Category Archives: Theology

Proverbs 5

PROVERBS 5

     I have been pondering Jake’s sermon on Proverbs 5 and Wisdom for a couple of weeks now, chewing on it and trying to put it into a context that I can deal with.  Here’s where I stand in this endeavor at this point.

I was instantly bothered by the format of a father warning his son to stay away from the adulteress who was seeming lurking around every corner.  It sounded like little Shimron could hardly walk to the 7-11 to buy a couple of fig cakes and some new wine in a new skin without at least a couple or three adulteresses hitting him up on the way home for a little hanky-panky.

What I couldn’t help feeling is that it would probably be far more necessary to issue such warnings to daughters than to sons, when you consider the precarious position of women in that patriarchal society.  Now to be fair, women enjoyed far greater status in Hebrew culture than they did among the surrounding peoples, from being declared to be created in the image of God in Genesis 1, to gaining legal rights in Numbers 27 (the Daughters of Zelophehad) to being treated equally with men by Jesus.

Still, nobody can reasonably say that women were likely to be the sexual aggressors in Israel in Solomon’s day, or for that matter anything like equal.  So that issue bothered me from the beginning and perhaps distracted me somewhat from the main points of the sermon.  That left me to fill in my own gaps, which is always a dangerous thing.

But I did just that, and this is the result.  So far.  My first move was to put down my twenty first century lenses and stop trying to view the Bible as if I was a twenty year old sophomore  at Harvard fleeing to a safe space.  Proverbs 5 was written at the beginning of the last millennium before the birth of Jesus and the Middle East was then, as it continues to be to this day, a male world.  So if it sounds a little androcentric, like, duh!

What struck me though, once I began to consider the book for what it is, is that the woman who really counts is Wisdom; Sophia.  She is wise, she is ancient, she is almost omnipresent, if not indeed omnipresent.  She was present at the creation of things and danced with joy as God the Father did Their work.  Wisdom is calling to you, ready to give you insight that will benefit you in every way if you will only come to her.  In fact, it seems as if she is more likely to waylay you on your way to the 7-11, and try to knock some sense into your head before you buy any of those hot dogs that go round and round in the little countertop ovens. You know, maybe she should be called She; She is sort of like a feminine Jesus, but I don’t know about my theological foundation on that one.

What I’ve decided, however, is this:  Chapter 5 of Proverbs is providing a contrast; the Way of Wisdom and the way of folly.  Both ways are presented in a female form; it’s not like “Be like the Smart Dude and stay away from the Ho.”  No, to me its more like “Take the smart road and not the stupid one,” and nothing more than that.

Something I haven’t quite sussed out for myself however is whether or not God used the feminine gender for His portrayal of both wisdom and folly in Proverbs 5 in order to hint to the very masculine culture of the day (and just about all succeeding cultures to this day) that their androcentric views might be off of God’s tracks a little bit.  In that chapter both the Way of Wisdom and the way of folly are female; there’s no Great Male Way offered.  Was this an early act of God, pressing forward the process of reconciling men and women in equality and respect, a process that is taking a distressingly long time to bear fruit?  I don’t know.  I’ll have to think about that some more.

 

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The Garden, Chapter XXII

“I thought that I was going to die right then and there” Charlie said.  “Those guys have hair triggers.  I really didn’t realize how bad they have it.”  Jason chuckled softly around a mouthful of hash brown potatoes while LuAnn shook her head and clucked her disapproval.

“You’ve come back too far and you’re too close to seeing your boy to be fooling around with such things” Lu Ann told him.  “Those men are dangerous, Charlie Hamer.  Don’t you go getting yourself killed just because you feel sorry for them.”

“It’s not that I feel sorry for them, LuAnn” Charlie replied.  “They’re my friends.  They stood with me when I was pretty deep in a hole.  I just didn’t really understand how deep their own hole is.  They’re always going to be my friends; at least, as far as I’m concerned.  I’ll just have to understand that situations where they’re involved can get out of hand and try to be as helpful and supportive as I can, if and when they do.”

“That sounds like the best talk that I ever heard about such things” Jason said as he put down his fork with a sausage link impaled on it.  “You got no idea what it can be like for us vets coming back from those hellholes.  Well, I guess you sorta got and idea, Charlie, with the trouble that you’ve been through, but most people don’t.  I suppose my folks tried, best as they knew how to help me, but usually I just pissed them off and didn’t even know how or why I did it.  That’s why I went to live mostly outside.  Auntie Lu here was the only one who just accepted me and didn’t try to fix me.”

“Auntie Lu?” Charlie interrupted.

“Yeah.  We didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, but you’re pretty much like family now.  Anyway, Aunt Lu and Uncle Duane, God rest his soul, let me stay in a room off the back of their garage whenever I wanted a roof.  They never even offered me so much as a cup of coffee, but that’s ‘cuz I told ‘em that I wasn’t going to sponge off of them so don’t offer it.  At first I didn’t think they could do it, but they did.”

“But you accepted breakfast here” Charlie said.  “I’m not meaning to be argumentative, but how was that different?”

Well, Leroy wasn’t kin to me.  I worked some in the kitchen, as much as I could anyway, to pay for it.  And I still do when I’m not at work at the hospital.  Nobody was keeping records, but I’ll know when the bill’s paid up.”

“Now, you know that there ain’t no bill” LuAnn said.  “Not that you’ll listen to me anyway.  Well, I guess I’d better go earn my pay.  You boys’ll have to do without me for a spell.”  LuAnn walked away and began to minister to her customers’ needs, leaving Charlie and Jason alone at their table.

“So, you didn’t come home with any wounds, did you?”  Charlie asked.  “Physical ones, I mean.”

“No” Jason said.  “And that’s the funniest thing.  Guys were getting zapped left and right of me, but I never got touched.  I could hear the bullets going past my head.  You ever heard one?”  Charlie shook his head in the negative.  “Well” Jason continued, “they make the nastiest damned sound, sort of whistles and wobbles as it goes over your head or past your ear.  No ricochets, no ‘POW’, none of that Hollywood shit.

Well Anyway, guys got taken out with mortars, IEDs, small arms, you name it, but not me.  By the end of my tour guys would want to be with me ‘cuz they figured I’m lucky, but it didn’t do ‘em no good.  They’d get stitched up the middle or whatever and I’d be right next to ‘em and not get a scratch.”

“Sounds to me like you really were lucky” Charlie said.  “That’s a lot of nasty lead and explosives that was playing around out there.  Shoot, I’m surprised that anyone can go through, what is it, a year?”

“I was there two years.”

“OK, two years.  That makes you even luckier.”

“Yeah, I suppose it does.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m much happier about coming home in one piece than I would be about coming home in several.  Still, I can’t forget those guys who weren’t any worse or any better than me, and they got their heads shot off or went home on a stretcher or in a wheelchair.  I mean, sometimes I actually feel bad that I never got a Purple Heart.  It’s like I was shirking or something, but I wasn’t.

There’s nights when I wake up sweating, and I know that I’ve been rolling and kicking on the bed ‘cuz the blankets are all kicked off on the floor.  Usually it’s because I’ve been having the same dream: I’m in a firefight and I take one somewhere.  Usually it’s in the gut, but it can hit me just about anywhere.  Anyway, I know that it’s a bad one and that I’m going to die, and you know what?  I’m glad.  In those dreams I’m glad I finally got hit like my buddies did.  I’m finally one of them; I’ve earned their respect.  I’ve sorta earned my own self-respect.

Then I wake up and realize I’m home and still in one piece, so I would go live outside and make my way partly on the street.  You know, it’s dangerous out there.  You can get yourself hurt out there just as easy as you can in Iraq or Afghanistan.  I think I was trying to pick up my Purple Heart out on the streets.  At least, that’s what the VA counselor thinks, and I think he’s probably right.”

“So your counseling is helping you with all that?” Charlie asked.

“Yeah” Jason replied.  “I’m going more regularly now.  He’s a pretty sharp cookie and he’s right a lot of the time.  Some of the other guys are hard for me to be around though.  I mean, they’re so down that it’s like they project some sort of bad gravity.  It’s weird, but seeing them I figured that I’m not such a basket case after all, and it got easier to live with my shit.”

“Well, I’m glad you did, Jason” Charlie said.  “My counselor has helped more than I ever thought she could.  Man, there’s just no easy way to get your head straightened out once it gets jacked up by something, is there?  And speaking of my counselor, it’s time for me to pay up and go see her.  You take care, Jason, and congratulations on doing so well at your job and getting a handle on your issues.”

Charlie put some money on the table and pushed his chair back.  He knew by now what his favorite breakfast would cost and left that plus a generous tip next to his plate.  He waved to LuAnn as he walked to the door and then he stepped out into the brilliant sunshine of a late summer day.  In ten minutes he was seated in his usual place on the love seat in D’Andra’s cottage, with Salome turning and kneading in his lap, preparing for a nap in what had become one of her favorite spots.

D’Andra emerged from the kitchen with a cup of her delicious coffee and placed it on the table by Charlie’s elbow.  “This morning I’m trying my hand at croissants.  I’ve never made them before, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.”

“I have faith in your baking skills” Charlie answered.  “I’m sure that they’ll be wonderful.”

“We’ll know in about 15 minutes” D’Andra said with her warm smile.  “Shall we get started?”  Charlie agreed to that as D’Andra sat into her large chair close to him.

“So tell me about your camping trip.  How did that go?”

Charlie recounted the trip with Walt and Billy, sparing no details except for toning down Walt’s story of Bertie’s torture at the hands of the Viet Cong, and his ending of the horribly disfigured soldier’s misery during the battle.

“Well, that’s pretty frightening!” D’andra exclaimed.  “I’m glad that it worked out with nobody getting hurt.”

“Yeah, I am too.  Especially me!  I just didn’t know how deeply those guys were wounded by their experiences.  It made me feel like a baby for falling apart over my problems, which seem so much less than theirs.”

D’Andra took a sip of her tea and said “Um.”  She thought for a moment and then continued with “There’s a couple of things I would like to discuss about that Charlie.  To begin with, I don’t believe that your trauma was any less than theirs.  What I mean is, you were no less shocked and impacted by your circumstances than your friends were by theirs.  I hope that you don’t feel like your troubles should somehow be considered insignificant, because they surely were not.”

“No” Charlie agreed.  “I suppose that they weren’t.  But Walt and Billy saw so much of that stuff while they were overseas.  I can’t even imagine what they must have gone through.  I’ve never seen anything like that.”

“And how many of their daughters did they see die over there?  How many of their children did they have to bury?” D’andra asked.  “How many of them had mature families fall apart while they were unable to organize a straight thought from one minute to the next?  Now, I’m not trying to minimize their pain, but I hope you can see that you do nobody any good by minimizing your own.”

Charlie thought about that for a minute and then decided that, once again, D’Andra was right.  “OK” he said.  “I see your point.  I’ll try to be easier on myself.”

“Good” D’Andra said.  “You deserve it.  Now, there’s another point that I would like to discuss, and that was your response during the confrontation.”

“My response was that I nearly crapped in my underwear, and then I chewed out my two best friends.”

D’Andra laughed and took a sip of her tea.  “I would have crapped my own underwear if I would have been there” she said, and laughed once again.  Charlie laughed too, took a sip of his coffee and scratched a purring Salome behind her ear.  “But there’s more to it than that” D’Andra continued.

“I think you would have to say that you were in a very stressful situation and you were making analyses, connecting dots, and managing a situation that could have left people killed or injured.  You got everyone home alive and well that day.  I believe that shows an ability to see a problem from the outside when you are very much on the inside of it.  Your handling of the situation, at least as nearly as I can tell by what you shared with me of it, indicates to me that you were the most rational person there, and I believe that says a lot about how your mind is healing from your long hurt.”

A timer went off in the kitchen and D’Andra said “Hold that thought” as she arose and went to inspect her new creation.  Charlie was glued to his spot by a very comfortable cat and so D’Andra had to conduct her inspection alone, although he was very curious about her success.  D’andra returned momentarily with a down look on her face.

“Well” she said.  “The people who wrote the recipe warned me to not be discouraged if I failed on my first try.  Would you care for some dough that is well baked but has little else to recommend it?”

Charlie was still full from his recent breakfast but agreed to try D’Andra’s failed experiment.  He always left just a little room in his stomach when he came to D’Andra’s cottage.  She went back into the kitchen and quickly returned with what looked to him like two very reasonable facsimiles of a croissant, with a small dish of butter and another with a lingonberry jelly.  “They look fine to me” he told her.

“You’re a very kind person, Charlie, but you’re an awful liar” D’Andra replied.

“No, I’m serious” Charlie said.  He smeared a little butter and jelly on one of the slightly flattened pastries and took a bite.  The dough was, in fact, cooked, but it lacked the lightness of a true croissant.  “OK.  I guess they’re not perfect, but they’re still pretty good.”

“Go ahead” she told him.  “Get all of that B.S. out of your system now.  We’ll tell only the truth for the rest of your hour.”

“All right” he said.  “So maybe they do need a little work.  They still taste pretty good to me though, and you’re not going to get me to back down on that.”

“Fair enough” she said with a chuckle.  “So let’s get back to business.  As I was saying, you handled that situation well.  Sure, you were scared.  Who wouldn’t be scared?  But you thought your way through it and responded appropriately.  I think that says a lot about where you are at now.”

“Well, I wish I could say that I had it all under control, but I mostly pulled it out of my rear.”

“All the better, as I see it.  You weren’t reading a script.  You had to think and act under pressure to avert something very bad from happening, and you did just that, when all’s said and done.”

“Yeah, I guess I sort of did.  Huh!  I didn’t think of it like that.”

“And this brings me to your next face-off with a different game warden, so to speak.”

“You mean this Sunday, I think.”

“Yes, exactly.  You are going to be going into that meeting with exactly as much preparation for what could happen as you had last weekend up in the mountains.  What is Maureen going to say to you?”

“Uh, I don’t know.  Was that a real question?”

“Yes, Charlie.  I’m serious here.  What is she going to say to you, and how is she going to react when she sees you?  Will she be civil?  Will she be hostile?  Will she be interested in your life?  Or will she care if you live at all?”

“Well heck, I don’t know.  We didn’t seem to hate each other when we separated, although I came to believe that she did as time passed.  How would I know what to expect?”

“That’s exactly my point Charlie.  The situation is the same as it was in the forest with your two friends and the game warden.  You didn’t see any of that coming but you thought it out, and quickly, I might add, and you managed a very touchy situation.  I know that your meeting with Maureen and Jack could be difficult.  Not that it WILL be difficult, but it certainly COULD be.  But you were the cool head where traumatized men with big handguns were about to shoot or be shot.  Don’t you think that you might be able to handle this situation just as well?”

“Jeez, I don’t know.  Yeah, I suppose, maybe.  It is different though, don’t you think?”

“Yes, it certainly is” D’Andra agreed.  “Just like what happened last weekend was different from anything else that you’ve ever done.  I’m not saying that the same response, or any other rehearsed response, is going to work some sort of miracles next Sunday.  I’m only pointing out that you’ve shown the ability to keep some level of your cool under the most stressful conditions.  I don’t know how you’ll act next Sunday and I can’t tell you what to say or what to expect.  I can only remind you that you did as good a job in that forest of directing events away from a bad ending as any I’ve ever heard of, and I have no good reason to believe that you are likely to lose any of those skills in the next five days.”

Charlie sat back in the love seat to think about that while D’Andra got up and went into the kitchen.  She made another small pot of coffee and puttered with things for a few minutes, allowing Charlie time to process what she had told him.  When she returned she handed him a fresh cup of coffee and took his empty cup back into the kitchen.  Charlie knew that she was giving him time to think, and he made the best of it that he could.  After a few minutes she returned to her chair.

“So Charlie” she began.  “How is your new job status working out?”

Charlie spent the next few minutes telling her about how much he now enjoyed working.  “I’ll soon be renovating an apartment building that I built nearly fifteen years ago” he said.  “My boss, Carolyn, is busy every day scouting for new properties to buy, fix up, and turn.  She has a wonderful business sense, and I fill in the actual construction angle.  We make a pretty good team, if I do say so myself.  I’ve sort of inherited a crew, and I’m calling people I used to know in order to keep them busy.  I’d like keep them together if I can.  Carolyn’s also looking for raw land so that she can build from the ground up.  I’ve told her that I’ll help her to navigate any parts of that that seem tricky to her; I used to do it a lot a few years back.”

That sounds wonderful, Charlie.  I can see by the light that shines through your eyes when you talk about it that you really love your work.  It’s a very good thing when they pay you to do what you want to do anyway.”And it sounds like you are getting on very well with your boss.  Have you had any trouble reporting to somebody instead of being at the top of the heap?

“Carolyn’s almost not like a boss” Charlie began and his eyes lit up a bit brighter.  “She’s as smart as can be, but also very kind.  She’s already demonstrated that she’ll give a down-and-out sucker a break – which is what she did for me – but she won’t stand for anything underhanded.  Yes, I like working for her just fine.”

D’Andra sat silently, nodding her head a little as if listening to some far-off music.  Charlie didn’t know exactly how to interpret the silence, and began searching for something that she was perhaps waiting to hear.  At last he said “I think that we might be starting to build a relationship.  I like her very much, and I think she has sent signals that she feels the same way.  No, I know that she’s sent those signals.  I’m just not sure what to do next.”

D’Andra was surprised by that, and Charlie thought “She must have been silent for some other reason.  Oh well, I’ve opened that up, so let’s dive in.”

     “Well, Charlie.  That is a nice surprise” she said.  “I wish you well in this.”  She sat silent for a moment longer and then continued.  “How does that affect your thoughts about seeing Maureen?”

Charlie wasn’t at all surprised by the question, since he had been asking himself that all week.  “I think it helps, sort of.  I mean, I never had any intention of trying to renew my relationship with Maureen, but the thought of sitting face-to-face with a woman who I once loved, and maybe still do in some fashion, who now might wish that I would lay down and die, really puts a brick in my gut.  I think this gives me a little confidence as I go into the meeting.”

“So reconciliation with Maureen is definitely off of the table?”

“Well, uh, yes, I think so.  I mean, we separated and then divorced and all.  It’s not like I don’t sometimes think about what we did – I mean, I did – wrong, and how we might never have come to where we are if I had done this or that thing differently.  And yes, sometimes I daydream about being back there and re-doing things, and how it could now be with us still together.  But the truth is that I just don’t see anything like that happening.”

“And what if that turns out to be what she wants, Charlie?  What if her present coolness warms up when she sees that the man she once loved, who is the father of her son, is now trying to see the world more clearly and is more attuned to the needs of others, including her son?  What if, at some point in the process, she tells you, one way or the other, that she wants to put your family back together?”

“You think that I should do that?” Charlie asked.

“It’s not for me to think that you should do one thing or the other” she replied.  “But it is my job to point out that this could happen in order to prepare you for that possibility.”

“Hmmm” Charlie mused.  “I’ll have to think about that.  I mean, it’s one thing to build daydream scenarios in my mind and another to deal with the possibility that they could happen.  I suppose that, for Jack’s sake if for no other reason, I would do what I had to do.”

“Now remember, I’m not suggesting that any such thing will happen.  I’m only warning you that it could so that you can take some time and think about the possibility and how you can react in such a case to create the greatest happiness for yourself while discharging your responsibilities to your son and ex wife.  I don’t know where the intersection of those two things lies, or that if anything like that is even remotely likely to happen.  I only want to suggest that you should begin thinking about it before you meet with them this Sunday.  That way you won’t be completely flat-footed when that, or anything else that’s completely unexpected, comes your way.”

“Yes, I guess I should” Charlie agreed.  “I hadn’t seriously thought about any such possibility. It’s beyond my wildest daydreams.  Whoo, boy!”

“Well, I wish you success, however it goes.  I would love to continue this with you but I’m afraid that I must prepare for another client.  Charlie, you have shown that you can operate during a crunch.  You are getting your mind and heart on the same page and are facing your life with clarity and confidence that warms the heart of this counselor.  I don’t have any doubt that you will be kind and thoughtful this Sunday.  I will be praying for you and look forward to seeing you next Wednesday.”

She rose up out of her chair and Charlie, taking his cue, moved Salome off of his lap and arose as well.  D’andre walked with him to the door and, standing there with the sun pouring in through the open door, gave him a big, warm hug.  Charlie was beginning to get the hang of this new hugging thing and returned her embrace gladly.

Walking towards his truck, Charlie remembered previous times that he’d walked down the concrete path; times when he was afraid of what was coming next or uncomfortable with what had just happened.  Today he simply felt like he was prepared for whatever might come his way this day and the week to come.  It felt good, and Charlie was thankful for it.

He drove to the remodel projects that were rapidly being concluded.  The unfinished driveway had already been poured and was curing.  Lester had the crew spread out among the three houses and had all of the close to completion.

“You going to keep us busy next week?” he asked Charlie.  “Or am I going to have to look for work?”

“I’ve got an apartment building that needs a facelift; nothing big that I know of but it’ll keep you together until I get something bigger.  I’ve got friends with backlogs and Carolyn may find out today about a couple of remodels in Fruit Valley and maybe some new construction in Felida.  I’m going over to her house when I leave here.  Now, let’s see what’s to be done around here that needs the master’s touch.”

Charlie only stayed for an hour.  Everything that needed to be done could be done by the crew, and they didn’t need to be tripping over Charlie.  At last he unstrapped his tool belt and said goodbye to Lester and Frank.  “They’re probably glad to get me out of their hair” he thought.

He drove to Carolyn’s house but she wasn’t home.  “Dang” he thought.  “I should have called.”  He fired up his truck and thought “What now?”  In no time at all the image of his garden entered his mind.  It had been three days since he had last been there, and he knew that it would need to be watered.  Weeds were no longer much of a problem, so it shouldn’t take long to do what needed to be done.  To his surprise, Rachael was there already.

“Isn’t it a little early for you?” he shouted as he went through the chain link gate into the garden area.

“Speak for yourself” Rachael shouted back.  “Aren’t you supposed to be building the Empire State Building or something?”

“Supposed to” he replied.  “But I’m so good that now they just build themselves when I tell ‘em to.”

“I’m sure that they do” Rachael said with a laugh.  “Just leave this garden open, if it’s not too much to ask.  We need one space in Vancouver without a building on it.”

“Ohhhh, it’s the evil contractor now!  Let’s make this a politics-free zone, OK?”  Rachael laughed again and threw dirt clod at his feet, making sure that she missed by a wide margin.

Charlie fell to his work, and using a bucket to water only the hills in which his plants were growing he had the twenty by twenty foot plot watered in less than a half hour.  He returned to the truck and brought back several plastic grocery bags which he proceeded to fill with squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, tomatillos, peppers and green beans.  He brought his bounty under the canopy and sat down in the shade.  Pulling out his phone, he called Carolyn.  She answered on the second ring.

“Hi Charlie” she said, and without allowing him to say anything she asked “Are you going to be free in an hour?”

“I’m free right now” he answered.  “Do you need something?”

“Not right now, but I have something that I need your help with at four.  It’s bigger than anything that I have ever done, but it looks like a good deal – no, make that a great deal – if I have it figured right.  Can you meet me at the corner of Walston and 148th over near Orchards?”

“I’ll be there” Charlie said, and hung up.  He sat in his chair, staring off into the distance and wondering what big deal Carolyn might be working on.  She was an ambitious person, he thought, who intended to make it in the world on her own terms.  Charlie saw a little of his old self in her; the drive, the focus on the goal, the way she efficiently cut away what wasn’t working to her advantage.

“I don’t know if I entirely like that” Charlie said to himself.  “That didn’t work out  so well for me.”  

“What did you say?” Rachael asked, and Charlie jumped half out of his chair.  “Oh, I’m sorry.  I thought you saw me coming.”

Charlie clutched at his chest and looked up at the sky, or at least at the canopy above his head, and said “Here I come, Elizabeth.  It’s the big one!”

“Rachael sat down and said “I really am sorry.  I didn’t mean to startle you. You were really engrossed in something, weren’t you?”

“Yeah, I guess I was.  I have quite a few things on my plate to chew on and it’s got me using brain cells that haven’t had much exercise lately.”

“I hope it’s good stuff” Rachael said.

“Mostly it is” Charlie replied.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Rachael said, and then followed that with “Oh, I’m sorry again!  Sometimes it’s hard to leave work behind.  Your business is your business.”

“Thanks for that” Charlie said.  “But now that I think of it, I think I might like to hear your thoughts on something I’ve been thinking about.  Not as a counselor, but as a friend.”

“OK” Rachael said.  “Shoot.”

“Here goes” he began, but held up his hand and said “One moment though.  I can’t afford to get lost in this.”  He pulled out his phone and set the time to go off in forty minutes.  “There.  I don’t want to keep my boss waiting.  OK.  So, I’m seeing my son and ex wife this Sunday.  I think I’ve told you that earlier.”

“Yes, you did.”

“Well, D’Andra has me thinking of something that hadn’t occurred to me before, not seriously, anyway, which is what if Maureen wants to reconcile and renew our family?  I don’t think that there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that such a thing could ever happen, and I don’t even know if I want any such thing to happen.  But what if it does?”

Rachael digested that for a minute and then asked Charlie  “Would that be such a bad thing?”

It was Charlie’s turn to be silent and think.  At length he said “Yes and No.  I’ll start with the ‘No.’  Maureen is a good person; a good woman.  We have many good memories together, more than we have bad ones.  We have a son, and it’s likely that he would do better having two parents at home.  No, I could do a lot worse than to finish my life with Maureen.”

Charlie waited another moment, then took in a deep breath and exhaled.  “And then there’s the ‘Yes.’  There’s more good than bad between us, but that bad is one big mother.  We were split before by it and I wonder, am I really so different now?  Am I really that much stronger now?  Would it just rise up out of its grave in time and bite us again, and this time even harder?  You know, that bear’s sleeping;  I’m not so sure that I want to poke him.”

Rachael thought about what he had said and prepared to speak, but Charlie cut her off by continuing.  “And then there’s Carolyn.”

“What about Carolyn?”

“Well, I’m pretty sure that we have the start of a relationship going on.  At least, I’ve found that I’m attracted to her and I think she’s pretty openly returned signals that she feels the same.  Renewing relations with Maureen would require switching gears that would be painful to imagine.  Of course, there’s no evidence at all;  AT ALL, that Maureen is interested in any such thing.  And when you stop to think about it, I might have just been imagining that Carolyn feels like I think that she does.  Really, right now I don’t know my butt from a hole in the ground, and I’m just trying to figure things out.”

They sat silently together under the canopy, both lost in thought.  The traffic on Garland Boulevard two blocks away from the garden made a muffled rumble of background noise but it was strangely serene inside the chain link fence.  Bees and other pollinators buzzed and flitted from flower to flower, sometimes passing close enough to be heard.  A hawk that was nesting in the fir tree in a neighboring yard flew by, possibly carrying some unlucky squirrel or rabbit to its chicks.

Charlie noticed the movement and thought about the lack of disruption to the garden by the rabbits that were so prevalent in the city.  No doubt the presence of a hawk that was looking to provide for it’s hungry family was responsible for the absence of bunny depredations here.  Rachael at last broke the silence.

“Charlie, I’m not going to give you advice.  I’m going to tell you what I feel in my gut, but I don’t expect for your to do anything just because I say so.”

Rachael fell silent again, thinking of how to express her thoughts.  Charlie waited patiently for her to continue, and at last she spoke again.

“Reconciliation is at the heart of my faith.  Now remember, I’m not preaching to you.  This is what I think about your situation and it is grounded in my worldview; my plausibility framework, whatever you want to call it.  I believe that the world was created perfectly and then it got screwed up.  You can literally believe in an Adam and an Eve or you can believe that they are a myth or a metaphor.  Either way, things got thrown out of whack and God has been putting things back together ever since; been reconciling a broken world with Himself.  How that plays out from one situation to another I don’t really know, but I have to believe that if reconciliation with your wife is possible, and the restoration of your family could be realized, then that is the path that God would want for you to take.

     Now, I’m not saying that you should do that.  ‘Should’ isn’t a part of this.  I’m not throwing my Bible at you.  God loves you and Maureen and Jack and, what’s her name?  Carolyn?  OK.  God loves you all and will love you no matter how this works out.  And I believe that God will show you the right and best course to take when the time comes.  Not that you have to take that course or lightening bolts will fall out of the sky and cook you up like a burnt french fry.  He’ll just show you the right decision to make.  Then it’s up to you.”

“But what if I don’t believe in your god.  Why would he care one way or the other what I do?  And if there is a god, where was he when my Stevie was drowning?”

“He cares because he created you.  He loves His creation.  Did your daughter always do what you wanted?”  Charlie shook his head in the negative.  “And did you stop loving her because of that?”  Charlie shook his head again.

“And even if you don’t believe in God, I’m willing to bet that you hope there’s a heaven and that your daughter is there.  Even after her death you still love your daughter and want the best for her.  Do you think a good God who created you loves you any less?”

“Do you think Stevie’s in heaven?” Charlie asked.  “I mean, if there is such a place?  We never went to church or anything.”

“I don’t know, but I think its very likely that she is.”

“But what about all of the rules?  We never followed any of them that I know of.”

“How do you know if you did or didn’t?  And besides, it’s not really about a bunch of rules that for the most part people have made up for themselves.  You know, ’I don’t smoke and I don’t chew and I don’t go with girls that do.’  There’s a story about sheep and goats that might help you, but I’m not teaching Sunday School here.  I’m just telling you what I think, and that is that God loves you and everyone involved in your situation and will lead you to what is best if you will pay attention, and that reconciliation is at the center of His heart.”

They fell silent again and this time the silence lasted until the chimes announced that it was time to go and meet with Carolyn.  Charlie pressed the button that shut off the alarm, and then they both stood up.  Charlie felt like he was picking up an extra hundred pounds, and Rachael could see that he was weighted down by new concerns.

She put a hand on his shoulder and said “Remember Charlie, that the focus here is on Jack.  You began this by realizing that you want to be reconciled with him.  All of the other stuff can come later, but he’s the focus right now.  Maybe that’s a little of my professional angle leaking into this, but that boy needs not just a father but a Dad, and I think you need him too.  Keep your eye on the ball, Charlie.  Keep the main thing the main thing, and worry about the rest later.”

She gave Charlie his second hug of the day, and Charlie clung to her embrace as if he was holding onto hope.  At last they separated.  Charlie leaned over and picked up his sacks of vegetables.  “Would you pray for me?” he asked.

“I already am” Rachael replied.

 

The Garden, Chapter XI

Charlie didn’t think about D’Andra, LuAnn or Maureen for the next several hours.  Carolyn was ready to go shopping when he got to her house, so they both climbed into Charlie’s truck and rumbled off to look at kitchen appliances.  Carolyn was by no means a sloppy shopper, and color, dimensions and that certain ‘something’ were weighed and evaluated and put through the fire until three very complimentary pieces had made the grade.  They were duly purchased.  Delivery was set for three weeks hence.  Charlie now had a timetable to wrestle with.

“Your choices are really good” he said as they walked out the door.  “The style isn’t my favorite, as you already know, but I didn’t expect to like the combination as much as I do.”

“Aw, you’re just trying to butter up the boss,” she retorted with a smile.

“Of course I am” Charlie agreed.  “I wasn’t born yesterday.  But no, seriously.  I really do like your plan.  You’ve got an eye for this.”

Carolyn was clearly pleased upon hearing Charlie’s approval.  He was happy too.  His problems with Carolyn’s plan were now firmly in the rear-view mirror and he was glad to let her know it unequivocally.  “And besides,” he thought.  “It is always a good thing to butter up the boss.”

“I’ve got to go to Home Supply to get some stuff for tomorrow.  I’d be happy to drop you off at your house first” Charlie said.

“Don’t you dare!” was Carolyn’s reply.  “I could get to love this business.”

“I’ve loved it for as long as I’ve done it, the last two years excepted, and even then there was a sort of draw to it.  I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

They chatted in this manner while they drove to the store.  Charlie learned that his guess at Carolyn’t occupation was correct; she was in real estate.  “My husband died of cancer” she told him.  “I don’t know where the primary tumor was, but by the time we discovered that he had a problem it was in his liver and lymph nodes and bones, even in his brain.  He went fast, which was sort of a blessing, I guess.  Six months after diagnosis Wesley was gone.  He left me a nice sum in the bank and a generous life insurance policy, and his medical insurance through his job was very good.  I didn’t get slammed too hard by medical bills.

So now I’m trying to make it in real estate.  My father used to buy houses and fix them up to the point where they were just decent, and then rent them.  He did pretty well with that; did most of the work himself.  I’m more interested in selling the homes I pick up, so I have to put more into them.  And it’s harder for me because I have to rely on a general contractor.  Do you know how frustrating that can be?”

“Oh, yes.  Do I forever know.  I AM a general contractor, remember?  I just haven’t done any generalling for quite a while.  I’m sorry to hear about that” Charlie said, and then continued.  “About your husband, that is.  That must have been a hard time for you.”

“It certainly was a hard time.  We couldn’t have children and so we decided to focus on making the most of our marriage.  Huh!  Funny how the best laid plans sometimes go straight into the shredder.”

Both Charlie and Carolyn were silent for a while as they drove towards their destination.  Charlie wondered how Carolyn had managed to avoid the free-fall that he had experienced when Stevie died.  What Carolyn was thinking he could only guess.  Finally, he had to ask.

“How did you handle your husband’s death so well?  My daughter died a few years ago,”  Charlie gulped back a catch in his voice, “and I lost everything.  I still can’t say that I’m over it.”

Carolyn thought a minute before answering.  “Well, my first week was very hard.  There wasn’t anything I would do that his memory wasn’t a part of.  Walk down the hall, make coffee in the morning, go to the store, drive past a restaurant.  I slept in a guest room and tried to keep up as many routine activities as I could.  I did them on auto pilot though.  In fact, I can hardly remember much in the way of details of that week.

I guess the best thing was that I was not alone.  Mom and Dad and my sisters were all there for me, and Wesley’s family too.  They cooked and cleaned and sat with me; took me to the beach or up to Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood.  My sister and her family go to a church and a bunch of her friends from there made freezer meals for me.  They would mow my lawn and – – -, well, whatever needed to be done.  Wes and I didn’t think too much about church and I can’t say that I do even now.  But I sure appreciated their help.  They acted more like how I thought a religious person should act, although I couldn’t really tell you then what that should be and don’t know if I could tell you now.  I think I may still have a lasagna or two left in the freezer.”

“How long ago did this happen?” Charlie asked, surprised by the lingering lasagna.

“It was a year ago next month.”

Charlie was left speechless by this.  Less than a year after losing her husband Carolyn was starting a business, overseeing a kitchen remodel, and moving on in life.  Charlie began to compare his handling of Stevie’s death with Carolyn’s response to her husband’s and he didn’t like the comparison at all.  Old demons of self-blame and doubt began to claw away at his heart, but he was determined not to give in to them this time without a fight.

“I handled my loss a lot less capably than you did.  I’m really impressed with your story.  You’ve seen what condition my problem left me in.”

Carolyn seemed to sense Charlie’s struggle.  “We’re different people, Charlie.  There’s no right or wrong way here; no weak or strong.  I could have walked the same path as you if my life had been different; if I had been alone.  And if you had all of the family support that I had – I take it you don’t have much family here?”  Charlie nodded in the negative.  “Then you might very well have handled your trouble in the same manner that I did.”

Charlie had his doubts, but Carolyn made sense.  He felt that he had dwelt on this conversation long enough; was amazed that he had done so and kept his composure.  “I’ll have to tell D’Andra about this” he thought, and then he changed the subject.

“Who are you using as a general contractor?”

Carolyn gave a name that Charlie didn’t recognize.  After spending two years on the margins of the construction trades he was unfamiliar with many of the new players.  Something like a protective urge rose up in him.

“If you have any questions about their work, I’d be glad to look at it with you.  Not to step on anyone’s toes, but I don’t want you to get short-changed in what can be a pretty dog-eat-dog business.”

“Why, thank you Charlie.  I appreciate that” Carolyn replied.  “But aren’t building inspectors supposed to check such things?”

Charlie remembered hearing stories of bottles of scotch whiskey being left in buildings that were ‘ready’ for inspection; ‘Christmas in July’ they called it. He had never resorted to such measures, and all of the inspectors he had dealt with were honest.  He knew that they though, like anyone else, could miss things or just not be as good at what they did as they should be.

“No system’s perfect” he finally chose to say.  “Inspectors can miss things.  If you’re still new at this, things could slip by you.”  Charlie remembered the poor design of the shower door in the bathroom remodel that he had just completed.  “So if you have any doubts or questions, I’ll be happy to take a look.”

Carolyn was thanking him for his concern and offer when they pulled into the parking lot of Home Supply.

For the next hour Charlie was busy scheduling the drop-off of some heavy braces and a large supply of lumber for the next morning.  He would be tearing out the existing outside wall and replacing it four feet further toward the front of the house.  Carolyn was mostly quiet as she watched every step of the transaction with interest.  Charlie noted this and decided that she was looking for knowledge that would help her in her own business.  “Smart woman” he thought.

At last the business was finished and Charlie began to drive them back to Carolyn’s house.  She offered to buy Charlie a burger or something but he declined.  “I’ve already eaten enough today to feed a village” he said with a laugh.  “I’ll stop if you’re hungry.”  Carolyn also declined and told him that she’d see if she could dig that old lasagna out of the freezer and zap it in the microwave oven that would be doing much of her cooking for the next month.

When they arrived at Carolyn’s house Charlie got out of the truck to open the door for her but she was already out, being fully capable of opening her own doors.  He was momentarily thrown by this but made a smooth recovery and walked her to the front door.

“I’ll be here at 9 tomorrow” he told her.  “I’ll be making a racket, so I don’t want to annoy your neighbors any more than is necessary.  You’ve got somebody staying with you until I get the new outside wall sealed up, right?”

“Yes.  My sister’s oldest son will be here.  He’s a big kid; plays football for Camas High.  He’ll stay for as long as I need him.  Or as long as I can feed him is more like it!”

“It won’t take long.  I’ll put in some long days at first and get that part done.  I don’t have any other pressing responsibilities, so I can focus on just that.”

“Well, I appreciate it.”  Carolyn drew a breath and let it out in a long, deep sigh.  “Now it’s time for me to go back to looking at numbers on paper.  Charlie, I do think you’ve got the best end of this business.”

“I’d have to agree,” he replied with a laugh.  “Well, good bye.  See you tomorrow.”

“Good bye, Charlie.”

Carolyn disappeared behind the closing door and Charlie returned to his truck.  Thoughts swirled in his brain as he fired it up and drove away from the curb.  His meeting with D’Andra this morning had stirred up questions that he needed to ask himself, and his conversation with LuAnn had given him more than roast beef to chew on.  No, he had spent the last two hours with Carolyn, fully engaged in work that he now found satisfying once again.

Charlie’s appreciation of Carolyn had grown even more as she selected appliances with a discerning eye and soaked up details of his business at Home Supply like a sponge.  It was very rewarding to work for her, and he hoped that her general contractor appreciated her and wasn’t taking advantage of her newness to the business.  “I hope that she’ll let me check some of their work,” he thought as he drove.

Upon arriving at Mill Plain Blvd. Charlie realized that he didn’t have a clue where he was going.  Reflexively he had turned toward his apartment, so he decided to continue in that direction.  He would take most of what he would be moving from his apartment to Billy’s cottage  Billy would not be home this early in the day but Charlie had a key already.

While he loaded clothes and a box or two of personal items he thought about what to do for the rest of the day.  “Ah!  The garden,” he thought.  He would stop at the storage shed and retrieve his bucket of gardening tools.  As he prepared to leave the apartment his eyes fell upon the old, beat-up coffee pot with the flowers in it.  Charlie had continued to replace the flowers in that unlikely vase whenever the old ones began to wilt.  He had become attached to that spot of color, and looking at it reminding him of his own coming back to life.  He crossed over to the table by the television and picked up the pot.  “You’re coming with me,” he said to it.

Charlie drove across town to Billy’s cottage and unloaded his belongings into the spare room that would be his home for the time being.  He put the coffee pot on a small table by the window then returned to his truck and drove back across town towards Camas and the community garden.

It was a little early for Rachael or Walt to be there but several other gardeners were.  Charlie surveyed his own plot and saw that the cucumbers and squash were almost ready to be picked.  The onions were developing plump yellow globes at the soil line, carrots and beets were growing luxurious greens and the green beans were now about two inches long.  Best of all, the tomato plants were thick with green tomatoes, all plumping up and getting ready to burst into red deliciousness.

Charlie checked for pest damage; he had already been forced to spray something on the squash and cucumbers for some sort of beetle.  The nursery worker swore that the spray was an environmentally friendly product and Charlie took his word for that.  He followed this with a bit of weed pulling and then decided to mow the grass that surrounded the garden plots.  It being a community garden, all were expected to pitch in and keep the place neat.

Charlie followed the self-propelled mower and waved at the other gardeners, feeling a peace that he hadn’t known for a very long time.  The sun was bright and warm, and he worked up a good sweat before he was finished with the lawn.  A convenience store sat on the corner two blocks away, and Charlie went there to buy a bottle of water and a bag of potato chips.  He didn’t have anything else to do and so he figured on waiting a while to see if Walt or Rachael would show up.

He took a seat under the canopy and made himself comfortable.  “I should start to read again” he thought as he sat in the shade, daydreaming while he sipped on his water and nibbled on his chips.  After a while, Charlie’s head began to dawdle and the water bottle nearly slipped out of his hand.

The warm air, cool breeze and feeling of being more financially and emotionally comfortable than he had been for a long time, seemed to give Charlie the space to let himself drift into a good nap.  That was hard to do though, sitting upright in a plastic chair, so Charlie sipped and nodded, snacked and dozed, until he finally drooped his head forward and fell fast asleep.

“Hi farmer!” Rachael said as she walked up to the sleeping Charlie.  He jumped upon hearing her voice and dropped his water bottle and half-eaten bag of chips onto the ground in front of him.

“Oh!” Rachael said with a laugh in her voice.  She sprang forward in a futile attempt to catch the falling items before they landed.  Charlie lurched forward in pursuit of the same goal and their heads collided lightly.  The two friends pulled their heads back and looked at each other mutely, and then both broke out in a happy laughter.

“Well, we’re not going to get much work done if we knock each other out!” Rachael said as her laughter subsided.

“I already have mine done” Charlie replied.  “I was just catching my beauty rest after all of the hard work.  Charlie reached down and picked up his bag of chips and saw that a handful or two remained in the bag.  “Care to sit down and share a meal?”

To his surprise, Rachael did pull up a plastic chair and sit next to him, extending her hand towards the bag.  Charlie filled the hand and they chatted while they munched on their chips.

“The bruise is just about gone” Charlie said, stating the obvious.  In fact, the bruise had been tenacious, but it had failed in it’s effort to spoil Rachael’s big night.  Her boyfriend had indeed proposed on the night that Charlie and Walt had first seen the damage that a young client had done to her.  All of the normal protocols for proposing marriage had dropped by the wayside once her now-finacé saw his future wife and heard of her fear of being an embarrassment to him if they went out for dinner that night.

“Embarrassment!” he had expostulated.  “There is nothing about you that embarrasses me.  I had intended to propose to you tonight; I’m telling you this because I assume that you had already figured that out.  Heck, I’d like to marry you tonight, right there at the table.  Beauty like yours can’t be hidden by such a little thing as a shiner on your face.  In fact, I wonder if the Maitre D’ could act like the captain of a ship, or maybe the Chef de Cuisine.”

Charlie’s and Walt’s opinion of Rachael’s choice for a partner rose appreciably upon hearing this tale, and Charlie noticed that Walt’s language and attitude had softened whenever Rachael was present or spoken of.  “She’s all right, for a female and a bible-thumper,” he had said.  “High praise indeed!” Charlie thought when Walt said it.

“So,” Rachael said as she finished her handful of chips.  “If you’ve finished your work, what are you doing hanging out here?  Did they finally kick you out of your apartment for making too much noise?”

Charlie thought of the bedlam that erupted at his residence from time to time, which would in some cases bring the police to the scene.  He laughed at the thought of him doing anything that could get him ejected from there.

“No,” he replied.  “They say they’ll put up with me for another week.  “Actually, there’s something that I would like to talk with you about.  I didn’t intend to when I got here, but I’ve been thinking that maybe your advice could help me with a decision.

He paused, and Rachael straightened in her chair, assuming a professional aspect.  “Now, I’m not asking you this as a shot at free counseling.  This is as a friend, and I haven’t had a lot of those lately and don’t want to take advantage of the few that I do have.  Are you willing to hear me on that basis?”

Rachael smiled and relaxed, slumping into her chair in an exaggerated manner.  She laid her hands on her knees in a yoga ‘mudra’ pose and exhaled.  “OK Grasshopper” she said.  “Shoot.”

Rachael’s light-hearted response put Charlie at ease, but he quickly became serious again.  “OK.  Well, here it is,” he began.  “Today D’Andra – have I told you ‘thank you’ enough times for telling me about her? – suggested that I get in touch with my ex-wife, Maureen.  What do you think of that?”

“Well, goodness, Charlie.  I would feel awkward about inserting myself between you and your counselor.  I don’t think that would be a proper thing to do.”

Charlie thought about her reply and then said “I’m not really trying to get you to critique her advice.  I’ve already bounced this off of a friend this morning, just trying to get a second point of view.  I wouldn’t want to impose on you though, so maybe I’ll just withdraw the question.”

Rachael gave it a moment’s more thought and then replied “No, it’s OK.  As a friend.  I’ll talk about this with you as a friend.  Perhaps I need a little practice at putting down my job and just being a friend.  So, why did she want you to do that?”

“I’ve been talking with her about our break-up; how I couldn’t come out of the shell of my own pain to help her deal with hers.  I came to believe that she hated me for my weakness and was disgusted with me, and finally left in order to get as far away from me as she could.  When we talked about it, D’Andra asked a lot of questions about how I came to believe this and I had to admit that I really didn’t have any real evidence that she felt like I believed she did.”

“So maybe you’ve spent the last two years blaming yourself for something that isn’t true?”

“Yeah, exactly.  Maybe Maureen really does hate me, but maybe she doesn’t.  Maybe she doesn’t blame me for not trying to make Stevie more careful.  Maybe she doesn’t blame me for ignoring her own pain.”  Charlie gulped back a rise of emotion in his throat and continued.  “Maybe she doesn’t blame me for not being a Dad to Jack.”

Rachael reached out and put a hand on Charlie’s knee.  “Slow down there,” she said.  “Hold on.  Take a minute and breathe.  Remember, I’m going to be a friend, not a counselor, so you come first and not your story.”  She waited while Charlie got himself back together.  “OK?” she asked.

“Yeah” Charlie replied.

“All right.  As a friend.  Do you want to do what D’Andra suggested?”

“Well, I’ve thought about it all day,”  Charlie said, “and I think that maybe I do.  One of the things that D’Andra mentioned that struck me the most is that Maureen may be hung up on these points, or points like them, the same as I was.  Or maybe still am.  If that’s true, then it would be wrong for me to use this knowledge, or possible knowledge I suppose I should say, to help me and not help her.  We’re apart now; I know that, and it’s not my responsibility how she’s doing now.  It just seems like maybe this would be a cleaning up, or a tying up of loose ends.  Maybe I even owe it to her.”

Rachael thought in silence about what Charlie had told her.  At last she replied “Charlie, I’ve been trying to put myself into your shoes, which I’ve decided is impossible.  So instead I’ve tried to put myself into Maureen’s shoes.  Of course, I know practically nothing about her and I can’t possibly imagine what it is like to lose a daughter.  I don’t even have any experience at being a wife yet.  I am, however fairly experienced at being a woman, and speaking from that point of view I can tell you that, if it is properly done, I would welcome somebody’s interest in helping me to deal with a big problem like that.  Now you said that there were no fireworks in your divorce, right?”

“Yeah, it was pretty mechanical.  I didn’t know what to say so I pretty much didn’t say anything.  I assumed that she had plenty to say but didn’t figure that I was worth saying it to.”

“And it didn’t occur to you that she might have been just as bound up as you were, did it?”

“No, it didn’t.  And I still don’t know one way or the other, really.  I suppose there’s only one way to find out, but my debate is whether or not that’s the right thing to do.”

“Ah, there’s a concept I wrestle with,” Rachael said with a sigh.  “The right thing to do.  How much time has been spent and how much grief has been inflicted on the self by trying to figure out the right thing to do?  Sometimes I wonder if there’s any such thing as the right thing to do.”

Charlie was surprised to hear the thought which Rachael had just expressed.  “What, so you don’t believe that there are right things and wrong things to do?” he asked.

“On no, it’s not like that,” she replied.  “It’s clear that there is right and wrong.  I’m just not certain that in every situation you can boil every option down to a single ‘right thing to do’ which makes everything else the ‘wrong thing to do.’”

“Huh?” Charlie grunted.  “I think you’re going too deep for an old carpenter like me.”

“Well, let me give you an example.  A certain German gentleman in the middle of the last century became the leader of his country and pursued policies that had a disastrous effect on a lot of people, especially people who were Jewish like me.”

“I thought that you were a Christian” Charlie interjected.

“I am, but we’ll clear that up later.  Anyway, a group of people tried to kill Herr Hitler towards the end of the war that his policies had caused.  By July of 1944 the Soviets were closing in on the east, the Allies were firmly entrenched in Normandy in the west and were clawing their way north in Italy.  It was clear to anybody who had eyes to see that Germany would be defeated.  A bunch of people wanted to kill Hitler and try to negotiate a peace that would keep Germany from being conquered and ruled by the Allies or, much worse, the Russians.  They failed, and the war ground on for almost another murderous year.

Now here’s my point.  As a Jew and a Christian, can I support the effort to kill Hitler?  God commanded on Mount Sinai “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” and in Torah it says “Vengence is mine.  I will repay.”  In the Gospels Jesus is declared the Prince of Peace.  “Render unto Caeser that which is Caeser’s” He said, and “love your enemy.”  Later a good Jewish boy named Paul said something like every Christian is to be in subjection to the governing authorities.  It was Nero who was the governing authority at that time, and he was a pretty bad actor too.

So was it right to ignore the teaching of the Jewish and Christian scriptures and try to kill Hitler?  Or would it have been right to not try to kill him, thereby giving him another year to murder as many people as he could?”

Charlie guffawed at the question.  “Of course it was right to kill Hitler, or at least to try.  You can’t be trying to defend that guy.  Not even you are saint enough for that!”

“Oh, Charlie.  I’m no saint.  And I actually do believe that it was right to try to kill Hitler.  I’m a Jewish girl, remember?  But I’m a Jew and a Christian because I believe that some things were said by God to lead us in our lives.   In this case, the reality of life on the ground made it complicated and difficult to decide which action was right.  In the end, I have to choose which action of a group of options is MOST right and go from there, hoping – even praying – that I am right.  God will judge my intentions and has the grace to forgive me if I’m wrong.

So now let’s bring it back to your situation.  What’s the right thing to do?  Maybe correcting mistaken views will help you deal with your life after Maureen, or maybe the views that you’ve held for the last few years are correct, and it will only make it hurt more for a while if you stir them up.  Maybe Maureen has moved on and doesn’t need your ghost showing up to trouble her now, and maybe she’s stuck and you could help free her from her own prison.  And you haven’t mentioned your son – it was Jack, right?  Maybe he really is angry enough to hate you, and maybe he has found some other male figure to look up to, and maybe he hasn’t found that figure at all and is in limbo.  And maybe he’s an angry boy who wants his real father to love him.

How can you possibly know the answers to all of these ‘maybes?’   In my experience there’s no mathematical formula that will crunch all of those variables and spit out an ironclad answer.  There’s too many x’s and y’s in the input to expect anything but a few x’s and y’x to populate the output.  And I don’t know any psychologists or philosophers or theologians who can render the variables down to one neat answer.  Life isn’t like that.

So, all of that being said, you asked me for my opinion, and nothing more than my opinion is what I’m going to give you now, if you still want to hear it.”

Charlie mutely nodded for her to continue.

“If you go forward with this, the worse thing that could happen is that your assumptions are confirmed.  Those assumptions are what you are dealing with already.  All that would change is that you would know them rather than have to guess them.  The best that could happen is that all of your assumptions could be wrong; that you and Maureen would reunite, that Jack would rush to you, give up his current occupations and become the perfect child in your eyes, and that you would also find out that unicorns really exist.

Probably – and again, this is just my opinion – the result would be somewhere between those extremes, and in my opinion it would be closer to the unicorn end than the other.  How much closer would be the big variable.  You weren’t the perfect husband, Charlie.  There’s only one of those and he’s marrying me next June, which only leaves him a year to enjoy his perfect status.

I can tell you that you are a kind person though and that you care about people, once you let them get close enough to you.  Speaking as a woman, I believe that Maureen knows this about you at some level, and that she will take that into consideration if you decide to try to contact her.  Beyond that, I don’t know any more than you do.  I think that it is a good thing, or at least more of a good than a bad thing, and I think that your son may benefit from this more than either you or your ex.  Most boys need a Dad around, and I believe that hearing from his father would be a good first step in making that happen.”

Rachael was finished and sat back in her chair.  Charlie sat back in his own, mulling over everything that he had just heard.  D’andre had made a suggestion, LuAnn had supported it, and now Rachael had eloquently confirmed it.  ‘Three trees make a row’ he had once heard, and here he saw three trees standing right in front of him.

A decision such as this requires a pretty solid conviction though, at least as far as Charlie could see.  It was less than two months ago that he was leaning over the rail on the Interstate Bridge, listening to ghosts who were calling for him to join them.  Could he trust these new thoughts to be true and friendly?  This was something that would require more time and thought, and maybe even more input.

At this point both friends heard the squeak of the gate.  They turned to see who it was that came to work in their garden.  It turned out to be Walt.

“You won’t get anything done that way, you loafers!” he called out.  Charlie and Rachael just laughed and waved to him as he made his way to his plot.

Charlie then looked at Rachael and said “That is some good advice, and I will think about it.  Really. I really will.  Rachael, you’re one of the most, well, I don’t know how to say it.  One of the smartest, or most level-headed, or, I don’t know.  You just have a way of seeing things that I don’t.  That a lot of people don’t, I suspect.  I guess you learned some of this stuff at school, but you base a lot of it on your religion, don’t you?”

“Yes Charlie, I do,” Rachael responded.  “My faith is very important to me, and it guides me in much of my very imperfect life.”

“I don’t know if I believe in any religion,” Charlie began.  “Oh, I believe that it exists, but I don’t know if it’s true.  I’ve never thought about it much, but I think that I would like to know more about it.  About yours, at least.  I haven’t been a reader since I was a kid;  I was always too busy for that, so I don’t think that I would gain anything from asking you for a reading list.  And I don’t think I’d be comfortable to go into a church where anybody might come up to me and talk.  I’ve walked into a Catholic church once or twice recently; you know, that big brick one downtown?  It was weird how that place felt comfortable when I was really in the tank, but there was no way that I was going to speak to anyone.  I was wondering then, well, I guess I was just wondering if it would be all right if I went to church sometime with you?”

Rachael looked at Charlie for what seemed like an eternity but, in reality, was only a moment or two.  At last she said “Of course Charlie.  I would be happy to sit with you at synagogue.  I have many friends there who would want to meet you too, but I could tell them beforehand that you need a little space.  You would not be expected to know any of the rhythms  of our worship and so you could just watch and listen.  Would that be OK?”

Charlie nodded and said that it would be.  Rachael then continued, saying “This is new to me too Charlie.  I’m not the most evangelical person on the planet.  I’ve never taken a guest to synagogue with me.  I hope that we can just enjoy it together.  We meet on Wednesday nights, Friday nights and Saturday mornings.  I usually go Wednesday because we study Torah, and I am at heart a Jew.  Saturday mornings are when we have what would look more like a church service to you, and the people who attend are made up of Jews and non-Jews alike.  Of course, you can go any time you like, and I will be happy to go with you.  Here,” Rachael began to dig into her purse and at last found the business card that she was looking for.  “This has my phone number on it.  It’s my work phone, but I check it all the time.  You think about it and call me whenever you feel like joining me there.”

Charlie accepted her card and thanked her for the invitation.  Silently he thanked her for the lack of pressure as well.  When he was young some aggressive Christians pestered him about coming to church.  He remembered how he felt like all they really wanted was to make of him a notch on their belts.  Rachael was much more low key and inviting.

“I’ll give you a call.”

“Good.  And now I have some gardening to do.  Wanna make yourself useful?”

Charlie looked at his fingernails, paused and then said “Well, I don’t know.  I’ve just had a manicure and my poodle needs to be clipped and I have some flowers to arrange.  Maybe I can squeeze out a few minutes.”

Rachael reached down and grabbed a handful of the grass that was growing under the canopy and threw it at Charlie.  “Don’t be such a fop!” she said with a laugh, and the two friends rose to go help Rachael make her garden grow.

Theology Pub

“I am pro-life!”

“So am I.  Abortion is murder!”

“But I am pro ALL life.  I am opposed to the death penalty!”

“Wait a minute; I mean innocent life.  Justice requires the death of a murderer.”

“Taking the life of anybody once they no longer present a threat is not justice.  It’s murder.”

“Why are you just extending this conversation to human life?  Animals were created by God too.  How can you eat factory farmed animals who are killed after their miserable lives in the most hideous manner and call yourself pro-lift?”

So the conversation would proceed at Theology Pub.  Theo Pub was a two year experiment in diversity which was sponsored by my church in Vancouver Washington.  We met at a pub, The Brickhouse,” and enjoyed wonderful pub grub and a dizzying list of beers, wines and spirits while we discussed every imaginable topic.  the idea was to speak honestly, and sometimes with heat, but always with respect and love for our partners at the table.  People of other faiths and of no faith were invited, and the rules were the same: love each other and  ‘splain yourself.

I was asked by a person at work why a church group would meet in a bar.  “Because that’s where they serve alcohol” was my response.  We explored evolution, gay marriage, abortion, and other topics and books, with tongues well lubricated but attitudes in check.

All things have an expiration date, and our experiment is concluded.  Our love for each other and our warm regard for the owner and staff of The Brickhouse is intact.  If you want good, open conversation, come to the House of Providence.  If your preference runs to a  cold beer and some nachos, The Brickhouse can accommodate you just fine.

Reflections on Lent, Day 35

Just because a person becomes a Christian does not mean that they will now be blessed with every good thing and will walk smiling through a life without troubles, wondering why everybody else doesn’t simply adopt their easy plan for love, money, and a life for the most part free from pain.  I know that this caricature of life as a Christian is pure bull caca, and it continues to amaze me that it is preached by some and accepted by great crowds of the gullible to this day.  Jesus and ten of the first eleven disciples (Judas excluded), seemed to miss out on the health and wealth aspect of this strange description of Christ’s mission on earth, so why on earth would anyone think that such a vision would work for a true Christ follower today?

This topic of pain and trouble has been dealt with already by writers and thinkers far sharper than Yours Truly.  Harold Kushner wrote “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” in 1978, and Rabbi Kushner did a wonderful job of explaining this topic.  I will not summarize that book here, but I encourage anyone wrestling with this issue to give it a read.   This is only a Lent reflection however, and not a book review.

During this Lent period I have been trying to focus more sharply on God and my walk with Him/Her (at ease now;  I’m not trying to be unnecessarily incendiary here.  I just believe that trying to apply gender roles and limitations to God is a fool’s errand).  At the outset of the Lent season I naively expected a significant spike in the quality of my prayer life, a quiet confidence that God was in control of the wildness and confusing randomness of my health, work and family life, and that maybe I would hit on the lottery.  As it has turned out, this has been one of the most trying months-and-change that I have had in a while, and if you consider that my last year included a heart attack and bypass surgery, that’s saying quite a lot.

I won’t go into all of the details of the trials which I have endured during this Lent season, and I also won’t try to say that I have not also experienced great spiritual successes and blessings too.  The point of this reflection is that we all, Christian and non-Christian alike, live in a bent and broken world, and that becoming a follower of Christ does not remove a person from that world.  All of the pain and wrongness which afflict the atheist or the Hindu or the Muslim or the Capitalist or the Vegan afflict the Christian too.  I don’t know why that is so, but I do know for a fact that it IS so, and nobody will gain anything by denying that fact, except perhaps silver-tongued preachers who prey upon the fear and greed and weakness of those who listen to them.  I am not judging anybody here (that would be way above my pay grade!), but I am not overly confident of those “preachers'” odds for a good outcome when the judgement day arrives.  I hope for the best, but I’ve got some doubts there.

With all of this in mind, it is probably reasonable to ask why it is a good idea to become a Christian in the first place.  I miss out on the sex and drugs and rock ‘n roll, I don’t get to make fun of people who are different than me, and I don’t get to cheat on my taxes with a clear conscience if I buy into this Christian thing, and in return I get  –  What?  Maybe I’ll go to heaven if I get the luck of the draw (if Calvin’s caricature is right), or maybe I get a crutch to prop my weak ass through the life that everybody else seems to be living just fine (NB: they aren’t!) .  Maybe I’ll just get the prestige of being the adherent to a barely tolerated subgroup in American society and earn the right to get a shellacking in the next election if I decide to run for president.

No, any benefit received by following the crucified Christ is not likely to be monetary, political or positional in society.  So what is it”  I have learned this Lent season that God is, as David Benner writes in “Surrender to Love”, madly in love with us.  Jesus does not stand between us and the shit that the world, the flesh and the devil throw at us.  Instead, He stands beside us, getting covered up in that shit the same as we are.  I count it a privilege to be covered in the same shit that the broken world threw on my God, and when He/She cleans me off some day I hope that He/she will clean off the world that was throwing it as well, and that all of us who will accept God’s grace will dine – no, dine isn’t the right word – will PARTY together, while those who chose to reject Christ to the end will nurse their grudges and drink their bitter cup in an outer darkness of their own choosing, in a prison or tomb locked from the inside.

So yeah, life can be a bitch.  So what?  That’s not news.  Put your tough pants on.  Life is also a gift, and while you can’t always dial up the life you want, you can always draw on His/Her power to make it reflect a little bit of Christ back into the world.  For me, that is enough.

Reflections on Lent, Day 33

This morning our pastor preached out of the passage in the Gospel of John which describes the period immediately after the death of Jesus.  The picture is this; the time is the afternoon before Passover, a most high holy time for the Jews, and it is an offense to have dying people on crosses hanging by their nailed extremities at this time.  The Jewish leaders asked the Roman governor to order the breaking of the condemned men’s legs so that they would be unable to push themselves upward in order to draw a breath, thereby dying of asphyxiation That way their bodies could be removed from the crosses before sundown.  The two thieves were indeed still alive and their leg bones were accordingly broken with a large mallet.  When the soldiers came to Jesus however they saw that He was already dead, which surprised them.  Just to be sure about things a soldier stuck a spear into Jesus’ side and blood and water flowed out of the wound.

Many years ago when I was coming to faith in God once again after a seventeen year separation a pastor spoke with me about my reservations.  I was a very rational and scientific sort of person and not at all likely to take things on faith.  That pastor sized me up very neatly and gave me a small stack of books which he thought would help me get over the materialistic hump.  I don’t remember what most of those books were but two of them rocked my world:  “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis and “The Resurrection Factor” by Josh McDowell.  The sermon this morning reminded me greatly of reading the second of those two books.

McDowell went about discussing the whole crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection story as if he was analyzing it in forensic terms.  Many explanations by unbelieving individuals of the events of that day turn on doubt that Jesus really was crucified, doubts that He really died,  doubts that He was laid in a tomb, and doubts that He left that tomb alive.  I will not cover all of McDowell’s points but will limit myself to the doubt that Jesus actually died.

The Romans were very good at killing people.  In fact, all of the various empires and regional powers of the time were pretty good at that, but the Romans had become the masters of the entire Mediterranean world by being a little bit better at it than anyone else.  It is with great confidence therefore that I regard the words of John when he writes that the Roman soldiers found Jesus already dead.

John then goes on to point out that one of the soldiers stuck a spear into Jesus just to make sure he was a goner.  Now when I was a soldier, if I would have wanted to make certain that an enemy was dead I would have shot him in the head – especially if I suspected that he was a zombie – or in the area of the heart if he was only a common, garden variety Viet Cong.  Thankfully I never had to do any such thing, but that is exactly how I would have proceeded if I had found myself forced with the necessity to do so.  But Jesus was up on a cross and one would never try to stick a spear into a man’s head anyway, considering that his heart was a good deal softer and less protected by a skull and so on, so I have no doubt that the Roman soldier put his spearhead straight into the non-beating heart of Jesus.

And what do you suppose flowed out of that wound?  Exactly what you would expect, if Jesus was in fact dead.  Blood and water ran down the body of Jesus, according to John, to drip into the dust on the Hill of the Skull.  What this said to McDowell, and what it says to me too, is that Jesus was not only dead, but had been dead for a while when the spear entered his heart.  When blood ceases to flow it begins to separate into its liquid and solid components.  The solid stuff, the red and white blood cells and platelets and so forth, settle to the bottom while the watery plasma remains on the top.  When that spear penetrated Jesus’ body and entered the heart that fluid was released to flow outside, followed by some of the solid red matter mixed with plasma.

This removes from the discussion any idea that Jesus merely fainted and was revived later, only to disappear into a far away country, take a wife, have some kids, and resume his occupation of carpentry while a new religion in His name was founded and slowly became the official religion of the entire Mediterranean world.  John’s description was too detailed and accurate for me to doubt it’s truth.  Jesus died on that cross, and over 500 people saw Him afterword alive and well before He finally ascended into heaven.

I have read many more convincing proofs that Jesus is whom He says He is, but this one came to me at a time of doubt and weakness, and will always be a favorite for me.

Reflections On Lent, Day 31

Last week, at a meeting with a group of friends who are studying Joshua Ryan Butler’s excellent book entitled “The Skeletons In God’s Closet,” we were speaking of hell and judgement and holy war.  These are three topics that cause a lot of heartburn for Christians and non-Christians alike.  I don’t believe that any one of these three topics are the star performers of the trio; they are all equally capable of stirring controversy any time that they are brought up in any sort of crowd which exhibits a bit of diversity.  I came home from this event pondering hell in particular though, and what Christians think about it and most particularly who gets in and who stays out.  My conclusion?  I don’t know.

I am no theologian, and I’ll state that from the very beginning.  I am aware of many verses of scripture which point to Jesus as the one way to salvation, and I accept this premise with a whole heart.  “No one comes to the Father except through me”, and “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved”, and many other similar verses seem to narrow the thing down.  I wonder, however, if those scriptures are narrowing it down too much?  I’m not sure that I even have a coherent stream of thoughts on the topic.  I’ll let you decide.

A verse which stands out in particular to me is this:  “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgement.”  That one gets hell and judgement in there together, sort of like a theological ‘twofer’, but I wonder about something.  What exactly does this verse mean by “to die”?  What?  Are you kidding me?  You don’t know what it means to die?  It’s when your heart stops, your brain quits and you assume room temperature.  This isn’t rocket science Glenn!

Yeah, I know.  I’ve seen dead people and I’ve seen people die.  I get that.  But what if there’s more to it than meets the eye?  Maybe there is a physical death and a spiritual death and they are not the same thing.  In the Garden of Eden God allowed Adam and Eve to eat anything that they wanted to except the fruit of a certain tree.  If they did not obey, God told them, “- – – in the day that you eat from it you will surely die”.  Well, you know how that went.  Adam and Eve just couldn’t leave it alone.  They ate the fruit – – – and then Adam lived another 900 years or so!  Eve probably lived even longer; that’s how those things usually seem to work.

But God wasn’t lying.  God doesn’t lie.  Adam did eventually physically die, but a long time after the fact and not at all “- – – in that day”.  So I wonder if God was referring to a spiritual death rather than a physical one.  Another example further muddies the water.  Jesus died on the cross for a number of reasons, among which was to conquer death.  “Oh death where is your victory?  Oh death, where is your sting?”  Once again I fully  believe God, through the Bible, isn’t wrong: isn’t lying.  Jesus really died on that Roman cross and defeated death.  The fly in the ointment however is that Jesus really DID die on that cross!  Soon afterward two thieves, one on either side of Jesus, died too.  And since then millions and perhaps even billions of people have followed them into the grave.  And then there’s Lazarus.  Was Lazarus judged right after he died, or was he judged after the second time that he died?

So what gives here?  Has death been defeated or has it not?  Was God lying when He said “- – – for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die”?  Well, yes to the first question and no to the second, I think, and here’s why.  It seems just possible to me that the full reality of death is something that I can not clearly see from where I stand in the finitude of space and time.  Death, to me, occurs when the heart stops beating, the lungs stop drawing breath, and the neurons of the brain cease to fire the messages which keep physical life going.  I have seen death on the battlefield, in the emergency room, and at funerals for family and friends and I know what it looks like from where I stand.  But is that what death looks like from where God stands on the other side of space and time?  Perhaps God sees life and death in a vastly different context than I do, and this is a possibility which gives me some hope.

What if spiritual death is something that can occur when a person remains physically alive?  I am not judging – that is way above my pay grade – but I think that it’s very possible that people such as Adolph Hitler (everybody’s favorite example of a really bad person), Pol Pot, Richard Ramirez (the Night Stalker murderer), and King Leopold II were spiritually dead and on a hell-bound train long before they drew their last breath.  Many others may also have shaken their fists in defiance at God and sworn “I will NOT serve you” and earned an eternity with little need for warm clothing.

But what of others who are not such obvious cases; who have not pointedly bowed their knee to evil but nevertheless have not sworn fealty to God either?  What about the Buddhist or Atheist, or the tribesman on the banks of a stream in the Amazon basin, who has done good to the extent that he or she knows good but has never felt compelled to acknowledge a God who they hardly know or do not in fact know at all?

I just wonder if it is possible that at some point after the physical death but before a spiritual death we will all be able to see the choice available to us in a much clearer light and at that point will chose whom we will worship, God or ourselves.  Those who chose to worship themselves will be given their wish and be sent to worship themselves and nurse their grudges and rage against what they perceive to be the injustice perpetrated against them by an unfair Judge in an eternal outer darkness, while the rest of us lay down our sinful baggage and accept forgiveness and healing in repentance in the eternal Kingdom of Light in the presence of God.

Like I said, I’m no theologian.  I could be very off base here, and ask for God’s mercy and forgiveness if I am.  This view just seems to fit God’s mix of love and justice better to me than one of a stern God who longs to bring the hammer down on everyone who doesn’t toe a very thin line.  I’ll have to present this idea to some people who are a whole lot smarter than me about these things, but i thought that I would share them with you first.