Heaven and hell

At times, life feels like some tragic script: hurricanes, floods, unemployment, cancer. Bad things, awful things, happen to all of us—good or bad, rich or poor, strong or defenseless—to us and to our neighbors. Our terrestrial existence is filled with potential and real suffering. It is just that way. It is just how life is. One season ends, another begins. Storms roll in.

We possess, however, the dignity to respond to any storm with mercy and prayer. To extend real help. To offer clean water and safe harbor. To give oil and wine for wounds. And in doing so, we participate in the redemptive activity of God.

…..

Every kindness toward an other is pretend, just pride and condescension, without the recognition that there lives in us monstrous thoughts, devils worse than theirs. We must acknowledge that hell is not somewhere else, but here in us.

So do not pass that one by. He is you. Do not turn that one away. He is you. Do not judge that one. He is you. He is me.

Every day, we treat ourselves with mercy. We must begin to love others as we love ourselves. To treat them as mercifully as we treat ourselves.

It is too easy to make ourselves feel acceptable before God by thinking of others as sinners. But this is only the pride of hell/hell of pride. In the Scriptures the Pharisee says, “Thank you, God, that I am not like others, these sinners.”

Nowadays we say, “Thank you, God, that I am not like others, these sinners who do not confess their sins.” Or, “Thank you, God, that I am not like others, these sinners who believe differently than me.” Or, “Thank you, God, that I am not like others, these sinners who judge other sinners.”

I am sure there are deeper, more insidious hells. And if someone were to plumb their depths, to shine a light in every corner, they would find me there too.

Lower your eyes and repent. There is only one way to go home justified: “O God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Lord Jesus Christ, harrow my heart.

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Migraineurs and meteorology

I suffer from migraines. Not as badly as many people, I know. But they do cause a considerable amount of pain in my life, even, at times, paralyzingly so. I can control many of the factors in my life that negatively effect me and trigger migraines, such as changing the amount of caffeine I drink during the day. But some triggers are out of my control, and sometimes the triggers remain unknown and imperceptible. But among my triggers is the the weather—an uncontrollable force that influences how I get through my days. The wrong front comes through, the wrong pressure system, and I’m in pain. And I’m generally less pleasant when I am in pain.

I know. My brain is weird. I’m sorry.

Headache researchers still don’t have this figured out. It seems the migraineur’s brain has difficulty handling change. Like weather. I certainly am ignorant about so much of it. But I know the pain I feel. I know what helps alleviate the pain, and that sometimes I can’t alleviate the pain. Sometimes I need to rest. Sometimes it is sleep that causes the pain. Regardless, I’m not the happiest, kindest, most helpful person when I am in pain.

Suffering does not have to define us. But I let it. I am constantly letting it dictate how I behave toward others. Continual discomfort and pain is a part of many of our lives. Suffering of one kind or another may make us feel miserable, but it does not need to make us into miserable people. We can let it warp and gnarl us into something ugly, of course. Or we can let it be transfiguring: A wound that mysteriously draws us into the wounds of Christ. So that our beauty is a reflection of who we are and of the forces at work upon us to make us more who we are meant to be.

I am weak and can bear so little. But here I am.

A funereal drink

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My coffee penance is a worse penance than even I deserve. Most mornings the black coffee has notes of a nutty tobacco juice squeezed from the poo of a troll. Some mornings are worse. I drink the acidic byproduct because I must; I try not to think about it too much.

But the truly awful thing about this experiment in mortification is that when I put half-and-half and a teaspoon of sugar in my coffee on Sunday mornings, it isn’t the ecstasy I remember. Maybe more sugar and a Red Bird would do it for me? I don’t know. In the words of the greatest president ever: Sad.

Coffee, my love, what have I done? / Took you for granted; now you’re gone. / By leaving, I chose to be poor / And lost, unable to return / To your electric touch, to your / Sweet bitterness, your silver urn. / Coffee, my love, what have I done? / Wrecked waking’s reason; stole the sun.

Refrigerator love, and rebellion

Some people put their children on their refrigerator, proud moments and happy faces captured digitally or, old school, on film. Magnetically affixed and Scotch taped next to their children’s art work are their drawings of turd families and colorful unicorns.

Here is my refrigerator today:

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A proud papa, my refrigerator displays a disciplinary write-up and a detention notice. I’m privately subversive like that. (For those of you pissing yourselves, don’t read too much into it—it’s just a magnet we got in the mail. I would use a Trump magnet if it were sent to me, and he’s a complete asshat. #SendMagnets.) I say “privately subversive” (which means nothing) because we won’t do anything about the ridiculousness of our children’s respective schools. And we won’t because there isn’t anything we can do. We’ve tried. You can’t turn a fool from his errand. So my frustration bleeds into the pages before me, osmotically.

The administration that treats every person as a non-person, as product, places the top-of-her-class, quiet art student in an hour-long, after-school detention for three tardies. The kind of student, mind you, that every single teacher there would kill to have in their classroom. And the tardies? There is only one for which she had any responsibility. And the last tardy she received was for being literally three seconds late, the teacher standing in the doorway watching her hurry down the hallway. It all tickles me as pink as the copy of the discipline form they sent me. They cannot punish me, so they punish her.

Maybe I’m not so tickled.

Now my son was written up for distracting the class by “playing with [his] hair and giggling” during silent reading. She said she’d given him a warning. He says he didn’t hear it, if she warned him. When I first heard he was written up by his teacher for distracting the class by playing with his hair, I told him he should have fired off gun hands at her—one, two; pew, pew,—and say, “Only distracting to you, Babe.” (I’m not anywhere near the best father or role model in the world.) And last night I desperately wanted to shave him bald and send him to class with a note saying, “My son will no longer be bothering the class. If you have any more problems with him, please let me know.” Unfortunately, my son isn’t just a troublemaker, he’s also chicken.

I no longer bat an eyelid when my son gets written up nowadays, but I do worry about what the write-ups do to him, how they discourage him. Because this is his third or fourth one in the past two years, and each one has been laughable. One write-up was, I shit you not, for catching a carrot someone had thrown at him (not to him) in the cafeteria. The principal was tripping over herself to apologize for all the trouble. How do the write-ups make my child feel about authority and respecting that authority when it seems so arbitrary, when it seems so silly—while so many real behavior issues are ignored? My kids may not always act maturely, but that does not mean they are blind.

I apparently have my own problems with authority.

But only with silly, arbitrary rules and the people who love them.

And I have problems with stupid. I have problems with rigidity and meanness.

I have problems with people inadvertently creating the kinds of problems they are trying to prevent.

I have problems with them doing these things to children. With people who lord their authority over them.

Speaking of which, this is not simply a school problem. It’s everywhere, in all the expected places and all the unexpected ones. It even happens in my parish where people should know better. People use their authority, rules and hoops, as an obstacle to the sacraments (to our Lord). “Do x, y, and z,” they say, “or you cannot receive the sacraments”—the grace, the presence of Christ that he freely offers. That kind of manipulation of behavior doesn’t work, doesn’t change a child’s heart, by the way, and it doesn’t tickle me. It burns the hell out of me. And it wounds me deeply. But maybe that’s another post.

Children, fearful of pinching, dress in green

An old pizza box I’ve been using as a hot pad for baking sheets of French fry dinners sits on the table. Its pathetic begging to be recycled is tiresome, so I boldly push into its neglect. Alongside it is an old, white Nintendo Wii and a Wii remote with dead batteries and a missing battery cover. An empty Sour Cream & Onion Pringles can from last night, still there—an unimpressive pillar. Empty. And there are other items. But there are no books here anymore. Next to my left hand, are some pencil shavings. And my Autumn mug filled with penitential coffee is at my right. I take a sip.

Hells, that’s some bad shizz.

Most of the mess on the table this Friday could be ordered in a matter of minutes. Most of it needs to be burned up or washed clean. Today, like every other day, is a good one for cleaning.

It is St Patrick’s Day. Children, fearful of pinching, dress in green. And this year corned beef and cabbage runs squarely up against Friday’s Lenten obligation to abstain from meat, which has resulted in many bishops giving a dispensation from our obligation today. Our diocese has done this, thanks be to God. Because meat. Such actions always gives me pause about the burdens that Mother Church lays upon us, an opportunity to consider and re-consider these obligations and their purpose(s). It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to understand that there is nothing intrinsically evil about eating meat on a Friday in springtime. Yet a moral weight is lent it for our penance. To what end?

I’m uptight about some things. Like missing the first few minutes of a movie, or arriving somewhere late. But I’m fairly easygoing. And I’m trying to be more easygoing in more areas of my life. I probably am pretty tightly laced compared to many people. But life is too short to always be tied into knots because of other people’s expectations. And life is too beautiful.

So I dropped off one daughter late to school this morning. She had told me she needed something from the store for school the night before. But we both forgot about it this morning until it was too late. So I kept her in the car as I dropped off the others and took her to the grocery store. She would be tardy; everyone else would be tardy if I’d done it differently. This happens occasionally. It happened to one of her sisters yesterday. But she was not happy, the thought of tardies and potential detentions down the road frustrated her. She dragged out, “It goes on my permanent record.” It would have been funnier if she wasn’t taking it all so seriously, like I also have a tendency to do. In some sense, Daughter, everything that happens is permanent, I suppose. It has entered the cliched annals of history that become only murkiness over time. Permanent records are impermanent things. My high school GPA, for instance, is only permanent in any real way to me. I’m the only soul alive on this planet that has a reason to give a fig about it. And I don’t.

“Permanent records” and such things are carrots and sticks, for the ordering of a community or a society. They’re in place in order to get people from Point A to Point B—and eventually to Z—smoothly, much like traffic lights and double lines. Sometimes these arbitrary symbols and social emperors are revealed to be naked for us, like when I spent five minutes at a broken red light in the dead of night—the only soul awake in town. And sometimes those very ideas are there working for our good, for our safety and our life.

I am not trying to deconstruct morality because I’m allowed corned beef today, by the way. I believe in a moral law that may not be dispensed with. (Unlike the grammar rules governing that last sentence.) But there are many practices given to us, and given to us with moral weight (or, as an obligation), that are there for our good, for order’s sake, rather than because such actions are fundamentally opposed to life, like the commandment to love, or the prohibition to kill. Good men and women in authority, awake to charity, know how to discern between the two. Know when mercy is in order. Know when charity is being offended by the strict adherence to a rule. Know that the Sabbath was made for man, rather than man for the Sabbath.

To what end, then, are these obligations given to us? For what purpose do these obligations—that can seem so arbitrary at times—exist? Why are they necessary for us? They are necessary to wake us up to participate in the moments and seasons of life. They are for our good and the good of our children. To help us remember. And in remembering, to repent. And in repenting, to share in the Divine life. So that we might love all people and all things as God does.

For what it’s worth, I ate fish for lunch today in solidarity with my brothers and sisters for whom the obligation was not lifted. But mostly because I like fish tacos.

Brr

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It’s cold. I mean, as cold as it’s been all winter kind of cold. Like springtime in Michigan kind of cold. Brr. And our stick-built home is so old, most of our heat is disappearing into thin air. Because it’s cold in this house.

And lonely . . .

No, it’s too cold to be lonely. Today’s about survival, baby. Well, survival and Zelda. And working, taking care of babies, and blah, blah, blah. But for sure, survival. (And Zelda.)

Wherever you are, brethren and sistren, keep warm.

 

Pax et bonum

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Hey!

How are you doing?

If you said, “I’m doing good,” then, Are you a savage? Learn to speak English.

If you said, “I’m doing well,” then thank an English teacher. And, I’m glad you’re doing well. Life can be wonderful, can’t it? Give freely to those in need. Smile. People are hurting. Do what you can to alleviate their pain. If you are funny, make them laugh. If they love you, love them in return. If you are obnoxious, leave them alone. Be kind to others. Be patient with them and excuse them, as you can, for they are wounded and hurting. Don’t let them steal your peace. Always pray.

If you said, “I’m doing badly,” then I am sorry. Life can suck sometimes and be or feel all wrong. If you need it, get help. See a health professional. Get medication. Take your medication. Talk to someone you trust and love. Talk to your priest or pastor. Go to counseling. Go to Confession. Whatever help it is you need, get it. Try to give thanks for the blessings that remain. And, if possible, for the suffering you are experiencing. Be at peace. And always pray.

If you said, “I’m doing fine,” because you’re unengaged, then, Wake up! Open your eyes and live. This world is a beautiful place. It’s not meant to be simply endured, slept through, Facebooked or Netflixed through. Taste it. See it. Enjoy it. As St Augustine says, “Love, and do what you will.”

If, however, you said, “I’m doing fine,” and you meant you don’t want to talk about it because you’re doing quite badly or you’re confused, lonely, or sad, I understand. I love you. Probably. Maybe I don’t know you. Certainly someone loves you. And even likes you. Yes, those voices in your head are telling you otherwise. The voices are saying that no one loves you. That you are alone. That you are worthless. But I am giving you permission to tell those voices to go fuck themselves. More than permission, I insist. Those voices are only interested in destruction and death. There is no peace in listening to them. And, as you know, always pray.

If you said, “It’s none of your business,” then, I’m sorry. Peace to you.

God gives grace in exchange for our brokenness, garlands for our ashes.

It is Lent. Everyone carries private burdens you know nothing about. Maybe even that they know nothing about. Therefore, be patient and kind with one another.

Peace and good to you.