Grace from an unlikely place: the IRS

I have a friend who has been getting threatening letters from the Internal Revenue Service.

This person owes several thousand dollars in back taxes going back years. They thought they had made an agreement with the IRS to forestall collections because they are in a situation where they can’t afford to pay anything to them.

However, my friend decided to make inroads in their debt and set up a payment plan.  Unfortunately, when they made a payment it triggered the renewal of the billing from the IRS. When my friend missed a payment, they began to receive notices that their property might be seized.

Given that they don’t have any property, this wasn’t that terrible to them, but they were concerned that whatever paltry funds they had in their bank account would be seized.  So a phone call to the IRS was made to work something out.

My friend told me that initially the IRS agent’s behavior was what he expected. He was a strong-voiced male who was aggressive and somewhat condescending. The agent even said to my friend that no matter what his story was, it wouldn’t change the state of his debt. There appeared to be no hope of reasoning with the man.

Then my friend got a word in edgewise and was able to tell the agent that he was sick and unable to work. The man’s tone changed right then and there.

His voice became soft and he said that it was a simple matter.  The agent said he would arrange to put my friend in a category for people who are unable to pay. He said this would end the foreboding notices from the IRS.

My friend told me that tears began to stream down their face. They have had a large number  of setbacks and they realized in that moment how this IRS bill had pushed them to the edge. It was all too overwhelming. When the IRS agent released them from the impact of their debt, it was as if a huge burden was removed from their shoulders.

My friend told the IRS agent, “You are a good man.” The conversation ended with both persons relaying good wishes to each other.

It occurred to me after I heard this account that my friend’s conversation with this IRS fellow was similar to our contacts with God.  We approach Him with fear and apprehension, hoping that we might receive mercy but expecting to get whacked. Then after we tell God all about our problems, He surprisingly  comforts  and helps us. We experience His grace.

We Americans would really rather not deal with the IRS because we see the agency as kind of a Gestapo, waiting to pounce on us and ruin our lives.  The truth is that there are policies and people in this government department that actually are there to give us aid when we need it. The same holds true in a lot of other organizations we normally perceive as threatening.

I understand I have the same misconceptions about God that I do about these entities. I look at my life and view God’s track record with me and think, “Why should I go to Him with my problems?  He’ll just require things of me or take away my freedom.” This kind of attitude doesn’t lead to trust, which is something that God DOES want.

My sourcebook on God, the Bible, says He IS worthy of being trusted. However, I tend to blame Him for what in many cases are self-inflicted wounds, so I won’t give Him the trust He deserves.

I have heard it said that we get our ideas about who God is from our parents. God IS called Father in the Scriptures, so this makes sense. Sadly, while our own Dads may have good qualities, they tend to also carry human weaknesses as well.  Their sins give us a false impression of our Heavenly Father.

But God the Father ISN’T like our earthly fathers. He’s perfect in his love and in His other characteristics. He doesn’t make mistakes. So I CAN trust Him.

As one of my bosses once used to ask when his staff screwed up, “WHAT can we learn from this?”

What I learn from my friend’s narrative and my own experience is that things are not always as they seem.  Government agents aren’t all storm troopers. God is NOT an ogre.

My friend told me that after he got off the phone with the IRS that a story from the Bible came to mind. It’s a parable Jesus told about an unforgiving servant.

Jesus said that there was a king that decided to sell a servant and his family into slavery after the man could not pay a huge debt. After imploring the king to have patience with him, the king had  compassion and forgave the man his debt.

However, the servant who had received mercy went right out and harassed a subordinate of his for a small sum he was owed. When the man cried out for aid, the wicked servant had the poor sap tossed in prison.

When the king found out about his own servant’s actions, he delivered the ungrateful knave over to “tormentors” until he could pay.

Jesus had an application at the end of his parable. He said, “So my heavenly Father will also do to you, if you don’t each forgive your brother from your hearts for his misdeeds.”

My friend is determined to pay forward the grace shown to him by the government. In his own attitude and actions he wants to be a person of mercy and forgiveness.

We all have to live with each other in the midst of the strife of this world. How much easier it would be if we could show the same kind of grace to each other that  the IRS showed to my friend.

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Writing as therapy and spiritual healing

I’ve always loved writing. It is probably what I do best and I enjoy it.

Talking about it, teaching it, and doing it has always been fun for me. This summer It has become something more. Writing has become therapy and a source of guidance for me.

I owe a lot of that to the work of Julia Cameron, whose book “The Right to Write” has been accompanying me to Starbucks for weeks.  It contains over 40 small chapters of teaching and exercises.

Cameron begins each chapter with an “invitation”, in which she describes her own personal experiences related to writing and life. Then she provides what she calls an “initiation tool” to use to apply her thoughts.

Three of Cameron’s ideas have been of particular help to me. One has been her effort to convince her readers that writing is not some great task reserved for only the elite and talented.  This teaching literally has given me the right to write.  Because of this I have felt unchained in terms of getting thoughts on paper.

Once she freed me from my intellectual prison, Cameron gave me a couple of practical devices to unleash my own ruminations. Her Morning Pages (sometimes “mourning pages) are three pages of handwritten writing first thing before the day starts. This is “stream of consciousness” writing. Night Notes are the posing of questions right before bed for up to ten minutes.

The beauty of any teaching is that you can make it your own. I have tried to stick to Julia’s dictums despite my weaknesses. I am not a morning person and find it difficult to get going. I have found others struggle with this exercise for the same reason.

As a result, I find I don’t get these pages done every day, or that I do them later on in the morning. This would probably be fine with Cameron.  She says that Morning Pages are “not high art” and that “there is no wrong way to do Morning Pages.”

This morning I struggled to get through three pages. I found myself drawing regular and irregular shapes on the lines in my composition books just to get through. Even this strategy was helpful because it reminded me that one of the best ways to get something done well is to think outside of the box.

With Night Notes the writer is supposed to sleep on the questions and allow the subconscious to provide answers. Because I actually forgot this feature I have been answering the questions as I pose them before sleeping. Again, I have come upon some beneficial ideas although I “broke the rules.”

What I have found is that these tools have helped me to clear the deck in my mind. A lot of the baggage is done away with. One effect of this is my thinking becomes more focused. Another is that my emotions are stabilized because I have vented them on the page.

Cameron has offered to me in organized form the wisdom of the greats. For example, Bob Dylan uses similar thinking and methods as hers to get his ideas down. He was asked by interviewer Paul Zollo how he got thoughts out of his mind. He replied,

Well, first of all, there’s two kinds of thoughts in your mind: there’s good thoughts and evil thoughts. Both come through your mind. Some people are more loaded down with one than another. Nevertheless, they come through. And you have to be able to sort them out, if you want to be a songwriter, if you want to be a good song singer. You must get rid of all that baggage. You ought to be able to sort out those thoughts, because they don’t mean anything, they’re just pulling you around, too. It’s important to get rid of all them thoughts.”

When the mind is clean of garbage and issues come into clearer focus by getting them onto the page, movement can be made. Dylan says once the baggage is gotten rid of, “then you can do something from some kind of surveillance of the situation. You have some kind of place where you can see but it can’t affect you. Where you can bring something to the matter, besides just take, take, take, take, take.”

Getting rid of the mud of the mind allows God to enter into our thinking. In my post about Dylan’s divine inspiration, I noted how his lyrics were influenced by the divine. I also explained that Cameron makes no bones about the benefits of listening to spiritual sources as we write.

While her writings about this are more eclectic in terms of who or what to access than I personally would prefer, I have gained by not throwing the baby out with the bath water. Applying her axioms in the context of my own beliefs about God and truth have been quite profitable.

As a Christian I seek to learn what God wants of me through reading the Bible and through prayer. Thus, I try to ask questions of Him, tell Him my own desires, and listen for His answer.

Further, I use my own God-given brain combined with what seems to be God’s leading to make decisions.  Before you claim that this is all “pie in the sky bye and bye”, I must explain how I believe the process works.

I see God’s leading as working more like a GPS device than a road map.  20th century pastor J. Vernon McGee said that God does not hand out road maps. In fact, he decried false piety in which people claimed to have a direct pipeline to the Almighty.

I recently listened  to a sermon by McGee about the story Ruth, the great grandmother of King David, from whose line Jesus would come, and how she decided to support herself and her mother-in-law Naomi when they were poor. Ruth decided to glean grain from local fields. Gleaning was a practice allowed in Israel in ancient times as a means to support the needy.

One day she came to two fields from which to glean grain. One was owned by Boaz, who was a distant relative of Naomi. Ruth had come to Israel with her when her husband, Naomi’s son, died. She did this as a step of faith and out of a willingness to follow the God of Naomi’s people.

McGee said that Ruth did not have a vision or a dream from God. He explained that she reasoned on the spot to go into the field of Boaz based on the situation before her. One thing led to another and she married Boaz, and thus became a distant grandmother of Jesus.

“God’s leading-yes,” said McGee. “But He’s leading a heart that’s willing to be led, and going step by step by faith.” Ruth was such a person.

Thus, the writing tools taught by Cameron and used by expert artists such as Bob Dylan have helped me to seek God and His leading as Ruth did.  As I write I believe He leads me step-by-step to great truths and informs decisions that have to be made.

What I have learned has given me great peace. It has also produced spiritual healing. I can live one day at a time, trusting God to communicate with me, not necessarily in spectacular ways, but through normal means of grace like the Bible and prayer, and though practical tasks such as writing, a practice I love anyway.

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The Divine Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan has always been a bit of an enigma.

Like a lot of artists, he has “periods” where fans can identify certain emphases in his music and lyricism. For example, in the 60s he was thought of as a generational prophet. Then there was the “Christian” period of the late 70s and early 80s during which believers bought albums such as “Slow Train Coming.”

However, Ben Sisario of the New York Times has written of how Dylan resists study.

“Over the decades he has frustrated many an interviewer who wanted to penetrate his mind and method,” he says.

‘Dylan has never been at all revealing about those kinds of issues,’ the music critic and author Anthony DeCurtis said in an interview.

‘He has always been dismissive,’ Mr. DeCurtis said. ‘He has certainly said things that have minimized his lyrics in the attempt to fend off or downplay any attempt to see him as a prophet.’ So he’ll say, “Oh, I just wrote what came to my mind.”

Whatever kind of offhand thing you could say to try to deflate someone who is trying to inflate your lyrics with meaning.”

A 1991 interview with Paul Zollo further illustrates Dylan’s reluctance to be pigeonholed. He asked Zollo,”Songwriting? What do I know about Songwriting?” Though Dylan said this with laughter, the grain of truth, i.e., he is just your average Joe,  is there.

Despite his reticence to be acknowledged, Zollo points out one of the reasons Dylan is a landmark artist.  He says,“He broke all the rules of songwriting without abandoning the craft and care that holds songs together.”

I would admire Dylan without this desire for excellence with language.  But for this writer, an English teacher by trade, Dylan’s care for his use of the written word makes me revere him even more. Zollo compares the beauty of his poetry to Shakespeare, Byron, as well as modern greats.

Even though Dylan’s reference for his writings is hard to determine, Zollo’s piece hints at it.  He writes, “There’s an unmistakable elegance in Dylan’s words, an almost biblical beauty that has sustained in his songs throughout the years.”

The artist once known as Robert Zimmerman influenced the soul of other musicians in this regard. According to Zollo, John Lennon was inspired by the depth of Dylan’s music to write songs that concerned life and the soul and not just  “empty pop songs”.

Dylan’s approach to his vocation is not of the secular, lunch bucket, 9 to 5 variety. It has a more spiritual bent. He told Zollo that His songwriting has “never really been seriously a profession…It’s been more confessional than professional.”

Bishop Robert Barron, a Catholic prelate based in Los Angeles, is stronger in his assessment of the supernatural aspects of Dylan’s work.

“You have to read him as a spiritual poet,” says Barron. “You can read him politically. You can read him as a cultural commentator. All that is right, but I think ultimately the best way to read him is as a spiritual teacher.”

Barron notes that Dylan is like most artists in that they will be elusive in terms of explaining the meaning of their lyrics. “But I think you can see patterns in any great artist,” he says. “You see them clearly in Bob Dylan.”

“You know in the 80s he became explicitly biblical, explicitly Christian. But all throughout his career, from beginning to right now, the Bible has been the dominant influence.”

Dylan’s epoch song “Blowing in the Wind” exemplifies this effect of Scripture on his work. The hit tells the listener that the answers to our most abiding questions come only through the intervention of God, according to the bishop.

God’s influence on Bob Dylan is nothing new. Author Julia Cameron explains that channeling spiritual information has been a means of creating great works for hundreds of years. In her book “The Right to Write”, she quotes some other noted artists (past and present) who attribute their genius to God.

“Although we rarely talk about it in these terms, writing is a means of prayer,” she says. “It connects us to the invisible world. It gives us a gate or conduit for the other world to talk to us whether we call it the subconscious, the unconscious, the superconscious, the imagination or the Muse.”

While we may not seek to contact God as we write, as we actually engage in the process of putting ideas down we come into contact with the divine.

Cameron says, “Writing gives us a place to welcome more than the rational. It opens the door to inspiration.

“We are an open channel.”

One critic on the public forum Quora calls Cameron’s work “creepy”, presumably because of  her spiritual approach to writing.  In “The Right to Write” she addresses those who feel that her thoughts about inspiration are too “New Age” or “airy-fairy”.

“Channeling? Julia, that word is so…

“I know. I know and I do not care because the word is artistically accurate,” she responds.

The author as a channel of the thoughts of God has an impact on how we go about writing. It also has  some surprise consequences on the lives of those who are willing to accept this concept of divine inspiration at face value and apply it to their work.

I will explain these effects in a future post.

 

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Home?

An advertisement I heard today on the radio says that home is where our story begins. But what if I don’t have one? Where does my story begin?

I do not feel at home in this world. I agree with my grandmother’s sentiments about life on this mortal coil. According to my brother, she did not fight a terrible case of pneumonia and died because she felt the world was a bad place.

In the last few years I have returned to houses I lived in before.  Two of these visits caused me great angst. There was just too much pain associated with those places.

One was in the neighborhood where I grew up. I had made trips to this house before, but this time I passed the area by because a dark spirit came upon me.  I sensed the times where things in our family were not so great and a deep pall came over me.

Another journey I took last week was to the house where my own family and I lived over a decade ago. The surrounding hills and climate were just as appealing to me as ever. I really wanted to stay back then, but due to some reverses we had to leave. The years since have seen some very tough times.

Though I have a roof over my head in my current town, and have been there for almost two years now, it doesn’t feel like home. It’s just a place to hang out and sleep. This could be because I have not furnished it. I live in kind of a Spartan and minimalist fashion. But I think there is something more to my feeling of being adrift.

It has to do with what I construe as “home”. There are tons of songs about home which inform me of its nature. Bards have sung about home forever. Christian composer Chris Tomlin wrote lyrics which I think echo my grandmother’s idea:

This world is not what it was meant to be
All this pain, all this suffering
There’s a better place
Waiting for me
In Heaven

But I’m not in heaven. Like all of us I have to go on with life.  Is there some place called “home” on this planet? I think not.

One characteristic of home in this world is explained well by American Idol winner Phillip Phillips, who popularized another song about it.

Hold on to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave, wave is stringing us along

Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m gonna make this place your home

These lyrics tell me that in this life home is an unknown. This is because the future is also an unknown.

You never know where “home” will be. Many times I felt I would be in one place and I ended up in another. Some of these places I would have never dreamt of ever living.

Such uncertainty can cause fear, as Phillips notes:

Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble—it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

As I have traveled down these unfriendly highways, I HAVE been filled with fear, which I know has come from evil, and trouble HAS dragged me down. In fact, there are times I feel like Humpty Dumpty. During those moments I believe no force on this planet can put me back together again.

Danny Gokey expresses how I feel at those times:

You’re shattered
Like you’ve never been before
The life you knew
In a thousand pieces on the floor
And words fall short in times like these
When this world drives you to your knees
You think you’re never gonna get back
To the you that used to be

Gokey advises me that the only thing to do when I get to this place in life is to willfully get up off the floor of my current “home”, lock up and move on to the next location in my journey.

Tell your heart to beat again
Close your eyes and breathe it in
Let the shadows fall away
Step into the light of grace
Yesterday’s a closing door
You don’t live there anymore
Say goodbye to where you’ve been
And tell your heart to beat again

Furthermore, he tells of moving toward a new start in our trek here on Earth.

Beginning
Just let that word wash over you
It’s alright now
Love’s healing hands have pulled you through

So get back up, take step one
Leave the darkness, feel the sun
‘Cause your story’s far from over
And your journey’s just begun

These poets talk in vague terms of a Someone who is helping me along in my current walk here on Earth.  Who is the “me” who says to follow him or the person who will find me in Phillips lyrics? Love is a broad concept, not a person, so who is the one Gokey says will pull me through my troubles.

To me, the One helping me and loving me as I limp through this world is none other than God.

A well-known song from 55 years ago by Jim Reeves guides  me in deciphering why I feel restless and ill at ease in the present reality.

This world is not my home I’m just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore
Oh lord you know I have no friend like you
If heaven’s not my home then lord what will I do
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore

What gives me hope is meeting  my friend Jesus at the end of life and being comforted by Him face to face. Tomlin speaks of the encounter I can expect once I depart from here.

I’m goin’ home
Where the streets are golden
Every chain is broken
Oh I wanna go
Oh I wanna go
Home
Where every fear is gone
I’m in your open arms
Where I belong
Home

Lay down my burdens, I lay down my past
I run to Jesus, no turning back
Thank God Almighty, I’ll be free at last
In Heaven
In Heaven

Heaven is my real home. Thus, my story begins there once I reach it. My story is is intertwined with His Story.  All that is happening to me in this life is just a prequel.

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The antidote to society’s ills

Don Birnam has one constant in his life: his girlfriend Helen. In the end, her steadfastness saves Don from himself.

In the 1945 film “Lost Weekend”, Don (Ray Milland) goes on a several day bender. He’s fixated on alcohol. Like any addict, he seeks to deceive his brother, Helen (Jane Wyman) and others. But they know. Don has a reputation as a lush.

A writer, his alcoholism is rooted in his failure to publish. Not only is Don a loser as a writer, but he is also broke and living with his brother Wick.

Don’s drinking just compounds his inability to develop his longtime desire to write a novel. His spree from one Thursday all the way through to the following Tuesday reveals that his major focus has become getting another drink, not formulating prose.

On Friday of his ordeal, Don is criticized by his bartender Nat for how he treats Helen after he agrees to go out with a floozy at the pub.  In a flashback scene Don explains to Nat how he met his girlfriend. Their first encounter came about over a mixup over coats at a restaurant. Don ended up with Helen’s fancy wrap. Soon she discovers his problem with the bubbly, but sticks with him anyway.

Returning to the present day, by Tuesday even Helen is ready to dump him. She had spent Monday nursing him despite Don telling her to “go away”. She even spent the night on the couch in Wick’s apartment. But n the morning hesneaks off to a pawn shop to hock her precious coat, a symbol of their love.

Ostensibly,  Don is seeking money for booze, but Helen discovers that he actually has traded it in for a gun. She rushes back to his apartment because she realizes he intends to kill himself.

After wrestling with Don over the gun and losing, Helen tells him that he seems determined to kill himself so she won’t stop him. She only wants to know why he intends to commit suicide.

Their ensuing dialogue is a jewel in a film which won several Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The discussion shows the mindset of a person who has reached the end of their rope.

Don tells Helen that he is already dead. He “died over the weekend.” When she asks him the cause of death Don replies,”Oh, a lot of things. Of alcohol, of moral anemia, of fear, of shame, of DTs (my note: the confusion caused by withdrawal from alcohol).”

In characteristic fashion, Helen sticks with Don and counters his faulty arguments. She tells him he can stop drinking. When he says that only people with a purpose can do that, she reminds him that he has talent and ambition.

“That’s dead long ago,” he answers.

“It’s not. You still have it,” she says.

Helen seeks to give Don hope. She that he will get well when he tells her how he can’t sit at a typewriter and write because his brain lacks clarity and he’s scared. She also tells him he has experienced a miracle. During their talk Nat has shown up with Don’s typewriter, which got lost in the shuffle of the lost weekend.

“What will I write about,” Don asks.

“What you always wanted to write,” Helen replies. She points to the title page about a novel called “The Bottle”.

“What was that going to be,” she asks.

“About a messed up life,” Don says. “A man, a woman, and a bottle. Nightmares, horrors, humiliations, things I want to forget.”

Helen argues, “Put them on paper. Get rid of them that way. Tell it all, to whom it may concern. It concerns so many people, Don.”

The suicidal writer pushes a cigarette into a glass of whiskey and sits down to write, and tells Helen about the people to whom he will send the finished work. Don is on his way to healing, thanks to his girl.

We all need a Helen in our lives. Life is not possible without one.

We also need to be that kind of person as well.

In American culture we tend to not get involved when people struggle. This seemingly indifferent pose comes from our individualism. We don’t want to interfere and violate a person’s independence.

I do recall having a friend like Helen. I used to call him “The Hound of Heaven”, the title of a poem by Francis Thompson.

This writer portrays God as a  “hound”, chasing His “prey” over the course of years. The source of the author’s problems is His refusal to end the pursuit by submitting to God.

“Lo, All things fly thee for thou fliest Me,” Thompson writes.

As Nat restored Don’s lost typewriter, God is shown in this poem as the ONE who gives back to us what has been taken from us when we seek those things through Him.

We need caring friends combined with a loving God to meet us where we are and help us to recover from our losses

As Helen pursued the failed writer Don, Jesus kept after an even greater flop:  His disciple Peter, a fisherman who had denied His friend at His crucifixion.

Peter knew His weakness even before his colossal defeat.  Early in the ministry of Jesus, He performed a miracle by providing Peter and his colleagues a huge catch. “Get away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man,” said Peter after He witnessed Jesus’ intervention. Peter knew He couldn’t meet the expectations of such a Person and He didn’t.

However, after He rose from the dead Jesus prepared a meal of fish on the shore as Peter was out to sea on a boat. Knowing that the chef on the beach was Jesus, Peter jumped into the water and swam to Him.

It was during this event that Jesus restored Peter. Like Don and Helen, the two have a sterling dialogue in which the Lord exhorts his disciple to fish for men.

Peter went on to become the leader of the church (some think he was the first Pope) and the author of some of the New Testament. If it had not been for the persistence of His friend and His God, Peter may have had a fate similar to the one Don was headed for.

In “September 1, 1939” W.H. Auden writes of people in a dive bar:

“Lost in a haunted wood, children afraid of the night, who have never been happy or good.”

Stuart Briscoe writes of how the faces in this bar reflect their owners. They are full of worry. Briscoe notes that the biblical King David had such an expression until He went to God for forgiveness and relief from his shame. Expounding on David’s message in Psalm 34, Briscoe says:

The faces along the bar of life belong to people looking for solace in their pain, longing for friendship in their loneliness, hoping for joy in the midst of their disappointments. They need a smile, a touch, a message of encouragement. Who better to bring it than the man who can say with conviction, “Taste and see that the Lord is good”.

I continue to need such men in my life and hope I can be one to others. Perhaps people of this ilk can be an antidote to a society currently stained by the poison spread by a lack of love.

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Garbled messages

I was sitting in my local Starbucks this morning when a soft rock song with a gentle sound and a male singer with a haunting voice was played. It moved me and I wanted to identify the song so I could listen to it again, but I couldn’t.  I couldn’t understand the lyrics. I thought I caught part of a sentence and “Googled” it, but never found what I was looking for. I finally gave up.

Shortly after that, an old age pensioner walked by. He was wearing a T-shirt which included a title or name on it, but the complete moniker was concealed by the jacket he was wearing. I was interested because the letters I DID see were identical to ones belonging to the name of a city where I used to live, a place located in Europe.

The old fellow’s jacket bore a lion insignia. This animal is the symbol of the country where this town is located. However, the term “Polizei” was emblazoned next to the lion and a quick Internet search told me that it is the German word for “police”. My city is in Finland. Even so, I was intrigued.

The man passed by me on his way out and as he did a woman walked in. I immediately caught the pleasant scent of her fragrance, but she moved so far away I couldn’t make her out. I was wondering if the attractiveness of the smell was representative of the person, but I couldn’t tell.

It occurred to me after these three consecutive frustrating incidents that a lot of communication gets easily distorted. In my case, the messages were garbled by obstructions in my line of sight and hearing.

I could have sought to overcome these obstacles. For example, I could have asked the senior citizen if he had lived in Finland or asked a barista if they knew the name of the song I had heard. Further, I might have moved closer to the lady with the sweet aroma, but of course that would have been creepy. (As it turned out, she DID walk in my direction and I found that her redolence was more distinctive than her appearance.) In other words, I could have sought to clarify my end of the communication.

I used to teach academic writing to engineers and one of my mantras was that it was not the responsibility of the receiver of their communications to have to interpret their them. I made it clear to these budding stars of technology that it was THEIR job to be clear.

Lack of clarity is what frustrates me when I listen to politicians in this day and age. For instance, I read the following on Yahoo this morning.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein is calling on the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee to investigate all issues related to obstruction of justice in the events leading up to the firing of FBI Director James Comey and the federal probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

This post just added to my earlier frustration I experienced from the incomprehensible communications by people at Starbucks. I knew that the folks at Starbucks did not intend to send me garbled messages. In fact, they were not even aware of their own communication or of me.

However, given the political environment we live in today and Madam Feinstein’s affiliation, I could only presume that she planned her use of the alarming phrase “obstruction of justice”. She was going after her political opponent, i.e., the current president of the United States.

This article prompted my response. I wrote the following in Yahoo’s reaction section of the post:

Exactly what “justice” does Feinstein say is being obstructed? Justice is defined as “the process or result of using laws to fairly judge and punish crimes and criminals.” (Merriam Webster for kids). What crime was committed? If she is referring to Trump seeking to influence Comey, how is that obstruction? POTUS is in charge of administration of justice and the FBI director is his subordinate in that task.

All the honorable senator’s statement did was raise a bunch of questions. It is her responsibility in my view to answer those questions for me in her public statement. However, I realize this is too much to ask from a politician. As a class, they are almost always purposely vague.

When it comes to my own issues, especially on subjects of importance to me, I can’t be like Senator Feinstein. I have to seek to define them as precisely as possible. I tried to do this as part of a writing exercise while I was the Starbucks.

Author Julia Cameron suggests that writers have a dialogue with their “Inner Writer”. She advises to write two letters; one is to be written from the “Inner Writer” to me and the other is by me to my “Inner Writer”. The task is to clarify my own fears and complaints regarding writing so that I can reassure myself that I have the “right to write” (the title of her book).

One of the problems my Inner Writer came up with is that I feel as if I have no message. My “self” replied:

“If you want my advice, get with God. Get your message from Him. Then write that message.”

In context, I realized as I did this exercise that I felt I am not allowed to be a writer. My response to Inner Writer was this:

You are not only allowed to be what God made you to be. You are encouraged to be what He made you to be.  In fact, it might be said that you are commanded to be what He made you to be. You are asking for a purpose from God. If writing is it, then be a writer. If not, then be whatever else He tells you to be.

One of the problems we have this side of heaven is that messages from God are garbled. The famous “love chapter” in the Bible, I Corinthians 13, likens our understanding of His communications in this life to a person looking in a flawed mirror.  As with my attempt to see the lady at Starbucks, my effort to perception of God is dimmed by our distance from each other.

However, I have had a taste of His presence and He indeed desires mine. My prayers are a sweet incense to Him. Thus, I have to keep trying to find a way through the muck to get to Him and hear what He has to say to me. Making sense of His messages to me are crucial.  He’s not a fellow customer at Starbucks. He’s the living God.

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Filed under Christianity, Communication, Donald Trump, language, politics, religion, Uncategorized, writing

It’s time to get angry about terrorism

Two days after another terrorist massacre in England. This time three men allegedly coordinated an attack which involved a van running over people and folks minding thier own business getting their throats slit. The world has gone crazy. Or is it only the Muslims who are maniacal? I don’t think so.

In  Los Angeles I have seen people from Muslim countries. They frequent the nearby grocery stores where I live in South Bay. They are friendly people with families trying to make their way in life like other Americans.

I know many Muslims from my years of teaching. In fact, I love a lot of them and count them to be my friends.

These nuts perpetrating the events in London, Paris, and San Bernardino do not represent the people I care about. They have warped minds and evil hearts and use religion as a cover to conduct their vile acts.

Seeking to ban Muslims from America is wrong. We have a long history of accepting people from all over. A drive down Olympic Blvd in West Los Angeles yesterday morning showed me how diverse this country is. I went from poor Latino neighborhoods to Koreatown to plush Beverly Hills. My course finished in tony Santa Monica.

The haves and the have nots. In the middle of this beach town at the end of Olympic Blvd, expensive restaurants and watering holes share streets with the homeless and a Goodwill Store.

Our problems are mainly economic, not religious. As long as anyone wants to come here to better themselves or are truly fleeing despotic governments, I am all in favor of immigration.

I remembered the victims of London yesterday in Santa Monica.  There are a couple British-themed pubs on Santa Monica Blvd and I hit one. I hoisted a Guinness in honor of the men who fought the terrorists with their pints. I know. It’s an Irish ale and the bartender was an American. But it didn’t matter.

I have been wondering how Europeans are supposed to defend themselves. Their elitist leaders, living in their protected bubbles, have taken their guns away. Ours here in America have been trying to do the same for years.

We fought the British for many reasons, including the right to carry guns. After it was all said and done, we beat them because we had access to weapons. It’s one reason the Bill of Rights in the US Constitution includes a clause that prevents our government from infringing on the right to bear arms. We Americans have felt we need them for our own security.

The government is always too little too late when it comes to just about anything, and this includes protecting its citizens from terrorists. How many of us have had an experience in which the police say that they can’t do anything about a threat until a crime is committed.

I am not suggesting that we citizens emulate the gunslingers  of old, men (and sometimes women) who are falsely portrayed by our entertainment industry. The reality is the Wild West wasn’t as violent as our flicks have made out. But many of the atrocities committed by kooks in recent years could have been squelched by one of their targets who just happened to be carrying a gun . Occasionally, someone with a weapon has indeed stopped the murder of innocents by plugging the demented murderer in their midst.

At the moment I am in a state of anger over terrorism. I missed the reactions of my fellow Americans on September 11 because I was living and working abroad. In fact, I haven’t watched too much about the defining terrorist even of our time until recently.

My rage was stoked yesterday as I watched a documentary about the Falling Man.  This photo was taken by Richard Drew on September 11 as a man fell or jumped from the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 9:41 am.

What a way to die. Many of the folks in the World Trade Center were faced with the choice of burning or suffocating to death or jumping out a window on one of the top floors of a 1500 feet. The Falling Man image and the news about the 200 or so “jumpers” has not been published much after September 11 because of the anger it evoked from the world.

I get it. It’s a horrifying picture. But some believe it in some ways honors the memory of the unknowns who had to make the terrible choice to escape the smoke or were blown out of the building. Even now, as I scan the Esquire piece on the documentary published in September of last year, I have tears coming to my eyes.

Even so, the banishing of the story from our public consciousness is indicative of something disturbing. We don’t want to confront the issues that caused such a gruesome sight. However, we should confront them and deal with them.

Yesterday I told a friend that the media should publish photos of the victims in London. They should show their slit throats. No, I am not a voyeur nor am I unfeeling. I just believe it is the only way we can shock our modern “civilization” into doing something about terrorism, and specifically, the terrorists themselves.

Our governments don’t seem to want to do anything. We shouldn’t expect them to after witnessing years and years of their inaction. There are no politicians out their willing to show enough courage to shift the sluggish machine of bureaucracy out of its doldrums.

Perhaps as individuals we fear our own deaths so much that we don’t want to be reminded that one day we will all meet our Maker.  Therefore, when another deranged person murders a vulnerable fellow human, all we can do is weep, light a candle and sing kumbayah. This ongoing ritual provides us with some sort of a  conscience cleansing and allows us to move on with our pathetic lives.

Or maybe my friend is right. He asked rhetorically yesterday “What can we do?”  Maybe like him we believe that we are powerless to effect change.

What we could do is to allow ourselves to get angry; I mean really furious. Enough to do something about the lack of protection we have against murderous thugs.

I think my rage is righteous. It’s why I am writing about it. If someone reads this, may I have influenced them to take action.

Maybe you could do something else with your own talents and gifts. Otherwise, the world will continue to be crazy.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under politics, terrorism, Uncategorized