Yeats Confuses Me

I think it’s true that as a people, we have come to an unprecedented time of opportunity. What we could accomplish because of the advances in so many things seems to be near limitless. Yet in many ways, it also seems we are devolving in a way. And today I was thinking of that old Yeats poem, The Second Coming, written just after WWI. I think it is also surprisingly timely today. But it’s also quite confusing. No one ever said Yeats was the arbiter of truth or clarity about life, but his work does–at least in my instance–make a brother think.

Yeats

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

the ceremony of innocence is drowned;

the best lack all convention, while the worst

are full of passionate intensity…

This poem says much about war, and the chaos it brings. In many ways now, we as a people are at war. “Anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

And I think about who the enemy is in this war. Many these days would say it was the President. Yet if one follows in and believes scripture, and in the sovereignty of Jesus, we must also consider what scripture says about the state of things. I don’t know that this president, or any president, is named.

From Ephesians 2: 1-3–

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Like the rest of mankind. To me that suggests none of us are blameless, whether donkey or elephant, progressive or conservative.

among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind.

If it feels good, do it. If it’s right to you, how can it  be wrong? Must all things hold to the same order?

What about the ceremony of innocence being drowned? I don’t know about there being a ceremony of innocence. In other words, a ceremony or graduation which at the culmination declares us innocent. Why would we need a declaration of innocence? Aren’t we innocent until proven guilty?

Sure, in a court of law. Except that is not what this is. It’s a world where to many, life has no sanctity, no matter the color of skin, or the tenets one holds to. No matter the age, or gestational status of a person.

In the immortal words of the poet and prophet Ice T, on the latest Body Count album, “no lives matter.”

And I think that’s where we are today. Culture and many beliefs would dictate that life is not significant. To some it seems like climbing to some height and raining bullets onto a group of people–or into a group of people–is the thing to do to ensure that your life means something in the end, even if what it means is that you’ve taken life as part of your own life, and ensuring that you are noted, and a part of history.

No lives matter.

Except they really do. I believe that. Even with the turmoil my life has occasionally been, I believe it. Even with the second law of thermodynamics (entropy), I believe it. Even with the pontifications of William Butler Yeats (things fall apart, the centre cannot hold) I believe it.

I believe it because of Psalm 22, and the depiction of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53.

I believe it because of the 40 or so words of the apostle Paul to the Galatians:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20, ESV

Consider also Psalm 139:16: “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

Yet with all that, murder is still murder. And each of our lives matter. We can make something of them. We can matter, too, even if it is only to God. So, yes, Mr. Yeats. Things do fall apart. But I disagree with you on whether or not the center can hold.

I say it can, if we make Christ the center. If we hold life as sacred–created by God, to be taken by God. Not by a madman or madmen, to whom a human life is nothing. That person has their fame now, their infamy.

And an empty eternity to think about it.

 

 

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Do it Now

“25 but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” John 19:25-27 ESV

My Pastor is currently preaching through the book of John, from beginning to end. He hasn’t gotten to this section yet, but today I was reading ahead and a few things occurred to me at roughly the same time:

Jesus had just been crucified. His mother and those close to him had borne witness. They’d also seen the soldiers who’d done it rolling dice at his feet for possession of the tunic he’d been wearing because they didn’t want to tear it so each could have a piece. Did they recognize something about him, that they would want his bloodied clothing? Maybe, but it didn’t slow down their efforts.

Jesus looks down and sees his family (blood family and in Christ) looking at him and he realizes there are his brother (from another mother) and mother seeing him in his final moments.

His brother. His mother. And though it does not say so specifically, I think that the disciple Jesus loved and the mother of Jesus realized that sometimes family isn’t blood. Sometimes family is heart, and spirit, and love. The words of Jesus cause them to realize the truth of this.

The other thing I thought about was to realize some of the last thoughts of Jesus as a man–just prior to his death–were to think of his mother. To provide for her, because he knew his time on earth (at that time) was short.

He thought of his mother, while he hung on the cross.

I thought about my own mother, when she was dying. I don’t know what her last thoughts were, but the very last word I ever personally heard her say was to me, in reference to my presence in her hospital room. She’d asked, “where’s Tommy.” I told her I was there, and she said “good.”

So obviously, considering this weekend, I was thinking about my mother.  I wish I’d thought about her more–appreciated her more–when she was here for me to appreciate and to show love to.

It made me think that all of our time is short, and we shouldn’t waste any of it. I know I will one day have the chance to tell my mom what is in my heart, and what was in my heart at 18 (though hopefully not for a while!).

Please allow me to drop this little bit of wisdom.

Don’t wait to speak love and appreciation to your mothers. Do it now.

I only have a few pictures of my mother. I don’t remember much about when she wasn’t sick. But I think this pic shows what I want to say. Now I’m older than my mom was in the photo, and I’m younger in the picture than my son John is…
mom

Something Old, Something New

dsc_0026_2-smallI’ve had a realization gradually dawning on me over the past few months–it’s been like the slowest sunrise ever, peeking over the Eastern horizon and making me squint to shield my eyes a little bit, so I can keep going.

I’ve always felt I was hanging onto my California sensibilities for many things, and didn’t really care much what people did, provided no one got hurt. In a sense, I still don’t, because it’s true it is not my business and if people want to do gross or stupid things to each other then I am inclined to let them. Free country and all that.

Yet lately I’ve found there are things that I do care about, because I believe the truth that scripture tells me about them. Part of this curriculum I’ve been part of for these last couple years has required that I delve more deeply into the Bible than I ever have before–that I read many textbooks and lectures about it, and that I study and study some more.

I realize this is not going to win me any popularity contests, or make me Mr. Congeniality. Many people I know will probably feel I am going backward in my way of thinking, and perhaps in a sense I am. Let me also say that I am not here to name or discuss issues or politics–nor red ball caps or making anything great again.

What I’m after is simply describing something I feel convicted about anew, and that is the truth of the Gospel and the changes it has wrought in my life. I came to this conclusion on my own, through studying and studying some more. I sought no proof of anything, because for the most part I already believed. I sought only to learn, and I believe I did learn.

I learned that an aged document could be full of truth that still applies to lives today. Those truths do not always mean a path free of obstacles–especially not in today’s climate of…whatever. I learned that I can allow myself to be affected or unaffected by the opinions of others regarding this document and its many versions. I choose to be unaffected, and I give zero craps about whether or not people agree with me. Well, not exactly. I want them to care about their lives and realize there’s a lot more than just the here and now, but I cannot make them feel any particular way.

I can only live my life reflecting what I believe and act out of the truths that are so evident to me. This is something I have thusfar done with varying degrees of success. I will continue to try, and sometimes I will fail. Because I am just a man, and we do that sometimes–actually all times, eventually.

This is not so for God. He doesn’t fail–not in any way. I kind of feel like my life has been like one of those giant jawbreaker candies. As it melts away, it changes colors and different things are revealed. Different flavors become evident, until you get to the center. I feel I am at my center now, and this is where I want to be, for as long as I can.

This means I’ll serve my family and my God as best I can. This may mean I spend the rest of my life in this Sea Level community, writing blogs and telling people about the miracles done in my life, and the healing I’ve seen. That’s fine with me. I believe if God wants me somewhere else, doing something else, he’ll let me know in some way. I believe this because his Word still exists, with his promises about our lives recorded in it. And I believe God keeps his promises for the faithful.

That’s really what I want to be; one of the faithful. So think of me what you wish. My own beliefs–my faith–has been something that has changed my life. It’s been a gradual change, but a real one. If anyone wants specifics, just ask. I am happy to discuss it.

 

Paradoxical Illogicalities and Limp Bizkit

limpbizkitThere’s been a great deal of conversation lately (if you can call it that) regarding the 2016 election and the behavior of each of the candidates—both current and past. This person is dishonest and corrupt. That person is an unrepentant sexual predator. The truth is that there exists credible (and in-credible) evidence to legitimize each viewpoint, depending on how you roll.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today.

What I’m wondering is what is it about the ardent supporters for each person that makes them willing to overlook such obvious…character flaws in the person they support, while calling for the metaphorical heads of the opposition. The truth is that when you take a good and close look at each candidate one thing (to me) becomes appallingly clear.

They’re people. They’re fallible people like us, albeit with a lot more money, and as such each also seems to have that same tendency everyone else does: they do stupid things about as often as the average person.

They make mistakes.

That said, what is behind the everyday person’s willingness to overlook mistakes with a light shining on them brighter than Kleig lights on a movie set?

Some of these fallacies are not very nice. Some illegal. Some resulted in death and other traumas. In either case, the people involved are proven to be crass and inconsiderate—even profanely so—on more than one occasion.

Yet even so we carry blue signs and wear red hats. I don’t get it. It seems like nothing matters to anyone—nothing real.

Rather, to quote the 90’s philosopher/poets Limp Bizkit, “It’s all about the he-says, she-says bull—“

Why? People don’t even seem to know what they’re for anymore, in any way they can explain. They can tell you what they’re against, though.

“Never Trump.”

“Jail her.”

[Insert slogan here]

What matters to you?

1-1/2 Seconds

There’s been a lot in the news lately about the Georgia Tech police who shot and fatally wounded a young man–a “non-binary” campus activist who was approaching them with a weapon and not heeding commands. This young man has become in his death a bit of a symbol of the police penchant for cruelty and wanton murder toward people like this young man and others who defy them.

Yet when you look at the details of the situation, it sounds a whole lot more like “suicide by cop” than it does murder. But he was mentally ill, they’re saying. He wasn’t a threat to anyone. Less commonly heard is that he called the police on himself. He told them someone was out and about with a weapon–and maybe a gun.

Clearly, this gentle…person had some issues. Probably was mentally ill. But. Campus police didn’t know that? How could they have? Someone is walking toward them and not complying with any of their commands. He’s got something in his hand.

There are, of course, extraneous circumstances–as there always are in these instances. The media is certain to let us know about them. Yet I got to thinking–it’s so easy for us to second guess police. Why don’t they tase them? Why don’t they shoot them in the leg, or shoot the gun or knife out of their hand?

Imagine someone facing you from a few feet away and pulling out…anything. How long does that take? Or walking toward you brandishing something. When…the person gets close enough to you to make out what he’s carrying, what do you do? You can’t take your eyes off him long enough to study the object for any real length of time. He’s coming toward you. What do you do? How long does it take for this person to get close enough to harm them (if that’s what he wanted them to think he was going to do)?

Roughly speaking, it takes about 1.5 seconds. A second and a half. A great deal can happen in 1.5 seconds. Try this: hold out your arm straight in front of you with a pen in your hand. Drop the pen. Catch it before it hits the ground.

It isn’t that easy, is it? Or even possible. Now add stress to that. Someone shouting. The possibility of nearby people being injured.

Watch someone pull a banana from their waist. Or a Nerf gun. Time it. What if their back is to you? How long does it take for your eyes to recognize movement? Where the movement is coming from? What the movement is? The guy’s hand is moving…what’s in it? Is it a knife? A gun? Does he have anything else within easy reach?

1.5 seconds. That’s all you’ve got. That’s all that’s between you and…anything. Knife, gun, whatever it is.

Just watch this short video, and tell me how the police in the Georgia Tech incident–or any incident–could have reacted differently. Should they have thrown their handcuffs at him? What if he leapt? What if he lunged and sliced with a knife? What if threw something lethal or toxic? They tried to get him to stop–he didn’t. He left suicide notes; he wanted to die. Certainly these men didn’t set off wanting to kill anyone, and it’s hard to imagine the incident being related to homophobia. But what do I know?

1.5 seconds

 

 

 

Trail of Scars

Last night I had a dream of a memory, if such a thing is possible. I think I was about the age John is now, and my family was on some kind of camping trip or vacation. There were many tall trees, and a fast rushing river. Our truck/camper was parked near the river and I think my aunt and uncle’s camp was set up right next to ours. My brother, myself, and my cousin (I think) were off playing in the trees, and the older boys decided to have a “rock fight.” Of course I, being the youngest and worst thrower of rocks was the first to go down, with a scalp lacerated and bleeding profusely.

I ran into the camp, to my mother, and all I can really remember is that she held a cloth to my head, first washing my wound in river water. I remember all the blood. If my memory serves, I did not go to the hospital, or any doctor, and was left with a crusty scalp and blood in my hair for a few days. There may have been a scar, but I could not see it because of my hair, which at the time was sort of long and very dark brown.

This morning, I ran my hand over my bald head and I could feel the scars on my head from my trip to Alaska a couple years ago–8 stitches in my head in a Fairbanks ER, scars now a Y-shape about the size of a half-dollar coin. Fell like a drunk in front of a hockey arena completely sober. I could not feel anything from the camping trip more than 40 years ago.

This morning, I realized that scars fade. They really do. Time might not heal all wounds, but it helps you remember that long ago is not now. I am not 4 or 5 or whatever it was. Wounds received at that age no longer affect me the same way they did then.

I can’t see or feel my scars anymore–they’ve healed.

Even the deepest ones remain only as a thin line, a reminder of the person I was vs. the person I am today. I’ve changed a lot, and this morning I was reminded that the person I was is a big part of the person I am, as stupid as that sounds to say.

To you I want to say do not be afraid or ashamed of the person you were–no matter how rough around the edges, no matter how sloppy. It’s part of who you are now, and that person is good. God designed you to be a particular you, and you had to go through a lot of things to get here, both good and bad. They left their mark on you, inside and out.

But you’re here, and here is a good place to be. I hated my life for so long, in the sense that it was really hard, and really lonely in places.

Yet here I am today. I struggled, but I did not give up. God saw that struggle, and recognized it. He came to me in my despair, and I was forever changed. You can be, too.

The truth is, when we look behind us, there will always be a trail of scars. We aren’t those scars, and we are not defined by them.

We are defined by our response, and what we do with what God’s given us. Whether we think so or whether we don’t, it’s a great deal.

 

 

 

 

Heart Problem

It seems like everywhere I look lately, there is violence. There is a thesaurus of words related to violent acts. Words like “shot,” or “shot to death,” or “murdered.” Sometimes, refreshing new expressions like “racially-motivated attack. Any incident involving a gun, though, definitely brings out the worst in people. Take the Bataclan shooting in Paris a little while back, for instance. Not going to go too far into specifics, because that isn’t really what I’m after this morning. Today I’m just amazed that so many are doing the blame-game thing already. Just as they did in Paris, and so many other places.

Making the situation a political talking point. It shouldn’t be that at all. For “either” position.

Blame is apportioned and absolved for violent acts. Guns will be taken away, and people will live. Or guns will be taken away and people will die. It’s radical Islam. It’s gun enthusiasts. It’s Wal-Mart. It’s George W. Bush. Skynet has become self-aware.

I do not believe it’s the fault of the gun, however. Or the knife, or Colonel Mustard and the candlestick. I think somewhere along the way, people forgot the value of a human life, if they ever knew it at all.

Violent things are just…expected in this sad world. It’s “the way things are these days.”

It doesn’t have to be.

I didn’t expect to, but I was flipping through one of Stephen King’s Gunslinger novels, and I found a statement I mostly agreed with regarding gun violence, and violence in general:

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I believe our culture in this time has made it commonplace to deny responsibility for our actions, and blame our circumstances instead. Maybe the people we hang out with, or used to.

Except that’s crap, and everyone knows it, whether they admit it or not. Our hearts have become withered things, nearly immune to effect or influence from the death on every side. It’s our hearts, man.

We can’t seem to recognize wrong anymore.

Our circumstances in life can certainly influence our thoughts and opinions, but saying your actions are not a choice–even in a passionate moment–is patently false. We may not be able to affect what happens to us in life to a very large extent, but I believe it is a fundamental truth that we always, always choose our actions.

I grew up in a very blue collar neighborhood in a very blue collar town. Lots of my friends experimented with all kinds of things, and got into all kinds of trouble. You would hear people say things like “he ran with a bad crowd.” Or perhaps, “It’s no wonder that happened. Did you ever see his parents?”

Listen, friend. There are times it may not seem that way, but we really do have the ability to choose our actions, and “I couldn’t help myself” is only as true as you make it. Viktor Frankl wrote that “between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

I believe that statement is true. I know it’s true because with adulthood and the advent of Christ in my life, I find myself making much better choices. I think it came with the ability to stop putting myself first so freaking always. It wasn’t necessarily because I hung out with different or better people. It wasn’t because someone dumped a bucket of “smart” over my head.

It was because I started making better choices, and I stopped believing (and doing) the stupid things people told me to do because it was what they thought was best for me, or true about me.

For example, when I was in eighth grade, I had a teacher tell me privately he thought I should stop hanging out with my friends because they were bringing me down, and minimizing my potential. I didn’t think so then, and I don’t think so now.

I didn’t say anything to him then, but I wanted to tell him to screw himself. The friends he was talking about ended up literally saving my life, just a few years later.

I learned a lot about the value of a human life during my teen years, in lots of ways. If you know me at all, you know that story. If you don’t, ask me and I’d be happy to tell you about it. I have links on here somewhere to my Facebook and email accounts.

I wouldn’t change a thing about my life, good or bad.

My life got me here. It was very hard at times, but it was worth it. And I don’t think I began to explore my true potential until I took the offered hand of a carpenter, rough with calluses and scars.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to realize my full potential, because God made us all to be perfect, and sinless. Our very ancient family chose differently.

So I will never be perfect. Neither will you. Practicing social justice might make you a better person, but you’re still going to make mistakes. At the core of you, and the core of me, we may always be the same person. That does not mean we make the same choices.

From an old Everclear song, “I will always be weird, I will always be lame.”

That may be so (it is with me), but with the growth and freedom that Frankl mentions, and with faith, and maturity, and the ability to love comes a little wisdom, along with the ability to choose wisely. And we can begin to work on our heart problems.

So that’s me. And yes, to re-iterate, I think we, as a society, have a heart problem.

And I think we can fix it.

I think the answer lies in what this coming weekend is all about–Easter. It’s not about chocolate, or caramel, or finding eggs. It’s about how a man came, who was really a lot more than just a man. It’s about how he gave his life to fix our heart problem, and came back so we could understand why.

You may know me, and you may not. You don’t owe me anything, but I’d like to ask you for a favor, whoever you are.

Find a house of worship this coming weekend. You will hear a message there that could change your life, and help to fix your heart problem.

Please, give it a chance. Go there, wherever “there” is.

Hear the message, and respond. It will really change your life–maybe even save it.

.j