Life After Booze

It’s been almost six moths since my last drink.  I would first of all like to apologize because it seems I only write something when I feel bad.  When I feel good, I typically am busy doing something else besides feeling sorry for myself.  So, although I tend to paint a pretty bleak picture here on my blog, life can be good.  Sometimes.

I no longer crave alcohol, per se.  Those of you who have kept up with my struggle know that I was drinking heavily, daily, trying to wash away my reality after my daughter ran away to Mexico and my wife got breast cancer.  That was the lowest time of my adult life and I just couldn’t bear to face the day.  I went through the “Last Call Program” which turned out to be a total rip-off, I tried tapering off, cold-turkey, herbs, you name it.  I think I finally just got tired of feeling like shit all the time.  So I’m clean.  But, I do still crave escape, some kind of solace, some way to take a break from this tired old world.  And here’s the reason why:

FREEDOM

I can’t even remember all of the stories, both national and personal, that lead me to the conclusion that I am a ward of the state, oppressed, submissive, demoralized and living in constant fear that some government entity will one day take away everything that I have ever worked towards.  There are one or two times in my nearly five decades on this rock that I was happy to see a cop or a fire-fighter, and dozens upon dozens of times that I have been scared of them.

It’s all over the news.  If you’re a simple rancher with cows on the same land that the government wants to use to build a solar farm, you’ll be confronted by trained & heavily armed government SWAT teams who will take away your livelihood and put you in jail.  If you dare speak against the sitting president – especially if you’re not black – your Facebook and Twitter posts will be used to try you as a subversive terrorist.  If you have a beautiful patch of land in Colorado, and the government finds out, they will bankrupt you with legal fees until you have to settle for barely enough money to pay your lawyer.

Personally, I’ve had many similar, though not as newsworthy, experiences in my own life.  I had to scrap my plans for a building in the back yard because of the assholes in the code enforcement division giving me hell over getting permits and the futility of trying to explain that I was a homeowner that actually wanted to build something myself.  Or the time I got a letter from the city that the scraps of PVC pipe in my back yard, behind my six-foot privacy fence, constituted visible waste, which I had to clean up immediately or face prosecution.  I’ve all but given up on building my own car because I’d have to do it in the dark of night to avoid the piercing gaze of the homeowner’s association.

It’s like the America today is full of all these power-grabbing, omnipotent, self-appointed guardians of righteousness, and they will do anything and everything to make you comply with what they see as how you live your life.  I can’t grow my own pot, I can’t distill my own whiskey, I can’t do much more than change my own light bulbs without hiring a professional.  It’s like they make these rules that fit 99% of the people out there, and people like me that want to change our own oil or build our own structures are rebels that must be found and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.  It didn’t used to be like this.  People used to have common sense.  People used to become police, firemen, IRS agents – OK maybe not the IRS – but they used to actually want to help.  Now they just want an excuse to use the power they’re drunk on.

So I am living in constant fear of the Authority.  Any moment, dozens of armed men with automatic rifles and bullet-proof vests are going to drag me outside in my underwear and cuff me in front of my kids for not having the proper papers.  And I’m not even Jewish.

That’s another think I’d like to bitch about.  I feel like wild game, and I’m in season.  I’m not part of any protected class.  I’m the most despised, hated person on the face of this earth, because I’m not under any special category: I’m not female, I’m not Hispanic or black, I’m a middle-aged white Christian male, which means I must be super-privileged and never earned what I have and everyone believes that I don’t deserve anything but should have my property and wealth confiscated and distributed to illegal alien Muslim drug dealers, because it’s OK to offend me, insult my religion, call me all kinds of names, but don’t dare draw the word Mohammed on a napkin or you’ll be arrested faster than you can say Praise Jesus.

At the risk of getting fired, something that is constantly on my mind and haunts every waking moment, I will give you another insane example of rule-making gone amuck: let’s talk about flashlights.  Where I work, there are areas that could have explosive gasses and so, logically, spark-producing electronics are forbidden without written permission and an air sample.  But the letter of the law, the company make-one-mistake-and-you’re-fired rule is written such that even a pocket flashlight is deemed an extremely dangerous device and if you have one in your possession, EVEN IF THE BATTERY IS OUT, and even if you wear a daily-calibrated LEL meter that continuously checks for an explosive atmosphere, even though you may be walking in one of those units but OUTSIDE the danger zone, well, the rule is “no flashlights” so your ass is gone.  You get 15 minutes to clean out your desk and you may never, ever return, plus the rest of the companies are told of your reckless behavior so you’re blackballed on every other site’s list and you end up on food stamps or begging under a bridge, which is just where they want you anyway: helpless and dependent.

I used to think that here in the USA, if you do what’s right, work hard and don’t intentionally look for trouble, you could be safe, successful and secure.  I don’t feel that way any more.  Now the only way to be successful is to play politics, say the right things, act the right way, dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s, find out what the company likes and play their game, fake your way to the top, OR, screw all that and be a victim.  If you don’t work, or you’re a minority, well, then you can depend on the government to help you out; food stamps, medical care, free cell phones, whatever you need, because poor you, you can’t be expected to help yourself.  Victims are noble, self-motivated workaholics are evil.

So on this beautiful Easter weekend I can thank my GOD that against all of this prosecution, all of these dangers, this government of, by and for the rich and connected, I have the assurance of a Savior that is still (barely) legal to worship and who loves me and protects me and is in control of all of those who would do me harm, that want nothing more than to count the likes of me as sheep for the slaughter, because without Him I would be without hope and beaten down, scared and cowardly, head down, submissive and quietly obedient – or maybe I’m already there.  Maybe I AM scared of anyone with a badge or government seal, maybe I AM fearful of the Authority, and maybe I’m just so sick of waiting to get hauled off, fired or shot for an unintentional clerical error that I’ll just beat them to the punch, become the criminal that they think I am anyway, and have a little fun before I go.  Maybe I’ll be a bad guy, because they don’t have to follow the rules, they can have guns, drugs or booze, they’re the only ones that can do whatever they want, because they just ignore the rules, and in America, that’s now the only way to be truly free.

I’d like to ask God to bless America, but I honestly don’t think there’s much left to bless.  And besides, in a few years it’ll inevitably be illegal to say God anyway.  So let’s just say Thank America for letting me live.  For now.

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Meth

Do you know what I crave more than anything else in the world?  Here in America, where it’s supposed to be abundant to everyone?  Something that people have fought and died for over the centuries, in wars and riots and rebellion from oppression?  What drove our ancestors long ago to escape their world and travel thousands of miles to colonize a new one?

Freedom.

I long for the freedom to do whatever I want, whenever I want, without the constant, overbearing fear of retribution from the always-watching, ever-present Authority.  I am surrounded by enforcers with a zero-tolerance policy against violating any one of a myriad of rules, regulations and laws, so that my only solace, my only chance at averting their constant, piercing gaze is to not attract attention, to stay under their radar.  And their radar is everywhere.

Here at home, I’m not free.  I have to obey the city ordinances, most of which I don’t know and a few of which I’m sure I’m breaking.  I once thought that my back yard was private, but that was before my neighbor turned me into the city for having too much trash “in view”, that is, if you peek over the 6-foot fence.  I love to build things; I have a concrete storm shelter, but getting a permit to build one outside was a nightmare, so I hid it in the garage, next to my (probably illegal) home office.  I live in fear that one day someone from the government will come in and fine me or jail me for all of the code violations, lack of permits, and I’m not even mentioning  all of the overbearing rules from the community association.

Out on the road is where I used to feel the most freedom.  When I got my license to drive, and I could go anywhere, I felt alive; I felt free.  Not any more.  There are speed limits, school zones, red-light cameras and a cop on every corner, watching for someone with a broken taillight or expired registration.  I have a 300 horsepower Chevy Camaro, but I have to drive like a grandmother to avoid being noticed.  I don’t feel free.  I feel trapped.  I’m NEVER ALONE.  Even out on the road, miles from home and work, at any moment, my cell phone could ring and my wife, my boss, my parents, a co-worker, anyone can intrude in my happy little world.  I feel like a dog on a leash.

The police think they have absolute authority over citizens.  I remember as a teenager I used to walk around at night.  I felt some of the burden of life lifted during the darkness, when there was no school, my parents were asleep, and I had no obligations.  I could walk around with a friend all night, but almost every night, we were stopped and interrogated by police.  A couple of long-haired hippies up to no good, no doubt.  I got searched for drugs, accused of stealing, or breaking in to a shop.  I once stepped out of a convenience store to a parking lot full of cop cars because I matched the description of someone who robbed a store down the road.  And I don’t dare try to resist; they have the power, and I am at their mercy.  Freedom is not mine until they decide to let me have it, or IF they do.

I used to feel a little bit of freedom at work.  That was when computer-aided-drafting was new, computerized controls were new, and programs I wrote were used, appreciated and applauded.  Not any more.  A few years ago, they decided that everyone had the same needs: Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Outlook, and about 1.5 GB of storage.  They ordered me to stop updating my custom database program, start using standardized software.  I once spoke up about something that I noticed needing to be fixed, and the project engineer did it, but said I had come up with this on my own “initiative”, which had become a bad word.  Then came the whole safety program.  They wanted everyone to be safe, so they came up with more rules, only if you break one of these rules, you are escorted off the property, never to return.  Zero tolerance.  No circumstantial or extenuating circumstances.  One mistake and you’re fired.  No more career.  Gone.

Even in my own family I have no freedom.  My father has intense OCD; nobody’s happy if he’s not happy.  We all do whatever Grampa wants, because otherwise he freaks out, pouts, makes everyone around him miserable.  And I realized something: I’m not free around my wife, either.  I love her to death, but thinking over the past several weekends, the only time I did anything, worked on any project, is when she was napping.  Otherwise, I feel to guilty.  The only hobby I feel like I can pursue without the guilt of ignoring her is to cook.  If I’m not grilling or smoking some fabulous side of beef, I’m on the couch, on the porch, or on the bed, doing basically nothing, until my wife tells me to.  It’s pitiful, but true.

When I was a teenager, beset by an overwhelming set of parental expectations, pressured by ambitious teachers in advanced classes, and stifled by emotionless rules that were blindly applied to me and every one of my fellow 2,000 students, I finally gave up trying to be good and turned to drugs.  It was wonderful.  I didn’t like pot that much, it made me feel too disconnected, and at that point I hadn’t gotten into anything else, except for speed.  Methamphetamine pills.  They were awesome.  I could take them, nobody would know, but I was breaking the law, I was being a rebel, I was free.  I realized a great truth back then: freedom is a state of mind.  If I can’t be free in the outside world, I will be free on the inside.

I have a video game that I play.  You start out in the wasteland.  It’s total freedom.  You can drive anywhere and shoot guns and rockets with no fear of arrest or prosecution.  Then you go to Wellspring.  The first thing the mayor says is you have to ditch your Ark suit and get a garage to park your buggy.  “We’re civilized here.  We have rules.”  Then later you get to Subwaytown.  That’s even more rigid.  You have to do whatever the town’s boss says.  “Nobody does anything without his OK.”  That’s just such bullshit and it’s just like real life.  The more people, the more civilized, the more rules, and the less freedom you have, until you end up like me, a slave, a subject of the state, with the NSA watching everything I do, cameras recording me everytime I step outside, cops everywhere, just waiting to arrest me for breaking some code or ordinance or rule or law that I didn’t even know existed.

I wish I could live in the wasteland.  Sure, bandits try to kill me and mutants are always crawling out of the sewers, but I could drive my buggy at top speed, jump off a sand dune, crash into a rock, fire explosives at anything that moves, and be respected and admired for it.  But if it’s not going to happen, if I’m not going to be able to relax and stop worrying that my pitiful little suburban life is one mistake, one lawsuit or accident away from complete destruction, if I can’t do what I want, then I’ll turn to something else to make me feel good, to relax and empower me, to take this putrid reality away and replace it with inner peace.

True freedom may only come in death; until then, give me liberty, or give me meth.

-Mark

If Life is Ugly, Tell a Lie

Did you know that the Red Hot Chili Peppers band played UNPLUGGED at the super bowl?  There are pictures of the bass player and no cord on his bass.  The previous day he was playing in a club or something, and the exact same bass is plugged in, so it’s not because he has a wireless transmitter or anything.  So the half-time show was just watching the artists perform while listening to a track from their CD.  Sounded great, but it was fake.

I guess it would be problematic for them to set up a perfectly sound-checked set in such a short time, when it’s so much easier to just pop a disc in.  I’ve gotten used to artists lip-synching in big events.  Beyonce lip-synched during the presidential inauguration, didn’t she?  The reason she gave was that she hadn’t had time to properly rehearse and she wanted it to be perfect.  Same thing with the superbowl: they wanted it to be perfect, and didn’t want to take a risk that they might make a mistake with millions of people watching.  And it happened before the Olympics in China, too.  The helicopter approach with the fireworks in the shape of foot-steps?  Fake.  Digital animation over real footage.  They said it was too windy and didn’t want to mess up.

I guess people would just prefer a nice fake to a flawed reality.  I used to play bass for a church of about 200 people.  I loved being in the Praise Team.  I worked very, very hard at being a good bass player, not making mistakes, keeping the tempo, putting in fills & walking lines at just the right spots.  Then one day a new guy showed up to lead the music.  He had a keyboard with a thousand buttons on it and as we started to rehearse, I noticed that I was playing two notes at the same time; one note was coming out of my amp, and a completely different one from the PA speakers.  I had been replaced by an electronic bass line.  It was really good, with its snappy notes and computer-generated precision.  I stood there feeling dumb for a minute, then just quietly put down the guitar & walked off the stage, and never returned.  No one seemed to care that the bass line was fake; it sounded good, didn’t it?

Now I can’t trust anybody.  Magazine covers are fake.  Music performances are fake.  I don’t even think American Idol is real any more.  I have to wonder how much editing went into it because I can’t believe what came out of my TV is the same as what came out of that mouth.  And remember Tron?  It was a silly movie, but they were able to animate a character, using pictures of him from the first Tron movie years ago, so on the screen you can see the same actor, the fake young version and the real old version, talking to each other.  I used to trust video’s because they were much harder to Photoshop, but apparently they can be processed too.

I’d just like to go on record that I appreciate the real thing.  When I go to a concert, I want to get close to the front so I can hear the drums and guitars themselves, NOT the PA systems.  When I go to church, I don’t want a praise team singing along with a CD – I love live music.  REAL, live music.  I LIKE hearing the little mistakes, the fingers sliding along the strings, the imperfect tempo or the sound of the drummer’s sticks accidentally hitting each other.  It’s human.  It’s authentic.

I’ll even say that I can’t stand fake boobs.  Yes, I’m a guy, I’m not supposed to be able to tell the difference, but it’s obvious to me, because they’re unnaturally round and disproportionate to the rest of things.  Remember what Mater said, the tow truck in the latest Cars movie?  He didn’t want that dent fixed because he got that dent with his best friend.  Well, my wife is my wife, she’s beautiful, she’s real, and even that scar where she had her lumpectomy is part of her, and I think she’s lovely just like she is.

So there you have it.  Life is real.  People are unique.  The differences we have from Barbie and Ken dolls are what make us beautiful rather than plastic.  It’s all over in Nature: trees and flowers are beautiful because they’re each different, and <GASP!> non-symmetrical! If you think that’s “ugly”, then just lie.  Take God’s perfect creation and Photoshop it, lip-synch it, animate it, and enjoy your plastic dream world.  As for me, I’ll live in the real world where people with flaws and who make mistakes are beautiful and perfect in their own, unique, wonderful, dazzling way.

Happy Valentines day, sweetheart!  You are the most beautiful, perfect person I have ever known, and I love everything about you!

-Mark

 

Blast From The Past-Or

I haven’t been to church in many years.  I’ve had my share of pain in God’s house.  I got saved in a wonderful little church; at our wedding, the pastor officiated, one of the church members sang, another played the piano, and my best man was the guy that taught me the Bible lessons, the truth about God and my sinful condition.  If it weren’t for that church, for those men & women that cared about a long-haired hippie over 25 years ago, who went out of their way to teach me and accept me unconditionally, well then I’d still be smoking pot, drinking whiskey and hating God and religion and everything else…

That’s where the tale turns sad.  The pastor was having an affair with the (married) singer, the piano player divorced my best man, because according to the rumors, he was actually gay.  The whole church fell apart; the man of God that constantly preached to the women about dressing appropriately to keep the men from sinning, even in their own imaginations, divorced his wife and married the (now divorced) singer.  We hung on for a couple of years as we looked for a replacement pastor.  Finally, we hired a guy that turned out to be mentally unstable, power-hungry, and systematically “disciplined” all of the church leadership, putting his own people in positions of authority, as the church dwindled down to a handful of families and eventually folded.

Church after church, pain after pain, it goes on: one pastor had all the time in the world to talk to me about the music program but never found the opportunity to talk about my daughter’s salvation, one pastor cared more about the building than the people & refused to let hurricane refugees stay there because they might mess up the carpet, another church was so darn perfect that my repeated attempts to join it went unanswered, and the pastor of the little church where my in-laws attend, after preaching about faithfulness and staying true to your church for years, quit and took a job in another city.

Maybe I’m being petty, maybe I’m just sick of hypocrites yelling at me from the pulpit to be a certain way and then finding out they’re the exact opposite, or being scolded and riddled with guilt about not giving or praying or attending enough.  Never, never enough.  I tried, I really tried to get into another one, but I haven’t been in church in a very long time.  The last time I was in a House of God was at my parents’ 50-year wedding anniversary commemoration.  I had to squelch the urge to laugh as the Knights of Columbus came in with their scrub-brush helmets, and the solemn procession of artifacts; the HUGE bible, the equally intimidating giant cross, the swinging, smoking box of putrid odors that reminded me of a funeral.  It all just reminded me of Monty Python…

Fast-forward to yesterday, when my 12 year old son got invited to church by a friend at school.  He went, and he LOVED it.  My wife went too.  She LOVED it.  It was fun, exciting, and the Sunday School teacher said that they were about to start the Bible classes for the kids, the same classes that I took those many years ago that led me to Salvation.  It’s been such a long time, I had given up hope of ever finding a church everyone was happy at, one that didn’t make you feel uncomfortably conspicuous, under-dressed or out of place.  There’s only one, teenie, tiny little problem.

It’s my old pastor’s church.  The one from the wedding.  The one who destroyed my faith and led me on a fruitless quest for a new spiritual home.  The one who ruined another man’s life by stealing his bride.  His church.

I swear (though I know I shouldn’t), God has such a weird sense of humor.  Everything about this is wonderful.  I’ve been praying that God would somehow find us a new church, or some way that my two young children could hear the Gospel.  And here it is.  The perfect opportunity, the only church my son has EVER enjoyed going to, the one where my wife met friends she hadn’t seen for years, and the only problem is me.  Funny, huh?  I think it’s hilarious.  I want my kids to go to church, any church at all, except that one, so of course, that’s the one God leads me to.  I just can’t stop laughing.

So what would you do?  I know what’s expected of me.  I’m supposed to forgive the lying, cheating bastard for all the pain he’s caused, even though he has NEVER apologized & never will, and go back to being, in a way, under his authority, swallowing this pride in the interest of making my family happy and getting them to know God and His son Jesus.  I just don’t know if I can swallow that hard.  That’s a humongous pill for me.  It’s about the size of a crocket ball, covered in spikes and coated with tar.  It just won’t go down.  Forgive him?  I’m afraid I’ll see him, say hi, and land a hard right cross on his stupid smug face.  He deserves it, he really does.  And I deserve an apology.

But… and there’s always a but… but I’m not going to.  I don’t know how, but I’m going to have to find a way to let go of the past, while revisiting it again.  Kind of tricky, but I can do it because I have to.  Because being a father that cares about his wife & kids is more important that a vendetta against someone who abandoned his.  I love my wife and my children.  It would pain me for eternity if my entire family didn’t share God’s heavenly house when these clay homes we live in turn back to dust, because of my own sinful pride.  I’ve done it before.  I spent years hating my schoolyard bully that tortured me all during my younger years.  In my heart, I forgave him, realizing he probably had a horrible home life, bad self-esteem, or whatever – it didn’t matter, because as a Christian, I have to forgive, let go, and move on.  And so I have.

This one will be much harder.  It’s one thing to let go of fantasies of murdering someone for crimes they did as a stupid, ignorant child.  It’s quite another to put aside the pain caused by an adult that should know better, that did know better, that did it anyway; I need to see that underneath that tough, obnoxious, manipulative exterior is the same weak flesh that composes my body.  I am a sinner, so is he, and I am in no position to judge, I’m really not.

So I guess putting the past behind you is only a nice cliché; to really move on with your life, rather than ignoring it, sometimes you have to face & embrace you own painful memories.  Sometimes your past catches up to you, and stares you right in the face.  And then you have a choice to make: stay angry and bitter, or forgive & move on.  So blast the past – or forgive the pastor…

How I Envy Walter White

Bryan Cranston did a fantastic job playing Walter White in Breaking Bad.  We just saw the season finale yesterday; I bought it on ITunes since we cut cable service, it’s the only show we watched anyway.  And I was jealous of that old, diseased, bullet-ridden man as he lay dying, because he was smiling.

Brief recap for those of you who never saw the show: Walter White spent his entire life, despite his brilliance in Chemistry and Nobel prize, teaching high school basic chemistry.  He was down-trodden, disrespected, a nerd with a huge brain and no ambition, with no respect even from his own wife.

Then he turned 50, found out he had cancer, and decided to for once in his life break the rules.  He proceeded over the episodes & seasons to build his own methamphetamine empire, of a purity never seen before, using his own expertise and formula.  The trip cost him a lot – someone got killed or put in the hospital almost every episode – and going into the finale, his cancer had come back, his identity had been found out, there was a nationwide manhunt underway for his capture, and he had lost any hope of a relationship with his family or even his own survival.

So, he made a plan to set everything right, or as right as he could, and I won’t go into every detail, but he made one last visit to his wife.  He said, “Everything I did, I did for me.  I liked it.  I was good at it.  And it made me feel… alive.”  I relate more to that man in that moment than I can put into words.  When you’re under everyone’s thumb, when you dance to your boss’ tune, when you are constantly watched by the traffic cops, when your neighbors are constantly looking over the fence to see if you’ve made a mess so they can call the city for a citation, when you have absolutely no freedom whatsoever, inside our outside your house – well, rebellion is inevitable.  In Walt’s case, it was being a drug lord.  In mine, it’ll probably just be blowing my head off with a shotgun or drinking myself to death.

It is impossible to be free in this world, especially in America.  With one politically incorrect word, I could ruin my career.  One bad joke and I could get fired.  One mistake, and I could go to jail.  There is no such thing as forgiveness any more.  Zero tolerance.  If I get caught doing anything that someone else thinks is wrong, I will be mercilessly punished.  Even kids aren’t exempt – play tag with a girl, you’re a sex offender.  Play with a toy gun in your front yard, you’re an attempted murderer.  It’s insane.  It’s what I passionately hated about high school: absolute control according to a rulebook that blindly applies to everyone, no common sense or circumstances to consider, just universal, merciless punishment.

It’s impossible to be free in this world.  You can only be free in your mind.  And this rage that is building inside me, well, what do you expect?  Put a man in shackles, don’t be surprised one day if he wraps that chain around the neck of the guy with the key.  I’m not saying that I have any answers.  What I am saying, though, is that people need compassion, forgiveness and second chances; instead, we get judged, punished and labeled.  I’m not sure if I want to wait around for someone else to call the cops on me.  I still don’t know what that city citation was about; they might not have even had the right house, for all I know.  I just feel like Walt did.  After years and years and years of obedience, I feel dead inside, and doing something, a hidden, secret, blatant violoation of one of the myriad of styfling laws that encompass my life, would be … awesome … and I might just feel … alive ……

So as I watched Walt slowly die, lovingly caressing his meth lab equipment, I couldn’t help but feel jealous.  I wish that was me.  I wish I had the guts to go after my dreams, rather than letting them be strangled by other’s expectations.  I wish I could live a full life of carefree fun and creativity, instead of drudgery, fear and dread.  I wish I could die, having accomplished something big.  I wish I could look back on my life and see something, anything, besides a clean driving record and a string of positive employee reviews.  I wish I could die, knowing that I had … lived…

Christian Church: Bait and Switch

I would like to thank the people in my life who led me to the Lord.  Pastors, evangelists, teachers, deacons; they showed me a free gift from God, Eternal Salvation.  God has everything I need for a rich life: the true riches, like security, forgiveness, wisdom, peace, understanding, and most of all, love and unconditional acceptance.  The whole reason I left the Catholic church was because they didn’t know their Bibles; they have you all anxious about dying, because you never know if you’re going to “get in”, if your good deeds will ultimately out-weigh your bad ones.  The Independent Baptist church that I got saved in knows salvation.  They know it’s a free gift, based on faith, accepting Jesus’ price paid on the cross as payment for my death-sentence because of my sin nature.  They nailed that, if you’ll forgive the pun, having a profound and accurate understanding of the Cross.

And I would also like to thank those pastors for pounding me week after week with guilt and obligation to try & get me to pay back that free gift.  It’s a trick.  All that free salvation and unconditional love lasts about 3, maybe 6 months, and then they want you to turn into a worker, a slave to the church.  I’m supposed to tithe, ten percent of my GROSS income before taxes, and THEN give offerings on top of that.  I have to go to church.  Every.  Single.  Time.  It’s.  Open.

Tithing, I have no problem with, because I’m a giver.  Just look at my bank account; it gets precariously low at times, because I’m constantly helping people out when they need it.  Same thing with my time.  I can’t say no.  I just give & give until there’s nothing left.  I don’t have a problem with that.  But, that’s never enough.  It’s never, ever enought.  I’m supposed to be telling other people about Jesus.  I’m supposed to be cleaning the church.  I’m supposed to be volunteering for a mission trip, or at the soup kitchen.  I’m supposed to be handing out tracks to everyone I see, and finishing every sentence with “Praise the Lord”.

That’s just the stuff I’m supposed to DO.  For a long time, I also gave up music.  Dancing (not that I ever did, but now it’s forbidden).  Smoking, drinking, rated R movies, corner stores that sell Playboy, grocery stores that are owned by an affiliate company that is involved with an organization that supports abortions.  The list is endless.  And no matter how much I tried, gave, and gave up, it was never enough.  I felt constantly guilty.

You know, a lot of Christians complain about how church members act one way on Sunday, then “leave their Christianity at the door” for the rest of the week.  But we have to.  Do you think I would want my church friends to know I have a drinking problem, and I like heavy metal?  I can’t be honest and open at church. I can’t tell them about my new homebrew Beer recipe.  I caught hell for buying a new car.  The preacher would pound out a point about loving the world but not loving God, spending all our money on new cars but neglecting the Church.  Thanks alot, preacher.  Thank you so much, after living with broken-down, rusty cars, after driving for years in a vehicle that was so bad, I could look at every other car on the freeway for an hour in traffic, and NEVER see one worse, that I finally decided to give something to myself that would make my commute to work less like drudgery and ease my depression, but now I’m a selfish, carnal sinner.  Thanks for that.

The wages of Sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Every sacrifice will be tested by fire, to see if it’s made of wood, stubble, or fine gold.  The rewards we get in Heaven are going to be for those times that we yielded to the Holy Spirit, and let Him work through us.  Anything I’ve done out of guilt, forcing myself into uncomfortable roles because the preacher said to, is just fodder for the fire; I will get nothing for it in Heaven, because I did it, not God.  Our souls are eternal, and nothing good can come from our sinful flesh.  That’s why the big bait-and-switch doesn’t work.  Sure, you may get people to be your little puppets for a while, confusing gratitude for Salvation with a sense of needing to pay for it, but in the end, they’ll burn out; they’ll run out of human-based fuel, because they’re not waiting for God to fill them with the desire and ability to perform His will, and they’ll be like me.  At least I’m giving them something to preach about: I’m the backslidden Baptist that they’re always talking about, a lost sheep, or maybe a prodigal son.

So I’m an enigma.  A Christian who is in the world, but not of the world, quietly doing what I feel is God’s will in my life, in such small ways that noone will ever notice.  And if that’s all God ever wants from me, I’m OK with that.  God loves me just like I am.  I trust God.  He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and I will wait on the Lord to renw my strenght, because if He wants me to do something, He will give the the will and ability to do it, NOT a red-faced screaming preacher…

Too weak for church

I thought I was past this.  I figured, hey, I’m a mature Christian.  I know about grace & faith.  Heck, I got saved over 25 years ago, got several passages of the Bible memorized, pray every day.  I’m ready to try going back to church.  I can handle it.  There’s a new pastor at the local church, and my daughter says he’s nice.  Going to give it one more shot.

Well, I found out I’m still too weak for church.  I can’t ignore the crap that the pastor says, that I know is not true, without feeling guilty, unwelcome and out of place.  They’re all the same.  Why does every pastor in the world think they have to motivate the members?  Why do they have to use guilt to manipulate them into giving money, time & effort?  It’s like they think we’re all just sitting around, bored, watching football or throwing quarters in the fountain at the mall as we watch the shoppers go in & out of Victoria Secret.

It wasn’t even that bad.  He said, If you haven’t talked to someone else about Jesus in the past week, I’ve got to say, I’d have to wonder if you’re really a Christian.  <HUH?>  So, if I’m not an evangelist like you are, I’m not a Christian?  If I don’t have the exact same spiritual gift as you do, I must not be saved?  In other words, if I’m not like you, I will go to Hell.  Really?  Are you serious?

There are many spiritual gifts.  I believe that when you get saved, when you give up on trying to do good deeds to get to Heaven, when you realize the only way is through faith, when you trust Jesus as your savior, you immediately get transformed, and one of the things you receive is a spiritual gift.  Evangelism is only one possible gift.  There’s the gift of administration, encouraging, teaching, giving, mercy, preaching, faith, tongues, the interpretation of tongues; I happen to have the gift of giving.  Probably why I only have $300 in my checking account right now.  I did NOT get the gift of preaching.  I’ve tried.  My first pastor guilt-tripped me bad enough that I actually went out on visitation, where you cold-turkey knock on a stranger’s door and tell them about Jesus.  I was so nervous I was actually shaking.  I can’t do it.  I’m shy.  I don’t push my beliefs on other people, and I never discuss religion unless it happens to come up in conversation, and, well that’s it – I’m shy, so I must not be a Christian.

I’ve heard the line before, if you’re a Christian, you should be producing fruit; the fruit of a Christian is another Christian.  Bullshit.  The fruit of a Christian is the fruit of the Spirit that dwells within him: love, peace, joy, kindness, gentleness, meekness.  Ever hear of that, preacher?  It’s right there in the Bible you keep waving around.  And by the way, the fruit of a tree is NOT another tree.  Duh.  What crazy person ever planted an apple tree to get more apple trees?  Don’t you plant an apple tree to get APPLES?

That’s such a common pitch.  It’s like all the multi-level marketing companies out there.  The product is beside the point – what they really want you to do is recruit two friends, who will recruit two friends, who will recruit more, and so on, until the company is busting at the seams with fresh, new people who are all excited about having this wonderful new opportunity.  Why can’t they just preach the Word?  Isn’t that their job?  It’s the Word expounded that makes believers.  Yes, the world needs missionaries, it needs preachers, it needs people to go and tell the ignorant masses about Jesus, but it’s ridiculous to think that everyone in the church is supposed to reproduce.  God has picked me, given me my place in life, saved me, and right now the best guess I have is that He wants me right here, providing for my family and doing the best I can to help others when the opportunity arises.  If He wants me to preach, witness, or whatever, he’s going to have to miraculously give me that ability, because I don’t have it now.

And what’s this that they always say?  Come as you are, totally accepted?  That’s a lie.  It’s just something they say to get you in the door; they don’t really mean it.  Why do you think everyone dresses up for church?  Because that’s the standard.  You either look nice, or feel awkward in your cutoffs & flip-flops.  And what about my drinking problem?  I’ve struggled with alcoholism for years; sure I can join the church, but if they find out I drink, I’ll be kicked out of any leadership position I might be in, or I’ll turn in to their project; if I don’t get “healed” within a reasonable amount of time, then I’ll be shunned.  Oh, I must not be a Christian because of that too – because I still sin, right?  I’m not under the power of sin any more, so I must not be a Christian because I don’t have the same sin as you?

I know, it wasn’t that bad, but after a couple of decades of preaching, I’m sensitive.  I believe that God loves me just as I am.  I know, I should be going to church, I should be doing a lot of things.  I used to have a long, long list of should’s and shouldn’ts.  It drove me crazy.  Look, when I got saved, I got a new heart; I’m still in this body, and I’m going to have temptations & struggles until the day I die.  Go ahead & judge me, but remember, when Jesus came here his harshest words were for the hypocrites that judged people for sinning, rather than begging forgiveness for their own sins.  Why can’t people figure out that unconditional love is just that: unconditional… you don’t have to DO ANYTHING to get saved, so why do preachers have to guilt-trip you to DO stuff AFTER you get saved?  Is he saying I’m supposed to pay Jesus back for something I couldn’t afford in the first place?

I’m just a weak, flimsy man.  I’m struggling with things that I never in my wildest dreams thought would be an issue for me.  I’m getting older, fatter, drunker and ever more depressed when I thought I’d be fit, rich, successful and happy by now.  And I don’t need someone to make me feel bad every Sunday morning, to remind me of my failures and shortcomings.  I need love, acceptance, encouragement & forgiveness, that’s all, and the preacher can take all of that other crap and shove it up his ass, because I’m not buying shit today.

Poor George

When the George Zimmerman virdict came out, it gave me hope.  Finally, some common sense.  In a world where saying a racial slur, 20 years ago, can end your cooking career, or you can go to jail for making a joke online about killing school kids, or get suspended for pointing your finger like it’s a gun, it was nice to hear that someone who did nothing wrong, who has been the victim of a nation-wide witch hunt for the past year and a half, was aquitted of the trumped-up charges against him.  Yes – innocence is still a viable defence against wrongful prosecution.

This whole thing has interested me from the beginning, because it shows me what my options are.  In the future, if I am in a situation where I believe it’s either my life or his, what are my legal options?  If I am being beaten to death, can I use deadly force?  Maybe.  Apparently, if I’m white and he’s black, it might just be better to go ahead & let him kill me, because if I kill him, my life is over anyway.  Poor George Zimmerman has lost his freedom, his job, his house.  The trauma of the past months leading up to and during the trial alone probably shaved 5 years off of his life, and with so many death threats against him, his whole family is going to be in hiding for a very long time.

Honestly, people, learn to read and think.  George Zimmerman was following Travon Martin because Travon Martin was a stranger, and several crimes had been comitted in that very neighborhood recently by people who matched his description.  Travon could have just gone home.  George could have just gone home.  Both of them could have avoided the confrontation, but who threw the first punch?  Does anybody believe that George attacked Travon first?  There is zero evidence of that.  Does anybody believe that George profiled Travon because he was black?  Again, there is zero evidence of that.  By what stretch of the imagination can you possibly come up with anything but self-defence?

It boggles my mind.  I keep watching clips of the trial and reading articles, and all evidence points to the fact that Travon was a thug who attacked George, who was afraid for his life and used his pistol to get the punk off of him.  He didn’t want to kill him.  He didn’t have time to aim as his head was being pounded.  He didn’t want anything else but for the kid to get off.  George was way outclassed by the much younger and athletic Travon; what’s he supposed to do?  Lay there as he passes out and hope Travon is satisfied with beating him to a pulp but not killing him?

Has the whole country lost its view of right & wrong?  My wife saw something on YouTube, which I’ll try and paraphrase here: “Does that mean that I can walk into a biker bar, get in a fight with the meanest guy there, and kill him when he attacks me?”  The implied answer is supposed to be of course not, but the RIGHT answer is YES. You have the right to defend yourself if you think your life is in danger.  It’s called self-defence.  Now, if you went looking for a fight and tried to provoke the guy because he cheated on your wife and you want revenge, that’s a little different.  But listen, people get into fights all the time.  If I get into a fight and the guy yells at me, can I kill him?  No.  What if he pulls out a gun and I think he’s going to shoot me?  Yes.  What if he knocks me down to the ground and pummels me so hard I can’t see and I don’t think he’s going to stop until I stop breathing?  YES.

And yet, there are people protesting and rioting and killing and screaming their disapproval and calling for more, more, more prosecution.  George has  got to go to jail for something, because he shot an unarmed teenager, right?  It’s like I’m watching the crowd yell Crucify Him! to Pontius Pilate – THE GUY DID NOTHING WRONG AND CROWDS ARE CALLING FOR HIS DEATH!  It’s ridiculous.  And oh, I’m sure that attacking white people and saying “This is for Travon” is going to do a lot of good.  Talk about racist…

But it’s just not possible to go against “the agenda” any more, is it?  The fact that George is Hispanic doesn’t make any difference.  They called him white for a long time, because it fit their story, and when they found out he wasn’t white, they called him white-hispanic (never heard that before).  The fact that George never said “He looks like he’s up to no good.  He’s black.” doesn’t matter either.  Remember that?  NBC should have its broadcast license revoked for such a blatant manipulation of the truth.  Even our own president, who should be encouraging calm, stoked the flames by saying if he had a son, he’d look like Travon.  And on & on & on it goes.

So when is it OK to use a gun?  If you’re a criminal, I guess until you get caught.  But what about us scared fathers & husbands, law-abiding citizens that want to protect themselves and the ones they love?  Only if the bad guy is white.  If he’s black, then heck no.  I’m going to have to look into other options, because now I can’t imagine going through what poor George did.  And if you looked into my past, you’d see a whole lot more bad stuff than his.  “He did drugs” “Mentally unstable past” “History of anger” – hell, just read my blog and I’m already guilty, and that’s just the truth; imagine all of the lies and distortions the media will spread about me.  All because I’m white and he’s black, I’m guilty.  That’s the new world we live in.  My only hope for peace, to be able to live out my life without being publicly crucified, is to stay low and pray to God that I never get in the sight of someone like Al Sharpton or Jessie Jackson or even Barak Obama.  Otherwise I will get crucified.  Even if I win, I’ll lose what I was trying to save in the first place: my life.

God Bless America.  What’s left of it anyway…

Touched by an Angel

Roney was a nice kid.  He was a little – what’s the politically correct way to say it these days? – mentally challenged, and he couldn’t say his R’s.  Very loyal friend, though, to the point of being sometimes annoying.  Every day he’d wait for me to come home from school, knock on the door & ask my mom “Can Mak play?”

I used to ride my bike a lot.  This was in the 70’s when kids actually played outside, unsupervised, and only came in when the street lights all came on.  (These days, doing that will get you attacked, raped, shot, kidnapped, who knows.  It was a different world back then.)  I loved that bike, and I was pretty fast, too.  Twenty-inch wheels, coaster brake, a banana seat, a horn that blew when you squeezed it, and sometimes playing cards stuck in the spokes to make it sound like it had an engine.

I was about 8 years old at the time.  I was racing Roney around the block.  My brother was there, but I think only to officiate.  He’s two years older than me, so I don’t think he was racing; he was all grown-up with a 10-speed by then.  I think.  Anyway, I was going full-speed, looking sideways at Roney to see if I was winning, and when I looked forward all I saw was a huge, bright, round headlight.  I don’t really know what happened next, but I kind of blinked, and I was still riding my bike, although now Roney had stopped.   I thought, oh well, and finished the race.

When I came back around the block, I noticed the driver of the truck had stopped and was staring down the street at my brother, apparently wondering what the hell just happened.  My brother was consoling Roney, who was weeping uncontrollably because he thought I had just been killed.  This is also back when noone wore bicycle helmets.  If I had hit that truck, I would have died instantly, no doubt about it.  I pedalled over there to prove that I wasn’t dead, and we decided we should go home, because the street lights had been on for a while already.

I believe an angel pushed me out of the way of that speeding truck.  There is no way an 8-year-old boy would have been able to react that quickly, make a hairpin turn at full speed, and not even fall down.  Kids that age tend to freeze in those types of situations.  And, I believe some of that angel’s powers rubbed off on me…

My oldest son has said that I’m the only one he’s ever known that can drop his keys and catch them before they hit the ground.  I never made the connection until the other day, when I dropped my toothbrush and caught it before it hit the floor; that angel’s fast reflexes rubbed off on me.  And it’s not just limited to catching keys and toothbrushes.  I realized it’s been happening for a long time.

When I was dating my would-be wife, her baby (now my adopted son) was on the couch.  She got up to get something, and he started to fall.  I went from across the room and caught him before his little head hit the coffee table.  Later, when my daughter was about 6 months old, I was in the kitchen.  She was drooling on my left shoulder, I was reaching for something with my right hand, and some kids came running through, I leaned forward, and my baby girl did a swan-dive straight to the floor.  I caught her by the leg with her head about one inch from the tile, and about a half-second later, my wife let out a scream that could shatter glass.

It works in the car, too.  There have been times when the person directly to my left didn’t see me, did a lane change, and I was able to slam on the brakes & hop the curb, barely in time to avoid a wreck.  Then there was another time when I noticed the guy to my left brake hard & veer left, and I did the same, before we saw the blur of a small car pass within inches of my front bumper.  Followed, of course, a half-second later by another ear-splitting scream from my wife.

I’m not trying to brag or say that I’ve got super powers.  It apparently doesn’t work in video games; I play first-person-shooters all the time, but get killed repeatedly with an on-line match; the top score may be 30, and I feel I’ve done really well if I get 10 kills, which doesn’t happen often.  What I am trying to say is that God saved me because he knew I would one day meet a real angel, my wife, and I would come to trust Jesus as my savior, start a family and do my best to provide for them.

I don’t believe in God because of the angel, because of a miracle.  I believe I was touched by an angel, because I believe in God, and He saved me.  Twice.  Once from certain death – well, I made it through my teenage years alive, that’s probably a miracle too – and once from eternal damnation.  It has to be God, because He’s the only one who can see the past, present & future all at the same time.  He must love me a lot; that poor angel’s been busy protecting me for years, saving me no matter how stupid I was, and I can’t wait to meet him and say thank you to his face.  Until then, I’ll just keep trusting God, catching my keys, and doing whatever I can to make His trouble worth the effort.

I never had a dog

When I was growing up, in elementary school or thereabouts, I wanted a dog.  I felt a special connection with animals.  I could walk up to the meanest, fiercest looking dog and pet it over the fence.  It was magical.  I really thought I could relate to dogs, knew what they were thinking, and felt like they truly had the capacity to love me back.

I was premature, weighing 5 1/2 pounds at birth, and I’ve been plagued by health problems ever since, both physical and emotional.  I used to cry a lot, and I hated school.  I suffered from social anxiety and was extremely stressed out about my grades.  Someone figured out that I was smart, and from then on, I was in advanced classes, my teachers pushed me, I was always nervous about tests, spent hours on homework every single night.  I had massive migraine headaches on a regular basis, and threw fits and would cry so much sometimes on the way to school that my mom would let me stay home.  She got mad about it sometimes, but she did, because I was begging her.

I thought if I just had a puppy, a cute little dog of my own that could lick my face when I was crying, that I could hold, that would never judge me, that would wait for me to come home, tail wagging, that I could tell my problems to, I would be better.  I would be able to talk about my struggles with someone who would never respond by telling me how to fix it, or try to correct me or argue about anything… I just needed that friend, and I needed it desperately.

It’s not like I didn’t ask for a dog.  I asked for one constantly, for years.  I remember on a road trip to see the grandparents, my mom suggested we spend the time to write up a list of what we wanted for Christmas.  I filled up several pages of notebook paper, front and back, with “a dog a dog a dog a dog…”  Their excuse for not getting me one was because of my athsma.  So I had my mom ask the asthma doctor about it, and he said sure it’d be fine, but maybe get a short-haired breed.  Mom didn’t buy that, or so I thought.

The problem was actualy my dad.  The real reason that I didn’t get a dog was because he didn’t want one.  He told me once that he had a dog once and it died, and he didn’t want me to go through that.  Actually, experiencing the death of a pet would have taught me more about life, probably have been a good thing.  I got really pissed off when a few years ago I learned more about the dog he had.  He had more than one, I think, although it was a more rural environment and there were no vet bills or tags or fences to worry about.  But that dog was his best bud, followed him around, did everything with him.  But now that my dad was all grown up he didn’t want to get a dog for me because it would mess up his precious house, or whatever, I don’t know.  I was just a kid, and couldn’t articulate all of the reasons for wanting a dog, that it would give me emotional support, that I needed a friend because I was so stressed out; I just asked for one, and they said no.

I believe every kid should have a dog; that’s why we’ve always had a dog (or a cat) almost constantly since our children were little.  My wife had breast cancer a couple of years ago.  It tore me apart.  It was the worst, most horrific, terrible thing I have ever gone through, to see my beautiful, sweet, loving wife go through surgery, chemo, radiation.  It drove me to drink.  I’m a full-blown alcoholic now, I get drunk every day, but one thing I did for myself, when my daughter moved out (with her dog) is buy another lab puppy for myself.  I love that dog.  She’s a handful, as I knew she whould be, but you know what?  The magic is gone.  It’s not there any more; I can’t relate to Snoopy like I could to Pups, the neighbor’s dog that lived behind us when I was young.  And I can not imagine a parent who would deny their kid something that they consistently asked & begged for, for YEARS.  I give my kids stuff all the time; pretty much anything they want, but I do wait for them to ask for it a few times, just to make sure it’s not a fad that will sit unused in the closet.  My mom now says that not getting me a dog is the biggest regret; but it’s too late.  “The child is grown, the dream is gone” as Pink Floyd puts it.

I don’t know why I’m writing this.  I just felt like I had to tell someone, express my feelings.  That’s the whole reason for this stupid blog of mine.  Nobody may ever read this; I don’t care.  I watched a movie last night.  It was about a group of friends who got stranded in the forest and hunted down one by one, by wolves.  And it just reminded me.  Even though those wolves were dangerous and fierce, it brought back memories of seeing other families with dogs, of wishing and hoping and begging for something that never came, and realizing how unfathonable it is to deny a child something so wonderful, that could have done him so much good, just because it might mess up the carpet.

It’s just wrong, wrong, wrong, and I pray that I never am guilty of denying my kids something crucial to their lives like that dog was to mine.  It’s an empty hole in my soul now that I can never, ever fill; it’s too late…