Thursday, September 30, 2004

Rock Me Amadeus

Feeling better. I talked to my dean from my house last night, and things are clearly not settled, but we're working on them. I could drive down two days a week, that would be okay.

I need to change the name of this blog, not the link, but the name. I like the name, but it's also associated with me at work, and as I write about work here, I sure as snot don't want someone reading my blog. I don't have any ideas at the moment? Suggestions, anyone?

Also, I'm trying to find things to do on my long drives. I was learning french last semester, and will pick it up again when I get the cd's from a friend. And I'm listening to symphonies.

I'm no classical music buff, not by a long shot. But I do have some sensitivity to that kind of music. And napster has given me access to tons of stuff. I have Mozart's 40th and 41st symphonies in my car. And they really are marvelous. I think the more I'm feeling, whether happy or sad, the more I can access his music emotionally. The 40th symphony is considered his best by many critics; it's called 'the greater g-minor' sometimes, because he only wrote one other symphony in a minor key, the 25th, also in g, which has that explosive first movement (it's played in Amadeus, when they're hauling off a bleeding Salieri in the opening scenes; that movie, actually, has little to do with mozart as history portrays him, but it remains one of my faves).

And when I listen to what Mozart does with strings...my god, it's really something; flame and ecstasy, pain and longing and beauty all in one place. Einstein said that the first and final movements of the 40th drew the soul into utter despair (and I'll look this up later and get the exact quote; I'm at work now); but others, including myself, hear no despair at all. Just effortless beauty and Mozart's tremendous classical precision. He wrote with real flair ('too many notes') but the balance feels almost mathematical to me. And the melodies, again, such sweet longing.

Sometimes when I'm feeling like gum on the underside of a busy elevator, I let his music work into me and take me; I nestle in it. Not often enough, but that's part of this blog; to hear myself when I need to speak.

I don't know where to find free recordings online (you can do a free seven day trial to napster I know) but if you get the chance: the first and fourth movements of the 40th, and the 41st for that matter, the first movement of the 25th, the lacrimosa from the requiem, the first movement of the great mass in C (really, that entire thing) ... these are places to begin. Get away some place you can relax and not be disturbed, and hear his voice come wailing across the centuries.

He's quite the cat.

Gotta drive.

t

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Storm and Stress

it has always been my experience that when it rains it pours. Right now it's pouring.

Jeez, where do I begin?

The biggest thing is work related. I moved to my little mountain town 3 1/2 years ago when I started teaching online. There were no online classes when I came to my college, and somehow I ended up selling the concept to the campus. I worked my butt off for two years. I took genuine risks. I aged, I think.

The problem is I'm only able to live where I do (an hour, at best, from my college) because I drive in just two days a week. I could probably do three days a week, though I go to the airport every other week (twice) so my son can fly down to see his father; I have to drive a half hour to work out, 20 minutes to church...you get the idea. Four hours work commuting a week isn't bad. Six, maybe. But ten? No way.

And what has happened is that while I struck a special deal with my dean and v.p. way back when, more instructors want to go online now, or a few. Our department rotates classes that more than one instructor want to teach, and they're very conservative about adding online sections. The fact is I could lose my online classes and get a five day a week schedule, though it hasn't come to that yet.

And then what? There is an extension campus in our district, not connected to my college but still in the same district, about 25 minutes down the hill. I've asked if I could teach there two days a week, maybe even teach there online. But this whole thing is making me sick. Sure I have options, my family has options, but my son is very happy up here. S and I knew we might move down in a few years when he finishes high school, but I never figured I'd lose my online classes. Again, it hasn't happened yet, and I've emailed the new dean, who is a personal friend of mine (both he and the new v.p. were at my birthday dinner) to see what I can do. But right now, it's triggering me pretty bad. Guilt over (maybe) having to put Mikey in another high school, and anger, lots of it: could all the work I put into developing online at my school really be set aside? That's how it feels to me, even if that's not true. I'm simply not ready to sell my house and move down. The central valley is hot, smokey, and if I hadn't gotten to move up here I might have gone to another college altogether years ago.

Whatever, I feel scared, sick, even powerless. And as I said, angry, though it's mostly sitting under depression. I worked out at the gym today which is very good for me (scooter will remember that from way back).

***

The other thunderhead in my life: talking to Estella's old friend...man. Did I learn some painful things, though things I'm very glad to know. I want to share those here. Maybe I'll have to let go of trying to do this narrative style and just spit it out. Okay, how does one spell loogie?

My wife left me after 3 1/2 years of very desparate marriage. Things were bad for us right from the start. I was heavily depressed during the years we were together (early 90's). And I was seeing a therapist named Robert (that's his real first name; it's onlya first name, and if he wants a psuedonym, he can come to my house and ask nicely). After I'd been going to him for a couple years, E wanted to see him too. And I agreed.

I was scared because my high school teacher/mentor, the guy who got me into creative writing and poetry, ended up hitting on my high school girlfriend (he was 38). Terry was his name. It confused her enough she broke up with me over it. And then it confused me so much when she wanted to get back together I said no. Years later, I started seeing a therapist named Keith. E was seeing him too. And we had to quit seeing him because he became sexually involved with a client and Matt H. found out about it and probably a dozen Bethany people were suddenly bereft of help. That's how I found Robert; he worked for the same guy Keith did.

But to save my marriage, and for no other reason, I agreed to let her begin seeing him. I asked him if he was married, and he said, yes, happily, he didn't think he'd ever get a divorce. I think I asked him if he 'believed' in divorce; E and I were hanging by such a drastic thread.

And as soon as she started things got even worse. She clearly transferred to him; she brought home a pillow from his office, she took pictures of him and brought them home. But hey, Robert bragged constantly about how he had done seven years of therapy himself, how he was healthier than other therapists. I was too sick to see how sick he really was. Oh, and of course he was a Christian, working in a Christian office.

vengeance is mine says the LORD, I will repay

And then after about seven months of E seeing Robert, she left a note on the bathroom mirror when I came home from work: I'm going to live some place else, don't call me or try to contact me, something like that. It's sad and ironic, because later I found the draft of that note in the back seat of her car; it originally said 'I promise to come back.' That had been crossed out I think. In any event, that line wasn't on my note.

And we were supposed to work it out, but we never did. She wouldn't talk to me, let me know where she was living, or see a therapist or pastor together with me. I tried, via Brent and Paul K. When I was laid off from my crappy electrical job (the worst job I ever had) she refused to help me financially. I had to let our apartment go; she came and took all her stuff. She took the fridge and the bed, though she was supposed to leave the fridge. Stuff like that. And she told everyone I was abusive; at least that she was afraid of me, afraid I was going to beat her up or assault her or something. But as Kathryn T. said later; 'we lived right next to you Troy, those walls were thin; the things she accused you of were completely untrue.' They were gang. I had lots of anger, and Robert had encouraged me to hit things to release it; things like the arm of the couch, or a punching bag I kept in the garage. But I never laid a finger on E or even thought about it.

But I need to hurry this along. After nearly a year of no contact, and E filing for legal separation (or at least serving me the papers; apparently she never followed through but I didn't know that) Robert suggested I begin dating. I really resisted, but I was very depressed, and so I went out with one wacky girl I met at church; my plan was just to date casually, several girls. I mean I was still legally married though I didn't know where my wife lived and hadn't spoken to her in months. He suggested I go out with this girl again. And then, lo and behold, he began prodding me to have sex with this woman. And I did. Though the first time I couldn't even do it I felt so guilty and confused, and of course still had feelings for E. But I took a lover, and again at Robert's suggestion, asked for a divorce; he said still being married would muck up things with this other woman.

I suppose that makes sense...in hell. Why not encourage me to confront E with an ultimatum? I had very ambivalent feelings about all of this, and I was still struggling with suicidal feelings. Finally E did file. There's so much more to this story but I'll save it for later. I broke up with my crazy girlfriend after 8 months because she wanted to do other guys, basically. Before my divorce was final I sent E a letter asking if we could wait and try to work it out, though I felt so guilty over my girlfriend. Finally, two days before Christmas and more than two years after she walked out, my divorce was final.

And oh, how guilty I felt. I left my church. I don't know what I did. And then Robert told me he had 'befriended' E, that he thought I should see another therapist, that he had 'prayed about it.' I see.

It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

I figured he was still married. But it wasn't long after that that someone called me and told me the truth: E and Robert were dating. This was just months after she stopped seeing him as a client, and weeks, really, after I found another therapist.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.

Now you see. And the worst part of it was that I couldn't help but blame myself. If E was okay enough for super-Robert, mister ultra-healthy, to date, then I really must have been the crazy one all along. I assumed, for a long time, that they went off to have a happy life together, while I put all the work I could into healing myself and surviving what was really a very brutal betrayal.

And years have gone by. A decade now, almost to the day, since I found out about Robert and E. I have had no new information, other than that her name appeared on a book he wrote.

Until I talked to her old friend two nights ago.

And now more comes out: Robert stayed at her house, while she was still a client, not long after our separation; he told her that 'when we're eighty years old and our spouses are dead, we can be together;' he went camping, to the beach, to the movies, with her and with other women who were seeing him as clients, including this woman I spoke with, who feels terrible now that she couldn't see how sick all this was then. Estella was obsessed with Robert, called him all the time. Oh, and once E told this woman that Robert hugged her at the end of a therapy session and E freaked out because she felt his erection; his take on that: 'I hug old lady clients and sometimes I get an erection. It's normal.' I see. Look guys, this is an adult audience: and you know, you can't feel a guy like that when he's hugging you unless he wants you to feel him. And his explanation? 'This is normal, natural.' How disgusting is that?

Predator. Tool of Satan. Beast.

I think I can hear scooter, who was around for all of this and met Robert but could not have known these things, screaming at his monitor all the way from my house.

In short, he worked her, very subtly according to her friend, unstable as E was. And this was before the divorce, while she was still a client, before my lover even, or some of it. And he's still in practice; I saw his ad in a large psych magazine not long ago; it was sitting on the counter in my current therapist's office.

I've seen only women counselors since then.

On one hand, I feel better, truly: Robert was and is sicker than I ever believed; so sick and narcisistic and deluded that even when E told him she was telling this woman all this stuff, he didn't care. Which means I was not crazy or awful or abusive or evil. I was set up and victimized.

On the other hand, this is a lot of burrito to have on one plate at one time.

What does one do with a man like that? Put hope in the judgement of God, that's what. Robert knew about Terry and Keith and he still did something to me worse than either of them; he knew E had been molested and he walked right in and took his place in line. The only bright spot is that I got out of my marriage to E, which was terrible. And he got her, which is some justice. But I feel for her, also.

And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.

At the final day, I believe Jesus will justify the orphans, and the oppressed, and those who have been victimized. And if you think he was pissed in the temple....

Arise, O LORD ! Deliver me, O my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked.

I have placed faith in God's mercy, but also, in my spiritual weakness, his justice. Selah.

***

I really needed to cry, and I've been crying as I wrote much of this. Good for me. I feel better. The work thing will work out somehow. I'll still have my job. And there would be plusses to moving closer, I can't deny that. Still...it wasn't in the game plan yet. I'll let you know what I find out.

Thank you so much for being there; this blog truly has been a gift from Jesus.

t



Tuesday, September 28, 2004

The Sacred and the Profane

the very first thing I want to say here is that the feelings of those reading my blog matter more than any argument. Do I believe there is nothing wrong with profanity, even strong profanity, when it's not spoken to hurt another person? I do believe that. And I'll try and give some rationale for that another time. But so what? What matters more to me, my cute little argument or Sheri's feelings and the feelings of others who may also cringe at the eff word? No contest there guys. I told you I try not to cuss in front of my son because he feels these words are 'bad' words. Same glass of juice.

Unfortunately, there is more to it for me. Those words really do help me emote. They are part of who I am. I will continue to use them, with myself, friends, and certainly God. And this is a blog. I decided, before any of this happened, to not use profanity in my essay-posts, the 'Christianity' in the title stuff, because I wanted those essays to be approachable for all Christians. If I'm saying f this and f that, f those effing premillenial dispensationalists (and I'm just reaching here, nothing against believers who hold those ideas) how can you print that off and tape it to your fridge to read later? Or share it at a bible study? Or send a link to a friend: 'yeah, this guy has some interesting thoughts but he's really potty-mouthed?'

I did decide, though, to keep writing how I speak to peers in the more personal blog posts. This is a web log, right? An online journal. And I would certainly cuss in my journal or when talking to other adults. I didn't want to edit myself in those posts.

And can those two things live together on the same site? I don't know anymore, truthfully. One thing I didn't want was to write Christian essays up here and yet cloak my true nature. My true nature is pretty, uh, natural; that's in part why I'm a Christian. I have always hated churches where the true self is hidden as it is by goofy adolescents. I have a friend going through this right now in a bible study in so. cal. He came back from a trip and described it as 'life changing' to his study group; he told me they looked at him like he said 'heil hitler.' They're all about answering the study book questions, quickly, at surface level, from 'the Word' and then moving on. What does that do for anyone?

If I were still in an evangelical church, I'd be heading fully into emergent. The more I read about it online, the more I like it. More on that later. But I emerged all the way into a liturgical, some would even say quasi-liberal, denomination. Well I'll be. I'm on vestry, which is a governing board, and my job at the last two church functions was to bring the beer keg. That's right. The beer keg. I can drink, cuss among friends, be open-minded in my theology, even tolerant, hold the view of scripture I do, and no one is kicking me off the vestry because if they did our deacon and priest would also have to go, at least for the drinking. At our recent fund-raising dinner one of the oldest members of the church said he wanted to start a bicycle gang, not a club, a gang, and call it 'the bad ass episcoplians.' Everyone laughed. I heard lots of swear words slipping out that night. This is the kind of church I need. And, I think, the kind of church Jesus would have enjoyed. How often was he accused of eating and drinking with the party set?

My tiny church is active in helping those in need in the community in direct ways that I never saw in any evangelical church I attended. Maybe some liturgical parishes understood the need to be tolerant and charitable before the 'modern' church was even born. But I thank God I am where I am. I don't feel I have to 'be' anything at church; I take communion and ask God to change me every time I kneel at that rail and receive the body of christ (or most times anyway). And he is. Using this group, in part, incidentally. The service at my church, ancient as it is, is not about doing, or putting on a great presentation, it's about receiving simple grace; for me this truly is water for a thirsty soul.

Now I really am drifting off topic.

So for the moment, I don't know what I'll do about my profanity online. I care about the feelings of those who read this and who may read it. But I also need to get my own needs met. Maybe I'll have two blogs. Or I'll keep doing what I was doing, not using profanity in the essays, only the personal posts.

I do want to respond to Sheri's comments and believe I have an opinion, but not yet.

As far as the hatred expressed in my blog against the russian terrorists...well now that was intense. Feeling isn't doing. I know not all of us get that angry in this life. But I refer to the violent passages in the psalms (some of which C.S. Lewis calls 'the cursing psalms) and to Jesus' great metaphor of the millstone tied around the neck of the man who injures a little child (you know, the man who is then thrown into the sea) as precedent: even the scriptures contain hatred directed against the wicked, and use violent, and graphic metaphor to express it.

***

As far as other things, I'm having a tough week in a number of ways; I do feel like I'm growing. I talked to E's old friend last night. Oh man. Do I have things to share from that conversation. I got what I was hoping to get: I feel much less blame for my divorce. But it's still tough to know these new things and process. In time I'll finish the E tale; as it is, I'm dragging it out like a Strand serial; this is because of time limitations, and a need to write in a way that respects my current (almost said 'real) wife. I apologize for the suspense.

I've been feeling burned out the last couple of days: I don't want to grade any more papers, I'm tired of driving so far to work, I feel lonely in the mountains, I feel like a terrible person because I've begun to snore regularly and that make it tough for my wife and I to get a good sleep. Depression. Signs of mental stress/overwork and a need to exercise, relax, enjoy my family and life. Times like this come in every semester.

I am excited about my faith right now, however. Reading Bonhoffer; looking hard for books by Schweitzer (esp. Ethics) and MacClaren. (Yeah, as in Brian, the emergent guy). Also, I have begun to look into what it takes to be an Episcopal deacon. It's actually an ordained (unpaid)position; our church has only one currently. I'd have to go to school on weekends for three years, yada yada. It's just a thought. There's also a lay order I'm interested in. I could be in a genuine order and still live with my family! The spiritual structure and community of that sound very beautiful to me, though of course I would be living all the way in Pollock. Keep you posted.

Love you all,

t




Thursday, September 23, 2004

Da Crew (final update)

I only have about twenty minutes before I split for home, but let me say a few things:

(I came back the next morning and added a little more here)

one, sincere, heartfelt thanks for all the positive comments below, and thanks also for Sheri's challenging comment (I don't mean that it wasn't positive, of course). I was afraid to come back in and even look at my blog.

I think there are two things on the burner for me as I sit in the bloglight (for a moment, my blog has become a center of something or other). One is my own sensitivity and my own issues as a whole, my needs and hurts and hang-ups. The other thing, apart from that, is profanity. Am I making sense? I can discuss my own use of profanity on my blog and the use of profanity in general; but what I was feeling in response to being deblogged from a particular site is not the same exercise.

In brief, I'm very sensitive; I know it, and it does me little good to pretend that sensitivity is not there. Clearly, it's based on my life experiences and not some genetic aberration or spiritual weakness. It is a big part of who I am. What might effect someone else only moderately affects me a lot (like being deblogged by one of my very first encouragers up here). I'm not the only person like this, of course. In the recovery community, among other places, they call this kind of reaction being triggered. You know, some small thing happens and it feels like an avalanche in the soul. In this case, those feelings lasted about two days, only one was really hard; I was becoming friends with a person and felt rejected (though that may have not really been the case) the way one does after one or two dates, say. You know, we're just different people. Okay.

I'm much better now, truthfully.

The way to heal those feelings really is to feel them. Thinking clearly also helps, not catastrophizing, trying to maintain perspective, but the healing remains messy, painful work. I am often aware I'm healing old wounds when I get triggered like that and process; I certainly was in this case. My hope is not to hurt anyone emotionally while I'm working through the feelings, which ain't always easy.

The process I just described I believe in intimately. I owe my life to it, literally. Profanity, well, yeah, that's another thing. And I think, to respect Sheri's point of view, it's something I want to discuss in a few days when I have more time. I don't want to not respond, I just want to think it through first.

Also, while I may be sensitive, I'm no velvet daisy. I don't want others to feel they can't critique my points of view or even pull me off their blogs. Feel free to manage your sites as you wish. The intimacy of this new community scares me, to be honest, as much as it nourishes me. But I don't want everyone to feel pressure. I have people in my 'blog family' like Romy whom I barely know and who actually has never responded to my blog (though we've emailed a little). I put her in family because I take so much from here posts, her honesty and her writing. I'm not linked on her site and it doesn't freak me out. Also, I know I can sit here and read all about someone else's life on another blog and begin to feel close to them even if they have little idea who I am, and no idea I'm taking so much from their posts!

Finally, I admit my blog sometimes has an unusual, strong, flavor.

Because that's me, and I'm fairly open about what I feel; it's how I got well. My anger, my sexuality, my fears...lots of guys have all that. I just can't help spilling forth, to quote chameleon. Blah. Here I be. Blah blah. I actually have tried to be polite. My russia post came after, right after, I saw a slideshow sent me by an ex-student who is Russian. There were pictures on there I never saw, that one never would see, in the American press. I have no desire to put that link here. Dead children, bloody and in their underwear, lined up like wooden logs. Well, I'm backing off that topic; my rage will return.

(BTW, special props to scooter for what he said in comments: yeah, it's true, when I think of someone else who reacts with the kind of passion and anger I do, I think of scooter; we've both seen each other do this over the years.)

And I'm afraid I have something else, two things really, on the metaphorically trite burners (this makes four now). One is that my insurance company is no longer doing business with a larger group, the group through which I found my current therapist. Does this mean I can't see her after the first of the year? I don't think so, and I would be able to move on and work with someone else, but I don't know for sure yet and that blows (is blows profanity? I don't mean to be silly, but I don't actually know; I learned that word from scooter imitating squishy the clown).

Second, and larger, a good buddy of mine, a guy I talk to every week, ended up running into an old friend of Estella's, my ex-wife. A woman who knew her well, who stood in for me as a godparent for E's brother's baby after E left me. A woman who came to my house with E when she took all her stuff. And a woman who knows the end to a story I don't know and have never bothered to uncover.

It's been a dozen years since we split. But there was a greater darkness which came after which I have not discussed yet on this board, an evil which goes far beyond whatever evil may be inherent in abandoning your spouse. And it is uncanny, okay bizarre, to me that my friend is casually dating this girl (very casually). He's been exemplary, incidentally, and if these two end up truly going out I wish them the best. But finally, the subject of E and I came up in their conversation (this woman had no idea my buddy was my buddy, but my buddy needed her to know pretty quickly). And now my friend knows the end to a story I starred in.

And I don't really know what I want to do, if anything.

So, yeah, puke all over myself and punch the wall studs; go outside and stomp on ant trails.

There is more to it; apparently this woman, who is now a therapist herself and nearing 40, thinks I got a pretty messed up deal, and now I really can't say more as I am out of time. The truth is I've blamed myself for my divorce, and even, in my darkest heart, for what came after. How could I not? It was too obscene to accept. What child can blame the parent who abuses him?

I need to let you all know what I mean. But I have to leave to meet my family for dinner. My office hour is over and I'm not getting paid to blog anymore. Later this week I will.

I love how Sheri says she is among friends. I feel the same way and I count it priceless. Priceless and a gift to me from God. I feel love in all the supportive posts which came in to my last entry. I'm still ragged around the edges, in the middle, and in between. I was out of the church for the better part of a decade. But here I am now...hello, my name is troy...

Peace in Christ to all,

t

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

On the Sacraments, Baptism (Christianity from the Inside 5.0)

This essay has sat on my hard drive for two weeks; it may not be done, but since I can't type well till my finger heals, here goes. I think I have almost an entirely evangelical audience (save romy, if she ever heads this way) so this may not seem very relevant. It is simply an issue I was working through for myself attending an Episcopal church and looking at church history.


On the Sacraments: Baptism

Salvation by faith alone, sola fide, is the absolute cornerstone of evangelical theology as I know it. Certainly that phrase as it's understood now has roots in the Reformation's reaction to medieval theology. Yet it's tough not to read Paul's arguments in Galatians, Romans, and elsewhere, and not see that he believes that what truly saves a person, what justifies a sinning soul before God, is faith. There are passages in the ot which seem to say the same thing (and Paul quotes them). In Paul's reading, sure Abraham was obedient to God, but before he was circumcised, he believed, and from the moment he believed he was right with God. I don't know if there is other discussion of this in rabbinic literature Paul had read or not, though I'd like to know. But for him, faith may lead to an action, whether circumcision, sacrifice, and other ritual in the ot, or active love, the new vision given to us by Christ. (And the point seems obvious in the gospels and Paul, sacrifice and circumcision without faith would be useless). For when Paul analyzes religious behavior, he finds faith behind anything genuine. First comes the faith, then the action.

And James doesn't really contradict this, intense as he is (remember it was men who hung out with James that Paul ran into conflict with over keeping the Jewish law). James, in his epistle anyway, simply focuses on the acts which proceed from genuine faith rather than the faith itself. James' concern is to define authentic faith, and I appreciate his argument also.

Jesus' statements are more complex. He demands belief in himself on more than one occasion; he also declares that we will all be judged based on deeds we perform in the body, good or bad; he offers parables where behavior does result in salvation or damnation; and above all he talks about a group, 'those who have ears to hear,' 'my sheep who hear my voice,' 'those in the kingdom,' as though what really defines the saved is that they will be known by Christ in a unique way and have been given the capacity to know him.

These are all very profound issues (this is known as soteriology, the doctrine of salvation) but right now I want to focus on a little known fact among many evangelicals: for centuries, most of its history really, the church has taught that baptism saves the soul. In fact, adults were not generally baptized until the anabaptist ('again baptized') movements of the 16th century; children were baptized with certainty during the second century, perhaps even in the first, though exactly what doctrine attended this before Augustine I don't know. The Roman church still teaches that baptism saves the soul (as I heard it at one baptism, apart from the will or behavior of the person later in life) and as far as I know, so does the church I attend, the Episcopal church, which is of course a branch of the Anglican. So does the Orthodox Church. According to the link I posted at the beginning of this post, even Billy Graham, king of the altar call, believes something along this line. My parish priest says that baptism washes away sins and makes the individual a member of the body of Christ. Is this not the same as salvation? This is called baptismal regeneration; the faith of those who present the child to be baptized stands for the faith of the infant, or the power of the sacrament itself conveys a saving grace. Of course for children or infants, confirmation comes later, when the child can understand the basic tenets of the faith and is expected to grow and place a more personal faith in Christ (and is this always a one-time event, or does our faith sometimes not come in pieces over time as in my case?). But what if I am baptized and never set foot in church again, never think of God, become a Miami speed-boat drug smuggling pimp wife-beater?

According to some who batptize children (I'm not saying all) I'm still in the kingdom, covered by the grace of Jesus. I may be low in the ranks, but I am still wheat and not tares, a sheep and not a goat.

This is a remarkable doctrine.

And I truthfully have no full answer to it. I see nothing in Jesus' words or in the letters of the nt (and again, I in my ignorance view those letters as part revelation, part opinion) to imply that this could be so. Some groups, reformed Presbyterians for example, baptize children and simply say that 'God means business.' Somehow God has taken notice of this child and will attempt to bring it to himself at a later time, though I don't fully understand their view. Nor do I want to descend into intellectual darkness and wrestle with predestination, free will, faith as a work; I can't believe how dense those issues quickly become. The real question is whether baptism can confer saving grace on an unknowing and passive soul, and whether that grace is temporary (through childhood for example) or life-long.

I of course can't say with any certainty, and I very much hope those who hold such a view are right. God acts along a different set of rules and is not limited as we are. But my opinion, and I am unwilling here to speculate on the destination of children who die ('let the little children come to me') is that baptismal grace is not life-long. If sin is remitted at baptism I cannot see how it could override later rejection of Jesus and the kind of life he asks us to live. If I choose behavior which is destructive to others and unbelief, if I elevate the self over God as I understand him, how could my baptism bring me into the kingdom? It reminds me of the infamous unpardonable sin in Mark 3. Sure those accusing Jesus were circumcised Jews, perhaps genuinely attempting to keep the law; but when they said that the divine power in Jesus was really Beelzebub, Jesus told them straight: you are in danger of a sin which will not be forgiven in this life or the next.

And while Jesus was baptized by John, and quite possibly part of John's group, while Jesus told his own disciples to baptize in the name of the trinity (and I have no reason yet to doubt the authenticity of these verses) whenever he speaks in the gospels, he talks about himself and his unique role in history; he pushes an impossible ethic and points to himself as the only means to achieve it. He stresses belief in himself and loving action to other people and sacrifices which must be made for his kingdom. I am no 'proof texter.' I'm looking for significant themes in the gospel record, and the simple fact is Jesus stresses personal responsibility, often in light of ominous consequences, every time he opens his mouth.

In the ot, I am reminded of the story of the sons of Eli in I Samuel 2:27-36. The sons of Eli were priests in Israel, descended from the original select families, or as God says regarding this in Samuel ‘Did I not plainly reveal myself to your ancestor’s house when they were in Egypt in the house of Pharaoh? I chose your ancestor from all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to offer sacrifice on my altar, to burn incense, and to bear the ephod before me. I gave to your ancestor’s house all the fire offerings made by the Israelites.'"

In other words, these guys were definitely circumcised. And members of a select blood line.

But they were doing some very evil things: having sex with the girls who worked at the temple, and actually eating some of the meat brought to be sacrificed before the ritual was completed. Cutting steaks out of the offerings. This would be similar to taking money out of the plate at church for personal use when you were the head pastor, and then seducing girls from the college (high school?) group, or acolytes from the service. I get scared even writing something like that, and am sickened to know that sometimes it happens.

And what does the author of Samuel tell us God says to Eli, the father of these cats, in the tale? Read on: 'Why are you scorning my sacrifice and my offering that I commanded for my dwelling place? You have honored your sons more than you have me in that you have made yourselves fat from the best parts of all the offerings of my people Israel.’

"Therefore the Lord, the God of Israel, says, ‘I really did say that your house and your ancestor’s house would serve me forever.’ But now the Lord says, ‘May it never be! For I will honor those who honor me, but those who despise me will be cursed!'" Or in another translation, 'Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be lightly esteemed.'

The two sons themselves are struck dead the same day. The point is clear even that far back in Israel's history. You are circumcised, members of a chosen people? Good. God will judge you as an individual regardless.

So while it is possible that baptism provides a special and unique life-long grace, I wouldn't rest my eternity on it. I hope to be born of water and spirit. I need to find Jesus and throw my pain and sin and rage on him, believe he is who he said he was, and let him worry about the rest. While of course I hope all those who have ever been baptized will be given Christ's grace, God is never shown to work that way anywhere in the ot or the nt; if I'm wrong, show me and I'll note it here. God of course can do what he wants to.

Is this a reason to bash those who hold a high view of the grace present in baptism? Absolutely not. And since almost all of those I know read this are evangelicals, this post may not be very relevant. But I needed to sort it out for myself. I would be curious what my priest would say in response; perhaps I'll let him read it. I'm sure the other side has an intelligent position also.

The other Sacrament, or Ordinance or Rite, I want to discuss is the Eucharist, the Lord's Supper, Communion. Next time.

Peace to all,

t

Saturday, September 11, 2004

The Nod

Okay,

the pain in my fingertip got so bad I went back to the er and they gave me vicodan. I've never had this before. Holy smokes. I don't really like the feeling, kinda nauseous, kinda stone dreamy in the head (do I wake or sleep) but my finger doesn't hurt. Still, slow typing. Many thanks to chameleon and funkiller for their supportive comments.

Peace to all on my 40th; had sushi with S and Mike D. I have such a wonderful wife; she is a flower in the shade of a clearing. Quiet, unobtrusive, love and beauty. Her soul has such strength and such love for me.

t

Friday, September 10, 2004

Nine Fingered Me and the Table Saw of Doom

could have been much worse, but a dumb mistake on my part has me typing with nine fingers. Not for good though; just stitches; will be good as new in time. Man, I can't do this. Love you all but typing without my left index blows.

Wirhour consranr correcrions rhis is whar I rype like now. Pretty sucvky hey?

Well, Mike D. comes inro rown ronight to spend my b-day wirh me, cery cool. See y ou larer.

love,

t

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Still Almost 40

Okay, so this 40 thing is hitting me a bit hard. Why can't I be turning 30 again? Latest news:

why the hell is zawahiri, or however you spell it, still alive and threatening the u.s.? Why is bin baden still in hiding in the mountains? If we had put the troop effort into finding those guys we put into finding Hussein, would they now be dead or captured?

It's hard not to wonder. I've said it before and you guys know how I feel; sorry to repeat myself. But the invasion of Iraq went down because a few very powerful people (Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz) told the pres. it was in our best interest (and whatever one thinks of bush as a leader, why does he strike me as confused, easily manipulated, below intelligent, every time he opens his mouth?) I also believe those advisers thought the invasion would go over easily, with few casulaties on our side and lots of benefits for us in the long run (including economic ones); our invasion would smack down a dictator defiant of the u.s. and show some real muscle; it would also liberate an oppressed people. But it hasn't been that easy. Some of those people, predictably I might add, fought back. And I think the vulcans feel the use of military force to further America's interests, not just insure our safety, is justified. Including Rice. Powell is the only rational guy I know close to Bush, and he sold a lifetime of credibility away giving that speech at the u.n. I believe he knows it.

So here we are. 1000 soldiers dead in Iraq and zawahiri's fanatic face still free and threatening me at cnn.com. While somehow Bush's camp has managed to portray Kerry, who got shot at in Vietnam, as weak on defense (hanoi kerry) while Bush, who used family connections to avoid combat, is the tough guy. What am I missing here? I think Bush is intellectuallly insecure around the men he's hired to work under him; they have driven his agenda (that and his need to live up to what he considers his father's legacy) and I believe history will show this to be the case. Maybe 50 years from now the Iraq war will be seen as a stroke of genius, a strategic move which benefitted our future and the world; if in fact it ends up working in our favor, it will be accident.

Again, I wish those 120,000 troops were in afganistan and pakistan hunting down al-quaeda. I know terrorists are crouched in hiding all over the world, but 9/11 demanded a thorough, sustained, and heavy-handed response: against those responsible! Instead, we're letting Pakistan do most of the hunting. The high profile leaders remain (with the notable exception of KSM, who is in custody).

The real meat for me here is that my son flies every two weeks to l.a. and back; and it scares the shit out of me sometimes, unlikely as I think it is that the next attack will be against planes. But I say darkly that it could be. There are loopholes in air security as I know it. I have no desire to discuss my parent's fears in detail here.

And is some of this anger I direct at Bush coming from other places in me? Sure. I'm still in a rough spot. Turning 40. Doubting my faith, though I'm trying to just stop thinking about it at all right now until my mood is settled (again). One thing I've had to notice writing here regularly is how moody my posts show I am. It's tough, really, to show all that on the web, to be transparent about my fears and moods. But this is a web-log, a public journal/diary. And I get so much from sharing my down days here, I really do. So I keep writing, because it helps me so much.

This is just another one of those days. The birthday has me thinking of so many things.

And while I believe placing faith in Christ is an intellectually defendable position, right now I'd have to say so is skeptical atheism. I'm not saying I'm an atheist, or tossing in the towel on my faith, but faith it is and must remain. I read about JW's, or Mormons, or whoever, and I see huge holes in their historical foundations. I don't want to be one of those people; I question and probe so much because I don't want to be wrong. I want to know the truth, the real truth, whether I like it or not, whether it makes me happy or not. I'm strangely tenacious about all this. My wife tells me 'it's not normal' how intensely I wrestle with religious questions; yeah, she's probably right. But I can't hold any position, including faith in Jesus, without trying to think about it. To hold it against the litmus of reason. That must be balanced, of course, with content from both sides, the gospels especially (the Voice lives there) and too often I let mental debate take the place of practicing my faith (prayer, meditation, charity); I know this is harmful. Still, here I am. A true Christian skeptic. In need of God's grace, faith, and perhaps direct intervention.

Through it all, as I rage and write, I do think I'm healing old wounds. My suspicion is more the result of past hurt than anything. Feeling that, re-experiencing that, as long as I release the emotion associated with it, does produce change in me.

And that's one thing I do here. This blog is a lectern, a magazine, sometimes a pulpit, often a chair in a support meeting where I'm 'spilling my guts' (quoting Anthony K.) So be it. I hate to put it this way, but if God really does care for me, he will make himself known to me as many times as I need it. He's done it before. He'll do it again.

t

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Almost Forty


Oh my God, this is the best

Mm, I want you to trip like me
I want you to have fun

Me and you

Oh my God, this is the best
Mm, I want you to trip like I do

--Crystal Method/Trip Like I Do--


Today is certainly better than yesterday, and the great rule of emotion once again proves true: if I feel it, it passes. If I act it out, it controls me and feels much worse when I touch it. To quote social d., 'the story of my life.'

And on the musical note, I began with lyrics from an electronica anthem because (as a new napster subscriber) I'm discovering fresh music every day. And frankly, that song, and those lyrics (if they are that) are the smokingest thing I've heard since 'you know you're right' was released on nirvana's black album. And that had quite a different feel.

I am still drained.

Workmen from a glass shop are trying to put in a new patio slider; the one they have opens the wrong way so they're going to install it as is, come back and then switch out the right one. It's certainly better, even backward, than the one that was in there before: it broke completely off track a week ago and wouldn't close.

My 40th birthday dinner is coming up, and it feels scary and sad and happy at once. My Dean, who is now one of the campus v.p.'s, is coming with her husband, and I think it's awesome. The two guys I invited from work...I know they want to come but maybe, we'll see. They're both family guys. I do have a few cool people coming from the hill. I wish you guys could be there, but of course I understand!

And wasn't it Bilbo's 50th birthday, which in hobbit years is equivalent to our 40th, when he ran off with the dwarves? Or it was right around that time? I can't recall. But with half my life over, if I'm lucky really, I have begun to contemplate: what have I done with my life, what could I do, what do I want to do? I chose a profession which would give me freedom for time with my family, and I have that, more than most guys. And I have more time for myself, though I too often squander it on things which aren't in my best interest: watching tv, or surfing the web, or just doing nothing. Time is precious beyond comprehension.

It was Ceasar's 40th year which sent him into an introspective spiral, I think. And what did he do? Invade a bunch of people, including his own country. Surely there are alternatives.

And what should be done with life's time? Personal care, personal pleasure, wealth accumulation, treasure in heaven? I can't do all those things. I've given up the wealth idea as a teacher. We do okay, and it will get better with every year (especially when my wife starts doing therapy). But I spent so much energy on surviving during my first 40 years, and on trying to make my life a secure place, that I need a new set of goals. There is nothing wrong with taking care of myself as long I include the needs of others; there is nothing wrong with reaching out to love my family, or to support those in the community when I can. I suppose taking care of myself in the truest sense, letting myself be taken up by positive causes which are larger than myself while still nurturing my own center, is the highest level of self-care. Cast my bread on the waters. Love myself and, according to Jesus, build eternal treasure in heaven.

But how I love to zone. Zone, zone, zone. It's how I've relaxed for decades. Zone, zone, zone. At least my dog ate my age of myth game cd some months back. But I don't write poems though I have some ability; I don't read as much as I'd like (that one really is true); surely I don't pray like I'd like.

I'll keep you posted how it actually feels to turn 400, I mean 40. I remember 30 exactly, 20 close enough; I remember the day. I barely remember 10, the feeling of going from one digit to two and knowing I would probably not make it to three. I guess I could calcuate my age using another calendar. What am I in Mayan years?

Be well all.

t






Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Another Tough Afternoon

This day started well, and the last two weeks have been good, for me and for S and I. Then I started sinking.

Over what? Stupid things. There is some political bullshit battle on my campus, I don't even know what it is, and this group (anonymously, of course) went to a web site called Rate My Professors and distributed three very negative evals for business faculty on my campus. Ah, the collegial mood.

I had never heard of this site, and being a fan of free speech, checked myself out (all the professors are up there). There were only four evals I think, and they were ridiculous. Overall marginally positive, but with some critical (and I think untrue) shots that really hurt. I have a sensitive ego; I think partly I went into this job so I wouldn't be evaluated constantly. Ah, the security, the loft, the power, really, of the tenured professorship. And when I am criticized unexpectedly like that...ouch. Big trigger. I felt rejected by my parents so much as a child, over and over, I crave adulation now. I used to bust my butt (at work and elsewhere) to get it, and I have since I've relaxed a bit and am trying to relax even more. But still...

And for some reason I'm feeling very 'outside' my Christianity. I have so many doubts and when my mood goes south they feel much larger, the anxiety that comes with them, or that drives them, is of course stronger. The solution for me is to continue my intellectual exploration of both sides of my faith, and seek assurance from God in other ways, when my anxiety has dropped to normal levels. But for now, to quote the bizkit, 'it's one of those days.'

And I'm still upset about what happened in Russia. Very. A student sent me a slideshow I wish I hadn't seen, pictures of dead and wounded children. It ended with words something to the effect of 'explain this world to me.' Know what? I can't right now. I'm reading the 9/11 Report; it's intensely informative and quite detailed, but what does it tell me: that the terrorists who attacked us and want to attack us again aren't enraged Chomsky-reading liberal intellectuals who have sampled our culture and reject it, out to punish our country for injustices in central america or for our rampant quasi-secular materialism. No, they're hateful psychopaths who blame, in print, the u.s. for things we have no control over, who truly believe Allah/God has given them an invective decree to butcher us, politicans, military, civilians alike. Is Israel oppressing Palestinians? Yes. I have a student who just arrived from Palestine in my online class and the little he has told us is already powerful. But does that justify killing innocent Americans?

And the witnesses who survived the school massacre said the armed assailants approached them shouting 'god is great,' same as the hijackers on 9/11 I believe. Let's hope they're right. Because if he is he will make long work of you.

I am overloaded, and now is not the time to engage intellectual questions about my faith (or anything else really).

On the bright side (I think) I turn 40 this 9/11, and have a party the next Saturday at a wonderful french country restaurant. Ah, food, wine, friends and my family. These I know are true.

Maybe I should post something good about myself at the professor rating website! Nah, I'll let it go.

t

Friday, September 03, 2004

Grasshopper Epilogue

I don't know why I haven't posted all week: work has been busy, I'm trying to finish the hardwood floor (and getting close). I did have one unusual experience this week though: I talked to Grasshopper, Paul C., for more than an hour. I hadn't spoken to him in eight years, and not really spoken in longer than that.

And you know what, Paul is doing well. Remarkably well. He does live in Japan and was married last summer to a Japanese woman. He teaches English (ESL really) at a private college in Japan. He tells me it's impossible for foreigners to get tenure, but he works hard and they pay him well. And he still travels all over the world: just in conversation he mentioned Brazil, the Phillipines, Morocco, Thailand, Laos, even China. I don't know where he hasn't been! He said he has already taken his wife to eight countries in one year.

Paula, his wife, is going to school full-time for IT stuff, and they sound honeymoon-happy.

The most amazing thing is Paul's faith. He reminds me of his namesake, St. Paul, quite a bit. From what I can tell in his letters, St. Paul was completely consumed with his need to spread the gospel. Like the apostle, Paul believes he is on a mission, and he's talked about Jesus and taken bibles places you are not supposed to take them; he's had the bus he was on pulled over and every single person searched on the bus except for Paul who had a bible in his back pocket: had he been caught he would have been arrested or worse. It's astonishing really. Both his sisters have become Christians and he is witnessing to his father who is dying because he doesn't 'want him to go to hell.' I told him the story of my own conversion, and he was genuinely moved.

Is he still the old Paul I knew in college and high school? Not really. Some things are the same, but his vision for Christ has changed him in many ways. He's 41 now, and I'm glad his life has come together, his depression passed. And all that intensity (and Paul is about the only person I've met who was even more intense than me) and genuine need for attention from his younger days, or much of it, has been channeled into about the most constructive thing it could be channeled into.

I wonder if it will be like this and much more than this, talking to those we knew on earth in the next life.

It's quite a story all in all.

So that's Grasshopper now. Apparently he will have some kind of webcast radio show on the bible in the near future, and when I hear of that, I'll post the link.

God really does hear those who reach out to him; he really will not break the bruised reed which seeks him. Ask Paul. He'll tell you. Me, I'm still shaking my head, astonished.

t