Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Monday, July 21, 2008

"Bed Time" -- Over there

I haven't been sure how to handle these two blogs. Do I post the same on both? Do I give a "heads up" on Job's Tale for posts that are over there and I feel don't belong here? How do I make it easy to see that the "new" post is one that someone hasn't already seen before, so they don't waste their time going there?

So... here is the solution.

When I post there and not here, I will put a little something here, just a note saying something is there, and include a pic or two so people can see that something has changed.

So here goes.

I have been writing like crazy... a real burst of creativity, born of exhaustion and confusion. Mostly by hand, in my Moleskine journal (pronounced: mol-a-skeen'-a).

I did type up and post something new Sunday, and again today at The Journey of the Curious Servant.

Here are some pics of something that usually does not happen in the middle of the day:





Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Other Me

I have been maintaining, somewhat, two blogs, for some time.

This blog, Job's Tale, was about my journey of faith. I started it two weeks before my mentally handicapped son played with fire and burned down our church.

Since then the topics have been focused on my spiritual journey, my family.

About a year ago I began another blog... one I wanted a little more private. My wife had been having an affair. I wanted to make it easier for her to come back, hold her head up, face people in our church and community. So I tried to find a place where I could work through my feelings and thoughts and be a little more discreet than this blog which so many visit.

She left me for a short period, but came back.

I believe this past year I have been doing what God wanted me to do, though it was hard, and it hurt, and it was... a real mess.

Now... she has left. And I feel it is time to move on. I have no inner voice telling me I should work to help her heal, keep her in our home and family, work on our marriage.

I don't know why God had me do this past year.

I think I was supposed to do what I did this past year. I don't know why. I know God wanted me to, but now it is over. Perhaps this past year will be something she needs when she looks back at it from some future date.

It's been tough, but I think I needed to do all that. Being obedient isn't always easy or fun or what seems like the right thing or logical.

But, there it is. I went out and walked and prayed for quite a while this morning. No directions, no sense of what is next, except just doing what needs to be done. It's a time of waiting and healing and working to finish raising these boys.

I will need to explain all this to my son, Jeremiah, when he comes home from his friend's this afternoon.

Now... to the point of this post.

This blog has been with me for a long time, and I don't want to give it up. I think the title is pretentious, comparing myself to Job of the Bible. I'm just an ordinary guy. But perhaps the slight embarrassment I feel over the title of this blog will keep me humble.

I ramble. The point is... I do not feel I have to hide this other part of me. I don't know if I will post different things on each blog, or the same on both, or eventually shut one down... but, I am opening up that part of my life to those who visit here... sort of an impulse in being open and honest and transparent.

So... if you care to... you may visit my other blog.

It is called "The Journey of the Curious Servant" and the address is: http://csexplores.blogspot.com/ ("C.S. Explores")

After I had posted a few things there I noticed the unfortunate word "sex" in that address and so it has attracted a few unwelcome visitors, and it embarrasses me a little, but embarrassment keeps us honest, right?

At any rate... if you want to know me better, you are free to read through the posts over there chronicling the past year.

I could use a little prayer for my family. My children are a little handicapped and this single parent thing is going to be tough.

Love you all.

Curious Servant


(But you can call me "Will".)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Voice of God


The moon was nearly full, but for most of the evening it skated behind thin clouds, a smeared bright spot in the sky. I stepped away from the fire under the cedars and the broad old oak several times marking its progress.

Down the gravel drive, through a field of drying hay, the clearing beside a creek had belonged to a blackberry patch that morning. We stuck chunks of meat and brats over the coals, opened beers and sodas.


“When have you sensed the unmistakable presence of God in your life?”

I have some buddies. We gather every once in a while around a fire and talk. I call it our Moon Howlin'.

It took us a while to get to the real conversation. We warmed up through discussions of books and such. But, we get there.

One of us, a straight-forward, blunt, frank fellow, threw out the question. It hovered over the orange tongues of flame licking the evening air.

“The unmistakable presence of God.”

For me the presence of God is a spectrum of interactions ranging from an impulse to do something, say something, to moments intersecting eternity.

“How about you, Will?” the frank one asked.

I cleared my throat, signaling I would share, but needing a moment to martial my thoughts, though I had been thinking and writing about this topic all week.

“Two come to mind.”

“Two is good. I can handle two.”

The others murmured agreement.

“1976.

“I was pretty sick. I was staying with my uncle in Ojai, California, and I was very sick. Dying.

“I went down to that river bed often. I was very sick. I wasn’t expected to live long.”

I told them this story:

I had joined an ashram and in the previous years spent too much time doing things I am still uncomfortable talking about. Spiritual things. Yogic things. Explorations of meditation and diet and... searching and exploring what I know are not right, not for this life anyway.

Once, in Ojai, while walking slowly along the Ventura River bed, I saw 17 California condors in a single dead tree. It was estimated there were fewer than two dozen of them left in the world. I was looking at the majority of an entire species.

Those enormous vultures, creatures who’s diet consists of dead things, sat in that dead tree, looking at me uncomfortably. I stared up at them. They grew restless, dropped off their perches, their enormous wings flapping slowly.


A few weeks later I knew it was time.

I walked down to the river bed.

I lay down on the sand. I felt my body slowly giving up. I began to pray.

I didn’t pray I might be saved. I didn’t make excuses for what I had done, for the extremes of fasting and meditation and explorations of astral planes. I didn’t beg for another chance.

Father, I’m sorry. I have been stupid. You gave me a body, You gave me a mind and a spirit and a heart, and I have thrown it away. I deserve to lose all this. I’m not asking for anything right now. All I want to say is... I am sorry.

God spoke.

It wasn’t a complicated thing. It wasn’t a divine revelation. It wasn’t anything that would leave a mark on the world, but it left a mark on me.

As I lay there, as I prayed my repentance and acceptance, a wave of light poured down the valley from the mountains. I guess I would describe it as sort of pinkish, if I could say it was really a color that could be photographed or painted.

It wasn’t a crushing wave or anything disturbing the quiet of that evening, but as it swept down and over me a couple of things happened.

I wasn’t tired anymore.

I didn’t feel weak. My mind wasn’t fuzzy anymore.

I felt strong. I felt healthy and clean and whole.

The second thing was the voice.

Hmmmm... Not really a voice.

The words did not pass through the air, did not pass through my ears. The words weren’t even words. They were a complete thought, a complete statement. It was a message compacted into a single idea, a whole, and it came from everywhere and from nowhere, and from deep inside my heart:

It’s okay. Don’t do it again. Do other things. Get up. I have things for you to do yet.

I didn’t look up at the faces of my friends as I told this story. I didn’t trust my voice would remain steady if I did. Instead, I launched into the next story.

“March 15, 1993. It was just before dawn and I was alone at Molalla River State Park.

“The moon was enormous. It was yellow, and had shifted toward orange as it descended into the naked branches of trees to the west of the field I stood alone in.

“There was that Oregon ‘Marchiness’ in the air, a promise of the coming Spring.

“And there was a color. Sort of.

“The sky was still speckled with stars, still black overhead, but it also... that color...

“It really wasn’t purple. It was too deep. Maybe a hint of violet. I don’t know... But there was this color to the sky that seemed to stretch from that field where I stood clear through to the stars.”

I paused and looked at my friends. I took one of my usual perpendicular digressions.

“A few minutes ago a small plane passed over us,” I said. “I loved the color that was bouncing off that plane’s white frame as it banked in the sunset. I see these colors around me all the time, and I think, ‘I wish I could mix that color with paint.’ I look at the clouds and I see this range of hues and values and colors I can’t describe. It is all so beautiful. I look across this field and I see that huge oak over there and I marvel that capillary action can raise all that water from those roots all the way to the leaves at the top... it is so beautiful.


“I look at my life and there is so much beauty and wonder and shit and aching and glory and pain and I see how wonderful and how awful life is...

“The color I saw above me that early morning sixteen years ago is with me still, and it is echoed in the colors I see still.

“That color was deep and rich and more real than I can describe.

“The sun was coming up. The sky in the east hadn’t started to lighten yet, but there was a sort of sense that it was about to. There was a sort of anticipation to the sky.

“And I was hurting. It was three months to the day of Willy’s death and I was out alone and I was hurting.

“And it happened...

“Folks think about eternity like it is some sort of continuance of things going on around us. That it is sort of like we just keep getting dragged along this timeline we know, forever and ever. I don’t think that is how eternity is.

“As I looked at that moon, and that sky, and felt the coming sun, and my heart ached for the son I had lost, I shook, I trembled, and I dropped to my knees.

“And I felt connected.

“I felt connected to everything.

“I was with the moon and the sky and the sense of dawn. I was with the stiff cut grass, and the river flowing nearby, and those leafless branches grasping at the sky.

“And God spoke.”

My voice thickened for a moment. My friends remained silent.

“It wasn’t a voice in the air, or anything like that. It came from everywhere, and nowhere, and from deep inside me.

“God said:

I know.

“It was more than a moment. I mean, I know it was only a few seconds, maybe not even that. But it was more than that. That instant shot through me. Not just the me kneeling in that field. It shot through the me that is sitting here with you guys. It shot through everything, everywhere, everywhen.

“I think that is what eternity is. It’s not a continuation of the sort of time we know. It is sideways to the time we know.

“That moment happened sixteen years ago, and it is still happening. It will always be happening.

“That experience was so real. It was more real than the heat coming off those flames. It was more real than you guys are, sitting around, listening to me talk.”


My friends listened. They heard. They talked. We talked.

--------------


Perhaps I mentioned the colors in those experiences because they help to describe what I experienced. Yet I failed to truly describe those colors.

Humans are among a small number of species on this world seeing so much of the spectrum, what we call visible light.

But even that amount of vision is tiny. If the electromagnetic spectrum was a line stretching from San Francisco to Anchorage, Alaska, visible light would comprise about an inch and a half of it. The percentage of the spectrum we see is 3.5 X 10^-28. That is a lot of zeros between the decimal and the 3.5.

I’m a very small creature. I have an extremely brief life span, less than a hundred years. I am a single organism on a small world on the edge of a rather ordinary galaxy, among perhaps hundreds of billions of galaxies.

I’m a very important creature. I have a soul which permits me to feel the reality of The Creator. And, amazingly, astonishly, impossibly, The Creator knows who I am!

He knows who I am, and He loves me.

He cares.

How can that be?!

It is a terrifying, and humbling, and exhilarating thing to know that He who holds atoms together, who hears the 10,000 year beats of super galactic clusters, who spoke creation into existence and stands outside of time and space, loves me.

Those two experiences were eternal moments, places where my spirit leapt out of this entropy-driven linear plowing through time, are just a part of the spectrum of the times He has spoken to me.

There was the beautiful message He gave me in a dream, telling me to adopt my first son.

There was the moment when I was six and the stain glass image of Jesus glowed, and flooded that little church, and He turned and looked at me!

There was that whisper of His when He told me to follow Jim home and permit me to share that troubled man’s burdens.

There was that time in 1974 when I felt enormous hands grip me from behind, lift me out of the path of a car, and set me twenty feet in the opposite direction I was running.

There are moments when I am gripping a fine point Sharpie marker, writing prayers in letters so small I can hardly see them... and I feel... outside.

Or after Willy died, we had gone to get sleeping medicine from Kaiser Permanente, and Brenda and I saw someone running ahead of us in the rain at 40 miles per hour. The wipers couldn’t keep the windshield clear, and we were exhausted from two sleepless nights after Willy’s death, and we both shouted when we saw someone keepng pace ahead of us along the Willamette River.

I cannot prove God exists.

But I know it is true.

I know He is more real than I am because the life I am living seems a pale experience to those moments when He paused the world, stopped the universe, and touched my heart.

Those two experiences especially. Those moments shot through time, I experience them still. I will experience them long after this body I am wearing ceases to breathe.

I don’t know why I have been blessed with faith. Some folks struggle with it. They wonder if it is real, or a delusion of folks like me, or a scam of some televangelist.

I know it is real.

I don’t know why I have been so fortunate as to have this faith.

Hey... I’m not saying everything is lovely. It isn’t. The earth shifts and tidal waves rush across the world washing entire villages away. Diseases creep through water and air and food and children suffer and die. The entire world, our entire history, is one long groan of pain and suffering.

My own life has some ugly things in it.

Yet...

It is all so beautiful. It is so lovely it makes me ache.

The world spins around the sun, and its wobble moves the stars about. If we could experience the night sky of thousands of years in a few moments we would see stars swimming around us in elegant movements just as we see the flocks of sparrows react as a whole, shifting and rising and settling as they ready for dusk.

Life sucks.

Life is indescribably wonderful.


Monday, July 14, 2008

Catching Up With You

It's Monday morn, and I have been a neglectful blogger.

It isn't that I haven't written anything. It's just that I have finished anything.

I have many posts I have started, but haven't finished or polished enough to post:

* "Music"
* "The Voice of God"
* "Is Religion a Crutch, or a Staff?"
* "Choices"
* "Following the Speed Limit"
* "Maggie"

But... I have an awful lot of stuff to do, an awful lot of stuff that is distracting me.

First... my home, my marriage. It is, as usual, a mess. We avoid talking about the uncomfortable
stuff. But I think about it all the time. Last week I drove out to the AA meeting she was attending... her car wasn't there. I asked how the meeting went. She said it was good. I kept quiet, brooded.

We've had ancient railroad ties lining the planters around our home. I've always hated them. One can't get those last tufts of grass with a mower, and they are havens for insects, slugs, moles, a veritable ecosystem from microbes to medium predators.

So I ranked them out, bought 150 concrete tiles, and have been reshaping my landscape areas. One heck of a lot of work. I finished the majority of it, one more smaller planter to go, but my hands have blisters, the psoriasis has broken out, and I have a couple of more pressing chores to do to do. But I'd like to do the last flower bed today if I can.


I'm very proud of how hard Isaac worked alongside me, hour after hour.

We picked about six gallons of Bing Cherries and gave most of them away to friends. The boys worked hard with me. I took a few pounds over to "Jim" the fellow who flipped me off in traffic a few weeks ago, and then shared his life with me. I wanted him to know I was still thinking and praying for him.



A week or so later the pie cherries were ready, so I made some pies.



We have had a small population boom of mice at our home. We have caught 16 of them so far.


I've been working in my garden. If you have never had an Oregon strawberry you really don't know what you are missing. They may not be as large as California berries, but they have flavor!


While gardening the other day I decided I couldn't stand the long hair after all (I was kind of hoping to grow a pony tail for "Locks of Love," but the hair kept getting in my face. So I took a break from the garden, got it cut, and Isaac documented the before and after.


I've been in the Prayer Room at church, praying and drawing.


Last week Jeremiah had his state competition at Special Olympics. He earned the gold medal in shotput.


Jeremiah went to Martha's Place, a bed and breakfast sort of thing. This weekend was a Hawaiian theme there and he had a good time.


Saturday night our local hispanic gang tagged our fence again. I'm painting over their marks this morning. Yesterday I wrote a letter to the Editor to the local paper about it. I don't know if he'll run it as it is a little longer than their restrictions. But I need to get that fence painted today.

Brenda and Rocky in front of the police car


Sunday at church we had our annual church BBQ. William "Paul" Young, author of The Shack was there, sharing about his book. Isaac insisted I get my picture taken with him. I have been facilitating a discussion class with my pastor on the novel.


It was pretty warm here Sunday, so we took Rocky for a swim in the Willamette River.


I also need to do something about the plumbing under the kitchen sink. Always been a bit of a problem. It's cheap, easily put together, easily comes undone.


I haven't been sleeping well, and I have been anxious during the day.

I haven't been using my
prescriptions as I should. I was taking a prescription sleeping pill and one Xanax at bedtime. The doc said it would be better not to mix meds so much. So he doubled up the Xanax and told me to stop the others. But when things get tense around here, I take a Xanax to slow my racing heart. To compensate for the missing doses I skip the Xanax at night and take two of the ones I was supposed to throw away.

I am very upset over my marriage. I worry. I see little progress. I keep thinking about what she has done, what she might do. I wrote her a letter. I keep telling myself I want to be a good servant. That all I have is today. I pray a lot.

Tomorrow night is our
occasional Moon Howlin'. I'm looking forward to time with my buddies, being honest, real.

So... I gotta go. I have a lot to do. But I'll finish one of those posts soon and toss it onto this blog pile.

------------------
UPDATE:

One chore done. It's a thing of beauty and joy everlasting, isn't it? I don't think I'll ever have to mess with that drain again!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Independence Day






I avoid politics in this blog. I don't talk politics much with friends and acquaintances. But I am involved. I have not missed voting a single time since I turned 18. I write my local, state, and national representatives when I feel strongly about an issue or concern. I follow how my elected officials vote, how they run their campaigns and their offices, and I remember their actions when I cast my vote.

I'm not going to spout off now about what mistakes we have made, or delve into thorny issues, but as it is Independence Day, I want to share a few things about this place that I happened to be born in... a place that has wealth and freedoms and beauty that gives me blessings unmatched elsewhere in the world.

-------------------

The United States of America.

Powerful nation.

Powerful ideas behind the nation.

Freedom. Individual rights. Tolerance for other faiths, other views, simply others.

I am unhappy over some of the changes our nations has seen over the last decade or so. Lawsuits which warn us not to use hair dryers in showers, that our coffee is hot, that our children shouldn't wrap their heads in plastic, we shouldn't stand in front of moving heavy equipment.

I'm also concerned about the erosion of civil liberties and due process.

But, all that aside, I love my country.

Though we may seem like we are butting into the business of everyone else in the world, that we are arrogant or self-centered, there is something to remember.

We are a people who believe in justice. We believe, on the whole, in responsibility, and protecting the weak, and doing the right thing.

When I was 19 I spent an afternoon laughing so hard that my sides ached, my cheeks hurt from grinning. I and a dozen others spent the afternoon dangling our feet in a hot spring and listened to a very funny man, Red Skelton, tell jokes.

Red once had something to say about America, something I echo each year to my students. And I want to share that with you:



One more thing... another larger than life American was John Wayne. I also saw him in person, though I didn't say a word to him. He was the second person ahead of me in a line at a pharmacy in Newport Beach. It didn't seem right to approach the man in such a situation. But he also had something to say about us I would like to share:




Happy Independence Day. Thank you for those who sacrifice their comfort, their time with families, their lives, to protect me and my family.

And while we are a nation that is far from perfect, I pray that the best parts of who we are spread throughout the world. They are precious and I would love everyone to feel safe worshipping where they like, voting how they like, and be free to say what they believe.

God bless all of you.


P.S. Here is another example of the kind of men that make me feel the way I do about my country:



Monday, June 30, 2008

Homeland Security

I have three posts that are handwritten... but before I finish them up and toss them onto the blog pile...

A letter came today from Homeland Security... the folks dedicated to keeping Americans safe.

My son, Jeremiah,


J at Special Olympics this weekend

upon further consideration...



has been denied U.S. citizenship.




--------------


A rather new visitor to this blog wished for a little explanation regarding this post. I think her visit was somewhen around the post Of Mice and Men.

So, I have picked out a few posts that I think touch upon the issues here.

My first post, describing the events around our first adoption, Willy. please forgive all the spam in the comments... It's an old post.

About the fire, an issue that has placed obstacles in the way of his citizenship.


One of my favorite posts, about where my children came from, in honor of Mother's Day.

Jeremiah is granted residency.



Here is the short version:

We adopted two children from Haiti 15 years ago. When Jeremiah turned 18 we checked into service for him because of his disabilities and discovered the boys were never granted citizenship, and had entered the U.S. under emergency medical visas which had expired. since then we have spent quite a bit on lawyers, filing fees, and a lot of red tape top fix it. Because of an incident with fire, Jeremiah's application was in question. We got the residency, and then to our surprise, citizenship, for both boys. Today they informed us that Jeremiah's citezenship will not be granted afterall. We can apply in five years.




Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Beauty

It occurs to me that when I talk about the bad parts of the world, the ugly parts of the world, I am referring to sin... to people.

That's true enough. We are masterful in causing each other pain.

And though it is true that the natural world, the natural universe, is incredibly (in [not] - credible
[believable]) beautiful, people are also.


Here is an example:






Here is the high quality for those with faster connections:






Saturday, June 21, 2008

Politically Correct (Service)

At six years old the most dreaded words were: "Wait until your father gets home!"

It was just before they split up.

Mom was pretty patient. But if my brothers and I went too far, far enough that she was ready to step aside as a shield between him and us, then we knew we had really gone too far.

Like sneaking into the old house across the street and roaming its upper floors in search of ghosts.

Like climbing atop our old two storied house to throw balsa wood planes.

Like climbing the apricot tree beside the old garage and shocking ourselves with the exposed power line (Wow! That really makes you jump!).

(Willows, CA. Garage is way in the back.)

Waiting for dad to come home made a fearful afternoon. He worked for an insurance company and that thin belt of his really, really hurt.

I suppose he would be arrested nowadays. I think such punishment is too much (I tried putting a paperback book in my pants once, but he noticed, big mistake).

But though that was too much, as a society we may be going too far the other way.

I think we are becoming lenient with disciplining children.

A 12 year old in Ottawa successfully sued her father recently so she wouldn't be grounded for her excessive internet use and disobedience. (Hard to believe!)

We are becoming too eager to sue. (When a 12 year old does it I think that is a warning.)

A city worker in our small town tripped on a slightly raised sidewalk in front of the library. So, for fear of the lawsuit, the two old trees came out, the sidewalk replaced. It's too hot too sit on those exposed benches now. They were nice trees.

We are becoming easily offended over slights against our persons, our faiths, our sexual orientation, our dietary habits, our turn at the stop sign, our wait at the check out counter, the hotness, spiciness, sweetness, frothiness, and strength of our coffee.

Ever since those first orchard thieves put themselves first we have found ever more creative ways to hurt ourselves, hurt each other.

Stone age to bronze, iron age to the information age, we fill the world with ourselves... we fill ourselves with ourselves.


I'm getting so tired of Republicans and Democrats and Muslims and Hindi and vegetarians and feminists and skin heads and Christians and Jews and communists and socialists and capitalists and yuppies and genXers and freemales and all the other labels which are supposed to describe but instead place people in tidy little boxes with tidy little labels.

People are hurting. A label won't really make them feel any better.

I'm a Christ Follower.

I'm a teacher and a husband and a father and a friend. A gardener and a blogger and I love this world.

I am unique.

...just like every other person on this spinning ball of dirt.

We need each other.

Life is hard.

There is so much hurt and pain and wretchedness in the world, and overlying it all, this incredible, indescribable beauty and love and loveliness.

We must help each other.

When we smile at someone, say a kind word, we take a little of the beauty God has poured, is pouring, is drenching the world, and lay it over them.

They need it.

We need to give it as much as they need to receive it.

I understand the need for people to be concerned about saving souls, for sharing their faith.

But there is something more important.

My Lord did a lot of cool things when He was walking about this earth in a body that stubbed its toes, had acne, and had to relieve itself.

He didn't hurt people. He didn't avoid tough topics, but He didn't hurt people.

When someone was hungry, He fed them.

When someone was sick, He healed them.

When someone was scared, He comforted them.

He told stories, and He hugged His friends, and He comforted the disenfranchised, and He looked at the beauty of the world, and He let it seep into His human heart through His human eyes, and He took that joy and shared it.

Hey, life sucks. I get. Boy, I get it.

The planet is filled with 6.7 billion people who are sick and hungry and poor and grieving and confused.

One of the last things Jesus did before He went to prepare Himself for His arrest and torture and death was to present a meal to His friends after washing their feet.

Even after His death and resurrection, the last thing He did before leaving the planet was fix breakfast for His friends.

What can possibly be clearer than that?

Love each other, help each other, say a kind word.

The world is horrid, hurtful, spiteful, beautiful, wonderful, and glorious.

I feel a lot better when I do the sort of things Jesus did.

Friday, June 20, 2008

He Changed the World

One of my challenges this Summer is to teach myself a variety of software programs in preparation for teaching technology next school year.

My first project is a little video using the new iMovie program.

This video is a little reflection on how Jesus constantly sought God through prayer. He went off to pray, especially when the task before Him was difficult.

Even though He was (is) God incarnate, He sought God's direction always.

Let me know if the size is too large or if there are other problems. It is in Quicktime format, and set for higher end broadband.



video

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Metaphors

I found this photo on a blog, The Feathered Nest. A nest in a bird cage. A nest is a symbol of new life, of nurturing. An empty nest is a metaphor for letting that young life free. And a cage is a good analogy for trying to hold what wishes to be free. I got stuck thinking about metaphors. I wanted to write something drectly about the image above... but this post came out instead.


---------------


A spear of light pierced the dark, pooling around the antique wooden chest with the metal straps and reinforced corners. The humped lid swung up and away, revealing, nothing, just an empty box.

The first gold coin turned slowly as it fell, dropping into the container on the smooth grey floor. A steady stream of gold coins followed, filling it up with the weight of precious metal, filling to the top, heaping above the top. It would be too heavy for one person to lift. The metal handles on each side were large enough for each to be grasped by two hands, which is what it would take to lift so much gold.


The sound of the coins striking each other, the rich sound of wealth, quieted and a powerful humming, almost choral sound grew.

A piece of rectangular paper fluttered, rocked from side to side as it sought its place on the pile of coins. The chorus rose. An indistinct, deep, swelling of voices that did not stop for breath, swung its unified voice, a dramatic sound of hope and joy and love and promise, rose as another piece of green currency fluttered down and joined the first.

The rumble of voices, voices that sounded as if they could sing joyously forever without tiring, grew soft as the currency continued to drift through the air, bill after bill, until all the gold was covered.

The sight of all that wealth seemed more of a promise of personalized joy than a symbol of material wealth.

A deep thrumming slowly replaced the chorus. The rumble seemed to be saying something, though I could not make out the words. But if that distant thunder could be described as a feeling, and if that feeling could be translated into words, it would be: "I promise."

----------

They say all people dream. Most people I ask tell me that though they may dream, they are unaware of it. They awake and if there is anything left of their dreams it is a diaphanous veil, more feeling than memory.

Apparently I differ in this respect.

I remember my dreams.

I remember them as clearly as I remember any other experience. A few of them are vivid enough that they stand clearly in my mind for years and years.

Like the big moments of my waking life.

I remember a little boy, not too far off my own age, saluting a horse-drawn casket accompanied by soldiers in their finest dress down a street lined with crowds.


I remember lying on the living room floor watching the grainy, black and white, flickering sight of a man in heavy clothing and a round white helmet descending a ladder onto the dusty surface of another world. I was 13.


I remember a man standing atop a wall against the backdrop of sky, a crowd cheering as he swung a hammer... and another image of that same wall falling from repeated hammer blows. My heart swelled as I realized that the ridiculous promise that an elementary school desk would protect me from nuclear holocaust would not be told to another generation. The Cold War had ended.


I remember a column of white smoke forking in the sky. I remember the pounding of my heart as something I had never seen in all my viewings of launches from Cape Canaveral, creating that enormous white Y as the announcer stumbled in his descriptions, unsure of what we had just witnessed.


I remember my wife telling me of a plane crash as I left for work, and then, a few minutes after arriving, learning that a second plane had crashed in New York City. The image of an expanding ball of flame duplicating the smoke which already poured from an identical building is frozen in my memory.


I remember certain moments so clearly, even when they are dreams.

I remember the chest filled with gold and currency with the sound of enormous power stepping itself down to a small rumble so a mortal might understand.

For me dreams are like any other experience.

I recall dreams from when I was five, ones that had the same sort of import as the events which etched themselves in my waking life.

For me there are distinct types of dreams. Some are mere flotsam. Bits and pieces of my life, jumbled together and being placed in convenient spots of my mind... just a bit of psychological housekeeping.

Some are messages from myself to myself. Bits of advice from the subconscious.

Others a fantasies. Experiences I would like to have, often breaking laws of physics.

And some are not mine at all. Some are clearly messages from outside my mind and heart.

Those are the important ones. They have a quality different than the others. There is always a sense of importance to them, an importance that I feel while I am dreaming, which is stamped on them ever after. They have in common a simplicity outside my normal dreams of bizarre plot twists.

Though many of my dreams may incorporate real places, things, there is often the added dimension of metaphors to them.

The night before the dream of the treasure chest I had prayed.

"Lord, tomorrow we see the lawyer. Tomorrow we begin spending money we don't have. Guide me Lord. Shall we adopt this child? Is this the son you promised me? If we adopt him, make him ours, how will I care for him? I'm going to school and money is tight. How will we buy the furniture, clothing, food, toys, all the things we will need to raise this child? Lord, I need an answer now. I need an answer before 10:00 tomorrow morning. Bless me, Lord. And Lord, if this is what You want... if adopting this boy is Your desire for me, then I make You this promise... I give him back to You. I will raise him the way You would have me raise him, and I will love him, and I will dedicate him to You. What you choose to do with his life, I will stand firmly behind. I give You my first child, my first son. May his life please You, if it is Your will that we take him into our home."

That next morning I was certain. The treasure we longed for, the gift of a child of our own would be fulfilled. The empty chest of my heart that longed for a son, would be filled. I would get the thing I treasured. And as for my fears for how I would raise him, how I would find the money to feed, and clothe him, I needn't worry. It was all covered.

We went to the attorney that day. A few months later my first child was born. He came home with us less than a day old.

I kept my word. A month later I threw a celebratory feast for my closest friends. And at that table, after we had blessed our meal and eaten our fill, I prayed that prayer of dedication.

"Lord, You have blessed me with my heart's desire. We have our child. But he isn't just ours. And so I pray, and I promise, that this first son is Yours, Lord. Whatever Your will, whatever You want me to do in raising this child, I do in obedience to You. I give him to You. I will be his teacher, his provider, his father, but all in Your name Lord. Because You gave this child to me, I give him to You. --Amen."

A little over two months later the Lord took that child home.

A few weeks after that, in packing away clothing and toys and pacifiers, and cards and gifts, we came to a startling conclusion. Gifts of food, clothing, furniture, money, totaled within $10 of all we had spent on that child, my son, Willy.

------------

It was a painful year. I hurt. I was depressed. Suicidal.

But I came out of the experience with a deeper understanding of sorrow, and surprisingly, of joy.

Now I have more children. Two more. And though they present challenges, and though they cannot learn the things I had hoped to teach my children, I feel extremely blessed.

I look back at the first child's life and I see meaning. I see symbology in a short life, one that passes through so quickly that all it gathered in its quick sojourn through this world was the basic experience of birth, parents, taste, touch, smells, sight. No crawling. No walking. But a bright soul headed toward eternity with the simple experience of mortality.

People see metaphors all the time. We see the cross and think of forgiven sin, and the suffering endured by eternity in experiencing tortured deicide.

We see the six pointed star and think of a people gathered beneath a flawed king who established a lineage, a family that led to that day of ultimate sacrifice at Golgotha.

For three years the incarnate God walked among us, listened to our sorrows, healed our wounds, washed our feet, feed us when we hungered, and told us stories.

He told us stories that held meaning. Important morality tales which shed light on matters of the spirit, and matters of daily living.

Jesus taught us through parables.

It is natural for us to think that way. We like metaphors. We use symbols to represent sounds, events, empires, points about faith and morality, all things of our minds are represented in many ways, in symbols and metaphors.

We dream that way, we speak that way.

-------------

Brenda is confused. If God is good, if He loves us, why would He let us suffer? Why would He let evil roam unfettered?

It is a common question. We seem to have an innate sense of what is right, what is wrong, and much we see of the world seems very, very wrong.

There are the usual answers to the question, about free will, about choices, about how God works good out of the hurts we inflict on each other.

A more interesting question for me is why do I believe all the stronger when I too have been hurt the same ways as she, and I have the passion for science which relies only on what is measurable, testable?

I have had some strange experiences which reinforce my faith, a vision of Jesus when I was six, two experiences with angels, a miraculous healing from a life-threatening illness. Dreams which felt outside my reality.

But my faith does not spring from those experiences.

My faith springs from my soul. There is something inside me which recognizes the truths of faith regardless of circumstances or evidence.

Metaphors in dreams, parables in scripture, examples of spiritual truths looming large in ordinary events, such as the quiet death of an infant, speak to me.

And the amazing realities of science (see previous post) which demonstrate a universe beyond human proportions, human imagination (though I work hard at grasping those proportions) speak to me of greatness, glory, care, love, power and control which I heard echoed in the rumble of certain dreams.

Do I believe in God?

Should we believe in God?

I think we have it backwards.

At the limits of human exploration of what might be at the tiniest of levels, at the level below that of sub atomic particles, at the level of quarks and 12 dimensional strings singing the universe into being, we find that everything is chance. The patterns and order we see in the newtonian universe seem to be completely random.

It seems that the effect of a mind can have more influence on what is than the laws of the universe. The act of observing somehow constrains things to behave outside their random nature.

If one throws one's mind down into the realm of quantum mechanics and turns to gaze upward at the world we experience, we see that the "real" world is as imaginary as a dream.

In this dream of what we believe is reality we question the existence of God.

We should question our own existence.

Might we be metaphors?

Might I not be the question: "How does a soul respond to the experiences of being raised this particular way, having those particular experiences, walking that particular path?"

We want God to prove Himself to us. To show us He cares and loves and has control over a world where evil roams and pain is common and grief and longing drive us in directions away from Him.

Perhaps we have it backwards.

Perhaps we should prove ourselves to Him.

Life sucks.

Life is wonderful.

Life is all things, and what we decide, what we do, how we choose to stand, how we choose to live, is far more important than the sorrows that might cross our path in the brief time we walk this world of ephemeral living, this realm of mortality.

I am ready to accept things I don't want to accept. I am ready to do things I would rather not.

If it pleases Him, I am ready.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Of Mice and Men

I’m sitting before this glowing screen and you are on the other side of this shimmering electronic mirror.

Still, we are connected.

You may be one of those who have followed my strange travels for several years. You may have just now stumbled into this odd corner of the blogosphere for the first time.

We are connected.

Sunday afternoon I, my wife and two kids found ourselves in a Chinese restaurant in Salem, Oregon. My wife’s father’s paternal uncle was celebrating his 60th wedding anniversary. There were he and his wife’s four children (who hosted the event) and their children, and grandchildren. Some of those offspring brought boyfriends and girlfriends, new wives, genetic relations and legal relations. Folks of nordic descent (family name: Nelson), hispanics, asians, my children from Haiti. All connected.

I did a fair job in remembering names, but could not possibly keep up.

In such a setting I see the world is connected.

Business, personal, faith, genetic, marriage... there are so many ways we connect to each other.

My great grandmother (maternal, maternal, maternal side) told me she was the grand daughter of President Ulysseus S.
Grant. How distant he is to me... yet connected.

My grandfather was adopted by a man who befriended his mother, Alice Louise Edstrum, a woman who survived a severely abusive husband, an explosion which deformed her hands, poisonous well water (which killed all but one of her children) and finally succumbed to tuberculosis.

That man who took my grandfather in was a down on his luck farm hand (much like George and Lenny in Steinbeck's novel) descended from John Greenleaf Whittier, the famous Quaker poet.


And Alice, my great grandmother, was born Alice Louise Gordon, of the Clan Gordon of Scotland. My friend and colleague across the hall at work is a descendant of Clan Gordon of Scotland.

We are all connected.

I’ve been thinking about connections, physical, theological, cosmological, genetic...

I was on the freeway today, following an 18-wheeler. It was carrying one of those cargo containers which get picked off the truck frame and set on cargo ships and moved about the globe.


Something moved along the corrugated metal, clinging to the slanting steel, ran to the vertical bars which lock those tall doors. I slid over to the lane to the right (it was my exit) and the mouse scurried back across to the container’s corner near me, desperate to find a way off that vibrating metal box rolling along at 60 miles per hour. I took out my camera to snap its picture, but it scurried back behind the locks again and all I could see as I went by was its tail.

Poor little guy. I hope he makes it out of that situation.

The smallest of connections between he and I, yet here I am, imagining him still. And now I have shared the vision of that frightened fluff of grey fur clinging to yellow metal on a busy highway in the northwest corner of a Oregon, a state in the northwest corner of the United States, with you, on your side of the mirror.

There were several pieces of news which caught my attention this past week. News I found startling, and beautiful. While I caught and tossed back a dozen emails from a parent concerned about her son’s failing grade in my class, while I coached a half dozen kids in organizing an end of the school year assembly, while I graded dozens of hastily finished projects, weeded my garden, tucked my children into bed, threaded the land mine-strewn conversations with my wife, I pondered several strange, startling, and beautiful pieces of news.

First piece of news: The tightness of the spiraling arms of galaxies are indicators of the mass of the black holes that lie hidden in nearly every galaxy. We can determine how many solar masses (the mass of our sun) make up those central black holes, those voracious, monstrous eaters of all things.


(Background: a galaxy is an island of stars, numbering in the billions [ours has about a 400 billion stars]. Early in the universe they tended to be smaller, made up of more massive stars with short lives. The latest editions of galaxies look a little like hurricanes gliding through the universe, unless they collide with another, in which case they can take on almost any shape as they swing through and around each other in a complex dance of mass and gravity.)

Hurricane

Colliding galaxies

More colliding galaxies

Second piece of news: Scientists have studied the orbits of the stars in our galaxy's halo (one can determine the material of a star by looking at it through a spectrometer, then determine its mass by its brightness, and its velocity by how much the image in the spectrometer is red/blue shifted) and so have determined the total mass of our galaxy. (Read this paragraph again if you didn’t get it the first time. I think its a little awkward and might need some editing.)

Turns out our galaxy contains the mass of a little less than a trillion times the mass of our sun. Wow! Cool work there, guys!

Third piece of news: The Spitzer-Hubble Space telescope has finished its survey of our galaxy and using primarily the light from the infrared portion of the spectrum which penetrates the dust lanes much better than visible light, scientists have mapped our galaxy! That’s right! We now have a map of our own galaxy. An amazing feat of detective work!

Please click to enlarge
(It's pretty cool)

So, our galaxy is typical of that latter sort, spiral, if a touch on the small side. We have thought for decades our galaxy, the Milky Way, was a typical spiral galaxy featuring four arms spiraling out from its glowing hub.

Turns out there are only two arms, and they are tightly wound. Remember news item two? Our galaxy has some VERY LARGE black holes in its heart, pulling its swinging arms in a tight grip like a ballerina who brings her arms in to spin ever faster (well, it takes about 250 million years to make a complete turn, but that is pretty quick if one takes the long view of things).

Fourth piece of news: We see into the future.

Sort of.

It takes about a tenth of a second for the image that hits our eyes to get passed along the optic nerves and then passed on to the brain. The problem with that is that if we are presented with an object moving fast toward us, how can we react in time?

A pitched ball should smack us in the face before we can determine where it is going, how to react, and get that catcher’s mitt into place.

The truth is... we see the ball coming before it is coming.

There have been a lot of theories on why we see optical illusions the way we do. There are about 52 types of optical illusions. Past theories have only been able to explain one or two of them at a time. A new theory predicts how and why for all 52!

Here it is: The brain is analyzing everything we see all the time. We can’t spend our time really looking at things, so it takes the memory of things and places them where they should go, so we feel comfortable walking along and don’t worry about the empty spots in our environment where we haven’t bothered to look closely. As we move along the brain predicts what we will see next and imagines that image as “real.” Then if the image that arrives is different than the one we are presuming on, it quickly adjusts and updates the image.

We don’t see the world as it is. We see the world as we imagine it is going to be in a moment.

When something is wrong with that image we do a quick double-take, look hard for what is different than what we believe was supposed to be there.

Say there are two objects in a room about the same distance from you but at ninety degrees from each other in terms of your perspective. If you suddenly move toward one of them, your brain will enlarge the image of the items it believes should get larger, blur out others, and shrink others, presenting you with a virtual real time image.

About fifteen years ago I was riding in a van with my brother Mike. He was driving. We were talking and as we passed a side street I saw a car coming out from that street too fast to make the turn.

My eyes widened, my mouth opened to shout a warning. The car went out of view behind Mike, on the other side of the wall of the van.

“What?” asked Mike.

I furrowed my brow. Why hadn’t the car hit?

WHAM!

The van gets shoved sideways. We had been in an accident.

How could so much time have passed between when I saw the car fly by heading into our vehicle, just behind Mike’s seat?

My brain was telling me about things that hadn’t happened yet.

In moments of crisis it can actually predict a second or two into the future!

Did you know that astronomers can see galaxies that are out of view by examining the lensing effect of massive galaxies which lie between? Gravity bends light waves and a distant object’s image can slip around another just the same way mirages in the desert are caused by the light slipping in strange ways through the shimmering variations of air.

The little arced streaks are galaxies further away than those they surround

Mirage on The Great Salt Lake
(where my dad attempts his speed records)


We can see things that aren’t there by using the slippery characteristics of gravity and light.

We can see things that aren’t there.

We do see things that haven’t happened yet.

After my little trip into town today I was pulling up to my house.

It has been my habit to cross the oncoming lane (if I am eastbound) into the parking area past my drive, and back into my drive. I believe it is safer to pull out again forward rather than backing out.

As I pulled over, there was a car coming, about a block away. I debated for a moment whether or not I should back up into the driveway before he arrived or after. I decided to wait to make him feel more comfortable, though I had enough time to get completely in the drive before he arrived.

It took only a few seconds, but he rolled through, going a touch fast, and gave me the one finger salute.

I had no idea what we was angry about.

I backed into my drive, watching him grow smaller in the distance.

What was he upset about? How had I angered him?

I wasn’t angry. I knew he must have some bad things going on and I was a convenient target.

“Talk to him. Be kind, be polite, don’t crowd him, but talk to him.”

Huh?

It was a weird thought (or perhaps The Spirit?). Actually it wasn't so much a thought as a feeling.

I pulled back out, turned right. Kept the speed limit, followed.

A stop sign made him wait for me. I could see how angry he was in the reflection of his mirror. He turned north on Holly St. So did I. I kept a respectful distance.

Great. I’ve been thinking about how the things I see aren’t real, and now I’m hearing voices, or rather obeying a feeling in my heart.

He turned left on Territorial Rd. As he did his angry face glared at me in the mirror. He flicked a cigarette butt back in my direction.

A few blocks to the end of the road. A couple of turns, he pulled into a drive. I pulled in slowly as well. I stopped just inside the drive, I didn’t want to crowd him.

“Stay calm,” the voice/feeling said. "Smile. Be kind."

I stepped out as he pulled his pickup into the garage. An elderly woman got out of the passenger side. The driver got out, he looked about five years older than I.

“Stay calm, be kind. Smile sincerely,” my heart whispered.

His face was contorted in anger. The older woman spoke.

“What the Hell are you doing here? Go away! This is private property!”

“What is your problem with me?” he growled.

I smiled nervously. (Sorry Lord, that’s as close to sincere as I could manage.)

“I just wanted to know how I offended you,” I said softly. “You look angry, and I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry if I made you angry.”

“I’ll tell you what you did!” he shouted. “You cut across in front of me!”

“I’m sorry. I’ve been pulling into that driveway that way for over fifteen years and it hasn’t bothered anyone before, and you were a block away. But I knew you would be passing me as I was backing in, and I can see how that would make you feel I was putting my vehicle close to yours. I should have waited until you passed.”

A confused look came over his face.

The older woman huffed and went inside.

He walked up to me, his hands balled into fists.

I looked into his eyes, smiled.

He had tired eyes. There were wrinkles, sad wrinkles circling his eyes, creasing his forehead. They reminded me a little of the lines of stars around spinning galaxies.

"I'm sorry," I repeated.

He smiled weakly.

“It’s OK,” he said. “My mother has alzheimer’s and I had just picked her up from the nursing home and she yelled that you had cut me off and I reacted and I got mad. I’m sorry.”

“It’s OK,” I said. “Life is tough. I can see there are a lot of things going on in your life. I’m sorry about your mom. And I’m sorry I got in your way. I just wanted to let you know that I’m not upset or anything.”

We stood a moment. Both of us slightly confused by the situation.

“I’m Will,” I said, and stuck out my hand.

“I’m Jim,” he said. He took my hand.

“I hope things get better for you,” I said. “It must be hard dealing with your mom. Are you married?”

“She died last year. Alcohol and drugs.” His voice thickened.

“I’m sorry,” I told him.

“I don’t know what the Hell is the matter with the world right now!”

It was almost a shout.

“Gas is going up, I’ve been a trucker all my life, and now the company has gone, just disappeared, and how am I going to start over at 56 years old?!”

He looked close to panic.

“I’ll be damned if I go on welfare,” he said.

“Life is tough, I know,” I said.

“Are you married?” he asked.

“Yeah, but things are rough there too.”

“You got kids?”

“I have two. They are mentally disabled. I love them, but it can make things... interesting.”

“I’m sorry I got angry at you,” he said.

“Hey, it isn’t any big deal. Life is tough. I’m glad there aren’t any hard feeling between us.” I started to get back into my van.

He grabbed my right hand in both of his.

“God bless you,” he said.

I smiled, sincerely now.

“Thank you. You too.”

I drove home.

I love to think. I love putting ideas together, learning new things.

Sometimes what I see isn’t what is really there. And what is there isn’t always seen. Sometimes I think I know what is real.

Sometimes I feel I have righteous anger, a right to be indignant at the hurts others have inflicted upon me, sometimes intentionally.

But those thoughts feel wrong.

The mind is a strange instrument. It tells us what we see, and it creates conclusions out of nothing.

The heart is a more trustworthy organ. When it whispers, when it tells me what I am feeling is wrong, or when it tells me to do something, it is often more right than my mind.

I think about that man, walking into his house. His hand still feeling mine in his, minutes after he had used it to fling anger at me.

I think about that mouse scurrying on the back of that speeding truck, a tiny living thing in a whirling world it cannot see or understand.

I think about the coiled arms of our galaxy, hugging invisible, powerful singularities in its heart, and my little home, my little star, riding a bit of flotsam of stars, the Orion Spur (rather nice sounding, isn't?) coasting between those two arms.

I think about my eyes telling me about the world, and knowing that it may or may not be right, be true.

I think about the sadness in my heart resting beside the joy I feel for living in a world my Lord has made.

I think about how everything is connected. We are all related. We lean against each other, brace each other up in our lives. Sub atomic particles making up atoms, making up molecules, making up cells, making up organs such as my heart, making up people, such as myself, making up societies, cultures, making up a world, which swings around a star, tugging at other stars with the braces of gravity, swinging around a galaxy in a headlong journey with many other galaxies, all bracing each other in connections seen and unseen, imagined and unimagined.

I think about my friendships, and how I want to go off somewhere and pray.

I think too much.

But I don't think I feel too much.