I have been given many gifts that I have loved. And a lot of strange gifts too. My daughters love to give me underwear with comic characters, dollar signs, and so on. I view it as my chastity belt. I would never let anybody see these usually over the top underwear. I have been given a box of quarters. I save quarters. I call it my mad money. So if I ever get mad I can spend my quarters to cool me off or the alternative with mad money, to commit some act of sheer nonsense.
I have been given gifts that have a tragic story. I often led meditation groups with my homeless or HIV impacted clients. A client who was also an addict told me how she had used per my guidance an image of Jesus as a meditation tool. She gave it to me in a very solemn mood one day. This was unusual and I was worried about her. My worry was justified; the next day she left her group home to return to her addictive ways. She, as I expected, had given me the picture for safe keeping until she returned to herself. She never came back.
Another gift later that is special but is sad now was a cross stitch from a teenager. I had been her youth minister and we had shared some hard times together. The cross stitch was of a wedding couple with the date of my first marriage and the words “love forever” stitched under the date. Of course that marriage ended badly. But I keep it in memory of the youth whom I once helped.
I lived with my first wife and son in two small rooms in a chapel that housed the homeless, mentally ill, and seminary students. As part of my job I supervised over twenty-five churches as they served meals to the homeless. Once when we came back after a trip, a church had filled our two small rooms with thank-you notes and presents. It is one of my favorite all time gifts.
One other gift which is my favorite is a rocking chair. Although I am a little young for the stereotypical rocker. I have enjoyed it as much as any gift I have ever received.
But probably the best gift I ever received was the biggest misnomer of a present for me. When I worked In Louisville I lived in as previously two small rooms. I lived and worked with the homeless in a church. Woody was one of the homeless residents I worked with at the church. He came to us homeless with major depression. Everyone loved him except himself. He was a devout Christian who also happened to be gay. This was in the eighties when gays were not generally accepted. He did not know what to do with himself; through many long talks he began to reconcile the two for himself. The church, which was confused and not settled yet on the issue of gayness, loved him despite themselves and this helped his self-esteem. He was happy and had completed his EMT training and was employed. He was leaving for his own apartment at the time I was realizing I too would have to leave. I was not happy that it was in the cards for me to leave.
But he had set up an appointment with me to present this gift. We met in my “expansive” home and had snacks and conversation. He was anxious to give me my present. He told me how much he had learned from me and my sermons. So he handed me the present. I could tell it was a book. I opened it. It was an autobiography of, as he told me, another great Baptist minister: Jerry Falwell (the leader of the Moral Majority).
I was sure he was joking but was holding my tongue until I was sure. He said open to the first page. I did. He had written inside the cover ‘To a minister who is as great as any minister he knew. Thanks for loving and helping me. Love, Woody.’ I looked at his face and could see he was not kidding. Tears were streaming down his eyes.
I said I had wanted to read more about Falwell, and thanked Woody for sharing the gift and his life with me. We hugged although we would see each other in the next few weeks. We knew our journeys were now taking us in different directions and we were probably never to be like this again. I knew his journey was still filled with many challenges. The book in so many ways was a testimony to that. He was only beginning to reconcile his queer ways with the bad and unloving theology of the far right.
Gifts are wonderful things. Sometimes they can be totally the wrong thing but yet miraculously they have meanings that make them the totally right gift.
The Revival Standoff
It was that time of year. Revival Season. In Baptist life revivals are big things. You pay a gun for hire minister who knows how to preach and bring people to the Lord. The congregation and others get excited because someone outside is coming in to deliver the truth to us. When I was growing up churches had revivals at least once a year and a lot of planning and work went into preparing the ground.
I was ready to prepare the ground. On the last day of the revival it was going to be youth day. This was a service directed at the youth. I was one of the leaders of our church youth and I was determined to get all my football team and other friends there. We had a pizza supper and were to have an ice cream party afterwards. I worked like a fiend the week before cajoling and talking up the revival. I told them it would be fun. Come one come all.
The night of the revival almost everyone I had invited was there. They were feasting on pizza and the music was loud and people were having a genuine good time. And to my amazement they, to a person, went upstairs to attend the revival. I had done all I could do; it was in the hands of the evangelist and God.
I hand-picked the music and everyone was in the spirit. The evangelist was in rare form. He was snorting and clapping his hands all at the right time. His message was the “if you die tonight do you know where you would spend eternity?” type. I sat in the middle, up front and listened. I began to try to see the sermon through the eyes of my friends. The preacher was not cool although he was convinced he was. He could tell a story and he could hold your emotions in his hand. Finally, he came with a crescendo to the pitch. The altar call was when he invited people to come forward to show they were aligned with God. The air was electric. One of the most faithful of the altar call hymns was playing: Just As I Am.
We had sung at least twenty verses of “Just As I Am.” The evangelist was still pleading for youth to come forward. I opened my eyes from prayer and looked to the front of the chapel and there were all my friends lined across the front of the church. I was amazed and pleased. Sure most of their conversions would not last the week but a few would. I wondered who were the last holdouts the minister was trying with every ounce of his body to get to come forward. I looked around, the only youth not in the front was me. He was holding out for me! But I thought I am right with the Lord and you can coerce and sing all you want I am not coming up front. Three verses later he had me on the ropes. Everyone’s eyes appeared to be on me. Some were thinking please go down, I cannot take another verse of “Just As I Am.” I checked deep in my soul to see if it was pride that was holding me back. It was not. He was speaking the usual “do not go home tonight without ensuring you are one with the Lord, for who knows but you could die in a car wreck on the way home and miss your chance at salvation for eternity.” My friends were pleading with their eyes, please come down and make this man go away.
I looked at the evangelist and our eyes met. I gave him my best “it is not happening tonight glare.” He asked for one more verse. Now pride was a factor. I dropped the hymnal and started belting out the little known sixth verse of “Just As I Am” from memory to let him know I was well churched. I put on my most holiest of smiles and surveyed my friends up front and said ‘Praise God,’ an action I had never done before or have repeated since. And then I looked him straight in the eyes and started verse seven from memory. He finally blinked and called for a halt to the singing and glorified God for the abundance of souls that had been saved that night. He prayed to end the service and put one more plug in for my soul by saying in the prayer even if someone did not walk the aisle tonight know that Jesus always stood with his arms open wide at anytime and anyplace and he was sure that others would be received by him in the next few days. My God, I thought, he will not give in.
Afterwards I walked down front to shake the hands of my friends. I could tell the spell for many was broken and they were wondering what had happened. And yes there were a few who seemed moved and converted. Only time would tell if they had changed.
But I noticed something in me had changed. I had been converted. I began to doubt the legitimacy of revivals and walking the aisle. It became clear to me to a large degree it was a contest of wills and the ability of the evangelist to hypnotize the audience for a moment so that they would do his bidding. Sure I had had some emotional times at revivals and in fact one did lead me to a conversion experience but too much of revivals were programming. Change that happened in a moment were not usually the kind that lasted. Out of all those converts that night I am probably the only one who really remembers that night. Hmm, I guess he did convert me after all.
My Redhead Girl
I was new at the gym. I was in decent shape. But in the first two weeks I was gaining ground fast. I felt stronger, leaner, and my wind was back. Today I was even starting an extra thrity minutes on the glide machine. A machine that supposedly emulates skiing. I started off slow adjusting to a machine I had never been on before. Slowly I increased my speed. I appreciated the new television sets the gym had placed on the walls behind the machines. I liked the setup there was a big aisle in the middle of the machines and the machines faced each other that way you did not have to look at the variety of butts on the machines in front of you. Here you could see the people across the aisle face to face a much more comfortable situation then watching someone’s butt.
I was fortunate my machine was diagonal from the redhead that I had noticed. She was in great shape and her hair was long and thick, she had a beautiful smile and eyes that twinkled. Ever since I had noticed her, I would spend my time trying not to ogle her. But often I would catch my gaze on her and have to refocus on something else. I did not want to make her feel uncomfortable I was not a creep after all. But today unfortunately my machine had the perfect vantage point to watch her. It was going to take all my effort not to stare.
I smiled at her as I got on my machine. I ducked my head because they had placed the televisions a little too close to the machines for my comfort. She smiled back at me. About five minutes into my workout in my efforts not to stare at her I noticed that she was watching me. I mentally checked to see if my fly was open. No, I thought, I was in gym shorts no fly to be had. I checked my face and teeth making sure no food was conspicuously displayed. After a close examination I found nothing awry with my appearance. She was giving me the eye. I went faster on the machine. She must be looking at me. My workouts must be doing wonders. I checked her pace on her machine. She was going faster than me. I quickly remedied that situation. I looked at her again I smiled and gave her a nod. She smiled big almost laughing with pleasure. I increased my workout. I knew now I had to stay on the machine as long as she did. I wanted her to know I was every bit as fit as her.
She was staring so much I was becoming a little self-conscious. I was also becoming a little tired ‘how long is her workout’, I grimaced to myself. But I was not going to give up before she quit. After another ten minutes I thought I always choose the fit ones. My legs were sore but I kept going. Her eyes hardly left me now. I thought this is aggressive behavior on her part. I was beginning to wonder if she was right for me. But one look at that face and I gave up that notion. I was sweating profusely. She had only begun to sweat. I was worried. I was doubting my ability to stay with her. I had been going fifty minutes twenty minutes longer than I had planned and I had been pushing myself extra hard to match her speed.
Finally, I gave up she had won. I could go no further. I stopped exhausted I looked at her and smiled. She shook her head with a smile at me. That smile let me know it was time I introduced myself. I walked toward her. As I walked her way she was still staring where I once was on the machine. So I turned to see what it was she was looking at. And then I saw it the television I had ducked under when I got on my machine. It was directly over my head. It was showing reruns of Seinfeld. And then it all became clear she was not smiling at me it was Jerry. You know Jerry Seinfeld. I was being beaten out for her love by an out of shape bucktooth mealy mouthed comedian. I did not introduce myself to her.
The next morning when I woke up my thighs were killing me. I could hardly climb out of bed. I smiled the redhead had worn me out. But at least I have, just like Charlie Brown, the story of the redhead who got away.
The Wonders of Love
I was in love and that was how it started. It ended when one day a friend told me she is out to kill me. She almost did. But until that moment I had never noticed. Love is strange that way. You start enraptured and end in a ditch wondering how you got there. These many years later I realized there were warning signs.
Was it a sign when I asked her to marry me and the next day she suddenly proclaimed I had changed, I was a different person. One day I am Michael the next day my body had been snatched by an alien force she must destroy. I never noticed the change.
Was the second enlightening moment on the honeymoon? We opened the curtain of our honeymoon suite to discover three rainbow colored hot air balloons on a big grass field. We walked down to the lake beach only to discover that a circus was performing. We even were fortunate enough to see a little bit of a water show. Surprises were around every corner. The gardens were beautiful. The food was good. The shows were fun. It was everything one could want and more.
Just as we passed the exit gate on our way home she announced she had to go to the bathroom. I thought she was joking so I grinned and drove on “Yea I am sure you have to go,” I said. When I passed the first exit she exploded. Why hadn’t I stopped? I was being cruel. I realized then that she was not kidding and we needed to stop. When the second exit came I saw no signs for a gas station or restaurant so I passed, anxious to get to the next exit. Unfortunately, as we passed the exit we saw in the distance a gas station. I was torturing her she proclaimed. The next stop did not come for another twenty miles. She held this against me the rest of the marriage and would tell everyone our honeymoon was a disaster, I was cruel, and I am sure in private to her friends she proposed I had been body snatched. Maybe this was a time for reflection but hey we were young so I went on.
One day as we were sitting, she told me she hated the way I breathed. ‘Why did I have to breathe’, she said. She said I should just stop breathing if I could not do a better job. I looked at her; she was not kidding. I can only chalk this up to a lame attempt to kill the alien inside of me. If I did not breathe the alien would have to leave my body and I would be restored. Yes I would be dead but finally at peace.
Or was it when she blamed the planned pregnancy on me. My alien had used its mind power and overwhelmed her. ‘How dare you get me pregnant like we planned,’ she said. I or at least the alien was responsible for every pain of pregnancy. It was inexcusable what I had done to her. She never forgave me for this. My eyebrows were now permanently arched in that WTF way. But onward I marched.
Maybe I should have realized something was up when she told our friends that our best vacation was the one in which I barfed continuously and walked as a zombie through the streets of St. Augustine. She said I was the most affectionate I had ever been. I remembered being very affectionate when I was thanking her for the trash can to barf in. Maybe the alien had completely taken over my body and I missed the tender moments of bliss on that vacation.
Maybe that time we went to therapy should have been a heads up. The counselor, in one of the most bizarre moments of my life, grabbed me by the throat and started shaking me to see if I would be seized by anger or end up crying on the floor. Or maybe he was trying to shake the alien out of me. For my part I looked him threateningly in the eye and told him to release me. It was the best therapy session she had ever had she said. And when I said I would not go back to him she declared I did not want to work on this marriage. She now looked at me as the Dangerous Husband with an alien inside.
Or maybe I should have figured something was up when we separated and eventually reunited. My only request for moving back in was that a year from now she did not change her mind. We were doing what I thought was well. But on the exact day of a year from when I came back she let me know she wanted out. Now I was getting the picture. Alien’s requests naturally were not to be abided by but resisted.
We decided to give it one last shot so we went to therapy. We spent the first half working on my faults. She listed so many I never knew anybody could have so many. My alien must have been working overtime. I made every change she requested. I was determined to improve for the marriage. She claimed I was only doing all this to impress the counselor. I wanted the counselor to think highly of me but believe me I would not have gone through all that for the therapist. But now that I think about it an alien who did not want to be exposed would. Amazingly she ran out of complaints about my behavior. The counselor said if she was through, it was time to work on areas she might need to improve. She looked at me and the counselor like we were crazy. She said I was faking. It was all some kind of charade to make the marriage work. She was not going to be fooled by my alien and the alien she now strongly suspected living in the counselor. She stormed out of the room accusing me of faking everything.
Now I am a slow learner. The marriage was over but I wanted to at least remain on friendly terms with her for the sake of our son if nothing else. Aliens do not know the concept of alienation that humans are supposed to have after divorce. So I continued to tell people what a nice capable person she was. Meanwhile she was telling people I beat her and had major anger issues. She even claimed I would not have achieved my seminary degree without her and that she had done all of my work and I could not do anything without her. After all aliens could not understand the convoluted theology of humans. I lost friends because of my neglect and the accusations she was making. Yet I still was trying to be on friendly terms. Aliens are that way.
This went on for a couple years until one of my friends shook me and said you know she is out to kill you. The shaking must have worked; the alien was now gone. Suddenly I got the message. She hated me. I am a slow learner especially when aliens are interfering with my neural pathways. She wanted me to suffer so that the alien was no longer able to withstand the pain and would leave my body. Her actions were the greatest act of love one could receive or at least that is the way I choose to look at it.
Sometimes you spend fourteen years as a body-snatched human and are unable to see eye to eye with another human. Insight is sometimes earned the hard way. It was not as bad as she believed and it was obviously not as good as I believed. But when you are in love as the French say C’set la Vie. Or as Eddie Murphy once said Shit Happens. Or na-nu na-nu; that is odd I have no clue where those words came from.
The Benefits of Sucking Sour Candy
One emergency room visit tells me all I need to know about modern medicine. A few weeks ago I was minding my own business when I caught the flu. Now it was not a serious bout of flu but it did slow me down (i. e, I slept a lot). After the flu had left I still had stuffiness and other symptoms so I made a visit to an Urgent Care facility, although I was not urgent and from their actions neither were they. I finally was seen by the doctor, who said I had no flu or strep throat. I had sinusitis and salivary problems.
The doctor encouraged me to suck on sour candy for treatment. Seeing the bemused expression on my face she gave an explanation. With that and a prescription she sent me on my way. I picked up my prescription and went home, swallowed my pill of modern medicine and went to bed. Two hours later I woke up and went to the bathroom as I was washing my hands to my dismay I discovered my face had grown by a multiple of two. I was having an allergic reaction to the medicine. I called Urgent Care and asked calmly what have you done to me? And what should I do? After an hour I finally talked to a doctor who said go to the emergency room, which is what I did.
The doctor had told me once I got there to tell them I was having an allergic reaction and they would immediately see me. I used my most panicked voice at the ER desk and indeed they immediately took me to the back. Three minutes later I am plugged up and they are doing vitals. They repeatedly ask are you having trouble breathing, which made me want to say should I be.
After a long wait for a word from the doctor he came in and said I am waiting for the EENT doctor to return my call and then we will move you into a room. I ask am I staying overnight. He said yes.
Now I at last knew we were waiting for the EENT doctor. This doctor would be the final arbitrator of what my diagnosis would be and what the treatment they would use. I guess up to now the doctor had been guessing. I told the one whose name can now be mentioned that she could go home I would call once I was in my room. She left as if the place was on fire.
It was quick. I saw the pleasant looking woman coming toward me. I thought she looks nice. She was the EENT doctor. She said I am Doctor Hand and before I could make a joke about an EENT doctor named hand she said open your mouth. She grabbed my cheek and looked inside with her light. She said you are experiencing a little swelling. I laughed a lot. She nodded as if to tell me I will determine that. She looked at the chart to see what treatment the guessing doctor had done. ‘You need to suck sour candy’, she declared. I have not heard that before. These doctors must be invested in lemon drop sours. And the way they said it was why were you not sucking sour candy all your life. I felt like such a failure.
She grabbed my mouth again and showed me mercilessly how to massage my cheek. So violent and harsh was she I examined her closely to make sure she was not my ex-wife in disguise. She peered inside my mouth while she squeezed the insides of my jaws. She said ecstatically, ‘Oh yes puffs of infection are coming out.’ She was so proud of herself. She looked at me again and said ‘you need to suck sour candy and massage your face like I just did. Do you want me to demonstrate how again?’ ‘No!’ I said in total panic.
No longer was I staying overnight; she had diagnosed the problem and I was found lacking. We can get you out of here in another thirty minutes. Now I was without my ride so I called the one whose name we can say now. She was exasperated because she thought she was through with me for the night yet did agreed to come and pick me up. From the hospital we went to pick up my oldest daughter fresh from college. She did not notice my face until I told her it was swollen. She said oh yeah and continued to tell us about her life at college. When I told of my ER room experience the one whose name we can say now said yea that is enough about you, let Maya tell us about what is going on in her life. With this I knew I was on my own. My drama was to be over and I was to move on.
I told my daughters that the wattle that now hung from my neck was the same as a turkey’s and was used to attract females. I wattled it at them to their disgust and said women will not know what hit them once they get a load of this wattle.
The next day they left me, the wattler, at home while they spent money and forgot about wattles. Recovery was slow. Left alone I read the reams of paperwork they gave me. They had yet another suggestion to improve my condition. Shoot a saline solution through one nostril and let it come out the other. I did as I was told, sucked on sour candy, massaged my face without mercy, put saline solutions through my nostrils and yea there were two medications. This is why medical costs continue to go up I guess.
The moral of the story is we have a few meds but we have lots of home remedies. This must be what medical school teaches these days.
Mike's Last Funeral
Dives answered, ‘Then I beg you,Abraham, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
I woke up looking, as usual, at the ceiling. I noticed right away it was not my room. The ceiling was high and huge. The bed had sideboards and they did not allow me to roll over. What was this I thought? The sideboards were covered with a lace curtain and that was not a blanket over my feet; that was a box, a coffin. I was in a coffin. I noticed the soft music playing in the background. I slowly peeked over the edge of the casket. People were gathered. Lots of my friends and family. It couldn’t be, but this had the appearance of my funeral. With this realization I began to critique the funeral. Not as many people as I would have expected. The music was God awful. Where was my family? And then I did the thing that will live in infamy. I rose up out of the casket.
This caused quite the stir. My ever faithful wife declared, “What are you doing?’ ‘I am not dead.” I replied.” She retorted ‘You think I cannot see that.’ The people in the pews were now stirring and upset.’ My cousin shook his head in disbelief saying, ‘He is such a naïve liberal he does not even know how to die right. Liberals they are so useless.’
I heard a guest I did not recognize say,” I wandered in because I saw the good food but if it is going to be awhile before we eat if you do not mind I will be back in thirty minutes.’ Another person totally confused says, ‘if Mike did not die well who the hell did? I better not be here under false pretenses.’ Another voice from the crowd,’ Such a grandstander!”
In the back of the church, hurrying to the front was the funeral director. With an air of authority he declares, ‘Well, if you are going to stay you need to stick to the scheduled ninety minutes allowed for the room.’
My son looked at me, shaking his head spoke, ‘You probably want to go ahead with the funeral. You always need to be the center of attention. You never let the rest of us have room to breathe. I look at him with tears in my eyes,” You came!” My wife ever present states matter of factly, ‘Do not get too teary eye we had to bribe him with music festival tickets.” “But I am here” my offended son replied.
Everyone in the room is looking at me expectantly; they want to know what we plan to do. I feel inspired and think people might want to hear from a recently resurrected man. ‘ Let’s go ahead. I will deliver the message.’ Suddenly out of a side door comes my preacher brother with great bluster. Now Mike you need to think about you delivering the message most of the people came here because they want to hear me preach. After all funerals are for the living not the dead.’
Suddenly, I look at my wife ‘Why is my brother preaching at my funeral?’ “I couldn’t get anyone else and we are having to pay for him.” Continuing to look at her and why am I not at Bethany church?’ ‘It cost too much to transport your body.’ ‘You could have cremated me at least and then spread my ashes at Bethany right?.’ Exasperated to be honest she declares, ‘We have not gotten that far in the process.’ She continues, ‘But let me say this in my defense it took a lot of planning and money to pull this off. How was I to know you were going to ruin the whole thing?’
My oldest daughter walks up to me,” Dad I love you and everything but is this going to happen because I am scheduled to meet up with some college friends and hike this afternoon.’ I look at her and question, ‘You were not going to stay for the wake afterwards.’ She looks exasperated at her mother” I told you he would want one.’
My youngest daughter comes forward,’ Does this mean I do not get his Chinese prints? I have already chosen the wall for them’ she says disappointingly.
The crowd is totally in an uproar by now with no one knowing what to do. ‘If someone is going to have a funeral they at least should have the courtesy to stay dead. I paid for a hotel room to be here” ‘Are they going to have a service or not. I mean there are two preacher brothers surely we can get one passable sermon from them” “This is awkward. I did not want to be here anyway and now I do not know if the etiquette is to stay or go.” “This is probably nothing more than a radical anti-Trump statement. Mike does not even have respect for the traditions for a good ole fashion funeral.”
I state firmly ‘I have something to say.’ An angry voice from the crowd, ‘You have already done too much. Let your wife speak’ My wife rolls her eyes; in the most sincere voice she can muster she states,’ Let him have his say. You know we will never get out of here until he does.’ My son shakes his head in agreement, ‘Yea Dad get this over with.’ My oldest daughter is on her I phone rearranging her schedule; by her body language you can see she is not pleased with the change in plans she had so carefully orchestrated.
I begin to speak. “I am glad to see everyone here. It is a shame it takes a death to bring us all together like this.’ ‘Except there is no death and now we are stuck with each other,’ mutters my son. I continued “But I think this should remind us …” The funeral director steps forward and interrupts,’ if everyone could please wait for the family as they proceed out and then follow them. This would be great. As you know there will be no graveside service.’ The funeral director takes my wife by the hand and leads her down the aisle as my family follows. I am left standing at the front of the chapel alone. I shake my head get back in the casket and wait for my burial.
January 29th, 2018
Wormwood sat in his office with a Cheshire cat grin on his face and his shiny black shoes resting on the desk with hands folded behind his head. He looked out his bay window at all the new recruits for demonhood. He could at last, after a long distinguished career, feel satisfied. When the book about his early life, The Screwtape Letters, was written, he was a novice still only ranked a demon. The book had been a huge success and he was even nominated for an Ignoble Prize for Chaos. He had used this to launch his career which has taken him to the very depths of Hell. They even gave him a new depth which greatly disturbed Lucifer. But all Lucifer could do was stand by aghast as he received full partnership and ownership of the Company.
He had not just stopped with the Company. He had created his own universities. They taught creative classes such as Cubicles: Our island paradises, Facebook where your life never measures up, and Now that Corporations are People. Lucifer had thought that the modern times would destroy evil but he was wrong; it offered the chance to create alternative realities, fake news, and artificial intelligences. If humans ever crossed paths with their souls they would not see it as a reality. This was Lucifer’s lack of vision and this was my opening to leave him in the dustbin of history.
Certainly he had learned a few tricks from Lucifer. He was a great salesman. He could convince you an armed missile was a Peacemaker. He learned from Lucifer that all you needed to sell something to people were a few tricks. Number one was if you tell them it is new and about progress, they almost became insanely blind to its flaws. Take the internet. It gave the promise to an equality of access to information but hidden in it was the redefining of what a friend was. It also allowed communication anywhere anytime. He smiled: including family time. But with all the communication came the need to communicate with everyone everywhere. And now emotional pain was expressed with emoticons, which created the paradox that there was more communication but at the same time there was less. I love paradoxes, he thought.
The most humorous part to him was that the internet had paved the way for sex without the touch of another human being. He thought that one of the greatest paradoxes. Certainly masturbation had always been around but now it was becoming, with the internet, the major form of sex. Relationships were too hard (excuse the pun) but the internet brought all sorts of varieties and possibilities; it made it feel like you were having real sex. But of course he had to be careful with this because he did need the human beings to continue to breed so he would have another generation to please.
What had made all these thoughts come crushing in today: he was to receive the lifetime Achievement Award for General Destruction of the Fabric of the Community. This was one of the most satisfying awards as it was given by your peers only once a millennium. Lucifer had won all the others and now he would be able to look down from the stage and give Lucifer a condescending look. That was going to be great. He was expected to give an academic acceptance speech. He had settled on exploring the question of the Problem with Pain. Pain was the main thing that could alert people to life. Pain was a reminder of all the good things that life gave you. Many assumed it was a tool of the devil and he declared it was not and he should know. People could trudge through life without ever thinking of their good health, good minds, good relationships, and so forth. But let a loved one die and they suddenly awaken to all the relationships they cherish and need to nurture. In pain questions begin to be asked: what is life about? What really matters? These were never good questions for the hell on earth we want to create. The best thing for an up and coming demon was for their clients to never think of death.
Sweat shops need to be in third world countries, far away from the buyers’ eyes. Weapons of mass destruction need to be able to travel great distances so that their destruction could not be seen in person. The further removed the consequences of your actions from the deeds the better. So hide growing old in removed nursing homes and facelifts.
Wormwood stirred from his deep thought. His administrative assistant was buzzing him on the phone. “The man who wants help in promoting the twenty-four hour War Channel is here.” Ah, painless and clueless and make the unheard of evils of war commonplace and we win. Wormwood chuckled to himself as he rose to greet his visitor. “You are doing such a good thing for the world.” He thought to himself: life keeps getting better and better.
Old Woman and the River
She was the daughter of a steamboat captain in an age when the steamboat was more a novelty as much as it was a necessity. She grew up in a river town in the middle class lifestyle of a steamboat captain. Her father, who was her hero, was gone for long stretches of time steering his steamboat up and down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. This lifestyle of the wanderer who gathered at the river would also become a marker for her own life.
Audrey was the first Unitarian Universalist minister I would know well. She had worked as an environmentalist advocate and teacher before she accepted the call of the ministry. She specifically accepted a call to Savannah, a river town. Her call on the outside looked a little peculiar. She was not a people person. She was more comfortable alone. So she did not visit the sick or new prospects. Once she met a parishioner in her condo parking lot and they realized they lived in the same complex. She made it clear to the parishioner that under no circumstances would she be having lunches with her. The parishioner was bemused since the subject was not brought up. She was one of those folks who liked people better in the abstract but not so much in the reality.
She married a man very much her senior. He and Audrey met on a Sierra Club outing in 1966 and were married by the Rev. Berkeley Blake on a mountain top in Ojai, CA. He would live on the West Coast while she worked on the East Coast. This would be their relationship for fourteen years. It was a relationship much like her father and mother’s. In fact her mother would live with her husband on the West Coast while she was away.
She was a minister who obviously struggled with preaching as she reported spending inordinate amounts of time in preparation of her sermons. The time was, as far as one could see, not spent in the struggle of the Garden of Gethsemane but in the struggle of a perfectionist. This would make one think she was a great preacher. But to most this was not the case. Her sermons often rambled to nowhere in particular. Sometimes in the rambling a profound point would be made but more often this was not the case.
But what she seemed best at was presence at the breaches of society. She loved humanity in the abstract but advocated for humanity and the world by being present. She was the only lead woman minister in the city. She attended and helped start a women’s ministerial support group. She advocated for causes such as HIV\AIDS services, poverty programs and the like. Her greatest accomplishment was in 1990; her presence and efforts helped to form the Interracial Interfaith Community of Savannah. It was a group that offered conferences that brought the community together to speak about racism in all its verities. It was indeed in its make-up interracial and interfaith a thing regretfully not seen much in the world. Her presence in the community brought recognition and a good reputation for caring for the congregation.
Under her pastorate the congregation grew slowly. It also reclaimed the historic Unitarian Universalist Church that had been lost as the abolitionist church disbanded before the Civil War. But she also attracted social activists to whom the old timers had a hard time adjusting. This would later cause a conflict within the church.
Audrey returned to their home place in Santa Paula upon her retirement in 2004.It was here many years before that she had been an environmentalist advocating for the Santa Clara River. It was under siege and she and others plead the case for the river and won. Once back she discovered again this land she lived in was under attack by ‘progress’. She spoke to the local commissioners, stating how the Sierra Club wanted to make the Santa Clara River accessible to all. She said,” Life right here is deeply restorative. We need to reflect how we are one species among many to be awed how we are a part of something so much larger than ourselves that this watershed and floodplain eons in the making will survive us, that we are part of this timelessness. We human beings need this and it is right here.”
In these words you can hear the Steamboat Capitan and the Old Woman of the River speak. Her words and her life as all others before her and after her continue rolling in the river of life.
The Geese Apocalypse
I seem to be the only one aware of it. Other people are not like me and have not had the veil lifted from their eyes. They are paranoid of Putin, Trump, or apes. But the truth is it has always been geese who are our greatest threat. Geese assume a timid pose to us humans but it is only a cover. A quick review of the Wikipedia entry for Canadian geese reveals the truth if you know how to read. Canadian is a misnomer to distract you from the fact that they have established themselves throughout the world. Europe, Siberia, New Zealand, Argentina, and other places. They strangely (not so strange if you know they are taking the world over) have established a permanent home in the Research Triangle and the Chesapeake Bay (that is right they have established permanent homes near our nation’s capital). These geese no longer migrate even though their propaganda would have us think otherwise. They also have permanent homes in China and Russia. No these geese fly missions, not migrate, over the whole world and have permanent homes in strategic areas. Geese have taken down our best fighter jets. Geese have poisoned our water through their manure.
Full grown geese have no natural predators. No they are the predator. Their children are indoctrinated into a military mindset at an early age. You have seen them goose stepping in straight lines behind their leaders. Cute and cuddly you may think but try to get next to one and face the fury of an adult goose. You will retreat fast. The geese population is increasing; in twenty years they have increased by over ten times. Which means in another twenty years they will number a sleek V-flying war machine of over 50 million geese.
But they are not merely preparing themselves for battle, they are passing laws. While they take down our jets, poison our waters, goosestep, fly freely throughout every nation’s airspace, they have lobbied governments so that we can only defend ourselves against them a few weeks a year. They have legally tied our hands while the NRA has crowed about a need for no gun control laws.
You may ask, how did I become so aware of the goose agenda? It was a beautiful sunny day at Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky. I was with my family walking around the cemetery which used to be a park for humans but now geese proudly held forth tolerating the humans. Many humans were there, having to serve food to these geese to keep them appeased. It was their land now but I had not quite realized it. These thoughts are all made in hind sight before my eyes were wide open.
I was walking around the lake with my child’s hand in mine. We were bonding and enjoying the previously mentioned beautiful day. A goose approached us menacingly. I told my son not to worry, if we kept walking he would eventually leave us alone. The goose kept coming; it was now biting at my heels. My son was worried, but he had complete faith in me. I was his hero. We had gone on for fifteen yards and the goose had no let up with its hissing and nipping at my heels. I looked at my son and said all you have to do is turn around and stomp the ground at the geese and they will flee. ‘Watch,’ I said. I turned to stomp my feet. But as I turned the goose had had enough of me; he flew hissing with wings spread wide at my face. I was stunned and took a step back holding my son’s hand firmly. But when I stepped back my foot found air and then water. I was falling in the lake.
Into the water I went. I also because of my protective grip on my son’s hand took him with me. He went under. I stood up quickly the water only came up to my chest. I quickly lifted my son out of the water unto the ground. The geese had backed away and was still hissing and throwing its chest out. As if to say “Yea I took you down human and there is nothing you can do about it.”
I climbed out of the lake. I could tell by my son’s look I was no longer his hero. In fact he was not sure he could trust me anymore. I was drenched and humiliated. The geese owned the park I learned that day.
These years later I do my best to walk wide circles around the so-called Canadian geese. My son has inherited my fear of geese, which I am sure he will pass down to his son. My grandchild will more than likely live under the geese regime.
All of the information had been there but none of us believed it or had eyes to see it. But hopefully you now know; please do not tell anyone, especially near geese, where you heard this. I am going underground now. I will have weekly updates on Saturdays from now on.
I had grown up playing football. I was good at it. I had been taught discipline by my Marine Corps Drill Sergeant father. I was constantly lifting weights, running sprints, and doing football drills. I would take forty-five pound weights and bang my stomach with them to toughen my core. I was solid, quick, and if necessary mean. I had been the only freshman to start at my high school. I was an up and coming star. But my father got a job in a new town so we were moving. I would have to establish myself at a new school. I was heartbroken. When we visited the coach in the new city we passed some of the players. They were all big. It would be hard to break into this team, I thought.
The first day of practice I took on the legendary Wayne Dorritt. Not by choice of course. I was smarter than that. He was all redneck and scared everyone because he was crazy. He loved to be hit. He liked the pain. This was the thing that scared people; you could hurt him but instead of backing off he became more engaged. There was no beating him. He also loved to hit. He packed quite the wallop. The coaches wanted to test the new kid’s mettle. So they placed me opposite him. They made sure he was good and ready for me by saying I wanted his position on the team. I literally saw the blood rise to his eyeballs.
The first play he gave me an uppercut to the chin. It nearly rendered me unconscious. I looked at the coach who was watching us to reprimand him for this illegal action. They only said I needed to hit him harder. I returned to the huddle; they told me my chin strap was full of blood. Later, it would take four stitches to close the cut. I was not in Kansas anymore. Play after play I went after him. He gave me a shot to the groin. I crawled back to the huddle. The coaches continued to fuss at my poor blocking skills. I thought: he is just inflicting pain on me, he is not making a play. I grew angry and now we were going at it long after the whistle was blown. He was having fun. I was in a self-defense mode. My chin strap was red and blood was oozing out of it. Finally, the coaches told me to hit the locker room and see to my chin. It required a trip to the ER. I had established myself.
I had been taught the mantra, since I was old enough to walk, that I was a Freeman and we are blessed and therefore we gave back. I thought my best way to give back as I entered college was to become an FBI agent. I would get my degree in law and apply to the FBI. So I was determined to change the world.
In my first semester I watched the old FBI agent now professor tell his stories day after day in my 101 Law Enforcement class. He was always deliberating how he could do this and how rugged he was. He told stories to shock and give us nightmares. I was not really impressed. It was a humble brag. Look how tough I was. He showed us pictures of Bloody Sunday. Close-ups of the carnage of the men who had been massacred. Describing graphically the blood and holes in their body. He was often over my incredulous meter. One day he told us all he could disarm any of us without ever being shot. I looked at him. An overweight middle age man who showed no ability to move fast. He was living his glory days. It was then I suddenly realized I did not want those kind of glory days: days of machismo and shocking stories. I wanted days of helping others.
I had been promised a football scholarship if I came out and made the team. This would be easy I thought. I was good. I had made a few friends on the team already and was told by the coaches the scholarship was mine. They handed the ball to one of my new friends. I zoned in on him. I was oblivious to everything but stopping the man with the ball. I hit his knee hard; it crumpled under my shoulder. I heard the cracking of his kneecap. It was the sound I would never forget. I stood up over him slowly coming out of my concentration. Looking down at his wailing body and listening to him screaming in pain while not trying to seem too much in pain. I came back to hear the coaches patting me on the back enthusiastically saying, ‘Now that is the way we want you to hit. You will make first team if you keep that up.’ The words were a shock to my system. One of my few new friends was being carried off on a stretcher and they were congratulating me. The thought came across my mind: the object of this game is to hurt one another. I finished the practice but I knew I would never be back.
The overdose of machismo I had been raised with was slowly being drained out of me. I no longer cared to be the toughest, meanest, strongest, quickest man in the room. I wanted to grow old and have stories without bloodshed to tell. I wanted stories of how I changed the world and lives. I no longer wanted to play games where one of the objectives was to maim the opponent. I realized I was being conditioned to be cannon fodder. I wanted to be the one who could avoid bloody conflict, who did not play games of violence, but offered a new and different way.
It was a total shock to my system. I lost thirty pounds on a body that did not have any fat. I crushed my ego with nights of tears and prayer. I was nothing. I broke myself. It was in the breaking that I was remade. It was as though I was remolding myself but also there at the time appeared to be an outside hand molding me to think differently, to be different. I studied an old scripture. Once where it had been full of stories of personal bravery and greatness; now when I read, it was full of commands to help the poor and the least of these. It was not about exerting power to rule or win the contest; it was exerting power to bring down the abuses of power. All things were different. I needed to be reborn.
It was a call from deep in my soul to think, to pray, to live humbly, to fight for the poor and outcast, without violence. To lay my life down every day for others. It was a new path. These many years later I have succeeded and I have failed this new way. But it is always the voice I hear when I stop and think and pray. I am still fixing the broken young man.