Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Different Kind of Freedom

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is required to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough. I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be. Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offence of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.The entire law is summed up in a single command: Love your neighbour as yourself. If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. Galatians 5.1-18

Freedom. What is Christian Freedom? I remember riding on the bus recently. In the back were three teenagers, a girl and two boys probably around 16 or so. As with teenagers the world over and from all times they were being rambunctious as a way of fighting their own feelings of not belonging. Who is the coolest was the game they were playing. One boy cursed about nothing in general to show his power, his peacock prance trying to look cool for his friends, especially the girl. The bus driver told them to cool it with their language or he’d kick them off. They quit cursing, for who wants to walk the several miles, but started to complain about it being free country and their rights had just been violated.

As they got to the stop, the predictable happened. The young girl mustered her strength, and more to impress her friends she said to the bus driver, “Thanks for the #$*& ride.”

She rushed off the bus giggled with her friends and look to see if the boys accepted her and found her actions cool. Her act of rebellion most likely lead to a rush but in the long run it will not alleviate her fears of not belonging. Her fear of not being accepted was her true prison.

In about the early seventy started a movement within the church to make church more seeker friendly. Along with removing the crosses and upping the tempo of the music, they also preached the removal of “church” language. “Church” language scared people that did not know it.

So generations past that knew terms like justification, piety, sanctification, self-control gave way to a few generations that have little knowledge of the meanings of those words. Moreover certain Christian words got redefined or lost their meaning such as freedom, grace, and love. In my next few sermons, I want to tackle the difference between how Christian traditionally define these words as oppose to how the world defines them. I start with one of the grand words of our culture, Freedom. Before I get to want we, Christian mean by word, freedom, let’s look how our culture defines freedom

Freedom as defined by our culture is political freedom. It comes from the world of ruler and ruled, the oppressor and oppressed, master and slave. To be free is to be free from others telling you want to do. It is based in action. I am free because I have no one telling what I can and can’t do. This is the Freedom that Mel Gibson as William Wallace screams out at the end of the Braveheart.

Freedom! Freedom!

It is the freedom won by the blood of soldiers and defend from those who wished to enslave us.

Now please don’t misunderstand me, political freedom is very important, it is just not Christian freedom. We know this by the fact that Jesus did not lead a political revolt. After the cross, Caesar still ruled, and Christians were fed to the lions.

As a system of organizing a country, democracy and society political freedom is powerful. Freedom here is based on action and the restriction and allowing of action. This is important to protect. Where it runs into problems is when it is moved out of the realm of action, out of the political realm and into defining us and our nature. Human existence has three modes:

Who we are. The ontological.
What we do. The political.
What we have. The economic.

Political Freedom is in the political part. When we make about who we are, the ontological, we pull it apart like some bitter seawater taffy. Because the range of what we can do defines our freedom. Since we live in a world of others, the border of our freedom in action is others.

Follow me for a little bit. The freedom we been talking about was defined in the French enlightenment and is stated as:

Freedom for humans are free to do as they wish as long as we don’t infringe on the freedom of another.

In a sense, this freedom does not define what “wishes” are. It stays in the area of action. But if it defines who we are, then the limitations of my freedom and really me is you and your freedom. It creates a barrier between humans. We hear this in the common saying, “your not the boss of me.”

We can see it as a contributing factor in the divorce. The other is my limitation of my personal freedom, to expand it, I have to avoid or control yours.

Pushed fully in define us, this freedom can forces into tiny enclaves to watch TV and play on the internet, and to be alone in our freedom. Such a freedom seems more like a prison than liberation.

But there is another definition of Freedom that comes from the world of relationships. This is the first of the three aspects of Christian freedom. When we are known and know another, call this love, we also have a powerful sense of Freedom. We arrive at some of the answer that Paul gets to in our text. Think back when you felt you belong and known, time you were really with someone and love was present. Did you not experience what Paul describes? You were free in that moment. This is the beginning of Christian Freedom. We are not there yet as there are two more dimensions to the Freedom in Christ.

For Paul, we are called to be free for freedom sake or in other words to set others free by proclaiming the love of god in Christ Jesus to the captives. And this second aspect of the Christian freedom is that of joining into something larger than ourselves. Again, think back we you were part of team, be it a sports team, part of a theatric production, build a church. Did you not feel bonded with you co workers, team members? Again, you were free in the sense of belonging, but also in the sense of purpose. With the great commandment, Jesus gives us, out of his grace a deepest purpose and the greatest team to join.

Finally, by giving us the victory before hand, he gave us confidence. Again, think about a time you felt confident and what you were doing was good. Being writing a poem, designing a website, singing a song, you knew you not only could but you would succeed. Jesus was won and so we work knowing we will win. The third dimension of Christian freedom is confidence. A confidence bought by and paid for by the blood of Jesus, God incarnate. Remember con-fidence means with faith.

Now I could go on and on about Christian freedom. And I probably will in future, but I am a writer. One of the first rules of writing is show don’t tell.

Paul in the chiastic point (the central point of Romans 8.38-39) In ancient writing the chiastic point where the writer place the most important point he was making in the letter or essay. Here is the centerpoint, center of Paul’s faith, the most important point in the most important letter of the whole New Testament. Here is how Paul defines himself and who he is.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Stop and think about the place Paul is in. Nothing, not being in prison, not threaten with death, not being attack for being a Christian, not being attack for not being a good enough Christian. Nothing can separate Paul and his beloved communities from the love of God in Christ Jesus. I say communities because Paul say “us.”

Imagine what freedom there is in that space.

Imagine what freedom there is for us if we realize this as Paul has.

Not worrying how cool we are, or our status, not worrying about how much power and wealth we have. Living life with love, purpose and confidence:

For I am convinced that neither a bad economy, nor terrorism, nor neighbors judgment, nor politics, nor things present, nor things to come, not even if this church fails to attract anyone else nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is Christian Freedom.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Love Language in the Middle

05f2f431c18cf79e61aa139abbbc05f80e191679-thumbStrange, just one call from a friend and fellow writer could send me into the archives of my love for wife. Actually, it sent me into the whole of my writing archives, a mostly depressing journey of unfulfilled language and longing. My friend was exploring the possibility of self-publishing his sci-fi novel through one of those ebook converter sites that promised to list your book on the major online stores. He asked, out companionship of struggling writers, if I would do the same with some of my writing. It was, after all, free.  My first thought, of course, was online riches from ebook sales, as I, again, am a struggling writer. I would be discovered and then book deals and Oprah. Yes, I succumbed to the contemporary habit of narcissism.
The next hour had me reviewing my old writings to see what would sell. I looked over half finished novels, essays, and short stories. I then stumbled across the love poems to my wife, Lace. They glittered like yellowing high school yearbooks as I paused over them. They chronicled the stages of our life together: from our first meeting, to our tentative steps towards vows and even our recent struggles with the cranial reconstruction of our baby son. They created a house of memeory out my words of love. The poems brought me back to when my wife and I started our story. I remembered those spikes in my spirit at first seeing her, as well as our rumbles and fights from finding out how to share space and dialog with each other. What started as a whim of editing for future fortune, ended in my appreciating my wife and our shared life. 

The Return of Our Future 

In our beginning there was a September light
in your hair. Your sea-blue clothes make
the earth green again. Life becomes animated once
more. I notice even in Los Angeles how many animals,

feral dogs, and wildcats move around me. I will play
carefully with your eyes. I don’t want to fall
into the games that kills love off. You are here
in the first week of our meetings. A place in words

makes us aware of each other in freedom. Dancing
on Friday night gives us the awe of the possibility
of one in two. The music unclutters and opens us up
to the creation coming from our future. Returning

to knowing the simple in the complex calls us; we see
the divine again, delighting in our new love’s key.

So, after review the writing I kept in closet and had only shown my wife, I felt the need to share my discovery. I knew the dangers of putting out love poems. To say you write and read love poems is akin to shouting God at a convention of Gnu Atheists, an invitation to charges of being a flippant idiot, gullible buffoon, and butt of the greatest joke.
People, holding their nose, and scatter at you faux pas. Love poems have this certain reputation in modern America. To admit to writing love poems goes against our lingua franca, irony. Yet, I felt them as I wrote them and I feel them as I read them. Could I come out of the closet with my poems? Would it end any chance of a serious writing career? Yes, I know I listed Oprah, above, but that would be more forgivable than admitting to love poems. Oprah seems productive and love poems not.
If I were to put these out to the world, I would have to abandon my dreams of riches? Of respect? Yet, as I relived those nine years with my wife through these poems, I felt an uncontrollable urge to share. Maybe, it was out of vanity. Maybe, it was out of some selfish need to claim attention. But, I don’t think so. It ran deeper. The drive came out a sense of discovery about the truth of being and love.

The Taste of Ancient Fruit

Yes, I appreciate that love is a spoiled lie.
For our postmodern world, irony must rule.
We, sharper than love, are way, way too cool
for that romantic dream. We ought say goodbye.

Yet, surveying the geography of your hips,
the slight rise and fall of your oasis landscape,
I am ignited by the charm of polished palm dates.
Like the Song of Songs, I sing of pomegranate lips.

Your soul moves me to inhale your breath.
The kindness you show to our infant son,
The wonder of your love’s truth makes us young.
Oh, I want our shared life to transcends death.

Love, love, how I bellow through the dark night?
Time expands moments like a child’s flying kite.
I also thought about the poems for where they led us later in marriage. We entered the room. Our thirteen-month old-son dressed in hospital blue gown and plumb from the surgeon’s knife, a blueberry of confusion. Hours before, I held him and then let him go to a group of masked men and women. Drugs and scalpel waited for him. Lace and I had to endure seven hours of waiting, holding each other and talking about his surgery and then not talking about it. Our first dance together on a warm Pasadena night had led to this moment. Love poems sung my heart we all I had was words to comfort my wife and help my son.
Usually, love stories only concentrate of the launching; the middle parts with nights of worry as well as nights of joy seldom make the cut. Yet, that is when love is most real and not deluded by fantasy. During the operation they found a tumor on third nerve of his eye. They repaired the problem that brought us to the hospital, but now new ones emerged, no rhyming couplet of closure. My son’s story, our story continued. We had to endure hundreds of variations of others telling us that children are resilient, as if a pulled tooth, the opening of his skull or divorce are just bumps in the road to adulthood. They, of course, are lies of either convenience or self-comfort. Resilience resides with the whole family. His story is also still in the middle. What will his future be? I have no idea. We are still in the middle, still searching for the words to give it life. We knock on the street searching for an honest word, a poetic word.

The Gift of My Wife

To Lace for all she is and will be even as our son recovery from his surgery… to Lace for the love she reveals …to Lace because she is ….
Is it best to look at our baby’s future
through a telescope,  microscope, or through
mere observation? He plays
with his toy top. “I am that I am”
A bush called to a fugitive in the ancient desert.
The divine answered a question, but will the divine

answer our worry? Time moves like a toddler’s
crawl, moving faster with practice. Surgery
stalled his development, and yet, again,
He unfolds under his mother’s care.
Gardener with a seed needs soil, sun
and hope for good growing conditions,

Love boils under pressure. Our baby’s eye
heals slowly. Lace’s gaze
searches his cornea for signs of drying. Laughing
at his latest discovery, his smiling at strangers
in restaurants, he learns words and he goes down
an unknown trail. Will he regain sight?

Life, busy, goes from firing an uncaring
Doctor, the worst and most common kind,
to finding ways to keep moisture
In his eye, to fighting his rubbing of his eye.
These are the measure of love. Unaware
Of the ending, the turning of the pages
Continues and keeps us within the middle.

Days come and go. Lace searches for movement
of his damaged eye. The tumor, though
Gone, still affects his future. The doctors
Push and pulled it off the third nerve,
Making it dormant. Will vision return?

The stunned nerve has fixed his eye,
Always looking straight and seeing nothing.
We search time, always looking
And seeing a dim presence. His joy
Of being held, of being lifted, of just being
colors his day as fear does ours.
Seen and seeing, he brings us back.
Lace continues to caress him, and heal
him in the cradle of her arms.

Then, as if …, I am struck by love
For my son, for my wife, for life,
For joy, for all of the tears shed,
For doctors good and bad, for the time,
Now and in the future, for the times of learning
Words, his, his mother and mine, for all
The moments I will forget and remember

Because of my son’s health problems,
Despite…on top off…beyond …
No, no, and no, an
Yes, yes and yes

for ... an image of love

I chose to make my love poems available, despite knowing one sale, not counting friends and family, would be a miracle. Like a thirteen year old under the influence of a rushing first crush, I wanted to proclaim my love for my wife, and my son and my life. It is my yes to life. Their success, much like love, is with making them available to be read and not with finding riches.

Passions and Impressions after Few Months

Drinking up your words, I find naked
Meaning in our last eight month, in your still voice.
I praise love for your opening onto my life.
I, again, taste our first kiss—holding—mingling

in the night air. Filled with my emptiness,
We contemplate, and listen for a word.
You lay your hand on my shoulder—less
quiet, your hand pats the living tissue. Herding

my fears to a place where hand sweep clears
the soil. Love, the divine comes into us and we
part the soil to place our seed. Insight
as to how to clear our past’s dirt, makes us sing.

How to honor our beginnings? A mystery
need not need a solution, it simply grows.
Our attitude toward love poems, I have speculated at thee AM philosophizing session, reveals our attitude toward love. Love poems as well as love seem sugary, sweet and ultimately disconnected to serious living. Love poems bring to mind “roses are red” and similar silliness. Love, a game of clich├ęd romance movies, seems unlikely to regain its former status. Yet, it has become for me, not a bulkhead against the waves of life, not a silly dream, but a sifter through which experience passes through. Our son has recovered but his eyesight is still in question. My wife still worries for his future. I continue to write love poems. Strange, my own words happened remind me as if they grew into a their own life apart from me. Life happens in a mixture of joy,

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Human Being: Image of Love or Violence

Love and violence have their own intimacies. I have nibbled both. I learned to love my father through understanding both. Both give birth to the context of the human condition. They form the Yes and No of our life. Love affirms. Violence negates. What is hate but the desire for the other’s negation? Human experience either negates God like Adam and Eve, or negates our fellow human like Cain and Abel. Either way, the negation aims a destroying relationship to control life.

Love and violence: many of the human narratives turn on this simply dichotomy. Birth becomes the first yes. Death converts our energy into the last no. We cannot choose either, they choose us, destroying our illusion of control. Even with suicide, we only choose when we will die and not if we will die. Birth and death define us, and yet they remain beyond us

Yet, I am convinced in the triumphant of love. It is yes and love that form the structure of life. A man among other humans, both my father and I are strung up on life’s crossbar of Yes and No, waiting for rebirth. How do I respond to my birth? How do I respond to the reality of my death? These questions weave the strands of my life into a story with a known and unknown destination.

My birth:

In the middle of a July desert day in 1964, I made my way into the world. I glimpsed out into a violent world still reeling from the assassination of a young US president. Born in Mexico under a dusty sun, I can only picture my birthplace in my imagination. The town has been lost from my memory. I first saw light within its limits, and its shapes and colors are missing, although, I know the town’s name, Parrel.

I know that my family name was well known within the town. They knew the scandals and riches of the Tinajeros more than I did growing up. To them my last name made folklore and rumors, even as it was just what came after my first name to me. One side of my family history was lost with my father’s abandonment. Like a tombstone with the name of family no longer living in town, I wore my last name without a history. “Tinajero” could conjure up myths, tales and gossip for an entire Mexican region. I knew my last name as a word mispronounced by my teachers.

Mexico fell from my memories. I long to remember her and the old women slapping corn meal into tortillas slap, slap, slap. I recognize your words as they pass me on the city streets. I speak your words but not your fables. I live in the United States. There I found love. The Tinajero name found recognition in Tucson; a town I have only been a tourist. America’s dreams inspire me, although they remain an untouchable mystery. Pulling-myself-up-by-my-bootstraps idea eludes me, hiding as violation of nature. My heart aches for a home, and a nation where I can belong. I grew up on the border of each culture. I see both as I look across to the different riverbanks. I move along the river only touching down each bank for a short stay. We travel through the lost worlds in each phase: baby becomes a child, who becomes an adult, then old age and death. Each become a disappearing world. The movement of time keeps me from belonging.

The world at my infancy was busy confronting its own possible demise in a field of atom-splitting clouds. I tasted, in the desert’s heat, the flavor of life within my mother’s milk. She held me tight as I cried in my first bits of air. A world that I could barely make out in its various shapes was pretending innocent for a generation of postwar kids. My birth was last gasp of those hopeful idealists. The early sixties hopefulness played against violence present in all ages. Those times bathed in fresh blood: murder, genocide, and war. Just a few decades before my birth, the Nazis made factories dedicated to murder. Martin Luther King Jr. was leading a movement to free the US from a generations old blind stupidity. As my mother caressed my small head American’s were just learning to pronounce, “Vietnam.” I cried with my first breath, while a generation of intellectuals shouted at each other in numerous conversations about death: the death of the novel, the death of Art, the death of poetry, the death of God, the death of love, and the death of man.

Uncle Sam and the Red Bear did battle on a global scale for domination over ideology. Even as my mother showed me off to the rest of our family, the Peace Corp sent out it first young idealists committed to changing the world. Bomb-shelters, and youthful idealism created the era’s adaptation of human paradox. Yes and no continues to play with the destiny of humans. I was unaware of the human condition with my first burping; I knew only strange sights, sounds, smells, touches and tastes I could yet name. This world passed on, and we moved to different problems. I had to learn my first and second language s. The time of navy blue suits, thin ties, beehive hairdos did not last, but the context of violence still remains. The poison of nostalgia lays in forgetting the river of blood flows through each period and culture. Love moves beyond nostalgia.

I live still in a moving river with competing cultures on ether side of me. My family shares both the Mexican and American culture. Most of the members have found a place in one or the other. Some of my family can go into two both without struggle. I continued to live on the edge of them. One culture claimed the mantel of greatness, and the other complained about how the other oppressed its land, its people, and even its pride. I learn to make peace with both, while never belonging to either. Both are proud nations filled with their own histories and myths. I am uncomfortable on the border of both. Mine is the shifting ground of a fault line between the two lands crashing into each other.

My mother held citizenship in both Mexico and United States as I would until the age of eighteen. Selective Service then forced me to choose. I lost the feel of the Mexican culture long before that moment, so the choice was automatic. I chose prosperity and English. Spanish has mystery and poetry. My mother was different. She found comfort in the crevices between the two worlds. She could speak in both cultures. She would marry both a Mexican and an immigrant who pass through New York.
My father was a proud Mexican, who tolerated the American culture. He, after I turned seven, would disappear from my life for three decades. My parents spilt when I was barely able to walk, but my father continued with the occasional visits until he fought with my mother. They argued about something doing between adults, and after this, my father’s pride would not allow him to visit his first brood of children. If he could not have his terms, then he refused to have his first family of two girls and me. He was too proud for that. I can hear his pride through his twenty-five year silence. His pride leads to violence of abandonment. It was not until later that I learn the reasons of the fight. My mother’s pride stopped any explanation. My father just disappeared.

Soon, no one spoke about him as if he was dead, or never existed. I was left to myself to make up reasons as to why he vanished from my life. A pride has no room for others and lives alone even if the bed contains another. Pride chokes love. We live in a proud world, which in turn creates the ground of who we will be.

Yet, I longed for yes and for love. When I made it into my third decade, I felt an urge to transcend my pride. I wanted to make contact to the man who had given me genes. My first great myth to go beyond was how was I to track him down. It took just two phone calls to get his number.

Then... the fear.

What if he would reject me? His number sat by my phone as I search myself for the courage to face him. Would he say that he wanted nothing to do with me? The week was horrible. I was a catering manager in Vail. The week that his phone number stood vigil on my nightstand, the people I managed thought me a jerk. Finally, I took a deep breath and slowly dialed the ten digits, hoping for an answering machine.


“Yes, you may not who I am, but I am your son, Tito. I just wanted to say that I love you and miss you.”

Then ... Silence.

All my fears cam rushing back. I braced for the rejection, the validation of my own negation, and for the click of being hung up.

“Me Hijito.” he said, reverting to his first language to call me his little son.

There two moments in a relationship with a father that defines us. The first is when you realize your father is human. He is not the powerfu all knowing being, but he fails us. I had this moment early when he abandon my sisters and me.

The second us when you realize you father is human. When you understand that your father is like you, searching for love in an uncertain world. That he too fears rejection and uses pride to shield himself from the fear of violence. We talk for an hour. He told me how he stop seeing us because he was mad at my mother, then because he feared what we would think. I shared my life with him.

Love has its own time line.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Prayer and the Kingdom of the Worried Parent

I knew those eyes. I had worn those eyes before, hospital eyes of a powerless parent. He looked at me, part of a church group serving dinner to parents weary from the hospital, with mistrust. All he wanted was some hot food and to collapse into his bed at the Ronald McDonald House. The last thing he needed was a bunch of do-gooders wanting his attention or his applause for providing dinner. His son was battling cancer that had already taken half his leg. His face wore wrinkles of leave-me-alone. I understood his wariness. I had been nailed to the same cross of being a sick child’s parent.

I looked at his eyes and saw a reflection two thousand or hundreds of thousands of years old. I saw my reflection. I wore a similar look at another Ronald McDonald House not long before.
My son, right after turning one, had to go through seven hour brain and skull surgery to fix a genetic fault that left his brain pushing out his eye. I knew the fatigue that comes doing nothing but being at the hospital, the fatigue that comes from worry over the fear of death, not mine, but my son. Powerlessness describes what it means to be human, but we have gotten good at hiding this fact. My son’s biology had taught me this truth. After we came home, I felt the need to be with others going through the same pain. We went to serve out of my being with my own weakness.

I talk my church to serve dinner at Ronald McDonald House once a month. Since being a citizen of the Kingdom of sick children isolates parents, we were there to be with others. I wanted my church to offer an ear and a presence. We were not there simply to do for others, but to be with one another. We were transformed by the experience, but not without struggle.
The first few times we went to serve dinner, I found a problem. People want to help, but they found it easy to do for others. They wanted to cook the hot meal, served with a smile, but they wanted to wait to eat and eat among themselves. The path of a waiter, professionalism, makes for an easy childhood fort easy to defend, a good way to avoid being with another. I wanted them to eat with the parents, being with the parents and give the parents a place to put their story. Cook mac and cheese was easier. Hearing a story and being powerless to changed the outcome of the children left the church crew uncomfortable.

The first night we grilled brats and burgers. When the food came out, I went to call my wife to see how our son was doing. I came back to the crew in the kitchen, and the parents out at the tables. I scattered the crew out to sit with the worried parents, to enter into the Kingdom of sick children.

Hearing their stories of babies the size coke cans, stories of cancer, stories of mysterious aliments both scared the group and made them come alive. We slowly learned to share our own stories. Most of had stories of hurting children in the hospital. The families needed people to walk with them. Only be leading with our own stories could we learn to pray with them.

When I saw his eyes, I remember the days of praying at the hospital, doing nothing but looking at my son. I remember hating people call us brave, of saying that children were resilient, of listening between the words of doctors looking for clues to the fate of my son. Yes, I understood the temptation to punch some do-gooder in the mouth for wanting credit for serving some hot food.

“I hated those long days of doing nothing at the hospital. It’s exhausting.” I said to him.

“Yeah, it sucks.” He answered. He suddenly realized that I was a citizen of worried parent land. “What was wrong with you kid?”

We exchanged stories, the currency of love. I said I could not fathom what it was like to have a teenage son lose half his right leg. He said thanks. He said that the boy was getting good on his crutches. We prayed and then parted. I had to finish the stir-fried chicken. Food is important. For a moment we were with each other. For a moment our burdens were shared.

Later, my now two year toddler almost tripped his sixteen year old. His son, indeed, was quick and agile with his crutches. My son was singing the wheels on the bus, when he tried to hold the missing leg. I apologized for my son’s action. He said to think nothing of it. Two sons, two fathers painted the scene. Somehow love prayed for us when we couldn’t and then we could be with each other.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Freewill, Sam Harris and the Dim Lift of Being

Sam Harris, the celebrity atheist, has been running a series of post against the concept of free will. Like much of his thinking, he uses a slippery sense of words that lead to pseudo-intellectualism; he neither defines free will or self, which are key to any argument for or against free will. He rather assumes free will and the self so he can argue that freewill makes no sense. Quote from his latest post:

Yes, choices, efforts, intentions, reasoning, and other mental processes influence our behavior -- but they are themselves part of a stream of causes which precede conscious awareness and over which we exert no ultimate control. My choices matter, but I cannot choose what I choose. And if it ever appears that I do -- for instance, when going back and forth between two options -- I do not choose to choose what I choose. There's a regress here that always ends in darkness. Subjectively, I must take a first step, or a last one, for reasons that are inscrutable to me.

Such a premise ends in any discussion of the question. It also makes the regression he talks about ultimately unintelligible. It is also ironic as he is arguing for an Atheistic version of Calvinism. If we are all determined, then there can be no free will. So, why does Sam Harris write his books, because of some unknown biological forces that cause him to do so. Those who believe in God were biologically destined to believe, and those who reject God were like wise destined to unbelief as well. We, despite our experience of freewill, are really not free at all, but under the forces beyond us.

The problem with such thinking is evident in an old joke among theologians:

What does a Calvinist say when he falls down?
“Glad that’s done with.”

To have a theory that explains everything and all outcomes AFTER THE FACT is not to have a theory at all, but a vague attitude toward life. When I heard my alarm this morning, I experienced several choices with the alarm. 1. Get up 2. Roll over and go back to sleep 3. Hit the snooze for another ten minutes. If Harris is correct, then my choice was predestined. Biological and environmental forces made the choice for me no matter what I think chose. Harris’ theory gives no prediction as to what would be my choice, only that my choice was a non-choice. Whatever I choose, it really was my biology that chooses, hence I have no free will. It is a giant classic cosmic Monday Quarterbacking game. If it cannot predict what I will do, only that once I did, it was predestine. Then what use is theory as a theory?

I am a believer and that was predestined. Sam Harris offers overreaching generalizations for his position and that was predestined.

His position becomes more a matter of faith when he also make use “self” without any working definition of “self.” What is the “me” he refers to? He talks about how the individual has no control over her mental processes any more than she control blood flow or other biological processes. Yet, what is the “self” he talks about? He does not say. Only in his speaking about it, he creates a dualism the “self” that has the illusion of control and the biological processes that are doing the controlling. How do the two relate, Sam does not say or even aware of his dilemma of dualism. If the self is the biological processes that create conscious awareness, yet there is no free will because the biological process are in control. But isn’t self biological processes? Yes, but not the ones that make choices. Do the other biological processes have free will then? No, there is no free will. Other then Freshman Philosophy students drinking beer and playing an intellectual game with words, such thinking can only lead to a hangover.

Sam, like all fundamental thinkers, loves to make pronouncements as a form of argument, which invariantly leads to a fundamentalistic outlook, lacking nuance. These pronouncements, which usually push buttons and sell books, get challenged just by noticing how the world around doesn’t match the black and white world he claims. Under the weight of what Sam places on the free will, self, and choose the concepts break and become meaningless.

Imagine a friend asking him whether he should marry his girlfriend, and Sam answering him with, “Whatever course you choose, you really aren’t the one choosing.”

“Okay, fine, Sam. But should I ask her to marry?”

“Remember, you have no free will.”

“Got it, Sam. I will go ask someone else. You were absolutely useless.”

“You were programmed to say that.”

Other that being the basis of a tired Saturday Night Live schtick, there’s not much to his view to help us morally, intellectually, or in our daily lives.

When the alarm goes off in the morning, thinking that I am predestined to get up and not hit the snooze, makes no difference in hitting the alarm and getting up. To thinking it does is, indeed, a dark regress into nonsense, much like reading Sam Harris. But, I was destined to say so.

I am glad that done with.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Downtown Transfer

“Forgive me, ‘cause I’m just a stranger…,” he said.

His light blue eyes emerged from his gray wrinkled skin. He added. “…and I haven’t told this one in years.”

I suddenly thought I had made a big mistake. He laughed. My black suit made the day seem hotter. I was trying to avoid getting too clammy from sweat. I had folded my jacket as neat as possible and it was sitting on my lap. I thought I was in for a long bus ride. I made the blunder of greeting another within the confines of Mass Transit. Being only in Spokane for two weeks and just wanting some tidbits about my new town, I instead entered the unknowns wilderness of conversation with a stranger.

He just sat down next to me moments before. Most people keep to themselves on public transportation once they become familiar with a place. It is safe. Parked in the financial district of Spokane (or what is of it) filled with a mix of Victorian office buildings, freshly renovated or in dire need of renovation buildings from the boom in the eighties, we waited for the departure time of the city bus. I looked out the bus window and saw a newly formed pit. Next to the downtown station, there was a hole where there stood an early twentieth century brick building just a week before. Spokane was in the middle of transforming, the latest attempt at urban renewal.

“I am getting off on the Northside to drop off a resume…” I replied, ignoring the dangers of forgiveness and listening. He was a resident alien and to open a space for him to deposit his narrative would change him in my eyes. The bus was half-full. Would he reveal himself and force me to enter love? I wanted to concentrate on my job prospects. Did I have enough for such momentary love when he most likely would disappear after our bus adventure? The engine started.

Would he, on the other hand, bore me with his rehashed story drained of life from years of retelling? He looked like some car mechanic’s grandfather. The driver grumbled at the last passengers rushing onboard. I had only myself to blame. I started a conversation with him with the promise of listening.

I remembered the advice from one of my self-empowering seminars that listening is a simple and rare commodity. Given as a warning, that instruction suddenly occurred to me. Most people thirst for a living well to dump in their stories. People can become the perfect black hole to discard one’s past, if you let them. In the right circumstances, it can empower your opportunities by impressing the right people; it can also lead to boring unproductive exchanges. What was I to do? I just wanted to know more about Spokane. I started the mess with a question and was stuck sitting in my seat. I felt thirsty. I pulled out a bottle of water and got ready to listen. “So,” I continued, “please, go on.” Making small talk with an agenda can be anything but delicate. The city bus started pulling out.

He straightened up and coughed without covering his mouth. He almost turned in time as not to aim in the direction of my face. I started to regret being friendly to him. When I have dared risk opening another’s box by listening, I have found a few gems, though, more often the box pops up media processed opinions about politics, the latest sensational crime or scandal, or some tedious tale from the person’s past; in other words, the human mechanics of defense. The day’s heat made me impatient. I opened his box, and once opened, the box spilled out like a boat ride. Just strap in and try to enjoy the ride, I thought. We passed by a red brick warehouse that seemed abandoned since the Depression, which advertised crackers I had never heard of.

“Anyway, I was a teenager. I lived just off on the corner of Mission and Park in the Valley when that part of town still seemed like the country. Do you know where that is?” he asked. I shook my head as I took another sip from my bottled water. “You are new her?.”

I noticed that I spilled water on my tie. I had on a tie with Degas’ The Dance Class on it, and the drops discolored the shoulder of one of the ballerinas. I had bought it from the Norton Simon museum a year before. I was trying to make an impact with a potential employer with a chic and contemporary look. Out the bus window, you could see the twin spires of St. Aloysius that marked the border of Gonzaga University.

“Well that wasn’t smart of you to spill water on your tie. Anyway, don’t worry. It should dry.” He continued. “Anyway, it was just after we had finished bashing the Nazis and the Japs in the War. My father had died earlier in the Philippines in ’42 as General Macarthur vowed to return. My dad never retuned. Funny huh? Anyway, I was about to turn fifteen and hanging out with my friend Joe. That was the time where boys had real names like Joe, John, and Tim. Not like today with all the Trevors, Taylors, and Randys. My Grandkid’s named Trevor. What a crappy name for a boy, huh?”

“What did Joe and you do hanging out?” I replied. I already felt offended by his use of “Japs.” Judging by his discount store jeans and green checker shirt made of cheap thin poly-cotton blend, I presumed he lacked a certain sensitivity and education. I was uncertain what he would teach me about Spokane. I realized he would tell a story the way some people hike, going this way and that, following whatever shimmering thought that caught their fancy. I realized that I would continually have to steer the conversation with questions. Moreover, I liked the name Trevor.

“Well he didn’t come from a good family. He was a good guy who had it rough. His dad was bit of a drinker on account of his working for years as a welder and machinist. The paint fumes kept him out of the army and always coughing. He took out his shit on his kids and wife. Joe never brought it up, but the word around town was that he also hung out with gals not Joe’s Mom. His mom was from the Silver valley and had gotten so use to rough living and knew no better. Joe said it toughened him up just like his granddad, who was a miner. But, Joe couldn’t wait to get his butt out of there the first chance he got. I, on the other hand, loved my mom and on account of my dad being a dead war hero and all. . . Anyway, I was coddled by my mom and my teachers. I didn’t like that. But what’re ya going to do, huh? Moms are moms.”

“So what did you and Joe do?” I injected, fearful that I was keeping the conversation going. He was going off like a jukebox, speaking any scattered phase that skipped into his train of thought. I had to intervene in his story before I heard all the gossip from a world long gone. The sky was blue with the haze from pollution coloring the horizon.

“One Sunday afternoon in the summer after Mass…Joe didn’t ever go to Mass but my Mom made all us kids go and my older brother just hated going to Church…well anyway, Joe met me after church just to hang out. All of a sudden he suggested hopping the train to Coeur D’Alene on a account he was bored and wanted to leave town. I said I would go if we could be back by night. It was summer and daylight would hold out until nine or so. We had done it a couple of times before. Most times it wasn’t a big deal. This time it was. Joe’s eyes told that he had a wild hair of an idea. I knew he was planning something but didn’t know what.”

“What was different? What was he planning?” I ventured forth. I was starting to get interested.

“Well, anyway we hopped the train heading to Coeur D’Alene. I thought that we would look for girls at the lake like we’d done a million times before, but when we got closer to Idaho, Joe suggested we keep on the train to Wallace or even further to Montana. I hesitated for a moment, but what the hell? I said nothing as we stayed on the train in Coeur D’Alene. I was scared about not looking grownup. Sometimes life sweeps you in a huge moving swell like a hurricane. I said nothing as we hopped a train in Montana to Colorado a few days later. I figured Joe knew what he was doing. The country was happy then ‘cause we just won a war. People would give us small jobs here and there or feed us when we looked hungry. We stopped in Denver for a months or so. It was hot, I remember. Then it was Kansas and Okalahoma. I remember we went to a tent revival in Tulsa. The preacher was sweating in his black suit like yours, but he saved and healed some people. His tie was a plain thin black one. When he called for folks to come up and take Jesus into their hearts, Joe was up there crying for salvation. Joe was saved for a week or two. He stopped when I razzed him too much about him becoming a missionary in Africa or China. And he liked the girls too much to be a man of God. But, he didn’t ever want to go back to Spokane. When I mentioned it, he just said he’d never go back to that hellhole. Strange the way people see it. For him Spokane was a hellhole, and seeing how much guff his Dad gave him, I see how he thought that. I missed my mom and Spokane had been nothing but good to me, but I was having too much fun, like I was living in some movie.”

“What happened? How did you get back to Spokane?” I asked. Looking out the window, Spokane revealed itself in a parade of pawnshops and payday loan outfits promising help between paychecks for a steep fee. The drone of the bus underpinned his voice.

“I am getting there. Slow down and listen. Anyone ever tell you got to work on your listening. Folks like to be listened to. Anyway, Joe and I ended up in New York. We didn’t have much, but the country was happy on account of our victory over of the axis. Joe liked New York ‘cause it was so big you could lose yourself and no one would care. We had been gone from Spokane almost six months. Joe got work washing dishes at a fancy restaurant. I found a job with a Polish butcher cleaning up the cutting room. Figurski was his name. Not bad work if you can stand the smell. Good money for a boy on the lamb. Funny, poor people’s jobs have a lot to do with cleaning up crap. Maids, janitors, and trash men are here to handle the dirt of life. That’s how come they are dirty half the time. Dirty from cleaning other’s people’s shit. Anyway, I suddenly became homesick something painful.” He said.

“In six months was this the first time you felt alone?” I asked.

“Man, you aren’t the brightest. Sure I felt homesick before, but when you are always moving, it was nothin’ but a passing feeling. New country and you forget yourself. It was when we stopped long enough that I started to miss my mom. Don’t get me wrong. New York is full of stuff to do, more than here. But, when you put your head to the same pillow for even a short time, that’s when you feel it. That’s when you remember. Anyway, I thought my mom wouldn’t want me back. Still I shot her a postcard. And a little more than a week later, who should come through Figurski’s door but my mom. Funny, she’d never been east of the Mississippi before or since and there she was fetching her son back home.”

“She came back for her prodigal son,” I said.

“Nah, the good book tells us that the prodigal wanted to come home ‘cause he couldn’t hack it. I could. I was making money and had my own place with Joe. It was tough at times but nothing I couldn’t handle. I don’t think I would have come home if my mom didn’t fetch me. I was happy when she came for me, though. Boy, was she mad at me. Papa Figurski got mad at me too. He knew I was young but thought my family threw me away. When he and my mom talked, he realized I left for no reason. I caused her such pain when I left. He talked about how he lost some of his family to the Nazis and I should be grateful for such a loving mom. He got to shouting. I thought he would kill me before I could go home. I don’t think she was in New York more than a few hours. She got there in the morning and by that night we were heading home on the train.”

“Did you ever want to return to New York after you became a man?” I asked.

“The only time I left Spokane, not counting vacations, was a tour in Korea. That was also tough on my mother. But you can’t say no to Uncle Sam. Can ya?”

“I wonder where you would be if you stayed in New York. Were you angry with your mother when you got home? Who knows how many adventures you would have had?”

“Na, I caused her too much heartache as it was. I was surprised she forgave me so quick. I mean I had to pay for my adventures with chores. But she forgave me and that’s what matters.”

“How long did she take to forget what you did?” I asked.

“I’ve thought a long time about that. I think they got forgiveness wrong. They think we got to forget to forgive, but my mother never forgot I left her. She just never let it get in the way of loving me. See, she already forgave me by the time she fetched me back to Spokane. I was always her son and that is what it means to forgive a person. She would tell her friends how I up and ran away and how I made my own life at fifteen. I think a piece of her was proud that I could go out on my own even as teenager. She just missed me, and when she found me again, she always treated me with love. To forgive means to treat people right. All that crap about forgetting has nothing to do with forgiving. Even though I didn’t mean to, I hurt her and she still saw me as her little boy. It can be messy work, forgiveness, and can dirty you up, but my mom taught me it was worth it. That is love. That is forgiveness.”

I pulled the signal cord for my stop. The day’s heat made the concrete hot. I got out in front of the blue bus stop sign. I felt the sweat in my black socks. The afternoon light washed out the office building and hurt my eyes. I dropped off my resume. Two weeks later, still jobless, I called my father to break a twenty-four year gap of silence between us.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Rediscovering old poems and being in hot water

I have been writing for thirty-five years and it is strange to go through old writing. It is like finding an yellowing photo of yourself from the past; you can remember the day, but the photo is really different than you memory, as if it was not you, but someone else. The colors and the shading are different, and you are not sure if it has to the yellowing effect of time or faulty memory. The poem below was one I wrote while at Fuller Seminary ten years ago. I remember the events it captures, but memory is a strange thing.  The time keeps flowing out beyond our control.
Reading a collection of poem, A Book of Luminous Things: An International Anthology of PoetryPoetry Anthologies), while soaking in the tub at Midnight after a double shift of waiting tables

Today, I delay
and dip into hot water
for a longer visit. I read aloud a poem
written by a Chinese master,
and a poem written by a living
American poet. I wonder where is
Pablo Neruda? Why is he missing
from this collection? Imagine?

My breath lingers long
in my lungs tonight.
Alone, I sit soaking
in the unhurried hot water,
slowly leaking away from the
bathtub’s unrepaired leak.
My sore muscles, the grains
of Epsom salt and the balmy
water commune in a common
space. The water continues
to proclaims it will soon disappear
with gurgles. The sound reminds me my bath-
water will leave. I will presently be with-
out the heat which the water brings.
I am reading, in this imperfect tub,
a book of creation-wide poems
edited by Czeslaw Milosz, a deceased Polish
poet. Words written from throughout
the ages and from many places
moves within this roughed up
paperback book. Aware
of my pain after an eight-hour plus
work shift, I release my stress
through boiling away the tenderness
of my feet in the company
of words. Poems calling out visions…
traveling trains…a floating
boat of a thousand years ago
entering an ancient enchanted
Chinese city…an old woman contemplating
the emerging wrinkles
around her lips. My water drips
away. I focus. I pay attention
to my spirit decelerating
into a dramatic voices.
Listen to breath
Be attentive”
I hear
my wet body’s demand. Words without time
prance before my exhaustion.
My body releases
the soreness from serving food
for money. Bathing
in hot water is rare for me.
I am one with my generation
who has no time for bathes.
Showers, yes they are immediate—
Water spraying and lightly touching
and pounding then recycling out
of the open drain—water rushing off
in high speeds of cars and planes
taking away the residue dirt— a shower
flushes about my body
and gathers in a shallow pool
at my feet and then swirls down
the drain—this is my normal bond
to water and cleansing.

Tonight, the water in my tub keeps
going on and slipping down
the copper pipe of the ninety-six year old house
I have rent. Water is, as if carried away
by a well-woman’s
noon day bucket, shamed but alive.
Time relocates.
after poem
after poem
after word after
passes by.

I feel better even as I hear the rambling
out of my soon departed bath. Most of water
drops down the drain, except
for a few beads left on my body. In this dead
of night, I am cold.
So, I towel off.

I prepare to go into a deep
slumber to repair the damage
that comes from my mouth to month
Yet, something
stays in the lungs.
Blood and time continues to flow.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Beer and Theology

A poetic proof of God’s Love

Ah, what ales you, my young friend? Rats,
Singers, or lack of hops? Don’t fret and fuss,
St Aquinas must have a good syllogism for us,
A logic for less filling and taste great pub chats.

It is true Jesus turned water to wine, but
Could it be, he did so to pacify his mother?
Alone with his disciples and with no other,
Would he not knock a cold Sumerian nut

porter? Scripture is silence. Yet, Belgium
Monks prayer a Lambic brew out love for the Lord,
and letting the vats of barley mixed mash hoard
the air born yeast, which God provided. Seldom,

Can one find a reason better for God’s grace,
Then mouth with filled the wonder of hop's taste.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Clueless and the Baby Blues

I came home on a third Friday of my son’s life. My wife sat in bed with our three-week-old baby boy, surrounded by a sea of pillows. Her look lacked life as if she was painted in technicolor grays. She had remained in the same clothes all day, unlike herself. Her blue eyes were that of dark clouds ready to release globular raindrops. I was not sure if this would be a second or third storm of unmanned tears. Her face mixed memories and desire into a withered lilac. I was almost certain the emotional storm would not be the first for the day. I said my usual hello, and she responded with a “hey,” but without eye contact.

It was early April and our cruel winter had disappeared. This was the winter that Spokane made the national news because of a blizzard. My family called from Texas, Mexico and Ohio to see if we were okay. My family is scattered like big snow flakes in the wind, making modern technology the only mortar of connection. Somehow, Facebook is not the same as face to face.

The winter was also the last third of my wife’s pregnancy. When our son came, she no longer had to teach the helicopter parent fused freshman that had drove her nuts. The wasteland of excuses that peppered her in teaching the New Testament at Jesuit University would be only a memory. She, before the birth, had been looking forward to a break from teaching. Yet, now my wife looked clouded by fear in handful of dust.

She starred out unfocused onto our Russian painting we bought online with our son finding his voice in coos on her lap. Aleksey Popov’s impressionistic rendering of cows gazing in an open pasture had no effect on her. His staccato autumn browns and quick greens strokes were ignored as if they were a side painting at a major show. Her gaze was else where, and I had no idea where. I asked how her day went. She answered in a sharp lifeless stroke of a meaningless one word answer, “okay.”

I was clueless to help. And like the clueless, I asked the stupidest questions attempting to draw her out. My concern took on the makeup of pale white concern, yellow eyebrow jokes and the red rubberball nose of annoying questions. No wonder she remained in a melody of melancholy. No wonder her husband felt foolish.

“How was your day?”

“Did the baby do something new?”

Her minimalism answers left me looking for answers. I wanted to be there for my wife, but nothing helped. The baby fell asleep in her lap. I looked through the black prison bars of my silly attempts at being there for her. She was taking good care of our baby, but isolation that we surround new parents was slowly descending on her. She showed the beginnings of the baby blues. I showed the signs of extreme helplessness.

When we took the prenatal class, this was one of “those things” to look out for. But beyond the warning, we were given no practical advice on what to do. What I was doing was clearly not working. If anything, my attempts were bouncing off as lifeless mud. I kept asking annoying questions, because I had nothing else.

I suspect that the baby blues are more a function of the isolation, which happen two or three weeks after a birth. We all need attention to live. The first week or two, when we need to get our bearings, we are surrounded by people wanting to do stuff for us. Meals appear from friends and family. The under cooked chicken, the too large of a frozen lasagna, the homemade lasagna, and the cool Thai food takeout from the hip young mother all paraded in our home for us in the first two weeks. Our friends would drop off the dinners, quickly see the baby, say the obligatory “how cute,” and move on to their next activity. Few stayed longer than half hour for fear of overwhelming us and to go on to their next project. We have busy lives.

My mother flew in from Florida to help. She wanted to be there for us. She walked around our house rearranging things for us. I just wanted to be with my new baby and my wife. I stayed home with my new family to fill myself with euphoria and possibility that is our son. The parade of things done for us was too much. It was not enough.

Then after two weeks or so we are left alone. People had done their duty to do stuff for us. I had those two weeks with my new son and wife. Then I had to return to work. My wife had to work through the struggles of nursing for the first time with no one with her. People went back to their lives. Strange, we have become like self-contained atoms, bumping into each other out of social convention. Our friends did what they could for us, but modern life pulls us apart in flood of appointments, to do lists and the general course of getting things done. Their lives made it hard to be with us. I went through this thought pattern as I looked at my wife on the bed. My philosophizing was due more to my guilt at my own helplessness to be there for her.

I had to return to work, leaving my wife with little sleep, drenched in hormones, and a new baby demanding attention. Naturally, a deep sadness descended on her at the end of the week from lack of company to be with her. The reality was that with so many people providing help for us, there was a lack of people being with us through those first two weeks.

She needed others as we all do. She needed attention as we all do. I remember a Christmas Eve sermon by Dr. Samuel Wells at Duke Chapel that drew the distinction between doing things for others and being with others. Doing “for” others is a level that drives us apart. “With” must lead us to the heart of the love. His sermon was a fire that burned with the importance of presence. He used the passages for his meditation:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” –Isaiah 7.14

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” —which means, “God with us.” Matt 1.23

When I heard it online, I thought back and realize that, out of accident, I had found the narrow path for us in finding how to be with each other. “For” and “with, they are different. Do we hide behind doing “for” people, when being “with” is hard? When stupid questions get in the way? Critics thought T S Eliot’s Wasteland was due to a loss in belief. Maybe the Wasteland is fueled by lack of being with each other. “With” defines love. “With” can also be difficult, as my concern to do for my wife pointed out.

Thinking back to my wife on the brink of the Baby Blues, somehow I found an answer. The answer had to do with being “with” her. I remembered I asked her if she wanted to take a warm shower. She nodded mechanically. I took our son, and she went through the motion of getting warm water rushing over her body. As I heard the shower going, I had an epiphany beyond me.

She might have pulled out without what I did next, but I believe I stumbled into what help her out of the black hole she was entering.

I called several friends from our church, old wiser people than me. I was smart for once and failed to tell them about my wife having the baby blues. They would have repeated my mistake of wearing the shield of concern. We need people to be with us more than we need people to do for us. Doing for someone can be demeaning, while being with someone heals us. Two couples took me up on my offer to go out to dinner. They wanted to see the new baby and to be with us.

We all went out for yellow cheese Mexican food, the kind my cousin Clarissa hates. A greasy version of my heritage found throughout the country full of chimichangas, Pico de gallo with the peck to the tongue, and hard shell tacos. Over good conversation, over mediocre margaritas, (my wife’s a virgin huckleberry version), over chile rellenos my Mexican family would be embarrassed to eat, over silly talk and jokes, my wife’s color return. Our friends’ presence pulled her out. The baby looked out to the bright purples, reds and blues of the restaurant, happy to see the newness of life.

One of our friends loves to poke at his wife by ordering lemon with his water, then asking for the sugar to make his own “free” lemonade. His wife loves to hide the sugar from him. And like all running jokes, it takes on the aspects of ritual. My wife’s laughter over their mock bickering made me joyous. No one mentioned the baby blues, and it disappeared in refried beans, Spanish rice and good friends to be with. It dissolved into mixture of lemon, sugar and bad puns. It was the last note of baby blues I would notice in my wife.

The next day I noticed a pimple forming at the crease of my nose from the greasy food. I wore it like a trophy. Joy flowed like a living water waterfall. My wife and spent the weekend together with our new son.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Two Gifts

Sermon, The Hang given on May, 7, 2011

Our text from the lectionary today is the start and end of Peter’s famous sermon in the second chapter of Acts. Funny how the lectionary cuts out most of Peter’s Pentecost sermon. If you get a chance sometime this week you should read the whole sermon. Peter often is maligned in the Church today. I even remember a friend in BSF wonder why Jesus would pick Peter. The picture of him in the Gospel is that of impetuous man prone to flying off the handle and jumping the gun. But, I love Peter. He is a good model for me of what the Christian life is about.

The worse portrayal of him is in the Gospel of Mark. Paradoxically as it sounds, the Gospel of Mark us why I tend to buck the trend in many popular protestant thinking and developed a huge respect for Peter. Why? Tradition has it that Mark was Peter secretary and the Gospel of Mark is nothing more than Mark’s notes about Peter’s testimony. Peter is open about who he is; he is so confident in the love of Jesus that he is willing to be authentic to the point of revealing even where he falls short. Today, though I would like to ask what are the two gifts the Peter says are at the very heart of the gospel at the end of our reading?

Forgiveness and the Holy Spirit. To understand the power of one lets ask about the other. When you hear about Holy Spirit what comes to mind?

Unfortunately, many times we think about the Holy Spirit, we tend to think about the Pentecostal revival. While I have a huge respect for the Azusa Street Revival, I think the focusing on the Charasma’s of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We confuse the gifts for the Spirit itself. The sprit of God of the Breath of God is the source of life. To understand the promise of the Gospel take a journey we me with the life of typical Human.

We are born full of wonder and discovery. Everyday something new happens. We learn new words; we learn things we can do; we learn to walk and talk. Then as we grow up life changes for us. We do bad things, like not east our spinach, and our parents are not happy with us. Our father beats us for not eating. We start building a protective shell. More things happen. Your father leaves your mother, the coat of protection grows. You blame you mother. You blame you father. You blame your self. But life still has wonder, you start hoping for the best.

Then you set a fire, not by accident, but by a certain unthinking. You are not sure why you did it. You feel guilty, but you learn to pretend as if you are okay. You notice others are also pretending to be okay. You think it is part of growing up. You get excited because a teacher is proud of a poem you wrote. She sends it to Jack and Jill magazine. It
is rejected and you feel like a failure. The coat of arms against the pain of life grows.

You do more things your are not proud of and soon your are so closed off, so full of pretension, you defenses are so thick that no one care hurt you. But you are so closed into you shell no one can get close enough to love you. You know you are dead.

We call this being adult. We call this the loss of innocence. But is that what live leads to. Being dead inside. Pretending that everything is alright, while having the memories of be free, full of wonder and discovery. The truth is that we are all dead spiritually. No joy. No love. No pain. Our sin and the sin of others makes us hide away, licking our wounds and settling for a life that is no life at all. Even when we try to do good, it falls flat. It leaves us empty, reminding us that we are so unconnected to each other and God. It reminds how alone we are. We feel forsaken, lost and terrible alone. Pauls says it best in Romans. The good I want to do is not what I do, but the thing I detest us what I do, oh what a wretched man I am.

We then put on a brave face and pretend that this not our lives. We pretend. Being a hypocrite does not only describe church goers, but it is a good description of the human condition. We drink coffee to get us up in the morning. WE enter a bargain with other adults; I won’t call you on your pretensions, if you don’t call me on mine.

But is there a way back to life of wonder and awe? Yes, Jesus lives. He says our past does not define us, but his love defines us. He takes our past and makes it irrelevant. If the past is gone, then Life can again rush into us. We Christians call us to be born again. To feel the newness of life. Turn to each other right now and see the glory of God.