Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bahia del Espiritu Santo

It must have been a beautiful sight, something that none will ever see, as it was, when the first Spanish explorers entered Mobile Bay. Of all the sights beheld by early explorers, this one must have been a real jewel. They called it the Bay of the Holy Spirit. The name appears on the earliest maps of the New World.

Like all things touched by the hands of civilized man, the bay has gone the way of civilization. Today it is only a pale reflection of what it was before Hernando de Soto sailed into the bay in 1540 dealing destruction and death to the native populations that resided here.

I view the bay through different eyes than those who only visit here, or who have moved here to retire, or those who really don’t care one way or another. I must admit that I’ve not always seen this way. My vision is changing. The more I read. The more I know. The more I look and observe. Conversatio Morum.

I’ve been around it long enough to have fifty-year memories. A half century, in the greater scheme of time, really isn’t much more than a breath. Some places, like mountains, change little in that breath of time. Other places, like the bay, change a lot. A lot for the worse in the case of this bay.

When I was a kid, Bahia del Espiritu Santo was a prime and productive fishery. On this side of the bay, places like Fly Creek, Weeks Bay, and Bon Secour were home to hundreds of small fishing boats. Small shrimp boats. Small oyster boats. Small mullet boats. Crabbers. A lot, if not most, of them hand built from cypress planks by their careful owners. The same is true for the other side of the bay.

The bay waters were beautiful and clear back then. Even as late as when I was a teenager I could wade belly button deep in the bay and still count the toes on my feet. Not so these days. The water is always cloudy. Murky.

Some people blame the demise of the fishery on all those small boats, on the people that eeked out a slight living in the heat and cold of Mobile Bay summers and winters.

Me? I see the demise of the bay coinciding with all the progress upstream and surrounding it. Paper mills and chemical plants. Clear cutting and development. Modern agricultural practices and sewage spills. Everything in Alabama flows to Mobile Bay via creeks that feed the rivers that empty into the bay. Not to mention the multiplied numbers of cargo ships entering and leaving the Port of Mobile daily. Daily churning the muddy channel like huge egg beaters.

It’s hard to see these things. I’m not surprised by them though. Pay day. It’s inevitable. Some day. Sometimes we pay for our sins in an instant. Sometimes it’s a cumulative thing played out over time.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Scratching A Thirty Three Year Itch

It was back in ’76 that I found an old, dusty copy of Slocum’s Sailing Alone Around The World and read it. In its wake I also read Robin Graham’s account of sailing the Dove around the world solo. Small boats. Big water.

Slocum was an old, weathered sailor retired from a lifetime of captaining sailing ships. His Spray was a 36’ sloop. Graham was a 16 year old kid at the outset of his journey. The Dove was a 24’ sloop. Both had their reasons for doing what they were doing. Reasons plenty legitimate to them though there were plenty of people that thought both of them were a little touched in the head with something bordering on lunacy.

Captain Slocum’s journey took three years. Graham’s was a five year trek that involved a generous amount of island hopping. Both encountered treacherous seas and conditions that most people would consider harrowing. Both experienced life and enjoyed adventures in ways that far exceeds the biggest dreams of most dreamers.

Slocum returned to his point of departure only to launch out again after a short time of walking on land. He never arrived at his destination in South America. Some think he may have encountered a hurricane and gone down in the deep.

Me? I don’t know. Nobody does. I do consider though that old Joshua may have simply turned the wheel and sailed Spray to one of those out of the way places that he knew of where he lived out his days in either absolute solitude or in the company of friendly natives that vowed to never disclose his whereabouts.

Graham returned to his point of departure, put the sea behind him, attempted college on a generous scholarship and, in a sense, turned the wheel and moved to a remote mountain location in Montana. He’s still there.

Both Slocum and Graham realized something of the futility that most people immerse themselves in. Graham so much as says so. Both refused to be drowned in the dark, murky waters of futility. They dared to chart their own courses in life in ways that cut across the lines drawn by safe and comfortable avenues.

There are few books, one is the Bible, that I ever read more than once. Slocum’s and Graham’s I’ve read three times and will read again. Maybe this year.

Thirty three years. 1976 – 2009.

It’s really hard to find the words to describe what it feels like to have a thirty three year itch scratched. It’s an itch that has never left me. Oh. I learned to ignore it. Deny it. Pretend it wasn’t there.

But it has always come back. Every time I’ve stood beside a body of water large enough to launch even a sailing dinghy on. Or motored on the water. No little surface rash. Something bone deep. At times it’s come on with a vengeance. And there has been no possible way to scratch it.

Until.

I was expecting a nice little excursion as a guest onboard a 35’ sloop complete with a pot luck lunch on the water. Little did I know that only a few minutes after the sails were filled with wind that I’d be standing the helm.

North winds 10 to 20.

Making hull speed of 8 knots.

Across the Bay and back again.

Close to 4 hours at the wheel.

I knew others were onboard and I did carry on a little conversation as we sailed. For the most part, though, I was alone with a dream.

At last.

Listening to sails filled with wind.

Boat heeling quite sharply at times when the gusts would come.

Small waves pushing against the hull.

Feeling the effects of the wind and waves on the boat and holding course.

Passing to the stern of a cargo ship in the channel.

Steering to avoid logs and debris on the west side of the Bay.

I missed lunch on the trip. I didn’t mind. There’s plenty of time in life for eating. But this? I needed both hands on the wheel.

Some itches are incurable. Scratching only drives them deeper into the bones.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Mile Markers

They tell us some things if we pay attention to them. They tell us where we are so we have some geographical perspective as to our whereabouts. They tell us how far we’ve traveled. They remind us of how far we have yet to go to reach a particular distant destination.

Thoughts on the occasion of turning 55 on this first day of spring:

Oh yeah. Thank you. I’m doing quite nicely for a ’54 model.

It’s kind of funny how we expect things to be a certain way at a certain point in life. As though we really have some control over the way life is supposed to pan out. I’ve tried it. Several times. Time and again. Oh the best laid plans of mice and men! Foxes. Little foxes. Running everywhere. Not to mention the occasional wolf dressed in sheepskin. Or my own plain stupidity.

Time and again I thought I had it figured out. Time and again I launched myself in one direction or another. Relationships ended disastrously. Ministerial careers paths swallowed, digested, discharged, and left me feeling like ... . Secular jobs? More than a few in diverse categories.

Don’t misunderstand. There is no “crying in my beer” going on here. No poor, poor pitiful me syndrome. I’m one of the most fortunate souls plodding the sod. Academically educated. Scarred by the hard ugliness of life. A pioneer. A survivor. Multi-crafted. Multi-skilled. Happily mowing grass and doing lawn care in a very God-real world. Content. Honestly content.

Life?

Something fluid and flowing and meant to be lived with a sense of casual anticipation.

Questions?

Plenty of questions begging for answers. More questions than answers, enough to generate generous levels of insanity.

Dilemma?

Not many simple yes or no answers.

Two grand conclusions at the 55 marker:

I’m not as smart as I thought I was. I suppose there are some people that are glad I finally figured that out. Oh. I’m still plenty smart. I prefer to think of it as refined intelligence. But admitting my own shortfall in the knowledge department, avoiding showing my ignorance by trying to act real smart, has really begun to spare me some of the difficulties that I’ve always had a way of incurring for myself when I lived in the “fixing people” realm.

In some ways I’m smarter than I think I am. Maybe smarts have nothing to do with it. Maybe I’ve fallen onto a streak of luck after all these years. No. Luck has nothing to do with the life I’m living. I prefer to think that I’ve found a hidden bag of pearls. Paid the price for the field. Learned to honestly count the cost involved in building towers. Some towers take a lot of coin. A lot more coin than I have in my pocket.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Beyond Feelings

There are days, plenty of them, when the least thing I feel is … how do you say … spiritual?

Most days I feel pretty common. No shiny gold nugget here. More like another dull green copper cent in a barrel full of corroded pennies. The things I do and how I feel in my workaday world are not so far removed from that of others scratching for a few specks of grain in today’s economy.

Thank God my subjective feelings and perceptions honestly do nothing to determine, define, and decree Reality. God doesn’t depend on my feelings and he’s honestly never asked me my opinion about his business. He simply asks that I walk with him in the midst of life as it is. Feelings are not an accurate indication of spirituality.

“I Am That I Am,” says God.

It rained today.

It actually started raining night before last.

But today it rained more. Mostly all day. Unbroken clouds. Low clouds. Water filled clouds. It’s still raining and supposed to rain more tonight. 5.5 inches in the gauge since it started. We needed a good rain. It’s been dry for several weeks now.

I enjoyed the rain-out from my regular work routine today, especially considering the work schedule that I’ve kept for the past couple of weeks. The rain-out gave me “time” for other important things that made a fruitful day.

Going to an early dentist appointment.

Spending some time with my aging parents where I ate lunch with them, and with my sister, albeit with a sore mouth.

Taking the truck to the mechanic down the road to find and repair a brake fluid leak.

Important stuff that’s easy to neglect, re-schedule, or put on the back burner until it’s more convenient, turns into an ache, spends its life, or totally breaks down and has to be towed.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Good Company

How does a person, or a people, undo and make right generations of injustice?

What does it take for a person, or a people, to see and honestly feel aghast at the inhumanities perpetuated by agendas of conquest and domination, regardless of their source, regardless of how right they may superficially seem, regardless of their public popularity?

When does the rape and murder of another person or people become justifiable for the sake of the preservation and perpetuation of another person or people?

* Inquisitions.
* Holy wars.
* The calculated and orchestrated repression and extinction of Native American civilizations.
* Unholy wars to protect “our” interests.

A short and very incomplete list.

Enough of a list to quickly generate a label.

“Subversive.”

Operating outside the norms of popular social acceptability.

Oh well.

If questioning the validity of things as they appear makes one a subversive, if empathizing and identifying with the unjustly wounded makes one a subversive, I suppose I will gladly wear the label and gladly be counted among the subversives over in the left hand corner.

Over on the left. Far away from popular social norms.

Come to think of it, that’s where Christ stood and still stands. Regardless of where Christianity, as the organized pluralistic religion it has become, may stand.

I like the company that I’m keeping.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Pray And Work


Every day.

A timed event.

A timely event.

Begging for attention.

Without fail the eastern sky begins to lighten. Daybreak dawns with renewed opportunity as part of a Plan that is bigger, greater, and grander than any of our peanut intellects can possibly grasp in its totality. Our best understanding will always find itself rooted in mystery.

God residing in heaven.

God residing in the hearts of people.

God at work in the world.

Some people live with shade covered eyes and cotton filled ears. Not wanting to see. Not wanting to hear. Not ambitious for anything that will rearrange and reorient their dreamful lives.

Some have, in one way or another, by one means or another, lost their dark shades and the light of God is able to strike the lenses of their eyes. They have lost the cotton in their ears and are able to hear at least some of the fine tunes broadcast from the realms of heaven and from realms deeply embedded in all that heaven has produced.

Today? Like other days.

Pray and work.

I think my prayers are becoming more and more humility filled. I note this with some reluctance because of my own innate tendency toward pride and the insidious pseudo-humility disguise that it can cloak itself in.

I work appreciatively, growing even more appreciative, considering the vast numbers of people without employment or with insufficient employment. Life is real, sometimes all too real. For a growing number of people unable to make ends meet, life is real hard and growing even harder.

I am, indeed, a fortunate soul.

The first yellow light of the sun is bathing the earth. Kiss the Son. Pray. Work. Allow God room to expand his Plan in my heart and mind.

Grant to me, Savior of Glory,
The fear of God,
The love of God,
And His affection,
And the will of God to do on earth at all times
As angels and saints do in heaven.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Dancing With Phantoms

“It would be so easy and consoling to say, at every moment: this thing I am doing is regarded by everyone as a sure means of attaining to perfection and to the possession of God. But would the peace and consolation I felt have anything necessarily to do with perfection or the possession of God? Might it not after all turn out to be the greatest of all illusions? A surrender to the authority of common opinion – “They say.” How weak our consciences are! We give in and shut our eyes. We have conformed to “them.” We are at peace. “They say” this is perfection.

Much more to the point: The prayer that struggles to get out of myself and reach God, in obscurity, in trial, fighting down the phantoms.”[1]

There will always be those who think that some “other” has managed to get it all together, perfected themselves in a way that makes them worthy to be admired as an example. Too, in this age of media and modernism, there is no shortage of people declaring themselves to be examples of Christian perfection, life coaches, and spiritual directors.

I must admit, when following lesser models, that I joined the ranks of those who “think” they are such examples. I was, after all, emulating, imitating, the modern models that “seemed” to be doing everything right, those that best fit the mold of the modern mindset. I was dancing a dance that borrowed steps from the best of the institutionalized and non-institutionalized church world arenas. I was dancing the dance.

What I didn’t realize was that I was stepping all over my own feet and the feet of others. My own well-intentioned desires and purest ambitions created a blindness that kept me from seeing the faces, the forms and characters, of my phantom dancing partners.

[1] Thomas Merton, A Search for Solitude, p.75

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Morphing

When I was a younger man, going through those stages of becoming an evangelical preacher, I looked for models to emulate. I had, after all, never been a preacher. I was interested in being a good model. I wanted to make an impact on the world. I wanted to do my part in proclaiming the Gospel. I wanted to look the part and I think my motives were pure.

So I looked for models, models that I thought were appropriate, models that met the bill for life as a preacher of the Gospel in these modern times.

It’s interesting, at least to me, how we are influenced in our decision making processes, how we select models that appear to be successful and labor hard to incorporate their appearance into our own. The dress. The walk. The talk. Styles and appearances. The things that attract a dull mind and shallow heart.

It’s funny. One day I was living in jeans, t-shirts, and walking with flops on my feet. The next day I was wearing wing-tips and 3 piece suits. Well. It wasn’t actually a transition in a day.

The morph occurred during my Bible College experience. I entered school a plain version of myself in my early conversion. I walked out a sleek and groomed subversion of myself, armed with an acquired doctrinal bent, set loose by my trainers like a dog on a hunt. I really thought I looked the part. And I really thought I could sniff, bark, and howl with the best of the contemporary pack.

Several years ago, my wardrobe changed again. A lot, besides outward appearances, changed. Though to most that knew me at the time it appeared as an overnight change, it really was a cumulative thing that involved several variables working together over time. Hard stuff. Drive you to your knees stuff. Stuff that makes you really think and sort through more than the clothes closet. Stuff that makes you dig deep into the heart closet.

Stuff that makes you look for models that are more representative and more accurate portrayals of the life of the Original Model, a Model and models more worth emulating. It’s funny, in a sad sort of way, how easily we can emulate lesser models and how difficult it is to follow the Model and those that are most like him. It just simply goes against the grain of contemporary thought, patterns, and styles. It cuts, like a rasp, against our own grain.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The SDS Brand

Brands.

We wear them whether we want to or not. They are burned indelibly onto us, into us. Some of them are markings of our own making. Some of them are forced upon us by the societies that surround us. Some brands are more insidious, marking us little by little, so we aren’t aware of them until they become conspicuous, usually to others before we are aware of them ourselves.

I’m scarred by brands that I’m not at all proud of and do my best to keep them covered, keep them secret. Cover them as I may, they are still there. They are etched into my mind as reminders, sometimes constant, sometimes occasional, of stupid choices that I’ve made in the course of my life.

I wear brands that I once boasted of but now view in a much different light. These are more difficult to cover. They have a way of bleeding through their coverings like bloody wounds soaking through a white shirt. Sometimes this is a good thing. Sometimes it presents problems.

I do wear some brands that I am proud of and I’ve grown evermore careful of what brands I choose to wear. I’m watchful these days of loose branding irons waiting to sear my flesh and blister my backside. Oh. And there are times when I take pleasure in rending my brand covering garments just to show people that I’m really nothing more than a brand scarred freak.

The world that we live in is one big mess. I offer no apologies for thinking most of the time that its case is hopeless. Yeah. There are those moments, almost shining moments, when I start wanting to think that some overall hope for society is glimmering on a distant horizon. But the glimmering just doesn’t last. It quickly fades. One mirage is replaced by another. The real issues, those terrible Seven Deadly Sins (SDS), are sidestepped and the whole reeling mess of confusion overtakes itself with another round of the deadly seven.

There is only one Antidote possessing the potential to undo the effects of the ill created by the aforementioned seven. One. Only one. Easy answer? No.

Hard answer. Yes. Complicated by all the decimating and detracting divisions that render the Unus Voce practically null and void in the clamor and clanging of this modern world where individualism reigns as a demi-god.

It’s a hard pill to swallow answer. One dose is not the cure. It takes many doses of that one hard pill and that’s just for starters. The SDS disease is incurable and prone to flair-ups at any given moment. Its insidious nature makes it easy for SDS to disguise itself, wrap and conceal itself in garments of pseudo-righteousness that deceive its host victims.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Icterids

Icterids. I can’t stand them. They aren’t around all the time but, when they come, they come in droves and hang around for seasons that are entirely too long. Noisy, squawking, voracious, devouring, flying creatures that flaunt their physical size, exercise their mass supremacy, overrun our feeders, and deprive our small, musical, beautiful feathered guests of the food that we supply them.

They empty our feeders in a matter of minutes, leaving not so much as a grain for the other birds. Once they’ve devoured everything in sight they sit high in the tops of the trees squawking their coarse and grating notes. It’s as though they are demanding that I refill the feeders at their command.

I can’t shoot them. Oh, there was a day! The noise of a gun would frighten away the gentle ones that our feeders attract. Plus, we have too many close neighbors that wouldn’t appreciate low flying projectiles buzzing through their yards.

Shooting Icterids is a hopeless resort even if it does provide a momentary sense of personal gratification. They just keep coming, drove after squawking, migrating drove. I know a man that finally quit feeding the birds. He grew weary of replacing his feeders after destroying them year after year with rifle bullets.

When the Icterids are around it costs more to feed the other birds. I keep feeding. At least the more important birds have an opportunity to scrounge for a grain or two of sustenance.

I’ve not learned to live with Icterids. That would indicate certain depths of acceptance, degrees of co-existence, places I’m not willing to go. But I live with them, nonetheless, in a relationship that will ever and always be an adversarial one. Yes. They, too, are God’s creatures.

So are mosquitoes and fleas. Pit vipers and Brown Recluse spiders.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Centennial Post

It’s been a year to the day since I began this blog.

I think it a little interesting that today’s post will also make the 100th Oblate Offering post since this little endeavor began. That, to me, is something of a milestone. At least a small one, perhaps a very insignificant one, in the self-published literary world made available by wwwdotwhateverdotcom where anybody with a computer and internet connection can vent, proclaim, ponder, or otherwise blog their thoughts on a zillion topics.

I honestly have no idea how many people take the time to read what I place here. When I started this blog I considered placing a counter on it but decided that such a thing would be counter-productive to a certain “unknowing” nature that I’ve grown to appreciate.

Occasionally what I blog generates a kind comment from someone or another. On one occasion I received a rash of mean and scolding comments from some badly bent fellow that honestly were not worth approving. Honest and objective criticism I can take. Rash and demeaning criticism? Though there is plenty of it being dished out, no human being deserves it. It accomplishes no good at all.

I do know how many times someone has looked at my profile. Good? Bad? Indifferent? I don’t know. I prefer not to attempt drawing any conclusions from such anonymous and narrow statistical data. I respect anonymity. I prefer only to consider that there is at least that number of people seeking something and I can only hope that maybe, just maybe, someone found a morsel that helped them along to wherever they are going.

Me? I’m just a road-weary pilgrim limping along, stopping to enjoy whatever shade I can find, learning to discern the difference between sweet and bitter water, and trying to put into practice the truth as I understand it.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m an odd fellow, an opinionated person. I’ve been bent by the harsh winds of life. My bark has been peeled more times than I care to think about. I have, time and again, foolishly leaped into the fire and suffered for it. Some of us, more likely most of us, are hard-learning. I am one of most prime examples.

Through it all, unmerited grace has sustained me and my faith continues to develop and grow. It is, more and more, losing its theoretical nature and dressing itself in more practical terms. Faith is for living. What good is something that we talk about if we don’t live it?

God has, and continues to be, very kind to me.

Deo Gratias.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Roots

Truth involves more than our heads. It goes beyond our ability to think and decide for ourselves, although these faculties and processes are integral in discovering and knowing truth. There is much that is decided for us in the embrace that conceived us and long before the moment when we begin recognizing something as valid and valuable.

Mathew and Melinda. Alabama Tories. I never met them. Somehow, though, I feel like I know them and have always known them. Mysteriously. Intimately. Ancestrally. It’s something uncanny, hard to define with words. Yet it is something unavoidable and as real as my own breath and pulse. It is, after all, their genes that have trickled down to me via my maternal line.

I rate finding my Great, Great Grandmother’s grave in the same category as my meeting the Great, Great Granddaughter of Chief Red Cloud. Accidents? No.

We were on a quest to find graves of my maternal ancestors. The Chief’s granddaughter crossed my path on the plains of Western Kansas in 2002 at a time when I was becoming aware of the terrible injustice dealt to the First Peoples by the greed filled European immigrants that knew how to deal in lead and gunpowder to get what they wanted. Both of these were personally moving experiences, spiritual events in my life.

No. I’m not talking about some kind of weird metaphysical hocus pocus, connecting with spirits, or any of that sort of witchery. I don’t have visitations, visions, or hear voices in the dark … the stuff that surrounds dabbling on the dark side, séances, or spiritual mediums. Heaven forbid. And it does forbid.

It has more to do with understanding, having a mind for history, and a heart hunger to know the real deal, the honest truth, truth that has a way of peeling the scales off our eyes, truth that rises like the sun to burn away the fog that keeps us from seeing where we’ve been, where we are at, or where we are going. Sadly, most people, practically all white people, live in a dense fog.

Truth involves matters of the heart that are not easily scientifically defined and explained. Roots stuff. Roots that are attached to and anchored in generations that have gone before. Roots tapping into resources that have a definite determining effect on life as it is lived today.

Roots that bring the best and the worst in us to light.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Rose

Christ taught that those who listened to him would know the truth and that truth would set them free.[1] Truth, though universal in its implications, is not easily accepted. Its very nature has a way of completely rocking our personal world.

Truth has a way of calling us to take an honest and skeptical look at things, at systems, at governments, at ways of life and agendas that pervert the truest senses of freedom by creating and maintaining enslaving environments. Truth calls for consideration, for reconsideration. It calls us to take some kind of affirmative action on the conclusions arrived at in the revelation of itself.

When the truest senses of freedom are perverted, injustice, the product of degenerated freedom, becomes an economy of acceptable human behavior. Socially approved and licensed greed, pride, and fear driven behavior. At all levels of society. Personally, nationally, and globally.

The more I unpopularly seek and question, the more Truth ferrets me out, the more I realize how I’ve been lied to by the spin doctors purporting to have good in mind, the more I realize how easy it’s been for me to believe the lies and live the lies.

I was born into blindness. It is part of my natural cultural heritage. I had no choice in the matter. In my own blindness I allowed blind leaders to lead me into a maze of sewage filled ditches where I learned to accept and appreciate the stench as though it were the fragrance of a garden of roses.

Somewhere along the way, wafting above all the human stench in the ditches, I caught a whiff of the fragrant and unmistakable scent of a rose. I sought it. When I finally found it I grasped and clutched it by its thorny stem to pluck and keep it for my own.


[1] John 8:32