Not That I Was “Looking for God” but… Well, OK, Maybe I Was

OIP

Fool’s Odyssey posts can be read as standalones, or in sequence (to do so, begin here).

Fool's Odyssey (title art 2)Now, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t exactly “looking for God” or anything. I mean, I was the guy who wrote, “Man makes God in his own image” in his Psychology journal (and thought it was original) and got an A from a professor who was fired for chewing betel nuts. But then the hospital called and said, “Your father’s dead.” And in some inexpressible way (my fired professor would have cited Freud) that seemed to rip away the false undergirdings I hadn’t even known were there, and to lay the groundwork for an advanced state of “not exactly looking…”

Then there was this girl (there’s always “this girl,” right?). You know, The One, the one you’re going “to spend the rest of your life with.” Until she goes off to spend the rest of your life with someone else.

So I wasn’t exactly “looking for God” or anything,

Just someone who wouldn’t leave.

Still, it came as a surprise to me when my optimism developed a stigmatism. I mean, it was like all of a sudden I realized everything wasn’t getting better with the world. Or with me. And for the first time in my life I wasn’t sure what the world should do.

I mean, not only didn’t we have “the answer.” We didn’t even know what the question was.

“Vanity. All is vanity and chasing after wind,” said the wise man. (Ecclesiastes 1:14)

Hell. Well this is hell, said the fool.

I heard some philosopher’d said that everyone’s heart is a vacuum. “Well, if that’s so,” I thought, “Mine must have a busted dust filter, because it feels like it’s sucking up all the dirt in the world.”

And so I became a pessimist. It wasn’t my natural state, but it turned out I was really good at it. I wrote weird paeans to Pessimism like this one:

Nothing is the total that I’ve come to know of late

My heart it lies awanting in a rotting apple crate

Outside of pets and debtors there is ne’er a one can say

That he will be my champion when comes that final day

So get yourself a garden, friend, and teach it how to grow

And if you’re very lucky then it will’na turn and go.

I didn’t know exactly what I meant, but I liked the way it sounded–with an appropriately depressed sort of liking–especially the little Scottish touches.

And then for a while I got into being a “seeker of truth.” And one of my favorite things was what some yogi guy said: “You must always be content to be a seeker, and never be so audacious as to presume you have actually found the Truth.”

It sounded so deep.

But then I got to thinking, “What if the Truth actually did come up to me and tap me on the shoulder one day, and say, “Well, here I am.” I’d probably just have replied, “Shh, go away, can’t you see I’m busy seeking you?”

And I saw that the wise man’s eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. Yet the same thing happens to all in the end. So how was I more wise? And I said in my heart that even wisdom is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 2:14) 

Still, I had to look at least, to see if I could see what I could see.

I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven. (Ecclesiastes 1:13)

And so it began.

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Nature Walkabout With Coffee

CaptureMy Featured Blogger this week is Gary Fultz, a northern Minnesota-based writer/photographer (brrrrr). Gary is an avid outdoorsman, storyteller, and public speaker who “loves God, family, and total strangers.” He maintains a devotional blog, as well, and I’m delighted to follow both. Why? Because his writing, along with his stunning photography, is engaging, down-to-earth, and peppered with insights. So pour another cuppa joe and enjoy!

garyfultz

View from our front picture window. You can’s see the cold.

I take a sip of coffee and look out the front window.

I am at the bottom of the hot chocolate can and the coffee bean bag indicator is sitting on E. Nursing a painful neck injury has made me participate in the winter sport of drinking a hot beverage while watchingthe outside world through our windows. Even though nature’s winter has been -15 to -35 below zero Fahrenheit for the last week and the wind chills have reached -70 I want to participate, kind of. The smart people on TV say this will continue another few days. Then spring, yea!

A young fawn often walks the perimeter.

For now I am relegated to peering out windows and thinking strange, or at least new thoughts. Being I have the camera handy I put my coffee down and capture…

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An Imaginary Life

30f9a258cf6b6f21755bf1043db218e1My first home (as I remember it).

My Real Memoir

From the beginning, I was a daydreamer. Maybe because I spent so much time alone. I was clearly daydreaming in the womb, staring at some pretty placental pictures, no doubt, when the doctor announced, “He doesn’t want to come out. I’ll have to use the forceps.” He eventually managed to pry me out, but then informed parents, “Hope he’s a good’n, because you won’t have another.”

So you see, it was my fault that I never had a sibling. From the start, my BFF was my imagination. I daydreamed incessantly (and still do). I’d lie upside down on the old armchair in our Garage and visit Upsidedownland, rappelling through the roof beams and flying through the rafters! Yes, thanks to Grandpa Teemley, I could fly.

I had other magical powers, as well. My tricycle made ice cream when I churned the pedals and chanted, “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.” Plus, I could transform my Red Flyer wagon into anything I wanted: an airplane, a boat, a locomotive.

I knew the neighbors watched in awe as I executed these amazing transformations. All except the Witch, the lady who’d had me arrested for turning myself into a Wild Indian. That happened so early on, I barely remembered it. Yet henceforth she forbade me, under threat of having me “taken away forever,” to walk on her side of the street. Result? The only time I was allowed to cross our street was when I passed the Witch’s house (Mom called her that too). In fact, my first two human friends Old Peggy and Crazy Eddie lived on TOSOTS, The Other Side of the Street (more on them later).

Unfortunately, the Witch also had powers. I found out when I was in Dreamland. Dreamland was my other favorite place to visit. I could fly even better there than in Upsidedownlandand! But one night Dreamland seemed scarier and less magical. The Hallway was ominously dark and cold. Momandad’s room was dark and cold too–and empty, so I couldn’t run and hide under the covers between them.

Suddenly, the Witch was there in the Hallway with me! Only now she was ten feet tall and all see-through-y like a ghost! I tried to fly, but her powers were greater and she stopped me! So I ran. But then I realized I was only running in place and that the Witch was getting nearer and nearer! Finally, she reached out and grabbed my shoulder with her hideous spider’s leg fingers. They were the coldest thing I’d ever felt and I knew they were going to freeze me to death! But then they passed right through me.

She couldn’t hold me!

Then, in flash, Momandad were there. They could hold me. And they’d brought the light back with them.

And so, you see…

I was never really alone.

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Am I Frozen in Place?

Icicles 2-19-21
The view from my office window last week.

Thought for the Week

I spent of a good deal of time admiring these icicles outside my office window last week, while accomplishing very little–although I did capture this lovely image. Plus a rather unlovely metaphor to go with it: Has the pandemic provided me with an excuse to be frozen in place? Is my goal to accomplish something of value? Or is it merely to convince people I have?

“It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.” ~Harry S. Truman

“Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that.” ~Galatians 6:4 (MSG)

“You can read a hundred books on wisdom and write a hundred books on wisdom, but unless you apply what you learned then its only words on a page. Life is not lived with intentions, but action.” ~Shannon Alder

“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered. The point is to discover them.” ~Galileo Galilei

          “Delusion detests focus and romance provides the veil.”              ~Suzanne Finnamore

          “I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.” ~Oscar Wilde

“If you reach for the stars, you just might land on a decently sized hill.” ~Stuart Hill

“Accomplish but do not boast, accomplish but without show, accomplish but without arrogance.” ~Lao Tzu

“You measure the size of the accomplishment by the obstacles you have to overcome to reach your goals.” ~Booker T. Washington

(The biggest one being myself.)

Δ

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Life Together

Carry One Anothers' Burdens

Have you ever moved, almost without realizing it, from learning about another’s burdens to helping carry them? Indeed, if we don’t share one another’s burdens, are we even truly alive?

~The Wishing Map

Posted in For Pastors and Teachers, Quips and Quotes, Religion/Faith, The Wishing Map | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

An Open Letter to Christians

'My Friend' by Helen Thomas Robson (fineartamerica.com)Painting: ‘My Friend‘ by Helen Thomas Robson (fineartamerica.com)

“You’ve heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you: Do not to resist an evil person. If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn and offer them the other one. If someone wants to sue you to take your tunic, let them have your cloak as well. And if someone forces you to go a mile with them, go with them two. Give to the one who asks, and do not turn away from the person who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. And then you will be the true children of your Father in heaven.” ~Matthew 5:38-45

Dear Fellow Christians,

The life of Jesus, and the life he commands us to emulate, is one of unconditional love (agapaó) toward others. It’s the same unearned love that saved us “while we were yet sinners” (Romans 5:8). In its operative form it’s called grace, undeserved favor toward those who have no right to such a claim. In other words, it’s loving the way Jesus loved. We, the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27), his followers, are called to be his active, physical presence in the world.

And yet the message the world seems be hearing from most who call themselves Christians is not “We love you unconditionally” but “Here’s a list of our demands!” No wonder they’ve turned away from Jesus. When did the Body of Christ become just another special interest group demanding its rights?

“But,” many cry, “our country has abandoned its biblical values. It’s turned pagan, evil—and it’s up to us to save it!”

No, it’s not.

Jesus didn’t call his followers to save the Roman Empire—a world of pagan beliefs and abominable practices (widespread slavery, child abuse, torture and murder as public entertainment) ruled over by a dictator considered a living god. Instead, Jesus called his followers to save people, individuals. But how, if not by saving their nation?

By showing them the love Jesus spoke of and embodied, by being his living presence in the world today.

Brothers and sisters, “Christendom,” the era of powerful nations loosely guided by Christian principles, has ended. We are rapidly returning to the kind of pagan society Jesus encountered 2,000 years ago, a society that doesn’t even pretend to be Christlike–because it doesn’t know who Christ is.

No wonder our culture is turning away from Jesus. They’ve never encountered him. And until we show them the real Jesus…

We’ve shown them no Jesus at all.

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Future Movie Settings

Film Exteriors

I’m a filmmaker (writer, director, producer). But as you know, movies took a major hit when a certain pandemic decided to ransack our planet. Like everyone else, my co-producer wife and I were left looking for safe ways to spend our time. So we decided to kill two birds with one stone and take daytrips to potential nearby film sites (our southwest Ohio/northern Kentucky area is rich in imagery). I previously posted photos of buildings and historical sites. Here are some of the exteriors we’ve captured (forests, farms, skylines). What’s the diff? In filmmaking, exteriors are shot at different times and in different ways than interiors: night shots use city lights or stadium-like spotlights; daytime shots used controlled (filtered and bounced) sunlight. More to come!

Click on any image to enlarge it, or to begin slide show.

Note: These photos may not be reproduced or used without written permission.

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Where My Journey Began

Fool's Odyssey (title art 2)

When I was a young man, I began searching for the meaning of life—because that’s what young men do. I’d abandoned my former atheism and started reading the words of Jesus. But uncertainty and pride had caused me to stop mid-leap-of-faith and review my options: “How should I live?” I asked myself, the one person who clearly didn’t have the answer. So I went to Europe—because that’s what young men do—and scribbled my thoughts along the way.

I eventually returned home with a satchel-full of thoughts. Seeking a way to organize them, I turned to the Book of Ecclesiastes, the journey of the Wise Man, the king in Jerusalem. Like him, I’d searched for a reason to live, a purpose. Like him, I’d tried “isms” along the way: Materialism, Sensualism, Idealism. And like him, I’d experienced the emptiness (“vanity”) of each. In the end, the Wise Man and I both arrived at the same cistern, still thirsty, realizing we knew nothing.

Which is the beginning of knowing something.

Then I read Psalm 14:1, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God,'” and I knew I’d found my role in this parallel journey. So I called it Fool’s Odyssey. I later did readings of this piece in the U.S. and U.K., and am now revisiting and serializing it here.

The words of the Wise Man,

the son of David,

the king in Jerusalem.

The words of the Fool;

the sun had set,

the time had come.

“Vanity of vanities,” said the Wise Man;

“all is vanity and chasing after wind.

And one generation passes away

and another one comes in its stead.

“And the earth abideth forever,” they say,

but you never can quite get ahead.

“And all of the rivers run into the sea,

yet the sea is never quite full.

Then unto the place from whence they came,

the rivers flow again.

And that which is done

is that which shall be done.”

‘Cause there’s nothing that’s new.

No, nothing new under the sun. 

Hell. Well, this is hell, said the Fool. You know for the life of me, I couldn’t tell if I was that proverbial puppy chasing his tail, or that mischievous kitten after an ever-unraveling ball of yarn. I mean, either one was the same to me, perceivable only as a wisp of something or other.

But here’s the reason why I had to know: If only the tip of mine own tenacious tail, then the end was bound to be disappointing. O, but if the tip of a bit of a ball of yarn, then even though itself unraveled to nothingness, itself, in time, I thought, might lead me back to where it all began, and to the One who raveled it up.

And so my journey began.

To read the next episode, click here.

Posted in Fool's Odyssey, For Pastors and Teachers, Memoir, Poetry, Religion/Faith | Tagged , , , , | 15 Comments

The Last Blog – and Twinkle ⭐️

CaptureMy Featured Blogger this week is ewhyard of Mum’s the word. Ewhyard lives in Colchester, Britain’s oldest town, though she’s spent considerable time in Wales, as well. I have no idea which, if any, part of her her blogger name is her actual name-name, so for now we’ll call her “E.” But I do know she’s criminally under-read.

Once envisioning life as journalist, E became a full-time mum instead, then a teacher and social worker, as well. When she finally returned to writing–and I’m so glad she did–she turned from journalism to a broader range of mum-centric memoirs, essays, and poetry. A rich literary vein run through E’s writing, along with a pervasive wit and just plain old-fashioned goodness. Read her!

Mum’s the word

The best known nursery rhyme in the world, ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’, was written by Jane Taylor, aged 23, in 1806 in her attic, which still exists in Stockwell Street, Colchester.

It’s a sad day. Not just because this is the last day of the NaNoPoBlano challenge but because tonight…..I sang my last twinkle twinkle little star to my son. It’s a funny thing but after 20 odd years of parenting I didn’t think of this as being a milestone. Quite often though, these milestones are slotted in between minutes that are hurried and unexpected. And this was definitely the latter. Why the significance? Maybe it’s because he is my last, maybe it’s because he is my loudest or maybe because he chose this milestone himself. He lay in his racing car bed, looked at me and said, “I’m getting big now Mummy. No more songs – I can go…

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The Death of a Dear Friend

DennisRisch_photoThe classic lawyer stereotype is a person who’s rich, unethical, maybe even a little evil. My favorite “evil lawyer” bit appeared in Grace Under Fire, a late 90s sitcom: Facing a nasty divorce, Grace asks a friend if he can put her in touch with a cutthroat attorney.

“Sure,” he replies, “my ex-wife’s lawyer.”

“Great. What’s his number?”

“He doesn’t have a phone. You draw a pentagram and summon him.”

When I told my lawyer friend Dennis this line, he chuckled. “Not that you’re anything like that,” I quickly added. “If anything you’re the opposite.” Dennis smiled and thanked me.

But I understated it. Dennis was one of the kindest, most ethical people I have ever known. Not only was he not rich, he had a diehard habit of representing anyone who needed him, often for little or no money. And this wasn’t standard pro bono lawyer stuff, it was the humble tenderheartedness of man of deep faith and humanity; Dennis was also addicted to doing volunteer work for his church and community.

In other words, as evil lawyers go, he was a complete failure.

Not that that made him immune to the mysteries of mortality. Dennis was secretary-treasurer of my production company, and last week he was supposed to drop off some tax docs. Instead, he sent a terse email: “Heading to ER.”

“Oh, no!” I replied. “Praying!” But for whom. A family member? (His wife and family are also dear to us).

Two days later, his daughter texted, “Dad left some tax docs for you. He has COVID-19.” She added me to the emergency Update.

The next morning, the Update said he was facing probable last-resort ventilation. Then he took a turn for the better. But later that night, another daughter posted, “Saying our goodbyes.” Trudy and I went to bed with our hearts breaking. For his family. For ourselves. For the many who knew and loved him.

The next morning, just 4 days after his quick trip to ER, the Update read, “He’s gone.”

Friends scheduled a candlelight vigil. On a frigid Valentine’s Day eve, perhaps 70 or more people altered their plans and stood in the snow in front of his house. Why? To show our love for his family, certainly. But also to show our gratitude for the person Dennis was.

No, make that is. Because from now on, I know that if I want to summon Dennis’s memory, all I have to do is smile…

And draw a pair of wings.

Posted in For Pastors and Teachers, Humor | Tagged , , , , , , , | 142 Comments