Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Still with us

Our God is with us...Emmanuel
He's come to save us...Emmanuel
And we will never face life alone
Now that God has made Himself known
As Father and Friend
With us till the end

(from "Our God Is With Us," by Steven Curtis Chapman)

... deep down in every man, woman, and child, is the fundamental idea of God. It may be obscured by calamity, by pomp, by worship of other things, but in some form or other it is there. - Alcoholics Anonymous, page 55
For three days, it seemed that "calamity, pomp, and worship of other things" left the field vanquished, and it was clear that our God is indeed with us.

The two weeks leading up to Christmas were another thing entirely. Without going into all the horrific details (including 2 separate 24-hour work marathons) I will categorically say this: by January 9th of the new year, a change is gonna come. It will be a change in situation, or it will be the serious search for new employment - but life is going to change dramatically. I am certain that my work life absolutely cannot go on as it has for the last thirteen months...and that's all I'm gonna say about that.

For me, the emphasis of my faith has always been on that word Emmanuel - "God with us." And perhaps it's why "the season" didn't feel like much before Friday, because it's been a real effort to see God with us in the mix of calamity and uncertainty around my family and I. I know, intellectually, that God has been present - the fact that I haven't had a heart attack up to this point is proof of that - but it's been hard to feel, to be sure.

The holiday began with a delightful Friday breakfast with my friend Ted. I told him how dry and drained and untouched-by-the-Spirit I had been feeling - and he reminded me that when he had gone through the tougher times in life, the only thing he could do at the time was to simply persevere. And I was reminded again of my dear friend Sandy Motsinger's image of "left-foot, right-foot" - just keep taking one more step forward. It felt more familiar than I wanted, of course...

Which, of course, led me to the apostle Paul's instruction, "Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand" (Ephesians 6:13, NIV).

And, thanks be to God, I am still standing...even if I was so filled with panic and loathing by the end of the work day on Friday that I could have just curled up and become catatonic. The whole weekend was an exercise in just trying to stay awake - my sleep patterns had been so disrupted that it was an extreme effort to just keep my eyes open....

The weekend continued with dinner Friday night at sister Sandy's in Findlay. It was a good time all the way around, even if we were suffering "sudden sleep syndrome" (SSS) by the time the meal was over. San is a step-grandmother (her husband's daughter has baby Faith), and that was going to take up a good deal of her time for the holiday. But I was delighted we could come down, have dinner, catch up, and see her beautiful Christmas tree. The calamities of work and life in Toledo haven't left much time to stay connected with Sandy recently, so it was good to spend time with her.

Saturday morning started with a gratitude AA meeting and breakfast, and the evening was filled with my sister Sue's favorite Christmas movies - "The Christmas Gift" with John Denver, "Christmas In Connecticut," Reba McIntyre's "The Gift," and (of course) "Scrooged." We'd already made it through "A Wish for Wings That Work" (with Opus from "Bloom County" cartoon fame), "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and the original animated "How The Grinch Stole Christmas". (I don't think I will ever be able to watch any other version of that show.) Sue and Jeff know about all the lines, but we still have to watch 'em all ("it's the rule," Sue says).

Christmas eve was a family reunion, with sister Sandy and husband Dave up from Findlay, and Sue's husband Jeff's whole family over for the traditional meal of pulled pork sandwiches and shrimp, then church with Jeff's family. Christmas Day, I started off the celebration by sleping in, then calling friends across the country (the ones that weren't out visiting others). I went down and saw a bunch of friends in recovery at the city-wide AA open house at the Toledo Senior Center, and then
returned to south Toledo for dinner at with Jeff's sister's family, and wrapping up the night with a gratitude gathering at the Monday Night Men's meeting.

There were no presents; Sue, Sandy and I made that decision a couple years ago, when Sue and Jeff were first struggling financially, and to be honest, I didn't miss it. Even as I was watching my sister open gifts with her inlaws, it somehow felt weird - the gifts were nice and all, but it just seemed to draw away from what the holiday was about. Yes, I wish I could do the shopping/gift thing with abandon, as so many do. But this Christmas, the gifts were all "family" and "friends" and "home" and "love," and nothing that would fit in a box under a tree.

The work-a-day (and night) world will arrive in about forty minutes. The chore now will be to carry the spirit of Christmas into the lion's den. I have signed myself up for a spiritual retreat January 19th-21st, put on by two Jesuits in recovery down at the Spiritual Center of Maria Stein near St. Mary's, OH. I'm carrying more than 70 hours of vacation time over this year - and it's the last year I intend to do that - so I have time to spare. And I need to take this time, too.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Preparing for Christmas 101

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire."

"What should we do then?" the crowd asked.

John answered, "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same."
(Luke 3:7-11, NIV)
Long before the birth of Jesus, a cranky prophet named John was sent out in the desert to "prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God" (Isaiah 40:3). And John was none too subtle about it - talking to upstanding church-folk with phrases like "brood of vipers." He told them, "It doesn't matter about your heritage, who's son or daughter you are, or your tradition - what matters is the fruit you are producing for the Kingdom of God."

The crowd says, "OK, you've insulted us, but we're listening. What should we do?"

And then he delivers the simplest definition of repentance and service: "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same."


Take care of those around you. Not just at Thanksgiving. Not just as part of a "Toys for Tots" drive or "adopting a Christmas family." If you have some, and someone has none, you take care of them. All year long.

Look at the sweep of Christ through his three brief decades of life, and you'll hear the same lesson, time and time again. "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). "...for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me" (Matthew 25:35-36). "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?...Feed my lambs." (John 21:15)

Jesus has no problem hanging out (and even having dinner) with prostitutes, tax-collectors who are traitors to their countrymen, with thieves or lepers or the blind or lame. Physical and medical uncleanness, or who has slept with who, or who gets to have communion, or what color the liturgical vestments should be just doesn't seem to bother Jesus as much as the answer to the simple question: "Are you takin' care of my Father's kids?"

It's tragic how far we as a church, and a supposedly Christ-following community, have strayed from the instructions on how to prepare for the first Christmas.

God, in the midst of the insane commercial sprees of this time of year, help us to focus on the very first instructions for Christmas preparation - to take care of those who are in need. Help us turn our churches back to this simple message from John. John showed us how to prepare the way for Christ's arrival. Let it begin with me - with my church - with my life - with this day. Amen.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A backward glance, a glance ahead

God will constantly disclose more to you and to us. Ask Him in your morning meditation what you can do each day for the man who is still sick. The answers will come, if your own house is in order. But obviously you cannot transmit something you haven't got. (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 164)

The gentle alarm sounded - my fourth "where are you?" email this week. So I am following instructions from my sister-of-the-heart Erin to stick my head up and let folks know what's going on.

It's been a long month - a long two months, to be honest. I have been wrapped up in myself, and the challenges facing me and my family - and, as the old saying goes, a man wrapped up in himself makes a mighty small package. I have been spending an awful amount of time working - perhaps hideous would be a better word - and for many days, the absolute last thing I have wanted to do after 14-18 hours sitting at a PC is to turn from the work PC to the home PC and write. So that has been part of the my absence here in cyberspace.

Part of the struggle has been the crashing return of what the recovery community calls "fear of people and of economic insecurity," that stuff that's supposed to leave us after a while. The week of Thanksgiving (a peak time in the insanity cycle at The Evil Empire), sister Sue got word that the job she'd had for almost 19 years would not make allowances for her to be in a light-duty position - and so she joined "the job placement pool" of soon-to-be-laid-off employees at the hospital she works at.

That same week, my brother-in-law's employer of 25 years told him, "We might have to lay you off, this year," and then followed through the following Friday. So, having come to Ohio to "help out," to hold up one corner of the structure here, I find myself the sole means of support for my family. Oh, there are options, and there is hope, but for a while it seemed pretty ephermal. Not exactly what I signed up for...

At times like this, there are two phrases that get over-used and mis-used in recovery - the first being trudging the road of Happy Destiny. The contradiction in the phrase, of course is that trudging has always painted images of walking through a vat of molasses with wading-boots - every step an effort...while the road of Happy Destiny seems more suited to a Nike or Irish Spring advertisement.

It also evokes the Dunkin' Donuts ads of a decade or more back, when the DD baker is literally trudging along, with his hallmark phrase, "Gotta make da' donuts..." It's corny, but in many ways it's exactly where I've been for a while. Just puttin' in my time, trying to make it through the day.

The second dangerous phrase in recovery is one day at a time. The classic Al-Anon passage Just For Today says,
Just for today, I will try to live through this day only and not tackle my whole life problem at once. I can do something for 12 hours that would appall me if I felt that I had to keep it up for a lifetime.
The danger of that, especially as I've seen it this last two months, is that I often end up putting-up-with appalling circumstances for a whole lotta 12-hours, and found myself in states of mental, spiritual and emotional deprivation that I would never have put up with if I'd know about it going-in. That's definitely been my story since Veterans' Day...

It's appropriate to be returning to posting today, too, because today is my sixteenth sobriety anniversary. In some ways, I've struggled as this date approached, because I haven't felt like I've been at a very good point in my recovery. My meeting attendance has been limited, my general interaction outside of the virtual-work environment has been nil, and very few people would look at where I've been recently and use the words Captain Serenity. The recovery text says, "If you want what we have...." - but I've felt like I wouldn't even want what I've had over the last two months. So that too, has kept my voice low - both in meetings and out here in blogger-land.

By the same token, I've had the opportunity over the last week to reflect on the high-points and low-points of those sixteen years - and it has been interesting to be here, so near the place where it all began, at this stage of my life. While I would choose to be in vastly different circumstances, there is much to be said for being, as one friend says, "sunny-side up, suckin' air, and sober." I am not where I'd choose to be - but I have ample evidence that I am not where I used to be, either.

And I have seen, especially in recent meetings, people who have been so gravely affected that they are mentally incapacitated...wet-brains, or close enough, who seemingly have no control over their minds or their actions. That is a cause for gratitude right there. I have to admit that while gratitude has been a little harder to find in recent days, it has been coming easier the last few days.

Today is also my one-year anniversary at The Evil Empire. And it is, as they say, the first day of the rest of my life. In this last week, there has been a reinforcing of the image that the firm really doesn't care about personal sacrifice - any more than a vampire is concerned with their victim's anemia. The Empire's motto seems to have become Use 'em up & toss 'em aside. On sites like JobVent and Yahoo!Jobs, the conversations appear to be pretty uniform: (1) The EE is sucking the life out of everybody, (2) there's no sense in giving them loyalty or service, because no good deed goes unpunished, and (3) if you haven't been laid off, and you don't already live in India, you will be. It is oh, so very very Dilbert-ian.

So today, I asked my co-worker if he would cover for me tonight on the late shift. I called my local AA sponsor, and made a date for a meeting and dinner - and then actually went. The meeting topic was finding faith and maintaining it, which was perfect. Then I took Bob S. (who was my very first sponsor when I got sober here) to a wonderful Italian dinner at Biaggi's in Perrysburg, and generally spent the evening making one long gratitude list. It was time well spent.

Just before I left for the meeting, my sister stopped in to say that she was ready to throw in the job-search towel and take the first job she was offered - this one through a temp agency, with no benefits. I feel badly because being sucked into The Empire's daily drama overdose has left me less capable of "being present" for Sue in her job search. So the time from 11:30 PM to 1 AM this evening was spent asking her what was going on, and trying to find some answers to questions about timing and benefits and what the job would mean to her wage-continuation package. She's depressed, both about her health and her unemployment, which is not compounded at all by her husband's unemployment. (Yeah, right.)

Which brings me back to the image at the top of this post. I can remember as I left for seminary, wishing that I could see the road ahead, and see around the bend so I know what was coming. But, as the photo shows so clearly, I can't see around the curves. I can only see a little bit ahead, and see a bit of the curves that life has headed my way. I just have to keep on going - and continue to ask God for some direction. I haven't been doing that as much as I should, lately, but it's getting better.

I've also struggled with posting here, because it seems that all my life right now is just making it through the day, rather than anything beautiful or uplifting. So much has been left aside, lately - and (as the AA text quote says) I haven't felt that I had much of anything to pass along. But one of the lessons that my dear friend Tom S. has pointed out is that my primary purpose is not to teach or to share but simply to be. It's still a slow lesson for learning, for me...

Tonight, at the meeting, this young fellow spoke up. He said he'd been 6 months sober, but 5 of those were in jail. He was 2 days out of the joint, and didn't feel "a part of" the fellowship, or life in general. And once again I heard the call...to welcome, to encourage, to bring a smile and a handshake. So I gave him my number - and more importantly, I got his number. And when I go to the Thursday night men's gathering, I'll invite him along...not because I'm some kind of saint, but because that is what was done for me. The task, as I understand it, is simply to pass it on. Who knows if he will go - but it's clear what my part is.

So begins the next phase of the journey. I know in my heart that the time from now until January 8th is going to be a challenge at the Empire, but I also know that I am called to be alive and "a part of" each and every day. So I will trust that this passage from the last page of the recovery text is still at the core of what will be right and true - and try to do a better job of following instructions...
Abandon yourself to God as you understand God. Admit your faults to Him and to your fellows. Clear away the wreckage of your past. Give freely of what you find and join us. We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit, and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny.
May God bless you and keep you - until then.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Letter to a friend in jail

I've known Brett for years - probably ten years, at this stage of the game. When he came into AA, he was 18 or 19, I guess, and had a pretty good crystal-meth habit. He's been in and out of AA since then, and ended up in jail a couple times. He's now in a county jail in rural Kansas, doing a one-year sentence. He wrote to me just as I was moving, telling me what was going on, and asking me to write.

I wrote back a typical-for-Steve epistle - and then, just for good measure, included my coming-out post, too. (Can you say, "extra postage required"?) And I told him that if he didn't want to hear from me, that would be sad, but understandable. But if he wanted, I'd write him periodically, and hope he'd reply.

This is my second letter to him, and recaps life over the last two weeks since I wrote to him on November 4th. It also says some things about some realizations I had over the weekend, and some truths about sobriety and life that I am going to try to live by, today.

November 13, 2006

Hey, buddy!

Well, just a brief message to you, brother – it's been a crazy two weeks since I last wrote you.

My sister, who I moved out here to help out, has been judged "totally disabled" by the Bureau of Workers Comp for the job she had. She's been listed as "permanent light duty," so she'll probably never be able to go back to doing what she has been doing. Which sucks, big time. And of course, any retraining program she could get in won't start until the end of the month – AFTER her disability income runs out. It's pretty freakin' nuts.

Her husband, my brother in law, is not taking this well, and is exhibiting every kind of stress-related illness – stomach aches, depression, you name it. Which ain't makin' it too easy for him to show up at his work. Admittedly, it's not the best job in the world – but we need every penny we can get, right about now…

And my first AA sponsor, who I'd chosen to be my "new" Ohio sponsor, and his wife of 15 years, are separating. (Not divorcing – but they have decided for various reasons they just can't live together.) So we spent part of the day Saturday moving her out of his house. It was civil, even friendly. But it was just a lot of time, and it was sad.

And the job that I am generally so grateful for, that allows me to be here and help out – has gone south in very powerful and ugly ways this last week. It got so bad that out of desperation I started posting my resume on Monster.com, an internet job board.

So yeah, things are pretty challenging. And unfortunately, the demands of work have meant that I'm not taking care of myself – I'm eating too much, and I'm not exercising at all, and that's not helping anything about my health.

But, I've been trying, repeatedly, to focus on gratitude. The job sucks, but it's providing most of the income to keep this family afloat. My sister's unemployed (basically), but she's alive, and there's hope of finding a desk job or something she can do that doesn't take standing all damn day.

And I still have options – there is a big open area around here to walk around, and as soon as I get this written, I'm going to take a shower, and then take at least a 15 minute walk. And do that several times a day. Because I won't be worth a damn to them if I'm dead, or in the hospital.

And I know that my employer isn't going to take care of me – their job is to bleed me dry, and my answer, so far, has been to let them. When I talked to my AA sponsor yesterday, and told him about it, he didn't tell me what to do. But he did tell me, "It sounds like they have found a willing mule, and they're ready to load him up until his back breaks and he dies."

Sure – the thought is always in the back of my mind. "Screw them, screw this, screw everybody. I just want to run away and hide." And the best way to do that, of course, is drinking or drugging. Or overeating. Or masturbating and watching porn, or TV or DVD's, or doing anything instead of living sober and recovering.

But if I do any of those things, I'm pissing away today. Granted, any of it sounds more fun than the day I'm probably going to have today. But I also know where that crap will take me – because I've seen it. I've seen it in meetings time and time again. And I'm pretty sure that, at nearly 50 years old, I won't have the chance to survive another run "out there." In fact, I'd be really surprised if you could survive another run out there.

Today, I choose life. With all the pain, and all the flaws, there is still much joy and much love in my life. I had the chance to spend some time Saturday afternoon and evening with some other gay Christians I'd met online, and it was enjoyable to spend time with them, and see people who were out, but not rubbing it in people's faces – and living loving, productive lives in the community. It was really cool. I got to tell Sue and Jeff about going to the Toledo Museum's new Glass Pavillion (though we missed the glass-blowing demonstration - booo....) And Sunday night, as I was racing around to get ready for the evening meeting, my sister made me a great but simple dinner, and gave me a kiss as I left.

People have been encouraging my blog-writing, too. There are folks who are really, really telling me there is a book to be published in all of this. And that I need to get busy with it.

I can't see the love of my family, the friendships I've found in AA, in the church, and elsewhere in life and not be willing to do whatever I need to keep alive – to keep living.

So today, I'm gonna get showered, get dressed, take a walk, and then get to work. I'm gonna work as hard as I can, knowing that tonight, "work" will end about midnight or 1 AM, and that Tuesday and Wednesday will probably follow suit. I'm gonna do my best to get through this with a couple more bouts of physical activity, and I'm gonna call my sponsor in the middle of the mayhem tonight. I'm having to go back to absolute basics – stuff as simple as remembering to make my bed, and to shower AND shave each day (because as a virtual worker, I don't have to do any of that). But as a sober member of life, I do.

I'm gonna get this in the mail on my walk, brother, so I'm gonna wrap this up. You don't have to write a 5 page monster letter or anything to me each time you write – even short notes will be great. And, of course, you may not have gotten the balls up to say, "Stop writing me," from my last "little" letter. I recognize that might also be the case. But I have to admit that I hope it's not the case at all.

When our buddy Mike T. was in the federal pen in California, I suggested that he write about what was going on right that day, and then at least one question or topic about sobriety that he was struggling with. And that he treat it like a journal – write a page or two, send it off; write a page or two, send it off. I'll send 'em all back to you when you get out, so you can have a kind of journal of what happened to you while you were in.

OK, that's it. So much for "brief message," eh?

Zen hugs across the miles, Brett.

Now, God, help me to make it so...today, and always.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Saturday is Veteran's Day in the US, and Remembrance Day for my friends in Canada and Australia. And this day finds me making a confession, and hopefully making amends.

I am a child of the 70's. My father was a very Republican, "my country right or wrong" guy in the middle of the Vietnam War and Watergate. I was a stubborn, opinionated, "what the hell did Nixon think he could get away with?" high-school student who would have gladly wrapped himself in the Constitution the way some folks did with the flag. I had no use for the war, the "military industrial complex" or most of the US Government at the time. And for one summer, I protested the war, the military, and almost every damn thing I could. If there was something to be against, I was against it.

My confession was that I was stupid enough to lump the servicemen and women of the armed forces in with their leadership, in my head and in my heart. I generally despised what I believed was the mindless mentality of the armed forces, and their involvement in what I believed was a stupid war.

That was wrong. Period.

Now my other confession is this: I don't think any more of the war in Iraq than I did of Vietnam. But my amends is that I'm not about to debate that, today. Because Veteran's Day, and Remembrance Day, is not about national policy, or politics, or posturing or photo ops or sound bites.

It's about the men and the women of the armed forces. Committed, brave, talented men and women who believe enough in what they are doing to live, and breathe, and fight...and suffer, and die...in the service of their country.

It is to remember the sacrifice of soldiers who served, and fought, and lost limbs, and died in the service of their country. And to remember, support and encourage all the families and friends, who struggle with their loved ones' woundings or who mourn their deaths. That's who we remember, and that's who we honor, on this day.

It is a tradition in Canada and Australia to remember veterans who have served with two minutes of silence at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month (originally, when the World War I armistice was signed). I like that idea a lot. I think it's a tradition that is overdue in the US as well. And that brings me to Terry Kelly and "A Pittance of Time."

A year ago, I heard Kelly's story:
On November 11, 1999 Terry Kelly was in a Shoppers Drug Mart store in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. At 10:55 AM an announcement came over the store's PA asking customers who would still be on the premises at 11:00 AM to give two minutes of silence in respect to the veterans who have sacrificed so much for us.

Terry was impressed with the store's leadership role in adopting the Canadian Legion's "two minutes of silence" initiative. He felt that the store's contribution of educating the public to the importance of remembering was commendable.

When eleven o'clock arrived on that day, an announcement was again made asking for the "two minutes of silence" to commence. All customers, with the exception of a man who was accompanied by his young child, showed their respect.

Terry's anger towards the father for trying to engage the store's clerk in conversation and for setting a bad example for his child was channeled into a beautiful piece of work called, "A Pittance of Time." Terry later recorded "A Pittance of Time" and included it on his full-length music CD, "The Power of the Dream."
I'd urge you to take a couple minutes to go to Terry's site and watch the video. I don't mind admitting that I've seen this video a dozen times - and it still brings tears to my eyes. (Then click on the link that says, "Click here to view a clip from the concert production" - some great insights on a play produced around the theme of Kelly's music.)

And on this Veterans Day, I leave you with the words of Abraham Lincoln, whom I hope spoke for us all....
... that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Monday, November 06, 2006


Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, / for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Philippians 2:12-13, NIV)

"Christians have often disputed as to whether what leads the Christian home is good actions, or Faith in Christ. I have no right really to speak on such a difficult question, but it does seem to me like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is most necessary... The Bible really seems to clinch the matter when it puts the two things together into one amazing sentence. The first half is, 'Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling' - which looks as if everything depended on us and our good actions; but the second half goes on, 'for it is God who worketh in you' - which looks as of God did everything and we nothing."
(CS Lewis, "Mere Christianity," chapter 12, p. 131)
In the Hyde Park area of Chicago, there was a group of young Lutheran men and women who all had the same t-shirt. On the front, it just said "Both...." and on the back, it simply said "....and...."

"Both...and....?" I eventually asked one fellow, feeling like I'd slept through a class somewhere. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Turns out it was a reference to Lutheran doctrine - being BOTH saint AND sinner, BOTH dead in sin AND justified by faith, BOTH bread AND body-of-Christ. And while that doctrine meant a great deal to me (because I had often experienced this simultaneous nature of "both/and" in my life), I wondered why it wasn't applied to the ongoing struggle between "good works" and "faith in Christ" - a struggle that has been going on between branches of Christianity for hundreds of years.

That's why when I first read CS Lews' classic book Mere Christianity, this passage (and the passage from Philippians it refers to) seemed so crystal clear. It really IS like trying to cut with just one blade of a scissors - without the other, it's pretty much useless. So, too, faith and works - if you really believed in Christ, how could you not be called to feed the poor, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, and care for the disadvantaged? And if you were truly doing good works (rather than doing nice things so people would see how good you were), how could you fail to see the active spirit of God at work in the world around us, leading us to faith?

So much of the breakdown between Christian sects comes down to either/or thinking - it's my way, or your way. These people are in, these people are out. Pre-millenialists versus post-millenialists. And so on - with the only assumption that the views are opposing, and irreconcilable. But so many times, the God of creation didn't create just black or white, but an incredible rainbow of choice.

That's why, whenever a group of Christians want to include or exclude people based on one particular verse of Scripture, I am reminded of the instruction of Micah 6:8: "He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly AND to love mercy AND to walk humbly with your God." (emphasis mine)

I'm called to act justly, but in administering justice I also have to be committed to be merciful. And given the power to both judge and administer mercy, I have to maintain humility, remembering that judgement and vengeance ultimately reside at the throne of God, and not in my hands.

God of the universe, help me to remember that you are greater than any definition we can create and any box we can try to put you in. Help me to remember the lessons of your servant Martin, that I am both dead in me and alive in you. And help me remember to see my brother and sister humans in exactly the same light. Amen...

Friday, November 03, 2006

A storm front comin'

We were almost all the way home from Sauder Village on Saturday when I remembered that (in a fit of inspiration) I had thrown my camera in the trunk of the car. And that's where it stayed throughout the visit to Sauder - in the trunk.

But driving home, through the cornfields surrounding our neighborhood, I saw this scene, and it just captured my imagination. Big storms getting ready to hit now, and far off on the horizon, a hit of clear skies and a pink cheery glow.

It's come to symbolize life for me, right now.

For the last two weeks of my stay in Chicago, I developed a stubborn, miserable skin condition on my face - seborrheic dermatitis. Think of your worst case of stubborn, teenaged acne, with flaky dry scaly skin on top of it. Ever since I've been in Ohio, it's been like I've been 14 again - and trust me, if I ever thought (at 14) that I'd be developing horrific facial skin conditions at nearly fifty years old, I'd have probably taken my life in despair. Steroid creams (not the GOOD kind of steroids, unfortunately) seem to help - but if I even miss one application, any progress I've made slips away like sand out of a broken hourglass. Ick. And the steroid creams that help the dermatitis seem also to irritate the original acne rosacea that I've been struggling with for years.

So that's been fun.

Work at The Evil Empire has reached a fever pitch of insanity, again. We currently have more than 240 problem tickets that really, really, really need to be fixed by Monday - or they'll just get worse. And a new payroll processing schedule that needs to be developed, tested, and implemented. And a massive upgrade to the payroll processing system, ditto, ditto, ditto. Year-end processing that needs to be set up and evaluated, ditto, ditto, ditto.

And I'm at the heart of all three, by virtue of skill, experience, and role in the organization. There's just not enough of me to go around. It's buffered, somewhat, by not having people standing outside my cube - but it's nuts.

::: sigh :::

I know that if we can get past this, get the necessary automation in place, and get stable, this can be a much better place to be. But right now, it's pretty awful. I was instant-messaging with one of my co-workers, saying, "There has to be a way out of this mess," and his response (after working here since June) was scary:

Coworker: /slips one bullet into revolver, spins cylinder/

Another co-worker's comment was, "I really hope North Korea doesn't drop the bomb - because I'd hate this to be the last day of my life." I've had occasion to repeat his line a number of times since...

So I just keep on keepin' on, and try to pray that when the absolute last straw has been drawn, I'll have the wisdom and the courage to take the right action. It's not yet, but it's coming.

My sister's condition is not improving, and her mental attitude is rocky, at best. Of course, if I was being jerked around by the medical institution while my worker's comp paid-time-off was draining away, and even the most dramatic efforts seem not to be producing any results, it can get demoralizing. So I'm very glad to be here - my presence seems to be a help both to her, and to her husband as well.

Storm front's comin' on, to be sure. I'm tryin' to just keep my eyes on that pink patch of sky out ahead, and just keep trudging the road of happy destiny.

Gratitude is often the key - when I list the difference between my life in Chicago the last month and my life here, I'm loads better than I was. Just the quality of life things make the move here much, much better than the life I had in the Big Windy. So (at least when I think of it) I'm grateful to be where I am. And that's good enough for now.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The work of craftsmen, and communion

One of my fascinations throughout my life has been with woodworking. I'd make a lousy carpenter - I am just a fumbler when it comes to tools, and I was the despair of my father when it came to something as simple as cutting two boards the same length. But I learned enough from my father to appreciate good wood, fine woodwork and beautiful finishes.

When my sister and brother-in-law suggested last weekend that we journey to nearby Archbold, Ohio to a woodcarver's show at historic Sauder Village, at first I was just going to go to keep them company. I am not, you see, either a wildlife enthusiast nor an artist; so birds and horses and fish and flowers carved out of wood just don't excite me all that much.

But to be honest, I'd been spending too much time in front of either the work or home PC, so the chance to get out and go sounded like a great idea. We debated not going, because the weather was supposed to be so much better on Sunday - but in the end, hopped in the car and headed out state route 2 to Sauder Village.

The drive out the old Airport Highway, through Swanton, Delta, and Wauseon was amazingly refreshing, especially after the nightmare of driving in Chicago. Five minutes west of the Toledo airport, there were open fields and spaces as far as the eye could see. Farmland was everywhere. The smells were fresh, and clean. I was amazed how much I had missed really open spaces and small towns.

Though I had lived in northwest Ohio for 17 years before I left in 1991, I'd never been to Sauder Village. Founded by the Sauder woodworking family back in the mid 1800's, the Village is a recreation of an earlier, simpler life. Along with the woodcarvers' show, it was also Butchering Day at the farm (something I was only too glad we arrived too late to experience). I probably saw a couple dozen youngsters proudly wearing "Butchering Crew Member" stickers - and I'm glad it was them, and not me, to be honest.

The strange part, though, began in the woodcarvers' show. While I could admire all the beautifully-carved critters, and the marvelously-crafted toys and walking sticks and every kind of geegaw, I found myself drawn, time and time again, to carvers who crafted dishes, platters, bowls and goblets. I admired the exotic woods, the satin and gloss finishes, the elaborate combinations of glass and wood. And it finally struck me, as I was holding a simple but beautiful platter made out of birdseye maple. I picked it up, admiring the shape and finish of the wood, and thought, "Wouldn't this be cool to serve communion with?"

And it happened again and again. The simple yet elegant glass goblet with the beautifully turned walnut stem. The incredibly rich patterns of burl in a large, flattened bowl. The cut-glass chalice with the stem and matching paten which would have so beautifully matched the wood of the altar in my church in Kansas. And it went on in the pottery shop, in the glassblowing studio, even in the tinsmith's shop. Time and time again, I pictured the folks I knew and loved, sharing a simple Eucharistic feast and then an elaborate potluck, gathered around these lovingly crafted implements of hospitality.

Now, you have to understand - I'm one of those heretics your pastor warned you about when it comes to communion. All the ritual and all the trappings all fall away with me, and I am left with bread, wine or grape juice, and the sharing of these simple elements. I don't need fancy linens folded just so or golden chalices or any of the rest of it. Nor do I need much of the complexity and ritual that has built up across the years of church tradition. (I know, full well, that these things matter deeply to others, and I value and honor their beliefs. I just am willing to see the act of communion in much simpler terms....)

One of the most beautiful communion services I have ever beheld was a group of friends from church, gathered around Bev and Jerry Amundson's pool one July evening, with a loaf of rye bread and a plastic chalice of grape juice passed from person to person. The group sang "Jesus, Remember Me," Taize' style, as the elements went from person to person. Birds chirped, cicadas may very well have been buzzing...and it is an image of true "communing" that will live with me for all my remaining days.

And so the ghosts of dozens of friends were with me as I admired the craftsmanship of women and men of great talent. I longed for the day when I could be part of a family of faith that would be free enough to share the simplest sacrament with each other.

And, as Sue, Jeff and I sat down to a prime-rib and fried-chicken buffet at the Essen House just outside of Archbold, I had this crazed thought that I needed to grab one of the corn fritters, and one of the glasses of Diet Coke, and share it with my sister and brother-in-law, sharing the ancient words with them.

In retrospect, I'm sorry I didn't.

Work at the Evil Telecommunting Empire begins in just under 6 hour, so it's off to bed I go.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The way I was made

I want to live like there’s no tomorrow
I want to dance like no one’s around
I want to sing like no one’s listening
Before I lay my body down

I want to give like I have plenty
I want to love like I’m not afraid

I want to be the man I was meant to be
I want to be the way I was made!

(Christian singer and worship-leader Chris Tomlin, "The Way I Was Made," from the CD Arriving)
Over the last two-and-a-half years of blogging, there has been one question that has come up more often than any other (both in comments and in email). In more than 300 posts (I stopped counting, after a while) I've never been questioned about my faith in Christ, my theology, or much of anything else.

No, the only recurring question I've been asked has been, "So....are you gay?"

And it started early on. There was my first topical post, where I suggested that the Christian church would do much better to stick to the challenges of Matthew 25 (feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, visit those in prison) than spend all the time and energy that it does exposing and condemning gays.

There was "my fifteen minutes of fame" post, Just How Shocking Is The Gospel?, in which I took the John 4 woman-at-the-well story and set it in the context of the ELCA and the gay "Boystown" neighborhood of Chicago. That set off a firestorm of inquiries, to be sure...

And there was another post where one commenter on that post who got the mistaken idea that "a friend of Bill" was the same as an um...friend of Bill (as in, "this is my, um, friend Bill..."). While about 3 comments on their own blog mentioned the theological issues they had with my John 4 post, the other 30 or so were about how I was probably gay, and I was twisting the story around to suit my supposedly-deviant lifestyle. (Whch was funny, given the fact that I'd been celibate for 12 years at the time...I guess I missed out on the whole deviancy thing.)

My position, for the last two years, has been simply to discuss whatever the issue was at hand, and leave "me" out of it. After all, if I said I was gay, the assumption would be that I was "just supporting the lifestyle." And if I said I was straight, the assumption would be that I was lying, anyway. So I just sidestepped the questions altogether.

I should confess, too, that I started this blog out of a great longing for acceptance, after having been rejected as a candidate for ministry by the ELCA (for financial reasons) back in April, 2004. I was feeling cut-off, alone, and 650 miles from my friends and supporters back in Kansas. I found acceptance and approval out here in the blogosphere, and I desperately needed that, at the time. So I had a vested interest in rejection-avoidance, for a good long while.

But I'm in a better place, now. And the move to northwest Ohio, and the act of starting life over again, has called me to be more open and honest about who I am - as a brother, friend, co-worker, and follower of Christ (not in that order).

So yes, Virginia, to answer your question, I am a gay man.

And I have been, all along.

Now, to be rigorously honest, for more than thirty-five years, I didn't believe that. I was sure that I could somehow "fix" this, or that God would help me fix it. Interestingly enough, I used every trick to deal with my homosexuality that Bill W. (the co-founder of AA) tried to use on his alcoholism - denial, will-power, avoidance, and self-knowledge. I believed that marrying the right woman would do it, that dating the right women would do it, that endless hours of tearful prayer or church life or even ministerial service to God would do it.

But even after being sober for a decade and a half, none of it worked.

Over the years, I've tried to be so open about so much of my life (especially my struggles in recovery). But somehow for all those years, even after I got sober, I never found the courage to take the last step of rigorous honesty, and "come out" to anyone - even to the people I love. There were a lot of reasons for that - but the two main reasons I never came out were simply

- I never wanted to be gay, and
- I was waiting for God to heal me - to fix me, to make me "right."

Ever since I was first afraid that I had this orientation, at least one silent prayer has always been, "God, please - make me straight, heterosexual, whatever the hell 'normal' is. Help me desire what people tell me is Your natural order, OK? If being straight is really Your will, then please - let it be done, and let it be done quickly. I'm ready to go. I'll suit up, show up, and try to play the part - fake it 'till you make it, they say. OK. I'm ready when you are..."

And for years, when certain people suspected my true nature, I'd give them the party line: Of course not! After all, I'm not, am I? I was just like a cancer patient - waiting for a cure. And up until the last two years, if I had the choice, I still wouldn't have chosen to be gay. Let's face it - on the surface, given society as it is, and the consequences of living as a gay man in it, who the hell would?

(As you'll see, I'm coming, slowly, to feel differently. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly...)

For more than three decades, I prayed that "fix me!" prayer. And the only thing that happened is that I ended up more lonely, more sick of living a lie, and more desperately "apart from" the world (instead of "a part of") than I have ever been. At first I just got tired of waiting on what I thought was God's provision for my life. Later, as I learned more, read more, and prayed more, I came to understand that "waiting to be fixed" was not part of God's provision for me at all. And I got tired of despising myself in the process. (And if an angel or a scientist showed up with a magic pill today, a la X-Men III, I'm not sure I'd take it....but more on that later.)

For seven long years, as I experienced a true call to a life in ministry, I was ready to give it all up. Really...it sounds stupid now, but at the time it made perfect sense. I'd deny my sexuality, abandon any hope of intimate relationships just as a priest would, and just continue to live the lie that I'd been working on my whole life. For all those years, I really, honestly felt that it would better to live acting as a gay-friendly member of the "straight" clergy (who might be able to build bridges and soften hearts) than as an openly-gay clergyman (who would just seem to be pushing his own agenda). After all, the rules of my faith community insisted on celibacy outside of marriage - so either way, sex was out. So why not be of service, eh?

Well, that road is closed, for now - seemingly for good. (And for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with my sexuality. According to the rules of my denomination - if not their standing practice and tradition - I could have been ordained as a celibate gay man. We can argue later about how likely that might have been...)

Regardless of all that, I've come to believe that God is healing me (though so far, that healing is coming in a much different form than I ever anticipated). I've been gingerly exploring a radical idea: that God gave me this faith, this knowledge, this training, and this "time apart" from the religious community to face the truth of my homosexuality, to come to accept myself as His child in this way, and to find a way to be a voice for the untold numbers of gay Christians who are tired of hiding, tired of living in the shadows, tired of denying what God would have them be.

And that's the reason for the song-quote at the beginning of the post. I have come to realize a truth I ran away from for years: that I was created this way. I have spent almost all my life trying to deny the truth of what I am. But once I came to that realization, I had a choice to make.

In one option, I could believe that my sexuality was some kind of Divine error (that the One who had "known me before I was knitted together in the womb" had somehow dropped a stitch or two), that my homosexuality (which I surely would not have chosen) was a manufacturing defect on the part of the Creator. Doesn't do much for God's omnipotence there, does it?...

I could believe that - or I could believe that I am a part of God's creation. A different part, to be sure; not the dominant part...but still a valid and worthy "part of the Divine design," nonetheless. Once I thought about it, I knew what my choice would be...

There's another lie I had bought into: over the last several years (especially at seminary) I had also convinced myself that my orientation didn't matter...that being overweight, greying, over 40 and unattractive (at least in my eyes) meant that I wouldn't find any companionship, regardless gender, ever. Finally, God put in my life a couple of friends in recovery who suggested to me that the issue of my sexual orientation wasn't about who I was living or sleeping with, but who I was, period. It was about being honest...and they helped me see that I'd spent my whole life living a lie.

So, back a year or so ago, I began sharing my true life with people - at first, with folks inside the recovery community in Chicago. Then, in person and via email, with my own family and my church family in Kansas. By ones and twos, the word got out, so to speak.

My friend Eric, who has been one of my longest-standing friends in the church, was one of the first group of people that I told, a little more than a year ago. His reply is instructive:
I'm sitting here with a little smile on my face having just read your letter. I wondered when a letter or phone call like this might arrive. And to think, I was concerned you were going to tell me something life shattering like you feel off the wagon or had AIDS! I've known for MANY years that this was a struggle within for you my friend. I'm very much looking forward to reading your blog on this one! And I'm sure this will make for some interesting discussions!!

Like the love of our Lord, my brother, I can love you no less for that love is not predicated on your sexual orientation but on your heart and very soul which is so beautiful to me!
And, to be honest, 99% of the rest of my "outings" have gone exactly the same way, as the journey has continued this last year.

Having said all that, I also have to say that this blog is going to continue to be about what it has always been - "reflections on a journey of life, faith, and recovery (from inside and outside the church and the 12-step communities) from a believer, seeker, theologian, and 'slightly more than part-time thinker'." That's not going to stop.

When I first started coming out, I started writing a lot about the experiences (imagine that) . And eventually I started posting them in a parallel blog, A Rainbow Flag in Narnia. (The name came from the fact that I still saw myself following "the One True King," but I had spent so much time deep in the closet that it was like a different world to me.) My first posts, I can see now, were deeply imbued with a "please accept me and love me, even though I'm gay" message. But, like this blog, I hope that my "rainbow" posts are on a journey to greater self-acceptance.

So I'm going to continue to post most of my gay-and-coming-out-in-the-church discussions over there, for now, at least. If you're curious about the process I've taken to get from there to here, that would be the place to look. But there is one item I want to cross-post here from "over there," because I think they're important.

Back at the beginning of March 2006, I was back in Kansas for my friend Eric's father's funeral. A couple nights before the service, I had the chance to have coffee with him, and just talk face-to-face for the first time since I'd come out to him via email. Eric asked an interesting question which, as best I remember it, was, "So really - why are you doing this? Most of the time, when people have come out to me, they are generally looking for approval of their adopting a homosexual lifestyle. Is that what you're looking for? And if not, why are you bothering?"

It's an important question - if only because in many ways I am coming out without the "carrot" of a same-sex relationship, and yet without the "stick" of gay-related disease. For a lot of straight folks, there would really be no other reason to come out. But (for better or worse) I have neither issue in my life, for now.

I gave this answer several times that weekend, when the question came up, and I think it's important to share it here:

First, because I'm tired of living the lie, and having the folks who care about me not really know me. For me, my sexuality is a non-issue, in many ways - but it's a non-issue that I've expended incredible amounts of energy to hide from people. So the first part of this is simply about being honest - with myself, and with you. It's just easier to be open and honest.

The second part is more general, if no less important: there is a very prevalent stereotype of homosexuals and the homosexual lifestyle that absolutely does not apply to 90% of the gay and lesbian folks I know. Everyone keeps talking about this 'homosexual lifestyle,' but so far I haven't received my
Homosexual Lifestyle Starter Kit, with the hot cabana boy, crystal meth and and a spandex outfit. (Maybe it was sent out, and I just wasn't there to sign for the delivery.)

But the only way that this stereotype is ever going to die is going to be when gay men like me are willing to step out of the closet and stop hiding their "gay lifestyles," which are so damn normal in so many ways!

The only way that people are going to come to understand gay life is when they realize the vast number of relationships that they already have with gay men and lesbians all around them. The fact is, it's simply harder to hate what (and who) you know.

And especially in the Christian church, when people debate "the homosexual question," when my straight church friends think about them, I want them to think, "Oh, yeah - they're talking about my friend Steve..."
So that's why I'm doing this.

And that's it, for now. Being gay isn't a big thing, and it's not going to be a big part of what I share here, even if learning to live "out" is a big part of my new life here in Ohio. But it's a small thing that I have spent an amazing amount of energy hiding from folks. So hopefully I can spend that energy on something more productive...

(It should also be noted that if you're going to post any hateful comments here, I may leave some of them up as a symbol of what folks are capable of...but for the most part, I'm going to delete them. I'm not putting up with hate or condemnation in this new life, especially from those who claim as their Savior the One who said, "Love one another, just as I have loved you.")

Perhaps it is appropriate that I missed "National Coming Out Day" on October 11th, and that instead I am posting this on Reformation Sunday - the day that the Lutheran Church remembers the beginning of the Reformation and the renewal of the Church. After all, I too am in a process of re-formation, of re-creation, renewal and rebirth...a process that is only just begun. Please forgive the length of this post - but a sub-text to my desire for acceptance is also a desire to be understood, even if I am not accepted.

For now, I leave this effort in God's hands, and leave you with my favorite prayer from the Lutheran Book of Worship - the prayer with which I ended my very first post on this blog:
Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
(Lutheran Book of Worship, page 137)

Amen, indeed.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The garage is finally empty...

...and the storage unit isn't even quite full, yet...

The last three weeks have been an interesting transition as Sue, Jeff and I have been sorting through our combined household goods, furniture, etc., and deciding what we can do without, what we can't part with (yet), and what we actually can keep here in the condo (with large walk in closets, but no basement, no attic). The garage was the "landing zone" when I moved, and the last three weeks have been stuff moving into the garage, and stuff moving out.

Saturday was the pack-up day, and Sunday was the move-out day. Saturday was cool and cloudy, but Sunday was misty-rainy and cold, with winds gusting 20-30 mph. Still, I'd rather take cold than HOT any day...

It's all done. Yet another Penske truck rental, and the haul-and-tote, and it's done. I once again have aches in places I didn't know I had places - but it's done.

There is a considerable pile of trash and broken boxes that need to go to trash on Wednesday morning...and there's a good-sized pile of boxes in my bedroom that will have to be broken into and stashed. But once the trash is gone, life will be a lot easier (at least for Sue and Jeff, who will be able to use the garage again as the weather gets worse).

I'm sure that come April, we will be having a garage sale, and will be downsizing the storage unit. But there are things that I'm not willing to part with - and I have to hope, at some level, that this caring for my sister will not be a permanent arrangement. Right now, we just don't know...she is still not doing well.

My buddy Poor Mad Peter reminded me that I have a profile on Blogger - and that it's been fraudulent for the last three weeks, so I've finally updated that. Ah, the little details.

And it's 7 AM central time, on Monday of what promises to be a particularly hellish Hell Week in the work-world. So it's off to the virtual Evil Empire...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Here we are...

Courtesy of Terraserver, here's an aerial photo of the new casa de Ragamuffin. The white area to the left (under construction when the satellite photo was taken in 2000) is now a completed second development of condos. The area to the right is a golf course, and the area up top is a field which was part corn and part soybeans this year.

Yup - it's pretty rural.

But while we're 22 miles from downtown Toledo, we're only 4 miles from downtown Maumee, where fast food, video rentals, and big-box shopping is available. So it's really the best of both worlds.

Life has been particularly insane this last twelve days. The challenge of trying to fit two households' goods into one two-bedroom condo, and deciding what to keep/store/toss, has taken more work than I (or anyone else) expected.

(Hell, everything about this move has taken more work and more time than I expected...) And the last week at work rather peaked the insane-o-meter (or is it "insane-OM-eter"?) with an incredible barrage of technical FUBARSs and new items getting set up which went almost completely wrong. My sister is not doing well physically, and that ain't good, to be sure.


But there are lots of positives.

I'm here, and able to support my sister. And there's an incredibly powerful set of realizations there. If life had gone "my way," I would be just getting back to school in Chicago after a year-long internship, with no appreciable income. My sister and brother-in-law would likely be on their way to losing their home. And I'd be spending time in a city with whom I had (at best) a love-hate relationship, dealing with street bums and horrific roads and an hour-plus commute.

The "spare bedroom/den" I'm in is sunny, bright, reasonably weather-resistant, and considerably bigger than my living room and dining room in Pullman combined. Even on rainy days like today, the scene through my half-moon window is clear and light. The high-speed internet connection means I have a better link to my data at work than some folks at work have.

As I've shared with other friends, there is a vast difference between "Chicago miles" and "Toledo miles." Sunday night, I went to an AA meeting just northwest of downtown - a journey of 16 miles - and it took 25 minutes. Living out in the country, I can pull out of the neighborhood onto Stitt Rd. (the horizontal line at the top of the photo) and sometimes wait 2 or 3 minutes to see another car go by.

I'm a long way from settled - there are things I'm still hunting for, including some things I need to send back to friends in Chicago. Getting a truck to move the rest of the stuff to storage this weekend will help - but it's definitely feeling more like home. My sister is finding blessing in having me here, and I'm slowly renewing old friendships and making new ones.

It's a different way of living, here. But it feels right. It feels like home.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The storm is over, the adventure begins

Well, I am officially a Buckeye.


After a 15 year hiatus (April, 1991 to September 2006) I am once again a resident of northwest Ohio. "Resident," hopefully meaning that I am not just a transient, anymore.

I came to realize, over the last two weeks, just how much of a transient I had considered myself in Chicago. Nothing ever felt permanent, because it was all going to change. When I was at seminary, I never thought of that as "home," because I was going to leave for chaplaincy, and then internship. When my seminary track failed, I only thought of where I was going to be able to find work. When I was living in Pullman, I was thinking of where I'd live when I got a "real" job, and could afford a "real" apartment.

Hopefully this time, I will think of making wherever I am "home," rather than looking forward to "the next place." It's been a long three years in the wilderness...

The process of getting here was ugly, because I really didn't plan the process or invest the time ahead in preparation and packing. The pack-up help I hired got the worst of the stuff in the truck, as far as the "weight times the number of freakin' stairs" factor goes. But the last 10% of the stuff - that took way too long.

I'd been up straight through the night Friday night into Saturday desperately packing, and the moving help showed up at 9:15. By 1, 85-90% of the weight was loaded, and they left. But then my part came - taking care of the last 10-15% that wasn't ready to be carried anywhere. And let me tell you - when you're already sleep deprived, and exhausted, about 10 more trips up and down those damn stairs, and I was done.

About ten more trips, and I was thinking of burning the place down rather than emptying it and cleaning it.

That's when I decided that it was time to find a room, crash for the night, and start again the next day.

By 3:30 Eastern time on Sunday afternoon, I was rolling, and the yellow Penske truck rolled into the Waterville cornfields at 7:30. It took until 10 to unload the stuff that was staying at the condo, and then until 12:45 to unload the rest at the storage unit. Back home by 1:30, in bed by 2, asleep by 2:01...

My brother-in-law woke me up at 6 to get the truck cleaned up and returned to Penske by 7:00 (because I hadn't found the box with the alarm clock in it!). Then Sue and I had breakfast, and by 10:30 got on the MegaBus at Southwyck Mall to ride back to Chicago - mission: to clean the apartment and pick up the car, and return home.

(By the way...if you're looking for cheap transportation in or out of Chicago, the MegaBus service works, IF you can reserve ahead of time. But if you're looking for comfortable, look elsewhere...)

Well, the schedule for the bus and the service were two entirely different things. We got on the bus on time at 11, but we arrived an hour and a half late at 3:00. We got on a CTA bus to Millenium Station, and the 4:08 Metra Electric line back to the south side. By the time we got the car, gave Sue a 5 minute drive-around tour, and got to the apartment, it was 5:00 straight up.

By 9, we had loaded the last of the apartment contents into the car, had cleaned the apartment to a state vastly better than I had received it, and had locked the door once and for all. We picked up McDonald's to go, and to the main title theme from Star Trek: The Voyage Home, hit the interstate by 9:00 Central (10 Eastern).

We got home about 2, and my plan was to be up at 7:00 to set up my office. When my sister came in at 7:15 to see if I was up, she found me moaning with low-back pain and aches, and interspersing muttering and cursing in a way that reminded her more of Ozzy Ozbourne than a former seminarian. (She actually got quite a kick out of it, for a bit.) Eventually, I got up, got enough of the desk and office put together to get connected to work, and begin the travails again at The Evil Empire.

The last three days have been predictable - unpacking for a couple hours in the morning, signing on to EE-land, and participating in their insanity, then Sue has fixed a couple great dinners, and I've spent time trying to find "the one thing that I really need" for the day in the pile of boxes in the garage. This weekend, we will go through them in more detail, get a truck and move the rest of the stuff out to storage.

And so it begins. The low-back pain and all the aches are slowly easing, and the world certainly looks better looking out my window in Waterville. As my friend Cobb noted commenting on my earlier post, it has rained all three days here in Ohio - but I've been checking the weather in Chicago, and it rained there too. But I haven't been accosted by any homeless people on my way to the mailbox, here...

I'm looking forward to checking out some churches in the area...getting back into the recovery community here, and having breakfast with a couple old friends. And who knows, making some new ones, too. For now, I'd like to thank everyone for their prayers, encouragement and support - and it's into the shower and into the work day.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The worst of the storm is over

In one of my more resentful moments this weekend, I came to realize that I have bought into my employer's insanity as far as my move is concerned. Here are the similarities between my projects and work and my move this weekend.

- The plan was overly optimistic, and relied on excessive time and energy commitments from staff/participants.
- Not enough of the right resources were involved early to get adequate preparation done.
- We missed the timeline, and caused all sorts of problems.

So, I had paid helpers to help with the heavy lifting up and down the stars. Unfortunately, they were not nearly as productive ad they needed to be, and I wasn't ready for them. I was still trying to get out of Chicago at noon on Sunday (when I had wanted to leave by 12:30 on Saturday. Finally, I called my sister Sue at 2:30, and said, "Space Command, this is Enterprise - ready to leave SpaceDock." And, with the main title theme to Star Trek: The Voyage Home playing on the iPod, the big yellow truck left Chicago for the Buckeye state.

I got to Toledo at 6:30 CT Sunday, 7:30 ET. The play was to dump everything in the garage, and then sort out where it was to go in the condo. We got done unloading and reloading the truck with what had to go to storage at about 10:45 PM. The truck was empty about 12:15 AM, but the garage is now full - more stuff that eventually will be going to storage or trash, and stuff that needs to go inside, you name it.

As it inched past 2:10, I realized how tired and sore I was. I'd had about 10 hours sleep in 72, and I was done like dinner, as a friend used to say.

I woke up this morning at 6 AM, feeling like I'd lost a round with a bad case of flu. I had aches in places I didn't think could ache, and absolutely exhausted. Swept out the truck, returned it to the local Penske dealer (if you ever have to rent truck, don't bother with U-Know-Who, go with Penske - every time), and took my sister out for breakfast. We are getting on the MegaBus back to Chicago to clean the apartment and pick up the car in 15 minutes, and I'm ready for someone else to be driving.

But we are here, the stuff is here, and no one ended bleeding on anyone or anything this time. Thank you all for your prayers!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The hard part starts today

Hell Week - our biweekly work-time of peak intensity - is almost over. And a season is about to close in my life.

It's been a ghastly week, worthy of its name...technical failures, hideous hours...the aftermath yesterday evening felt like the final scene of The Towering Inferno, when the survivors are on the ground, staring up at the burning remnants of the tower. We were glad that we survived, but what a disaster, and what a mess to clean up.

My last official day "in the office" I never even made it to the office. I rolled out of bed and sat straight down at my PC at home at 6:30, and didn't get up but three times in 12 hours. So it was about 8 PM last night that I'd finally showered, put on clean clothes and headed down to the office to clean out my desk before the move to Ohio.

The staff had called several times during the day, saying, "So...aren't you coming into the office?" I kept saying, "I wanted to, but the work just kept getting in the way..." When I got to the office, there was a bag with some funny a mug from our client, signed by everyone, and some gag gifts as reminders of some of my more colorful comments. Not the way I would have wanted to leave, but that's the way of the world, I guess.

So the herculean task of packing up remains ahead. The books and the CD's are done, the and the rest of the stuff should go quickly - but I know my own rule, and the last 10% of the stuff always takes 10 times longer than it should...

I will be offline as of noon today (when they come to take the cable modem out) and into the most maniacal part of the preparations to leave. My farewell with my AA crew is this evening, and then two long nights before the load out on Saturday. My goal is not to encounter any puncture wounds (like I did last year, when I tripped and fell on the exposed corner of the of the bedframe) or back strain. Fortunately, I have hired folks to do the up-and-down-stairs work, so that should be good.

I should be back online late Sunday night from Ohio, and back "at work" Monday morning in my new virtual status. Pray without ceasing, please...

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Hello, and goodbye

This has nothing to do with moving - but everything to do with birth, life, and death.

In the process of moving TO Chicago, I had emptied out my safety deposit box. In one envelope I had my birth certificate and my baptismal certificate. In the process of looking for something else, I set the two envelopes aside with some other important papers - and promptly lost them all.

Flash forward three years - and I'm weeding through boxes, trying to thin out what I'm taking with me next weekend. I found two things that I'd been looking for - the first one, of course, was the birth and baptismal certificates. (Interestingly enough, in the same envelope was my father's birth certificate and Mom & Dad's marriage certificate, too.)

The second thing I found was my last copy of The Gentle Closings Companion, by Ted Menten. His foursome of end-of-life texts are must-haves for anyone dealing with death, dying, and saying goodbye:
- Gentle Closings: How to Say Goodbye To Someone You Love
- The Gentle Closings Companion: Questions and Answers for Coping With the Death of Someone You Love
- After Goodbye: How to Begin Again After the Death of Someone You Love
- Where Is Heaven? : Children's Wisdom on Facing Death

The power of these books is that (a) they come out of Menten's years of experience working with terminally ill children and adults, and (b) they are not a set of instructions, but descriptions of experience. Menten says his books are "not so much a how-to as a how you might guide to finding closure in the dying process. He encourages people to live, rather than fighting to stay alive, which sometimes puts him at odds with doctors who want to prolong the days of life at the expense of the joy of living.

The amazing thing is that all these books have been remaindered - almost all are out of print, but can be picked up from wholesalers for a penny, and the shipping costs more than the book. So I took the time to get a couple extra copies of TGCC, because I keep giving them away to people who need them.

At any rate, I opened up the Gentle Closings Companion - a book of dozens of letters he has received over the years from readers, and responses to them. And in an article about labels, Menten wrote these simple words:
And I think about another label. The original little label that was imprinted on my fanny at the moment of my birth. There, in clear, simple block letters, it reads: RETURN TO SENDER.
I like that image.

Maybe it's just my emotional state about this move, but finding my birth certificate and rediscovering my "return instructions" on the same night is a fascinating coincidence.

Ken Medema is coming to Overland Park!

To all my Kansas and Missouri friends:

Ken Medema is coming back to Overland Park!

The incredible singer, composer, musician and storyteller will be at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church on November 4th at 7:00 PM for a concert (the $10 tickets are well worth it!), and then Ken will be involved in worship at all 3 services on November 5th.

GCPC is at 11100 College Blvd. in Overland Park (between US-69 and Quivira). Call (913) 345-1256 or go to their website for more information.

If you have heard Ken Medema, you won't want to miss him. If you haven't, you owe it to yourself to go see this incredible storyteller, servant of God and musician. He has wow'd dozens of youth gatherings, professional organizations, even congressional meetings.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

T-minus seven days and counting

Start spreadin' the news...I'm leavin' today...

Actually, it's not today...it's NEXT Saturday. September 30th will be my last day of residence in Da Mayer's Windy City.

My "alternative work program" application for working virtual (fancy phrase for telecommuting) from Ohio has finally been approved. I have 23 half-empty boxes, and a whole bunch of shelves that are half (or more) empty. This weekend will hopefully put a major dent in that amount.

The tragic thing is, there just isn't all that much there - not a lot of value there, as I survey the wreckage. A man standing on the nigh-side of 50 should have a little more to his name, it seems. But, as I once told friends, in packing it seems that 90% of the stuff takes 90% of the time to pack, and the last 10%....also takes 90% of the time.

Some things will go into storage; some things (probably too much) will go to the new abode in Waterville, OH where I will share space with my sister and brother-in-law. The goal is to get the heck out of the city, and help them out financially as well.

I had a last dinner with one sponsee Thursday night. Despite his repeated claims that he had his tear-ducts surgically removed early in sobriety, he seemed a wee bit leaky around the eyes. I supposed I shouldn't have been surprised, but it still was touching to see how one soul can link to another. But his road has already separated from mine - he moved into a new-to-him home in Crown Point, IN a week ago. He has a lady in his life, and a baby enroute (ETA, January 2) - and the house, relationship, and impending child take up a lot of time. Hopefully, he will find another sponsor to hold onto as his life gets more and more interesting.

As I told him, if he is walking hand-in-hand with God, and I am walking hand-in-hand with God, then we will be walking together, regardless how many miles separate us...

My co-workers were a bit non-plussed. Comments ranged from "oh, well, good luck" to "Damn, this SUCKS!" It's all a little funny, because there are days when I won't see anyone in my cube for 4 hours - this crew will even send instant messages (IM's) when they are 3 cubes away. I may have to post pictures of myself in my new space, just to remind folks of what I look like.

Tomorrow will be my last Saturday-morning meeting in Chicago. I will miss those meetings - the (mostly) younger men infused that meeting with a passion for recovery that was inspiring. But I know the same good meetings will be there in northwest Ohio, too. And, as always, the AA truism is still there: wherever you go, there you are. Disease or recovery, I will bring it with me, I suppose.

This week will also be "hell week" at The Evil Empire - long nights, and long days, are ahead. So I need to bring this day to a close, and get up early tomorrow to make the most of the daylight.

Pray for me. I rarely do transitions well...so I need all the support I can get.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Words from the past to a world gone mad

Never before has man had such capacity to control his own environment, to end thirst and hunger, to conquer poverty and disease, to banish illiteracy and massive human misery. We have the power to make this the best generation of mankind in the history of the world - or to make it the last.
(John F. Kennedy, UN address, September 20, 1963)

Am I the only one noticing this?

* Item: The president of the United States - the leader of a country once known as a beacon of democracy to the world - has been the primary advocate for policies which have been (for all intents and purposes) violating the Geneva Convention on teatment of war prisoners - and is now looking for a Congressional stamp of approval for their abuses.

Anyone see any fundamental inconsistencies goin' on here? Or is it just me?

* Item: After the world has watched violence break out all over the world for months over cartoons offensive to the Muslim faith, the LA Times says:
The Pope on Tuesday quoted Manuel II Paleologus, a 14th century Byzantine emperor, saying: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

The speech was designed to provoke a theological debate, Vatican officials said.
No kidding. Looks like it worked...

* Item: Noting, of course, that Muslims everywhere were furious with being represented as violent, evil and inhuman, the LA Times went on to say that Palestinians torched two Christian churches in the West Bank, the second consecutive day of such attacks there. (Yeah, that oughta show 'em...)

But the coup de grace was in my email inbox tonight. As a Time magazine subscriber, I get an "Ahead of TIME" preview of the upcoming issue. And what, do you suppose, is on the cover of this once-prestigious news magazine?

Oh. My. God.

This may sound stupid, but I don't even have to open the magazine to know what war with Iran would look like. In fact, I have every certainty of what war with Iran would look like. It would last about an hour, and it would end like this:

Talk about insanity....whether we are watching Dr. Strangelove or Matthew Broderick's wide-eyed guilt at having set off World War III in WarGames or Jason Robards in The Day After, any one saner than a demented bee knows that there is no such thing as a "limited" response to a nuclear event.

And it is inconceivable that any war effort with Iran would not escalate insanely into a nuclear exchange...regardless whether it was "terrorist" or "governmental" in nature. Anyone who believes otherwise is living in a dangerous fantasy world...

There is no such thing as a "tactical" nuclear weapon, no matter how much any Administration (past and present) claim there to be. There are only small nuclear weapons and big nuclear weapons. And once they are used, even once, that tiny, thin line of sanity will be crossed, and there will be nothing holding anyone back. Once the first nuclear weapon explodes, war becomes a brief round of "well, they hit us first" that only ends in three terrifying letters - MAD.

Mutual Assured Destruction.

We all need to back down from the panic. We need to step away from the table with the sharp knives. The fate of the known world depends on Nancy Reagan's famous motto: "Just say no."

Just say no to violating the very principles that made this nation great. Just say no to saying hurtful things - no matter how intellectually brilliant they might seem in an academic setting. Just say no to picking a fight with people who are surely more fanatical than we are.

Or it will be more than our churches that will burn.

God, help us to back away, gently, from the insanity. Amen...

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Read it, print it, pass it on....

...if you haven't got to read this great post from Thoughts from a Pooh, you need to.

Then print it off, fold it up, and mail it to every member of the religious right that you know.

I tried saying the same thing two years ago in this post, but he said it a whole lot better than I ever could have...

Monday, September 11, 2006

We have not forgotten

People. It's the people I think about, today, more than anything.

I had been at the dentists that morning - with a set of headphones from my CD player trying to distract me from the drilling. And I got in the car, and plugged the CD player back in, skipping the late-morning drive-time yammering on the radio.

So I walked into our office building at the Sprint world-headquarters campus in Overland Park, KS, rode the elevator up to the third floor, and discovered a huge crowd of co-workers gathered around the TV monitors in the elevator lobby. "What's the big deal?" I asked someone (thinking they'd finally found OJ guilty after all, or something equally as "important" as that).

"Planes have crashed into the World Trade Center," she responded, "and it's not looking good."

As the story unwound, the sense of unreality rose exponentially. Waves of shock, denial, anger, and futility washed over me. And over and over the question came: "How do people of supposed faith come to hate that much?"

Today, it's still about the people - the ones who died, the ones who lived, and the countless ones who lived and died trying to help. All gave some, and some surely gave all - truer words were never spoken.

I can't bring myself to jump into the debates about who should have done what, who should be doing what (and aren't), and the endless second-guessing and blamestorming. That's not where I am called to be.

In fact, my place is probably best on my knees, praying this:

May God have mercy on all of us, and forgive us that which we have done and left undone in the wake of this tragedy. Grant us wisdom to see the right path, so that the next five years might serve humanity better than the last five years have.

Now this is cool...

One of my dirty little secrets is that I check my SiteMeter links to see who's coming around. I don't do it often, but it's one of my less-health-threatening vices.

Tonight, before diving into the evening portion of my work day (:::deep, annoyed sigh:::) I clicked on the little logo, and noticed that one of the links was to a student blog at Bethel College (Mishiwaka, IN). (Bethel College describes itself as "an evangelical Christian college affiliated with the Missionary Church" on their website.)

The cool part? They'd linked to my "fifteen minutes of fame" post, Just How Shocking Is The Gospel?, retelling the "woman at the well" story with Jesus meeting a gay man in the Boystown gay neighborhood of Chicago.

I can't tell you how it warmed my heart to know that, 19 months later, that post is still reaching people. That's just too cool for words. Thank you, God, for giving Rev. James Buchanan the words to kick my butt and open my mind. "Startle us, O God," indeed...

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Still the vanguard of "the final frontier"...

I was nine-and-a-half years old on September 8, 1966 - the day that the future changed for an entire generation of dreamers.

I was one of those geeks who would have rather watched a space launch than Saturday morning comics. I couldn't draw worth a damn - but could easily freehand-sketch for you the differences between the Mercury and Gemini space-capsules. And I could spell nitrogen tetroxide and hydrazine (the fuel components of the Titan-II booster used by the Gemini program) long before I could successfully figure out how many S's were in Mississippi.

Yup - I was that kind of space geek.

My world changed on that Thursday night in September, 1966. What I saw that night was far beyond the adventure of Lost in Space, and more exciting than Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (which was saying a lot, living with a father who worked for the Electric Boat submarine shipyards in Groton, CT).

In a world where blacks were still trying to get the 1964 Civil Rights Act enforced, where Russians were still the enemy and space-faring aliens were to be shot on sight and cut apart in the interest of human science, a gleaming white starship and a multinational, multi-planetary crew gave voice to the hope that we would outgrow the elementary school air-raid drills, not destroy ourselves in nuclear fire, and would one day sail to the stars and beyond.

That is what Star Trek meant to my nine-year-old life.

It's been a long 40 years.

And, to be honest, it ain't all been pretty. It's sad that the series whose identity was bound up in Alexander Courage's dramatic orchestral theme could also witness Kirk, Spock and McCoy attempting to sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" on the silver screen, or Leonard Nimoy's rendition of "If I Had A Hammer." Bones and Scotty have since "gone on home to glory," which meant that neither one of them had to hear their former Captain singing (in collaboration with Ben Folds).

That was something the world didn't need to hear.

(Of course, this might seem a little hypocritical coming from a man who sang "I Talk to the Trees" from Paint Your Wagon in the summer of 1975 after his senior year of high school, and was told by his mother that "Your singing voice would sound best with forty other voices around it.")

But I still remember the undeniable magic on September 17, 1976 - 10 years and a week after the first Enterprise took to the heavens - as the hanger doors opened at the Rockwell Aerospace Air Force Plant 42 assembly facility in Palmdale, California. The amplified tell-tale opening of Alexander Courage's now-famous theme rolled across the concrete hangar apron, and Orbital Vehicle OV-101 - the space shuttle prototype Enterprise - rolled out to an enthusiastic public and some very special guests:

It hardly mattered that everyone knew that OV-101 would never see space - that she was built only for "launch, glide and land" testing. But a key bit of the Star Trek canon had been hammered home by fans (despite NASA bureaucrats, who wanted to name her Constitution)- that in every wave of space exploration, an Enterprise had been a part of the fleet.

And so it was.

And in 1987, even as parts of my old life were falling apart, I still remember a magical night watching the two-hour pilot of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I remember the ohhh, wow.... moment as I watched the "saucer section" of the newest Enterprise, NCC-1701-D, separate itself from the main-drive section for the first time. I couldn't want to see what could happen next...

Yes, there were moments when the special effects were horrible. Yes, there was rampant sexism and horrific acts of chauvinism in the original series and films. Yes, we've all figured out that "the newbie ensign in the red shirt is the one that's gonna die." Star Trek, like the humans who built it, was flawed and imperfect.

But despite the flaws and the campiness, there are still those of us who still believe that a TV show that gives us hope of a 24th century - and a less-inhumane version of humankind - may be doing more to advance faith than many so-called Christian churches in the 21st century...

I'm still a space geek. I'm guessing that my friend John was living one of my dreams yesterday, watching the shuttle Atlantis launch from their new home in Titusville, FL. And you'll just have to color me sour-apple green with envy. Hope there's an extra bed in that new place, John - because one day, I'm gonna come down and watch one with you...

And this coming weekend, I will continue my adventures in "the final frontier." You see, my sister Sue, her husband Jeff, and I all share the Star Trek gene. And this week, I found, ordered and sent their way a copy of the 25th-anniversary Star Trek TV special (which, if memory serves me right, contains all 19 occurences of Dr. McCoy saying variations of, "He's dead, Jim").

We will sit, and laugh, and sigh...because each of us knows that at some level, our hopes and dreams for the future are inextricably bound up with ladies of the stars named Enterprise. And, as Doctor McCoy told Data on The Next Generation pilot, "If you treat her like a lady, she'll always bring you home."