some assistance to another soul.

Blessings, Marty

Mikey avatar 3

 

 

 

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 67: The Miraculous

March 12, 2015

Today is my sister’s 27th birthday. Birthday 2.0.

Happy Birthday 2.0 Donna

I’m not sure why I’m feeling compelled to make a bigger deal about this birthday 2.0, more than any of the others. Perhaps it’s because the story has expanded to include others… including very young Evan Junior [EJ] and Austin. 5 weeks today at 37 weeks gestation; they were born 8 weeks early. Another transplant story… Nicole is a transplant recipient, also.

 

A clarifying disclosure: Donna isn’t my ‘real’ sister; I ‘adopted’ her when I was around 29 or 30. I lettered an Adoption Certificate, stamped it with my Building Designer stamp, and had it witnessed by my wife and the fingerprints of our new daughter. I’d always wanted a sister; Donna needed a brother—many of her family members had died, like clockwork, at 2-year intervals; including her brother. Her sister had just been diagnosed with cancer.

That was in the early ’80s; the next part of the story begins late in 1987, when Donna was diagnosed with liver cancer. Self-employed, widowed, no medical insurance, nothing in the bank; and Baylor University Hospital in Dallas, Texas wanted a check for $180,000 before they would let her enter the hospital for a liver transplant. What’s a mother to do? She lets her friends take over.

We started a fund-raising campaign called, Save My Mom, and put donation containers on the counters of businesses all over Portland. My 4-year old son, Rob, made the first donation—he emptied out his life savings–his piggy bank. There was a lot of money in it [for a 4-year old].

Not much happened until we asked our church to get involved. Our Pastor, Dale Galloway, was compassionate, but didn’t want his church to be the place where people needing transplants came, to raise money. One of the Elders, Tom Peterson [the furniture guy], felt that Dale needed to reconsider; he was seconded by Representative Drew Davis. We held a press conference; maybe 5 people showed.

At the same time, another group was asking the State of Oregon to fund the transplant of another mom; we distanced ourselves from that group—Donna did not believe it was the State’s responsibility to fund her transplant. Nonetheless Dale Galloway, Donna’s 14 year old son Evan and I went down to the State Legislature to add information about what happens when the uninsured have to deal with life-threatening diseases like liver cancer. Evan had the last words; he said, “I just want you to save my Mom,” and a tear rolled down his cheek.

A segue about miracles:

Do I believe in miracles? Yes, a broken ceramic refrigerator magnet hangs over my desk—”I don’t believe in miracles; I rely on them.” The fact that the magnet is broken is significant for me. So am I.

A friend of mine has a problem with believing in a God who ‘plays favorites’ with his Creation—bringing good to some, and really bad stuff to others. I’d have to agree. This isn’t my understanding of miracles.

I believe in an infinite and eternal Creator of the entire Universe, who entered time and space on earth, in the form of Jesus of Nazareth. This is, in some ways, like lifting up a rock, looking at the little squiggly things down there, and deciding that I am going to become like one of those little squiggly things, so that I can explain how the Universe works. To the Creator, the Universe is, in some way, small. When I design a building, and watch it being built, the building is ‘small’ in one sense. I know every nail, practically, in the house we live in. I designed it for my parents and then built it. It’s a large house compared to my size; but I know everything about it; including all of its problems. I, being human, and freshly out of Architecture school, didn’t know much about building houses. I’m the squiggly thing under the rock.

Have I witnessed miracles? Probably. There are several incidents in my life where the outcome defied logic. Do I believe in ‘parking space angels’? Not really, but I remember to thank the Creator every time a parking space opens up when I’m running late.

I believe that the Creator has a Purpose; and that my life is part of that purpose. Do I know what that purpose is? Nope; I’m not omniscient—I don’t know my future. The Creator is infinite; ‘infinite’ doesn’t mean ‘really big,’ it means that size is irrelevant. I think there are times when the Creator’s purpose and my desires overlap. I believe there are occasions when I am called to witness something that can’t be understood by human logic.

Back to Donna:

The day after our trip to the State Legislature, I received a call from Michael Specter of the Washington Post. He ‘happened’ to be in Salem, Oregon the day that we were there, and wanted to learn more about Donna’s story. I also received a call from CNN; their camera person ‘happened’ to be in Salem on the day we were there. They wanted to hear more about Donna. Then things started to happen:

WashPostIf you are reading this, thank you Michael.

Dale was big on dramatics.

The story is really long; I won’t go into all of the details.

The short version is that money started coming in from as far away as Belgium. The wife of the Governor of Colorado wrote a column in the Denver Post. There were people at church that counted money all day long—ones, fives, tens, twenties. Checks. It was amazing to watch. I did some interviews on local TV.

Shortly before we were ready to leave for Baylor University Hospital, I received a call from a hospital in San Francisco; they offered to do Donna’s transplant for free. The doc that headed up their brand-new transplant program had seen the CNN coverage while on vacation in Hawaii [who watches CNN while vacationing in Hawaii?]. I told the CNN people that we were already committed to Baylor; but there was this other woman who needed a transplant, that the State of Oregon wouldn’t pay for…

NYTimes

Do I believe in the miraculous? Yes. Do I believe that the Creator will create a miracle whenever we desire one? Nope. They happen for a Larger purpose that I can’t understand. I am finite and time-bound.

Has Donna done something Large with her life? Not in terms that I understand. She’s a fairly ordinary, miraculous, Christian woman who believes in the power of prayer. She’s a cancer survivor; her anti-rejection medication caused cancer twenty plus years after her transplant. Breast cancer came after that…

Save My Mom happened because Donna wanted Evan to have a Mom.

Evan married a woman who needed a kidney transplant.

Nicole received a transplant, thanks to her brother, James.

Nicole has given birth to spontaneous twins, who had to be delivered early, due to her diminished kidney production. They are hard at work, learning to breathe and ingest food from bottles, and stiffening their bones–they aren’t quite ‘fully baked’ yet.

Donna considers EJ and Austin to be miracles.

Works for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 66: Story

February 25, 2015

My new gallery at Artistically Social:

https://www.artisticallysocial.com/users/mjartscom/gallery/

Marty Jones’s Stock Media: http://www.pond5.com/artist/mjarts

I started this illustration career in order to tell stories…

KQ1From my 20 year old, unfinished children’s book, “The King’s Quest”

But life doesn’t always work out the way we plan… Rarely?
My own projects have almost always had to wait their turn until I take care of income-producing projects.

One of my favorite musical artists is Stephen Curtis Chapman, particularly in his recent, middle years…
“And it may feel like 40 long days in a hard driving rain
Or 40 years in a dry desert sand
But when He’s finished we will see a beautiful tapestry
And know that nothing has been wasted in the end
Oh, and God will, He will finish what He started
No thread will be unwoven
Nothing will be left undone
Every plan and every purpose
That He has will be accomplished
And God will finish what He’s begun”

From “Finish What He’s StartedSteven Curtis Chapman

The back side of a tapestry doesn’t always look the same as the front side:

tapestryUsed without permission from
http://www.textiletextbooks.com/textilemania/u_4/u_4_3.html

 Sometimes the story of my life feels like this:
yarnI forget where I found this image; my apologies.

The story of our lives.
Bible teachers for a hundred years have talked about how here on earth, we only get to see the back side of the tapestry of our lives; when we get Home, we’ll be able to see the front side; and we will be amazed.

This has been an unpleasant ‘week’ for me [it started last week]; pain and weakness to the point where I haven’t been able to concentrate on work. The FEAR [False Evidence Appearing Real] is that I would be stuck in that state—still functional, still able to pass time; and pretty-well only being able to pass time. I’ve been either sleeping on my waterbed fully-dressed, or lying on our well-insulated couch under layers of clothing and blankets. My sensory nerves are mostly shot; I rarely feel warm, I feel the absence of cold. With enough insulation, I can feel what probably is ‘hot’ but to me is pleasantly warm. The ‘warm’ signal will drown out some of the pain signals.  I soak through the inner layers of clothing with sweat, which I can’t feel until the dampness cools down.
I love watching movies, and our library is great—thousands of movies that I can watch for free. But I want to do more than watch movies for the next years of my life.

I want to do more with my life than merely pass time—this is one of the fears that most people my age and older come to. “Waiting for God” as one BritCom called it.

I want the story of my life to have meaning. I am coming to terms with the idea that my life won’t be the story I wanted it to be. When I’m more faith-filled, like right now as I’m typing, I can live in the hope that the mess on this side of the tapestry will look far different when I’m Home; and that the mess will tell a story. I believe that I am designed for Eternity, and that this life, even if it contains 40 years of pain, will only be an eyeblink in the span of Eternity.

…and that my reaction to the tapestry I will be shown will be more like this:

Audrey red

…without the dress. I’m a blue jeans kind of guy…

 

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 65: The Unexpected Journey

February 20, 2015

 

valley of the shadow_crop
More marketing: my new gallery at Artistically Social:
https://www.artisticallysocial.com/users/mjartscom/gallery/

When I started working for the Bureau of Buildings, in Portland, I still thought of myself as a contractor. I discovered that when someone asked the question, “how do I build this?” and I gave them my opinion as a contractor, they treated the information as “the City says I need to do it this way.” Some of that advice I gave was pure guesswork—‘if I was doing this, I’d start by doing…’ I learned it was very important to not give advice unless I was positive that the advice was sound, in a variety of situations; sometimes I didn’t really have the complete story. This awareness helped me to understand why Bureaucrats exist—if they don’t provide you with any useful information, they aren’t likely to be responsible for giving out bad information. Fourteen years after I started my gig with the City, I learned that my body could no longer stand the strain of ‘being responsible’ for all of the things that I chose to make my responsibility.

A long introduction to the idea that I don’t like to give random advice unless I know that the advice is accurate in most situations. When I started writing these blogs, it was as much for therapy as anything else. “Public Journaling”—journaling can be a good method of finding out how I think about my life. The Unexpected Journey is the subject of the illustration above. Larger versions can be seen at this link, and at this link.

Pain is something I know too much about; and at the same time, don’t know enough about. I’ve thought of creating a public ‘pain journal’ in hopes of providing some useful information for those who deal with chronic pain. The idea also seems very much like hubris—an arrogance that seems like extreme pride or self-confidence—the American problem, looking at the concept from a political perspective. Consequently, I haven’t started that blog page. I feel as though writing about pain is some sort of strange way of drawing attention to myself/feeling sorry for myself. Feeling sorry for oneself can be a deadly pastime.

40+ years of chronic pain, which apparently has no real diagnosis. It’s getting worse; and I’m getting weaker. Lots of doctors are clueless.

The myelin sheathing on my nerve fibers is disintegrating—sort of like the insulation on electrical wiring falling apart—as happens with old wiring. Lots of my nerve cells have shorted-out and no longer send out signals; it also appears that having no myelin sheathing on a nerve fiber creates pain. So, I have lots of pain and no visible injury. It’s important to learn the difference between pain and injury. Pain happens when your body doesn’t like what you are doing; it doesn’t necessarily mean something is injured. If something’s injured, it needs attention. If something hurts, and doesn’t get worse by activity, it becomes a ‘statement’ your body is making. You have a choice as to how you are going to acknowledge the ‘statement.’

Took a nap today; second nap this week. Feels wrong. I’m not the guy that takes naps. Another thing to add to my growing list of “I’m not the guy who…” Apparently I’m becoming that guy in spite of my best efforts.

Pain Management. I’ve tried lots of methods, some better than others. My goal has always been ‘feeling better to the point where I can ignore the pain,’ rather than self-medicating to point of feeling good. Soaking in a hot tub of water is a pretty effective method of creating “feel good”—however it has some practical difficulties for one who lives most of his life in a world of electricity and paper—the major physical components of my life…

Being creative on demand can be tough. I tend to feel exhausted most of the time; my most creative hours are late in the evening by DVD light. While being creative isn’t necessarily complementary to pain, the process of creating can be a good way to shove pain into the corners of my mind. I find that writing has become a way to find the mood for illustrations.

Judi Dench wanted to be a designer until she watched a particular production of a Shakespearean play—the stage was open, and the only ‘backdrop’ was a column in the center—as it rotated around it became a rock, or a throne, etc. She realized that she could never be that creative as a designer, and turned to acting.

My daughter-in-law manages A Children’s Place Bookstore and they are in the process of relocating. One of the posters on their wall is a drawing by Chris Van Allsburg; when I started this illustration gig, I wanted to be another Chris Van Allsburg. I have the technical skill; I lack the imagination. Hard to admit, but it’s about time that I do.

Judi Dench is losing her eyesight, and has no desire to stop acting. She’ll make it work.

One of my new favorite songs is “The Glorious Unfolding” by Stephen Curtis Chapman, and has the following lyric:

Lay your head down tonight
Take a rest from the fight
Don’t try to figure it out
Just listen to what I’m whispering to your heart

‘Cause I know this is not
Anything like you thought
The story of your life was gonna be
And it feels like the end has started closing in on you
But it’s just not true

There’s so much of the story that’s still yet to unfold
And this is going to be a glorious unfolding
Just you wait and see and you will be amazed
You’ve just got to believe the story is so far from over
So hold on to every promise God has made to us
And watch this glorious unfolding…

I’m watching.

River Boat PilotUnfinished copy of Norman Rockwell’s “River Pilot” left unfinished many years ago.

Thank you, David, for the Rockwell book.

 

 

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 64: Plagues and Bubbles

February 20, 2015

More marketing: my new gallery at Artistically Social:
https://www.artisticallysocial.com/users/mjartscom/gallery/

Cassiopeia A exploded“This new view shows a more complete picture of Cassiopeia A,  the remains of a star that blew up in a supernova event whose light reached Earth about 350 years ago, when it could have appeared to observers as a star that suddenly brightened. The remnant is located 11,000 light-years away from Earth [64,620,618,408,000,000 miles].” 
http://www.nustar.caltech.edu/image/nustar140219a

Enders Game, Starship Troopers, Wing Commander…

Take the best and brightest of our children, send them into space, and teach them to be warriors.

Don’t teach the best and brightest of our children to be Explorers and Discoverers; I mean what can there possibly be in this Universe that we need to learn?

 

CS Lewis feared that we humans would launch ourselves into space, and then begin to infect the rest of the galaxy with our brokenness.

We aren’t alone in the Universe; it’s statistically improbable [impossible]. There have been visitors to our planet from other parts of the galaxy. Why haven’t they ever come back to contact us? Perhaps it’s because we have The Plague. I often wonder if there are giant billboards in space, somewhere beyond Pluto’s orbit, billboards that say “Do Not Enter—Quarantined—Plague-Infected”

Lewis’ theme has been used in movies like “The Day the Earth Stood Still” [the original]—the peoples of Earth are given the warning, that if we don’t stop our stupid violence, there will be consequences, delivered by the civilized species of the Universe; and the robotic guardians they have created to control their own violent tendencies. Lewis also contends that there are two kinds of civilizations in the Universe—“fallen” and “not fallen”—two mostly-religious terms that rely on the concept of a Universal Morality. “Not-Fallen” civilizations in which Free Will is always used in what we would describe as a ‘moral’ manner. No harm comes to another through malice or greed. Those “Fallen” civilizations such as our own will also have their Redemption stories, stories similar to the story of Jesus, the Messiah. The Creator taking a physical form, and dying some form of cruel death as punishment for making the claim to be God. And by that death, individuals can be redeemed and made whole again.

We know that humans tend to believe in “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” ignoring Gandhi’s prediction that such behavior will leave the world blind and toothless. Anyone who has raised children is aware that this behavior tends to be pre-programmed, along with a ton of other ‘behaviors’—the beating of our hearts, for example. Negative behavior can be curbed by training; it can also be intensified by training. When a child learns that they have the power of choice, the child learns the concept of “no,” the concept of disobedience.

Right now, half-way across the world from where I am sitting, there are some thousands of guys who believe that torturing and killing human beings on camera, in a brutal manner, is completely okay. That somehow by exterminating people, who apparently have committed the ‘crime’ of believing something different than they, will somehow bring about a betterment of society as they see it. That society will either live in constant fear of doing the wrong thing, or they will live as monsters themselves. The numbers of those guys increase daily, as we go about killing them off, raining fire from the sky. Kill a bunch, and a bunch more crop up. They need to be eliminated; but in eliminating them we become monsters ourselves because of the ‘collateral damage’. We kill innocent civilians when we kill the monsters, and we somehow justify it. Our plague. I don’t have the solution.

The Cross is about forgiveness, rather than punishment. I have The Plague. I’m a recluse, I prefer solitude to having company; I know that I need the input from other people to become more than I am now. I’ve never cheated on my wife of nearly 40 years; the only woman I’ve ever had sex with. The last time I hit someone in anger was something like 50 years ago [a note to my kids—this may not be entirely accurate]. My last traffic ticket was something like 20 years ago, when we shut down traffic on Mount Hood… I am not a good person; I am a cautious person. The Plague rules my heart; I don’t give my body permission to act out that Plague. But in my thoughts…

By the Grace of God I am not the monster I could be; and it’s not of my doing. I was brought to the understanding that I could act like a monster if I so chose; I simply haven’t had/allowed the provocation. I am no purer than any other human being. I learned that I don’t have to let the monster part of me be in control; I can give control of my broken self to the Creator that made me. I am forgiven for sometimes wanting to be that monster.

Some people choose to live in a ‘bubble’—protecting their minds and their hearts from the Plague that swirls around them. It’s easier to avoid the Plague when one avoids the places where the Plague lurks. They raise their children in a Plague-free environment to spare their children from the disease; often their children don’t appreciate the protection—it’s cool to be daring and adventurous.

I wander in and out of the ‘bubbles’—not that I’m daring or adventurous; I simply find the protected bubble to be confining. I also find the unprotected bubble to be made mostly of illusions. There is little there that lasts. I walk a broken road, and that road sometimes beats the crap out of my body. My soul is free, and that is the important part.

the universe in his hands_1

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 63: Small Town America

January 26, 2015

Freedom of Worship-dwg

My version of Norman Rockwell’s
“Freedom of Worship”

   I don’t know a lot about Small Town America; I’ve lived nearly all of my life in Portland, Oregon. Portland used to be much more like Small Town America; the site of my uncle’s farm is now 5 miles from a major shopping center, and a mile away from suburban housing. When I was a kid, the fruit and vegetable guy drove his truck through the neighborhood; milk got delivered to the houses in the neighborhood. My grandmother lived in a small town in Eastern Oregon, we went there frequently. If my father had had his plans for his life, he would have been a wheat rancher. Economics and human greed stole that dream from him. I was shipped out to Eastern Oregon on two occasions, in order to learn farm life.
I didn’t learn much.
I grew up a city kid.

Much of my time is invested in watching a lot of DVDs—background sounds while I draw; it used to be VHS videos. I’m back in a “West Wing” phase. The fictional characters are heroes of mine. One of their shortcomings is that they, too, are city kids. They don’t comprehend Small Town American life; and a large part of our country is Small Town America. I watched a faith-based movie tonight that reminded me of my past; and at the same time, our present. The faith-based lifestyle is much like Small Town Life. Churches are communities; the expectations for life and living are very similar.

I sometimes fear that urban America and Small Town America will never understand each other—the mindsets are so different. Ultimately the goals are very similar—life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness; how one achieves these things are very different, depending upon one’s perspective. I know that the faith-based way of life is a place where those differences can be met; it’s hard to communicate this when the urban world thinks that religion is the problem. I am able to see the difference between faith and religion; apparently others can’t see that as clearly.

I have adult children that apparently think I’m delusional. That I see something that doesn’t exist. This is the only explanation that makes any sense to me; I’m not annoyed by the notion, more a frustration that my life hasn’t been the example I’ve wanted it to be. I’m not done yet.

How do I effectively communicate the fact that there is a Creator, an Infinite, Eternal Creator who loves His Creation enough that He would enter time and space in order to show us how to live. A statement more than a question. Free Will and Arrogance have prevented that message from making any comprehensive headway in life for very long. But the Message keeps growing and expanding, in spite of our incomprehension.

I was a witness to a joyous event this weekend; the retirement from public service, of the man who is probably the most influential person in my life. He led me to Jesus. He didn’t drag, or push; he simply was himself, a person of integrity and caring. He believed something I found to be preposterous, and he shared that belief in me. His friendship was enough for me to follow him down a Path from which I have never left. Brad led me to a ‘burning bush’ [I often wonder how many people before Moses passed by that bush? Or was it lit for Moses alone?]; he led me to a “Damascus Road” where I got knocked of my horse… Some sort of metaphor. It wasn’t Brad alone; Brad had friends, his friends were sincere.

The Path hasn’t been fun in these last years. I don’t know what ‘last’ really means; I can’t remember this Path ever feeling ‘fun’ for very long. But I’m thankful, Brad, that you gave me the opportunity; even if you don’t know what you did.

 

More marketing: my new gallery at Artistically Social:
https://www.artisticallysocial.com/users/mjartscom/gallery/

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 62: Where is the Hope?

December 26, 2014

While I occasionally go through and reply to comments I receive, I don’t reply to every one of them. It’s possible that many of the comments I receive are well-crafted spam; my hope is that the ones from ad-generating sites are sincere; and that the sender has taken a break from generating ads to reading stuff  that I write.

Thank you for your comments, even if I don’t reply to them. My hope is that my writing is an encouragement to people who think about the same stuff I do; and who go through similar challenges. This life is too difficult to go through on one’s own.


angel.grief_mjIn the 1890s, noted American sculptor, William Wetmore Story, created
the Angel of Grief monument for the future grave site of he and his wife in Rome’s Protestant Cemetery.  A number of replicas of the Angel of Grief—also referred to as the Weeping Angel—can be seen around the country in various
cemeteries.

I know, a dreary image for Christmas Day…

I was reading yesterday about Christmas in Baghdad. Before we invaded Iraq, Christians, Jews and Muslims all celebrated the time of Chanukah and Christmas. They may have lived under a dictatorship, but they felt protected. During this season of Christmas, children ask their parents whether Santa will be able to find them, now that they have fled their homes…

“In 2003, when the Americans invaded, there were an estimated 1.5 million Christians living in Iraq. Today, experts say, there are fewer than 400,000, many of them on the run from the Islamic State.” http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/25/world/middleeast/iraq-christians-ousted-by-isis-celebrate-christmas.html?_r=1

Saint Nicholas does not forget the children of War; even though it must seem like it. Children mostly live in the present; the past and future are somewhat vague.

I believe it is important to realize at this time in our lives, that Mary and Joseph had been on the run from a King who was killing babies, when they found themselves at the manger in Bethlehem. A time probably similar to today, when viewed from outside of America.

Are we thankful today, in America, that our cities aren’t overrun by the horrors of war? Or do we expect that freedom from war is our birthright?

Do we in America realize that we are the cause, or major contributors, of many of the wars fought in other countries over the last 50+ years? Today, children are being killed by American drone strikes.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. [John 1:9-13]

Joseph and Mary were given information by an angel about the unplanned child that was to be born. Shepherds and more angels arrived to confirm the identity of the baby. In time, astrologers from the East confirmed the story again. The Light had come into the world.

And then we hear nothing about Emmanuel—God With Us—for something like 30 years. We hear that as a pre-teen, Jesus [God With Us] spent a lot of time in the Temple once, astounding the religious leaders of the day. There are stories about events during His life, but they haven’t been adopted into the Protestant Canon. One day Jesus arrived at the Jordan River, near the town of Bethany, where John the Baptist was baptizing followers of the Lord. John identified Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb of God. Jesus knew He was the Sacrificial Lamb from the beginning of His ministry, probably from before that time.

I have to admit, I’ve lived in a metropolitan city for most of my life; the concept of ‘sacrificial lamb’ doesn’t have a lot of personal meaning for me. I buy meat from the store; we no longer make sacrifices of animals to show reverence. However, there seems to be a sense of justice running through us that says ‘crime requires punishment’.

Jesus was not a Christian, He was Jewish. Most of His followers were Jewish. Jesus said that He hadn’t come to start a new religion; He’d come to heal the broken-hearted, the wounded, the ones who knew they weren’t sufficient on their own. He taught for three years, He was crucified, died and was buried. Three days later He rose again from the dead; and said that we too could rise from death.

Jesus’ followers, after Jesus had gone, were Jewish. Eventually they had to deal with the Gentile Problem. People were coming to hear about Jesus, and they weren’t Jewish; it was decided that the Gentiles did not have to become Jewish in order to follow Jesus, and did not have to follow all of the Jewish laws. This concept worked for something like 300 years; and then an Emperor made Christianity the official religion of his Empire. Things started getting messed up.

The Creator knew that The Church would change radically over the centuries, and that the presence of the Holy Spirit would be sufficient. We are not saved by Christianity. We are saved by the act of the Creator on the cross. Jesus did not claim to be a great moral teacher; Jesus claimed to be the Creator of the Universe. He either was the Creator of the Universe, or He was a lunatic. Or He was one of the most inventive and persistent stories ever made up.

Hope.

Theological debates abound over the nature of God and the Universe; I have my own heretical ideas.

I believe the eternal and infinite Creator of Universe became Man to give hope to the human race. We have a Creator that knows our weakness, who knows our insanity, who knows our greed.

The Creator of the Universe endured all that humans could do to demean the soul and the Spirit; and as He died on the Cross, He said, “It is finished.” All that was Needed was Done. The Gospels state that when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, waiting for His betrayal, “an angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him…being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” [Luke 22:43,44]

I am of the opinion that Jesus was given, in the Garden, the foreknowledge of all of the hatred and cruelty that would be done ‘in his name’ through the centuries that would follow; and this caused Him the anguish that only the Creator of mankind, in all its Grace, could feel. A human being can only sustain a certain amount of mental anguish without breaking; I am of the opinion that He only knew the True Significance of His impact on history at the end.

The Creator of the Universe has a vision for the human race that is so huge that He was willing to endure death on a Cross in order for an idea to get planted in the hearts and minds of Jesus’ followers.

The idea that the walls that divide people can come down; that people can make peace. The idea that Light had come into a very dark world; and that all who receive this Light can become children of God.

“…That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

tree

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 61: The World’s Frivolities

December 15, 2014

Creatio_of_Adam“So now, from this mad passion
Which made me take art for an idol and a king,
I have learnt the burden of error that it bore
And what misfortune springs from man’s desire…
The world’s frivolities have robbed me of the time
That I was given for reflecting upon God.”
― Michelangelo Buonarroti

Michelangelo Buonarroti did not know about plasma and Tesla coils, otherwise he would have realized that some form of energy probably passed between the Creator of the Universe and the simple human called Adam…

It’s easy to let the frivolity of the world [“a lack of seriousness; the quality or state of being silly; something that is unnecessary”] rob us of the time we’ve been given for reflecting upon the Creator of the Universe.

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified [angels apparently don’t look like fat babies or cheery old men named Clarence]. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

There are too many in our culture who don’t realize that the Good News isn’t ‘good news’ at all to many; and it’s often because the bearers of the ‘good news’ are a real pain in the backside. The Good News has become bad news; usually because of someone’s behavior rather than the Message…The Good News is that the Creator of the Universe is able to join with your soul—that which makes you whole; helping you to become more than you are right now; and the process has nothing to do with lists of Naughty and Nice. The process is a Gift of Grace, the picture of all that you can be.

From Nadia Bolz-Weber’s “Sarcastic Lutheran” blog entry, The Slaughter of the Innocents of Sandy Hook:

“… the Epiphany story of Herod and infanticide reveals a God who has entered our world as it actually exists, and not as the world we often wish it would be. Because God’s love is too pure to enter into a world that does not exist.

“I wonder if we’ve lost the plot if we use religion as the place where we escape from the difficult realities of our lives instead of as the place where those difficult realities are given meaning.  Of course, there are many ways of pretending shit ain’t broke in ourselves and in the world, but escapist religion is a classic option since at church we have endless opportunities to pretend everything is fine.

“But when we find ourselves in a world where we see up-to-the-minute images of human suffering, we simply cannot afford any more fucking sentimentality in Christianity. Not one more soft-focus photo of a dove flying in front of a waterfall with an inspirational verse on a coffee cup, not one more over-produced recording of earnest praise music, not one more Thomas Kincaide painting. I don’t think Jesus would abide this ignoring of reality in favor of emotional idealism and I know for sure we cannot afford it. Not when we live in a world where suffering is as real as it was when Jesus was born and people are longing for something to help make sense of their suffering. Sentimental images of Santa kneeling at a manger are not helping us make sense of the world as it actually exists…”

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2014/12/the-slaughter-of-the-innocents-of-sandy-hook/#ixzz3LxVBuPbd

I tend to get grumpy at Christmas-time. My normal state-of-being tends to be one of melancholy. I’ve had a ‘melancholy temperament’ for all of my life. At Christmastime in America [soon it will start after Labor Day], everyone starts getting ‘perky’—people tend to emulate a ‘good will toward persons’ that is so hard to find the rest of the year. Christmas in America is Shopping. Black Friday. DoorBusters, Cyber Monday… I live in an economy that is based on consumption rather than production, so I shouldn’t be surprised that our idol today is a plastic card; and that ‘swiping’ is a good thing according to society. When I was a kid, back when dinosaurs ruled the earth, ‘swiping’ meant stealing. Given the nature of Wall Street, maybe the definition hasn’t changed all that much.

All of my adult kids are dealing with serious stuff today. Stuff that I am largely powerless to solve at all; stuff that they are largely powerless to solve today. A weight upon my mind that takes some of the sparkle out of the lights. Other years, I’ve had other excuses. I have a body that leaves me in pain most of my time; and I battle constant fatigue. I am in the midst of another set of medical experiments [perhaps frivolity] to see if there’s a solution for some of the pain and/or fatigue. Another crapshoot. I keep seeing Dr. McCoy ranting in Star Trek IV as he encounters 20th Century Medicine in a hospital.

“…the world’s frivolities have robbed me of the time that I was given for reflecting upon God.”

We are each the product of the joining of two microscopic cells. Two cells that subdivide and replicate in the same manner that all living creatures on earth grow. So much so, that one can see the reflection of that miracle throughout the stages of embryonic development. At some point in time, as we measure time in this world, humans alone, of all of earth’s creatures [said with some hesitation—there is much that we do not know about life on this planet], become able to connect with the Divine Idea that each of us is in some way ‘larger’ than the rest of the teeming life on this planet. Not size, but depth. We are self-aware, and we can make choices as to how we live our lives. We aren’t ruled entirely by ‘subroutines’ created within our neurological systems.

We Make Choices.

Everything that follows, whether or not we like the results, is mostly because humans make choices. Most of the time we are oblivious to the choices we make; oblivious because we fill our time with distraction. This doesn’t mean that the distraction isn’t worthwhile; it’s simply distraction from other stuff. Frequently, distraction from other distractions from other stuff.

We are each grown; we aren’t fabricated. We spend so much time fabricating stuff that we can’t easily see that we aren’t just another fabrication. We are miracles of that which is called Life. Most of what exists isn’t alive. Because we are grown and are affected by a genetic code that is subject to interruption, we sometimes develop inadequately. Sometimes we mess up our lives by the choices we make. And yet, even the most damaged among us can be the source of joy, happiness and wholeness for others; as we choose to learn to care for those who can’t care for themselves. For us, 2004 was the “Year of the Great-Grandmother”. She came to visit is on Christmas Day, 2003; her mind left a few days later; her body returned Home on Christmas Eve, 2004. A profound experience.

Tens of thousands of people will die today. Most won’t have planned for it.

Two to three times more people will be born today. None of them have planned for it.

Something like 2000 years ago, the Creator of time and space and the Universe entered time and space in the form of a single cell in the uterus of a teenage girl. The Creator of the Universe chose to be born into the womb of a homeless, unwed teenager; she and her fiancé fleeing from an insane king who ordered the deaths of all of the children in his realm, under the age of two.

This Man who has divided history in two lived an apparently unremarkable life as a child and young man; and then Lived An Incredibly Remarkable Life for about three years; He then was murdered by self-righteous fools. But that was only the beginning of the Story, because He Chose to die at the hands of self-righteous fools. He then rose from the dead—He came back to life—and said that we can, too.

The significance of Christmas is that if we listen really carefully, we can hear the Voice of the Creator. Where? Most anywhere. In my experience, hearing the Voice of the Creator happens most often when I don’t expect it, and can’t point it out to anyone. On top of that, it isn’t really a voice; it isn’t a sound that drowns out the ringing in my ears. It’s an internal awareness that is more important than the ringing in my ears.

“I ask you neither for health nor for sickness, for life nor for death; but that you may dispose of my health and my sickness, my life and my death, for your glory…
You alone know what is expedient for me; you are the sovereign master, do with me according to your will.
Give to me, or take away from me, only conform my will to yours.
I know but one thing, Lord, that it is good to follow you, and bad to offend you.
Apart from that, I know not what is good or bad in anything.
I know not which is most profitable to me, health or sickness, wealth or poverty, nor anything else in the world.
That discernment is beyond the power of men or angels, and is hidden among the secrets of your providence, which I adore, but do not seek to fathom.”

— Blaise Pascal

whales

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 60: Wounded

December 8, 2014

Michelangelo's_Pieta_Legion
I came to Christ in college; I had no religious upbringing. Christmas was ALL about Santa Claus and presents. When it came to the historical event that divides our time and space into BC and AD [yes, I know CE is more politically correct], I understood Michelangelo’s image of The Pieta [above left] before I understood the image on the right– Michelangelo’s The Bruge Madonna. I understood the Cross before I understood the stable—but that isn’t entirely accurate, because after 40 years of study, I can’t say I understand either very well. Jesus was killed by the people He came to save…although it is more accurate to say that Jesus chose suicide by crucifixion rather than execution by religious zealots. There were 10 legions of angels waiting to protect Jesus, had He desired for them to be called up.

Raising my three children at this time of year was always an exercise in trying to reconcile the two images below; the two men in the red and white suits:

nicholas
We parent-types make Christmas a magical time for children, a time of lights and parties and presents. I have no real complaint against the concept, except that the concept we experience today was mostly created by Madison Avenue; and has little to do with Jesus of Nazareth, born in a barn to a homeless couple named Mary and Joseph…

Granted, the Christmas tree my wife and I no longer install nor decorate is an old tradition; supposedly the work of ancient priests attempting to bring the pagan tree-hugger world closer to the Christian world. Saint Nicholas was a real man [at least as real as any historical accounts are believed to be, in this skeptical world]; a bishop who was known for giving presents to the poor of his congregation. I talked about Saint Nicholas and explained that Santa Claus was a mispronunciation of his name; that Christmas was about giving; and that the celebrating the birth of Jesus was intended to be a year-round event; not something that only happened in December.

I still remember the Christmas morning when my kids discovered a pair of grooves in the slush on the driveway, and a number of vaguely circular depressions. It really did look a lot like the remains of a reindeer-drawn sleigh having landed on our driveway, and I swear on a stack of whatever, that I had nothing to do with the illusion. I believe in a Creator who has a strange sense of humor…

And then there’s the idea that Jesus was probably born in the Spring, according to those who study such things…

My first Christmas church service happened when I was 22 years old. I had planned on going to a candlelight service at First Presbyterian Church, downtown. A beautiful sanctuary filled with carved wood panels that I can’t imagine being built by the carpenters of today [I was one]—truly a labor of love by skilled craftsmen that probably won’t be duplicated again in the future. I’ve carved wood; the amount of time invested in such work could not really be justified in today’s economies.

1stPres
I had missed the bus [it happens a lot, in my life]. An African-American woman at the bus stop invited me to come to her church [in a part of town that I had been trained was dangerous for white folk to go]. A joyous multi-racial celebration; but as the service was going into its second hour, and showed no signs of stopping, I excused myself, vaguely unfulfilled. The experience hadn’t been what I’d hoped for.

I had by this time experienced a Presence appearing in my life. Sort of like a door was being opened in a stuffy building—suddenly the environment was fresher. Nothing outwardly different than the moment before, but I became aware that I was no longer alone in the environment I found myself in. Of course, there was absolutely nothing I could point to, for someone else to see. It was an experience. These experiences don’t happen often, and rarely at the times I hope they will. However, they have happened for 40 years… These experiences prove to me that there is a Life beyond the one I live, and beyond anything I can imagine. These experiences tell me that words in books about the Creator are True…

…and, I believe in a Creator who has a strange sense of humor…

The opening words of the Book of John:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

I have a music collection that I label, “Songs for Broken People”. Songs about surviving, about enduring, about overcoming; about Peace. I play these songs every day as a way of training my mind. Voluntary brain-washing; my brain needs continual washing, and it has little to do with germs. Several years ago I read these words of Tim Hansel:
“Most people who live with chronic pain or chronic problems have a hard time being happy. That is to be expected. Although there are moments of laughter, nothing seems to stay.
“Joy, on the other hand, is something which defies circumstances and occurs in spite of difficult situations. Whereas happiness is a feeling, joy is an attitude. A posture. A position. A place. As Paul Sailhammer says, “joy is that deep settled confidence that God is in control of every area of my life.”
“If we are to have this kind of joy in our lives, we must first discover what it looks like. It is not a feeling; it is a choice. It is not based on circumstances; it is based upon attitude. It is free, but it is not cheap. It is the by-product of a growing relationship with God. It is a promise, not a deal. It is available to us when we make ourselves available to Him. It is something that we can receive by invitation and by choice. It requires commitment, courage, and endurance. –Ya Gotta Keep Dancin’

Christmastime has come once again, and once again I find that I’m out of step with the society in which I live. There are a bunch of people outside of the United States of America that have very little reason to celebrate, this December. Celebration becomes a difficult choice when there is nothing material to celebrate—death by disease, death by soldiers, death by drones, death by the people down the street; homes flattened by war or natural disaster. Much of the world is having the stuffing kicked out of them, and we Americans complain about the stuffing in our Christmas turkey—we consume in one evening meal more than many consume in a week. Each day we dispose of enough food to feed most of the world—because it’s no longer ‘fresh’…

I’m not sure if I never learned how to celebrate, or whether the ability to celebrate was removed from me by the life that wears me down. Not sure that it matters, since the result is pretty-much the same. My kids provide me with reminders about the importance of celebrating. I am thankful for my kids, because they have taught me so much about Grace, and love, and courage and endurance. I’m still learning.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Adoration

 

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.

 

 

 


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