A little blog blabber. (You’ve got time to read this, or you can clean your garage.)

I didn’t touch the news yet. Took my synthroid. Sipped some coffee. Read from several books. It’s been a full two hours and I haven’t seen the world map blotched with blood from one continent to another. So many have offered perspective by comparing all the different ways humans die and the percentage thereof. I once read that more people die from donkeys than from plane crashes every year. What an asinine perspective. Now when on the back roads of my delivery route, I see donkeys as potential murderers.

This must be some sort of reset. This virus, of all the past viral anomalies, is historic in its scope of culture twisting adjustments. Off in the distance I see. I see you off in the distance. Six feet might as well be six miles in some instances. Yet, out of the fire and into the frying pan-demic we all can admit a heightened awareness of how little we control stuff. I can still set the toaster level on four and expect crispy bread ready to melt butter on the surface, but deep down I know…

What?

Today is Sunday. The sun was seen from what I now call my reading room. It’s a little hovel, with windows facing east, south, and west. My thoughts tip-toed, skipped, and tripped from brain cell to brain cell, eventually finding neuron highways to travel as the coffee kicked in. I thought of other author’s thoughts. I thought of God’s thoughts. All this time to think, when the truth of the matter is we are thinking all the time. It’s our awareness that flickers on and off like a light bulb in a fruit cellar.

Here are some things of which I was made aware:

When filling my vitamin/medication daily dose tray, I imagine playing mancala.

An organized garage is a thing of beauty.

Refrigerator chess is always one move away from checkmate.

Everybody poops. (The toilet paper isle is still echoing, even when we speak in hushed tones six feet apart.)

Whenever I see latex gloves my first inkling is of an unpleasant procedure.

God and the Coronavirus are both unseen, but real.

My family can survive a lockdown, for a couple of weeks at least.

Neil Diamond is relevant.

I really want to play tic-tac-toe in the grocery store with all the X’s on the floor.

My wife loves me, and I love her.

Wildlife, especially birds, don’t give a rip about pandemics.

Beauty is indeed fleeting, but hey, I still see it everywhere.

A measured sense of humor in times like these is essential.

Thoughts can be turned into prayers.

Family is.

 

I’ve already gone over my goal of six hundred words per blog post, so if you’ve read this far, I’m proud of you.

Everyone, wash your hands, say your prayers, and make eye-contact.

 

Social Distancing and/or Emotional Distancing

By now, you’ve probably heard the term Social Distancing. Look it up here: www.cidrap.umn.edu

When I first heard the term my immediate thought was we have socially distanced ourselves for years. Well, maybe its just me.Taking such a broad mental swipe at this term without delving into its particular application now took me down paths of emotional, not physical, separation.

My aim is not to minimize the Covid-19 reality. We all need to pay close attention to directives and at the same time remain calm. Prayers and precautions will bode well as the professionals keep digging for solutions. What I’m wondering is how much social distancing will change our emotional distance.

Numerous studies, blog posts, and professionals reveal the distancing, isolating, and detaching emotional effect of social media. Now that’s a loaded sentence. Might our screens save us from spreading this new virus? Will skipping down the Skyping lane alter the quality of our connections? Will our diminished proximity change much of anything? I sure hope so!

I say this because my social media footprint diminished over the past few years. I distanced myself. The constant contact, all the likes, swipes, and emoji droplets seemed to cut my soul down to data points and comparisons thereof.

I’ll be perfectly clear, I am not a professional. I am not a doctor or scientist or counselor. I am a creative with an active imagination. My thoughts get away from me sometimes like a dog breaking its leash and sprinting toward a squirrel.

Nevertheless, thoughts are thoughts, and if it were possible, a cup of coffee and conversation on emotional distancing is a better solution than this old blog. Some eye-contact and body language between sips and syllables might bring a more wholehearted dialogue—six feet apart of course.

For now the only virus between us might be encrypted between these lines. So, a blabber blogging we go, eh?

Emotional distancing came to the front of my mind when I heard about empty stadiums and a postponed writer’s conference. What’s the big deal about the social element of it? Tucked into the social aspects of face to face, shoulder to shoulder connection is emotional attachment. This leads to thoughts of Reactive Attachment disorder (RAD).

Ours is a house of adoption, and as the number of additions rose, the reality of RAD rose to the surface. It’s a thing, just like social distancing is a thing. The short definition of RAD is the inability to form healthy emotional bonds with others. It’s like signaling another to come close and when they do, you stiff arm them. “Come here…that’s close enough.”

Emotional distancing is more subtle than what the health officials are advising concerning the Covid-19.

As RAD showed up in our children’s lives I became aware of my own RAD tendencies. It’s a manifestation of a virus. The virus of intimacy. “Into me see” as someone aptly coined. We all want to be seen on different levels. Yet we don’t. The game of hide and seek began a long time ago.

“Adam, where are you?” Genesis 3:9

Before that question, Adam and Eve were quite okay with skin as their only clothing; The epitome of social and emotional proximity. Then the cover-up was inaugurated. Did you know there are over seven hundred varieties of fig leaves?

Hiding places are innumerable. This century with all its fingertip knowledge dispensers, and screens depicting images of every imagination is comparable to “water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.” Many have succumbed to techno-Tarzans swinging from vine to vine, deeper and deeper into the jungle of social media until no evidence of the sun hits the soil. With a loincloth flapping and lion claws flailing, humanity shrinks into the morass of social media without touching anyone. Sorry. Saw a squirrel.

All I’m saying is the blue light of our screens doesn’t give us the vitamin D we need.

Touchscreens aren’t the same as holding a hand, kissing a cheek, or letting body language fill in the blanks of a conversation.

I pray as we distance ourselves physically, we will feel the emotional separation. These are strange times indeed, hopefully not estranged. I pray our hearts will grow fonder, and when we draw close again our humanity will be on its best behavior.

I pray as our bodies isolate, our hearts will be insulated by the love of God.

God help us, and be near to us on all levels. Thank you for sending your Son Jesus to socially immerse himself with us to end our social and emotional separation from You. Amen.

Psalm 145:8

The Heights of Humility

Recently, I went to the mountains in Colorado. The camp was nestled at 8600ft. It took my breath away in all respects. Such grandeur. The day before I returned to Michigan, a group of us decided to go to the crosses another 1500 feet up. Three crosses mounted on a bluff of the mountain begged attention. I thought of what I might say when and if I got there. “I’m the king of the world!” De’Caprio

Well, after taking many breaks to catch my breath I reached the desired summit. My my my… How I was humbled. Words were few and I felt adequately small. This was a holy moment, and I felt a bit more whole. There is something, someone way bigger than me, and it was okay.

It was as if God was saying, “I got you. I Am mysterious and majestic, and I see you.”

This was more than a bucket list check-mark. This was transformation. Such mercy and grace. I felt much of my abandonment issues melt away.

As I looked at the three crosses I thanked God for putting skin in the game.

My Personal Turkish Delight

Peanut butter and banana toast and I go back a long way. I’ve probably mentioned this before. Now, fifty years later, the slathered combo atop a crispy base holds carbolicious delight…and comfort. You’re probably nodding in agreement iffin you have bitten into such wonder.

When I was a punk in short sleeve sweatshirts bananas were a delicacy. They were not on the priority list. But every now and then they’d show up. Surprise! As long as my mom did her dedicated run to the day-old bread store there was hope. Margarine and a metal bucket of peanut butter, will travel.

But bananas. The rationed yellow boomerangs. When they arrived on scene they wooed me to drop my blankie and toss my pacifier. A new comfort for this creature. Maybe a rite of passage even.

For some reason, my mom thought 12 cents a pound was too much to sacrifice back then. I had no idea. When she doled out dinero it rarely was for Chiquita. Even the commercial jingle didn’t phase her. Remember…”I am a Chiquita banana and I’m here to say.” Could be she thought the peels too dangerous.

Bananas, bananas, bananas—go ahead, say bananas enough times and you’ll at least smirk at how silly it sounds. Try it in Spanish too. Platanos, platanos, platanos. Actually, just about any word you say over and over becomes silly.

But anyway, why I’m a blathering on about a squishy substance sheathed in a sleek yellow holster?

It’s spiritual.

Just kidding.

It’s emotional attachment.

Possibly.

It’s intellectually stimulating.

Are you for real?

Okay, this is why…

“Yes, we have no bananas, we have no bananas today.”

Monday Muse. Thank You Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Are we content with the content of our character? Or are we living skin deep, keeping up appearances and letting our hearts go to seed? Images are everywhere. Platitudes placed between the possibilities of communion with the humanity of it all.

We all have our character flaws, no? Our social media offers cover like a fig leaf of ‘likes’. Proximity becomes relative as our closest relatives see us as we are. Then there’s God who asks, rhetorically, where we are. God sees our skin and beyond, often without our acknowledgement. God sent Jesus to come look for us too.

I don’t know, I just want to honor Dr. King today. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Named after his father, who adopted the name of Martin Luther to honor his march of sorts. Martin Luther had white skin, by the way. He was the one who shook up the church back in the day. I’m sure he had character flaws too.

We still wish for a dream to come true. “That we would judge each other not by the color of our skin, but the content of our character.” It’s a process. There’s always room for character growth.

Thank you Dr. Martin Luther King.

Monday Muse 2020

First Monday. We’re alive. I’m writing and you’re reading. Grace has lifted us once again. How shall we respond?

I write. It’s a compulsion. Sometimes words illumine a way out of a thought jungle. Worry; the great canopy of blocking the light of day. Vines, creepy-crawlies, and unknown sounds and furies. I gotta admit, and I have, that the older I get, the more I am prone to worry. Anxiety strangles the heart, mine at least.

The heart is the matter. What’s the matter with my heart? That question’s been dogging me for quite some time now. So, on the first Monday of this decade I broke out my bible app and entered ‘heart’ in the search box. The verses pertaining to the heart are many, and the conclusion is God cares about hearts. More than ‘likes’ on social media. More than the 24 hour news cycle. More than information and opinions and bowl games. If you have a bible app, look for yourself.

Listen to these verses with your heart…

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”

Philippians 4:6 and 7 The  Message.

What is the center of our humanness? Our hearts of course! God’s desire is for our hearts to be wide open with Him. This doesn’t come naturally to me. Often I get flamboozled into thinking I can’t trust God with my heart. The realization hits only after I’ve stonewalled God, and am deep into self-protection mode. Think of the reasoning in that! I need to protect myself from God? If there’s a need for protection then I might as well join AA (Atheists Anonymous). I’ve said before ‘If God isn’t good, what good is God?’

Make no mistake, if the verse says fret not, God knows our tendencies. God knows where our hiding places are and He is perfect at hide and seek. Once God even sent Jesus to look for us.

This I pray:

That our hearts will be flung open to the goodness of God. That like water to wine, worry will turn into praise because of Jesus, our only hope. Amen

Happy New Year!

I don’t want to abuse the metaphor of 2020 as a vision of the year to come. Honestly, metaphorically, most days I can’t see beyond the tip of my nose, with or without glasses. I glance back occasionally, but there is really “no use of looking up a dead horses arse” like coach Walker said after a Jr. High football loss. So, in effect, 2020, is like waking up to another good old new day by the grace of God.

Twenty some minutes into 2020, on our way back from festivities in Allegan, our Ford Flexed as a deer got all up in our grill. We hit it dead on. The deer timed it perfectly to square off with 55mph bullet. I didn’t swerve. No time to. The brakes were applied like a knee-jerk afterthought. Was the animal suicidal or just trying to beat a train of sorts? The doe, fortunately, didn’t come through the windshield. Instead, what happened, at least to those of us who were watching, couldn’t be described without the onset of nausea. All of the humans were startled, but safe; the deer…oh, deer.

Makes me wonder what startling things lay in the year ahead. I mean, last year many things got up in our grill. Think about it. If we have a heartbeat, life has its double edges, does it not? Last year was so 2019 with “Oh, the humanity” splayed throughout. I admit, this is from me, Forrest Grump (My self- imposed term of endearment from this holiday season), and I tend to see through a glass darkerly. The blessings arrive as surprises too, if I am paying attention. The daily reading from Frederick Buechner, January 1st, encourages listening to your life.

“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” Frederick Buechner

Not only that, but mercies are new each morning. Forrest Grump is double covered by the God of the universe. Grace and mercy. Mercy and grace. Speak Lord. Teach me to listen. Whether the deer is up in our grill, or a calming vision in a cornfield at dusk, help us God, to wend our way through 2020 with our hearts wide open.

Happy New Year!

Needful Things

I’ve adopted a new aphorism. The phrase was cultivated during our latest move. A move which included a plethora of boxes, many notated with vague adjectives. Miscellaneous, i.e. misc, was the numero uno choice of description. Then came the likes of various, random, important, very important, extremely important, fragile, really fragile, special, Dad’s books, Mom’s books, and books.

Near the end, up to the day of closing and bugging out like a M.A.S.H. unit, the writing on the cardboard drew intellectual confusion.

“Socks and picture frames.”

“Pop tarts and junk drawer.”

“Cat nip and scarves.”

The labeling of boxes didn’t give birth to my new aphorism; our barn did. As the great OZ said to the Tin Man: “You clinking, clanking, clattering collection of caliginous junk!” I said this loud and clear to our pseudo-barn. The emptying of the great catch-all was daunting. It was a scene from American Pickers except there was nothing to pick. Okay, maybe my nose, but nothing deserving a handshake.

Two months ago Barbara and I decided to bug out and pare down our material footprint on the planet. We sold the farm. All 7.5 acres, the barn, the chickens, the garden, and the Slop shire She-shed left behind. Now we are trying to stuff a chinook salmon into a sardine can. Our little bungalow on a postage stamp is a quaint booth in a neighborhood where walkers walk and mail boxes are safe from snow plows plowing them over. It is smaller though…by a lot.

The sorting and deciding what to pitch may take months, but we will park a car in the garage come what may. I imagine an old pickup truck full of barn stuff (an envy of Fred Sanford) driving along a dirt road with the tailgate down, and each bump dumping this-n-that like casting lots. I keep telling myself to not overthink, just open boxes and put the old catnip in the trash. But we have to pay some mind to what we want to keep. “What are the needful things?” Geez. Just pedal down the pickup and pray for washboard roads!

Anyway, I ramble. The aphorism…

“Don’t acquire a barn unless you are a farmer.”

Living Within Tension vs. Living With Intention?

The English language is intriguing, unruly; often unpredictable. Sometimes when lost in thought, I find thoughts. Then I text those thoughts to myself. The above title is one, and instead of texting it to myself, I sent it to my wife.

My text: Ponder this: Living within tension. Living with intention.

Her response: Ponderation in action.

Me: Lol

Say the two phrases out loud. Tricky, eh?

Seriously though, without getting too intense about these two phrases, I’m still pondering. I want so much for those twin thoughts, though fraternal, to be identical. I desire for them to get along. Could they be a both/and instead of an either/or? I mean, it was a catchy catch, don’t you think?

On the other hand, what’s the big deal if they are stand-alone ideas? Each thought has possibilities for a commencement speech. A preacher could give a three point sermon on either of them. But throw these two together in a dark alley and who knows. Would they make nice? Would they rumble like Sharks and Jets?

I don’t know. It seems my mind is constantly on the lookout for resolution, for binary ideas to, in the end, cohere. The ole happily-ever-after backdrop slowly cranking by the chaos of life to keep hope on the up and up.

Now, before you write me off as a fuddy-duddy pessimist, consider the possibility that the tension within which I live is like a kindred soul. It’s like one who tells you you’re full of it, grabs you by the ankles, holds your feet to the fire, and then washes them as Jesus would.

If you have a friend like that, consider yourself fortunate.

Tension. Intention. Can they coexist? More to the point, can one exist without the other? There is a risk of living intentionally, no? I mean the best of intentions sometimes get caught in the gears of the tension. Does the tension drive the intention or is it the other way around? Wait. What?

Two philosophers walk into a bar… (That’s to ease the tension.)

Recently my wife mentioned I set my jaw often, almost like I’m biting the side of my lip. It’s as if my lips fix in tension, one on top of the other, almost touching, like Clint Eastwood.  Now I notice when her eyes say to my mouth, “Don’t think too hard.”

Thinking is overrated sometimes, but underrated most of the time. My thinkery often breaks down, but once in a while, by the grace of God, I’m able to lay rails down; parallel seemingly resistant thoughts into a semblance of coherence.

Here’s one for all the life coaches out there:

Live with intention within the tension.

Do it Gerald.

Faith and/or Doubt.

Life verse. Seems a bit narrow minded to pick one verse to frame a life. I get it though, those who tattoo a verse on their calf don’t throw the rest of the Bible to the wind. If I plucked one scripture out of the barrel, John 11:35 comes to mind. “Jesus wept.” Simple. Poignant. I mean, I used to cry all the time. Yet, for the past week or so, I’ve thought about “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” I even had to look up the reference: Mark 9:24.

Yep, those words track the best with my life. Not because I’m a big fat doubter. Notice the order…”I believe” comes first. Actually “Lord” comes first, which assumes an “I’m your servant” attitude. But that aside, the tension wedged between belief and unbelief is palpable. It’s as down to earth as dirt itself.

Yes, I walk by faith, and trip on doubt. Like cracks in the sidewalk, if I don’t look down I might stumble over the fissures.

These are the words of a father who had a son with a real problem. A mute spirit got ahold of his boy a long while back. A situation which throbbed for years. This dad, shoulders slumped, carried concern for his son, and when the disciples showed up, he asked for help. Who knows how many times the dad witnessed the spirit in a throw down with his son, but when the equivalent to Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show arrived in town, well… They tried and failed, but the dad didn’t cave, he went to the top. I can almost hear him firmly say, “Let me speak with the manager.”

This father was desperate, probably tired, and maybe a little resigned. He had heard of the healings. The news got around, and by the time he and his son arrived, a crowd had already gathered. The scriptures called it a multitude. Multitude schmultitude. The Dad cut to the front and told Jesus his story.

So, Jesus gets the scoop, sighs, points out the disciple’s lack of belief, and beholds the son who had a mute spirit. That spirit who, by the way, shut him up, threw him down, and caused foam to come out of his mouth. Then he gnashed his teeth and became stiff as a board too. Wait. Gnashed his teeth? What? Gah-nash. Gah! The definition means “to grind ones teeth.” The closest this son got to talking was grinding his teeth.

Almost doctor-like, Jesus enquires, “How long has this been going on?”

“Since childhood.”

Well, that explains a lot. A dad watching his son struggle and struggle and struggle. This was real, old, and chained to their lives.

Ah, the struggle. The ole “life is difficult” as M. Scott Peck would say. Difficulties come. That’s a fact. The struggle is real. Fact again.

Take the apostle Peter when he jumped ship and strolled out to Jesus on the water. He had no particular problem, except he wanted to be close to Jesus, ASAP. He saw his Lord standing atop of the waves and stepped off. No snorkel. No life vest. Just steps of desire and belief. Then pistol Pete began sinking like a rock when his focus was taken off the Lord. He looked down, saw the waves lapping over his toes and remembered his Jr. High science lab. He was a fisherman too, for crying out loud. Fish swim. Boats float. Humans? Well, they sink.

The father of the mute spirited son came in the context of struggle.

Peter came from desire. Impulse. Longing.

I suppose it doesn’t matter how we exercise our belief. Experientially, when I take my belief for a walk, the resistance is not far behind, or ahead for that matter.

It’s as if the father asked, “Jesus, my belief only takes me so far, can you help me the rest of the way?”

In the story Jesus’ response to the father’s words was almost a non-response. Jesus didn’t rebuke the dad. Jesus didn’t fold his arms and point at the father’s unbelief and say, “Until you have perfect belief I can’t honor your request.” No. Jesus takes action. Jesus shows compassion.

It’s comforting to me that Jesus can operate within the tension. It’s the tension between present reality and the desire for a better reality I suppose.

So, Jesus, I believe, help my unbelief.