Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Calling all terrorists.

Calling all terrorists.

In January of 2012 I decided to avoid malls, stop buying clothes or shoes and empty out my closets.  I thinned out everything and made deposits to a homeless shelter and into a collection box for Africa.  Around the same time I was making that purge I was cleaning out my father-in-law's garage space and under a pile of boxes I found a large suitcase.   It was a very large suitcase.  It was a suitcase that I brought from the States to Portugal over eight years ago and I had long since forgotten it.  When I opened it and started going through it I was actually opening a lesson, a proverb, a visual and tactile teaching.

Weather and dampness, insects and mice had eaten through everything.  I pulled out things that I remembered buying that I didn't need and eventually didn't wear.  I once cared enough about these things to lug them through an airport though and dragged them to another continent where they would eventually rot.  As I picked through the remains I remembered wearing a few of those things and felt sad and foolish that I cared about them.  I actually cared about them.  I spent money on them and took time taking care of them.  As I looked at them now I saw what they actually were, an extremely bad investment,   a poor choice to care about or invest in and a very poor choice to collect.  They were now revealed to me that they were temporary escapes, nothing but rags and fit now only for a trash bin.  I threw them away and thought very carefully as I did it.  Those things, reduced to rags in a rotting suitcase and now being thrown into the trash, once had power in my life.

How sad right, a pair of pants or a tee shirt having power?  They actually didn't have any power at all but I gave them power.  I did it.  I did it when I spent excessive time and energy on what made me look or feel good.  I did it when I walked through a mall and looked for something to wear that made me feel good about myself and had spent money on what I didn't need or really want.  I was trying to fulfill a much deeper need and a want with things that would one day be reduced to nothing but rags.  I carefully remembered, as I tossed those items into the trash, that many times I didn't have that money to spend. I was sacrificing money and reality to get something that caught my eye.  

I was buying lies. I was making foolish, worthless choices for momentary gratification, decisions that were now being tossed into a dumpster not fit to use to scrub a toilet.

Before that January day the last purchase I made was on a couple pairs of jeans.  They were dark blue and so blue they were almost black.  The next morning, standing in the kitchen eating breakfast in my new hip jeans, I turned on the news. Just then CNN was doing a story about the Pearl river in Guangzhou, China and the woes of water pollution because of all the poison dumped into that river.  The river flows through the the township of Xintang where most of the jeans for the world are dyed.  The Pearl river is an environmental disaster. I put my cereal bowl down and hunted for the label but I couldn't find out where they were dyed.  But does it matter?  They were probably sown in a sweat-shop for pennies and sold for what the person sewing them would take weeks to earn. 
My jeans didn't look or feel so hip anymore.

I was faced with a dilemma, an endless dilemma.  Do I grow material for my clothing now and sew it?  Do I grow my own bananas and harvest them and make my own cereal, produce my own soy milk?  Do I make my own dinner from scratch, and from scratch I mean in it's totality; ensuring fairness, safety, mercy and compassion in every minute way regarding billions of people and our global environment?  That is now the dilemma for every person on the planet when they think about it.
We can deny the global environmental disasters connected to our marketplace in places where we don't live, but whether the press speaks about it or not, the seas have a lot to say about this because

They are rising.

If you google the above story about Xintang and dye, stay on your computer and google, ted talks james balog,. In the story of climate change James Balog said an amazing thing, which brings me to what I am about to get into.  He speaks about public perception.  He also, interesting enough, uses the term, "bomb proof information."  There is a clip 19:20 minutes long and I urge you to watch it.  Global perspective needs to change and in terms of eternal matters, perspective needs to change for you immediately.  Immediately, because, you are going to die.  Get real about that.

Perspective is everything and ignorance is not bliss.   In terms of what I am about to say, perspective is the most valuable asset we have in regards to the vernacular of,  "terrorist", "terrorism", "justice" and "death-sentence". 

Perspective is everything.

To be continued.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Me and my shadow, continued.

Me and my shadow, continued.

We found a pizza shop that was still open under emergency lights. The dining room was completely dark but near the windows, with the sun going down, you still had enough light to eat. I wanted to eat and run but Jerry was waiting for a bus to Queens. The schedules were slow and random so we waited for a while.  In that couple of hours or so we talked about our lives.  Mostly it was Jerry talking as I listened.  It was the most amazing night I could have possibly fallen into.

The whole time Jerry talked to me, he spoke using Bible verses.  I cannot explain how he did it really, but somehow, he flawlessly weaved his life story through the Bible using different verses along the way.  He could not read or write but he had memorized huge chunks of the Bible from messages spoken from the pulpit.  Through Bible verse after verse he narrated his life and that life lived in a halfway house. He talked about God, a lot.  He narrated his life in that deep, quiet, "other-voice" from Jerry as we waited at our table for the bus.  I was sad when it came and he got on it.  I wanted to sit with him longer but he had to go.

He thanked me for the pizza and coke with his voice going high again.  He gave me a hug and a, "Thank you brother," and left for home.  We waved as the bus drove off into the darkness.  I wondered what the people on the bus thought of this man in his old clothes that fit so badly and his wild hair that looked like he attacked it with scissors.  I wondered what they thought and how they summed him up.

I never looked at Jerry the same again after that night. Years later, and knowing more of what it means to be a Christian, of how one must live, walk, talk and do I feel my great loss for not chasing Jerry every service to come have lunch and dinner with me. I wish I could have those precious days and nights again and find him in the rows somewhere and sit next to him and take notes for him.  In my arrogance, standing there in my nice clothes with money in my wallet, I was impatient with Jerry.  I felt so smug many times when I saw him. What a fool I was.  It was me that was benefitting most from our friendship and I realize now that he was the gift, not me.  God is greater than us and His thoughts are not our thoughts; and His ways are not our ways. How wrong I was about my sense of being there to help Jerry.

I felt his absence for a long while as I walked back towards the Brooklyn Bridge.  I walked in the city under a full moon, down Broadway, through the middle of streets lined with empty, lightless canyons on both sides of me.  It was so beautiful and quiet.  The sky was full of stars people never see when the city is in full power; the moon was huge and soft shadows hit the sidewalk in front of me.  The only sounds in the quiet city around me were my flip-flops hitting the pavement.  When I got to the Brooklyn Bridge two cops stopped me and warned me before I crossed that there wasn't anyone to protect me if I got jammed up.

I thanked them and took off across the bridge.  The East River was black and silky and sparkled with moonlight under me, next to me the dark, skyline of Manhattan. Under the cover of a full moon and summer stars, the only sound that high up was a warm, summer breeze all around me.  Quiet.  Moonlight.  And a solitude of safety in my chest that was so deep and thick; an otherworldly sense of spirit that was so new to me.  Over me was a deep and real sense of God's love, protection and closeness.  I thought of all the events of that day and all the surprises God had brought to me that night.

I was standing alone on the Brooklyn Bridge looking at Manhattan in the darkness.  I didn’t feel alone because my heart was full of gratitude and a sense of awe for the amazing love of a God I was just beginning to know.  In that nighttime of darkness there was a light in my heart. 

I realize now, and often with tears, that Light is the most precious and most valuable part of my existence.  Without it I have no existence.

I am dead,
beyond dead,
without it.

In the years since that August evening I moved away to a new country and began to face every weakness and frailty of my character.  Starting as a child, my life has been full of long walks and jogs, alone in the woods and in fields, in the snow at night or on a foggy beach, on city streets on both sides of America.  I was constantly seeking solitude to connect deeper.  I often walked through the streets of Manhattan alone except for an occasional work crew power washing the empty streets.  I did the same thing in L.A. and that all started in my hometown.  I was always aware and reaching, or trying to understand, or simply enjoy, the sense of who that someone was that was close to me that I was aware of but could not see.  I was trying to connect with a companion close enough to speak to and almost touch. Starting at Times Square Church that “Someone” had begun to reveal Himself to me.  On that bridge that night I had a personal connection that I had desired my whole life.  I was full, completely full, with satisfaction.  I had everything.  It was extremely hard to leave the bridge that night.  I wanted to mark it in my memory forever.

And, I didn’t want to come down, I wanted to stay up there and not deal with my life.

This past Sunday I sat in church while a friend sat next to me and translated Portuguese into English.  I remembered my friend Jerry.  I never connected the two of us until Sunday.  It saddened me and then made me angry that I do not speak or understand Portuguese yet.  Today I think about my years here in Portugal in solitude.

Throughout my life, solitude was a place to escape and be quiet, to connect with God.  In Portugal, that isolation became a prison without walls.  It hurt my life and my marriage and it stole so much from me.  I came to Portugal and wanted to stay on the spiritual mountaintop that I was on in Manhattan, in Manhattan of all places!  I wanted to permanently stay in that quiet, warm, full moon of peace and connection I had on the bridge.

Now I’m in a valley.  There’s pain here and loss and all of it more painful because I stubbornly resisted.  God was moving on in Portugal and I didn’t want to go with Him.  I wanted to stay on the mountain.  I wanted my comfort, my spiritual solitude and what was intoxicatingly incredible, but all of that without God simply became the grotesque of self.

There is no freedom then but just a prison of self.  There is no growth or gain, just shriveled loss. All building stops. There is no joy, just frustration and anxious feelings. A self in exile, a branch cut from the vine, withering and dying from thirst.

The only way out of this spiritual valley is communion! 

To commune with God is to commune individually and vertically but then horizontally with His body, which is the church.  To commune correctly is to connect with the Head, which is Christ, and serve others with others and to subdue self.  And do the work of love.

When Jerry walked across the lobby that day it was actually a confrontation.  He was invading my solitude space.  He was smashing down a “Do not disturb” sign that I had hung out.  He was oblivious to my shyness and my stubbornness. He did not care about my personal space needs because he was more interested in love. He also brought me, kicking and resisting, into the necessity of sacrifice, service and sharing. The vital parts of my faith walk that I did not want any part of, I wanted peace and quiet, I wanted solitude in church.
And the irony is……I wanted to grow.

All I want to do is find connection now.  All I want to do is come out from hiding and learn and experience what I have missed my whole life, Love.  Real Love.  

The Light, the warm glow, that was filling my heart that night on the Brooklyn Bridge was filtering through cracks in the granite that were just beginning to open.  They began to open every time I reached into my wallet and gave a few dollars to Jerry.  They began to open every time I took his notes for him or was kind to him. They opened up in a huge way that night while we sat in darkness waiting for his bus, eating a meal of lukewarm pizzas and iceless cokes.  The cracks in my heart began to open up when a man that people would pass by on the street opened up his heart to me and shared his walk with God.

Without running into Jerry that night I would have had another night of solitude looking for life through the lens of a camera.  A man and his shadow walking alone down empty avenues.

Thank you my friend, wherever you are.  I’m grateful for your effort and I pray now to put more of what I have recently discovered into practice.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Me and my shadow.

Me and my shadow.

In my blog, I write and wonder about love, life and light in the world I walk in.  This is a story about a man I knew once and a great piece of understanding in my life that I would have missed if he hadn’t made an effort.  His effort was a few steps across a lobby with an open heart and an outstretched hand.  I won’t use his real name in this blog but I will never, ever forget it.

I attended Times Square Church for about six years. It is a huge church in a space that was once a theatre.  At the end of services the lobby would be packed with people talking about the service or where they were going to go for lunch or dinner. For about a year I attended this church by myself and knew no one there, until Jerry.    

I was standing alone in the middle of the masses of people one day and across the lobby, a slightly, overweight man, in white sneakers and a dark, gray suit came over to greet me.  His jacket was old and too small for him, his shirt tales hung out from under his vest and his pants were about two inches too short.  He kind of looked like a sad clown in a circus to me.

"Hi, I'm Jerry.  What's your name?"  

He had a warm smile, although his two front teeth were missing.  He needed a shave, a bath and a change of clothing. His graying hair was all matted down on one side and sticking out in other places. He was a black man but I can't tell you his age because he was like a child, a man-child really.  As we talked he nodded and smiled but when I looked into Jerry's eyes something was a little off.  There was nothing but innocence in them.  He was probably in his early forties but his eyes were like that of a four-year-old.  On that first day we shook hands but each day after that, whenever I saw him, we hugged each other.  He liked me so much.

He never remembered my name though.  Even after many times meeting him in the lobby or out on Broadway, he would just call me, “Friend”.  Not too long after meeting him he started hitting me up for money for McDonald's that was next to the church or the pizza joint down the block, or for bus fare.  He couldn't read or write but he always carried a notebook and looked for me to occasionally write down what God was saying to him.  There was urgency about his notes and the only time I sensed any impatience or frustration in him was when I couldn’t sit down immediately and give him my full attention.

I felt a little annoyed many, many times and tried to duck him more than once.  He would hit me up for some cash for lunch after the morning service and then again after the evening service for dinner.  He couldn't remember my name but he remembered me for food and to write his notes down.  Once he fell asleep on my shoulder in a service and I kind of nudged him hard to wake him up because he was snoring so loud.

"Jerry! Wake up man, you're snoring."  
To which he replied back loudly, "It's my medication!!"  

I felt embarrassed and started to avoid him more often than not.  I wanted my peace and quiet in church, my reflection time, and this brother was messing that time up for me.

Eventually, after many months there, I met my good friend Mike and one day I asked him about Jerry.  "Mike, do you know that guy Jerry?"  I could imitate Jerry’s high-pitched voice perfectly by then, and Mike laughed back, "Dude, you mean the Prophet?"

The “Prophet”.  It had never happened to me but Jerry would sometimes make a beeline over to someone and get right up in their face.  Quietly he would share something that God wanted to say to that person.  His voice would change, getting quiet and deeper.  His gentle brown eyes would get a fire in them and it was very "serious" time.  When he finished what he needed to say, what was burning in his heart, his voice would go high again and that simple, sweet look would come back to his face.

"O.K., I got to go now.”  With that he would walk away smiling, no matter what he had just said.  It could be a warning, or correction, or encouragement from God and he would just walk away smiling, rather oblivious to the feelings of the person who had just received the message.  What was important to him was that he shared what he believed God had put on his heart.  I was basically a baby in Christianity and knew nothing about prophets or prophecies that came from God.  Nothing, but I began to look at this man with his notebook very differently.

After the 9/11 bombing Manhattan was rattled for a long time.  It took many months before the taxis started to blow their horns again.  The city was quiet and reflective and in a state of mourning but eventually the buzz returned, and all the street noises that went with that.  Even after a few years past that September morning nerves were still raw and that's when Manhattan got plunged into a blackout.

It was a warm summer day in 2003.  I just stepped out of one of those old elevators that could hold about 4 people uncomfortably and it was clear that something was wrong. Buildings had emptied out onto the street and crowds mobbed intersections. The subways stopped running and the busses were packed to their full capacity.  People were terrified and everyone kept looking up into the afternoon sky for planes. Cell phone service was cut and no one knew what was going on. Everyone assumed the worst.

It was a total blackout all across the Northeast up to Canada.  When the city found out we weren't under another attack a party atmosphere kicked in.  The streets were emptied of traffic and people walked in the middle of the streets after the sun went down.  Long shadows from crowds, mobs lit by emergency lights in intersections, could have been a very scary sight but then you would hear laughing. Singing! Crowds lined up at Mr. Frosty ice cream trucks or hot dog vendors. Most of the people carried wine and beer.  The whole city was a traveling party. 

I was in Times Square so I checked out the church. There was no service going on because there wasn’t any electricity but the crowd outside was all lit up.  The city wasn't under an attack but a summer black out and it gave everyone a free night to hang out and not go to work.  It was an August snow day for the city that lasted two days.  In the middle of the crowd in front of the church Jerry stepped out and found me.  I was standing there in a tee shirt, shorts and flip-flops with a friend's digital camera. It was the first time I had ever held one and I was planning to walk the whole city and photograph this amazing night. I hadn't anticipated running into Jerry.

"Hi Friend, you want to get something to eat?"

To be continued.