Friday, September 04, 2009
I blog for the Pack, the Flock and the Family of God
I think it is time to stop and reflect. So many people who read this blog do not understand who I am and why I do this and I am willing to accept the blame for that. I have not worked hard to characterize myself because it did not seem necessary but I can see now I was wrong.
I am a Christian with an adorable wife and kids I dearly love and even grand kids and even dogs. I have friends and I really love my church. I teach teenagers and I love doing that. Other than not having enough money and working on rehabbing my body life is just awesome squared.
(Faith, our Alaskan Husky)
I remember in a military school, me and a couple of friends, one white who sang lead, one black who sang tenor and me who sang harmony, singing along to Tower of Power songs and songs like this one by War:
Slippin' Into Darkness (by War)
Slippin into darkness
Take my mind beyond the dreams
I was slippin into darkness
Take my mind beyond the dreams
Where I talk to my brother, oh, oh, oh
Who never said their name
Slippin into darkness
When I heard my mother say
I was slippin into darkness
When I heard my mother say
(Hey, whatd she say, whatd she say)
You been slippin into darkness, oh, oh, oh
Pretty soon youre gonna pay
I write because I was slippin' into darkness and I escaped and I want you to escape, too.
Since I am not inclined to write an autobiography the size of David Halberstam's The Best and Brightest (not a biography at all but very interesting) then probably cobbling together snippets is the best way. So here are some snippets in a kind of stream-of-consciousness manner.
Both my parents were artists and singers. I am a better writer than either of them but both were better artists. My mom was a professional singer for many decades so she was a better singer than me but I had offers for a singing career so I was pretty good. My dad was taller than me and my mom much shorter. My dad is passed on but my mom is alive and doing quite well.
My parents had taught me to read and write before kindergarten and later tested me to determine that I was genius level by IQ. Now I know my genius is in taking tests. Genius, to me, requires a special gift that blows away ordinary folks. I am simply smarter than most people, enough to be invited to join Mensa. As I have said before, if you decide to pay for the right to belong to a group of people in order to prove you are smart, you really are not so smart. I do not even take tests anymore, I am what I am.
I am probably smarter than you are, but there is a small probability that you are smarter than me. (There is at least one commenter who, from my interaction with him gives me the impression that he is one of the ones who are smarter than me so I am not dissing commenters). There are millions of people smarter than me among the five billion or so living today. You can do the math. But either way you are not better than me and I am not better than you. We measure ourselves by power and money and beauty and brains and brawn and yet God sees the heart. You are probably younger than me. You are probably shorter than me. I probably outweigh you. Your hair is probably longer than mine. If you are male and over forty, you have probably began losing more hair follicles than me. You are probably more attractive than me. Your eyes are probably darker than mine (I have blue-grey eyes). You probably have fewer kids (I have six). You probably have fewer scars and have had fewer operations and fewer broken bones. Probabilities...
So if I am being descriptive and you take some of it as a value judgment, it is not meant that way. I am letting you see me, warts and all and I have a purpose to it all.
So let's get this part over with...I test out at 99th percentile by more than one method. I had the third highest SAT score in my entire county as a high school senior and it was a county that included South Bend, Indiana and several other towns and small cities. After the military I took the ACT to enter college and had the highest score of all incoming students. In a room of 100 ordinary people by statistics I would probably be the smartest in the room. In a room with 1,000 people I would be one of the ten smartest. In a room filled with 10,000 people I would probably be at a basketball game acting like a goofball. I am very very smart. I am not a genius. If my value in my own mind was my own mind I would probably be quite self-satisfied and completely boorish. Even expressing this in this manner is somewhat boorish but necessary because in my early life I did always think I was smarter than everyone and it had a lot to do with my decision-making.
Anyway, we were the All-American family living in beautiful St. Joe, Michigan. My dad was an executive making big money. My mom was a homemaker. He was a high school sports star and a military vet. She was a cheerleader in high school and both an artist and singer. I had a pet dog and all the kids at school liked me and I could beat up everyone in my class (at least, everyone who tried). I became the kid who protected his friends from the bullies. But if even my best friend called me "Kimmy" I jumped on him and beat him until someone pulled me off. I would a pint-sized madman. It took me years to learn how to control my temper.
(No, making a comment in which you call me "Kimmy" will not make me mad. But go ahead if it makes you laugh).
But the family was a mirage, my parents divorced and my mom and I had to move to the ghetto for a few months before getting enough money to move away from a high-crime area of South Bend. Suddenly I was in second grade, going to a school where even small kids brought knives to school and gangs were everywhere and people of all colors lived all around me. There was a house of prostitution about two blocks away from my house. Yeah, my mom signed a lease for a property that was in a neighborhood that looked okay during the day and she was duped.
I think it did me a lot of good to get to hang out with black kids and Latino kids after being surrounded by lily white Caucasians my entire life. No one stabbed me or even tried to stab me and I hung out with a bunch of ruffians who taught me how to cuss and throw rocks at houses. Most of the ruffians were white. My best black friend was a very quiet smart kid who liked to read a lot. I was afraid of one kid who kept showing me his knife so I never walked home from school alone. But he never showed up after school to fight me, guess he just liked trying to scare people.
Anyway, my mom found a nice house in a lower-middle-class neighborhood, nothing fancy, and we lived away from gangs and whorehouses and life was pretty normal again. But I think my mom thought I was a genius and arranged to have me attend a special magnet school with enriched classes beginning in fourth grade. I was studying French and Physics before entering puberty. I am still not sure if that was good or bad? I was class president of two school classes. Grade school was a time when I was a big dog, popular with all the right guys and able to "go out" with multiple girls. Fourth grade to sixth grade were good times.
I got involved in politics, the chess club, the basketball team, the debate club...had all sorts of sleepovers with buddies playing long games of Risk and spinning records and plotting ways to raid the houses where girls where having their sleepovers playing whatever games they played (Operation, maybe?). It was Leave It To Beaver meets Dobie Gillis meets Ozzie and Harriet at the precipice of the British Invasion and the New Morality.
Puberty arrived and life changed. I got fat almost overnight and I was behind most of the other guys in developing hair and all that. I was also considered a nerd and for a few years seemed to have girl repellent on my clothes. From seventh grade to my junior year in high school I was shy around girls and going through adolescence with a wonderful lack of aplomb. I had too many zits. I wore stupid clothes because my mom wanted me to look more adult. I played football but was not a starter. I went from being one of the in crowd to being one of the dregs. Girls who used to like me made fun of me. Guys I used to hang out with ignored me. I thought about killing myself but instead skipped school a lot and forged notes from my mother to cover my absences. I would stay home and read books instead of attending school probably three days out of five for most of the last semester of eighth grade and I never got caught.
Never getting caught was kind of a theme of my life before becoming a Christian. I walked out of a drug gang meeting and drove away moments before a bunch of cop cars surrounded the hotel and led everyone else away. I lied my way past all sorts of situations. I was pulled over by cops with drugs in the car and never searched. I was caught with drugs in my military barracks and stood with the baggie of pot in my pant leg. If the captain had made me move one muscle, the bag would have fallen out onto the floor. But he kept me at attention as he and the First Sergeant searched my room. Every time I sped over 100 miles per hour on a highway a cop was not there. Every time I drove drunk I avoided killing myself or anyone else and was not pulled over.
(Me in basic training)
I love reading Jewish authors, although I never have gone out of my way to find them. I guess there are just a lot of good Jewish authors or authors I supposed were Jewish from their names - Bernard Malamud, Herman Wouk, Ayn Rand...But then again I am a simply a reader so who knows? I have read every Michener that can be found and Dickens, and Wilkie Collins and Conan Doyle and on and on. Have not read all of Shakespeare since the language is hard to wade through, just the most common classics. I wonder sometimes how anyone who has read Vonnegut and especially Orwell can bear to see what is happening in Washington right now? Animal Farm is here and 1984 was just dated maybe 25 years or so too soon.
Anyway, in some ways I could really relate to Wouk's The City Boy when I was in seventh and eight grade. I felt just like the main character, a dork, unloved, unpopular, generally either ignored or chastened by rude and unkind comments. Being smart and ungainly and unpopular was not nearly as fun as being part of the in crowd.
I play and write about fantasy sports. I have played virtually every sport known in the USA, including a few obscure ones. I have fenced. I have played Lacrosse. I have won local and organizational tournaments in foosball, table tennis, tennis and badminton. I once played in one PPA tournament. I finished third. I hit the game-winning double in the last game of organized baseball I ever played. I missed the last shot of my last basketball tournament, thus keeping us from going into overtime and costing us the championship. I made the last putt I ever tried in a regular game of golf, finishing up a 99 with a twenty foot two break putt. I figured I stunk at golf, why not go out well? I dropped an interception in my last game of organized football because my teammate smashed into me trying for the same ball. I never did like that guy. I had the temperament to be a great athlete only I had the body of a good one at best. Oh well.
Finally near the end of high school the zits died down and my baby fat was replaced by lean muscle and suddenly girls liked me and guys liked hanging out with me. I decided that people were really very shallow. But what the heck, I went away to college and was a big dog again so I chased girls and played games and in my spare time went to class and did all that school stuff, too.
Then I was drafted. That was another story. I was in the Army. Now I am not. I have an honorable discharge and about five thousand stories about those days. Not now.
I used to bet on sports quite a bit, but not with bookies, with people. I won a lot more than I lost and I quit doing it when I became a Christian.
I was exceedingly good at nasty put downs and had a tremendous vocabulary of cuss words that I could string together in long diatribes without much effort. I quit that, too.
In fact, I was a drug dealer and quit that. I was a needle junkie and quit that. I quit smoking cigarettes and pot and using LSD and other illegal drugs. I quit having sex outside of marriage. I hustled people for money playing games and quit that. I sure have quit a lot of stuff. The hardest thing to do is to quit eating more than I should. Weird, huh?
One of all-time my favorite cars was a 1989 Chevy Astro Van with an Iron Duke engine and an on-the-floor manual stick transmission. It was a cargo van somebody outfitted as a camper, with screened windows and front bucket seats and a fold-down back bench seat that became something of a bed. How many people have a stick on the floor bucket seat van? It was just a weird cool vehicle. A mechanic buddy of mine said he thought I had one of only two or three of this particular tricked-out model in the whole world. I gave it away three years ago to my first and quite ex-wife, with whom I did not get along and she needed a vehicle so I hoped it would also make the relationship better. It didn't. But we get along fine now. So maybe in the long run it did.
My first car was a Mustang convertible, Poppy Red with a white top and seats and black carpeting. I once owned the same model of Sunbeam Alpine with the same color and racing wheels as Maxwell Smart. I had a VW camper bus. I have had so many cars it is hard to remember them all and I took most every part of a car off and fixed and replaced it other than a automatic transmission. I still have all the tools. I like cars.
My last fast car was a Volkswagen Turbo Bug with low-profile racing wheels, sunroof/moonroof and all of that. It had a spoiler that flipped up at around 85 miles an hour. I rarely drove it faster than 85 but a couple of times I got it well above 100 because I think I am A.J. Foyt. I should not do that. I think it has been at least five years since I have exceeded 90 miles an hour on a highway.
Many of you do not understand that real Christianity is not a religion and you get angry or confused about it. You think I am ducking an issue. But religion is either about following a set of rules or finding something special within yourself or following the basic notion of good works on one side, bad works on the other and whichever way the balance tilts, so goes your fate. Christianity means throwing away the rule book and asking God into your heart and letting Him lead you. God doesn't want me to go 110 MPH but that has nothing to do with His relationship with me really. It is something between us but it does not change my standing with him because I am his child, I am in his family. Being bad doesn't make me lose my status as his kid.
(Being a youth pastor demands a certain dignity and decorum)
The first girl I fell in love with was half Russian and completely gorgeous. I think we would fight sometimes because I felt like she was out of my league and I was destined to lose her. Years later I discovered she felt the same about me at the time. I actually broke up with her because I decided I was no good for her, too immature to be married and untrustworthy. It was one of the most honest and honorable things I ever did in my pre-Christian life so I guess I really did love her...enough to choose not to have her and hurt her. Does that make sense?
In my younger days I discovered that one aspect of being very smart was that I could lie and get away with it because I could create an alternate reality and remember it. I pulled the wool over so many eyes it became a hobby. It was a game to manipulate people and get away with it. Frankly I often lied rather than tell the truth just because I could. I was a blackguard.
Recently I saw Xenia Simonoff/Simonova, a sand animator, online. She was performing for a dedication of a war memorial in the Ukraine (translation - "red hill")and I thought of the 2o million or so Russians who died in World War II, most of them poor and most of them civilians and I began to cry. I could empathize with those in the audience and I felt the pain of generations of people lost behind an Iron Curtain and dominated by a repressive Socialist regime. I was a qualified Russian linguist in 1973 and now I can barely understand or read a word of it since I never hung around with or worked with Russians afterwards.
The one great thing about speaking and understanding Russian back then? I was on a trolley in San Francisco, or maybe it was a bus? Either/or. Anyway, two old Russian ladies were gossiping about the sexual habits of their younger neighbor in great detail, sure that their conversation was gibberish to the other riders. When I reached my stop I gave them a smile and in my best accent said "Dobre Denh" to them as I left. Two aghast faces~priceless~! Now the conversation would be too fast and most of the words forgotten anyway.
Back then I had not gotten into drugs, had a top secret clearance and worked for a high-security now defunct military agency that had a presence at The Presidio. I declined a posting to Turkey and they downgraded my clearance and booted me out into the regular Army. It was probably a great move. Maybe I would have become a CIA wonk or part of the massive NSA machinery had I stayed with the program. It would have probably set me in my lying and manipulative ways so that God never would have managed to get to me.
But fortunately I became a clerk while waiting to get into journalism school, passed that school with honors and wound up in Washington anyway, ha ha ha! But now my clearance was only secret and no one paid much attention to me. I dressed in civilian clothes, lived off-post and consumed copious amounts of LSD and other psychedelics plus pot plus alcohol plus anything else that kept me from being sober while putting on a Georgetown funky persona. I was on stage with Muddy Waters in a Georgetown bar one time. I also woke up lying in a pool of my own vomit on more than one bathroom floor. I smoked a joint before reporting for duty at my office and, after they switched us to the Pentagon (I hated the Pentagon) I had to wear uniforms again and spent a day zonked on LSD just to see if I could get away with it. I did.
I own a few collectible editions of books but frankly more by accident than design. I own some books I have not yet read and find it hard to find enough time to read everything, since I get magazines and technical journals and have a full-time job and a writing hobby on the side. Not surprising, since one of my first certs was an Army Journalism School "degree." I graduated two certification schools in the military plus qualified as a linguist. All of that meant exactly nothing to the civilian world so when I got out of the Army it was just back to college as if all that time was wasted. I have five and one half years of college and another two maybe two and a half of technical training and one degree and a few certs. Most of it has no practical application in my line of work now.
I have been a union and non-union factory worker. I have worked as a maintenance man at a factory. I was a carpenter stick-building houses. I have been in management as a supervisor, have been in technical services as process operator/engineer and worked in quality control and as an ISO certified auditor. I installed measuring instruments in manholes and wrote proposal documentation for an engineering firm. I hand-crafted furniture in some guy's garage for cash. I pushed carts for a grocery story. I installed and delivered appliances. I have been in sales in person and over the phone and worked as a telemarketer for a brief and desperate time (I hated it). I built mobile homes and worked in the automotive industry. I worked at a bookstore and got back into management. I had the all the keys to the business. I became a pastor at a local church. I had all the keys to the church doors. I was a janitor at a mega-sized grocery store. I've been a union steward. I drove forklifts and loaded trucks and operated overhead cranes. I had jobs where I had to wear a suit and tie and jobs where I showed up wearing whatever the heck I felt like wearing.
I have been in love and I have wondered if there was love. I lived with a woman who made me so miserable that being hospitalized in great pain would have been preferable. I have been hospitalized in great pain. I walked away from a traffic accident that the EMT's figured probably killed the driver and while they were looking for me I was walking around checking on my kids. I had a back accident that paralyzed me temporarily and for quite some time I could not walk without braces on my knees to help me because of serious knee damage from the same accident.
I used to play the piano and the trombone and keyboards and drums, sang in a rock band and sang in choirs and was the praise and worship leader at a church. I have sung professionally but don't even like karaoke anymore. Maybe I need to loosen up and go do it again.
I wrote all sorts of poetry and most of it is probably bad. I have a couple of unfinished novels and not sure where that roundtoit went.
This is about me, right? Because I am sort of an everyman. I have been rich and poor and in the gutter and on top of the world. I have been the most popular kid in class and one of the castoff kids. I have induced innocents to try drugs and seduced women by any means to have sex and sold vast quantities of illegal substances while associated with a biker gang. I once dated eight different women in one week. I drove drunk and woke up the next day with dents and various colors of paint on both sides of my automobile with no memory of making it home. I could have wound up in jail and probably in the pen.
I sometimes did good things. I helped people stuck by the side of the road. I gave the Greek family that lived down the street a ride to work every day for a period of a couple of weeks one summer, when I was in high school. I crammed two parents and three teenagers into my Mustang convertible every morning at 7 am, long before I would ever get up in the summer, so they could go open their shoe shop. The dad sat in the front bucket seat and momma and the three very big boys all smushed into the back seat. I actually kept a couple of secrets to myself.
I stood between an angry drunk with a loaded .45 and a sobbing drunk with a mean streak and no one died. But if that gun had gone off I would have. I slept with a girl who loved me long years ago and we kept our clothes on. She wanted sex and I suddenly had a conscience. I told her I didn't love her. She asked if she could sleep with me anyway. So we kept our clothes on. Usually I had no scruples. Why did I have them then? How was it that I was not all good and not all bad? Who decided what good and bad was? I puzzled myself.
One day I got someone pregnant and married her. She was a work friend, not even a girlfriend. It wasn't likely to last and I was beginning to consider cheating on her and maybe divorce her as well when I met Jesus Christ.
Every good thing I ever did before that moment, it was all for some kind of selfish motivation or simply because I was taught to do things a certain way or yadda yadda. Never did I truly have a day at peace and never was I satisfied with life. What was the purpose, what was the meaning, how did we get here and why? How could so many people blithely go on about their day and not care? Was the world mad, stupid or completely random and insignificant?
From that point forward I began to comprehend what is real and what is good and what does not have great significance. I was smart, but I was a fool. I could be intelligent and in fact very intelligent and not have wisdom.
Psalms 14:1 ASV - The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works; There is none that doeth good.
For once I realized that God is God and Jesus is Christ then everything changed. I was not smarter or faster or cleaner or uglier or richer or stronger but I was different from the inside out.
Christianity is not a religion, it is the process in which God comes to live inside you and begins to transform you into someone more like Him from the inside out. Religion tries to put you in a box or change you from the outside in.
I have probably done some bad things you wouldn't do. I may have done some really great things you have never done. But I have done so many different things, in so many different environments that from a North American point of view I am Everyman Christian. I understand where people are coming from. I have been there, man *fist bump* and got the t-shirt. I grok.
If I cut and paste something, it is because I doubt you will see it if I don't bring it to you. If I walk away from problematic subjects, I do so for good reasons.
When my dog Jack died, it made me think a lot about dogs and family. Dogs like to be part of a family. In the wild they form packs. Normal packs are made up of relatives, but released pets in the wilds of broken-down Detroit and other such places band together as families even if they are quite unrelated.
Many dogs prefer living in a family that includes dogs and people. I think God designed dogs to be companions and helpers to mankind. My dogs love being with us and love being with each other. They consider themselves part of a family. I am the alpha male and my wife is the alpha bitch but in the heirarchy of pack families Faith has established herself as the alpha dog dog and Chloe is okay with being the omega. Everyone has a place. Our kids are all in the grey area between human leadership and dog level. The dogs respect and love them but when they look for direction they look for my wife and me. Chain of command is important to dogs, they will fight to establish it and prefer to be directed by it.
Jack was dog alpha emeritus. His great love was to be with people. He actually preferred people to the other dogs. He liked them but perhaps he saw himself as more people than dog. In fact, it may be that all of our dogs do not see a clear distinction but see all of us as two legged and four legged people? Of course we really love and understand dogs and it is sort of a dog paradise around here so dogs are allowed to play and work and run and rest and snuggle and chew things and bark at intruders.
(Chloe the Bloodhound/German Shepard implores Debbie, Faith waits for results)
Anyway, Jack was a comfort to me in some hard times and I now see that he was a means, one of many, by which God showed me His love. If God can use a dog, he can use me. Here is what he wants me to do - God wants me to call you in from wandering alone in the wilderness and join His pack! Man can have friends and lovers and children and even so in the middle of the night and in the dead silence he is all alone. He has no one to turn to and no one to belong to who absolutely and unceasingly loves him, watches over him and listens to him. But God is there for you even when you do not see Him or acknowledge Him and deep in your heart of hearts you know it. God made the Universe, He made the world, He made you and He formed His pack, His family. You do not have to do anything or accomplish anything or quit doing anything to find Jesus Christ. I can show you the way, I've been there.
None of us are good enough for God. Once you admit that you are a sinner and not capable of saving yourself, turn to the One who is capable of everything and ask Him to save you and forgive you and live in your heart. He will do it. You will have joined the pack. He will not let anyone kick you out.
From Romans Ten 8-13 NIV -
...The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart," that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame." For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
And then from John Ten 14-18 and 25-30:
"I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father."
Jesus answered, "I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than alld]">[d]; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one."
Pack? Flock? Family! My hope is that you will join my posse and belong to God and live eternally with Him and with us.
So now I have bragged and confessed and smiled and frowned for you. I am a fallible human being who is saved by Christ and has become one of the children of God. Not because I am anything but because He is above everything.
(Jack wonders what you are waiting for?)