Late, on the tenth day of darkness, something changed. I heard a sound of water slapping leaves.
I took my dinner of left-over pizza and laid on slabs of home-grown tomatoes, poured a tall glass of wine, and headed to the front porch.
The air was still acrid to the tongue. Thick clouds above thick smoke had the street lights on. I sat down and watched fat drops of water splash the pavement and then stop. A promise, nothing more.
Then thunder, lumbering in from the west. Lightning high up - cloud to cloud.
The storm attempted to be ominous.
But after the last year, and the last 10 days, we are sorta spook-proof.
So I slipped aside and enjoyed that last light of a perfect summer evening that the calendar insisted. And I knew by the clock that the sun had not set so I lifted my glass to the blue skies above.
The tomatoes gave evidence. Tomatoes never lie.
I accept the promise of the first rain drops.
Christ vs. Anti-Christ
According to the Sermon on the Mount
1 Those who are down will be lifted up. Don't worry if you are down.
4 Perfection mean that your inside and outside is the same.
10 Pray – simply, often and in private.
The exact opposite - Line by line
1 Make sure you are on top or appear to be.
2 Appearing effective is more important than being effective.
3 Being noticed is the most important thing.
4 Have lots of secrets, Fear exposure.
5 Offense is the best defense.
6 Keep your addictions out of sight
7 Hoard, if you do give, brag about it.
8 Lie as a regular practice
9 Reward those that are useful, hate those who are not.
10 If you practice religion, do it very publicly, and only publicly.
11 Never let go of a grudge.
12 Trust no one.
13 Judge and ridicule those you fear or don’t like.
14 Never admit weakness. Never surrender, to God or anyone else.
15 Flatter the powerful – cheat, ignore, those who aren’t
There are 2 ways to live your life.
Report from the Crack of Dawn Covid Grocery Shopping:
I observed that the produce man was a professional. He was stacking his head lettuce like Tetris. Like in some other life he had been a dryrock master mason. Fitting them by shape into a perfect, vertical wall without crushing or deforming any of them.
I reached in, and aimed at the keystone head, dead center, low in the stack. I hesitated. His eyebrows shot up and he shot me a look of dismay as I threatened his perfection, but he said nothing behind his mask.
"Just kidding! " I said. and chose the top row left. He laughed. I laughed.
Its hard to get a laugh in the grocery store these days.
I also observed a woman pound her fist on her horn at a red light that was, yes, taking a little long. She was first in line, and this wasn't going to speed up the light. God Bless Her.
Just for today.
I am going to stack my lettuce heads with patience and intention.
Me and the Postman
Postmen have always been my friends. I grew up in a 2.5 floors up flat. I loved getting mail. I was a tyke when mom let me go to the bottom of the stairs and wait for our postman.The door was not locked. He was an older gentleman, gray haired, and dignified. He occasionally brought me presents. I don't suppose I was allowed to know, or call him, by his first name. But he was my friend. Now into my 7th decade of getting the mail, I have known many of postpeople. Some for years and years like the first one. Sear's catalogues, Christmas and Birthday cards (which came together) Bills I didn't know how I was going to pay. Surprises, like finding out I was in an old spinster's will. When my father was in hospice, and our guy brought what he knew to be pain meds to aid dying, he sat on the front porch with me for a few minutes, and he cried first. Now ballots for a couple of decades. The mail is dependable, regular, in my opinion it is socialism at its very best.
Here is a repeat of my only blog post about a postman. Maybe my very favorite postman.
So There I was... Looking for a way through.
I was motorcycling down a major arterial in my neighborhood. It was a sunny, dry, morning and traffic was light. Stopped at the next side street on my right was our local letter carrier. His name is Gerry. He is a friend of mine. I always smile when I see him in his postal truck. He is a good man and a good presence in our neighborhood. He knows me, and my bikes.
As I came up on him I smiled – I had my visor up. He was looking right at me. I thought we made eye contact. I nodded my head (can’t always wave on a bike). Then, just as I approached the street, he pulled out – right in front of me – making a left turn onto the big street. I had one nanosecond to decide what to do before I hit the side of his truck.
When you are in motorcycle safety school (and no one should ride without this experience) they drum into you head that you must always be scanning the road ahead for potential dangers and potential solutions to those dangers. The advantages of the bike over the cage (your car) are maneuverability and quicker acceleration/deceleration. We can go, stop and turn faster than you can. This is a simple fact of physics; much less mass, nearly equal power. This saves our live – a lot. One of our major disadvantages is visibility. We are smaller and your brain is accustomed to notice cars and trucks, and often you just don’t see us, even when you see us. This endangers our lives – a lot. After alcohol and excess speed – both completely avoidable – the number one cause of motorcycle deaths is a car making a turn into your immediate path. This is unavoidable. But it is manageable. You make a mental discipline of presuming that you are either invisible, or that if visible, that the vehicle ahead will attempt to intentionally kill you. Making this presumption, you plan you way of escape. There is always a way of escape, usually more than one. You ride your bike in a manner that makes escape possible at any time. Then you get to live.
On the day of my near postal collision, I had four choices; none of them really good. 1-Swerve left – in front of his path. He might stop at the last second and I could scoot in front of him. I rejected this, as it is folly to bank on his seeing me, when he clearly had not seen me to this point. 2- Swerve right – and try and go behind him as he continued his left turn. This might work if he moved quickly enough, but it presumed that he would not see me at the last second and hit his brakes. In my experience they almost always see you at some point and slamming on the brakes is always the natural response. I rejected this because it bet my safety on his response. I like to keep my safety in my own hands when ever possible. 3- Try and make the right hand turn. Move onto the street that he was leaving. This could work if I did not have too much speed going into the turn. It would require lots of lean for my cruiser-style bike. If you fail, you go down into a slide, but that is preferable to hitting a large object directly. People survive slides. I was wearing good leathers. 4- Attempt the very fast emergency stop. If you are not going too fast this often works. But if you lock up your brakes you slide, often into the object you are trying to avoid. Going under a truck is not recommended.
There was not actually time to think through these options. These options had to be wired into my sinews and nerve endings. I attempted a combo of three and four. He did see me at the last moment and he did slam on his brakes, coming to a stop completely blocking the road in front of me. I turned to the right, leaned, and put the bike into a controlled sideways slide. I stood up, foot on my back brake and hand on the front brake. I was prepared to attempt to leave the bike if she went under the truck. I sacrificed a lot of good tire tread.
And I stopped, facing to the right, parallel to the truck, right at Gerry’s driver side window. I stood the bike upright. I had managed not to soil myself. Gerry looked down at me and said “Expletive, Peg, expletive I ‘m sorry. I did not expletive see you! Expletive!” I looked up and said. “Expletive Gerry! Good thing I saw you! You almost expletive killed me! That would have sucked!” Gerry: “No Expletive!”
We were blocking traffic in two directions. He moved his truck across the street. I moved the bike to the side street. We both stayed put until we recovered. We did both recover. This is yet another set of motorcycle truths that easily move into the spiritual realm. Don’t travel so fast that you don’t have time to deal with emergencies. Scan your horizon for trouble, but do it with a calm, relaxed, open attitude – fear and panic are not your friends. Always look for the way of escape – it is always there.
The Apostle Paul talks to the folks in Corinth about this. He says: “There is not a situation that will test you that is not natural and common. God is faithful and fair. You will not be tested you above your skill level. With the test there always comes a way of escape.” 1 Corinthians 10:13 (paraphrase mine) The word I have translated as test is often translated temptation, but test or trial is also a fair use of the Greek. So is assay, like checking the level of a precious metal.
This passage is often preached narrowly as being about temptation to sin. And the ‘take away’ is – You have no excuse for sin, there is always a way out.This is fair, but limited exegesis. We do not learn without opportunities to test and use our skills. But we do not need to fear God as an assayer. God is not trying to catch us being bad; God is a fair educator who is on our side. Giving us skills, the opportunities to use them, and a way to survive and thrive during the learning process. God made us, and knows that we have ‘the right stuff.’ God wants to use that stuff to whatever level we will take it. With God there is always a chance to retake the test. With motorcycles, inattention can take away the re-test.
So ride safe! Shiny side up, rubber side down! Keep your eyes open and mind your escape route.
The Myth of the Apocalypse
Dear Lord Jesus, preacher said you are coming real soon.
Now would be a good time.
—The pre-math test prayer of all Evangelical children
Like all children raised under the apocalyptic cloud of Dispensationalism, I spent a great deal of my childhood alternately fearing and hoping for the end of the world. I was a bad child raised by good parents, so the Rapture was particularly troubling, as I knew they would go and I would not.
Later in life, I turned the fear into a standard Chicago-based joke. “People say that no one can predict when the Lord will return. This is not quite true: I know exactly the place and quite a bit about the timing. It will be at Wrigley Field. The Cubbies will be about to win it all – top of the ninth, two outs, two strikes against the batter. Then the trump will sound, and Jesus Christ will land on second base. Because the Universe cannot allow the Cubs to win the World Series.” The repeated telling of that joke, added a special layer to the terror-joy I experience on November 2, 2016 when the Cubs won it ALL. When Anthony Rizzo caught the final throw and tucked that ball safely in his pocket – I was liberated from several curses
In my previous career as a semi-pro religionist, I sometimes encountered Apocalypse rooters. These folks bill themselves as proponents of glory. In my experience, they are often a bitter and shrinking remnant of a narrow theology of judgment. When they see that the world is not only failing to embrace their world-view but rapidly leaving it in the dust, they hunker down into an attitude: “Just you wait and see. Jesus is going to return, and then you will find out how wrong you are!” Sometimes they pine so much for Armageddon that they actually do things to try to make it come. They say “Come Lord Jesus!” but what they mean is, “Come and prove me right!”
Then I discovered that Christians do not have a lock on Apocalypse-rooting. I have met environmentalists so frustrated that they rooting for Global Warming or some other enormous disaster to prove them right, to bring dismay and destruction to the deniers. Their Fundamental judgment and ire can match any fire-and-brimstone preacher. They predict and pray for a new heaven and a new Earth, where the remnant will survive and return to an imagined peaceful, joyful, agrarian way of a past - that never existed.
What all world-enders miss is the fact that apocalypses are as common as dirt. When Jesus wept over Jerusalem and predicted its doom, He wasn’t being especially prophetic. Anyone with eyes could see that Roman train wreck coming. Foreseeing the apocalypse of Jerusalem wasn’t exactly hard.
Homo sapiens seems to be good at wiping things out. Met a Neanderthal recently? A Javan tiger? A West African black rhino? A member the Yuki Tribe in California? We have seen the Rwandan apocalypse; our parents saw the Nazi apocalypse. Maybe we learned this from Mother Nature – she did a pretty good job on the dinosaurs. And now we are given a special lesson in viral Pandemic. Tiny things you can’t see can wipe out communities. Name an epoch, century, or continent that is apocalypse-free. Can’t.
The other thing that the doom-sayers miss is that life so often finds a way through. Have you ever witnessed a personal apocalypse – that of a serious addict who completely flames out, then finds recovery, sobriety, and life? I have; it is a glorious thing. Flattened cities build on the rubble. Ozzy Osbourne is walking around today with Neanderthal DNA. We are told that the birds we feed in the park are descendants of dinosaurs. Destroyed matter turns to energy and back again. Stars and planets die and are born again. On some cosmic level, nothing is lost. God built this into the universe so we would understand, and have hope. Hope even beyond death.
Existence is hard. It is so tempting when facing the apocalyptic to pray for escape, to pray for the judgment of the stupid and mean. We all do it. But this isn’t Life’s way. Life works through the stupid and the mean (including you and I) to find a way forward. There is no escape from the tribulations of the hard work of progress.
Quakers have made a theological suggestion about this: the idea of Christ, come and coming. I believe that Jesus of Nazareth was The Christ. But you do not have to believe that to see the Christ spirit in Him. The Christ spirit is simply Love, given place and breath. This Spirit pops up everywhere, often in the most unlikely places. It is most crystalline and transcendent in the ugliest of surroundings. This Spirit is so strong that it cannot be put down. It is so pervasive that it permeates all that is. The Anti-Christ is the futile attempt to kill Love. We all have the choice to express Christ or anti-Christ with every breath and every deed. When we cooperate with Christ and express that Spirit, we incarnate it. Again. Perpetual Christmas Day. There is and will be no second coming of Christ. What there is and will be are the infinite comings of Christ.
I hear the dread hoof beats of horsemen as often as I am tempted to sin. I find Jesus at my side, sliding off his white charger as often as I need Him. Together we root out the anti-Christ in my soul and then move the lines forward. I find Christ everywhere. I take the process of Christ-finding as far afield as I can, to the places and people that the fear-peddlers judge. I hear the trumpet sound a dozen times a day. Daring me to explore the depths of the Divine. Challenging me to make God real to the very edges of my world.
Calling me to glory.