Mortality at the doctor’s office

Mortality is a funny thing.  Awareness of it comes in brief flashes, at random times throughout our lives.  It can often come at what may at first seem like such an inopportune time, but is more likely to be right when needed.  One such moment happened for me the other day when I had a preliminary sleep test done.  Turns out I am having an event about every 4 minutes while I sleep where my O2 levels drop and my average oxygen amount is on the low-end of what doctors want.  So it’s off for more tests to see about an official diagnosis this week.

Now, I have to follow this up by saying that I dislike doctors, I hate hospitals and clinics, and am just generally unhappy with the medical profession.  This is nothing personal against the number of heroic and wonderful people who willingly give care to millions of people each and every day.  And when I am in to see them I try to be the best behaved patient they meet for that day.  But in part because of having spent many…MANY days and nights dealing with chronic health issues for years and years, I am increasingly leery as I get older, of going in to see a doctor for anything.

But back to this test…

As I was reading up online (actual reputable places like WebMD, etc), I began to realize just how easy it would be for me to not wake up sometime and why my doctor was so insistent that I get this test done.  I called him back to set up the follow-up so here we are.  But it made me wonder about my life, will I be here for when Boo gets married, for when D gets hitched?  How many more years do I have and more importantly, what am I doing with them?  When Boo asks for my attention, did I really give it to her?  Did I play and focus on creating memories and stories that will last long past the time I’m gone?  When D calls or texts, have I done enough to show D how I feel and how proud I AM of the good things D has done in life?

It also made me think about my father, who also has breathing problems (he’s got a CPAP, although it’s not helping as much as we’d like) and the fact that he turns 72 in just a few months.  I honestly am not sure what to do without him in my life and I don’t even like thinking about it.  My mother is 68, so it’s not like either one of them is a spring chicken anymore.  But there is something terrifying I think when you think about losing your parents.  Even more so than when considering losing your grandparents, which I have done years ago.  It’s that lack of a buffer between you and the end.  That creeping sense of the grains of sand leeching through the hour-glass.  Am I ready to deal with the world without their guidance and sure hand helping me?  Have I told them everything I want them to know?  What about the questions I still haven’t found the answers to (most notably, at what point do you finally figure out this whole “growing-up” thing?)?

This is not to say that I am suddenly in a panic, desperately trying to flee from whatever happens.  I’m not.  My faith helps me feel secure in what comes after, and I am trying to improve the quality of the time AS WELL AS the quantity of time I spend with people, but it’s just been weighing on me more lately, as I reconsider my words, my actions and the priorities of my time.  I want everyone I come in contact with to feel the love of the creator, to understand that they are precious and that this gift we call life is fragile and fleeting…but also that it is vibrant and strong.

I needed this.  My father used to tell a story when he was preaching (yeah, he was a minister too), about a mule that would do anything you asked…but first you had to hit it with a 2×4 to get its attention.  It was a metaphor he used to talk about our relationship to God, the world and each other.  And Lord knows I have spent plenty of days wandering around without purpose or focus or otherwise knowing what I was doing and not appreciating what was around me.  I have had many 2×4 moments in my life.  This was another one.

I hope the time I am given is being well-spent.

I hope you know that whether we have been friends for years, are casual acquaintances or strangers new met, that I look forward to knowing more about you and hope nothing but the best for you.

I hope the Creator blesses you to be a blessing upon creation, in whatever form or fashion that takes.

I hope you know that you are loved.

Reflections on the odd…

I don’t know why I am such an oddball.

It may simply be a factor of my perception, but I look through my friends’ social media accounts, we visit in person, I watch tv and listen to the radio and people chatting in stores and I wonder, truly and often, “What on earth are they thinking?”  I am not saying this to come across as superior or condescending, while acknowledging that can certainly be how it is perceived.  It is more a matter of truly not understanding how people can hold some of the beliefs that they do.  I think that is one of the reasons I so enjoy honest, respectful debates with people who disagree with me.  I WANT to learn more about what makes them tick.  I WANT to try and understand why they think, feel and see the world the way they do.

One of the things that Bernie Sanders, currently running for president of the US, recently said to a respectful, if not exactly thrilled, arena of conservatives was that “It’s easy to go out and talk to people who agree with you, it is harder, but not less important, for us to try and communicate with those who do not agree with us on every issue.”  And I truly believe in this.  The ideals of community that my denomination feels that we are called to create are not communities of conformity.  They are communities that recognize the worth of all persons.  Communities that welcome everyone in.  Not just the ones who look, act and think like the majority.

It is helpful I suppose to explain that in my upbringing I think there were several factors that gave me a somewhat unique perspective of the world that do not allow me to easily integrate with my peers.  First off, I was raised in a denomination that if people had heard of it at all either thought it was a cult or part of a totally different church altogether.  We were emerging from a period in our history where we thought that as a church, we had the “one TRUTH” that all other churches were lacking.  It was a tumultuous time in our denomination’s history, full of excitement, hurt and change.  It also meant that I didn’t have a lot of friends to talk to about religion, in a place and time where religion WAS family (post-script, it is family again now after years of wandering).  Most of my neighbors were Catholic, Baptist and the occasional Lutheran or Methodist.  I was one of less than 5 Community of Christ kids in almost every town I grew up in.

I was also raised in a multi-faith extended family.  On my mother’s side, my aunt and cousins were Jewish, both by blood and by religion.  My Christmas for years consisted of playing Dreidel and lighting the Menorah candles, while one of my cousins told the story and then going in the other room to read the Christmas story from the scriptures and singing Christmas carols.  As an adult I find more and more that I miss that piece of my childhood.  Sharing in the different faiths that made up my family.  I also have cousins and other family who are Pagan and Agnostic.  But down deep we know that being family is what still connects us.  In many ways this is how I understand being a part of the family of God.

Both of my parents were ministers, as were all four of my grandparents.  I was also raised in a household of educators.  My father was an elementary teacher and principal for 35 years and my mother was a high-school and college instructor.  Knowledge and reason helped to provide the foundation for how we understood the world, how we found strength in our faith and what our part in taking care of the world was.

On the flip side I was also a theatre major and spent years finding a second home in the welcoming embrace of those gypsies, geeks, freaks and oddballs who made up the various theatre groups I was a part of over the years.  They are in many ways still some of my closest and best friends and family.  It was weird being an active and believing Christian surrounded by people whose view of faith tended to be extremely divergent from my own.  But it was also very humbling to be part of such a community of people whose own struggles had made them keen to accept anyone who wanted to truly join the community they had created.  While I may have attended church, they lived it, although I know a number of them who would shudder to think of it in those terms.  🙂

Additionally, I started working in social work at a very young age.  At 14 I began volunteering my summers at a Christian camp for children who had been victims of abuse.  The abuse could range from physical, mental, emotional, sexual to sometimes all of the above.  For a time, we would be paired one-on-one with these children as the camp provided a place of sanctuary for them.  Many of the children had been taken from their homes and placed with other relatives or in the foster program and over the years that I participated in the camps (about five years all told), I heard and saw many horrific examples of people’s inhumanity to the most vulnerable among us including in the lives of my nephews and sister.

But I also saw the incredible strength and resilience of these children as some came back years later to be counselors themselves and the power of love and acceptance in making a difference in these children’s lives.  Sitting on top of a 7-year-old boy and wrestling a stolen kitchen knife away from him, to keep him from stabbing one of the girls at 11pm is one of the most heartbreaking memories I have.  But seeing a child, so badly abused that he will never walk or talk normal again, raise his voice to share in front of the group his hopes and fears for the future, of having a family and wishing to somehow be normal…seeing the love of these kids as they gather around him to show him how much he is loved and accepted as he is, is one of the most cherished memories I have.

I worked in Domestic Violence shelters and Runaway programs for teens for years before finally hitting burnout.  The stress, frustrations and hurts that Social Service workers, Police and other emergency personnel experience is real and hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t gone through it.  But it cost me my first two marriages, lots of sleepless nights, struggles with alcohol and depression.  There is a reason that people in these professions are so hurt.  It’s not because we don’t care, but because we care so much and we see so much misery around us.  We share a common desire to help our fellow human beings and often get frustrated when we can’t “fix” the problems we see.

I have been held-up at gun point.  I have lost people close to me to violence.  I understand, at least on some level, what it is like to have your life threatened.  I don’t ever want to face those circumstances again, but I also know that should that happen I will do everything I can to save those I care about EXCEPT take another life.  In my understanding and belief I cannot do it, nor can I condone it, not even to “save” those I love the most.

This partly comes from my journey as I ran away from church, tried other religions and none and finally found my way back to my roots.  If I truly believe that God shelters and protects me, than it is not my place to save my life through violence.  Martin Luther King and Ghandi had a lot of influence on this as well and will probably be covered more in future posts.

I love to read, to learn and to experience new things.  I want to be challenged on my beliefs, so that I may reexamine them and ensure that they still fit my understanding of the world.  I want to share in the faiths of my friends, but more importantly I want to share in the LIVES of my friends.  Building relationships is so much more a part of what I feel called to do than building church buildings.

I have a dirty sense of humor sometimes.  I have learned to live with the desires of my previous addictions to alcohol, smoking and porn, without giving in to them.   I yell, I scream at people I love sometimes.  I’m not great with money.  I lie.

But I also work on being a better person each day.  One who can look upon each person I meet as an opportunity to build a better world.  To leave this place a little bit better than I found it.  I don’t do this by telling them that I know what it means to be a “sinner” and then shaming or demeaning them into believing like me.  I do it by telling them my own struggles, by empathizing with their questions and accepting their conclusions, giving them space to grown into the person they are meant to be.  I ask forgiveness for the mistakes I make, I strive to make peace with people I have hurt or angered.  I try to understand.

I don’t know why this is such a hard thing for other people to understand.  I only know it sometimes feels like there are only a handful of us out there trying to live this way, but we do it because for us the world could be such a beautiful place if we can get even another one or two to see it through our eyes.

I may be the oddball… but what if I wasn’t?

Foundations

For me these two documents – 1.) http://www.exponentialimprovement.com/cms/uploads/Einstein%20on%20Why%20Socialism.pdf
and
2.) http://www.cofchrist.org/common/cms/resources/Documents/Sharing-in-Community-of-Christ-3rd-edition.pdf

best lay out the foundations for why I believe what I do… about family, faith, community, politics and the world.

The first lays out an influential essay by Albert Einstein on why he supported (little-s) socialism versus the capitalism that currently drives our society.  It includes some additional thoughtful commentary and links afterwards that I think is well worth the read although the entire thing can be a little thick.

The second is a publication by my denomination, Community of Christ, and lays out the foundations of our faith.  We are a non-creedal church so belief in these ideas is not required for membership, but this is the official church policy and largely mirrors my own understanding and belief.

I share these out of a desire to help explain why I say and do the things I do, not necessarily out of a desire to change or convert you to my way of thinking.  I do this because, as Bernie Sanders said recently to a crown of students at Liberty University, “It’s easy to go out and talk to people who agree with you, it is harder, but not less important, for us to try and communicate with those who do not agree with us on every issue.”

“Another shooting?…oh well.”

I recommend starting with the link below, then read the rest of my post…

http://m.motherjones.com/politics/2014/04/columbine-15-years-later

While I don’t necessarily agree with everything this blogger is saying, it begs the following question in my mind.  Does our response have to be “Oh well?”  One of the more powerful sentences to my mind, in this piece is about half-way down, where the author states:

Both responses, “never again” and “don’t bother trying,” offer statements about the USA. The former says “America is the greatest country on Earth. We went to the moon. Surely, we can stop kids from getting shot to death at school! If the Brits can do it, so can we. ” The latter says, “No, we can’t. We’re America. The greatest country on Earth and the cost of the liberty that makes us so is that our kids may get shot to death at school.”

Does it have to be an either or picture?  I can’t help but feeling like that’s not the answer.  Certainly in my denomination we do not view it as an either or.  There are plenty of people I know, good law abiding citizens who own guns and are responsible people.  They have them because they enjoy hunting, because they feel the need to have one for home defense, because they enjoy collecting them and more.  The reasons are about as varied as the people themselves.  I am not inclined to take those guns away from them.  Nor am I inclined to punish all of them for something someone else does.  That’s not the America I know or grew up in.

But neither am I content to just sit back and say that the price of liberty is the occasional mass shooting of civilians by our own people.  The problem it seems like is that for some people any regulation is too much.  People must be free to own and/or have whatever guns they want and anything else is a government conspiracy.  I put the blame for this kind of hysteria squarely at the feet of the NRA.  Far from being a force for good and responsible gun ownership in this country (at least at the political level, I’m not talking about your local chapter or whatever), they have become a collection of reflexively anti-gun control nuts who themselves are as much a jack-booted thug as they ever accused the government of being.  By their refusal to even let the debate happen we seem to be sliding more and more to the “don’t bother trying” side of the ledger, at least in my mind.  I am okay if the NRA doesn’t like a legislative proposal, but give me logic, statistics and reasons behind it and let me see it for myself.  Don’t try to use fear-mongering and hysteria to control the debate.

The same goes for the Brady Anti-Gun organization.  Understand that there are plenty of people for whom guns are a part of their life.  They are responsible people who don’t consider their demands to be unreasonable.  We have to listen and give credence to their concerns as much as to our own.

I don’t know what the answer to this issue is.  I know listening to each other, and to the survivors of those who have lost, MUST be a part of the solution.  But I don’t know, if the price required of our liberty truly is accepting that every so often we will have another mass shooting of innocents… is that really and truly a liberty worth having?

Charleston, N.C.

I don’t know if I have much more to add to the discussion on what happened to the church in Charleston than things that have already been said.  But I think Jon Stewart does a great job of summing up where in some ways where I am…

My Sacred Space

sacred space,

n space—tangible or otherwise—that enables those who acknowledge and accept it to feelreverence and connection with the spiritual.

I had to wonder about this concept earlier this week.  A friend and co-worker of mine had sent several of us a picture of a fantastic house for sale in our city.  It was a 17 bedroom, 17 bathroom castle going at a bargain price of only $2 million.  Unfortunately we would need something like  51 people paying on the mortgage or so in order to even consider covering that sort of money.  But the address for this place was on a similarly named road to another house that actually is and was special to me.  First, a little backstory.

My father’s parents came from hard beginnings.  Grandma was abandoned by her parents and left with her grandparents when she was young.  Grandpa came from a homesteader family out west when his mother and the kids had to move back here when his father died of TB at a very early age.  Both suffered loss of parents and family and as a consequence family was always very important to them both.

They married and had three boys, the youngest of whom was my father.  When my dad was young they bought this house and my grandfather started work on it.  They bought it from the son of the original owner, who had been a doctor.  The house had a back party house, three garage/outbuildings plus the main house on about 6 acres of land most of which was forest.  The tennis court in the back eventually was taken over by the woods but the peacock pens provided feathers that I still have in my house to this day.

My grandfather worked, along with help from my uncles, father and cousins, over 50+ years on building, improving and adding onto the property.  And every year for as long as they were alive, at Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays and birthdays, our families would gather together at that house.  It passed from my grandparents to one of my uncles to one of his children, staying in the family for almost 70 years.  Memories of four generations of our family center on that house and that property.  Prayer meetings, fireworks, picnics, swim parties (after the pool was added), and more color the images of my childhood.  As a child who moved a lot growing up, it was one of a very very few places that I felt like was home, a place to connect with the land of my family in a way only farmers of old understand.

My cousin eventually got divorced and they lost the house to foreclosure.  It’s up for sale again and while I thought I had resolved myself of the idea that I would never own the place, the thought of it going up for sale to someone outside my kin brought a surprisingly strong sense of loss to me and has in general hung over me the last day or so.

It’s not that I want the place, I know it’s a bit of a financial deathtrap for anybody who’s not really well off, which is certainly not this lower-middle class family.  But the assurance that if I wanted, I could go over to visit, to walk the paths of my childhood and share the memories of climbing through the woods, the secret places in the garage attics, my first apartment…all of that is going away and it surprises me how much that still hurts.  But maybe it shouldn’t surprise me.  For me, family is spiritual, family is sacred.

Family is the filter through which I have always looked at life.  It is the foundation to my understanding of God, creation and my place in it.  It is how I describe my best friends, my church companions, they are also a part of my family.  And for me, at least on my father’s side, my best memories of family are from that house, that property and with my grandparents now long gone it is like losing that last touchstone with them even if the more grown-up part of me realizes that’s not the case.  But it was home for a time… in a very special and spiritual way, it WAS sacred space to me.  A place where I stayed while doing church mission work, a place where I would share in morning devotionals with my grandparents, where I really felt close to God looking out and walking through the woods.

My understanding and sense of the divine has grown since those days, but this was a special place to me, kept in the deep recesses of my soul.  It is time to say good-bye to the place and perhaps, write down the stories from our time there as family.  After all, my children are growing and they do not have the connection to the place that I do.  They are developing their own sense of sacred spaces.  For D it will be radically different than Boo given the 15 year difference in their ages.  But I want to help nurture and create that same sense of affection and importance for them as they look to ground their journey with the Divine (in whatever form it takes) as they grow older.  And to help them learn, through my modeling, what it means to truly let something go if you love it.

So good-bye and God-speed to whomever becomes the new owner.  Know that you have big shoes to fill, and numerous opportunities to be blessed.

Retirement reality?

Retirement…

It’s almost a four-letter word among my peers I’ve noticed.  Hanging around all our conversations about work, family, the house and yard, like some unacknowledged ghost whose presence is felt but ignored.  I can’t say I blame them.  I don’t like thinking about it either, much less talking about it.  Of course, there are pieces of retirement I like to think about, where I might go, what I might do when I’m not working like mad hour after hour every week.  But honestly, is that all that realistic?

I read an interesting and somewhat depressing article the other day about Gen Xer’s (of which I am a part) and our financial outlook.  The article itself is here: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/gen-x-reality-really-does-090000804.html  The thing that struck me was how in sync the article was with my own anecdotal experience, both me and my friends find ourselves struggling financially (and working with homeless folks as part of a ministry I understand struggling is somewhat in the eye of the beholder).  There is a stress on my peers that I don’t necessarily see as profoundly impacting the people younger than me and the people older than me.

I don’t think I am living beyond my means particularly.  My wife drives a 2002 Chevy with 100K+ miles on it and enough rust on the bottom half of the body that when it dies it will have to go to the junkyard.  I drive a 1997(!) Pontiac that I hope continues to keep running for just a few years more, or at least until it becomes old enough to qualify as a historic/classic car.  We are currently renting my parents old house from them, we have a basic internet and basic cable bundle (if it got any less we couldn’t get online or get local channels).  We don’t pay for childcare as fortunately both of our parents are still living and able to assist with that piece of things.  We don’t buy high-end items very often, I think almost all of our furniture is hand-me downs.  We buy clothes at thrift stores and garage sales.  I Do have a Netflix account for which I pay $8 a month.  And three student loans…

We both work full-time, but for not-for-profits which is never going to be a high paying field.  Our degrees were in fields that neither one of us ended up in (Interior Design and Theatre) and we do have health insurance and a retirement plan (saving approximately 6% of my monthly pay in).  I don’t share all this to play poor pitiful me, but rather to illustrate that this is similar to many many stories around this country.  I worry about taking care of Boo and D, I worry about how N and I will do as we get older, how we will (or will not) be able to take care of our parents as they age.  Currently my college savings plan for my children is to work for a university so they get tuition benefit as a perk of my employment.  It’s not like I have any money saved for them.  But I have a roof over my head, food on our table, and a community of loved ones that help us when we need it.

I also do not make $15/hr.

When I hear people asking for a “living wage” I understand the resentment, the anger and the frustration that drives their protests.  I get that the idea of working hard to be able to take care of yourself and your family is a central part of the myth of who America is.  When CEO pay goes up there is no chatter among the talking heads or pundits about how their raise will impact the cost of goods and services and why is that?  I think the discussion that we are currently having about retirement, a living wage and the mythical $15/hr has been hijacked and taken on a joy ride rather than considering other important points.  To illustrate something consider this:

$15/hr x 40hrs/week = $600

$600/wk x 52 weeks = $31,200.00

For every $1,000,000 a CEO salary goes up, they could be paying between 32 and 64 employees $15/hr for full-time employment and still save around $2500….(since most of them would be earning the minimum wage to start with – currently $7.25/hr) and that’s assuming that these employees would be working 40 hours a week.

The CEO of Morgan Stanley, James Gorman, saw his pay go up by 5.6 million dollars in 2014.  That would equate to between 160 and 320 of their lowest paid employees going from the minimum wage to $15/hr and would still leave him making 18 million dollars a year.  Still think it’s too much of a stretch to raise the minimum wage?  Consider too that if people made more money, they will be taxed more, which in turn create more revenue for roads & highways, police, firemen, college tuition grants and more.  Maybe my pay wouldn’t go up much if this idea passed, but it might.  And if that’s the case, maybe retirement would stop being a four letter word…