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.

 

Thanks for the Opportunity

To the men who are the “fathers” of my kids:

I want to tell you something. Science may tell you that you are responsible for the lives of these two young men. You might believe that, and it might even be true—but only in the biological sense. They do not belong to you anymore, if they ever did. They belong to God, and to my wife and I, in that order.

You see, being a father is not just contributing DNA. At most, I believe that is a catalyst for what follows. Being biologically responsible for their lives and being in their lives is not the same, and the former is not worth nearly as much as the latter. For 8 years, I have watched one of my boys grow strongly toward manhood. And as the former Senator from New York once said, it took a village—in this instance, a village named Whitson.

This kid is special: a natural athlete and musician, more talented in every way than I could ever hope to be. I’m sorry for whatever occurred in your life that caused you to become the sort of man—the sort of father—who would eschew any sort of responsibility, and I could not care less if it was because his mother asked you to.

You find a way, in a family. You lead the way.

Yet when I think about the fact that you did shirk that and every responsibility you had with this young man, I am glad for it. Because through it, God called me into this family. I met the love of my life, and her amazing heart has been part of my own healing journey. I get to be the man and father I didn’t have personally, and always wished to be. I didn’t think I would ever have the chance.

I claim the responsibility of raising this young man to know the Lord, and to know me, in all my imperfections and brokenness. To know the real me; the one I’ve been both chasing and running away from my whole life. Now I’m found, and a lot of it had to do with my son. And in the smallest of ways, you are partially responsible for that, too.

And you, unknown father. Your many ignored responsibilities and rampant selfishness make me want to abandon the values I treasure and know to be true and worthwhile for the brief moment of satisfaction I would get from knocking your two or three remaining teeth down your irresponsible throat.

I don’t get to do that, and I am glad. It took me a long time to find peace in my life, and I would not give it up for anything. Instead, I’ll pray for you. I’ll pray you find the absolution you may not have even been seeking after. Brother, you need it, and it is the only peace you will ever find, should you decide you want to really know what life is about, which is loving and protecting those under your roof—and teaching them about what matters most in life, which is knowing and serving the God of the universe, made real in the person of Jesus. Also, I might add, the best place to find healing.

He will not know that because of you. If I do right by him, he will know it because of me, and my wife. Let me tell you something about this boy you left by the wayside. He has a strong will, and an artistic sensibility I can only wish for. He’s got a long way to go, but he’s learning how to loved and more importantly, be loved. No nine year old boy should have to learn how to be loved.

Let me tell you something, and I want to make sure you understand, because I barely understand it myself. Whether or not you support it is up to you. As a father—as a man—if you have a family it is your responsibility to fight for it. Ignoring that responsibility should be criminal. It teaches the kid they aren’t worth fighting for, and that’s what we’re dealing with now. Nine years of abandoned parental responsibility—on both sides of that coin. He doesn’t really even know what love is, but we’re going to teach him.

Do you know what my wife and I did a couple of nights ago? We got on our knees beside this young man’s bed and we comforted him, or tried to. My wife has this amazing and God-given ability to comfort, and even when it feels impossible, she does her best. She tells him every day that he is beautiful and loved. She strokes his hair, and says soft and loving things. I’d like it to be, but that’s not really me. I’m more of a brute. I suppose my wife and I are both strong, but in different ways. We may be weak apart, but we are strong together. We intercede for this beautiful young man every day. That same night I just spoke of?

A very good but relatively new friend pointed out that what I needed to do was fight for my kids, in a very real and literal way. From my knees. I’ll tell you the truth—it was and remains exhausting. I claim that responsibility, too. I will love and protect and pray for my family, my kids.

I’m no warrior. I’m probably nowhere near as tough as you. Yet I will fight the only way I know how, and give my kids the best shot I can. I may have to fight that battle every single night of my life, but it’s got to be the best reason to fight there is.

Neither one of you two did that. May you one day live to realize that, and become the men you can be. That, however, is not my responsibility.

It’s yours.

img_0207

Toward The Hard Things

My desktop background on my work computer is a picture of all three of our boys riding their bikes down 17th Pl toward the intersection with Magnolia–John in the middle with his training wheels, David and Jose on either side.

Just this moment, I was thinking about the work I have before me as their Dad. I was not thinking in an apprehensive way, because there’s nothing to be afraid of. I was simply watching them ride down the street away from me–all at their own pace, in their own way.

Toward the end of the street.

How do I prepare them for that, or help to?

I think the best thing I can do is show them how to be men, and hopefully one day fathers who do not shy away from the hard things.

How on Earth do I do that? I will try to show them respect for people, and respect for life. I’ll try and teach them how to listen to understand, and not just respond. I’ll teach them that God can be real to them, as he is to me. I’ll teach them how much of a blessing a kind word can be. I’ll teach them that God didn’t make people as objects, but sentient and loving beings, just waiting to be recognized for who they are, rather than what they have done or can do. I will teach them that for the most part, politics are so much compost. People matter, not agendas. God matters most of all, not whether America is great, was great, or can be great again.

And because they might want to have a family some day, I will teach them how I came to mine. Through openness to love when it seemed a futile endeavor. Through an open mind and an open heart. Through loving beyond myself. I will show them this by loving their mother as best I can, in every way I can.

I do not worship my wife, but I love her, as my wedding vows said, “as Christ loves the church.” I love my kids as my kids. I am not their buddy; I’m their father, and that carries a hefty chunk of responsibility. Sometimes there will be discipline. That’s OK. There will be a greater measure of love.

Sunday, Jen was staying home from church because she was in pain and more than a little jacked up from her fall on Saturday. There was a bit of a dust up amongst the kids–they are still learning how to relate to one another along with their newest brother learning how to relate to them. On XM63 a song came on, from the band Fee, I think, called “Glory to God.” All three boys knew the words from various places, and they began singing it. Not in perfect harmony, because life isn’t perfect. They sang it like brothers with three different voices, and it was awesome.

It ended up being a pretty good day.

Life’s Too Short

There’s this video going around right now that’s making everyone feel all the feels. In it, a youngish African-American man comes home and his younger brother is in his house. He hasn’t seen him in 4 or 5 years, I think it is. They laugh, and hug, and it’s great. Then his mom enters the video, and he hasn’t seen her in ten years (I think both mom and brother had been in some African country). The older son completely devolves to his childhood, it looks like. He falls on the ground, cries, and hugs his mother.

The first thing I thought of was this one time I forgot my lunch when I was in high school. The bus stop was literally right across the street from my house, and I remember standing there with a big group of kids when my mom came onto the front porch with my brown bag in her hand and yelled “Tommy, you forgot your lunch!”

I must have rolled my eyes or something, because she set it on the porch and went back inside. Immediately, all the kids started mockingly calling out “Tommy, Tommy.”

I went and got my lunch, and it was more of that stuff the whole way to school. I don’t remember how the situation was resolved with my mom. It was true I’d been extremely embarrassed, but it wasn’t right to be rude to my mom.

Anyway, I saw that video of the kid breaking down when he saw his mom and it occurred to me that’s probably what I’d do, too. I’d give anything now for my mom to hold up my lunch and call out “Tommy!”

The point of this isn’t to have a pity party–my mom’s been gone many, many years. I just want to say that life is too short to be consumed with stupid things. If you’re a kid and you somehow read this, your parents are going to embarrass you sometimes. Maybe they’ll even do it on purpose (I remember taking the boys to the fair a couple years ago, and my older son brought a friend. They were playing this really loud fair music and my wife and I started dancing along behind my son and his buddy–he was horrified. And when we ran into one of the cool kids from school, he practically screamed “stop!!” Too bad, really, because my booty song came on…). Let it go when that happens. It’s making memories. Things you’ll look back on later and be glad they happened.

Be embarrassed, that’s fine. Just never forget that if your parents didn’t really love you, they wouldn’t take the time to act the fool in front of your friends. For my part, I love doing that stuff, and I am not above sacrificing my dignity for a laugh. I just wanted to say that, in the words of Bradley Nowell from Sublime, life’s too short, so love the ones you got.

Blue Collar Love

Lately, when I have a moment or two, I’ve been thinking about love.

Not in the way you might think—this is not one of those gooshy, “I love my wife sooo much” posts (although I do).

Rather, I have been thinking that there really is a pretty big difference between the sort-of star-struck love you feel while dating, even leading up to your wedding and the real, deeper, blue-collar love you feel after you’ve been married a while, and the work of marriage begins.

Star-struck love gets you to the altar; blue-collar love keeps you together, and growing closer.

It isn’t that the romance ends when you tie the knot, because it doesn’t. It actually gets better.

Personally, I don’t think a soulmate is someone you slow-dance with your entire marriage, and say things like “you complete me” to at every opportunity, while staring into each other’s eyes and sighing.

That crap is for the movies, and it isn’t real marriage—it isn’t blue collar love.

I think a soulmate (if there is such a thing) is the person you can come home to and say “my day was crap,” and then they sit on the couch with you, drinking a beer and not talking about it, while the kids destroy the rest of the house.

A “soulmate” is the person you can just be with sometimes, and that is enough. It doesn’t have to be a Bruno Mars song all the time.

A “soulmate” is someone who can see you in all your morning magnificence and still give you a kiss, then tell you your breath smells like ass.

Blue-collar love is not perfectly arranged, candlelit dates at fancy restaurants. It’s driving to Dairy Queen barefoot at 10pm for a blizzard because nothing else will do.

It’s making your whiny, complaining husband a pie that everyone else in the free world hates, because his mom made it for him, and when he has it he remembers her.

Blue-collar love is not running off when things get tough, or when you have an argument or disagreement. It’s rolling up your sleeves and working that stuff out.

Blue-collar love is being able to say to your spouse “I don’t have it right now. Everything feels wrong. Can I just…talk a little? I need someone to listen.”

Or sleeping sitting up in a Hospital chair while your spouse gets emergency surgery on Valentine’s day.

It’s hitting your knees and doing the work of real prayer when it needs to be done.

Sometimes blue collar love is cleaning up messes you didn’t make so they don’t have to.

Or calling them out when they fart worse than you.

Or knowing when to offer input or just listen, even when your day was just as crappy as theirs sounds.

Blue collar love is ugly-crying and not being embarrassed, because you know they will tease you after you get it out, and that is awesome.

Blue collar love is goofing around in the kitchen until you almost fall, then falling anyway, grabbing onto each other the whole way while screaming with laughter (and then groaning like you took a hit from Warren Sapp afterward).

But blue collar love can also be work, and that makes it even better.

If neither I nor my wife was willing to work at things, life would be crappy.

I think if everything was easy all the time, life would be crappy, too.

It isn’t until we face adversity of some kind that we learn what we are capable of, and how strong we are as individuals and as a couple.

I may not be the most romantic man in the world, certainly not the most observant. I forget things. I’m bad at planning things for my wife-who is conversely the bees knees with all that stuff.

My wife knows this well, and let’s me slide with sucking at it.

Individually, we probably have issues. Everyone does. But they aren’t deal-breakers, and they do not lessen what we have together, which isn’t a perfect marriage.

But it’s a great one. We love God, and love each other. We put in the OT when it’s needed (which is always), and always extend the extra Grace.

Because without a little work every once in a while, the rewards aren’t as sweet.

My wife is the only person I have truly loved, in the way people usually mean it. She is, to me, proof that God loves me. She is—literally—an answer to prayer, and will be my pretty girl until I look like this:

getimage

And even when I come home from work or anywhere smelling like a herd of rabid buffalo, she gives me a kiss…then tells me to go wash up, because I smell like crap, or whatever I happened to be into that particular day.

Or for my part, I can come into the bedroom while she’s using the w.c. and prance around the bathroom door in my Superman chonies. Or take a picture of my rear with her phone and make it wallpaper. It’s all good. She just laughs at me, and that’s a good thing.

You want to know my secret to staying happy? Be willing to sacrifice your dignity for a laugh every once in a while.

Come to think, we laugh a lot. Seriously, a LOT. That woman is funny, and I am more than willing to embarrass myself, especially in front of the kids. I want to teach them how to one day love their wives.

That’s the least I can do.

We have a blue collar love, and we are happy. Even when it’s hard, and life is being lame.

And, before I forget, I might add that it’s fun to freak out the kids every chance we get, too. If you don’t know what I mean, try giving your spouse a kiss in the presence of your children. You will usually get the wedge, or told to never dance again (I’m never gonna dance again…guilty feet have got no rhythm).

That’s another thing my wife has to put up with–constant and random 80’s song references…

It’s work, man. But it’s the most satisfying you will ever do.home

Heroes

I keep a sword behind my bed—two, actually. A pair of sheathed Roman-style gladiuses (or is it gladii?). Not much of an edge on either, but both have relatively heavy blades and nasty points. So while I may not shoot you, if you break into my house and try to hurt someone who lives there, you will either be killed and partially consumed by a Chihuahua and a dachshund, or stabbed in the head by an angry, middle-aged bald man.

Or that’s my plan.

The issue I run into is that I am not certain I could do it. I hope I never have to find out. That’s the thing about courage. I guess you never really know if you have it until you’re tested. I think these days, home invasion is the most likely situation in which that test would ever occur.

As I said a minute ago, I hope it never does.

When I think of courage, I think of people doing what has to be done in spite of potential danger to themselves—up to and including killing to protect those in their care.

I don’t think about senior-aged men deciding they were meant to be something other than what they already are, and then going on national television and suddenly becoming heroic for talking about their issues. Identity. Whatever.

Courage, of course, does not always have to be meant in a martial or violent sense, either. I think about people like Randy Pausch, maintaining his composure, and hope, and delivering his last lecture in the face of certain and eventual death.

I don’t mean hope of death passing him by, either. Randy had something he wanted to achieve before he passed, and he did, in spite of his illness.

That’s courage.

I think of my brother-in-law, John, climbing this…electrical tower thingy and bringing a potentially suicidal guy back down to earth.

That’s courage.

Or how about those Coptic Christians being marched down that beach earlier in the year, moments from literally dying for their faith?

Most definitely courage, and I can only hope to be as brave should something similar ever happen here.

Talking about how God gave you the wrong plumbing?

Not so much.

I guess in a sense, every boy wants to be courageous when the time comes. We all want to be heroes. What am I after with all this? I’m not sure. I guess I just hope that if and when it is necessary, I come through and do what needs to be done.

Until that day, I will just do my best to raise my boys to know that I am there for them, and will protect them and their mother to the best of all the abilities God has given me.

I never served, and never had the honor of protecting my country–I wish I had, now.

What I can do is support my country however I am able, and support those who do protect it with the best of all the abilities God has given me.

And I will hold all life as sacred, because God said to (and because I read Coleridge–the Ancient Mariner had some real problems) and because all life is sacred. All lives matter.

I think if I can do those two things, even when society tells me I don’t need to, or don’t have the right, then we will be OK.

Does that make me courageous? I don’t know.

Social Entropy, Easter, and a Really Big Toilet

Everyone has an opinion, on that one point, I think we have to agree. Maybe not on anything else, but on that at least. Whether you want it or not, I’m going to give you mine. If you don’t agree with me, that’s ok. My mind is all over the place today, and in sitting here thinking about the state of the world, for some reason I remembered a concept we studied in a sociology class back in the 90’s, during my first try at college.

Social Entropy. Wikipedia explains it like this (since I don’t have my ancient textbook anymore):

“Social entropy is a macro-sociological systems theory. It is a measure of the natural decay within a social system. It can refer to the decomposition of social structure or of the disappearance of social distinctions. Much of the energy consumed by a social organization is spent to maintain its structure, counteracting social entropy, e.g., through legal institutions, education and even the promotion of television viewing. Anomie is the maximum state of social entropy. Social entropy implies the tendency of social networks and society in general to break down over time, moving from cooperation and advancement towards conflict and chaos.”

I think that explanation tells us what’s going on, but in my opinion, it doesn’t offer any real answers as to why. That’s where my opinion comes in.

To my way of thinking, it’s easy to arrive at the conclusion that the social structure and social distinction of country—our culture, too—is devolving, to put it politely. Going into the toilet, to paint another picture.

I think we’ve gotten to the point as a culture where only one set of mores are permitted by a large and “new-fashioned” group of people within our society, those being more aligned with moral relativism than morals. People seem to think now that morals are little more than pictures on walls. I think this is a load of crap, and I will tell you why.

Contrary to what a lot of people think, there are moral absolutes. If there weren’t, people would go around doing whatever they want, because they believe it to be the right thing for them, no matter what the cost. There’s no God, and thus no consequences for actions, because everything is permitted when nothing is bad or wrong.

What’s that? There are some things that are wrong?

Where do moral absolutes come from if there is no God? Certainly, there are those absolutes dictated by law. Killing people is bad. Stealing is bad. Keeping a dude in a leather suit locked in a treasure chest? Yep, wrong.

But why? Where do the legal standards come from?

In my opinion, from moral ones. There are things we just know to be wrong. I believe we are all hard-wired to make decent moral decisions. That’s how we were made. We come pre-bundled with the ability to choose good over bad.

Right over wrong.

But how? How is that possible? Is it something we’ve evolved into? How did we go from being banana-stealing, inbred, low-level primates into higher thinking primates who know right from wrong instinctively?

Here is my point, and you can take what you want from it, or leave it entirely.

We were made by a creator, and we were endowed with knowledge of a few things by that creator. How to behave in public and in private. How to treat people the way we would want to be treated ourselves. It isn’t right to take things from people just because we want them, including their lives.

Things like that, and many others.

With those endowments also came rudimentary knowledge of that creator. He made us. He wants us. He loves us. All of us (Before I go further, that really does mean all of us. Even those who don’t recognize the truth because they’re too busy trying to figure out how to clear out their ears from the big bang).

We are made to know our creator. We are made to know God, and love him. The world, of course, is the other part of God’s creation. And everything in it.

Where does social entropy come in? Glad you asked.

I think we were made to live together in community. We were created to worship together. To grow together in our knowledge of our maker, until the day we meet him face-to-face.

I think our journey toward social entropy and our metaphorical toilet began when we stopped recognizing that simple fact. We grew apart as a people. It happened slowly, and nobody noticed what was going on.

Now, we are a world full of people who don’t know each other, don’t love each other in every way that counts, and certainly don’t want to help each other. That sucks, but it’s what happened.

If we hear something we think will make ourselves better or easier, many times we will just do it, especially if it feels good.

In spite of the consequences, both legal and moral.

In spite of the inarguable fact that everyone doing what’s best for ourselves as we see it pulls us apart as a people, a culture, and a world.

In the words of the group Helloween, “we are credulous idiots.”

We are gullible, to be sure. But we are hard-wired for truth. We just have to be willing to receive it.

What’s that? Believing in God is also subject to credulity?

Nonsense.

Speaking for myself, belief in God, in Jesus, and in the Resurrection is the truth I came to that saved my life.

It gave me the ability to recognize the lies piled around me that obscured the truth.

God didn’t create evil, he created people, and gave them the ability to choose him, and recognize him for who and what he was.

Their freedom to choose him over themselves was also given. To choose absolute good over evil is also ours.

Sometimes—often—we make the wrong choices, both on a macro and micro level.

I also don’t feel like all the horrible things that happen on a global level disprove the existence of God. For me, those events are sort of an…alarm clock much of the time, both socially and spiritually. They remind us the world is finite, just as we are.

They remind us we have to make a choice as well.

The world is circling the drain—the toilet bowl, if you will—because so many of us stopped recognizing we aren’t in this life alone.

We don’t have to wonder how to live.

We don’t have to wonder why we are here.

We stopped believing there was a guiding light. We stopped recognizing there was truth.

We elevated ourselves to pedestal status.

We worship false gods, and real idols.

We forgot about God because when we remember we want to live differently.

That’s hard.

So we run away from God, and each other.

In our towns, cities, states, and countries.

Sometimes within our homes.

And a house divided against itself cannot stand.

A world divided against itself cannot stand.

Humanity divided against itself cannot stand.

We don’t realize that anymore.

And we’re falling apart.

We live social entropy.

But I have Good News.

There’s hope for the world.

There’s hope for us.

That’s because of what this coming weekend entails.

Our hope lies in the able hands of a carpenter, and in his death, burial, and resurrection.

But he’s more than a carpenter, to quote writer Josh McDowell.

He’s a savior, a redeemer.

He has good works for you to do.

His name is Jesus, and he’s waiting for you to call out to him.

Your life doesn’t have to be about entropy, social or otherwise.

Choose him, not the world.