Sunday, January 28, 2007

One Example

O.K., one fairly tame example of the conundrum. It is extremely unlikely that a reader of this blog will recognize two of the women in this picture. As for me, and yes the young guy is me 25 years ago, I don't mind the fact my eyes are closed, my haircut is outdated, and my hand is clutching a totem of that era in my life (the beer , not the woman). I am afraid that this is about as risque a picture of Barbara as I can risk. Even if I inform my readers that we are married at the time of this photo, it still may appear to be a little too similar to our actual past to be comfortable for her. Yet is simply a photo of a happily married young professional with his wife sitting in his lap. And it is one of the early photos from our marriage that has survived subsequent censorship.

Well, so far as I can remember we were all fairly good boys and girls at that particular gathering. Perhaps a bit too much alcohol was consumed by some present. But otherwise, it was an innocent enough going away party for Barbara as she and I were about to move from California to Oregon in March of 1982.

One last thing, even though I believe Barabara is very pretty in this photo, I believe she is more beautiful by far this very night!


I've set a goal for myself to write at least one post per week for this blog. This week I encountered the conundrum. The more I write about myself, the more this begins to feel like an exercise in narcissism or at least an unhealthy obsession with all things inward. However, if I choose to write about others, I may well hurt or offend when my intent is only to revel in the stories that all our lives encompass.

Even the stories about myself are somewhat limited to those that do not include material that is hurtful to others, even indirectly. I see the temptation to create fiction. True stories involve real people who might be injured by my attempts to recount a tale.

And so I feel stymied this week.

The answer may be to reach back to times that involve people who could hardly be connected with me now. I am hard pressed to think of one person I have know well who became a celebrity in the sense of being widely known for even months, much less years. The farther back I go, the less likely that anyone would recognize someone I am writing about.

I welcome comments on this matter if anyone cares enough to have an opinion.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

A Tale of Two Births

When I have a lot of time to myself, my mind wanders all over the known and unknown universe. I didn’t have to wander very far, however, to wind up reading the article titled “Rock and Roll” in Wikipedia. I actually had a purpose, as well. I was trying to understand why I have often felt that I really dislike the blues but I have always loved rock and roll. Of course, knowledgeable folks immediately let me know that rock and roll has roots in the blues. No question, some of the rock I love best has been blues sung just a bit differently.

Some people might say that it is just a matter of a white guy wanting to hear white guys sing. But then it is hard to explain Jimi Hendrix as one of my all time favorites.
Articles on the history of Rock and Roll have a hard time saying whether it started with black singers or white. Little Richard or Buddy Holly. Elvis or Chuck Berry. Hey, I listened to all those guys. I was born in 1950. Rock and Roll’s birth was virtually coincidental with my own. I know the roots may reach back to the days when it was black music or “race” music. I think it sprouted and grew based on the idea that it was time to stop thinking like that. Rock grew up and blurred color lines at the same time that I was being raised to strictly observe them. (see )

Rock blurred a bunch of other lines that had been such a big deal in our culture and my life (hair styles, clothing, proper and improper speech, legal vs. illegal drugs, licit and illicit sex).

A whole lot of the lines that had been drawn by the 1950’s were genuinely in need of not just being blurred, but erased. I came to a point in the late 60’s where I began to wonder whether lines ever need be drawn. Now it seems easy to show that lines are still a good thing. Pride vs. humility. Justice vs. Injustice. Love vs. Hate. Greed vs. Giving. Our vision is rarely clear enough to allow us to put the lines in just the right place, even in our own lives. It is harder still to draw those lines for others. That is why Jesus told us to take the plank out of our own eye before attempting to extract a speck from our neighbor’s eye. Nonetheless, it is a kindness to undergo radical surgery on the plank so that one might become humble and capable of helping to remove the speck.

Friday, January 19, 2007

This is Different

It is one of those rare times in the past 25 years when it seems I will spend the night alone in our house. Charles and Pamela are away at college. Samuel went to spend the night at a friend's house. Barbara is gone for two nights to a women's retreat. Julia is with Viggo at Sacred Heart Hospital and hour from here. She is also in active labor and the doctors have decided to cease their interventions. So it is likely that Daniel will be born tonight.

It is a bit odd to be alone on the night when the first of our four children will make us grandparents. It is also somehow fitting. The torch is passed. Viggo and Julia are adults and are going through the incredible experience of having a child. They have the added intensity of having a premature baby. I thank God that they are in an excellent hospital with a very well equipped and staffed neonatal intensive care unit. I thank God that Daniel has had four extra weeks in the womb since Julia's labor first began on Dec. 21, 2006.

All of my children are grown up or getting there very quickly. I am a bit creaky and gray, but I hope to be around for a few more years to share more of these incredible life events.

As I sit alone this evening, I am all the more aware of my total dependence on God. He has enabled me to do all sorts of things, but right now it is time to rest and trust in him.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

What is you?

I’m not asking who are you? I assume you know that. If not, please call 911.

I want to know what makes you be you. The essence of you. However, since I know me better than I know you, I will proceed by examining the question: what is me.

When I see a picture like this I think, hey, that’s me. It is just short hand for thinking, hey, those colored dots on the screen or page are arranged so that they provide a 2D image of what my body looks like.

The body itself is not all there is to me. If you think the body is the whole show, try standing next to one that has just ceased to live. Barbara discovered my father’s body shortly after he died. She ran to me and said: “I think we’ve lost your father”. My brain didn’t wrap around that. I thought, he is a big man and not very fast. How could we lose him? Soon I realized that she meant he was dead. As I encountered his body, it reminded me of him, but it was not much more him than a picture or even a wax museum dummy would be him.

So that thing I call me is not this meat machine. That is true even when the machine is functioning and all the little proteins and minerals are being processed at the desirable rate. When I was born I weighed less than 7 pounds. My feet probably weigh more than that now. There is 235 lbs. of body now, but still the same me, sort of.

With respiration, ingestion, digestion, excretion, and lots of other dandy processes going on, my meat machine is recycling carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and a host of other elements at a rate that means that my body is made up of whole different set of atoms in any given year.

Even the arrangement of the elements varies. I admit, there are some fundamental taxonomic similarities between my body at age 3 and at age 53. But there are also many marked differences as well. There is hair at 53 that wasn’t there at 3. My appendix was in place at 3, gone by 53. Now at 56 I am considering having my left knee sawn out and getting some metal and plastic glued into that spot. I will still be me, just as I was 53 years ago or 3 years ago.

I am more than my body. I am more than the functions of my body or the arrangement of my body parts or materials. I can forget something and still be me. So I am more than my memories, although as I wrote last post, my memories are an important part of me.

Memories, muscles, scars, and loads of other identifying features are changed over time. If they change a lot, I say that I have changed a lot. I do not say that I am a new me, unless it is just a figure of speech. If studying, experiencing, exercising, and healing all caused me to be a different me, what benefit would there be to the old me in doing them? The old me would be annihilated.

Some things seem to just happen to me. Flatulence for example, just seems to happen. Wrinkles too. However, I remain convinced that I make decisions about how I will conduct my life and about how I will respond to the things that just seem to happen. Those decisions also change me, without creating an all new me.

I believe that I decide. The molecules and the forces that work on them do not decide for me. My decisions are not random. I operate according to a set of principles that are much influenced by what I believe my purpose to be. I have purpose. In fact I am purpose full.

Summarizing, we see the following:
Me is not just meat.
Me is not just processes.
Me is not just what happens to me.
Me is not random.
Me is purposeful.

What is you?

Monday, January 08, 2007

Past and Present

I'm having a pretty difficult time in the present. So I wonder, do I look to the past for encouragement? The only future I can surely be encouraged by is in the world after this one. If the only future I could foresee was an endless suspension in this sin cursed world, I would truly despair. Looking back I can be encouraged by two things: 1. Struggles that I endured and are now behind me 2. Joys that I have known.

When I began this blog a couple of years ago I thought to chronicle the past few decades of my life. I have done bits of that. I told the story of my racist upbringing. I gave a glimpse into my life as a wannabe antiwar radical in 69 or 70. Perhaps I told a tale or two about family life raising what were once my four little children.

Were I so inclined, I could include some lurid tales to match the allure of most of those miserable hundreds of channels of T.V. (Terrible Vacuum?) However, there would be a very great danger that some fool might read such tales and imagine it as an adventure rather than the blistering ride through hell that it actually was. At least, that is what it became.

I do think one short exploration of my past might serve to save some poor soul who is blindly walking towards more pain than they can currently imagine.

I do not have time to chronicle all the drugs I have abused, used, or been a guinea pig for. Really, the list boggles my mind, and it is not easily boggled these days. Some like LSD, were a wild ride from day one. Others like marijuana were part of the scene, but never really what I craved. My experiences snorting coke and amphetamines are varied, but thankfully rather limited. To this very day, some worthy products of the pharmaceutical industry are keeping me on a far more even keel than I had imagined possible well into my fifties.

I think the most insidious drug of all was alcohol. In the early days of drinking, it just seemed to be guarranteed good times and good feelings. I was cursed with a remarkable immunity to hangovers for the first decade or more of my drinking career. So even the day after a binge offered only a small rebuke to me. Certainly nothing that would prevent me from seeking the good times again, and soon.

Some of the ugliest things I did while drunk were thought by me to be the pinnacle of a man's destiny. A phony pinnacle as old as the phrase wine, women, and song. A pinnacle that now seems a pit from my current vantage.

Alcohol is unique in its acceptance. The bible praises alcohol. I believe Jesus drank alcohol. Alcohol is so simple to produce that prisoners in a stalag could produce it with potato peelings and a bit of ingenuity. It is so cheap and easy to procure that a preteen can pay a wino to buy two bottles, one for each of them.

Unlike food, water, or air, we can live a very complete life without alcohol.
How then did I come to regard it as so vital to my well being?

Alcohol offered what seemed to be the easy way out of any problem. Anxious, take a drink. Scared, take a drink. Can't sleep, take a drink. Shy, take a drink, well maybe three or four or more. My own mother suggested that a beer or two each night in my freshman dorm room would make it easier for me to sleep amidst the chaos of 1968 in college.

To this day I believe that very moderate consumption of alcohol is not a problem for most folks. Drunkeness, however, is always a problem. It is a giant bomb with, for most people, a very long fuse. Months, years, even decades of excessive alcohol use can pass before one realizes that the bomb has already exploded. One's life has blown to pieces in such slow motion that he might imagine that it has just been an exhilirating ride with a rather sudden end.

I thank God that my ride on the alcohol train ended before my life did.

I hope that any other idols I am clutching will be pulled from my hands. Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.
For God tells me. So I know.