Crossroads

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I find myself at another crossroad in my life. I used to think there was only one crossroad where the pivotal choice would make or break a life. While I see the gravity of that choice, I no longer think there is only one point on the path—I think there are several. I am at such a place in my life as I write this and my brain is completely rattled because of the stress and anxiety slicing my veins with their claws and pressing my head to pop like a bubble. I have been laid off from my previous position, and the loss of my employment had nothing to do with my attitude or how I conducted myself in the office; but I’m “not a good fit.” If any phrase could become a motto in my life due to frequency, “not a good fit” would be it; and it’s something I have heard since high school before I am directed to a menial task beneath my abilities and intelligence. After years of living like this, I became sick to my stomach by those incessant syllables. The implication is I am not to be more than assumed due to my stature because people who are 6”8 are not well read or academics. No, people who are 6”8 should play sports like basketball or football depending on their girth, and if they do nothing athletic then they have wasted their lives. They are fit for warehouse work or manual labor. I am not implying anything negative about warehouse work or manual labor, but telling me I am nothing more than a laborer because of my size—regardless of education—is an insult. I’ve been facing that insult when I’ve gone into interviews or rejected by temp agencies. I found myself at a low point when Spherion told me I needed all my work experience from high school. To them all the hard work I put in to earn my humanities degree in literature and religion were irrelevant.

I don’t know what Spherion is like in the rest of the country, but in Indianapolis, Spherion is the bottom of the barrel—an agency to go to when you have exhausted all other options and you need to have fancy things like shelter and food. When they rejected me and told me I was a “hard sell,” the weight pulled my head to the ground and everything went dark. What do you do when all your efforts are pushed aside and ignored? I returned to school because life had been on a constant negative cycle of one meaningless job after another, and I needed a change. The wake-up call came when my father died, and I watched him die as he lived: on his terms. His life was a hard life, but it was a life of his own choosing, and his departure alerted me to the patterns of my own life. My life went lower as my fiancé slandered me and cheated on me, convincing our church that I should be shown the door. As I went lower, I decided the best way to change the direction of my life revolved around finishing my education; and I enrolled in a local community college. After two years of the community college, I transferred to a private liberal arts college in central Illinois where I spent three years under the tutelage of three great scholars in literature, religion, and philosophy. I spent many pots of coffee and late hours researching for my academic projects while meeting with my academic adviser and meeting deadlines. I had been expected to do well under my workload, and I did by ending my academic career with a GPA of 3.415—almost a full point of being on the Dean’s List for the third time in that institution.

I met my wife while at school, and we were married a week after graduation. A week after our wedding we packed up our things into a rental and drove across the country to Portland, OR where my wife had friends–one of whom said we would quickly find work and an apartment . An arrangement had been made where we would stay at one of the friend’s house while we hustled for a place of our own and the income to pay the bills. Portland’s transit system is exceptional with buses and modern street cars running every fifteen minutes making a car unnecessary to get around town. Things began to dissipate in a little over a week when the three roommates of my wife’s friend were behaving with passive aggression towards us. To our knowledge we had done nothing to them, respected their space, and stayed out of their way while we took care of our errands. We asked one of the roommates, who was friendly towards us, if we had unknowingly slighted them. She shook her head and told us we had done nothing, but my wife’s friend did not tell them we were coming. Not only did she not tell them, but she had a habit of never communicating to her roommates, dropping things on them at the last minute, and expected them to be on board. That made sense to us, and I had empathy for the roommates’ situation because I would be just as hostile if I had a roommate who let people I didn’t know into my space for an indefinite period. Within a few days, my wife’s friend behaved the same way towards us, and kicked us out of the house. Fortunately, my father in law had bought us a used 2000 Dodge Minivan so we were able to pack our things, and go across the river into Vancouver, WA and stay at a motel for a week to figure out what to do next.

We decided to venture out of Portland to Eugene, and try our luck in a different town; but nothing happened there as it did in Portland. I became flummoxed, but my wife reminded me that we didn’t have to stay in Oregon. We had a little money from our wedding gift so we went back to Vancouver, packed up our things, returned the key, and left Oregon. We decided to go east with no destination in mind other than putting down roots in an area complementing our personalities. We drove through Northern California into Reno, NV because my wife had an uncle there who helped us on our trip by letting us use his points for hotels. We decided to stop by his place and thank him as we passed through, but he became belligerent, accusing us of looking for another handout. We were both dejected, and as we sat in a Del Taco looking up good deals on hotel rooms—which we found for $27—we decided to go to Lincoln, NE because the city advertised plentiful employment and affordable housing.

We stayed there for a year because of our lease, but I was fed up with Lincoln after three months. There are good jobs if you have a medical or financial background, but otherwise it’s NelNet lead by a Tea Party CEO who demonizes the poor as he chokes them out of their homes to expand his little pond. Most of the people there are bullies who are not used to people standing up to them. I come from a tougher background than many of these people, and in my neighborhood when somebody picks a fight you push back and prepare for anything. When I pushed back in Lincoln, the agitators were horrified and ran. The complacency of the culture infuriated me when people would complain but do nothing. Shrugged shoulders and a “what can you do?” attitude followed by more complaints. There were some good parts of Lincoln, though, like The Coffee House two blocks south of the University of Nebraska campus, Cultiva Coffee & Espresso, Meadowlark Coffeehouse, A Novel Idea Used Bookstore, and The Co-op; but these were not enough to stay, and when our lease expired we were on our way to Indianapolis. My wife’s job allowed her to transfer to the Indianapolis office, and a friend helped me find a position at his company in the help desk department. My employment lasted six months before I had been let go.

The patterns were repeating, but this time I have a person in my life who is directly affected by whatever I choose or by whatever happens. Needless to say, I was dejected, but she suggested I find an alternate means to make income. I had been trying the mainstream way of securing work and a paycheck, and I would have the job for a short amount of time before being terminated. I had to sit down and think about the strengths I had and how I needed to capitalize on them. I am a writer, and I am also well read. I’ve had blogs before, but I would write about wherever I happened to be, on religion, or on literature; but, the theme was never consistent. Blogs are a good tool to network and get noticed when used properly, and I decided to take the first few steps to have my writing noticed while I work on one novel and one piece of creative nonfiction. This blog will be used for my discussions of literature and reviewing books—current or past. Maintaining a professional blog such as this requires work and dedication—some sites I’ve researched called for posting three to five times a week with fifteen hundred to two thousand words at a time. The work sounds daunting, but, if you made it this far, you can see I will have no trouble keeping up on my site. Maybe this will turn into something, maybe not, but what I do know is that I need to own who I am and what I do–come what may.

Going North

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In the ninth episode of the third season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, “Kimmy Goes to Church,” Kimmy had been burned by the new church she went to with Titus, and vented about the manipulation and control within religion. Kimmy had hoped for something different other than the religious abuse she endured from her days confined to a bunker. She decides to go to the church, and interrupts the service to call out the church for its hypocrisy. I have often dreamed of doing this at any church I’ve been to, but never had the reaction she received. The people took in her words and saw Kimmy as a prophet from the Old Testament calling for the repentance of God’s people. The congregation understood that moment as a time of confession. One man stood up and confessed he was cheating on his wife, the pastor says that from time to time she smoked “the devil’s weed,” and the person doing the scripture reading confessed she was a gossip and a scold but trying every day. The pastor concluded the thought that “when we know better we do better.” Kimmy gets it, and understands that religion had to do with realizing we are all flawed and we come together to learn from each other to become better. I nodded my head in agreement, but Ronnie vocalized what I thought, “Yeah, but that don’t happen in real life.” Wouldn’t it be great, though, if that were the case. My anger with the church doesn’t have to do with the character flaws of the individuals who meet under the stable, but the denial. Instead of taking responsibility for negative actions that harm people in the church or outside the church, the perpetrators claim righteousness because of grace. To make it worse, people in the community and the leadership reinforce that notion of grace and blame the victims. Yes, there is grace, and, according to what is written in the Old Testament by the author of Ezra, we are not punished as our sins deserve, but we do not escape the consequences of our choices. We all fuck up, but, before we know better to do better, we need to own what we do. I’m not angry with Christianity, but at the Christians who refuse to accept the responsibility of their faith or the responsibility of holding other Christians accountable as is set down St. Paul 1 Corinthians 5. I am angry at the injustice that could be so easily rectified.

I have had several conversations with Christians concerning  what I observed, and the response centered around no one being perfect as if I spent my adult life in a naive bubble. I grew up with the bible and the doctrines surrounding that book shoved down my throat to justify anything they did to me. These people, who were often leaders, cited the bible to justify what they said, and how they acted. There were verses I used to counter their justifications, and they responded with the back of their hand across my jaw. I think I can speak for others outside of myself who have been on the business end of Christian righteousness when I say we are tired of the excuses. I took the chance at a church in Romeoville, IL.

Ronnie and I drove from Lincoln, NE for her sister’s wedding. The wedding was being held at the church where Ronnie grew up, Bible Baptist Church in Romeoville, IL. Her parents still go there, and say it’s a good church, but Ronnie’s experience differs. For her, the people, including the pastor, are vile, manipulative, and judgmental. As we drove down there she told me not to let her opinions shape mine. I resolved not to, but I was having a hard enough time keeping my cynicism out of the way because of all the negative things I experienced in various churches. On top of that, we were going into an affluent church where the parking lot is full of the latest SUVs and white people. I walked into the school side of the church wearing my rope sandals, shirt, and chinos to deal with the heat. Ronnie’s sister and her mom were in the fellowship area. All I could see were white linoleum on the floors, white tables, white walls, and white ceiling. The space felt sterile, and the only nonwhite fixture of the room were the brown doors with long rectangular windows. As the people came in, they gave me sneers, but I wasn’t here for them. Ronnie’s mom wanted me to meet everyone, and started with the school’s principal. He looked me up and down while dismissing me until he found out I’m a writer with a B.A. in Literature and Religion. After that, he touched my shoulder laughing and talking to me like we were equals.

When I get annoyed, I slip into one of  my two accents: hood or Scottish Highlands, and the one I use determines my level annoyance. When I’m irate, my words rise up and down with the waves crashing against the boulders of the northwestern Scottish coast where my mom’s side of the family hails. I grew up hearing that while living with my great aunt who would break our ears with her anger. The hood accent, though, is something I picked up living on the Eastside, and comes out when I’m mildly annoyed. I found the principal annoying. I stopped him in mid-sentence, “You talkin’ like we equal. Nah, man, we ain’t equal.” I walked away to find some coffee, and sit with my mother in law and sister in law. I sat down and breathed out the painful conversation I just had, and went on about similar and worse experiences with church leaders. My mother in law and sister in law took turns saying that no one is perfect and I shouldn’t look to imperfect people. “Yeah, yeah. I know people aren’t perfect. I’ve been hearing that from every church I went to where I received the left hand of rejection. Your own bible tells you to hold your own fellow Christians accountable. What you’re telling me does not address the real problem that is in the church. When you, and others, tell me about grace and the imperfection of people, you make yourself culpable—you share in the responsibility.” Ronnie’s sister stopped with her mouth open. She did not expect such an encounter. This is what happens when a naïve Christian comes face to face with the hard truth of responsibility in their professed faith, and realized they live a professed blasphemy.

This is where the anger has to stop. This is where I take responsibility how I feel now, and how I want to feel in the future. I want a happy life. I want to heal, and walk into life with new eyes. What’s standing in my way isn’t the church, or the attitudes of several Christians, but me. I thought about this yesterday as I laid in bed. One of my favorite American writers from the 19th century, Frederick Douglas, who wrote about his life as a slave in his autobiography, captured they hypocrisy of the Christianity of his masters. I would not dare imply any connection with Frederick Douglas, but how he wrote about his masters is how I want to address my Christian experience. Douglas could have stopped his narrative and offered a thing or two about what it means to be a Christian, and explode into well deserved judgment upon his masters. But he didn’t. Douglas wrote his biography describing his life in great detail, and left it to the reader to make their own judgment. What I went through comes nowhere close to what Douglas went through, and he was able to move on into a life of service and love. That’s what I want. Douglas escaped his masters and escaped the South in to a new life as a writer and speaker for the Abolitionist movement. Douglas didn’t stay in hate, but channeled his energy into justice. I’ve no reason to stay in hate, and I’ve no reason to stay where I am. Constantly engaging Christianity keeps me stuck in this self-destructive cycle, and I constantly confront Christianity because, like Ahab, I need to kill that whale, and look how he ended. To save myself, I need to head north and leave that ship behind.

Clean

I began my day at 6:09 this morning. Ronnie has to work the occasional Sunday, and I got out of bed to shower and shave, and prepare our breakfast and her lunch. The plan was to drop her off at work,  get gas, go to Mo’Joes write over my sandwiches and coffee, and go to church. The rain sprinkled off and on as I exited I-70 on the West St. exit, and drove past Lucas Oil Stadium towards Mo’Joe’s.  The gray, drizzly weather is perfect for dark roast coffee, sketching out a prospective piece, and read Ellis Amburn’s Subterranean Kerouac: The Hidden Life of Jack Kerouac. The work is good thus far, but I’ve a high opinion on writers like Amburn, Joyce Johnson, and Ann Charters who write about Jack Kerouac based on their scholarly research and their relationship with him. I spent nearly ninety minutes writing out a first draft on my desire to heal and take life case by case, and went right into Amburn’s book. All the while, I’m listening to my writing playlist of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Charlie Parker. That’s my normal music for writing, but sometimes I will throw in the occasional Thelonious Monk.

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At 9:50, I packed up my books and notebook, and went outside to a pouring rain battering the buildings and the pavement at an angle. In the fifty feet it took to get to  my van, I was soaked. I heard the pounding on the roof of the van, the thud on the windshield, the dull rub of the wipers as they moved in time to remove the water. Visibility was nonexistent,  the sounds of the rain and car, and the smell of my coffee inspired me to play Thelonious Monk’s “Monk the Transformer” Album. The piano playing is slow and deliberate, but the percussion of the falling water caused Monk’s music to throb with a forceful urgency calculated and executed patiently. As I drove south on West St dodging the many tour buses stopping at the hotels to drop off patrons who are here on business or the race, I saw myself as Moses, bearded and weary, passing through divided waters.  When I entered I-70 West going toward Lynhust, the rain subsided leaving behind a drenched urban sprawl.

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As I entered the church, I had already been set off by one of the greeters who called me, “Big Guy.” I hate that. I’ve had that since high school, and the nickname was based off Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. One of the main characters is Lenny who is a large man, and quite stupid. Because of that book, I was taunted with the name of “Lenny” and bullied all the more when I dared to rise above the intellectual limits my classmates set for me. As I entered my twenties, people would respond angrily to me when I told them I preferred to read and write poetry instead of playing football as if I owed people athletic prowess because I’m 6”8 and quite well read. Everything rises up in me, the person in front of me is transformed into those adolescent images. “I’m educated! I’ve a degree in religion and literature! I’m an intellectual! Do you see me?! I’m not my fucking size, you ass!” I give him a quick no, and withhold eye contact as he offers me a bulletin for the service.

I go up the stairs, I walk into the sanctuary, and see bells set up for the bell choir, but I don’t see the member of the bell choir. The last time they played in the service they sat in front of me, and were quite rude to me. When Ben called for the greeting they stuck out their hand, “Aren’t you going to shake my hand?”
“No. You were rude to me, why should I deign myself to take your hand?” One gave me an angry glare and a curled lip, but said nothing. I continue, “What? You’re not laughing? You mean my countering you doesn’t cause you to laugh? You thought your rudeness towards me was funny!” They weren’t in the place I usually sit, and I thought they were in another part of the sanctuary. As I began my writing before the service, I thought I left my headlights on so I put down my notebook, and went outside to check. The headlights were off and I returned to the building. As I went in one of the ladies in the bell choir stopped right in front of me and I waited for her to move so I could sit. She stares at my bag, and proceeds to sit on my bag. As I move my bag, she offers no apology when I speak of her lack of consideration towards my space. Within a few minutes, I am lost in my thought as I scribble out another piece on the Indy 500, and another bell choir member plops next to me grazing my leg. I stop, take a breath, and return. She kept shifting, and pushing me until, I belted, “For the love of God would you sit still, I am trying to write!” Nothing. No apologies. Other choir members proceed to flank me, and I am at my wit’s end. I am not above causing a scene and shaming folk, who are old enough to know better, with a lecture on manners. I’ve been working on how I express my agitation peacefully, but I am not at that place where I can be calm, so, in the middle of service, before God and all the congregation, I get up with my bag in tow, and move to the pew behind me. I found out later, the children’s ministry leader was pissed at the bell choir’s behavior towards me. I stretch out my legs, and continue to write.

I don’t write to escape anything, but to make sense of the thoughts that race through my head, and when I find a rhythm, I blow until everything is out and I set aside the writing for future editing. After the editing, I put out the piece for the benefit of others. If I am interrupted any time before the final exhale, I become curt with short hostile syllables so I can be left to myself. Because I was already agitated from the “big guy” comment and the behavior of the bell choir, I was in no mood to take shake hands with the man who shoved his his open hand toward my face, “So glad you keep coming back.” At a quick glance, I see it’s the guy who made the comment to me outside the church doors. “I’m writing.” then I return to my thought. As I jot the final word on the paper, the sermon begins, but it is not the usual sermon.

Ben teaches the word of God is not limited to the bible, nor do we confine our experiences to how the people in the bible experience God, but God is writing new stories in individual lives. The new stories differ from the bible because of culture, but there is a consistency in God’s character. Because of this, Ben lets people from the congregation get up and tell the congregation how God is moving in their life. I’ve heard some good stories during my time at Lynhurst, and I see God relating to these different people in different ways. These people speak honest stories that are not the pretty, beige ceiling advertisement of suburban spirituality, but stories out of brokenness and desperation involving drugs, alcohol, weapons, and promiscuity. They aren’t juicy tidbits, though, told with feigned regret. The people at Lynhurst who tell their stories wish to God they didn’t go through their experiences, but are grateful for God delivering them and saving their lives. Their theology is “I was lost, but now I’m found,” and, “Come and see.” That’s a spirituality worth considering because it’s not out to sell a particular brand of God.

That’s the story Stephanie told this morning. She grew up in a small town in southern Indiana, and went through a painful hell. She had body image issues, and developed an eating disorder that she wrestled with, and when that pain became too much she self-medicated further with drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, and unhealthy relationships. The self-medication deepened when a good friend of hers committed suicide. She is drained and spent like Bilbo’s butter thinning over too much bread. She has to take several pauses throughout her telling to collect herself because the pain is still close to her heart. She is sobbing. She apologizes for the long pauses. I hear from the pews, “It’s ok. Take your time.” She is free to let her vulnerability show, and I feel the love of this congregation towards her. She is safe even as she is reliving her sorrow. When she ended, Stephanie told the church she wanted to sing a song for them to summarize her story, but hesitated, “I don’t want to break the song with my voice.” In my head, I’m shouting, “Oh, girl, no! Those are the best songs to sing! That’s how Ellen Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Patsy Cline sang. They sang their sorrows, and reached down to the depths pulling out their pain buried under the rubble of their broken hearts! You sing that song with all the ferocity of your sorrow!” That’s the blues. Naming what has spent you to lift up as a prayer to the universe, to God, or whatever name you want to apply. Releasing the pain brings freedom, and, after she sang, Stephanie walked away clean. Not only was she clean, but her story and song redeemed the agitation I felt from the bell choir’s rudeness and the unintended insult outside the church doors. The world receives salvation when you sing your grief.

 

 

 

Reverence

Ronnie and I are polar opposites like a walking yin and yang. I am the dreamer who sees the mystical potential of thoughts and desires in the everyday fluttering of feet on concrete as trees sway and clouds move to the wind. She is the realist. Dreams are good, but there are necessary steps to take to realize that dream on smooth, well prepared paths. There are times where being on opposite sides of the spectrum is a volatile mix—a lit match falling into a puddle of gasoline. Today was one of those times. Our lease on our apartment will soon end, and we need to find another place as soon as possible. I hate living on the Southside, and we took this place because they were the only apartment who approved us quickly so we could get out of Lincoln, NE. Indy’s Southside is too Evangelical, too white, too conservative, and too bland. The area of town is as unimaginative and complacent as a casserole. There is no artistic culture, but plenty of camo, American and Confederate flags, and Trump/Pence bumper stickers or signs.

I’ve lived in downtown before I went back on the road, and the prices are affordable. Rent is comparable to the rent we pay on the Southside, but in better condition. Besides that, we would be near our favorite coffee shops and art shows, and the yearly art fair on Talbot St. along with the IMAF (Indianapolis Music and Art Fair) hosted by Redeemer Presbyterian Church. The church provides locally brewed beer, and the priests across the street at Joy of All Who Sorrow Orthodox Church will join in the festivities. With their black robes and long beards, the Orthodox priests blend into the crowd. We had an appointment with an apartment this morning in that neighborhood. Everything about the apartment sparked an overwhelming joy brimming over my being. The building was from the turn of the twentieth century but modernized, the central library was down the street, Thirsty Scholar a few blocks away, the trees around the vintage houses, the lights in the apartment, the gas stove, the refreshed smell of the apartment’s age, and the street view had me dancing and clapping like the queen we all know I am. I wanted the apartment there and now. Ronnie wanted to think about it and look at other apartments. I maintained a cool composure, but I was upset. I didn’t let it out until we got in our van and drove to Thirsty Scholar.

Ronnie began the conversation, “What is wrong with you?”
“I want that apartment.”
“If we filled out the application now, we would have to come up with more money because we have to pay our landlord on top of the down payment for the new apartment. We can’t do it.”
“Can’t do it,” I sniffed, “You’re standing in the way of what I want.”
“I understand you don’t want to live on the Southside. I don’t want to live on the Southside either. I hate it just like you, but if we fill out the application now we won’t have the money, and we’ll be stuck on the Southside with no place to go. We need the money to do this.”
“Money is a fleeting thing, and I’m not bound by it. Worse comes to worse, I can pack up what I can in my rucksack and start walking.”
“Fuck you! You’re going to leave me?!”
“No, you’re included in my rucksack vision.”
“If we did it that way, there is no coming back. We have to play this smart so we can have what we want. Now can we go in to Thirsty Scholar, have some coffee, and have a good fucking time?” We couldn’t have timed our entry any better. Once we got inside and ordered our coffee it began rain.

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Because of the weather, Thirsty Scholar had a few people speckled about the dining area. The wooden tables by the window were open, and both Ronnie and I enjoy those seats. Against the window there is a bench attached to the wall with little pillows for style and comfort, and on the other side of the tables are little vintage chairs appearing to be fragile to the touch but are sturdy. Ronnie took the bench, and I took the chair. My ass is planted firmly on the chair, and flattened by the unmoving metal and wood. As I type out the sketches on my phone, I notice the sky darken and the street lights come on to guide drivers through blinding rain. The brown luminescence is highlighted by the purple overtones as the lightning flashes, and windows shake from the following, booming thunder.  Across the street, at Herron High School, the trees are brought low by the heavy water in a reverential bow giving thanks to the falling rain. The musty smell of nitrogen in the air mixing with the earthy scent of the coffee grounds is a natural incense cultivating complete realization of the moment. Everything is captured, and the golden eternity is apprehended as I hear everything in the bar. The music selection is an eclectic blend of Americana and soul. A hymn for downtown. Marvin Gaye praying with a beat twang. Besides the music, there is muffled conversations between the baristas and patrons at the bar, couples and friends discussing ideas, measuring life with each swig of coffee, bent over as in prayer straining their ears to gather secret knowledge. Coffee spoons and cups clink together humming a tune like singing bowls calling the mind to meditation. Enlightenment is coming and will arrive with the next exhale.

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Ronnie is going over the floor plans just in case we decide on the apartment. She draws out the diagrams to make plans for the space like an architect. She has a real talent for interior decorating, and she knows how to optimize any space. She also takes time to show me the pictures of the other apartment we’re going to look at this Thursday on Meridian. The apartment is considerably cheaper and has bay windows which is something she must have. With all my wants, I momentarily forgot what she favors in a home. I told her that I changed my mind about the apartment downtown, and apologized for letting my urgency take over and behave like an ass. Ronnie told me the reason for the tension had to do with us being completely opposite, “You being a dreamer pulls me out of my realism to understand how free I am to follow my dreams.”
“And you being a realist puts my dreams in perspective by taking necessary steps to make my dreams real.” In that moment, I realized that we needed each other, and I told her so. The need is not based on codependency, but on actual growth. We bring balance to each other. Granted, I think we would still grow as people, but the evolution would be a slower process. She is grace and progress, and my head bows to her life affirming nature.

Plot Twist

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This morning the alarm went off at 4:45. I slept out in the living room on the hide-a-bed Ronnie’s mom found for us at a Goodwill in the Castleton area. Because Ronnie’s back was hurting last night, and I wanted to be out of bed before the devil to get in some walking, I opted for the living room. The mattress is firm, and with the added comforter for padding, the sleep was quite comfortable, and I did not wake up stiff and groggy as I normally do. The reason, I got up so early to walk had to do with meeting a friend at a coffee shop this morning, but with the weather change added another reason. It’s hot. Yesterday was eighty-three, and today will be eighty-seven. It’s also spring and that means there is pollen and freshly cut grass to make breathing difficult. When heat is added, I feel like there is a weight compressing my chest and shoulders—the movement is sluggish. Mornings are terrible, but in the afternoon there is quite a bit of humidity in the air that feels like a towel soaked with hot water breaking your neck with its sopping weight. This morning was a little humid, but I didn’t think it would would be too bad so I put on my jogging pants, wore socks and shoes, and wore my Dharma Punx hat. I was feeling sluggish and overheated, but I was able to watch the transition from night, to twilight, and the beginning of the sun rise. A new day.

I’ve been going through another reading and listening of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road because I miss the West, and the burden of my longing only increases as I read about Indiana’s General Assembly green lighting a religious freedoms law for students. The language implies that any student can carry religious items or conduct religious practices on campus. So ideally, a Muslim kid could bring his prayer rug or a Wiccan could perform a sacred rite during lunch, but that won’t happen. There will be a fuss from Evangelical Christians who behave like former Prom Queens who wants her popularity recognized outside of high school. In the world outside of high school she is a dime a dozen. Rather than accept this fact as an adult, she will live in denial and keep her high school mentality well into mid-life making her an unbearable presence at work. I am not implying The West is Utopia, but I never experienced an imposition from an unread religious group. Christians are active out in the West, but what I saw in Portland they were all about taking care of the poor, the homeless, people of color, immigrants, and so on without raising any attention to themselves. The West has its own issues, but Conservative Christianity isn’t one of them.

The narrator, Will Patton, captures the voices of Kerouac and the characters in On the Road making you feel as if you’re in the muggy Bayou with Bull Lee (William Burroughs), in the car holding on to your seat with Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady) at the wheel, or in Carlo Marx’s (Allen Ginsberg) living room rummaging through books and cigarettes. As I make the laps around my apartment complex, I can hear the roar and hum of the morning traffic on I-65, and I feel the itching increase. I also smile. Driving across the country, I can now reminisce with the feelings of trepidation over the unknown as Kerouac did with his trips—but my trip was relatively safer. I had interstates with rest stops and wi-fi. Kerouac buzzed around the United States before the advent of the interstate and the country wild with highways with slight dabs of urbanity west of the Mississippi. I finish my walk. I go inside to peel off my clothes so I can shower and shave, and start the day.

When I finish the time is 6:25. I opened the door, “Hey, honey. It’s 6:25. Time to get up.” As she moves about beginning her morning routine, I ask her, “What would you like for breakfast this morning?”
“Oh, I’ll have some toast.”
“With butter?”
“How many pieces?”
“I’ll have two.”
I go into the kitchen to turn on the stove. Our toaster died a couple months ago so I use the skillets to make the toast. Even if we had a working toaster, I still would have used the skillets. Ronnie’s mom stayed with us all last week, and she brought her bread maker. Mom makes the best bread, and she cuts them thick—too thick for toaster. I’ve no complaints. She makes her bread so thick and hearty it can feed a body with one slice. I made myself three slices cut in half for peanut butter and jelly to eat at the coffee shop, and I started the electric kettle to make coffee for Ronnie.

The mornings are rushed. Ronnie usually leaves for work at 7:00 so she can be home by 5:00 and have a few hours to relax with crafts and YouTube. Mornings like this one where I drive her to work, she can go a little slower and eat her breakfast in the car. This morning, I took my time, because I didn’t want to forget about today. What is so significant about today? Two years ago today, Ronnie and I were married at The Federated Church in Carlinville, IL. That was a stressful time. Any wedding planning is stressful, but we made it worse by doing it during our last semester at Blackburn. We both had our Senior Seminars to do, and that required a lot of research and self-loathing in addition to the regular amount of work we had with our classes. She was a Psychology major doing her seminar on eating disorders and I was a Literature major doing his seminar on the Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums and the book’s relevance to 21st century spiritual seekers in America. I spent hours researching, printing articles, writing, meeting with my adviser, revising, and keeping up with my normal work load. The time spent was worth the effort because I learned I am no literary critic or public speaker. With all the packing for our move across the country, the reading and writing, and planning a wedding, I am surprised I graduated with a 3.415 GPA—.85 away from being on the Dean’s List for the third time at Blackburn.

A week after our wedding, Ronnie and I were on the road to Portland, OR. The trip had a couple set-backs involving us getting lost in the middle of Wyoming at 2:00 in the morning facing down a mountain lion, and almost flipping the rental SUV over lava rock in southern Idaho because a deer threw her body in front of us. We made it to Portland two days behind schedule, and things were not working out as we hoped as were promised. We stayed with a friend of Ronnie’s who told us jobs would be easy to get, and we would find a place of our own in no time. When we arrived, her roommates were slightly hostile towards us. We asked one roommate, whom we got on with, if we did something, and she told us Ronnie’s friend did not tell her we were coming. We were also told Ronnie’s friend has a bad habit of not communicating to her roommates about anything. Finally, the friend lied about her landlord coming in to do an inspection. We had to leave, and stayed in a Motel 6 across the river in Vancouver, WA. We didn’t care about the lie, Ronnie and I were just glad to be out of that situation. We still had to find jobs and a place to live, and we were having no luck in Portland or Vancouver. I wanted to make this work. I wanted all the pain we accumulated on the road to be worth something. So I kept forcing Oregon on us.

Ronnie and I decided to visit Eugene, OR to see if finding work and an apartment would be easier. We spent the first night at a motel that had bugs crawling everywhere. Originally, we had the room for two nights, but we got our money back for one night, and found a nicer hotel for a cheap price across the street from a mall. I was still stressed because our money was slowly depleting, and Ronnie finally told me, “You know, we don’t have to stay in Oregon. We can go anywhere we want.” All the stress went away. Yes, our van was packed, we were homeless, and we could go anywhere. I was so weighed down on making Oregon happen that I didn’t realize we had the road before us. We could go anywhere we wanted. We still can. Her statement summarizes our relationship. We have complete freedom, and we do not bind ourselves to the arbitrary notions of what we “should” do.  We also complement each other in our journey. Her usual default mode is worry and stress when circumstances look bleak and out of control, but I am the gypsy telling her everything will be fine. How do I know? I don’t. Opposite to her, I had a life full of instability since I was born. There was always the threat of going without food, of being homeless, of my family completely disintegrating, and I had nowhere safe in home, school, work, or church. I learned quickly a stable life is an illusion, and even the most established are a paycheck, a phone call, or an email away from losing everything. Regardless of the circumstances, no one is truly bound to anything, there is always freedom.

There are times, though, when Ronnie and I switch roles. I, too, am prone to worry and stress, and more so after I we were married. It is one thing to live that five by five life when you’re single, but takes on another dimension when you’re in a relationship. I get caught up in what I think I should be doing, and those things dissipate. I become overwhelmed with fear and anxiety because the instability caused my previous relationships to dissipate. Before Ronnie and I were married, I told her, “I can’t promise you a comfortable life, but I can promise it will be interesting.” I did not say this to her to give myself an out, but looking back upon my life, I thought it would be foolish to promise something I never had. She wanted to marry me anyway. She told me she didn’t care if we had the biggest mansion or a cardboard box on the street just so long as she is with me. That does sound cliché, but a week after our wedding, she got in a car with me to drive across the country to Portland, OR. She followed me even though I had no idea what would happen, but she wouldn’t go back and change anything.

Ronnie has made my life considerably better. She understands human nature and is compassionate, and earned her degree in psychology to give her insight academic weight. She understands how much I have to work to unlearn the teachings of my family, the trauma I experienced from them, and to learn the things they did not taught. That statement does not imply my family is responsible for who I am, but it does mean I need to surround myself with better examples so I know how to apply new teachings and new ways of thinking. Somewhere along the way, I adopted their violent, arrogant, and condescending attitudes as a hiding place when my soft underbelly was kicked. Unfortunately, my choice has made my life more difficult than it already had been. I would have eventually overcome those easy choices, but being with Ronnie increased my rate of evolution. I’m not her project, I’m her life partner. We’re a team, and we both work to help the other grow. This is one of her parts in my life. This is how she changed my story, and this is how she is helping me break the Smith/Culbertson cycle. Who Ronnie is, transforms me into a better human being.

The Beat to Keep

I decided to take a different approach to my writing in this post. Normally when I write, I like to put on some Jazz from the 1940s and 1950s. Cats like, Parker, Monk, Davis, and Coltrane who tore apart this material realm because their bodies were cramped. They needed to breathe. Playing their music helps me to tap into their spirit so I can ride upon their coat tails into the heavenly realm. Like Jean Valjean who saw the abbess kneel at her window for her nightly prayers. He knelt too hoping God would hear him in her shadow. Today’s musical choice came from the Jazzual Suspects song. Some acid jazz with Kerouac doing his spoken word–his voice popping like Charlie bopped.

This is another one that Steve Allen and Jack Kerouac did. Allen played his jazz piano while Kerouac rapped.

Listen to these at your leisure. They’re worth the time spent, but the reason I posted these two links is to give you, the reader, a sense of rhythm to what I have written. It pops and bops with a form of blues and hip hop like the smoke of incense rising to the feet of God. I also applied Kerouac’s approach to writing: first thought best thought–but I did some editing. Enjoy.

 

The beat. The beat to keep. The beat upon my head. Angry blows syncopating an ancient family rhythm in Jesus’ name. Their symbol is the cross, and I carry their salvation in a defunct olfactory system and a bent ring finger. What do you do? What would you do? You’re thirteen. At home you are burned by your father’s PTSD. Sexual abuse and physical abuse he won’t mention for another twenty-three years. On his death bed. Making peace with everyone before he faces God. Next door. The other side of the double where your great grandmother and great aunt lives. Where they degrade your lack of masculinity. They tell you real men have beards. Real men drink their whisky straight. Real men only do single malt from the highlands. They don’t do that to your great uncles. They don’t do that to your brother. They do it to you because you’re a “little light in the loafers.” You’re a fairy. You’re a faggot. You’re a little girl who shamefully stole a penis, and degrading masculinity with your offensive feminine nature. You’re a boy. Act like it. You go to school, and hear all your male classmates talk about that weekend’s football game, basketball game, or baseball game depending on the time of year. You don’t care about sports, but you’re told only a real man likes sports. All you want to do is read your books, and write your poetry to The Clash or Run DMC. You’re 6”4, and your intellect and interests are an insult to the jocks who envy your size, but spit upon you wasting what you’re given. You were never asked for your body type. You don’t control the genetics you’re given, but you’re dismissed as another queer whose presence questions their manhood. Work is no different. You are put aside because you don’t connect. Some of the people look out for you, but you’re a burden. You’re a little girl, and you’re not allowed to mourn for your friend who committed suicide two days before. He hung himself with a friend’s scarf. We’re all stunned, but you can’t cry without being reminded how you’re  supposed to act. You overcompensate and try to flirt with girls to appear straight, but you’re more comfortable with your male friends. You have an ease of intimacy with them, but you don’t know why. Closeness is something that can’t be felt, and you don’t understand what these feelings are until you’re forty-two sitting on a bench with your wife people watching, and you notice a tall man, lean, trim. V-shape torso, clean shaven, and running. You get a tingle, and you risk telling her. She already knew. She’s always known. Yes, you’re bi, you’re in a relationship with a woman, but you’re attracted more to men. She helps and protects. She holds your hand in areas where white Christians believe it’s their duty to beat and kill those who deviate in Old Testament commands, though their faith is based on New Testament expositions. They think they offer a service to God every time they starve a poor person, kill a person of color, kill a Muslim, or kill a homosexual. Constant fear. Constant tension and crying out for Christ’s return. You may not be welcomed, but at least these assholes won’t be here.

The tension is only made worse when Christian leaders condone Christian violence. “It’s the slow work of God. It’s the grace of God. You had it coming. You frustrate him with your questions and lifestyle. You need to move on. You’re no longer welcomed at our church.” Then they lie to your friends and say you left of your own free will. Lies and dismissals are the norm. You know it because it’s not the first time this happened. Nor the second, the third, fourth, or fifth time. You lost track after all your fingers and toes. You remember another distinct time when you were thirteen. The youth leader at the church. She knew your father beat you. She knew the treatment you received from your great grandmother and great aunt. She knows you were a mistake, and that your mom blames you for trapping her in such a desolate life. You’ve had enough of her attitude towards you, and you tell her to get stuffed. In the dimly lit sanctuary, on top of the stage, the light glows around her, and the cross hovers over her, “With a mouth like that you deserve every bruise and broken bone your father gives you.” The cross is empty. There is no Jesus. There is no God. They won’t defend you, but they protect people like her. With their silence they have rejected you and take her side. You have no place of comfort. The lord is not your shepherd, “he” is their shepherd, and the sooner you disappear to another part of the world, or burn in hell, the sooner they can get back to their unquestioned lives where everything is nice, straight, and white. What of it? Who cares? If God hates you and prefers people like her, then so what? Move on. Enjoy your life. Love and kiss who you want. But you can’t. You’ve read the bible cover to cover how many times? You lost count after twenty, but you never forgot about Jesus. The Jesus you read about in the gospels sounds like a guy who would hang out with you. Give you a drink, give you a hug, and wants nothing in return. You understand, through scholarship, how people assumed he was God in the flesh. If that is so, then you have no problems believing this god would like you. He spent time drinking and eating with whores, hustlers, rough men, thieves, murderers, and skeptics. He chastised the religious elite who dismissed them because they spoke for God, but God gave them the finger, and they killed that God. That God came back three days still calling for the weary and disenfranchised whistling through the holes in his hands. It’s the trumpet sound. You have a place, and those people who beat you and your friends with the cross will have to answer for the blasphemy. After the exhale, the heart is shriveled, dried, and cracked, and you pray after Jesus is done chastising your abusers he has time to heal you. You want that rest and abundant life he promised, and hope you too can be included in the promise. You too can be saved. Maybe, but you wait nonetheless.

Mass

Kerouac Traveling

I would not consider myself a Kerouac scholar, but neither would I say that my knowledge is based in fandom. I came across Jack Kerouac in my early thirties when I discovered the Buddhist teacher, Noah Levine who mentioned his affinity for Kerouac’s spiritual adventures. His book’s title, Dharma Punx was inspired by Kerouac’s Dharma Bums. Because of his life and search, I found in Levine a teacher I could relate to and could translate spiritual teaching in a way I could apply to my own life. When he mentioned Kerouac, I decided to read On the Road, Dharma Bums, and The Subterraneans in one weekend, and I discovered another kindred spirit.

I have been on and off the road since my early twenties. Before I drove back and forth across the country, most of my traveling had circulated around the Midwest: Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, and Illinois. I had a good friend Pete whom I considered closer than a brother. He lived in Belleville, IL, and moved his family to Vandalia, IL, but worked in Effingham, IL. Whenever, I became weary with Indiana, I would go out to him for a few months for a change of scenery. The people, I did not care for because I found them narrow in their view and wildly bigoted. Everything had to be white and shallow including their faith, and they called me “city boy” as if that were insulting to me. Yeah, I grew up in a city with diverse groups of people and religions, and I went into other places like St. Louis and Chicago to experience their culture. I’ve a broader view of people, but I can see how I’m beneath small town Illinois where the residents barely graduated high school let alone touched a college application.

Before Pete got married we had an apartment in Belleville, IL about a mile from East St. Louis. In the early to mid 1990s East St. Louis was more dangerous than it is now. If you were white, and found yourself on State St after 6:00 pm, you would be shot. Pete went to St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church when he was in high school, and the church had a bus driver who made that mistake. He drove the church bus, and the words “St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church” were a bold red against a white bus. You can’t miss it, especially at six in the evening. The bus driver was on State St., and just as the bus lurched there was a shotgun blast shattering the window behind him. Similar violence spilled over into the parking lot of our apartment. Drug deals would go so bad so often that the gunshots were part of the evening air as crickets. No one ever bothered us, and the way our apartment was set up a stray bullet wouldn’t hit us. The times we had off work we would go to this place called Fultz just outside Millstadt with our three friends, Ashton, John, and Steve.

One evening at 11:00, Steve, Ashton, and John stop by to see Pete and myself. They wanted to go to Fultz. Pete and I didn’t know what they were talking about, but an evening ride to climb a steep hill sounded like fun, so we went. We arrive at Fultz close to 11:30. We had to park off the side of the road and climb a steep hill to get to the foot of the bluff. By the light of Steve’s flashlight, we could see trees and low branches.  We used the thick, medium-sized trees to hoist ourselves each step. On my back I wore a backpack holding a Bible, Hawaiian bread, grape juice, plastic cups, and two packs of Camel Wides cigarettes which caused a slight, yet manageable imbalance. I looked to my right, and I see Ashton holding a tree with his right hand and a cigarette in his left hand. He began hacking and complaining about being out of breath. “What do you expect genius? What kind of idiot lights up a cigarette while climbing?!” In between hard breaths he says, “Up yours, Ron! I wanted to smoke!” The other guys started taking jabs at Ashton.  Ashton fired his sarcasm through seemingly-incessant coughing. The jabs and laughs continued until we got to the foot of the bluff, but our climb was not yet finished.

Between us and the top of the bluff, there lied a cave with its entrance six feet above us. Steve told us we need to climb. There was a four foot wide crevice where we had to push our backs against one side and our feet against the other using the grooves in the rock to craw up to the cave’s entrance like deformed spiders. Steve and Pete were the most limber and were the first to climb to offer a stable hand to the rest of us. I tossed my backpack to them and made the climb followed by John and Ashton. When we were all standing in the cave, Steve told us to follow him while keeping our backs against the wall. The path was a semicircle, four feet wide and slippery from the dripping water. Steve kept his flashlight on so we could mind our steps, and keep from falling.

Once we were out of the cave, we took a small path to the top of the bluff. The path was dusty and had pebbles and patches of grass which helped give our steps traction. We found a flat place overlooking the trees and open field, and a train in the distance moved quietly with the breeze. Under the stars I unpacked the bread, grape juice, cups, Bible, and cigarettes. I lit up a smoke and passed the pack and lighter to everyone. Ashton unwrapped the bread, tore a piece and handed the bread to the others. Pete did the same with the cups and grape juice. We were lost in smoke and conversation when Steve opens my Bible and reads Psalm 8: “What is man that you are mindful of him? The son of man that you care for him? For you have made man a little lower than the angels.”

In the vastness of nature, we felt the weight of the words, and inhaled the tobacco in silence. We were miles away from any place resembling a city. The moon was full and its light gave our skin a bluish white tint glowing like somber candles in an empty church. The sounds we heard in the silence were a mix of chirping crickets, howling dogs, and yipping coyotes meshed together as if all three were having a secret conversation. The air was heavy with silent reverence, and our makeshift camp thickened with an unknown presence. We felt no dread, and took turns reading the Psalms by flashlight to honor what had come into our circle. After an hour of our own communion we make the descent, and arrive at the apartment at 3:00 in the morning. We were still in a state of quiet awe. We did not know what to expect going to Fultz, but we met something on the bluff. Call it God, call it the universe, call it whatever you want. In the presence of nature and each other we encountered something beyond ourselves that allowed us to see ourselves in the world and with each other. Fultz became synonymous for the unknown, a hidden self, made sacred with a name lost in the night’s translation, and after reading On the Road, I look back at Fultz and realize I had touched Dean Moriarity’s “IT.”

 

Consolation of Shifting Perspectives

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Sunday morning was slow and muddled as my mother in law showered and dressed, Ronnie putting on her clothes and eating her toast, and me looking for my misplaced wallet and keys. Church started at 10:30, and I liked to leave early so I can say hi to Eric and Ben before everything starts. The drive itself takes twenty minutes so leaving at 10:00 is no big deal, but I don’t like being late to anything. Yes, there was a ten minute cushion, but I might as well be ten minutes late. Welcome to my mess of clowns and candy wrappers cluttering my brain. The sky was bright with little clouds, and crisp air grazed across my chin like a razor calming me as we got into the van and drove to church. We got there in enough time, and I spent a few minutes talking to Eric and Veronica while Ronnie and Mom talked to each other. The sermon that Ben gave came out of Philemon, and he centered his hermeneutic on social justice and how to follow Jesus in the face of oppression. He hints at the Anti-Christian rhetoric and behavior of the Republican party and many Christians who join in with their inhumane practices, but never says anything blatant. The church is a poor church, but there are many across the political, social, and religious spectrum. Making blatant political statements would divide and alienate, and Ben wants people to come together as brothers and sisters in Christ to talk about their differences to realize their shared spiritual goals.

Ben doesn’t really preach anything new, per se, but he does not offer the usual diatribe I have often heard from the pulpit which is complete compliance to the Republican Party. I would often hear how revolutionary the message of Jesus was, but the pastor would make following Jesus and being a “good” American citizen synonymous. Jesus’ message turned the religious, national, and economic systems on their head. He said nothing about going with the flow of the state or organized religion. Ben’s message transcends party affiliation, and looks to the example of Jesus in the gospels. His message, though, put him in danger when an ultraconservative Trump disciple physically assaulted him in his office. Both Ben and Eric believe the best way to preach Jesus to everyone isn’t through words but radical hospitality. Everyone from different faiths, social backgrounds, skin colors, and philosophies are welcome by them. The point of this hospitality isn’t to sell their version of Jesus or get people to convert to their brand of Christianity, but to be an icon of God’s love to everyone. “Everywhere you go preach the gospel, and if necessary use words” as is attributed to St. Francis. This guy did not abide by that, but gave into fear and hatred. Eric and Ben stood their ground, and through Veronica’s calm demeanor the man left. Ben still preaches that Jesus from the pulpit, and while it’s something I agree with because of my own studies, I’ve never heard that Jesus from the pulpit.

What moved me to the point of agitation was Eric’s final hymn, the hymn that is sung before Ben gives the congregation a blessing and everyone leaves. The song was a prayer calling for Jesus to return quickly. Eric prefaced this song with three kids from our alma mater, Warren Central, who were shot the night before on West 38th St over shoes, and one died. Nothing has changed in that area. When I graduated in 1992, I knew of people in the school who were shooting or being shot over the original Air Jordans, coats with a sports team a particular gang called their own, or cocking their ball cap certain way that affiliated with a gang. Same story, different day. Indianapolis is a violent city, and many of us are weary of it, and Eric poured out his weariness in the hymn. It was a desperate psalm calling for God to come down, otherwise we’re going to kill ourselves, and there will be nothing that can be saved. I feel the same, but things are still getting worse. After Ben gave the blessing, and everyone went downstairs to eat, I went up to Eric.

What I like about going to this church is Ben and Eric make room for me to engage them with real questions and real language, and don’t flinch when my questions cut to the bone and drain the marrow. They understand my contentiousness with Christianity are a mixture of academic and personal issues, and the barriers I face because of my personal issues. I wouldn’t call myself a Christian, but Christian-ish to borrow from Anne Lamott. I’m not really anything, but when I sit down to the table, I’m with Buddha and Jesus. I like both teachers, and the teachings of the Buddha aided me with my academic career to make sense of the Christianity that had been forced down my throat, and the Jesus that motivated such abuses. Something can strike me during the week, or like Sunday, a word or a song will get under my skin, and I need to discuss it in that moment. Both Eric and Ben accommodate my urgency, and I’m grateful for it because, as an elder’s kid, I understand the scattered brained busyness inherent in church leadership.

I was exasperated with Eric saying, “Lord Jesus, come quickly.” People have been speaking of Jesus’ return since the time of the apostles, and those same apostles had to tweak some of their teaching because Jesus was not returning as quickly as they assumed. Instead of returning and restoring, Jesus is absent and many of his followers are set to destroy the rest of us and the world for a quick buck. “I’m not like the people mentioned in 2 Peter ridiculing the followers of Jesus by dismissing the return saying the world has been going, and will continue to keep going. If his return is literal then where the fuck is he? It seems to me that all he did at his first coming was to give us a different flavor of opiate.” To Eric’s credit he knows when I’m antagonistic and picking a theological or philosophical quarrel, and when I’m speaking out of disillusionment. Eric offered his insight on the matter. He believes in a literal second coming of Jesus, but he also believes that the church is the body of Christ on earth—a preface to the actual return. In his own life, he becomes a second coming in his neighborhood, the people he meets when he’s out running errands, when he has dinner with his wife, or when he’s talking to friends such as myself. He’s presenting Jesus until Jesus presents himself.

I took in his words, and I came to the conclusion that I have approached the idea of Jesus returning from an immature perspective. I was looking for a deity to come in and solve the problems I created–like the pampered pet mentioned by Boethius in his “Consolation of Philosophy” instead of an adult owning the consequences of their choices and how those consequences affect the world around them. I’m not taking responsibility for being the second coming in my own home, in my own community, or when I’m behind the wheel raging at other drivers. How can I be the shadow of restoration that is to come? How can God establish salvation when I hinder the process with my arrogance, condescension, and broad brushing? I’m speaking for myself, but there are other people who also thwart the process. The reason this world continues to get worse is because of you and because of me, and it gets better when you and I take the little moments given to us to love. I am reminded of something G.K. Chesterton wrote in response to a question in a newspaper. The writer asked, “What is wrong with the world?” Chesterton wrote his response, “Dear, Sir. I am.” When we love, God’s kingdom has come and God’s will is done on earth as it is in Heaven, and God’s justice flows like a river. The author of Psalm 8 says human beings are a little lower than God, and our divinity shines when we own our world and become the answers to our prayers.