Thursday, October 17, 2019

Update

I’ve received thousands of messages, well one (from my Mom) wondering where Levee Broke has been. People’s lives don’t feel complete without it. Well, I’ve decided you’ve been freeloading for too long. That's sarcasm. I’m working on a piece and I intend to make you pay for it. Sarcasm too. I’m working on something that may resemble a book in a couple years. The piece was just going to be about my trip to the Sawtooths- but like a black hole, it has sucked in everything near it, including my childhood, the history of Native Americans in Idaho, NYC, pain, corporate culpability, nature, the identification aspect of the incarnation, DNA, boats, sympathy, psychotherapy and “all-yo-yah-things” (everything) as our son says. But I hope the Sawtooths will be main story line. It’s written in the style of last year’s Colorado blogs and has the memoir-y zest you’ve come to love in Levee Broke. The piece is unpredictable like the weather. It changes every week. In the last five days it took me places I’ve never been. And when I think I have a section just right, I don’t. Like a real writer I have research to do. Like a real writer this project feels like the death of me, and my lifeline. It’s like one of my organs now. The piece is about 100 sections right now, which is like keeping track of 100 legs. Each section is related to, but separate from the previous section. It’s a junkyard of words. It’s a thousand piece Lego set scattered on the floor that might never be assembled, not for lack of material, but lack of direction and cohesion.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Is that God or me?




I think we think that what makes us mad makes God mad. That would be true only if we were perfect. As it is, there are things that make us mad that God is indifferent about. And there are things that make God mad that we are indifferent about.

That’s important to remember in our anger. I think of the extreme case where that stupid church from Kansas thinks that “God hates fags.” They are taking their feelings and imposing them on God. They should substitute the word "God" with "I," because they have God confused with themselves. 

We all do this though. There are things that bother me, which seem borderline heinous, which God may not care about, like fireworks.

If you like fireworks you might think God likes them. You might even think not liking fireworks is borderline heinous. Who knows, really? God might like fireworks. But I doubt it.

It’s dangerous to assume God shares our opinion about neutral, amoral things, like fireworks, styles of music or hair color. God probably doesn’t care. But I wonder if God has preferences, and if so, what they are. Maybe God is above opinion- maybe He's not bound to like and dislike things like us, which narrows what we accept and don't. But maybe He does have opinions. Maybe He prefers hardwoods over conifers and John Coltrane over AC/DC.

Here’s an exercise: Write down what bothers us. Then write down what bothers God. We hope there are some similarities in the two lists. There would be some differences too. The exercise might help us distinguish between tastes and truths. 

It seems easy to get ourselves mixed up with God, after all we are so close. Sometimes we impose our opinions on God. If we feel so strongly about rap music or country music, we should ask ourselves, “Is that God or me who thinks that?”


Thursday, August 22, 2019

An Unlikely Ally

CNN thinks they own Trump, but Trump owns them
They have given their power to him
The amount of emotion they give Trump makes them look weak
Even those who like Trump as much as the flu would appreciate it if CNN gave Trump less negative attention

CNN makes everything Trump says affirm what they believe about him, no matter what- even if it requires reaching

CNN thinks they are Trump's most fit enemy, but they are his ally
Their hatred for Trump does him a service
Their headlines help produce outcomes they don’t want
Trump loves their hate and flourishes because of it 

When we love enemies we take the glee out their spite and disempower them
So if CNN gave less negative attention to Trump his influence would lessen

If CNN wants a Dem to win in 2020 they should drop their obsession with Trump, just like if we want less mass shootings, the media should drop their obsession with them




Wednesday, August 21, 2019

No Evaluations




What would a sequoia tree be if humanity perished?
It could no longer be beautiful or beloved.
No one as powerful as us would exist to call it delightful.
If we perished there would be no such evaluations and judgements of it.
It would still have roots, branches and bark. 
But it would be reduced to those primary attributes.

What would we be if God perished?
We could no longer be beautiful and beloved.
No one as powerful as God would exist to call us delightful.
If God perished there would be no such evaluations and judgements of us.
We would still be skin and bones with hair.
But we would be reduced to those primary attributes.



Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Idaho Pictures

The last twelve pictures on my Instagram link are from my recent trip to Idaho. 





Friday, August 16, 2019

A girl




We were playing at a playground and our daughter was climbing a ladder. A boy, about 7 years-old, was about to step down backwards on the ladder when his dad said, “Watch out! There’s a girl behind you.” I’m probably reading into this, but this is what I heard, “watch out for the girl, aka the fragile creature, whom you, my strong and athletic male son, might inadvertently injure."

That’s what I heard because they boy had a Lincoln Dominators hat on and the back of his baseball jersey said “Beastmode.” The Dominators are a pretentious youth baseball team in Lincoln. I made the quick and unconscious, and perhaps wrong, evaluation that the dad was chauvinistic.

I brewed like coffee and gathered words to put in the cup I was about to serve. Then I looked into the dad’s eyes and said, “She’s a girl. Yeah. But what do you mean by girl? My daughter could beat up your Beastmode.” I didn’t really say that, but I wanted to.

I grew up with a mom and sister and I have a wife. I’ve been around women my whole life. But I have thought more about sexism and women’s equality more in the last few years than the previous years combined. That’s because we have a daughter. A daughter we believe in. A daughter capable of more things than most boys her age. A daughter who should never be thought of as less, or paid less, than a male on the basis of her gender.

With my mom, sister and wife, their place in the community and world, based on their gender, isn't on my radar like our daughter’s. I’m attuned to how she might be treated or mistreated because she's female. I think many dads notice how society views their daughters. And I know some dads brew like coffee and fantasize about starting fights because of it. 



Sunday, August 11, 2019

for only $285



The first time you flew you were probably amazed. You were taken by the sound, speed and height, and how frail the fuselage felt. Maybe flying gets less intriguing each time. We get used to it. Maybe we don’t even look out the window. But when I recently flew to Boise I was taken.

When you fly you get to look down on clouds. You get to tour Earth’s troposphere, then climb to the stratosphere, the ozone’s home. Flying is like being on the top of Mount Everest for hours in jeans and a t-shirt. It’s the closest we will come to being an astronaut. We can take a budget tour of Earth’s atmosphere on Southwest Airlines for only $285. NASA would charge much more.

As the sun set on our flight, the clouds below us were hot pink and there was a thunderhead, which looked like a boiling orange mountain in the distance. (This is also the closest many of us will get to taking hallucinogens.) I stared at the orange mountain as people around me played video games on their phones. I wanted to take the phones out their hands and hit them on their heads with it.

Phones can be used for good. We can check the weather on them, and spare ourselves a rainy picnic. We can check the score to game without watching the whole game. We can send a time sensitive text message from the woods.

But how many of us grab our phone as a coping technique? We look at our phones when we can’t stand doing nothing, when doing nothing is what humans have done for centuries. We grab our phones when we can’t handle the pain or bite or beauty of the past, present or future. We often reach for our phones in the same spirit we reach for alcohol- to soothe, numb, distract, and occupy us. We play video games on our phones when we could be pretending to be an astronaut. OK. Let me put down the stone. I do the same thing with my phone. 

Then I thought of video game designers and marketers who appeal to and capitalize on our weak and dark sides to make money. Like gun makers, video game designers knowingly put deadly weapons in the hands of remarkably feeble human beings. Woe to those who sow those threads into society's fabric for profit. Some vocations are inherently destructive. 




Friday, August 9, 2019

Bob Gibson




Mr. Bob Gibson said “the other team didn’t want to see me and that was a good sign."

Gibson changed baseball in the 1960s
The pitcher’s mound was lowered because of his dominance
Imagine how much white people loved a menacing black man looking down on white hitters bound to a batter’s box, subjecting them to inside fastballs in the 1960s 
They loved it as much as Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record These were uninvited doses of black supremacy

When you think of the 1960s you might think of the Kennedy’s, MLK Jr., Woodstock, Malcolm X, the moon landing
If you talk sports in that era, you would mention Gibson,
He’s a legend,
Who was raised in a housing project in Omaha 
Who knew segregation 
Who had a pronounced jaw
Who was proud and discriminated against
Who was soft spoken, but outspoken,
Kind, but disagreeable
Quiet, but emphatic

Mr. Bob Gibson played for the Harlem Globetrotters before he pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals
He had a World Series record of 7-2 with a 1.82 ERA
He had a 1.12 ERA in 1968, which means Gibson landed on the moon before Mr. Neil Armstrong

We named our son after Mr. Bob Gibson
Our son’s name is Gibson
So I wrote Mr. Bob Gibson, now 83 years-old, a letter because he might want to know that

I wrote the letter and included a picture of our son and I
I addressed the letter and wrote the return address
I set the letter on our kitchen counter and went downstairs to find a stamp
But the only stamps we had were Santa Claus ones
Santa is fake, fat, white and happy- and socially unconscious   
Now I have to go to the store to buy different stamps to put on the letter






Thursday, July 25, 2019

Spoils of Toil



As far as collusion with pathological thinking goes
We have to not collude to not collude

Not colluding takes effort, or willingness, which is not to be confused with effort

It’d be nice if not colluding with untruths required nothing, but came naturally
But it doesn’t

If we didn’t have to not collude to not collude then we would be perfectly free
But we are not perfectly free,
Because we are not without tension and adversity, or without requirements in order to surpass pathological thinking-
We are not above needing to rise

We dare to recognize and challenge our skewed script- 
We think about our thoughts like they belonged to another- 
to have space between us and them 
Because it’s not wise to believe everything we think and feel

Without this mental adversity, without being among the species who must overcome, we might be worse off-
Like an angel-
Who, since they can’t collude, don’t know the spoils of toil

An angel can’t sit in a concrete stairwell and look up for God and see ceiling tiles like us
Maybe they are to be pitied, not us-

Maybe not-
Maybe angels pity us, who look for God but see ceiling tiles 
Maybe angels pity us, who know the grief redemption demands

Or perhaps, both the lucky and the unlucky are lucky
Angels can’t soar in the a.m. after being cooped up in a dark night of the mind And humans can’t look up in the stairwell and see God

*Painting is "The Big Dory" by George Bellows. 





Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Crushed or Hoisted



“I don’t need opinions, no, I did this for myself.” –from I Ain’t Done by Andy Mineo (pictured)

Around 2004 the first few times I gave people a CD of the music I recorded it felt like everything hinged on their opinion. If I played my music for them when I was with them, I studied their facial expressions and imagined their thoughts. If I gave them a CD, I nervously waited for their opinion and imagined what they thought. I was crushed if they didn’t say, “Wow. You are great” and I was hoisted if they said, “Wow. You are great."  

Maybe all of us ponder and presuppose people’s opinion of us. But not all of us care that much. (Blessed are those.) Some of us are so effected by what we think people’s opinion of us it effects our mood and behavior. It effects what we do and don’t do, what we share and don’t share.

While people’s opinion of us is not unimportant, since our reputation is usually tied to how kind, moral and ethical we are, the opinions of others shouldn’t crush or hoist us.

I love Andy Mineo’s honesty. Since he openly battles the temptation of being crushed or hoisted by other’s opinions, the lyric above, for him, is celebratory. For him, recording music that he likes to record, is a hard-won freedom. His freedom comes from not being obsessed with how his music will be received and what people will think of it. We can have that freedom too. 




Monday, July 22, 2019

Like the Thunder




My head agrees that God’s love has no limits. But in reality I believe there are many stopping points to God’s love. My God and His love are manageable and understandable. My God has limits.

It was hot and dry in Lincoln for several days. There were cracks in the dirt and the grass hadn’t grown much in ten days. But on Sunday morning it was pouring when we woke up. I went to the garage and sat in a chair and watched the rain and lightning and listened to the thunder.

One thunder sounded different. It sounded like it was in a tunnel, like it was bound. It sounded restrained and limited. But all the other thunder sounded unlimited, it cracked and rolled and touched everything. The thunder that sounded like it was in a tunnel is like my God.

It’s uncomfortable to have a God who is unmanageable and unlimited. I mean, how do we control Him that way? If no place is safe from God- no place in our lives and in our towns- that means God is out of our control.

This unbound God will invariably ask us to go where we think He is not. He will already be somewhere, in our heart or town, and we will think, “Nope. That’s one of the stopping points.” But God says, “I’m unlimited and there are no stopping points."

Sound is “mechanical vibrations transmitted through an elastic medium, traveling in air at a speed of approximately 1087 feet per second at sea level.” (Dictionary.com)

Mechanical vibrations in thunder are not tame. Neither is God.

We might think the only way we will feel safe and certain is if God is controllable. But the only way we will feel safe and certain is if God is uncontrollable, like thunder that runs free.



Saturday, July 20, 2019

Give it back


Quit the stranglehold
Give the land back to itself
Don’t poison it
Let it breath
Let the land be what it would be
This will help us see

Help the land be a habitat for it’s natives
Help the land reclaim is dazzling heritage
Second guess the application of what isn't indigenous

Give the land back to itself
Let the land be what it would be
This will help us see



Friday, July 19, 2019

When's Payday?




It seems like we should get a paycheck for faithfulness like we do a job. At work, we get paid biweekly or monthly. The faithfulness paycheck should come on time too. At work, our amount of pay depends on our hours worked. The faithfulness paycheck should be that way too. But sometimes the faithfulness paycheck doesn’t come, or it’s tardy or puny. Asaph had beef with his faithfulness paycheck in Psalm 73, so it seems justifiable to lament our revenue.

But it’s also dumb and dangerous to insist on getting what we deserve for these reasons: 1) If God gave us nothing more ever God would have already given us more than we were owed. 2) God already gave us Himself and that is enough. 3) God already gives us a lot everyday we fail to acknowledge. 4) Our faithfulness to God is peanuts compared to His faithfulness to us. 5) Our faithfulness to God is what we should give while expecting nothing in return. 6) We aren't working for wages, but for freedom and joy. 

Even still, Asaph complained about his payday. So we will. We can say to God, “When is our payday? Did you forget about payroll? Like a farmer, we thought faithfulness was like a seed that yielded a crop. We thought that crop would give us sustenance and happiness. New challenges come up when we follow you and we expect something for taking them on. We are thinking cha-ching. In the form of clarity. Hear our prayers and pay attention to our daily deaths. Don’t forget how hard it was to be human. We aren’t asking for the $400 million jackpot, just $700 a week." 

*Painting is "Builders of Ships / The Rope" by George Bellows. 



Thursday, July 18, 2019

Orange



A nervous parent of a high school senior wanted to know about my experience at my college alma mater-
Which his son was considering attending

He wanted to know why I chose it
I couldn’t think of a reason other than I liked orange-
The school color

But I couldn’t say that
Because I would sound stupid and it would make him more nervous

Instead, I decided to comfort him

I said, “The advisors were first-class, the classes were intimate, the scrambled eggs were good, and they call it the Harvard of the Midwest you know?” (None of which were untrue)

He was visibly excited by my selling points

The next week his son decided to go to my alma mater, perhaps, because I like orange,

Or maybe because his son does



Wednesday, July 17, 2019

A Cult for the Kids




Our kids are starting to ask questions about our cult 
They asked why they put the people underwater
I told them that’s what we do in our cult because our leader told us to
They nodded
They asked why a prayer sounded like everyone saying the same thing
I told them that’s what our cult leader told us to do
They asked why the thick books 
I told them because that’s our story
They asked why the bloody man
I told them because we need that
They asked who our cult leader was and I told them
An itinerant radical

*Photograph from Freaktography. 




Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Joy and Pain that Matters




When we laugh with someone who speaks a different language.
When we don’t know the answer in class and people stare at us.
The first makes us feel connected.
The second makes us feel alone.

Those experiences are neurological and emotional events. They occur in our inmost being and are hidden deep in our fabric.

When those seemingly meaningful events happened, Earth didn’t slow. Trees didn’t stop growing. Hundreds of people sneezed. Millions were asleep. Millions were on crowded streets, oblivious to our personal experience, having deeply personal experiences of their own we knew nothing of. Nothing in the world was impacted by what we experienced, even though it seemed like something to us.

We should wonder, “Who’s right, me or everything else that says the events didn’t matter?" We should wonder if our cerebral and emotional events- our feelings of connection and loneliness- mean anything. We should ask, “Does my joy and pain matter?" Jesus says yes.




Thursday, July 11, 2019

Absence is Presence

When someone passes, their absence becomes their presence. We don’t notice if someone who never existed isn’t somewhere. But we do notice the absence of someone who has existed.

Perhaps, our absence is missed to the degree we were mentally and emotionally present while we were physically present. If we were checked out when we were physically present we were already absent.

This is a case 1) for existing, since no one remembers someone who never existed and, 2) being mentally and emotionally present.

But having our absence noticed only lasts for a couple generations at best. After that no one knows to miss us- it’s like we never existed. No generation can be responsible for missing those they don’t notice the absence of. But maybe each generation is responsible for noticing the presence of an absent person, so they aren’t forgotten.

*Painting by Wassily Kandinsky.  




Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Eyes like the sea




Someone I know went to Africa. She said a lion wandered toward their Jeep, stood beside it and stared at her. She said its eyes were like the sea. She was mesmerized. So was the lion. She moved her hand to touch its head, but drew her hand back when she remembered it was a lion.

A lion’s DNA tells it what it will be and that’s what it is. They have no choice. I love how clueless they are as to how marvelous they are. They don’t know what we see in them when we look at them. 

Humans are like that too. Our DNA tells us what we will be and that’s what we are. Like a lion, we are nearly clueless about our true deep beauty. We have little idea about what God sees in us when He looks at us.

A lion’s DNA produces a beautiful animal with a type of glory as singular as its DNA. So does a human. Like a lion, our traits are in our DNA. But we have super DNA. We were “born of God,” which refers to genetic composition. That's sons and daughters talk. God’s purposes, spirit and love are in our heredity. Just like a lion can’t alter its heredity, we can’t either. We can marginalize or neglect it, but not erase it.

When I look at an animal I often wonder if it knows who it is to us. 

I wonder if when God looks at us He wonders if we know who we are to Him. I wonder if God thinks our eyes are like the sea. 



Friday, July 5, 2019

Honey War


Thought I’d try fiction. This is inspired by The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss:

On June 27, 2019, Jud of Sequt, smeared honey on the steps of the Froy National Capitol. That was the most malevolent act that had ever been committed up to that point in history. That’s because all people had the desire and ability to consider others more important than themselves. Their propensity to be empathetic seemingly couldn’t be overridden.

Until Jud of Sequt, whose deviant act launched a new era.

President Williams of Froy met with her cabinet and they decided to form a group to defend their territory. The group named itself “The Armata.” The word was taken from a fiction novel by Salvador Marquez written in 1419. Marquez prophetically imagined a world where people hurt each other- where the desire and ability to love others wilted.

In the novel, conflict beget conflict. That seemed far-fetched for 600 years. But now it was reality. The establishment of The Armata was a retaliatory act, so the begetting began.

The Armata considered what to do. This was new and awkward, like shaving left-handed, since people were previously inherently kind. This original nature was apparent, because they struggled to be mean.

One member of The Armata thought a water balloon strike at the outdoor market would rival the honey act. Most thought that was too discourteous, especially if it was a cool day.

Someone else recommended deadheading the flowers at Hallat Park in the heart of Sequt Town, the nation’s capital. Removing the beauty, they thought, was too impolite.

Another suggested putting “really sticky stickers” on Essay Hub, a prized landmark in the oldest part of the city. Too inconsiderate, they thought.

On June 30th, The Armada reached a consensus on their plan of attack. They ordered several delicacies from Sequt Pastry bakery in Sequt Town and had them shipped over the sea to a nondescript address in Tifton, Froy.

These were high-shelf sweets. Desserts like doughnuts with saffron and rose water and Persian halva and Love Cake.

When the chosen man in The Armata, Milson, arrived in Sequt Town he was nervous. His body was quaking with deviousness. It felt wrong and it felt right.

He was going to smash the pastries, which were in his backpack, on the street in front of Sequt Pastry. And he did.

The baker was astonished when she saw Milson out the window. Like Jud’s honey smearing, this act countered what it meant to be a person. Something surfaced in the baker she didn’t know was there and she stormed Milson.

She pushed him. This was a new form of conflict, which The Armata named “hand-to-hand combat.” Where would this type of warfare lead? It quickly lead to kicking and punching. Where would it end?

The world exploded with news of these fresh evils. Then one evil led to another and another. The Honey War caused what became known as the Honey Divide. The divide lasted 18,000 years, so long the people couldn’t imagine their world otherwise.

18,000 years later, Sequt and Froy were gone. Their history was reality, but it seemed like a fable to many.

But in a fortunate turn of events, the trends reversed again. Ben, Jud’s ancestor, was the anti-Jud. Because of Ben’s lineage, he was as empowered as Jud was to change history. But in a different way.

Like Jud, Ben was singular. Except Ben was not given over to himself like everyone else. He didn’t veer from the bolt of fierce and easy love down his midline. And the clouds obeyed him.

The honey that Jud smeared on the steps was gone. But its spirit was woven into people’s DNA. Ben wondered, since if the present DNA was once inconceivable, why a new equally inconceivable DNA couldn’t be instituted. If Jud took what was good, honey, and made it bad, why couldn't Ben take what was bad and make it good?

Ben knew this couldn’t happen in a lab. Nothing synthetic could remedy a rift at the human nature level. Ben knew it had to be done in the heart- the immaterial portion of us.

Ben didn’t go back in time to undo what was done. Instead, Ben repeatedly went against the ways Jud established. He was hated for it, as all good revolutionaries are. When Ben was killed in the middle of his kindest, most enemy-centered act it rippled through the DNA of the masses. People’s propensity to harm others ceased as quickly as it began. 

The Honey Divide was over. Just as conflict beget conflict during Jud’s reign, peace beget peace during Ben’s.





Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Almost, but not even close




A friend said, “Congratulations! You’re almost done.” He was talking about us getting done with the planning process of building our house. I said, “That’s funny to congratulate us on being done when we haven’t started yet."

Our basement is not dug, our driveway is not in. The pasture where we are going to build looks like it did 200 years ago. But my wife and I, mainly my wife, have thousands of hours into the project.

We are almost done, but we haven’t started yet. How can that be?

That shows how key planning is. The planning, while not the brick and mortar, determines where the brick and mortar go. And planning where they go is everything but the physical structure.

Everything but the physical structure. It’s far from a perfect parallel, but right now the kingdom of God is like the state of our house project.

We can congratulate God on His kingdom right now. We can say, “You’re almost done.” But it’s funny to congratulate God on being done when, in a way, He hasn’t started yet.

While Jesus and the Holy Spirit inaugurated a new age, God promised a time when there would be no more tears. God promised a place where there would be no more suffering and death. God promised to resurrect us with new physical bodies. God promised a restored state and place.

While God (and us) have thousands of years into that project, we can see from watching the news we aren’t there yet.

While the foundation for the next age is being planned, and probably even being laid, it’s still not visible and tangible like it will be one day. While the kingdom of God is underway, it will one day be present in new, fuller and different way. Maybe our house will be too.




Monday, July 1, 2019

Several Favorites



My wife was assigned a mentor, Carolyn, when she went to seminary. In a humble and endearing way, she said “I’m one of God’s favorites.” It was cool Carolyn believed God especially liked her. She took being God’s beloved serious and personal. It made her joyful, because when she looked at herself she imagined God looking at her and liking who and what He saw.

We have to personalize God’s love for it to matter. If God’s love is a general or impersonal idea or fact, it might not make a difference to us or transform us.

If we believe God is love, but in our minds we don’t believe God’s love includes knowing and loving us, we don’t have intimacy, connection or experiential knowledge of God’s love.

We can under-personalize God’s love, which isn’t good. But we can over-personalize it too. God’s love, while personal, is general too. It pertains to the world and the church (and people we don’t like!)

If we over-personalize God’s love- if we think we’re God’s favorite- we might think we’re better than others. We might think God wants our team or nation to win. But God is not into favoritism. He favors a lot of people (even people we don’t like!) God has the same intensely personal love for the smelly person in the airport from Antwerp as you. Truth is, God has many beloveds.

That’s hard to understand, because we usually have one beloved. But God has many.

It’s good to personalize God’s love as long as we know God has several favorites, just like a child has several “favorite” colors. 

*Painting is "Irish Landscape" by Robert Henri.