Friday, January 16, 2009

Taking a breather...

Just a quick update from the frosty corners of northwest Ohio...

This week marks a series of changes. Friday the 16th is Chris' last day at Hotel Hell; a local hobby retailer had an opening for a remote-control sales specialist, and Chris jumped at it. His schedule will be a bit screwed for a bit - he will have to work Sundays for a couple weeks, which has been our only "full" day off together. But he will be working 12-8 p.m., instead of 3-11 p.m., so I think it will be much better for his mental health. And being away from the children-of-God who run the hotel and the local-yokels who populate it and the waterpark will do him even more good. So we are celebrating that a bunch.

On Monday, I am starting a course of a new diabetic drug, Byetta. For me, it will likely be a double annoyance - a morning and evening injection, plus low-level nausea for the first several weeks. But it's a "first-step" issue - admitting that I am powerless over my appetite, and doing badly at blood-sugar maintenance - and the drug is proven as an appetite suppressant (in much the same way that chemo patients don't want to eat much).

I'm trying not to project how things are going to be, but I am also realistic enough to realize that I hate being the size and shape I am even more than I hate the prospect of (a) multiple injections and (b) throwing up, dead sober. One of my good friends shared his experience, strength and hope with Chris and I before Christmas, and last week my doctor OK'd the treatment. It's closer and easier (and cheaper) than lap-band surgery, too. So if you are the praying type, pray for endurance for me, please.

Much of the world is investing in the new digital-television revolution by purchasing digital TVs. In our household, we are the proud owners of an old-style 27" tube TV - a considerble upgrade from the 19" antique we each owned - and a digital video recorder with which to capture the new Supercross season. (That, thanks to CraigsList, was the sum total of our investment in the economic recovery.)

A recent piece of good fortune forced me to another realization about myself. Chris has Saturday, Sunday, and Monday free - his stint at Hobbytown starts on Tuesday. And the extended insanity of holiday and year-end payroll processing at The Somewhat Evil Empire has wound down considerably. So we were presented with the unprecedented opportunity of three whole days off together. Woo-hoo!

Of course, the three days comes dead in the middle of the worst cold-snap we have had in three years. My friends Peter, Erin, and Hope will laugh, but -13 F (-25 C) comes under the category of damn, damn cold down here in Ohio. (My northern friends have endured weeks of that temperature and worse, over the last month - but we've had two relatively mild winters down here, and have gone soft, I guess.) So our plans to travel south a couple hours to Columbus (where it's currently only -9 F) are somewhat tentative.

But back to the self-revelation. I asked Chris what he wanted to do with the long weekend, and he turned it back on me: "Well, what do YOU want to do with the weekend?" And I was just dumb-struck...I had no idea what I would do with a whole extended weekend and no commitments.

Since New Years Day, 2003, I have been working toward something. In 2003, it was working toward getting ready to go to seminary. In late 2003 and 2004, it was getting relocated to Chicago and getting into seminary life. In late 2004 and 2005, it was trying to salvage school, and surviving financially however I could. Late 2005 and through 2006, I was a workaholic deeply immersed in trying to restart my career.

Starting in October, 2006, I was relocating here to Ohio, and trying to salvage my sister and brother-in-law's home and jobs. In late 2007, my focus was on a new relationship with Chris, and trying to prevent my sister losing her home. But by New Year's Day 2009, school and ministry are but a memory, the job is fractionally stable, the home is gone, the relationship is solid, and I am working on digging myself out of the financial hole that seminary sunk me into.

And so the questions of "What now?" and "What next?" seem to be focused on self-care - something at which we've both been historically and notoriously lousy. And what else, who knows? My friends in recovery have so far only suggested the phrase from our Big Book which says "More will be revealed to you and to us."

For now, we will see where the weather puts us on Saturday, and (in the words of an old song) cast our fate to the wind.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Is this really an improvement?...

The mainstream church, Driscoll has written, has transformed Jesus into "a Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ," a "neutered and limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy of pop culture that . . . would never talk about sin or send anyone to hell." (Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church, quoted in the New York Times)

This article paints Mark Driscoll as the next new voice of the evangelical church. It showcases Driscoll's penchant for being cool and vulgar, and images him as a success. And then it delivers the worst news: But what is new about Driscoll is that he has resurrected a particular strain of fire and brimstone, one that most Americans assume died out with the Puritans: Calvinism, a theology that makes Pat Robertson seem warm and fuzzy.

Oh, goody. That's sure an improvement, isn't it?...

Of course, I could get irked about Driscoll's pre-occupation with all things masculine and sexual, showing disdain for anything that does not come from strength and testosterone. He tosses around language like "queer" and "chickified dudes with limp wrists” with abandon, and that still annoys me. But that's just not central, here.

The thing that is central to my concern is that predestination is one of the most un-Godly theologies I can imagine. I cannot believe, as the article states, that "Reducing God to a projection of our own wishes trivializes divine sovereignty and fails to explain how both good and evil have a place in the divine plan." This is the kind of nonsense that says that since God is sovereign, supreme and omnipotent, then it was God's will that directed the tsunami to kill a quarter of a million of His kids, believers and unbelievers alike. (Presumably the believers who died were predestined for hell, anyway.)

I have, in fact, always had a problem with the idea of predestination - mostly because of the annoying tendency of those who believe in it to believe that they are, in fact, among the predestined themselves. Thus good things that happen to Calvinists are proof of God's favor, and bad things just show who's really in and who's really out.

In short, they don't win any points with me.

Maybe I'm all wet, but as I remember, Jesus didn't spend a lot of time telling anyone that they (specifically) were going to hell. He spent a lot of time telling the Pharisees (who LOVED telling people they were "in" or "out") that they were liars and "vipers' brood" and other complex theological names.

I find no humility, no scrap of Christ in this "evangelical" theology. I find no trace of the Sermon on the Mount here. I admire some of what Mark Driscoll has done, even agree with some of what he has written.

But I'm afraid that the core of the message he shares is how Max Lucado described the soldiers who crucified Jesus - "close to the Cross, but far from Christ."

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

As sick as the silences

Shelly died last Friday.

She came to an AA meeting that I attended a week ago. It was not, I later learned, the first time she'd been to a meeting; she'd been plenty of times before, although I don't remember seeing her before last Tuesday. And she waited until the last ten minutes of the meeting to speak up about what was on her mind - a classic newcomer delaying tactic. But she finally spoke up - asking simple questions like "What's a sponsor?" and "How do you get a home group?" and just pleading for help in general. It was a moment of surrender, and it was a blessing to watch.

The compassion in the room for this desperate woman swelled up and poured out in her direction, almost as a tactile sensation. As the group finished the Lord's Prayer at the end of the meeting, a group of recovering folks descended on her like a cloud of recovery locusts, providing her a group-hug of acceptance and willingness-to-help.

A smaller group of folks (both men and women) took her out to the Waffle House around the corner from the meeting, and did what we always do when someone really wants help - they poured their hearts and their experience out to her. She left the restaurant knowing that there were people who were committed to helping her get sober and stay sober. She even called a couple of them, between Tuesday and Thursday.

But unknown to us, Shelly was already out of time. She'd been drinking and using since she got out of rehab at Thanksgiving-time, and her body was already weakened by the hard-living she'd done up to that point. No one knows whether she overdosed, or whether her body just wore out and wouldn't go on anymore. What we do know is that she went to bed Friday, and didn't wake up.

She was 31.

I was somewhat astonished, being in the same meeting at which she'd made her cry-for-help a week earlier, than no one was saying a word about it. (Of course, it was a "young people's meeting," and no one wants to look stupid or anything, do they? God forbid we should be uncool....)

Being the sensitive, tactful "elder statesman" that I am (read: "old fart"), I brought it - that the old AA blather about "jails, institutions or death" was still true, somehow, and that sometimes people run out of chances to get sober. I just could not leave the silence unbroken about the tragedy of this girl's death.

Coming home, I was reflecting on the meeting, and I was again amazed at what we as addictive people are capable of glossing over. Yes, a couple of people had been to the funeral earlier today, and were moved by it. And yes, a majority of the people there were just getting their court-slips signed, and none of this really had anything to do with them. As my sponsors have often said, "The reason the armed forces keep recruiting 18-year-olds is that they are the only ones who think they are bulletproof."

But I'm still annoyed. Yes, I know it's part of dealing with people in recovery; most of us don't make it. And yes, I know that all I can do is keep sharing the message, and not being annoyed that the seed often falls on rocky soil. But it still annoys me (and if the truth be told, hurts, a little bit) to see the gift of sobriety given the "yeah, yeah, I know" treatment, and the death of this woman dismissed so casually.

Life just means too damn much to me these days, I guess.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

A prayer for the new year

God of all of us, God of many names and many peoples, hear our prayer for the new year just begun ...

Give us the kindness to hear with compassion, to offer support, loving comfort and care.

Give us the courage to do what is needed, and the wisdom to choose what is right and most fair.

Give us the vision to see what is possible.

Give us the faith that will help pave the way
for a present that is hopeful and
a future that is peaceful.

And please, dear God, give us the heart to bring joy to each day.

For these things, God,
and for the secret cries of our hearts known only to you,
we ask you in faith, and in hope. Amen.

Happy New Year, from our home to yours.

Steve & Chris

(The image is Apollo Sunrise from the Apollo 12 flight, courtesy of NASA.)