In This, the Foul Age of the Man Bun

In earthen measurement of time it is the 14,780th day I have opened my eyes to reality. I awoke this morning free in spirit and alive to God though I remain bodily counted with the beleaguered residents of a worm-eaten world searching for answers and meaning from Google and Wikipedia and Fox News, always bowing their heads to smartphones. I’m due to upgrade my phone soon but I’m thinking about taking a step back to join the “dumbphone” movement, allured by the notion of an existence without bleeps and blinks and constant notifications. Plus I get excited when I think about not buying things.

Sister Linda encouraged Sikki and I prophetically in church on Sunday, confirming a lot of the sentiments we’ve expressed as we lay in the darkness, whispering together before sleep. She basically said things were going to be alright. After the service she mentioned something about “redeeming the time.”

This time away from work represents an opportunity I haven’t had for ten years. I found it impossible to wake up at 3:30, focus my best energies on a corporate dead end job for 12 hours, and then come home at dinnertime or later with anything left over for writing, other than petulant whining in an online journal. There were many summertime evenings when I didn’t get home until 9 o’clock, with just enough time to shower and sleep for four hours or so before getting up to do it again. I’ve been granted time to write, and I aim to use the time wisely: I will treat the writing as a job, as if I were going to work.

Writing is what I always figured I’d do if money was no consideration. And actually money is something I rarely think about, though I don’t have much. But time is something else.

Time is precious. Every single day I reflect on the limits of time and my personal energy and ability to get things accomplished. This is a moment to see if I can write every day with discipline and drive, and whether I will still enjoy it. I have an advantage over a lot of other writers: I look at the act of writing as being a kind of channel for God to speak through for His own glory and purpose. This is also true when I read, talk with the kids, go to church, make love to Sikki, walk on the beach, listen to music or watch a movie – I have internal antennae that are seeking attunement to the Word of God and the nature of reality, the reality He spoke and wrote. Writing about God and His goodness is like “preaching to myself,” especially considering the theme He led me to in the dream several weeks ago.

The book will be about devotion to God in common, ordinary life: the “supernaturalness” of God’s design, plan, purpose and glory in everyday “normal” existence. I worked on a rudimentary outline this weekend. I’ve got several chapters in process, which seems stupid. I feel like I need to finish one chapter and then move on to the next. But I’m not really arguing with it right now. I’m just trying to get used to writing regularly. If the whole first draft turns out crap, I can edit crap.

I feel a certain amount of pressure, of course. My sales route has been posted by the company and will be filled. I had my fourth Xolair shot yesterday – two months on the medication have passed – but I haven’t really noticed any significant change in my lungs. There really isn’t anything to do but trust that God knows what He’s doing.

Meanwhile, my fellow Christians – feeling hopeless and fearful – are throwing yeas and amens behind Donald Trump, an unprincipled man who all his mortal days has loved and served mammon. Like old Israel, the American Church will meet with deserved disappointment as long as she seeks answers from Egypt and places her expectations in Babylon, as long as she trusts in the strength of the horse in which the Lord has no pleasure.

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, That shines brighter and brighter until the full day. – Proverbs 4:18

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Life is a Constant Giving

It is Day 14,773 of my existence under the sun and, like most of them, today has been bittersweet, full of persistent emotions rising within me to make war on my faith, rest and quiet assurance.

I spent the morning in prayer because this is my 12th week away from work on short-term disability; after this week my job will be posted by the company and filled by another body. There’s been slight improvement since the Xolair injections started, but my lungs devolve to choking gags and rattles whenever I exercise or when I’m in the cold. Since half of my time at work is spent moving fast, carrying heavy objects around icy walk-in coolers, that’s a problem.

Sikki rode with me to the pulmonologist this morning. We traveled in silence to Shallotte, and I settled my head back on the rest, imagining a fork in a road, with signs posted. The path to the left said SAFE & SECURE. The one on the right, UNKNOWN.

As we walked into the doctor’s office, I asked Sikki, “Which way we going, here? Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” I don’t think she got the reference. So I said, “I’m walking out of here with a paper in my hand: it’ll either be a release to go back to work starting Monday or a short-term disability extension. Which should we press for?”

“You know how I feel about it,” she said. “You’re still sick.” Which is true. But if I needed to power through it, I probably could. I did it for years.

The doctor disagreed. She talked about permanent damage to my alveoli, put me out for another twelve weeks and advised me to file long-term disability papers in case the hampered airbags don’t respond to further treatment.

Twelve weeks. Three whole months. I can finish the first draft of a book in that time. I bank between 1500-2000 words a day when I’m in the groove. The sweet thing about being sick is that I’ve had time to read and write, which is what I love doing.

When I gave my life to God, I thought I gave everything — at least that’s how I prayed. But it seems like life is a constant giving, regiving, and giving again. Life is willful relinquishment and diminishing of the self to His will and purpose. I want to offer up my last two mites and the humble loaves-and-fishes, but also the costly nard and the gold, frankincense and myrrh. There is no real security in a job or money or any physical thing, but only in being under the shadow of His wings.

I was totally willing to go back to corporate hell slavery if that’s what He wanted. Still am. But now it cannot be the job I left, the safe and secure and thoroughly known world to which I’ve given my best energies for the past decade. Maybe this is a separation point. Maybe the time has come to walk the scary unknown path, and finally do what I was born to do.

Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. – 1 Timothy 4:16

With Lungs that Never Fail Me

It is a Tuesday afternoon in the bodily hermitage where I’ve been caged in bone, skin and blood for 14,765 days. I woke up feeling pretty good but this afternoon my respiration sounds like broken glass, and each exhalation a footstep as someone crunches over it. I thought about trying to exercise this morning to clear my lungs but don’t have the energy. This is the eleventh week of sickness, not including several years I managed to just power through.

Tomorrow I go to the hospital for more Xolair injections, and then I have to decide whether I’ll try to return to my old job, or whether I’ll insist on getting better first. The company will post my position after I’ve been out for twelve weeks and I will effectively lose my job.

Because my lungs feel full of sand and mud I’ve spent the day reading and listening to music. I checked out the new St. Lucia album, Matter, but it doesn’t seem they took any risks – it sounds like their first album which had a kind of early 80’s snappy disco synth-pop sound, like a New Order redo. I first heard St. Lucia at the Firefly Music Festival in Dover, Delaware in late June 2013. It was a sweltering day, and I laid in the grass at their concert far away from the rest of the crowd. Even though I was miserable with a headache and the heat and humidity, I couldn’t help tapping my foot on the grass. When you see a band live before hearing their published work you’re more likely to think they’re better than they really are, and sometimes you get buyer’s regret years later and go What was I thinking? Still, I like St. Lucia’s music when I’m in the mood.

Funny how musical tastes change. If they change. I’ve noticed the majority of folks just keep grinding the wheels down into whatever musical rut they were stuck in when they were teenagers. When I was younger I listened to a lot of Christian music, but I was also into punk rock because it was high energy: Green Day, Blink-182, The Offspring, NOFX, Bad Religion. I was into earlier alternative stuff, too: The Smiths, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, The Pixies, R.E.M., Interpol and Radiohead.

I never want to get tunnel vision when it comes to musical expression – I still thrill over musical discovery and how artists use new technologies. I like listening to music that makes me uncomfortable sometimes. I try to keep an open ear to styles I don’t naturally gravitate toward, like rap and country, because every once in a while I’ll stumble onto something that scratches an itch I didn’t know I had.

So this is my hope and my prayer

the air that I breathe in eternity

with lungs that never fail me

if it pleases my Lord

And only by Your grace use my life

till it’s poured out for Your sake.

Thoughts from The Fault in Our Stars

I finished The Fault in Our Stars by John Green over the weekend. The book focuses on a teen-aged girl with terminal cancer named Hazel and the romantic relationship she develops with a boy she meets in a cancer support group, Augustus. I don’t want to review the book per se but simply record a few impressions I had while reading it.

The first half of the book was a bit slow for my taste but I stuck with it because Green’s dialogue and story-telling were quite realistic: the main characters – all struggling with varieties of debilitating cancer – were believable even if I didn’t have a vested interest in them in the beginning. My favorite character was a writer depicted in the novel, Peter Van Houten, a colorful gargantuan grouch who wrote a book the kids loved called An Imperial Affliction and whom they travel to meet in Amsterdam.

As for supporting characters, I’m not sure if it’s a marketing ploy to increase the book’s appeal to teenagers but Green makes most of the adults in the novel out to be pretty clueless nubs: grieving and emotionally fraught know-nothings. The kids are understandably full of questions about their respective situations, looking for answers about the meaning of existence, whether there’s a God, what the afterlife might like be if one exists, if human life, suffering and death bear any intrinsic value in the universal scheme – even their trip to see the writer Van Houten is their subconscious attempt to bring closure to these unanswered questions. Along the way they are disappointed at every step by grownups who also don’t know and can’t really explain what they believe, or why. Most of them aren’t even brave enough to try.

However, other readers might not see it so, and I confess that I’m prejudiced: although relativism is the flavor of our times I personally don’t find it heroic or laudable to be basically unprincipled and lack any answers to the Big Questions. I think some folks in Western culture mistake a waffling, unmade mind for openness, wisdom and maturity; but to me it signifies laziness and unwillingness to investigate or challenge one’s own worldview. A person who believes “nothing can be known for certain” has closed his mind to knowledge and even the impetus to explore. I think that’s a mistake, but it seems to be the conclusion at which all the adults in the book have arrived.

The latter third or so of the novel shows the devastating effects of the pain and loss of wasting disease as it ripples out from the afflicted ones to their surrounding family and friends. It’s a tearjerker, and I read the last hundred pages at one sitting because I couldn’t put it down.

The plot is a romantic story and an exploration of the process of dying and grief, but what underlies the circumstances and motivates the principle characters is a Quixotic quest to clarify philosophical perspectives which they find deeply unsatisfying (rightfully so, in my opinion), and which ultimately proves to be a fruitless endeavor.

 

A Saturday in August (fiction)

It was a slow weekend and the wife was bored so she started a fight. It wasn’t the sort with flying furniture and words, but the muffled, seething kind where tone of voice and body language and what’s not said conveys more than words, and the silence feels like sucker punches. She started with a strange spiel about how I’m being too nice lately — too nice to be trusted — which struck me as about right because overly nice people are usually the angriest lying freaks you’ll ever meet. But on the other side of the equation, some folks you can’t trust whether they’re nice or not. Then again, women are crazy and who knows what they’re ever really saying because cutting through a woman’s crap is like deconstructing a battleship with your teeth. Continue reading “A Saturday in August (fiction)”

The Possibilities of Language

It is Day 14,760 here on the blue-green Time Trap into which I flew forth from my mother’s womb in the autumn of 1975. Soon after, in a cosmic twist of irony, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest gripped audiences at the box office and won five Academy Awards. On October 1st of this year I will have pulled borrowed air into this borrowed body for exactly 15,000 days, which seems like an occasion that merits some celebration if I’m still around by then.

I spent a lot of time talking with my kids today, trying to help them along with their schooling. One advantage to being home sick for ten weeks is that I’ve gained a greater appreciation for the challenges Sikki has faced for years, trying to juggle homeschooling, meals, and cleaning, not to mention her part-time job. While giving instruction to my kids I had to stop in mid-sentence all day and cough: talking is such a nuisance lately. It worries me because I agreed to speak to the young folks at church on Sunday.

I’ve been reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, a love story about a girl with cancer. It’s pretty famous and they made it into a movie. I wouldn’t say it’s knocked my socks off, though. On Sunday the pastor let me borrow his copy of the Journals of Francis Asbury, the famous Methodist circuit rider in colonial times. He rode a quarter of a million miles on horseback to preach all over the eastern U.S., and he was sick all the time. As the pastor handed the volume over he said, “Maybe you need to be a circuit rider like this fella.” It’s sitting on the shelf; I haven’t started it yet. I’m reading too many books at once.

I wrote for about three hours today – not including my paper journal and this stuff here – which is all the time I had before Sikki got home. The output was just one page, single-spaced. I’m really out of practice. It’s not like riding a bike: you forget over time. Your mind gets lazy. You stop seeking metaphors and thinking in descriptive terms. You have to work extra hard to coax words out in a way that’s interesting. Even my fingers have lost their memory. You have to get all that preliminary stuff down before you really start to consider the possibilities of language, the creative things you can do that are fresh and original and have never existed before because your voice is uniquely yours and no one else would do it the same way with the same perspective.

It’s been raining all day and I couldn’t get out to exercise. Maybe that’s why my lungs have been crap today. For the past several days I’ve been able to hit the beach to walk and run a bit, against doctors’ orders because what do they know. I feel like I can breathe better after I’ve suffered through something aerobic. I can’t just sit all the time. Coughing is not sufficient exercise. I’m turning into Humpty Dumpty over here.

It’s getting about time to bust out of this place.

Cuckoo

Dress Yourself for Work

ONE day a couple months ago I laid in bed beneath a comforter and the first shuddering aches and chills from the illness that has upended my existence for ten weeks now, praying through chattering teeth and weeping for God’s people, the eternal Church. I asked that His sheep may know Him, and that I might play a role in telling others about His reality and the vast depths of potential and possibility for those who live and move and have their being in Him. There was an intensity to the thing that seemed strange to me at the time (because I’m normally selfish and pray about my own concerns). If my family heard me through the uninsulated inner walls of our home, I’m sure it seemed weird to them too.

Of course, I couldn’t know on that day that I was entering an extensive period of sickness which would give me ample time to think about the plan of God and my place in history and the Church. For years I’ve wanted to write a book to open up some of the truth God has shown me and some of the experiences He has led me through. It’s not pride but humility and thankfulness to God that makes me realize He has placed a treasure within me – a deposit of His Word and the applicable giftings to arrange that truth so that hearers can be fed and find satisfaction.

But it seemed like whenever I sat down to start drawing up an outline or form or even a starting point for the work, I wouldn’t get anywhere. So after I finally came to grips with the notion of being out of work for awhile, and once my mental and physical functions returned enough that I wasn’t lying around in a stupor all day, and after a number of false starts and frustrated attempts, I started praying about it, about where to begin. There has been no clear direction for a few weeks. Then, last night, a dream. A simple dream:

I was standing with Sikki in a parking lot – I’m not sure where – when a group of people approached. Some were wiping tears, and others saying, “Hallelujah!” I understood they were weeping tears of joy. They told me they had just read one of my books, particularly a section about the process of becoming, about finding purpose in life as the Word of God is manifested and worked out in real-time daily existence.

I didn’t remember the dream when I woke up. I got going around seven and made coffee and started my morning routine, which normally includes time in God’s Word. At the outset my daily plan brought me to these words:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that your joy may be complete. — 1 John 1:1-4 ESV

As I finished reading the last line, I suddenly remembered the dream and the content of the writing the people said had blessed and helped them. The life was made manifest…and we are writing these things so that your joy may be complete. Today, day #14,758, God has narrowed the field of possibilities and given me a starting point. Thank You for speaking, Father. Thank You for answering prayer.

But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say everything that I command you. — Jeremiah 1:17