Higher Education (from Delight in Disorder)

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College was a time for experiments.

Mixing songs with sex, ideas with drugs.

The God I had come to know went up in smoke.

I replaced the living Word with words from lives

That thirsted for truths to absorb the Truth

And hungered for rights without Righteousness.

 

I wrote a book my senior year called,

Life (in obvious places)

Filled with family stories and ones I’d conceived.

At the end, a coquettish Claudia Matson asks the narrator –

“Why don’t you write any love stories?”

“I don’t know any,” he replies.

 

I took a job at a plastics factory.

And started going to a country church.

Grammar Presbyterian.

Filled with farmers and grandmothers

Who made room for me in my stained Salvation Army clothes.

Smelling of smoke, looking for a God of substance.

 

Easter Sunday, on my way to church.

I saw a grey-haired woman in a tattered coat wandering.

I pulled over and tried to help.

She didn’t know where she was and I didn’t know where to take her.

We were both lost.

 

I drove her to a downtown church.

Dressed in his Easter best, a usher gave her a donut and some coffee.

He sat with her and helped her find her way home.

I left the church in tears.

Finding strength to be weak in a community of grace.

 

I went to seminary to serve God with my mind,

Hoping my body and soul would follow.

In class we looked at the language of Scripture

And discussed how not to talk about God.

 

In my pastoral work, I found God…

… in the joy of boy who would never speak.

… in the songs of prisoners longing for freedom.

… in the tears of a man praying beside his dying wife’s bed.

 

I say I found God, but really God found me, and I didn’t run away.

 

I met Alice in the office of a friend.

She was arguing with the phone company about a deposit.

She won.

I said to myself, “I want her on my side.”

Within 6 months, we were engaged.

 

We moved to a 3-room row house in South St. Louis.

The heat was unbearable,

Steam rising from the asphalt.

We passionately loved and more passionately fought.

From this conjugal clash, a child was conceived.

 

We moved to the countryside,

And I became a pastor,

A shepherd of a frozen flock.

I preached sermons on Sunday,

And took out the trash on Tuesdays.

 

Sarah was born in early Spring.

There was a chill in the air and ice on the roads,

But we barely noticed.

We brought her home to balloons and signs

A Noah’s Ark nursery.

We made her first week a music video

with Sandy Patty singing –

You are a masterpiece
A new creation He has formed
And you’re as soft  and fresh as a snowy winter morn.
And I’m so glad that God has given you to me

After a week, I was spent (or so I thought).

I retreated to my office and didn’t come out

Even when I came home.

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My Road to Recovery: Surrendering One Drug at a Time

My name is Tony and I am a recovering addict.  My drugs of choice included alcohol, nicotine, marijuana, Percocet (pain reliever) and Demerol (muscle relaxant).  I have been free of these substances since November of 1988 – but I do not count myself completely sober.  Since January of 1991, I have been prescribed psychotropics (first for depression, then Bipolar).  I have taken these as prescribed, except for one attempted overdose in March of 2008, when I took a handful of Clonazepam and a handful of Clozaril.  I would now say I have almost 25 years of recovery and just over 5 years of “supervised pseudo-sobriety”.

After graduating from Hanover, I moved to Bloomington with enough money to cover food and rent for the summer, hoping to get a job and start the M.F.A. program in Creative Writing in the Fall.  The only work I found was a gig selling plasma at a local Blood Center and I soon discovered that a diet of beer and cigarettes wasn’t enough to sustain my iron level, so I was even fired from that.  I became disillusioned with the prospect of writing commercials for a living and ran out of money in mid-July.  So, I moved into my father’s basement.

I was determined to work and the Percocet and Demerol I was taking caused me to sleep so much, I decided to give them up.  And I did.

I got a job at a plastics factory packing grocery bags into boxes and putting them onto skids (for 12 hour shifts).  On my days off, I traveled back to Bloomington – mostly to drink, listen to music and meet with friends.

I moved out of my father’s basement – into a downtown Columbus apartment.  I had a mattress on the floor for my bed, a wooden crate for a kitchen table and another one for a writing desk.  I met a guy on the streets who came from Berkeley.  He gave me some pot in exchange for a place to sleep.

One day, he invited some friends over.  There was a young woman there with her infant son.  They sat around getting stoned while her son cried in the corner.  I took the child for a walk, found out where his grandparents lived and delivered him in my truck.  I never smoked pot again.

But I was still drinking heavily, and smoking 2 packs of cigarettes a day.  I went through a very dark period, feeling lonely and depressed.  Much of the contemporary literature I was reading only reinforced my sense of purposelessness.  Somehow, I ran across the book A Habit of Being: The Letters of Flannery O’Connor and found in the darkness a ray of light.  I was inspired to pick up my Bible again and started to read Old Testament stories of the prophets.  I felt a sense of calling and enrolled in seminary – not planning to become a minister, but to simply sharpen my sense of purpose.

My first year of seminary, I drank more beer and smoked more cigarettes than ever before.  But as summer approached, and I was facing a stint as a chaplain at a women’s prison, I decided to stop drinking.  I attended AA meetings and began working the 12 steps.  It was rough at first (and this day I will still crave a beer), but with God’s help, I managed to quit.

This left only one drug – nicotine.  And that was the hardest to give up.  I had several aborted attempts – reminding me of Mark Twain’s saying, “I have no trouble giving up smoking.  I’ve done it thousands of time.”  Finally, after nearly hacking up a lung after a failed effort to play basketball, I threw away the last pack in November of 1988.

I was drug-free.  Now I could face my demons head-on.

 Depression Painting - Depression Fine Art Print - - Pachek

“Depression Painting – Depression Fine Art Print – – Pachek” from  Coleen Uyehara in MH ~ Depression & Suicide

My Problems with Life Have Been Solved

Some of you know that my current work-in-progress is a short story called, “Life”.  It’s the first in a trilogy of shorts which includes “Liberty” and “The Pursuit of Happiness”.  I completed drafts of the latter two in less than a month but after six weeks (mainly staring at an empty screen), I have only one scene of “Life” completed.

So today, I went for some help.  I met with my friend George, once was my partner in literary crime (we produced a satirical newsletter called “Rude Dogma” our final year in seminary/graduate school).  Using his keen pastoral skills, astute literary sensibilities, and sharp ear for social critique, he was able to diagnose my problem with Life and set me on a course toward liberation.

What is the story of my “Life”, you ask?

Basically, it is the story of two high school sweethearts who reach a fork in the road.  He wants to get married.  She wants to go to college.  At an impasse, they basically go their separate ways.  The story follows her journey to IU (in the early 1960s) where she encounters the beginnings of a social-sexual revolution.  She is faced with choices she must make (and choices made for her) that lead to a point of crisis.

So, what is my problem with Life, you ask?

Well, I have several.

First, I am trying to anticipate the reaction of the readers (or viewers, if it becomes a screenplay) before I write the first draft.  I am imagining intense criticism, for instance, for pretending to know the perspective of a woman (in 1963, no less) as she makes very personal decisions about relationships, career, sex, etc…  Instead of being my own worst critic before anything is on the page, I need to first tell the story (or let the story tell itself).

Next, I’ve gotten bogged down doing the grinding (though somewhat necessary) work of research.  Yesterday I spent 5 hours reading past student newspapers at the IU library (and paid $26 for parking) and still only made it through less than one month.  George recommended I hop on “Netflix” and watch the series “Madmen”, which evidently accurately depicts the early 1960s in a very compelling way.  (This is one reason I like to keep George on retainer.  While I would just as soon move to Montana and write haiku for mountain goats, he stays engaged with culture.)

Finally, my characters are underdeveloped.  By providing an affirming yet credible critique of “Liberty”, George was able to help me see some things I can develop in “Life” so that the characters grow and emerge as distinct persons you may not always agree with,  but whom you want to get to know.

While I still have research to do (like watching “Madmen” and hopefully interviewing women who lived through the early 1960s), I believe I am ready to now sit down and write the story.  I’m setting a goal to write one scene a day (starting tomorrow), which should mean I would have a working draft by the end of next month.

Now I’m wondering, just what can I offer my good buddy George in exchange for his transforming literary therapy (apart from singing his praises in this blog post)?

……. I could click that annoying button that keeps popping up on my Facebook and send him a Starbucks gift card.  (But no, that feels impersonal and I’m on a tight budget.)

……. I could abandon my allegiance to the IU Hoosiers and start rooting for the UK Wildcats, possibly even sending a letter of protest to the NCAA for their exclusion from the tournament.  (But no, when I cut my veins I bleed crimson – not blue.  How anyone can bleed blue is beyond me.)

…… I could join the Xenia, Ohio Crane Operators Guild and wage a campaign to elect him “Sovereign Lord and Grand Pubah For Life”.  (But no, I’m essential apolitical and you probably have to have a job as a crane operator to join.)

I guess I’ll have to pray about it some more.  Or better yet, in the truly modern, American way, I conduct a poll on the blogosphere!

What do you think I should give George?

This is a picture of our seminary basketball team (“The Frozen Chosen”) – circa 1932.  We’ve all aged very well.  Apart from me, everyone is a huge success.
(front row) There’s Ron, President of Chile.  John, Spiritual Director at Microsoft.  David, Sigmund Freud Chair of Psychoanalysis at Vienna University.  George, Pastoral Guru, Cultural Critic and Literary Therapist.
(back row) Robert, Medical Examiner at Johns Hopkins.  Pete, Surgeon General of Puerto Rico. Mark, Library of Congress Director.  David, Owns 7 Hawaiian Islands.  Buran, Mega-church Pastor and Spiritual Counselor to President Obama.   And Me, Unemployed Weaver of Words Sleeping on His Father’s Couch.
[Note:  I stole this from George’s Facebook page (maybe one thing I should give him is respect for his personal property….hmmm….  Naaa, I’ll think of something else).]

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

Escape from the L.I.E... by Tasayu Tasnaphun

 

In high school, I learned the Peter Principle –

“People rise to their level of incompetence.”

 

In seminary, I was taught –

“Be careful what you pray for;

You might just get it.”

 

Still, I prayed to rise –

More people, a bigger community, better pay.

 

A church on Long Island called

And offered me all this and more…

… more than I expected.

… more than I could handle.

 

From the moment I landed, I was consumed with busyness

That had no end.

The church needed a Savior.

And I wasn’t Him.

The ministry became my golden calf

Where I sacrificed my family and my sanity.

 

One night I went to bed early,

Emotionally exhausted and physically drained.

Lying in bed, I heard a voice say,

“It’s okay.”

 

But it wasn’t the voice of assurance.

It was a word of relinquishment.

 

I got up and filled my palm with psychotropic drugs.

Put them in my mouth and swallowed.

I did it again.

And again.

 

It wasn’t enough to kill me.

Only to put me in a drug-induced stupor.

I collapsed on the floor.

 

Alice found me and called my psychiatrist

He said I could sleep it off.

But I kept falling onto the floor,

My body was contorted; I kept running into walls.

Alice had to direct me to the bathroom,

And clean up after me when I missed.

 

I was angry…

… angry at myself for making such a mess of things.

… angry at Alice for cleaning up my mess.

… angry at God for messing with me.

 

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.

 

Now I’ve come back to the outskirts of Nineveh,

Grateful for the shade God provides,

Hiding from the scorching sun.

 

The story begins…

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

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

(photo: “Escape from the L.I.E…” from Tasayu Tasnaphun, some rights reserved)

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

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College was a time for experiments.

Mixing songs with sex, ideas with drugs.

The God I had come to know went up in smoke.

I replaced the living Word with words from lives

That thirsted for truths to absorb the Truth

And hungered for rights without Righteousness.

 

I wrote a book my senior year called,

Life (in obvious places)

Filled with family stories and ones I’d conceived.

At the end, a coquettish Claudia Matson asks the narrator –

“Why don’t you write any love stories?”

“I don’t know any,” he replies.

 

I took a job at a plastics factory.

And started going to a country church.

Grammar Presbyterian.

Filled with farmers and grandmothers

Who made room for me in my stained Salvation Army clothes.

Smelling of smoke, looking for a God of substance.

 

Easter Sunday, on my way to church.

I saw a grey-haired woman in a tattered coat wandering.

I pulled over and tried to help.

She didn’t know where she was and I didn’t know where to take her.

We were both lost.

 

I drove her to a downtown church.

Dressed in his Easter best, a usher gave her a donut and some coffee.

He sat with her and helped her find her way home.

I left the church in tears.

Finding strength to be weak in a community of grace.

 

I went to seminary to serve God with my mind,

Hoping my body and soul would follow.

In class we looked at the language of Scripture

And discussed how not to talk about God.

 

In my pastoral work, I found God…

… in the joy of boy who would never speak.

… in the songs of prisoners longing for freedom.

… in the tears of a man praying beside his dying wife’s bed.

 

I say I found God, but really God found me, and I didn’t run away.

 

I met Alice in the office of a friend.

She was arguing with the phone company about a deposit.

She won.

I said to myself, “I want her on my side.”

Within 6 months, we were engaged.

 

We moved to a 3-room row house in South St. Louis.

The heat was unbearable,

Steam rising from the asphalt.

We passionately loved and more passionately fought.

From this conjugal clash, a child was conceived.

 

We moved to the countryside,

And I became a pastor,

A shepherd of a frozen flock.

I preached sermons on Sunday,

And took out the trash on Tuesdays.

 

Sarah was born in early Spring.

There was a chill in the air and ice on the roads,

But we barely noticed.

We brought her home to balloons and signs

A Noah’s Ark nursery.

 

We made her first week a music video

with Sandy Patty singing –

You are a masterpiece
A new creation He has formed
And you’re as soft  and fresh as a snowy winter morn.
And I’m so glad that God has given you to me

 

After a week, I was spent (or so I thought).

I retreated to my office and didn’t come out

Even when I came home.

 

the story begins…

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

the story continues….

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