Friday, February 24, 2006

Home free...

Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask." Jesus told her, "Your brother will rise again." "Yes," Martha said, "when everyone else rises, on resurrection day."

Jesus told her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die like everyone else, will live again. They are given eternal life for believing in me and will never perish. Do you believe this, Martha?"
(John 11:21:26, NIV)

Out in the corridors, we pray for life
A mother for her baby, a husband for his wife
Oh, sometimes the good die young,
It's sad, but true,
But while we pray for one more heartbeat
Our real comfort is in You...

You know pain has little mercy
And suffr'ing's no respecter of age
Of rank or position
I know that every prayer gets answered,
But the hardest one to pray is slow to come,
"Oh, Lord, not mine, but your will be done..."

Home free
At the ultimate healing
We will be home free...

(Wayne Watson, "Home Free")
Jerry Amundson went home to Jesus Tuesday night.

The big bear of a man had lived for years with only one lung, but had been struggling for breath since before Christmas. And when the word got out that Jerry was in the hospital fighting for life on Tuesday morning, the emails and prayer-chain phone calls started, and a whole bunch of folks were praying that Jerry could hold on until his son Eric got home from Hong Kong.

It didn't work out that way.

A husband, a father, a grandfather, a businessman, a man of great faith and endurance, and a good friend was lost to our sight. And the questions started - "How come, Lord? Would 36 hours have been too much to ask? And how come this guy, Lord - when there's still more than a few folks on my list you coulda taken first?"
(A side note - the fact that I still have "a list" shows how much work God still has to do in me...)
That's why, for fifteen years, I have loved Wayne Watson's song "Home Free." I am so grateful for a man of faith who was willing to share his struggles of losing someone too soon. And I have come to see death as "the ultimate healing," and I have come to faith that at the end of life, we will truly be "home free."

In the end, I am left with Jesus' question to Martha: "I am the resurrection and the you believe that?"

I do.

And I trust that my friend, brother, and mentor hears the words, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."

I will be leaving for Kansas City in about an hour, and will be coming back late Monday night. I'll be taking my work lap-top with me - the fun never ceases, in that regard - but they have been very flexible in working around my travel plans. And to be honest, even if I had to quit, I would have gone this weekend. Jerry was one of my adoptive "dads," and a great source of inspiration. I could no more miss this weekend than I could cut off my own arm. And the 10 hour drive will be nice - an enforced time of peace, a whole bunch of uplifting music, and some time to be with friends.

An interesting aside - 15 years ago this weekend, I was in Kansas City for an interview, about 90 days sober. I'd pegged a lot of hope on this interview, done my homework, and I was ready.

The interview went fine. But the job they were offering was a guaranteed ticket to a breakdown and a relapse. And about 45 minutes into the interview, I came to that sinking realization. And by the end of the interview, I told them that I was the wrong person for the job - even though I desperately needed employment at the time. I left the inteview site on the Country Club Plaza filled with the fear that I'd never be employable again, that I was hopeless, helpless, and I deserved what I was getting.

My friend Craig (who I was staying with) invited me as kind of a consolation prize to go along with him and his wife to something called The Sunflower Roundup. I had no idea what it was, but thought, "What the hell...why not?"

It turned out to be an AA conference with about 1,500 sober alkies and addicts gathered together to celebrate sober life. Speakers, food, fellowship - it was exactly what I needed.

The Roundup is happening this weekend. I'm looking forward to repeating history, and hooking up with a large number of AA folks I haven't seen in years. That will be cool.

So I pray for clear roads, safe driving, and a weekend filled with laughter and tears, and hope those prayers get answered in the affirmative.

Monday, February 20, 2006

"I feel the need...for speed!...."

It looks like a superhero's car. Batman, eat your heart out.

It goes from zero to sixty in 2.5 seconds. Think about that - one. two. sixty miles an hour.

Welcome to the Bugatti Veyron 16.4. Lovingly crafted by a division of Volkswagen.

Yes, Virginia - that Volkswagen.

Yes, it's an impossible dream - a cool $1.2 million per hand-tooled copy. Yes, it's an environmental disaster, getting about 9 miles per gallon, and at full throttle (on its way to a top speed of 253 mph) the 1,001-horsepower engine will run itself out of gas in 12 minutes.

But for anyone who ever thrilled to the idea of high-speed anything, or anyone who ever dreamed of stealing the Batmobile, or anyone who's ever hit the gas a little harder and whose blood pumped a little faster whenever Kenny Loggin's Danger Zone came on the radio - this is a dream turned to reality.

The New York Times article says it best:
The car's everyday top speed of 234 m.p.h. is enough to make it a king of the road. To be the performance emperor, though, the driver must resort to a second ignition key to the left of his seat.The key functions only when the vehicle is at a stop. A checklist then establishes whether the car - and its driver - are ready to go for the maximum speed beyond 250 m.p.h. If all systems are go, the rear spoiler retracts, the front air diffusers close and the ground clearance, normally 4.9 inches, drops to 2.6 inches.
My pulse rate goes up just reading that.

On a sad note for Top Gun fans, the F-14 Tomcat naval fighter is being retired. One of the best promoters for Navy recruiters is being put out to pasture.

Oh, well, that's all the fantasy we can stand for today. Off to the workaday/night world...

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Happy Valentine's Day...

There is much that a single guy could whine about on Valentine's Day. And, in years past, I have.

Not today.

A man was talking about the 2nd step of the 12-step recovery programs, which says that we came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity, he was asked, "So how do you know if you're sane?"

His first answer, "If you have to ask...." got him some laughs. But his second answer was one for the ages. He said that he believed sanity was the ability to work, play and love - successfully, and in balance.

I've come to realize that for me, Valentine's Day is not about couples, or candy, or dinner, or cards. It is about relationships - and it is about love.

I have no life-partner to romance - but I am rich in friendships and awash in love.

I'm celebrating that, today.

The truly scary, and the truly inspiring.

My bloggin' brother Poor Mad Peter has much that's great to read, and is a truly talented photographer. Last night, in an effort to catch up in the blogosphere, I checked out what's been going on in Thunder Bay. In among all the great reflections, I found a post linked to a page titled The American Taliban.

Now, before you go there, I'm going to be upfront with my concerns about the site. There is no reference or trackback to the sources of any of quotes listed, so I can't prove that any of these were said - though many are certainly either infamous, or in a similar vein to other quotes that I have heard personally. And they are all quotes standing alone, lifted out of context. I'm more than sure that there are more than a few quotes of mine that, taken out of context, would seem pretty unpleasant.

But as Peter wrote in the comments on his post, there's an awful lot written on that page that couldn't possibly be defensible, in any context. It's just really difficult to read those kinds of comments and not get angry.

Once you're done there, though, the perfect spiritual antidote is these two posts from Rick over at a new life emerging. His post on swallowing camels hearkens back to my second blog posting on the same topic.

I'm feeling better, but I'm also off to the salt mines...

Monday, February 13, 2006

Catching up slowly

Well, the low-battery indicator on life started flashing about noon on Friday, and by about 4 PM I had a pretty good idea I was coming down with a cold. And a nasty one to boot. Sneezing, watery eyes, you name it. Yuck.

So I did the right thing - went home at a reasonable hour Friday (having heard that we'd have a work-free weekend - one of our primary systems would be down all weekend long). I picked up pizza on the way home, made it through the last of the Stargate: Atlantis season one DVD's, and was in bed by about 9 PM. Because the nasal congestion screws with the working of my CPAP breathing machine, Friday night was an up-and-down night - I kept getting woken up at 2, 3:30, and 5 AM - but really didn't have the energy to sit up and be productive.

So I just tossed and turned most of the night, and finally got up and went with one of my sponsees to one of my favorite AA meetings - a men's meeting on the north side of town. But by the time I got home again, I was completely wiped out, and spent the afternoon on my sofa, dozing in and our of consciousness and going through multiple boxes of Kleenex...

And today was more of the same. I took myself out for breakfast, but then basically cat-napped the day away. I really didn't have any energy or desire to do anything other than do some reading, and sleep. And it's ridiculous, but at 11:45 PM I'm way too ready to get horizontal again.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Thirsting, and not being filled

As a white-tailed deer drinks from the creek, so I want to drink of God, deep draughts of God. I'm actually thirsty for God. I wonder, "Will I ever make it - arrive and drink in God's presence?" It seems I'm on a diet of tears - tears for breakfast, tears for supper. All day long, people knock at my door, saying, "Where is this God of yours?" (Psalm 42:1-3, adapted from several contemporary translations)

...I have been reluctant at times to admit out loud that mine was a journey of growth spurts followed by what felt like long periods of hushed decay. For years I thought something was wrong with me. I didn't know how to talk about the jerks and lulls, the tugs and pulls, the endless crawling, when one seemingly never moves on but is forever beginning anew...

...What about those of us who after a period of dramatic awakening now feel as if we have hit a brick wall and our prayers have been met with silence? It is comforting that even in the book that passes itself off as the word of God, there are testimonies of people who railed at God for what sometimes felt like God's cruel refusal to speak.
(Renita J. Weems, Listening for God: A Minister's Journey Through Silence and Doubt)
Over the years, I have been awed (and a bit embarrassed) by people who just keep on "suiting up and showing up for God" despite whatever is going on in their life. I've always been impressed by their steadfast faith - even as I felt sure that I'd never measure up to that level of fidelity. I could, and do, pray for that strength of faith - but so far, that gift hasn't been given to me.

That's why it's so important for me to hear the testimonies of folks like Renita Weems. I so desperately needed to hear her - and lots of other people of faith - who were both bold and broken enough to admit that sometimes their "walk of faith" seemed almost crippled at times. I listened to people whose struggles with life and faith sometimes led them to scream themselves raw at God, and I felt "a part of" instead of "apart from" in new and amazing ways.

It's probably not a coincidence that as Lent approaches, I am in one of those times. Facing truths about myself that I've avoided - some for years - it has seemed at times like I'd rather do almost anything than pray about them. And then when I *do* pray about them, those prayers often seem to go straight up the chimney and disperse like wood-smoke. It's probably just a coincidence that I was unpacking a box of books on prayer, and came across Renita Weem's book that I'd picked up nearly 5 years ago, at another dark time in my life.

(Of course, I was almost immediately reminded of the definition of "coincidence": a miracle in which God chooses to maintain His anonymity...)

Today, what I'm grateful for is those folks - casual friends, pastors, professors and church members alike - who confessed their faith struggles openly and honestly. They gave me hope that even though I am, like the Psalmist, "exhausted from crying for help; my throat is parched and dry. My eyes are swollen with weeping, waiting for my God to help me" (Psalm 69:3), I could trust that "weeping may go on all night, but joy comes with the morning" (Psalm 30:5). Their stories gave me enough hope to have faith - and those same stories reinforce my faith at times like these.

Thank you, God, for those faithful and caring women and men who have been willing to speak your truth, when I have struggled in my faith. They are truly Your hands and feet.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Evangelicals Spear themselves, again

Short recap: in 1956 a group of 5 missionaries went to Ecuador to evangelize the Waodani tribe. The tribe was in the process of killing themselves off in self-directed brutal violence when the group of missionaries flew in and tried to make contact. Shortly after they started reaching out to the Waodani, the missionaries were speared to death by the very natives they sought to reach for Christ.

The amazing part of the story is that the families of the missionaries (notably Elizabeth Elliot, widow of missionary Jim Elliot) return to the Waodani, eventually befriend them, and complete the mission. Further amazement comes when the son of one of the victims, Steve Saint, befriends Mincaye, the native who led the massacre, who becomes adopted grandfather to the children whose grandfather he murdered.

A beautiful documentary of this story was made several years ago titled Beyond The Gates of Splendor. Another version of the story, End of the Spear, has recently been released, and has come into just the kind of stinkstorm of controversy that evangelical Christianity in the US is becoming known for.

The cause of this stinkstorm, you may ask? Is it because of the liberties taken with the story? The amount of money spent on remaking an already-good documentary?

Of course not. It's the fact that the central character of the story is played by... a homosexual. [Horrors!] And worse yet, a gay activist. [Gasp!]

After all, the evangelical logic says, how can we support a movie - even a movie with as powerful a message as this one has - if it has one of them in it?

I have a message for the folks who say that casting gay actor Chad Allen invalidates the value of the movie: baloney.

When I watch Ben-Hur, I never think of Charleton Heston as the president of the NRA. When I watch a Star Trek movie, I don't think of Leonard Nimoy's semi-fringe activities, nor do I think of Bill Shatner's sad presence on Now having said that, I'm sure there are exceptions. For instance, I'd probably find it hard to see a performance of Oliver!with Pee-Wee Herman in the role of Fagin. (Or any other role, for that matter.)

But the simple fact is this: for me, the politics - or marital status, or sexuality, or whatever - of an actor has so little to do with the process of telling the story of his or her character. Period. Whether the movie is good or bad has nothing to do with whom Chad Allen has sex with - it should live or die by its merits. Unfortunately, the criticism of the messenger has only helped to destroy the message.

It's interesting that the missionary's son, Steve Saint, has nothing but praise for Chad Allen's portrayl of his father, and himself. I don't know that he has any praise for gays - I haven't heard him say one way or the other. But the man who is central to the story doesn't have a problem with being portrayed by a gay actor. So get over it, people.

By making a stink about this, the religious right has done nothing but show themselves for what they are - fractious, in-fighting, and ultimately failing at the central command of their Savior: love God, and love one's neighbor as oneself.

Nice work, folks.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Reading, writing and r...well, laundry

Today, I took the day off of everything today to take care of me. Took myself out to breakfast, during which I started writing a book review that I've been going to do for ages. Then came back and watched the last two episodes of Stargate Atlantis:Season One and started gathering up the laundry.

Got the opportunity to spend some time with a sponsee that I'd not spent time with for a while, and did that in lieu of the Sunday afternoon meeting. While the UC Hutch Commons' C-shop is a nice place to people watch, the quality of the coffee and food there has nose-dived since I left Hyde Park. Yuck. Hope it was just a bad afternoon or something...anyway, we went for a bit of a drive along Lake Shore Drive and talked, and then I dropped him off about 5, and came on home.

The evening has been catching up on a bunch of blogs I haven't read in, oh, a month or more. And I haven't touched half of them on my blog-roll yet! But it was definitely good to catch up with a number of folks who I haven't read in a while. Too many good authors, way too freakin' little time...

But it's just before one AM Monday, the laundry is done, I have stuff for lunch for tomorrow, and I'm winding down off the afternoon caffeine high. What my sister calls "sudden sleep syndrome" seems to have kicked in, and it's past time to just go to bed, to be honest.

Topics for the days to come:
- Renita Weems, and journeying through silence and doubt
- The experience of struggling with prayer
- Damien's "Never-Ending Meme"

As evening turns to morning, my prayer comes from the Holden Evening Prayer:

Now as evening falls around us
We will raise our song to You
God of daybreak
God of shadows
Come and light our hearts anew.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

A new take on Top Gun...

And the award for "best video editing" goes to...whoever put together this great trailer for the next Top Gun movie. I know a whole bunch of guys (and not a few women) who would pay good money to see it, in a heartbeat...

(It should be noted that I still find Top Gun to be one of my all-time-favorite "guy flicks," and Kenny Loggin's classic theme-song Danger Zone is still one of my all-time favorite high-performance-driving songs.)

Friday, February 03, 2006

Turning back, or running into the fire

I left work early Thursday night. That is, I left when most normal people leave - at five. I was "done" in more ways than one...

My plan was to come in a bit early and leave a bit early, but somehow getting out the door this morning just was more of a struggle than I'd planned. And by the time five o'clock came around, I was more than ready to hop a bus and catch a train south for coffee with one of my sponsees and an AA meeting, which we'd talked about the night before.

I have to emphasize that it had not been a "bad" day - I didn't drink, didn't hit anyone, kept my clothes on all day and my mind mostly focused on work, so it really was a good day. It had, however, also been a day of starting 500 things, and only finishing about three of them - not an overly impressive success rate, when our team is so badly behind the 8-ball.

But for some reason, the tasks at hand just really wore on me, today. So when the thought came that I should just stay at the office, put in a few more hours to "catch up" and skip the AA meeting, the saner parts of my brain stomped that idea to death, and I packed up my satchel and left.

It's a good thing, too. I heard some real truths tonight...things I needed to hear.

Among her many careers over her life, the person speaking at our meeting tonight had been trained to fight forest fires while she was in college. And she shared two images from that experience that really resonated with me.

One thing she shared was that she'd been taught in fire-fighting school that if she was driving through the woods and came upon deer or other wildlife, to just stop a moment, and the deer would turn around and head back the way they came. Seems the deer would invariably turn back to the familiar path they'd already traveled rather than cross the path of a vehicle. What resonated with her, and with many of us in the room tonight, was the tendency of addictive people to turn back to the familiar, even if it's uncomfortable, or even deadly.

God have mercy, but I understand that tendency. It's the way I've lived so much of my life...

In almost every job, in several churches, and in a number of interpersonal relationships, I have stayed long past the time when it was enjoyable, past the time it was comfortable, or even tolerable - because of the fear of what might happen next. It's been my mantra to say, "Oh, it will be better when [fill in the blank] happens..." - when I'm older, when I lose weight, when I get a better job, when this particular project gets done, when I move, when I graduate, when I find a infinitem.

Then when the situation becomes completely untenable, I either quit or get fired, leave, walk out or get walked-out-on, and feel guilty about failing. And in each situation, I usually skip feeling that I've failed, and go straight to feeling that I'm a failure. I've even managed to do this a few times in sobriety - most notably the collapse of my plans to attend seminary here in Chicago.

The other image she shared was an instruction from the more experienced firefighters - that in order to escape the fire, a person must run toward the fire wall itself. The wisdom is that the wall of fire was only a few feet thick, and the area behind it was burnt-out and without fuel. If you tried to run away from the fire, it would catch up with you, consuming everything until it caught up with you. Only by going through the fire did anyone have a hope of surviving.

In telling my own story, I have an used a very similar image - that of being trapped by a fence made of brambles that seems to extend to the horizon in either direction. My experience is that I will try anything - travel 30 miles to the left or right - rather than go through two feet of pain going forward. God knows, I am learning (however slowly) to resist that idea - but I have a lifetime of experience in pain avoidance of all kinds, and at all costs.

There is much to which I can apply these images - to my current work situation, to my experiences with my various addictions. But for today, my prayer is simple:

"God, help me turn from the evil that I know, and to push on through the barriers of pain to the freedom that can be mine."