Tuesday, August 14, 2018

MASH

From 1972 to 1983 a 30 minute dark comedy aired that portrayed the personal cost of war on individuals, families, and societies. MASH was not a show we watched as a family, and I never really questioned why. Perhaps it just came on at an inconvenient time or during another show that took priority in the family. While I never knew much about the show's content, the theme song caught my ear during college. Each week the music minus lyrics filtrated the homes of American families, many who never knew the meaning behind the tune playing over and over as a soundtrack that carried throughout the week. Did you know that the title to the song is "Suicide is Painless"? Here are the lyrics for your interest.

http://www.metrolyrics.com/suicide-is-painless-lyrics-mash.html

While many would argue that the song is depressing and should be stripped from the musical libraries of our world, the words are so real that they frighten those who choose to live in a world that does not exist. You see, fear is the great maker behind all masks. Our society thrives on hiding from all that scares us. We hide our feelings and our failures. We hide behind masks of power and prestige. We throw out words that spread the lie that everything is okay when the broken pieces of our lives are cutting gashes into our hearts because no one wants to know. No one wants to see. No one wants to hear. No one wants to feel. Stay hidden on the journey that will eventually end in death.

Death happens in so many different ways. My dad died from pancreatic cancer. We thought it would be from heart disease or from smoking. A friend's mom died after being struck by a car while crossing the street. We thought she would live forever. A student was struck by lighting, and another was killed in a drunk driving accident. A cousin died by suicide. An uncle died by drinking himself to death. Another uncle - stabbed by his girlfriend. A close family friend died from natural causes late in her 80's while the son of a family friend died in his 30's from an aneurysm. No one really knows how or when. No one knows if death will come suddenly or over time.

Robin Williams was an amazing actor and comic. He could make people laugh just by looking a certain way. He made movies that made us think about how we were living our own lives. His heart was large for those around him. We all allowed him the pleasure of helping us escape for a few moments or a few hours as he created a life that made us smile and cry all at the same time. I won't pretend to know what was happening in his life. I just know that the news reported he died - by suicide.

What makes someone who seems to be full of life find the answer in a sudden, self inflicted death? Could the song be right? Is suicide really painless? I suppose not for those who are left behind to figure out what happened or for those who are trying to put the pieces back together. What about for the person who sees this option as the only one? Do the ravages of personal war plague our lives so strongly that the only way to be free is to commit death - emotional or physical - by suicide?

The answer to that question should be a resounding "no." My friends associated with the church would say that there is another way. Those with families near them would also cry out in rejection of the notion that death by suicide is the best answer. Personally, I cannot imagine that death by suicide is the best answer either. I can, however, see why some would find this path the most obvious path for the moment. Without someone to help guide us through, we all get to places where we think there is no future. The dead ends are surrounded by impenetrable boulders and vines. What is the other way? Most people don't suggest anything that is tangible. Lots of ideas and meditative prayers rise to the surface. Does anyone have an answer that someone can really cling to and use to find a way to shore? Can the church perhaps decide to dive into the water and pull someone to safety rather than just cheering him on from the shore?

In later years, spinoffs of MASH surfaced helping us to see that there is life after war. How did they survive? They looked within themselves, focused on what they could affect, and decided to make a new life that mattered - at least for the moment. In essence, they committed a different form of death by suicide - bury the past by creating the future. Unfortunately, suicide is not painless. Suicide does not remove the pain. Somehow we have to find a way to embrace what the future holds and use the past to keep us from making the same mistakes again. Make the future what you need it to be to survive. War stinks. Survival stings. Life ....

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Road To Nowhere

Sometimes the most difficult part of a journey is getting lost along the way. At time getting lost can be an adventure, if you are the adventurous type and if no one else is depending on you to stay found. Mostly, though, others are looking for us to know where we are going and to know when we will get there. They don’t much care what happened along the way. Just show up on time with everything in order.

I haven’t lost my way often, primarily because I’ve not taken many journeys. Kelly Clarkson sings a song about being trained as a child to play it safe. Through that experience she ended up living in a world of fear and distrust. She was taught, like many of us, that the safe way is the best way. Stay close to home and fall in line. Everything else will be okay.

While I haven’t lost my way often, I have found myself lost along the journey here lately. I venture out a little thinking that I am healing from some brokenness only to find that the brokenness travels with me and haunts me into confusion. I try to be real and to let others see the me I know. It’s too much. I’m like a child learning to interact in a society that has always rejected the me I have kept buried for so long. I think maybe someone might want to know the real me, but then the past tells me I’m wrong. My introductory efforts come across as if I am a weak, emotional basket case who needs to be handled with kid gloves. When I try to pull back the reins, my heart leaves the path and hides in the darkness searching for a way to another place - not back to where I came from but also not where I was going.

Some say the journey is best travelled with someone. That saying is only true if you are worthy of someone traveling with you. Some journeys are best taken alone with friends and family who love waiting patiently at the end of the path. Perhaps they will be able to wait without a time frame or an expectation of what you will look like upon your arrival. On the other hand, perhaps they will not. Either way, you will end up somewhere. Even the road to no where ends up somewhere.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Pooh

Childhood memories are the best memories for many people. For others, these memories bring grief and heartache. Loss of family, friends, and innocence plagues the hearts of those from many walks of life. We learn to live with the pain and the regret hoping to discover ways to make the most out of our brokenness. Everyone has brokenness of some kind, I suppose. We live in an imperfect world so the best we can do is to take each day one day at a time and live that day to the fullest.

As children, we had the luxury of escaping into enchanted worlds of make believe. For some the enchanted world provided a place to play for a time, but for others the enchanted world provided a break from the harsh realities of living. The most difficult times, then, would be those where you would have to leave the enchantment and come into the circle of life others were a part of each day.

Bedtime was always the scariest time of day for me. All day long I could hide and pretend to be the person I wanted others to know. Bedtime, though, was different because as sleep encroached upon my private world, I knew I would lose the ability to be in control of my existence. I fought sleep with the strength of a warrior, but each night the power of nature overcame my senses. Each morning I woke with the burden of the life I so desperately wanted to leave. Each day I lived the life I created to keep others from knowing the real me hidden deep inside behind dark walls even I refused to go behind.

I don't remember when he joined me, but at some point Winnie the Pooh came into my world. I watched the shows on television and read the books. Mostly, though, I held onto this stuffed bear less than a foot tall. He rested on my bed each day waiting for my return from school. He watched me carefully as I engaged in activities that perpetuated my make believe world. He listened as I made up storylines where I was a flawed hero, and he heard me as I cried over the worthlessness I felt in my life. Pooh became a friend to me, and he proved to be the best childhood friend a boy could have. He was always there with me, but mostly, he was there with me at night. I remember heated arguments in our home at night. Holding Pooh tightly helped me make it through. I remember being afraid that I would dream about falling into the deep cavern yet again. Again, Pooh helped calm me. I remember being afraid of the Wicked Witch who threatened to boil me in her cauldron once she had put me to sleep. Through it all Pooh was there.

Tonight we are going as a family to see the new movie Christopher Robin. I have been rereading
some of the Pooh stories in anticipation of the movie. I don't know all that we will see as we experience Disney's creation of a grown up Christopher Robin and the impact of a bear and his friends on this matured life. Whatever we see, I am sure it will be amazing. He may be a stuffed bear, but the attachment remains - for scores of Christopher Robins around the world.




Thursday, August 2, 2018

God Has Left The Building

Several years ago I wrote a blog entitled "In Search of Church." Lately I have read back over several of the blog posts I wrote, and knowing what was stirring beneath the surface inside of me has made me realize that not only am I in search of something, but I have actually been in search of something for some time.

Here is the question that weighs heavily on my mind. Is God really still interacting with the world as we know it? Most who wear the Christian label would immediately say, "Why of course," without even thinking about it. When pressed further, most of these would point to evidences of circumstances or ministries that they believe point to the work of God among us. Interestingly enough, many of these circumstances and ministries are duplicated in the non Christian world.

Over the years I have taught about God's work through the church. I, like many others, have taken the position that the church is the chosen pathway through which God chooses to work and to display His glory. Take a pause and realize that growing up Baptist limited the work of God to some extent because Baptists are scared silly of the Holy Spirit. Put the Holy Spirit aside, and Baptists will fall in line. Church is the way to go. Along with church, Baptists will teach about tithing, missions, Sunday School, and other such things. They will speak against drinking, gambling, and pornography. Not so much smoking because the deacons out front might object as they are putting their cigarettes out. All in all, though, Baptists will agree with most other denominations that God is best expressed within the confines of the church.

Notice that I used the word confines. That word was intentional because over the years, the church has become, in many cases, like the legalistic structure of the Jewish religion of old. Follow these rules, and the church will embrace you. Step out of line, and the church will reject you. Somehow living for Jesus became less about Jesus and more about the institution that even he fought against.

So back to the question. Is God still interacting with the world as well know it? Well, if the position of most who call themselves Christian is true, then the answer is "no, He is not at work." If the church is the chosen means whereby God choses to work, then I have to conclude that God has left the building. The church in America has become, by and large, nothing more than a religious institution perpetuating the ego and power struggle of those who wish to be God. They want to be seen as the final authority on truth and to be held in such high esteem that it rivals worship. It reminds me of what I was taught in elementary Sunday School about the devil's downfall. Leaders of the church today want others to see them as God, which in reality means they have made themselves an idol.

Research emphasizes the decline of spiritual awareness among Christians. Maybe I'll post those results tomorrow. For now, suffice it to say that we are worse off now that ever. Even with the Republican "messiah" in the White House. Imagine that. The church has lost her voice and lost her influence. The Spirit of God has moved on, it seems. America has become what Europe became with one difference. In Europe there are large empty church buildings with no Spirit. In America there are large full buildings with no Spirit. The only difference is the number of deceived people in the building. Go figure.

If God isn't at work around us, then where does that leave us? Interesting question right? An even more interesting question is whether or not you have the energy or desire to investigate the answer. Join me on the journey if you dare.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

No One Mourns The Wicked

One of the opening numbers in the Broadway Play, Wicked, is titled No One Mourns the Wicked. Watching the musical and listening to the song produced some interesting thoughts in my mind that you might be willing to consider if you are one who has grown up in the church. 

As the play progresses I became uncomfortably aware of the resemblance between Oz and the religious institution that has become a wall to people finding truth. The people of Oz look to the wizard to make all things right in their world. Elphaba wants to meet the wizard because she is convinced that he can “fix” her. She is, after all, different from everyone else. Her family and her friends have filled her heart with the belief that different and wrong are synonyms. When she reaches the wizard, she realizes that he has other plans for her. He doesn’t want to “fix” her. He wants to use her to expand his already deceptive control of Oz. Elphaba rejects the wizard’s schemes, flees, and ultimately becomes nothing more than an evil memory to the people of Oz.

In the opening number of the musical, we hear the overpowering message that no one really cares what happens to the wicked because the wicked are products of their own evil ways. The wicked, according to the song, are a reminder to the children of what happens when you misbehave. The wicked are a reminder that when you misbehave you end up dying alone. 

The message of the song and the parallels to religion today are subtle and probably not intended. The message spoke clearly to me because the bitter irony is that the person who is dead wasn’t really wicked after all. She was just different from the rest. She didn’t fit in and her attempts to help were always misunderstood. She wanted to be a difference maker, and the world rejected her while deceiving the population of Oz into believing that instead of wanting to change her world she really wanted to destroy  their happiness. 

Maybe you grew up in the church like I did and somehow became a citizen of Oz. The fraud that the organization perpetuated led you to think that anyone who was different must be wicked. A different race, a different culture, a different political party, a different sexual orientation. In Oz everyone has to fall in line and since differences can’t be explained easily the best option must be to eradicate the differences from the society. The problem is that the power behind the curtain bellowing superiority with thunder and bolts of lighting is not real. When you pull back the curtain you see nothing but a manipulative, power hungry, lying, insecure old man. 
He is trying to cover up the truth because the truth threatens his position as Wizard. What is the truth? It would seem that the truth is that we all possess something special. This something special allows us to contribute to the world in a way that could be life changing, revolutionary in fact. If those who live in Oz would stop for a moment and see past the differences to the special, we could perhaps work together. Do we all have moral dilemmas that we need to work on? Of course we do. The Wizard brainwashes the people into believing that only those who are different or special have moral dilemmas to work on and that those moral dilemmas are actually damning to their existence. I’ve been reading some books on this subject, and they have varied thoughts on this subject. My favorite book on the subject says something very different than what I was taught in the wizarding classes of Oz.

John 3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

1 John 3:17 But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?


The Wizard would not like these teachings making their way through Oz. I think the Wizard might even try to stop these teachings. How would he stop these teachings and countless others? Easy. Just persuade with doublespeak that those who reject the ways of the Wizard are wicked. After all, what’s the harm in turning those who are different into villains? No one mourns the wicked.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Witch Is Not The Only One Who Is Green

We recently took Caroline to New York for her birthday. Part of the trip included seeing Wicked at the Gershwin Theater. The show was spectacular. I’m in a bit of a rebuilding phase of my life after opening lots of compartments of my life that I have kept hidden from practically everyone I have ever known. Watching Wicked at this particular time in my life was useful.  Elphaba’s struggle with what others saw as a flaw hit close to home for me. I have come through what I think is the worst of it now. Here are some conclusions I have drawn.

 I am not the sum total of my flaws. 

I may be broken in many places, but that brokenness does not define me. 

I am no more special than anyone else, but I am just as special as anyone else. 

The repair work I have done does not erase the history of abuse I experienced. The repair work does, however, take that history and uses it to make me stronger, to draw me to deeper compassion, and to celebrate the me that I am becoming.

I am loyal, faithful, and caring. These traits are not perfected in me, but they are being perfected in me and will continue to be until I cease to breathe.

I cannot dwell on my failures - times when I have been less than honest or times that I have been uncaring and unkind. I can look squarely at those failures, seek forgiveness for those failures, and live in authenticity and with pure intent so as to reduce the likelihood of repeating those failures. 

I love my family more than I love my life. I love Karen, Daniel, Caroline, and David. I will not hurt them by remaining in the prison of betrayal. I will come out of the prison, and I will live for perhaps the first time in forever.

I refuse to be labeled. I am not a Christian man, a church man or a non-church man. I am not a straight man or a gay man. I am not an abused man, a weak man, or a strong man. I am simply a man. That is all there is to it really. I am simply a man on a journey to somewhere unknown.


I will not settle for walking with a limp. I will learn to run with the limp. I will learn to soar with the limp. The limp may always be there. I don’t know right now, but I suspect it will be. I do know that I cannot pretend the limp is not there. I reject anyone or any organization that would have me dress up and pretend the limp is not there. I do not live in Oz. I think I’ll try Defying Gravity.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Her Name Is Caroline

Sixteen years ago the world changed. The world had taken a turn for the better several years before when, over the course of time, Karen and I got married followed a few years later with the birth of our first born. We enjoyed that time of our lives and had absolutely no clue that in a few short years we would experience another amazing gift. This time the gift came in a beautiful, small package wrapped in smiles and the faintest hint of auburn hair. Her name is Caroline. 

We put a lot of thought into her name. We wanted it to be as special as we knew she would be. Some of her friends (and I use that term loosely) have shortened her name to Carol. Their doing so makes me sad because is shows that they really don't know her like I do. Names are not meant to be shortened or tossed around. Names matter, and when someone carelessly uses another person's name they are typically someone who will casually use the person, as well. At any rate, Caroline says it doesn't really bother her that much, so I suppose it's just a Daddy thing. 

Speaking of Daddy things, maybe being a Daddy makes me more protective than I should be. I remember holding our precious treasure and knowing that at that time in our lives she was one of the few things that was going right. Looking into her eyes made the struggles with work and questions about finances fade away. I didn't have to decide that I was going to be her protector. I didn't have to make a declaration or think about the ramifications of the choice. I can't even say it was a choice. It just happened as the fire deep inside ignited to solidify that from that day forward she was my little girl. 

I wish I could say as her protector that she has never been hurt. At times, the hurt has even come from me. I have said things in ways I wish I could I could take back but no matter how hard I try I can't seem to turn back time. I have learned, though, some key words that express my heart when I mess up. Here they are: I was wrong. I am sorry. Please forgive me. 

People have been said that I have a blind spot when it comes to Caroline. I don't really believe that is true, but I will concede one point. In my eyes she is perfect - not in her actions, but in her being. Being perfect in who she is means that nothing she could ever do would change my love for her. Nothing could make me doubt her ability to excel and her heart for others. I suppose that seeing Caroline through that lens does create a sort of cognitive dissonance within me when she behaves in a way that is contrary to what I know to be true about her. In those moments I have to deal with the reality and help her navigate through whatever relationship may be harmed by her inconsistent behaviors. Eventually, though, I know that when she gets back to who she really is all will be well again. 

Caroline loves people, and she loves life. Others comment to us from time to time on something she has said or done that has been especially meaningful to them or to someone close to them. Caroline laughs hard and hurts deep. She is more reserved than our other two children until you get to know her, and then the excitement shines through. She might be more trusting than I am, but she also has a discernment about people that will help her on the journey through life. 

The part of Caroline that really makes me smile is that Caroline loves Jesus. I pray that she will know Him more and recognize just how much He loves her. Caroline doesn't get trapped by the mechanism of the church institution. Church neither slows her down nor revs her up. She loves Jesus and being with His people. The rest is just part of the play. Caroline forgives quickly - she is teaching me more about doing so. Caroline gives freely to others. She uses her gifts for God's glory, and she is a light in a dark world.

Sixteen years ago the world changed, and the world as we knew it then will never be the same. Sixteen years ago, God blessed us all with a special gift. Her name is Caroline.