Saddle Shoes and Knuckle Sandwiches

This is a chapter from the new book I’m currently working on (feedback welcome):  

I was in kindergarten when I got into my first fight. For a week straight another boy had tormented me about my shoes. Looking back, he had a pretty good point. When my sneakers finally gave out I was forced to wear an abomination known as saddle shoes- black and white leather monstrosities that were frequently featured as part of cheerleading costumes.

I have no idea where the shoes came from. My mother is far from a vicious person so I’m sure she had no desire to humiliate me, but we were poor and I can only assume that she had no other options.

Perhaps some cheerleader got booted from the squad and threw them out her car window in protest and disgust. Maybe my mother found them in the yard and said a quick prayer of thanks that she had a perfectly good pair of shoes for her eldest to wear to school. If the shoes were an answer to prayer, God really cares nothing about fashion (which would help explain why evangelists always have such bad suits).

However, the boy who sat across from me on that bus in rural West Virginia obviously cared deeply about fashion. I picture him today as a pretentious shoe salesman at some high-end men’s clothing store, turning up his nose in derision when anyone asks if they carry saddle shoes.

But at that time I pictured him quite differently- bloody and crying beneath the fury of my justice. Every day as his jibes intensified-

‘Timmy’s wearing girly shoes. Are you wearing panties too?’

I planned and plotted. I fumed and formulated. I sulked and schemed. And one day I acted. I told another boy that I was going to fight the little fashionista and within minutes it was the talk of the school. I learned, at that moment, one of the foundational truths of the universe- a spectacle offering the possibility of violence or humiliation draws people quicker than rotting carrion attracts vultures.

To my horror and growing dread the carrion seekers flocked in a roiling mass at the far end of the playground by the time I was dismissed for recess. Sammy Spiffy Shoes stood at the center of the loose throng, looking serious and terrifying.

We stood several paces apart staring at each other, not really sure what to do next. Silence descended over the crowd. My mouth felt sticky and dry and my heart was racing. Suddenly someone yelled ‘fight.’ My opponent and I rushed at each other. And just like that it was over.

My next memory is sitting on the ground listening to the crowd recount my humiliation as they were shooed away. My head was tucked between my knees as I sat watching drops of my blood fall in a steady stream from my split nose and drip audibly into a growing emerald pool. And this is one of those things that my parents failed to prepare me for. You see I wasn’t allowed to watch TV and my opponent had obviously been weaned on Bruce Lee movies. If I had been better educated I might have known that it is inadvisable to charge an opponent who is in the midst of performing the dreaded flying crane kick.

It is easy for me to smile about it now, but at the time it was utterly humiliating. I was so soundly beaten that I became the footnote of an instant playground legend. History is written by the conquerors and good old Sammy’s stock rose dramatically that day, his feet firmly set on a path to shoe sales glory. My stock, on the other hand, plummeted in true Black Friday fashion. From some of the girls I received sympathy, which compounded my embarrassment. From other boys I got derision and the reputation as an easy mark. This fight had been my first, but it was hardly my last.

In the years that followed, at the nearly dozen different schools I would attend, this episode was replayed a number of times. The cast of conquerors changed, but Tim the vanquished received numerous encores. I played France with glasses to many a crowd of vultures. There is a palpable essence that emanates from fear; a scent of docile terror that attracts bullies, who intent on masking their own feelings of inadequacy, follow it like sharks on the blood trail of a wounded fish. Much of my childhood was spent, like Nemo, ineffectually flapping my bum fin in a vain attempt to outrun the smell.

I spent my elementary and middle school years as the perpetual new kid, the outsider, making it difficult to conceal myself and my insecurities. I was also poor. It certainly didn’t help that my clothes were never quite right or that my teeth were too large for my face. Sometimes when I see pictures of myself from those years I’m tempted to bully me. That insecure smirk seems to invite it.

But what really provoked it was my implicit surrender. I took it. I didn’t tell anyone and I didn’t fight back. I tried to pretend it was part of a joke that I was in on. That initial fight convinced me, for many years to come, that I was unable to defend myself.

I never fully recovered from the humiliation of the incident that left me with a nearly manic aversion to confrontation. It also left me with a compulsion to hide my fear and weakness- from family, friends, or anyone else who might have helped me.

When someone beat me up or performed some act of ritual humiliation I laughed it off. If someone asked where the bruises came from or why my shirt was ripped, I lied. I made myself into a victim but protected that fact with fierce determination. No one could be allowed to see just how weak and cowardly I was.

But I always knew. I could pretend, but the truth was always there, taunting me. I tried reinventing myself over and over, through different types of music, fashion and friends. I buried myself in fantasy, imagining a world where others looked at me in admiration, not derision. I would sit for hours thinking up elaborate storylines that featured me as hero, rather than punch line.

Now if I’m going to be completely honest this is all a bit whiny. One might jump to the conclusion that I haven’t even revealed anything damaging and I’m already making excuses. That is not completely unfair. Whenever a person begins to assess bad choices and behavior, the temptation is to add ‘yes but,’ and thus begin down the road to rationalization. I don’t wish to journey there. I do think it is important to provide context for behavior. Without motivation tragedy becomes farce.

And part of what would lead me down the paths that I have chosen began on a schoolyard playground in rural West Virginia. But I must point out that I chose to fight Sammy Spiffy Shoes. It wasn’t his fault he was better at it than I (or that he had impeccable taste). And I dare not blame the string of bullies who followed. In the years that bind the humiliated kid to the divorced father trying to make sense of his regret, I would do much worse.

Sunshine and Rotting Pansies

It is one of those rare days of late autumn- cloudless, balmy, peaceful. It is a day to be savored…

But I’ve seen the forecast. I know what is coming. Tonight that slight breeze turns treacherous and the temperature drops 30 degrees. And when the sun rises in the east, the temperature will not follow.

I recently moved to downtown Frederick, a remote and fairly affluent suburb of Washington DC. I love my new home. There is a little pedestrian mall just a block from my house where I like to go to write, on days like today. Charming boutique shops and upscale restaurants bracket both sides of a wide brick walkway that lines a picturesque channel known as Carroll Creek.

This completely manufactured waterway is bisected by artful bridges, be speckled by a cornucopia of potted aquatic fauna, and injected with the sonorous symphony of numerous artificial waterfalls. It is clean, peaceful and beautiful. However, even the diligence of the public works department cannot completely hide the inevitable. Leaves give up their hold and fall onto the brick pathways, increasingly cold nights continue to erode the color from the numerous flower beds. Everywhere death encroaches on life and the struggle against that eventuality grows increasingly futile.

As I sit here watching the ebb and flow of privileged humanity- joggers fighting their own autumns, couples holding hands with desperate adoration, shoppers engaged in that most important of civic responsibilities- it is tempting to ignore the waning season. It is tempting to believe that this will last. I am comfortable. I see happy and prosperous people stroll contentedly by. I know happy hour is just minutes away.

But if I look around the corner I can see the homeless man who only cares about his next fix. If I breath deeply I can just get a whiff of the organic dank of vegetation beginning to rot. And if I listen very carefully I can hear the first rustling of that cold gale moving this way.

The young couple strolling by, cheeks still flushed from their make-out session under the bridge, are oblivious to it. The pack of businessmen bustling by are too busy posturing for each other to sense it. The frazzled, overweight mother is too harried by her familial realities to notice much of anything. And that homeless man is too fixated on his need to care.

But it strikes me that the people streaming by are actually me, and you. Don’t we, particularly here in America, walk through our manicured lives, and shopping centers, ignoring the signs of what is coming; of what has already come in other parts of the world?

The news channels try to tell us. Calamity is everywhere. Famine, war and pestilence are so normal that they threaten to interrupt my Geico commercials. Kim Kardashian tweeted a new picture of her stupidity, but I missed it because of some virus that is wiping out a country that I can’t find on the map.

I see the faces on TV- demonstrating incredibly bad hygiene and an incredible misunderstanding of what Ayn Rand meant- starving masses living under tarps and drinking water that collects in ditches- and I think to myself- why can’t Monday Night Football come on earlier?

On Sunday Pastor Randy will tell us that we are the hands of God, sent to help those in need. He will say that when God returns he will ask what we did with our abilities, resources, and time. He will talk too directly and make me begin to squirm in my seat. He will say that the clock is running out and just saying that you’re a Christian doesn’t make it so.

But, right now, thank God and praise Jesus, it is happy hour.

Two Score and Five

This week I turned 45 years old, or as I would say while driving through Gettysburg— two score and five years ago my mother brought forth, well me. However it is phrased, I’m starting to run up the “score.” (snare. snare. high hat.)

I’m not going to get all clichéd about how that seemed so old when I was a kid. Truth be told it seems old to me now, and completely foreign to my conception of myself. I have reached that rather awkward age (call it adolescence part deux) where I think that I can still get away with being hip.

Just the other day I passed this kid on a skateboard that looked like me five (or maybe 25) years ago. I rather cooly remarked, “What’s up bra?”

He looked at me like I was nuts. Are the kids not saying that anymore?

Come to think of it, I seem to have a lot less in common with young people than I used to. I mean how the heck can they listen to that music.

Wow, that sounded somehow familiar.

Oh yeah— that was my grandfather’s reaction when he heard me blaring Guns-n-Roses.

So perhaps I’m not the same person that I was in my twenties. And since I was pretty much a jerk when I was in my twenties (although at least I listened to good music), that might be a good thing.

If I am honest with myself I am much happier now than I ever was when my abs naturally arranged themselves into neat rows and I didn’t have to manually stretch my face in order to rid myself of these stinking furrows.

And it is kind of fun to complain about the fact (and it is an absolute fact) that hip hop really sucks! Do the kids still say sucks?

I guess what I’m really trying to say is that growing up, and older, is actually pretty awesome. And those who try too hard to turn back the clock usually come off as kind of pathetic. Because we are meant to grow and to reach forward, not backward.

My devotional reading for today was rather fitting—

So come on, let’s leave the preschool fingerpainting exercises on Christ and get on with the grand work of art. Grow up in Christ. The basic foundational truths are in place: turning your back on “salvation by self-help” and turning in trust toward God; baptismal instructions; laying on of hands; resurrection of the dead; eternal judgment. God helping us, we’ll stay true to all that. But there’s so much more. Let’s get on with it! -Heb. 6:1-3 MSG

So hear’s to the next two score and five. And here’s to hoping that in the coming years they’ll figure out a way to remove these stinking furrows from my face without me looking like a melted Barbie Doll (no offense Meg Ryan).

See You Soon Pap!

Last night my hero died. After my own father’s death, pap became my model of Christian masculinity. I wish I had done more to live up to his example. Today I rejoice for him. He has moved beyond this world of pain and has an eternity of peace and joy ahead of him.

I mourn for all of us that he left behind who are now that much poorer for want of his presence. However, I mourn knowing that I will see him very soon and will share that eternity with him, my father, and our heavenly Father.

Until then I will miss you pap!

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13,14

When pap got sick some time ago, I wrote this short story as a kind of tribute; an attempt to communicate what he has meant to me. I’m reposting it to say thank you for all that you taught me. I love you!

 

A Fish Story…of Pops, Larry, and Me

I stood on the bank looking down as the water slid by, uninterested. Where was it going? I knew that on this day it would pass by dozens of guys like me. Tomorrow it would be miles from here and some new river would have crept in and unobtrusively taken its place.
 

Next year it might get the chance to do its part in forming the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World,’ or driving a Thai peasant from her hut, or maybe find itself imprisoned in a concrete cage and tortured with chemicals.
 

But for now it just rolled on by not paying a lick of attention to me with my stupid expression and tattered pole.
 

My bobber fought to join it on the journey. It, like everything else, didn’t want to have anything to do with me. Suspended below was a worm that was not having a good day. He had probably spent the morning minding his own business and now couldn’t quite understand why life was so unfair.
 

So far his torture hadn’t attracted the audience I was hoping for. He was a gamer, passionately going through the routine, but it was hot and no one else seemed to care.
 

I had learned in biology class that the scientific name for earthworms is lumbricus terrestris. I still don’t know why that matters or why I need to learn about the geography of Southeast Asia. There are so many things that I don’t want to know. That worm probably felt the same way.

Enough said. It would soon be over for him.

Larry was a wily one. I had never seen him, but I could picture him anyway. Pops had touched him once, before I was born. Every June, when I came back for my annual visit to my grandparents place, Pops would always tell me that he had seen Larry over in the hole “just the other day.”

Pop loved to describe Larry’s gaping jaw, scarred from previous battles. He told me that the old fish had really lived and understood. 

“Life is an education,” he would say. “Every day we are learning or we are dying. I guess that Larry still has things to learn.”

But this year there had been no sign of Larry. Maybe he had finally learned it all. Or maybe he just got bored and quite fighting the river. Perhaps he had kicked back and was floating past all those fisherman, smiling a big fish smile because he knew they were there. Maybe he had decided it was time to fulfill his lifelong dream of swimming through a hut in Thailand.

No. He was still there; watching me. He was probably wondering where Pops was. Why hadn’t Pop celebrated the end of the latest ice age by marching along the bank peering, searching, challenging?

But Larry couldn’t know. The war was over, and Larry had won. Mom said that Pop was with Jesus, but I had seen the wooden box lowered into the ground.

After today, Larry wouldn’t have to worry about me either. Every year I counted down the days until my mom would load up her station wagon and drive me the four hours to Pop and Gammy’s summer home. As we drove through the gates that announced our arrival, the anxiety that had built throughout the school year would leave me in an instant. Like that gasp of air that hits your lungs after surfacing from a deep dive, I would instantly feel alive and free. But this would be the last time. 
 

Sure the house would be here, but I knew it would never be the same. I knew that, after today, Larry was rid of me. Truth be told, I doubt that I ever caused him any real concern. Pops, on the other hand, was what my English teacher would have called a worthy protagonist. 

 
I closed my eyes against the tears that welled and could hear the familiar preface, “The first time I saw Larry he smiled at me.” Every year he told me the story before we ever ventured down to the river, and every year I would give the same reply.
 
“Pops, fish can’t smile.”
 
But Pops would patiently explain that there is a language deeper than words that all of God’s creatures understand. He would tell how Larry had challenged him, and he had no choice but to pursue.
 
And one year Pops had caught up.
 
“It was a perfect mountain afternoon. Not a cloud in the sky, and the air was so clean and bright you could taste it,” he would say.
 
“I was staring at the water when a long shadow caught my eye. A passing cloud I thought. Then my pole jerked ferociously and I knew what the shadow really was.”
 
For the better part of an hour, the two combatants waged war, joined by an almost invisible connection. But even the bravest of warriors wears down. Every creature has its limits. 
 
That day Larry reached his. When the moment came, all the fight left his shimmering body. He followed along helpless…acceptant.
 
A pair of leathery hands lifted him into the horrifying and suffocating brightness. And then, inexplicably he felt himself falling.
 
Pops told me that as he pulled Larry from the water and held him up to look him in the eyes, an unexpected crack of late summertime thunder caused him to start and the giant fish had tumbled from his grasp.
 
Pops always smiled when he told me this, and I suspected that he was happy that Larry had gotten away. It seemed that it had been enough to wear the big fish into submission, to pull him from the water and look into his black eyes.
 
We continued to pursue Larry, year after year, but maybe Pops hadn’t really cared about catching him. As he had gotten older he seemed to focus less on Larry and more on me. In a way Larry became a silent participant in our comfortable triumvirate. 
 
Over the last few years, Pops had seemed to wilt before my eyes. We still went to the hole and sat and talked, but he seemed increasingly distracted. He drifted off for minutes as if he was actually some place far away and had inadvertently forgotten to bring his body along.
 
Getting up and down off the logs that we used as fishing perches became increasingly difficult, and I saw the pain that the effort caused him. Last year had been the toughest. Our last fishing expedition was cut short. Pops had gotten cold. It seemed really odd, even to a dummy like me, since it was eighty degrees in the shade.
 
Before we headed back up the hill to the house, he told me that he loved me (which had strangely frightened me) and began talking about the river. He said that although we call the river by a specific name, that was just for convenience. 
 
“The name is really a marker of time, not the river. The river is actually many rivers, and none. It is a part of a whole and it never stays, but also never leaves.”
 
“It is OK,” he said. “That is just the way things are.”
 
I could still see the intensity in his eyes as he said those words to me. I didn’t really understand what he said, that last time. But somehow I knew that he was right. It was OK. As I pulled in my line, I pictured Larry swimming around in that thatched hut, and I smiled.

Close Encounters of the Bottled Kind

 

When I was in my twenties I used to regularly utter the phrase: “I won’t live to see 30.”

 

Given my propensity for excessive living, that seemed a rather likely bet. At the time I made this morbid claim with a certain pride. I was living the rock n roll lifestyle and would go out in a blaze of glory (or puddle of puke) like Joplin, Hendricks, Morrison or Moon.

 

I enjoyed drugs, but I always knew that alcohol would be the vehicle that would carry me into oblivion. I liked to drink and could never quite get enough. I would drink until everything was gone or I passed out.

 

And I had many close brushes. More often than I care to recall I awoke to find myself caked in vomit, lying on a saturated pillow with chunks of gorge dried to my face.

 

Even then, in my sheer recklessness, I knew how close the reaper had passed. Every time it happened I would feel an icy shudder pass slowly down my spine. After all, the stories of the rock gods of that era tended to end in said musical deity drowning in his/her own bile while passed out.

 

But God obviously had other plans for me. Despite my every effort to end my life eternally, he spared me and slowly weaned me from my self-destruction. It has been many years since I’ve woken in that state. Looking back, it seems like a different person living someone else’s life, and in many ways that is true.

 

I really thought that I was past the place where I had to worry about death by beer. I thought this right up until a few weeks ago.

 

Right before the holidays I was driving from Frederick to York to pick up my girls for the weekend. I didn’t have any plans for weekend debauchery. No keg stands with kiddos in my future. I was anticipating a couple of days of ice skating, Uno and charades, when out of nowhere my old nemesis and lover struck.

 

In this case the front end of my car.

 

As I was hurtling down the highway at sixty miles per hour, a case of beer flew out of the back of a Subaru station wagon and collided with my brand-new VW Jetta. I had no time to comprehend what was happening, much less swerve. I felt and heard a loud thud, felt the car lurch and skid, and began braking.

 

By the grace of God I was able to successfully navigate to the shoulder of the highway without injury, at least to my person. The car was a mess (to the tune of $6500 worth of damage), but I was alive, breathing and thanking God.

 

And now that my heart rate has returned to a less frenetic rate, I find the irony really funny. God spared me yet again from death by beer. I’m not sure that I have any profound conclusion to draw from this episode except that it didn’t make me shudder. There were no icy fingers stroking slowly down my spine. There was no moment of terror.

You see, had that case of beer been the instrument that carried me from this world, I would not have been headed into some dark oblivion. Rather, I would have been carried home to a reunion with both my earthly and heavenly fathers.

 

And that would have been a heck of a funny story to share with them both.

On Top of the World (which is a pile of dung)

My father was a better athlete than I ever aspired to be. He went to college on a track scholarship, ran marathons nearly an hour faster than my best time and was one of those people who get real medals at the end of the race (usually before I cross the line and get my finisher award).

After he blew out his knee playing football he took up cycling with the same intensity that he had for running. Although he didn’t cycle competitively, he trained ferociously and was a huge fan of the sport. He was particularly enamored with the Tour de France.

He died in 1989 while riding his bike, the year before American Greg Lemond would win his third Tour title. I remember watching the 1990 Tour and feeling a combination of incredible grief and comfort as my father’s cycling idol rode down the Champs Elysees as champion. At that moment Lemond stood on top of the world. But it didn’t last long.

In the coming years Lemond became better known for his whiny accusations than his cycling prowess. He famously battled Lance Armstrong, who had taken his limelight as the preeminent American cyclist, over accusations that Armstrong took performing enhancing drugs. He went from icon to pariah in a matter of years, chiefly at the hands of Armstrong, who used his power and influence to destroy Lemond’s waning reputation.

Lemond became a punchline and had to watch as Armstrong rode to victory seven times, made millions in endorsements, dated celebrities and became the hero of cancer survivors everywhere. Armstrong stood cockily on that mountaintop once occupied by Lemond.

But that didn’t last either. Several years ago Armstrong finally admitted that he had used PEDs throughout his dominant years. Lemond was vindicated, but it almost didn’t matter. Ivan Basso, Jan Ulrich, Floyd Landis- giant after giant fell to doping tests. What was revealed was that all of these cyclists were battling to get to the top of a tainted sport. They all wanted to stand atop a huge pile of dung.

We see this play out in other sports: baseball, football, track. In fact, we see this play out in all aspects of life: music, acting, politics, academia. It has become almost ritualistic in our culture to watch giants rise and fall. We glory in their excellence and revel in their destruction.

And yet no matter how many times we see the plot repeated, most never learn the lesson. We all scramble after our little whiffs of glory believing that if we reach the top of the mountain, it won’t smell like shit.

Jesus tells us:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasure upon the earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.  Matt. 6:19-21

But that’s easy for Jesus to say. It’s not like he was ever tempted by personal glory…well except for that episode where he was tempted in the desert and Lucifer offers him the entire world. But was he ever tempted by real glory?

I remember standing on that stage in 1979 accepting my ribbon for winning the annual elementary school spelling bee. As I looked out over the auditorium filled with at least 20 people, who respectfully did not rush the stage in adulation, I knew that the world was mine to conquer and rule.

Now I have to use spellcheck just to get through the day. And that smells like failure.

 

 

Absurd Back Stories

I can remember sitting on a bench watching this tiny, old Asian woman looking nervously at a group of teenage boys out of the corner of her eye. They were posturing and talking loudly, attempting to impress a group of nearby girls with how thuggish they were.

As I observed this lady warily survey the strutting group of wannabe hoodlums, a strange thought sprang into my head- what if she were secretly a vigilante crusader tracking down her next group of victims? Was she isolating their weaknesses and plotting their demise. It made me laugh and gave me a fun new game to play- the absurd back story.

It is a great game for those trips to the beach, the mall, or anywhere else that people gather and act in bizarre ways- which pretty much makes it universally applicable. Nothing can make the doldrums of the medical waiting room take on new life like a well-developed and ridiculously absurd back story.

Today, I had a bit of inspiration. I was out for a run and getting a little one on one time with the guy upstairs. I was asking for help in dealing with my anger, which tends to worsen in direct correlation with an increase in the volume of idiots who refuse to yield space on the sidewalk, or ignore traffic laws, or who find dog owner sanitation requirements to be beneath them.

I had just successfully pulled off a triple salchow to avoid a group of five suited yutzes who managed to create a moving wall across the entirety of the fifteen foot width of the running path, when a thought came to me- what are they hiding?

I knew what I was hiding. I wore my typical street expression- intense, unsmiling, perhaps a little angry. When running in the city, I always wear the mask. Why? Because if you look like a victim, you will be a victim. It is the rule of the street and the jungle. But beneath my faux MMA persona, I was struggling with the guilt of the impact of my divorce on my kids, fears about my inability to be the man they need me to be, anxiety about what the future holds, and doubts about my worth as a person.

So what were all of these people hiding behind their chosen masks? As I glided by faces, I began to see them differently. The old lady biking alone- missing her best friend and husband of 30 years who should have eaten better. The middle-aged businessman in the $1000 suit- frowning as he thought about the way his wife had flirted with his best friend at the dinner party. The young pregnant girl- hoping that this time the man would stick around. The skinny black boy- trying to look tough, but knowing that he would be chased through the projects on the way back to his rundown shithole and scared that this time he might not be fast enough.

I saw them for what they were. Not literally, of course. I didn’t know any of them and most of my back stories were based on cliches or stereotypes. But I knew a truth about them, because I was part of them. I realized that we are all the same, regardless of our color, or background, or gender, or religion. We are all dealing with the same voices of doubt and fear and guilt.

It didn’t matter whether my stories were accurate. What mattered was that they were true and that they made me less uncertain, less afraid, less guilty.

And an interesting change occurred. I found myself smiling at strangers. I moved off into the street when the sidewalk was blocked, and didn’t think about how good it would feel to run over someone. I even mouthed ‘hi’ to several others who met my eye. And those faces changed. I was met with smiles, and waves, and humanity.

Well, not uniformly. There was the militant-looking thug with the teardrop tattoo who fired a finger pistol at me. And perhaps under that armor of anger he just needs a hug, but I’m not quite ready to go there just yet.

The Hitler Abortion Question

hitlerdead5

I remember one of those super intellectual discussions I had during a late-night ‘study’ session back in college. Here is the premise- if you were a doctor in Austria in the late 1880s and you knew your patient, Klara Polzl, was going to give birth to the monster who would go on to spawn the holocaust, would you abort the fetus?

 

Regardless of your views on abortion, it is an interesting question? And it is a question that has stayed with me through the years.

 

The reason I find this so fascinating is that it answers so many puzzles related to God. Why would God create a being like Satan? Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? Why doesn’t God intervene more directly in my problems? Why doesn’t God get rid of all those scary clowns?

 

For me, the answer is the fundamental subject of the Fallen Angel Trilogy- Free Will (no, not the thing about the whale).

 

If I am the Austrian doctor with that kind of knowledge, I am, in one respect, like God. God oversees the births of over 350,000 people every day. If we accept that God is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent, than we have to accept the fact that he allows individuals to live who he knows will kill, injure and destroy. Why? Because if he didn’t, free will would be a complete sham.

 

If I allow only those who will do as I wish to live, is there really any choice available? If I know you will disappoint me and remove you from the equation, did you ever get the chance to decide?

 

Personally, if I were in God’s shoes, Hitler would have been toast. But, than again, if I were in charge, I’m not sure I would have made the grade. I know those stupid clowns wouldn’t.

 

 

Apologies To Job

There have been many moments over the last year or so that I have compared myself to Job, the biblical character whose faith is actively tried by Satan’s persecutions, with God’s sanction. A wealthy man who literally loses everything except his life, Job maintains his faith in God’s goodness despite being subjected to every type of personal assault- loss of enormous wealth, his home, his health and his family.

I have repeatedly reread this story over the last eighteen months and tried to use it to keep from losing my own faith. Recently, I have felt assaulted by the enemy and abandoned by God. I have railed against God and openly questioned where his protection is? Though I have yet to curse God, like Job’s wife suggests he do, I have had some pretty frank criticisms for him

Two days ago I realized how foolish my comparison has been. Upon returning from a run, I read a text that my ex-wife had sent responding to my request to speak with my kids:

‘Kids can’t talk. Tali in hospital.’

That was it. My heart instantly froze in my chest and I nearly collapsed. I tried to call my ex but got no answer. I tried calling other members of her family, my panic rising by the minute. It was a terrifying half hour before I received a follow up text telling me that everything was OK.

It puts everything back in perspective. My assaults of the past year have been related to money, finding a publisher, my ego and questions about the future; but I have been healthy, and more importantly, my kids have been healthy, happy and secure.

Job lost everything in a very short period of time, through no fault of his own. He is then subjected to a variety of bad advice from everyone else in his life. I have had financial challenges (related to my own mistakes) and have had good friends and family to support me. I haven’t lost anything very important. In fact, I have been very blessed.

So, my apologies to Job for making inappropriate comparisons. And my thanks, as well, for showing that despite whatever Satan can throw at us, God is ultimately in charge, and he is on our side.

Confessions @ 4 am

It is now 4 am and I can’t sleep. I have tried everything I could think of to try to wipe the image from my mind. I created funny advertising slogans- Fox News, Fair and Balanced (oh,wait, that might not be mine). I played several rounds of mental golf (if only I played this well during the daylight, someone else might actually witness my greatness). I prayed.

 

But still I am haunted by that image- the shallow breathing, the broken, bloody teeth, the pool of blood congealing around his head.

 

Perhaps I should back up. Early this afternoon, Liz and I were driving through the city. I was turning a corner about a half-mile from my apartment. As I scanned the intersection I saw a body, lying in the middle of the street, not moving. It was utterly shocking and surreal.

 

Confession #1– My first impulse was to pretend I didn’t see anything and to keep driving. That section of the city isn’t the safest for a white person to wander around in, and a small crowd had assembled on the sidewalk. Surely, I reasoned, they had already called 911 and someone would help that man, lying limply in a pool of blood.

 

But I knew that wasn’t right and so I stopped. Liz and I ran down the street, asking those we passed if anyone had called for help. One lady was on the phone, but she was talking to a friend. Everyone else seemed to be content to gawk. No one even went near the man. We ran out into the street and while Liz called the paramedics, I went and stood by the man, making sure that no one ran over him.

 

Confession #2– I had no idea what to do. I looked down at this man, lying their bleeding beside me, and had no inkling of how to help him. I could see that he was breathing, albeit very shallowly. I could see that he had a head wound, but didn’t have any idea what to do about it. I asked him if he could hear me. I told him help was coming. I tried to find out if anyone knew what had happened to him. But I was totally incapable of helping this man. I knew that I shouldn’t move him. I was afraid to touch him. I stood there, impotently staring at a person who very well might have been dying before my eyes.

 

Confession #3– The primary emotion that I felt as I stood there wasn’t compassion, it was anger. I did feel compassion for the man, but the anger was much more acute. As I asked those standing on the sidewalk if they had seen what happened, a picture emerged. This man had been jumped by a group of thugs in the middle of a busy street, in the middle of the afternoon, and not one person had attempted to interfere or could identify the assailants, or had even bothered to call the authorities. And as they stood there, staring dumbly at this wounded man, no one really seemed to care. It was infuriating.

 

Confession #4– I am a hypocrite. That sense of judgment that I felt, looking at those standing around, might have made me feel superior, but if I’m honest about it, I can’t say that I would have done anything differently, had I been in their shoes. Would I have jumped in and risked my neck to save someone I didn’t know against potentially armed street toughs? I’m not totally sure that I would. And if I saw scenes like that every day, like many who live in the poorer sections of this violent city do, would I become jaded and afraid to talk about the things that I witnessed? I can’t honestly say (see confession #1).

 

Confession #5– I froze in the moment. Since I was a little kid, I have always had these fantasies of heroism- stopping a robbery in progress, rescuing a baby from a wild dingo, single-handedly eradicating hip hop, that kind of thing. However, when actually confronted with a situation where I could have helped, I froze. Because I had a skill that I could have used, but I didn’t. I have the ear of the God of the universe, and I never gave him a shout. I could have knelt beside that man and prayed aloud, asking for God’s protection and healing, but I didn’t. I might have missed an opportunity to speak grace into that man’s world. I failed.

 

God, please be with that injured man. I’m sorry I didn’t ask sooner.