Sometimes… Y’know What I’m Sayin’?

Luggage in hand, I was traversing LAX looking high and low for Peter.  We had not settled on an exact location in which to meet up; heck, I wasn’t even really sure whether he intended to meet me in baggage claim or simply pull up outside.  We were twenty year olds.  Planning and organization was hardly our strong suit.  I suppose I had little idea what a living nightmare this airport would be; it felt like the lion’s share of the world’s population had descended into this one small arena with the single task of keeping me adrift and alone.  I had flown five hours from Newark airport to Los Angeles and I had no ticket home.  So if I failed to find Peter, I was just going to have to use my meager savings to find a room to rent and buy a junker with which to battle the psychotic traffic patterns of La La Land.

 

Peter had phoned me a few weeks before and barely giving me a chance to say hello he excitedly ranted, “Dude… here’s the thing.  I just graduated USC.  I was going to book a flight home to Jersey when it occurred to me that there was a much cooler way to go about making my way back home.  Dig it… you get a one way ticket to L.A. and we drive my car across the country blasting music and getting high the entire time.”  My response was concise: “I’m in.”  Peter had been my best friend since we were about fifteen after meeting at a summer program called Governor’s School, a month-long excursion in southern New Jersey on a college campus for gifted artists (actors, singers, painters, poets, etc.)  Me and Pete were both in the acting program and on day two we bonded over a small radio broadcasting the Major League Baseball All-Star game.  We lived about two hours away from each other, he in south Jersey just outside Philadelphia and me in north Jersey about 12 miles from The Lincoln Tunnel.  So, for the rest of our time in high school, we saw each other when we could, which was never enough, and then we both got accepted to B.F.A. acting programs, he in Cali and I in Ithaca, New York.  For the next four years, our time together was limited to a few visits over the summer.  So the idea of being in a car together, day and night, wildly careening our way across the entire country sounded like heaven.

 

From somewhere behind me I heard, “Hey, Faggot!” (we were young and ignorant).  I spun around just in time to receive Pete’s arms yanking me into a fierce embrace and fervently whispering into my ear, “This is going to be so fucking awesome!”  “Oh yes,” I said, “This shall be a most epic adventure.”  We navigated the mass human traffic as we made our way toward the parking garage.  “Oh,” Pete said, “Did I mention that we need to knock this out in three days?”  “Excuse me?” I queried.  “We have three days to get to Jersey.”  “We need to travel three thousand miles in three days?!  What are you, insane?!  Why three days?”  “I have tickets to a Floyd concert on Friday night.”  This should not have made a whole lot of sense but somehow it kind of did.  “Ok, ok,” I said calming myself down, “That’s a thousand miles a day.  We can do that.  You holding plenty of goodies I assume?”  Pete grinned menacingly, “I have an ounce of very good weed, a quarter ounce of outstanding weed and a half ounce mushrooms; the magic variety.”  I smiled back, “All right, three days, no problem.  Although if we trip at the hotels, we won’t sleep, y’know?”  “Nah, we’ll trip for four or five hours and then grab two, three hours of sack time.  It’ll be fine.”  So, okay, that sounded sort of solved.  “You drive stick right?” Pete asked.  “No,” I answered.  He stopped dead, “What do you mean, no?”  I stopped too, “What does no mean? No, I don’t drive stick.”  “But the car is a stick,” he said with exasperation.  I stared at him incredulously, “Dude, I can’t drive stick whether the car is a stick or not.”  “Why didn’t you say something?!”  “What do you mean why didn’t I say something?  Do you mean why didn’t I ask a question that no one ever asked me?!”  Pete took a few deep breaths, “Well, we have something of a problem here.”  “It would seem so,” I agreed.  We crossed the threshold into the garage and Pete stopped again and offered, “All right, I’ll tell you what.  I’ll drive the whole way if you promise that you will stay awake the whole way.”  “Oh, dude, definitely,” I shot back, “I wouldn’t crash on you.  You sure you’re okay with that?”  Pete responded, “Well, A) we don’t really have a choice, and B) If I’m sitting awake in a car, what does it matter whether I’m driving or sitting?”  That made sense to me, and so, crisis averted.  Let the games begin.

 

After a day loading up Peter’s apartments between lengthy bong hits and large swigs of mountain dew, we were prepared for our impending adventure.  “Where are the drugs?” I inquired.  “In my gym bag in teh back seat.”  Luckily (or not so luckily), about a year before, I had been pulled over on route 95 on my way back to Jersey from Miami with my buddy Logan with a pipe and a about a dime bag of weed in the front console.  We spent two hours in handcuffs as a drug dog tore the living crap out of my Toyota Camry.  I had two hits of acid in my wallet that, by the grace of God, they failed to recover and, in the end, we ended up with a high-priced ticket we needed to pay to the state of Virginia.  It had taught me a valuable lesson.  “No, dude.  Roll four joints and open the trunk.  As he expertly inserted and encased the marijuana in the short, thin papers, I located a Sega Genesis in the bottom of the trunk.  I put all the drugs in a plastic bag, which I then put in a paper bag, which I then stored underneath the console and taped the box shut.  “Pete, we have enough drugs to spend a good long time in lockup if we get caught.  Put the four joints in the middle console.  When we run out, we’ll pull into a gas station and reload.  I also put bottles of Evian water at the foot of both of our seats.  “What’s that for?” he asked.  “Just trust me.  Let’s party like lunatics without making lunatic decisions.  The chances of a cop demanding a search of the trunk and managing to find our stash are minimal.  This is the way to go, k?”  “Coolio,” he said as he threw the car into drive and we hit the open road.

 

We smoked up the four joints within the first hour and a half of the drive and were, to be candid, higher than a tightrope walker on stilts.  The music was blasting and we were playing catch up on the last six months or so in which we had had barely any contact at all.  This was working beautifully for the first few hundred miles, but eventually all the pot was making us quite a bit sluggish and tired and dreary.  “Man, we have 800 miles to drive before we can stop and I am baked to the gills and ready to fall unconscious.  Pete smiled his most devilish smile and proclaimed, “Then it must be time for the ‘shrooms.”  “‘Shrooms.  We can’t stop and trip now.  We have a boatload of driving to do.”  “No man,” Pete carried on, “I mean we do them in the car.”  “Uh… Pete… you-uh… can’t drive on hallucinogenics… can you?”  “I don’t know,” he honestly answered.  But there is no better way to find out then to try.”  “Pete, all due respect, your logic might be a bit sideways here.  I’m all for an experiment.  But not one in which if the experiment fails, we die in a fiery blaze of metal and steel.”  “Dude, listen.  We’ll just take a cap and a stem each.  There’s no way that that much will make us insane.  It’ll just give us a well-needed boost, a whole lot of giggling and probably some pretty hallucinations.  There’s practically no one on the road and we are on a highway.  All I have to do is keep the car straight.  I’m fairly certain I can handle that.  Worst case scenario, it is too much for me, and we pull over and lay in a field until they wear off.”  This was not sound thinking.  Clearly.  And it should not have resonated as sound thinking to me.  And yet, I found his game-plan sort of brilliant.  So we popped the trunk, untaped the Sega, popped a cap and a stem each, re-hid the stash, slammed the trunk and continued on our way.  The next half hour was a strange mix of morbid fear and rampant anticipation.  I vividly recall passing a waffle house (they appear at nearly every exit on I-95, and seeing that the sign had been botched and read “wobble house.”  “Did you see that,” I asked Pete, “That waffle house totally said wobble house.”  “No, it didn’t, you asshole.  You’re tripping.”  “I am not.  I’m fine.  Are you tripping?”  “Man, I am tripping balls!”  I laughed hysterically, “So am I.”

 

After the laughter died down some, I asked the question that I had feared asking for the last fifteen minutes or so.  “So, uh, are you like… all right?”  I was fairly sure that I would have been unable to safely operate a vehicle under the present circumstances.  “I think I’m all good, man.  I’m some really interesting streaks of color and stuff, but it doesn’t seem to be impeding my ability to handle the vehicle.  As far as you can tell, are we in one single lane and not careening back and forth?”  I took a good look; or as good a look as I was capable of taking.  “Near as I can tell, you are doing a bang up job.”  So we cranked up the tunes and starting yelling “woo-hoo’s” and “yippee kay yay’s” out the window like a couple of psychotic cowboys.  For the next eight hours (or so, it’s hard to tell), we stopped and popped a cap and a stem each hour and just kept the party going all through the dark of the night and early morning.  We were laughing so hard and so maniacally for hours on end that we had to stop a few times because it felt like my innards were apt to blast right through my stomach lining and splash the dashboard.  We were making amazing time.  Part of the reason for this is that Pete was completely ignoring the posted speed limits.  Now, you’d think that if you are driving on federal highway stoned to the gills on illegal chemicals, you’d at least have the sense to obey the speed limit.  Nonetheless, I’d say we traveled for at least five straight hours with Pete pushing his battered old Celica up to 110.  We were jettisoning down the highway at top speed as the world flew by in a panacea of light and color swirling and dancing and beckoning further on into our hedonistic hullabaloo.

 

We tripped and smoked and drove into the early morning light.  The next thing we knew, it was 8:30am or so and we were stuck in morning rush hour.  Our brains were not currently wired to handle this imposition with any level of reasonableness.  Having knocked out 1200 miles on day one, we were ahead of schedule and decided it was time to find a motel and get some shuteye.  We checked in, dumped our bags, hit the sheets and were unconscious in minutes.

 

We awoke around 2pm, fresh and rested, and ready for day two.  As I finished packing my bag, Pete expertly rolled four joints for the console.  We each popped a cap and a stem, threw the car into drive and sped off.  Unfortunately, it was dank and a bit rainy out which made for less than an exuberant sendoff, but, at the end of the day, when you’re really really high, the weather is but a minor factor.  We were joking and busting balls looking forward to a repeat of day one.  This daydream was crushed in short order by a blinding array of red and blue lights emanating from somewhere behind us.  “Oh, shit!  Cops!” panicked Pete.  I went right into action.  I handed him a joint.  “Eat it,” I said sternly.  “What?!” he asked.  “Eat it.  Eat the joint.  Grab the water at your feet and swallow the thing.  Now!”  I didn’t want to overwhelm him and considering that I had planned for the possibility of this very event, I took the brunt of the responsibility and downed the other three joints using about half the bottle of water to choke them down.  The Oklahoma state trooper sauntered out of his vehicle ambling in out direction decked out in mirrored sunglasses despite the utter lack if sunshine.  Having, I imagine, already noticing the New Jersey plates, he approached the drivers side window to find two raggedy looking kids, both with three days and growth and hair sprouting in every possible direction.  There was a glow in the dark condom hanging from the rear view window that we had found in a rest stop vending machine.  The car was littered with empty soda cans, and half-eaten bags of circus peanuts, spice drops, cheese nips, Pringles, and pork rinds.  Pete handed over his license and registration.  “You know how fast you boys were goin'” he asked with a wry grin.  “No sir,” answered Pete, “How fast.”  The trooper answered, “Too damn fast; that’s how fast.”  He leaned in closer sniffing like a motivated Beagle.  “You boys been smoking some dope?”  We were both utterly panicked.  In an inspired moment of semi-brilliance, I answered, “To be honest officer, we shared a joint before we got on the road and that is probably what you smell.  I know we shouldn’t have done it and we’re sorry.”  He waited a few beats.  “So no drugs in the car then?”  I knew what the correct answer was but somehow, all of a sudden, I couldn’t make my mouth form words.  And then it occurred to me.  I am tripping in mushrooms and I just are three joints.  My whole world was melting right before my eyes.  The troopers face kept elongating and expanding and contracting as if it were made of rubber and I was both suppressing the instinct to laugh and scream simultaneously.  His voice brought me part of the way back to reality, I asked you a question, boy!  Are there are any drugs in the car?  Somehow the power of speech returned just long enough for me to spit out, “No sir, no drugs.”  “We’ll just see about that.  Both of you, out of the car.”  Now I was really losing it.  This was going to be bad.  Really bad.  I suspected that the smell of pot smoke might be enough to grant him permission to check the trunk.  Plus, it was Oklahoma.  Who knew what these backwoods cops were capable of?  We were like little squeaking mice dropped headlong into the snake aquarium.  He handcuffed us both and did a thorough search of the car.  He found nothing because there was nothing to find.  He uncuffed us.  He looked at me and said, “back in the car.”  Then he looked at Pete and said, “You… come with me.”  I watched Pete and the trooper climb into the squad car and was left with my now insane mind to skitter straight down the rabbit hole frantically imagining every horrible thing that could possibly take place as a result of our present circumstances.  Suffices to say, I was thinking very, very, bad things; and growing more terrified as each second passed.  I don’t know how long Pete was in that car but it felt like an eternity.  Finally, I see Pete step out of the car while the trooper stayed inside.  Pete slowly walked back to his car, gingerly opened the door, carefully sat down, slowly put the keys in the ignition and cautiously started the engine.  I was flummoxed.  “What is going on?” I whispered.  Pete, frozen, not even looking my way said, “Say nothing.  For now, just say nothing.”  And we pulled out onto the highway and Pete began to drive.

 

We made our way down past three exits or so in absolute silence.  Finally, Pete pulled over at a gas station, stopped the car and pressed his forehead into the top of the steering wheel.  “Are you ok?” I asked.  “I think so.  That was like the scariest ten minutes of my life.  He kept grilling me angrily asking me about who we were and wheat we were doing and what we were hiding and what could happen to us and then, for a reason I cannot possibly comprehend, he said, ‘Ok.  Go on back to your car and be careful out there.’  I don’t know why.  It was surreal.  I’m still feeling a little shaky.  But I think I’m good to go now.  You ok?”  He finally took a good look at me and realized in an instant that the answer was decidedly ‘no.’  “Shit, you look like you’re totally buggin’ out.  Are you totally buggin’ out?”  “I am totally buggin’ out.”  I felt crazy and sick and exhausted and frenetic all at the same time.  “I think I need to lay down somewhere,” I said.  “Dude, we can’t.  I see that you are in bad shape, but we have to keep going.  Forget the promise of staying awake.  Just put the seat back and close your eyes and I’ll push us through.”  I tried that and it was something less than a success.  My mind was going at a million miles an hour and it wasn’t traveling anywhere good.  Pete tried every kind of music he had available and no matter what he put in, it either freaked me out, depressed me or made me feel like putting my fist through the window.  Then, all of a sudden, Pete had a brainstorm.  “Hold on.  I think I know what’ll calm you.”  He pulled over to the shoulder and went rooting around in the floor of the back seats.  I heard him say, “A-ha!”  He popped in a cassette and gleefully said, “Enjoy!”  The next thing I heard was something in the ballpark of, “When my agent called me and told me I had the gig, I could never have dreamed of what it would actually mean to be a Brady kid.”  The voice emanating from the speakers made me feel both warm and more than a little bit confused.  It became clear, in short order, that I was listening to Barry Williams, the man who played Greg Brady on the popular seventies sit-com The Brady Bunch.  It was a book on tape recording of his memoir/biography called (I think) “I Was A Teenage Brady,” or something like that.  In any other situation, I would surely have asked, “Pete, why in hell do you have this and where did you get it?”  But I didn’t.  For some odd reason, it was working.  Barry’s voice was soothing and easy to listen to and the story, go figure, was quite compelling and enjoyable.  Many hours passed as Pete drove like a trooper through the rain-drenched streets, occasionally puffing on a joint, obtaining the progress we so desperately needed which I was completely unable to participate in.  To his credit, Pete added 800 miles to the odometer before calling it and pulling in to a motel.  I thanked him for taking care of me and for bearing the burden of wet isolated driving and we both crashed quick and hard.

 

I awoke on day three, refreshed, relieved and looking forward to sitting in a car without fantasizing my own death.  I came out of the shower towelling off to find Peter rolling joints and separating the caps and stems of the mushrooms.  “Um… what in the name of all that is holy are you doing?” I asked with more than a note of incredulity.  He looked at me confused and said, “What do you mean?  Four joints in the console and a cap and a stem each hour, right?”  I suppose something inside my compromised brain thought, “Cops!?  We aint scared of no stinking cops!” because my answer was nothing but a single word: “Right.”  We popped our ‘shrooms, set fire to the marijuana and began the last leg of the trip.  Because we had shut it down early the day before, we were able to get a really early start.  It was a great day.  Seventy degrees with a nice cool breeze; windows open; tunes a blarin’ and high as a couple of kites.  The only alteration from the basic framework was that Pete was now driving the speed limit (or, at least, wasn’t exceeding it by more than ten miles).  We talked and argued and laughed about movies and books and baseball and women and a whole hot of utter nonsense.  Over the years, Pete and I had developed enough inside jokes that just rattling those off in a stream could kill two or three hours.  At one point, we pulled over at a scenic overlook, having just popped some ‘shrooms and blown through a joint in record time.  There were a bunch of families there taking a break from their own journeys, and Pete and I struck up conversations with the lot of them.  We all hung out for almost an hour as Pete and I held court with the adults and played with all the kids making them laugh.  It was a strangely ironic scene; these nice wholesome families enjoying and trusting two twenty-year old drug-addled juvenile delinquents.  I mean, we weren’t dangerous or anything.  We were basically reasonably nice guys who just really enjoyed getting high.  Nonetheless, when we got back into the car, Pete asked, “Was that a little messed up?”  I laughed and answered, “A little.”

 

From then on, we did nothing but drive.  We stopped for gas once (maybe twice) and pulled to the shoulder when we had to pee.  The speed limit was 70, so we were able to safely do 80 miles an hour with a mostly clear highway and before we knew it, we were on the east coast.  We had crossed into Pennsylvania (which would turn out to be a much larger state than I thought) and grandly announced, “Next state, New Jersey, baby!”  A few hours into the state, our odometer told us that we had completed 950 miles.  With only 50 short miles to go, Pete suggested, “Hey, my friends at the show will have plenty of goodies.  Let’s make this last fifty miles count and finish off what we have.”  Again it’s hard to say why, but this sounded like an excellent idea.  We stopped, rolled up the rest of the pot, gobbled down the rest of the mushrooms and got ready to cross the finish like in style.  In about a half an hour we were blown out of our minds.  I kept asking Pete if he could keep handling the car and he kept saying yes, but just barely.  This probably should have been a concern but we were way too blasted to be worried about anything.

 

About fifty miles later, we weren’t noticing any signs that suggested that New Jersey was about to appear.  We stopped in at a gas station and were greeted with some mighty troubling news.  The idea that New Jersey is 3000 miles away from Los Angeles turned out to be a sort of estimate; more specifically a sort of rounding down.  In truth, the trip we set out to make was about 3250 miles.  Dejectedly, we got back into the car and got back on the highway looking at another two to three hours of driving while realizing we were already coming down from our intake and that we were fresh out.  About 150 miles later, we looked like a couple of deflated balloons.  We both had fairly intense headaches as well as stomach aches.  We were bleary-eyed and tongue-tired.  We were running on fumes.  The last hour of the trip was a mild nightmare as we both just watched the mile markers pass by wishing and hoping that they could do so at a faster rate.  As I had mentioned earlier, Pete lived two hours away from me.  The Floyd concert started at 8:00pm.  He pulled into my driveway at 6:00pm.  We were both pretty shot but I had a bed to look forward to and he would be high again in a few hours.  I grabbed my bags out of the back and gave him a big hug.  “We made it,” I said.  “Yes we did,” he answered back, “Thanks for doing it with me.”  “I don’t think we’ll ever forget this one.  The good and the bad.”  As Pete got back into the car and threw the gear shift into reverse, he looked at me, smiled, and said, “Sometimes… y’know what I’m sayin’?”

 

 

 

 

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Housewives

The United States of America is currently a place which is strewn with realities and elements that should, by all accounts, truly make us ashamed of ourselves.  The very state of the country itself, our national debt in particular, is a travesty.  We have collectively managed to dig a financial hole so deep that climbing out of it within the next millennium appears all but impossible.  And don’t say that “we” doesn’t apply to you and that it is all the government’s fault, because we are complicit in electing these jokers into office.  For the sweet love of God, there is a perfectly good chance that Donald Trump will be the next commander-in-chief to be sworn in.  Our obsession with guns is pretty embarrassing as well.  I think we are the only country in the world that visits other countries and find ourselves pissy because they do not speak our language.  Our obesity rate, especially among our youth, is also a rather shameful subject.  Our education system finds itself way in back of the pack in terms of effectiveness.  We can’t seem to produce cars that anyone cares a whole lot about.  The Tea Party movement is monumentally embarrassing, as is Sarah Palin in general.  And yet, there is one reality in the United States of America that is so heinous, so diabolically shameful, that it should have every American writing apology notes to every citizen of every country that has had the sad displeasure of having to view it for even a single second.  That reality my friends is the series of (and you can barely call them) television shows entitled “The Real Housewives.”

 

These shows are more than nightmarishly offensive, they are pervasive.  I find it nearly impossible to flip through the various station on the tube without managing to run across these gut-wrenchingly empty-headed mean-spirited women in one form or another.  In reality, I think they are all limited to Bravo (although I’m not sure), so I guess this just means I run past Bravo quite a bit when I am flipping.  But, in general, I like Bravo.  There is original programming as well as reruns of shows that I am quite fond of on Bravo and I resent having to avoid the channel completely for fear that I will run across a cadre of surgically enhanced, back-stabbing, stupid as a bag of rocks harlots screaming at each other because one of their designer cross-bred rat dogs took a crap in the flower bed.  And yet, no matter what time of day you go scrolling through the stations, there they are.  There are just so many friggin’ housewives.  Endless housewives.  To my knowledge there are housewives in Orange County, New York City, Atlanta, New Jersey, Washington D.C., Beverley Hills, Miami with Potomac and Dallas on board for next year.  You’d think they could at least combine the silicone sycophants in Orange County and Beverley Hills to relieve us of just one of these abominations.  I’m not saying that I want to watch The Real Housewives of California, but at least it would offer an iota of consolidation.

 

Now, I grant you that The Real Housewives fall under the equally repulsive umbrella of “Reality Television,” and certainly should not receive all the blame either for creating the problem or for perpetuating it.  Reality Television is an embarrassment in and of itself and a screaming indication of what a shallow chattel-like citizenship we have.  In truth, it started with The Real World on MTV.  And while The Real World was not a good show by any stretch of the imagination, it at least made some semblance of sense.  First of all, it was basically a show for teenagers, who are, essentially a bunch of lobotomy victims to begin with (I know this because I was one).  Further, there was a level of innovation taking place.  The concept of creating a sort of sociological experiment involving taking a group of young people from different ethnicities and religions and backgrounds with a host of different experiences and place them all together in a confined space to observe how they mix and interact had a potentially groundbreaking air to it.  Of course, it was clear in short order that no person was going to be anything in the realm of genuine with the knowledge that they were being filmed every single solitary moment.  It was equally clear, after a while, that the producers of the show were prompting and cajoling the participants to act in certain ways, take on certain personas, induce conflict and generally be as “unreal” as possible.  So basically, the entire sociological experiment was bullshit.  What’s worse, it wasn’t even interesting bullshit.  The group they chose were a bunch of mouth-breathing morons without a single captivating thing to offer beyond trying to hook up with each other, drinking and partying excessively and fighting over who stole the peanut butter.  It was insipid.  And it is this particular vapid brand of reality programming that our vomitous housewives are created in the image of.  Except, in this case, they are full-grown adults; full-grown adults doing the exact same stupid shit and arguing about the same crap that the young people were doing and arguing about on The Real World.  Further, it is no longer teens that this drivel is being marketed to.  It is full-grown adults being asked to tune in to this garbage and they do just that.  Adults.  Adults with full lives and careers and kids and mortgages and car payments are being asked to donate the little fragments of free time available to them to the viewing of genuinely awful people acting awfully toward each other as they fight with their awful spouses and ignore their spoiled kids.

 

I should mention that when I say that The Real Housewives are built on The Real World model of reality programming, I am assuming that you are aware that there is another model.  That would be what I would term the Survivor model of reality programming.  This is the model that rather than asking you to just watch a bunch of people being people for no particular reason, asks you to watch a bunch of people engaged in some sort of contest or competition.  Falling into this category would be shows like American Idol, The Biggest Loser, The Amazing Race, Top Chef, The Bachelor and, well, you get the idea.  This brand of reality programming is a degree less loathsome than its counterpart and is, sometimes, although rarely, entertaining.  I will admit to having spent a few seasons tuning into American Idol, although mainly for the terrible auditions and to watch Simon Cowell rag on people.  And Master Chef is quite a bit of fun.  But, in a general way, these shows are just as complicit in advertising the stupidity of the average American.  I think, overall, the message we send to the production companies is, “If you can show us people embarrassing themselves or each other or unscrupulously competing for a prize or just acting like complete assholes for an hour at a time, we’ll tune in.”  So that’s what they do.  We’ve given the major television networks the greatest gift they’ve ever received.  We’ve signed on to let them make scads of reality shows rather than scads of sit-coms and dramas.  The average reality show costs between $100,000 and $200,000.  The average scripted show runs between 1 and 2 million.  ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX and Bravo love what idiots we are.

 

Anyway, back to the housewives.  First of all, it is monumentally offensive to every genuine housewife in the known universe to call these wenches housewives.  Look the word up in the dictionary.  Here’s what you’ll find:

 

Housewife

noun

“A married woman who manages her own household, especially as her principled occupation.”

 

The women on these shows are all millionaires (or their husbands are) with access to nannies and servants to “manage” their households.  There are millions of women in this country who spend all day every day trying to balancing a budget while vacuuming, doing laundry, washing dishes, scrubbing floors, making beds, and shepherding their kids back and forth to school and extracurricular activities and helping them with their homework who should be ragefully and righteously appalled at the umnitogated gall of these blights on society being referred to as housewives.  And yet, it occurs to me that there is a really good chance that many of the housewives I just have described come to the end of their exhausting days, ready to collapse, pour themselves a glass of cheap wine and actually watch an episode of The Real Housewives.  And we wonder why The Donald is leading the Republican polls.

 

You know, there was a time when being famous required that you had some sort of remarkable skill or talent.  Frank Sinatra was famous because he could croon a love ballad like no other person in the world.  Joe Dimaggio was famous because he could hit a 90 mile an hour fastball four hundred feet.  Jackson Pollack was famous because he could create a frenetic tableau of color that was mind-blowing to the eye as well as to the senses.  Marlon Brando was famous because he could literally inhabit the being of another person on stage and screen.  Famous people were famous for reasons that were clear and obvious to locate.  Famous people were famous because they were too remarkable not to be famous.  How on earth did we collectively decide as a nation that the new demarcation for being famous was needlessly spending scads of money that you didn’t earn and behaving like an imbecilic, entitled, vicious trollop?

 

And what I believe is really at the heart of the problem is that these ludicrous women actually understand themselves as famous; as superstars; loved and adored by millions.  They have gotten the message that marrying for money, and acting unkind and unforgiving and manipulative and cruel pays off, and pays off big.  And as they hold these warped values to be true, so do the millions of people who tune in each week to watch these train wreck women torture each other.  Who they are and how they operate and what they represent has genuinely entered the DNA of our nation.  We hail their fame and bow at their Jimmy Choo laden feet.  There is even a show after the show recounting and processing all the crap that happened on the show.  That is the level to which we are obsessed with these creatures.  Our fascination demands a show about the show.  I don’t know if I find that more comical or terrifying.

 

Why do people watch this?  What do they get out of it?  I have nothing against mindless entertainment.  There are episodes of Frasier and Seinfeld and The King of Queens and Everybody Loves Raymond that I have seen six or seven times already.  I don’t understand that there is any genuine value in this or that it improves my life in any way; but it’s not doing me any harm either.  These so-called housewives are harmful.  They are dangerous.  Ridiculous and patently absurd; but dangerous nonetheless.  They are purporting a way of life that has truly become the so-called American dream.  They are what the majority of the nation aspires to be.  They are the ideal, so to speak.  And a country in which a bunch of plastic, vapid femme fatales have become something that are viewed with envy and awe, is a country in a whole whopping heap of trouble.  It’s hard to believe that when our forefathers declared that we are all to have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that they had NeNe Leakes, Bethenny Frankel, Teresa Giudice or Lisa Vanderpump in mind.  In fact, if the forefathers had access to a crystal ball and had the insight to foresee this nightmare, I suspect they may well have scrapped the whole endeavor.

 

And bear in mind, the toxin is pervasive.  Because the natural offshoot of the devilish housewives is a show called Dance Moms.  It is every bit as gross and loathsome as the Real Housewives, except now they have gotten innocent children in on the repulsive action.  The show revolves around a wildebeest of a dance studio owner and the frazzled, angst-ridden, tear-stained children that she pushes and prods and criticizes and pits against each other, while their massively incompetent mothers, clearly attempting to rectify their own failures by living through their children, bitch and moan and backstab each other and jockey for position as the competitions ensue.  It makes me shudder at what’s next.  Maybe a show about nuns forced to have sex with truckers in an effort to create the most interesting baby.  Or maybe a show about choir boys made to compete in a beer pong contest where the last one standing gets promoted to head boy.

 

Let me tell you something, dear readers.  If you think the fictional worlds of movies like The Running Man, The Maze Runner and The Hunger Games are not eventually coming to network television, you are fooling yourself.  Brace yourselves.

 

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Pedal to the Medal

So, I am a pizza delivery guy.  I am a 43 year old pizza delivery guy.  I mean, I am a pastor, that’s my calling, but no one is presently seeing fit to pay me to perform that particular task.  I am also a life coach and I maintain a small handful of clients who pay me handsomely for my services.  But in terms of where the bulk of my time is spent professionally and the bulk of where my income stems from, I am a 43 year old pizza delivery guy.  And that’s okay.  It’s less than ideal… but it’s okay.  I am following a dream and it demands certain sacrifices and I am more than willing to make those sacrifices.  It doesn’t have much of an effect on my pride; although, every now and then, on a night when it is 7:30 and I have done three deliveries and made $11 and I am biding my time in a hot-ass kitchen strewn with ear-piercing Spanish music and a bevy of Mexican kitchen guys yelling at each other, I do have moments of asking myself, “What in the holy hell am I doing here?”  But that is not the norm.  As job-jobs go, it’s a reasonably simple one.  Most everybody is pleasant to be around and the money isn’t too bad.  But the main reason that being a 43 year old pizza delivery guy doesn’t bother me is that it gives me the opportunity to drive.  And I love to drive.

I mean, I love it.  Sometimes, I jump in my car and just drive.  I’m not headed anywhere in particular, I just want to drive.  When I have a commitment or an appointment somewhere, the farther away the better.  Just more time to cruise the highways and byways (I don’t know what a byway is by the way.  I just know it’s a real thing) listening to my tunes or a book on audible.  Actually it is generally always audible now.  If you don’t know, audible is a free app on which you can buy books to have read to you.  It is books on tape for the new generation.  I have always been an avid reader, but I never suspected how much I would enjoy being read to.  Audible has completely ruined traditional reading for me.  I literally can no longer sit and turn the pages of a traditionally bound book and simply read.  But that is neither here nor there.  I just straight up dig being in the car.  Well, I straight up dig driving a car.  I loathe being a passenger.  And being a passenger in the back seat?  Screw that, I’ll stay home.  But with me at the wheel, life is good.  There are few things I enjoy more than a good ol’ fashioned road trip.  Twenty-three hours in a car, especially in one straight shot, especially through the night (I friggin’ love driving at night) is utter nirvana.  My pop loves driving and I suspect that’s where I get it from.  Some of my fondest childhood memories are long road trips that we took together.  There’s nothing like being on a long stretch of highway with no one else in sight in the at, like, three in the morning, totally silent, having already logged five or six hundred miles in a car strewn with mountain dew and Snapple bottles and empty wrappers from bags of trail mix and skittles and Swedish fish, and just watching the world pass by.

I am aware that my love of driving is something less than a mind-blowing pronouncement, but the fact is, I find my relationship with driving sort of interesting and, hopefully, worth writing about.  I mean, just the very idea of owning a car is pretty remarkable.  Think about it.  There is a machine in my driveway that will take me anywhere I want to go at somewhere between 40 and 70 miles an hour anytime I have somewhere to go.  What’s more, it can play music for me as I travel.  It will make me warm if it is cold and cool if it is hot.  The seats adjust to make me as comfortable as possible.  It has lights that go on when it grows dark outside.  And it can house up to five people at a time.  And I have TWO of them.  That is a miracle.  For thousands of years, the greatest princes and monarchs and royalty and multi-millionaires of every shape and size could not obtain, or even dream, of such a luxury.  Consider the following words describing King Solomon’s wealth:

Used anciently, Talents were a measure of weight and money. A talent weighs roughly 75 U.S. pounds (34.3 kilograms), which is equal to 1,094 troy ounces. At $1,500 per troy ounce, a talent of gold in today’s value is worth $1,641,000. At $1,600 per troy ounce, a talent is worth $1,750,400. Solomon received 666 talents of the metal EACH YEAR. This means the value of what he got each year was between $1,092,906,000 and $1,165,766,400 U.S. dollars!

And yet, King Solomon wasn’t able to get his hands on even a single used beat-to-shit Ford Fiesta.

But regardless of how remarkable it is that I have a car, I just flat out love the experience of driving.  There is just something about having total control of 4,ooo pounds of steel and aluminum that gives me a feeling of great power.  Which, in and of itself, is a little weird.  Instead, it should probably scare the shit out of me.  Especially considering that there are hundreds of 4,000 pound hunks of steel and aluminum looming next to me and in front of me and behind me also traveling at 60 miles an hour at any given time.  Think of the incredible level of trust we humans are daily placing into each other as we travel to our individual destinations.  We are all behind the wheel of deadly weapons.  In almost all cases, I don’t know the drivers of any of the cars surrounding me at any given time.  I know nothing about them.  I don’t know what kind of days they are having.  I don’t know if they have rage issues.  I don’t know if they are stable.  I don’t know if they have been prescribed meds that they are not taking.  I don’t know if there are chemicals that they have not been prescribed that they ARE taking.  And any one of them, for any reason at all, could make the impulsive decision to end my life and proceed to go about doing it with relative ease.

And, quite frankly, I’m not sure why they don’t.  Because I am kind of a dick on the road.  I am not proud of this fact.  I’m not particularly shameful about it either.  It’s just true.  I rarely drive the speed limit.  I just don’t like driving slow and I am not fond of those who do.  I am not a lunatic, mind you.  But you will generally find me doing 70 in a 55 or 45 in a 30.  When I am driving in a single lane and someone in front of me is meandering along at a speed that I deem unreasonable, I wait for the straightaway, and utilize the opposite positioned lane to zip around them.  I interact with stop signs as suggestions rather than commands.  I always slow down and check both ways, of course, but I am king of the rolling stop.  And as far as four-way stops go (the dumbest idea for driving we have come up with since the roundabout.  And I’m saying roundabout because that’s what most people call them.  But if you come from Jersey, they are called circles.  And that is what they should be called… circles.  Roundabout sounds like some idiotic contraption in a British playground.)  At a four-way stop, I don’t care whose turn it is.  As long as I don’t see anybody give any indication of motion, I gun it.  As for traffic lights, as long as the color is amber at the time the nose of my car enters the intersection, I am all good to continue on my way.  If I suddenly realize that my off ramp is just ahead and I am stuck in the middle lane, I am getting in front of the person to my right no matter how close they are to me and whether they like it or not.  Further, I am quite prone to road rage.  That is to say that if the guy to the back and right of me decides that the guy in front of him is driving too slow and decides to rectify this by cutting in front of me, I am following that guy as far down the highway as I need to, even if it means passing my exit ramp, to return the favor.  And then, of course, sometimes, in similar situations, in which the person to the back and right of me decides to make such a move and I happen to see it coming, I will pull up flush next to the guy to my right and maintain whatever speed he is going so that the guy in back is stuck and forced to maintain his speed.  On top of all this, as I drive, my phone is pretty much always in my hand.  Sometimes so that I can change music selections, sometimes so that I can answer a text, sometimes so that I can view an email, and often so that I can play solitaire or can knockdown.  Along with my phone twiddling, I am also generally managing some sort of beverage and taking regular hits off my vape (I put down the little cigars I was inhaling and bought one of these ridiculous machines that are most often found in the hands of trendy teens who I’d like to run over, back up and then run over again.  But it seems to be helping.)  I never have more than one hand on the wheel, and rarely even have all five fingers of that hand on the wheel.  Often the heel of my right hand is the extent of my extremities interacting with the wheel.  Actually, if I have a passenger, sometimes I have no hands on the wheel as I let them steer the car as I take care of some sort of task that could probably have waited until I stopped.  In similar situations, sans passenger, I have also been known to drive with my knees.  These are not good things, I know.  If you are concerned about me, you have a right to be.  I often tell myself, if not promise myself, that I will stop doing these things.  And yet, they persist.  The thing is, I am a really good driver.  Not in the classical sense, of course.  Based on all the data above, I am a very bad driver.  What I mean is, I control a car very effectively.  I have excellent instincts and reaction time.  Yes, these are the famous last words of the guy in the heinous car wreck.  Just bear in mind, I am not defending myself here… just being honest.

There is something about driving that my psyche reads as inherently competitive.  Not overtly, mind you.  I don’t drive around with the conscious thought that I am engaged in competition.  Though it has been proven in various studies that the experience of having a car behind you strikes us psychologically as winning, being ahead in the race, even though there is no race.  Similarly, the experience of being behind another car psychologically feels like losing, being behind in the race, even though there is no race.  It has been shown that this occurs across all gender, racial, and generational boundaries.  Not everyone responds to this reality in the same manner, of course, and some feel it more intensely than others.  I am almost never the guy on the highway going the fastest, nor am I ever attempting to be that guy.  And yet when someone within my general vicinity speeds up, I find that I have the instinct to do likewise.  When someone in front of me is going too slow, it feels like a personal attack, as if they have located my want to go faster and have chosen to bate me by driving under the allotted speed limit.  I find this fascinating.  Especially because I have no knowledge whatsoever of who is driving these cars and yet still find myself capable of making judgments about them.

One thing I have discovered is that anyone cutting in front of me on the highway, cutting in and out of lanes in a way that effects me, or riding too close to my tail is, to my brain, the same person.  He is a man in his late thirties, early forties.  He has a lot of money and his wealth makes him excruciatingly arrogant.  He has a massive sense of entitlement and he is a staunch misogynist.  He swears like a sailor and wears ray-bans even when it is downcast.  He wears silk shirts and loafers without socks.  He is prone to refer to most other men as “boss” or “chief” and most women as “honey” or “babe.”  Every time I find myself in a situation with an antsy or impatient or straight up douche bag driver, I am absolutely convinced it is him.  So it has often been to my great embarrassment to chase this asshole three miles down the highway only to reach a red light and find out that it is a tiny little Chinese woman with two kids who is lost.  Whats-more, even if I pulled up to the car and it was, indeed, the exact guy I just described, what right do I have to be angry with him?  Whatever he did to piss me off is something I often do myself.  So what’s up with that?  Do I think that there should be a different set of road rules for me than for everyone else?  There is certainly no other area in my life where I entertain such an idea.  But with driving?   Yeah, a little bit.  Because the only thing, and I mean the only thing, that I do not love about driving is other drivers.  They’re all just in my way, crowding and jamming up this lovely passion of mine.  It would be like someone who has a passion for flying kites.  Certainly, for them, standing in the middle of a park on a sunny day with a nice cooling wind watching their kite dance and twirl through the clouds would be a sheer delight.  But if all of a sudden, there were seventy-nine other people with kites standing within ten feet of them, as their kites crowd and clutter the sky keeping the guys kite from skittering through the sky in the way that it wishes, that would sort of suck.  Do I think that there should be a national ordinance that no one may use their cars during times that I have chosen to be on the road?  I don’t know if there SHOULD be; but I would sign the petition if someone started it up.

Additionally, the overall experience of driving fits my likes and dislikes in a splendidly concurrent manner.  For example, I have a need to be around other people, but I am a natural introvert who prefers solitude.  In a car, I am alone as well as being around a host of others.  I feel the need to experience the beauty of the outside world, but I much prefer staying inside.  In a car, I am outside but I am inside.  I am drawn to the idea of moving very fast, but my instincts run toward immobility.  In a car, I am moving swiftly while sitting absolutely still.  It’s my own personal world in which all my needs are essentially met, other than the need to occasionally stop to relieve myself or fuel up.

I don’t know how to drive a stick and I do not wish to know how to drive a stick.  I tend to manage too much crap simultaneously in a car at any given point already.  I don’t need an extra task to fret over.  I have been driving an SUV for years now.  I think I am on my fourth.  It sucks for the environment and it eats gas like a stoned mastodon, but I gotta tell ya, once you get up off the ground that way, it’s hard to go back down again.  When I sit in a standard car now, I feel like I am sitting on the floor.  With that said, my vow to you, gentle reader, is that the SUV will be a far as it goes.  I will never be the scumbag in the Dodge Ram.  I promise.

My main gripes with cars is that they require maintenance.  I think that’s bullshit.  If you are paying ten thousand dollars or more for something, it should not require maintenance.  If you spent ten grand on a painting, it just hangs in your house looking beautiful for ever.  You don’t need to bring it into the shop every three months so someone can touch up the pastels.  I have a theory that the ability to make cars in which all the parts on the car will last for the life of the car is well within the ability of the manufacturers, but there is some kind of pressure placed on them by the body shops that keeps it from happening.  You laugh now, but you’ll see… I’m right about this.  I’m completely offended when some grease monkey tells me that I need to give him three thousand dollars to fix the thing that I spent twelve thousand dollars on.  What the hell is that?  Gas, too.  I think gas is a crock.  There isn’t a doubt in my mind that the technology exists to make a car that runs on dishwater, but the damned oil companies would never allow it too happen.  Okay, okay, I get it that I am starting to sound like Oliver Stone.

I suppose this blog could just have been a single line reading, “I really love driving.”  But it’s not.  It’s all the crap I wrote preceding this line.  It didn’t feel like something I had to write.  It just felt like something I wanted to write.  Whether or not you wanted to read it… well, that’s another story entirely.  Either way, if you’re reading this, than you have.  If you regret having done so, I apologize for having wasted fifteen minutes of your life.  I’ll try to make the next one better.  In the meantime, go take a drive.  That should soothe you.

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Overseas

So, I went to England. I know that, in and of itself, is no great shakes. People travel abroad all the time. Reams of people spend time in other countries and then return to this country. Actually, I suppose some of them just stay in those other countries never to return. But that is neither here nor there. I mean, it’s here, in that I am writing it here and you will, perhaps, be reading it here. What I mean to say is that I am aware that the statement, “I went to England” is something less than earth-shaking. And, quite frankly, what I have to tell you about my going to England is probably something short of earth-shaking as well. But I am going to tell it to you nonetheless and you can decide for yourself whether the earth shakes or not. The point of this piece is not meant to be so much a description of my experience in England (although I will touch on that), nor is it to describe the landscape of England to you (I couldn’t possibly. I was there for three days and saw virtually nothing). The point is to share about two distinct things I discovered about myself in traveling to England. The first is that, for one reason or another, God sees fit to place me dead center in the middle of some of His coolest miracles. The second is that I am an idiosyncratic weird bird. Actually, the latter is not exactly news, but I gained some important new insights into my freakishness. But let’s tackle the first first, shall we?
So here is why I ended up spending about 72 hours in the queen’s wonderland. About eight years ago, I got very involved in an Alcoholics Anonymous movement called back to basics. If this is your first time careening through the random stream of consciousness that serves as my blog, I have been a recovered alcoholic for a little over eighteen years. The back to basics movement is exactly what its name infers. It is a framework of going through the 12 Steps which mirrors what the original co-founders and pioneers of the movement originally intended long before A.A. became a cesspool of people bitching and moaning about their problems and using the rooms as free therapy or a place to escape their nagging wives or an arena for hooking up with wounded, vulnerable members of the opposite sex (or same-sex) or just a forum for spouting their wrongheaded notions about the program in general.
So, anyway, I was setting up and leading a whole lot of these back to basics movements around that time. There was a clubhouse in West Chicago that had reached out to me to change one of their topic meetings into a back to basics meeting and I agreed to do so. During the first month of leading this meeting, there was a gentleman coming attending weekly who was a videographer. One night after the conclusion of the meeting, he approached me and asked how I would feel about his taping all four sessions of the back to basics format. I was hesitant and more than a little suspicious. “Are you looking to sell them,” I asked. “No,” he answered, “I just think they would be great to have as a resource to share with people who are unable or unwilling to attend the meetings. This made a certain amount of sense to me so I told him, “Well, first you need to talk to the board of the clubhouse and get their ok. If they say it’s cool and I am the only person who can be seen on the recordings and we take a group conscience at the beginning of each meeting and no one objects, then I guess it would be fine. So that’s what we did. He taped the four sessions, gave me copies of the recordings, and then, shortly afterward, I turned over the meeting to someone else and did not see my videographer friend again.
About a year later, I was giving a lead at an inpatient center. As I spoke, there was a young kid (no more than 18) staring fervently at me as I spoke. I had never seen him before and his gaze was so intense that it was making me a bit uncomfortable. When the meeting concluded, he nearly ran straight at me and declared, “Dude, you’re the guy from those videos.” “I think you have me confused with someone else,” I answered. He pressed on. “No man, on YouTube, you break down the steps in a way that finally makes sense to me. I’ve shared them with all my friends. I can’t believe you’re here. I didn’t even know you lived in the area. You have changed my life. You are awesome!” As he spoke, shocked and confused as I was, I eventually put two and two together (they equal four as it turns out) and realized that he must be talking about the videos that the guy had shot at the clubhouse. But had he just gone ahead and posted them on YouTube without asking me? That seemed unlikely.
I went home, booted up my computer, found YouTube and started searching. I tried my first and last name in the search bar. Nothing. I tried back to basics. Nothing. I tried breakdown of the 12 Steps. Nothing. Finally, I had a faint recall of the videographer telling me at some point what he thought a cool name for the videos might be. I typed in “precisely as we recovered,” and there, on the world wide web, for all to see, was my face. It was a strange mix of exciting and galling. I pulled my phone out wondering if I still had the videographers number. Unfortunately, I could not, for the life of me, remember what his name was. So, I started at “A” and just scrolled through all my numbers (hundreds) hoping a moniker would just pop out at me as I passed it by. Lo and behold, that’s exactly what happened. Hoping he had retained the number since our time together, I called, and he picked up the phone on the second ring. “Hey, man!” he said, “Long time no talk. How are you? What’s going on?” “Well,” I responded, for one thing, I’m staring at myself on YouTube and wondering why.” “Oh,” he said, “Yeah, I put them up there; figured when I run into someone who needs help but isn’t ready to go to a meeting, I could offer them the link as a doorway into what the steps are and how they could help. That’s not a problem, is it?” I thought for a minute about his question and came back with, “I don’t know yet. I’ll get back to you,” and hung up.
I called my sponsor to see what he thought. “I don’t see any clear traditions violations here, do you?” “Technically no,” he counseled. “We avoid press, radio and film, but in those cases you are promoting something. This is just you posting something in the back-ass of YouTube amongst millions of other videos. I would imagine the chances are virtually nil of anyone stumbling across them unless you linked them in. So, in that respect, you’re clean. There is the anonymity question, but it is your anonymity to do with as you please. And you don’t actually claim that you are a member of Alcoholics Anonymous in the videos (but, of course, it could be easily inferred). So, in all those respects, you are fine. Here’s my only caveat. There is the letter of the law and there is the spirit of the law. I believe that whether or not you are violating the spirit of the law is best found in your intentions, and only you know what they are. If your only wish in letting these videos remain up is to be of help to those in need, then leave them up. But, as you well know, it is the Lord that has the final word. So, spend some time in prayer and see what the big guy has to say.” That all made perfect sense to me. So upon some solitude seeking the creator’s help I decided that the possible good that could come from leaving them outweighed any possible problems that might arise. And then I completely forgot about them.
The opportunity to send the link to someone in need never arose and after a couple of months, the fact that I had four videos of me breaking down the steps on YouTube utterly fell out of my conscious mind. about eighteen months later, I got a call from one of my sponsees. “Michael, are you aware that if you go to YouTube and put Alcoholics Anonymous into the search window, your videos are the first thing that comes up?” No, I was not in any way aware of this, nor did it seem possible. As far as I knew, what determined the order of videos that pop up when you put in a search was popularity, meaning the number of hits the video has gotten. And certainly no large amount of people were watching my video. And yet, when I put Alcoholics Anonymous into the search window, what do you know, my videos were the first things visible on the screen. I was flabbergasted. How on earth could this have happened? I clicked on the video. And there, just under the bottom right corner of the video itself was the number 135,000 (or something in that neighborhood). I think I literally rubbed my eyes, positive that I was having a hallucination. How could over 100,000 people have come across this video when I’ve never even told anyone that it existed? Who are these people? Where are they? How did they find the videos and why were they all watching. The curious part of YouTube is that there is no way to answer such questions. But over the next few months, every now and then, I would check, and the numbers just kept rising. 200,000 and then 300,000 (I think, as of this writing, it’s around a half a million). But it gets better.
One day my phone rang and the number that came up looked nothing like an actual phone number. It started with a plus sign followed by ten or eleven numbers. I answered and the person, with a rather heavy accent, said, “Is this Michael Mark?” I said that it was, and they then said, “The Michael Mark who speaks about the steps on YouTube?” Again, I answered in the affirmative. “Oh my goodness,” he said, “I cannot believe I am speaking to you. I have been trying to track you down for months.” I said that I felt honored to be hearing from him and asked where he was calling from. He was calling from Ghana. He told me that he had been going to A.A. meetings for four years and constantly relapsing and had no idea what he was doing wrong. That when he came across my videos he finally came to understand that no one in these meetings had ever offered him the true message of The Steps. Not only had he recovered, he had started the first back to basics meeting in his country and wanted some advice on what was becoming a very well attended meeting. I was blown away. Shortly thereafter, I got an email from someone in Kentucky who offered a very similar message and wanted to know if I could email her some materials. And then it just kept happening. Israel, Oregon, Russia, New Mexico, New Orleans, France, Nigeria. It was overwhelming. In a million years, I could never have foreseen this coming and I still had no idea how it had occurred. Then, one day, I got a call from a man named Gene living in the U.K.
He told me that the videos had changed his life, given him his recovery, and he had started his own meeting. And this wasn’t even someone from A.A. Gene is a member of S.L.A.A. (Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous). It was even more amazing that the message was translating across fellowships. He told me that he and a few compatriots had put together a fund and wanted to fly me out to London and have me deliver a one day seminar in which I would take the membership through all twelve steps over the course of eight hours (actually ten hours but we had lunch a bunch of bathroom breaks.) He said they would take care of everything; flight, food, lodging, transportation. What could I possibly say other than yes?
So there I was. Standing in front of sixty people (some of whom had flown in from other countries just for the seminar) delivering the good news of God’s grace thinking, “This is otherworldly. This is supernatural. How does something like this happen without divine intervention? How blessed am I that the Lord would choose to use me in such a miraculous way?” And so hearing that, you would probably think to yourself that this was a very enjoyable trip for me. But, in truth, it wasn’t. Not exactly. And this brings us to the idiosyncratic weird bird part of the story.
You see, I am something of a mental case. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not being needlessly hard on myself. It’s just the reality of my life. I have ADHD and I’m Bi-polar. I suffer from anxiety (often severe). I’m super-sensitive. When I don’t have my whole life arranged just so, I immediately begin to feel off-kilter and skittish. Unfortunately, the general flow of my day is greatly determined by my med cycle. And my med cycle operates most efficiently when I am in my regular routine and there are no major surprises. Also, I really don’t like the experience of feeling confined. So, right off the bat, the onus of an eight-hour plane trip was overshadowing any excitement about the coming trip as it grew nearer. In reality, the flight was not as bad as I thought it was going to be. My best friend Jonathan had remotely downloaded eight movies onto my computer to keep me busy on the plane. Also, the flight was less than half full. So I was able to lay down across three seats with pillows behind my head and my computer on my belly spouting exciting cinema into my plucky ear buds. I watched Bridesmaids (for the second time. It is so ribald in such a delightful and warming manner), Carlitos Way (I hadn’t seen it in years. It didn’t hold up as well as I had hoped but it was still pretty intoxicating) and We Bought a Zoo (I don’t know why this didn’t do well in the theaters or why no one I know had told me to watch it. It’s pretty terrific). Just about the time my computer faded to black as a result of its battery life frittering down to zero, I got up to pee and the stewardess told me that we would be landing in about a half an hour. Additionally, I had my vape (which I have substituted for smoking cigars… a step in the right direction I think) and snuck off to the bathroom every twenty minutes or so for a big drag.
So there I am in the middle of Heathrow airport looking for a man I have never met named Steve (one of the group that put this whole thing together. I left O’Hare at 7:55am and it is now 11:00pm. But my body thinks it is 4:00pm. I’m in a bit of a daze and I cannot find this guy. I’m awash in brits coming and going and obtaining luggage and seeking cabs and I keep hoping that one of them will smile and say, “Michael?” But this does not happen. And I am deeply uncomfortable. Wandering about in a foreign land desperately seeking refuge. Finally, I called Gene who called Steve who then magically appeared walking up a ramp with a back to basics book under his arm. He turned out to be older than I imagined; remarkably polite but not as immediately engaging as I had hoped. I don’t know what I was expecting. Certainly not a banner reading “Welcome Big Book Guru” and a line of marching girls performing in front of a robust marching band. But Steve was a bit demure and the connection wasn’t immediate and it had me feeling adrift and more than a little freaked out as we flew down the highway on the wrong side of the road as I sat motionless in the driver’s seat with no wheel in front of me. We arrived at his little charming two bedroom apartment (he had recently separated from his wife) and he gave me quick tour; letting me know whatever I could find in the refrigerator or cupboards was mine to partake in, wished me a good nights sleep, and retired to his bedroom.
And there I was. Alone. In a simple room. In a foreign land. And massively disoriented and more than a little anxious. Then tragedy hit. You see my vape had been having some trouble over the last month. The port in which you stick the cord to charge the thing had worn down through no fault of my own; so to charge the thing, you needed to put in the charger and simultaneously hold it in a downward position to make the thing charge. So I would charge when I was sitting at the computer or in the car when I had an extra hand to hold the thing down for twenty minutes or so which would being me back to full charge. It was a pain in the ass to be sure; but a reasonably manageable pain in the ass. I had the option to send it back to the manufacturer who would surely replace it, but I simply could not be without nicotine for the few weeks that process would take to reach commencement…Anyway, I arrived in London with almost a full charge. Just to be safe, since the next day was the big event, I plugged it in to get it fully charged. And upon plugging it in… nothing. I was horrified. No matter which way I bent and shimmied the cord, absolutely nothing would make the little red+ light come on signaling that the thing was charging. The charge I had would not last through the next day, and I was facing two full days in London with no nicotine. And this potential reality had me in very bad shape. I sat there helplessly trying and trying but nothing was working. Then I though that, if need be, I’d eat the loss and buy a new one the next day. Luckily I had my sleeping pills and I was soon resting in a deep, although not entirely peaceful slumber.
Steve woke me up at 7am to shower, ger dressed, down a cup of java, and head out to the school in which the event would take place. I had this splendid opportunity to carry God’s message to a room full of people in need and I am utterly consumed with my ever lessening vape charge. I informed Gene of my problem, quite sure he would say that we could just go to a local vape shop after the event. Turns out, this was easier said than done. Even though culture in the states seems to generally follow the brits (that is when new edgy music and fashion hit in New York and L.A., they were usually popular nine months earlier in London, somehow this has not occurred with vaping. It was explained to me that while vaping existed in England, it was still very new and fringy and had just recently gained the beginning of a foothold. My anxiety was rapidly increasing, and I was pissed that I was letting my need for nicotine ruin this amazing opportunity to experience this new and exciting land. By God’s grace, I spoke for eight hours to a riveted crowd, many of whom claimed to have had life-altering experiences over the course of the day. For this, of course, I was eternally grateful, and yet I was not ina good place. The long plane trip, followed by a quick sleep and then an right hour talk had me rather char-broiled. Nonetheless, the boys were dead set on taking me on an outing through the heart of London to see some sights and get some dinner. At the moment, I would rather have pulled a few of my fingernails out with a tweezer, but I just didn’t know how to refuse. So we set off.
We walked through SoHo and Chinatown. The town was hopping and it was far too much visual and audio stimulation for my weary form. My feet were also killing me from standing all day and all the walking was becoming quite excruciating. All I wanted was to find a vape shop and we were failing in that endeavor. We found one rinky-dink side of the road stand selling everything from hats and t-shirts to snow globes and key chains. They had a tiny corner of vaping items but it was more than pitiful. They had one little stick of a machine that ran $60 american dollars. Just to back myself up, I felt compelled to purchase it, knowing it was a mistake. When we finally returned to Steve’s, I loaded up the stick and took a drag. It was dog shit. $60 bucks down the drain and no closer to a solution. Sleep on night two was remarkably easier as I was blindly exhausted. I got a full nights sleep and awoke to a vape on fumes. This day (Sunday) was to be entirely devoted to hanging out in London, seeing sites and such and the idea of doing it sans-nicotine sounded like the seventh circle of hell. What was worse, the eight-hour flight in the morning sans-nicotine sounded even worse. I was on Google trying pitifully to find a vape shop and I was getting nowhere. Steve could read my badly hidden frustration, and in his rampantly polite nature told me to take a shower and allow him to try to find me a shop. I agreed, but got in the shower, thinking, “Yeah right. You’re looking on the same Google I am and you barely know what a vape shop is. I’m sure this will work out with flying colors.”
But God is bigger. God is better. God is smarter. And God knows well more than we do. I dried off and got dressed as Steve told me that he thought that there might be one of these vape shops next to a little cafe in a nearly vacant corner of town. He further said that he thought the shop opened at 11 and it was presently about 9:30. He suggested that we go to the cafe, enjoy a beverage, and wait until the shop opens. I had exactly no hope that was going to work out and my now complete lack of nicotine was making me increasingly cranky. We get in his backward car (in which he again needed to remind me to get in on the other side) and drove through a series of back and side streets, finally pulling into a parking lot. I looked left and saw a charming little cafe with comfy outside tables. It was a beautiful day out for a coffee on a veranda. Then I looked to the right at a shop called Vape World. My heart raced. It had all the earmarks of a genuine vape shop and I experienced a glimmer of hope. Just as I finished polishing off my caramel latter, a young thin guy on a bike pulled up to the vape shop.
I asked, “Are you the vape guy?” “I sure am,” he answered cheerily. It was only 10:45, but I couldn’t wait. “Can I come in now? I asked hopefully. “Follow me,” he generously responded. I pulled out my vape and asked, “Do you have something of this caliber?” He took a gander, smiled, and said, “Oh, we can do better than that!” If it felt even remotely appropriate, I would have french kissed him. It turned out that I only needed a new battery. He showed me a black unit that had twice the power of my present unit. It was stunning. I was fully prepared, though not pleased, to spend $250-$300. The battery was $100 american. Turns out that a vape battery is the only item available in London that is cheaper than a similar item in the states. He ran my card, opened the box, affixed my glass cylinder to the new battery, gave it a quick charge, and I was ready to go. I was overjoyed. I must have thanked him fifteen times. He was genuinely touched and grateful to have rescued me in my time of need, and me and Steve were off to meet Gene in the heart of the city. I felt calm and serene for the first time during my trip and, concurrently, a bit guilty that I had basically flushed two days of a potential once-in-a-lifetime opportunity stressing about nicotine. I was well aware of the irony that I had been flown out to speak on recovery and I killed forty-eight hours trying to feed my addiction. It made me feel the slightest bit fraudulent, but there was no mistaking that I had helped a slew of people the day before nonetheless.
The guys kept asking me what I wanted to see and i kept responding, with more than a hint of embarrassment that I really didn’t care. I’m not much of a sightseer. But they wouldn’t take no for an answer. They showed me Big Ben and I though, “It’s a big clock. That’s pretty much what I thought it would be.” They showed me Westminster Abbey and the queen’s castle residence and they were both just, like, big ornate buildings. I suspect this is a shortcoming of some kind in me. I just don’t know. I simply don’t care much about a whole lot of things. I always say that my wife knows a little bit about everything and I know everything about, like, four things and don’t care about much else. If you want to talk about the gospel, A.A., baseball, books, movies or my kids, wife or puppy, I’m your guy. Beyond that, I just can’t mount much interest. I’m just not the guy who stumbles across the history channel or the discovery channel and decides that it couldn’t hurt to know more about the mating rituals of sperm whales or the history of Czechoslovakia or King Henry the VIII’s experience as monarch of the Tudor dynasty. I am also, to my great shame, painfully Americanized. While I am completely aware that the gentrification of America is not a good thing. I know it is not a product of genuine progress that every suburb in America looks practically identical strewn with Starbucks and Panera Bread and Wal-Greens and The Gap. And yet, when you take me away from here I am troubled by the fact that I can’t find a Starbucks or a Wal-Greens or that there aren’t reruns of Will & Grace that I can watch on the tube.
Ben and I had about four hours to kill at which point he would hand me off to another member of the crew named William who would be putting me up for my last night and take me to the airport in the morning. Ben took me to a recovery club where I got to spend some time with some of the folks from the seminar who had questions or required some council. It was enriching and powerful. I spent time with some truly wonderful people and felt strongly connected to the people of the culture as well as the culture itself. We then walked through an amazing museum (something about items from around the world. Pretty cool.) as we talked. Ben, born a Jew just like myself, had been investigating the concept of Jesus and was interested in hearing my testimony. As we walked through the museum floor by floor, I explained the path that led me to getting saved and, while it didn’t conclude with his saying the sinner’s prayer or getting baptized, he made it clear that our talk had a major impact on him and he had every intention of investigating the subject further. We met William in front of the museum and I hopped in his BMW for the hour-long ride into the countryside. William is amazing. He made a veritable fortune in the corporate world, retired, and now leads wellness seminars across the world and works as a medium for individuals and groups. We had a stunningly intense and fulfilling conversation before pulling into his property which emitted from me the only words that seemed appropriate. “Holy Shit!” He and his wife own a full former farm. At least two acres of land with an absolutely resplendid house and a separate coach house which is where I would be staying. I had two floors all to myself with every amenity a person could possibly desire. I dropped my bag off and we adjourned into the house where I met his wife. She is one of the kindest, funniest, genuine, beautiful woman it has ever been my pleasure to know. The three of us sat in the living room, sipping coffee, conversating like people who had known each other for a lifetime. They then took me out to a mouth-watering dinner at a gastro-pub which was homey in a way that made me want to set up a cot in the back and move in. By the time desert arrived, I asked if they might consider adopting me; and I was only half kidding. I loved them so much. I wished my whole three days had been in their presence. Not to say the rest of it, along with Gene and Steve, hadn’t been fruitful, but this, my final night in England, was my first experience of relaxation.
As morning came, I got dressed and walked out into the crisp morning air staring out at a vista that simply took my breath away. I felt more than a little regret that I had failed to really drink in this glorious God-given opportunity. I just couldn’t shake the idea that I am this fragile little being with a persistently restless spirit who has a reasonably hard time really being happy. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have an amazing life. I do. My darling bride of seventeen years is my best friend. My two daughters light up my heart like a fireworks display. We have a beautiful home that I would be more than happy to die in. I have a slew of wonderful friends who I trust implicitly and who truly adore me. I have my sobriety and I have been saved by the blood and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I have no complaints. I have everything. But everything includes me, with my deep-felt, often debilitating emotions, my family of origin brokenness, my bevy of psychological difficulties, and my highly intelligent, creative brain in which the hamster runs tirelessly on the wheel 24-7 without showing even a hint of slowing down. It’s just not easy living inside of me. I’m not saying I’m terminally unique or anything. I just find the experience of being a human being very tiring and very difficult. But I accept this. This is me and this is my journey and the details of my history, warts and all, have all proven useful in my mission to help God save lives. That’s what I do. The good Lord, as a product of nothing I did to earn it, saw fit to get me sober and save my soul and then went so far as to hire me to work for him. Jesus said that we had to pick up our cross and walk. So every day, I wake up staring down the barrel of a long day that looks imposing for no particular reason, strap on my cross and carry forth. I like when it’s easy, but it doesn’t have to be easy. I like being happy, but I don’t have to be happy. That’s all gravy. What I have to do is remain sober, sane and stable that I may successfully do the work assigned to me by my heavenly employer. And, in spite of my bevy of problems and challenges, I think I do that work pretty competently. And, honestly, I can’t ask for much more than that. No matter which way you slice it, I am playing with house money.
The flight home from England was longer (wind currents) and less comfortable. The flight was full and I was cramped in a shit pot of a coach chair for nine hours. But I kept my computer on my lap and watched The Departed (even better the second time. Scorsese is the man!), Inside Llewyn Davis (one of the Coen brothers weirder efforts but interesting and well done nonetheless) and The Wrestler (again, even better the second time. Mickey Rourke gives a bravura performance). When my computer crapped out, I still had two hours to endure, so I sucked it up and played games on my phone and listened to the book on tape that I was in the middle of and only mildly interested in. And upon my arrival, my beautiful wife was there with that same riveting smile on her face that I fell in love with nearly twenty years ago.
So what did I learn from this trip across the ocean. I’m not sure. I guess I have to go back to the beginning. The sovereign Lord of the universe sees fit to use me in truly miraculous ways. And I am a quirky, tortured, idiosyncratic, anal, rebellious, bizarre force of nature. I wouldn’t mind changing the latter. In fact, I would like that very much. But, in a million years, I would never sacrifice the former to ease the latter. Never. Not a chance. My central purpose in this universe is to serve the kingdom for the Lord’s pleasure. And if the road to pulling that off needs to strewn with all kinds of broken shards of glass and scattered detritus, that’ll just have to be ok. I am a seeker of truth and a shepherd to the downtrodden. I have the best job in the world. As long as I get to keep doing that, the rest of it can be whatever it needs to be.
And, surprisingly, despite a decidedly difficult trip, if they see fit to invite me back, I am pretty sure that I am on board.

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Cast Off

I have no mother.  My mother lives in the northern suburbs of New Jersey in a lush one bedroom condo with an expansive loft.  It’s a strange thing that both those statements are true.  And yet they are.  They are both true.  I should clarify that they are both true at my mother’s behest.  That is to say that she has chosen to maintain her residence in her lush one bedroom condo with the expansive loft in suburban New Jersey; and she has concurrently decided that I am no longer her son.  She abandoned me; cast me off; expelled me from the clan; sat shiva for me.  For those readers who did not come into this world through the Abrahamic bloodline, shiva is a sort of week long wake in which the bereaved receives scads of guests paying their respect for the dead, arriving with a glutenous array of fruit cakes and bagels and cream cheese and lox and knishes and kugel and danish, roaming a house with covered mirrors that no one should need pay heed to their appearance on such a somber occasion even though they are all dressed in their bargain designer dresses from T.J. Maxx and suits and ties from the Men’s Warehouse.  I am not aware of such a cavalcade actually taking place in my honor.  My sense is that, in my mom’s case, it was more of a personal letting go.  She’s not prone to overzealous displays of emotion, leading me to further believe that she did not tear her clothes apart in the vein of Neil Diamond’s father in The Jazz Singer.  If you haven’t seen it, let it go.  It’s a laughably awful film.  But I digress.

So, yeah, I am motherless.  I struggle to really describe what a unfathomably confusing scenario I am experiencing as a result of my expulsion.  The very fact that there is a woman currently walking the world whose womb I emerged from who is not my mother.  If I come across detached, I suppose that is because, to some extent, I am.  I don’t miss her.  I wish I did.  I really do.  I long to be crushed by this decision she has made, pining for her presence, aching for her touch, tortured by the fact that I might never again find refuge in the warmth of her loving arms.  That would be wonderful.  That’s, I imagine, how I should feel.  Well, I suppose there is never really a way in which an individual SHOULD feel.  There is simply how a person DOES feel.  And how I feel is that the absence of my mother in my life is something of a relief.  This is not because she is a bad person.  She’s not.  It’s simply because her presence in my life has long been difficult, and at times agonizing, for me.  I’m quite sure that this has as much to do with me as it does about her.  What I have always wished to give her is a complete and total acceptance of who she chooses to be in this world and love her for exactly that without expectation that she need change to garner my care and affection.  I am sad to say that I have continually failed in this endeavor, and I regret the shortcomings that have stood in the way of being that kind of son for her.  We are radically different human beings and, much as we have tried, it appears nearly impossible for us to share space in a manner that is nurturing and joyful- often we can’t even pull of cordial and congenial.

So, I suppose, in a manner of speaking, this was a long time coming.  At least, a long time coming for her.  Hard as I find our relationship, I would never have ceased being her son.  When I say it was a long time coming, what I mean to make clear is that I have spent four decades as the progeny of this woman feeling, somewhere down deep in my heart, ultimately expendable.  Through all the years of trying and failing to please her and be the boy she wanted me to be so she could be proud of me and provide me the kind of unconditional love my soul was screaming out for, I always harbored the thought that, given the right circumstances, she’d toss me out like trash.  I didn’t consciously believe that this was truly possible; but my subconscious feared it continually.  And because the more I engaged, the more I seemed to jar her, I made a decision a long while back that my best mode of operation was to exercise quite a bit of caution and maintain a fair amount of distance in the relationship.  This, of course, resonated to her as my being aloof and detached, which served to upset her further.  And so it went.  Two people joined in the most intimate way in which two people can be joined interacting in a way mirroring those old westerns where the two old gunslingers have their six-shooters pointed directly at each other with no clear path to take that would fail to end in carnage.  So mom finally decided to place her gun gently back into its holster, walk right past me without a care, push the two swinging doors to the tavern open, and amble off into the wild blue yonder.

There are a multitude of reasons that most probably contributed to her exit from my life.  There have been many times in the past in which I utterly failed my mother; times I hurt her… deeply; times I was selfish and self-serving, causing her wounds that I don’t suspect have ever healed.  But, in truth, none of these things are actually what led to her discarding her first born.  They were all reasons that led her to hold resentment toward me and maintain a cold, unapproachable exterior.  But none of them would of led us here.  There is one reason, and only one reason that I no longer have a mother.  The reason is that, to her understanding, I have abandoned my Judaism.  Both her parents were Holocaust survivors, and her belief that I have retreated from the fold, for her, means that I have disgraced the memory of her mother and father, not to mention all of the uncles and aunts and cousins and such that she never got a chance to know because they were slaughtered by the Nazis.  What is truly ironic is that the straw that really broke the camel’s back for my mother was the act of my falling deeply in love.  And the object of my affection is man.  A Jewish man.  At least he was a man.  And while my seventeen year marriage to my beautiful bride is still strong as iron, my love for this man is so abhorrent to my mother that she felt she had no choice but to relinquish the role.

I have not committed adultery.  Let’s be clear about that.  My love for this man is not physical, it is entirely spiritual.  Yes, it is interesting that my mother would come to the conclusion that I have abandoned my Judaism by falling in love with a Jewish man.  But that is the conclusion she has reached.  And it is sad.  I’d love her to meet and know this man.  I am supremely confident that she would love him.  Everyone who meets his does.  He is gentle and kind and humble and meek and wise and charitable and strong.  I would be more than willing to illiterate his shortfalls, except that he has none… none.  Not one.  He is perfect.  And when I say perfect, I don’t mean simply perfect for me.  He is perfect.  He has never, not one once, made a mistake or harmed anyone or held a grudge or spoke with malice.  He accepts everyone for exactly who they are and has never once turned away anyone seeking his love.  And His love is constant and complete and overwhelmingly glorious.  In fact, while He’s never met my mother personally, he loves her wholly for precisely who she is.  He loves her in the exact way that I have always longed to love her.  I wish she knew that.  I lament that there is a love available to her unlike anything she has ever experienced and has entirely closed herself off to receiving it.  So, to sum up, I am in love with Him, He is in love with her, and she has nothing but scorn for either one of us.  I don’t know.  Maybe scorn is too harsh.  It certainly resonates to me like scorn.  Maybe it’s confusion; or fear.  Either way, it’s not positive.

What’s really ironic is that I had absolutely zero interest in this love affair.  None.  Nada. Zilch.  In fact, of all the people in the universe possible to fall in love with, He was, literally, probably, the very last name on the list.  I didn’t want to talk about Him.  I didn’t want to hear about Him.  I didn’t want to hear others talk about Him.  And I most assuredly had no interest in talking to Him myself.  He was simply not my kind of guy.  I didn’t hate Him or anything.  There was no malice in my heart.  I guess if I’m being completely honest I just found Him sort of… cheesy.  I was quite sure I was a little too cool to associate with someone like Him; and a little too cool to associate with those who had already fallen in love with him.  I mean, the ones who knew Him casually didn’t bug me too much; His acquaintances were mostly alright.  But the ones who were really taken with Him; the ones who totally thought He was all that.  They were… well, they were… I thought they were kind of crazy.

And then came the fall.  My fall.  It was as painful as it was unexpected.  A supersonic depression.  Unprecedented in the long and winding journey of my many pathologies.  Triggered by nothing that I was aware of.  It came on like a mid-winter deep freeze.  And it held on for dear life.  Day after dreadful day it stuck like a tenacious barnacle.  Crying jags multiple times a day brought on by who knows what.  Hours of laying in bed, corpse-like, staring helplessly at the ceiling.  A crippling isolation slowly eliminating nearly all contact with friends and loved ones.  Nearly three months passed as each 24-hour cycle brought me closer and closer to the assumption that this was not, in fact, a season of depression, but my new reality which could be ceased only by bringing an end to that very reality.

In the wake of all this, there was one thing I came to know for sure.  And that one thing was, perhaps, the scariest part of it all.  For fourteen years I had been a sober man, knee-deep as a servant in A.A. with, what I understood to be, a powerful and fulfilling relationship with the creator of the universe.  But wading like a lost child in this morass of misery it became unerringly clear that God, or at least what I understood as God, was wanting.  I could not connect.  Prayer, meditation, useless.  Every way I knew to access the power of my God was leading me nowhere.  My spirituality, or I should say my notion of  spirituality was, somehow, too vast.  It felt like standing in the middle of a thousand football fields.  This open-source, new-agey, citizen of the universe, all paths lead to God concoction had been enough to save me from the depravity and danger of alcoholism and drug addiction; to get me back on my feet, upright, leading a life that, while it may have fallen short of virtuous, was, at the very least, decent.  And I’ll always be grateful for that.  But in that terrible black place, it fell short.  It left me alone searching desperately for something to cling on to.

I was raised Jewish and had always had a feeling of pride about that, but it was triggered more by Judaism as a people rather than Judaism as a religion.  I felt very much like a part of the Jews as a people, but I had never really found God through the lens of traditional Judaism.  I had become a Buddhist for a while, and that was mildly interesting and somewhat mind-expanding but it didn’t really take.  I read Anthony De Mello and Maryann Williamson and Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra.  Where to turn?  What to do?  I had no pull toward atheism and had no interest in getting lost in the vast vague expanse of agnosticism.  I still believed.  But my problem was not belief.  I was not belief-less.  I was powerless.  I needed power.  A real power.  Far greater than me.  A power that was tangible.  A power that was overt and clear.  A power that I could feel coursing through my being.  And then, one fine day, I found myself sitting in my garage talking to Mike.

Mike is in his early sixties.  I knew him through the program.  In fact I was his sponsor.  Mike is one of the most kind-hearted individuals it has ever been my pleasure to come across.  Under “salt of the earth” in the encyclopedia there ought to be a picture of Mike.  Mike was also a Christian.  I knew this.  But he mostly kept it to himself and never tried selling any of that stuff to me.  But as Mike stared at me in that garage, drawn face, glassy eyes, speaking in one and two word sentences, borderline comatose, he began to talk about Jesus.  It didn’t last very long.  With the first spark of gumption I had felt in months, I whipped a look of ire in his direction and proclaimed, “Mike, don’t!  Not with me.  I’m not having that.”  He responded boldly.  “Okay, I hear you.  Tell you what? Let me ask you one question.  You answer it and then, if you want, I’ll shut up.”  Whatever energy I had left had pretty much been used in my previous outburst.  “Fine,” I relented.  “Just tell me who you think He is,” Mike said.  I took a beat and then gave him the same answer I had long given to anyone inquiring about Jesus.  “Great teacher… great prophet… good guy… probably made a heck of a cabinet… what are you lookin’ for here, man?  Son of God?!  Resurrected from the dead?!  That’s Willy Wonka stuff.”  “It’s interesting, Michael,” he responded, “You know Jesus being God is not so much something that was said about Him.  It was something He said.  In fact He said it a lot.  Now, if that’s crap… how could He be a great anything?”  Mind you, this did not serve to make me believe, but it was just enough to make my mind go “Hmmm….”  “He’s right,” I thought, “He claimed that He was God.  Millions and millions of people have devoted their lives to Him based on that claim.  If that’s not true, He’s a nightmare.  He’s worse than Hitler.  He’s the worst person to ever walk the earth.  He’s the devil himself.”  I didn’t know what to make of this.  The idea of “great teacher, great prophet, etc.” had literally fallen off the table.  It no longer made any sense.  I had been claiming that with such ease all these years and it makes no sense.  What else was I wrong about?

Mike asked if I would read a book.  I clarified that it was not the Bible and relented.  I relented for two basic reasons.  One, to shut Mike up, because I knew he would ask if I read it.  Two, it occurred to me that it couldn’t possible hurt me to know a little more about Jesus.  I mean, why not?  I knew very little and I like knowing things.  So I opened the book.  It was quite thin and unimposing.  The writer had an easy style and I enjoyed the early chapters in which he spoke of his childhood and his alcoholic father.  I identified.  I kind of liked the guy.  He had been an academic and a staunch atheist.  He had spent years arguing heartily with Christian colleagues and finally decided to depart the halls of academia, travel the world and write the ultimate book disproving the claims of Christianity.  According to him, he ended up instead proving it to himself and becoming one of the world’s top Christian apologists.  Meanwhile, I’m just reading along and enjoying his prose.  Then I came to a chapter called “Lord, Liar, Lunatic.”  Many Christians know of this paradigm which was originally posited by C.S. Lewis but I certainly had no knowledge of it.  So I kept reading.

It posited that there are basically three things in terms of Jesus that no one, not atheists, academics or anyone with even a shred of legitimacy are arguing.  One, that there was a dude named Jesus.  Two, that He claimed divinity.  Three, that they killed Him on a cross for it.  So far, I was on board.  he further posited that, based on this truth, there are really only three options available.  Either one, He was lying.  Two, He believed what He was saying, but was out of His mind.  Or, three, He was exactly who He said He was.  I simply could not think of a fourth option.  So I read on.  Heck, it was kind of like a game.  Over the next six to seven pages, He absolutely convinced me that, based on the evidence, no sane claim could possibly be made that he was a liar or a lunatic.  What’s more amazing is that I did not, in any way, see what was coming.  I was brushing my teeth with my right hand and holding the book in my left flipping pages with my thumb.  I turned the page and was caught unawares by the following sentence: “You do realize that there is only one option left.”  I dropped the book.

If you had asked at the time, I would have told you that this was the worst day of my life.  I was horrified.  I was angry.  I had been tricked.  And I didn’t know what to do.  Because the truth that Jesus Christ was exactly who He said He was didn’t strike me in the brain as a piece of information.  It blew through my heart like cannon-fire.  It was real.  It was true.  And I didn’t want.  And I couldn’t shake it.  And, Lord knows, I tried.  I really did.  For almost two weeks.  Sitting in my bed, hunched over, talking to myself: “C’mon, Michael.  It was nuts five days ago.  You can get back there.  Just concentrate.”  Nothing.  I was saddled with a piece of truth stuck to me like crazy glue and I couldn’t wrangle free of it no matter how much of my own will and fortitude I applied.

Finally, another Christian friend of mine, Derek, to whom I had confided my conundrum asked, “Have you tried praying to Jesus?”  “No,” I shot back with a fervor that surprised me.  “Okay, he said.  I’m just sayin’, you might try it.  It could help.”  So the next morning, I went down to the garage with my cell phone, brought up the internet and scrolled through looking for a prayer to Jesus that didn’t make me want to throw up on my shoes.  I couldn’t find one.  I hated them all.  So I picked one randomly.  And it just so happened to be what is often referred to as the sinner’s prayer or the salvation prayer.  I got on my knees, took a breath, and said the prayer honestly and earnestly:

“Father, I know that I have broken your laws and my sins have separated me from you. I am truly sorry, and now I want to turn away from my past sinful life toward you. Please forgive me, and help me avoid sinning again. I believe that your son, Jesus Christ died for my sins, was resurrected from the dead, is alive, and hears my prayer. I invite Jesus to become the Lord of my life, to rule and reign in my heart from this day forward. Please send your Holy Spirit to help me obey You, and to do Your will for the rest of my life. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

 

What happened next is, quite honestly, nearly impossible to explain or do any kind of reasonable justice to.  My head began to swim.  I was dizzy and lightheaded.  My right arm went numb.  And my internal temperature felt like it shot up twenty degrees.  I was quite sure that I either having a heart attack or dying.  I laid myself back, flat on the rug covering the garage floor.  And then, in a moment, I felt something resplendent.  It started at the top of my head and traveled slowly, all the way down my body to the tips of my toes.  It was a kind of mix of a caribbean warmth and cool autumnal breeze woven together like DNA strands traveling down my body inch by inch and it held me frozen in a state of absolute ecstasy.  And then… and I know this is a tough one to fathom… I felt arms around me.  Real arms.  I felt two arms wrapped around me from my back ensconcing my stomach in a firm loving grip.  I actually moved my arms, once I regained mobility in my previously frozen limbs to search for said arms, but I found none.  And yet even as my hands felt nothing, I continued to feel those arms holding me in their warm embrace.  And then… for a second… for a nanosecond… or whatever portion of a second is shorter than a nanosecond, I glimpsed a place.  It wasn’t the garage.  It was another place.  A perfect place.  A holy place.  It was the Kingdom.  There was not a doubt in my mind the Lord, as He held me tight in His arms granted me the shortest of glimpses into the place where I was now bound to live out my eternal life.  I don’t know how long this all took.  It may have been ten minutes.  It may have been ten seconds.  For all I know, I may have lain on that garage floor for two hours.  What I do now is that I slowly rose to my feet and everything had changed.  I was a new creature.  My insides were somehow made of a new material.  My heart had rearranged itself into an entirely new organ.  I didn’t have the words yet to identify it, but The Holy Spirit was now indwelling within me and I had become a begotten son of the sovereign Lord of all.

Does that sound crazy?  Delusional?  Stark-raving mad?  If it does, I don’t blame you.  I was just there.  I wouldn’t believe me.  In fact, I suspect I might be scared of me.  That doesn’t change the reality of the situation.  As I exited that garage, I exited as a disciple of Jesus Christ; a follower of the messiah.  And I knew that the rest of my time on this planet would be, for all intents and purposes, one laser-pointed mission to serve Him to the best of my ability and help bring the glory of the gospel to the world.  And, as it turns out, my primary spiritual gift has turned out to be evangelism.  And the number of people that I have been on my knees with as they gave their lives to the Lord and the number of people I have had the unique honor to baptize makes my mind reel.  I take no credit for this.  It is something beyond me.  Something far bigger than I can understand flowing through me; using me as a conduit to show those in need the truth of God.

And so, four years later, here I stand as a Christian.  My Masters in Evangelism & Leadership from Wheaton College all but complete.  On staff as a pastor at a local burgeoning evangelistic church.  Two cross earrings in my ears, a cross hanging around my neck, a cross and a variety of biblical scriptures tattooed up and down and my arms and completely sold out for the gospel.  And it’s wonderful.  My insides have been created anew and I am teeming with purpose.  I know who I am, what I am here for and where I am bound.  But that doesn’t mean that it’s been easy.

Yes, the yoke is easy and the burden is light.  This man I am in love with said that.  He also said to pick up your cross and walk.  So I am not free from sin.  No one is.  I am not free from dishonesty, selfishness, anxiety, fear, impulsiveness, impatience, arrogance, pride, envy, vanity, or any form of temporary idolatry.  And I have no mother.

I didn’t tell her straight off.  First, I didn’t want to do it over the phone and she lives 800 miles away.  I figured I’d tell her the next time I saw her (which, as it turns out, is never).  Second, I was scared.  I knew her reaction was not going to be positive.  I guess I knew there was a chance that her reaction would be exactly what it has been.  But, deep down, I didn’t think she’d take it this far.  At least I hoped she wouldn’t.  Then came a sort of perfect storm of activity.  A big part of my ministry has been the creation and performance of spoken-word poetry which, as it turns out, I am quite proficient at.  My current church at the time asked me to write a piece on how we compare ourselves to others.  They wanted me to perform it live on Sunday at the location that I attended and they wanted to professionally tape it to be played on video at the other twelve locations.  The video came out quite well.  Without my knowledge it got posted to YouTube.  Then, someone I know (although I don’t know who) liked it and posted it to Facebook.  I was not aware of this either.  And there it was.

For all the world to see.  My mother.  My sister.  My uncles and aunts.  My cousins.  As the Yiddish say, the whole mishpucha.  Unfortunately, it was digested by all of them as if I had chosen this very public social networking platform on which to stage my Christian “coming out” party.  I’m not ashamed of this in any way.  It just wasn’t exactly how I planned to break the news.  I very quickly received a few scathing FB messages from somewhat fringe members of my family whose opinions hold little weight with me, but it still stung a little.  Shortly thereafter, I received a text from my mother that read, “I put a stop payment on a check that I sent [for my birthday]… in respect for my mother and father and my grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins I never met only because they were Jewish… always thought you had a strong respect for your heritage.”  This was followed, shortly thereafter, by my mother telling my wife [her primary form of communicating with me] that I was not her son any more.  That she would not talk to me, see me, I was not welcome in her home and that she would not step in my home unless I had vacated the premises.  So that was that.  I have reached out to her a handful of times with no response.  Other than that, I haven’t communicated with my mom or seen her for about three years now.

And the strangest part is that, as previously mentioned, it’s because she thinks I’ve denounced my Judaism.  I’m not saying that I don’t understand, based on the thinking of our modern world, why she has reached such a conclusion.  And yet the absurdity of the notion is boundless.  First, I’m still a Jew.  I was born a Jew.  It’s a bloodline.  There’s no way to un-Jew myself even if I wanted to… and I don’t.  Second, I’ve never felt more Jewish in my life.  I’m far more connected to our history and the truths of The Old Testament than I ever was previously.  Third, and I know we must all be aware of this, Jesus was JEWISH!  Joseph and Mary were Jewish.  Andrew and Bartholomew and both Jameses and John and Judas and Jude and Matthew and Peter and Phillip and Simon and Thomas and Paul were all Jews.  The gospel was initially brought exclusively to the Jews.  What could possible be more Jewish than believing in Yeshua, the Jewish meshiach?  How, over the course of two thousand years did we go from saying, “What do ya mean non-Jews can believe in Jesus;” to saying, “What do you mean Jews can believe in Jesus?”  People are born Jewish.  No one is born Christian.  Christianity is a choice.  Jesus is a choice.  I was born a Jew and I believe in Jesus.  Simple pimple.

There are a variety of truths related in the holy Scriptures called “Antinomies.”  An antinomy is sort of like a paradox on steroids.  It basically refers to two statements that can’t possible both be true, but are.  For example, Mary gave birth to Jesus.  Mary was a virgin.  Those statements, according to our earthly understanding can’t both be true.  And yet they are.

Jesus was God’s son.  Jesus was God.

God is three persons.  God is one.

Jesus suffered and died.  Jesus conquered and won.

Jesus is David’s heir.  Jesus is David’s predecessor.

Those are some others.

And so, in this twisty and winding and unendingly fascinating spiritual journey of mine, it seems I’ve come across my very own antinomy.

My mother lives in the northern suburbs of New Jersey in a lush one bedroom condo with an expansive loft.  I have no mother.

I miss having a mother.  That’s not exactly the same thing as saying, “I miss my mother.”  As stated earlier, I don’t.  But her decision has consequences and reverberations.  For my wife.  For my children.  For my sister.  For the whole family, really.  And for those reasons, I have made various attempts to repair this.  They have led nowhere.  She is steadfast, rigid, unmovable.  And, while I’ll keep praying for healing, I strongly suspect that this is not going to change.  I think the chances are quite excellent that the next time I see my mother will be just before they lower her into the ground (unless I go first, of course.)  That makes me very sad.  I wish I could change things.  I wish I had that power.  I don’t.  I’m powerless.  That’s what is so painful about the whole thing.  I’m powerless to ease this burden.

But God is good.  That is not in question.  I know and trust that He has this situation well in hand and will take perfect care of all the parties involved and effected.  I should also mentioned that about six months back, I baptized my father.  He is also Jewish.  While my mother’s reaction to my conversion was disgust, Dad’s was attraction.  Over the course of about two years he read and thought and searched and prayed and called me one day to tell me that he had given his life to Christ and that he wanted to fly up from Florida and have me baptize him.  And there we were, standing in the warm water of the baptismal during Sunday morning worship in front of seven  or eight hundred people.  I had one hand behind his neck and the other at his lower back.  And I asked him, “Do you believe in your heart and confess with your lips that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God?”  He responded, “Yes I do.”  I went on, “Then in accordance with the words in Romans 10:9, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”  I tipped his body back until he was fully immersed in the water and then raised him back up, cleansed, free of sin, re-born.  It was one of the most intense, powerful, joyful experiences of my life.

I came to Christ.  One parent abandoned me.  One parent followed me.  There’s a certain kind of equanimity in that.  God knows what He’s doing.  He’s in charge and in complete control.

Maybe I’ll get my mom back after all.  Maybe I won’t.

Either way, thy will be done, not my own.

 

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Christy: A Tale of God’s Transformational Power

The closing notes of Todd Agnew’s Grace Like Rain were fading out; and as I stationed my finger just above the stop button on my phone’s music player, I knew that The Holy Spirit had arrived with great power, allowing our piddly human efforts to set the tone for something truly special. Many hours had been spent with my co-facilitator, Ben, preparing for this spiritual retreat and, kneeling before the cross in prayer just before beginning, we petitioned intensely to grab their hearts early with an eye toward an extraordinary joining in His name. Last time, our topic was ‘discipleship’; this time it was ‘grace.’ I had written a spoken word piece on the topic, and as I uttered the final word of the poem, the first note of Agnew’s song struck with a fluidity seeming to suggest we had written our respective works to function as a unit.

I scanned the room of forty-plus men and women, as Ben called for some silent prayer. They all seemed to be experiencing strong feelings of some kind; even her. Truth be known, she had more of my focus than anyone else. This is mainly because she was the one I was most concerned about. The retreat is marketed as spiritual; not inherently Christian. Therefore, while we are predominated by believers, there are always a handful of “others.” We tend to be fairly concentrated on these folks, not because we wish to cater to them; but because we want to make sure there is plenty of room available for them to be in faith in whatever way feels appropriate without feeling outcast. At the same time, while the experience is not centrally designed to create converts, we always have one eye on evangelistic opportunities. Striking such a balance successfully was something both Ben and I knew was well outside our human competence; hence, all the praying.

As for the so-called “others,” some are more otherly than others; and I was quite confident that the object of my focus, a 22-year old lesbian named Christy, was the most other of all. Christy and I had known each other for some time, and always got along famously. So when my buddy Jonathan had to drop out of the retreat at the last second, I needed a replacement for the two person scene I had written to demonstrate the fall of man. The scene was entitled “Adam and Enosh,” a fantasized conversation between the first human and his grandson. I could not think of another man in the membership who would be right for it, and then, for some reason, Christy popped into my head. I had no evidence whatsoever that she was an actress, but her bubbly energy just struck me as potentially captivating for the scene. Looking back, already wondering whether she would be comfortable in the retreat, I’m not sure why the decision to ask her came so easily. But I did; without hesitation, she said yes; and, within a few hours, the scene had been retitled, “Adam and Eypha.”

The plan was for she and I to meet after the first nights events had concluded, somewhere around 11pm. As the first small group reached its end, after I had attended to some housekeeping details, Christy and I headed to a quiet space for rehearsal. She was staggering. By her own testimony, she had never acted in her life; but, boy oh boy, you’d never know it. Christy is a big girl; just under six feet with a thick build. But, as we ran through the scene, scripts in hand, me upright in a chair, and she sitting before me cross-legged; she utterly transformed into a nine-year old girl seeking wisdom from her grandfather. It was clear I was not the only one in the room who could feel the powerful energy; nor the only one amazed at her unearthed acting chops. And, even though I had not located where this time together was headed, I knew something greater than my little scene or our respective talents was at play.

After we had run the scene three times, we mutually agreed we were ready, and Christy began gathering her things to head over to the women’s house and get some sleep with an eye toward an 8am start in the morning. As she did so, I asked her how she was feeling about the overall experience so far, and she began to share that a lot had been coming up for her around familial difficulties, as well as doubts that she was serving the women she mentors in our common fellowship effectively. I let her know that I could identify with such troubles and that, for me, the answers almost always seem to lie in my spiritual connectedness; or lack thereof.

She said, “You mean Jesus.” “Yes,” I responded, “But that doesn’t mean it has to be Jesus for you.” “I know,” she said, “And I appreciate your saying that. But, I really respect you, and I’m curious how that happened for you.” I said I’d be happy to share the story if she’d like to stay and hear it. “But you have important things to do really early in the morning.” I answered, “There’s nothing I have to do more important than this.” And with that, I launched into my testimony. As I shared the pertinent details of my journey from conservative Jewish boy to on-fire follow of Christ, she asked a few clarifying questions, but mostly just listened with rapt attention.

As I casually related my story, there was a concurrent frenetic monologue racing in my mind. “What is happening?” I thought, “Does she long for Jesus in her life? Is that possible? What in God’s name am I going to say when she inevitably asks whether her sex life is wrong in Gods eyes and whether she’d have to stop that to be a Christian?” That’s when it hit me. I needed to invoke God’s name. My fear that I could not attend to such a question effectively was absolutely correct. But God could most assuredly do it through me. “Holy Spirit,” I thought, “I humbly ask that you enter this room. Please, move in me and through me that I may have the words necessary to deliver to this beautiful lost sheep whatever message the Father needs her to hear.” Seconds later, she said through a choked up voice paired with eyes welling fast with tears, “Let’s face it, Michael, even if I was interested in Jesus, there is a pretty obvious problem.” “And that would be?” I questioned, knowing full well what she meant. “I’m gay.” “Are you sure that’s a problem?” I asked; at the same time, wondering what caused me to ask a question I was pretty sure I knew the answer to. “Doesn’t the bible say that it’s a sin?” I thought for a moment.  “Let me make sure I understand what you are asking,” I clunkily stammered, “You are wondering if the details of your present sex life serve as an impediment in giving your life to Christ, yes?” “Well, yeah, I guess.” “I don’t believe that it is,” I responded, again wondering where I was going with this and whether I was going to soon need the out of saying something like, “You know what? I think you are going to have to talk to somebody else about this. Because I am pretty much speaking out of my backside here.” “But, I don’t get it, how could it not be a problem?” “Look Christy, here’s what I know. Yes, the Bible does say in multiple places that sex between two people of the same gender is sinful. I can’t say that I understand why. And I can definitely tell you that I don’t care for it, and if God ever sees fit to put the universe in my hands, I suspect I might consider changing it. With that said, pride is a sin; and I commit that sin regularly. Same goes for envy, vanity, envy, selfishness, and dishonesty. So if your concern is that people who sin can’t come to Christ, I’m living proof that that’s a crock.  Maybe the question isn’t so much whether you would have to stop engaging with women if you converted; maybe it’s, if you gave your life to Christ, would your thoughts and feelings about sex change? I mean, it doesn’t so much matter what I think about it; and, all due respect, even what you think about it. What matters is what God thinks about it. If you actually give your life to Him, he’ll be inside of you, through the gift of Jesus and the power of The Holy Spirit. Consequently, I feel very confident that He’ll let you know all you need to know about this subject and any other.” There was a few moments of silence in which I was thinking, “Who said that?!” There was no question in my mind that Christy was having a direct conversation with Jesus. I didn’t even feel like I was in the room any longer. “He would tell me, like, how?” She inquired. “Well, why do you sleep with women?” I asked. “Um…cuz I was born this way.” She said sheepishly. “No,” I responded, “That’s a possible explanation for why you are driven to sleep with women. But isn’t it the drive itself, regardless of where it originated, that leads you to do it?” “Well, yeah.” She said.  I continued, “So, what if, all of a sudden, the drive was gone? I’m not saying that will be the case; but what if it was? Would you continue sleeping with women?” She thought about this.  “Well, no. I’m not determined to be gay. I just am.” “Exactly,” I said, “so that would be an example of God letting you know, rather than you willfully making some kind of perceived moral decision.” In a near whisper, she said, “I really can’t imagine that happening.” “Well, Christy, if there’s one thing I can tell you for sure, it’s that God’s capacities are in no way limited by what we can imagine Him doing.” She thought some more.  “Okay, but even if He could do it, I don’t even know if I want Him to.” I said, “I hear you and, honestly Christy, that’s totally up to you. I can just tell you that the fruits of my relationship with Christ are dependent on wanting him and union with my heavenly Father more than I want anything else. In fact, I’m fairly certain that for someone who has no interest in having everything they do and think and feel turned utterly upside-down, a relationship with Christ is probably not a very good idea.” She smiled warmly, “All right, I got it. So, then, I have a bunch of questions about the basics of this whole thing. I mean, if you can make the time.” “Christy,” I said joyfully, “I have all the time you need.”

Over the next few hours, she inquired about the fall, the purpose of the Old Testament, the need for salvation, the nature of atonement, the Trinity, the idea of faith vs. works and many others. As answers to these queries flowed from my mouth, I no longer felt like I was outside the room. I was starting to wonder whether gravity was still rooting me to the planet. Despite her expression and her words giving off the impression that I was making some semblance of sense and that she was getting what she needed; there were moments when my sense of being completely outside my body had me wondering if I was still speaking English. Somewhere between 3 and 4 am, Christy said she wanted to give her life to Christ.

If you are thinking, having heard the story up to this point, that I should have seen this coming, you may very well be correct. But that does nothing to change the fact that I  totally didn’t. I was flabbergasted. I’m pretty sure I said something along the lines of, “Okay,” although it would not surprise me if I had actually said, “shoelaces,” or “underpants,” or just dribbled some Sunkist onto my t-shirt.

We both got on our knees and she told God she was sorry for her sins, that she believed He sent Jesus to die and come back from the dead for her, and that she wanted Christ to be her Lord and savior. As we both stood up with tear-stained faces, I took her in my arms and she hugged me back tightly. I whispered into her ear, “You just made the most important decision of your life.” I felt her body go limp as she exhaled in a way, I suspected, she never had before. She thanked me and I told her all the praise belongs to God. She said she wanted to go and wake her friends up and tell them the good news. I said that sounded delightful and, just like that, she was gone.

I stood there, motionless, for what seemed like a much longer time than it probably was. There was no way I could sleep and nobody in the house was awake; so I did the only thing that seemed appropriate, or, quite frankly, feasible at that moment. I walked into the empty chapel, made my way up to the enormous cross on the back wall with Jesus hanging limply from the top beam, dropped to my knees and just stared into his beautiful face. I had been kneeling and staring for some time, it could have been 10 minutes, it could have been 40; when I became aware that I felt a longing to speak, but I couldn’t think of anything to say. Finally, with something of a guttural bellow, I voiced forth, “Why?!” I couldn’t even decipher what exactly I was asking, but it was the only word I could muster that seemed to fit the occasion. So I just kept asking, “Why? Why? Why? Why?” Once I had fully exhausted myself, I wandered back to my room, lay on the bed without removing my clothes and fell into a deep slumber.

I had a vivid dream. I am in some sort of enormous bustling city full of activity. I am moving somewhat rapidly but feel neither anxious nor hurried. There is a light breeze but I am not cold. The sun is shining brightly in a cloudless sky, but not so as deliver even a drop of humidity. As one person after another glides past, each one smiles and greets me jubilantly. As I continue on, I realize I have never been in this place before, and yet, it strikes my heart as familiar. Just then, I hear a voice calling my name from across the street. I turn, and there, jumping up and down, waving her hands wildly in the air, with a huge grin and tears of joy cascading down her flushed cheeks, is Christy.

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Possible

So, here we go,

The gospel.

Do you already feel hostile?

I get that,

I do.

I was just like you.

I too

Demanded proof.

Closed off to the concept

Of absolute truth.

But for now, forget truth.

Perhaps we’ll find more utility;

With the broader lens of

Probability.

So,

Is it possible

You’re exhausted

From falling short;

Desperate to be a winner?

Is it possible the solution

Is that you’re a sinner?

I know;

I heard that word,

I nearly bolted;

I felt jolted,

Insulted.

Bear with me,

just put aside what you think you’re hearing.

You got kids?

So take child rearing:

Ever notice that you need to
show ’em how to be good?

To do what they should;

Assuming that decent people you wish to make ’em.

Yet those same rules
You gotta teach ’em,

They just seem to know how to break ’em.

Is it possible that’s inherent?

Like a toxin woven all the way

Up inside our DNA?

Is it possible man fell?

And the one most bothered

Was your maker;

Who’s, in fact, your original Father?

Is it possible that’s not the way He wants you to live?

Is it possible His nature makes Him want to forgive?

And is it possible that to do so

And deny consequence;

And, hence,

Let you stroll scott free from behaving so bad;

Would make Him the very worst kind of a dad?

Is it possible your being left to the way you behave

Is not an unwillingness on His part to save?

Or that He just won’t budge?

Is it possible that it’s justice

In His role as the judge?

That His nature, while loving,

Is righteous as well?

And the sentence you’ve earned is unequivocally hell?

Is it possible that He’s got quite a bit on His plate;

Seeking to be both your old man

And your magistrate?

Is it possible

This impossible

Threat on the land,

Would require the creation of some kind of God-man?

And is it possible that the being into whom the Lord squeezes

Both His and our nature

Is the one we call Jesus?

Is it possible He displays the width and breadth of His glory

By writing Himself into His very own story?

Coming as a human

With the creators capacity;

And endless tenacity;

And perfect veracity;

To take up all the sin

That ever has been,

And pack it all in:

Every last bit,

And take the hit

For every son every daughter;

Hanging limp and turgid

From a crimson slaughter?

Is it possible that this effort

To cure the depraved,

Had him walk from the grave;

And through resurrection,

Came course correction?

Swapping his perfection

For our alienated fractured position

Last breath as a tear split the temple partition

Delivering the good news

Of God’s rescue mission?

Is it possible that in painfully bearing our load

He laid the asphalt

Paving one holy road?

That seems exclusive,

Cliquish,

Segregational

Makes you feel confrontational.

But is it possible

If you were God laying this out,

To deliver the truth and extinguish the doubt;

In providing your children a highway to heaven;

You’d grant one simple passage

Instead of ten or eleven?

Is it possible

In seeking their worship and praise,

You’d build them an interstate

Instead of a maze?

Is it possible

In your striving to rescue your flock;

Rather than stock

The earth chock

Full of shepherds;

Having each of them say,

“Hey y’all, I’ve discovered the way,

Look and see!”

You’d have one voice

Proclaiming,

“The way to the Father

Is me.”

I know your brain’s screaming,

“No, this can’t be true.”

But, my friend,

Is it possible

God’s smarter than you?

Cuz y’know, a creator

Who you can outthink;

Probably ain’t one whose cup you wanna pick up and drink.

This ain’t just what I think.

It’s more than a belief.

It’s sweet relief.

Every day;

Every hour;

It’s power.

His power.

2000 years later

And it’s never been diminished.

Cuz there’s no third act

Christ vowed

It is finished.

This is the shalom the good Lord foreswore.

If you want, I can go;

But is it possible

You’d let me tell you some more?

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INEsdKbhFKc

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