Thursday, July 29, 2010

Solitude, Sabbath, John Mayer and "Biblical" Christianity

This photo isn't just some random, pretty nature photo but is actually where my eldest son, Bryan, and I spent the last couple of days (just one night). This photo was taken from his phone as my "travel lite" mode prevented me from taking our camera.

So to get to this place, it was just about an hour drive from our house. Then up a steep, gravel jeep trail (but we were in a car) for about twelve miles, then we backpacked in for about four miles.

The photo doesn't show how isolated it is. But it is on a high country area and part of a natural amphitheater containing about twenty square miles of lakes and mountain peaks, snow fields, many bugs, marmots and other creatures . . . but no other humans.

We arrived yesterday about three or four in the afternoon and crawled into our sleeping bags about nine. During this time, I experienced a brief taste of solitude, for the first time in a few years.

I use to be an avid backpacker, but even then (except for a brief stint as a solo backpacker) I always went with loud, active groups . . . such as my own children. Last year backpacking for over a hundred miles in Nepal, I was always surrounded by people . . . too many to be exact.

With just Bryan and me, it seemed lonely. Of course we talked some. But we also read and he went off to explore alone, as did I.

The thing that this experience brought home to me was the concept of solitude. It's uncomfortable. I wanted to have a project to work on, a book that I need to study, a paper to write or a house to work on . . . even a TV or radio would have helped. But I was also thinking that this type of solitude is much closer to what the "Sabbath" represents than anything we know. According to the Bible it is a time of complete rest. It is not clear from scripture if the rest is good for our bodies and our minds but I really believe that it is. Most of all, it is a word picture that we have rest in Christ. No more struggle to "be somebody."

I sat on the side of a lake yesterday looking into the side of a mountain where about thirteen waterfalls tumbled from an ice field just above us. I watched for an hour. All I could hear were the falls, and the echoes . . . which seemed to have a rhythm of music. My mind wondered. I wanted to do something, some project, anything. It was hard to sit and do nothing but let my mind drift on the breeze. But once again, I was reminded that in Christ we rest.

A couple of days ago I watched John Mayer on the Today Show. He just started a new tour. He said the strangest thing. He said that, like most artist, he was happy to go on tour because when he wasn't on tour, he knew that he was just taking up oxygen and space and had no reason to exist. In other words, without his craft, he had no value. That is our great temptation.

But it isn't like Christians are spared or know better. We are the worst at this. We always turn rest into penitence. What was "Sabbath rest" became "Sunday" and the Sunday worship service. It is an act of penitence. A lot of Christians don't like me for the things I say, and this is the one thing I say, which they hate the most. But if you miss church service to you feel a little nasty? I still do and I know better. I certainly do believe there is a very strong place for Christian community. I ache for it. It is neglected by most churches . . . in favor of penitence.

I, in my dream-like state yesterday, was also thinking about "Biblical Christianity." In this case the adjective "Biblical" really means "evangelical culture conformity." If I were a new pastor of an evangelical church and I said that I was going to do things "Biblically" then I cancelled Sunday morning worship and told people that instead, they should go up into the mountains, alone and sit and do nothing. Don't go with a "spiritual" agenda . . . meaning praying (there is a place for prayer so don't get me wrong), singing hymns (unless you can't control your desire to do so), writing in your journal or even meditation. But sit and stare into to the beauty of the mountains . . . or stare at the ground if you want. But be away from any distractions and do nothing. Now that's a Biblical sabbath. But if I did that, I would be run out of town on a rail and a wacky new age pastor.

The closes thing I remember to solitude was when I was with the Navigators and about once every six months we would get alone for "A Day in Prayer." However, it was very different from what I'm talking about. It was penitence . We, in our dualistic thinking, believed that we had to pray very hard . . . to the point of sweating, crying and having some type of emotional (but we called a movement by the spirit) experience or the time was wasted and made God have a sad face.

I want to do this again. It is very uncomfortable to sit and do nothing . . . for hours . . .and still feel that God loves me. But, as Jesus implied to Peter, if He can't love us when we do nothing, then He can't ever love us.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sons and Lovers

My new book in my adventure in fiction is Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence. It is number eleven in the top 100 English novels. I picked it, once again, by going down the list at the used book store and this was the first one they had.

I've briefly read about Lawrence. He was quite controversial in his day (early 1900s) for dealing with topics that were considered unmentionable. He was called everything from a pornographer to the most imaginative writer of the 1900s. I'm looking forward to finding out for myself.

I had an interested conversation with my pastor this morning. He dropped by the coffee shop where I was meeting my son. I raised the issue again of the youth leaving churches (including our church) by the droves. He believes that the arts may be a tool for reaching them. I think we might be on the same page regarding the medium, however, I'm not sure if we would be in agreement about the details of that thought.

I will be back. I have out of town guest this week (my son, his wife and my new grandson) and I want to keep my time focused on them.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Beer Song

Here's the lyrics of Kimya Dawson's beer song. She sang this one Sunday. She wrote this about her years in substance abuse. She was living in a self-imposed hell. Yet, a generation is walking away from the Church because we've failed to communicate.

The beer I had for breakfast was a bottle of Mad Dog
and my 20/20 vision was fifty percent off.
He said "Punch-buggy red" and punched me right in my left eye.
I said "Don't you mean pediddle?" and I lit his house on fire.
He came home on acid, I was holding his shotgun,
I was dressed like Tina Turner in Beyond Thunder Dome.
He said "Don't shoot", I said "I won't, I love you, you're my friend."
I handed him my wig and shot myself in the head.
Then I stuffed a box of tissues in the hole in my skull,
I got in my Mazda and I drove to the mall.
I bought a big johnson shirt and some silicone tits.
When I pulled out the tissues they were covered with shit.

And the beer I had for breakfast was a box of cheap white wine,
and the boom box on my shoulder was a box of clementines.
I ate every single one without noticing the mold.
You said "You're gross my darling," I said "No I'm rock and roll."

Even though I'd never ever been in a band
I got "cool as black ice" tattooed on my hand
and the Christians gave me comic books as if I would be scared
of burning in Hell, well I was already there.

And the beer I had for breakfast, silver bullet in the brain,
and the beer I had for lunch was a bottle of night train,
and the beer I had for dinner was my crazy neighbor's pills.
We had to sit down on skateboards just to make it down the hill.
Then I peed my pants and you stole the groom's cigar,
and some old man made me watch him masturbate locked in his car.
When I got back to the apartment you were face down on the floor,
you said "Don't go to bed yet, let's go get a 64."

And the beer I had for breakfast was a pint of Jim Beam,
and a fifth of peach schnapps and some warm Sunny D.
And you said "Bottoms up" just as I bottomed out.
I tried to scream "Fuck you" but blood was pouring out my mouth.

And Evan Dando never planned on telling you the truth,
and your Leonardo I.D. card is your fountain of youth.
You can be a teenager for your whole fucking life,
just find some pretty sucker and make that bitch your wife.
I guess by now you all know my friend Danny broke his neck;
he was driving home from Sirens when he got into a wreck.
First I cried for him, and then I cried for me,
haunted by the ghost of the girl I used to be.
But the rocks with holes are warm in my hands,
and I buried my toes in the hot, hot sand,
and the silver pink pony kisses me and says
"You've come a long, long way and you deserve to be really happy."

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Reset -- Is there a Hope for the Next Generation

A few days ago it was the delete button. Today it is the reset one.

This week end has been devoted, unintentionally, to the 18-25 year old crowd. For one, my 24 year old son and his new girl friend came home for the week-end as did my 20 year-daughter. My 22 year old son played in a big concert this morning. But these things are all related because my out of town children came in because of the music festival my one son performed in.

The festival is just ending with the finale . . . which is Kimya Dawson (voice of soundtrack of Juno). She is actually still playing but I came down from the concert, with my 18 year son, to the coffee shop to put down some thoughts . . . or at least the start of them.

All week end I've been listening to the voices of the next generation. This morning, four of them (including my son's girlfriend) and I sat in the coffee shop and talked for an hour and a half in lieu of church. It was a good time.

I went straight from there to the outdoor concert area. My son's band was the first to play. The name of his band is Caulfield and His Magic Violin. My son wrote the lyrics to most of the songs. His friend, Mike (another product of our Evangelical church) wrote the others. They created the title based, of course, on The Catcher in the Rye. It is their statement about rebelling (too strong of a word here) against the status quo of the phonies . . . which would mean my generation. It was when I was trying to understand the name of the band that my, now, 18 year old suggested that I start to read fiction. I did and I started with J.D. and the Catcher.

I will be back and I want to take this further but I can tell my 18 year old is getting bored sitting here and I'm about to become brain dead from his long day.

But my question has to do with how to we reach the next generation with any kind of sense of truth? I'm thinking about Michael Spencer's book, which I read a couple of weeks ago, and his sense of the demise of the Evangelical Church. I'm thinking about HUG's statements today about Evangelicals are making the same mistakes that the old Church made fifteen hundred years ago. Is there anything that we can do? Do we need to hit the "reset" button to our cultural Christianity and start completely over?

I want to come back and share some of the lyrics, which I've heard today. I will just mention one by Mike (who was a Christian child prodigy at our evangelical church a few years ago and his dad is still one of the most conservative leaders). I wish I had all the lyrics to the song as I could not hear all of them. I asked Mike for them after the concert but he didn't have them.

I know that Mike has a powerful influence on my son. I know that he fights with his dad a lot over issues such as global warming and evolution (his dad does not believe in either concept). So the song describes how he had bought into the Christian story until he was 16 then it didn't make sense with "no answers for his brother's pain" and the "crazy ideal about all his friends being destine for a lake of fire."

I've had several talks with Mike. In his view, the conversation is over. He did the Awana thing, the years of youth groups and etc. So now, to even try and speak to the topic is hard. That is when I started feeling hopeless in trying to communicate anything with the next generation I started thinking about a reset button. There are days I would love to throw away everything this next generation has ever heard about Christianity . . . and start all over.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Alien

Insomnia runs in my family. My mother, who is 89, still suffers terribly from it. I think it is associated with the anxiety that we all seem to be carriers of as well.

After sleeping like a baby for a month, I've awaken about 3 AM several times this week. I seem to always wake up in the middle of a cold-anxious-sweat. Sometimes the underlying trigger is clear and sometimes it is obtuse. It was clear early this morning.

Last night I had my first "movie night" were we view and discuss provocative movies. Last night was Revolutionary Road. It was a success. Six people, all from my church, came and we had a lively discussion for a good hour.

As I tossed out questions and listened intently to the answers, in my eyes at least, I saw a quick pattern developing. It was my perspective vs the rest of the group. By the time the night was over, it was clear to me (which is the usual case) that I was on a different page and I look very nonspiritual compared to everyone else.

Then, I awaken in the middle of the night having that haunting, lonely feeling like I was in my bivouac on the far side of the moon . . . cut off from the rest of humanity. I didn't just feel like I was on a different page, but residing in a different universe. But I know that emotions and fears call always be skewed . . . seriously so . . . in the middle of the night. I always put myself in the "John Nash" mode (the schizophrenic from A Beautiful Mind) of asking, "Are you (my perspective) real?"

I eventually fell back to sleep. I ran it by Denise this morning (who only made the very end of the discussion because she was in the ER with my son, who broke his foot just as the movie night was starting). She didn't see any issue. But she also didn't catch the two men from church, a few months ago, saying that there is no way you can be a true Christian and believe in an old universe, right after I said I did.

I do feel better but I will lay out the difference in our perspectives and why I feel so alone.

First, a brief synopsis of the movie. It is the 1950s. Frank and April get married and move to suburban America where Frank has to take the commuter train into NYC each day to work a meaningless job (his perspective). He falls into the typical businessman routine including sexual liaisons with one of his secretaries. He and April though, are seeming to be the idealize American family, raising two kids (while serious issues are developing between them). Then they both have an excitement about leaving the rat race, moving to Paris for a personal adventure. That dream is crushed when Franks gets a promotion and April gets pregnant. April is emotionally devastated when the dream fails.

Here is how my perspective and those of the group last night were so different.

The 1950s. The author of the book, Richard Yates, said himself about Revolutionary Road;

I think I meant it more as an indictment of American life in the 1950s. Because during the Fifties there was a general lust for conformity all over this country, by no means only in the suburbs — a kind of blind, desperate clinging to safety and security at any price.

So, my perspective is that the movie rings true to what I know of the 50s and I agree with Yates. I was born in the middle of that decade. But from what I know, I see the materialistic, plastic society within my own family and town. I grew up in the Bible belt but within that belt, everyone aspired to; have personal wealth and appear to have harmony on the surface. Yet, I know many illegitimate children sired by these good Baptist businessmen during the 50s, such as my own uncle. I also remember suicides, closet alcoholics and other dark secrets.

Everyone else in the group agreed with the notion that the media falsely portrays the 50s in a negative light. The pastor mentioned that the peak of church attendance was 1951. No one else in the group admitted any dark family secrets from the fifties as I did. They all said that their families were in harmony and loving and no one had any closet secrets.

But Francis Schaeffer calls the fifties the age of "affluence and personal peace." What he meant by "personal peace" is keeping the facade of harmony and avoiding conflict (on the surface) at all cost.

So, was only MY family and my family's acquaintances messed up during the 50s? It so seems.

Work. The whole group (with me the sole exception) had the perspective that employment is a calling from God. That if you have the right Christian perspective, then work is a great joy. Everyone who spoke to this question admitted that they have this joy about work. One man said that before he was a Christian, that he hated work but now he loves it. He added that retirement is not a Biblical concept and that we should love work until the end.

My perspective (which I didn't share last night for lack of time, and wanting to give others the time to talk) is that work is part of the curse of Adam's fall. We toil. We sweat and most of the time it isn't fun. Not to say that your attitude doesn't count. I mean, there are days I hate the thoughts of going to work. But I do try and keep as positive perspective as I can. There are parts I honestly enjoy.

But in all honestly, if I won 10 million dollars, I would quit work tomorrow. I do see my work as part of my ministry and my part of brining redemption to a broken world but that doesn't blunt the fact that it totally drains the life out of me and I despise it at times. At least three times a week I have to pull over on the highway during my commute home because I am so mentally exhausted that I can't drive safely. The honest truth is that I go to work because I have to go to work because I have to earn money to pay for food, the mortgage and college tuition for my kids.

I did share that my son's (Tyler-22) group says that they never want to fall into the rat race of work that they saw their parents in. That they would rather be dirt poor. A comment was made that if that is true then Tyler must not have seen the Biblical perspective towards work during his growing up (meaning my example I guess).
I was the only one who seems to feel any burden to work.

Dreams and Aspirations. April and Frank had the dream of moving to Paris. Frank, later changed his mind. But this took the life out of April. I personally sided with April on this issue. I really think that Frank sold out to the buck and they would have been much happier if they had followed their dreams.

The consensus of the group is that dreams are a farce. That God wants us to be content exactly where we are in life. That if we look to dreams to bring us happiness, rather than Christ, that we will never find happiness.

But I have a very different view. I see us made in the image of God and part of that image is to be dreamers and explorers. Being content exactly where we are is not a fruit of the spirit in my book.

I love where I live but it came as the result of a dream. All the good in my life came as the result of a dream bearing fruit. I still have dreams. I dream of being a writer, of living on the coast of Italy, of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, of learning to sail, of floating down the Amazon and I could on and on. But when I spoke of those dreams, my view was really frowned upon.

About six years ago we were sitting around the dinner table with our kids. Tyler (16 at the time) had just read a book about a man sailing around the world. He asked me, "Dad, why don't we sail around the world?"

I answered, "I would love to."

Tyler, "Are you serious?"

Me, "I'm dead serous. I would quit my job, sell our house, buy a big sail boat and take off."

Tyler, "Then us do it!."

Me, "Ask you mom."

Denise then rolled her eyes and gave about 10 decent, smart, practical reasons why it would be impossible. They included, my daughter having to quit the volleyball team, the loss of my income and the retirement money, taking the kids out of public school thus reducing their chances for college, that I (Mike) don't know how to sail and that there would be no place to plant a garden. I am confident that everyone in the group last night would agree with her totally. Probably everyone on the face of the earth but me. But I envision myself on my death bed in my 80s. I seriously doubt if I will be thinking, "Boy am I glad we didn't sell the house and sail around the world back in 2004." No, if anything, I think I will feel the regret of not doing so.

So, while everyone in the group last night says that dreams and aspirations are signs of discontentment, not one person lives in the town where they were born. You can't move without being carried on the back of some dream, no matter how simple it is.

So, I'm left today thinking where did I go wrong. Am I an alien in this entire world? But I do hear voices that seem to share my perspective at times. Yates saw the same fifties that I did. There must be Christians who believe in dreams. I know there are humans who believe in dreams.

I have to go but I hope to be back to proof read this. Sorry for any typos as I had to type fast, eat a muffin with one hand and sip coffee with the other.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

G. K. & Yates

It is odd how some idea comes across your life in a series of accidental events. I'm not superstitious. I'm somewhat of a Calvinist, but I'm not a fatalist either so I don't believe "everything happens for a reason." But that's besides the point.

Someone here, just a few weeks ago, mentioned G. K. Chesterton and wondered if I had read any of his works. Oddly, I was only acquainted with his name.

Since then, there have been several references made to him within my sphere of associations. I asked my son, "Are you familiar with Chesterton." To which he replied with simple look of "Duh!"

I feel ashamed that I am a man in my fifties and I've been so artistically deprived for so long. I realize now that my deep evangelical years (meaning that there are plenty of evangelicals who were not as deprived as me and therefore were not so "deep" into it) were my personal "Dark Ages."

So, I'm seeing a patient this morning. She has her own interesting (but sad) story. She was adopted into a very conservative missionary family home. They moved to Africa when she was quite young per their professional trade (missionaries). She was sent away to missionary boarding school when she was seven. I think the wonderful missionary dorm parents took good care of her until she was about ten . . . then the husband came in at night to read her Bible stories . . . and to rape her. This went on for years. She was threatened to keep quiet. I think she told me that the dear couple retired as missionary heroes and the man never faced any kind of justice because the acts were swept under the carpet by the organization. You know, the nice facade must be maintained. This patient, amazingly, is still involved with Christian things, but she is not an idealist.

So this brings me to my point. On the cover of her note book this morning she had this quote by G.K. Chesterton (which everyone knows . . . save myself): "Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity." I was dumbfounded. So much so, that I've done some reading about Chesterton and will put some more of his quotes at the end of this.

Have you ever walked around all day with toilet paper on your shoe, hanging from your pants or a bugger hanging from you nose? Then you discover it and you feel embarrassed like every on in the whole world knew but yourself. That's the way I feel. The whole freaken world knew how wonderful fiction was but me! Okay, the other characters in my Dark Ages epoch didn't know either. What I mean is that during my Nav years, we were so dualistic in our thinking, that none of us read fiction but for the C. S. Lewis. I knew Navs who didn't even think that Lewis could have been a Christian because he wrote about witches . . . and he smoked. I'm not saying this literary depravity (correct word) was typical of the Navs, but it certain was of my group. Why read something for selfish entertainment--that is not factual--while the whole world is going to hell? How sad.

But, like I've said before, my children introduced me to fiction about 17 months ago and my life has been deeply enriched since.

So this leads me to Richard Yates, a much less well known literary artist. He wrote the book, Revolutionary Road. Tomorrow I am trying an experiment and I am nervous about it. I'm showing the movie in our home theater and having a discussion about it (like we use to in the LAbri house). I picked this movie because of its great commentary about American life in the 50s, about the pursuit of personal peace (keeping everything on the surface calm) while your private world is going to hell.

Even though I've invited the entire island, so far the only RSVPs have been from a few of our evangelical friends. Some of them are the ones who walked out in the middle of the high school play when homosexuality was mentioned. This movie is rated R and has some sexuality in it . . . as does real life. So far the feeling that I've gotten is that no one seems to know why I'm doing this. But it is the same reason we read fiction. So that brings me back to G.K. and some more of his quotes. I must also mention that he was a prototype post-evangelical, having eventually given up on the (Victorian era) Anglican Church and became a Catholic before he died.

"Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten."

"Just going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car."

"The way to love anything is to realize that it may be lost."

"The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried."

"The word "good" has many meanings. For example, if a man were to shoot his grandmother at a range of five hundred yards, I should call him a good shot, but not necessarily a good man."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Happy Bastille Day-- And the Loss of Idealism

I just heard on NPR (radio) this morning that it was Bastille Day. Rats, I forgot to wear my red Phrygian cap.

I know that I had talked about the French Revolution ad nauseam in the past but one more thought and how it applies to this church issue.

When I first became disillusioned with the Evangelical church (circa 1994) I started to study, and study and study. I started with Howard Synder's old books (The Problem of Wineskins) but I also read everything available on the first century church.

To make a long story short, I reached a very confident conclusion that the ideal church was the "House Church." I worked hard over a year to write a doctrinal statement for the church, an organizational chart and etc. Then I put an ad in the paper. It wasn't about the church per se, but inviting people who were also interested in the concept to contact me. Each time a family contacted me, I methodically had dinner with them, discussed the concept, had them read my doctrinal statement and organizational chart . . . all to make sure we were on the same page. As far as humanly possible, it appeared that we were.

So after a great deal of thought and work, we started the church with five families. It actually started very well . . .at first. But before the first year was over, it imploded. Looking back, I realize that each family had their own agenda for leaving the mainline church and those agendas didn't mesh. But I think I did as good as a job as anyone could have in trying to set it up. Maybe if you were in a much larger, metropolitan area (our city of Marquette, Michigan had a population of about 25,000) you could have found a sustainable group who were all on the same page. I see too, that while I was exiting the evangelical church on the post-evangelical side (those terms were not even in my lexicon at the time) the others were leaving on the hyper-evangelical side.

I was going to go into details but I think I'm being redundant (as I've shared those stories before). But in summary, the other families presented everything bad about evangelicalism in its extreme forms. One family wanted to get armed to fight the coming war with Bill Clinton. The next group wanted us to follow so much legalisms that it would make a Pharisee's head spin. (the husband of that family eventually ran off with his young secretary . . . literally). The wife of the next family consider herself a prophet and would chant words from God that would leave the entire group spell-bound, except for me who saw her as an emotionally disturbed master manipulator (seemed like God was always saying things that stroked her ego).

Anyway, I canned the entire group.

The lesson of that experience, and of the Bastille Day, is that there is no idealism. When I speak out against some of the ailments of evangelicalism, I no longer have an Utopian dream of what the church should be. It will eventually be what it should but that will not occur in this life time.

But, while there is no hope of a more-perfect society (which the Reign of Terror would sound prove to the thinking French), we still must press against un-truths, dishonesties, and injustice.

When I've spoken to my wife about switching churches, she always says, "You're not going to find a perfect church anywhere." I now know that deeply. Yet, there is a hope of seeking the lessor of evils when it comes to church.

So, happy Bastille Days and remember that Utopia was only a figment of Sir Thomas Moore's faulty imagination.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Directions and Deletions

I went back and deleted a few posts in the middle of the night. The reason? Well, like I said, I've often awaken in the middle of the night with this guilt feeling about things I've said or done during the day. This isn't real guilt but a false guilt that people like me live most of their lives under.

I did put a statistical analysis link to my blog. Not out of vanity but to see if there is anyone besides me and my mother (I guess even my mother doesn't even use the Internet any m0re) are reading this. If not, I was going to stop blogging and continue writing in a little leather-bound journal that I will keep to myself and throw into a campfire some day. I know Denise would prefer it if I did it that way as my public candor embarrasses her. However, I discovered that there are about 60 to 100 daily readers, so I will stick around for a while.

I have several hopes in my writing here. For one, when I first became disillusioned with Christianity (at least the evangelical version of it) about 20 years ago, I felt that I was the only person on earth to do so. The path, up until that time, was back or white. Either you drank the Cool Aid and bought into the entire evangelical agenda . . . or you were a despicable person (sees like I've heard that adjective some where of late). So I write to hopefully create an oasis for some others who are a drift in this sea of post-evangelical confusion.

I also discovered from the statistical analysis that I had faithful, local readers. That scared the bejeebers out of me. I've more than one visitor figure out exactly who I am (and I don't try hard to hide it). But really you can't talk with too much candor, using your real identity, without hurting feelings and creating a real mess.

I was involved with LAbri for a while. When Frank Schaeffer wrote his very candid books (the fictional series as well as Crazy for God) that many loyal LAbri fans and family grew to despise him. I, on the other hand, still have a deep appreciation for LAbri . . . and for Frank.

I always struggle with this balance of being total candid and honest about life's big questions, without pissing people off. I've tried to avoid venting about my relationship with the local church, but, once again I did recently. So I did some cleaning house and deleted the things that could irritate people . . . people who go to my church. But this brings me to my next thought.

I had the most unusual encounter with a patient and her husband the other day. She, the patient, is in her late 50s and I've been following her for a while. He has a complex medical history and suffers from severe headaches.

This last time that she was in, her husband came with her. I haven't seen him in about three years. He is the typical retired military (Air Force Pilot), big, stoic guy. After we finished he appointment, he sent his wife out to the waiting room because he wanted to talk to me privately.

He starts telling me this very log saga about how his wife married right out of high school to a (locally) famous jock. Soon after they were married, her first husband started to beat the hell out of her on a regular basis. Then, when he didn't make it in college sports, he became more bitter, started to drink, and increased his abuse of his wife . . . for the next ten years. The last straw came when she was pregnant with her third baby (and he was always jealous of his own children) that he got a hunting knife (and was drunk of course) and attempted to "cut the baby out of her."

It was to her good fortune that he was too drunk to cause much damage. But she got out of the marriage.

As the story often goes, she met a man in a bar who was also a heavy drinker. He quickly won her over, married her and started to use her as a punching bag just like the first husband. This continued for another decade. Finally, I think he killed himself in her presence.

So, I sat listening, carefully as this man told this story. Finally I spoke up. "Poor woman. I can't imagine the emotional pain that she must have. I mean, punches don't come in isolation. They come in an association with a flurry of verbal insults and brutal, emotional whippings."

Her husband (being third husband) looked at my in confusion. "Huh? Oh, I wouldn't know about emotional stuff. I was talking about a pinched nerve in her neck or something from all the blows."

"But certainly she suffers from deep emotional pain too."

"Oh good Lord, I wouldn't know about that or would I care. She stuffed any emotions that she had about it and sealed it up like a can. I ain't no fool who's going to come at her with a can opener. As a matter of fact, any time she starts to talk about feelings I tell her to shut up as I don't wont to hear it. Like I've always said, if you don't like something either you fix it or you shut up about it."

I felt a deep dismay. Here is a lady you has suffered tremendous physical abuse, only to be eclipsed by her emotional abuse, for most of her adult life and now she isn't allowed to talk about it. I just shook my head. "Can you get her in to see a counselor?"

"Hell no. She's not seeing any shrink. Let's focus on the pinched nerve thing."

But there is a stoicism that penetrates a lot of our Western culture. It isn't just an evangelical thing as you certainly see the ex-Air Force husband's view in many places. But, I would like to be a can opener. There is a place for venting. There is a place for hearing other people's stories so you can think in your heart of hearts . . . "maybe I'm not nuts. They feel that way too."

But, I do think the evangelical cult of niceness creates a great pressure to can it.

I wonder how many marriages could have been saved if the issues were placed on the table early on, in great candor and even with their natural cruelty. I wonder how many people could have been helped, who have left the Church, completely. Meaning that they have no claims to being a Christian anymore. But if they could have said, early on, "I hate going to church!" That others could have said, "That's fine. I hate it too. Hating going to church is not the same as not loving God." Our pastor has suggested that loving coming to church and loving God are one and the same. Woops. There I go again and I might have to come back and delete this one.

So, I've been thinking about creating a Post Evangelical Forum.

I'm a member of a couple of medical professional forums and they work very well. One, ran by the software of vBulletin, has about 6 major areas and 50 sub areas. Each person post (rather than the long-winded blogger like me doing all the writing). It would be a place where people could vent, ask for advice, share from their heart of hearts. It would be a place where some could come anonymously and talk about anything. The only catcher is that it would cost me about $250/ year. It would be worth it if people came.

It is just a though.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Concentric Circles - Culture vs Biblical Essentials

This is not about the recent solar eclipse in the South Pacific.

The last time I attempted to teach a high school Sunday school class (before I was quickly replaced--and you will quickly see why) was just four years ago. On the first day, I drew two concentric circles and told the kids, "The inner circle represents Biblical Christianity. The outer circle, American, Evangelical culture. So, in your opinion, how much space is there between the inner and outer circles?"

They were totally perplexed . . . which was the response I was hoping for. They had assumed that they were one and the same. "Sorry," I said, "They are very different. The inner circle is the clear directives of the Bible, the outer circle is the manifestation of those essentials as a culture. Culture is neutral while the Biblical center is the essential . . . if what you are talking about is true Christianity."

I made it clear that culture is a natural function of humans living together. It can be good or it can be bad. It can enhance the truths of the Bible or they can stand in the way of those truths. For my text I gave:

Mark 7

Clean and Unclean
1The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and 2saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were "unclean," that is, unwashed. 3(The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.a]" style="line-height: 0.5em; ">[a])

5So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with 'unclean' hands?"

6He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
" 'These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
7They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules taught by men.'
b]" style="line-height: 0.5em; ">[b] 8You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men."

They scratched their heads. Finally, the most rebellious one, spoke up. "Well, for one, Christian girls in Africa go topless while the one's here wear shirts. I prefer the ones in Africa!" Then he burst out laughing until one of the girls from a devoted Christian family screamed out, "You are such an idiot, Jake! Now shut up!"

I gave a very dramatic look of confusion on my face. "Oh, I think Jake gave an excellent answer (even Jake was looking confused now)." But that is only one, small example.

When I redrew the circles, I made the inner one much smaller, quarter size, and the outer one as big as the black board would contain.

We spent the next hour with me tossing up concepts and the kids had to place them in either the inner circle or the outer one. I was amazed at the things the kids put in that tiny inner circle. It included Church on Sunday mornings. Church starting at 10 AM. Churches with pews and steeples. Church services starting with singing, then preaching, then more singing. Pastors being the complete authority of the church. It also including not saying swear words, not drinking alcohol, not going to R movies. I could go on and on and on.

So, based on a recent discussion on iMonk, what are the Biblical essentials? What is a flexible part of our American, Christian culture? What part of our American, Christian culture is a hindrance to the Gospel? What belongs in the inner circle? What, as Christians, are you willing to die to defend?

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Whiff of Paradise

Everyone has their own concept of paradise. I've known people who love nothing better than waking up on the 80th floor of their high-rise apartment in downtown Chicago and looking down on the rows of cabs.

Others, and I'm sure there are many in this camp, who dream of a tropical island.

I'll get back to all of that in a second.

Yesterday was a very difficult day at work. It was so busy, then we had a patient (who happens to be a prominent church lady) cause a huge ruckus that ruined the entire day for the whole staff and other patients. She has some serious mental health issues but no insight.

But I came home to a glorious evening and that's what I want to focus on.

Summer came here early, even in the first weeks of April, as a loud shout. The flowers were out as was the sun. The mountains were still laden with a deep snow pack. But then, like a shout, it was gone. We drifted into a misty, cold three months . . . the kind that the Pacific NW is famous (or infamous) for.

Then summer came crashing back this week with a pent-up rage. The clouds suddenly left and left completely. The sun shone brighter than I've ever seen, even in the Middle East. The temps literally went from a record low to a record high in 48 hours.

Denise and I took the tandem kayak out on Puget Sound last night. The air was clear as a bell. We had a 360 view of snow-capped mountains, separated by a deep blue water. Two miles out into the sound, we only saw a few sailboats, a couple of harbor seals chasing surf smelt.

This is my concept of paradise. There is nothing I would change if I could. The weather on our island is perfect. The trees are perfect as are the mountains, the trails and the water. It didn't happen by accident. I stood in my office at Mayo Clinic seven years ago and looked over a map of the entire world. I put a pin in what I though would be the most perfect place to live. Now, my house sits within a mile where that pin came down.

But I was thinking last night during our three hour paddle that as wonderful as all of this is, it is just a whiff of true paradise. The same kind of whiff that you get (of perfume) when you are out it public. It is brief, fleeting and the source is not clear. It IS seeing in a mirror dimly.

It has been a while since I've read Lewis' The Last Battle but the glory of that new earth is best expressed in his writing. I will post it below, but I don't expect anyone to read it in its entirety.

IF one could run without getting tired, I don't think one would often want to do anything else. But there might be special reasons for stopping, and it was a special reason which made Eustace presently shout:

"I say! Steady! Look what we're coming to!"

And well he might. For now they saw before them Caldron Pool and beyond the Pool the high unclimbable cliffs and, pouring down the cliffs, thousands of tons of water every second, flashing like diamonds in some places and dark, glassy green in others, the Great Waterfall; and already the thunder of it was in their ears.

"Don't stop! Further up and further in," called Farsight, tilting his flight a little upwards.

"It's all very well for him," said Eustace, but Jewel also cried out:

"Don't stop. Further up and further in! Take it in your stride."

His voice could only just be heard above the roar of the water but next moment everyone saw that he had plunged into the Pool. And helter-skelter behind him, with splash after splash, all the others did the same. The water was not biting cold as all of them (and especially Puzzle) expected, but of a delicious foamy coolness. They all found they were swimming straight for the Waterfall itself.

"This is absolutely crazy," said Eustace to Edmund.

"I know. And yet -" said Edmund.

"Isn't it wonderful?" said Lucy. "Have you noticed one can't feel afraid, even if one wants to? Try it."

"By Jove, neither one can," said Eustace after he had tried.

Jewel reached the foot of the Waterfall first, but Tirian was only just behind him. Jill was last, so she could see the whole thing better than the others. She saw something white moving steadily up the face of the Waterfall. That white thing was the Unicorn. You couldn't tell whether he was swimming or climbing, but he moved on, higher and higher. The point of his horn divided the water just above his head, and it cascaded out in two rainbow-coloured streams all round his shoulders. Just behind him came King Tirian. He moved his legs and arms as if he were swimming but he moved straight upwards: as if one could swim up the wall of a house.

What looked funniest was the Dogs. During the gallop they had not been at all out of breath, but now, as they swarmed and wriggled upwards, there was plenty of spluttering and sneezing among them; that was because they would keep on barking, and every time they barked they got their mouths and noses full of water. But before Jill had time to notice all these things fully, she was going up the Waterfall herself. It was the sort of thing that would have been quite impossible in our world. Even if you hadn't been drowned, you would have been smashed to pieces by the terrible weight of water against the countless jags of rock. But in that world you could do it. You went on, up and up, with all kinds of reflected lights flashing at you from the water and all manner of coloured stones flashing through it, till it seemed as if you were climbing up light itself - and always higher and higher till the sense of height would have terrified you if you could be terrified, but later it was only gloriously exciting. And then at last one came to the lovely, smooth green curve in which the water poured over the top and found that one was out on the level river above the Waterfall. The current was racing away behind you, but you were such a wonderful swimmer that you could make headway against it. Soon they were all on the bank, dripping buthappy.

A long valley opened ahead and great snow-mountains, now much nearer, stood up against the sky.

"Further up and further in," cried Jewel and instantly they were off again.

They were out of Narnia now and up into the Western Wild which neither Tirian nor Peter nor even the Eagle had ever seen before. But the Lord Digory and the Lady Polly had. "Do you remember? Do you remember?" they said - and said it in steady voices too, without panting, though the whole party was now running faster than an arrow flies.

"What, Lord?" said Tirian. "Is it then true, as stories tell, that you two journeyed here on the very day the world was made?"

"Yes," said Digory, "and it seems to me as if it were only yesterday."

"And on a flying horse?" asked Tirian. "Is that part true?"

"Certainly," said Digory. But the Dogs barked, "Faster, faster!"

So they ran faster and faster till it was more like flying than running, and even the Eagle overhead was going no faster than they. And they went through winding valley after winding valley and up the steep sides of hills and, faster than ever, down the other side, following the river and sometimes crossing it and skimming across mountainlakes as if they were living speed-boats, till at last at the far end of one long lake which looked as blue as a turquoise, they saw a smooth green hill. Its sides were as steep as the sides of a pyramid and round the very top of it ran a green wall: but above the wall rose the branches of trees whose leaves looked like silver and their fruit like gold.

"Further up and further in!" roared the Unicorn, and no one held back. They charged straight at the foot of the hill and then found themselves running up it almost as water from a broken wave runs up a rock out at the point of some bay. Though the slope was nearly as steep as the roof of a house and the grass was smooth as a bowling green, no one slipped. Only when they had reached the very top did they slow up; that was because they found themselves facing great golden gates. And for a moment none of them was bold enough to try if the gates would open. They all felt just as they had felt about the fruit "Dare we? Is it right? Can it be meant for us?"

But while they were standing thus a great horn, wonderfully loud and sweet, blew from somewhere inside that walled garden and the gates swung open.

Tirian stood holding his breath and wondering who would come out. And what came was the last thing he had expected: a little, sleek, bright-eyed Talking Mouse with a red feather stuck in a circlet on its head and its left paw resting on a long sword. It bowed, a most beautiful bow, and said in its shrill voice:

"Welcome, in the Lion's name. Come further up and further in."

Then Tirian saw King Peter and King Edmund and Queen Lucy rush forward to kneel down and greet the Mouse and they all cried out "Reepicheep!" And Tirian breathed fast with the sheer wonder of it, for now he knew that he was looking at one of the great heroes of Narnia, Reepicheep the Mouse who had fought at the great Battle of Beruna and afterwards sailed to the World's end with King Caspian the Seafarer. But before he had had much time to think of this he felt two strong arms thrown about him and felt a bearded kiss on his cheeks and heard a well remembered voice saying:

"What, lad? Art thicker and taller since I last touched thee!"

It was his own father, the good King Erlian: but not as Tirian had seen him last when they brought him home pale and wounded from his fight with the giant, nor even as Tirian remembered him in his later years when he was a grey-headed warrior. This was his father, young and merry, as he could just remember him from very early days when he himself had been a little boy playing games with his father in the castle garden at Cair Paravel, just before bedtime on summer evenings. The very smell of the bread-and-milk he used to have for supper came back to him.

Jewel thought to himself, "I will leave them to talk for a little and then I will go and greet the good King Erlian. Many a bright apple has he given me when I was but a colt." But next moment he had something else to think of, for out of the gateway there came a horse so mighty and noble that even a Unicorn might feel shy in its presence: a great winged horse. It looked a moment at the Lord Digory and the Lady Polly and neighed out "What, cousins!" and they both shouted "Fledge! Good old Fledge!" and rushed to kiss it.

But by now the Mouse was again urging them to come in. So all of them passed in through the golden gates, into the delicious smell that blew towards them out of that garden and into the cool mixture of sunlight and shadow under the trees, walking on springy turf that was all dotted with white flowers. The very first thing which struck everyone was that the place was far larger than it had seemed from outside. But no one had time to think about that for people were coming up to meet the newcomers from every direction.

Everyone you had ever heard of (if you knew the history of these countries) seemed to be there. There was Glimfeather the Owl and Puddleglum the Marshwiggle, and King Rilian the Disenchanted, and his mother the Star's daughter and his great father Caspian himself. And close beside him were the Lord Drinian and the Lord Berne and Trumpkin the Dwarf and Truffle-hunter the good Badger with Glenstorm the Centaur and a hundred other heroes of the great War of Deliverance. And then from another side came Cor the King of Archenland with King Lune his father and his wife Queen Aravis and the brave prince Corin Thunder-Fist, his brother, and Bree the Horse and Hwin the Mare. And then - which was a wonder beyond all wonders to Tirian - there came from further away in the past, the two good Beavers and Tumnus the Faun. And there was greeting and kissing and hand-shaking and old jokes revived, (you've no idea how good an old joke sounds when you take it out again after a rest of five or six hundred years) and the whole company moved forward to the centre of the orchard where the Phoenix sat in a tree and looked down upon them all, and at the foot of that tree were two thrones and in those two thrones a King and Queen so great and beautiful that everyone bowed down before them. And well they might, for these two were King Frank and Queen Helen from whom all the most ancient Kings of Narnia and Archenland are descended. And Tirian felt as you would feel if you were brought before Adam and Eve in all their glory.

About half an hour later - or it might have been half a hundred years later, for time there is not like time here - Lucy stood with her dear friend, her oldest Narnian friend, the Faun Tumnus, looking down over the wall of that garden, and seeing all Narnia spread out below. But when you looked down you found that this hill was much higher than you had thought: it sank down with shining cliffs, thousands of feet below them and trees in that lower world looked no bigger than grains of green salt. Then she turned inward again and stood with her back to the wall and looked at the garden.

"I see," she said at last, thoughtfully. "I see now. This garden is like the stable. It is far bigger inside than it was outside."

"Of course, Daughter of Eve," said the Faun. "The further up and the further in you go, the bigger everything gets. The inside is larger than the outside."

Lucy looked hard at the garden and saw that it was not really a garden but a whole world, with its own rivers and woods and sea and mountains. But they were not strange: she knew them all.

"I see," she said. "This is still Narnia, and more real and more beautiful then the Narnia down below, just as it was more real and more beautiful than the Narnia outside the stable door! I see... world within world, Narnia within Narnia..."

"Yes," said Mr Tumnus, "like an onion: except that as you go in and in, each circle is larger than the last."

And Lucy looked this way and that and soon found that a new and beautiful thing had happened to her. Whatever she looked at, however far away it might be, once she had fixed her eyes steadily on it, became quite clear and close as if she were looking through a telescope. She could see the whole Southern desert and beyond it the great city of Tashbaan: to Eastward she could see Cair Paravel on the edge of the sea and the very window of the room that had once been her own. And far out to sea she could discover the islands, islands after islands to the end of the world, and, beyond the end, the huge mountain which they had called Aslan's country. But now she saw that it was part of a great chain of mountains which ringed round the whole world. In front of her it seemed to come quite close. Then she looked to her left and saw what she took to be a great bank of brightly-coloured cloud, cut off from them by a gap. But she looked harder and saw that it was not a cloud at all but a real land. And when she had fixed her eyes on one particular spot of it, she at once cried out, "Peter! Edmund! Come and look! Come quickly." And they came and looked, for their eyes also had become like hers.

"Whys" exclaimed Peter. "It's England. And that's the house itself - Professor Kirk's old home in the country where all our adventures began!"

"I thought that house had been destroyed," said Edmund.

"So it was," said the Faun. "But you are now looking at the England within England, the real England just as this is the real Narnia. And in that inner England no good thing is destroyed."

Suddenly they shifted their eyes to another spot, and then Peter and Edmund and Lucy gasped with amazement and shouted out and began waving: for there they saw their own father and mother, waving back at them across the great, deep valley. It was like when you see people waving at you from the deck of a big ship when you are waiting on the quay to meet them.

"How can we get at them?" said Lucy.

"That is easy," said Mr Tumnus. "That country and this country - all the real countries - are only spurs jutting out from the great mountains of Aslan. We have only to walk along the ridge, upward and inward, till it joins on. And listen! There is King Frank's horn: we must all go up."

And soon they found themselves all walking together and a great, bright procession it was - up towards mountains higher than you could see in this world even if they were there to be seen. But there was no snow on those mountains: there were forests and green slopes and sweet orchards and flashing waterfalls, one above the other, going up forever. And the land they were walking on grew narrower all the time, with a deep valley on each side: and across that valley the land which was the real England grew nearer and nearer.

The light ahead was growing stronger. Lucy saw that a great series of many-coloured cliffs led up in front of them like a giant's staircase. And then she forgot everything else, because Aslan himself was coming, leaping down from cliff to cliff like a living cataract of power and beauty.

And the very first person whom Aslan called to him was Puzzle the Donkey. You never saw a donkey look feebler and sillier than Puzzle did as he walked up to Aslan, and he looked, beside Aslan, as small as a kitten looks beside a St Bernard. The Lion bowed down his head and whispered something to Puzzle at which his long ears went down, but then he said something else at which the ears perked up again. The humans couldn't hear what he had said either time. Then Aslan turned to them and said:

"You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be."

Lucy said, "We're so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back into our own world so often."

"No fear of that," said Aslan. "Have you not guessed?"

Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them.

"There was a real railway accident," said Aslan softly.
"Your father and mother and all of you are - as you used to
call it in the Shadowlands - dead. The term is over: the
holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the

And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but
the things that began to happen after that were so great and
beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the
end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they
all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the
beginning of the real story. All their life in this world
and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover
and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter
One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which
goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the
one before

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Curse of Aging IV - The Withering Physique

Painting: The Aging Hourglass by Muskan Srivastava and can be purchased here.

This is the type of posting that you must pretend you are not interested in . . . especially if you are male. It is the loss of physical appearance, which comes with aging. I am totally convinced that for every human being, including males, it a very big deal.

I couldn't find the figures of the money spent each year in the U.S. alone, to try and slow down the aging process, but it is probably in the hundreds of billions. It includes everything from simple cosmetics, to gym memberships (whose main goal is to look young), to diets, to medications (which attempt to keep you young by keeping your blood pressure youthful, your heart youthful and your erections youthful), to plastic surgery, to sporty cars and the list goes on and on.

I started this whole series after I heard the story of a has-been actress who realized one day she wasn't pretty any more . . . and she was totally devastated. While I'm sure actors and models are most effected by this aging curse, we are all traumatized to some degree.

It is a fact that nursing homes, which specialize in Alzheimer patients, have to removed all their mirrors. The reason is, those patient experience extreme chronocompressing (which I wrote about last time). Due to the failure of their brain's memory processing, they think they are 30 years old, then they look in the mirror and see an ugly 70 year old face looking back. It is very traumatic to them.

I think this issue applies to Christians because it is one of the areas we deny most. After all, we are taught from the beginning of our Christian experience that to be concerned about our outward appearance is a form of vanity. But it is the elephant in the room, an honest concern that is part of being human.

I can remember vividly our Baptist preacher condemning women who focused on their appearance. He refereed to them as "Jezebels." He pounded his podium so hard that his toupee almost fell off.

But God created "looks" for a reason. It is part of our sexuality. We were created to be fruitful and multiply. It only makes sense that our most reproductive years (when we are young) are those that our outward appearance is at its best. I think on this issue the evolutionary biologist would fully agree. If you need a Biblical reference to this idea, I suggest Song of Solomon 1:16, "How handsome you are, my lover! Oh, how charming! And our bed is verdant." Solomon would be the first to say that cosmetics (hair pieces, face lifts, Botox, or even makeup) does not satisfy in the end. If we live long enough.

But this is how the Fall of Adam messes with our mind. What was created for a purpose (attracting a mate) becomes the number one parameter for determining our personal value in this society. This hasn't always been true and it is truer in some cultures than others. But at this time in history, this perspective has the greatest validity than ever.

So, it has been indoctrinated into our hearts and souls, since an early age I may add, that our personal self-worth (or self esteem) in society is directly linked to our looks. This is why it is so painful as we age to loose that status.

Now, at this juncture, my opinion differs from the Christian status quo. They would say, "Yeah, vanity is wrapped up in self esteem. Repent! Focus on God loving you and stop worrying about growing older and loosing the merits of your physical appearance then you would frolic in the joy of the Lord and live in Christian bliss. "

My perspective is that such simplistic repentance is a farce. Our self-esteem being tied, at least partially, to how society adores our appearance is impossible to escape. It is woven deeply into our fabric. So, I'm saying that we should be honest about it. While we should focus on the fact that our value in God's eyes has absolutely nothing to do with our appearance, we are human. Indeed we were human before we were Christians. We will always care about how we look and the pain of that loss is very, very real. In the perfect world there would be no problem. But in the world, as it is, there is a place for mourning over this part of the Fall and it is our fading looks.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Curse of Aging Part III - Chronocompression

There is something about an early morning bike ride over our little mountain and into our village by the sea that awakens the words that you have been searching for. When the words start falling into place in your head, it is a good distraction from the pain that is building in my knees.

Chronocompression (my coined word) is not a phenomenon of quantum physics but one of psychology and brain physiology. It is that process in which time seems to move faster as you age. It is well recognized and just my personal perspective.

If you have ever held a slinky over the edge of something tall, say, from the top of a building (and I have but I can't remember why) you will see as it coils downward and stretches out that the end closes to you has the widest spaces between the coils. The reason is simple. The slinky supports the weight of itself which is below that particular point. So at the very top, where you are holding it, the entire weight of the slinky is pulling down making the spring stretch out. Towards the bottom, the coils are compressed together because there is virtually little mass beneath that point which it must support.

The experience of time to the traveler within it is so skewed. This too is part of the curse of aging. Wouldn't it be nice if it were the opposite. The longer we lived the slower time went, so we could hang on to life with our finger nails much longer than it seemed we could.

Looking back into my personal life is like looking down a long funnel. The further back you go, the less you see. The parts you do see at the distal end, seem like fuzzy black and white photos surrounded by a gray fog.

I have a few snapshots in my memory of my very early childhood. But the first landmark, which I remember with more vigor, is age six. That year, to my surprise and disappointment, two of my friends started school and due to my birthday being in July, I did not. We didn't have kindergarten or preschool so it was nothing straight to first grade.

That was a very hard year because then I was the only kid on my street who was not in school. That year lasted much longer than the entire decade between the new millennium (remember Y-2-K?) and 2010. It seemed like a endless time of me hanging out with my mom an a bunch of other moms going to matinée movies and watching Rock Hudson and Doris Day kissing. Then we would go bowling. I hated it and it was for an eternity.

The six years of elementary school seemed a bit longer than that one preschool year, but not by much.

The first time I really noticed chronocompressing was when I was ending my Sophomore year in high school. Time seemed to stretch into an eternity as I looked into the past . . . up until that point. It was around June 6th and I was at my high school on a Saturday morning watching graduation. While I had siblings who had already graduated high school, this was the first time my crowd of friends started to see the exodus.

I remember that morning as if I were an Autistic Savant. It was partly cloudy. I could smell freshly cut hay from the fields across the road. It was warm, maybe eighty and humid. I stood talking to my, two years older than me, friend, Terry Taylor. He had his cap and gown on waiting to march inside. It dawned on me, that for the first time, his school years were over. I felt a deep grief, but not for me, for him.

The thing that really threw me off was that, almost like a morphing special effect, I slowly felt myself changing into that same cap and gown. It was two years later, I was standing in the very same spot as Terry and I was thinking (and I remember this as clear as yesterday) "Where the hell did the last two years go?" I felt a deep grief and this time it was for myself.

The decade of my 20s continued to gain momentum but there was a reprieve. When there were no landmarks it is hard to notice the passage of time. For example, four years in college were stagnant. I had virtually the same friends from my freshmen year up until graduation. But even with that distraction, those four years still passed much quicker than that infamous preschool year.

The next four years of graduate school had the same reprieve but shorter still.

Once you get married and start having children, things begin to change for you rapidly. You suddenly have a plethora of markers.

When I'm out on the ferry it is hard to know how fast you are moving. The islands in all directions barely move. But when you pass some kind of marker, a bed of kelp floating on the surface, a lone kayaker, a harbor seal laying in the water on his back watching . . . then you get the feel for speed. In the same way, when your kids come into the world, there are constant string of markers like pearls on a chain. First steps, first teeth, first words, potty training, soccer, dating, driving, graduating, marriage, grand children.

I have a friend who is my age who never married and lives alone. He has been in the same town, same job and same house for more than 30 years. We've talked about this. He does not have the same constant marker of time. His comes in quantum leaps. He doesn't notice anything until, a relative dies or something like that. The he is shocked to find out that aunt so and so was 88.

So, I think I've made my point with this issue. So the question is what is the curse about this? Of course each step, and the steps get shorter and shorter, leads to the grave. But their is yet another curse. That is of perpetual loss.

Andy Runey might be one person who sees the dark side far more than me. I heard it best expressed by him. He did a brief, 60 Minutes, commentary on aging. He expressed this continuous process of losing well. Basically, to no one's surprise, he said that aging sucks. I think he had just turned 80. He said it sucked because, up until that point, he had lost his parents, three siblings, his dear wife, more than ten close friends and, if I remember right, a child or two. The grieving was accumulative, like the barnacles on the hull of a ship. It drags you down.

The past ten years have had the most of these crummy crustaceans. It has to do with loosing my father, then watching each of my five children leave home. I'm sitting across the table right now from my last one, who is moving out in about 40 days . . . but who is counting. The wounds never have time to heal.

So to end this thought without being too much of a downer, I am asked, by the Polyannas in my life, what about all the gains?

Of course you can't loose something that you didn't gain. I certainly remember the birth of each of my children and those were extremely good points and things that you anticipate and long to come quickly (even giving away days just so the birth will come sooner). But most of the other gains were insidious. Did I notice when I gained my father?

I didn't even notice when I gained my wife. I mean, I remember well the first time I saw her. I was seated on bus and she got on in front of the main terminal of JFK. I noticed right away that she had the shortest hair I had ever seen on a women and she had a real, out-doorsy, blue backpack on. I had no clue at that moment that she would radically change my life for the next 30 years. Our relationship grew relatively slow over the subsequent months . . . although we were walking down the aisle in only 13 months from the time I first spotted her.

Then when it comes to friends, when you first meet them, you never realize that they will become your best friend for a season, until they move away again, or they die.

So with trepidation I think about the future. I know from this point forward, the circles of the spring will be wound tighter and tighter, the seasons passing faster and faster, the losses coming quicker and quicker until the end of our days here on earth.

Of course the future will bring many good things too. Marriages of my children, although that feels too much like a loss to the selfish part of me, especially if their spouse takes them far away. There will be grand children and many good times to be had.

I am somewhat envious of the narcissistic brand of Christianity that I first learned. I was taught that the entire universe rotated around me and my relationship with Jesus. The guy that led me to the Lord told me that if I became a Christian that I would never be sad again. That God would spare me from harm and that me, in my young, healthy body, would be raptured straight to glory in the near (back then) future.

But, the fall is real, and to deny it's sorrows, to me, is to deny a part of reality. I think we must embrace its pain in order to embrace the glory of the new world . . . some day.