Wednesday, September 24, 2008

P4E.087 My Old Ways

One of the great things about having a 15 year old son, is that he keeps me up with some music I might never, otherwise, be exposed to.

As an example, if it weren't for Ben, I wouldn't have heard of (or even thought to listen to) a band called Dr. Dog and their song "My Old Ways," part of whose lyrics go:

"...But, I don't ever wanna go back
To my old ways
Cheatin' and creepin' around
I don't ever wanna go back
To the old days
I'm leaving the dead underground
I don't ever wanna go
No, I don't ever wanna go back
To my o-o-o-o-o-o-o-old ways again
I don't wanna go back
To my o-o-o-o-o-o-o-old ways again..."

I've given my wife, Gwen, some scares lately.
My flesh has been leaking (flooding?) through.
I know she might be thinking that I might return to my old ways.
I'm having to work (hard) to assure her that's not going to happen.

I need to remind myself of My Old Ways:

- selfish, "me first," attitude
- inwardly focused
- more concerned about my flesh than my spirit (or other's spirits)
- impatient
- explosively angry
- unforgiving
- frustrated
- unable to encourage
- refuse to be encouraged
- inflexible
- opinionated
- cynical
- hard hearted
- argumentative
- unable (or refused) to lead
- uncreative
- thoughtless
- lazy
- withdrawn
- uncommunicative
- dead

And that's just to name a few!
I'm committing to Gwen that I won't go back to my old ways.
I'm leaving the dead underground.
God help me.
What's your list look like?

Guard your heart, Kim

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

P4E.086 A Young Man's Tale

"Old man look at my life,
Twenty four and there's so much more...
Doesn't mean that much to me

To mean that much to you..."
Neil Young

A Young Man's Tale

When J was very young, five or six, his father thought he'd play a little joke on him. His father put a shawl over his head and found a stick for a cane and came into J's bedroom hunched over and limping on the cane, saying in a creaky voice "I'm an ooooold laaaadyyyy." J sat up in his bed, tears welling in his eyes and cried, "Ohhhh, that's sad!"

Another time, J's parents had taken him into Los Angeles for some fancy function. They were all dressed up and walking, hand-in-hand, down the street. A bedraggled, homeless man approached them and threw himself on his knees in front of the family, begging for some help. The family barely broke stride as they moved around him. "God bless you..." the homeless man croaked as they walked by. But, J began tugging on his mother's skirt. He whispered something in her ear. She reached into her purse and gave J some change. J went back on his own and handed it into the crusty man's filthy hand. As J ran back to his family, the dingy man smiled and waved after him.

Not surprisingly, J grew up to become a firefighter and EMT, working on an ambulance. Every day, day in and day out, J saw life pass in front of his eyes. Some life passed young and some life passed old. Some passed in pain and some unconscious. He grew weary not of doing good, but of suppressing the feelings that would accompany the pain and the passing of life. He grew weary not of the discipline, but of the para-military aspect of his work. He was self-aware enough to see that he was becoming callous and superior and bigoted. He cared so much and was so troubled in his heart that he abandoned the pursuit of a firefighter/paramedic career.

J is 26 and lives in Seattle now, with his girlfriend. For the most part, he's eschewed materialism. Doesn't own a car or much of anything else. He has a dog, whom he adores, named Shackleton. He's a vegetarian bordering on vegan. Sometimes he falls off the vege wagon. But, he's not dogmatic about it. He's a vegetarian because he loves animals and it's healthy. He played football when he was younger, but now he doesn't have much to do with team sports. He's competitive, but mostly with himself. He loves riding bicycles and does what he loves in his job as an urban bicycle messenger. It's a tough job and J fought hard to get it. He's proud of his work. J's parents were political conservatives and "born agains" while he was growing up. J has found his own way and finds himself far to the left of where his parents were politically and non-committal about Christianity.

J reads for pleasure and sometimes he recommends books to his father. One recent recommendation was "Into the Wild" about a young man who, after graduating from college, gave away his savings to a non-profit that works to find solutions to injustice and poverty, burned the money in his wallet, abandoned his car and began traveling. He died in Alaska after heading out the snowy Stampede Trail with only ten pounds of rice, a .22 caliber rifle, a camera, several boxes of rifle rounds, some camping gear, and a small selection of literature. He took no compass or map. He was 24.

On his bicycle messenger route J has come to know and befriend a shabby homeless man, like the one to whom he gave change when he was a child, named Wes. J usually sees Wes outside of a mini-mart. J chats with Wes when he sees him and buys Wes a water or a Gatorade when he can afford it. Last week, when J saw him, Wes said "It's my birthday, but I got no one to celebrate with me." J got off his bike and went into the mini-mart. He bought some packaged cake and came back out to celebrate with Wes. But Wes was gone. J wept when he told the story.

This young man's tale is unfolding. He's finding himself and trying not to worry about what others think of him (he still does, though). His parents love him and are there for him and are behind him all the way. They've learned a lot and are not the people they were when J was growing up. They are praying for who he has been and who he is and who he will be. Do they wish he'd make some different, better decisions with his life? Like most parents, yes. But, they're proud of J because his heart is good, soft and warm. That's a measure of success, as far as his parents are concerned. They are hoping and praying for the best for J.

He has more of Christ in him than even he knows.

"Diddle Diddle Dumpling...."

Peace, Kim

Saturday, September 6, 2008

P4E.085 Scapegoat Redux

There's a scene in the movie National Treasure where federal agent Sadusky says to Ben Gates (who's stolen the Declaration of Independence, then lost it),

"So, here are your options: Door number one - you go to prison for a very long time. Door number two - we're going to get back the Declaration of Independence; you help us find it, and... you still go to prison for a very long time. But you'll feel better inside."

Gates says, "Is there a door that doesn't lead to prison?"

and Sadusky replies, "Someone's got to go to prison, Ben."

When things go wrong, it seems ingrained in human nature that someone must be blamed and pay a price.

My being a scapegoat brought about some heartfelt discussion with my wife, Gwen. Initially, Gwen felt compassion for me in the specific situation where I was made the scapegoat. She actually cried for me. As our conversation unfolded, Gwen let me know that some old wounds had been re-opened by the whole scapegoat scenario.

Gwen helped me to remember that, before I became well, I had quite a track-record of making her and my sons scapegoats. In my weaker moments, I'm sure I still have that capacity. My inability to take responsibility for when things go wrong caused me to become very adept at blameshifting. So, when a scrap of paper with an important (to me) phone number I thought I had left on the kitchen counter went missing, Gwen and the boys were the most likely targets to blame. In fact, whenever anything was out of place and not easily found, I would go on a rampage of "where did it go?" "who moved it?" "why would anyone touch it?" Everyone would have to stop what they were doing to help me find the whateveritwas that was lost. And we wouldn't stop until it was found or we were just so emotionally exhausted, we'd have to stop. It would not occur to me to go to Plan B and use a substitute whateveritwas. It would not occur to me to save time, just let it go and re-create the whateveritwas. It certainly would not occur to me to take personal responsibility without looking for a scapegoat. The air would be thick with my fuming and fussing and blaming. Looking back, it was emotional abuse, no doubt. (It pains me to confess to you what an ass I can be.)

I write just one example, but you can imagine how this pattern could expand to fit any given situation in my life and how my wife and sons came to feel that they were walking on eggshells. This pattern led Gwen to "become a different person" when I was around. Her guard was up. She would be on the defensive. What would be next? My sons simply sought escape. Who wants to be blamed for something that they had nothing to do with?

I imagine that the reason I was made the scapegoat was so that I could feel what it's like to be one (It sucks). So that, in my new found self-awareness, I could empathize with my wife and sons. So that I could realize again that, lacking a spiritual orientation, I had treated Gwen treacherously and exasperated my sons. Mortal sins, both, for which I am truly sorry.

Although blameshifting and scapegoating are human nature, there are examples where men of honor have resisted the urge. My good friend and New York architect, Gary Shoemaker (, recently recommended the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin which I will read in due course. Gary says that the author describes an Abraham Lincoln who, having selected his own political rivals and enemies to serve in his Cabinet, refused to shift blame away from himself for anything that would go wrong. He simply would not allow anyone else to own his problems. The responsibility was his, pure and simple. In the end, those same rivals and enemies praised his unwavering character.

I would like to be such a man. God help me.

Guard your heart, Kim