Namesake: For Julia, My Little Ocean Child

It would be no grand secret to say that it would have been virtually impossible for my children to not have become Beatles fans.  In fact, I dare say that I would have felt like an abysmal failure as a father if it had not been so.  And I guess you could also say, in terms of handing down things almost instinctively, it makes perfect sense in more ways than one.  For instance, though I have very little memory of my mother who was snatched from us at an early age, and though childhood and even teenage memories are for some reason a dismal blur to me, I have old film archives of my sister Kim, and my brother Mike and I, dancing feverishly in the late 60’s to anything the Beatles were currently playing.  And to be sure, this was none other than the conspiracy of my beloved Aunt Gayle and my dear Mother Agnes, who were undeniably in cahoots for the branding of us into the hysteria known as Beatlemania.

Fast forward till now, and indeed all of my sons have joined the addiction, but none quite as infected as my eldest namesake Mark.  Consequently, I grinned like the Grinch peering down on Whoville, as I watched him pick up musical instruments and play them almost effortlessly as a child, and equally so as some of the first songs he played and reflected upon were from the timeless musical catalog of none other than John, Paul, George and Ringo. And now, many moons later, I would get the news that both he and his lovely wife would name their expected child Julia, as I then shed an irrepressible entourage of tears to hear that her middle name would be the namesake of the Mother I never knew: Agnes.  That most beautiful, amazing and ever mysterious name.

The Mother Wound

And as I reflected more on the thought of this beloved child coming into the world and John’s myriad of meetings for the song, it was almost haunting then to know that at least one of the meanings was indeed a tribute to John’s equal beloved Mother named Julia, who evidently most influenced his decision to abandon all else for the sake of his music.  And what a wise soul she was indeed.  John actually tells of losing her twice, both as a young lad who was then raised by his Auntie, and then who later picked up his relationship with his Mum as a teen, but who later died in a dreadful car crash.  The fate of both of our Mothers was tragic to say the least. The difference was however being a glorious love of his Mother that John then lost, and mine of loving the mere thought of someone I only imagined from old film reels and family stories of her love for me that had vanished abruptly in the fall of 1969.  The gaping Mother wound was significant nonetheless for us both, and one which I believe explains also the restless “Ocean Child” in me, and the equal desire at least to express it in words that are perhaps inspired from the wound itself.  It is then only fitting that my little ocean grandchild Julia will carry on that namesake, and who will possibly also be one who like me, looks to the ocean like a long-lost lover longing for some sweet reunion.

Mutual Love of the Ocean

My Aunt Gayle told me not along ago that she kind of got the sniffles when she heard that I was moving to Surfside Beach.  She then shared with me that my mother Agnes loved it immensely.  This of course made me smile from ear to ear as I contemplated the thought of it.  And it occurred to me that perhaps somehow in a mystical way she left that to me, perhaps to ponder her own equal restless heart and perhaps find it, and somehow to be touched by a shadowy piece of her, and to feel the healing warmth of her love that I missed long, long ago.  It brings me great comfort to think so nonetheless, and I now long to share my love for the ocean with my beloved Julia and the comradery that now the three of us will share.  I will equally look forward to opening up to her of both my love and thoughts on God, what her namesake means, and to watch her grow into her very own individuality and to blossom into an unrivaled beauty as my late Mother clearly was.  And of course, as one who will also grow up with a wonderful Father and Mother, and into an extended family, who if they possess nothing more, are full of love and grace and peace ready to bestow upon her without measure.

Grandpa’s Hermitage

The truth is, though I speak of namesake here, and talk of the beauty of family, I am not an expert of feeling its effects outside of the grateful creation of my own, with the real hero of that being my beloved Paula, of whom I now share my “ocean child” life with. In fact, I can remember as if it were yesterday as a child, often being in a crowded room of people, and yet somehow feeling as if I was always the “odd man out”.  And though I have now grown into an old man by the sea, the reclusive nature of a soul somehow disconnected from relational intimacy outside of my own little family is now fully grown and more observable, and that which compels me to spill it out with musings on paper for perhaps nothing more than my own catharsis, or in flickering hopes of an epiphany of sorts into the mystery that is now Grandpa Prince.  I know my little Julia’s life will be markedly different than mine was, and I praise the Father above for that, and thus do not wish my unpredictable perplexity on her for a moment.  However, I do hope and pray that she shares the love of the ocean with her Grandpa, and the desire to know the unique nature of what her namesake means to those of us who will be unable to look at her without starry-eyed reminiscence of some transcendent essence of Agnes that she will possess.  But most importantly, I pray that she will always rest her beautiful head and all of her hopes and dreams into the loving arms of Jesus, who will never leave her nor forsake her, and who will always hold her near and dear to His most blessed and sacred heart.

BFF’s

Now to be sure, Julia will enter a world in a familial sense that will be drastically different than my own experience, and of that for which I am eternally grateful as I mentioned. For she will be a child armed with love and in knowing the unconditionality of that love.  A love that has absolutely nothing to do with what she becomes, or for that matter, for any namesake that she indeed carries; but one that is hers simply because of whose she is, and for who she is.  And whether or not she will look just like me, be a “chip off the ole block” as they say, have my sense of never-ending sarcasm, or share my obvious bibliophile tendencies; I cannot yet know.  However, my sweet Julia, from one ocean child to another, Grandpa will look forward to seeing you at the beach!

Selah

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christ(X)mas

Cynicism Alert

Well if it isn’t that glorious time of year again!  And no, there is absolutely no hint of sarcasm in my pen!   Seriously. I kid you not.  You know, it’s that wonderful time when parents glee with snap-happy anticipation about spending a shit ton of money they actually don’t have, and then counting down the moments until everyone tears open their presents.  And afterwards, the “fan damily” then scurry about to some in-laws or outlaws to once again get through the heart attack-ridden gluttony without having to call 911; a couple of more mandatory presents in between, and just for good measure; we’ll throw in a little bit of all too familiar ungraciousness, relational trepidation, and a good dose of leftover familial guilt just to close out this blessed day! Ah, there’s nothing quite like it. In fact, one can hardly wait till next year to do it all again.

But wait, did I just say, “Bah Humbug”?  Well kinda. But at least I didn’t add “decrease the surplus population”to it.  I’ll leave that to God.  But just for the record, there is no way that I should be in charge of the zapper button that obliterates people out of existence on any given day.  God in his infinite wisdom stores up his wrath for another day and keeps me out of the consultative loop.  Be thankful. No, but seriously, be thankful.

Genes are a Bitch

My disdain for Christmas is complicated, so let me explain.  I guess after all I inherited it from my old man.  I used to see the look on his eyes every Christmas and it literally scared the shit out of me, kind of like Clark Griswold finally unhinged in the aftermath of surviving an insane family for the holidays, and an equally negligible Christmas bonus https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQXuazYI_YU, or like Neil Page finally unglued at the airport counter https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWRxPDhd3d0 if you get my drift . In fact, you could see his eye veins pulsate as he looked at you, and coupled with the tone of his voice, it was a sight so palpable that you could cut it with a freaking butter knife. In fact, to this day, I swear if that ole boy didn’t have a flask stationed in every room of the house during Christmas, he missed a good damn opportunity!  And I know for sure that whatever smidgeon of joy he experienced couldn’t have lasted more than a millisecond on Christmas Day, seeing the ecstasy in our entitled little bug eyes, saving just a bit more to be sure when he opened his one damn present with everybody’s cheap ass name written on it, that ended up being a frickin tie or some generic cologne that couldn’t get you any action with two out of work hookers and an American Express black card for goodness sakes!  His response was like, “Oh gee, thanks everybody, you really shouldn’t have”!  In fact, I’m quite sure that the 26th couldn’t come soon enough, and I imagine him and Mrs. Claus partying like it was 1999 as they ushered in their new, but only temporal freedom from the sheer agony of it all.  But I digress.

To get deeper into the heart of the matter, I guess it’s summed up quite nicely in my title with the sheer “X-mas” of it all that we have come to know all too well.  In fact, though raised in a home that took fairly seriously the customary reading of the Luke 2 Christmas story, our culture had successfully conditioned us to tolerate the moment in order to get to the real shindig. The bliss of discovering whether or not we got everything we had on our list, concluding that we were more nice than naughty, and breathing a sigh of relief that Santa or Dad, or whoever the Hell it was, somehow graded on the curve.  There was also the token Christmas service, the watching of “A Christmas Carol”,“Rudolph the Red nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman”, and then a stark reminder from “It’s a Wonderful Life” to get at least somehow close to the sheer meaning of it all not a moment too late for possible bargaining chips down the road at the pearly gates.  But Jesus, you know, “the reason for the season” and all, got somehow lost in the periphery; and by the day after, had come up again a day late and a dollar short of truly gripping us with the ultimate gift that longs to continually give year after year–if we but allow it.  And somehow, I guess you could say I’ve at least somewhat repeated the cycle, though in James Dean like defiance, left to my own contemplative thoughts once the trash bag of endless wrapping paper is nestled where the soon to be memory of fleeting present glory also rests: in the garbage can of grasping for meaning straws, and coming up with the same vanity and emptiness before the hysteric flimflam began.  And as much as I long to extract significance from this blessed day amidst the rigmarole of what we’ve made it, I often find myself most of the time waiting for the again depressing climax of December 26th as well, with the temptation to then light up a smoke and perhaps even bathe in the ambiance.

Let’s Commiserate

Well, perhaps you’re like me this Christmas, and you’re one who has to survive it rather than experience the magic and thoughtful exuberance of it all.  A magic like the star that guided wise Magi a couple of millennia ago to gaze upon a face and a meaning that’s only response to it was to give every bit of gold, frankincense and myrrh they could lay down at His feet of soon to be glorious good news. And a child born with the power to save mankind from both his perpetual capacity for sin, and the slavery-like oblivion to repetitively put all his eggs in a basket of smoke and mirrors, continually hoping for left over manna instead of the daily bread of contentment proceeding out of that precious mouth of God that man surely should not live without. And likewise, for a gift that is wrapped in love and peace, forgiveness, and good will toward man.  Something to which we many times have left time and time again wrapped under that oft forgotten tree.  But in the meantime, it’s beginning to look at lot like Christmas.

 

Selah

 

 

 

 

An Ocean of Fantastic Distractions

The Purpose of the Ocean View

It’s been 3 years ago now since the Prince family moved to the quiet refuge of a salt life that has been a oceanic sanctuary in and of itself, and that which makes me never want to leave the healing powers it seems to bestow upon us as we breathe in both its infinitude, and its endless array of perspective and hope for any given moment.

As I have written about before, there were many motivations for our detour here, one of which was personal, in that it was my last excuse I could muster up for not finally sitting down and writing anything this lost soul could get down on paper.  I had made a promise to my wife years ago that I would write, and was equally commissioned by many others that I was uniquely qualified to do so, and therefore should get busy doing it!  And yet as many of us know all too well, belief in one’s self, belief in what others think of you, and the action it takes to realize one’s potential or God-given destiny, are not always natural bedfellows.

The plan nonetheless upon arrival was to start a blog and eventually write a book and evolve somehow into a true writing life alongside my life as a sales dog in the world of business.  I guess you could say that in some respects I finally morphed into doing something of what I said I would…well, almost.  Indeed, I actually started the blog (check) and had a goal of writing at least 1 entrance each week.  Yet after the first year or so, I was writing perhaps only every two or three weeks.  And now at the tail end of 2018, once a month has been my most consistent “inconsistency”.  And, so it seems that fantastic distractions are not as hung up on geography as I once proposed.

Conversations with Brother Al

My brother from another mother’s name is Al.  We live an eastern seaboard apart, yet we talk on a very consistent basis about everything from politics (not always a good idea), to faith, and about the constant foray of fantastic distractions that keep good men and women from taking a shot at something that has the potential to breathe new life into their soul, and that oftentimes seems to also lie on the other side of a slimy, nasty little thing called fear.  We are both now in our mid to late fifties collectively, and we are likewise in constant awareness of both the certainty of potential that still exists for us, and the equal hourglass of sand in the days of our lives that is at least in some very real sense running out here on the “back 9”. These uniform realisms give us both reflective pause, and the additional communal “Atta boys”, reminding each other in something of a melodic harmony, that since today we are alive and well, the train has not yet run out of track, thus there is still runway for bold and more consistent attempts at what gives meaning to our lives this side of paradise.

A Song That Remains the Same

As I reflected on our meditations of late, I was reminded of a song that I first heard back in 1997 by the Dime Store Prophets.  It was a time when Christian music was in a brief state of relevance and equal talent, which has seemed to die a slow death since then unfortunately.  The song however is appropriately titled “Fantastic Distraction”, and for sure it has a repertoire of meaning to the eye of various beholders.  However, for me, it echoes quite succinctly where I’m at, and mirrors quite sadly, why many of us go to bed at night dreaming about becoming some knight in shining armor, yet wake up each day limping to a coffee pot of desperate rescue to more of our both comfortable and equally predictable distractions, which seem to be on eternal autopilot in the beds of our lives that we have faithfully and meticulously made.

The lyrics are as follows:

Michael looks up at the bottle from under a glass table
He’s mouthing words I can’t make out, something about innocence
He calls us all his best friends
And swaggers into the haze of no questions

Joy keeps a strict diet of popsicles, pop-tarts, and heroin
She likes to open the doors and go looking for Morrison
She biped and fell on Jesus
He says I’ve been walking the gardens looking for you
I’ve been desperate too
Maybe she’s just hiding from the one thing
Maybe she’s just hiding from the one thing
In a fantastic distraction
Twelve steps forward and thirteen steps back

Sonny works hard on the pavement all of the live long day
He drives home, sits down with his burdens placed where his wife should be
Turns on the tv set
And toxicates himself with gamma rays
White noise for the pain

Maybe he’s just hiding from the one thing
Maybe he’s just hiding from the one thing
In a fantastic distraction
Twelve steps forward and thirteen steps back

Moth on the window pane
Drawn to the light
Can’t find an opening
Back to the light

To say that the song speaks volumes about our current topic, is to state the obvious.  At first glance, they speak of fantastic distractions such as bottles of our favorite nightly elixir, narcotics, and wasting away on gamma rays, which are descriptive of just a few of those that can keep many of us all from the “one thing”.  Of course one is also free to insert their own distraction of never-ending choice that range from incessant entertainment, endless Facebook surfing or simply biding time in your ass imprinted easy chair, simply waiting for the light of your life to finally go out or for some other “white noise for the pain”.  The light forever longs to get in, but “can’t find an opening”, so we simply rinse and repeat.  And as I listened to the song today, it was haunting in its prophetic tone as if the weeping prophet himself was speaking across the ocean waves of my distractions directly at “yours truly”.  And then the thought occurred to me, that though I have been known to commend others to a life well lived and full of purpose, and have sought to employ it in my own life, at times the revelatory paradox from my lips is more like, “Do as I say, not as I do”.  And thus I too many times live my life “twelve steps forward and thirteen steps back”.

Learning to Number One’s Days

I heard the story once of a man who made it a practice each day of looking in the mirror and saying something to the extent of, “Today, perhaps today, you will die”.  When I first heard of it many years ago, I thought it quite morbid, yet the longer I live, I know exactly why this was his practice.  Because you see, realizing the brevity of one’s life, is indeed the proverbial key to a life lived well in the here and now, and evidently King David also knew this ancient secret as he writes in Psalm 90:12:

            So teach us to number our days

            that we may get a heart of wisdom. (ESV)

I’ve now inscribed this verse on just about every page of my prayer journal so that I see it each day as I offer prayers for myself and others.  It is there to remind me to “get busy living” (Andy Dufrane), and to stop allowing life’s fantastic distractions to keep me from being on mission with my creator by tapping into why I am here, as well as to put my own small “dent in the universe” (Steve Jobs), rather than being caught with my pants down for my final dress rehearsal.

Oh to be sure, a life of contentment and as a faithful ordinary is commendable in the eyes of the Lord, but yet this all depends on how many talents you currently have in your pocket. Perhaps it’s only one, maybe you have two, or perhaps you have been blessed with five or more.  The goal for each of us is to simply use our talents and invest them in the service of others, rather than bury them in the ground of our most favorite fantastic distractions, only to find out that life went ahead and did the numbering for us, in our otherwise preoccupied absentia from it!

Selah

Vanity, It’s Definitely My Favorite Sin

The Devil’s Advocate

In 1997, I was quite captivated by a movie starring Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves entitled “The Devil’s Advocate”.  I was finishing my undergraduate degree in Pastoral Ministries and Bible, preparing for my entrance into a Master’s program, eagerly ready to embark on a call into “the ministry”.   The movie struck an analytical chord in me, first of all because Al Pacino is one of my favorite actors, but secondly, because the movie seemed to get the aspect of “demonology” visually depicted that was most accurate for a Hollywood movie, and painted a grim picture of just how far any one of us particular “Humpty Dumpty’s” can fall prey to his many times unsuspecting devices.

Ironically, the lead attorney who has never lost a case (Keanu Reeves) plays Kevin Lomax, and Al Pacino plays a character by the name of John Milton (ironically the name of the author of Paradise Lost), but who is none other than Mephistopheles himself.  In the introduction to the movie, we witness Kevin Lomax representing someone accused of child molestation, that as the case unfurls, he actually finds out is guilty as Hell.  Nonetheless, as he cross examines the prosecution, he finds more holes in their story than a high-powered lawyer has a right to, and as a result, the jury rests with a “not guilty” verdict.

Fast forward through the movie’s twists and turns, after Lomax now has a carrot of an even higher-profile job being dangled before him from John Milton, and a credulous ride on the dark side that he could have never imagined, the movie then concludes with Kevin realizing the error of his ways through his chaotic dance with the devil, and we then enter the same introductory scene.  Only this time, the now enlightened and virtuous Kevin now refuses to represent the guilty pedophile.  Our hearts soar as we see this spiritual epiphany of Kevin revealed to us, while the reporter Larry grabs Kevin and his wife (played by Charlize Theron), and essentially lets them know that Kevin is now the hero, and he wants to do a story that will be the ultimate “do-gooder” story sure to grant him a new kind of fame. As Reeves and Theron smile at each other with a sense of utter righteous nirvana, the scene then fades as Larry now turns into Al Pacino’s character (Satan) who then says with his shit-eating grin, “Vanity, It’s Definitely My Favorite Sin”.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3M68wcB6L0s

Vanity’s Slippery Slope

The thought occurred to me as I considered my own entrance into a “do-gooder” profession at the time, just how imperceptibly oftentimes Satan can take the good that we would do, and can “ipso-facto” turn it into a narcissistic plunge without us even recognizing it, until it’s web around us is fully grown and we’ve been consumed by it ever so completely.  It’s a very slippery slope that catches us incognito, and in its aftermath, it devastates not only our own lives, but also the star-gazed lives of those who falsely project their spiritual hopes and dreams upon us, looking to us for their proxy of Christ himself.  Of course, the apostle Paul hammered this age-old problem out for us quite clearly  in the book of I Corinthians, correcting their “celebrity preacher” propensity, when he reminds them that it is neither He, nor Apollos, nor Peter that is anything at all, but that it is only Christ that we all should follow.  He further reminds them in Chapter 13 quite shockingly, that we could even become so good in our own eyes, perhaps even giving our bodies to be burned alive for those who follow us, and yet; if we have not love (the true motive of righteous living), we are in his words…nothing.  Or perhaps a close second dilemma, is that of being nothing more than a sounding gong or a clanging symbol that everyone can hear, yet no one can seem to turn off as we genuflect at the sound of our own voice and virtuous tabloid.

When I was a rebel pastor, I was constantly confronted both with my own potential for good, and equally my ability to disappoint, continually humbled as I would step into the pulpit to even attempt to say “Thus Saith the Lord” to anyone.  As a result, I tended to preach on topics that I myself was working through in my own life, before I could even begin to hold out anything sacred and substantive for others to take a hold of and embrace for themselves.  I saw the potential for vanity in me, as I looked out Sunday after Sunday at vanity’s equivalent congregational reflection staring back at me; equally caught up in having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.  The kind of power quite frankly, that is only made perfect in the weakness we experience both from our arduous journey into our quest for righteousness as nothing more than sinners saved by grace, and from the malevolent force called “this fallen world” that is persistently antagonistic to such a paradoxical caveat of true winning.  Yet it is only here that Christ can form the crucible of love that has even the remote possibility of making us into someone who would even dare to say, “follow me, as I follow Christ”.

All is Vanity Saith The Preacher

I realize I have written about this in some form or fashion a lot lately.  I guess you could say it is my soul’s quiet preoccupation as I reflect on all the world’s fool’s gold that abounds, and in constant amazement that no matter how much I know it, it is still so easy to fall into its predatory grasp time and time again, as vanity indeed thrives everywhere in our culture today.  I see it in the eyes of “road rage” as I sneak out into an intersection with plenty of room to cross, as those I encounter speed up, almost as if to taunt me with the idea of smashing into my car because I dared to cross while they were on their way to God knows where. I see it in bowed up chests and laser like stares, as men and women walk confidently and defiantly with observable chips on their block, daring anyone to look at them in the incorrect way as they live out their daily survival of only the fittest.  I see it in the media outlets and political pundits who put forth their “two cents” on every matter under the sun, arrogantly claiming their lack of “deplorable” status, distancing themselves from the obvious “dregs of society” that suck up all the space that they occupy.  I see it also in Hollywood’s constant big-headed projection of itself as the standard of which we are all to aspire and work for.  And I now see it equally in the church, where ministers dangle very closely on the precipice of being far too caught up in their own reflection, while the casualties of their unsuspecting tutelage continue to wonder who will yet take up the basin and the towel, rather than succumb to a form of self-consecrated, white-washed simony that rivals the marketplace of which we are all apart.

I believe Tom Conlon tells us the truth of the matter in his song Ohio, where he writes these words that I have reflected upon a good bit lately.  He says, “Everyone wanna be famous, no one wanna be righteous”.  And, well, I suppose both he and the devil are both right after all, because vanity; well it really is our (my) favorite sin.

Selah

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=43&v=3775n_mb05A

 

 

Striving for a Caleb Spirit When Your Name is Eeyore

The Narrow Path

A Slave Mentality

I wrote some weeks ago a post entitled “Broken Into Disbelief” https://marknealprince.com/2016/11/16/broken-into-disbelief/. My basic premise was in seeking to understand and thus attempting to explain why many find it so difficult to believe consistently due to a lifetime of a what I call a slave mentality–much as was the experience of the Israelites in transition to a proposed promise land the first batch of desert wanderers would never reach. I related to not only actual slavery, of which the Israelites were a part of for four hundred years, but also to the many other slaveries we either allow to come in by stealth and stay for far too long by our own choices and decisions, and by the slavery that we are caught up in by virtue of the hands we have been dealt upon our entrance into this thing called LIFE. My purpose was…

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Awkward Dinner Conversations on a Ship of Obtuse Fools

An Epiphany of Sorts

It was about a year and a half ago that I found myself on a particular “ship of fools” shall we say.  I don’t mean by my deprecating comments to exclude my own ability to “play the fool” from time to time in regard to what I will reflect upon today.  But what alarmed me this precise evening, was a specific “comfortable numbness” to the things that should actually really matter, but that were not only “uncharacteristic” of my chosen drinking buddies this insightful evening, but that also sounded an alarm inside of me as to just where we are at with the culture, and even the Christian sub-culture at large.  And in the aftermath, it has since then caused me to further cogitate on the abysmal shape we are currently in regarding our once revered and assumed virtues once taught by the Alpha and Omega himself.

For those who don’t know, I’m in the educational software business as a sales dog, and I travel quite a country mile in my particular territory to get the job done on most weeks of the year. As is also typical, at least two to three times a year, I leave on an overcrowded and suffocating jet plane to our corporate office for various sales meetings of sorts.  After all day meetings and “death by PowerPoint”, we are typically whisked away, absent of any down time, to a posh restaurant or venue where dinner and drinks are served, and where those of us across all departments spend time getting acquainted, sharing stories, and enjoying some sodality of sorts.  And on one particular evening not too, too long ago, we were scheduled to go on an excursion upon a luxurious yacht for a moonlight dinner cruise.  That sounds nice enough I know.  Yet as fate would have it, the weather was not conducive to taking the coveted “three-hour tour”, and we simply spent the evening in dock and went about the business at hand without missing a beat.

Party Foul

Now in my usual Mark Prince manner, I am somewhat the “life of the party” when I’m up to the task, and I found myself this particular night at the table with a group of ladies that ranged from their early 30’s to late 40’s, leaving me (yours truly), as is now often the case, as the Senior at the table.  As I was enjoying my dinner and a few adult beverages, I was also doing my level best to get the table laughing and engaging everyone to make the night go both fast and well.  And then, without really noticing it, we wandered adrift into this conversation about love and marriage, as each one talked about everything from their almost picture-perfect marriages, to some who had pulled the plug on the institution long ago.  And then there it was, like a lady of the evening waltzing in and settling down in the front row at church during the middle of a really bad sermon, an awkwardness and a hush you that you could have heard a mile away plopped down on the dinner table right in front of us–when I rather abruptly related the struggles of marriage to individuals not being will to die.  Mic drop!

Now as I peeled the elongated stares off of the center of my forehead like dead skin on a wound, it occurred to me that we were in the middle of a Sunday School lesson that both no one had graduated from at this particular table, and that no one was volunteering to take part in for the present or near future.  So, I guess you could say that my popularity contest with the ladies took a sharp turn now going from “hero to zero”, and I was now center stage with my pants down left to explain my most unwelcome and equally unfamiliar conversation.  At that point, as I tried to simply explain, that in order for marriages, or any relationship for that matter to work long term, it all boils down to someone, at some point, and oftentimes the same person quite frankly, being willing to essentially “die” to themselves, forgive, and live and let die.  As I then continued to peel the remaining skin off of my forehead, in a moment of apparent frustration, I looked at them and said, “Damn, have none of your gals ever been to Sunday School for goodness sakes”?  Of course, this didn’t go quite how I planned, and from then on, my only course of action was to make an attempt at a quick joke amid the deafening silence, and slowly disappear out of my chair like an escape artist to the barstool of rescue awaiting in the next room.

Who the Hell Wants to Die Anyway?

And of course, the thought then occurred to me quite perceptibly so; that no one wants to “die” anymore. In fact, we see it just about everywhere we turn our heads these days.  For instance, I see it often and quite sadly at a plethora of dinner tables in any given restaurant in America, where aged depravity coupled with long standing marital bitterness comes full circle to our bated eyes, as elderly couples sit opposite one another drinking their wine and eating their food without even a glance in the other ones direction, reflecting alone in their quiet and un-blissful misery of “till death do us part”.  And the profound sadness I feel as I witness this time in marital “living Hell” is almost too much to bear.  I can scarcely take it in.  And as unpopular as it may seem, and equally out of step with the current ethos of pervasive thought in the public square and average living rooms, the lack of death in our individuals’ lives is the fresh steamy dog shit on the squeaky clean living room floor!  It simply has to be addressed, yet we’re finding ways it seems to simply sweep it under the rug, and then in a quite diversionary manner, imagine that the stench is simply a newly discovered aromatic that will over time simply “blend in”.  But of course, the lack of death in relationships across the board “is” the crux of the problem, despite its unpopularity at dinner conversations on your ship of choice. It is indeed why marriages exit on irreconcilable differences and the like, why siblings grow apart; why kids grow up without Moms and Dads; and why there are after all wars, wars, and rumors of wars, as a Nazarite once opined long, long ago.

The Cruciform Road Less Traveled

Several years now I watched a fascinating and equally poignant movie entitled “Calvary” that almost no one even heard of.  It was a subtle “Christian” masterpiece if I must say, that was not even remotely billed as such, but that hammered the nails of its message right into the feet and hands of any who dared to receive it’s unwelcome and yet healing balm it offered us.   In one particular scene Father James Lavelle, played by Brendan Gleeson expresses to his daughter as they brisk about on an Irish seashore, that “I think there’s too much talk about sins and not enough about virtues”.  To which his daughter Fiona replies, “What would be your number one”?  Father Lavelle then readily replies, “I think forgiveness has been highly underrated”.  And later, for our conclusive purposes today, the movie then comically explains why the subject of death is such an awkward and unpopular dinner conversation aboard our various ships of obtuse fools, when it explains in particular wittiness, as the person simply called “the writer” says to Father LaVelle, “You know how you can tell you’re really getting old”? To which Father Lavelle says “No, How”?  To which the writer then retorts, “No one says the word ‘death’ around you anymore”?

And perhaps that explains it after all does it not?  You see the truth is, that the Outlaw preacher came to die because the world on its own terms both wouldn’t and couldn’t, without some cosmic divine intervention. It was indeed an experiment already tried for quite some time and was found wanting, and still very much is.  In fact, Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter, that in describing the virtue at its core, it is; or rather should be, the ability to be willing to be “defrauded” at times, and to even “suffer wrong”, to which is oftentimes the real “one-two punch” to the gut of our eternal unwillingness to budge in our relationships, when quite frankly; someone almost always has to be the one who is willing to, well…die.

But the bruised reed from Bethlehem came in by stealth quite cleverly, and fooled the world in a constant mad dash to always incessantly fight to be #1, and to stoically never let anyone else see them sweat, so help them god.  And while we are dead set on living and winning still, He turned the world upside down by cruciform losing, which is why many today call him Lord; yet sadly wear his statement of “deathful” winning around their necks, rather than as a quite regular mantra as to how we all should actually seek to live.  And as a result, the talk of death on the ship of obtuse fools still makes for a most awkward dinner conversation.

Selah

Does Reciprocity of “Give-and-Take” Exist In Relationships Anymore?

A Question

I’ve reflected on this particular topic for some time now, asking the discernable “sixty-four dollar” question as it relates to others as I “people watch” all around me, while also rather sheepishly asking it of “yours truly”.  For after all, what is good for the goose as they say, must also be good for the gander.  And as far as it goes, up until now, I felt that I had at least somewhat passed that particular test.

For instance, when someone called me and needed something, if I had what they needed, nothing was spared. If I was called upon to give advice; or to simply listen; to be a shoulder they could cry upon; or they needed a place to stay; or if called upon to look at something that was most important to them, I would dare not relinquish it.  I did so simply because after 27 years of devouring the scriptures with both my mind, heart, and equal brokenness, I cannot walk away from the mirror of those well-rehearsed lines and not recognize that I indeed “am” my brother and sister’s keeper.  I “am” somehow to be the hands and feet of Jesus in some form or fashion, and both my schedule and my prayer closet should flex for allowance of that oftentimes inconvenient, yet gospel-like intrusion into my life.  And, should we need a reciprocated mutuality of this same comfort upon ourselves, should we not also be able to count upon it?

Narcissism and Facebook

Well before we hold our breath in the endless waiting line, perhaps our answer comes to us front and center in the current climate of chronic narcissism and now habitual attention deficit disorder?  For me, it’s plain and simple, or black and white, even as I often fall short; and yet, it seems for most of us now, this obvious nudge to go beyond our now routine superficiality of paper-thin convictions and relationships has become an inconvenient truth threatening to hold us back from “living our lives”.  I believe Facebook, of which I am a reluctant patron of, is part and parcel of the problem.  We scroll through old friends and mostly mere acquaintances unremittingly, periodically adding them to our “friends” list, perhaps not realizing it’s “friends with(out) the benefits.  We presume our “likes” and “tags” show in fact that we are comrades of sorts, even as we scurry on to our next diversion keeping us at a comfortable “stone’s throw” from real communication, interaction and love bestowed on our “so-called” virtual friends, many of whom should fall into a quite different category of “brothers and sisters” if their posts claiming their love for Jesus is descriptive of who they actually are.  But Facebook need not bear the full culpability, as I fear this casual “hit it and quit it” relational interaction seeps from these flickering pixels seamlessly into the flesh and blood world of our daily grind equally I’m afraid.

Privatization

For instance, our homes have long become our private castles, hiding us away from the pain and suffering that exists just outside our door, all the while scampering out occasionally for food, drink and never-ending entertainment; and then rushing back into our doors safe and secure again inside the womb of indifference, as we then settle down in front of a speaking idol that beams out constant nonsensical garbage certain to fuel our desensitization all the more.  And as we interact with our peers in our work-day week, once we leave on Friday, the unwritten rule, outside of an occasional joining up for a frolicsome rendezvous, is that the weekends have become our sacred parish of “us four and no more”, as our self-made stained glass windows expediently keep out those that come with any hint of a bag full of predicaments and a worn out welcome to boot.

What About the Church?

And as I ponder this even more, I wonder as it relates to the faith I claim to possess, and that the church proposes to offer assistance with, how we are doing in this same arena?  Are we, as supposed guides of the blind, pushing back on this privatization of our lives that keeps our shoe leather of caring comfortably at bay?   Oh, we use words like “family”, surely understanding that Jesus alluded many times to the fact that His family would be even greater and ever more loving than our own nuclear family.  Yet oftentimes, when we are no longer the shiny new visitor, or the over-committed and tithing acolyte, we find that perhaps we are still “a day late and a dollar short” of feeling safe and loved by a collective family, who at a moment’s notice will go out of their way to leave their light on for you.

And as I muse about this 800-pound conundrum in the church’s and my own room, the question I have recently asked myself is this: Have we now come to a time that our Christianity means mostly nothing outside of the mere trappings of church life full of weekly “sermonettes by preacherettes to us as christianettes”? Or to put it more pithily, I wonder if we truly inculcate the values of Christianity into our daily lives and relationships where the rubber actually meets the road, and beyond the veneer of regular church attendance, an occasional check in a large golden bowl, and constant swaying to the everlasting catalogue of predictable muzak?

The Rub

For sure, the lack of real mutual “give and take” of real community lacking in our daily lives and in the place we call church is often spoken of, and no shortage of ink has been spilled in the description of it, and perhaps I won’t offer anything new here today.  Although it does seem that the lack thereof is slowly killing us in ways we have yet to give attentive runway to in our own topsy-turvy lives; and at least for me, the devil is for sure found in our individual details. Yet I just can’t help but quietly wonder if we’ve not been so busy “going” to church, that somehow; just maybe, we forgot that we are actually supposed to “be” one.

Selah

Sunday School, Malibu Beach and The Meaning of Life: A Tribute to the Late, Great “Slick Rick” Turner

It was on my 54thbirthday that I got the dreaded call.  It was a call that I had imagined I would have gotten at least a month of Sundays ago, yet in classic “Slick Rick” style, he cheated death’s door long past his appointed time.  And in that sense, Chuck Norris quotes really have nothing on Rick, as in “(Rick) doesn’t cheat death, he wins fair and square”.  In fact, if you were to look at a picture of “The Man” in the dictionary, it was Rick and not Chuck that was grinning with that “shit eating” smile he had from ear to ear.  He was the Fonz, James Dean, and a little smidgeon of Jack Nicholson all rolled into one package; and for anyone who knew him, to be near him was for sure to be in “the fun zone”.

The Day I met Slick Rick

It was somewhere around 1972 I supposed when I first met “Slick Rick” as I affectionately called him.  He was sitting in the back row of Mrs. Lyles Sunday School class, the one person I felt surely sat in for Jesus as He was off perhaps saving some other planet.  But there was something about Rick’s demeanor and in his eyes that somehow immediately endeared me to him.  He seemed, at least to me, to have that “Andy Dufrane” approach to life.  He walked as if he hadn’t a care in the world, and he could take what seemed like the worst situation, and in a millisecond, turn it into a laughable matter or a lesson in the power of positive thinking that would have given Norman Vincent Peale and Joel Osteen a run for their money.  I guess you could safely say that from that day forward, I knew I needed to enter the Ricky Turner School of Life class, and I was all too eager to get started.

Then as fate would have it, or as best as my “teenage wasteland” years could remember, it wasn’t until the tail end of Middle School in 1977 that we became “thick as thieves” shall we say.  But to be sure, he was the leader of the outlaw band and I was the understudy, and as far as I knew it then, quite appropriately so. Consequently, the fact that our collective parents were not too thrilled with this new-found bond we had forged was an understatement.  They both presumed that each of us were essentially bad for each other, including the Juvenile department of the Sumter County Police department as they wrote it into law; even though unbeknownst to them, both Slick Rick and I were kind of “Madea-like” in that we could do bad actually all by ourselvesJ.  Case in point was the fact that we were both in and out of principal’s offices; reform schools; military academy’s; last chance academy’s and of course the county jail; and ironically, we both seemed to get there on our own!  Now to say we were troubled in many facets was blatantly obvious, but at the time, we thought we were “living the dream”; some kind of rock and roll fantasy of our own construction, minus at this particular time most of the sex that went with the drugs and rock and roll, and of course the lack of gangsta money that was merely a temporary and minor technicality.

He Brings the Party

To say “Slick Rick” brought the party with him at all times, was to essentially say “The Pope is Catholic”.  No duh. And never was there a dull moment when Slick Rick entered the room, even though he had a father wound the size of Texas beneath his very Matthew McConaughey-like persona.  In fact, I’m pretty sure it was Rick and not Matthew who coined the term “Alright, Alright, Alright”, and “That’s what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age”, but I could be mistakenJ.  And boy did he help us out in the Jack Daniels department.  With a full beard and mustache at the age of 14, our weekends were much more noteworthy for sure, and afternoons after school (or not) were often spent with a good pint and a coca cola underneath one of Sumter’s many bridges, or in the woods somewhere in Crosswell with a few bong hits, some Old English 800 and a bag of white doughnuts, sharing dreams and plans such as how we wanted to have girls, girls, and well…more girls.  Now that’s what dreams are made of don’t you think?

Lessons in “Game”

You could say I didn’t have much going for me back then beyond being a dark-haired blue eye boy with really nice hair.  I was a druggie who wore preppy clothes and could run with both crowds, but always more comfortable with the hippies, which made me kind of stick out in both good and bad ways.  But one thing I lacked was what we call “game”.  But never fear, “Slick Rick” was more than happy to take me under his tutelage in that department, and I learned it with sheer wonder just from watching his mere words make women swoon, or leave the room. What a legend he was to this young, impressionable, girl-crazed mind!  In fact, he could talk more shit than a Japanese radio, but somehow it came out like “You complete me” in a sort of cool as Hell Barry White voice.  This particular life lesson was instrumental in brightening my ability to “get the girl”, to which I owe him greatly, and my ability to this day to make my wife laugh and talk eloquent smack to anyone who dares listen, I’m pretty sure I owe to my entrance into the Ricky Turner School of Cool, and for that I’m forever grateful.  So in essence, when we would go out, you had this Pretty boy with nice hair, and this James Dean/Jack Nicholson dude who leaked when he walked, “I’m bad to the bone”. I mean what more could a naïve hot girl want, so we thoughtJ?.  This is of course why choosing between us was hard on young maidens, so occasionally they decided it was a package dealJ.  Don’t read into that too much.  The truth is, we made a great combo of innocent trouble (unless you talked to the police or our parents of course), and a whole lot of frickin fun, while the meaning of life and both of our lackluster realities were still just a stone’s throw down the road.  Yet somehow, Rick and I were beginning to realize that the relationship might somehow outlast the freakin weekend (R Kelly).

Going to California

And then came 1982.  I was fresh out of the Teen Challenge program for wayward lads (do the Math), but the Jesus I had found was losing its grip as life continued to offer up promises of more and more fool’s gold in the guise of a short dress, or a promise of a weekend of drug-induced forgetfulness or the win-win combo.  And then on one particular day, I got the invitation to the excursion that was pivotal in my first entrance into becoming a man with thick skin, and mine and Rick’s graduation into a bond that went deeper than Friday nights at the Ice Cream Shoppe.

It seemed as though Rick had discovered his Dad’s magic credit card that he wouldn’t miss for too long he supposed, and invited me to take a trip to California.  I thought about it for about two seconds, as I then packed my bags, and off we went 3000 miles out into the great unknown.  As we traveled down the road, I was introduced to Rick’s new found love of Ronnie James Dio, as the Holy Diver album played and played until we had both memorized every riff and every line.  I was still stuck on AC/DC and Tom Petty, but Rick had discovered the new Heavy Metal, and man to watch his excitement as he sang it as we traded driving time along the Ventura highway was a sight to behold.

Upon arrival, we were educated to a different kind of Hollywood than we had seen in the movies, and became acutely aware of what Don Henley meant when he crooned the words to Sunset Grill.  So in between the working girls that walked on by and the basket people that walked around and mumbled, we drove past Beverly Hills and experienced sights and sounds in this brave new world, that before only our teenage naivety had dreamed about. But as the money ran out, the stark reality was that of two homeless guys sleeping in an old car in the neighborhoods of Hollywood, waking up in the morning to noble prospects of tin cans of SPAM and whatever else we could muster up from a quick visit to the Salvation Army. We faced incredible odds for several weeks, which became climatic to young minds when we were down to our last 6 bucks.  And then, as an episode of sheer teenage brilliance, we concluded that the only logical thing to do was to spend it on Jack Daniels and coke of course; as we drove out our last fumes of gas down to Malibu Beach to park our asses on an unsuspecting rock and drink and possibly dieJ.

As we got there, and as Rick climbed up the rock on the beach where we would sit for a while to drink away our final sorrows, I then wrapped the two half pints in a t-shirt and handed it to Rick. Then, with what was sheer alcohol abuse to be sure, those two precious bottles slipped through his hands as that picturesque brown elixir dissipated across the rocks and into the white sandy beach, as the notorious “nowhere men” thought life was pretty much over.  It was that day that I guess I graduated from the Ricky Turner School of Life class and acquired the mental toughness that he seemed to possess in his very essence from birth, as we pulled up our big boy pants and hustled our way back home, with new “street creds” as a survivalist’s badge of honor etched into our wounded hearts.  As we got home, Rick would go one way, and I would go another, our paths intertwining again for several years as we then became roommates and acquired new friends and lovers, many of which were perhaps secretly giving us some family-like glue we were both sorely missing (Taco Uno Gang).  And though the drinks did not absolve our sins, we were after all just looking for something to believe in, yet increasingly coming to the conclusion that perhaps “nothing” was all there really was after all.

Love, Marriage and The Man From Galilee

It was some years later after love and marriage and kids to boot, that our paths were interwoven again.  This time, there was the hint of maturity in the thirty-something air, yet the “young at heart” was always the secret tonic that made us older, thicker and a little wiser thieves this time around.  I would then give my heart to Christ after a lifetime of running from this new found meaning to which I once knew about, but had long since forgotten, and I answered a call as Rick quietly watched from afar.  Perhaps you could say, as in all friendships, for a while there was a role reversal, and Rick somehow entered into the Mark Prince School of Who Knows What,and he simply watched for a while, and then surmised that perhaps I had found something to make sense of it all–with still very visible warts and all.  He longed for it, but at that time, he was still restless.

Through my years of college and seminary and a few brief pastoral ministry flops, Rick would nonetheless come to embrace the same Hound of Heaven that we had both ran from our whole lives, yet the demons of the past were still in the back row, biding their time, secretly waiting for the next right opportunity.  He too then entered the Teen Challenge program, trying to put together what had gotten so broken, with hopes of a new shot at what the myriad of malignant spirits had stolen from his new familial life.  They would not go quietly, and Rick knew it.  Yet Rick’s flirt with the divine after watching my new resurrected life all at once became one of full immersion.  In fact, just the other day my wife read to me letters saturated in the reckless heart of someone who was much more than “shaved, saved and sorry”, but as one who desperately went after God like a dog looking for his lost bone, with dreams of helping others just like himself, so that perhaps the two of us could become a different kind of dynamic duo–with God now at the helm calling the shots.

God Disappointments and Back to the Phone Call

But like most of us on the God journey, my dear friend was faced with God disappointments that eventually caused him to relinquish the good fight of faith.  He would also then witness my own persecution by the church, add some to it, and then exit out the back door of “Churchianity” where his lurking fiends were all too willing and ready to reintroduce themselves, even though he already knew their name.  We would not talk for many years until we were reintroduced on Facebook, but the glue was just not the same anymore.  He had much love for me, my wife and family, and I for him and his, but the bond we once had did not weather the storm the way I had supposed.  I had secretly longed to reunite with my brother, but we had drifted apart in so many ways, and thus the sweet “thick as thieves” reunion would never happen. Perhaps I bear part of the blame since I was now supposed to be teaching the class.

Fast forward to August 12th, 2018, just a short few weeks ago on my 54th birthday, and I got that aforementioned dreaded call.  I guess you could say I was both surprised, not surprised, and also secretly relieved that this man who had all the gifts of someone who could have ruled the world, but who was now quietly at peace and enjoying much needed rest.   I know how he felt in some ways.  Any of us who have made mistakes and live with regrets do. For as we age, the things we “coulda, shoulda, woulda” done, start to attach themselves like appendages to our daily thoughts, never too eager to let us rise above, or to neglect to use as a constant reminder to us that we couldn’t beat it anyway.  And beneath that smiling “Slick Rick” shell of man, was a little boy who I know desperately longed to “reboot”, even as he continued to escape periodically the best way he knew how.

Strike Up the Band

You know I’m not a Calvinist theologically speaking, but many facets of their doctrine are hard to deny.  One such doctrine is the profound belief in what is called “The Perseverance of the Saints”.  Some think it means, if you truly walk with God, then “nothing can pluck you out of His hand” if you will. Or to put it another way, once you are His you are always His.  I for one believe that profoundly.  Now some like to qualify that in a lot of ways, but my take on it is this: That God can no more deny His children who once proudly called Him their Father, than we can our own wayward children, who often times cause us more pain and hurt that has no statute of limitations on it cutting like a knife every single time. So, in light of this great Father’s ocean of love, I can somehow visualize Rick coming home last August 12th finally at Peace, and in the arms of His blessed Father, who always loved Him so very much, and who has now killed the fatted calf in celebration–with Rick looking over and finding an empty seat right behind the drums reserved just for him in the heavenly worship band.  Rick always wanted to be a drummer in a kick-ass band, and on August 12th, 2018, I’d be willing to bet “dollars to doughnuts” that he finally got His wish!

I love you brother!

Selah

 

“Self-Preservation: A Gaping Chink in the Armor to Spiritual Formation in American Christianity”

The Search for Happiness

Well for someone who had as their goal to “write one blog a week in 2018”, I have no doubt given “I suck” new meaning in terms of goal setting.  In fact, it’s been almost two months now.  And though I have a myriad of excuses the size of all my x’s who currently live in Texas, the truth of the matter is that ADHD in this above middle-aged man is the “real deal Holyfield”J.  And the irony is that as I’ve deduced lately, like most Americans, my distraction is of my own making, and not something I can blame on a “syndrome” or a culturally created “sickness”; but rather the ravenous quest built up in my DNA since my more original “sucking” at my Mother’s breast for the pursuit of some “pipe dream” called “the pursuit of happiness”.  In fact, Ruth Whippman reminds us in her best seller America the Anxious: How to Calm Down, Stop Worrying, and Find Happiness that though “Americans as a whole invest more time and money and emotional energy in the explicit pursuit of happiness than any other nation on earth”, the results of that investment has not delivered the goods in that it has instead made us the “less happiest place in the developed world”.  Yet, no one seems to be in line to request their money back!

Five Minutes of Fame

And as you look around, the results of our learning from the limitless poor investments has not taught us much I’m afraid. Today for instance, as you look around, everyone is looking for their “five minutes of fame”.  Facebook, Twitter and YouTube has made us all into stars now who otherwise would have had no chance, allowing us to “go live” in the most risqué of life’s otherwise “behind closed doors moments” by recording for us everything from our bedroom privacies; pregnant teenage Mom’s holding their child while simultaneously getting the hell beat of them on the street for only God knows what (our shock and awe I suppose); to no endless repertoire of self-authoritative opinions derived from mere regurgitation of the media spin doctors we feed on from dusk till dawn. And though the exception to the rule is some stars are truly born who otherwise would not have been given a passing glance, the vast majority are an endless upchuck of “much ado about nothing” forced into our watching eyes and mini-screens.  Who will be the next American Idol, YouTube sensation, Twitter n Chief, or Facebook phenomenon?  Only time and a whole lot of endless blushing and barfing knows!

And though the pursuit of happiness in and of itself is not a bad thing, “if” we know where it comes from and the place it should actually hold somewhere down the line in our lives; the real issue for us is our unremitting “fear of death”, which is in stark antithesis to our lofty American pursuit.  As a result, self-preservation rules the day in all of us, and has not bypassed this modern man to boot, constantly scurrying about wondering what to do about it.

The Culprit: Self Preservation

For instance, we’ve got health insurance; life insurance; flood insurance; fire insurance; pet insurance; and now identity-theft insurance, as well as any number of nuances of extra insurance as a caveat to whatever the aforementioned insurance doesn’t cover in the endless fine print.  And of course, everyone now knows that most of the food we eat and the water we drink is toxic; just one more proposed threat to our “survival of the fittest”.  As a result, other fortune hunters and equally do-gooders have created a new health and wellness industry that promises better health, more energy, a better sex life, a solution to the germaphobes in us all, and overall adds more insulation to our otherwise cushy American life.  In the aftermath, when you tally it all up, there is little left for the “giving back” part of life that supposedly delivers the real happiness according to our antiquated Savior, and not enough time in a day to barely write the skimpy check after the “necessary” precautions have been taken into consideration for our own escape from the stuff, and the people of the world crumbling all around us.

What this has done to Christianity in America and in me should be no secret for anyone who pauses for a millisecond to pay attention, or who hasn’t been sleeping under a rock with Rip Van Winkle. Spiritual formation and discipline in the areas of contentment, sacrifice and humility have already “died on the vine”, and the prospect of storing treasures in a blissful and remote heaven we’re so far removed from rarely makes it into the discussion in the majority of our homes, and now sadly (even more a travesty), in most churches that claim to be teaching us (for a small fee) how it’s all supposed to be done.

Seniors Lead the Way?

I do recall once upon a time, if anyone was listening, hearing the prospect at least, that the old men could teach the younger men, and the older women could teach the younger women how to exemplar Christ, but not to worry anymore.  The old have now by and large become even worse about their own self-preservation and the desire to live till that can’t see straight, just as long as endless surgeries and pharmaceuticals can preserve them, right up until the precipice of the injection of the final embalming fluid.  And they have become the germaphobes extraordinaire these days quite frankly.  In fact, as an ecumenist who takes it upon himself to visit and worship with the kaleidoscope of churches under the Christian rainbow, I’ve noticed lately a trend in the high churches I had not before experienced. It seems that even to them, the eucharist is not that “big a deal” I suppose, for the elderly take the bread and bypass the cup, and then whisk back to their seat, shortly after they “nod” at the “blessing of peace” to others, rather than shake someone’s “germ-ridden hands”.  After all, who the Hell knows where those hands have been for goodness sakes, and even God would want us to be cognizant of this wouldn’t he?.  And so it would seem I guess, that they too no longer believe it’s the actual body and blood of the Lord that we need to imbibe.  Transubstantiawho? In fact, I’m now waiting for the “gluten free” bread line to enter the buffet line of church options.  Hell, there’s an idea!  Maybe we could start a eucharistic gluten free church?  Oh, and bring in the organic wine without all those damn added sulfites too for goodness sakes.  Throw out the Common Cup and bring in the plastic protestant-evangelical cup thingies why don’t we?  Opportunity knocks!  But I now digress.

In Search of the Spirit

The truth of the matter is, that self-preservation has infiltrated the one last beacon of hope (the universal church), while the self-proclaimed “frozen chosen” all across the Christian landscape in America hasn’t much left at the end of the church ledger sheet to tip the poor and send those called to proclaim the good news to the rest of the world as to what makes for real happiness and joy in both this life and the next.  And unless the Spirit comes and engulfs all of us by surreptitiousness, none of our money, reason or logic will budge the thinking and shoes of the vast majority of those who still as of yet aren’t paying us even a smidgeon of attention.  And the crux of the matter to be sure is, that enduring hardship as a good soldier sounds like something synonymous to old fashioned rubbish even to the Christian masses, and thus the chink in the Christian’s decrepit armor takes center stage!  Ho Hum.

But at least lately, as I look at myself in the mirror, I doubt that until I’m willing to die in some form or fashion again, or volunteer occasionally to become our Lord’s court jester, that a world and a church now going head-first after whatever spirit of the age is willing to lift up its dress and show its new world to us, that anyone will pay much bloody attention. Sniff, sniff.

Selah

As It Turns Out, Freedom Is Not Actually Free: On Flags, Freedom, and Racism in America

Dedicated to Paul, John and The brother from Another Mother

I typically shy away from hot button issues, first of all because they are “hot”, and secondly, because I mostly only wanted to write about The Narrow Path and the few that find it; and how the one leading us on that path is oftentimes found immeasurably missing in America.  Nonetheless, a friend of mine encouraged me to reconsider after reading my blog from last year titled: https://marknealprince.com/2017/06/09/trump-vs-everyfrickingbody-our-new-mascot-for-sticking-it-to-the-man/  He’s a black man (don’t you hate that we have to make that distinction), who is my brother from another mother, but who happened to think that particular blog struck a cord and was funny, and that I should reconsider writing more along those lines.  So here goes an experiment.  Who knows where the wind will take us, but at the very least, you will get a piece of my mind on the matter for whatever it’s worth.

Oh, and last but not least, this blog is a tribute to my two new friends (Paul and John), who reminded me just yesterday that gentleman can disagree agreeably, and that white boys can talk about the race issue too, and have something equally to say to add to the conversation as long as we are willing also to actively listen.  This is of course something that I did not realize I could do in the public square given my particular shade of melanin.  Thanks Paul and John for the reminder, and for the olive branch to take part.

First of all, my other friend I mentioned truly is a brother from another mother, and he has come to the conclusion that I would make a great black guy, or that perhaps I actually am one and just haven’t come out of the closet yet.  However, I must say that my friend and l and I differ politically, about as far as the Cleveland Browns are from a Super bowl win.  He lives in the Bronx, and probably secretly attends Farrakhan rallies, believes all black conservatives are “Uncle Tom’s”, and though I didn’t know it until I experienced it recently, has a hard time holding back his anger due to some of the racism he has both seen and experienced growing up in this country.  After emphatic listening, I still then chide him on the fact that the left already has his vote without any effort, just for the hair on his neck to raise up a little bitJ.  And after we piss each other off real good, we part with “I Love You Man” and we pray for each other.  And for the record, if I were in a foxhole, he’s exactly who I would want with me without reservation.  You see the thing is, it’s the Christian flag that binds us together and not an American one, yet it has some faint similarities at least in theory that we should talk about.

My Battle Against Racism

I’ve never experienced the kind of racism that many blacks have by a long shot, but I have experienced it nonetheless.  You see I wasn’t raised a racist.  My family didn’t talk about it.  We never heard or used colorful language to describe black people, and quite frankly, in my heart of hearts I’ve always despised those who take part in it. Likewise in my own family, I never spoke of it, never talked about it, walked away from family and friends who participated in it, and starved it’s folly from ever gaining a foothold of any kind! And so primarily the racism I experience is one of looking at my black brothers and sisters with my “I love black people” heart, and them refusing to engage me with eye contact, talking behind my back, and refusing to let me get too close. That’s about the extent of the racism as I have experienced it, and I’m not looking for a trophy, a history month, or my own channel as a result.  But it’s racism just the same.  A fact many of us I believe fail to miss.

In fact, I often talk to my friend and I ask him why we all have to draw identity flags in the first place. Why can’t we as Christians just be for “people” and not black or white?  It seems that’s the first step to fighting it to me.  We stop racism by not being a racist ourselves.  A novel idea I suppose.  He says I just don’t understand, but then as I seek to understand, though I get it, as a Christian with a broken halo I really do believe this is where the rubber meets the road.  I would even be so bold as to say as I have shared with my brother, the fact that years ago when racism was “systemic” (a loaded word for sure), it’s a damn miracle black people didn’t rise up and decrease the surplus white population!  Thank God, they found a leader who knew better and had the secret love sauce, and I pray his message continues to resonate, because I believe it has been long forgotten.  And the fact that black people have used restraint for the most part is a testament to them, yet I really believe it is by and large due to the God that they serve, whom they know is the only one who can cure the sickness that is the individual human heart. You see racism isn’t just found in America.  It’s found in humanity, and it has been so since man first put his foot on the floor.

NFL and the Flag

As I got into a somewhat political conversation on Facebook yesterday (never advisable), I was reminded by some of my new black friends that the racism issue is somehow behind this whole NFL and the flag thing, something I guess us white boys miss.  Though admittedly I think it shouldn’t be about that, I guess I’m starting to see why.  However, there is one thing I’ve learned in my almost 54 years of life sometimes the frickin hard way, and it is that people reject what they don’t understand.  And thus the genius of communication always lies in making sure people have been communicated to properly about what all the fuss is about. Until then, we’re just throwing pearls to swine.

And so my personal perspective is that kneeling on a field doesn’t actually protest anything that accomplishes whatever end game is envisioned.  It’s kind of like trying to get someone to do something you want and then you start talking about his or her mama!  The gloves then come off, and there’s not much anybody can do but pick up the broken men pieces.  Case in point.  Wearing a t-shirt saying, “I can’t breathe” is easy.  Kneeling is also easy and sexy, but it does nothing but tick off the very (majority) of people (right or wrong), who equate Americanism not too awfully shy of the Holy Grail, and of whose flags and blood of their black and white fathers also runs deep into the sinew of their bones.  As a result, I think the strategy misses the mark, and I also refuse to buy into the “systemic” narrative as an overarching belief system. What I do believe however is that there are people who are racist (shocker), and there are systems than can have racism as an overarching demon as it’s marionette, pulling long term belief system strings that now run on autopilot.  When and where those systems are exposed, after peeling back the layers of that complex onion (a rarity), it is at the apex of the matter that protests and communicative voices have their most dramatic effect.  And believe it or not, that core is found in our very constitution that cries out, even when not always practiced, that “All men are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights”and that “among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.  Now to deny that America has been grossly hypocritical in holding up that standard at times would be uncritical (in a Republic, not a democracy), yet it is still those very laws that a wise Atlanta bred and born turned Alabama preacher once used to push a new narrative to replace an old one. And he was descriptive of the biblical dictum, as one who was “wise as a serpent, and gentle as a dove”.  Where may I ask are his descendants?

Now to Really Piss You Off

On a very sensitive note, if I really wanted to piss my friend off, all I needed to say (however guarded and thoughtful) was that I didn’t think Obama was a really great President.  I said I believed that he is a good man, one of the greatest orators of our time, is a faithful husband and father, but quite frankly was a liberal ideologue that did not deliver “hope and change”.  In fact, I believe that by his tone deafness or subtle racist innuendo, he pushed the narrative away from what seemed to white people at least, to be a country having for a couple of decades gone in the right direction, back to where racism was again all up in our grill. He would then get on to me and say, “Mark, what is it about you white boys?  Can’t we have just one damn black President and be proud, when yall have had so many crackers”?  And to that I’d say, “Well, we’ve had a ton of terrible white ones, why can’t you have one bad black one”?  And perhaps we need to be reminded again that the same people that voted Donald Trump into office, were those that voted for the hope and the change twice!  That seemed to tell us that at least individual people and a good majority of the collective whole were starting to look past that dark period of our history and actually vote as thinking people on issues instead of skin color.  However, I’ve been informed that this is now no longer the case across the board.  Perhaps I’ve been sleeping under a rock, or so it seems.

Freedom Is Not Actually Free

The truth of the matter is, that freedom is not actually free; something I’m afraid that we have long disregarded.  It wasn’t free for Martin Luther, for MLK, or for Rosa Parks.  Our founders knew this as well as they risked their own lives from threat of the crown should they have failed.  And so they gave us a Republic and not a democracy, with limited government accept to protect its citizenry, and to uphold laws that would ensure their initial vision, where all men would be given the freedom to equally be able to live as they so wished without oligarchies, dictators or the sole will of majority rule.  And though the experiment was not perfect by a country mile, as an anomaly that it was in terms of nations, it created correctives and checks and balances so that the people would sense when it ran amuck (assuming the people are good), and would challenge the laws that were to be upheld to reform itself, and as such as a nation always reforming.  But in a Republic, we cannot legislate people into being non-racists, as much as you and I might wish that we could.  In fact, this can only be accomplished at around the same time that pigs start to fly, or when politicians want anything more than another vote!  Because you see, individual sin-sick hearts are free also to be bigots, yet all the while you and I are free to ignore and not concede to their intolerance, and equally to collectively call it out when we see it; while in the meantime “refusing” to be the racists looking in our mirrors reflection.

This is a tribute to Paul and John who also believe in my right to disagree, and to my brother from another Mother; and to those who died for our freedom to equally protest the motive and sacrifice they made.  But it is more so a tribute to all my black brothers and sisters, to let you know some of us crackers are really listening, and we hate racist bastards right along with you. But if it’s OK, we’d really like to talk about it with you, and not at you.

Selah