ain’t going back no more

I spent too much of this past weekend reflecting upon my stint in the Navy as a hospital corpsman during the Vietnam era. I returned to the insanity and chaos of the war years as I remembered and honored my brothers who died in those jungles and rice paddies of Vietnam. Tonight, my soul aches anew. I still sometimes feel guilt for not being one of them. I should have been there beside them. For many years I thanked the God of my understanding for keeping me safely out of harm’s way. Today it’s easier to simply say I was just one of the lucky ones. My number was not drawn, my reassignment orders did not say Marine Corps training for assignment to Vietnam. But, was I really one of the lucky ones? They paid the supreme price, the family received condolences, insurance money, a flag, and a medal, and another warrior found eternal peace having died a war-time hero.

My duty station was the Philadelphia Naval Hospital. Having completed training as a psychiatric tech, none of the schooling prepared me for the pain I saw of returning warriors broken in limb and mind. They shared their horror stories, stories of terror and fear in the rice paddies and the jungles where they stayed high on dope just to survive the craziness that filled their minds. Those who lost arms and legs were rehabilitating in the orthopedic wards on the other side of the hospital grounds. They visited my wards in their wheelchairs and together the broken ones tried to heal one another.

One of my special assignments was that of body escort for a returning corpsman killed in action. My military bearing was never up to snuff from my first days in boot camp and it did not improve with time, but I somehow stayed out of trouble and made rank. It was considered an honor to escort a fallen warrior. I had lots of time to think as I rode with the dead young man to his funeral site in Virginia. I met the grieving family at the funeral home and began doing what body escorts are supposed to do. After the body was lowered in the ground, after the volley of gun fire, and after final taps from a nearby hillside, I returned to my motel room, cried like a baby and got drunk as hell.

I friggin hated war, I hated Vietnam and most of all I hated the government which had sent thousands of courageous men to their graves for the enrichment of the privileged, white boys back home in the safety of the USA. From that day forward my life tail-spinned into the drunken story of a sorry-assed man who couldn’t forgive himself for still being alive while too many had died. My untimely discharge from the military gave me ever more reason to pursue a new found career in drinking. Espousing anti-government sentiments from my barstool pulpit, I spent many nights with Jack Daniels and Cutty Sark informing other barroom patrons of the inherent evils of ‘their’ government.

I have detailed my sobriety story many times on this blog. It is indeed a miracle which has led me to self-forgiveness and acceptance of things which I cannot change. My drinking was my way of leaving my personal jungles and rice paddies behind and I am OK with it. I titled this post before I started writing it and now I know it’s a lie. I must go back remembering those who died, those who came back broken in spirit and body, and those who never again had a chance to live normally. They are all a part of my story and I can never forsake them.

Duane, Bryan, Joe – I’ll see you when I get there. SEMPER FI

I claimed my miracle, have you?

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup is overflowing.

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“I’m sorry, we are out of wine.  Would you like a cup of water or perhaps fermented goat’s milk?”

“Noooooooooooooooo.”  Undoubtedly, the scream echoed through the hills and valleys of Galilee as the feast master in charge of the wine supply realized his calculations for the wedding’s needs were misjudged.  His reputation throughout Israel would be ruined.  Nobody would hire him to cater their wedding after this fiasco at Cana.

And then Jesus, having been summoned by his mother, saved the day by turning six stone pots each filled with 20 to 30 gallons of water into vessels filled with wine.  When the wine was tested by the ruler of the wedding feast he went to the bridegroom saying, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”  (John 2:10 NIV)

The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John reveal to us the miracles performed by Jesus as recorded in the ancient manuscripts.  Turning water into wine was the first miracle of Jesus’ ministry occurring three days after Nathaniel became a follower.  John 2:11 tells us that this “was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed him.”

“He did whaaat?”  Had I lived then and one of my neighbors who attended that wedding at Cana told me about some yahoo preacher man turning about 150 gallons of water into wine, I am certain my doubting Thomas nature would have replied, “You’re out of your mind.  What were you smoking up there at Cana?”

Many people today say they don’t believe in miracles.  They also deny Jesus, God, and eternity.  Years ago I was one of those people.  I wanted to be an atheist, tried to be an agnostic and failed miserably at both.  If God did not exist why was I on my knees in a drunken stupor begging God to heal me?  If Jesus was just a myth like Santa Claus why did I talk to him like a friend when I wanted to end my life?

Yes I believed, but I refused to accept my miracle.  It was right there in front of me for years , but I was not done with the pain and self-loathing.  I wanted to beat up on myself for a while longer.  It gave me satisfaction to be a victim.  The floor of my bottom had a trap door that I wanted to explore.  Let’s kick me around and refuse my miracle a little bit longer.

But, you see, the God which I rejected did not give up.  Every night on my knees in a drunken stupor, God held my hand listening to me, comforting me, showing me the way to accept grace and mercy.  I tearfully forgave myself and accepted life, eternal life.  Miracles still happen today.  I claimed mine.  Millions of others like me, addicts and drunks clean and serene, are each and every one the story of a miracle.

“What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed him.” (John 2:11 NIV)

I believe him too.

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was the price right?

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup is overflowing.

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Why was Jesus crucified?  Depends on whom you believe, doesn’t it?  The Christian scholars of theology and religion who believe in the fall of Adam and Eve from God’s grace, who believe our progenitors were expelled from the garden for their sin, who thereby believe that all mankind is saddled with a sinful nature will explain that the violent, ignoble, bloody death of his “only begotten son” was a necessary payment to God to attain God’s forgiveness.

Really?  I know I am questioning one of the foundational tenets of modern Christianity, but can we believe that?  Prior to the 11th century Christians did acknowledge that payment (ransom) was due, but it was not due to God, rather it needed to be paid to the devil.  Then Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033-1109) wrote a paper WHY DID GOD BECOME HUMAN.  In this writing he asserted that yes “a price needed to be paid to restore God’s honor, and it needed to be paid to God the Father.” (1)

With the popularity of this one piece of literature during the 11th century, God was confirmed by the Church not only as a vengeful, condemning, agitator of fire and brimstone, but now a Father who had demanded his only begotten Son’s life.  Instead of a loving and compassionate Father, the Christian world embraced a bloodied, broken body on a cross as the price due for communion with their God.

Think about it.  The death of Jesus of Nazareth was a historical event.  Jesus’ ministry is documented by a multitude of writings by his followers and at least one unbiased historian, Josephus.  Jesus was an insurrectionist who dismayed the powers of the Roman Empire and he made himself a thorn in the side of the established Jewish hierarchy.  Both wanted him gone.

It is up to each of us to decide what we will believe in our faith walks.  But, what about forgiveness?  What does forgiving or being forgiven mean to me, to you?  When was the last time you handed your neighbor a $20 bill and then asked him to forgive you for mowing down his prized petunias?  You may have repaid him for replacement of his flowers, but the money did not buy his forgiveness.  Can forgiveness have a price if it’s an act extended and received by one man/woman to another freely from a mindset of love and compassion?  Would a loving Father demand payment for his forgiveness through crucifixion of his only begotten Son?

We must be concerned that possibly what is accepted as inerrant theology has somehow strayed off course by way of human fallibility.  I refuse to abandon my faith tradition because sometimes what I am told to believe doesn’t make sense to me.  If I am led to read the scriptures of our Christianity as examples of sober-living and paths to spiritual recovery, then I must ask questions.  I must question the scholars and theologians who have established inerrancy and certitude as hallmarks of their interpretations.  My adventure into the mysteries of eternity and God cannot be a trek which ends with definitive answers; rather it has to be a discovery process which only poses more questions.

(1) CAC.ORG

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housecleaning time

Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me.orange tree

Most people don’t like housecleaning, do they?  Yeah, I know the end result is amazingly comforting and fulfilling, but the actual work can be a lesson in Boredom 101.  Dust, sweep, scrub, organize, grab the Ty-D-Bol, where’s the Ajax?  For me, it’s a trip into futility because I know cleaning will need to be done again in another two weeks.  And then, before I realize it, the two-week period stretches into a month and I look at my house completely disgusted with myself for being such a dirt-bag.

I am certain none of you, my illustrious readers, have this problem.  You all seem to be outstanding people with impeccable cleaning habits.  But how about your heart?  How often do you get down into the nitty-gritty of what’s on your heart and do a ruthless housecleaning?  Throw out the old, ponderous grudges?  Get rid of guilt baggage that simply is not useful anymore?  Maybe rethink theology that no longer makes sense in your life?  C’mon, let’s get honest.

King David, in Psalm 51, has been confronted by the prophet Nathan regarding David’s affair with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah.  David and Bathsheba  David, from the palace, spied the beautiful woman bathing on her rooftop and sent for her.  Then, having slept with Bathsheba while her husband was fighting with the armies, David, in due time, faced the consequences of his sin learning that she was pregnant with his child.  To conceal his transgression King David ordered Uriah home from the battle front believing the soldier would sleep with his wife and the pregnancy could then be attributed to her husband.  Uriah, however, refused to sleep with Bathsheba while his fellow warriors continued to fight in battle.  To him it was a matter of honor.  David then continued with his deceit, got Uriah drunk believing that his soldier, filled with wine, would certainly bed his wife.  That ploy also failed whereupon King David ordered his soldier to the most dangerous position on the front line where he was killed in battle.

End of story, right?  Actually not.  Not only did the entire episode have a witness in the prophet Nathan, David’s conscience and the guilt over his actions were invalidating his spirit.  He was a deeply devout man who had fallen to lust, deceit and murder.  Psalm 51 is a petition to his God, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness…..wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity and cleanse me from my sin….cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.”

Not quite as eloquently, but equally contrite and remorseful, I have again and again and again petitioned the Lord of my life for forgiveness and cleansing.  Cleanse and renew, cleanse and renew, cleanse and renew.  It will be a lifetime endeavor because I am a human who is faulted and broken in need of a forgiving, loving, compassionate God.

Housecleaning is a good thing.  Sometimes we find things that were thought to be lost.  Sometimes we discover dirt that could be harmful to us.  Often we can rid ourselves of useless bric-a-brac.  But always, we finish the chore feeling cleansed and renewed.

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”  Psalm 51:10

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Today – Pittsburgh

 

LOVE

What is love?  Is it that warm, fuzzy feeling that is felt when in the presence of special friends, family, a spouse?  Maybe.  But, what if love is not an emotion?  What if love is an action shared with the world encompassing all of creation including humanity and the earth itself?  Compassion, tolerance, understanding, non-violence, stewardship – perhaps this is the love that will save our earth and its inhabitants.  Perhaps this the love which the author of 1 Corinthians was setting before us as a challenge?  Let’s try it.

Today, the day after the horrific mass shooting in Pittsburgh in which eleven of my brothers and sisters were murdered, it is extremely difficult to practice what I know the Lord of my life wants me to do – love.  Today, I am rebellious.  No, I will not love those who hate enough to kill.  No, I will not forgive those who hate enough to be unforgivable.  No, I won’t.

Then Jesus says, “But, you must because that is the beginning of healing.”

So, I will experience what humans experience.  I will allow the anger, the disappointment, the horror, the disgust, the sorrow, and the denial.  I will allow this and move on to the necessary work of forgiving.  And trust me, this is work.  It is soul work which is not inherent in our human condition.  I too want to lash out at those who are hateful.  I want to beat them to the ground and scream, “What is wrong with you?”

But  that would be giving them the victory.  That would be denying the instructions of the One who lords my life.  I would become an instrument of hate rather than love.

“God make me an instrument of your peace.  Where there is hatred, let me sow love.”

FORGIVENESS

“On October 2, 2006, a shooting occurred at the West Nickel Mines School, an Amish one-room schoolhouse in the Old Order Amish community of Nickel Mines, a village in Bart Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Gunman Charles Carl Roberts IV took hostages and shot eight out of ten girls, killing five, before committing suicide in the schoolhouse. The emphasis on forgiveness and reconciliation in the response of the Amish community was widely discussed in the national media. The West Nickel Mines School was torn down, and a new one-room schoolhouse, the New Hope School, was built at another location.”

Nearly twelve years ago while taking a break from driving, sitting at a Midwest truck-stop, watching TV on my satellite connection, this breaking news story darkened my soul like nothing else in recent memory.  As a young boy I had attended public school with Amish boys and girls, I lived in communities where the clop-clop of Amish buggies passing by was a normal everyday occurrence, my family shopped at the grocery store with Amish families.  Their way of life was fascinating to me.  How could they follow such a simple lifestyle eschewing modern conveniences and still be the happiest people I knew?  I greatly envied their humility and dedication to the community of believers which they chose to follow.

And the Amish community fathers immediately issued a statement of forgiveness.  Did they mourn?  Of course.  Were the parents angry?  Probably.  But they followed the directive set forth by the Scriptures which they revered and followed.  Those simple folks knew something which most of the world has never learned to practice – forgiveness.

Even today as I write this, my eyes well up with tears.  Innocent schoolgirls gunned down execution style by a madman.  On October 2, 2006 I cried like a baby for several hours.  My driving partner could not console me, my prayers would not stop the tears, the God of my understanding had deserted me.  Five killed.  Others injured.  The young boys who had been herded outside stood by helplessly as their schoolmates inside screamed while shot after shot was fired.

Could I have forgiven?  If my little girl was one of those standing in front of the blackboard with her back to the gunman waiting for her turn to be murdered, could I forgive?  Even today, twelve years later,  I don’t know that I could answer that question honestly.  I know what Jesus said, I know what the teachings are, I know what the Amish fathers did, but I am still a man who sometimes feeds on justified anger.

As He neared physical death, from the crucifixion cross, Jesus spoke these words, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  Luke 23:34

Oh Lord, if those who have suffered unimaginable horrors can forgive, if Elie Wiesel could forgive the Nazis who decimated his people, if John McCain could forgive his captors who tortured him, then Lord, who am I to withhold forgiveness for an unkind word, an insult, a selfish action?  My grievances are so extremely petty compared to those who were mentally and physically abused by the powers of evil.

“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”  Matthew 6:12

It’s a tall order.  It’s up to me, isn’t it?  I cannot live the life destined for me by a Savior if my head is filled with grudges and grievances, no matter how great or small.  I cannot be the mended broken vessel useful to Jesus if my eyes do not see beyond the hurts and humiliations which insulted my pride and sense of self-righteousness.

“Show me how to love the unlovable.
Show me how to reach the unreachable.
Show me how to see what your mercy sees.”

FORGIVENESS

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JOHN 3:16

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“Don’t look back.  What happened then is now part of your story, a chapter in your life.  Reference it, remember it, learn from it, but don’t look back longingly.  You can’t have yesterday again.  It would impoverish your today.”

Certainly I would do life differently for today I hold the wisdom learned from yesterday.  Experience is a worthy teacher, but, it had to unfold exactly as it did for me to cultivate my lessons?  Each of those moments has molded my today.

“My child.  Don’t look back.  Doing so longingly discredits where I have brought you in your journey.  Your days of foolishness and frivolity tested my patience.  Your nights of deepest disobedience sorrowed my soul.”

Indeed, I was young and foolish.  Every one of my days was filled with deprivation.  Every night’s bed was one of wantonness and licentiousness.  My soul’s companion was unfathomable loneliness.  My desperate prayer was unheard.

“No, it was not unheard.  It was spoken from an insincere place within you that did not truly want to know or love me.  Like your fellow travelers on that path, you called upon me only in your times of travail.”

But, some of the times were good times.  Some of the experience was enjoyable.  The music that filled the air invigorated an otherwise dull existence.  The young people were excitedly filled with a casual indifference to the world scurrying about us.

“Of course you remember it that way.  Most of the experiences were not good.  Your life confused and concerned those who loved you.  Understanding your disregard for maturity and responsibility was impossible for them.”

Yes, that’s true.  And they loved me anyway.  Oh, if only I could return and let them know how sorry I am.  I stole their peace and dishonored their trust.  I was deeply dishonest and deceptive regarding the man I had become.

“My son, don’t you understand?  A father’s love, a mother’s love, a spouse’s love is unconditional as is my love.  Through it all, it was not a question of when we should stop loving you, but when you would learn to love yourself.”

Lord, have I become a man pleasant in your sight?  Would my father, my mother smile upon seeing my face again?  Could they ever forgive me for the shame endured because of my indiscretions?  Have I become a man worthy of your love?

“For I loved you so much that I gave my only begotten Son to you.  You are also my son whom I can love no less.  If you live the truth of Jesus, you will not perish but have life everlasting with me.  Does that answer your questions?”

Of course, John 3:16. Yes, Lord.  Amen.

CANDLE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

forgiveness – remember no more

namaste rainbow

Just another traveler on life’s highway, hanging out it the slow lane.  It’s quiet, it’s peaceful.   Beyond the horizon is peace, it’s calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.

 

 

“…..I will forgive their iniquity; and I will remember their sin no more.”  Jeremiah 31:34

Forgiveness.  It is commanded.
We ask it in our prayers,
“Forgive my shortcomings as I forgive others.”
And then, remember no more.
Am I capable of not merely forgiving,
but remembering no more?
Do I hang on to those transgressions against me?
What good does that do for me?
Perhaps, I feel vindicated.
Perhaps, I feel superior
when I return to past transgressions against me.
I am told that my sobriety does not benefit,
that my sober walk does not mature.
I must remember no more.
I must forgive and remember no more.
Can I do that?

“If we ask, God will certainly forgive our derelictions.  But in no case does he render us white as snow and keep us that way without OUR COOPERATION.  That is something we are supposed to be willing to work toward ourselves.  He asks only that we try as best we know how to make progress in the building of character.”  AS BILL SEES IT, Bill Wilson, pg. 204

 

“Father, forgive them…”

Would anyone refuse to accept the forgiveness of  a lover, a parent, a teacher, a spouse, or a best friend?  Of course not.  If  I have transgressed against you and you offer me CANDLEyour forgiveness, then our friendship cannot continue until I reciprocate with a sincere ‘thank you for understanding’.  Only then, after cleaning house,  can we pursue our relationship.

Forgive and forget is a cliché which sounds cool but is rarely practiced in our society.  Although most of us are ready to forgive, the act of forgetting is difficult because none of us wants to be transgressed again by the same person and, if we are honest about ourselves, we enjoy the grudges which we hold.  One of my friends says he will forgive but, the transgressing person will not get a second opportunity to harm or injure.  Another holds a lifetime of grudges which fester and negate any potential good will with his transgressor.   Others say that forgiveness is an act which benefits the forgiver more than the forgiven.  I can understand that but, I don’t believe the purpose of forgiveness is to make me feel better about myself.

So, what then is forgiveness all about?  Is it just a religious thing, a few spoken words that are meant to repair a relationship?  Does sincerity enter the picture?  How about compassion?  Maybe a touch of empathy?  Spirituality?

The Jewish faith in Psalm 46:10 believes that the psalmist wrote, “Cease striving and know that I am God.”  We cease striving and know God when we enter the spaces between our thoughts, relinquish those before and after thoughts to the now moment and realize the power of a God which is omnipotent and omnipresent.  That “now moment” is our God space.  Living consciously in the now moment is where we will find God.

God says, ” Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in all the earth.”  Psalm 46:10

We are exhorted to give up grudges, to forgive transgressions against us, to receive forgiveness for our wrongs because only then are we ready to enter the realm of “Be still and know.”  Our minds, when cleared of human earthly affairs, will then be receptive to God’s presence and God’s power in the stillness of meditation, contemplation, and prayer.  It’s a great exercise in spiritual discipline which I certainly have not mastered although I continually try.

Perhaps forgiveness is all about doing what Jesus did on the cross.  He wasn’t concerned about feeling better as he hung there dying.  He probably did not care if his forgiveness was accepted by the Roman soldiers or the Pharisees.  What if, at that moment of physical death on his cross,  Jesus wanted to purge humanity of it’s transgressions through forgiveness, (“Forgive them Father for they know not what they are doing”)?  With this act of forgiveness mankind could resume a relationship with God released from the intolerance and hatred which nailed Jesus to his cross.

Matthew 5:23 tells me to be reconciled with my brother, if there are differences, before I come before God to offer my gift of body, mind, and soul at the altar.  In my church service, I present myself in prayer to receive forgiveness for sins and to forgive others who have harmed me.  I do this by reciting the Lord’s Prayer so that when I approach the altar to receive communion I am of clean heart and spirit, ready to receive God’s unending grace through the body and blood of Jesus.  Forgiveness is that  act of soul-namaste rainbowcleansing which is necessary prior to spirit renewal.  It is not a one-time, one and done activity.  It is a continual process which is the centerpiece of any faith walk and recovery program.  Namaste.

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CANDLEBill W. in AS BILL SEES IT urges me to “survey the past”.  Step 4 is an integral part of my recovery program which then guides me in subsequent steps to release those deep transgressions, which have darkened my soul, to the Higher Power of my understanding and to another human being.  It is a fundamental process which leads to clearing the past that exists in my mind as a monumental impediment to a joyful and fulfilling future.  This release enables my Higher Power to then use me in the work of recovery and discovery of my divine purpose.

However, it is not a ‘one and done’ deal.  Step 10 then urges me to continue this inventory-taking and promptly clear the slate of any further hindering thoughts, words, and deeds.  It is also means that I should continue surveying my past for those things which had been forgotten or deeply buried within my soul.  This soul-searching is an ongoing endeavor which enhances a “joyful” recovery and frees me of self-loathing and doubt.

What also needs to be realized is that quite often those transgressions, which can be catastrophic in my mind, are usually a mere blip on the screens of victims of my selfishness.  If I were to ask one of them, “Do you remember….”, they would probably reply in the negative or they would have processed that happening and moved onward with life.  Rarely has my indiscretion devastated his/her life.  Even if I have caused extreme hardship or harm to another and their forgiveness is not offered, I have a merciful, steadfast Higher Power which has the amazing capacity to forgive and restore.

It is not a selfish undertaking to view the damage I heaped upon myself physically and emotionally as the ultimate, most important target of my inventories, self-assessment and amends.  Making amends to others is, of course, significant.  However, I am the brokenness that needs to be fixed.  As an alcoholic, I suffered a deep hatred of myself.  It colored every day of my life and every relationship in which I participated.  As a recovering alcoholic, I must see myself as deserving of a loving and compassionate God.  When that happens I can get on with the work of serving in a meaningful way the humanity to which I belong.rainbow-solidarity

 

as “BILL SEES IT”, pg 111