A Medley of Needles, and the Damage Done

A Little Bit of It In Everyone

I was a whopping 8-years old when Neil Young released the song, The Needle and the Damage Done.  Though it would be a short 5 years later that I first listened introspectively to his haunting prophetic decrees; it was also then as a somewhat “dazed and confused” young man (minus the band), that I seemed almost “hell bent” on being on the other end of this woefully accurate foretelling.

A bag of Columbian Gold was my first gig, and before long I had graduated to a medley of cocktails that included everything from Quaaludes and whiskey; cocaine and LSD; to the likes of gasoline and Pam cooking spray (No, I didn’t stutter).  In essence, whatever I could afford and whatever gave me the means to escape the place in the world I never really felt I belonged in for a myriad of reasons, was indeed fair game to this all too eager participant.  They say marijuana is the gateway to other drugs, and I won’t argue either way.  What I do know is that if a druggie’s pathway is from 1stto home plate, in my mid teens, I had already rounded third and was headed for the home run! The only thing left for me at that point, was to “let her under your skin”; and by God’s grace; like Neil Young, “I watched the needle take another man” to the point at which something jarred in me a determination to never cross that very pivotal line.

So after the whole of my teenage years comprised of time in the county jail, reform school, drug and alcohol programs and county hospitals; something inside of me swallowed the bitter red pill of a very abrupt truth about where my life was headed at the age of 18; and that at the very least was a speed-bump to a fast car life headed for nowhere extremely fast!  It would then take until the age of 27 to take the “a little bit of it in everyone” out of me, but I watched enough men and women ruin their lives and eventually die, even at an early age; enough to make me intensely aware of where my life was headed should I not attempt to somehow change the course of my life.

Live by the Sword, Die by the Sword (Drug)

 I was no drug kingpin to say the least, but I knew who they were.  They had all the good drugs, and the pubescent bell-bottom groupie chicks that would do anything for another taste at their beckoned call—and far too youthful for such a grave choice to be made.  But then again, these pushers were the outlaws that every girl wanted, and somehow, for a brief moment, I thought that was also the man I wanted and needed to be. As a result, I at least attempted to give them a run for their money.  Yet as I grew older, I continued to watch my reluctant hero’s stoically continue their apothecary occupation into a new era when some of us were actually trying to grow up, and I also watched them enter and exit prison yards, as well as check in to the undertaker’s dead-end alley.

I was reminded this week, as more of my reluctant hero’s and those of which actually became my friends, are found still “knocking at(someone’s) cellar door”, still chanting “I love you baby, can I have some more”, as they and those around them now know all too well that their hourglass is distributing its remaining granules. They have now long since cut their hair, the lovely aficionados surrounding them are no more, and time is of course no longer a trump card in their favor.  And as I contemplate this glaring reality, my heart grows very sad indeed. For as someone who over the years has attempted to rescue such reluctant hero’s time and again; as of yet, I have no track record of success, but rather a sigh of a medley of needles taking another man, as I hear Neil echo “ooh, ooh, the damage done”—yet again.

The Medley of Junkies

 Of course it would be easy to simply put my past self and people like I’ve described into a label of sorts, and yet forget about the monster under our own bed.  After all, the blog is called “A Medley of Needles and the Damage Done”.  And of course the junkies’ “setting sun” comes in various stages.

My dear Father was one such junkie I suppose—God rest his beautiful soul.  He took a pill to wake up; to manage his depression; to go to bed; to wake up again; and much later, his daily concoction of capsules could have stockpiled a “mom and pop” pharmacy in a quick recession.  And you and I know junkies just like this, and many of us even look at them in the mirror each morning; and some of us refuse to look, as we have more excuses than the prescriptions we take.

Others of us resort to liquid drugs.  We stockpile our cabinets, and take our sedative(s) each evening as we settle in, rinse and repeat until we’ve had our fill, and we have a myriad of good reasons as to “why” that are all related to the same escapism of the not so glamorous junkie knocking on someone’s cellar door.  After all, life is hard—no argument there. And we’ve got a family to feed; the taxman cometh; we have teenagers (Slam dunk for the justification on this one); our marriage is not so good or falling part, and the list goes on.  But then there’s that cute little monster under our bed we also choose to ignore.

The 800-Pound (Monster) In the Room

The new Canadian thinker and overnight phenomenon Jordan Peterson tells the story in his book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, about a boy and a monster he sees in his room.  He tells his Mother about the monster, but she quickly tells him, “Honey, there are no monsters”.  The boy simply goes along with it, and yet as each day and month passes by, the monster gets bigger, and more horrid and hairier.  As the boy brings this apparent predicament up to her, each time she retorts that “There are no such things as Monsters”; until such a time, that one day the Monster has grown the size of the house to the point that it its arms and legs are actually protruding out the windows and has become part of the house, and has thus overtaken it.  Then one day, when the Father comes home, the house has gone AWOL because the Monster has left and taken the house and his wife and kid with him.  At that point, they all frantically look for the house, and when they find it, the Mother can no longer deny the “ginormity” of the Monster, and confesses to the son that she indeed sees it clear as a bell; at which point the monster then shrinks back down to a tiny cute little blob sitting in the corner.  And at least for now, he is of no harm to no one.

The moral of the story is both obvious and also approaching a grim un-comfort zone for the most of us. The fact of the matter is that there is a medley of monstrous “needles” in everyone that most of us ignore to our eventual and certain peril.  And it’s not just the self-medication strategies of numerous varieties aforementioned; but it’s also the marriage on the rocks, the wayward teen we’re ignoring, the Dun-lap belly, the decision to abandon all and follow the man from Galilee on the narrow path, and so on.

All of us have reasons as to why we pretend these things are “not” there, or that we put off calling it out until “tomorrow”, or; that we simply allow to grow to the size that it takes over our lives, emerging eventually into the junkie’s “setting sun”.  Whatever your Monster is lurking under your bed, or that has taken over a piece of your home, or perhaps your whole life-house…perhaps it’s time to give it a name before the damage is done.

Selah

 

Broken Into Disbelief

A Revelation

 As I was reading through the book of Exodus the other morning, though not my run of the mill experience, I came upon a verse that literally stopped me in my tracks.  Like a hungry man in clear view of something simmering on the stove, I sniffed further to see what awaited me.  Yet at further glance, it’s promise of immediate gratification of my appetite for what God had to say was instead struck with an illumination to be sure, but one that would be of a much more somber bite—even bitter at first; and one which all at once brought sadness and profound understanding.  It was an understanding into something that many of us on the other side of salvation have forgotten about.  It’s called true brokenness, and it often times stifles permanently any craving and invitation for many to walk with God on a new path of hope after so much disappointment and disillusionment. I then leaned in further.

The backdrop is this. We all know the story.  Moses has been told to rescue the people of Israel from their enslavement to the Egyptian people.  He is at first continually reluctant, and retorts to God both reasonable and unreasonable excuse after excuse. God then tells him in chapter 6 that with a strong hand He will deliver the people of Israel, and he will use Moses and Aaron to do it.  Moses is not convinced himself, but he listens on. After all, it is a daunting task he has been given. God then assures Moses that just like he walked with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and was in a covenant relationship with them–promising that they would be much more than sojourners in Canaan as before, that they would now truly have a land of their own.  God then declares to Moses that the time is indeed at hand, and he needs to strap his seatbelt on for what Moses knows will be the ride of his life.  God then goes on to pledge to Moses that the people will be delivered from their slavery, and he makes the additional promise that He will be their God, and they will be His people, and that better days are just upon the horizon for this 400-year long, oppressed people.  The curtain closes for a moment, and then reopens again for scene 2, and the people’s reaction to Moses “word from the Lord” is not what we expect. Yet maybe it actually is, that is, if we’re listening and still leaning in. And then there it is, like grannies vittles on God’s revelatory grill, it hit me where vs. 9 tells us:

 

“Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery[1].

 

As I read that, and I looked twice to make sure there was no ground about to open up to have them for lunch, or any snakes poised and ready to strike, not only do I see their true plight, but I also sense at this point that God does as well. And after all, why wouldn’t he, and why, as God’s very own people, wouldn’t we also understand?

The Problem

 You know brokenness has become a chic word in the church in recent years.  It’s now popular and trendy to say that we’re all broken, and to be sure, it is also a truism that the denial of, will in a new york minute prove its axiom to any watchful eye.  Yet also, this side of heaven, we dance back and forth between being theologians of glory (hope for consistent and evolving virtue towards the divine in this life) and theologians of the cross (the reality that too much hope in this will meet with continuing failures that will leave us exhausted and even more broken). But back to our story for a moment. When I read that verse of scripture, without any need of a commentary or outside help, all at once it came to me what all of us should already know but perhaps have now forgotten. You see the people that we would reach with God’s hope, and many times ourselves, have been broken so much that quite frankly, we have lost our ability to believe anymore.  Or, for purposes of this blog, many are I believe “Broken into Disbelief”.

Imagine if you will 400 years of now generational slavery.  Its’ all we know, it’s all our kids’ know, it’s all the grandchildren know, and books on our shelves speak of the permanent reality that is our existence that our forefathers (you guessed it) also knew. Perhaps its what I like to call “stinking thinking”, or a sort of caste system built now into our DNA fabric of our lives that says whatever we are, we shall always be.  In short, there is no hope.  In fact, any quick jolt out of our reality to chase a pipe dream such as Moses was selling was quickly met with the deer in the headlights look of “What you talking about Willis”?  Because the fact is, nobody is buying, and to be sure nobody is selling.  The words from the people should not surprise us however, because they are oftentimes our own—even very consistently my own.  So I have no stones here.

But first about people who don’t know God at all. We often wonder why they teeter totter back and forth as to whether there is any need for Him in their lives.  We marvel why the truly lost are not knocking down our church doors to get in.  We speculate and ruminate about their rejection as mere rebellion, lack of commitment, and the fact that they’re all pagans after all.  Afterwards, we then settle down into smug acceptance of the impenetrable wall of the unbeliever as the rise of the none’s (no affiliation to God or church) that we evidently think we have nothing to do with.  Or perhaps we have simply grown too insular inside the cocoon of safe Christianity to remember when we ourselves were as the Apostle Paul reminds the Ephesians:

 

“For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light”[2].

 

But what I really saw as I was pondering these words was the understanding of the true raddled state of people that can’t quite make the leap with God yet because brokenness and slavery is all that they know.  Their brokenness has become like a comfortable salve to a consistent wound that though not alleviating the pain, it has taken them into a place that is now “comfortably numb”. Like the woman who has for far too many times gone down the path of loneliness in search of a knight in shining armor to be kissed and then crowned queen, only to be left with crying babies, welfare lines and sneers from those who have either forgotten or will never know what it’s like (Everlast).  And then, just like the junkie’s “needle and the damage done” (Neil Young), hers is a that of being caught up in a system for which she finds no escape, and the news of a pilgrim traveler that tells her “God wants to save you” sounds an awful lot like blah, blah, blah mixed with a heavy dose of smoke and mirrors.  Or better yet, a path that will get a whole lot tougher before they see any hope of any promised land.  Thanks, but no thanks Moses, or whoever you are!

But wait a moment. Before we are too quick to escape the easy task of associating the lost, or the “riff-raff” of single mothers, junkies and hoods of generational poverty in any given city center on our main street, the truth is that it happens to us all even within our white picket fences, dogs named blue, apple pie and a Chevrolet or two. For you see, we are all prone to brokenness and enslavement, most of which is our own continual making as Bob Dylan once eloquently crooned:

 

“You’re gonna have to serve somebody

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody”[3]

That’s right.   It’s you and I. It’s either the Lord of right beliefs or the devil of wrong ones. It’s what separates the wheat from the chaff, the goats from the sheep, the enslaved from the free, and the lost from the found.  Oh our enslavement varies, but it comes with the beliefs or non-beliefs we give voice to everyday, and then let them have their permanent podium in our lives.  And the microphone is always on in our head. I know it all too well.

For instance, as a man who after years of trying to climb my own version of a corporate ladder of some sort that continually escaped me, I’m often then left only with the Jones I’ve been subconsciously trying to keep up with, who stare back in unison contemptuously at my lack of a stable economic portfolio.  Thus the ability to find community in my current state becomes problematic among those who have forgotten their own version of brokenness and enslavement.  Or then there are those of us who resign to the belief that any word of God’s goodness and his desire to give us a future and a hope sound an awful lot like Moses going off at the mouth with this “God wants to deliver you” bit, and because of our brokenness, we find it hard to believe anymore.  In fact, we haven’t the ability to as I said earlier because we let it sink in and take root, and even coddle and nurse it like a baby.

And there are also those who have enslavement to a belief that a marriage is what it is, and happiness and fulfillment in it has become a joke told by “college buddy” to remind us what fools we were for believing in such an institution.  So we don’t strive anymore with it, and like brothers on a hotel bed (Death Cab for Cutie), we settle for the fatalism of things and try to simply cope with the settled nihilism.  Or, for the children who’ve been raised by absentee parents, or abusive parents, who continue to believe the comfortable slavery that no one can be trusted, and who are afraid they are now genetically predisposed to merely rinsing and repeating the sins of the fathers and mothers–and for whom there is no love for them truly to be found.  It’s a gaping hole in their life that only God can fill.  But instead, the drinking never stops because the drinks absolve their victimization and quietly numbs the pain.

Or perhaps it is the daily beliefs we accept each day that we’ve have all too acceptingly come to regard as our lot, with no desire to even think contrarily anymore.  Fill in the blank with your numbness, your disbelief, your enslavement, and your perpetual hopelessness. You get the picture. We are all broken into disbelief. We’re not in Kansas, or Disneyworld, and we’re not sure dreams of any shape or size come true anymore.

A Grasping Of Hope in God’s Goodness

I want to conclude my thoughts today with an invitation for you to go on a journey I have now hesitantly taken as a result of my own battle with enslavement and brokenness, which many times, even today, has kept me from believing my hope of a promised land.  It is a journey into the goodness of God as his primary modus operandi. It’s a shift to the belief that when God says: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen”[4], that he really means it, and he means it for you and me that He calls his very own.

You see my friends, it is so easy to resign to this belief, which is actually unbelief.  And thus we resign to the acceptance of our enslavement to things that are contrary to God’s word and good intention for us. Instead, we would rather succumb to the belief which comes from the castles of impenetrable walls we’ve built with our slavery bricks and straw.  Oh I get that your bondage is like a 400-year old zit with hair on it!  I’ve got two or three.  And I get that slavery has taken up residence in the broken dreams that are now stacked up like dominoes in a free fall all around you.  And I get that we can never know a man or a woman until we walk a mile in their worn out shoes. Catharsis accomplished! However, what I’m really trying to say today as a former and recovering enslaved person myself, is that God is calling, He’s heard your cry, and His desire is to deliver you, and He also desires to be your God and for you to be His people!  It’s time for the renewing of our mind to transform the way we think that has within it the very real power for you and I to believe again, and that God is indeed calling us into His goodness and into a land of peace and blessing; even while sometimes in the midst of life’s many storms.  We must fight for it, we must believe it is possible again, and we must let hope always have the last word in our lives. Your parting of the Red Sea awaits you my friend!

Selah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Exodus 6:9 ESV

[2] Ephesians 5:8 ESV

3 Dylan, B. (n.d.). You Gonna Have To Serve Somebody. Retrieved from https://www.bing.com/search?q=you+gonna+have+to+serve+somebody+lyrics&form=APMCS1&PC=APMC

4 Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV