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.

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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.

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.

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.

Pig Crossings, Pirate Ships & Other Phallic Symbols…

15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them…

~Matthew 7

Red Flags…

I read a story once about a train wreck in Norfolk Va which occurred in 1905.  The train was approaching a draw bridge which had been washed out by rains and although a red flag was set out to signal the engineer to stop, the flag itself had faded, through continuous use in the sun, to the point where its color had become indistinguishable from white.  In fact, my understanding is that at this time the traditional flags used to communicate with train engineers were red for stop, green for caution and white for go.  The problem is that in time both red flags and green flags fade to white.

I heard a joke once about a guy from the city speeding down a country road who finds himself approaching a farm woman trying to drive a steak with a red flag on it on the side of the road approaching a turn.  When she sees him she begins waiving her arms excitedly and yells “Pig! Pig”! Thinking that there is no way he’s going to let this small town nobody insult him like that, the man purposely speeds up as he passes her into the turn.  His fancy sports car corners the turn at the high speed as it was designed to but then runs into the farmer’s pigs crossing the road.

In the 1988 movie “RainMan” Dustin Hoffman portrays an autistic individual named Ray.  In one particular scene Ray becomes confused while crossing at an intersection when midway through the sign that had instructed him to walk begins blinking red and displaying “don’t walk”.  He stops in the middle of the crosswalk, blocking angry motorists from proceeding, until his brother is able to help him to the side of the road.  Although meant in humor, the overtone of the scene demonstrates the consequence and potential danger of interpreting warning signs in too literal of a manner.

The stories surfaces all kinds of imagery for me.  Imagery about red flags and what they actually mean.  When they should actually be used.  What happens when we don’t recognize them.  What happens when we think we know better and what happens when they’re left out too long.  After the first bout I had with my wife’s mental illness when we were dating,  I can remember reading anything that I could get my hands on regarding supporting loved ones who were struggling with depression, bipolar affect disorder, borderline personality disorder or otherwise mentally ill.  Invariably, the advice offered in each centered around learning to together identify the “red flags” for that individual.  I sat down and listed one out.  I’ve memorized it over the years – refined it.

Medication: I’m sure most have heard this before, but often, when a person with mental illness is on their medication, they feel so good that they begin to believe that they don’t need their medication and when they’re off it, they feel so bad that they don’t believe that the medication can help.  I’ve seen this cycle dozens of times in the past few years with respect to my wife and not only from her perspective.  This trick works on me too.  When my wife is on medication for a while and doing well, I begin to think; “well, maybe she’s better now.  Maybe she doesn’t need it anymore”.  I stop advocating for her to take her meds and then see, time and time again, why she needed too.

Sleep:  My wife can sleep now!  Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m the exact opposite.  I’ll sleep on average maybe five –six hours a night in good times and in bad times just a few hours here and there each night.  My wife, even in good times, likes her rest.  “How do you think I stay this beautiful”? she’ll joke, but honestly, the woman will sleep 10-11 hours at night and then think nothing about taking a 2-3 hour nap during the day – and that’s when things are normal.  During times of bad depression, I’ve seen her spend three consecutive days in the bed.  I once had to literally pick her up out of the bed after three day to get her to go to work.

Creativity:  My wife is a very creative person.  She studied art in school, generally loves things like quilting, decorates the most beautiful cakes, will just take a stick and a pocket knife and whittle a walking stick that folks would probably pay good money for.  When things are good, her appetite for these things is ferocious, when things are bad they fall by the wayside.  I’ve seen her chuck dozens of her walking sticks into the campfire.  She’ll put up all her quilting stuff leaving several projects unfinished.  The joy of baking and decorating cakes becomes drudgery to her.  Not being very creative myself, I’m not really sure that I understand this transition, but I think it has to do with her not wanting to feel pride in anything that comes out of her.  One thing I am certain of is that when my wife leaves herself no creative outlet, it’s time to start wondering what’s not being let out.

Church: When things are good, you’d think my wife was married to a preacher.  She’s involved, supportive to other members of the church, want’s the boys to be involved in youth functions etc. When things are bad it’s like pulling teeth to get her to go.  Excuse after excuse as to why she doesn’t want to go.  People who the week before she loved, now are medaling and phony, everything that’s said during the sermon is nonsense… I’m certain that this is indicative of something going on at the higher level of her faith, but in terms of what is tangibly observable, this is one of the first things I see.

Language:  My real wife uses expressions like “you’re a stupid head” when she’s angry.  I’ve seen her speak kindly in the face of abject disdain.  She’s a master of the “kill-em with kindness” technique.  In general her speech is thoughtful, gentle and positive.  When things are bad though, I can tell by her words sometimes before her action that they are.  More and more profanity  begins to creep into her vocabulary, the things she talks about are less and less positive, her words become more and more hopeless.

Work: I’ve seen my wife go from loving her job to hating it, and everyone associated with it in the course of only a few days.  When things are good she has an excellent work ethic, she’s dedicated to being good at whatever she does, is honest and dedicated to helping others.  When things are bad she becomes more and more dissatisfied with her job, begins to talk more and more about what she should be entitled to and becomes more and more critical of her superiors and coworkers.  She’ll use the slightest excuse to leave a job or make sudden drastic career choices without any notification.

Social: We’ll go through periods of months where it seems like several times a week we’re having people over the house for BBQ or just to hang out by the fire and/or visit other couples/families and then suddenly there will be long periods where she just doesn’t want to go anywhere, do anything or see anyone.

Money:  Even when times are bad, my wife is really not a spender.  She doesn’t go on big depression inspired shopping sprees (what that people call it “retail therapy”) What I do notice is a few things, she suddenly becomes extremely interested or disinterested in the family finances – how much money we have, how much this costs or that costs etc.  She also will tend to hoard cash.  Now I am particularly sensitive to this since most of that cash used to go to the purchase of drugs, but I think it extends even beyond that.  The last time she said that she was leaving and then changed her mind and decided to stay, she confessed that she had collected over $400 cash which she had been carrying around.  She had told me that she just wanted to put it aside to make sure that we could pay some bills, but she otherwise has no interest in our family’s finances.  I think she does it so that she will have funds to access should she decide to start using again, or run away or what have you.  I believe that, subconsciously, she’ll bank rolling her next break down.  Not know how or when the money is to be used, but still assuring that she will have access to it when needed.

Time: When trips to the dump (only 4 miles away) begin to take five hours, something’s not good.  It doesn’t always mean she’s off having an affair, but something is off.

Facial expression:  It infuriates my wife that I can tell from her face what’s going on inside her head, despite what she is telling me.  I’m extremely good at this and know when she is not telling me the truth about what’s going on inside her.  She insists that it’s my imagination, but I have been able to do this successfully and with a fairly good accuracy for a very long time.  I don’t always know what’s going on inside her, but I always know when what she is saying is not matching her expressions.  When I see that they are often different, I can usually be pretty sure there’s something not right.

Anger:  When things are not right with her, Ill see my wife fly off the handle and show a disproportionate amount of anger at the simplest, most seemingly benign things.  It’s as if the anger is already there and welling up to the point where she can hide it any longer, she’s hard pressed to find an excuse for it and will pounce on the first thing that comes along on which she feels as if she might justify unleashing it.

Contempt:  not just for me (although there is plenty of that too) but for about anything that she might perceive would dictate to her what she should do or how she would behave.  Contempt for the police man who just pulled her over because she ran a stop sign.  Contempt for the preacher because he would say that something she wanted to do was sinful.  Contempt for folks in our church for living their lives a certain way.  When my wife is not doing well she is literally dripping with contempt and distain for anything and anybody that may reminder her that she’s going astray.

Those are the major players, save one which I going to talk about next.  The truth is that it was difficult for me to even write that list because the signs tend to blur together to me now.  I’m not so sure anymore what is the actual observance of a red flag or what is my intuition anymore.  I’ve been doing this for such a long time that it’s become something of an instinctive reaction.  Like Pavlov’s dog no longer needing to identify the actual presence of food.  This process has become so automated to me that sometimes I just know something is wrong, but don’t even know why.  For me, it has always been something proactive that I felt that I could do.  I look for these warning signs and they will give me some indication of what to expect next.  The allow me to feel, at least a little, that I have some sort of control over this entirely uncontrollable and unpredictable cycles, which associate themselves with my wife’s condition.  They exist, I think, as much if not more for me than they do for her, because frankly by the time we get to seeing the warning signs that process has already begun and I’m still not sure how to stop in.  There is a flaw, therefor, inherent to me using them – they have value to me.  I’m vested in what they are telling me and the’re interpretation will always be made through my very unbiased eyes.  Like these photos (below), my reaction to them is a function of not only what they try to tell me but how I receive them, my mood and view of the world at the time that I see them.  On our dirt road on the way home from work one day, I stopped and took this picture:

it was a cold grey winter day and I was on my way home from a particularly difficult day of work.  I looked at the now bare cotton field and felt my soul just sink.  “How drab” I though, “How dead and depressing”.  Two day’s later, on my way home from my men’s bible study group, my spirits were higher.  I stopped to look at the same field and took the following picture:

Same cotton field, same camera (phone) same photographer (me) only now my frame of mind was more positive.  I found the bible study uplifting, the weather, though still winter, still cool, still dormant, was beginning to reveal hints to encourage the hope of spring to come.  The air was cool, but the sun felt warm on my elbow perched out my truck window.  The field seemed not so much dead now as sleeping, resting, preparing itself for the crop to come.  I felt my soul rise, in response to the exact same baron cotton field and once again fill with hope.  Same field.  Same sign.  Different meaning.  The difference was me.

The last red flag I wanted to talk about is music.

Music Soothes the Savage Beast?…

Music:  This is a big one.  When my wife is in a bad place, she’ll listen to the same few songs over and over.  Johnny Cash hurt, Papa Roach Last Resort, Lincoln Park, Numb are on the short list:

Johnny Cash, Hurt

I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel

I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real

The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything

What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know
Goes away in the end

Papa Roach, Last Resort

Cut my life into pieces
I’ve reached my last resort
Suffocation
No breathing
Don’t give a fuck if I cut my arm bleeding
Do you even care if I die bleeding
Would it be wrong
Would it be right
If I took my life tonight
Chances are that I might
Mutilation out of sight
And I’m contemplating suicide

Linkin Park, Numb

I’m tired of being what you want me to be Feeling so faithless,

 lost under the surfaceI don’t know what you’re expecting of me

Put under the pressure of walking in your shoes

[Caught in the undertow, just caught in the undertow]

Every step that I take is another mistake to you

[Caught in the undertow, just caught in the undertow]

I’ve become so numb, I can’t feel you there Become so tired, so much more aware I’m becoming this,

all I want to do Is be more like me, and be less like you

Can’t you see that you’re smothering me Holding too tightly, afraid to lose control

but there are probably others which she has learned to not reveal to me.  There is a certain anger and hopelessness to the type of music my wife listens to when she’s not doing well.  It’s not just the lyrics, there is a message conveyed by the heavy angry tone of the music itself.  Frankly, it scares me! Beyond the actual songs she listens to there is the sense of angry defiant entitlement with which she does it that I actually find more concerning.  I’ve written about this elsewhere; what does the type of music we listen to say about how we see ourselves?  Do we use music to justify our feelings or allow music to dictate our feelings?  Do I like country music because I identify with the guy who loves beer and his truck and his dog and wife is cheating on him or am I the guy who loves beer and his truck and his dog and wife had an affair because I like country music?

The issue presented itself again this weekend, which is why I’ve decided to write about it now.  When my wife first came home from the hospital we discussed, at the therapist’s recommendation, the things we saw as red flags.  At that time my wife begrudgingly agreed that her music was clearly one of them.  We together went through her iPad and delegated the songs which she identified as being negative in that way and we also had a discussion about what type of music we say as being appropriate to listen to when the boys were present.  Although she agreed to all of this, there have been several times in the past few months where she would make comments about how I made her take all her music away and how she was only allowed to listen to my music now etc.

Each time she said something like this, I stopped and we had the conversation again.  “You told me that that music was a red flag”, I would say and she would agree, probably just to end the conversation.  She continuously just said that she was no longer interested in music.  Well a week or two ago I told her that I didn’t want for her to resent me for not liking the same music as she did and I asked her if she wanted to put some music that she liked back on her iPod.  My only conditions were that she remained mindful of the music which she played in front of the boys and to understand that if she listened to the same song about cutting yourself over and over again that I was probably going to suspect that something was up.  She agreed and went through the computer choosing songs she wanted on her phone.

We were at the neighbors how Sunday afternoon/evening for their daughter’s birthday party.  Probably our best friends and with children about the same age as ours, we will often go over there or they will come to our house to eat supper, hang out by the fire and have a couple beers together.  The party had ended and most of the guests had gone home but we stayed later, our kids playing together inside and then falling asleep there, having a few drinks by the fire.  They have this radio that you can plug your phone into in order to listen to the music stored on it and we were using that as we talked.  My wife decided she wanted to play some of her music.

Now this was fine with me.  I made a joke to my neighbor about being sorry for what she was about to make him listen to, but I really did want to not be a jerk about her music.  I wanted to show that we had come to the point where I trusted her enough to not automatically assume that the music she was playing necessarily meant that she was using drugs again or having another affair.  I really didn’t think it was a big deal.

When she put the music on it was such a blatant contrast to mine that the neighbor said something like “what in the world kinda music is this” and we got to talking about our musical tastes.  He, like me and like most of the folks around here has simple tastes in music.  Songs about beer and dogs and fishing and girlfriends is what we like and don’t really have any bother for other kinds of music.  His wife grew up in the city and had a taste for that club, boom, boom, boom, kind of music and my wife likes her skinny little millionaire musician, screaming at me about all the angst in his life music.

It began as lighthearted, but got a little ugly fast.  I said something like “I just don’t understand how anyone can enjoy listening to this stuff”.  To which my wife said something like “I’m just so sick of country music.  Why is it that the only thing that people listen to around here is country music”?  I said “uhm, because we live in the country”.  I saw rage wash across her face!  “I haven’t always lived in the Fucking Country”! she snapped and sternly chopped the air in front of her with the back of her hand facing me.  “You haven’t always been a fucking hick”!

Well actually I have, but I wasn’t fixin to argue that point with her just then.  I grew up poor in the country.  I was good in school and that took me places.  When I met my wife, I had just gotten a job with one of my degrees on a military base and had to wear a tie and Sunday shoes to work each day.  Maybe she though I was someone else, but I felt about as out of place there as anyone could be. I never fit in with my John Deer ball cap and suit jacket and never knew how to remedy that.  To my friends back home I’d become this fancy engineer at the DoD and to folks at the DoD I would always be this simple hick from the woods.  I didn’t fit anywhere.

What concerned me is how quickly and how angry she’d become over a simple disagreement.  Now we had been drinking, so I wasn’t going to snap back.  I knew it could get out of control fast, but I felt that like a stab in my gut.  Why would she get so angry just because I didn’t like her music?  There must be something else behind this.  This must be a red flag.  I just sort of looked away for a couple of minutes and pretended not to notice her momentary loss of control.  She, I could sense, was initially disappointed that I didn’t react back with anger, but realized that her anger really wasn’t warranted and tried to proceed as if it didn’t happen.

So the question I face, and still haven’t answered as I write this, is what does all this mean?  Where did that all come from?  Have I been somehow doing my wife a disservice by remaining vigilant about these “red flags” or is this an attempt of her’s to bully me into thinking that they are meaningless so that I can no longer see what is going on with her?  Is this white flag really a white flag or is it one that has faded to white from red or green?  Does this need to be a red flag or has the time come to put this one away?  Is it just keeping us standing in the middle of the intersection holding up traffic?

It occurs to me that someone in my situation has to be particularly careful regarding the difference between using these things to judge and using them to exercise good judgment.  I could easily fall into the justification of disguising punishment and unwillingness to forgive as being indicated by “red flags” – well it meant this before so now you better listen to my kind of music.  This doesn’t mean however that I can simply ignore possible warning signs.  Not when it comes to the safety of my wife and the boys.   I simply don’t have the luxury of saying “well I’m not going to judge you for smelling like pot when you come in from driving our boys in town”.  This is not to mention my own risk of being played to be a fool again, but even Sigmund Freud said that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.  It’s a thin line to walk and I believe that I need a divine guidance to do so.  Still I’m not sure how.

I don’t see where the term “red flag” is used anywhere in the bible.  There’s plenty about warnings.  In fact if you take the term “red flag” to mean a warning, you might think of the entire bible as one giant red flag.  Still though, I had a hard time applying biblical truths to my particular situation.  When  warnings should be headed and when they become obstacles to our faith and growth.  In Luke there is the story of Lazarus and the rich man:

Luke 16 (NIV)

The Rich Man and Lazarus

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Here clearly we are being told to look for and heed warnings which are given to us.  The consequence of not doing so seems pretty severe!  But then in Matthew there’s this:

Matthew 14 (NIV)
Jesus Walks on the Water

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

29 “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

Now Peter was a fisherman.  He probably knew all about red flags.  He knew exactly what the wind and the high waves meant.  We put flags on the beach today to indicate the same.  It was clear to him that his situation was precarious.  Only by ignoring those signs though, by putting his faith in Jesus and not what he thought he knew about the dangers of this world was he able to actually walk on water.  For a short time anyway and then as soon as he remembered them again he sank into the very dangers they red flags were to warn him about.

What the heck!  Do we heed to the warnings of these red flags or don’t we? Are we supposed to trust our own internal warning mechanisms or aren’t we?  To what extent should I rely on my own God given sense to say “Hey! I’ve been to this rodeo before”?  God please!  Tell me what to think.  Tell me how to use this judgment which you have given me!  Tell me how to protect my family and myself and still forgive this woman who would have destroyed all of it!  Thing is; I believe he already has:

Matthew 7(NIV)

True and False Prophets

15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

That it isn’t it – you will know them by their fruit? When you think about it; fruit doesn’t grow overnight.  It doesn’t all of a sudden appear because the tree gets angry or has a few drinks or is having a bad day.  Fruit is the product of a season’s worth of growth for any tree and even if it is damaged beyond being eatable from weather or injury, in any particular season, if the tree is capable of producing good fruit, it will do so again the following year.  In fact, I don’t have any control at all about the type or quality of the fruit of any tree in my orchard produces.  I can’t say to an apple tree “listen, if you don’t give me an orange this year…”.  I can’t tell a sapling “listen, bushel of apples this year or else”.  I can’t say to a crab tree “listen, the apples you gave me last year were bitter. This year how about some yellow delicious”?  The fruit is a function of what that tree is, not of what I want it to be.  I have nothing to do with it, but I am a fool if year after year I keep going to a crab apple tree expecting something sweet!  Neither can a tree hide it’s fruit, not for any significant about of time anyway.  Likewise, if my wife is still cheating, still using, still playing me for a fool; sooner or later those fruits will become apparent to me.  I don’t have to worry about what every little sign might mean, because at some point I will know her by her fruit.

Pirates Oh My!…

I’ve read some about the origins of the expression “red flag”.  It would seem that the color red being used to indicate danger dates back to the times of the ancient Greeks.  The term has roots in locomotion history and avionics and American military history, but the first use of the term that I can see is from the days of the British armada; travel and commerce on the high seas and pirates!  Now we all have a certain image in our minds when it comes to pirate flags – black, skull and cross bones etc., but did you know that it is likely that the original pirate flags were red?

While most pirate flags are usually associated with the color black (a color associated with death) it is thought that the earliest were red (indicating that the ship would fight to the death, with no quarter given or expected.).  In fact, it is likely that the common nickname “Jolly Roger” used for pirate flags is a English perversion of the French term ”joli rouge”, meaning “pretty red”.  Now this was all very interesting to me, because, although I never really read it in the history, it means that there was at least a period during that transition where you didn’t if a pirate ship was expected to designate itself with a red flag or not.  There are a number of other countries with red flags, but I can’t think of many with black.  Therefore, for some time, before pirate flags were all black, one might see a red flag in the distance and before approaching close enough to actually see the insignia on the flag, but only to the point where you could note the flag’s color, there was no way to tell for certain if you were looking at a pirate ship or a ship from Switzerland.  You could only see the red.

Now I put myself in that lookout’s place; alone, high up in the crow’s nest, been  up all night and the sun now just rising.  Maybe the captain was a little extra liberal with the crew’s rum ration last night.  Now, half way between dark and light I look out along the horizon and see something.  Is it a bird or a flag?  It’s a flag.  What color is it?  It’s so hard to tell in this ever-changing sunlight of dawn. “Oh Crap! It’s red”! Now what?  It’s probably you’re but either way right.  You can let it go and if it’s actually a pirate ship that gets close enough to attack – that’s on you, but if you sound the alarm and your shipmates end up firing on Switzerland – that’s probably not gonna look good on a resume either!  Your eyesight is not what it used to be and contact lenses are still a couple centuries from being invented…

Point is that it’s not a simple decision.  A red flag doesn’t necessarily mean that something is wrong.  It means that something may be wrong.  It means that in this situation, things fit that there may be something wrong again, but it doesn’t mean fire you cannons.  I believe that is what, in its origins, the sight of a red flag meant; wake up!  Pay attention!  Do your job!  You cannot simply ignore every red flag you see, nor can you fire upon each!  It’s simply a sign that means now pay attention.  Likewise I cannot go through my life oblivious to what has happened in the past and the dangers that certain signs I learned then might mean now, but I also can’t tie my guts up in knots every time my wife wants to listen to a song I don’t like.

My judgment will always be flawed.  It would always have been flawed before the affair so I’m not blaming it on that.  It’s flawed because I’m human,  because I don’t know nearly as much as I think I do, because my own pride and anger and weaknesses will always represent a cloud around it. A cloud which will always prevent me from actually seeing the insignia on the flags I see until long after I can see their color. That’s why I need a buddy in the crow’s nest with me.  It’s why I need good friends now, why I need to write here.  It’s why I need to pray; because any other person’s eyesight might be just as faulted, just as limited as my own, but God’s eyesight is infinite.

God Bless.

There’s Dog Poop on My Bicycle Seat…

Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out, and quarreling and abuse will cease.

~ Proverbs 22:10

Bully…

What does the word “bully” actually mean?  I think for many it conjures imagery such as the Rockwell paintings above – big, stupid kid, who doesn’t know any other means of achieving his goals by any other means, and who himself is likely not even aware of what those goals may be.  We sort of romanticize it.  Tell ourselves it’s something we’ve all had to go through, dismiss it as part of growing up – a sort of rite of passage.  “You just have to stand up to a bully”! we say, “and then they’ll back down, because they’re actually cowards at heart”.  I think we tend to forget how terrifying that act usually is or that it doesn’t always, despite what Hollywood might have us believe, turn out like that.  To a fifth grader, I think we might as well say “you need to stand in front of that charging bull, and then it’ll back down”!  Well ok, but what if you’re wrong?

I also think that maybe the rolls of “bully” and “victim” are not so clearly defined as we might have been led to believe from all those after school specials.  I, and I think probably most if we’re honest, can remember times of both being bullied as well as being bullies ourselves – sometimes in the same day.  I can remember once in school getting pushed down during recess, my cap flying off and then kicked around the playground by the same boy who pushed me down.  I remember the shame I felt, the embarrassment.  I can remember thinking how inadequate I must have been to be the one he chose to pick on, to be the only one of my classmates who was somehow incapable of preventing this from happening to himself.  Why couldn’t I stand up for myself?  Was I just a coward? A loser?  What was wrong with me?  I felt so worthless.  I can also remember, later that day, the younger boy down the street running home crying because I pretended to want to play with him and then wiped dog poop on his bicycle seat.  The truth is that I felt terrible as I did it, but my own need to feel more in control outweighed my desire to be kind to that boy.  I’ll never forget the sound of his crying as  he was pushing his bicycle back home.  Just wanting to get to Mama.  Just wanting to be safe.  Just wanting to be someplace where he knew what to expect and not be squelched by the world around him.  I could hear it for a long time after I could no longer see him.  “There’s dog poop on my bicycle seat”, between sobs, “Do-o-o-g Po-o-o-op on my bi-i-i-cycl-l-l-lle se-e-e-at”! as he disappeared down that dirt road.  I can hear it in my mind like it was happening right now outside and I believe that memory will haunt me forever, because I know one day I will have to stand before the most holy of Gods and explain to him why I wiped dog poop on that boy’s bicycle seat and I don’t know what I’m going to tell him.  I the course of an afternoon I went from knowing exactly how it felt to be abused like that, devalued, the shame and embarrassment, to being the one who would inflect that on another.  Why?  For real bullies it’s the same process, but lifelong.

So when I sit here and write that I think my wife is a bully, it’s not without the understanding that I think to a certain extent we all are.  To a certain extent we all have exploited other’s weaknesses in order to avoid looking at our own.  To a certain extent we all have made ourselves feel better by making someone else feel worse.  To a certain extent we all have made ourselves feel as if we’re more in control than we actually are by exploiting (and abusing) some sort of differential in ability, power or needs.  For the purpose of what I am writing here, let’s just say a bully is anyone who habitually needs to push another down (physically, emotionally, mentally etc.) for the sole purpose of maintaining some sense of being in control over their world or the avoidance of the recognition of one or more of their own inadequacies.  When bulling becomes a lifelong behavior, I think the bully, at some point, stops feeling bad for the kid with dog poop on his bicycle seat.  I’d like to spend some time today, thinking and writing about what a bully looks like, how were taught to deal with bullies and the biblical response to being bullied.

The Anatomy of a Bully…

Bullies are Broken:

First and foremost, I think it should point out that the all bullies are in somewhat broken themselves.  I likely would have no cause to pick on that boy from down the street were it not for my own feelings of being inadequate.  It’s true, I think, that bullies are all at heart scared of something.  Scared of their own sense of not having control, scared of what may be wrong with themselves, scared of being bullied or picked on or judged if they aren’t bullies.  I can literally see the process of this decision take place each time my wife decides to bully.  “Do I actually want to take a look at myself? Consider the things that he says are hurting him?  Weigh whether or not my actions are contributing to the problem?”  Then, I can see that fear wash over her face.  The consideration of the things she’d actually have to bring to conscience in order to do so.  Instinct kicks in and out comes the anger.

“Why do you always have to talk about things”, “There’s nothing wrong with me except you’re picking on me”, “Why do you have to analyze everything”?, “Honestly, you’re just so pathetic”…Eyes rolling, hands waving, head shaking – I’ve seen it a thousand times!  I’ve seen it when we first started dating and she would blow me off to spend an afternoon with her ex-husband, I’ve seen it when we were first married and didn’t get her way about this or that, I’ve seen it during the affair when her behavior became so inexcusable that it was beyond defense and I see it now when the idea of working on this issue or that issue seems so insurmountable to her that she just would rather bark me away.

As I have said, bullies are broken, and my wife is no exception.  She’s been through it now – father committed suicide while she was in a tent with him when she was two and she was not found until the next morning,  placed into foster care as a young girl, sexually abused by a Jehovah Witness elder from her kingdom hall when she was nine, first husband died of cancer when she was twenty, shunned by her parents because she was kicked out of that church for smoking a cigarette – probably my wife needs to start her own blog and I could never do justice to the trials which she has endured  before meeting me, here.  The reason I mention these things is that I know that where my wife is concerned, we’re talking about a lifetime of being shown how little control she has.  Her life has been a parade of event after horrific event demonstrating to her, her complete lack of control.  At some point, I think she learned that by bulling, she could regain that control.

Bullies have a Power differential Which They Lear to Exploit…

Bullies need a way to Bully.  You don’t see many girl scouts pushing around varsity football players – not physically anyway.  A bully needs something; their size, strength, intelligence, indifference etc – on which they may rely to intimidate others.  For my wife this has always been her indifference to our marriage.  For a long time before the affair, I’ve know that our relationship has more value to me than it does my wife.  At times she has gone out of her way to make this painfully apparent.  She uses that.  Hold’s it ransom.  Dangles it in front of me, as if to say “remember, you need me more than I need you”!  Of course the bullies real weapon is fear.  It is only through the fear of them hitting you, making you look stupid, leaving you etc. that they are able to leverage what they want.

This is a technique that she can see herself using, when she’s not angry, we can talk about it, she can see how hurtful it is and she expresses genuine remorse, but the next time she needs to, she doesn’t hesitate to rely again on this strategy.  She knows, that I will never leave and she knows that it’s my worst fear that she will.  She’s been able to leverage that knowledge to control just about any situation.

Have trouble with rules…

In general, I think that this is a fair statement.  If a bully didn’t have trouble with the rules associated with earning money, they wouldn’t need to take mine.  Bullies don’t like rules, they think that the rules should not apply to them or the secretly think that because of their own inadequacies, they are somehow incapable of following the rules as they exits.

My wife grew up as a Jehovah Witness.  I could write another blog about what I think of this religion, so I will not attempt to do so here, suffice to say – they got and ass of rules!  Rules about who you can hang out with, how you can dress, what you watch on tv, serving your country, saving your own life, how to treat people who are not Jehovah Witness.  You name it, they got a rule for it.  Unlike, what I consider to be Christian, Jehovah Witnesses think that their salvation is tied up in their good works – they have to earn their way to heaven by being good.  For them it’s not about their faith, it’s about their works.  The cultural effect that this has on people of that faith is to exact such a stringent standard of behavior that no one could ever hope to achieve it.  The strange thing is that rather than admitting that to one and other, they shift the focus from what actually going on with them, to what it looks like is going on with them.

They watch what they want to watch on tv and then lie to everyone else about what the watch.  They drink what they want to drink, smoke what they want to smoke, eat how they want to eat, put what they want to on their iPods, pray, act, think how they want to, but learn how to make it look like they’re living a devoted Jehovah Witness’ life.  The truly sad thing is that they all believe that the others are.  That they’re the only ones incapable of doing so.  That their faults, their weaknesses, their imperfections are unique unto them.

I see that conditioning even now in our relationship.  Something will come up that we need to talk about, an issue, a problem that I’m having, a result of the affair, and instead of looking at it, admitting guilt or seeing an area needing improvement, her automatic reaction will be to feign anger or indigence.

It’s your fault…

Bullies have a need to feel that the people they are bulling deserve to be bullied, at least while their bulling them.  “Little Runt”, I thought as I was smearing dog poop on his bicycle seat “this will teach him”!  Regardless of if the actual hatred they feel for the person they are bulling comes from prejudice or their own insecurity or fear they need the person that they are picking on to be worse.  Toward that end they are quick to belittle, undermine, denigrate or discredit their subjects.  They have a compulsive need to criticize them, refuse to give them value in any way and are extremely adept at creating conflict.

When I first started keeping this journal, I shared some of the entries with my wife – big mistake!  She called them my “stupid little pathetic writings, so that people would feel sorry for me” .  She collects my failures, shortcomings and mistakes like coins that she can take out, sometimes months or even years, later, in order to justify a decision to not respect me.  One time I shushed her in church because the people in front of us kept turning around and looking at her and one of our boys talking during the sermon – two years later in therapy she brought that up as the reason that I was overbearing and oppressive.  “He doesn’t believe that woman should be allowed to speak in church”, “I told her that woman should be silent and let the men make all the decisions” you name it – honestly, I just didn’t want my family to be a distraction during the service.

I’ve also seen this happen during the course of a conversation.  I’ll say something and she will restate it in a completely misconstrued and deaminizing way.  I’ll object to the way she restated it and she’ll do so again and a slightly less deaminizing way, round and round we’ll go, not talking about the issue at hand, until we can compromise on the most deaminizing interpretation that I’ll let her get away with.  In the pocket it goes for later, but the anger that her original representation rendered remains for the rest of the conversation.

Learn not to care…

Real bullies learn not to care about the folks they bully.  Whereas most people will have some experience bulling, I think human nature is such that we feel sorry for what we’ve done soon after if not during the attempt to bully.  The bully pros are able to do so without regret, without hesitation, without affect.  I’ve seen my wife say and do the most hateful things with a completely blank look in her eyes.  Like an angry snake striking without thought to the damage it will do, instinctive, fear driven and automatic.

Needs to not be thought of as a bully…

Another thing I’ve noticed is that for whatever reason, it’s important to bullies to not be thought of as bullies.  They will go out of their ways using lies, deception, rumor, to create a false reality that justify their behavior to others.  It’s amazing to me the extent to which my wife was willing to go to falsely malign my character to others in order to create a situation where the affair, the drugs, leaving me or just not caring would be more seemingly palpable to others.  To this day I still will hear of rumors and lies about me not letting her spend any money, me being gay so I didn’t want to make love to her, me beating her, me spending all the family’s money on liquor, etc.

I think bullies, contrary to what folks might think are extremely socially adept.  They are experts at reading folks and becoming what they think is expected of them.  They can anticipate what folks want to hear and give it to them in a charming and docile way, thus diverting any sense that they may in fact be bulling someone.  Clearly there is spiritually something very wrong or just plain absent, but they learn to parrot Christian behavior, scripture and conviction.  And the most insidious thing is that they can do all of this in such an evasive way – never giving straight answers or allowing themselves to speak in specifics,  that it completely alleviates them of any accountability – oh I never actually said…

Standing in Front of the Bull…

I remember texting those words to my wife that day that her affair was exposed.  My heart filled with fear as I tapped the “Send” button.  Fear of what her response might be, what action she might take as a result of this.  Fear of what was to happen next.  Fear for what would happen to our boys and me.  I also felt as if I was acting impulsively, despite the fact that I had now spent a considerable amount of time thinking about this, praying, speaking to other men in the church, our therapist.  I felt as if I was writing her something completely unrehearsed, considered or calculated.  It terrified me.

It shouldn’t have, I thought, I mean Christians and Bullies is a no brainer right?  Turn the other cheek and all that.  It felt as if there were to great opposing forces pulling me in opposite directions.  I wanted terribly for my wife to be better, become a loving wife and mother again and didn’t think that could happen if I challenged her, but then at the same time, I couldn’t continue to enable this behavior that was destroying my family’s lives.  I just didn’t know if I was doing the right thing.

Not too long ago, I was sitting out  early one morning with our older boy, waiting for the school bus to make it’s way down our dirt road.  He had been having trouble with another boy on the bus and the word bully had been thrown around.  Waiting for the bus in the early morning light, he said that he was going to “smack that kid in the face” if he gave him any trouble that morning.  No brainer right?  I talked about Jesus telling us to turn the other cheek:

Matthew 5 (ESV)

38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

 and that how as Christians we’re called to demonstrate the love of Jesus to those who hate us:

Matthew 5 (ESV)

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers,what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

 Having talked about these things, I sat back and silently congratulated myself on my response.  “There you go”, I thought “that’s an easy one for a Christian Dad”.  He was so lucky, I thought, to have a guy like me around to answer his questions.  What if he instead was raised by someone who didn’t know anything about the bible.

“Can I ask a question”? he asked.

“Sure, anything”, I said my confidence growing by the minute.  Surly no question could possibly refute this lock clad piece of theology I had presented.

“Did Jesus love his enemies”? He asked meekly.

“He sure did.  That’s kind of the whole point”! said I.

“Well, isn’t the devil Jesus’ enemy”?

“Uh-Oh”! I thought.  That ship sank fast as he asked the question I knew was coming:

“Does Jesus love the devil”?

“Maybe we better ask the preacher”.

Despite thinking that I was doing and saying the right thing that morning, I’m not so sure I was.  When I spoke those words to my son, I could see a look of hopelessness was over his face.  He was asking to be saved and I was basically giving him some kind of biblicaly watered down version of  “hey if it doesn’t kill ya, it’ll make you stronger”.    He looked physically small to me.  His sense of self disgust and self hatred perceptible.  He looked the way I felt the afternoon I sent that text message.  I thought I was counseling him to discipline himself.  That challenging this boy was the easy way out and that he needed to use the opportunity to learn tolerance and self control.  The truth is that he didn’t, at least not from a biblical perspective.

Later that evening, I sat down and actually searched for the scripture that I was pretending to know about that morning.  I searched for the Christian response to bullying and read quite a number of different views regarding the same.  I really wanted an answer to his question.  I read the scripture which I have already presented above from Matthew.  I read in Leviticus 19:18 (ESV):

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

and in 2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV):

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

and in Romans 12: 19-20 (ESV):

 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”

and in John 3:15 (ESV):

Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

and in Matthew 5:11 (ESV):

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

 and Deuteronomy 31:6 (ESV)

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.

 and on and on and on – forgive, let it go, be the better person, turn the other cheek, peace, love…  OK, that must be all just take it and shut up right?

Now I read this:

John 18: 19-23(ESV)

19 The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20 Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” 22 When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?”

 Uhm… What? Are you serious?  You’re killing me Jesus!  Do you remember all the love your enemies and turn your other cheek stuff?  You just told us!  Now you get smacked and you didn’t turn the other cheek!  You tore into the guy!  You stood up for yourself!  What’s the deal?

I returned to the list of relevant scripture and found the following which I didn’t really understand why was included in the list:

Proverbs 13:12 (ESV)

Hope differed makes the heart sick, but hope fulfilled is a tree of life.

I think I miss a lot from Proverbs as the concepts are usually so short and come at you rapid fire just one after another after another.  I think I often find myself just reading to get to the end.  I get a little overwhelmed by the sheer amount of lessons presented so close together and get that “drinking from the fire hose” feeling.  This is one that I’ll never forget.  That’s such a powerful little word isn’t it – “hope”.  I think I tend to forget how important it is.  I tend to get bogged down in the get to work, make a paycheck, keep the boys fed, my wife safe etc. that I forget sometimes to hope and what an amazing gift it is.  Hope, probably one of God’s greatest gifts to us on earth, but what does it have to do bullies?

So what does hope have to do with the plight of those who are bullied?  If it wasn’t for google I’m not sure I’d find anything in the bible.  I Googled  “bible and hope” – 265 million results! It would appear that the bible has a thing or two to say about hope.  I read a couple and then came across this:

2 Corinthians 4(ESV)

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

I like that – for this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison!  Now that’s hopeful!  I thought again of the previous verse; Hope differed makes the heart sick, but hope fulfilled is a tree of life.  Makes the heart sick.  That’s it.  That’s really what it feels like to be bullied.  That’s what I felt like that day on the playground.  That’s how I made the little boy down the street feel when I put the dog poop on his bicycle seat.  That’s how I feel when my wife becomes a bully.  It’s about hope and letting someone else take it away.  I hope that my wife loves me.  I hoped to be popular at school.  The little boy down the street hoped to be my friend.  It’s what the bully really can’t stand, because it’s not something that they can just beat out of you.  You have to choose to give up your hope.  Bullies bully because they themselves have no hope and they can’t stand the idea that anyone else does, in particular someone weaker, less intelligent, less popular or less emotionally tough then they are.  It’s unfathomable to them that this person should be permitted hope when they themselves have none.  The bullying is really just a manifestation of that perceived unfairness.

But now here’s the trick; we choose the things about which we hope.  Not the bully, not our parents, not even God really, we do.  And bullies can’t take that away from us unless we permit them.  There is no power differential on this level.  I hope about what I choose to and it doesn’t matter if I do it with my nose bloodied lying on the ground or hiding under a table or walking home with dog poop on your bicycle seat – It’s my hope!  You can’t have it!  You can’t beat it out of me!  If I don’t want you too, you can never take it away!  And that’s really it isn’t it? The way to deal with being bullied is to remember that.  To remember that it really doesn’t matter if you’re able to “give that bully a taste of his own medicine” or not because he can never win, never have what he really wants, so long as we have hope.  I think the best thing we can do for a bully is to show them how to hope.

So back to Jesus getting smacked by the centurion.

22 When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?

What’s going on here.  I’m no preacher, but I’ve read the bible enough now to know that there’s not really stuff in there that doesn’t need to be.  When Jesus draws in the dirt, there’s a reason for him drawing in the dirt.  When he touches someone he doesn’t need to, there’s a reason for him touching them so I assume that if Jesus stands up for himself here, there’s a reason for him standing up for himself and that I just don’t see it yet. One thing’s for sure; Jesus sure didn’t loose any hope over it.  That is if Jesus even needs to hope.  He knows all things, is all things and can do all things so I’m not really sure what a guy like that has to hope for.  Maybe he hopes for us.  Oh, hey now!  There’s something!  He hopes for us!  Jesus doesn’t have to fuss at this man for smacking him!  He doesn’t need to stand up for himself or keep himself safe.  He’s Jesus.  He could call down 10,000 angels or preform a miracle right there if he wanted and get himself right out of that.  I recon, if he wanted, he could have made some funny fart noises with his hand in his armpit and poof – that guy has a giant frog head or something.  (I think that’s what I would have done) Like I said – He’s Jesus! He doesn’t have to stand up to this guy.  Here’s what I think; Jesus wasn’t standing up for himself, he was standing up for me!  He was standing up for y’all, he was standing up for that little boy down the street with dog poop on his bicycle seat, for all of us.  He was protecting our hope.

And that’s key.  The difference between standing up to what is wrong and retaliation is that one is done in a way that preserves hope and one is not. One comes from a place of love and one from a place of anger.  Now Jesus took a lot during his time on earth, he was essentially bullied from the day his ministry began, time and time again – like water off a duck, but when it came to loving us and loving God he didn’t take crud off of anyone!  Now that’s bad ass!  That’s how I want to be.  I want to love like that, live like that and forgive like that.