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Blueberry Season Opens – and Closes 4 Days Later

How harsh was last winter in Northwest Indiana? It killed off half the blueberries. Monday the season opened; it usually lasts a month. This year it ends on Friday.

Both of my cherry trees blossomed this spring, but one tree didn’t produce. I only got to pick two or three times and now they’re gone.

This is terrible news for fans of the Muffin King™. (I am both the king and the only fan – but look at these pretty babies.)

Royal Blueberry Muffins

I’ve always used frozen berries for my muffins; they work perfectly well. But on Monday I headed up to Little Holland (DeMotte, Indiana) where all the blueberry farms are, for Opening Day. I chose Eenigenburg’s Blueberries, the original blueberry farm in the area since 1943, because they have a website and are easy to get to. I couldn’t have been happier with the experience. The owners are very friendly and helpful, they know their berries and their customers, and their prices are good, $3 a pound for fresh-picked, $1.90 for U-pick. Since it was Opening Day the only option was U-pick, but they sent out a granddaughter to help me and we got five pounds in 20 minutes, gabbing the whole time. They tied a small plastic bucket around my waist so I could pick with both hands; that’s definitely the way to do it. (I should try it for cherries, too.)

Her mother told me it would be a short season this year because of the hard winter, but by Wednesday she had to post a message on their website, “Closing Friday.” I was lucky I got there in time! Now I kind of wish I hadn’t sold three of my five pounds to Scott’s family; I had no idea what five pounds of blueberries look like or how fast I’d use them.

Monday night Scott came over for dinner, so I made my mother’s fruit salad – though I’ve only kept two ingredients of hers, bananas and mini-marshmallows. She used canned fruit, but all mine is fresh. I grilled some Italian sausage, threw together a marinara sauce with my own garden herbs, and we feasted.

Tuesday I baked some muffins. Now I have about a pound of berries left and the season is almost over!

I’d thought I’d buy an extra five pounds and freeze them to tide me over this winter, but no such luck. I’d better freeze what I have left and hope next year will be better.

We’ve all heard of global warming, but when it starts killing off Indiana blueberries, that there’s serious! Sheesh already.

Today, Thursday, the Eenigenburgs called everyone on their customer list and gave us the news, “come ‘n’ get ‘em or forever hold your peace.” That was nice; it’s why I wanted to buy from local farmers in the first place. Who wants to give all their money to Con-Agra? I will go back next season.

Turns out blueberries don’t grow just anywhere. I asked the owners why DeMotte and Wheatfield have so many blueberry farms and we talked about the sand that blows south off Lake Michigan. (The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is just 30 miles away.)

Indiana Dunes, on the south shore of Lake Michigan.

Indiana Dunes, on the south shore of Lake Michigan.

It has the right pH for blueberries, she said, though some years they have to apply lime (ground natural limestone) to reduce the alkalinity. I told her my Unca Deed, who lives about 15 miles south, used to sell and spread lime for his neighbors. Maybe he sold some to them back in the day – all the more reason to buy from Eenigenburg’s.

South of DeMotte, the sandy soil quickly changes to black loam – river muck from ancient flooding of the Kankakee and Iroquois Rivers – so Unca Deed grows the corn and soybeans most people think of as typical Indiana crops. Farmers grow what their soil is suited for, and it’s quite a science to match the soil type with the best genetic strain of beans or corn; the exact soil composition varies from one field to the next, and even within a field, because the dirt was there before the property lines were drawn.

On my way home I drove past Unca Deed’s farm and reminisced, but I couldn’t stop because a thunderstorm was coming and my dog Luke was in the backyard. Later that night we got the summer version of last winter’s polar vortex; temps went down to 50º and haven’t really warmed up yet.

All this climate change doesn’t seem to be discouraging the weeds in my garden one bit. They don’t need science to tell them where to plant themselves, right in my back yard.

On the other hand, my tomato plants are going great guns and I’m expecting a bumper crop; they have dozens of green fruits on their branches, but they’re waiting for warmer weather before they ripen. Tomatoes like sun and temperatures up to 85º. We’ll get back there in a few days, and I’ll get to bite into my all-time favorite food, a big juicy tomato from the garden.

Summertime and the livin’ is easy – except for the polar vortex, thunderstorms and tornadoes. I would rather spend the warm months here than anywhere else on earth. Indiana isn’t a glamorous place, but to me it’s all about the soil – which comes from the water – which first attracted the Dutch (and my British forebears) to these river plains.++

The Iroquois River in my home county; photo by the United States Geological Survey, 2000.

The Iroquois River in my home county; photo by the U.S. Geological Survey, 2000.

The Simplest Garden Can Be a Joy

The lilies are getting ready to pop. They don't last long, but they are glorious. (Josh Thomas)

The lilies are getting ready to pop. They don’t last long, but they are glorious. (Josh Thomas)

A few weeks ago I went to Indianapolis to see my bishop for our first official visitation, and she asked me a question I’ve been pondering ever since. “What do you do for recreation?”

I didn’t have an answer at first, but finally I said, “I garden.”

A bishop does not like to hear that her ministers have no recreations. Working all the time does not make a person healthy, but the clergy are prone to be consumed by their jobs, so they must have ways to relax and do something completely different, or they’ll probably develop burnout. Their job is demanding; people get sick, have emergencies, they die, and priests and deacons are apt to get calls at all hours of the day and night. I am only a lay minister without parish responsibilities, but dailyoffice.org is my full-time job, and I too receive pastoral demands in various forms. Bishop Cate was glad when I could tell her I go outside and do something physical, even just weeding my garden. It’s remarkably therapeutic.

So we talked for a few minutes about gardening. She doesn’t have much light where she lives, though it’s next to a forest and probably beautiful. I have good light in places and not so good in others.

I cannot say my yard is beautiful. But I can say it gives me joy.

Humble home. Annuals grow well in their sunny concrete pots, but the spaces on either side of the porch don't get enough light. (Josh Thomas)

Humble home. Annuals grow well in their sunny concrete pots, but the spaces on either side of the porch don’t get enough light. (Josh Thomas)

Of course I love planting, and enjoy the results of my labors – the rebirth in early spring of perennials (oregano, dill, chives), the progress of flowers, the blossoming of cherry trees, the first strawberries of the year. But it isn’t all about the harvest, it’s all about the process.

Some weeks it’s all about the weeds! And mowing the grass, which I do not enjoy. I’ve developed plant allergies in the past few years and have to remember to take a pill a half hour before I go out. I got all my planting done on time this year, then in mid-May I took off for eight days to visit friends in Kentucky, Texas and Louisiana. We didn’t get any rain here the entire trip, and I was a little worried for my plants. When I got home, most things had survived, the all-important impatiens on my covered side porch and the tomatoes back by the alley. I lost a few marigolds and petunias, but I felt relieved when I got home.

Since then (a little over two weeks) I’ve been out every day but yesterday, when we finally got an inch of rain. Today it was time to start mowing again. I only have a quarter of an acre, but I have to take two days to finish cutting the grass because my nose takes off for the races and I sneeze a lot. The weeds are mostly under control now; I’ve finally gotten around to working in the front yard with its problematic northern exposure. Much of what I planted there years ago needs more sunshine, and maybe I will do some transplanting after the peonies are done. Thus I doubt my front yard will ever be picture-perfect – but oh, I do enjoy the back. That’s where I live in the summertime, on my covered side porch and in the back.

My favorite place in this house. I have hanging baskets of impatiens all around, the same every year since I bought this place. I found what I wanted the first time out, so I stick with them. (Josh Thomas)

My favorite place in this house. I have hanging baskets of impatiens all around, the same every year since I bought this place. I found what I wanted the first time out, so I stick with them. (Josh Thomas)

It’s late but I will plant some gladiolus bulbs again this year. I cut back my lone surviving rosebush; it has a couple dozen blooms on it right now. I will trim it some more and make my first attempt at starting new bushes from cuttings. I’ve seen online that you can stick a fresh cutting in a potato and start it that way, or use growth hormone, which sounds creepy to me – or even dip the cut end in honey and plant that. So I will try the latter, and see if it fills in the dead space where I wasted $40 on rosebushes that didn’t survive. It will be exciting if the honey trick works; I will be proud of myself.

Today I took a notion to saw off the lower limbs on a pine tree planted on the west side; it’s probably too close to the house and I worry that the roots will crack my foundation, which already seeps water every time there’s a heavy rain. But I didn’t chop the whole thing down today, I started with eight or nine lower limbs that are in the way when I mow. Then I was shocked by how fast that tree has grown in the ten years I have lived here; it’s taller than my two-story house now, as is the blue spruce in the front yard, which I have never trimmed.

My little pruning made me realize I have cut back every tree I own except that blue spruce. There are only eight trees, but I am nobody’s idea of a lumberjack. And I don’t really know what I’m doing; I bought this house with no idea of how to take care of the greenery or how much work it would be. A decade later I am still learning. But surprisingly, I enjoy the work.

There is no one to tell me which limbs to cut, which bushes to try where or how to arrange things. It’s all learning by doing, trial and error. But oh, how delicious homegrown tomatoes are! And oh, what I’ve learned to bake with sour cherries.

Cherry cheese danish, before applying the top crust, 2012. (Josh Thomas)

Cherry cheese danish, before applying the top crust, 2012. My cherries start ripening about the 4th of July. (Josh Thomas)

So you will never see my place in House Beautiful. It’s just one more old home in smalltown Indiana. But it is mine, I’m not trying to impress anyone with it, and I probably get more enjoyment from it than a CEO with a $50 million mansion and a crew of landscapers. My failures are mine, and so are my successes. The chives on that baked potato I grew myself, and Lord, they taste good. I grew the basil in this pesto; that’s my dill in the chicken salad.

Those are my peonies, sickly though they are, planted in memory of my brother Dick; my lilies-of-the-valley in remembrance of my Grandma. My mother grew strawberries; my other brother loved azaleas. I bought that little foot-high concrete angel perched under my beloved maple, guarding another patch of impatiens. These are my onions, radishes, carrots and broccoli – my chrysanthemum that’s actually coming back.

Our Lady of the Maple Tree. (Josh Thomas)

Our Lady of the Maple Tree, with her $2 plastic border. The tree’s canopy is so full, grass can’t grow under it, but impatiens and groundcovers are happy. (Josh Thomas)

Grandma had lilies-of-the-valley. They need shade, so I planted mine under the maple tree. Martha Washington used to wear those hats, you know.

Grandma had lilies-of-the-valley. They need shade, so I planted mine under the maple tree. Martha Washington used to wear those hats, you know.

I hate yardwork, but I love gardening. That, God and friends are all I need. Oh – plus my dog!++

Luke loves summer in the backyard. (Josh Thomas)

Luke loves lounging in the summer; we like being outside together. (Josh Thomas)

Finding Out What It Is to Be Truly Human

Kind of a hot guy, actually. (Auguste Rodin)

Kind of a hot guy, actually. (Auguste Rodin)

This post will probably be a bit ragged, because I haven’t thought the subject all the way through. But it’s been stirring inside me long enough that it’s time for me to try to get some notes down and hope that they mean something to you. In the past people often called my writing stream-of-consciousness, which I’ve never thought was correct, but maybe this entry will be an example of what they meant.

Here’s a lesson appointed for Morning Prayer tomorrow. I’ll reprint the whole thing so you can see the context. St. Paul, whose writing is always wise and eloquent, claims that he put these gifts aside when evangelizing in Corinth, so that instead he could give “a demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” If he did that, he was surely a master teacher, but in this letter he will now eloquently explain his wisdom! (I’m convinced he knew that every word he wrote was holy scripture.)

1 Corinthians 2:1-13 (NRSV)

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him” -

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.

Learning what is truly human, seems to me, is our task in life.

And I can’t say I’ve arrived at the point of knowing; it’s more that I feel like I’m getting there, and also that I feel like I’ve always known. I want to ask, Don’t we all really know what it is to be truly human?

We may not live up to it – most people don’t, the world doesn’t – but that’s because we prevent ourselves from knowing.

We do, all of us, know what it means to be human. But we push that knowledge-awareness down deep inside; we seem to find it painful to know what’s human and not, so we keep ourselves from thinking about any of it.

As Leonardo Ricardo would say, we’re all about “pretend.” When I was a kid our adolescent term was having a “false front.” (Teenagers are experts on this subject, with built-in bullshit detectors.)

I never really lost mine and I bet you didn’t either. I’m not sure anybody does, but boy, does this world have massive incentives to give in to the BS.

Corporate life requires it – any large organization, for-profit or not. Bureaucracy demands we all worship the bullshit.

the-organization-man

Family life demands it in most families – at least the ones we grow up in. I suppose we think we don’t impose it in the families we ourselves create, but then again we probably do.

Commercial life – politics and television – are all about the bullshit. A TV show may make comedy or drama about rebelling against the BS (“The Daily Show,” “Breaking Bad,” “Downton Abbey”) but every eight minutes it’s “brought to you by the bullshit.”

There’s nowhere you can go (including church) and not be knee-deep in bullshit. That’s all the Church of England puts out anymore, and the rest of them are usually even worse. I don’t really follow the CofE anymore, and even if I did I wouldn’t want to go into this, but the latest thing is some kind of yes-and-no from the House of Bishops about same-sex marriage; “Gay people are welcome, and marriages are legal now, but of course we can’t conduct them, and we don’t let clergy officiate, and they ought not even get one privately themselves, but of course we can’t prevent them, and though it might be possible to offer some prayers after people get the civil rite, prayers aren’t the same things as blessings, you see,” which makes no theological sense at all and therefore is pure bullshit, the Anglican kind, you get the idea, it’s all who-fucking-cares.

June Butler cares, Mark Harris cares, Alan Wilson does, Leonardo perhaps and Louie (Crew) Clay almost certainly. But me, I long since don’t care. Leonardo knows his vocation, to tell the world and church “Let’s quit pretend.” But that’s his vocation and not, thankyouJesus, mine, not where the CofE’s concerned. I don’t fucking care, it’s not human there anymore.

What does it mean to be truly human? One of God’s names is Reality. (h/t Bill Coulter, late great.)

Here in the Episcopal Church we mostly think our places are getting more human all the time; I think that about my own congregation online, and I hope you think it about yours, too – that you’re right to think so. Even the Methodists got human yesterday, though only in New York and we’ll see how long it lasts. The retired dean of Yale Divinity School officiated at his kid’s wedding awhile ago, so two bigotbrains put him up on charges, which were set to kick off Monday till the conference bishop called the whole thing off. Good for him; good for the dean and his wife and his kid and his son-in-law. The dean is quoted in today’s paper thanking God for such a great son-in-law. That was nice; truly human.

But it takes a lot more than being for Gay rights to make us human; have you seen any Gay porn blogs lately? They’re all for Gay rights, at least I presume, but good grief, they’re inhuman.

Or they were until yesterday, when somebody Tumbld this:

catchotd:

We need to quit it with all the “cumdump whore” and “slave faggot” bullshit, you know? We’re willingly throwing ourselves into an identification that’s demeaning and dehumanizing, and that’s so dumb. Like, damn, love yourself; if you wanna scarf down three dicks and swim in a veritable pool of cum, then more power to ya man, you’ve got my respect.

Amen brother

Interesting that the reblogger said Amen.

MEANWHILE, back here at the farm, I try to make sense of my life and keep up with how much I’ve changed these last ten years. It’s really astonishing to me; I can’t make sense of it. I’m 62, my body is starting to wear out and my soul is cleaner than ever. (Should I have written “purer”? That’s what it feels like, even though nothing can be crazier than to proclaim to myself or anyone else “I feel like I’m being purified.”)

That is what I feel, though, and it’s damn weird.

So what was it Paul said again? The Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within?

I sense, more than know, what that means. Has something to do with a spark of life inside. Some bit of honesty is surely part of it; and increasing [crotchety] impatience with everything that isn’t real.

You know when people get old, they get crotchety; men especially. I’m only 62, which I’m sure to some of you is death warmed over. And only 62, to others.

I want to ask all the old people, “Did something like this happen to you? Is this normal? Is this like the reward we get for living this long?”

I do not know; I’m living this by myself, and no one can ever be sure of what’s going on with them. Our human capacity for self-deception is too great. Every discovery has to be tested; we’re too involved with ourselves to observe objectively.

Mind you I don’t claim one bit of better-than-you; I am after all still looking at porn sites. And on some level I don’t mind that at all – or I wouldn’t if could find any humane ones. The internet was made for porn, so there’s more of it than ever, but very very few where people treat each other decently.

I worry about what young Gay men are looking at these days. The internalized homophobia is just thick – except it isn’t all internalized, it’s disseminated, it’s broadcast, it’s enforced.

Here we thought, those of us who are now veteran activists, that we were rooting out societal homophobia and the psychic kind with it, but it seems like kids are killing themselves as much as ever.

I’d show you graphic examples or provide links, but you don’t want to see it. I don’t want to post them.

Instead here’s a nice thing; my Straight friend Tim found it yesterday.

Now I’ll start to wind this up. When I bought this house ten years ago my sexuality was on a certain trajectory. What turned me on at 20 still turned me on at 50, while my interests got much narrower and more focused – like “I want what I want exactly this way.” I felt some concern about that, like the world stopped containing 3 billion men and now had only 300,000, but I felt I was refining my desires too. Then a couple of years ago, I finally finished the 1000th draft of my third/ultimate novel, and quickly, my sexuality changed.

This wasn’t just my aging body, but the satisfaction/destruction of a gestalt. “The Gospel According to Gay Guys” is (or so I hope) the world’s ultimate love story with the world’s hottest sex.

And then I was done, and I’m not into that stuff anymore. Or I am, but not in the same way. I said it already, I got it out of my system, so it’s out with the leather and in with the sweat pants and pajama bottoms. (I suppose I should sell that stuff on Ebay.)

“Refining” sexuality sounds similar to “purifying” one’s soul. Meanwhile there’s this other thing going on.

I have said the Daily Office twice a day now for almost ten years, and posted it online. I was in love with God at 20 and I’m certainly in love with God even more now.

I think the repetition, as well as aging, is what does it.

I’ve told people on my sites, “Daily Office, twice a day for 30 days, and you’re bound to get closer to God.” Pray twice a day in an organized, disciplined way, and you won’t be able to stay away from God – even if getting closer is the very thing that scares you. (We want to get close, but typically not too close. Getting noticeably close causes most people to panic and back away; sure did me for awhile.)

I think probably nuns and monks, and Wesley with his Method, got this right a long time ago, even though I’m not sure they fully grasped it or anyone can.

Never my idea of a Gay role model…

Never my idea of a Gay role model…

But here is what I’ve learned: the soul’s desire is union with God; reunion, from before all time, and communion, here and always.

The soul’s desire is that all of life is worship, no matter what we’re doing at the time.

We can’t just will this attitude in ourselves as if it’s a decision we can make. Try that and you’ll forget it completely in 15 minutes.

Instead it works like this. “7 a.m., time to get up for the webcast. 12 noon, time to post the next services. 12 midnight, time to post again.” And the same tomorrow and tomorrow, day after day, month and year until it’s a habit that becomes a way of life.

I can tell you for sure that if I am getting closer to God these days, and I am getting refined and purified, it isn’t any doing of mine. None, zero, at most I just cooperate. At most I’ve just let go of my fear. God is no one to be afraid of; you won’t lose your personality (what makes you human), you’ll gain it more than ever before.

So you won’t be able to stand some things you used to be into. You’ll click off “House of Cards” because it simply got too dark. (The British original was both more humorous and more disturbing; I don’t like disturbing anymore. I don’t want those people in my house.)

Maybe you’ll end up selling all your sexgear, I dunno. (I do know it is better to have started getting it when you were 20-30-40 than to have waited until you were 50-60 to finally let yourself be who you are.) Whatever happens as you age, you really can welcome it, assuming you got on the right path in the beginning.

What’s the right path? The one that commits to being human, to expecting that out of yourself. The one that doesn’t mind wandering away without feeling guilty. The one that’s authentic for you, so you can be authentic with others. This “right path” doesn’t prevent you from hurting, making mistakes, loving and losing; going through dreadful things sometimes. Jesus could have done without some of those wilderness times – but he wouldn’t have been himself if he hadn’t had them.

My life still isn’t all put together, and I doubt it ever will be. Still, I’m almost shockingly happy.

That “human spirit within” is the only way to go. And I pity the fool who doesn’t go there.++

Two Dream Warnings

SigningWill

And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, the wise men left for their own country by another road.

– Matthew 2:12 (NRSV)

The past two evenings, in late afternoon naps, I have received warnings in my dreams of my death. The second one was five minutes ago.

In the first, I was in a hospital, about to undergo one of those death by injection treatments which hospice nurses use on some people with terminal illness. (My mother died that way at home.) They administer painkillers, supposedly at a physician’s direction. I received mine, but I talked all the way through it, including afterward, which made me want to know why I wasn’t dead yet. Then the nurse left and closed a big old heavy wooden door – to shut death in with me, I guess; to make sure I couldn’t escape. Finally I asked, “Does this mean I’m going to keel over?” She paused, then cracked open a wooden vertical slot half an inch, and answered, “Yes.”

So I climbed back onto the gurney, made the sign of the Cross quite profoundly – and woke up.

A few minutes ago, I dreamed I was riding in a car with several middle-aged women as we headed to a political meeting; something to do with a fight over development in Clifton, a Cincinnati neighborhood where I once lived. I could picture the street in the business district they were all concerned about; they were fighting this development, and about to meet with a heavyweight donor in the northeastern suburbs. Then we’d all have lunch at a restaurant, and when the drama started we were already discussing how we would pay our collective food bill; a woman we picked up along the way would get the tab, then we’d all reimburse her. We were headed up north along the interstate – maybe from I-75 to the Norwood Lateral – when we rounded a curve and plunged into deep water that was flooding the roadway. I saw it coming, but the driver plowed through it, and in seconds we were all right. Then we rounded another curve with a much deeper wall of water, deep enough that no one would ever attempt to drive through it. At the crucial moment she glanced away to her left, and the car not only plunged in, it rapidly filled with water.

No one spoke. I could tell we would drown, and I headed my nose to the roof of the car. I clawed at it, managed to rip through the (old-fashioned) cloth, filled myself with oxygen and started giving directions, “Get your noses above water, there’s a little space here.” I tried the door, we were able to clamber out (which was odd, since I was sitting in the middle, and logically the door wouldn’t have opened so easily). I made it to the dry left side of the road, the driver somehow was able to drive a few feet ahead and park on the median, and when she got out she said, “I didn’t see it coming.”

Well, I did. That’s what dreams are for.

My spiritual director Marcia recently did an experimental painting, “Wake up to your dreams. They are unopened letters from God.” She’d gotten spiritually blocked about even trying this thing that wanted to come out of her, which I accidentally discovered while we had an e-mail discussion about an earlier work of hers, a pastel drawing of a young woman, which I own and she wanted to borrow back for an upcoming gallery event. She made arrangements to pick it up on a certain day, I took it down from my wall and Windexed the glass so it would be clean for her, and took it downstairs so she wouldn’t have to wait while I retrieved it. The day came and went and she never picked it up.

A couple of weeks later I wrote to her again, asking about it. And I somehow intuited her fear, though she hadn’t mentioned it. So I encouraged her in that e-mail, as best I could in my ignorance, that whatever was going on with her she should paint through it. “Just try, even if it turns out ugly or shameful or scandalous or wrong.” I didn’t know what I was saying, and yet I wrote this with confidence to her. She is quite a spiritual director, who has shared many things with me as I have with her, and the one thing I knew was that if my advice was off-base, she’d be strong enough to ignore it.

Two weeks later she finished the painting, took a picture of it, and sent me the photo by e-mail. Here it is.

Marcia Smith-Wood, 2013: Wake up to your dreams. They are unopened letters from God."

Marcia Smith-Wood, 2013: Wake up to your dreams. They are unopened letters from God.

It’s a self-portrait, but I’m not going to discuss it as art so I don’t intrude on her privacy. It was the title that got to me; such a clear expression of her insights. I thought it might even be helpful to my Daily Office congregation, so I posted it shortly thereafter for Morning Prayer.

No one commented on it, but its message stayed with me.

I can’t say, like the driver of the car, that I didn’t see it coming. My dreams, two afternoons in a row, told me death is coming.

Maybe I have a chance to repent and radically change my ways (I’m an alcoholic, sometimes in recovery and sometimes not, and I smoke). But I’m not entirely concerned with that right now. I am not for the most part horribly frightened of death. I hope when it comes it’s not painful, but my number one concern is my spiritual response to it. My first dream, in the hospital with the old heavy door, satisfies me; what to do when our death is at hand is to make the sign of the Cross. We don’t even have to say anything, for God will know. (It’s funny that in that moment of great physical weakness, I imagined my hand traveling all the way from my forehead to my waist, then one shoulder to the other. Liturgically impeccable, a death seen only in the movies.)

Last night just before I went to bed for the last time, I had a heart-to-heart with God about this. I asked him or her to make provision for my prayer site’s succession; it will need someone to outlive me. It is too big, after 2.5 million hits and another million e-mails to subscribers, and too successful simply to die with me. We are doing too well right now, with a pending grant application for $50,000 to church headquarters in New York, and brand new live webcasts five mornings a week. The technology is very exciting; a few people are trying it. We can see each other by webcam, hear each other by VoIP, and their computer screens (iPad or phone) display what’s on my screen: the website with its liturgy, art and videos. When I hit Play on the videos, everyone sees and hears them simultaneously. It really is like being in church together, though we’re physically located throughout the country.

None of my competitors even attempts such a thing – and indeed, one basis of our grant app is that we offer live curated services twice a day. (I’m the “curator,” because the term sounds grandiose enough to impress New York.) The two or three competing sites (why anyone would compete over this work is beyond me) are simply databases, where the user clicks enough times to put together the elements they want. No art – Fr. Richard Helmer recently trumpeted that he’s now added some, nine years after my innovation – and certainly no videos.

The pride I take in my site is the making of community; this is what online church should be, not praying to a database. If we do get selected for the grant, I’ve got another trick up my sleeve to grow this community. Don’t know whether it will work, but we’re big enough to try.

We get more visitors per year than the National Cathedral in Washington. They’re going to start charging tourists $10 a head, to raise $3 million for their overhead; with 50 grand I can take care of our techno expansion, pay myself a salary – which is key to my succession plan, because another minister will want that paying job – and start up a Spanish language version in cooperation with Padré Mickey.

Best $50,000 New York will ever spend, or so I hope. I prayed to God last night, “Give me that succession and I can go in peace.”

S/he gave me a loving response this morning, enveloping me in warmth, her favorite way, because I can receive it and know it’s her. She probably waited until this morning because I was headed straight to bed after our talk.

Then to have this death-by-drowning dream a few minutes ago, well – my fingers drum on the desktop – I clearly will have to completely change my ways. That’s what “repentance” means, an up-and-down transformation. Quit the behavior, no more self-destructiveness. Booze and smoking kill. That’s actually how my mother died; she smoked until she got lung cancer, and eventually drowned in the fluid that filled her lungs. I guess the morphine shots were a blessing – though the hospice agency was really dishonest about it. Nurse-assisted homicide takes place all over the country, and though that sounds shocking, people who’ve been there all know it.

Repentance is difficult, and for most people it’s very gradual, though fundamentalists would have you believe they’re all “born again” in a flash. This 180-degree turn is something they tell each other about constantly and take pride in, though they cloak that pride in describing how wicked they once were. (We’re supposed to think they’re not anymore!) It makes them feel better about themselves. And I don’t know that it doesn’t happen, so while I gladly satirize them, I don’t judge a one of them. May it all be just as they claim.

For 99% of Episcopalians it doesn’t work that way. We seldom have the same depravities they describe, and we seldom go through such a quick turnaround. I’m 62, and I’ve been working at social justice (while smoking and drinking, quitting and going back to it) all my life. They never get to that part, so fuck ‘em. They deserve Pat Robertson, Ted Haggard and Fox News.

I don’t drink 24/7/365 anymore, but I do jump on and off the wagon, and lately I’ve been off in left field for two weeks.

So I just poured out my last vodka, to make sure I don’t go through withdrawal. I’ve been tapering again, and I’m pretty sure I’m physically in the clear; withdrawal is life-threatening. (If I should die tomorrow, notify Maria L. Evans of the Diocese of Missouri at once. The site will belong to her until she makes other arrangements. This is my legal wish.) Alcohol is the more immediately dangerous substance for me, and since New York is taking its own sweet time to decide our application, maybe I’ll stay sober long enough to keep the site going awhile.

My strategy to quit smoking is a week or so away: never buy menthol cigarettes again. (Europe’s about to ban them, and they’re right.) The “regular flavor” tastes so damn nasty I won’t want to keep smoking. I’ll set a quit date, taper down and be done with this stuff. If I still can’t manage it I’ll seek every kind of medical help there is. I can’t afford cigarettes, physically, spiritually or financially. If I have to take a prescription drug instead, I’ll buy it until I find one that works.

As you have decided by now, my story does not offer immense moral uplift with a pop soundtrack; only honesty amidst struggle and dream warnings. (Masturbation doesn’t kill anybody, or I’d have been dead at 16. Apparently my fantasies will continue until five minutes before I croak.) I thank God for my dreams.

Marcia, I opened the letters.

Otherwise I’m quite content with my spiritual life. The site is going great guns, and yesterday’s big sign of the Cross ending leaves me at peace. I’m thankful for the Spirit’s embrace this morning; God hasn’t left me, no matter how much danger I put myself in. Even today’s nap had me making my way to the grass, not perishing in the water.

Otherwise, here’s hoping I can consolidate my afternoon naps and my nighttime sleeping. I’m a plenty dramatic fella, but I’d rather not go through this three afternoons in a row.++

Josh Thomas
Kentland, Indiana
owner and founder, dailyoffice.org
November 29, 2013

Last Will Cartoon

Peak Spiritual Experience Isn’t Easy

dawn-28mfdrt

Yesterday’s Daily Office webcast was so enthralling I had to shut down for today; we may never reach those heights again.

It wasn’t my doing, but the music of Merbecke, Byrd & Tallis, the 3 Great Musicians. People even stayed 20 more minutes for the Vaughan Williams recital, they didn’t want to leave.

Yeah, I picked out the clips, so two bits for Josh… but having entered into that holy space, and knowing that I can’t reproduce it every day (wasn’t me, it was Mr. Big), I had to retire so we could get back to earth. I can’t further explain, but I had no spirit left.

Better to take the weekend off, and come back strong on Monday.

Terrible way to run a railroad, maybe, but I’m sure it’s right. We are not a bunch of cars on a fixed track, going here-there, here-there.

We hit the sun yesterday, and the only thing I know to do is to sit quietly this morning. The few who witnessed it I think will know why. They couldn’t stand it if we hit the sun again; they need some time to absorb it and just get back to normal. Have a piece of pie, pat the dog, get their bearings again.

We thought we saw God, and man, that isn’t easy. Don’t know what Moses went through after the Burning Bush, but in my world it’s major freakout time. Gather with friends, hold the puppy, allow it to happen – and go to work on Monday.++

Internal Dialogue: Little Tommy & Big Josh

This morning Marcia, my spiritual director, sent me this quote from Hannah Whitall Smith’s A Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life.

 
“A Christian who was in a great deal of trouble was recounting to another the various efforts he had made to find deliverance, and concluded by saying, ‘But it has all been in vain, and there is 
literally nothing left for me to do now but to trust the Lord.’
  
 
‘Alas!’ exclaimed his friend in a tone of the deepest commiseration, as though no greater risk were possible, – ‘Alas! has it come to that!’ “

 

Marcia is hoping this bit of humor helps me, based on a phone conversation we had last night.

We have established by now that I have a great deal of trouble with St. Julian’s ideal of our soul’s being “one’d” to God.

Intellectually I’m all for it. But emotionally I invariably get anxious when the Holy Spirit invites me to get closer. I have a recurrent dream in which Christ stands inside a beautiful blue cave, with his hand outstretched, inviting me in.

The first time I dreamed this, I came close to the edge of the cave, saw that there was a little ledge to step over, and took one step inside before I ran away/woke up.

The second time, I took three steps inside, but no farther.

Then last week, when I was working on a new idea for webcasting Morning Prayer five days a week, which might really grow my website dailyoffice.org even more than its current 2.5 million hits, I got both excited and scared. So I called Marcia, and we talked last night.

She suggested that I try having a conversation with my childhood self; I’ll call us Big Josh and Little Tommy.

I have a photograph of him on my desk, taken by my grandfather when I was about 4. My parents had just driven from our home in north central Ohio to my grandparents’ house in Northwest Indiana. I was so glad to be out of the car that I ran around the outside of the house 3 times, then crouched down in the front yard, watching these people, waiting for what would happen next.

This was apparently remarkable enough that Granddad went to the house, got his camera, fiddled with the gear, came outside and took a snapshot. In the time it took to do all that I hadn’t moved.

In the photo Little Tommy doesn’t smile. It’s summer, obviously, because he’s wearing short pants overalls and no shirt; big head, big eyes, big ears, button nose, little mouth, short blond hair. His forearms are on his knees and he holds his hands together. All he does is watch for what happens next.

He looks anxious. That may be because of how he’s wired, but he’s also afraid of his dad.

One would think that the ultimate reassurance for a scared little boy is the protection of Christ himself. But that’s intellect talking.

This boy doesn’t trust.

I do, but he doesn’t. And when I get excited/scared about the most important relationship in my life, he runs the show. I have the dreams, but he’s the one who runs away/wakes up.

So, I told Marcia, this kid’s kinda messing up my life. She said, Talk to him about it. Then listen when he answers back. (Be both sides of yourself, like gestalt therapy’s “empty chair” technique.)

I didn’t do it right away. I’m trying to do it now.

Josh: I love you, little boy.

Tommy: I love you too. Gee, am I gonna look like you when I grow up?

Josh: Well, when you’re 62, yes. Sorry! I was cute when I was younger!

Tommy: That’s okay, I guess.

Josh: Do you know why I keep your picture in my bedroom-office?

Tommy: No.

Josh: To remind myself. You are me and I am you.

Tommy: I don’t understand.

Josh: That’s okay. You will someday. The thing is, child, your fears keep holding me back from getting closer to God.

Tommy: I don’t mean to.

Josh: I know. It’s my fault in a way, not yours. You were right to be scared then.

(No reply.)

Josh: My fear of the blue cave is that once I go inside, I’ll get lost and never come out.

Tommy: I’ve never been in a cave.

Josh: I have; a guide was with us. And there were lights inside, steps, a path. And signs, “This way out.”

Tommy: That would be good.

Josh: In another part of that cave, there were thousands of bats!

Tommy (covering his eyes): Ooh!

Josh: I know. I still don’t like bats much, but these were good bats. We sat and watched them fly around, while a hunky Park Ranger told us all about them.

Tommy: I don’t know that word hunky.

Josh: You will, buddy. I guess the point is that sometimes we get afraid when we don’t have to. When we’re with someone who’s safe and knows about bats, we don’t get so scared.

Tommy: Like a friend?

Josh: Yes, a friend.

Tommy: I don’t have any friends, I don’t think.

Josh: No. Which makes you twice as scared. But it’s all right. I’m your friend now. Will you be mine?

Tommy: I guess so.

Josh: I don’t want you to ever be afraid, baby. I want to hold you and love you and keep you from being afraid.

Tommy: Nobody holds me.

Josh: I know. But someday you’ll meet people who will.

(No reply.)

Josh: When you grow up you’ll get really good at taking a risk. Even when you’re afraid.

Tommy: How will that happen?

Josh: Some very nice people will teach you that being afraid prevents you from getting something you want a lot. And you want that thing so much, you’ll decide to try it in case they’re right. Because you know you won’t get what you want if you don’t try.

Tommy: What is it I want that time?

Josh: You want to help other people, at a place called the Crisis Center. Those adults run the Crisis Center, but they won’t let you work there if you can’t take a risk, and be honest and open. Which isn’t as hard as it seems, but you have to be willing to try it. Since you already know what it’s like to hurt so bad, like the people who need the Crisis Center hurt, you decide to do what your adult friends are telling you to do. It turns out great, baby. You change overnight, and become an open, honest person. The whole world opens up for you, because you took a risk to try and be like what they said.

Tommy: Gee.

Josh: That’s how you started making friends, and helping people. And they helped you too; they liked you, they loved you, they held you.

Tommy: Does it take a long time?

Josh: To a kid, yes. It takes surviving, first of all, which you’ll turn out to be good at. See, I’ve always kept you with me. I am still that child you are. You’re the greatest gift I’ve ever gotten.

Tommy: I like you.

Josh: I’ve always kept you safe, baby. We’ll always be together.

Tommy: That might be nice.

Josh: Now we’ve got to see what’s inside that cave, ’cause Jesus asked us to come in and explore it with him. He won’t let us get lost, baby. He always finds us and brings us back. And it’s this really beautiful cave, I’ve seen the inside of it. A little; but I want you to come with us. If you don’t come, I’ll never get to see all of it.

(Tommy thinks about this.)

Josh: I won’t make you. But Jesus is the one who will hold you forever, and keep you safe and warm.

Tommy: I don’t like being cold.

Josh (smiling): I know, baby. I don’t like it either. But we’ll be safe and warm with him. And we’ll see all these beautiful sights!

Tommy: Will we ever get to come back home?

Josh: Yes. Although Marcia says we won’t be the same as we were before. We’ll be better than we used to be, before we took the chance. Would you like to see a picture of this cave?

Tommy (nodding up and down): Yes!

Josh: Here it is, then. What do you think?

blue-cave

Courtesy of

bluecavejohnsparacio

blue_cave_walls

Tommy: It’s pretty!

Josh: Let’s go, baby. Hold my hand, okay?

Tommy: Okay. What if we get lost?

Josh: Stop trying to control everything. You trust me, I trust Jesus, we’ll be all right.

Lord, we’re ready. Keep the lights on for us; show us some of that pretty stuff you’ve got.

Jesus: Hey, guys! Nice you finally showed up.

Tommy: Don’t blame me, I’m just a little kid!++

 

 

Over the River and Into Default

Turkey

To Grandmother’s house we go!

Actually, I wish we could go to Grandma’s, because she had common sense, unlike anyone in the House GOP caucus.

My grandparents, born 1892 and 1897, taught me a lot about coping with life’s problems. Principle #1: you’ve got to eat. Crises can happen, and when they disrupt your routines, go back to your routine. Get some food down, you’ll think better.

Principle #2: choose the obvious solution, even if you don’t like it. Not liking it is how you know it’s the right thing to do.

Which brings me to John Boehner. Apparently he didn’t have a grandmother, because he consistently chooses everything but the right thing to do.

So he flails – in public – while we all wonder if he’s going to take down the entire world economy. Which is to say, the standard of living of everyone on earth.

From México to Russia and Greece, the world looks on in shocked disbelief. The New York Times reports other countries are “Viewing U.S. in Fear and Dismay.”

We should take that gavel and knock some sense into John Boehner. (usnews.com)

We should take that gavel and knock some sense into him. (usnews.com)

But thanks to my dad, I’ve seen this act before. It gets old; this is a rerun. The cheap little drama wasn’t entertaining the first time.

So House Republicans are out of control. And Boehner’s the worst of them.

My father got out of control a lot; my grandparents were very experienced at handling a crisis. The first thing was to get him under control. Feed him, then talk some sense into him. Make him do the right, obvious thing.

Because everything he was doing was avoiding the right, obvious thing.

Boehner should, as we all know, reopen the government and raise the debt limit. Put an end to this public spectacle.

(Sidebar: the public spectacle doesn’t bother people who are out of control. What would be mortifying to you or me just seems par for the course to them.)

Flailing

If it means he no longer gets to be Speaker of the House, well, that’s too bad. Unfortunate. Not necessarily his fault entirely. But then again, he’s the one flailing in public.

He’d feel better to just go ahead and do what needs to be done. Afterwards we can talk if he feels like it.

This was my grandparents’ basic solution. I don’t know how they “made” my dad do the right thing most of the time, but they did.

Every time he got in trouble, he ran home. Usually he wanted his parents to bail him out. They did that at first, but over the years they got a little smarter about making him be responsible for himself. He still robbed them blind, though.

I guess John Boehner doesn’t have a home to go to; no Grandma. I’d feel sorry for him, except he’s pathetic.

One excuse after another; “the Tea Party made me do it.” No, they didn’t, John; nobody can make you do anything. Now straighten up and fly right.

He could have been a hero to the American people. Instead he’s sacrificing the whole country so he can keep his title – for another day or week or month.

It’s obvious the Crazy Caucus will cut him loose the minute he no longer suits their purposes.

Yoo-hoo! Yoho, you're a bozo.

Yoo-hoo! Yoho, you’re a bozo.

They’re out to bring down the U.S. government.

It’s no longer about Barack Obama anymore, much less Obamacare. They’ve given up on that entirely. They want to destroy the government, while insisting “this is the greatest country on earth.”

Not without a government, it isn’t.

This is a civil war without shots being fired yet.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, although I wouldn’t put it past them. We’ve seen the Tea Party’s violent tendencies before.

Tea Party rally, August 14, 2010. (therightperspective.com)

Tea Party rally, August 14, 2010. (therightperspective.com)

We saw it in all the furious arguing over “gun rights” last winter. Polls said 90% of Americans support background checks so criminals and crazy people can’t buy guns, but Boehner and the Republicans blocked it – while insisting they were “doing the will of the American people.”

We’ve seen the war on women, including a skirmish yesterday on including a “conscience clause” in the Continuing Resolution to reopen the government, so fundamentalist employers don’t have to pay for birth control under Obamacare.

Birth control! Really?

Birth control is health care. A lot of women take it to regularize their menstrual cycles. Preventing pregnancy is only one reason doctors prescribe the Pill. Every woman’s body is different, and they don’t need politicians telling them what they can and can’t do to take care of themselves.

Abortion is also health care. My other grandmother died the same day she gave birth to my mother. Didn’t Boehner watch “Downton Abbey” last season, when Lady Sybil died? Complications of pregnancy kill women worldwide – and the United States has a shamefully high maternal death rate.

We’ve seen the absolute willingness of fundamentalists to go to war over Gay and Lesbian rights.

Now that they’ve lost in this country, they’re exporting their war on Gays to Africa and Russia.

(The New Civil Rights Movement)

(The New Civil Rights Movement)

Strict Tea Party Libertarians don’t care so much about private sexual issues, but many of the Tea Party politicians are also fundamentalists. Issues get mixed in the spaghetti salads of their minds.

Then there’s the argument about “socialism.” They think Joseph Stalin has come back to life and is occupying the White House.

Ron Paul, of the racist newsletters, gave the keynote speech at the 50th anniversary convention of the John Birch Society. His son Rand Paul had to let go a racist staffer earlier this year.

This is a bloodless civil war. Many issues come together – racism, homophobia, economic decline, failure in Bush’s Wars, immigration, put-upon men crying that women have taken over the world – and now we have a faction trying to take down the U.S. government.

Boehner is James Buchanan, who was President just before Lincoln; a Southern sympathizer and appeaser trying to run out the clock on his term before the great war came.

Lincoln got elected and it came.

America's worst president. Lived for years with his male friend. (Wikipedia)

America’s worst president, Buchanan was a “bachelor” who lived for 14 years with Vice-President Rufus King. Andrew Jackson called them “Miss Nancy and Aunt Fancy.” (Matthew Brady/Library of Congress via Wikipedia)

These are very bad times. I wish Boehner’s Grandma would slap him upside the head, but no such luck.

I know what my Grandma would do with him. She was an Eisenhower Republican. She lived through the Depression. She believed in paying her bills. She bought U.S. Bonds. She saw my Granddad ship off to World War I and my father fight in World War II. She knew the difference between patriotism and selfishness.

John Boehner and these Republicans are no patriots. He’s willing to screw the whole country so he can keep riding around in his limo.

For what? Another day, another week, another month?

This won’t last. The question is what comes next. It’s going to take all the President’s skill to avoid a bloodletting. Does he have it in him? No one knows.

He’s been strong in this current crisis, and his party is united behind him. But he wasn’t strong the last time, which helped get us into this mess.

He needs to understand this is a fight for the U.S. government. It isn’t about him, even though he’s Black and all that. It’s about government itself, with anarchists the enemy. My advice: don’t heat this cold war into a hot one, but understand we’re in the fight of our lives.

The enemy’s within, and they must be crushed.++

steam_roller

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