Monday, June 30, 2008

I will try not to worry you, I have seen things that you will never see...

I woke up this morning feeling lonely. The first real boyfriend I ever had always laughed at me for announcing my feelings like some sort of overly emotive train conductor abusing the loudspeaker. I don't think I've grown out of that habit because as soon as I had identified the disquieted feeling I woke up with, I cried out "I'm feeling lonely!" and D. abandoned his Wall Street Journal to come and see what new pregnant weirdness I had to share today. As I'm writing this, I realize what a basic need is met when you can cry out into the void (even if the void only gives way to your kitchen table) and have someone answer. It keeps you sane in a sense. They say that you should never ignore the cry of a newborn baby because that baby somehow needs to know that you're going to respond. After nine months of never being separated from their mother, they don't understand what it is to be alone. I think that after being created to enjoy the constant presence of God, we don't understand loneliness either.

All of this made me think back to one of the few times I've ever felt absolutely alone and the desperation I felt to connect with someone, something. The sad part about it was that I couldn't manage to do it. My mind jumped from topic to topic so fast that I couldn't carry my part of a decent conversation. I didn't understand my own feelings well enough to share them. I couldn't even manage to find comfort for my physical body. My favorite chair, my bed, my sofa all felt foreign and uncomfortable. I ended up sleeping wrapped in a quilt on my floor. I even stopped bothering to turn on the hot water in the shower. When it was all over, I had a little kerosene lantern light of understanding to illumine the nature of human desperation and what it does to make us unravel our lives in search of one ounce (or gram) of comfort even knowing it to be short-lived and ultimately destructive.

And then, I thought of her. Some of my long-term readers might remember the story of my neighbor who I watched disintegrate from being a single mother with a good job to being arrested for prostitution and possession several times over the course of a spring and summer before she was finally extradited to Florida to face a drug charge. 

And here's another.

She is, it occurs to me, a perfect example of loneliness and what it can do to derail a life. The last time I saw her, she was coming out of a Southtown housing project stuffing something into her pocket and looking around anxiously. The need for heroin must be that intense. Once, I saw a man sit down on the curb across from the downtown post office and cook up not even bothering to pull his fix through a ball of cotton to filter out visible impurities before he tied up and nodded off into the gutter. He licked his lips when he hit a vein and saw the blood register and threw his head back in satisfaction before rolling into the street. And I think it's loneliness. I think it's that kind of crazy loneliness that doesn't even respond to human interaction, but crowds out every memory of past pleasantness all the while screaming for some kind of chemical satisfaction in the face of certain destruction. I know that kind of loneliness and there but for the grace of God I go. Wasn't there any grace for her?

Every now and then, I try to find her online, just to see if she's clean or if her name shows up on internet logs of local newspaper crime blotters. For a while, I didn't find anything. But last week, she was arrested for passing a counterfeit $50 at a water park. When the police searched her motel room and found another $50 with the same serial number, she admitted to having received the money in exchange for sex. I'm heartbroken for her if not surprised. But the thing that I can't get out of my mind, despite my desperation to articulate something deep and meaningful about this happening, is the literal life lesson inherent in this fable. She traded herself for something, and got paid in fake currency. And that, it seems to me, is the root of Evil in the world. The seduction of something sweet that takes your life and demands more only to satisfy its debt with worthlessness.

Where is mercy?

Maybe I can make something of that when it isn't so fresh.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Though my body is 31, though my mind is an Old Thing.

Looking at my class schedule for the fall, I start to feel excited in a new-pencil, fresh-notebook, starting over kind of way and I remember a yellow lunchbox with a picture of a brown horse.  I remember autumn and the idea that good things happen in the fall. I am always beginning the world. 

Aren't you bursting with butterflies
On the fourth of September
Like you'll have to get on the bus
in your tartan dress
with your lunchbox?
Though your body is 29, 
Though your mind is an old thing....
Doesn't it make you sigh?
Karen Peris

Monday, June 16, 2008

Boring Personal Update

I had some calls this weekend asking about how things are going. I think we scared some people last week with our drams, but we seem to be past it now. I'm on my left side a lot these days (most of the time) but I'm doing well. C. is a trooper. I have to take things day by day so that I don't absolutely go out of my mind in anticipation of making her acquaintance. And being that I'm bored and riddled with natural impatience, that's not so easy.  I don't know specifically what to pray for, so I'm just asking God to take care of us and I feel like he really is.  I covet your prayers. We need to make it another two weeks or so. I am starting to go blind with anticipation. 

I feel so loved by my church family. I've never experienced anything quite like it and I find it so humbling that it makes me weep. I am so grateful. I am so grateful. Sometimes, church doesn't suck. And if you know me at all, you know that's a big deal for me. 

I probably won't blog for awhile because I've got some other fish to fry, so Peace Out for the time being internets friends. 

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sleep tonight
And may your dreams
Be realized
If the thunder cloud
Passes rain
So let it rain
Rain down on me

Friday, June 06, 2008

I've got Dogs in the Cellar, too.

This is a beautiful morning in Birmingham. The usually smoggy sky is clear providing something like a stage backdrop for the dancing green leaves growing on the old hardwoods still populating the neighborhood. Last summer, a Ford F250 of urban foresters came through and cataloged all of the old trees, what condition they were in, and their suspected ages. Winged Elm (ulmus altata) split like praying hands to accommodate power lines, common Chinaberry looming protectively above my cottage. Actually an Ent, I believe.

Derrick and his mother came down the street now accompanied by a new baby in addition to the sister. Corduroy growled. That, said Derrick's mom, is not a nice dog. I wanted to come off the porch and do something aggressive. Later, the Holy Spirit said What was it you were going to do, huh? Toddle off the porch and waddle around her a few times? And I laughed. And now I'm laughing at the startling familiarity I have with a God who makes fun of me from time to time. My God. The binder of quarks and the ruler of worlds. Amen, hallelujah.

A few weeks ago, I walked past Derrick's house and saw a bloodied and blistered muzzle pressed through a hole gnawed through the front steps from the dark basement below. A dog left to gnaw his way to sunlight from the dark basement where he lives. His pink nose sniffing fresh-aired freedom greedily as if it were a rare steak just beyond the scope of his reach. Several calls to the animal cruelty office of the BPD and I haven't seen him again. I hope he is ok. I hope the children are ok. The front porch is littered with discarded toys, trash bags, food containers, broken baby equipment. The house is overrun with clutter.

As un-Christian as it is, I think I hate this woman. Gone are the lofty ideas I had for loving her and the hopes I had that her burden would somehow be lighter so that she would feel the freedom to stop calling Derrick names and start being a good parent.

Now, I'm left to consider the cold possibility that rather than working-class stress, her inability to function at a basic level is the result of a not-so-rare-but-not-so-very-politically-correct-to-mention combination of selfishness, commonness and stupidity. In some ways, she's a metaphor for the slow death of my own idealism. I came to this neighborhood for a no-longer neighborhood church that I don't attend anymore with some kind of half-baked hope that I could make a difference here. I recognize the ingredients of that hope now: three parts Wendell Berry, two parts Tim Keller, and half a part each of white guilt and arrogance. My hope fell like a chocolate soufflé baked in a basketball gym.

I didn't expect to be here by now. I didn't expect for God to make a way for my family to thrive here. But he did. And here is where I am. If it's possible, I love this place more than I did before. I love the quirkiness of the city. I love the green of the leaves. I'm learning to love a new church community. And I am grateful for my unanswered prayers. Slowly, slowly, slowly, I'm growing into a new kind of hope for my city that settles not on the vain philosophies of poetry and big-city wisdom dripped down the Mississippi past the Mason-Dixon, but on the notion of the Sovereignty of a God who was and is and is to come. His ideas of urban renewal haven't changed. His ideas of what it means to be a Christian haven't evolved past what I recently heard referred to as "the kind of Christianity that deals with obedience." We've changed. And maybe not for the better.

But now I see that this is the place where I don't pretend I don't hate my neighbors. And this is the place where I don't deny that I'd rather be left alone. And this is the place where I don't try to convince people that it is safe to live in this neighborhood or that I don't feel intimidated when I see a car with tinted windows cruising slowly down my street.

Here is the place where I put to death the hatred and the ungodly introversion, and the fear and exchange them for a raw kind of obedience that does what it should when it doesn't want to. I put death to judgment, to condemnation, to hatred. Of myself and of my neighbor. And I get on with the business of being a Christian planted in an unfamiliar garden, at least for awhile. I repent for now. I'll be back to do it again before lunch.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Amy, Don't Read This (or, at least don't be mad at me if you do)

Dude, Run!

I had an opportunity to talk to one of my favorite people this afternoon about some strange phenomena she has experienced in her house lately. People like to talk to me about such things because I do, at least by popular definition, live in a haunted house. I've seen a few strange things and experienced one really frightening thing, but that's not really the point of this post. I guess I just want to think some of this through. And if you've got an opinion, I'm interested.

I've heard the theory that particularly strong emotions can be "imprinted" as energy on wood, stone, and concrete and that the events surrounding (or perhaps invoking) these emotions can be replayed over and over again like a movie for people to see. This might explain, says the theory, what people are actually seeing when they see "ghosts" walking up stairs or down the sidewalk or whatever. Energy can also be replayed as sound. I don't know about all that, but I do wonder (and tend to believe) that our emotions do remain in a place we've inhabited for a long time. Our prayers, love, attitudes, and hopes might well remain as energy that can be perceived by others long after we're gone.

I think I have a little of that going on in my house. The family who lived the longest in this little bungalow raised five children here. The husband sold men's shoes at a department store down town for almost all fifty of the years they lived here. I imagine him taking the streetcar down 20th Street almost every day for that long. They undoubtedly saw their grandchildren here and they might have even died here. I can't fathom how much love and life and emotion they experienced in this little house. It's always felt like a particularly peaceful place and people often comment that they feel welcome here. I have to wonder if that has something to do with all the love and care the Park family put into this house. I think so. I was interested to find out that after Mr. and Mrs. Park died and the house was sold, their daughter Susan (really, can't make that up) bought back the house and lived here for several more years. The really weird stuff that happens here, however, I can't explain. I don't even have a theory.

That being said, I truly perceive some danger in "ghost hunting." The scriptures contain several fairly unambiguous warnings to avoid psychics and mediums and fortune-tellers and I happen to believe that God knows that we might inadvertently come into contact with a really wicked spirit rather than the long lost relative we mean to contact. If the devil is the "father of lies," than I can't expect demons to be much more truthful. Might it be possible for a really evil spirit to tell you that it is Aunt Pat? I think maybe.  So, it seems foolish (and frankly, probably sinful being that the scripture prohibits it) to use a ouija board or try and record E.V.P.s or to visit Lady Esmerelda down on Bessemer Super Highway.

This seemed to be a fairly popular topic of conversation in certain Christian circles back in the '80s. At my Christian school, I even had a teacher tell us about an encounter he had with what he thought was a demon as he slept! (Do you remember that C.C.P.?) It scared me for years. Anyway, Corrie Ten Boom wrote a book about such matters that I always found interesting. As a Holocaust survivor, she had ample opportunity to see how Evil can affect human beings. So, all this to say. I'm kind of caught up in processing these issues. 

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

You remember those '80s movies that so often starred Matthew Modine and were about this rebel graduate student and all his friends and there would be this one older student who everyone liked, but who could never do anything because she was either incredibly pregnant or already had a small child and she would have this supportive yet quiet husband who everyone also liked but nobody really got to know very well because he was busy working to pay for his wife's graduate school and also the baby they were about to have or the small child? (Think Gross Anatomy.)

Member that?

Yeah. Me too.

Thought Grab-Bag (two of my thoughts for $1)

There are a lot of things I'd like to write about today. I've got a lot on my mind. I need to spend some time writing for real—and not just for blog—about these things, but it might prove helpful just to make a short list and work on it as I can. Here goes (in no particular order):

C.S. Lewis was a most devoted Angl0-Catholic who went for regular confession with his priest. I am not exactly that kind of Anglican, but I wonder about confession and if I would find it helpful.

I realize that the main reasons I tend toward being politically conservative are that I want to be left alone and that I don't believe the government is smarter than me. But mostly, that I want to be left alone.

I am sad about the condition of the Presbyterian Church and I haven't a clue if what I'm seeing is something new or just something I'm seeing because I'm not Presbyterian any more. As much as I've gained from being a Presbyterian, it was never the room off the hall of Mere Christianity I chose for myself. (To borrow Lewis's metaphor.)

I am secretly (well, not so secretly anymore) glad that the economy is tanking. We, as a society, need to feel some pain before we can make some positive changes in the way we manage resources natural and otherwise. I hope that the government won't send us any more stimulus money, but I think they probably will. And we will hide it in a jar in the backyard just like they don't want us to. (Can't they just, I don't know, lower our taxes for Pete's sake?)

I miss school. I miss school a lot. What am I going to do when I actually graduate?

I'm making new friends and they are not typically the kind of friends I would choose for myself. And this is a sign of progress. And it is also somewhat scary.

I have an urge (that I won't follow) to get some kind of tattoo or something. I think I'm in the throws of some kind of rite of passage that I'm trying to commemorate. Maybe I'll just burn some sage and dance around instead. I would regret a tattoo almost immediately I'm sure.

Monday, June 02, 2008


I hope God gives me the strength to murder my ego so that I can listen to Him and His plans for you instead of making up my own.

I hope God gives me the sense of purpose I'll need to constantly remind you that all of the other ground really is sinking sand when my own will screams for your comfort and ease.

I hope God gives me the courage to let you fail. (Or even to consider it as a possibility.)

I hope God gives me the teeth I'll need to defend you without mercy while you can't defend yourself and stop when you can.

This, I'm afraid, is going to hurt.