Not exactly someone to invite into your home

You can’t unsubscribe from Martha Stewart’s email list.  I’ve tried.  You just can’t do it.


It’s almost like she got out of prison and decided, “OK, world.  You locked me up.  So I’m going to gather email addresses like there’s no tomorrow – or at least like there’s five months in the pen and two years’ probation – and I am going to send you offers at least three times a month for my magazine and every spin-off I dreamed up while I was sitting in that pastel-colored cell.  You go ahead and try.  Once you’re mine, you’re mine.”


“Now…” you ask me, “what were you doing on her email list in the first place?”


For that, I take the 5th.


Bootless cries

I cried out to God this morning and was surprised to hear not a thunderous response, nor a stern rebuke, nor a gentle cooing, but rather a velvet hush.  No, “hush” is too soothing, and “velvet” is too luxuriant.  It was more like a Mona-Lisa-smile of a sound.  No judgment, one way or the other.  Ambivalent.  Not uncertain but, rather, indiscernible.  Known by the other, hidden from the viewer.  Or perhaps it was like the sound of a kindly older relative, tapping her finger on the armrest of an oak rocking chair.  Not clearly directed at her audience, perhaps in response to some other thought, or memory, or hope, she happens to be considering at that same moment.  Not negligent in the strict sense.  Just otherwise engaged.


This made me quite angry.


I kept praying, waiting for something…anything.  I was in pain and I thought I had come to my Father in heaven and would get…comfort? ease?  lightness of spirit?  peace?  Yes, peace.  Peace is what I see promised all over Scripture.  And I also read about how if we come near to God, he will come near to us.  And how Jesus stands at the door knocking and if we answer he will come in and dine with us.  Sit down at the table and feast, convivially, joyfully.


But here I experienced none of that.


Rather, I completed my time, pried away from where I sat by the clock and not sated by any consummation, feeling like the writer of the 88th psalm, in which the closing line reads “…and darkness is my closest friend.”  This is actually one of my favorite psalms if not my favorite, since it aptly describes these times best, when after all my pleading and crying and begging, I face only…that ambivalent stare, that finger-tapping, from heaven.  It also reminds me that I’m not completely crazy.  Someone else – yes, even if it’s only one other human in history, who happened to have pen and paper – experienced what I am experiencing.


Shakespeare once lamented that he would “trouble deaf heaven with [his] bootless cries.”  I don’t claim heaven – or God – is deaf.  No, but on days like today it becomes even more painful to know that God hears – God hears, knows, sees everything; of that I have no doubt – and does not answer me clearly.  How dare he.  He owes me something.  Anything.  He owes me, his child, an answer.  Or so this mad rage reasons in my mind.


Usually the tears themselves are cleansing.


But this morning, they were just the precursor to the tapping, the stare.  I wept and wept for a few minutes, feeling like my tears themselves would melt his heart, that certainly now I would have some answer that eluded me moments before.  After all, didn’t my own sons get results when they turned on the waterworks and asked for dessert?…another two minutes at video games?…to stay up five minutes longer before lights out?  (And the truth is, to my shame, they too often do get results this way.)


I wanted a word…anything.  A simple word.


And there, in the tapping, I didn’t get a word but rather a reminder.  The writer of Psalm 88 acknowledges at the beginning that the Lord is the “God who saves” him.


The psalmist gave me the vine that was draped over the edge of the cliff I felt I was hanging from.  There was no doubt in there being a cliff, or that I was hanging, or that if I let go, I would fall.  But the vine was rooted in something I could trust.  The vine would hold, whether I believed it would or not.  So long as I held on to it, it would hold me up.


This God, who created the heavens and the earth and all that is in it…this God who was silent before me, by his own choosing, expressed his Being-ness to me.  His certainty.  His absolute reality.


This was the great “I AM” who held me up.  Here was the greatest of all realities, who created all the realities I trusted implicitly around me – air, carpet, coffee and pajamas – and who was pointing to his presence as enough for me.  And by no means was it a ponderous wave of knowledge that came over me.  It was more like a stubborn fact.


In that moment and the moments following, even to the moment now as I write, he did not give me a word but rather gave me himself to rely on.  The faith he was calling me to have as I wiped useless tears from my cheeks was to believe in him as enough, his reality as true, his completeness and his goodness and his ultimate control, as sufficient to carry me through.  No word about me or for me, no gentle breeze blowing in my ear with a reminder about some verse or doctrine, no vague sense of peace and well-being.  Only a pointer to himself.  A picture of One who is.  One who is, regardless of my belief or doubt in his Is-ness.


There is much more to say about him – what he gave up because of his love for me and others – but that’s not what’s in question here.  His love is not in question, his love is not on trial.


I was looking for an answer, a response, a sign, a signal, a knowing look, a comforting…feeling.  What I received was:  I AM.


It was enough for today.



photo:  Myles Smith; Clickr Clickr

A branch on a cliff

In issue 41 of Paste Magazine, there’s an article about James Frey, the bestselling author whose memoir, A Million Little Pieces, was found to be a hoax.  Susanna Sonnenberg defends the notion of “emotional truth” that NYU professor Robert Boynton points to as well, and says that memoirs shouldn’t read like journalism and shouldn’t be judged like it.


In one sense, they’re absolutely right that memoirs are not factoid-filled newsprint that is here today, updated tomorrow.  Memoirs are creative memory, expanded reality where selectivity and opinion and even insecurity exposed are not necessarily bad.  They are also right that memoir writers, especially Former Addict memoir writers, are tempted toward the sensationalistic.  This doesn’t make it right, though.  But it does make it expanded reality that when I talk about my last bender, on August 31/September 1, 1994, I talk about driving around Atlanta in the wee hours with my friend Jack and his client, a fitness chain owner, “looking for crack cocaine.”  I wrote it that way at least until I gave my testimony in church on Easter, which is when the Lovely K pointed out that “expanded reality” – typical memoir writing – is not necessarily true.

I wrote it that way because it made me sound worse than I really was.  Yes, Jack and his bizarre client-friend were looking for crack cocaine.  And, yes, I was in the car when a 16-year-old dealer from the ‘hood got in the rear seat, whipped out some rocks, sold a couple to Fitness Man for $20 each, and then proceeded to smoke with them.   Yes, I inhaled by necessity- though I had the window down – but then…I didn’t inhale.  Nor did I smoke it.  To recap:  I didn’t smoke, and I didn’t inhale intentionally.  But let me tell you:  it sure made me sound more evil and lost than I was.  So for a long time, maybe unwittingly but surely egotistically, that White Lie made it into my testimony until about two weeks ago.

And here’s where I think Sonnenberg and Boynton might go wrong.

They say that emotional truth is preeminent and they, with others, would point to the thousands of Frey fans who are healed through accounts that, though not completely factual, at least tell the right story of healing and have testimonial power, albeit in theory.

What they miss are two related things.  One is that writers of all sorts promise to tell the truth to the reader.  Anne Lamott often admonishes her writing students to “tell the truth.”  Even Emily Dickinson, who adds that it should be told “slant,” says to tell the truth.  But I have a growing conviction that the world in which we live, and even the worlds in which we imagine, exist to be described in great detail by artists of all kinds:  writers, musicians, painters, dancers, filmmakers, architects.  They exist to be described by artists in order to bring glory to these worlds’ Maker.  It’s also left to artists to let the rest of us know what these worlds look like, so that we can enter them.  When we enter them we, too, can ascribe glory to the Maker.  When a described world is self-referential (memoir), then, and later found to be false, the reader has been led into a trap.  With the door locking behind him.  Only the author, or an authority higher than the author, can unlock the door by exposing the real truth of this world’s falseness.  So when Frey was outed, the readers who wanted “out” could get out, and those who wanted to stay in that world could do so.  But they did so by deceiving themselves.

The other thing they miss is this.  If emotional truth is all that matters, then accounts of miracles would be as powerful in theory as in reality.  But we know this to be false.  A branch on a cliff can hold you only if it is indeed strong enough – in reality.  The theory of its strength is never enough to hold.

Or take the account of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, perhaps human history’s most debated miracle yet its most important.  Many claim that this account is powerful as a metaphor alone – even more powerful in its metaphorical quality.  But when the miraculous event points to our own bodily resurrection on the last day, then it is the reality that counts more than the “emotional truth” of the event.  The latter is a nice-to-have quality, but the former is essential.  The metaphor can have power only over the temporary quality of our earthly lives; the reality has power over both our earthly lives and our destiny.

If the writers of the gospels and the epistles in the Bible had written an account of the resurrection of Jesus that was only metaphorical, then its referential nature to Jesus Christ and his rising from the dead (his faked memoirs) would lead all humans into a world that would ultimately be locked from the outside with no one able to let them out.  The authors would not be around in the 21st century to let them out, and there would be no authority strong enough to loose them.

But this is not the case.  The ultimate Memoir is true.  The story’s power is enough to hold us.  We can enter safely.

And rest.


Art:  jinkxykitten

Going 100 m.p.h.

The sheriff’s deputy put me in the back of his cruiser. I was surprised at how little leg room there was. It was fairly uncomfortable, and would have been all the more so had I been handcuffed like a criminal and forced to sit with my arms behind my back. I was kind of intrigued – this was my first time riding in a squad car. Continue reading