December 17, 2008

Stay Tuned

Thank you all for your prayers. The emotional jolt is subsiding. There have been some frayed nerves at work as we try to adapt to the changes thrust upon us but the path into the future is slowly revealing itself. Stay tuned.

December 12, 2008


Along with 26 of my coworkers I received notice this morning that our term of employment will end January 4, 2009. I ask that you pray for my family as we go through what is sure to be a somber Christmas.

I have worked here as the public information officer for ten years. This is a bitter pill.

December 9, 2008

Your Prayers

I just received notification that come Friday 26 employees where I work will not have a job afterJanuary 4, 2009. The Sheriff I worked for for 10 years lost in the primary election in July. Under Georgia law we are all at-will employees who the sheriff can fire at his discretion. So I ask you to pray for my family during this very stressful time.

December 2, 2008

Like A Wayward Buzzard

The sputtering headlights sliced the curtain of night making visible the bugs and dust caught blowing in the midsummer Texas evening. The poor pilgrims are bound for a weather-beaten cinderblock church perched like a wayward buzzard in one corner of a nondescript intersection in the darkness just west of town. The Baptists were not the first to lay claim to the building’s shelter from the roiling storms that ravaged the southern plains. It was built as a mortuary but death is a fickle business. Inside the unadorned sanctuary members mingled, milling around while waiting for the ringmaster. The Middle Child sat nearly invisible on the always empty front row waiting for the show.
Just three days earlier at their rented ramshackle house the children called upon their Lord Jesus to save them because they could not save themselves. Against the Preacher’s relentless emotional juggernaut they had no defense and had their souls saved whether they needed it or not. The Middle Child sat helpless, caught in a vortex where all futures hinged on his response so he mouthed the words, repeated the incantation, the invocation of the Spirit. A deep sense of gloom and despair hung in the darkening bedroom. The Middle Child felt the change. He felt a flutter in himself like an old bird rising from the roost. A longing, a small hope stirred and he was wary.
The show was Brother Jimmy Earl Bowie, a long, greasy, beanpole of a man with flaky, collar length black-from-a-bottle hair slicked straight back from a sharp widow's peak. He was an animated man manufacturing/conjuring attention with his every deliberate (and well rehearsed) gesture. Brother Jimmy Earl believed the congregation came expecting a show and who was he to restrain the Spirit? Hanging loose on his bony frame was a blue polyester suit with wide white stripes with a matching handkerchief, a once-white shirt and a pencil thin black tie. The handkerchief stayed in his left hand to wipe his holy brow. Following the service he would pray over it and offer it up for a small love offering. Brother Jimmy Earl wore a silver pinky ring on each hand because he thought it looked refined and helped to camouflage his eastern Kentucky white trash roots.

Becoming a man of God was one of the few avenues of power and authority available to a man of Brother Jimmy's education and breeding. But deep down he knew Baptist’s would ordain a potato. Still, he was a man on a mission. He prayed in Old English with a roaring torrent of thee's, thou's and thy's pouring out in a deep sonorous voice. He was Southern to the core but lacked the certainty of conviction. Eloquent? Every time. Honest? Hopefully. Sincere? Sometimes. He stepped into the cockpit, his eyes downcast with a pregnant pause hanging in the air waiting to be delivered.

"Our message tonight is taken from the sixth chapter of Paul's epistle to the Ephesians, verses ten through twenty. I just love the sound of them angel wings. I don't need to tell you that we live in a wicked world that ceaselessly assails us with its utter vileness. To combat this evil assault we will examine how the apostle Paul tells us to put on the whole armor of Christ. May we all rise for the reading of God's Word."

The words came like a calming flood filling the room with their mesmerizing, all-encompassing, unquenchable potency. He chanted the ancient words:

Finally my brethren be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Therefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, where ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit . . .

"Do you beleeva?" He slowly pulled the words from deep in his gullet. "Do you believe God is walking and talking amongst us tonight? If we are prepared we can stand fast resting assured in the unshakable promise of His word when old Lucifer comes roaring as a lion seeking whom he may devour. Hallelujah! We must take an active part, we must be willing to wear the armor. Don't let wily Lucifer catch you off guard, just let him bounce off of your heavenly protection.”

“And notice with me if you will that we have an offensive weapon. Verse 17 says, "And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." Just what is this sword of the spirit? How do we skewer Lucifer? With our beloved Bible, with God's holy infallible, inexhaustible word. But we are not like warriors of old, how do we wield this sword? By knowing God's word inside and out. Only with fervent prayer, daily meditating on the Word and the incessant seeking of God's will can we wield this sword of power. And you must petition the Lord with prayer. Yes you must petition the Lord with prayer.”

“Do not be caught unaware. Do not be mistaken. Do not be deceived. Do not let down your guard. Do not doubt for even one second that we face a mighty and a cunning foe. Satan is a slanderer, he is Lucifer, son of the morning, he is Beelzebub, the Lord of the Flies. He is the evil one, the tempter, he is the prince of this world and the god of this age. He is the serpent, the dragon and the false angel of light. But praise Him we have Jesus on our side and He is the dragon slayer.”

"We do not fight alone. The Apostle John says that we have an Advocate with the Father. We have no need to fear for Christ is the Lamb of God and the Lion of the tribe of Judah. He is the King of Kings and the Lord of lords. He is the Prince of Peace and the Prince of Life. He is the Son of God, the Son of David and the Son of man. He is the Chief Cornerstone and He is the skandalon, the rock that offends. He is the Way and the Truth and the Life. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. He always has been and He always will be. He is the Wonderful Counselor and the author and perfecter of our faith. He is the Dayspring, the Sun of Righteousness and He is the Morning Star. He is the Great Shepherd and he is the Bishop of Souls. He is the Light of the World, the head of the church and he is the Lo-o-ord Jesus Christ. Amen!”

“He is the Word of Life, he is the Logos. John says, In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. That means He is indivisible from God. God is a triune God. He is all at once the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Jesus is fully God. He is Jehovah, He is the great I AM. He is El Elyon, the Most High, He is El Roi, the Strong One who sees, He is El Shaddai, Almighty God, and He is El Olam, Everlasting God. He is Jehovah Jireh, the Lord will provide, He is Jehovah Nissi, the Lord my banner, He is Jehovah Shalom, the Lord is peace, He is Jehovah Sabbaoth, the Lord of hosts, He is Jehovah Raah, the Lord is my shepherd, He is Jehovah El Gmolah, the Lord God or recompense, and He is Jehovah Nakeh, the Lord that smiteth. Glory be to God!" His voice rose to a sharp crescendo as he pranced. His thin chanticleer body refused to stand still as he strutted across the small stage. When he again began his voice was hushed and serious.

"Who will you choose? God says you are either for Him or against Him, lukewarm you cannot be. Will you wear the armor and do battle against Lucifer or will you join his army and speed your way to eternal damnation? Are you willing to stand up for what is right or will you be a spectator and sit idly by while our world slowly sinks into a quagmire of evil? Our Lord says we should enter by the narrow gate because the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction and many are those who enter by it. The gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life and few are those who find it. Are you strong enough to stay on the straight and narrow? Those of you out there who think that you are too smart to believe in our God and his infallible word do not be fooled. The Bible says that the ways and the wisdom of God are foolishness to men. Throw off the blinders of sin and condemnation and look upon the manifest truth of God in the person of Christ."

The sermonic tirade continued punctuated by a steady beat of "amen" and "preach it brother." Eventually Brother Jimmy got around to dispensing the Lord's Supper. He was careful, as he always was, to warn his people not to eat of the flesh or drink of the blood with unrepentant sin in their lives or they would, as the Bible promised, face condemnation. The Middle Child sat spellbound. He sat the small clear plastic cup of grape juice on the edge of the pew until the deacons finished. He turned to look and when he faced forward he spilled the purple juice on Brother Jimmy Earl’s new red carpet. Only a momentary pause, a scathing glance, revealed the preacher's discomfort. The service continued unabated but less animated before finally ending with the inescapable and inevitable invitation. It dragged on through two complete renditions of "Just As I Am" before Brother Jimmy lifted his bowed head and nodded to the choir director. He wished everyone a good night and hoped that he would see them all Wednesday night for the prayer meeting, bible study and choir practice. Finally he descended.

The workman of the Lord had no control over his rage. With eyes flashing and a flushed face Brother Jimmy Earl exploded in a vehement whisper that by its very nature attracted attention.
"Why can't you be more careful boy? Do you know how much this carpet cost? What were you thinking? That was the clumsiest thing I have ever seen. This stain will never come out. My church needs to be clean and presentable, not stained and scarred. This is my house, my God's house and it is not a place for poor, dirty, ungrateful children who cannot sit still."

As the dressing down continued the church grew quiet but for the whirling wind's whine. The Middle Child stood helpless, nailed in place. He had no excuse and suddenly, clearly, saw that he needed none. He turned his back to this man of God, this pastor, this supposed shepherd of the flock. As he did the crowd cleared the Middle Child a narrow crooked path to the door. Alone the boy stepped out over the threshold into the cool wilderness of the darkened east. Behind him the dark wine spread into a small crimson bird caught, trapped in flight on the blood red carpet.

November 26, 2008

Pilgrims On The Move

It is time for our annual pilgrimage. From the small towns to the towering cities we make our pilgrimage home or to some other table where we are loved and accepted. Families will drive hundreds of miles or even brave the horrors of flying to spend time breaking bread and sharing a meal together. Sitting at table together in an important ritual in every culture because it strengthens our relationships.

It can be a day of mixed feelings. We may dread the travel and the friction it brings. We may even dread being in the same room with family and friends from whom we are estranged. Or we may love being in the same room with family and friends from whom we are estranged.

From a large table covered with culinary masterpieces to a smaller table set with more plain fare we gather together to give thanks for our Lord’s bounty and to celebrate the ties that hold us together. This family table can become the table of our reconciliation with one another.

Our Lord taught his most important lesson while reclining at a meal with the twelve apostles. At the last supper He said eat for this is My body and drink for this is My blood. It is the table of our reconciliation with our Lord.

Thanksgiving is the manifestation of the eternal truth that our love/our family/our faith matters most of all.

November 25, 2008

Mother Of Despair

Oh, Mother of despair
A mind unquiet
A mind dis-eased
Desperate in loneliness beyond measure.
Stumbling, fumbling
Tripping through life’s darkness
Her lantern of deliverance long since lost
Her guide, her companion cruelly cut off.
Crying from the other side
Too soon, too soon.
A refugee in the land of the dead
Give voice to the defilement
Cry out!
Too cruel, too cruel.
The wait too long
The weight too great
To bear.

A prose companion to this piece is at The Bosom Serpent

November 18, 2008

A Conscience Pricked

Yesterday morning I very unexpectedly had my conscience pricked. It was an epiphany, a flash of insight that I suspect will forever alter how I see the world. Perhaps it’s appropriate that this would happen on the third day of the fast as I am trying to focus on prayer.

On this very blog just after election day I posted a short essay, Tears Of Joy, stating how much I supported Obama for president and how joyful I was that we would finally have an alternative to Pres. Bush. I understand now that instead of joy they should have been tears of anguish, tears of sorrow.

Within a few days of posting this essay I also posted a story about the horrors of child abuse. I said I was trying to shed light on this particular instance, that it was evil and needed to be dragged out into the light. Then this morning an Orthodox priest with whom I correspond told me that while the essay was well written he, of course, did not vote for Obama because of his pro life stance, and that he believed his position mirrored that of the Church. I was stunned and realized instantly that he was right. I had not looked at the most important issues. I basically had no idea what I was talking about.

I told the priest that one of my main reasons for voting for Obama was war fatigue. This response was in earnest, and I am greatly troubled at the waste of American lives in a country we will never convert, conquer, or even really understand. It is a tribal society and far removed from our sensibilities. I am appalled at these deaths and the grievous wounds (emotional and physical) the war is leaving on our brightest and best. In my opinion, veterans deserve our highest respect and an acknowledgment of our gratitude for all they have offered and lost on our behalf.

But while focusing on these issues I was ignoring the very real war being raged all around me. I can only plead ignorance. I know/knew in an abstract way that abortion is the American holocaust. That viable beings are killed every single day, and yet the cry of the slain innocents never made it past my ears. How can I hold up a pro-abortion president-elect one day and rail against child abuse the next? I am a hypocrite, I am the chief of sinners, and I am undone. Thankfully our Lord is always at work. I am embarrassed and ashamed by my own hypocrisy.

I wrote a paper about abortion in a college philosophy class. I argued that abortion up until the fetus became a sentient being (defined as capable of feeling pain) was acceptable but not after that point. To inflict such agony was a reprehensible, immoral act. I was looking only at the physical dimension, making a cold sterile assessment. There was no acknowledgment or even real understanding of our true nature. After the class, abortion was pushed to the back burner of my life. I saw both sides of the argument carry out heinous acts in defense of their belief.

Our Lord leaves us no middle ground.

As I thought about this and spoke with my wife I realized that many politicians/people may support abortion but not capital punishment. The opposite view is also held. Are the two mutually exclusive? How could a person support one and not the other? I have qualms about the death penalty for a number of reasons. Ironically, one of which is the possibility of killing an innocent man. Surely some innocents (especially the poor who cannot mount as vigorous a defense as persons of means) have slipped through the cracks and been executed.

I have often thought that is if the value of capital punishment is as a deterrent then execution should be public. Potential offenders could see what awaits them and our society could see itself perform what is for all intents and purposes state sanctioned and state executed murder. Instead, this public punishment is carried out for the most part in private, perhaps because we know it to be wrong. How many lives have we taken as punishment for the loss of another life through murder? Is the death penalty the state playing God, acting as the final arbiter and deciding who lives and who dies? Does this not reek of hypocrisy? Abortion and capital punishment are simple issues made needlessly complex. What does the Church tell us?

Thank you Fr. for being the catalyst of change, for opening my eyes to my blindness, for helping me to see myself as I really am. To those who read these words thank you for your patience as I fumble my way through life. I will strive to be more consistent and to conform myself to the teachings of the Church as established by our Lord. And no more politics.

November 14, 2008

Love The Little Children

As Orthodox Christians we are called to follow our Lord’s example and to refrain from casting the first stone, we are enjoined to judge not. And our American criminal justice system rests upon the Constitution’s bedrock guarantee of a fair hearing and of being treated as innocent until being proven guilty. What I learned today made it very hard to leave that first stone at rest, to not cast it in anger. I suppose you could say I am casting it now.

Earlier this week we arrested a husband and wife for abusing their 23-month-old son. From all appearances and from interviews with the parents this young boy lived a life of horror, subject to severe beatings, beatings bad enough to produce the deepest and most dangerous bruises. There was deep bruising all over him, on his abdomen, his buttocks and even his scrotum.

The mother admitted to striking him with a closed fist in the past. She also admitted to throwing her son down so hard this week that the impact split his skull and caused swelling and bleeding of the brain. She also stated that she went outside to smoke a cigarette before calling 911. This incident led to the arrests. The child is in intensive care kept alive by a ventilator. The doctors want to do a full body scan to discover the full extent of his injuries but cannot because of his reliance on the ventilator. In the most bitter of ironies the mother is six months pregnant.

The father admitted to knowing that his wife was severely abusing their son and also admitted that he conspired with her to keep her actions hidden. He said he feared coming home one day to find his son dead. Under Georgia law they are equally complicit and face similar charges.

This young boy was truly a child of wrath, born into a world of pain, pain dealt out at the hands of his mother. I know that most of you who read these postings never come close to such evil. Many times these stories become a window with a view of the slaughterhouse. If these writing offend you please forgive me, but I feel compelled to tell these stories, to shed a brighter light on the evil with which we share this world. The least I can do is tell the stories, to lift up their names up in prayer.

I believe God created us to be especially sensitive to these issues, to lay down our lives for our children (as He did for us) without question or hesitation. Children are our greatest treasure, the storehouse of our memories, the mirror in which we see ourselves as we really are. There is no reality check quite like having a child mouth obscenities and to know full well you were his teacher. Children are quite literally our future. They carry with them a distinct, individual combination of genes handed down from parents and grandparents. We are all individuals but we are also all the same. Each of us is a being created in the image of our Maker and as such worthy of all the love we can create.

Our own salvation was purchased at the price of a Son. We understand this sacrifice so well because the thought of losing a child resonates deeply, at the very core of our being, the one nightmare all parents dread. Could we willingly lay down the life of a child?

Such barbarism, especially between a mother and her child raises many questions. How could a loving, omnipotent, omniscient God allow such horrors to happen? This question tripped me up for many years. Having suffered abuse and having seen the depths of depravity into which we can fall I rejected the notion of a loving, caring God. How could he not lash out in holy anger? How could he stand to hear the wailing of his children?

God does love us and Jesus is the proof. These horrors are not of God. This evil is man’s brutality to man and it wounds our Creator at least as much as it wounds us. Still, some days this answer is not enough. Some days I still doubt. On these days I fall back on prayer, on expressing my pain, my questions, on asking Him why. Eventually I always come back to the calming wisdom of Psalm 46. “Be still and know that I am God.” Lord, forgive my disbelief.

Here is a link to the story in our local newspaper.

November 8, 2008

Still, Here I Sit

November, the window to winter, the shutters closing on autumn. The days diminishing with the solstice still weeks away. From trees afire in glorious hues to a bare tangle of brittle branches as deciduous trees set their leaves free into the wind, into the cold, into the gutter. Other flora and fauna shake off their glory, take in the last bit of sustenance and horde it away before falling into their long sleep. Others put on thick coats of white or brown to dull winter’s bitter bite. Yet in even the deepest recesses of the cold darkness life is never snuffed out but patiently bides its time. Sleeping mothers birthing blind babies in their dark warm dens.

Memories of November in my Shenandoah Valley home, the smell of wood smoke hovering in the frigid air, the butchering of hogs and watching football at the neighbor’s house that had a color television, a television room, a patio, hot running water and indoor plumbing. The distance between our house and theirs was less than a block and the width of a gaping abyss that could never be bridged.

The November of 1971 was both the closing act of a patricide and the beginning of a troubled time in my life, the start of a long decline, a seemingly ceaseless struggle to know why my father died. At 36. I know how, I really need to know why. I was 11. As night strikes the colors and day takes the helm, on the eve of Thanksgiving you gave up the/your ghost. Did you not love us enough to set the bottle aside? Was life so painful that even the agony of delirium tremens became the better option? Or were you sick with a disease you did not understand and from which you could not escape?

Memories. Too many and not enough. Fighting, staggering, falling, filth. An artist consumed, a craftsman crushed. Or am I dwelling on the vision of a father with control wrested from his grasp while avoiding the reality that he had choices to make. And we/I lost out. Could it be he was enough of a bastard to deliberately push us aside?

My father’s journey took him through hospitals, in and out of prison, into the hell of psychiatric wards, through years of drool and piss, living through the death of dreams and the birth of nightmares with a wife/my mother who pirouetted in the same fatal dance and enabled him into his grave. In November.

Ah November, novem, nine but eleven. All Saints Day, Election Day, Veterans Day, my father's dying day, Thanksgiving Day, my brother’s birthday and the birthday of the Marine Corps, chrysanthemums and our Chrismation.

Herman Melville, in his, “…damp drizzly November in my soul…” from the opening paragraph of Moby Dick; or The Whale (one of our great novels which should be mandatory reading) at least to my mind, captures the feeling, the smell, the loneliness, the essence of November.

Still, here I sit. Making do while I make it up, the summer of my life fading to the autumn of middle age. Avoiding the shadows, the cold corners. The mask of happiness masking the demon of despair. Waiting for the fall into the long sleep. Here I sit. Come November.

November 6, 2008

Tears Of Joy

I will always remember the evening of Tuesday, November 4, 2008 as one of the proudest and most profound moments of my life. To repeat the clichés, it was history in the making. It was one of those moments like the first moon walks or the Challenger explosion that is forever etched into our collective memory. The first comparison that came to mind that evening (aside from weddings and new babies) was graduating from boot camp at Parris Island in early February 1978 as a 17-year-old high school dropout newly minted Marine. But that was a personal pride, a solo accomplishment. Tuesday night I was proud as an American, proud that enough of us could look beyond skin color and elect a man based on the content of his character (sorry I couldn’t resist), on the hope of his potential, on the faith in his abilities. As a 48-year-old grizzled and often ill-tempered old man I nevertheless wept. Such joy, such unbridled emotion.

I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican. I voted for both Reagan and Clinton. I even vote for the deceased. On the local ballot Tuesday the position of Surveyor was open but there was no candidate so I typed in Henry David Thoreau. George Washington would also have been a good choice although he’s probably a little too old school for me.

Veterans (especially combat veterans) have a special place in my heart. When I used to put on a uniform and strap on my hand cannon I would never knowingly write a veteran a traffic ticket. I would simply send him on his way with the sight of my grateful salute fading in his rearview. The men and women who defended our country and our way of life do not need me giving them grief. Who better in our society to honor? We are a peaceful society but we rely on the mettle and resolve of our warriors, the men who answer the call, the men who stand in the breach, the watchmen on the walls, the eternally vigilant.

Having said that I honor Sen. John McCain and the tremendous sacrifice he made on our behalf. He is truly an amazing man, a hero in the truest sense of the word, an example to us all of how we can maintain our dignity in even the most trying of circumstances. He would be a great president and truth be told he probably deserves it more than just about anyone. In his concession speech Sen. McCain quieted those who were booing and urged everyone to unite together behind President-elect Obama. He once again demonstrated the qualities we want in our political leaders, tenacious fighters who when faced with the inevitability of defeat bow out gracefully and support the victor.

But I did not think his would be the steadiest hand at the rudder. That feistiness, that bulldog response is not the best approach to dealing with the almost insurmountable problems now facing President-elect Obama. In my mind these issues are better resolved with a cooler head, a longer fuse. I suspect we will see that Obama is indeed a man of tremendous resolve and able to keep his head when those around him are losing theirs. A man who understands that compromise is not synonymous with weakness, a man who will be willing to trust but will also verify. For too many years now we have bullied our way around the world stage and alienated pretty much everyone in the process. We have been the ugly American. It is time to embrace the hope of a brighter future and to reclaim our heritage as the greatest nation in the world.

Two works come to mind:

The Second Coming
Robert Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.
There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.
The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted.
The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.
Come, behold the works of the LORD, what desolations he hath made in the earth.
He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire.
Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.
The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.

October 28, 2008

Love's Legacy

On the way home from Cairo (pronounced kay-roe) on Saturday we (my Primitive Baptist pastor friend Chris and I) stopped to visit with Chris' relatives Tom and Joyce in Moultrie. It is a heartbreaking story. Tom’s most recent checkup initially found that he was free of disease with no cancer cells. They were on their way home after receiving the good news when the cell phone rang. It was the hospital and Tom’s doctor wanted him to return to the hospital immediately. It was very bad news. Contrary to what they initially believed the cancer was not dead. Monday morning Tom went back into the hospital to begin an even more rigorous round of chemotherapy and to determine if he would be a good candidate for a bone marrow transplant.

Tom and Joyce see the end of the road, they know how this will most likely end. But it was not the specter of death sitting quietly in the room that moved me, it was their manners, their genuine-ness and the love that filled them both. I had just met them but I was treated as family. My hyper-vigilance set off no alarm bells (which is rare indeed) so I knew I could trust them. We went to them to offer assistance and prayer but we were the ones who were comforted. In the midst of what some days must be a nightmare they were genuinely concerned about us, about making us comfortable. It was not an act, no polite show of manners, it was genuine concern. I am in awe of such courage.

The terrible irony is that the cancer radiation treatment Tom had twenty-five years ago probably planted the seeds of this cancer. Tom injured his back and somehow it seemed to trigger the malignancy laying dormant in his cells.

Many times in our culture there is great emphasis put on how we die. Was it an honorable death? And I hope that when the day comes I will face my own death without flinching. But I now realize that the real test is how we live. What legacy are we leaving behind? Did we love our enemies? Did we love and honor our spouse? Did we raise our children? Do we feed the poor and clothe the naked?

While I spent only an hour with Tom and Joyce I have rarely spent an hour better. In their own time of need they offered love/comfort to a stranger. And I suspect I am not the first. Theirs is a legacy of love, of kindness, of sincerity. Before we left we stood in a circle and held hands while Chris prayed for healing, for endurance, for grace. Holding Joyce’s hand for that brief moment was like holding the hand of my mother.

October 24, 2008

Releasing The Bosom Serpent

It may be a good idea or the height of folly but I have started a companion blog to this one. I see the new blog, The Bosom Serpent, as the equal but opposite reaction, the dark side of the force. NIMS will continue with posts from the narrative of my life through stories, essays, photographs and videos. The focus here will remain on Orthodoxy and the exploration of my faith.

At The Bosom Serpent there will be lots of creative pieces that are not a good fit here. There are already a few items posted at the new site but it is mostly silly stuff. Both blogs will continue until I get too burned out or just can’t keep up. If something has to give I suspect I would stay here at NIMS and let The Bosom Serpent go.

Let me know what you think. I have posted hyperlinks on both blogs linking them together and making it easy to shift from one to the other.

October 23, 2008

October 20, 2008

Too Tired To Move, Too Restless To Sleep

Below is what more or less sprung from my mind on this very black day. I apologize for the subject matter.

Depression is moment to moment torment, trapped in the everydayness, the immediate now. Bleak with no hope of hope, her box now empty, the wheel in the bottom of the turn. No hope of transformation.

Sleep is the only solace where life no longer impinges on my senses unfiltered. Prone to tears when even the smallest sadness becomes a behemoth. Swimming in lethargy too tired to move, too restless to sleep. Beyond the transience of melancholy out into the deep water of despair. The fall into the blackness unceasing, the crushing pressure, the blindness, heart racing, lungs tearing, thrust to the surface for a teasing gulp of life before being dragged down again. Into the dark depths, stranded in the blackness.

Knowing it will pass but not knowing how to hold out that long. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe.

Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me a sinner.

October 10, 2008

Prison Blues

This my second attempt at making a video and my first posted here. The song is obviously not my creation but is Keb' Mo' performing his cover version of Johnny Cash's classic Folsom Prison Blues.

The images and poor production values are all mine.

October 6, 2008

Whisper Book On The Purple Cloud

My daughter created these masterpieces on the front of the refrigerator this evening. For the better part of an hour she just let the logical world fall away and and gave way to the delights of word play. I of course did everything I could to keep from interupting her.

September 30, 2008

Beating A Dead Horse

I am done with all the bridge photos but this one seemed especially intriguing.

September 29, 2008

Bifröst - The Tremulous Way

These photos were taken near, or of, a bridge a few blocks from work. Even in the mundane everydayness the beauty is out there.

In Norse mythology Bifröst is the name of the rainbow bridge linking Midgard (our world) to Asgard (realm of the gods). To my Orthodox brothers and sisters, fear not. I am not a neo-pagan but I have long been a student of mythology (especially Norse). I find the stories, the images, the culture to be endlessly fascinating.

September 28, 2008

Rough Road To Nowhere

One night last week a burglar struck in my neighborhood and made off with a large number of items including a riding mower on a trailer that belongs to the mayor. By midmorning the next day we had a suspect. When we arrived at where we believed he was living to serve a search warrant he fled into the nearby woods. After about an hour he was in custody and most of the stolen items recovered.

The mower was still on the trailer and sitting in plain view. The other stolen items were in a wooden shed on the property. Our quick response gave him no time to pawn or sell any of the loot. The home where the items were found is in an unincorporated area of the county largely populated by folks close living at or near the poverty line. We have responded many times to domestic disturbances, loud music, riding four wheelers, public drunkenness etc. I do not want to cast aspersions on the fine law abiding folks who call this neighborhood home. As is so often the case the whole neighborhood is identified by the actions of a few.
Searching the residence for stolen property brought back a lot of memories. There were piles of dirty clothes and dirty dishes everywhere. The child’s bedroom floor was littered with toys, clothes, blankets and the streamers from a set of pom-poms. We found a small amount of marijuana and a lot of drug related items including a box containing rolling papers and a syringe. The irony is that the box full of dangerous items sat on a sink with childproof locks on the cabinet. Childcare seemed to be just a series of empty gestures.

Despite the poor living conditions there were two large screen televisions (one of which was most likely stolen). I am not passing judgment on anyone but I do know what being raised in these conditions can do to a child. With little positive interaction between child and parent the child suffers. I have been very poor in my life and twice was saved from living on the street by a sister who loved me more than I deserved. Learning to make right decisions took a long, long time. Caring for your children should be at the top of the list and not something you do haphazardly. And I know that there is a big difference between being poor and being dirty. Being poor may be beyond your control but being clean and keeping a clean house is most certainly not.
I pray that the children in this household will grow to be healthy and happy but I know from experience the odds are stacked against them.

A Death Most Abrupt

I was stunned again today by the abruptness of death. At about 10:00 this morning I received a page stating there had been an accident involving a motorcycle and that the air ambulance was en route from Jacksonville. Before I could get to the scene the air ambulance was cancelled which meant the patient perished. The ground ambulance carried him to the local hospital where the formal process of pronouncing him was done.

On a flat straight stretch of road in clear weather a woman driving a minivan pulled out in front of a man riding a motorcycle. The man on the motorcycle tried his best to stop (as evident by the skid marks) but to no avail. No one in the van was physically injured (the passenger side of the van was smashed and the windshield broken) but the driver was inconsolable. She was on her way from her home in a subdivision to a yard sale in the south side of the same subdivision. Her failure to yield will forever haunt her. She and this stranger/victim and his family are now inextricably tied together. As I stood there and tried to gather information and take photographs the husband of the van driver was trying to make sense of it all and find out what possible outcomes faced his wife. Some of the outcomes would not be good but there wasn't much I could tell him until the investigation was complete.

I don’t know the story of the man riding the motorcycle other than he was only 34-years-old. Helmets are mandatory in Georgia and it looked like his took a pretty good hit.

This particular stretch of road holds a number of bad memories including several other automobile related deaths. In one case the victim was my nineteen year old neighbor. He had no ID but I knew who he was. I went to tell his sister at work at Wal-Mart. As I was telling her she called his cell phone repeatedly and left messages, messages he would never receive. I was certain death had arrived but she needed time to take it all in. It was one of the most emotional moments in my life and I hope to never again have to make a death notification. This road also reminds me of the death of an 11-year-old girl on an ATV, three suicides from self-inflicted gunshot wounds to the head (one of which we listened to live on the radio, another was the conclusion of a chase as the driver killed himself with at least 15 cops looking on) and two young brothers who died in a house fire.

I guess the moral is that we should remain vigilant and pray as the angel of death can manifest himself anytime anywhere. Don’t carry grudges or hatred in your heart. Be the first to say you’re sorry, the first to offer the olive branch. Tell those you love how much they mean to you. Don’t assume they know. And lookout for motorcycles, they’re everywhere.

September 25, 2008

Icarus Too Young

Icarus my son in a box inside a box lowered slowly into a hole
neatly trimmed. His broken body once supple now cold,
no blood, no warmth, no hope.

Too young, too young he soared from my hand
which shaped the wings of his escape. A man
he was not ready when the push became shove.

Now trapped in my mind’s labyrinth
the great artificer cannot free himself.

Cumberland Island

Cumberland Island is the southern most of Georgia’s barrier islands. They only way there is by boat so it is largely free from the effects of tourism and development. The undeveloped beach is a wonderful place. It’s like stepping back in time. On this recent trip we never made it to the beach but still brought back a large stash of good photos. And you can never get enough Spanish moss photos. The photo above was taken at the pier as we waited to go aboard for the trip over.

September 19, 2008

Words To Live By

“It is requisite for the ideal artist to possess a force of character that seems hardly compatible with its delicacy; he must keep his faith in himself while the incredulous world assails him with its utter disbelief; he must stand up against mankind and be his own sole disciple, both as respects his genius and the objects to which it is directed.”

Nathaniel Hawthorne
“The Artist of the Beautiful”

September 15, 2008

Honor And Old Glory

I took the top photo at about 8:15 this morning. The river is the St. Marys River and the green horizon beyond that is Florida. It was one of those moments that held me transfixed as I was overcome by pride/joy/sorrow. I stood offering silent thanks to our Creator, to all those who have come before who held fast to the dream of a place where freedom reigns. The sight of our flag waving in the cool morning breeze reminded me once again that freedom is not free.

I don’t consider myself a super patriot. On probably too many occasions I criticize the Federal Government in general and the Bush administration in particular. But I understand just how blessed I am to live in America, to have the right to vote, to enjoy the freedom to live my life as I see fit, to worship free of government's grasp. And today I was once again struck by the simple beauty of our national flag. I think too many times it becomes ornamentation in our lives, just the backdrop to some group function. In our daily grind we forget just how important our Old Glory truly is.

Simple symbolism. Seven red stripes and six white represent the thirteen colonies at the beginning of our journey to nationhood. Fifty stars in a blue field for the fifty states, each separate yet integral to the inviolate whole. Our flag demonstrates our unity as a nation, as a people. It reminds us of who we are and from where we come. It is a symbol of our might and our commitment to right, of our compassion and of our steadfastness in the face of adversity. It is the reminder of the blood spilled, of the lives lost in our defense.

As a proud American and a former Marine the Iwo Jima image is for me and for many of us particularly potent. The Greatest Generation's fight on two disparate and but equally deadly fronts. We were still a nation in the making until the slumbering giant awoke to the sound of guns, the scream of battle, the looming threat.

Despite ourselves, despite the shoddy treatment we have too many times given our veterans we are blessed beyond all measure.

To ALL the veterans out there, thank you.

September 13, 2008

Friends In Deed

A motorcycle run was held here today to raise money for two very ill children in our community. Both are on a long road to the ultimate goal of being disease free. I won’t post any names because I don’t know how the boy’s family would feel about it and I don’t want to cause them any additional stress. I ask that you lift these two precious children and their families up in your prayers. As you can see by the photos the entire community is doing everything they can to support the families.