Breaking Into the Jailhouse…

1 Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler;  whoever is led astray by them is not wise.

Proverbs 20 (NIV)

I woke up in the jailhouse this morning.

You know that glorious moment you have the morning after getting tore up, those wonderful few seconds between waking up and opening your eyes, where it’s just as if everything was normal.  Before the memory of the previous night sets in?  Then slowly, one by one the reminders come; “I have to pee like it was my dang job!”, “Who stuffed all this cotton into my throat?”, “There seems to be about a thousand small sharp knives stuck into my head!”, “Why am I sleeping on a hard concrete floor?”, “Where is this place?” … “Oh, Lord I drank too much again!”

If you’ve ever woken up unexpectedly in the jailhouse, you know that it’s not really difficult to figure out that you’re in the jailhouse.  Everything’s concrete, except for the gleaming stainless steel toilet/water fountain combination thingy (perhaps the one place on earth that as a man you will not be yelled at for not putting the toilet seat up/down – there is no toilet seat) and a rather imposing door which has a small glass window toward the top which apparently going by the number of scratches and other dings on it, is far stronger than it looks,  and then two small rectangular openings toward the bottom, one about waist level and one about ankle level, through which you may be passed food and handcuffed/shackled should it be deemed necessary for your captors to do so.

My point is that there was only a few seconds between realizing that I was in the jailhouse and beginning to address the far more challenging next question which is; “why am I in the jailhouse?”  This proves to be far more difficult.  Partially, because you don’t remember, partially because you don’t want to remember – kind of like that moment after hearing a glass break in the other room and not wanting to have to deal with going in there to see what happened.

I had been drinking, a lot and I know that my wife and I had been arguing.  Arguing about the stupidest thing too – me snoring.  I had gotten up to use the bathroom the night before and when I returned she had said something like “are you ready to turn over if I ask you too, so your snoring doesn’t keep me up?”  I honestly thought she was asking me if I would be ready to when she asked, but apparently she had wanted me to do so straight away.  She got angry, yelled at me about how even when she tries to ask nice It doesn’t work.  I said something about how it wasn’t right for her to disrespect me by yelling and she stormed out of the room yelling “You’re wrong”.  Somehow this turned into an argument which lasted the majority of the weekend.  Stupid!  But  I just couldn’t let go of the “I deserve respect” thing and she just couldn’t let go of the “I deserve to be frustrated when I can’t sleep because you snore thing” and it just went on and on.

I followed her out of the room and into the baby’s room, I’m not sure if she was just checking him or was fixin to get in the bed with him, and told her to go on back to the bed, I was going to get up.  I was about three thirty or four thirty (depending on if you went by the clocks that automatically skipped ahead an hour for daylight savings or the ones that still needed to be corrected) and the baby was awake, it would probably take a little while to get him to go back down.

He didn’t go back down, he stayed up till morning playing.  At one point(about six or seven, again depending on which clock you looked at) he went into the kitchen and came back into the living room with a beer.  It was something that we used to encourage him to do.  We thought it was cute that he would go get us beers when we asked him to and he loved to get them and put them in the beer cozies for us.  He just didn’t know not to do it at six am.  In any event, I took it from him and thanked him and put it on the table next to my chair for later.  Later would only be about an hour later, I justified it by saying that I didn’t want it to get warm and that I had been up for four or five hours anyway.  I drank the one then switched back to my coffee.

When my wife got up that morning she was still sore at me.  Ignoring me most of the morning she finally asked if I was going to church and I told her that I didn’t think that I was in the right frame of mind.  This likely made her even angrier.  She took the boys to church and I stayed at the house and started to drink.  After church she still was angry and spent the afternoon outside, I continued drinking.

Her angry and me hurt and drunk is about the worst combination for us.  Time and time again, I’ve seen this not turn out so good.  Time and time again, I convince myself that I can control it this time.  I’m really not that drunk.  I’m in control.  I’ve just had enough to take the edge off.  But my sense is gone.  My ability to reason, pray, show patience, grace, gone with it.  At those times, I’m like a frayed exposed electric wire.  My anger is just sitting there exposed, ready to hurt anything or anyone who might accidentally touch it.

It was at this point that my wife finally agreed to come in the house and talk about what was going on.  No good could have happened at this point.  I wish that I had enough sense to realize that.  To just put it off.  To just say “Baby, I’ve been drinking some.  Why don’t we talk about it tomorrow”.  Every time, I convince myself that I can handle it and that we need to talk about it right then.  Deal with the problem straight away.  I never learn.

That conversation must have lasted about fifteen minutes, before she went off in a huff.  She said that she had only gone outside to have a cigarette and cool off, but I thought that she was leaving, fixin to tear off in her car.  Our ten year old followed her outside and I was left alone in the house with the baby.  I remember not wanting him to go out with them, partially because I didn’t want to be left alone, but mostly because I was afraid that if she tore off in the car in anger she may not notice him standing in the yard.  I locked the doors, knowing that he could open the doors but cannot do so when the deadbolt is locked, but when they came back to the house ten or fifteen minutes later I opened them again.  My wife was very angry thinking that I locked them out.

Now she’s screaming.  She goes in the bedroom and the door slams.  I thought it was her but it turns out it was the baby, but in my anger I slam the door back open to yell about her slamming the door.  She screams and tells me to get out.  I scream and tell her she’s not going to tell me where to go in my own house.  I finally walk out the room and go back to my chair in the living room to drink some more.  Into the front yard pulls the law.

Apparently, our ten year hold had taken my wife’s phone and called the law.  It’s not the first time he’s done it and to be perfectly honest, I’m not entirely sure that his heart is in the right place when he does.   I know that sounds horrible and that a ten year old should not even be put in the situation to make a judgment call like that, but the kid really has dialed 911 when his mother and I are just arguing about bills or something, no alcohol, no one out of control, just disagreeing about if we should pay the mortgage or the car bill first.   He really doesn’t like me and has made no pretense otherwise since his mother and I have been married.  He tells my wife often that he hates me and truly thinks that if he can just convince her to leave me that she and his father can be back together.  His father hasn’t tried to contact him in the last four years.  He will not provide us with a telephone number, address, or email and have only a po box number from where the support checks come and even that we had to take him to court in order to start receiving.  He’s lied to my wife about me.  Telling her things that he knows will make her have to choose between us.

What kills me is that I do love the kid like he was my own son. I want to be a father to him.  I tell him every day that I love him.  I get up every day, to get him ready for school. I help him with his homework. Give him advice about girls. We talk about god.  I bought him a gun and teach him how to shoot.  I’ve tossed about ten thousand pop-ups to him in the front yard.  Take him to baseball, to church, to basketball etc.  I make sure that he has everything that he needs.  That he’s not too far behind the other kids when it comes to the newest wizzy-bang toy or video game.  I want to think of him as a son, but the boy has some problems and for the longest time now, I’m the only one who’s been saying so.

When we first moved to the farm on which we live now, we got a bunch of kittens for mousers.  Two of them we decided to let stay in the house for house cats.  One morning, about five am, he knocked on or door announcing “the cat is dead”.  Now I had seen him torture these poor animals before.  One time I happened to walk into his room to check on him only to find the two of them barely conscious stuffed inside a plastic bag.  When we told him that he was no longer allowed to be alone with the animals, he began getting up in the middle of the night and after assuring that everyone else was asleep, would take the cats back into his room with him and lock the door.  That’s exactly what had happed on this night and sure enough when my wife and I got out the bed to see what was happening, the cat lay dead on the floor in front of our door.  The front door was wide open and it was the middle of winter.  Now to this day, we don’t know what happened to that cat, because no one will challenge him.  His story has gone from, he found the cat that way, to accidentally fell asleep on top of it, to he didn’t know he couldn’t be rough with it, but the fact remains that that little (then 8 year old boy) took that animal in his room, killed it, then went outside in the dead of winter to hide it’s body and only after realizing how cold it was, brought it’s body back into the house and left it on the floor in front of the door.  The most frightening thing was that he never was upset about it.  After, my wife and I got up that day; he simply asked what was for breakfast and wanted to know if he had gym that day.

My wife convinced me not to overreact to this incident saying that he was just a boy and had been through a lot and it was quickly forgotten, but several months later she left him alone in the bath tub with the baby for only a minute, when she returned I heard her scream.  He was holding the baby’s head under the water.  His consequence for this was time-out.  Now, I’m certainly not here to nominate myself for any father of the year awards, but can someone please tell me if that’s the going rate for attempted murder in your house – a time out?  My Grandfather would have put my head through the damn wall!

I’m 44 years old.  I’m about 6’1” and I weigh 220 pounds.  I work in construction and I’ve been in a scrap or two.  I’ve only recently been told what a metrosexual is and I’m still not sure I understand it and certainly can’t understand why anyone would want to be one.  In short; I’m not a Nancy, but this kid scares the hell out of me!  He scares me because I know that rage.  I’ve felt it myself.  My parents split up when I was about the same age as him.  I remember all that fear and confusion and feelings like my whole world was being turned upside down and I remember what a little shit I’d become because of it.  By God’s good grace, I was given two very good men in my life; my grandfather, who showed me love and discipline and then later my stepfather, who showed me love and friendship.  Had I not been given these two influences I shudder to think what that anger might have turned into.

I don’t know how to help him.  I’ve always thought it had something to do with discipline, but I’m not so sure anymore that it’s enough.  For the longest time, I was the only one who ever disciplined him.  I was likely the first discipline he’d ever seen.  His life until me was characterized entirely by his parent’s unhappy marriage.  My wife, in the height of her addiction and depression and having affair after affair, his father withdrawing and ignoring them both as a response to this and likely dealing with his own depression, what became obvious to me shortly after meeting my stepson is that he was usually given his way.  His tantrum were usually met by giving him what he wanted, just so that my wife and his father didn’t have to deal with them at the same time as dealing with their own pain.  I think they both always knew that it was something that had gotten out of hand, something that was truly sending him down a bad path, but I think that each singular time either of them had the opportunity to do something about it, the temptation to just let one more little thing go proved to be too great.  This chained together with their own feelings of guilt about what themselves were doing, just all added up to the first 8 years of his life going by without ever learning that his choices have consequences.

I saw it again during my wife’s affair last year.  No discipline, just night after night she would return from being with her lover, hand over a sac of bakery goods and just go to bed.  At that time, I was the only discipline the boy had ever seen.  Now to her credit, my wife has come a long way since then in therapy and she truly has become a wonderfully responsible Mother.  She disciplines when appropriate and she no longer ignores his behavior, but still I think the damage has been done and that even my wife becoming a source of discipline to him now, in his mind, is my fault, that I have in some way turned his mother against him.  He just really wants to go back to the way things were before when he was allowed to do as he pleased.  He doesn’t know about my wife’s affair, her addiction, that she had that nigger in the house while he slept in the next room (at least I pray that he doesn’t).  He will not admit that his father has not wanted to see or even talk to him for four years now.  He blames me for everything.  He thinks that our family’s problems are entirely my fault.  That I am the biggest problem in his life.

Well it was with these things on my mind as, once the deputies had convinced themselves that everything was alright, I reentered the house.  I was furious.  “That’s not my son anymore!” I can remember screaming.

“Good”, I can hear him yell from the other room.

I honestly didn’t care that he was ten.  It’s really one of the last things I can remember clearly about last night.  I told him to go to hell.  I called him evil.  That I was done with him being a manipulative little shit.  I don’t remember it, but my wife told me, and I believe her, that I used the ‘F’ word.  Who does that?  Who says “fuck you” to a ten year old?  What kind of a monster?  What kind of a monster have I become?  You know, I write about these things, and I quote this bible verse and that bible verse, like I know what I’m doing.  It’s all horse shit!  I’m still just as lost as I was when I started this.  I talk about love and forgiveness and living like Jesus taught us to and still night after night, beer after beer, I betray that.  I’m such a hypocrite.  I can’t trust myself to drink.  I rationalize and rationalize it, but it’s true.  I say that it’s the only thing to take the edge off.  I say that I deserve that distraction because of all what I’ve been through in the last year.  I say that before the affair, I had the same six pack in the refrigerator from labor day until February when my wife told me she wanted to leave me.  I say that 99 times out of 100, when I drink nothing happens, but 1 time out of 100, I turn into a monster – isn’t that enough?  I just can’t control it.  Shit y’all – it’s not even fun anymore!  It’s like a damn job!  Do I have beer at the house? Should I stop to get some?  I’m going to get a 24 oz. or two to drink before I get to the house to make it look like I’ve drank less than I have.  In the course of a year it’s gone from social, to just a few to calm my nerves, to just wait until after the kids go to bed, to I just have to make it till after supper, to I just have to make it to the house after work, to I just have to make it to the truck and I’ll be ok.  I’m risking my life, my license, my job, my family and my faith – everyday on the way home from work.  Each time I leave the town limits and crack open a beer in the console, telling myself that no one cares out in the county if I have a beer on the way home.  I can’t wait five minutes to get on our property!  How did that happen?  How did I never see it?  I really am no better than my wife was last year!  I can tell myself, well at least I never had an affair, but really how long can I expect to not make that mistake when I pickle myself night after night?

I just can’t do it anymore.  I can talk as much as I want about Paul telling Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach or Psalms talking about God giving us wine to gladden the heart of man, but I know it’s all horse shit!  And I don’t mean horse shit, like it can mean fermented or not fermented, I’m not talking about the meanings of Greek or Hebrew words, I mean horse shit, like I know that what I’m doing is wrong and still I keep justifying why I should be allowed to continue to do so.  I just don’t think that I can bible verse that away with cherry-picked scripture any longer.  It’s time to admit that I have a drinking problem and that I cannot fix it by saying I’ll stop when I get the respect I deserve or I’ll stop when I’m over the pain, or I’ll stop when this happens or that happens.  I’m the one causing the problem now and until I own that, we’re not going to make any more progress.

Well the sheriff’s department was there again and this time they probably needed to be called.  I was out of control.  I still am being told things that I was doing that I simply have no memory of.  I hadn’t become violent, so the deputy (a nice guy) told me that he wanted to take me to the hotel.  I know I keep promising to have a look at my prejudice and I will, I just need to focus on this right now, but this guy is a black guy who is not a nigger.  He’s one of the deputies who came out to the house when my wife tried to kill herself, then latter when I tried to kill myself, he also drives the school bus in the morning.  He’s a hard working decent man and I respect him.  So when he told me that it would be best for me to go to the hotel, I trusted him and got in the car.

It was about a fifteen minute ride into town in the back of that police car.  Far too long for a drunk to be left alone with his thoughts and not be expected to think of something stupid to do.  I checked into the hotel, but had convinced myself on the way there that the same thing as when I was taken to the hospital was going to happen again.  My wife was going to take the kids and head off to New Jersey or someplace and that I’d never see them again.  As soon as the deputy left, I left the key to the hotel room on the bed and started walking home.  My only though at that moment was to get to my baby boy.  Well, it’s the last though I remember having last night and apparently part of my plan in getting home was to climb over the fence to the jailhouse yard and cut my way through the barbed wire on top with my small pocket knife in order to get to the other side off the jail in the direction of my house.  In addition, I’m told that the plan involved my yelling my son’s name at the top of my lungs after falling off of the fence and dropping my knife in the grass and leaves surrounding the jailhouse yard.  It was in this state that I was found during a perimeter check.

“Drunk and disorderly” is what it says on the paperwork, which I’m to bring back with me to my hearing next month.  Plain “stupid” is what it should say.  I was arrested for trying to break into the jailhouse instead of walking around it!  There’s not too many ways to spin that without coming back to “stupid”! And it occurs to me that that is what my drinking is like.  It’s like time and time again trying to break into the jailhouse. You know no good can come from it.  You know you’re going to only find trouble there.  You know they’re probably gonna be a little sore that you’re trying, but time and time again I trap myself like that.  Same stupid over and over and every time I think I’m in control.  I think I know what I’m doing.  I think I’ll be able to traverse all those hidden pockets of resentment that now fill my house.  I resent her for the affair.  She resents me for resenting her for the affair.  He resents me for taking his Mama away.  I resent him for not giving me the respect I deserve.  Everybody resents everybody and everybody thinks that they are entitled to it.  Everybody thinks that they should be permitted that misery.  Everywhere is hidden hate and hurt and negative feelings, but no one wants to say so.  We all just keep trying to break into that jailhouse time and time again; me with drinking, her with shutting down, him with his behavior and each time were surprised when they actually put us in the jailhouse.  Crying that we want our freedom, each of us, time and time again, try to crawl up that fence in order to continue our imprisonment.

While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.

~2 Peter 2:9

Please God, get this out of my house and give me the strength to do whatever I need to do to stop my part in contributing to it.

Well it was morning now, not that I would have known from my cell had I not been able to see the clock on the wall behind the desk in the jailhouse through my cell door’s window.  I was in a bright orange suit and woke up on a hard concrete bench.  They will notice that I’m not at work I thought and began to resent my wife for letting this happen to me.  I was probably going to lose my job when I just didn’t show up and not call.  In a little while they brought me breakfast and passed it though the little slot window on the door and in another little while they came to get me for fingerprints and pictures.  They asked me if I wanted to make a phone call.

As the officer was dialing my wife’s number, I fully expected there to be no answer.  I was certain that she was gone, the boys with her and that I would never see any of them again.  I deserved it.  I really just told him to call her number to confirm that.

She answered.  She hadn’t left with the boys in the middle of the night.  She hadn’t told them that I had become abusive or out of control or anything like that.  I told her that I was in the jailhouse and she simply said that it’s what she thought had happened, that she’d been trying to call the hotel and they told her that I had left.  She’d been phoning my room all night.  She had called my job and told them that I wouldn’t be in and wanted to know if I needed her to come pick me up.  I told her that I had to go to court but they would let me call again when I was done.  Before I hung up I said “I love you” and she said “I love you too”.  I don’t think that I can ever describe the way that made me feel.  How much that meant.  That she didn’t just up and leave like she did when I tried to kill myself.  That she didn’t use that as an excuse to just take off, be done.  I had been a perfect ass and she was being perfectly gracious.

After court, they let me out and she came to pick me up at the Hardee’s in town.  Again, I thought maybe she was just waiting; she was going to tell me that she was leaving when she came to pick me up, or not come to pick me up and let me get the idea then.  She showed up.  Didn’t really say anything.  Just drove quietly back to the house.  When we got to the house, I could see how out of control I’d actually become.  There was a mirror by the front door that I had apparently broken by throwing the remote control, she told me that when she tried to vacuum up the glass, I had grabbed the vacuum and tried to throw it out the door into the front yard.  That the cord had gotten tangled around her ankle and she showed me the bruise it caused.  She told me about all the profanity I had used last night, the things I said to our boy, to her, all in front of the baby.  She only said that she thought I had a problem.  Even now I was saying things like, “ok, I’ll cut it back, but I still want to be able to have a few beers if we go over the neighbors or on the weekends and stuff”.  Even now.

In fact there really wasn’t much consequence to all this at all, considering.  The judge released me on my on recognizance.  I’m going to have to go back to court next month and pay $262.50 fine and if I don’t there going to put me back in the jailhouse for 30 days.  I lost a day at work.  My wife wasn’t furious.  My kids weren’t taken away.  I just feel like aside from my conscience I got off really easy.  She said that I must be tired and told me to go lie down for a while.  I slept for a couple of hours and when I woke up both her and the baby were sleeping.  I Googled A.A.  “It’s probably not for me” I thought “but at least I’ll be showing that I’m making an effort” I found a meeting and told her that if she took the boys to baseball, that I would go.  She agreed.

The meeting was about 30 miles from the house.  Everything is about 30 miles from our house.  Except for a few stores and offices in town, most everything is a ways away.  I took a bath to get the stink of the jailhouse off of me and shaved and reluctantly drove to the meeting.  I got there early and wasn’t sure if I was in the right place.  I had used the Tom-Tom to get there and, as is not uncommon in our rural neck of the woods, it had directed me to a vacant lot, that looked like there may have been a building there some years before, but had long since see those days.  If I didn’t have the actual street address, I likely would have left and gone back to the house.  I found the address and it seemed to be a vacant building and was sort of walking around looking puzzled when a woman got out of her car and asked if I was there for the meeting.  I said that I was and she told me that there wasn’t anyone there yet but that they should be along fairly soon.

I’ve been to A.A. before, never serious though.  I had to go when I was in the hospital and I had to go in college.  I always thought that it was an admirable program, but just not for me.  It’s just really that lifelong commitment, the this is now going to be your whole life thing that I think I recoil from.  I wasn’t entirely sure that tonight would be any different, but still there I was.  You know, it really surprised me but they didn’t want me to talk a lot.  I thought, hey I woke up in the jailhouse this morning, this is what these people live for – “keeping them green” I think they call it.  Reminding them “there but for the grace of God” and such.  I mentioned that I was in the jailhouse, asked a question or two and then they pretty much told me just to listen.  There was another guy there who was new as well, he started talking about God and church and how he may be able to control the drinking but he’d never be able to control the devil – they hollered at him pretty good.  “We’re here to save your life” they said “then you can let the church save your soul”

Well, I was glad that he had made that mistake instead of me, because I may have been likely to say about the same thing.  I resigned myself to sit there and let them continue to holler at him, to keep my mouth shut, but I was beginning to doubt if I would be able to continue to go to this program if they were openly hostile towards going to church.  I mean, between my life and my soul, I’d have to choose my soul, but it seemed obvious to me that there were several there who would not agree with that choice.  “Don’t let religion get in the way of your recovery” they kept saying.  I decided to get through the meeting and get out of there as graciously as I could, but that I would probably have to find another way of getting help.

One of the older men, the one who pretty much told me to just shut up and listen, started to speak.  He said that talking about jail got him to thinking about a story he had heard years before in one of the rooms.  A story about two brothers who lived on a farm.  They would work hard all week and when the weekend came around thought that they deserved to tear it up a little.  One was a little more wild than the other so almost every weekend, he would get taken to the jailhouse and almost every Monday morning, his brother would come bail him out and take him directly from the jailhouse to work.  Well on one of these such Mondays, it started getting late, the hours ticked by and although  he didn’t mind so much, because it gave him some extra time to nurse his hangover before going back to the farm to work, he began to wonder where his brother was.  Eventually he started to clank his cup on the cell room bars to get the jailer’s attention.  The jailer came and asked him what he wanted and he said “Hey, how about you call my brother and see when he’s going to get me out of here”.

The jailer stared at him blankly for a moment and then asked if he remembered anything of the night before. “No”, the man replied.

“Your brother is dead” he said, “you stabbed him last night”.

I thought of that broken mirror in my living room.  How I had absolutely no memory of breaking it.  The things that I had said and done, without having a single memory of deciding to do so.  Not even a second worth of thinking about it.  About how in less than twenty four hours, I had gone from having an argument about snoring to ending up in the jailhouse.  I thought about how easy my story could have ended like that one.  I have a problem and even if that problem only shows itself 1 time out of a hundred, I cannot take that risk again.  I have to get this out of my house.  I have to get this out of my heart and I don’t know if it’s something that God can do for me, or something he wants me to do for myself, but I have to stop.

What’s really strange is that when you go to A.A. for the first time, or when you first go back, they give you a white poker chip.  There are other colors, but you have to stay longer to get those, I only ever got a white one.  Before going to the meeting I took a bath and put on clean clothes.  I just grabbed the first pair of britches in my drawer.  When they gave me that white chip, I wanted to keep it safe so I went to put it in that little poker chip size pocket you have inside of your pocket on blue jeans and when I did, I felt something in there.  I stuffed my chip insider there anyway, but when the meeting was over I got curious as to what was in there already.  I stuck my finger in and pulled out two white chips.  One I had just been given and one must have been given to me in the hospital last year when I was committed.  It had been in there all this time waiting.

On the way home I stopped at the same convenience store that I do about every day. I was dying of thirst, still very dehydrated from last night.   I wish I could say that I didn’t even think about it, but I did hesitate a step as I passed the cooler where I almost daily have been getting a 24 oz Bud Light for my ride home from work.  It’s as if my body was conditioned to do it without even thinking about it.  I could do it with my eyes closed.  I’d know how many steps from the door to the cooler, I’d know exactly how far up to reach to get the Bud Light can.  I know exactly how much money with tax it would cost.  I didn’t open that cooler tonight, but as I walked by it to get me a Dr. Pepper, it became apparent to me that this is not going to be an easy thing.

There is another meeting tonight.  Y’all please pray for me as I do this thing which will not be easy, because I honestly would rather go back to the jailhouse or get hit by a truck then to put my family through again what I did last night.  I don’t think that I can ever take away the wrong that I’ve done.  I can start again with the boy, with my wife, with myself and with God, but those mistakes will always be there.  I pray that they might someday forgive me.  Best what I can do  is make it so they’ll never happen again.

Learning to Lie…

it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

~1 Corinthians 13 (ESV)

My Earliest Memory…

My earliest memory is of the day I learned how to lie.  I must have been about two or three – about the same age as our youngest boy now.  It really must be a developmental thing because we’re just now starting to see the “No, Mama, I don’t have a stinky diaper” and the “My brother did it” type stuff that we know to be untrue come out of our innocent little angel’s mouth.  Heartbreaking, but life! When I was that age my family lived in a small log cabin in the upstate of New York.

It’s funny how from that age you can remember certain things as if they were still in front of you, but others are just a void.  Of that cabin, I can vaguely remember my crib, but nothing of the room it was it – the crib was my world I guess, I can see the color of the bars, the mobile that hung above it, my blanket, but it’s as if the crib existed as if it floated in outer space, I can remember nothing outside of it in that room.  I can remember the hallway off of the living room.  At the beginning of that hallway, centered on the floor was a large metal duct cover through which the head from the wood burning in the fireplace was somehow cycled back under the floor in order to heat the cabin.  I have no memory of it, but I apparently burnt my hands and feet badly once on the cover of that duct and every once and a while my mother will rediscover a polaroid photograph of me, nekid, except for the bandages which had just put on my hands and feet at the hospital and a stuffed bunny rabbit, which has been the only thing preventing the countless number of people to whom she has shown that photo from seeing me in all my glory.  I have no idea where my parents slept; perhaps in the same room as my crib was in, perhaps in another room of which I have no memory.  And although there must have been a kitchen, you would never know of it by searching my memory.

The living room of that cabin I can remember as if I were sitting there now.  It had a wood floor with an area carpet and the warm glow of the wood fire would continuously drift out across the dull finish of the hardwood floor like tiny amber waves.  Two chairs on one side of the room, were separated by a small table and on the other an old couch, next to the front door, on which no one ever sat and really only served as a temporary storage area for things coming into and going out of the house.  In between these things, along one of the outside walls of the cabin, was the most prominent feature of the living room – a grand (at least in my mind) stone fireplace.

The fireplace to me was enormous; however I’m certain that should I ever see it again I will be surprised how small it actually was.  In those days however it was probably two or three times my height from the level of the floor to the level of the large stone mantle.   One of my greatest joys in life, I can recall, was my father returning from work at the end of his day, picking me up and setting me on top of that mantle.  He would do so often, always remaining only a step or two away so that he could catch me should I slide off of the mantle, he would place me in the same spot every time.  The far right side, as you were facing the fireplace, make sure that I was seated securely then let go and allow me to remain there on my own.  How grand this made me feel!  How alive!  When you’re two, the whole world is above you – that is your only perspective.  If you want to look at something, 9 times out of 10, you have to look up to do so.  When I was on top of the mantle, I felt as if I could see the whole world and in such a way that I was never able to do on my own.  I sat there on my own, but I knew that I would always need someone to put me there.  That small cabin was my whole world and from that perspective I could see from above nearly everything in it. Everything in the whole world.   It was glorious!  I am certain that this feeling is from where my inclination for climbing trees and flag poles would later come and for climbing buildings and clock towers would even later come.

It was after one of these wonderful moments in which the remainder of this story is set.  My time up on the mantle had expired.  I don’t remember at all how long I was permitted to be there, it never seemed long enough.  My father grabbed me under the arms and lowered me from my favorite spot in the world into one of the chairs next to the fireplace.  I began looking at one of my books when for some reason, I don’t remember why, both of my parents left the room.  Maybe to check on supper, maybe to go off smooching, maybe the house was on fire – I really don’t know, but I know I had a couple of minutes there left to myself.

Climbing up the stones of the fireplace was really not difficult at all.  I can close my eyes and still see the large smooth stones sticking out an inch or two, making excellent footholds, from the mortar in which they were set.  I can even, if I focus, see roughly the way the different colored stones were oriented in the wall – a light one here, dark ones here and here.  The challenge would be upon reaching the top of the stones in the wall and rounding the underside of the mantle in order to get myself on top of it.  It was during the process of doing so, hands and arms and head above the mantle, feet on stones below the mantle and diapered hinny sticking directly out in front of the mantle, that felt my father’s stern voice cut through me from down the hallway.

“Get off of there!”, he hollered.  He may have smacked my butt as well, I don’t recall.

“Oh Boy!” I thought, “I’m in for it now!”, but then the strangest thing happened next:

my Mother, in a voice much softer and more concerned said “Wait a minute.  Are you sure you didn’t leave him up there?”

By this time they had grabbed me and set me back in the chair and I could see on both of their faces that they were each searching their memories in order to confirm that they had actually not left the room and forgotten that I was still on top of the mantle.  I could also see that neither could do so with any certainty.  When they had reentered the room and saw me half on top the mantle and half dangling below, it was not clear to them if I was on my way up or on my way down.  They looked at each other with the same look that a dog got when he had pooped in the hallway and then each looked at me.

“Did we forget you up there?” she asked, almost like an apology.

“Yes Mama” I said.

The rest of that night was quite simply a two and a half year old’s dream!

To Lie or Not to Lie…

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if we couldn’t lie?  How different our relationships would be?  How different the world would be?  I wonder if it’s a coincidence that the happiest, most carefree period of my life, of most people’s lives, ends approximately the same time that we learn to lie.  Things become more complex.  There is a balance which must be maintained that had never existed before.  A balance between conscious and honesty and what we see as securing the things we want or feel we need or deserve.  A balance between telling the truth and dealing with the consequence and lying or withholding the truth and dealing with the consequence of being dishonest.   The risks of getting caught vs. the rewards of getting away with it.  A balance between self and non-self, that was not there before.  Never even a concern.  Now there is a calculus to our relationships that was never there before.  A decision to trust or suspect what people are saying to us.  A decision to trust or suspect someone enough to reveal to them the truth.  With all that thinking, how do we have time for anything else?

My wife said something to me the other day during an argument that we were having that really got me to thinking about the nature of the human condition and our ability to be honest with one and other.  She said “everyone is, to a certain degree, full of shit.  You really can’t trust anyone.”  Almost immediately, she was able to recognize that as a form of negative thinking and it was said during, what we both agreed to later as being,  one of her emotional “funks” as we like to put it, but I’ve been wondering how much truth was in those words.  Is it possible for us to live our lives and be completely honest, even if just with one other person?  Should we?  I’d like to write about honesty and lying, the effect these things have on ourselves and our relationships and the roll of our Christian faith in governing them.

I wanted so badly to tell my wife that why she was wrong in saying that.  I wanted so badly to find the words that would prove to her the error in her thinking.  That we could in fact trust others.  That everyone was indeed not prone to dishonesty and promoting themselves in a unbelievable light.  That she could in fact trust me and, that if we did it right, I could trust her again within the confines of our own marriage.  The alternative just seemed so dreadful, but I couldn’t find the words.  I consider myself to be a relatively honest person, I think most do, but can I be trusted 100% of the time to be telling the truth?  I’m not so sure.  If you can’t be trusted 100% of the time, can you be trusted at all? Are there times when it’s ok to keep things from others if your intentions are in the right place?

I used to brag that the only lie I ever told my wife was that one time, when we were dating, she made me a bunch of peanut butter cookies to take on a business trip I went on.  While I was on the plane halfway to the west coast, I remembered that I had left them behind.  One of the first things she asked me when I phoned her that night from the hotel was if I liked the cookies.  I said that they were the best cookies I ever had and subsequently called back home to make sure that someone disposed of the evidence.  To a very large extent, before the affair, I was very honest in my marriage.  Only one or two other “big” lies can I remember telling along with a dozen or so “no baby that dress don’t make your butt look fat” type things.

This largely changed after the affair was discovered.  Not even so much because I felt entitled to no longer be held to telling the truth in light of the hundreds upon hundreds of lies that it was now evident that I had been told.  What’s notable is that I think my wife expected me to start lying to her, to return the treatment in kind.  She became suspicious and questioned things that she had previously accepted on trust.  I still felt convicted to tell the truth.  The reason I feel as if my level of truthfulness changed after the affair was not about my feeling entitled to now be less truthful.  It changed because I was , as I understood it, counseled to change it.  From very early on, the counselor, the preacher,  doctors, my wife’s case manager, my mother, friends would all provide similar advice.  Something along the lines of “you can’t keep punishing her by being hurt” and that the “first step of forgiveness is not bringing up the past”.  The perception I was given that the outward expression of my pain was in some way selfish and detrimental to my wife’s recovery.  Now, I had a choice to make between allowing myself to convey that pain, purge it, and providing a stumbling block to my wife.  The horrible thoughts, dreams and feelings that I was experiencing were to be kept to myself, least I would now be the one responsible for hurting the relationship.  I’m certain it’s not what any of them were actually saying, but it’s the impression I was under.

I literally had to learn how to lie to my wife.  Each time she asked what I was thinking about, each time she felt me draw away, each morning that I sat in shock recovering from the almost daily nightmares during the previous night’s rest, I had to lie so as not to add fuel to her already burning guilt.  It was about the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do and I can’t say that I was always particular successful at it.  I would fight the urge daily to share with her, to seek her comfort, her council.  She had been the one I’d always gone to for such things, but could not be the one now.  Beyond this, I was also constantly being cautioned about protecting her reputation now, to not spread our story around so that the people of this small town would judge her and also contribute to impeding her recovery.  It sucked!  It was like trying to hold an exploding bomb inside a paper bag.

Certainly this cannot have a place in the Corinthians type of love which Paul speaks of here:

 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

~1 Corinthians 13 (ESV)

and this I find very interesting.  Do you see verse 6 “It does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth”?  It does not contrast truth with dishonesty or lying or secrets or anything like that; it says “wrongdoing”- instead of rejoicing at wrongdoing, love chooses to rejoice in the truth!  What if the truth is a wrongdoing?  What then?  Do I rejoice in the “truth” of the “wrongdoing” or do I not rejoice in the “wrongdoing” even if it is the “truth”?  Very confusing, but I’ve said it before – there’s no crap in the bible!  If it’s there like that, it’s there like that for a reason and I would like to know what that reason is.

So what’s the deal anyway about Christianity and being honest anyway?  That should be a simple one right?  I mean, it’s one of the Ten Commandments and all – no brainer!  I started to poke around the bible to confirm this certainty, thinking this would be a simple task.  Let’s try proverbs, surely I’ll find a host of those one line little ditties supporting the notion that honesty is always the best policy.  I start by finding:

The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out.

~Proverbs 10:9 (NIV)

There we go.  Honestly, integrity – too easy, but wait what’s this:

A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.

~Proverbs 11:13 (NIV)

Are you kidding me?  Didn’t they proofread this stuff?  I’ll look some other places.

In Zachariah were told to speak the truth:

16 These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace;

~Zachariah 8 (ESV)

But James tells us to hold our tongs:

If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

~James 3 (ESV)

Here too in Matthew, were told to shut up:

37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

~Matthew 5 (ESV)

Paul will set us straight.  Let us have it Paul:

25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another

~Ephesians 4:25(NIV)

OK, the truth, oh wait:

29  Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

~Ephesians 4:29(NIV)

That sounds like he’s telling us to hush up.  How can I always be honest with my neighbor if I can only do so when it builds him up?  It’s not so up building to say “hey your dog’s craping in my azaleas”!  These verses are like four lines away from each other!  What are you doing to me?  Obviously these people were confused and we need to go straight to the man.  WWJD?  Now well sort this out:

17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness,

~Matthew 19 (ESV)

OK, that’s what I thought.  It’s a commandment!  No lying.  No deception.  No secrets….

20  Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

~Matthew 16 (ESV)

What in the hell!  Y’all are driving me crazy!  Will somebody please just tell me if I’m supposed to speak up or shut up?  Because now I’m not so sure!

Even when it comes to telling people about God’s love there is apparently a time to speak:

9 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

~Matthew 28 (NASB)

And a time to keep it to ourselves:

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

~Matthew7 (NASB)

Obviously the bible is trying to tell us that there is both a time to speak up and a time to shut up, but how are we to know the difference? How do I know when it’s God’s will from me to speak my mind and when he wants me to keep my peace?  Specifically, what I need is biblical example of forgiveness that shows when I’m supposed to speak and when I’m supposed to shut my trap… Joseph!

Now here was a guy that had a hard time knowing when to keep his pie hole (ok raisin cake hole) shut!  Y’all remember Joseph, favorite son of Jacob and the kid brother that everyone hated because his father gave him the cool robe? When he had a dream, he was all too quick to go blab about it to his brothers:

5 Then Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. 6 He said to them, “Please listen to this dream which I have had; 7 for behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf rose up and also stood erect; and behold, your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf.” 8 Then his brothers said to him, “Are you actually going to reign over us? Or are you really going to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.

~Genesis 37 (NASB)

He apparently didn’t learn his lesson, because it happens again and he shoot’s his mouth off again.  This time he even gets in trouble with Dad:

9 Now he had still another dream, and related it to his brothers, and said, “Lo, I have had still another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” 10 He related it to his father and to his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you havehad? Shall I and your mother and your brothers actually come to bow ourselves down before you to the ground?” 11 His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.

~Genesis 37 (NASB)

So his brothers seize him, chuck him in a pit and leave him for dead, then change their mind and decide to go back and sell him into slavery.  Nice guys.  God is with Joseph though and his master can see it.  After a while Joseph becomes so favored by his master that he is made overseer of the master’s entire estate.  When his master goes away, he thinks nothing of leaving everything in Joseph’s charge, but once again Joseph finds himself in hot water:

Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. 7 It came about after these events that his master’s wife looked with desire at Joseph, and she said, “Lie with me.” 8 But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, with me here, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house, and he has put all that he owns in my charge. 9 There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?” 10 As she spoke to Joseph day after day, he did not listen to her to lie beside her or be with her. 11 Now it happened one day that he went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the household was there inside. 12 She caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me!” And he left his garment in her hand and fled, and went outside. 13 When she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled outside, 14she called to the men of her household and said to them, “See, he has brought in a Hebrew to us to make sport of us; he came in to me to lie with me, and I screamed. 15 When he heard that I raised my voice and screamed, he left his garment beside me and fled and went outside.” 16 So she left his garment beside her until his master came home. 17 Then she spoke to him with these words, “The Hebrew slave, whom you brought to us, came in to me to make sport of me; 18 and as I raised my voice and screamed, he left his garment beside me and fled outside.”

Joseph Imprisoned

19 Now when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spoke to him, saying, “This is what your slave did to me,” his anger burned. 20 So Joseph’s master took him and put him into the jail, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined; and he was there in the jail. 21 But the LORD was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer. 22 The chief jailer committed to Joseph’s charge all the prisoners who were in the jail; so that whatever was done there, he was responsible for it. 23 The chief jailer did not supervise anything under Joseph’s charge because the LORD was with him; and whatever he did, the LORD made to prosper.

~Genesis 39 (NASB)

Y’all notice there’s nothing there about Joseph speaking up for himself.  No “hey Master, just to let you know, you’re wife’s getting a little handsy with me”, no “hey, here’s my side of the story”, no “she’s a flat out liar!”.  There’s no account of him speaking for himself at all.  Where’s all the yakkin now, when it might could do him so good?  This time his inability to know when to speak and when to not ends him up in the jailhouse.  But God’s still with Joseph.  He gives him favor with the jailer and Joseph is soon to be made the leader of those jailed with him.  One day Joseph finds himself in the company of the King’s baker and cupbearer, each of whom has just had a dream.  Joseph correctly interprets the dreams

8 Then they said to him, “We have had a dream and there is no one to interpret it.” Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell it to me, please.”

. . .

23 Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.

~Genesis 40 (NASB)

This time Joseph chooses to speak up, but it has no immediate effect.  Though his predictions come to be true, they are quickly forgotten.  Until one day the Pharaoh has a dream and in order to find favor with him, the cup bearer remembers Joseph:

9 Then the chief cupbearer spoke to Pharaoh, saying, “I would make mention today of my own offenses. 10Pharaoh was furious with his servants, and he put me in confinement in the house of the captain of the bodyguard, both me and the chief baker. 11 We had a dream on the same night, he and I; each of us dreamed according to the interpretation of his own dream. 12 Now a Hebrew youth was with us there, a servant of the captain of the bodyguard, and we related them to him, and he interpreted our dreams for us. To each one he interpreted according to his own dream. 13 And just as he interpreted for us, so it happened; he restored me in my office, but he hanged him.”

Joseph Interprets

14 Then Pharaoh sent and called for Joseph, and they hurriedly brought him out of the dungeon; and when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came to Pharaoh. 15 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it; and I have heard it said about you, that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”

~Genesis 41 (NASB)

So what’s the deal with Joseph?  How come sometimes this guy opens his mouth with the truth and we see it get him up the stream and sometimes he opens his mouth in the truth and he’s made second in command of all of Egypt?  There’s a message there that I’m just not seeing and what I’ve learned is that it’s almost always in the small print, so to speak.  The words that I just sort of glance over trying to get to the juicy parts.  The stuff I just tell myself is there for filler, or to make the story grammatically correct or for stupid people.  I forget that sometimes I’m the stupid person.  I read the story again looking for things that I may have just scanned over before and I notice these versus.

8 . . . Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God?

~Genesis 40 (NASB)

And

16 Joseph then answered Pharaoh, saying, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”

~Genesis 41 (NASB)

When I look back on the account of Joseph relaying his dreams to his brothers and also the account of his experience with Potiphar’s wife, there is no mention of God.  No God telling him to share his experiences, no “I get it but the glory really goes to God”, no “it’s not my will but God’s will that this be shared”.  Can you see how with his brothers it was really more of a “hey check me out” kind of thing?  Perhaps a little bit of retaliation for their treatment of him, their hatred of him?  He just has the dreams and boom! Opens his mouth.  No God’s timing, no concern for what God wants shared, just “hey check me out”!  Likewise with Potiphar’s wife.  There is no mention here that God tells Joseph to go blabbing to his master about his wife’s adulterous intentions.  I don’t know why.  Maybe it was part of God’s plan.  Maybe God had another way to deal with her sinfulness.  Maybe Potiphar was just as bad and deserved it.  I don’t know anything about why he wouldn’t, but he doesn’t and if he had, the story may have ended in a very different way.

Y’all ever wonder what would have happened if Joseph had enough sense to keep his dreams about himself and his brothers to himself way back when?  How his story may have been different.  He’d likely still be back home reporting on his brothers labors in the field and we never would have been given one of the greatest bible stories about forgiveness:

16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father charged before he died, saying, 17 ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph, “Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.

~Genesis 50(NASB)

You see that in verse 19 “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result”.  That’s cool!  We can make mistakes (and let others make mistakes) and God is clever enough to turn them around and use them for good.  Like my Tom-Tom.  I know what I want my final destination to be (with God) and it gives me the best route to get there.  Step by step, turn by turn, it even beeps and tells me when the turns are approaching.  How many times have I told myself “oh she (the tom-tom’s female voice) doesn’t know about this shortcut or that shortcut.  That old farm road probably isn’t even in her databank” or simply just drifted off into my own thoughts while driving and forgotten to pay attention to what the Tom-Tom was telling me.  I end up lost in the middle of Newark!

I truly am often surprised that the Tom-Tom doesn’t get angry with me.  “You see, you should have listened” I keep expecting it to say, or “I can see why your first two wives left you, jackass!”  She probably would be within her rights to say so.  I wouldn’t be able to argue.  I thought that I knew better, I trusted myself rather than the instructions I had been given,  and now I’m lost in the middle of Newark, the only white guy in a pick-up truck in the city, with everyone looking like they want to kill me and eat me.  I am a jackass sometimes!

Those words never come.  No “I told you so”.  No “Well now you’re on your own now!”, just a momentary pause and then an new set of perfect directions.  The tom-tom is clever enough to realize that I screwed up and am going to, even more than ever, need her direction.  What a forgiving little gadget it is!

God’s like that too, only his database is infinite.  Whereas with the tom-tom, every once and a while there’s an old dirt road, that it may not know about, God’s directions are always up to date, always perfect and always made with love.  Even so sometimes I forget to pay attention, sometimes I think I know better and I, figuratively speaking, always end up lost in the middle of Newark with everyone looking like they want to kill me and eat me.  Without pause, he just says “well, you’ve gone astray.  Here are some new directions”.  All I have to do is submit my pride and listen:

Wisdom from Above

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

James 3 (ESV)

So looking back at Corinthians 13

 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

~1 Corinthians 13 (ESV)

The truth is that the statement is perfectly self-explanatory – We can tell the truth in a way that is sinful.  It a way that actually does represent the opposite of what love rejoices in.  Telling the truth does not always equate to not doing wrong.  With respect to love; the opposite of telling the truth is not brutal honesty, but not doing wrong.  Say I have a bad dream about the affair and when I wake up in the morning I’m still in a little bit of a funk over it.  I may be unsettled by the dream, preoccupied by it, maybe even a little resentful of my wife for being responsible for me having the dream, but in my heart and in my mind I know it’s just a dream.  It’s not really going to hurt me.  I can still see all the progress my wife has made, how hard she is trying.  My wife, from a place of caring, can see that I’m not right and asks what is wrong.  Now, here there are a number of different ways in which I can serve “the truth”.  I can say “nothing” which really doesn’t mean nothing – untrue.  I can tell her the truth, but let her know that I’m ok, or I can tell her the truth in a way that leverages that resentment onto her, converting my resentment into her guilt – guilt for something about which I have supposedly forgiven her.

Now that’s a tight line to walk, because it makes us completely accountable for the “truth” we choose to share.  If I’m saying that “I’m hurt” that can come from a place of honestly sharing what’s going on with me or it can come from a place of punishing you for what you’ve done to me.  No one except me and God know the truth about where it’s coming from or how the truth is being used.  Near as I can tell there are two things we need to consider before we choose to speak:

Intention

15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.

~James 3 (ESV)

and timing.

do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; 12 forthe Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.

~Luke 12 (NASB)

When you think about it, it’s the same decision which we make when we decide whether or not to share God’s love with people.  When we are witnessing the sower and the field must both be ready.  We can toss our seeds into the weeds and no good will come.  Likewise if we try to witness from a place of “hey check me out!  How holy am I”, even a willing listener may be turned away.  We can tell the truth in a way that is not really doing right.  How can we ever hope to give someone a new perspective, if we ourselves are not sure what that perspective is?

When I think back to my father sitting me up on the mantle, I realize that this is what meant so much to me – a new perspective.  He gave me each evening the gift of a new perspective.  I’ll never forget it.  How it made me feel.  How freeing it was.  How wonderful.  Now some forty plus years later, it is the singular most memorable gift I’ve been given.  The memory which has been with me the longest in life, was his gift of a new perspective.  Once, my wife and I were driving alone together along the highway near our home.  I looked over and noticed her considering the many scars along both of her forearms – the outward reminder of years upon years of self-injury and self-hatred.  She noticed me watching her looking at them and said with shame “look how many there are?”  Without hesitation I replied “look how old they are?”

She still talks about that day.  Still caries that with her.  Like my father sitting me on the mantle, I was able to give her that day a new perspective and I think that’s really at the heart of what “truth” means – a new perspective.  Am I sharing information in order to give someone a new perspective or to confirm their old perspective and if it’s the latter than what’s really the point?  Does opening my mouth serve love or does it serve anger?  Am I withholding the truth in order to build up the relationship or compound my own status of being a victim?

Lord, give me the wisdom to see those things.  To know the difference between serving myself with my words and serving my love for my wife, my family and for you.  Guide me each time I decide to use my tongue.  Please use me, time and time again to give others the wonderful gift of being given a new perspective – a perspective of love, of kindness, of forgiveness, a perspective of you.  And may I never forget the new perspective which you have given to me.

Bring Zoe Amanda Home…

I wanted to ask y’all to visit this blog and to pray for God’s hand to be on this family as they fight to bring the newest addition to their family, Zoe – a little Taiwanese girl with health problems, home to be with her new family. If you’re able, you can donate to their cause here:

PayPal - The safer, easier way to pay online!

I think I did the link to the picture right, but if you have any problems, you can email me and I’ll let you know where to send your donations.

Even if you can’t donate, maybe you can re-post this on your blog, and certainly keep them in your prayers.

God Bless.

How Do You Say “Peter You Need to Cut Your Toenails” In Hungarian?…

 29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Ephesians 4 (NIV)

Communication…

Well, I’ve been at this a little while now and have read a great deal about the plight of others who are going through the same thing as I am. I truly find the sheer number of stories that are out there to be both sickening and comforting at the same time. Some couples get through it and some don’t. I have noticed two trends among the ones who do. First , in the ones that do, both partners are willing and committed to do the work of healing. The second is the ability to learn to communicate with one and other. I want to write about both of these things, but separately. Today I want to talk about communication.

Hey! That Clock’s Not Right…

I believe I’ve mentioned previously that I was always liked school and that this took me places. One of those places was Hungary. I was accepted into a Medical School in a small city in the South of Hungary called Szeged. I lived there for about two and a half years. Now don’t be terribly impressed by that. That acceptance was secured by an American company that guaranteed your acceptance at a foreign medical school, provided you had completed the necessary prerequisite coursework. It wasn’t competitive in the least.

It was that company that arranged for us to fly over there, helped us find apartments, provided us a translator to assist us in the process of getting our visas and medical examinations and registered for school. They flew us over there about two weeks before classes would begin and they had become so efficient at this process that it only took about two days for most of us to find apartments and take care of the necessary paperwork in order to begin school.

It was the late 90’s and Hungry at that time was this little burgeoning democracy. The Berlin wall had come down only less than a decade before and Hungary was just beginning to feel its way around as a Democratic state and capitalistic economy. I’ve heard an expression that goes something like “the only thing worse than communism is what comes after communism and before democracy” – this is the period in which I lived there.

The economy was struggling to grow. They were only now learning what a grocery store was as prior to this they would get their groceries like we would go to the pharmacist – they would give the employees a list of what they needed and the employees would go get the items and bring it to the counter. Even now that you would actually go get your own groceries, it made store owners so nervous that they would be stolen from that there were armed guards at the store with machine guns. Shortly before we came they had opened a McDonalds in the center of town. I was told some time later that the wage for working an entire shift at McDonalds was not sufficient to buy a Big Mac, fries and a Coke from McDonald’s. You could get a steak dinner and a bottle of wine and the nicest restaurant in town and it would cost you the equivalent of like six bucks. The country was so poor that you almost just didn’t need money to live there. Everyone should have one chance in their lifetimes to live like that. Our student loans permitted us to live like kings while we were there.

In any event, that was the economic backdrop against which the story which I’m about to tell takes place – we were big shots. We could go out every night, eat, drink, go to the opera etc. Despite who we were and from wherever we had come from, there we were the beautiful people. We had over a week and a half to kill before classes began and a half a liter (about a pint) of Dreher (national beer) would run you about a quarter (50 forints, although now I believe the use the euro). If you’ve been reading along here, you’ll probably be able to guess how I spent my week and a half.

I had secured a Hungarian-English dictionary before I left home and being the highly dedicated consummate prepared individual that I am, had learned exactly two words; “igen” meaning yes and “nem” meaning no. The night on which this all happened was relatively soon after we all had arrived. As a matter of fact it was so soon after we had arrived, that I had not yet figured out how to change the time on my watch from East Cost time to Hungarian time and was becoming increasingly annoyed at having to endure the anguish of needing to perform the addition of 8 in order to determine what time it was. It was about 7:00pm + 8 = 3:00am, and my new friends and I were walking through the center of town after the bar had closed and had come to our school. The school included all of the buildings on one city block, the center of which was vacant – the “ter” they would call it, but we would probably say “quad”, except for a beautiful old Catholic Cathedral.

It was beautiful, statues and art. There is a bone there which belonged to St. Peter, I think encased in glass. The building itself was a work of art, with it’s two identically imposing brick clock towers (one pictured right) soaring seemingly hundreds of feet in the air. From any direction the towers were the most prominent feature of the little city’s skyline. Next to the cathedral was a large stone courtyard and on the other side of that courtyard there remained metal bleachers which had been set up so that the courtyard could be used for outdoor theater that previous summer.

It was on those bleachers that I found myself sitting with my new friends – a Canadian guy and Norwegian girl.  There was scaffolding along one side of the towers as they must have been using the remainder of the warm weather that autumn to clean it after the years summer outdoor cultural schedule had concluded.  Through the scaffolding I could see the face of one of those enormous clocks telling all of Szeged that I should have been in bed.  I glanced at my watch and was reminded that I had not yet figured out how to change the time to local time and looked back at the tower, then at my watch, then at the tower.  I can climb some stuff now (I reckon that I can brag about that, because I’m not good at much else)!  I’ve just always been very good at climbing things and this particular skill of mine is clearly not limited to any particular continent as the next thing I knew, having apparently forgotten at the bar all the good sense that my Mother had insisted on me packing, was making very short order of scaling up the scaffolding in order to do the city of Szeged the very great favor of righting the me sized hands of the clock on their beloved Cathedral tower to East Cost time.

The view was amazing and I sat for a while on top of one of those triangular rooftops which you may be able to see in the picture above each of the clocks.  I looked out over my new home and let the wind at my elevated altitude remind me that winter would soon be here as my new friends were in all likelihood at the beginning stages of  questioning their own judgment in befriending me.  I stood up and stretched out my hands.  Reaching for the sky, I felt my own solitude, my own humanity.  I tried to reach for the sky as far as I could, before I realized that it was only my own balance which prevented me from plummeting down into the courtyard and being presented rather abruptly, and gruesomely, before my friends.

My friends pleaded with me to come down, but I wanted to remain just a little while longer – “Nem!” I called down to them and began tossing coins from my pocket down onto the courtyard.  When they finally did persuaded me to descend, I realized that the scaffolding supports must have been covered with some sort of grease,  well somewhat less grease than before I had ascended, because now a large portion of it was on my pants, shirt, hands and face.

Great story huh?  It’s not over.  The reason I’m actually subjecting y’all to all of this is what happens next.  With feet back firmly on the ground I began walking back across the courtyard toward my friends when I noticed the doors of an old junky Trabant open that had been parked on the street.  If y’all don’t know about this marvel of engineering known as Trabant it was a communist remnant, formerly produced in East Germany.  A car having a two stroke engine (you’re weed whacker has a two stroke engine) that ran on leaded (remember leaded or unleaded) gasoline which was still being used in Hungary back then.  It was the type of car that only a few years before you could trade for a pair of Levis.  You could sell one and likely get yourself a nice breakfast with the proceeds.  Simply put it was not a vehicle of any status.

The two men who had exited the trabant were now approaching me.  In my mind they had a somewhat disheveled appearance and I assumed they were gypsies.  Gypsies throughout most of Europe do not enjoy the romantic, violin playing, nomadic reputation that they do in the United States.  In Europe they are thought of roughly the same as the homeless are in the United States.  I had been warned to avoid them as they were often desperate impoverished people who were likely to view me as an easy target.  I’m assuming the conversation went something like this, but I never understood a word they said.

“Jó estét kívánok. Mi vagyunk a rendőrség.”, one said.

“They must be asking me for money” I thought.  “Nem” I said somewhat sternly.

Again they spoke “Mi vagyunk a rendőrség. Mit csinálsz ott fent?”

“Nem!” I said with more emphasis.

“voltál ivást?”  the other said.

“Nem! Nem! NEM!!!” I said, with increasing anger. “Nem! Nem”

“oh hey they have badges” I remember thinking to myself “they must have found or stole those”

I continued “Nem!  Nem! Neeemmmm!!!” by now I was yelling.

Gypsies don’t have badges.  They don’t want badges.  They don’t need badges so they don’t steal badges.  If they find badges, unless they think they can be sold, they are likely to leave them right where they found them. Hungarian policemen have badges.  The rest of that night and most of the next morning was spent thumbing through my pocket dictionary in order to figure out if Hungary had the death penalty as these men hurled threats at me that I could never hope (nor wish to) understand.  Finally the translator arrived and I was told that all they needed was to make copies of my visa and passport and that I would be held accountable for any damage which I had done to the Cathedral during my escapades.  Still, to this day, somewhere in a Hungarian police file cabinet, sits my mug shot tucked safely away in a folder which is likely labeled “the Ugly American”.

Bad things happen when people can’t communicate with each other and marriage is no different.  In many ways the way in which my wife and I communicate is very much like me and those policemen trying to communicate that night.  We recognize anger, frustration, but cannot understand what the other is trying to tell us.  Being unable to do so, we make assumptions about the other’s motive.  We attribute malice or ill will where none is really do and we make asses of ourselves.  There’s been many a night where I have gone to bed wondering, figuratively speaking, if I was to be given the death penalty.

That night, what I was trying to communicate is “I’m not going to let you take advantage of me”.  What the policemen were trying to communicate was “hey, you need to respect our authority here.  You screwed up.  Now stop acting like a jack-ass and take responsibility for what you did!”  Both reasonable positions, but when pitted against one and other and in such a way where the other’s needs were hidden, we became a threat to one and other.  Now it ended up alright I guess, once the translator arrived.  The only permanent consequence of the event is my Polaroid photograph sitting in a file cabinet somewhere, but what could have happened?  I can envision that ending far worse.

My wife and I alternate these rolls: “you’re not going to take advantage of me” and “I need you to respect me”.  Back and forth we change them; sometimes I play the first roll and she plays the other, sometimes she plays the first and I the other, sometimes we’re both playing both rolls simultaneously; “if you respect me you’ll assure me that you’re not still cheating” vs. “if you respect me you’ll stop asking me to prove it”.  Those are powerful motivators; to be respected and to not be taken advantage of, and I’m not sure that any one of us can, or should, be asked to give them up.  I shouldn’t have to let her continue to take advantage of me in order to save my marriage.  Likewise she shouldn’t have to endure accusation after accusation simply to prove that she no longer is.  To do so would be allowing me to take advantage of her, based not on who she is, but who she was -her past mistakes.  In addition we both are entitled to each other’s respect; the respect to not be ignored and the respect of not being constantly reminded of our past transgressions.  But what happens when these things get all pitted against one and other and we can’t understand for what the other is asking?  Bad things happen when we can’t communicate.

Ok Jesus, a snare like this… I know you must have told us something about.  Where is it?  Give it up!  When I look up “communication” in my bible, I find all kinds of nifty stuff:

But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned

~Matthew 12:37

A wise man’s heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction

~Proverbs 16:23

The lips of the righteous know what is fitting, but the mouth of the wicked only what is perverse

~Proverbs 10:29

• gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger ~Proverbs 15:1

Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing

~Proverbs 12.

A wise man’s heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction 

~Proverbs 16:23

The lips of the righteous know what is fitting, but the mouth of the wicked only what is perverse 

~Proverbs 10:29

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger 

~Proverbs 15:1

Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing 

~Proverbs 12:18

and many many more!  All good stuff.  All applicable to communication, but none of them are really getting it for me.  Yeah, I get it – I gotta be nice!  Right?  I’ve tried that and it doesn’t seem to, on its own, do the trick.  I still am not communicating effectively with my wife.  While, yes, I know that controlling my sharp tongue is something that I need to work on, and probably always will, there has to be something else about how to communicate.  Something that gets at both respect and the fear of being taken advantage of.  Something that I’m not seeing.

How do we communicate respect to one and other?  I live in the South, when my wife or a teacher or any adult asks my boys a question they are expected to reply “Yes Ma’am” or “No Ma’am”.  The words are intended to convey respect for your elders.  But, if you live in the South, you also know that these words convey a hollow sentiment.  While they do literally convey respect – hey it’s better than straight out saying “bite me!”, that respect represents the absolute minimum amount respect that is imposed on us by convention.  The words can also be said simply dripping with disdain.  Go into any Piggly-Wiggly in the state of South Carolina and try to order green beans without bacon (although I don’t know why anyone would) in them – you’ll get a “Yes Ma’am” or a “Yes Sir” that makes you feel anything but respected!  The words themselves become a way of conveying sarcasm not respect.  A comment about how ridiculous your request of them is, how ridiculous it is that they are required to show you respect.  It’s about the tone, the facial expression, the body language, the speed with which they respond and the subsequent tone and facial expression and body language and speed with which they provide you with what you are asking.  In short, what they are communicating has almost nothing to do with what they’re saying.  It’s almost entirely about what they’re doing.  Communicating respect has far more to do with what we do than what we say.

Check this out:

Jesus Washes His Disciples’ Feet

 1 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

 2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

 7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

 8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

   Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

 9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

 10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

~John 13:1-15(NIV)

Did you read it?  I know it’s long and you’ve probably seen it before, but it’s what I’m going to be talking about for the rest of this chapter.  Don’t skip the Bible verses y’all – it’s what this is all about!  Go back and read it now!

I mean it!  Go back and read it!  God knows if you did or didn’t.  Don’t just skip through here looking for the juicy bits.  God might have something to say to you in between.  I trust you, even though you tried to fool me twice now,  I trust that you’re going to go back and read it for real this time.  I’m very fragile with the trust thing, please don’t take advantage.

OK, I had never really thought of this passage as speaking to how we should communicate with one and other, but there is a ton of stuff going on here that has to do with communications.  So much in fact that I’m not really sure how to approach it now.  How about the beginning:

 1 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

 2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 

3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 

The most striking thing about this verse to me is the words “Jesus knew”.  He knew.  He knew he was about to die.  He knew Judas was about to betray him.  He knew Peter would deny him.  He knew these guys were full of horse shit, but still he loved them.  Jesus knew that, from their perspective anyway, he was about to be taken advantage of.  Sold out for 30 pieces of silver, denied by his greatest disciple.  That even now, as these men professed their devout love for him to his face, they soon would be embarrassed of their association with him, abandon him to die on the cross and deny even knowing him.

I know something about that.  I’ve felt that stink of knowing the truth in my heart when the person I’m talking to is telling me something else.  I remember my wife professing her love for me and our family, defending it, even becoming angry when it was questioned at home, and the go to town and belittle me in front of her coworkers, people with whom we go to church and others in our community.  Convincing them how horrible I was, denying her love for me, absolving herself of the responsibility of treating me with respect.  There are rumors which remain to this day about me being a drunk, an abusive husband, and abusive father, that I am gay and never was able to satisfy my wife in that way, that I was a religious tyrant who used scripture to belittle and control my family, that I would use our family’s financial resources only for myself and not permit her or the boys even the simplest of niceties.  The things she must have said to this man as they lied next to each other, horrible things, things designed to justify her being with him to him, to herself, things that I know she will never even confess to me; they haunt me, and will likely continue to haunt me for the rest of my life.  She’ll never know how much her honesty about them would mean to me and has firmly convinced herself that what I don’t know will never hurt me, but still, from time to time, one reveals itself and the process of recovery for me begins again from square one.

How easy would it have been for Jesus to call these jack-wagons on their horse shit?  How tempting would it have been to be like; “Peter, look at you all, I love you and won’t let you wash my feet, because I’m so devoted to you.  You’re not even gonna what to admit that you have ever known me here soon” and “look at Judas over there sweating like a hooker in church!  Yeah, Mr. Money Bags, I can see what’s really in your heart!”  Jesus doesn’t do that stuff.  Despite” knowing” that what is being said to him, what is being shown to him was a lie, he chooses to remain centered on his intended message, the message of love.  He does not permit himself this distraction, does not cater to what must have been a pretty tempting urge to just say “whatever, if you guys are gonna insist on being full of it, then what’s even the point”  He remains true to that which he has already decided to communicate.  “I’m fixin to tell you that I love you and y’all being a bunch of lying jack-asses is not gonna stop me from doin so!”

 1 I said, “I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth while in the presence of the wicked.”

~Psalms 39:1(NIV)

How?  How does he do that?  How does he resist that temptation, resist taking that tiny little step that takes us from communicating about what we are intending, to communicating our displeasure about how it is being received, that its effect is not immediate?  How does what I’m trying to communicate to my wife go so quickly from “because I love you, it hurts me when you…” to “what the heck, if you were really sorry and really wanted for me to feel respected, you’d understand… You must still be the way you used to be!!!”?  It’s such a tiny little step and so hard to resist to go from what we wanted to say to something completely different.

Verse 3 tells us how.  “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God” .  Now y’all pray that he never puts “all” things in my power, but God has put some things under my power.  I have the power to choose to love God or not.  I have the power to choose what I want to have for lunch and I have the power to choose the words that I let come out of my mouth when I’m speaking to my wife.  The key thing to remember as I’m working towards all those proverb recommendations I have listed above is in the second part of the third verse; “he knew . . .  that he had come from God and was returning to God”.  Can you see how that makes it seem like it really doesn’t matter if the person to whom you’re speaking is full of nonsense or not?  How petty it makes it seem that I be so concerned about the other person’s immediate reaction to what I am saying?  There is always another set of ears in the room and they hear everything.  Another set of eyes that see everything.  When we’re communication with others, were not just communicating with them, were communication with God.  When I speak to my wife, I am also speaking to God.  God’s not trying to pull one over on me.  He’s not lying to me.  He’s not telling me something that isn’t true.  It sounds harsh, but it really doesn’t matter if my wife is telling me the truth about what is going on with her.  It really doesn’t matter if it’s still going on – if she’s still just lying to my face and the only thing that’s changed is that she’s getting better at it.  It’s not my instruction to know if she is telling the truth or not, it’s my instruction to forgive her and to love her and to communicate these things to her.  That’s it and that’s all! As much as I want her to be telling the truth, as much as I want things to be different now, as much as I want to truly love me and express that to me, these things are of this world and ultimately mean very little.  I’ve come from the father and will return to the father – that is from where my true comfort should come, not whether or not my wife is rolling her eyes at me.  That sounds like I’m betraying my love for her, but it’s really not, because love that is unwilling to show trust is not really love at all.

What’s next:

4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

One thing that I’d like to point out here (but it was also mentioned in verse two) is that this all was taking place at supper time.  Twice now John mentions that this was going on during their meal.  What’s up?  There’s just not stuff in the bible that doesn’t need to be there so why, two times now, have we been told that it was supper time.  Oh No! It’s more of that psycho-socio-babble about families eating together instead of eating in front of the TV, isn’t it.  Yup!  But maybe there is something to it.  I think there is probably a reason that we are continuously being told that that meal time is an effective time for communication.  First we’re all together and want to be there.  It’s supper time, we’re hungry, it doesn’t take much convincing in my house to get everyone to the table.  Second, we’re meeting one of our basic needs, we’re eating, we’re not going to have to worry again until morning where to get us some more food.  That’s at least one stressor that we can let go of for a little while.  Third we generally with people that we know love us.  We’re not worried about making impressions or if our zipper’s open or what he will think or she will think if we take another chicken wing.  We feel accepted.  These are pretty key states of mind to communicate and to be communicated to.  I guess Jesus knew that.

Now I’m not saying that my wife and I should be hashing out the details of her affair at the supper table.  Clearly that’s not appropriate, but we are seemingly being told here about something about choosing the where and when for communication.  I can’t tell you how many times I insist on staying up late at night forcing my wife, who only wants to sleep, to talk about something.  How many times I’ve hammered at her as she’s still wiping the sleep from her eyes and only trying to focus on pouring her morning coffee.  How many times we’ve engaged in a deliberately vague argument because we were doing so in front of the boys, or company, or in public, or by text message or when one or both of us was at work?  These really aren’t the time or place to have effective communication.  I’ll be the first to admit that its my way to rush into the “this needs to be dealt with now” mentality, instead of just sitting back on something, thinking about it, understanding what it really means or where its coming from, before opening my mouth.  My wife’s the exact opposite, if God would strike her mute today, she’d probably consider it a blessing.

Here there obviously needs to be a compromise.  We need to work together to find times that we can communicate effectively without impeding on our other responsibilities.  It needs to be a priority, but not such a priority that it supersedes all other priorities.  It needs to be frequent enough to be effective, but not so frequent that it takes over our lives and it has to be done in a setting where we’re both comfortable and willing to communicate.

Then Jesus gets him a bowl with some water and sets off to wash everybody’s feet.  As you can imagine, this was not considered to be a very dignified task.  Still we see Jesus symbolically removing his outer garments  (fancy clothes) put on a towel (work clothes), divesting himself of his true greatness and entitlement to the respect and honor due a king, assuming the task expected of the least valued person in the room, and willingly, wantingly beginning to engage in preforming this lowly task.  A task that was usually reserved for slaves, servants or hosts who truly wanted to display respect to their guests.  There’s nothing symbolic here, they actually washed there feet, stinky foot grime and toe jam – Peter was a fisherman, can you imagine what that guys tootsies looked like!

Still here we find our king, our beloved savior, down on his knees doing so for those who called him “Lord”.  Now I wouldn’t even know where to begin to describe the amount of information which is being communicated here.  Volumes have been written about it.  We sometimes do it at churches.  The Brother’s at Kyros do it before entering into the prisons in order to bring the word of God to those confined there.  In terms of symbolic gestures I’m not sure you could offer someone more respect.  Does it mean that I should keep a washbasin and a towel next to my wife’s chair in the living room? No, I mean sometimes that might be nice, or a foot rub, or something along those lines, but what I think, I’m actually being told here is that when I want to communicate something to my wife, I have to be willing to divest myself from the things I think that I deserve.  My role as the head of our household, my role as her husband, my role as the father, my role as a spouse who has been cheated on…  these robes, this “outer clothing” that I wear, does not entitle me to behave as though I have more value that my wife.  That I deserve better treatment than she does.  How can I ever expect her to behave as a person worthy of respect if I myself am unwilling to respect her?

You’ll notice that all this which I have described to this point, everything which Jesus has already communicated; it all happens before Jesus even opens his mouth.  Action truly does speak louder than words!

Now Peter:

 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

 7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

 8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

   Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

 9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

 10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

You know for being Jesus’ right hand guy, Peter really is quite dull!  Still Peter was the rock and rocks are quite dull.  What it the world is Peter doing here?  Sure I get the “no, you’re Jesus, you’re too good to wash my feet” thing, but then the “ok, well then can you catch my hands and head as well?” thing?  Uhm, Peter!  What are you doing?  That’s Jesus you’re talking to, why not just ask him to trim your nose hair and wax your back while you’re at it?  How about a nice cucumber facial and back massage? Common Peter!  Stop being so wishy-washy and get your game on!

What I’m told is that this all is symbolic of the sort of zealot, over enthusiastic Christian who engages in “Christian” activity not as a form of genuine worship, but rather to serve themselves.   If you go to church, you probably know exactly who I’m talking about.  The guy that has to be on every committee, have his hand on every account, his nose in every conversation, who thinks his theology is beyond reproach, uncorrectable, even the preacher would do well to yield to his viewpoints.  Or the woman, who sits in the front row every Sunday, sings the loudest, asks the preacher to repeat himself to make it obvious she’s taking notes, goes to bible study to show how much she knows rather than to try to learn, thinks that everyone sees her as sinless and therefore should all want to be exactly like her. Yeah, those are the ones.  First to correct, last to accept correction.  Who do these people go to church to serve?

I think that that’s what Jesus is talking about when he says “hey if you’ve had a bath, you just gotta wash your feet”.  Jews would often take baths before going to the place where they would have supper, but on their way there their feet would again get dirty.  They would have to wash them off again before going in to eat.  What Jesus is saying, in my understanding, is “hey, even after you come to me your still gonna be a sinner.  You’re still gonna get a little mud on your boots.  You don’t have to be born again and again and again and again, when you screw up, just stomp the mud off your boots and get on with being a Christian.  Stop being so overly dramatic!  It’s not impressing anyone!  Somebody here, I’m not saying any names Judas, needs to go and get him a bath!”.  – I’m thinking about doing my own bible translation.

OK, what does all this say to me about communicating with my wife?  Here’s what.  There are times when we are trying to communicate to one and other, that we do not receive the reaction that we expect.  I can say something to her; “I wish you would…” and her reaction may be over the top and over the top in one of two ways really, she can head what I am saying and overcompensate for it; “I wish you would show me more affection” and then the woman won’t get off my lap, or she can resent what I am saying and take it the cut off your nose to spite your face route; one time I fussed at her to stop whispering to one of our boys because I thought they were becoming a distraction and she didn’t say a word in church for months after that.

The point is that I can’t script her responses to what I am saying in my mind, then get pissed when she doesn’t know her lines in the script.  There were times, back when she was in the hospital, when I would literally rehearse out loud conversations that I expected to have with her.  Pausing between each point in order to hear in my mind her expected and then responding again out loud to the imaginary her.  If someone had ever seen me sitting alone in my living room doing that, we both would have been in the nut house, but I did.  What I’m saying is that although we should be prepared to communicate, know what it is that we value and are trying to express, we cannot try to communicate thinking that we already know what the other person is thinking.  We don’t get to be angry because their reaction does not match or expectations?  We’ll get a chance to talk again, just shut up and listen!  You see how Jesus did that?

 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

 7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

 8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

   Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

 9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

 10 Jesus answered, . . .

Jesus waits, nice and patient for Peter to say what he’s gonna say.  Then replies, not in anger or frustration, but to address Peter’s misunderstanding. Jesus doesn’t store up his anger that Peter is contradicting him, but rather knows to address it in a Godly way:

 “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down on your wrath”

~ Ephesians 4:26(NIV)

He engages Peter gently.  Involves him in the process of communication without accusing him or putting him on the defensive.

Then again, he does not overreact to Peter’s second over corrective error, but gently corrects him again.  Back and Forth.  Your turn, my turn.  I respect you, you respect me.  You didn’t understand me that way, let me try to explain it this way.  Our therapist has an exercise where whenever my wife and I had a serious conversation we were supposed to use a salt shaker to pass back and forth.  When she had the salt shaker, it was her turn to talk and my turn to listen. When I had the salt shaker in was my turn to talk and her turn to listen.  Before we spoke we were to reiterate in our own words what the other had just said.  Often times, the salt shaker would just sit on the table between us, as we both sat silently, reminding us to pick it up if we needed to.

And finally Jesus lets them know what he is doing:

 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Jesus became first what he wanted his disciples to be.  He himself provided the example for them to model their own behavior after.  He didn’t just shoot out an email or text message; “Hey, I want y’all to start washing each other’s feet” or “hey, I want y’all to start respecting folks regardless of their position in life”, he showed them.  He taught them to respect each other, by respecting them first.  He taught them to value each other by valuing them first.  He didn’t just insist on it, because he was God and it’s his way or the highway, he actually did it first.

Not only did he do it, but he did it in a way that communicated what he wanted by building them up.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

~Ephesians 4:29(NIV)

“Hey, did Jesus really just wash my feet? That’s something now!”  He taught them in a way that let them know that they had value, that he respected them and that built their dignity.  To often we see someone’s dignity as the greatest obstacle to getting our point across.  We think we must break them down in order to build them back up as we would like them to be.  We mistake dignity for pride and convince ourselves that it is for their own good, but were really serving ourselves.  Inappropriately displaying our own anger and managing our own fears by exerting our control.  How can I expect my wife to show me the respect that I so desperately crave, if I cannot respect her first?  How can I ask her to stop being the monster that I’m constantly reminding her that she is?  How can I expect her to move on, grow, improve and become a better person if I am constantly reminding her of who she used to be.  Can I really expect her to freely choose to express her love and respect for me and her regret for what she’s done by insisting on it in the format that I want?  There’s no choice there.  Forcing her to respect me, to show her love for me, to express remorse, is like putting a gun to someone’s head and forcing them to say they love you.  The words will almost assuredly come, but can they really ever mean anything?

At its core communication is about recognizing each other’s vulnerability.  And not exploiting  that vulnerability to simply get our way, but building each other up so that the marriage is not vulnerable.  Her vulnerabilities become my vulnerabilities, mine become hers.  The are ours now.  Together.  One person trying to become better, trying to serve God better.  Two hearts in one body reaching for the sky.

The Dignity of Body Odor…

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

~Ephesians 4:23 (ESV)

Uhm… You Stink!…

Last summer I was called into my boss’s office for a private meeting.  I could tell from his affect when telling me to come into his office that it wasn’t to give me a raise.  After I entered his office and closed the door, at his request, behind me, he picked a piece of paper from his desk and began to read it to me.  It was the department’s dress code policy which contained a clause about personal hygiene.  He read the section to me and told me that there had been complaints about my personal hygiene on the job, specifically that I stunk!

Now, my boss is a nice enough guy, but he’s not the most well-spoken person in the world.  It will often take five or more minutes of him stuttering, interrupting himself, realizing that he should justify this or that about what he’s saying and generally just seeming nervous of your potential reaction, just to get a simple point across.  He also has a tendency of describing singular isolated problems as chronic in order to justify his address of them.  Because he fears confrontation, he needs to make problems that he must address, chronic, ongoing etc. in order to remove any doubt that they need to be addressed.  In this way he is able minimize the “I’m being a jerk” factor and the likelihood of confrontation.  The problem is that he’s really not as clever as he thinks he is and these efforts are typically very obvious.

This was to be no exception.  It really didn’t surprise me that I stunk.  I’m not an overly hygienic person.  I clean up nice for church and take a bath when my wife tells me to, but I’m not the sort that gonna spend a hundred dollars on cologne or stand in the mirror a half an hour each day fussin with one of those little sissy beards.  I’m a hick!  I have farm chores to do before I go to work, It was august in SC and I work in construction, on any number of days I probably wasn’t smelling my best by the end of the day.  What surprised me was his assertion that “everyone” in the office had complained about it.  “Wow, maybe this really is a problem”, I thought.

If the man was smart, he would have stopped there, but as was typical, he continued to justify his action by trying to further magnify the problem.  Citing more and more examples of the profoundly detrimental effects of my stickiness to the operation of our office.   “Yeah, even the guys who work for the contractors at the bridge have said that guy really smells”…

“Uhm, wait a min” I think to myself, we had been building a bridge that summer, but I had not been there much.  I typically worked by myself in a truck following other work crews around.  The only few times that I was there was to test the concrete – several hundred yards away from anyone working for the contractor.  That be some wicked BO now!  In addition to this, my boss is a desk jockey.  He hardly ever is in the field and the few times he has been, he certainly doesn’t speak to contractor’s workforce.  Something was fishy here and it wasn’t my armpits!  Then his fatal mistake; “Especially when you in the truck with other people”, he says.  Now there had been exactly once that I was in a work truck with another employee in the previous year.  It was the day before.  My mind reviewed the day instead of focusing on what he was saying – I could tune back in after another few minutes and figure out what he had been saying.

The day before, I had been told to come into work at 4:30am.  They would be pouring a concrete deck at the bridge and it was better for them to do so in the cooler hours of the morning than mid-day.  I spend the morning testing concrete; a process that involves hauling wheel barrows of concrete from the concrete truck to the test area, mixing the concrete by hand with a ice scoop, filling cylinders for test samples etc.  In short, it’s moderately heavy work and even in the wee hours of a South Carolina August morning, to be considered sweaty.  Upon returning to the office later that morning I was instructed to drive one of the engineers to another job site, in a swamp approximately 90 minutes away in order to perform an erosion control inspection – it was 103 deg F, when I preformed the inspection, which involved trudging through ditches in order to examine drainage control systems and bush axing into the brush which surrounded the site.

It became clear to me what had happened now.  The engineer with whom I drove to the swamp site that afternoon is his assistant and a woman.  Women working here is a relatively new happening and I really don’t think he knows how to conduct himself around her.  He’s so concern about appearing intensive to her as a woman that he ends up being overly sensitive to her.  I’ve literally watched this man suspend the work he was doing on a 12 million dollar bridge project and take the afternoon to order her a mouse pad – “Is this color ok? How about this one with the gel on the edge?”  Back and forth from her desk to the secretary’s office, all afternoon, making sure that just the right thing was ordered.  This is a man that took 9 months to get around to ordering me thermometers and other equipment, necessary for me to do my job, because he was simply too busy.

She was not particularly pleased that she had to accompany me that afternoon to the swamp and was a bit grumpy both on the way there and on the return trip to the office.  It was apparent to me what had happened.  In that grumpy state she must have said something about me stinking after we returned in the presence of the boss.  Now he went into “save the princess” mode.  He was going to show her what an effective leader he was – what a tight ship he ran.  As God as his witness, she’d never have to be subjected to the foulness of my stinky armpits again!!!

Now I’m pissed!  Not because of the embarrassment of being called stinky.  I was stinky. I’m stinky all the time.  I actually work for my money.   I probably could pay more attention to my hygiene. Put a little more attention into my appearance and the impression it will produce.  I just don’t really care.   I was pissed because this was being made to look like something that it really wasn’t simply so that he could impress some girl.  I was caught in the middle of some kind of office peacock strut, being put down so that others could make themselves feel good.  But I was mostly pissed because no one could see my side of the story.

What neither of them had known is that part of the problem that day is that I had run out of deodorant and didn’t have the money to buy more until my next paycheck.  Times had been really tight that summer.  I had lost a bunch of overtime by taking off for my wife’s hospitalization and my subsequent hospitalization, she had quit her job and I just wasn’t making the amount of overtime that I had the year before.  Our account was overdrawn, the mortgage was behind, they were threatening to reposes our vehicles, and I literally only had five dollars in my pocket to last us until my next paycheck still several days away.  I can remember later that afternoon, standing in the grocery store with that same five dollars in my pocket.  I had a gallon of milk in one hand and deodorant in the other and stood there seething as I tried to decide if it was more important to not let the baby go another day without milk or to not get written up for offending someone with my BO.

I’ve sometimes wondered since that day, how my boss would have felt if they had known those things.  If he understood the choice that he would be forcing me into that day.  Would it have changed his perspective of the situation?  Would he have reacted less severely?  Choose another issue on which to assert himself?  I’m quite certain it would have made a very big difference in the way that he handled things and I guess the moral to this story (if there is one) is that sometimes people stink for very good reasons.

I wanted to talk about empathy and its place in the process of forgiveness.  Preacher Google tells me that nowhere in the bible is the word “empathy” used, but there is a number of places where it is displayed or instructed.

“compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous . . .”

~1 Peter 3:8 (NKJV)

15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

~Romans 12:15(ESV)

Jesus himself shows great empathy a number of times in the gospels:

The Harvest Is Plentiful, the Laborers Few

35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, qlike sheep without a shepherd. 37 rThen he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

~ Matthew 9 (ESV)

Through the Eyes of My Monsters…

You know I decided to write about empathy almost a week ago and have been staring at a blank screen for the last few days.  Maybe awaiting inspiration, maybe I just don’t have a clue about empathy, but then something happened that really served to show me what I needed to be writing about.  My wife and I had a fight last night, actually the last two nights.  It began, simply by my noticing a particularly scowlfull  look on her face and asking what was the matter.  “Nothing” she replied, but I know from experience that regardless of whether or not something is wrong, this will be her first reply.  In a little while, I asked again what was wrong.  Again, “nothing” was her reply.

Really, nothing makes me more nervous that the word “nothing” coming from my wife’s mouth.  The word represents a complete dichotomy with respect to what may be going on with her.  A double edged sword which simply cannot be handled without doing some sort of injury to myself.  “Nothing” may mean nothing, but it has also very often meant “nothing that I can tell you”, secret, horrible things that are anything but nothing.  It’s so difficult for me to distinguish for instance if she’s just frustrated with the boys and nothing really is the matter or if the fact that her face betrays her words means that something much deeper is lurking.  If nothing means nothing and I push too hard, nothing becomes “you’re pissing me off for asking”, if nothing means something and I don’t push hard enough, nothing becomes a very big something in  very short order.  The word literally strikes fear into my heart.

I usually err on the side of the latter that is the assumption that nothing is the matter really means something is the matter and as we got in the bed that night, I asked again. “Baby, what is the matter? Did something happen that you don’t want to tell me?”, then, I don’t know why, I can only attributed it to my own stupidity; I asked the one thing that I know will invariably set her off “you’re not being sneaky again are you?”

Oh Lord, now it was on… I’ll spare y’all the details of the 24 hours which followed this and let it suffice to say that it started with “why the hell can’t you just leave me alone” and ended with “I’m trying to stop hating you” and along the way involved plenty of ignoring one and other, the word “bitch” (me), the word “asshole” (her), the expression “F*** You”, (her) and a lit candle thrown at the wall (me) as well as both of us bringing up stuff from the past.  There was some beer involved, but really not much.  I had maybe five that day starting about 1pm and she had about two.  It was now past eight and both of us were well before our sloppy drunk stage.  Both of us were holding fast to the things that we simply refuse to give up.  Me insisting on my right to be treated with respect and to communicate with my wife when I think that something is the matter.  Her  insisting on me getting past the past and believing her when she tells me that nothing means nothing and to be left alone when she wanted.

Well, on this particular night “nothing” didn’t really didn’t mean nothing and all kinds of stuff surfaced for both of us.  I regret to say that this is really our primary form of communication.  My wife despises talking about things so much that it is often necessary, when I see that something is wrong, for me to incite that type of rage simply to get her to engage with me.  Only then, after this rage and assuming that this process does not also put me into a rage, when all the rage has subsided, do we find the issues have been put out on the table for us to consider.  It’s a horrible way to communicate, I know, but I honestly don’t know any other way.  I debated whether I would write about communication or empathy first and decided to first tackle empathy as the understanding of such was probably necessary for any meaningful discussion of communication.

After the candle, I was done being angry – it often switches off quickly like that for me.  She was still angry, but as I began to speak more gently she eventually backed down as well.  Now what I have just described to this point, could very well have been any one of two dozen nights at my house since the affair, but what made this one special is something she said to me after we made up and were lying there falling asleep.  She talked about a woman at church who recently lost a baby and how it was difficult for her to talk to her.  That she didn’t thing that she should have any right to try to give advice to another Christian give what she had been doing last year.  That she wasn’t worthy.  She continued saying that the therapist had asked her last week about dignity and pride and that she didn’t know what the difference was, but she didn’t think that she had either.

In that instant, something changed in my heart and reminded me how much I loved this woman.  For the first time really since the affair, I saw her not as the source of my pain, but as another soul crying out to the world also in pain.  I felt sorry for her and in that instant, wanted desperately to find a way to give her the dignity and pride that she so desperately needed.

I didn’t really understand the difference between pride and dignity either, so we googled it.  I’m still not sure that I do.  Pride has more to do with a good feeling about something  you’ve done whereas dignity has to do with a good feeling about yourself.  Something like that.  She was crying silently now and I wanted to say something to make her feel better but didn’t know what to say.  “Well, why do you think you don’t have dignity Baby?” was what I managed.

“I don’t know, I just don’t feel like I deserve to”, she answered.

“Because of last year?” I asked.

“Yes” she blurted, “and because of everything.  My whole life”

I’d like to break here in order to share with y’all a little about my wife’s life.  She’s had it pretty rough now.  Like me, she grew up pretty poor, but unlike me, her family was absolutely crazy.  I don’t mean crazy like “Please don’t make me have dinner at the in-laws” crazy.  Crazy like Grandmother killed herself in the attic with a hatchet crazy.  Crazy like Mother has been hospitalized and medicated for depression crazy.  Crazy like Father had schizophrenia and killed himself with a shot gun crazy.  Crazy crazy!

The lattermost of these events (her father committing suicide) occurred in my wife’s presence.  I’ve seen the police report.  Her father, as I have mentioned, was mentally ill and would often abandon his wife and young daughter and simply disappear for long periods of time.  Her parents separated and on the night that he killed himself, he, my wife (then two), his girlfriend and her young boy (also about two) were camping.  No one really knows what happened that night.  The police report says suicide, my wife’s grandfather thinks that my wife’s mother found him there with his girlfriend and shot them, what certain is that my wife and that other little boy spend the night in that tent after both my wife’s father and his girlfriend were dead.  Now clearly my wife, then being only two, has no clear memory of this, but still, can you imagine growing up knowing that? Knowing that you weren’t enough to keep that person from killing themselves?  That you weren’t worth them sticking around, dealing with whatever they didn’t want to deal with?

My wife’s mother had a very hard time dealing with this and placed my wife in foster care for several years following this while she worked on her own recovery.  My wife also remembers very little from this time, but still has always had the knowledge that it happened.  When her mother was stronger her mother took her back again.

At the age of 8 my wife and four other girls were watched by a couple from their kingdom hall (Jehovah witness) the man, who was one of the elders in that congregation, would each day, take one of the girls back to his workshop, where he would molest them.  My wife doesn’t like to talk about it much, but from what I understand I don’t think he had sex with the girls, but it was far more than pats on the bottom and inappropriate kissing.  Think insertion and masturbation that sort of stuff.  When she told her parents, who were also members of the congregation, they did not believe her.  The abuse lasted for almost two years.

I promised myself that I was not going to go off on the Jehovah Witnesses here, but it’s my considered opinion that they’re horse shit!  It’s one of those things that looks enough like Christianity to make you think “yeah, there a little wacky, but they’re Christian enough”, they’ll even refer to themselves as the only true Christians, but at their core they are something very different than Christian and the closer you look the more you realize that the organization is really something very horrible that market’s itself as Christianity.  It’s like one of those bad dreams where you see someone who you think is your wife or your Mama, but then when you get closer they turn into a monster.  Their allegiance is not first to God or Jesus, but rather to a dozen or so men that live in a tower in Brooklyn NY, called the Watchtower.  This watchtower refers to itself as a profit, but has time and time again made predictions which have failed to come true.  They instruct their followers that they are not intelligent enough to understand God’s word and must study it through the watchtower’s publications so that it may be interpreted for them.  These publications also instruct and control virtually every part of the Jehovah Witness’ life.  What they watch on tv, their music, their friends, their medical decisions, financial decisions, how much they should be witnessing, how they should be witnessing, what they can eat, drink, smoke… These “instructions” are so stringent, that they are just plain impossible to follow in their entirety.  None of them can, but they all believe that everyone else is.  The impression that each one of them has is that they are the only “bad person” in the congregation.  If they were a better Jehovah Witness or loved God more, then they would be able to follow all of the rules set forth, but because of their own inherent ungodliness, they cannot.  So each of them do what all the others do which is to watch what they want on tv, read what they want, listen to what they want etc. and then pretend that they don’t.  It’s literally an entire organization comprised entirely of people who in their hearts believe that they are deviant, but God understands pretending to not be deviant.  Terrifying!

Growing up like that has got to take a toll on your self image!  Since a very young age, my wife has been conditioned to think that there was something wrong with her.  That she herself was deficient in some way, which prevented her from knowing that joy which is God’s love.  She knows full well how to play the role, but deep down knows that she would always have to find collateral ways to happiness.  Her association with the Jehovah Witnesses ended when she married her first husband.  Him not being a Jehovah Witness, it was prohibited for them to marry.  When she did, she was “disfellowshipped” a process which involves the intentional shunning of all members of that organization including her family.

That marriage was tumultuous.  When they married my wife knew that he was dying of cancer.  He was addicted to drugs and although they loved each other very much, the relationship was plagued by abuse, abandonment, fights and infidelity.  He died very young and I believe my wife thinks that this too was her fault for abandoning her Jehovah Witness faith.

After his passing, my wife returned to live with her parents and the congregation which had shunned her for leaving to be with her husband.  The quickly arranged for her to marry another single man from the congregation a marriage which produced my stepson.  This was a very unhappy marriage from the beginning and my wife was now wholly depressed, addicted to drugs and willingly participated in affair after affair the last of which was me.  I have also heard things from my wife and stepson which led me to believe that there was physical abuse in this marriage as well.

Now that’s a bunch and I am certain that there will be those that read this and say “Wow!  That’s a bunch!”.  I am equally certain that there will be those who will read this and say “I’ve seen/heard/been through worse!”  And the truth is that yes, even a past like that does not entitle someone to the type of selfishness that my wife has shown, but even I, who most likely am the one person who has the greatest justification to not excuse this woman, has got to read that and think that a life like that is gonna leave a mark.  A spot that Ajax won’t take away.  Time and time again in my wife’s live she has not only been told, but shown how worthless she is.  How vulnerable.  How expendable; “you aren’t valuable enough for me to choose life over death”, “you aren’t valuable enough for me to keep you instead of taking time for myself”, “you aren’t valuable enough for me to respect the purity of your youth over my base need to jerk off while touching you”, “you aren’t valuable enough for us to make a fuss at the kingdom hall in order to stop the man abusing you”, “you aren’t valuable enough for me to stop hitting/abandoning/feeding drugs to/ take you in the woods and screwing you!”.  “I’ll tolerate you as long as you don’t become more of a burden than my use for you will warrants.”  Time and Time again – her whole life!

Should it really surprise me that a person who has been used that much in her life should herself become a user.  That she doesn’t know any other way to relate to people?  That stamped into her mentality is the notion that everyone is full of horse shit!  Pretending to be something just to get what they want from her?  Is it really that far of as step to go from “Daddy couldn’t/wouldn’t protect me” to “God my father can’t/won’t protect me!”?  Should I find it to be shocking that she may also not trust God’s word or will for her.

And how does a person like that find acceptance?  We all crave, need and seek out acceptance for ourselves.  We require that validation that we’re worth something.  Christians seek it in fellowship, Atheists seek for it on atheist message boards, children seek it with other children.  If we can’t find it in our church, we leave our church. If we can’t find in our jobs, we leave our jobs.  If we can’t find it with our parents, we leave our parents.  If we can’t find it in our marriages we leave our marriages.  Where do you go, though, when you honestly believe that you’re not worth anything?  That you have no value?  That nothing decent can recognize anything decent in you? … “Oh, how about a drug dealing scum bag (y’all proud of me that I didn’t say nigger.  I’m trying.  That chapter’s coming) who drives a moped around town because he lost his license and who can’t hold a job for longer than a few months at a time!  He’ll accept me! He can’t judge me!  We can pretend that we’re both not worthless together.  Tell each other tales (true or not) of our woe, pretend to believe each other’s nonsense and use each other to justify what we’re doing!”.  It doesn’t surprise me.

I want to look at this again:

The Harvest Is Plentiful, the Laborers Few

35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

~ Matthew 9 (ESV)

What’s going on here anyway?  When I look at a crowd of people, I don’t automatically feel compassion.  Some of them might have very nice lives!  Better than mine; swimming pools in the back yard, nice cars, wife’s that haven’t cheated on them.  He must of known that some (even most) of them would not follow him, some may have even been going to be responsible for putting him on the cross.  Why would Jesus feel compassion just from seeing a group of people and what is this about harvest and laborers?  What does that have to do with harassed sheep?  Here’s what; when Jesus looked at the crowd, he didn’t only see them with physical eyes as we do – this guy needs a shave and smells like wine, that woman has a reputation, that guy over there has his zipper down, what a dufus!  He saw them with spiritual eyes.  He saw not only what they were, but what they could be.  What they were designed to be.  But they are lost, helpless and need help to find their way home.

That kind of help is not easy to provide.  In fact it’s a lot of work.  I live on a small farm, so I can kind of get the agrarian reference.  We’ve never had sheep on our farm, but I can speak for goats.  You don’t ever trust a goat to do the right thing!  A goat will test a fence like he was going to get paid when he got out!  And once they do, you better not have any place to be that afternoon and certainly no place that requires your clothes to be clean, because if you want that goat back, you are going to spend your day chasing him through the woods, dodging trees, crawling under brush and about wanting to shoot the dang thing before you will be able to cajole him back into the pen.

Now producing a harvest is a hard work to, but at least the cotton doesn’t try to head butt you in the ass.  If you’ve ever kept a garden, then you know that with any sort of crop, all of the work is up front; plowing, tilling, planting, fertilizing, insecticide, hoeing, fighting back weeds and insects and birds and your neighbor’s dog, by the time you get to the harvest your work is pretty much done. It’s exciting.   It’s time for your reward.  Everybody wants to help when it’s time to pick the pick the tomatoes, but strangely enough everyone’s real busy when it’s time to hoe the weeds.  It’s not very dignifying work; crawling around on your hands and knees, trying to yank out he nutgrass without breaking the stem and leaving the bulb to sprout up again next week, flicking grubs into a bucket for the chickens.  There’s not much pride associated with walking out the garden, covered in mud with a basket full of weeds, not nearly as much as walking in the house with a big basket of beautiful beefsteak tomatoes.  But that’s the work that is necessary to get to the point where you get the tomatoes.  In a manner of speaking, we must sacrifice our dignity in order to gain it.  We must look ahead to the dignity that’s to come.

Still though, if Jesus is saying that the harvest is ready, but yet there are so few available workers, well then how did the harvest become ready?  Who pulled out all that nutgrass?  Who fed all the grubs to the chickens?  Who planted all those seeds to begin with?  Surly if there was enough workers to finish all that work, then there should be plenty to spare available just to pick the fruit.  Hold on now, we must not be gardening alone!  Someone else was there.  Someone else has been working.  Someone else is helping with the really tough stuff!  The stuff that for us as Christians is really just beyond our ability to do.  All Jesus is telling us to do is to give one and other the dignity of gathering the tomatoes, placing them in the basket and bring them into God’s house for his glory.

Back in the Bed…

So when my wife said to me last night through her tears, “I don’t think that I have any pride or dignity”.  I need to see that as an opportunity to serve God’s glory by validating her.  She’s telling me what she needs to feel whole.  What she’s always been missing.  Her lack of pride, her lack of dignity, her lack of value is like that nutgrass squeezing the life out of the decent plants, sucking more and more of their nutrients, water and resources away.  She’s telling me that the reason that her tomatoes are withered is that the nutgrass is choking them out and that what I’ve been telling her is that helping her weed is beneath my dignity, I just want the tomatoes.  I really am an ass sometimes.

OK, so she needs pride and dignity, how can I give her that?  I better look at those words again.

I think that in order to understand the difference between pride and dignity we must first take a look at the difference between self-esteem and self-respect.  In the most simple (and I like simple) terms, my understanding of the basic difference is that self-esteem had to do with what you “think” whereas self-respect has to do with what you “do”.  Whereas self-esteem is internal, self-respect is something that is necessarily external to ourselves.  Self-help gurus love to talk about our self-esteem – “What you need to do is reduce your feelings of shame through the power of positive thinking. We can show you how, for just three easy payments of $19.95, but wait, act now and we’ll also send you the egg-o-matic!  Never feel the shame of not being able to peel your hard boiled eggs again!”  Sounds great!  Let me have some of that!  I want to feel good about myself!  Here’s the problem:

Charlie Manson had great self-esteem!

That guy simply loved himself!  Happy as a clam convincing folks to kidnap and murder people.  As long as he feels good about himself, that’s what’s important right?  Sometimes a poor self-esteem is just good common sense!  Self-esteem is what my wife and this man were giving each other when they sat in the woods telling each other about how horrible their lives were and why they so deserved to continue their adulterous affair.   Our thoughts change day to day, sometimes moment to moment, how in the world can we use them to gauge our self-value.

As opposed to this is self-respect.  Self-respect has to do with things outside of us – what we do!  Observable, measurable things that our wacky though process can’t deny.  I’ve kept this family under a roof and put supper on the table as best I could through all this!  My negative thoughts can’t deny that.  Here we are warm tonight with some supper in our bellies.  My wife doesn’t have that right now.  The best she has is; we’re alive despite my efforts.  That’s gotta suck!  I don’t think I could value myself either with that hanging over my head.  The thing is I can’t take it away, she did all that stuff, I can’t simply pretend that it never happened.  Believe me, if I could have figured out a way to make it have never have happened, I would have done so a long time ago.  Still though, it’s over, she’s done, I’ve forgiven her, I have to let her begin that process of learning to respect herself.

Pride has to do with the positive feelings we get from how we see ourselves.  It gets to our self-esteem.  That’s why we can envision both positive and negative connotations of the word pride.  No one want’s to be thought of as a prideful person, but being proud of my kid for making that diving catch a the ball game –maybe that doesn’t  seem so bad.  But what if I’m proud that my kid is so much better that that little girly looking kid in right field?  Like our self-esteem, it’s subjective, a function of things going on internal to ourselves and will therefore always be subject to our internal moods.  I can make my wife feel good about this pie that she baked, or this dress that she looks nice in (and I should) but to what extent will that ultimately alter her sense of self-value.  It may right now, but tomorrow when she’s feeling bad about herself, my compliments will seem fleeting.

Dignity gets at our self-respect.  I have value because, my kids value me.  I have value because, even thought my kids don’t see it, I love them unconditionally, would give my life for them and provide for them to the best of my ability.  Now that’s something real!  Because I can feel like poop about myself tomorrow and our house will still be here reminding me of my value to this family.  I’m not perfect, but I’ve tried to serve God, stay in his word and follow his will for me.  I can’t deny that stuff based on my mood.  I might be able to deny it to others.  Convince others that I a good Christian, a good worker, a good husband, a good father etc.  I can fool myself into improving my self-esteem based on what others think.  Pride in things that I know are false, just because I’ve fooled everyone else, but when I’m alone with God, there’s no lying about it.  Self-respect/dignity has some more girth to it now.  Even when I screw up, I can look at my track record and see that yeah, I may be being an ass right now, but all in all, I’m not so bad.  I can’t challenge it by my wack-a-doodle thinking.  It’s there in front of me or it’s not.  And maybe, if it’s strong enough, my dignity can begin to outweigh my wack-a-doodle thinking.

That’s what I want for my wife!  Dignity!  That’s the stuff!  Where can I buy it for her?  Thing is that you can’t – I checked on eBay.  There’s none for sale.  I can’t buy it for her and I can’t give it to her.  It has to be something she builds for herself.   How does one encourage that? In 2 Kings 4:

The Widow’s Olive Oil

1 The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the LORD. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.”

2 Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?”

“Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a small jar of olive oil.”

3 Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. 4 Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.”

5 She left him and shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring.6 When all the jars were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another one.”

But he replied, “There is not a jar left.” Then the oil stopped flowing.

7 She went and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.”

All right now!  I know something about the indignity of poverty.  I felt it that day in the grocery store trying to decide between buying the bar of deodorant and a gallon of milk.  What we see here is Elisha helping this woman to develop her own dignity.  A couple of things I can see; first Elisha doesn’t contribute to her indignity.  It’s so easy for us to do so.  It’s so easy to say to ourselves, “oh his armpits stink because he’s too lazy to take a bath.”, or “she hurt me because she’s just evil.”  But that’s not what Elisha does.  He says, straight off – “how can I help you”.  That’s key.  He doesn’t just fix it for her.  He doesn’t just take over and pay her rent.  That’s me.  I want to take over, handle things, fix what needs fixin.  I know what to do and you don’t either have to worry about it.  I’m in control.  I got this.  The problem with that is what I’m communicating is “I’m in control, because you aren’t able to be in control”.  I’m stealing her dignity!

The next thing he does is guide her to consider the resources she does have.  When my wife is well, she is quite simply put the most loving and caring person I know.  She’s a wonderful mother.  Is intelligent, funny and loves God with all her heart.  I forget to remind her of that, because it is so obvious to me.  What I have to remember is that when you have creditors threatening to make your children slaves you tend to forget about the bottle of olive oil you have in the kitchen.

Now Elisha, directs her to her faith.  “What the heck!” the woman must have been thinking “I only have one jar of oil!  Why in the world would I ask all the neighbors for all these jars?  They’ll probably think I’m crazy”.  You see she went and got an ass of jars, not just a few – a testimony to her faith.

Then, behind a closed door, for only her and her boys to see, God provides for this family.  The oil pours and pours and fills each jar that she secured via her faith.  That’s awesome! Even in the old testament God has compassion.  He looks after those who have faith in him.  What’s notable here is that he lets her do it herself.  He doesn’t boar his way in with her saying “here give me that bottle.  This is too important and  you’ll probably just spill it anyway!” He allows her the dignity of  building her own dignity.  He allows her this private moment with God.  Again that’s huge, because had he not don’e so the widow would never had seen that it was on her behalf that God was acting, not Elisha’s.  That she was of value to God as well.  God had her back and not just his buddy Elisha’s.

Now don’t miss the tail ending, because it’s something to which I really need to pay attention.  She goes and tells Elisha, who just says “well alright! There you go!  Pay your bills and get on with your life.”  That’s it and that’s all.  No, “hey check me out!  See how much I did for you”.  No, “see how better you would be if you just were more like me?”.  No, “The reason you got yourself in this pickle is that you were a dope about this or that.”  Just, “well alright!  There you go.”

I need to learn to shut my mouth like that.  I need to stop stealing my wife’s dignity in order to bolster my pride.  I need to stop worrying about my self-esteem and the expense of her self-respect.  Stop fussin about how her nutgrass is choking my tomatoes (that almost sounds a little dirty) and help her fill her own basket with the harvest.  Lord Jesus, please help me learn to do so.  Because at the end of the day I know, that her value and my value are the same.  That my value as a husband is a function of how much she values herself.  That sometimes we all stink and there is a reason for it.  I love my wife and I want more than anything for her to feel the gift of dignity.

Don’t Say It Looks Like a Vagina or They’ll Give You an Extra Week…

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.

~Romans 12:1

I should have listened…

The dorms in which I lived while going to college were really more like apartment suites than what you might typically think of when you picture a dorm in your mind.  Each suite had a common living room, kitchen and bathroom and then 3 or 4 bedrooms in which 2 to 3 students would reside.  On any given night, you could be fairly certain that in one suite or another, somewhere in that dorm, there was a party going on.

I attended one such party one night and met a girl.  Very pretty, red curly hair, green eyes, physically fit…  Now I’ve never thought of myself as God’s gift to women or anything, but I’m also not his punishment to them.  I’m ok looking I guess, but no movie star, so I was a bit surprised, given how beautiful she was, that she decided to come sit next to me on the couch.  She said that she had seen me practicing in the gym (I played volleyball in college and she was on the swim team – their practice ended shortly after ours began.) for a while and always wanted to talk to me.  We drank beer and talked and flirted as the night drew on and I was really starting to get over my mistrust of the situation and beginning to enjoy myself.  Then my roommate came up to me and whispered in my ear that he needed to talk to me privately.  We went back by the communal bathroom where he said “Look man, I’m not going to tell you what to do, but that girl’s crazy!”

“What are you talking about” I objected indignantly, “we’ve been talking all night.  She’s pretty nice”.  I was certain that he wanted me to back off so that he could have a shot himself.

“Like I said”, he said “I’m not going to tell you what to do”.

When I returned to the living room, she was gone.

Two nights later I was returning from practice to find that unbeknownst to myself, that there was to be a party in my suite that night.  As I walked down the hallway which approached my apartment I could hear the loud music; “We don’t have to take our clothes off, to have a good time, yeah, yeah” as well as the people in my apartment singing loudly “we don’t have to have a good time, to take our clothes off, yeah, yeah” – it was a common joke in those days.  I opened the door and can remember being greeted by the smell of cigarette and marijuana smoke and the sight of liquor bottles, beer cans and people doing other drugs (which I had never been particularly interested in nor understood much about) at the dining room table.

My eyes strained to scan the smoke filled living room, in order to see if I recognized everyone there and as they did I noticed the same red-headed girl walking down the hallway from the bathroom.  She noticed me and smiled.  We talked for a while and then she said “let’s go someplace more quiet”

“Oh, well this is my apartment” I said “I’ll just tell my roommates to leave us be and we can hang out in my room”.  I did so and we did so and as we were walking back to my room, I can remember thinking that I was the luckiest guy in the world.

Well, I think that it was obvious to both of us that we weren’t going back there to talk, because as soon as I had closed my door we were kissing and taking each other’s clothes off next to my bed.  I closed my eyes and tried to ignore all the dissonance of the party just outside my door.  Wham!  Something slams into my chest and I’m falling through the air into the bed.  Upon landing, I looked up to see that she had pushed me and was now standing over me, still on the side of the bed grinning.  “Why are you grinning like that” I asked as the words of my roommate from two nights prior began playing on an infinite loop inside my head; “that girl’s crazy – that girl’s crazy – that girl’s crazy…”

“Have you ever been tied up”? she asked.

“No” I replied.

“Do you want to be”? she grinned even wider.

“No not really”? I answered hesitantly.

“Well then I’m leaving” she threatened.

“Wait a minute”

At that time girls carried pocketbooks which were kind of like these big floppy leather bags about the size of a small pillow case.  She opened hers and pulled out these smooth ropes.  I’m gonna tell you what, either that girl grew up in a rodeo (which I doubted) or she had done this kind of thing before, because in just a manner of a minute or two she had me strapped to that bed post and I wasn’t either going to get myself unstrapped.  She sat on top of me and began kissing me again, but only for a short while before getting up and going back into the bag – “that girl’s crazy – that girl’s crazy – that girl’s crazy…”; like he was standing right next to me.  “Lord” I thought “what now a gun, a knife”?  My mind began searching for ways to escape this situation which was increasingly feeling out of control.  She dropped the bag revealing what was certain to be my implements of destruction.  I probably would have fared better against a knife or a gun, but instead of these things when the bag dropped she was left holding a giant cloth diaper, safety pins and a bottle of baby oil.  At that point I really wasn’t in any position to object and I was really just so relieved that it wasn’t a gun she pulled out that I just sort of let my body relax.

She put that diaper on me, squirted that oil all over me and then sat on top of me again, kind of rubbing herself up and down and making baby talk to me.  If I had thought I had a choice at that point, I probably would have just wanted for it to end, but as I didn’t see where I had a choice, I decided to just try to relax and wait for it to be over.  It wasn’t, after all, all that bad.  Weird?  Certainly! But at least I was having sex , it didn’t seem as if I was to be killed and it would eventually be over.  Just have to wait it out…

“The cops are here”! I hear one voice rising louder than the others in the next room.  My apartment was on the sixth floor, but when I looked up at the window I could see the reflections of the police car’s lights flashing there.  Everyone in the apartment gets up and leaves.  The red-headed girl gets up, grabs her clothes and her bag and leaves and I am left in the somewhat undesirable state of being strapped to my bed, covered in baby oil and nekid except for a now very disheveled and loosely fitting diaper.  I wasn’t saved then, but I prayed “Please let them be here for a party in another apartment”, then I hear the heavy fire door from the hallway to my apartment open.  “Please let that be one of my roommates” I hear the static noise that police radios make. “Please let him look around and see there’s no one here and just leave”.  The door to my room begins to open and in walks not my roommate, not a police man, but the dean of residential services – an about sixty year old woman who always prominently wore a cross.  She entered the room and began to scan it from one side to the other.  About halfway through this scan her eyes met mine.  A quick look up and down to survey my situation and then she turned silently and left the room without ever saying a word.  A police man then came in, untied me and told me to get dressed, which I did while trying to prepare an excuse for my condition.  After I did and as I left the room the police man stopped me by putting his hand on my chest and said “The dean wants to see you in her office tomorrow at 9:00am.  She doesn’t care if you have class or not”.

Now believe it or not, I was already, even before this incident, not the dean’s favorite student.  I had gotten in trouble for underage drinking, my grades stunk, there had been a fire in my dorm which my roommate had lit after drinking too much and wanting to learn how to light hairspray on fire.  So as I walked to her office that next morning, I simply couldn’t feel confident about any story that I was able to come up with.  I decided to try a new strategy; I would just tell her the truth, maybe that way I could fool her with my sincerity.  I was just going to tell her about the red-headed girl.  How pretty I thought she was.  How proud I thought it would make me with my roommates that I was the one she choose.  And that she was crazy!

The dean didn’t want to hear about the red-headed girl or my roommates or my pride.  The issue at hand was the immeasurable amount of alcohol which was left behind in the suite and that I as well as all of my roommates were underage.  I didn’t take a sip that night, but someone would have to take the fall.  My choice was expulsion or a 28 day rehab program.

The rehab was nice.  We played a lot of sports.  Ate well.  Learned Yoga and other stress coping mechanisms to deal with our addictions.  I was about the youngest person there and way over my head when it came to the stories these people were sharing.  Hard core drug addicts, people who had been abusing alcohol for years, housewives who were outside their minds because they no longer had the pills and the booze to help them through their day.   I can remember at one meeting one such housewife, a tiny wispy woman weeping softly as she spoke and saying “I just don’t think I’ll be able to do it” then suddenly the large black man sitting across the table from her stood up so fast that his chair flew across the room from the back of his legs hitting it.  His very large muscular arms tapered  just to a pointed finger in her face  and he screamed “Then hit the streets and die Mother Fucker”!  I’ll never forget that.

Part of that program was that during your first week there you had to take a psychological screen, I guess to see if you were a drunk because you were crazy or crazy because you were a drunk.  They would take us away from the group, four or five at a time and the rest of us waited on a couch outside the psychologist’s office as each went in.  I was the second to go in for my screening, which I didn’t know at the time would include a Rorschach inkblot test.  As the door opened and the person who was screened before me exited the psychologists office he said to me “don’t tell him it looks like a vagina or they’ll give you and extra week”!

OK, so why am I (over) sharing this story?  Well, to a certain extent because I want you to see that I get that sex is fun.  I wasn’t always a Christian husband and a father, there was a time for me too where sex was, well, just sex.  I’m not particularly proud of it, but I understand the value that “just sex” represents to folks.  The real reason however, that I decided to write about this very embarrassing event is to make this point; what if the story didn’t include sex?  Would it have been as interesting, as entertaining, as humorous?

There is something singularly engaging to us as humans when it comes to sex.  Why?  Why does this funny little tingling in our genitals mean so much to us?  Why are we so much more interested in stories that include sex?  Why does Hollywood try to work at least one scene with sex into every movie?  Why does it predominate our thoughts, permeate our self-values, and influence our decisions so greatly?  Monkeys, who are what like a handful of chromosomes away from us, will do it in the zoo right in front of their monkey parents and grandparents.  They don’t worry about how big their monkey penis is or if their monkey boobies are not as perky as they used to be.  They do it just the same as eating, sleeping or breathing.   What is it about those extra few chromosomes that makes it such a big deal to us?

Why is it that this particular thing about my wife’s affair  hurts me so much?  What is it that she received from this man in the hotel, or the woods where they would meet or his home or my home that was of so much value to her that she would be willing to destroy our entire family to get it?  If she had eaten with another guy, talked to, had a drink with or about anything else with him, I’m certain I would be over this by now, but the image of them in that hotel lying together, her opening her legs for him, kissing and rolling around the bed, still torments me.  I’m not sure that I ever will.  Why?

The answer to a Christian is easy; because God said so is why!  You become a man and wife and you share the same flesh.  You belong to one and other.

Mark 10:8 (ESV)

And the two shall become one flesh.  So they are no longer two but one flesh.

However, this still leaves one with the haunting question of why.  Why sex?  Why not eating or going to church or any one of the innumerable other things that could be reserved for couples in love.  Even in the non Christian sense;  I’m sure that there will be more liberal readers who will look at this and say “well yeah!  You’re right.  It’s really not a big deal.  It’s just sex and society has made it a bigger deal than it is” – to which I would respond : “if it’s not a big deal, then why would my wife, along with countless other adulterers throughout history, be willing to throw away everything for it?”

The truth is that sex is a big deal to us, because it really is a big deal.  The difference between me and a monkey is that I know the consequence, good and bad, of sex.  I’ve seen my baby being born and known that it was the ultimate result of that act.  I’ve seen my family be torn apart and known that it was the result of that exact same act – just a different actor.  We know to revere sex, because we know what the results, good and bad, of it will be, even when we pretend that we don’t.  I’ve often heard that as humans we confuse the concepts of sex and making love.  And that’s true.  I’d like to spend the rest of this chapter speaking to the difference between the two.

Let’s Dance!…

In the 1984 movie Footloose staring Kevin Bacon.  Bacon’s character (Ren McCormack) moves to the fictional small mid-western town of Beaumont to live with his mother.  Shortly after arriving, Ren (an avid dancer back in Chicago) discovers that act of dancing is illegal in the town of Beaumont and had been since the preacher’s son had been killed in an automobile wreck returning from a dance.

Later in the film, in an attempt to persuade the town leadership to allow his high school class to hold a prom, Ren reads several verses from scripture before the city council on which the preacher sits.

2 Samuel 6:14

And David danced before the LORD with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod.

2 Samuel 6:16

And as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal Saul’s daughter looked through a window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart.

Psalm 30:11

Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness;

The preacher is moved by Ren’s references, but he council votes to keep the ban.  Later the preacher has a change of heart when he witnesses the public burning of books they decide may be dangerous, in a similar way to dancing to the youth of their community.  They have their dance, the bully kids get their asses kicked and all is right by the end of the film.

Two inescapable truths may be gleamed from watching the film. First, always make sure you’re shoelaces are tied before playing chicken with your uncle’s tractor and secondly, and perhaps more important to what I am writing now, when we try to sanction evil by limiting the ways by which it reveals itself instead of examining the source of the evil itself, it will always find collateral ways to manifest, sometimes through the very means by which we tried to control it in the first place.

Doin the Squishy Dance…

Perhaps it is less coincidental than I thought that I often will refer to the act of making love (still using the terms interchangeable) as doing the “Squishy Dance”.  Like the vertical type of dancing discussed in Footloose, the squishy dance has gotten a bad rep as it has been misused in so many ways of expressing evil, that we sometimes confuse it for something dirty, sinful or lewd.  In fact God tells us time and time again in scripture that he wants married couples to have sex – often:

1 Corinthians 7 (ESV)

But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

Nice!  That sounds like Paul is telling us to have sex all the time, non-stop, except for short, mutually agreed upon breaks, to pray.  If this were true, I think that eventually I’d very much look forward to the prayer breaks – just to catch a breath!  Of course, it’s not what he’s saying.  Like so much in the bible we have to look at the greater context in which it was written.  I want to write about that in a moment, but first I want to write about the squishy dance in my marriage.

My therapist said once that when it comes to sex and intimacy; women are like a slow cooker and men are like a microwave.  To which I responded “just so long as I get something for supper!”  but I got her point.  I’ve thought a lot about that since her saying so and I’m not so sure that I agree.  I mean, my wife wasn’t so much the slow cooker when she was running off to meet this man in the woods each day.  Or leaving my bed after making love and driving to his to do the same with him.  She was the microwave and there has been times when I have been the slow cooker.

It’s funny how in my own marriage we’ve come full circle when it comes to making love.  When we were first married (OK, even before we were married) we made love all the time, nary a night would go by where we didn’t.  Good stuff!  Roll around on top of each other, making out in corners, falling off the bed good stuff!  Then marriage and it was still good, now we had my young stepson around but we still found opportunities here and there.  Then we became pregnant and money got tight.  I was out of work, my wife just had the job at the bakery and we were hurting money wise.  By the grace of God, I was able to find work shortly after the baby was born as a construction inspector, but we were several months behind our mortgage and car payments.

I remember discussing with my wife this very concern.  I had the opportunity to work a lot of overtime that summer and wanted badly to bring us up out of that hole, but I didn’t want to do so if it meant jeopardizing our marriage or our family.   She agreed that it was important for me to do so and promised that she wouldn’t let it affect our marriage.  I worked 80 to 100 hours a week that summer and subsequent fall and we were able to pull ourselves out of that hole, but her promise went unremembered  as to date she still sites this as the biggest reason for the affair.

At the time that she began the affair we were making love infrequently, maybe once a month or less.  I’d like to blame it on just being tired from working so much, but I know it was more.  It was something going on inside of me.  The birth of our son coupled with my sudden assumption of the responsibility of Christian head of household, husband and father came only shortly after my own becoming a Christian.  Not only was I learning what it meant to be a Christian by myself, but now I was also concurrently trying to learn what it meant to be a Christian husband and father.  Central to all of this was the notion of the loving Christian husband with respect to the difference between sex and making love.  I know, if you google it there is like 1000 pages; making love is about forever, screwing is about tonight, making love is about the “us”, screwing is about “me”, making love is about love, screwing is about lust.   I had heard the comparisons a thousand times sex/making love and to be honest, although like most guys I imitated that I understood, I really, also like most guys , was just pretending to in order to impress girls with my sensitivity.

Now, learning to be more like Jesus, I thought back on what sex used to mean to me – it was all tied up in pride and conquering, control, ownership and my own pleasure.  It sickened me that I could ever think of it like that and I simply couldn’t bring myself to desire that with my wife.  I’m not sure that it will make any sense, but I was afraid to make love to my wife for fear of finding myself just “screwing “ my wife.  I was aware of the biblical instruction not to deny my wife sexual pleasure, but this conflict was always forefront to me.  Nagging me.  I wanted desperately to correct it, but I didn’t know how.  The notion of treating my wife in this way literally made me sick to my stomach and although on the nights that we did make love, everything was fine, I would keep slipping back into that fear and night after night it just seemed so easy to make an excuse and push it off one more day.

It was about the time that the affair started that I began to pull myself out of this.  Through prayer and reading the bible and speaking to other Christian men, I finally began to see the difference between making love and just screwing.  That it was ok to want to make love to your wife, desire her, want to be with her in that way and that you weren’t degrading her or doing something to her by doing so, but by then it was too late.  The affair had started and although she would have intercourse with me about as often as I would initiate it, her heart just wasn’t in it like it was before.  It was routine for her, quick, she rarely expressed pleasure during it or affection afterwards.  Her body was there but her heart was somewhere else.  She allowed me to screw her, but wouldn’t make love to me.

When she came home from the hospital and again when I came home from the hospital, it was almost every night.  I remember being surprised, I didn’t think that I would be able to, but it just meant so much that she wanted me, it seemed so controllable – we weren’t making love before, but now we are, we must be ok, that I was able to get past the “I wonder if she’s thinking about him” and the “Once you go black…” stuff.  She was with me and that was enough.  But then, what may be surprising, is that her interest faded not mine.  Now it’s not as bad as all that, but my favorite joke these days is if my wife wants to have sex, I know it’s time to change the oil in my truck – if it’s oral sex, I renew my license!

She frames it as if it’s just circumstances, but how many headaches, upset stomachs, toothaches, and other symptoms can you have before you become your own episode of “house”?  The truth is, and I know it, that she’s in the exact same place as I was last year.  The act of intercourse for her, had become something dirty, risky, taboo, and animalistic that she’s now afraid that to do so with me would represent some sort of perversion.  Furthermore, she’s afraid that shes that she has perverted the act of making love to such an extent to herself that she will be unable to become excited about doing so without that danger, that lewdness, the excitement that she is doing something wrong and just doesn’t care.  I suppose that I should take consolation that my wife doesn’t want to lie down until she can be certain that she can do so without “screwing” me, but still, I miss the intimacy.

This is complexed, of course, by my own ego and low self-esteem – “well, she was about to give up everything last year, for a little piece of drug dealer nigger ass, what’s so bad about me”?  I saw the texts!  I know how much she wanted that singular encounter.  But when it comes to me… excuse after excuse, to the point where I don’t even think she realizes how obvious it’s become.  She must know by now, that this is the singular most way by which she can show me that she’s on board now.  If we could roll around like we used to, fall out the bed every once and a while, would show me that it wasn’t a “once you go black…” sort of thing. You’d think that, if she really wanted forgiveness, she’d take every opportunity to show me how important I am to her, but still, night after night; a toothache, cramps, tired, you snored too much last night, I’m worried about this or that, “ We can if you want to, but…” – OH, the kiss of death – “we can if you want to”!  I’d rather just a “No”!, “we can if you want to” – there’s a whole communication there that says; “I don’t want to, but if you’re gonna force me?  I know the bible says…  I know the therapist says… I know if I really want to show you I’ll…, but no matter what anyone says, I really would just go to sleep”!

That sucks!  Because it’s not the “willing to” that I’m really after, it’s the “want to”.  It’s the “I can’t control myself any more”, not the “ok, just do what you want, I’ll lie here an endure it to prove something to you”.  I want the, can’t keep my hands off you, totally under the influence of love, don’t care if the kids walk in or not, take me now, kind of, let’s get it on! And I don’t want any kind of make you feel guilty, the bible says so, wifely obligation, thing about it!  I want my wife to want me, not because the bible says so, not because she’s undertaking some penance, but because she wants me and nothing else!  But what does that really mean?

Remember Paul?…

I said I was going to get back to it, so now I am; what the heck was Paul talking about in Corinthians anyway?  Here it is again:

1 Corinthians 7:1-9 (ESV)

But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

I think what’s important to understand when reading this is that Paul is speaking to the leaders of the church in Corinth, a community about which Paul has concerns may be going astray.  They had become fragmented and were beginning to develop their own separate theologies and would therefore bicker amongst each other often.  Some of them write Paul, saying something like “Hey!  Check us out; we’re so holy that we’re not even going to get married if we’re not already, or won’t even have sex with our wives if we are!”  They knew Paul himself was celibate and likely thought they were impressing him by deciding to do so as well.

Paul is basically telling them that there idiots.  “Why in the world would you want to put yourself in the way of temptation just to say that you can resist temptation” he is saying.  “It works for me” he says, “but that’s me, not everyone.  It lets me devote myself solely to Godly pursuits, but if someone is going to burn themselves up with lust from abstaining – it’s better that you permit yourself this diversion with your wife then end up being with some hooker somewhere!” – I’m paraphrasing.

But what is Paul actually talking about.  Surly he must be referring to a very orderly and respectful, missionary only type, only to make babies sex and even then we probably shouldn’t let ourselves enjoy it.  No way he’s talking about the fun can’t keep your hands off each other, fall off the bed, roll around the floor, mind blowing, earth shattering, pleasurable sex like we see in literature and the movies!  Right?

Y’all check out this steamy erotic poetry:

How fair is thy love, my sister, my spouse! how much better is thy love than wine! and the smell of thine ointments than all spices!

Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon.

A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.

Thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits; camphire, with spikenard,

Spikenard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices:

A fountain of gardens, a well of living waters, and streams from Lebanon.

Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits.

I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse: I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk: eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved.

I sleep, but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night.

I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them?

My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him.

I rose up to open to my beloved; and my hands dropped with myrrh, and my fingers with sweet smelling myrrh, upon the handles of the lock.

I opened to my beloved; but my beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone: my soul failed when he spake: I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer.

Hey now!  That’s some good times right there!  You got to pay extra to see stuff like that on cable right? It’s from the bible!  It’s from the Song of Solomon 4:9 – 5:6.  The book documents the journey from courtship to consummation of two young lovers and is also thought to be a parable of the relationship of God and Israel.  My point is that God gets that we dig sex – he wired us that way!  What God wants if for us to have sex in a way that is glorifying to him.  Serves his will for us.  Like the town folk in Footloose had to rethink how they felt about dancing and the evil it represented, we (I) have to rethink God’s and my own feelings about sex.  I need to find a way to make sex in my marriage glorifying to God.

Here, I must confess that I’ve always had a feeling like I’ve been a little bit jolted by the bible.  We’re told as Christians that the model to follow for our marriages is that of Christ and the Church.  He is the head of the church just as I am the head of my family.  We align ourselves under him just as my family is to align themselves under me.  Our allegiance to other gods, whether they be gods made out of golden statues, or drugs or money or beer, is akin to marital infidelity etc. – but Jesus never had to find a date to the prom.  Jesus never had to talk to a girl for the first time with that cacophony of nonsense streaming through his mind:

“Oh, she’s pretty!  Should I talk to her?  She probably wouldn’t want me anyway.  Don’t stare.  Don’t look like you’re trying not to look.  What’s the score of that game on the TV behind her?  She looked at me!  She looked for just the right amount of time – not too short like she had to look away in disgust and not to long like I’m standing here with my zipper open – just right!  Was that a smile?  She’s coming over.  What should I say?  How’s my posture?  How’s my breath?  Remember to look at her face.  Her face!  Don’t look down, that looks unconfident.  Don’t look at any other girls – they hate that!  For Goodness sake’s don’t look at the ball game on the TV, she’ll think your disinterested.  Her eyes!  I’m looking at her eyes.  Ok I’ve been looking at her eyes for a while now, it’s getting a little creepy.  I should look away for a couple of seconds.  Where should I look?  Not the floor, not the game, not at other girls…Oh my God, I’m staring at her boobs!  Her Boobs!  How many times have I told myself not to stare at their boobs?  Now, here I am, just meeting this girl & I’m staring right into her strike zone!!!”

There’s no biblical example for that.  Jesus didn’t have to worry about helping the church out with housework, or the chruch’s time of the month, or squeezing in a love life with the church in-between homework, supper and the baby getting up at night.  Jesus never experience the issues of closeness and validation that you associate with sex after an affair like I have, the issue of trust and violation after being molested and learning to trust that level of closeness again like my wife has.  Jesus never had sex, so how am I supposed to model my sex life after him?

So what am I missing?  There should and probably is a model for this aspect of Christianity that I’m just not seeing.  If I know that God wants me to have sex and to do so in a way that is glorifying to him, then I need to find an aspect of Jesus’ relationship with the church which parallels this.  When I think about glorifying God, I think of worship.  To most folks the term “worship” refers to that first 1/3 to 1/2 of Sunday service where we sing songs in order to connect with God, but that’s not really all it means.  When the bible talks about worship, it usually speaks of it in the context of one of three categories.

Repentance & Humbling:

Psalm 8 (NASB)

3 When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
4 What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
5 Yet You have made him a little lower than God,
And You crown him with glory and majesty!
6 You make him to rule over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
7 All sheep and oxen,
And also the beasts of the field,
8 The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea,
Whatever passes through the paths of the seas.

9 O LORD, our Lord,
How majestic is Your name in all the earth!

Thanksgiving and Praise:

Ephesians 5 (NASB)

19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; 21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.

and Service:

Philippians 2 (NASB)

14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing; 15 so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom youappear as lights in the world, 16 holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. 18 You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.

I think that there is a parallel to be made between marital sex and the Christian notion of worship. i.e. sex is worship.  Y’all catch the epigraph (anyone even slightly impressed that I know what “epigraph” means?) to this chapter?:

Romans 12:1(NIV)

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.

In fact, in researching this post, I discovered that the expression “I worship you with my body”, used to be part of the Anglican wedding vows.  Sex is worship.  It’s worship in the sense that we are spiritually connecting to someone far more importantly than physically connecting with them.  It’s worship in that when done as it is intended it serves not to serve our own pleasures, but rather to glorify the person we are with and the relationship before God.  It’s worship in that it should reflect this same cycle of humbling ourselves, celebrating each other and serving one and other.  That it requires us to come to one and other with pure intentions, love in our hearts and a willingness to attend to one and other.  Sex is worship.  If we’re not using it to worship God then who are we using it to worship?

I’ve heard this cycle of worship described as a kitchen sponge.  That is before the sponge may be used to do anything productive, you need to squeeze out any of the filth that may be trapped inside (repentance), only then will the sponge be able to soak up more clear water (Praise) and be used to clean something which needs cleaning (service).  You cannot skip any of these steps as to do so would render your sponge useless.  If you refuse to squeeze out the filth, the sponge will not be able to clean anything and will begin to rot from the inside out.  If you do not submerge it in clean water, it will quickly dry and the open pores within it produce a void inside of us.  It will remain a painful reminder of how empty we are inside without God’s love.  We may begin to try to fill the pores with other things, money, work, drugs, alcohol, sex, pride, anger… but the toxicity of these things will eventually destroy us as well.  Finally we can squeeze the sponge and soak it in clean water, but if we refuse to use it to clean something, well there’s really no point to buying the sponge to begin with.

Sex is like that too, but now you have two people with two sponges and you may not always be in sync.  One may be ready to wipe the stove, while the other is trying to squeeze the filth out of itself.  It requires patients, timing and understanding.  One sponge may require cleaning more frequently.  One may require more time to soak up the clean water, but their pursuit is one and the same (to clean the stove) and when they are able to sync, able to work together, able to understand each other’s limitations and strengths and needs, when they learn the ways in which they might complement each other, compensate for each other and satisfy each other’s needs, they are also able to accomplish that task together in a far better way than either could do alone.

I think that’s really it; sex should not be used as a proof of love or evidence of this or that in a marriage.  It should be used as a way to celebrate one and other.  A way to help each other meet our needs.  Complement and complete one and other.  It shouldn’t be about he we did it five times this week, so we must be doing ok.  It should be hey let’s celebrate that we’re doing ok by coming together in this way, by opening ourselves to each other in this way, by allowing our love to manifest itself the way that God intended it to.  Good sex is not about tying each other to the bed, it’s not about feeling good about yourself by getting the prettiest girl to go home with you, it’s not about making yourself feel valuable by devaluing someone else.  It is, above all else, glorifying yourself, your spouse and God. It’s about connecting with them not just on a physical, but a spiritual level.  It’s about celebrating the love God had given you in a way that satisfies not only yourself and your wife, but God such that you all will become closer to one and other.

Boy, You Don’t Know Shit About Farming!…

A fool finds pleasure in wicked schemes, but a person of understanding delights in wisdom

~Proverbs 10:23(NIV)

I stood beside the almost 60 year old tractor staring at the sky and wondered which would come first the rain or sunset.  Either way I’d be done for the day and I had promised myself to get our orchard bush-hogged before going in for the day.  The sky seemed to me unreal, like watching an old black and white film played at a faster speed than real life.  The clouds seemed to just stream by and the air smelled like rain.  The tractor, and old Ford 8-N, belonged to my wife’s Grandfather and had been sitting in the same spot that it had for the previous week and a half.  The battery was dead and we had just got a new one to get it going again.

I hurried to remove the battery terminals of the dead battery and put it off to the side, “I’ll see if I can charge that later”, I can remember thinking.  I grabbed the fresh battery and set it on the half rusted away platform intended to hold it and grabbed the wires to reconnect the terminals.  Red to positive, Black to negative – a universal system.  So handy when you’re in a rush.  I jumped on top of the tractor, turned the key, primed it a little as I tried to get the engine to start.  Chicka-Chicka-Chica-Vroooooooom! Payday!  I threw it in gear and was off to the orchard!

You have to bush hog an orchard kinda like you would draw a checkers board – down one row in between the fruit trees then up the other, then when you finish with the rows in one direction, you switch directions and go in between each row of trees the other way.  I guess you don’t have to do it this way but the alternative involves cutting down your fruit trees which is kind of self-defeating so that’s the way I do it.  I went down between one row of trees, up another, down another, then halfway up the next I thought I smelled leaves burning.  “That’s funny”, I thought, “I didn’t burn anything today”.  Now smoke, “What the heck”? Now I feel heat, “That’s not good”!  I looked down at the engine block and saw flames.  “Oh, there’s just a little fire on top of the gas tank”. . . “FIRE ON TOP OF THE GAS TANK”!  I must have been quite a sight barreling through that orchard, trying to get the tractor out of gear so that I could bail before the fire shooting up between my legs became an explosion between my legs.

Did y’all know that some old tractors have what they call a “positive to ground” set up.  I didn’t before that day.  “Positive to ground” means, at least for the setup of my tractor, that you don’t put the black wire on the negative terminal – you put the red one.  Universal system my ass!

I finally was able to reach between the flames to put the gear shift in neutral, let the engine stall and started running to the house to find a fire extinguisher.  As I ran out of the orchard I could hear the glass gauge covers on the dashboard pop one by one from the heat.  “Oh, Lord”, I thought as I was running “He just bought that tractor a month ago, he was so proud of it.  Now what’s he going to think of me”?  I’d been trying to impress this man since the day I met him.  I don’t know why it’s so important to me that he likes me; my wife love’s him, he owns the land that our farm is on, maybe I just respect the old country savvy in him.  I’m not sure, but I do know that to date I have not been particularly successful in this endeavor.  I honestly believe the man thinks my name is “Boy, you don’t know shit about farming!!!”

By the time I had returned, fire extinguisher in hand, the fire had put itself out, but there would be no hiding the damaged it had done.  The incorrect installation of the battery had send so much current through the old wires that it melted the insulation off of them and lit them on fire.  The fire had spread to a clump of pine needles that had gotten caught beneath the wiring harness and gauge panel.  The wires and harness was completely burnt up and the gauges would need to be replaced as well.  It was late Saturday evening – too late to go to town and try to find the materials I needed to fix the tractor and I didn’t really have the money to get them anyway.  I left the tractor sit where I had left it in the middle of the orchard and went in the house feeling dejected about what I knew was to come.

The next afternoon after church we were sitting in the yard and I heard the familiar rumble of his old Chevrolet making its way around the curves in our long dirt road.  My wife had phoned him the previous night and told him about the fire, I knew he was coming to see the damage for himself.  He pulled in the yard and we walked slowly over to the orchard as he tried to navigate over the terrain with his cane.  Not a word.  Nothing.  He grabbed each wire and inspected it closely.  He opened the hood and looked under the gauge panel to see the harness walked around to look at the burnt up gauges and their shattered glass covers.  Then, after he had confirmed for himself the damage that had been done, he looked down at the ground, shook his head and said “Boy, let me tell you what: you don’t know shit about farming”! I really wasn’t in the position to argue with him, after all I had just lit them man’s tractor on fire.  “What kind of a fool cannot look at that engine and see that the positive wire is grounded on the block?  My Granddaughter married a fool”!

If you don’t live in a farming community, let me just explain how very insulting it is for someone to point out to you that you don’t really know what you’re doing on the farm, when you live on a farm.  A farm, in my view, is a naturally self sustaining mechanism.  Every thing on a farm has a function a purpose.  Every crop, every animal, every person there has a roll.  Chickens give eggs, Pigs give bacon, Dogs protect the animals and family, cat’s keep the mice/snake population down.  At the risk of sounding sexist,  there is men’s work, woman’s work, children’s work and the result of all this work is the self self sustaining reward of the farm’s production.  I recon this is true for 1000 acre commercial farms as much as it is for our little 210 acre  family farm.  My labor produces a harvest of grain, the grain produces food for the livestock, the livestock produces food for me and that food sustains my ability to preform the work necessary to begin the process again and again.  The surplus from this can be sold, traded or  otherwise reused to secure the money needed to buy more seed, fertilizer, fence post etc. , in order to meet the farm’s needs and allow it to continue to be productive.   There is a rhythmic cadence to it that has echoed for hundreds probably thousands of years.  Farms that are unable to sustain themselves in this way, at least around here, quickly become trailer parks or just sad monuments of the way things used to be.  To a small farm family nothing is worse that something that doesn’t pull it’s weight: a dog that kills chickens, a crop that destroys the land’s fertility, a sickly billy goat kid, who despite being cute, you know should be killed to preserve the quality of your stock, and apparently farmers who accidentally light the tractor on fire.  The insult extends beyond “you’re a dope for doing that” into the realm of  saying that you don’t serve a purpose.  Your simply using up resources and not contributing in any positive way to the farm’s survival.  You’re disrupting that very delicate rhythm and in doing so threatening everything.

What’s worse is for that status to be coupled with being a “fool”, because now not only are you simply using up the farm’s precious resources without contribution, but you can never hope to remedy that by learning how not to.  I wanted to write about our reputation and why we value it so much.  In particular I wanted to talk about why we fear being considered a fool.

Why is it that that word hurts us so badly?  Fool!  Nobody wants to be a fool.  It’s such a silly little word with such a profoundly undesirable meaning.  I’m nobody’s fool, a fool and his money, no fool like and old fool, a fool’s paradise, fool’s gold, play the fool, act the fool, make a fool of, an April fool ; the is like fuel for generating idioms.

It’s clearly not something that anyone wants as part of their reputation.  If you’re thought to be a fool no one will trust you with responsibility, they’ll snicker and make fun of you behind your back, or worse, they’ll use that against you or to try and take advantage of you.  This was and is I think one of the hardest things about being cheated on – it makes you feel like a fool!  I can remember in the beginning not even wanting anyone to look at me.  Going to work, to the bank where she worked, to the market where she used to work and meet him during her breaks; there was no place in this small town where I could be seen by people and think to myself “I wonder how much they know.  They must think that I’m such a fool”!  I’d sit in my office with the guy I work with knowing that his uncle is a deputy and just know that he was privy to everything that happened and wonder what he was thinking as we did our work.

I can remember one time sitting on the marriage counselors couch with my wife talking about this and them both saying “well, why do you care what these small town, small minded people think.  You’re just the gossip of the week and by next week they’ll be onto something else”.  I remember thinking that I would always be the guy whose wife had an affair with her black drug dealer, whether or not it was forefront on their mind.  It’s who I was now.  What’s ironic is that now, several months later, they both are nervous and have raised objections about me writing about this in any kind of a public way.  Why, because if it should effect my wife’s reputation and make her relive her experience of the last year, it would be detrimental to her recovery.  What kind of horseshit is that?

The truth is that extends far deeper than simply wanting to protect our reputations.  We have an archetypical fear about being a fool.  I think not so much because we worry about others might think that we are fools but because we ourselves may.  We don’t want to believe that we are fools ourselves because to do so would be to admit that we have no control over the things that happen to us.  We have no control over the world around us and that’s scary.  We want to be in control.  We want to be confident that we are able to navigate the world around us in order to get what we need.  We want to know that the little scripts we have about how to act and what to do and where to go to get this done or that done are correct.  “When you’re hungry go in the kitchen and open the refrigerator and get something to eat”; What would happen if we felt hungry one day, went to the kitchen opened the refrigerator only to realize that this was no longer the place to find food but rather the place where firewood was stored?  That schema would be threatened and we’d feel an associated anxiety, because we no longer know where to find food when we’re hungry – I hate to see what’s in the woodshed now.  We all have this intricate set of schemas such as this and want to know that we may rely on them.  If we can’t, then we also can’t feel confident that the next time we’re hungry; we’ll know what to do. But if we admit that we are fools, then we must also admit that all of those schemas are questionable.  It’s something that we cannot tolerate considering so we dismiss it and react strongly to anyone else’s suggestions that it may be true.

There is therefore something especially hurtful therefore about calling someone a fool, because we know how much we fear it ourselves. Maybe that’s why Jesus specifically tells us not to call people fools:

Matthew 5:21-22(ESV)

            “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

But then does it himself.

Matthew 23:17 (ESV)

            You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred?

He’s not really meaning the use of the word “fool” is in and of itself sinful, but rather illustrating that the use of words in anger is.  What he’s saying is “hey, I know y’all know that murder aint right, but I’m here to tell you that acting with unrighteous anger in your heart is bad no matter how you let it manifest itself”.  The word “fool” provides an excellent illustration for this, because there really is no way it cannot be taken as an insult.  When he speaks to the Scribes and Pharisees in chapter 23 it comes from a place of righteous not unrighteous anger.  They were fools and I’m sure the word meant as much to them as it does to me.

My poor Little Fool is hanged…

In the third act of Shakespeare’s King Lear, we find Lear and his loyal fool amidst a raging storm.  Lear, who had decided to divide his kingdom proportionately between his daughters and their suitors in accordance with their demonstrated love for him, realizes that once they receive their wealth, their actual love for him was far different than the amount of love he had been shown before.   In a tantrum and going mad he flees one of their castles in order to demonstrate his objections to his daughter’s selfishness.

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow!

You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout

Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!

You sulfurous and thought-executing fires,

Vaunt-couriers of oak-cleaving thunderbolts,

Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,

Smite flat the thick rotundity o’ th’ world,

Crack nature’s molds, all germens spill at once

That make ingrateful man!

Now Lear’s fool is anything but a fool.  He’s often referred to as the “wise fool”.  His purpose in the play is, seemingly, to serve as a sort of narrator, however he just sort of disappears after the third act.  In addition, and probably more importantly, he serves as Lear’s conscious.  He speaks openly and frankly to Lear, in a way that Lear would not tolerate from anyone else.  Now, in peril and with nothing to gain fool demonstrates true love and loyalty by still remaining at his beloved master’s side, Fool has already shown his wisdom to us and perhaps foreshadows what’s to come in act 2:

That sir which serves and seeks for gain,

And follows but for form,

Will pack when it begins to rain

And leave thee in the storm.

But I will tarry; the fool will stay,

And let the wise man fly.

The knave turns fool that runs away;

The fool no knave, perdy.

Now there’s a lot there.  Here not only is the fool demonstrating his integrity “but I will tarry; the fool will stay”, but he also seems to be telling us that he is fully aware of the reversal of his own and the king’s conditions.  The word “knave” was often used interchangeably for “fool” but has a slightly different meaning.  It means more of an older, outdated, archaic and unscrupulous person.  Given that and the context in which the word is used, it seems clear that what fool is saying; “the knave turns fool that runs away; the fool no knave, perdy”, is that everything now is reversed.  The king, who most would assume is not a fool – he did manage to become a king after all, has now fallen into peril as the result of his own foolishness and the fool, though in the exact same peril, but in his case via loyalty not foolishness, now speaks words of wisdom.  It is through this council, through this wisdom from the fool and through his own madness, that Lear is able to see his error and regain his love for his one daughter that refused to kiss his butt in the beginning because she knew it was all phony.

Then everybody gets hanged – it is after all a tragedy!  Sorry for the spoiler, but you really should have read it in high school like you were supposed to.

Now Shakespeare’s intention here, in these lines, this scene and really the entire play, is clear to me.  His intention is far nobler than the endeavor to make high school students miserable some 600 years later, though I likely would have disagreed with myself in high school.  What he’s trying to say is that we are often wrong when we assign the designation as fool or not a fool to someone.  Than in some ways we are all fools and we are all wise.  Now I suppose you can be a fool and become a king, but I don’t think that you can be a fool and become and old king and I suppose that you can be a wise man and become a court jester, but it takes, at least to a certain extent, wisdom to show integrity.

We fear being fools because we fear the outcome destine to what it means to be a fool.  Fools end up dead, because they don’t have enough sense to get out of the way of a speeding bus.  Fools end up in the jailhouse because they don’t have enough sense to realize that their not as clever as they think they are.  Fools end up poor, hungry, cold, because they cannot develop the skills necessary to provide for themselves and their families.  Nobody wants to be a fool not so much because they don’t want to be thought of as a fool, but because they don’t want to think of themselves as one.  Bad stuff happens to folks that are fools!  The potential consequences are simply too unbearable to think about.  Paul echoes this sentiment in 2 Corinthians:

2 Corinthians 11 (NIV)

Whatever anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.

I wonder what my wife’s grandfather would have to say about Paul!  Now here’s a guy who didn’t just accidentally light his grandfather’s tractor on fire; he’s been in and out of jail, has had constant trouble with the law, can’t handle a ship, gets his butt whipped all the time and can’t manage to provide for himself.   That’s how we justify calling someone a fool – by the things that happen to them.  If you end up in jail, you’re probably a fool, because you didn’t have the sense to keep yourself out of jail.  Now we justify to ourselves that it could never happen to us, we could never end up in that horrible wrenched condition, because we are not fools.  We don’t have to worry about it.  Right?  Well not really, because bad stuff has happened to all of us. We excuse these things.  Justify them by saying that our situation was in some way exceptional or that we were sacrificing our outcomes for some higher cause.

Freedom Inside the Jailhouse…

We had to go get my wife’s grandfather himself out the jailhouse only a few month age, because the man refuses to get a driving license and keeps driving his old Chevy around.   To get a driver’s license you have to have a social security number and he is dead against doing so. “That which the federal government subsidizes, the federal government controls” – he refuses to be controlled.  For him it’s about freedom.  He’ll go to jail to preserve his freedom.  And I’m the fool?

That seems to be a common theme here; fools invariably lose their freedom.  Paul ended up in jail many times. At the end of the Play in King Lear, Lear dies in prison of a broken heart.  If my wife’s grandfather had his way, I’d be doing 5 to 10 right now for tractor abuse.  Oxford had 5 separate definitions for freedom:

  • 1 the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants:
  • 2 the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved
  • 3  (freedom from) the state of not being subject to or affected by (something undesirable
  • 4 (the freedom of ——British a special privilege or right of access, especially that of full citizenship of a city granted to a public figure as an honor
  • 5  archaic familiarity or openness in speech or behavior.

What’s ironic, as in the case of my wife’s grandfather, is that we often sacrifice one definition for the sake of another.  Well often sacrifice the second definition for the sake of the third or the third for the second – we do so whenever we stand up to injustice, tyranny or corruption or chose to ignore such for fear of the repercussion.  We’ll often sacrifice the first for the third, by holding our tongue because we just don’t want people to fuss at us for our opinions or beliefs or the third for the first, when we talk to people about something they don’t necessarily want to hear – this is often the situation we face when talking to others about Jesus, we often know in doing so we will be met with resistance, judgment even distain.  How often do we chose not to simply to avoid the reaction?

My point is that the way the word is set up, it really is impossible for to maintain our “freedom”, for each of its definitions, simultaneously.   It is, because of human nature, simply impossible.  We all make these sacrifices one place or another; we’re all prisoners to something, slaves to something: our morals, pride, drugs, religion, money, power, beer.  We’re all fools in one way or another.

As Christians, we are told that true freedom comes only through Jesus. When you think about it in these terms, that makes sense.  I mean, who do you believe is more free; the slave who knows happiness inside his heart or the master, who knows only of anger and selfishness, abusing him? One has attained his freedom in the physical sense, but is a slave to his own cruelty and greed.  The other hides his freedom within his heart, even if he must do so in chains.  Which freedom would you choose?

Because, it occurs to me that we all must make these choices.  Choices about which types of freedom we will sacrifice to preserve others.  Choices about what we will become slaves to – fools for.  It’s not a matter of choosing to be a fool or not, but rather for what will we be willing to be foolish.  Are we willing to go to jail because we truly believe that we shouldn’t have to have a social security number or do we sacrifice our beliefs in order to preserve our physical freedom?  Should I stay in the house and let the weeds take over the orchard, because I may not be the most highly qualified tractor mechanic in the South, or do I get off the couch and try to do what I need to and maybe learn that sometimes old tractor engines are set up positive to ground.  Both choices represent becoming a fool; it’s really just a matter of which we find preferable – for what we choose to be a fool.

A common reaction from family and friends when you are trying to reconcile a marriage after your spouse has had an affair implies that you are a fool for staying; “how could you stay with someone who’s done that to you?, How could you ever trust them again?  They’ll play you for a fool again!  Fool me once shame on me…”  It becomes forefront in your mind – “am I being a fool for trusting this person again”?

I would submit that I am, but I am making a choice.  I’m choosing to be a fool for my family, for my children, for my wife and the love that I feel for her rather than choosing to be a fool for the pain, the fear, the mistrust and the resentment that her affair has caused.  Resenting the affair is not going to erase it from history, nor is holding on the pain that it caused or the fear that it may happen again.  But I love my wife, truly love her and to me not serving that love, not forgiving, not allowing us to move on, to heal, not allowing her to love me because she doesn’t deserve to; these things represent being the far greater fool.

Paul again (the guy could write some now!) in 1 Corinthians 4(ASV):

10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye have glory, but we have dishonor.

11 Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling-place;

12 and we toil, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure;

13 being defamed, we entreat: we are made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things, even until now.

Is it really so bad to be a fool, so long as we are being a fool for something good, something decent, something worthy of being considered a fool for?  And if it is, than what are we giving up?  Living our lives in fear, hiding from the world, afraid to take chances for fear that someone might call us foolish.  I think that’s the greater fool and it’s not who I want to be.  I want to be a fool for Jesus!  I want to be a fool for my family!  I want to be a fool for my wife!  I want to be a fool for love, for forgiveness, for trust and for hope.

Please Lord never stop allowing me to be a fool for these things and thank you for giving me the opportunity to choose them.  I know that the only thing that will truly make me foolish is to not trust in your love, your plan and your will for me.  Thank you for helping me see that and thank you for being patient with me.