Going to a Family Baptism

We don’t choose the families into which we are born. In a spiritual sense, neither do we choose to be adopted into God’s family. God chooses to adopt us as His children through the prompting of the Holy Spirit within us and the prodding around us.  Yet, when we profess faith in Christ and receive Him in our hearts as our Lord and Savior, it is as if we are signing our name on the adoption papers. These papers give us a new lease on life. The waters of baptism show us that our sin, which leads to spiritual death, is washed away.

To read more, click on the title below…

“A Family Baptism”

Baptism...

Baptism… from Ana Pinto in What Makes Life

Luxuriating in the Feel of Words: The Writing Life of Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath’s journals detail, among other things, her love affair with words.  She expresses great passion in her writing, yet also a grave sense that it does not yet measure up, that it is too self-absorbed.

What I have written here so far is rather poor, rather unsatisfactory.  It is the product of an unimaginative girl, preoccupied with herself, and continually splashing about in the shallow waters of her own narrow psyche.

Plath, from an early age has a keen sense of what makes for great literature, yet like Van Gogh copying the masters in his early work, she sees herself lacking originality.

Do I create? No, I reproduce.  I have no imagination. I am submerged in circling ego.  I listen, God knows why.  I say I am interested in people. Am I rationalizing?

At 19, she has much to learn, and she is aware of this.

Technically, I suppose the visual appearance and sound of words, taken alive, may be much like the mechanics of music… or the color and texture of a painting.  However, uneducated as I am in this field, I can only guess and experiment.

At times, the young Plath’s lack of wisdom causes her great frustration.  She desperately wants more time – an eternity – to learn all there is to know (in all realms of knowledge) so she can produce good writing.  Occasionally, though, she hits on poetic expressions that bring her great joy.  After writing a poem she entitled “Sonnet: To Spring”, she writes –

Luxuriating in the feel and music of the words.  I chose and rechose, singling out the color, the assonance, the dissonance and musical effects I wished – lulling myself by supple “I”s and blend long “a”s and “o”s.  God, I am happy – it’s the first thing I’ve written for a year that has tasted wholly good to my eyes, ears, and intellect.

Sylvia Plath would go on to write many poems, as well as the novel “The Bell Jar”, that would taste “wholly good” to the eyes, ears, and intellects of many people – in her own generation and for generations to come.  Yet, she would not find ultimate satisfaction in this.  Rather, she slipped into such despair that she opted to end her own life at the age of 30.

In many ways, this was an abrupt, tragic end to what was shaping up to be a brilliant literary career.  In other ways, it was the culmination of a struggle that lasted over a decade.   On November 3, 1951, Plath wrote in her journal –

God, if ever I have come close to waiting to commit suicide, it is now, with the groggy sleepless blood dragging through my veins, and the air thick and gray with rain and the damn little men across the street pounding in the roof with picks and axes and chisels, and the acrid hellish stench of tar.

Yet, it was not the unpleasantness around her that caused her the most trouble, but the unsettledness within.

I am afraid.  I am not solid, but hollow.  I feel behind my eyes a numb, paralyzed cavern, a pit of hell, a mimicking nothingness.  I never thought, I never wrote, I never suffered.  I want to kill myself, to escape from responsibility, to crawl back abjectly into the womb.

The Suicide of Sam Stone: Remembering All Our Fallen Soldiers

 John Prine’s song “Sam Stone” tells the story of a soldier who comes home from Vietnam, a wounded warrior.  Not only is he physically injured, he is also psychologically and spiritually consumed.

And the time that he served,  

Had shattered all his nerves,  

And left a little shrapnel in his knee.   

But the morphine eased the pain,  

And the grass grew round his brain,  

And gave him all the confidence he lacked,  

With a Purple Heart and a monkey on his back.

We then see the terrible impact of Sam’s wounds on his family as the chorus shifts from a third-person narrative to a plaintive first-person plea from the perspective of Sam’s child.

There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes,  

Jesus Christ died for nothin’ I suppose.  

Little pitchers have big ears,  

Don’t stop to count the years,  

Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.  

Mmm….

Sam’s addiction leaves him ill-equipped to face the demands as a worker and father.

Sam Stone’s welcome home  

Didn’t last too long.  

He went to work when he’d spent his last dime  

And Sammy took to stealing  

When he got that empty feeling  

For a hundred dollar habit without overtime.   

And the gold rolled through his veins  

Like a thousand railroad trains,

And eased his mind in the hours that he chose,  

While the kids ran around wearin’ other peoples’ clothes…

Ultimately, this wounded warrior chooses to end his struggle.

Sam Stone was alone  

When he popped his last balloon  

Climbing walls while sitting in a chair  

Well, he played his last request  

While the room smelled just like death  

With an overdose hovering in the air  

But life had lost its fun  

And there was nothing to be done  

But trade his house that he bought on the G. I. Bill  

For a flag draped casket on a local heroes’ hill.

On this Memorial Day, it is important we remember all those who have given up their lives in the service of our country.  Some died (and are dying) while fighting on a military battlefield.  Some died (and are dying) fighting the effects of war in the battlefield of their mind.  My prayer for each of them, as well as for those they’ve left behind is,

“God rest your soul.”

 

Veterans Suicide Help‎   (800) 273-8255

Caregivers of Wounded Warriors SparkTeam from Torrey Shannon in Caregiver Resources

George Jones’ Choices

It was almost midnight when I got the news that country-and-western legend George Jones “The Possum” died yesterday.  He was 81.

When I told my Dad this morning, his first response was “We’re going to the funeral.”  Then, he remarked sadly, “His drinking finally caught up to him.”

It brought to mind a lyric from the John Prine song, “Please Don’t Bury Me” (an anthem for organ donation) that goes –

Give my stomach to Milwaukee
If they run out of beer

If Jones drank up to even half his reputation, there is no doubt that his kidney and liver must have been pickled, but in his case it seems to have worked as a preservative.  “The Possum” performed his music over a span of almost 60 years, much of it heavily under the influence of alcohol.  According a New York Times article

“White Lightning,”a No. 1 country hit in 1959, required 83 takes because Mr. Jones was drinking through the session. On the road, playing one-night stands, he tore up hotel rooms and got into brawls. He also began missing shows because he was too drunk to perform.

I had the pleasure of seeing George Jones at the Little Opry House in Nashville, Indiana in 1984.  True to form, he was late appearing on stage as his crew frantically worked to sober him up.  When he did arrive on stage, it took two large men (on either side of him) to hold him up and keep him in the general vicinity of the microphone.  Yet, his voice remained strong as he belted out –

They call me No Show Jones.
(They call him No Show Jones)
I’m seldom never on
(He’s seldom never on)
The stage singin’ my songs
My whereabouts are unknown.
(They call him No Show Jones)
They call me No Show Jones.

The audience went wild – cheering on this man who could get away with so much yet sing so well.

One of the paradoxes of George Jones is that while he clearly broke nearly all the rules that lead to life (drinking, drugging, failure to support wives and children), his music still affirmed a moral universe.  His Grammy-award winning song “Choices” expresses this well –

I’ve had choices since the day that I was born

There were voices that told me right from wrong

If I had listened, no I wouldn’t be here today

Living and dying with the choices I’ve made

George Jones was perhaps the second greatest male country singer who ever lived.  And unlike the first (Hank Williams, Sr.), he was able to beat the odds, to live the hard life celebrated in song, to drown his sorrow and come up just in time for air time and time again.  He was able to temporarily put off his pain in pursuit of pleasure.

God only knows where this pursuit has ultimately led him.

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live…  (Deuteronomy 30:19)

(photo above “George Jones – Rest in Peace” from  Laurie in Books & Movies & Music & TV & People)

God’s Obituary Revisited

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

God did many wondrous and mysterious things

Blessing a people to bless others

Delivering them from slavery to a Promised Land.

Rescuing them from self-destruction

Showing them mercy from everlasting to everlasting.

 

Then, some time ago, God died.

It might have been by the pen of Frederich Nietzsche,

Or in the ovens of Aushwitz.

Or on the tongue of Dr. Matthews, in the Spring of 1983

Who taught me that theology was no longer the study of God,

But the exploration of what it means to be human.

 

When I was young, God was very much alive.

Spewing fire and brimstone from the pulpit

Of the First Mount Pleasant Baptist church.

Kneeling beside me when I asked Jesus to come into my heart.

Holding me tight on nights I would hear my parents screaming at each other,

Softly whispering to me – “I am with you always.”

 

When I read Elie Wiesel’s Night

The gallows scene where the young boy hangs there –

His tongue hanging out, swollen and bluish,

One man asks, “For God’s sake, where is God?”

Eliezar says to himself,

This is where – hanging here from this gallows…”

 

I thought of Jesus hanging on the cross,

Instead of sympathy, he received scorn.

If you are the son of God, save yourself and us.”

Instead, Jesus looked up to heaven and said,

“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.

 

Then God died.

And though he came back to life three days later,

We  killed him again.  And again.  And again.

 

At the pen of pompous philosophers,

In the gas chambers, the killing fields, the executioner’s chair

On the tongues of tenured teachers.

 

But the voice of God keeps calling out to us

From beyond the pages of the obituaries

(in His best Mark Twain voice) –

“The news of my untimely departure,

Though much celebrated,

Has been grossly exaggerated.”

Elevator

“Elevator” from Constantine Gavrykov in Creative Mind

April is the Cruelest Month: Walking Through the Waste Land

Wyndham Lewis ~ T.S. Eliot, 1938

April is the cruelest month,

breeding lilacs out of the dead land,

mixing memory and desire,

stirring dull roots with spring rain.   ―     T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

Yesterday, I felt like I was wandering in the waste land.  Though the sun was shining and there was a cool breeze blowing, I couldn’t see it or feel it huddled beneath my sheets, praying for sense out of suicide, light in the darkness, life after death.

I thought of the Warren family.  I don’t know Rick or Kay Warren personally.  But, like many people, I know of their ministry and the positive impact their words and work has had on so many lives.  I can’t say I embrace their theology wholesale, but I greatly respect the depth of their faith and would not question their profound relationship with Christ.

And now, this.  The death of a child must be the greatest grief any parent must face.  Compounded with this grief is the threat to meaning and purpose, to hope and, yes, even faith, that strikes when a loved one chooses death over life.  Rick Warren expressed gratitude yesterday for the overwhelming support of people around the world expressed after Matthew’s death, but no amount of community support can alleviate the lonely journey Rick and Kay and their other children must now walk.

As I laid in the darkness, I thought of my own children and my wife.  Memories came flooding back – that night 5 years ago when I swallowed handfuls of psychotropic meds as a desperate measure to end my misery.  My family was little more than an afterthought in that moment.  I didn’t even compose a proper suicide note – just scribbled off a few perfunctory lines as if writing out a prescription.

Thanks to God’s amazing grace, the drugs that should have killed me didn’t.  Instead, they put me in an all-night stupor.  I kept stumbling to the bathroom, crashing into walls, unable to straighten up, leaving a mess my wife had to clean up.

Yesterday, I wandered through the waste land with mostly dead memories and only a hint of desire for something better.

Today, the sun came up (as it typically does).  It took me until noon to rise.  I ate lunch instead of breakfast.  I read some encouraging messages.  I reflected on God’s Word to “choose life, that you and your offspring might live.”  I felt grateful – not glad, exactly – but grateful to be alive.

They say rain is on its way.  Spring rain to enliven the dull roots dormant underground, hiding from the harsh winter.  Breeding lilacs will appear.

In May, I’ll travel home – to my children, and my wife (if only for the day).

It will be “a day that the Lord hath made”.  And we will “rejoice and be glad in it.”

(image above “Wyndham Lewis ~ T.S. Eliot, 1938” from Jude W. in art :: paintings I love)

A Life or Death Decision

Van Gogh

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live…”  (Deuteronomy 30:19, English Standard Version)

When I read the news of Matthew Warren’s suicide yesterday, I felt sick to my stomach.  I thought back to my own history with mental illness (including my suicide attempt).  I tried to reflect on my experience (“Purposeless-Driven Suicide”: Matthew Warren and Me“).  Then, I felt emotionally and physically exhausted.

I laid across the bed for hours and prayed.  Mostly in images and feelings.  I was beyond words.  I wanted to express gratitude to God for rescuing me from death, for giving me another chance.  Though I am separated from my wife and family and without a job, I am thankful that I am alive.  It is truly wonderful to wake up in the morning, to eat a bowl of cheerios and drink a cup of warm coffee, to sit in my recliner and read and write and listen to music, to look out the window at a bright Spring day dawning.

When I finally got up last night (around 7), I grabbed something to eat, then joined the on-line conversation about Matthew’s death.  It is both encouraging to see Christians (and others) showing compassion toward the Warren family.  I guess there was some truly ugly speculation about Matthew’s death, but I didn’t see much of that.  Mainly, I found a Christ-like spirit of “mourning with those who mourn”.

Now it is a new day.  I didn’t get up until noon (perhaps an emotional hang-over).  These words of Joshua (above) keep ringing through my mind.  They were first spoken just before the people Israel were to enter the Promised Land.  After years of hardship in their wilderness wanderings, they had the prospect of more ease, luxuries, comfort.  Yet, they also faced the danger of exploiting these resources, putting things about God – which is following a deadly path.

Joshua’s words are timeless.  They speak to us just as clearly on bright mountaintops and in dark valleys.  Whether you are riding on top of the world or languishing in the pit, hear this challenging hopeful message – “Life is worth living.”  Choose life with God in Christ and you will experience abundant joy and peace that endures forever.  More than this, you will influence the destiny of your children (and others) around you who see what you have and want it for themselves.

Understand, I’m writing this as much to myself as to anyone.  Each day I must make choices that contribute to abundant life or lead to an agonizing death.  I pray together we can be encouraged to “Choose life,” today and in the days to come.

image above “Van Gogh” from Dan Bunea – living abstract paintings via Renate Perdøhl in  Artwork I find inspiring

Purposeless-Driven Suicide: Matthew Warren and Me

Edvard Munch's "The Scream"

The news today tells a dismal tale –

“At 27 years of age, Matthew was an incredibly kind, gentle and compassionate young man whose sweet spirit was encouragement and comfort to many,” Warren, the popular author of The Purpose Driven Life, said in the letter. “Unfortunately, he also suffered from mental illness resulting in deep depression and suicidal thoughts.”

Matthew Warren, one of three children of Warren and his wife, Kay, killed himself Friday, the evangelical pastor said in the letter.

“No words can express the anguished grief we feel right now,” Warren wrote. “He had a brilliant intellect and a gift for sensing who was most in pain or most uncomfortable in a room. He’d then make a bee-line to that person to engage and encourage them.”

“In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided. Today, after a fun evening together with Kay and me, in a momentary wave of despair at his home, he took his life.”  (from The Huffington Post)

As a person of faith living with a mental illness who has attempted suicide, this story is all too familiar with me.  It creates in me both a feeling a grateful relief (that I was rescued from death) as well as a bewildered sense of survivor’s guilt.

I want to feel angry.  But who would I be angry at?

Society?

The church?

The mental health establishment?

God?

I suppose I could concoct stories showing how each fell short to save Matthew’s life, but in the end, in spite of aggressive efforts from many sources, he was the one who chose to give up.  Just like I did (though I lived to tell about it).

It’s been almost 5 years now since I tried to end my life.  I’m happy to say I’m enjoying relative balance – on medication, through prayer, in counseling, at church, as I write.  I still struggle with depression, but I don’t fear I will follow in Matthew’s footsteps.

Recently, I wrote an autobiographical poem that includes my suicide attempt and this brief reflection –

Some people ask me now how someone who claims

To be in a saving relationship with Jesus Christ

Could try to kill himself.

 

I don’t have a good answer.

I only know that though I’ve wanted to give up on God,

God hasn’t given up on me.

 

I’d like to hear from you.  How have you been impacted by Matthew’s death?  By mental illness?  By suicide?  How has it affected your faith?

 

(image above – Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” from Amy Larson onto I see a red door and I want it painted black)

Who Crucified Christ?: Clarence Jordan on “The Death of Jesus”

WHAT THE POOR NEED IS NOT CHARITY BUT CAPITAL, NOT CASEWORKERS BUT COWORKERS.”  –CLARENCE JORDAN

Given that it is Good Friday, I thought I would deviate from my short story reviews and instead review a section of a sermon from The Substance of Faith and other Cotton Patch Sermons by Clarence Jordan.

For those of you unfamiliar with Clarence Jordan, he was a Bible scholar trained at the Baptist seminary in Louisville.    In 1942, he helped found (with his wife Florence and a missionary couple – the Englands) a farm in Americus, Georgia, called Koinonia.  There they worked the land and set about doing “incarnational evangelism” – living out the Gospel through hard work and faithful relationships.   This included treating his “Negro” neighbors as brothers and sisters in Christ – which got him into a great deal of trouble.

(For more information on Jordan and Koinonia, click here.)

In addition to working the land, building relationships with neighbors and forming a Christian community, Jordan set about to translate the New Testament in the Cotton Patch translations.  While his commitments at the farm occupied a great deal of his time, he did travel some and preach for various churches and other organizations (who would have him).

Jordan took Scripture very seriously.  Though not a literalist, he believed we should strive to discover its true meaning and live according to its inspiration.  He did not “explain away” the Word doing with interpretive gymnastics, but he also didn’t accept conventional orthodoxy as God’s authoritative word.

Take, for instance, the section from his sermon God’s Destination for Man entitled “The Death of Jesus”.  Jordan opens with the rather bold statement-

I don’t believe the crucifixion was the will of God.

These 10 words cut to the heart of much orthodox Christianity as expressed in hymns, sermons, and books.  Of more concern to me is, it seems to ignore countless Scripture passages which describe the death of Christ as a “propitiation” (an atoning sacrifice).

So, if he doesn’t believe the crucifixion was God’s will, what does Jordan believe?  He expresses it this way –

…it was God’s will that his son should be on this earth, that he should be in a crucifiable situation.  I think the kind of life he lived was inevitably a life in the shadow of crucifixion.  It was a life in such tension with the world — it was in mortal combat with the world — that either the world had to die or Jesus had to die.  It was a fight unto death.  And I think that God’s way of love here is being a sin-bearer, of saying, “Sure, put on me your sin… let me be your scapegoat, let me be your lamb.”

The distinction between God willing the crucifixion and simply sending Jesus into a “crucifiable situation” (knowing human will enough to know they would opt for crucifixion) may seem like a thin line.  What difference does it make?  Jordan goes on to reveal the essential difference as he applies it to modern life –

The reason that the world is so terribly neurotic today is that it no longer has a sin-bearer.  The Church doesn’t want to bear the sins of the world. We don’t want to be anybody’s dumping ground.  We don’t want to have them throwing their dirty dishwater on us.  And the world has no scapegoat; it has no sin-bearer. The body of Christ is unwilling to bear the sins of the world.  But God was willing to bear.  And so we throw on him our sins. Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away in his own body, bearing our sins in his body up to the cross. 

Did God put our sins on the back of his son of the cross? No.  He made him available and we put our sins on his back.  Now, in the sense that God made Jesus available and expendable, God was a party to the crucifixion.  Love makes itself available, love makes itself expendable.

Jordan’s works challenge those of us with the view that God has everything in control.  More than this, however, his words challenge a world demanding “rights” (for everything under the sun) and fighting for them by asserting economic and political control.

Jordan lived and worked among his African-American neighbors and treated them as equals long before the “Civil Rights” movement was even conceived.   His life was threatened for it.  His livelihood was cut off.  Still, he kept loving his neighbors – regardless of  their skin color.

Jordan was asked many times in the early 1960s why he wasn’t marching and speaking out for “Civil Rights”.  His response was always the same –

Love has no rights but the right to give itself away.

(image of Clarence Jordan from Tripp Hudgins in jesusy)

Out of Nineveh: My Life with (and without) God – Part I

St. Jonah

 

When I was born, Nineveh was no longer the capital of an evil Assyrian empire.

It was a small town in the Midwest, straight out of Hoosiers

With a mother seeking comfort, finding passing victory in valium

And a father consumed by work and entangled by emotions unexpressed.

Their friends put beer in my bottle and laughed

At the toddler toddling tipsy to the turf.

 

A picture in my uncle’s yearbook shows me at 3.

In the crowd at a basketball game,

Eyes riveted on the action; not reacting like the others.

Serious, searching for substance in the orange globe of a ball.

As if God had put it there.

 

Sports gave structure to my days.

Something to do to escape.

Countless hours at the school playground,

I was Pistol Pete Maravich.

Each shot a last-second buzzer beater,

A ticket to immortality.

 

When my parents divorced,

I was made to choose where to live.

I chose to live with Dad where I could be free

To eat Braunsweiger and Nacho Cheese Doritoes

Until I made myself sick.

 

Dad’s buddies came over to drink Budweiser,

One asked, “Do you like to play with yourself?”

I said, “Sure.”

He burst out laughing: spewed beer through his nose.

 

I moved in with Mom and Dan, my step-father.

He was an EMT and liked to carry guns.

We watched “Emergency” during dinner.

Dan would yell at the TV, shouting instructions.

 

They argued a lot – Mom and Dan.

One day Dan pulled out his gun and started waving it ar0und.

I felt a sharp stab in my gut and yelled out.

Mom got Dan to look at me.

He decided my appendix had burst, so he called the ambulance,

They called it gastritous.

I think it was the finger of God.

 

I was driven to succeed in high school

In sports and studies.

My senior year I discovered girls

Pam Murray, in particular –

Her dad was a missionary.

To date her, I had to go to church,

Which I gladly did.

She was looking for more than kisses and cuddles.

I wanted more than her body had to offer.

 

At 18, I was on top of the world

But it was not such a steady place to stand.

I had mono when I gave the graduation speech.

I talked about the need for faith,

With a runny nose.

 

I recited the poem “Richard Cory” – which begins,

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And ends…

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

 

the story continues…

Sent to Serve: My Life with (and without) God – Part II

Prayer, Parenting, Pits, and Pills: My Life with (and without) God – Part III

A Clarion Call: My Life with (and without) God – Part IV

Alone in a Fog: My Life with (and without) God – Part V

On a Teeter-Totter: My Life with (and without) God – Part VI

In the Heart of the Finger Lakes: My Life with (and without) God – Part VII

Chosen to Adopt: My Life with (and without) God – Part VIII

Lost on Long Island: My Life with (and without) God – Part IX

(image “St. Jonah” from Mauricio Alfonso Naya in Art / Illustration / Etc.)