Sunday, September 28, 2008

Working at "not regretting the past..."

If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.

August 17, 2003. Atonement Lutheran Church, Overland Park, KS. My final Sunday at my home church - my sponsoring church - before I left for seminary at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC). Dozens (if not scores) of people coming up to me, congratulating me and wishing me well. And pushing cards into my hands...

Prayers for guidance. Prayers for success. Prayers that the sender would live long enough to see my ordination. "What a wonderful preacher you are." (Lord, God, who were they listening to? I've had 0ccasion to HEAR some of those sermons since then...yeesh.) Oh, and my favorite: We so appreciate your openness, honesty and candor about your past life, and how God has worked in you. This, to a man who lived a lie as a deeply closeted gay Christian so he could go off and serve God in a dog-collar....

There was a moment today, re-reading all those cards, that I really just wanted to run off screaming into the corn and disappear. I haven't been involved in a church for a year, and haven't been in any kind of church-based ministry for more than 3 years. The people who I thought were the most unlikely to be ordained - the self-righteous, the control-freaks, the people who are only telling the truth when they are asleep - those are the people who The Church in Her wisdom ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. And here I am...

I almost wrote, "and here I am....vegetating, rotting away," but that would be a lie. I've worked hard at my work - a large part of which has been unofficial Morale Officer and Cheerful Charlie (along with Universal Fix-It Guy). I've continued to stay sober; I go to meetings, and I share my experience, strength and hope to anyone who will listen. I help out on Gay Christian Network, financially and online (when I can). And I've taken the time to get myself involved in a very vital and beautiful relationship, for which I have absolutely no regrets at all. I think I have been a good friend to some of my fellow advisors in DeMolay. So it has not all been a loss.

But the voices in the back of my head keep talking, anyway. After all, I came here to help, two years ago - and there are days when it surely looks like nothing I have done has borne any fruit whatsoever. My sister and brother-in-law still lost their house; my sister has never gotten any substantive kind of rehabilitation or therapy for her injury; my brother-in-law is still trapped in a dead-end job. I'm as broke as I ever was, and all of the money I've invested in any of these situations (as my British brothers would say) hasn't done a dickey-bird.

In the two years I've been active in the AA community here, I've only half-assed-sponsored two guys, neither of which really gave a rat's ass about staying sober. And I tried to help out my friends in DeMolay; the chapter has apparently ended up in worse shape than when I started supposedly helping them out, sixteen months ago. A month over five years ago, when I left town, there was a farewell party at work, a farewell party at the AA hall, and a farewell party at church. When I leave for Illinois at the end of October, I'm not sure that anyone outside of my family and those few very close friends will even notice....

Part of me knows that this is nothing more than seeking significance in the eyes of others, which is always doomed. But part of me is self-centered and human enough to want all this to have mattered for something. I don't think that's such a sin, but on days like today, I really wonder. About all of it.

So I go back into left-foot, right-food mode, and just keep on truckin'. Which is what I'm gonna do tonight.

So finding these greeting cards - and all the hope and promise and "God's got your back!" that went into them - has really put me into a phase of "what's it all about, Alfie?" How could I have been such an inspiration to so many people, and have my life seemingly have gone so far wrong?

...Update...the morning after....

Back story: so, about a month ago, I had gotten into the car a little too fast. My considerable bulk hit the back of the reclining bucket seat a little too hard, and something went crack. The seat seemed considerably wobbly in the back, and I resolved to get it fixed...

Then, getting carefully into the car on Friday, I leaned this way when I should have leaned that way, and whatever was cracked broke clean through - and the reclining portion of the seat flopped back like a visual-gag in a teen-aged make-out movie. I discerned (you learn things like discernment in seminary...) that this was a clear sign from God that the seat finally needed to be fixed.

So Chris lovingly got up early today (working nights, he almost NEVER sees two nine o'clocks in the same day) and drove me to the condo to work, and took the offending seat wreckage over to a welding shop in nearby Neapolis. On the way. we stopped at our favorite Blue Creek Coffee Shop for a Mud Turtle (chocolate, caramel and peanut butter in a blended iced coffee base - should be on an Index somewhere as way too sinful).

And somehow, life just looks better today.

Yeah, it could be the sugar-rush from the Turtle. It could be the caffeine kicking in. It could be hearing "Walking On Sunshine" on the radio. It could all be artificial, like the stock-market roaring back on the faintest hope of something bailing them all out. But I don't think so. I think life just looks better today.

I don't doubt that the doubts will be back; I tend to be a Pushme-Pullyou, looking backwards and forwards at the same time. Maybe this is the faint echos of whatever call I heard five years ago, telling me that whatever I heard is still not fulfilled. I know at least part of it is the recurring feeling of having failed the people who supported me from Atonement - and not being in a position to repay them yet. And maybe it's part of "letting go of the past, and not wishing to shut the door on it." Or at least getting there...

I would not have written the script this way - but I know that I am here for a reason. (I almost wrote "I have been put here for a reason," but that would be a lie. God did not teleport me here - I am here because of my choices, and my responses to the choices of others. For however it worked out, I am responsible for being here.) I am going through this sorting-out / downsizing / shedding of unnecessary stuff for a reason. The loss of this beautiful place is happening for a reason. I may not know it until well after the final trumpet sounds. But the direction of the movement has to be forward, that much I know is true.

At the top of this page, in the blog masthead that my friend Penni made for me, there is an image of a winding path - a picture I took at nearby Wildwood Metropark. It's there to remind me that I don't get to see around the corner very far to what's ahead - but that I have to keep moving forward. Someone Else is in charge of what's around the bend. I hear the truth of that quite frequently in meetings...
We realize we know only a little. God will constantly disclose more to you and to us... See to it that your relationship with Him is right, and great events will come to pass for you and countless others. This is the Great Fact for us.
(the closing to the text Alcoholics Anonymous, page 164)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Facebook-ing and tossing trash

I finally surrendered to Facebook yesterday.

I got an email from a fellow former LSTC student. As Eliza was filling me in on her life (which has been as crowded as mine over the last four years, in different ways), she said, "You know, a lot of people from our class are listed on Facebook," with at least the hint that I could be too.

So I went and I registered. Put up a reasonably recent picture, along with a "work in progress" disclaimer. While I can do all right in the mainframe techno area, I really haven't been drawn in as much to the "online communities" as many of my friends (especially the younger ones).

Part of that is simply that I spend all day in front of a PC - while I am fascinated with where and how people from my past lives are, I simply don't have the energy to deal with life in the real world and spend all day and all night connecting with folks in the virtual world. It's part of the reason I haven't been blogging much - life in the real world has been, well, busy. (To put it mildly.)

I had a flashback from high school - I can't imagine that my senior-year English teacher, Mrs. Bonash, could have ever imagined that the word "friend" would ever be a verb (I forget the term for when a noun is, for lack of a better word, "verbed"...sorry, Mrs. B., it's not comin' back to me...) But it's been fun to see the people who have "friended" me, and where/how they have ended up. It's been interesting too, looking at lists of the "friends" of friends, and seeing the whole six-degrees-of-separation thing playing out.

In a similar way, it's been strange seeing the ones who haven't responded. For some odd reason, my seminary roommate has not responded to emails or my FB inquiry. It makes me wonder what I did to deserve that... but I can't dwell on that kind of insanity. To paraphrase Richard Nelson Bolles, the world divides into two groups of people - the ones who want to be around you, and the ones that don't. To the second group, I have to say, "Thanks anyway," and then leave those to go find the first group...who, I'm sure, will be a lot more fun to stay in touch with.

It's kind of interesting, though - I've kept my blogs pretty anonymous, largely because of the connection with the community of recovery. AA's Eleventh Tradition states: Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films, which is usually expanded to include "all broadcast media," including the Internet. So I've decided to keep my blogging links off my Facebook entry, for that reason and others.

In other news, the process of boxing up and tossing out has picked up a bit. Now that Sue and Jeff are out of the condo, there is more room to be stacking stuff, so it's a little easier to move around my room . (A little, I said...not a lot, just yet).

There are things I've kept for sentimental reasons that, looking back, I should have tossed. I made the mistake of listening to a series of sermons that I did while I was a volunteer lay preacher for a church in Kansas. Gadzooks, were they awful - I wonder how in the world anyone hearing those ever thought I was ministry material? So when I found my first-ever sermon tonight - proudly videotaped by a church member - I was torn between watch it in the secrecy of the condo and just throw the damn thing OUT!

I'm leaning toward the second option. Some boxes, like Pandora's, just shouldn't be re-opened, I think. The target is to have a garage-sale next weekend - which is going to require some significant work this weekend to get ready for it. And I've pretty much decided that the work of digitizing my CD collection isn't going to get done in time to move - and will probably require some additional disk storage (for the music AND the backups). So, that project is going by the wayside for the time being. I made a valiant effort, and the Toledo Public Library and Epiphany Lutheran Church will be the richer for it.

And, in the end, I will probably move some things that I will wish I hadn't - especially when I've had to carry them out of the condo, onto and off the truck, and into the New World Home. But I'm making headway - and I'm already sure that the move out of Ohio will be considerably lighter than the move in was.

Tomorrow, The Great Load-Out will be 34 days away. It will go by quickly...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Letting go of the past, one box at a time

What a challenge this is for me, winnowing down the stuff of past lives.

Doing this takes a certain willingness for self-revelation and self-acceptance that I've not found lately, but events are forcing me into action. Chris and I have resolved that we will not move in the winter-time (moving him here from Missouri at year-end in the snow was NOT a lot of fun...), so we have set ourselves a deadline of October 31 to be headed to Champaign. And Sue and Jeff are set to abandon the condo/boat-anchor by the end of this month, or the first week of October. (I'll keep my "office" here until the end of October, and hold whatever garage-sale we choose to have.) But the clock is running...

And so the questions that happen in any consolidation of households begins. Everything from furniture to table-settings to glasses and pots-n-pans: Yours, mine, or both? And what do we do with the leftover? Keep it? Sell it? Give it away?

Tonight, I went out to the storage unit, and started sorting through books - the theological library that would have gone with me into ministry. Books that I had duplicates of (one to keep and one to loan-out, like Tom Bandy's Coaching Change and Adam Hamilton's Confronting the Controversies). The songbooks that had one or two songs that I once had fantasies of singing at church, someday - even though my singing voice is not anywhere close to "solo" quality. There were half a dozen Maranatha/PK song books, the music to Keith Green's Ministry Years (companion to the two-CD silver set), and four different Steven Curtis Chapman song-books (each with one or two meaningful songs in them). I've got a box of books and music that will go to a friend's congregation in Maumee, and half a box (or more) that will go to the local ELCA congregation. A box of cookbooks (mostly untouched in the last five years) that will go to the local library, along with three or more boxes of fiction.

Going through these boxes has brought me to a couple unpleasant realizations - one of which is how intellectually stagnant my life has been lately. With the exception of the last couple Harry Potter books, I'll bet I haven't read ten new books in two years. I've tended to find "old friends" from my family bookshelves and re-read them, rather than exercise my mind all that much. I need to work on that...

I've also realized how little of my reading has been about my faith, too. Part of that is, I think, a kind of retreat from organized church in the whole. Reading Can Mainline Denominations Survive? and Helping Congregations in Decline just isn't appealing when I have no immediate desire to be part of a congregation in the first place. And books like Sharing the Word: Preaching in the Roundtable Church by Lucy Rose (while an excellent resource) just don't have as much pull when planning sermons is not on your horizon (near-term or far, for that matter).

And when 99% of my music listening is from my iPod or internet streaming radio, I wonder about the value of packing and hauling perhaps two hundred pounds of CDs that I already have digitized (and backed up). (My pile is not as bad as the picture, but it's still three or four hundred CDs...) There are some, like The New World Symphony, John Williams' Summon The Heroes and Rick Wakeman's Journey To The Center of The Earth that are just much better in their uncompressed, raw beauty. But other than their archival value (in case both the PC and its 250GB backup drive are lost), what do you DO with CDs these days?...

Even my fiction collection has come under close scrutiny. Yes, having a copy of The Unabridged Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galary is a beautiful thing - but even if we manage to find the duplex of our dreams, I don't think we'll have room for two walls of shelves being just my library. And to be honest, that thing could be one more "old friend" keeping me from fresh ideas, fresh fiction...

Some decisions are easy; some aren't. At fifty-one, what's really important in my life, materially? Will I ever again have the kind of dinner party where I'd use those glass platters with places for olives and pickles and such? Or will strategically-placed Corelle soup bowls do just fine for that?

It boggles the mind.

There were some tears tonight, too - fresh tears for ministry dreams that I'd been sure were dead and buried. Thoughts of what-could-have-been and what-I-would've-wished-for. Opportunities lost, others thrown away. And resolve - the songbooks from John McCutcheon and Peter, Paul & Mary went in the "keep" pile, along with Discerning Your Congregation's Future and other books I just might want if I ever get back "in the fold" again...

And let's face it: there are somewhere between two and three million people without power tonight, thanks to hurricane Ike. There are people who would be blessed to actually have options on where to go to live. So these are definitely concerns of a much higher quality than a lot of people in the world have to deal with. So I'm grateful - don't get me wrong.

But I don't want to squander what I have, either. I'm not running from a hurricane; I'm moving to the next phase of my life. But the question is, what am I willing to carry into my next life? Because in the end, it will be Chris and I unloading this stuff once we get to Champaign. I need to be willing to physically carry it, this time. And the companion thought echoes in the back of my head - what will I regret jettisoning, once I get there?

Time will tell. Prayers for guidance, discernment and endurance will be most welcome...