My Cross

My Cross

If I had loved her better,

If I hadn’t judged.

If I had lifted her burdens,

Instead of bearing a grudge

If I had seen the beam in my eye

And left hers well alone

Would we still be sisters?

But I hear a moan

Of time that passes empty

No phone calls, emails, or cards,

The memories we could have shared

Just an empty vase in shards

The beauty of what might have been

Fills my soul with regret

Each year that passes reminds me

That I haven’t yet

Removed the burden of guilt

I feel it on my chest

But reconciliation I fear

Will never give me rest.

So I will walk this path alone

My Calvary to find

I’ll follow my Lord to Golgotha

Pray for those I leave behind. 

His Grace for Me and for Thee

Photo by Stephen Hui on Unsplash

The other day I was reading about whole object relations.  Mentally and emotionally healthy people are able to see others as they are and resist the urge to either idealize them or demonize them.  That has been a skill that I continue to struggle with.  Black and white thinking was all I knew for half of my life and too often it is encouraged within church society.  Some people are socially savvy enough to pick up whole object relations, but many like me, have to learn it the hard way.

Donald Trump has been a particularly polarizing figure in part because people want to simply paint him as black or white.  He is the savior of democracy and America or he is the devil sent to destroy it.  The truth is naturally more complex.  Donald Trump, in my mind, is a seriously flawed individual with a fragile self-esteem who didn’t have the skills to lead and couldn’t cope with that reality.  The fact of his defeat in the election was simply something his mind could not deal with.    His inability to accept and acknowledge defeat was obvious to those who understand his psychology.  They predicted this outcome.  His former lawyer and fixer Micheal Cohen warned us in his congressional testimony.  His niece Mary Trump also warned that the transition of power would not go well.  They were right.

His psychology is fairly straight forward.  The national psychology is more difficult to understand.  Why did so many identify in a personal way with the former President?  Why did they project virtues on him that he clearly didn’t possess? Why do they vehemently protect him from any consequences he has earned including poor press coverage during his term and the impeachments that resulted from his irresponsible and dangerous behavior.  Why?  I assume that the lies they tell themselves about Donald Trump are similar to the lies they tell themselves about who they are.  The hardest lies we face are the ones we tell ourselves.

This world is inhabited by imperfect broken people.  We hurt one another and ourselves.  At best, we have social structures that encourage and reward pro-social behaviors and punish anti-social ones.  These structures are never perfect, but as they erode, we find that we miss them.  At worst, those structures fail us and complete chaos and brutality prevail.  I fear our once great nation is dissolving.  It started slowly, but it is accelerating.  Like the pandemic that rages across the land, the chaos, cynicism, and hopelessness are spreading exponentially.  We lack the mental resources to cope.  

As I posted on Facebook, I made the decision to leave the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  For now.  I feel like God is calling my spirit to wander for a while.  I need to embrace the fact that I am a pilgrim in a strange land and my heart yearns for a homeland that doesn’t exist on this planet.  I keep going back to the same church and hoping my experience will be different, but sometimes the answer lies outside the box we place ourselves in. God is everywhere. He is in the stream and the mountains. He is in the wind. He can find me in my closet and sit beside me as I comfort a friend. He doesn’t live in buildings built with hands.

It has been tempting to see the church as evil; a deceptive organization that has hurt my recovery and shattered my illusions about God.  There are times I feel that way.  But when I try to conceptualize the church with whole object relations, a much more complex image immerges.  

My depression accelerated when I was newly married and starting a demanding Elementary Education program, I was unable to afford treatment.  My mom gave me some pills through my gynecologist at home so that I could manage my suicidal ideation.  I tried to get counselling, but the student counseling center hours conflicted with my schedule as a student teacher.  As I explained my plight to my bishop, he said, “I will be your counsellor.”  We visited weekly.  Looking back, it was a miracle that he was able to help me as much as he did.  The Lord provided support for me when I desperately needed it.  And he did it with a bishop who had little to no training in mental health.

After I graduated and I was able to go to counseling, I went to an LDS family therapist.  He became like a second father to me.  He helped me in ways I don’t think anyone else could have.  When I needed to change counselors to someone closer to home, there were no LDS therapists nearby. Even though my new counselor was not LDS, my bishop still paid for my sessions when we ran out of money to pay for them.  He made an effort to understand and I appreciate that.  The church invested in my mental health and I will never forget that.  If I can ever give back to the leadership or the members of the church, I will gladly do it.

On the other hand, I’ve seen in the members and some leaders an irrational and impenetrable resistance to the reality of mental health and what they don’t know.  As the Savior said, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  They hurt people like me.  They think they are helping.  They want to help, but they refuse to see.  I pray that God will open their eyes that they might be better ministers to the increasing number of suffering people.

The prophet and his apostles are trying to help us.  They have provided the resources in handbooks, websites, youtube videos and manuals.  Unfortunately, there are political and social trends more powerful than church leadership that have alienated members from the truths that could set us free from mental and emotional ignorance and the catastrophic consequences.  There are none so blind as they who will not see.

As I look back to my pioneer ancestors for inspiration I see that they chose to build, not to tear down.  They chose to serve, not to demand entitlements.  They chose to get better, not to get bitter.  That’s the path I want to take.  I hope that someday the church is a safe and healthy place for me to be.  Until then, I will go where He wants me to go.  I will serve where he wants me to serve.  I will be what he wants me to be.  I will give judgement to the Lord who sees with perfect whole object relations.  He is ever merciful to me as I plead for His forgiveness.  Can I fail to give it?  No.  I will forgive to seventy times seven as my Lord has instructed.  His grace is enough for me and for thee.  

Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th’encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!

Meantime, along the narrow rugged path,
Thyself hast trod,
Lead, Saviour, lead me home in childlike faith,
Home to my God.
To rest forever after earthly strife
In the calm light of everlasting life.

Edward Henry Bickersteth

Defiled Dreams

Photo by Adrien King on Unsplash

When Trump came to power in the Republican Party, I knew I had a choice to make.  I knew who Trump was and what he represented; the worst aspects of white America.  Entitled, lawless, selfish, consumed with lust for the things of the world, and everything I had tried to think I wasn’t was embodied in the person of Donald Trump.  I wasn’t like him!  He didn’t represent me and “real conservatives.”  We are good people, I told myself.  As my illusions have been stripped away this past year or two, I have become conscious of the true depth of our predicament and my own enabling role in what has happened.

Rick Wilson wrote the book, “Everything Trump Touches Dies,” which has been shortened to #ETTD, an enduring hashtag on Twitter.  The truth is, even those of us who have fought Trump the hardest have been touched by him.  Some of us fought off his assault, and some of us froze and let him, some of us invited him in and revelled as he defiled us and others.  The truth is, all of us have been touched.  The question is, will we die?  Will we pull together and cast off the evil that has overwhelmed us?  Is it too late to heal the deep wounds that have been self-inflicted on the body politic?  The defiling and desecration of the capital was the physical representation of what has been spiritually happening for the last five years.  The breaking forth of white supremacists and their hateful bile spilling out into the sacred places of public trust, defiling our public offices, and wounding the soul of the nation parallels what has happened in the hearts and minds of our citizens.  It is clear for all to see if they will open their eyes.

And still many refuse to see it. The Republican Party has been poisoned.  That poison has been distributed throughout the nation into our churches and schools; our homes and families.  Perhaps forgiveness is the path Christ wants me to take, but I am loathe to put my foot on that path until I have fully processed the trauma of what has happened to me and the deep feelings of betrayal and disillusionment I feel. To deny the reality of the awful state of the church is sin to me. It is up to the leaders of the church to address the poison within it and I pray that they can.  It is up to them to make it safe for me and others who suffer from the sins of this plague of disinformation and sin.  I will retreat into the core of my own soul and rebuild the shambles of my own belief system.

I wrote a few days ago a post called, “Confession.”  I am exploring and reflecting upon my fears of black people; fears that had been seeded and nurtured by bigotry.  Bigotry I had mistaken for culture; a culture I needed to learn to operate in and survive in.  Perhaps that was true fourteen years ago when I moved into an apartment complex full of beautiful black faces.  I wasn’t afraid of them until white people told me to be.  I learned fear.  But today I can choose to unlearn it.

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr.’s holiday.  I thought about the schema I have erected in my mind about the civil rights movement, the red scare, the position of my church on black members and hundreds of other interactions I have had with black people since I moved to the south.  I remember my dad telling me about his mission in Virginia and South Carolina where he saw horrible racist attacks on innocent black victims.  He said one experience that stood out in his mind was when he saw two well dressed black women walking down the road in the rain.  A car drove past and purposefully swerved into the gutter to splash the women.  He told me he would never understand the kind of hatred that would inspire that kind of behavior.  He said the black people he met were always kind to him as a missionary.  He was not allowed to preach the gospel to them.

As a girl I read every book from Ezra Taft Benson I could get my hands on.  His words spoke into my mind as though he was there next to me.  His warnings about communism and socialism awoke in me a fierce desire to protect my nation and bring freedom to those who suffered under communist regimes.  I read about his trips through the iron curtain to meet with members who lived there.  His commitment to the principles of freedom inspired me.  He lit a flame deep within my soul to fight for freedom all the days of my life for every child of God under heaven.  Ezra Taft Benson didn’t say much about the civil rights movement except that communists had tried to take advantage of the racial divides in the nation to overthrow the government and institute communism.

I had always viewed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with ambivalence.  I felt like I needed to respect him, but not too much.  I couldn’t be a liberal.  I think I read his “I Have a Dream” speech in school and I liked it.  I thought he wanted to heal our racial divide and I wanted that too.  After all, the communists couldn’t use black grievance to overthrow the government if the black people aren’t grieved.  It was my view that black people just needed time and patience and that eventually they would integrate as other cultures have into the fabric of America.

Moving to the South I have seen that it just isn’t that simple.  Segregation still exists.  The schools are integrated, but more often than not, there is a divide between black and white.  Black people in our community talk differently, interact differently, and worship at different churches than white people.  Even at work, my husband seemed not to work with very many black people.  I’ve encouraged my sons to be kind and accepting of all people who are different.  I’ve tried to be an example of friendship and compassion.  But I see that there is more I can do.

The Savior wants me to look forward and not obsess about my sins which he has paid for.  He also wants me to face the uncomfortable truth and change to live in accordance with it.  I bought the book Strength to Love by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  I think perhaps if I listen to him and others who brought the civil rights movement into existence, that maybe I will have some subjects to talk to black people about.  Maybe if I take the time to see Dr. King’s vision, I can see myself in it and find a new path to Zion.  

The end of one road is always the beginning of another one.  The Savior tells me to keep the faith and put one foot in front of the other, like my ancestors did as they crossed the plains to the Salt Lake Valley.  I have a dream that one day I will sit down with the suffering and feel the embrace of true fellowship.  I have a dream that one day I can be surrounded by people who value and love me.  I have a dream today.

They have rights who dare maintain them; we are traitors to our sires,        
Smothering in their holy ashes Freedom’s new-lit altar-fires;           
Shall we make their creed our jailer? Shall we, in our haste to slay,
From the tombs of the old prophets steal the funeral lamps away    
To light up the martyr-fagots round the prophets of to-day?  

New occasions teach new duties; Time makes ancient good uncouth;         
They must upward still, and onward, who would keep abreast of Truth;     
Lo, before us gleam her camp-fires! we ourselves must Pilgrims be,           
Launch our Mayflower, and steer boldly through the desperate winter sea, 
Nor attempt the Future’s portal with the Past’s blood-rusted key.

The Present Crisis by James Russell Lowell

Pepper’s Lesson

“I can totally make my own dog food,” I thought to myself confidently.  We usually feed Pepper the best dog food from Kroger; the expensive kind that has to be refrigerated.  We combine it with the dry kibble she won’t eat otherwise. She has always been a little small and slow to eat, so finding the right food has been something of a challenge.  It has been almost two years since we brought her home as a tiny pup.  When the grocery store stopped giving us her food they said they were out of stock.  

I did some internet research.  I’ve had some quinoa sitting in my pantry for a long time because the kids won’t eat it even though it is really healthy.  Sure enough, doctor google confirmed, quinoa was a good food for dogs.  I cooked especially prepared chicken with no seasonings, shredded it up, combined it with cooked quinoa, shredded carrots, squash, or sweet potatoes.  Even though the websites like the American Kennel Club insisted that a veterinarian should approve the recipe, I was sure that the food was just what Pepper needed.  I threw in a handful of grated cheese for flavor.  She loved it and ate it up.  I’ve been happily feeding her the homemade food for about a month.

Pepper has been one of the few things in my life right now that has brought me peace and joy.  My depressive symptoms have resurged and I am struggling to function.  Pepper never judges me and that is a precious gift.  She sits in my lap and licks the tears from my face.  She has been a constant source of comfort.  No wonder when I saw her squatting on the carpet with blood dripping from her bottom, I panicked.  She couldn’t die!  I had just finished telling my Bishop that I wanted to leave the church on good terms.  I had just had one of the most difficult moments of my whole life, and now the little animal that had been by my side through every trial of the past two years was vomiting and pooping blood.  Pepper couldn’t die.

I pleaded and cried to my Heavenly Father.  I wrapped her in a blanket, called the veterinarian and Ben and I rushed her to the animal hospital.  She was vomiting and bleeding and peeing everywhere and whining piteously.  They admitted her to the hospital and the tests revealed pancreatitis, a disease that is usually caused by excessive fat in the diet.  I found out that it can also be caused by mites in old dogfood that is not properly stored.  I threw away the dogfood I had made for Pepper as well as the old dry food bag just in case it had mites.

Little Pepper suffered a lot.  She was in the hospital for three days and now she is recovering at home.  Today Ben carefully measured out the prescribed dogfood and I mixed her medicine into it.  She wouldn’t eat it unless I scooped up small pieces in my hand and held them out for her to lick the food and medicine from my fingers.  As I provided Pepper this simple service, I thought of the food I had lovingly made for her.  I don’t know for sure if that caused her pancreatitis.  She might have eaten something out of the trash, or it might have been mites in her old dry dogfood.  It doesn’t matter whether I intended to hurt Pepper or not, I likely did hurt her.  In my confidence fed by online subject matter I didn’t fully understand, I decided not to consult authority.  I thought I knew of myself.  I thought I could skip the important step of checking the diet with Pepper’s veterinarian.  

The internet can make us feel like experts.  We have vast amounts of information in our pockets.  This can lead us to think we know things we don’t.  I threw away the dog food I made for Pepper because I love my dog more than I like being right.  I am now feeding her a strict diet of prescribed food until she is completely recovered which will probably be at least a month.  When faced with a big veterinarian bill and a very sick puppy, I had to face the reality of what I didn’t know.  If I continued to feed Pepper the food that made her sick, I might kill her.  She is much more important to me than my own ill advised dogfood experiments.  

God sends us experiences to teach us wisdom.  I learned a lesson about myself and my internet “research.”  I learned that an innocent mistake made with loving intent can still hurt.  Those hurts must be treated, just like Pepper’s pancreatitis had to be treated.  Sometimes it takes time.  Sometimes we have to change the way we do things.  Sometimes we have to listen to those who know more than we do.

Another lesson I learned was in the face of my eleven year old son.  When we got home today, he went in the house and brought Pepper out to me while I was still in the van.  Pepper, weak and sick with the hair shaved on one tiny leg, was still just as happy to see me as ever. She licked my face and wagged her tail as I cuddled her close. My son beamed with joy as he watched the reunion.  The love and care and patience that I show to Pepper and the unique bond between us teaches my sons about Christlike love and service better than any family home evening lesson.  As I knelt on the floor with wet stinky dogfood in my fingers feeding my sick fur baby, my sons were upstairs.  They didn’t see that quiet moment of service.  They didn’t need to because they have seen me do such acts before.  For their brothers, for them, and for anyone, or animal, who stands in need.   

I’ve spent a lot of time and energy trying to save the world online.  The truth is, the Savior has already done that.  Its my job to learn.  I keep coming back to him who is Mighty to Save.  He sees the mother in her humble role.  He sees the child and the dog.  He gives his love and his light to all those who come unto him in faith.  He doesn’t live in buildings built with hands, but in hearts crafted in the furnace of affliction.  I will sing his praises all the day long and into the night.  He will sanctify my tears and magnify my witness.  

Confession

Don’t steady the ark.  It is one of the oldest of admonitions.  There is good reason for not trying to work against God’s will and substitute your judgement for his.  And yet that has been what I have been trying to do for decades.  Judging, admonishing, pleading, and hurting trying to steady the ark.

God has his church, he has called his prophets, it is his job to fix the broken that has poisoned the church culture.  It is his job to do those things.  It isn’t mine.  My job is to come unto Him and live.  My job is to go where he wants me to go.  My covenants that I made with him were not with my bishop or my stake president.  They weren’t with any church leader or member.  My covenants were with Him.  To obey His commandments and follow His direction.  To hear him and listen to Him.

Faith bends.  Faith is the tree in the storm that won’t be moved.  Faith endures through the storms of doubt that batter it.  When the calm follows, the voice of the Lord is clear.  Serve a broken world.  Find where you fit.  Find where you are valued.  Find where the spark of your spirit is welcomed and encouraged.  Surround yourself with people who help you develop into a more Christlike version of you.

Will I serve the homeless?  The refugees?  The elderly?  The women’s shelter?  I don’t know.  I will see where I fit and find my place.  I will roll up my sleeves and serve.  I will listen to the voices that need to be heard.  I will observe God in their faces and in their lives.  I will learn compassion.

The sacking of the capital shook me to my core.  There is no doubt in my mind now that Trump and his supporters are desperate to prop up a racist, classist, and economically oppressive system.  That is what fuels the movement.  That is the motivation behind the hate, suspicion, and fear is a desperation to preserve the privilege of the few, over the voices of the many.  It isn’t so simple as my words suggest.  Most of Trump’s supporters are not powerful or privileged.  The forces at work in the movement of Trumpism are complex and many faceted and everyone is accountable to God for their choices during this period of social and political upheaval.  As for me, I have sinned.

The conservative talking points that used to resonate with me make me feel ashamed now.  They were the thin veneer I used to protect myself from the reality that I have ignored and neglected my duty to hear and understand the voices of those who suffer.  My eyes have turned away from George Floyd and his people who suffer in a broken world that has hurt them and continues to hurt them.  I’ve listened to voices of people who have told me what I wanted to hear and not the ones I needed to hear.

I have lived in Texas for fourteen years and yet I have only two black people I would call friends.  I know so little about their stories it’s embarrassing.  I make excuses.  I’m a busy mom with many responsibilities.  I have fragile mental health and I might not be able to handle the suffering of others.  I make these excuses while trying to fit into a world of white privilege I want the acceptance of. Outwardly I have worshiped Jesus Christ, but inwardly I worshiped an idol of gold.

This is my fault alone.  I have stumbled around with a beam in my eye while trying to cast out the motes in the eyes of others.  I’ve judged unrighteously.  I’ve sinned.  God will judge Trump’s supporters.  In judging them, I hoped to shame them into repentance.  That isn’t the Lord’s way.

At the same time, I cannot worship with them.  I cannot go to the temples and churches where they worship.  My soul is grieved as my illusions have been stripped away and I see the sin that has festered there; the worship of money and power, the craving for the honors of men, the closing of my ears to the suffering.  I have condemned Trump vehemently for the sins that I saw reflected from me in his privileged face.  I cannot surround myself with those who excuse and encourage that sin in me.

My writing may seem confusing and contradictory to some.  How can I condemn Trump supporters while at the same time repent of condemning them?  What I have learned in my suffering and my prayers is that the reason I fought Trumpism so hard, the reason I preached and posted for the last five years was because I was trying to protect myself from the sin of Trumpism that still resided in my own heart; the need to believe that my conservative beliefs are righteous at their core.  Since I have purged the sin, I no longer feel that urge to fix Trump’s supporters.  I’m not one of them anymore.  I don’t have to “cleanse the inner vessel” because after seeing my own sin, confessing it, and forsaking it, I know that I am nothing like those who defiled the capital or those who make excuses for them.  They have their path.  I can stop trying to fix them.  I can stop trying to steady the ark.  I can stop trying to worship with them.  They aren’t my people.

My people are the downtrodden and the lonely.  My people are the abused and the mistreated.  My people are the suffering that don’t fit and don’t belong.  Its time for me to join my people, not in temples with soft chairs and glorious chandeliers, or catered parties, or in fine clothing.  I don’t judge those who have chosen a different path, but they aren’t my people.  My people are in the places of suffering.  God wants me to worship with them.  To pray with them.  To suffer with them.  I didn’t want to before because I was afraid of the darkness.  I didn’t think Christ was enough to help me bare the burdens.  Through suffering, my heart is drawn to Him.  He is enough.  He is mighty to save.

For those who have prayed for me, I thank you for your prayers.  For those whom I have judged, I’m sorry.  I was wrong.  God only knows what is in your heart.  He will judge between me and thee.  I pray that God will make me a better witness.  I lay my sins at his feet.  I promise to put Him at the center of my heart and purge myself of the false gods I have worshiped in the past.

Cave Paintings

Photo by Don Pinnock on Unsplash

The trauma of this year is pretty intense.  A lot of the writing I’ve done on this blog has been about processing “little t traumas” from my past and modeling some thinking strategies that I use in my journaling to keep my past hurts from getting in the way of my present and future opportunities and joy.  Because of the ever present trauma of the pandemic and related disasters in the present, I get overwhelmed when I try to process it.  That makes me feel blocked as a writer and that’s part of the reason why I haven’t posted much recently.  I just can’t process the trauma right now or I won’t be able to function as a mother to my kids and do what I need to do to just survive this moment.

That’s okay.  Getting through the trauma is what is important right now.  The brain compartmentalizes and represses trauma for a reason.  There is a time and place for healthy emotional processing and it usually isn’t in the moment we are going through the trauma.  I have been journaling, but a lot of it is pretty dark.  I read through my last post and it is pretty dark.  I end up feeling worse after I write sometimes and that really isn’t very helpful right now.  What I have found has been very helpful is to zoom in to the present moment, focus on the beauty and joy in small and simple things, and explore my creativity in new ways.

I realize that not everyone has access to the time and resources needed to create the things I will discuss and demonstrate in these blog posts. (I plan to do several). My intent with these posts is simply to give you some ideas for integrating some regenerative creative projects into your lives that might help you cope with life right now.  Hopefully you can tailor these ideas to your own needs and constraints.

Most of us live our lives immersed in creativity.  We watch T.V. and movies where performers act, sing, and dance.  We walk past sculptures, live, work, and shop in architectural creations.  We listen to songs on the radio or streaming service.  Seldom do we consider that we are capable of actually creating ourselves.  The brave and expressive among us may sing in the shower or as we drive while listening to our favorite songs.  Maybe some may even join a community or church choir.  Some may paint, draw, write or do crafts, but afraid of being judged or criticised, they don’t share their work.  

I’ve come to the conclusion that we have created a society in which we are consumers of art and yet not creators of it.  We have outsourced our creative duties to a selective restricted few who are judged by the free market or those with means to have the kind of expression that is worth amplifying.  The rest of us become the passive recipients of mass produced art that doesn’t really have much soul in it.  This phenomenon leads to a kind of emptiness in our society in which we feel disengaged and uninvested.  This disengagement can fuel mental health problems, lethargy, cynicism, and as we’ve seen with the rise of populism around the world, leave us vulnerable to the flattery and lies of a demagogue.

I have a vision of a society that is saturated with art.  I have a vision of every man, woman, and child having the opportunity to have their own creative expressions heard, seen, and valued. Bob Ross, that cultural icon of painting, inspired millions of people as he shared his talent with all of us.  He was no Picaso.  That didn’t matter.  He could make beautiful paintings and he believed that you could too.  How many lives are more fulfilled because he shared?  Social media, with all its problems, has become the ideal medium for artists to share their work.  Pinterest is a gold mine of artistic inspiration.  Facebook allows artists to share with friends and family, or join groups where artists share tips and tricks.  TicTok has small videos of bite sized inspiration.  

As a mom, I’ve tried to inject some of these artists and their work into my sons’ online diet.  Often art is considered a girl thing, so finding Bobby Duke Arts YouTube channel was a Godsend for teaching my sons that creativity and art are for men and boys too.  Here are some links to my favorite Bobby Duke videos.

https://youtu.be/2iZmLUHiASI Majora’s Mask

https://youtu.be/O5au9HWjKFM Thor’s Axe 

Bobby Duke has teamed up with various other online artists who have created and inspired creative instincts in millions who watch their videos.  With a few inexpensive tools and a lot of guts, you can make some pretty incredible things!  Here are some other videos I have watched with my boys.

https://youtu.be/xC6J4T_hUKg Lightsaber build

https://youtu.be/u2sSSZDZ-SA Wood dress 

https://youtu.be/ALbt17LLH54 Link sculpture

Metalwork, woodwork, stonework are all very appealing to my sons who love working with power tools.  The other day my oldest son decided he didn’t like how the attachment to his Nerf Gun worked.  He decided he could reengineer the attachment to work better.  His dad helped him use the saw to remove the attachment and after he had removed the screws, he had it in pieces and ready to reinvent.  I loved the expression on his face when he proudly showed me his stripped down Nerf part.  Yes, it’s messy.  No, he probably won’t be as successful as he hopes he will be.  Yes, he will learn a lot about taking risks and using his mind and creative power.

It’s human nature to be focused on the outcome.  “What will I make?  Will it be valuable?  Can I sell it?  Will my efforts be worth it?  What if all I make is junk?”  What I have learned as an artist is that when I focus on the process and not the product, I make better art.  I let my heart and soul tell me what medium to use.  Maybe it will be something new.  Maybe it will be something old and familiar.  Maybe I will try to make something original, or maybe I’ll copy someone else’s work.  Maybe I’ll just pull out an adult coloring book if nothing is coming to me.  The product doesn’t really matter.  It’s the process.  Whether people appreciate what I make doesn’t matter. 

One of my most consistent sources of inspiration is ancient cave artists.  Everytime I think I don’t have the right tools to make art or I don’t have enough talent to make something meaningful, I think of those ancient cave painters.  They had poor light, crude materials, a difficult surface, little to no training, and very little leisure time.  Yet they created.  They took the time to express their experiences and they are beautiful.  If they can make art, so can I.  Art is not a zero sum game.  There isn’t a limited amount of talent or ideas in the universe.  God is an endless source of inspiration.  He waits for you to muster the faith in yourself to actually make the effort to express.  Once you do, he will provide you with the tools and opportunities you need.  Focus on producing quantity, not quality.  When you finish a pad of art paper, celebrate!  When you use up your paints or chalks, pat yourself on the back.  Eventually, you will make something that you can’t stop looking at.  You will fall in love with it because it is the concrete representation of God within you; unique, divine, and fascinating.  It won’t be perfect, because art never is.  The flaws will be beautiful too.

After Much Tribulation

It has been almost a month since I have posted here. I hope and pray you are all healthy and have food to eat. I’ve been conflicted about sharing my anxieties with you at this time because it is such a difficult moment for everyone. I would never want to cast burdens upon your shoulders when you are already carrying so much. Still, when we all hold our emotions inside afraid to share, we miss out on the opportunity to comfort one another in trials. We also deprive ourselves of sharing those glorious moments of triumph that happen after much tribulation.

This moment in history is astoundingly significant. Every day the headlines paint the dangerous crises of the pandemic, the mental health consequences of the pandemic, the political convulsions, the economic devastation. Even on the local level, there is no sense of safety. Our ICU capacity is at 94% in Tarrant County. Over forty percent of the beds are Covid patients, almost double the number that there were just weeks ago. There are only 18 remaining ICU beds in the whole county.

And people got together for Thanksgiving. Today is two weeks since Thanksgiving, so people who were exposed over the holiday are now sick enough to possibly need hospitalization. Hospitals are preparing for the inevitable surge of cases. A seventeen year old boy in our county died yesterday from the virus. It is really horrible to hear about elderly people who lived a long and full life and deserved to die with family and friends beside them and a beautiful funeral to honor their memory, die alone and buried with no funeral and no closure for grieving families. It is a whole different layer of horror to see a life snuffed out that was just beginning. Such a death is not just loss of life, but the death of experiences that might have been; relationships that never will be; a hole that cannot be filled. I can’t imagine the shock and despair if I lost one of my sons to this virus. Such a preventable and senseless death! Only a few more months and the pandemic will likely be finished, yet the callous indifference of so many will be remembered.

Over three thousand Americans died from the virus yesterday.  It is the most deaths from a virus in one day ever recorded in American history.  My county medical examiner’s office has now installed refrigerated trucks outside the office to accommodate the accumulation of bodies.  And yet there are people even now who minimize this virus.  They insist that adherence to public health measures is cowardly and submissive and misguided.  They take risks insisting that they alone are affected by their irresponsible choices.  They proudly cut and paste crafty rationalization messages into their Facebook feeds where they sit as a silent witness of their own moral degradation.  They are members of the church, they are contributing members of the community.  They are otherwise decent moral people, and yet there is a rot within.

And the rot expresses in other ways as well.  Two days ago the Texas attorney general Ken Paxton filed suit against Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.  His argument is that as Texas voters have an interest in the outcome of the election, they have an interest in making sure that other states do their due diligence to ensure that their presidential election was valid.  He alleges that because these four states made changes to their voting processes shortly before the election, that their election lacks credibility.  He ignores the obvious reality of the pandemic and the massive health risks that would increase with the gathering of massive numbers of Americans to vote indoors as is the typical process.  His argument would have merit if the pandemic was a hoax as many believe it to be.  If swing states had made last minute changes to their voting process a month before the election for no apparent reason, that would appear suspicious.  But to ignore the entire pandemic is disingenuous and dangerous as there are so many Americans who are not taking it seriously as it is.

If that were the end of it, it would be bad enough.  Unfortunately, eighteen other state’s attorneys general have added themselves as plaintiffs to this case.  This is perhaps the most disturbing thing to come out of the last horrible five weeks.  Instead of standing behind our lawful election that was handled with remarkable efficacy in unprecedented circumstances, these seditious Americans have abased themselves to the will of a lawless mob in support of an authoritarian demagogue.  That they have so much popular support, that they have achieved one of the highest places of law enforcement in the nation, that they have rejected law and order to attach themselves to this shameless attempt to overturn the will of the people is appalling.  It is sedition.  It is a rebellion against the core of our constitutional process in slavish devotion to a man who cares nothing for the welfare of the nation as he has demonstrated numerous times throughout his presidency.  

The electors of all the swing states have been certified.  The President’s attempts to persuade state legislatures to disenfranchise their voters and force his will upon the state elections has failed.  Likewise, lawsuits attempting to discredit the results of the election have failed.  I believe Georgia has conducted four recounts, all of which the President has lost.  This suit, which is essentially civil war by court, is the last (hopefully the last) desperate attempt of the President to avoid the consequences of his disastrous leadership decisions.

I assume the Supreme Court will refuse to hear this case.  I understand that five justices must agree that the case warrants a hearing before it will be taken up.  It is highly unlikely that even if Trump’s nominees advocate for him, that two other justices will go along.  Justices Barrett, Kavanaugh, and Gorsuch are unlikely to even try to side with the President on this as it is so unlikely to succeed.  They would waste valuable reputational capital for no gain other than to please the rabid mob supporting this sedition.

So on the one hand, we have a right-wing authoritarian mob defying public health officials in a deadly pandemic and trying to overturn a lawful election in favor of an incompetent demagogue.  On the other hand, we have a left-wing mob obsessed with identity politics and ambivalent about our founding principles alleging that our entire justice system is based in racial suppression and demanding vast entitlements from the public treasury which is already vastly overdrawn.  Almost half of Americans believe that Joe Biden somehow stole the election from Donald Trump.  It is in these desperate circumstances that we find ourselves.  

How do we come back from this?  I was talking to my oldest son the other night for hours.  At fifteen, his brain has developed considerably in the last year or two.  We have managed to coax his cynical mask of indifference to fall from time to time in which he reveals insights, moral reasoning, and a raw energy that gives me hope that perhaps his generation will lead us away from the abyss.  This conversation, and the anticipation of more like it, have done so much to comfort me and ease my anxiety.

In fifteen years of imperfect parenting, it is miraculous to see the merciful hand of the Lord.  My son.  My beautiful son is growing up and becoming a remarkable, reflective, insightful young man!  I have preached for years with evangelical zeal about our nation and the genius of the constitution, American exceptionalism and our unique place in the world, and the importance of preserving our institutions for future generations.  It has seemed to fall on indifferent ears.  The other night, after discussing a seemingly unrelated line of thinking, he announced, “God really did inspire the constitution.  There is no other way it could have been created.”  This is the first time I have heard him talk about God with some amount of reverence in almost a year.

Looking back on the journey we have taken as a family, the tribulations we have experienced, the many hours in counselor’s offices, the failing grades, the endless stress of political and public health issues, and the exhausting toll of everyday life, I can finally see some sense of purpose in it.  My efforts have made a difference.

Today I dressed my youngest son and then realized that one of his top buttons was missing.  I was supposed to dress him in his Christmas best for the preschool Christmas program, but we were already late and I decided not to change it.  I didn’t forget anything today.  His water bottle, his lunch, his Covid screening paper; I remembered it all, but there was being late, and the button.  My mind ruminated on Christmas gifts I hadn’t bought yet, packages unsent, and how I had been inconsiderate to a friend.  I will never live a perfect life.  There will always be buttons missing, late arrivals, and mistakes made.  I don’t have to be perfect to make a difference.  The Savior will make up the difference.

It’s tempting to think of Him as swooping in on some dramatic global scale to rescue the righteous; but when I ponder on the miracle of my son, the answer to so many heartfelt prayers, and the wonder of watching a human soul take it’s journey into adulthood, I see His face.  He makes me enough.  He rescues my son, forgives me of my parental sins, and redeems us both.  Blessed be the name of the Most High God!

Nations will rise and nations will fall. Power will change hands. Men will corrupt themselves and one another with lies and sedition. The innocent will suffer. But the Savior can turn all these things to good. The wicked will not always profit from their sins. If we remain faithful to Him and hold fast to the truth that is within us, we will not fail and He will never abandon His people.

The Time that is Given to Us

Photo by Nikhil Prasad on Unsplash

There are thoughts swirling in my head like fire ants when their mound is stomped on.  I can hardly keep the anxiety at bay for long enough to write.  I pray that I can produce something that might be helpful for my readers during an especially chaotic and trying time for everyone.

My oldest son was put in quarantine.  He is now failing multiple classes because remote school doesn’t work well for him and we are having technical problems.  I am calling and emailing teachers and administrators and that is not in my comfort zone. My youngest son and I are unable to attend or teach preschool while he is in quarantine, so that makes it even harder.  With the case count rising so dramatically, we may not end up going back to school until next year.  Several of my friends and family are either battling with illness or grieving for those who are. I have two good friends from high school whose fathers have passed away. My prayer list is very long.

Good news is, there are many things to be grateful for.  In spite of being exposed to the virus, my son is healthy and has no symptoms of infection. The weather is beautiful, my candidate won the presidential election, the research and treatments for the virus are improving, and a vaccine is coming soon.  There is food in my cupboards and a roof over my head.  I can still speak out and advocate for peace.  I am listening to audiobooks and podcasts and feel my mind growing and expanding like never before.  

Even so, I have deep concerns about the extremism that has taken root in the Republican Party.  The right wing authoritarian wing of the party has taken control.  They are more dangerous than ever.  The President and many of his supporters in the party, even within the Senate, have publicly made allegations of fraud in the election in multiple states.  I have never seen such outlandish claims given such high profile credibility.  Even though their party made gains in down ballot races, many Republicans are adamant that the presidential votes were tampered with.  These claims about the validity of our elections have influenced public opinion greatly within the party.  Seventy percent of the party members believe that the election had widespread voter fraud.  Many millions do not believe Joe Biden won the election, even though experts say the result is clear and most foreign governments have called to congratulate the President-elect.  The Secretary of State Mike Pomeo has even stated on global TV that they are preparing for a second Trump administration.  

This division over the election results will further fuel extremism and polarization.  The destabilization caused by the ongoing pandemic will only make it worse.  Unless we are able to come together on the principles of our founding, the American experiment will fail.  The threat from Donald Trump will continue as the Democrats are tempted to abuse their new power, Donald Trump likely announces his candidacy for a 2024 presidential race, and the cable news networks continue to profit on division.  Donald Trump will claim political persecution as he has in the past.  He will hold the Republican Party hostage with his loyal following that makes up a sizable percentage of the party.  Worn down from years of scandal and compromise, the Republicans will not fight back.  They know that they would lose any power they have left if Trump ran as an independent and split the ticket.  Our only hope lies in a Democratic Party battling with its own authoritarian factions and led by the oldest President America has ever elected.

I have prayed to know what the Lord would have me do.  I have been led to many helpful resources.  One is an audiobook that has helped give me strategies to help de-escalate political discussions and bring down the temperature when arguments get heated.  It is called, How to Have Impossible Conversations by Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay.  I highly recommend it to anyone who has experienced relationship strain with the cultural convulsions of current events.  We must reach out to all those at risk of being radicalized so that they know they have a choice.  

To my friends who are confused and afraid, I say, you aren’t alone.  Like Gandalf said in the Lord of the Rings when Frodo despaired.  

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

We have the knowledge and skills that we have.  We have the courage and faith that we have.  We must hope that it is enough for what the current circumstances require.  I have sufficient faith to believe that God’s grace will be adequate for us.  It will be difficult and we will be asked to give more than we think we can.  Those of us who strive for peace and refuse to submit to lies and tyranny will not be overcome.  The persecutions we endure will only make our victory that much more meaningful.  We are on the right side.  Compassion and truth will win the day.

The Fruit of the Poisoned Tree; a Political Allegory

Photo by yue su on Unsplash

Once there was a village of poor people.  They were ordinary people, but there was one son among them that was quite clever.  He started growing an orchard with the lofty goal of making the perfect fruit that could be made into anything.  Decades he worked and tested his fruit, each generation of trees produced better fruit until he could produce none better.  He gathered the pits from the fruit of his best tree, and planted a massive orchard.  He and the other villagers carefully grafted and nurtured the trees, and by the time the clever man died, the entire village was full to bursting with fruit from the orchard.  

There was only one flaw with the fruit, which compared with its usefulness, was hardly a flaw at all.  The pit was deadly poison.  The villagers didn’t mind because they just ate and used the flesh of the fruit and buried the pits in a landfill outside of town.  The squirrels and other scavengers that made their homes near the landfill gorged themselves on the pits.  Many animals died, but the ones that survived became immune to the poisoned pits.   They scattered the seeds around the kingdom and scrubby seedlings grew from the pits.  Without proper care and nurturing, the trees that grew from the pits were a nuisance.  The neighboring villages were irritated with the orchard because of the scrubby saplings and they didn’t like it at first, but after a while, they were astonished, because the orchard and the fruit had transformed the town.

The miraculous fruit truly could be made into anything.  The villagers busied themselves day and night harvesting the fruit.  They put up big lamps so that they could take it in shifts to care for the trees of the orchard and harvest the fruits around the clock every day of the week, every week of the month, every month of the year.  Their children and their children’s children tended the trees and harvested the fruit.

After several decades, the village had created a wide assortment of clothing, including invisibility cloaks, exotic looking furs and capes, colorful and chic shoes. People came from neighboring villages to barter for the fantastic creations.  They made teleportation devices to make trade easier with the outside world. They built beanstalks that reached to the clouds where they built grand houses out of clouds.  The pillows and mattresses in the clouds were so soft and so comfortable, that the villagers, when they weren’t working in the orchard, had perfect nights of sleep, with perfect dreams.  

They shared the secrets of their orchard with neighboring villages.  Those villages grew their own orchards with the magical amazing fruit.  And the landfills bulged with the poisoned pits, and the streams were polluted as the pits rotted in their fetid graveyards, but the villagers just made water filters to clean their water.  They couldn’t be troubled with the pits and the poison.  In fact, they couldn’t really be troubled with caring for the orchard so much anymore.  They were too busy climbing their beanstalks, napping in their perfect beds, and dreaming their perfect dreams.  The fruit and the trees didn’t seem to be so important anymore. They didn’t need the fruit so much because they had already used it to make everything they wanted and needed.

One day the wealthiest and cleverest man of the village who had become the mayor teleported to a far away land. The people complained to him about the landfill and the poisoned pits. Wearing his finest clothing, made from the fruit of the tree, riding in a fine carriage, made from the fruit of the tree, he rode out to the landfill which was full of dead animals, poisoned water, and rotting pits. He took a camera, made from the fruit of the tree, and took pictures of the awful scene. For years he talked about what he had seen. Their orchard was poisoning the kingdom.  “You have been  eating the fruit of the poisoned tree,” he warned them.  “You have to clean up the messes you’ve made,” he scolded them. And so the villagers no longer cared for the trees at all.  In fact, they despised the trees and their parents and grandparents who had planted them.  “What good is all this fruit anyway?” they asked contemptuously.  “Its just the fruit of the poisoned tree,” they reasoned.  Instead of growing the fruit, they focused on cleaning the poisoned water and the lands that had been polluted by the rotting pits.  

The children of the villagers began to be angry.  “Why had the village planted all these poisonous trees!”  They railed and they ranted and they screamed at their parents because they were tired of cleaning up the messes.  The mayor tried to calm the children.  He tried to explain that the trees were not poison, just the pits were poisoned, but the children would not listen.  Some of the parents were angry at the children because they didn’t appreciate the trees and the fruit.  They elected a new mayor. 

The new mayor said that the old mayor was wrong.  “There is nothing wrong with the trees or the fruit,” he insisted.  He called the former mayor all kinds of awful names and his supporters cheered.  He invited all his supporters to a big party where he stood in front of them.  “See,” he explained to raucous applause, “This fruit is so great.  It’s the best fruit in the whole world.  There is nothing wrong with it at all.”  The man seemed to swell in size until he swallowed up the whole village, and the surrounding village, and then the whole world.  “See what the fruit can do,” he said as everyone gasped in horror, “and he swallowed the fruit whole.  Nothing seemed to happen to him, except his face seemed to shine with a sinister glow.  The mayor and his supporters didn’t know that it would take a few minutes for the poison to cause symptoms.  Emboldened by his rash act, the villagers imitated their leader.  They stuffed whole pieces of fruit into their mouths as quickly as they could.  Their mouths were stained with the juice of the fruit, and they laughed and cheered at one another as they rejoiced in the fruit and the boldness of their mayor.  

But then a hush fell over the village.  They began feeling the effects of the poison.  Some began vomiting violently.  Fetid pools of vomit began forming around the sick people.  The stench of the poisoned vomit surrounded the party goers like a mushroom cloud.  Others turned a sickly shade of orange and lay on the ground moaning.  Gradually the villagers died a slow and painful death.  Their mayor, so large before, was nowhere to be seen.  Only death could deliver them from their pain.

And the children were angry. They took torches and stormed into the orchard and burned every tree.  They took the fruit that had been stored and created massive ovens. Then they gathered all the fruit that had been so carefully stored, and they incinerated it in the ovens.  They dug up the roots of the trees out of the earth and incinerated them too.  But still the anger of the children could not be sated.  They chanted, “Down with the poisoned trees!” and “Death to the fruit of the poisoned tree!”

The grief of the village was overwhelming as they buried the bodies of their friends and countrymen who had consumed the poisoned pits.  They cleaned up the mess, and life went pretty much back to normal, but without the fruit of the trees, the village began to gradually fall into disrepair.  The beanstalks fell to the ground and the people could no longer climb to their homes with the perfect beds and perfect pillows to dream their perfect dreams.  They instead made huts of mud and what sticks they could find from the trees they had destroyed.  Their teleportation devices stopped teleporting them.  They lost contact with the other villages who still had orchards.  The people remembered how many good things the fruit had done for them, and they were sad that they had burned the trees, but it was too late to undo what was done and much was lost that would never be recovered..  

Song of Simon

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Donald Trump is at Walter Reed hospital with the coronavirus.  It was the October surprise that really shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did.  I guess I just assumed that the secret service would protect him from the virus, just like they would protect him from other threats.  The thought that something so small and so preventable could have brought our nation to this place makes me feel despondent.  As I’ve prayed for him and for the country, I have felt so much grief.  

I think living in a state of quasi-outrage has allowed me to keep the grief at bay.  It’s harder to be angry at a man hospitalized with a potentially deadly illness.  Without the protection of adrenaline fueled anger, I am forced to look around me at the devastation.  There is so much hate and so much division and so much sickness and death.  My heart breaks.  I can’t keep the waves of disappointment and despair from flooding over me.

But the Master can and will rescue me.  I will rise out of my depression to fight another day.  I pray for civility.  I pray for compassion.  I pray for decency unfeigned.  I pray for hearts turned to the common welfare and away from temporary pleasures.  I pray for engaged citizens who study the issues and listen to dissenting voices; who seek to persuade rather than force their fellow citizens.  I pray for leaders who humble themselves and obey the oaths they have sworn before God.  

But the people are full of contention and pride.  They will not repent even when the sword of God’s justice hangs over them. Masses of Trump’s supporters have gathered in places like Staten Island to show their loyalty.  Most of them are partially masked or unmasked.   Instead of learning from their leader’s folly, they cast the blame onto his enemies and then wage war against safety and reason.  

The political left seems increasingly hostile to religious people and religion in general.  They still seem unaware of their own role in the creation of Trump.  That role was less obvious than the Republicans’ role, but the rise of populist demagogues is fueled by disaffected people.  The left has done little to show that it is willing to see and hear these disaffected people once Trump is gone.  I pray that Joe Biden, assuming he wins this election, will have the character and skill to build sufficient trust with the right to heal our divisions.  The temptation to get revenge or to abuse power the way Trump has will be great on the left, especially if they win next month in a way that gives them large amounts of power.  The polls are indicating that there is going to be an enormous political shift, not just on the federal level, but also on the state and local level.  Trump’s illness is likely to greatly impact his ability to campaign in the weeks before the election, making a Biden victory nearly certain.  Of course, he could also end up recovering miraculously, fueling a resurrection/miracle narrative that will propel him to another term.  

My mind keeps returning to The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding.  We elected Jack, cruel and dictatorial, drawing people in with his promises of power and then enslaving them.  We have neglected the fire of liberty and the Master who gave it to us to guard.  We were supposed to guard the fire.  Now we are watching the death of Piggy, our rationality and intellect.  Ralph, symbolizing the last vestiges of civilization and democracy, is alone and exposed.

But there will be no rescue from the British Navy.  If we are to be saved, we will have to save ourselves.  We need to humble ourselves and turn to our values again.  Instead of holding the flag and the bible as props in a self inflicted culture war, we must put down our weapons and do some introspection.  What has brought us to this place?  How can we fix broken things for our children and our grandchildren?  They deserve better.

Those of us who love the constitution and seek to preserve it need to come together.  We need to build bridges of trust between the factions of our political body if we are to be saved.  That requires us all to humble ourselves.  Even those of us who are the disciples of Christ need to realize that all of God’s children of all faiths are valuable to him, and that we have much to learn from every culture on the planet.  Cultural and religious myopia blinds us to what God would have us learn and the bonds he would have us create.

It has been seven months since my son’s preschool closed.  He starts this week.  Hopefully I  will be able to write more frequently than I have lately now that he will be in school again.  I hope all of you are healthy and safe.  If not, I pray you will return to full health soon.  May the comforting power of Christ rest upon all of us at this chaotic moment!