Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ecclesiastes Revisited -- A Modern Take on an Old Search for Meaning -- Chap 8 Conclusions

The fact that Sophia was actually the Holy Spirit was certainly credible. It seemed to fit. She was there the whole time trying to point me away from mental dangers. So, I decided for once in my life to sit at her feet . . . rather than brushing her off my shoulder.

“So Sophia, how does one find meaning in this world?”

“Hmm. You see meaning is not for the finding . . . it is for the taking.  Meaning is not in your doings but in your making.”

That sounds interesting but . . . I didn’t understand the full meaning at that juncture.  So I had to ask, “So, what does that mean in practical terms?”

“You, son of Adam, grandson of the earth, you were in breathed with the very essence of God . . . which is alone sufficient for giving you infinite meaning, even in your rest.”

“But God didn’t put us here on this earth just to take up space. We were intended for a purpose.”

“You were?”

“I wasn’t?”

“That’s were the problem is . . . the celestial misunderstanding. That is what the scriptures are about, from the beginning until the very end. That is the Gospel, the complete rest in Christ. Solomon, with my help, figured it out.”

“So it sounds like I suppose to just sit around in my boxers and watch sit-coms.”

“If you like. You still have infinite meaning if you do.”

“But, I thought it was a Christian virtue to avoid becoming a sluggard and to be industrial in all we do.”

“But not to find meaning. Meaning is in a different dimension than doing. There are two different things at stake in being the sluggard.

The first is injustice to other meaningful people. If one doesn’t provide their own subsistence, and they are capable of doing so, then it diminishes the meaning of the others who work to provide that subsistence for them. So doing to find subsistence is different than doing to find meaning.

In the second area, doing is for the doer, to enjoy all that which was made by God for their pleasure. An artist paints for their own fulfillment, not for to find the purpose of their existence, and if they do paint just to fulfill a purpose, they will be miserable.  This great universe was created for you and you were created from it. You have an infinite connection to it and to the earth from whose dirt you were conceived.  The beauty, the tastes, the smells, the experiences are all given to you by a loving God for you good pleasure.”

I sat in a contemplative trance for . . . a summer. On the other side, I became a new man. I learned to rest in my intrinsic meaning. I learned to savor the taste of a coffee bean, sloshing across my tongue, back and forth until it is spent. I relished the complex tapestry of words so woven by the great novelist. I learned to sit contently at a table for hours, listening to an individual, whom previously I would have considered as insignificant to my life, but now the most important person . . . even be they a complete stranger.  I learned to gaze at a work of art for an hour while I breathed in and out softly, being totally enthralled in the emotions—so projected by the artist through the end of a brush.  I learned to walk a trail through the mountains, not to buffet my body, to make me a better person, but to inhale the scents of the fir, the loam and to hear the sounds of the wood pecker and the marmot. 

I learned to lay on my back on back on the soft grass and watch the clouds move in the troposphere like colliding icebergs of foam and to do this for hours.

I became a student of wines, a disciple of herbs and an apprentice of textures and fibers. I completely immersed myself in the senses, not to over-indulge, but to savor. I finally found my meaning which is to be in that form in which God has created me. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Ecclesiastes Revisited -- A Modern Take on an Old Search for Meaning -- Chap 7

I drove for hours without any direction. It seemed to matter little where I would end up. But, eventually, I decided to go home, meaning the home where I grew up.  Dad had passed but mom was there. She was only 72 but suffering from Parkinson disease. I had not been close to her in years, part of it--I have to admit--was my anger about her old pastor raping my brother and her doing nothing about it. But my criticism of her had softened.  Maybe she was doing the best she could with what she knew.

I moved into my old bedroom, not out of financial need but of emotional convenience.  She could use some help on the house, but I never dreamt that I would be sleeping in my old bunk bed when I turned 44.

As I was driving down from New York, I kept catching the glimpse of something ominous in my mirror . . . it was a dense, dark cloud rapidly approaching. I floored the SUV, to outrun it.  The cloud was a serious depression and I knew I couldn't let it engulf me.  If it caught up to me, then the swam of locusts would devour my flesh down to the bone.

Once I was home I kept running ahead of the cloud but by foot. A mile and a half the first day, then two the second.  I focused on running longer and longer.  I was tempted to get caught up in physical exercise to, not only escape the depression, but to give me a new sense of meaning.  But I had sat on the side lines while Linda attempted to find meaning in the physique. Eventually my body would fail, I will grow older and I will die flabby and out of shape. It was inevitable. So while running, five miles, then ten, was a bridge for meaning, I knew that it too was chasing, almost literally, after the wind.

With my background, I was able to land a commissioned job with the local Charles Schwab office and I settled into a new, maybe old, way of life while I either decided to search for meaning, to to give up.

Mother, being mother, didn't like leaving me at home a lone on Sunday mornings. But I knew in my heart of hearts that I could never darken the doors of her little Baptist church. Even though preacher Taylor had died a long time ago, from a  case of hepatitis after mysterious a trip to Bangkok, the memories were just too vivid.

But I did do a long run on Sunday mornings, and the run took me past the Rock Springs Community Church. I had to weave back and forth through people as I passed on the side walk. Most of them smiled. I saw on the marquee that their "Pastor Fisher" had a Ph.D.. I thought that would be a good plus.

So one Sunday, I ran earlier and got home to shower before 10:00 AM.  I decided to give God another chance and to enter Pastor Fisher's church.  I sat in the back. They were friendly.  I came back. They invited me to join. I went through the membership class and I became one of them.  Maybe it was done in too much haste, like a rebound relationship after a tough breakup. However, I was one of them before I knew it.

Church seemed very different to me than the decade earlier, when I had attended so faithfully.  I think the change was my encounter with Sophia one morning. She spit into the dirt, made balls of mud, pushed them into my ears and covered my eyes.  I didn't know what to expect. But when the clay dried out and crumbled, everything looked and sounded different than before.

What I would have consider powerful sermons in my twenties, now seemed like mind games. When the pastor pounded the podium and said that God wanted us to "put our shoulders to the plough and be part of Christ's church" my ears heard him saying, "I want to feel like I have value. To do so, I must succeed as a pastor. To proved to the denomination and to the community that I am successful, I must have big, visible programs.  To make these programs successful, every person must pitch in. This is really all about me."

I didn't like this new cynicism. It made me feel dirty. It also made me feel less likely to get involved. I didn't want to put my shoulder to the plough of helping someone else in their useless journey to find meaning. For that too would be chasing after the wind.

The Pastor pulled me aside one day and spoke directly to me, "I see that you've been a member here for six months and you aren't involved with anything.  God really spoke to me that I need to invest more in you.  I would like to disciple you and help to equip you to be a real church laborer."

This was deja vu. "Pastor," I said, "Do you realize that I was discipled deeply by some of the best in the business for ten years.  What are you offering that I have not suffered through?"

"I just don't sense the working of the Holy Spirit in your life.  I never see you volunteering for any of our ministries."

I felt perplexed.  Sophia was smiling at me, "He is manipulating you.  It is a mind game. He needs you to help him feel that he has meaning.  You are a cog."

I didn't like what she was saying so I brushed her off my shoulder.  I didn't sleep much that night.  In the morning I left a message for Sohpia that I wanted to have a heart to heart talk with her.  I was feeling that maybe Pastor Fisher was right, that I needed a more spiritual view than the cynical take that I had become accustom to.

The next morning I met Sophia for coffee.  I started with a few words of respect, "Sophia, I understand that you are the goddess of knowledge, reason and wisdom.  I know that you were there for Solomon . . . and for Socrates and for Einstein.  I respect you for not only how you've helped me, but how you've helped our culture. But I think I'm coming to the point that I need to leave you.  I need to walk by the spirit, not by reason. I need to step out of reason and into a life of walking by the Holy Spirit. I'm ready to let Pastor Fisher disciple me, if there I can find my place in God's purpose."

Sophia sipped her espresso and flashed a brief bitter expression. Then she smiled big.  She reached out and placed a comforting hand on mine.  She said nothing at first. I anticipated that she would say, "That's fine. I'm not offended by that." But she totally surprised me. She did speak again but with words I had never anticipated.

"Don't you know?"

"Know what?"

"You see . . . I am the Holy Spirit."

Friday, November 25, 2011

Ecclesiastes Revisited -- A Modern Take on an Old Search for Meaning -- Chap 6

I heard once more from Linda. It was an unexpected birthday card.  She simply wrote, "Happy Birthday."  Then she added, "I'm sorry, but now that this pursuit is over, I want to focus on me."

I was angry.  What had the last five years been if it wasn't Linda-centric? She saw the goal of winning the bronze as something separate from herself, like she was doing it for America . . . but of course he was for her self and her own search for meaning.  Sophia smiled and nodded in agreement.

So damn her, I thought.  I will make the decade my thirties as a decade about me.  I wanted to focus with the same level of tenacity, which she had taught me, on what I wanted. But did I want?  I wasn't sure.

But I reasoned, that whatever I figured out that I wanted, money could eventually buy it.

I re-enrolled in graduate school, but this time, rather than science, I was working towards an MBA.  I had a first cousin who worked in a major investment firm in NYC.  I talked to him, and he was confident if I finished a good MBA program, with an interest in investment banking, they he could find me a coveted position in the pit on Wall Street. Once there, it would be left up to my talents . . . but he assured me that the sky was the limit.

Since I was use to waking up early and working hard, I continued the same mindset.  Rather than making a hot meal of proper protein and carbs, I was studying. I went to class and studied until I fell asleep at midnight.  I wanted to finish first in my class, even if it killed me. I had nothing to loose but my own life, which was meaningless as it stood.

I did much better in reaching my goal than Linda had.  I did finish first.  My cousin Louis (Lou for short) indeed got me a job as an "trainee" in the pit.  I had six months to prove my worth.  It was ruthless.  The drama on and off the floor was beyond my wildest expectations. It was mentally exhausting, but I was determined that no one would be working harder than me.

When I turned 38, my annual income surpassed one million dollars.  The money was in a secure investment, almost every penny.  My focus was on earning, not spending . . . yet.

By 39 I had over five million in the bank and my job was secure.  I knew that it was time for me to go after the things that would compete me.

Rather than a Lamborghini, I bought myself a brand new, $85,000, Land Rover Defender with all the options.  I bought a six million dollar condo that looked down on Central Park.  Now my neighbors included Yoko Ono, Bono and John Lithgow. I saw many more big names at parties. They became to me like Joe Smo from down the street.

I still was working almost eighty hours per week but I rewarded myself richly.  I bought a beach house on Long Island, another one in the Caymans.  I traveled the world, in the short breaks I took.

By the time I was forty, I had any wish I could make.  I even put my name on the list for being one of the first space tourists.

My income kept going up.  I spent money like a drunken billionaire, but I just couldn't out-spend my income. But I had no time to enjoy my treasures.  My Land Rover collected dust.  My Condo in Zurich sat empty.  My life felt empty.

Each new purchase gave me a euphoric feeling . . . for a while. The "whiles" became shorter and shorter following the laws of diminishing returns. Finally I stopped buying.  My things couldn't help any longer.

My money became my chains.  My job was too important not to give it eighty hours per week.  The responsibilities grew and sucked the oxygen out of my lungs.  I had billion dollar accounts, that pivoted on my choices.  I could make, or loose a hundred million over night. I was constantly haunted by my call.  There was an endless line of men, each ready and eager to take my place, in queue.  If I stumbled even one step, I would loose everything.

In the late evenings, just to escape the grind, I would take a stroll in Central Park.  I would see couples holding hands and I envied them. They had love.  I had all the mistresses that money could buy, but did any of them love me?  I was confident that they would be gone within minutes if I lost everything. They loved my worth not me.

My friends were also whores. They "loved me" as long as they were within smelling distance to my money. But where would they be if I had nothing? They would scatter in the wind like dandelion seeds.

I had everything. The decade of "me" was coming to an end. I was exhausted.  I was alone, more alone than anytime in my life.  I would give all my wealth for one close friend, a soul mate, a child.  I realized once again that it was all in want of the wind.  Sophia tried to tell me, but I threw her out with all other considerations.

I sat on a park bench and cried.  The tears dripped down my $4,000 suit and the water-resistant wool caused them to bounce off as if they were pebbles.

Before I had even the chance to decide what to do, it was decided for me.  The market crashed. I lost everything. I could have stayed on and fight for my position, hoping to ride the next bull. But I just walked out of my office one day. I threw my smart phone in the dumpster in the street and climbed into my Land Rover and drove across the Brooklyn Bridge.  I felt a pain in my soul like a bottomless black hole . . . a hole so big that all the wads of $100 bills in the world couldn't fill.  I looked in my rear-view mirror to see the city fade away.  I caught a glimpse of my face. It looked sad, hollow . . . and old. I was now forty three and I had never been more lost. It was all vanity.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Ecclesiastes Revisited -- A Modern Take on an Old Search for Meaning -- Chap 5

I then decided that I would find my  meaning somewhere else, far away from all religious contexts.

The most obvious choice was the area in which I had been most deprived . . . women. The first choice was between women or woman.  There could be fulfillment in quantity, but I took my chance to find one woman who would give me meaning. But would it be a woman known for her beauty?  Would it be a woman noted for her brains?  It turned out to be a woman noted for her quadriceps.

I met Linda at the tack.  I didn't go up to run but to sit in the isolated bleachers and think.  A girl ran by. She wasn't of amazing beauty and I hardly noticed her at first. But then she ran by again, then again, then again.  I was intrigued by her endurance.  I counted 80 laps around the 1/4 mile track.  I was amazed. It is hard for anyone to run that far around simple, redundant oval. But she had a cause. I could see the intensity of it in her eyes . . . and in her thighs. They were well-developed, more so than any I had ever seen on a woman . . . or a man .  I spoke to her.  "What is your great cause?"

She answered, "A disc of metal . . . bronze."

"Are you an Olympic runner?"

"No . . . a skier.  Nordic . . . 30 K."

"So are you in training?"

"Have been since I was 4. I'm 25 now. Albertville is my dream . . . and to be first American to metal.

 I latched my longing for meaning to her bright star . . . a bronze star.  I completely immersed my soul in her dream.  I got up at five every morning to make her the perfect breakfast with the proper blend of protein and carbohydrates, as dictated by the manual. I washed her spandex. I cleaned her Solomons with my toothbrush. I dropped out of my graduate studies to get a quick "Ph. D." in waxing, based on precise testing of the individual snowflake shapes, moisture content and temperature. I learned to drive a snowmobile and to groom ski trails. I worked two jobs to support her dream but all were temporary jobs.  We moved to West Yellowstone in the winter, Fairbanks in the Spring, Iceland in the late Spring, Chile in the summer, back to Yellowstone in the fall. I got a vasectomy because she couldn't be on hormones because of her training and a pregnancy would destroy her.

Our entire lives revolved around that circular disk of bronze.  I felt a purpose. I awaken in the morning for that disk.  I went to sleep at night for that disk.  I sent her off, after the perfect breakfast, to the track.  I went to work to earn money to buy more wax. I brought her the perfect lunch, less protein and more carbs. I brought her dinner at the evening weight room. I went home and did chores.  She came home and I would rub down her sculptured muscles with balm.  For four years we lived this way.  On our bedroom ceiling was a large poster of a bronze metal.

Albertville came.  We were full of butterflies. The opening ceremony was surreal.  I didn't see Linda for days.  Race day came so quickly.  During the one and half hours of the the race we met the pinnacle of our lives.  Linda was skiing well--just a second behind bronze--the best ever for an American woman.

In a transition place, where the shadow of one  lone fir tree met the bright sun, there was a 2 cm wet spot. Her ski slipped 4 mms. She went down on one knee for 1.5 seconds.  She ended the race at twenty seventh. I felt the meaning starting to drain from me.  I didn't see Linda again in France.  I knew she was devastated.  She was going to tour the Rivera with friends and "debrief" from the games.  I got her telex ten days later. She was in love with her trainer. They want to have children. She will send her mother to get her things.

It could have been worse.  Her best friend Ingrid had her eyes set on gold since she was born. Her father had been a great German skier.  She only won silver.  Three months later . . . she took an overdose of Prozac . . . and died. She was 26.

The depths of the vanity overcame me.  I built a huge bonfire in the back yard.  I piled up the skis, the waxes and Linda's spandex.  I laid the poster from our bedroom ceiling on top. I poured kerosene on them. I finished off a bottle of Jack Daniels and box of Wheaties . . . dry. I threw the empty box into the fire. The box got hotter and hotter until Larry Bird's eyes burst into flames and he melted into ashes.

I hadn't seen Sophie in a while. She came out of the shadows to speak to me. "Competition is a farce," she said. "Trophies are made in China. Metals are polished with paraffin. It is all pretend meaning."

"Vanity. Nothingness. All as complete waste!" I screamed into the dark woods.  I loathed the day I saw her run. I was an empty man . . . once again.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Woody . . . I will be back to Ecclesiastes Later

I watched a 3 hour documentary on Woody Allen, which aired for two nights this week.  I have to say, that I have a new appreciation for this man.

Like many Americans, and virtually all Evangelicals, I use to see him with disgust. After all his movies all seemed to be over-sexualized. Then . . . of all things, he did marry his daughter (okay, not really but that's what it looked like).

Of course he is a man of great talent. But what I want to say about him, is that he is a man with the courage to look harshly at reality.  He does ask the big questions about life and he ask them over and over.

His candor is exceptional. As a Christian, truth and reality are my highest goals and at all cost.

But it was very poignant that at the end of the interview Woody made a very interesting comment. He said, life has treated him perfectly. He has gotten every thing he has ever dreamed of. A chance to succeed at writing, a chance to succeed as a stand up comedian, a chance to make successful movies, being in love with some of the most wonderful women . . . yet, when it is all said and done, he still feels like he has been screwed big time. Why?  He knows that one day he will be old, his friends and family will all die . . . and he will die.

So this brief reprieve fits into my Ecclesiastes story.  

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ecclesiastes Revisited -- A Modern Take on an Old Search for Meaning -- Chap 4

I was sitting in the university’s cafeteria.  I wanted to be alone.  I was embarking on a career in science as a responsibility not for meaning. Before me—interrupting my misery—came a smorgasbord of ideas.

The pantheist enticed me with her beautiful culture. I listened, but then Sophia whispered in my ear, “They're the same as the materialists, but decorated with a thousand wonderful narratives.  You can get lost in the narratives, thus forgetting the total lack of meaning. But circular lost-ness is nothing more than vanity. Just as the materialists, they have no differentiation between the points, between good and bad, between you and a stone. There is no meaning here, just the chasing after the next narrative . . . don’t be deceived with “personal” verbiage as camouflage over the impersonal universe.”

I motioned them on with a wave of my hand.

The Islamist came by.  Once again I was enticed by a beautiful culture. Sophia whispered to me, “Don’t be fooled. There are layers upon layers of façade of legalities, behind which, rest a thousand crescent-shaped hot tubs with gold fixtures and little girls and old men.”

I motioned him on with a nod.

Two men were circling my table from afar.  They seemed to have stepped out of the Cold War with their trench coats and beady-surveillance of me.  They circled closer.  I looked back down to my science text and up again. They were sitting next to me.  They pulled fake peanut and butter sandwiches from their black, vinyl attaches.

“Hi.” One of them said with a big smile. “Do you eat here often?”


“Really, everyday.  That reminds me that Jesus promised to walk with us everyday . . . isn’t that a coincidence?”

I looked back at my science text.

“Speaking of Jesus do you know Him?” asked the other man.

“Been there—done that.”

“You haven’t met the real Jesus or you would still be with Him. No one ever leaves the real Jesus.”

I poured onto their ears my story as if it were molten lead.

The taller thin man replied, “We all knew that TV Preacher Joe was a fraud. It was obvious.  We also know that all little country churches are full of hypocrites . . . but we are better.  The secret word is PLASTICS . . . oh, I mean DISCIPLESHIP! (or do I wink, wink).”

“Discipleship?  Hmm. Maybe that is the answer.”  I took the bait. The cellophane sandwiches were returned to their attaches and we sped off.

I chased after the golden ring of being “Godly” for the next . . . decade. I memorized most of the Bible, I shared the Gospel every day just as the two spies had tried to do with me. I aspired to be a good citizen, then a discipleship staff person and then the most inward circle of meaning and commitment . . . a missionary.

I fasted, I prayed for hours each day and I stopped talking to women.  I was as sincere as anyone could be.  I was chasing after the golden ring, which I was sure to bring meaning, with all my might. I felt myself moving closer and closer to the point of perfection. I attended fifty seven men’s conferences . . . the ring was within my grasp . . . I could touch it with the tip of my middle finger. I just need one more time around the discipleship wheel and I would grab it. 

I held up the Godly men, the leaders, as my pinnacle of hope.  They were adorned with golden rings around their arms and necks. I would be there some day. I too would be perfect and sinless. Sophia was rolling her eyes and wouldn't even talk to me anymore.

But one day I took the wrong door, I walked in on Godly Man # 1 . . .  in bed . . . with a woman.  “I felt dazed. What does this mean?”

I confronted him, “You’ve taught me for a decade not to speak to a woman, not to touch a woman to emulate your purity . . . but then I see you in bed with one?”

“Oh,” he says. “I think you have misunderstood the circumstances.  We were praying and we fell asleep.”

“Do you always pray naked?”

“That is a personal offense.  Of course we weren’t naked. Hey, we weren’t actually in the bed . . . now watch my finger as it moves back and forth very slowly . . . we were kneeling beside the bed praying!”

Sophia, pulled on my shirt and whispered in my ear, “He is lying to you.  You saw what you saw.  Believe your senses.”

I went to Godly Man # 2, “I saw Godly Man # 1 in bed with a woman.”

“Don’t dare tell anyone this, for the sake of the Church.  Let me investigate.”

I was pregnant with anticipation.

I was invited to a circle of the elders.  Justice I thought. I'm so glad I rooted out such evil in our midst of holiness.  I entered by the correct door . . . or at least I thought.  There sat Godly Man # 1 (smiling), Godly Man # 2, Godly Man # 3 and Godly Man # 4.  My heroes . . . save the one.

"We have discussed your case.  It seems that you have brought terrible accusations against your dear brother. We have ruled that these are lies.  You've deeply hurt our dear savior, who bled and died for you.  Once again you are the one who hammered the nails . . . blab . . . blab . . . blab.  I couldn't make out the words anymore. I was spinning, going downward towards the drain once more.  In a counter-clockwise direction, as I circled the golden ring moved further and further away until it vanished in a cloud of smoke.

As circle of wind.  Nothing but a decade wasted chasing after a golden ring made from dust, made from dust and wind. Vanity!  Nothing but vanity and chasing after the wind.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Ecclesiastes Revisited -- A Modern Take on an Old Search for Meaning -- Chap 3

My intentions were to turn Carl off but I turned the channel. The cameras moved across the enormous crowd.  I thought it was a basketball game . . . but it wasn't it. It was a church. A church of maybe twenty thousand . . . twenty thousand smiling faces.

The camera switched back to the big smiling face on the stage, which belonged to pastor Joe.  Those people seemed to have a purpose, a hope . . . something I longed for.

I had heard of Joe . . . but had never listened to him.  He made sense, at least that is what Sophia told me.  God really was there and He wanted me to be happy and fulfilled. He also wanted me to be successful and healthy.  Yeah, that is what I was looking for, escaping from the cold dark universe that didn't give a damn into the arms of a loving God who's major concern was me being fulfilled.

I ordered Joe's book, Experiencing All of God's Abundance Now! I read it, re-read it and read it again. I ordered his previous book, God Has a Purpose for You. For the first time my life things started making sense and most of all I had hope.

Over the next two years Joe became my hero. I never missed a sermon . . . or a book. The man was a prophet.  I felt like he knew me personally . . . although I had never been in his real church . . . but I wanted to go.

I went on his "material fast"  where, for six months I deprived myself of all purchases, except for bread and plain water.  Every penny I saved I sent to him.  He had ministries feeding the poor in Sudan.  How dare I eat when they couldn't? But Joe assured me that it was only temporary.  I knew that God would pour success on me and I would have far more material things soon. The more I gave, the more God would soon give to me.

For the first time in my life I felt secure.

I turned on the TV to see if I could catch last Sunday's sermon on cable.  As I scrolled up the channels my eye did catch Joe . . . but it was on CNN.  I was perplexed.  I turned up the volume. It seems that Joe was arrested with three under-aged hookers and a bag of cocaine. The foursome were in his a cross-shaped hot tub with the solid gold fixtures.  No!  It can't be true.  It is the worldly people persecuting Joe.  Joe always said that you know you are doing God's work when they persecute you.

Sophia was pulling at my shirt tale but I brushed her away.  I put her candle of light under a pail.

A few nights latter I saw Joe. He was crying on TV. He was asking people to forgive him and to stand by him.  I was numb.  I walked into my bedroom and collapsed on the bed and wept.  I wept for hours. Once I got up and got my exacto knife . . . thinking that if I had the courage, I would cut my wrists. Fortunately  the courage never came.

Vanity!  I shouted.  How could I have been so gullible?  I pulled the pail off of Sophia and she was almost out. It didn't matter anyway.  All was in vain, all was chasing after the wind.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ecclesiastes Revisited -- A Modern Take on an Old Search for Meaning -- Chap 2

In the plain of my distress I heard my name being called from the living room.  It was that gentle voice of Carl.  Softly, he said, “I know the answers . . . the answers for everything. Come with me and we will put Sophia on her throne.  Reason will guide us to making senses of all that is.”

I was enticed.  I stepped out of my trousers of faith and put Sophia in the picture window . . . she would be my beacon of hope.

Then Carl introduced me to a real beauty, whom I had seen, but I did not know. She was the universe . . . all that is and ever was.  He introduced me as well to his friends. We were all materialist. We had the formula to each aspect of reality.  Where the stones came from, where the worms came from, where I came from and where we were going.  I knew our destiny and within that I hope to find our purpose.

I gave my life to be a man of science.  I loved the universe and she loved me . . . or did she.  At the height of my new world Sophia stood behind me . . . oh, she can be a nuisance at times.  She was pulling on my shirt tale again.  She whispered in my ear, 

They’re not being honest with you.  They’re lying to you but even more, they are lying to themselves.  They are injecting meaning where there can be none. If you start with chance and the material, you can’t arrive at meaning. It is illogical. That born of chaos must always reside there.  There can be no difference between points. No difference between space and time. No difference between energy and matter, no difference between life and death, no difference between Mother Theresa and Hitler, no difference between you . . . and the stone. No difference between being and never have been. Carl talks of intent. There can be no intent. He speaks of destiny . . . which is an illusion. He speaks of love . . . there can be none. He speaks of purpose . . . which must be empty. He speaks of meaning . . . and meaning is impossible with that born of chaos.

I felt dizzy.  The purpose that I had gripped so strongly was now slipping between my fingers like sand. Not even one tiny grain was left behind.  I was lost in a universe that didn’t give a damn.  All is meaningless I thought. My career of science would be chasing after the wind.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Ecclesiastes Revisited -- A Modern Take on an Old Search for Meaning -- Chap 1

I've thought about this for a while . . . writing a modern version of Solomon's almost fruitless search for meaning.  I've said before that I've seen many parallels between Solomon in Ecclesiastes and Holden Caulfied in A Catcher in the Rye.

This will be a fiction story. I will draw, maybe 10% from my own experiences, about 60% from the experiences that others have had and told me about and 30% pure fiction. So, here goes.  A word of warning, in my attempts for candor and dealing with reality, that there may be sensitive subject matter.

Chapter One

I remember the preacher well. He was a large man, seeming bigger than life to a six year old. I was sitting on my mother's lap and I was startled with the man's shouts . . . "Today is the day of reckoning!  Get right with God before it is too late!  Enjoy his peace . . . or you might wake up in the lake of fire!"

I didn't understand what he was saying, but I could imagine a lake of fire and it scared me. Holding my mother's hand as we walked out of the church and climbed into our old, white station wagon I asked (as soon as the door was closed), "Mommy, could I wake up in a lake of fire?"

She looked back at me with her big curvy back glasses . . . "No sweetie. That lake is for bad people.  You're a good kid."

"But mommy, why was people going up to the front of the church?"

"Oh, they were going up to get saved."

"Saved from the lake of fire?"


"How can I get saved from the lake of fire?"

"Sweetie you're saved now . . . but some day when you are older, you will need to go up front to . . . so that you can be saved forever from the lake of fire and find God's perfect peace."

I never forgot that conversations. A few times in subsequent months I asked my mother again if I was old enough. She told me that when I was twelve I would be old enough. When that magic age came I was so nervous. I hated the thouhts of going forward in front of everyone. What if I said something stupid? What if I fainted!?  But I was also afraid I would wake up in the lake of fire.

The preacher would walk across the floor of the church each Sunday, holding his big brown  Bible up in his left hand.  It looked flaccid, being draped over his hand like a wet rag.  He would pound it with his index finger of his right hand and tell us how we could find meaning and purpose in that book.  He told us how we could be fulfilled by following the book.

From the earliest days of my existence I had a candle flame in my bosom. I called it Sophia. It was a flame of wisdom or reason. It wanted so much to know truth. The preacher told me that this life was only a flash, and reality was Heaven. Sophia told me that it would make sense that I would give all my focus on Heaven.  I not only wanted to walk up front, join the church, get baptized . . . but to be a preacher too. I wanted to preach and bring others to Heaven and out of the lake of fire.

After walking forward, I did feel that supernatural wave go through my body. Sophia was yanking at my shirt tale and whispering in my ear that maybe that euphoric feeling was a sense of relief of getting it over with. But I wanted to believe in the supernatural.  I was so pleased to be entering the world where everything would start to make sense, where I would have that persistent peace and meaning.

The day of my baptism came.  I met the pastor at his office in the afternoon. The church was warm. The pastor looked heavy without his blazer on.  He smiled.  I sat in on the sofa in front of his desk.  He came and sat beside me.  "You, my boy, are embarking on a whole new world.  All your problems will fade behind you and you will only know the peace of Jesus.  Everything starts to make sense when you are working for the kingdom of God."

He put his arm around my shoulder.  "Son let's go over what's going to happen tonight."

He stood up and described how he would walk into the bapistry first. He would say a few words to the congregation and then motion for me to walk down the steps into the cold water.  "Okay, boy stand up here."  I stood up and faced to the pastor's right as my body was perpendicular to his.  He reached out and pulled me close. He put his left hand up between my shoulder blades and his right one over my forehead.  "I will have a handkerchief in my hand, which I will place over your mouth and nose."

Then he started pulling me backwards, "Now relax boy, I will support you."  He tilted me backwards and pulled me close to him. I felt his privates pushing into my side. I felt so embarrassed. Certainly he didn't realize that his privates were poking me . . . only I noticed it because my mind was so un-spiritual. The pastor was such a spiritual man, that I'm sure that he didn't notice his privates . . . ever. My Sophia flame was confused by this . . .  but she was silent.

My Baptism was complete. I reasoned that I should put all my energy in the church, since it held the keys to a life of meaning and peace. I never thought about that night in the Preacher's office until a couple of years later.  One day my mother came into my bedroom and spoke to me, "Bobby, you've been helping out so much in the church and I very proud of you."  I felt happy to having won her pleasure.  "I have something to ask you and this is only between you and me," she said.

I felt confused. "Sure mom."

"Has preacher Taylor ever touched you in an inappropriate way?"

I felt this sense of horror.  Immediately the night in his office came back to me. But nothing else had happened. "Of course not mom. He is a man of God. Why would you ask me that?"

My mother looked troubled and she sat down beside me on my bed.  She looked down at her hands as they were folded on her lap.  "Honey, don't ever say anything about this to anyone, especially your father but a long time ago, pastor Taylor did something very bad to your brother."

"He touched him?"

"More than that.  I know it is hard for you to understand right now, but . . . well . . . the preacher raped your brother."

I felt dizzy. Nothing made sense. The feelings rushed across my face so rapidly that I couldn't put words on them, but Sophia could.  It was the fact that all I had known to be true and good was now on its head.  How could this man of god, whom I was trying so hard to emulate, be doing something so horrible, more horrible than any of the bad things that those who didn't know Jesus were doing. Instantly a thousand sermons came through my ears, in one and out the other, like a endless tread of dental floss.  These were sermons about how the Holy Spirit helps us to live godly once we knew Jesus. How things were very different between those who had the Holy Spirit and those who did not. Then, like a huge knot in the floss, a question tore through my brain.

"Mom . . . how could you sit in that church each Sunday and listen to that man if you though he did such a horrible thing?"

"Son, he is a good man.  He is the best preacher this little church has ever had.  He has brought many people to the Lord. He has raised a lot of money to add on to the church and to expand and pave the parking lot. We have even given a lot of money to missionaries.  He just has this one area that is dark and I don't even pretend to understand . . . but Bobby, all the good he has done outweighs the bad."

My world was collapsing around me.  There was no meaning any more.  Sophia was screaming in my ear, lies, lies lies . . . they have all been lies.  The notion of the Holy Spirit making us resistant to sin . . . all of it lies!  There is no meaning in the church, in walking with Jesus . . . or with Heaven.

I pulled away from the church after that.  I never spoke a word about what I knew about pastor Taylor.  I tuned-out his sermons until I was sixteen, then I just didn't go back.  It was all vanity, and chasing after the wind. None of it made sense any more . . . all lies.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Darkness of the Coverup

Before I get started I wanted to say that I really loved this posting on I monk about Luther's view of how laughter, strong drink, and just plain silliness is a great attack on the devil.  I wish I had more time to read some of the posts there.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the horrible sin of the "cover up."  Of course, and consistent with the painting, is the story about Penn State's Jerry Sandusky pedophilic behavior and how the whole institution seemed to look the other way.

The second piece to this mental puzzle was a mesmerizing piece on PBS last night about the Nazi hunters.  In that story, there were several "cover ups" exposed. The first one was the actual horrors of the holocaust and how an entire society (German) could look the other way and even cover up the most inhumane actions in history.  The program was full of graphic images . . . piles of disfigured human corpses . . . discarded like they were bags of garbage.  I'm sure the question has been asked over and over how could someone created in God's image do such evil?  On top of that, how could people watch and not stop them?

It was stunning when one Jewish man described how he watched as the Nazi's brutally killed his family right before his eyes.  He was sixteen years old and luckily escaped.  He joined a group of resistant fighters. The first German solider that he caught, and killed (in vengeance) he said he shot him right through his belt buckle, which read "God is With Us."

I ask myself what kind of evil can cause us to be so delusional as to think that God wants us to brutalize people created in His image?

Then I watched as they described how after the war, so many people around the world were ready to cover up and protect the most evil of the mass-murderers.  Some of the worse of the Nazis were protected by the Vatican (okay this is not a criticism of the Catholic Church, just one incident which I'm alluding to.)  These Nazi murderers fled to Rome and hid as attendees to a seminary at the Vatican. These priests not only hid the Nazis, who had tortured men, women and children to death by the thousands, but they baptized them, so they could get them a new identity and papers. With this new identity they could get a Red Cross passport and flee to South America.  How could such evil exist within those who profess a relationship with God?

I think too about other cover ups.  When I was a child our youth leader/choir leader was a pedophile. He molested many young boys (including my brother).  The entire church looked the other way because they wanted to keep the look of peace on the surface.  What is wrong with us?

So I come back to Jerry Sandusky.  It certainly appears that he was a pedophile and many people knew it and covered it up.  They looked the other way, almost literally, while children were traumatized in ways that they may never recover from.

As Chaplain Mike described (via Luther's voice) how the devil hates laughter and silliness, I say that the devil loves darkness . . . where we hide the hideous crimes of others.  The cockroaches grow best when the family is silent about the father who is molesting his children, or mother who is slowly killing herself with pills.

I remember in my Christian life experience, when someone in a great position did something bad, like having an affair, there was a scramble to cover it up.  They (The Navigators and churches I've been involved with) will say, "For the sake of the Kingdom of God . . . don't breath a word about what you just witnessed."

I know I seem to ramble but I pray for the light to shine.  One of the reasons that I think the world is getting better, in the days of Twitter, it is becoming harder and harder for darkness to reign.  Daddy, molest you little girl and she will tell the world on you. Dictator try to brutalize your country, then eventually your people with join together, rise up and chase you out of your throne. God loves light.

I will close with one of Lenard Cohen's songs.  I will say, that I want to be one of those people who break things . . . creating the cracks . . . through which the light can shine.


The birds they sang
at the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don't dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.
Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

We asked for signs
the signs were sent:
the birth betrayed
the marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
of every government --
signs for all to see.

I can't run no more
with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud.
But they've summoned, they've summoned up
a thundercloud
and they're going to hear from me.

Ring the bells that still can ring ...

You can add up the parts
but you won't have the sum
You can strike up the march,
there is no drum
Every heart, every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Why Does Utopia Bore Us? – The Adam Syndrome

For the last two years I’ve been reading the top 100 novels of all time.  I read a couple of hard ones (requiring a lot of concentration, like Ulysses) then I throw in a Hemingway novel, which are quite easy to read. Presently, I’m reading Islands in the Stream.

I was introduced to fiction by two sons, Ramsey and Tyler. Both of them are great fans of Hemingway.  Tyler in particular seemed to be infatuated with the bohemian lifestyle of Hemingway and his friends (pictured above in a Paris bar).  His fictional stories mirrored his real life at that time, living in Paris (or other exotic places) and hanging out with his friends all day long and not working a 9-5 er.

I have found myself now being lured by that mirage of utopia.  I mean, if God told me to create a New World (or Heaven if you prefer) it would be a small village on the sea (like I live in now) or in the Alps.  In that village, I would have no responsibilities, but to get up and come down to the café and sit and drink coffee.  Now Hemingway et al, consumed alcohol . . . but alcohol has never been one of my vices . . . yet.

But that would be my utopia. No meetings that I HAD to attend.  No one counting on me to do x, y and z . . . by tonight and if I don't do them, I'm just an asshole.  Just good coffee, beautiful views and real, deep, meaningful conversations with true friends.  These would be friends that accept me warts and all where I would wear no mask.  I have no friends like that right now, but I have had a handful in my life.

But I’ve noticed something;  a common theme in all of Hemingway’s books, and in many other areas of life.  For example, I just restarted my film club. On our first night we had 13 people.  We watched, The Adjustment Bureau.  In that film the men in the “bureau” (who worked for the chairman, who may represent God or god) made an interesting comment. They said they controlled (in a fatalistic way) humanity for most of their history.  Twice, when things were going really well, they took off the controls. The first time people were in control of their own destiny, people left utopia and created the terrible Dark Ages.  The second time they stepped back, humanity created WWI, the Holocaust, WWII, then to the brink of nuclear holocaust . . . so they stepped back in to fix things. Of course that is pure fiction.

But in fiction, and in reality, the Hemingway et al gang couldn’t leave utopia alone.  Here they lived on the beach or in Paris and all they have to do is, like Solomon recommended, was to enjoy the fruits of life . . . but they had to screw it up . . .  each and every time.  In the Hemingway novels, the characters always messed things up by having affairs with each other’s wives, killing someone in a drunken, jealous rage.  Then suicides would come.  Then in his fictional mirror and in his real life, alcohol washed the beautiful canvas into a blurry mess. What's wrong with us?

I think one of the greatest gifts, and lesson from Solomon, is to learn to accept utopia . . . leave it the hell alone, and enjoy each taste of good coffee, each sentence in a deep conversation with a dear friend.

My children are my best friends because they do know me warts and all.  I savor those moments in the coffee shop, which are becoming rarer and rarer these days, as my piece of utopia.  But in the life to come, I will spend my days walking in high mountain meadows, listening to beautiful music, sipping coffee with dear friends, and learning to leave utopia alone. If only we could do that now.  If only. Crap, I've got to finish my coffee and go catch a plane to Phoenix for a meeting!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


I know that I've written a lot of late about anxiety and etc.  It was timely that our pastor preached on Sunday morning about worry.  She preached directly from this passage in Matthew 26:

Do Not Worry    25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[e]?   28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

In her  main message she addressed that some people tend to be more worriers than others, without getting into the details of genetic or prior experience predisposition.  However, I think she took the angle that most people would take, that worry is a free-will choice.

The pastor gave the example of a man she knows who is under deep distress (long story but about as much stress as you can imagine) and he reported that through it all he and his family slept fine and didn't worry because they trusted in the Lord.

My conclusion about the man is either a. He is one who never had a tendency towards worry to start with, or b. He did have a tendency to worry about the situation, but through discipline he was able to change those thoughts into more positive ones or c. He is lying.  I've learned that we Christians are pretty good fabricators when it comes to showing how spiritual we are.

She did share a great illustration.  Quoting from someone, and I can't remember who, she said worry is like a stream in your life that, if unchallenged, cuts a deeper and deeper path until all your energy flows into its trough. I do agree. The only point that I would challenge (and she may even agree with me on this point) is that some of us are born with that deep trough and we spend our lives trying to re-channel it. Others have had terrible experiences in their lives that have created that trough.

But like I shared a couple of posts ago, we do have choice and free will when it comes to shaping the role of anxiety or worry in our lives.  But I disagree in how easily we can do this.

I'm in the middle of an extremely stressful situation right now with my business.  I can not sleep well at night and have to take something to help me sleep.  No one on this earth wishes that they could change the way that stress effects me than I do.  I would run to the moon and back to change it.  I have done all the mind tricks and spiritual exercises (at one time memorizing 1/3 of the Bible), many hours in prayer . . . yet the tendency is still there.  But the struggle does bear fruit. If I had not struggled against the worry and anxiety, I would probably be in a mental institution by now.

But my point is, I've live a lot of my Christian life in guilt because of my anxiety.  When we are told that it is black or white, either you obey God and stop worrying or you sin and worry, you feel like a creep.  This is the point I stand against in this conversation.

I of course agree with the passage in Matthew but I disagree with how it is usually applied. Yes, we must read that passage over and over . . . and even memorizing it like I did at one time. We must meditate on it, but my point is, it will not cure us overnight. It is a life-long struggle and we must be honest with ourselves about our fate in this fallen world.  I'm not being a defeatest but a realist.