Archive for the ‘Stories’ Category

A Plague on the Earth

Posted: 2013/02/16 in Stories

A couple of weeks ago, I read that David Attenborough called humanity, “A plague on the earth.”

At first I bristled, and then I said, “He’s right.” In most matters, I am less of a plague than many people, but as a moderately prosperous member of a still-affluent society, I’ve emitted much more than my share of CO2 and have profited, if even indirectly, from the unsustainable production and consumption of food and material goods. And the earth is groaning.

When I said, “Yes, I am a plague on the earth,” it wasn’t a cheerful thought, but it was a freeing one, in the way that confession is freeing. Heretofore I’d been chipping away at being less of a plague, held back by priorities, convenience, and the already negotiated thermostat setting. I will continue to chip away at it. But I will probably always be a plague.

Maybe it also felt freeing because I finally got something. What do I do when I find out I’m wrong? I either try to say that there is no such thing, or come up with a justification, or rationalize that I’m not as wrong as a lot of other people, or now that I know, I’ve no excuse not to be perfect (a personal favorite). But this is a case where I’m stuck. I really am contributing to something that grieves me very much, yet I know that I probably won’t ever really stop and will certainly never be able to make restitution.

Now, being a Christian person, I always think about the atonement, but it always seems to be accompanied by these other things. But this morning, I felt love afresh.

I have been charged with multiple counts of being a plague on the earth and committing crimes against humanity, some of these charges being for acts yet uncommitted. I have confessed, and am unable to make restitution. Then I find out that Someone has impersonated me, legally. He paid my fines and did my time. He as also declared His intention, at some point in the future, to make restitution on my behalf. He has also entered into the court records a document listing all of my charges, past, present, and future, the sentences, and fine paid or time served. This document further states that anyone, including me, who brings charges against me for any of these counts of being a plague on the earth or committing crimes against humanity, is themselves engaging in double jeopardy—trying a man a second time for the same offense—and will not be heard in court.

I imagine that I then met up with Him on the court house steps. He said, “I want you to stop being a plague on the earth, and stop committing crimes against humanity. However, seeing as how you are a habitual criminal, I don’t think you will get very far with that by yourself. So here is my offer to you. I want you to go to work for me. Understand that I run a pretty tight ship, but rest assured that the jobs I give you will be within your abilities, provided you avail yourself of the training and other assistance I will provide you. These aren’t make-work tasks—they are genuinely useful. Plus, they will sometimes be things about which you are genuinely passionate. Yes, I know. I have a complete file on you.”

“Oh, and one other thing. You don’t have to do this, but I think it will help. You can stay with us, in My house, any time you like. You’ll have to bunk with other people like yourself, and eat common meals. The accommodations are simple, but I think you’ll find it restorative, especially if you’re upset and confused by the rest of your life. Which, by the way, I would like you to keep living. Just don’t forget all about Me when you’re in the middle of it. Here’s my cell number. Call anytime you like, seriously. I’m not all that busy, and I get by on a lot less sleep than you think, so never let the fear of interrupting something or disturbing me stop you from calling, even if you just want to talk. Especially that. Some of the jobs I give you to do won’t be as clear-cut as they seem at first.”

“Finally, here are some business cards, and a security card. The security card will get you through both gates. Don’t lose it.”

I looked at the business cards. The title didn’t fully make sense. My name was different, too.

“Excuse me, Sir. I cannot thank You enough for all You have done for me, and the opportunity to work for You and live with You. But I think you might have gotten my name wrong.”

“No, it’s right. While I was at the court house, I filed papers to adopt you. ‘What’s one more? One can never have too many children!’ I thought. Don’t be afraid to use My name. It opens many doors. And I appreciate your courtesy, but I prefer ’Papa’ to ‘Sir.’”

He shook my hand, and said, “Now go.”

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I saw this quote today, and it lodged somewhere down deep.

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.
—Upton Sinclair

I think it was meant as a put-down. “Of course he doesn’t want to understand. He’s doing well at others’ expense, and he wouldn’t be able to stand himself if he knew the truth.” There’s a lot of that going on in my country right now. Other people don’t agree with me about matters of grave importance. Why? Simple. Either

  • they’re stupid, or
  • they’re evil.

But the quote made me think, “Maybe they’re just scared.” (more…)

Charity and Love

Posted: 2012/03/01 in Stories, Words
Tags: ,

A friend of mine posted on Facebook—that great virtual town square—an article called The Lessons of Charity.

His wife gave $5 to a homeless man in Chicago. He responded, “What if he just uses it to buy drugs or alcohol?” Her response was, “That’s his choice. Once I chose to give him the money, it’s his. What gives you the right to decide for him?”

Phil Scarr’s thesis is that the spreading policy of drug testing welfare recipients is driven by a sense of moral superiority, and a desire by the rich, specifically the Republican Party, to further subjugate and humiliate the poor.

Well, I’ve been down this road too, and as I’m fond of saying, “It’s not that simple.” Now, I tend to avoid this road altogether. It makes me uncomfortable. According to Global Rich List, compared to the rest of the world, “I Am The 1%.” But I have given to poor people. I’ve given money, paid for a motel room (no place I would want to stay), bought bags of groceries, and filled up gasoline tanks. I’ve also stopped giving to one individual when I discovered that he was lying to my face. I’m now more likely to give through my church or food banks or the Salvation Army than directly. People who serve the poor full time through these agencies have all told me not to give money directly to the poor person on the street corner because they probably aren’t the neediest person and they very well might use it to buy alcohol or drugs.

I can’t speak for anyone else’s motives, but when I contemplate my own acts of charity, I feel a mixture of joy and shame. Until I read Mr. Scarr’s article, “moral superiority” never once crossed my mind. Now that I’ve read Mr. Scarr’s article, it crosses my mind, but without even slowing down. What does cross my mind when I give, and what I aim for, is love, “Saying and doing what’s truly in the other’s best interest, whether they deserve it or not, and with no strings attached.”

1 Corinthians 13, the Bible’s “love chapter” trotted out of context at many a wedding, drives a sharp wedge deeply between charity and love. The third verse says,

If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,but do not have love, I gain nothing.

I bucked the trend and didn’t “like” the article on Facebook because Mr. Scarr does the very thing he condemns; he judges the motives of people (including me) who judge the intent of recipients of charity. The reason that I don’t want to make it possible for homeless people to obtain drugs and alcohol based on my act of charity has nothing to do with a sense of moral superiority. It’s because I don’t think that’s what loving them looks like. The reason I stopped helping the man who was trying to con me is the same reason I disciplined my daughter when she was trying to con me. It’s not in their best interest to reward that behavior. I explained my decision to both of them—to the man once, and to my daughter many times.

As with so many other things, so it is with charity. Ground yourself in love, and you just might get it right. Without love, your charity might do more harm than good.

A couple of days ago I read a comment that said wind and solar could never provide more than 20% of our energy needs and that we were therefore faced with an awful dilemma.

I was really depressed and anxious for a couple of days.

(I’ve learned that my anxiety especially draws its real energy from more immediate circumstances, especially if I’m not acknowledging them, and there are plenty of those. Otherwise I would be anxious and depressed at a pretty steady level all the time. But I digress.)

Then I remembered the story of the loaves and fishes. (more…)

The iMan’s Path

Posted: 2011/10/07 in Stories
Tags: ,

Steve Jobs was a great man—no question. He didn’t just make a fortune, he helped create a new industry. His company’s creations changed the way we live. The “indomitable human spirit” is often a cliché, but not when said of Steve Jobs. He triumphed with the Apple II and Macintosh computers. Then he was fired from his own company, and failed at his NeXT (literally) venture. But Pixar—he founded Pixar, too!—turned out OK. Then he returned to the struggling company he founded, re-invented it, and proceeded to re-define established products, first with the iPod and then with the iPhone. Even as his life ended too soon, he faced death with courage and, like Sinatra, did it his way. Like many great men, he was demanding and difficult, but certainly not evil. The path he traveled can’t be traveled much better than Jobs did it. Steve Jobs was an archetype in the flesh—the iMan. (more…)

My parents grew up during the Great Depression, my mother in a big industrial city and my father in a medium-size town. “Let me teach you an old Depression trick!” was how some of Pa’s stories started, and he would show us something like how you could get a little extra life out of flashlight batteries by sitting them in a warm spot on the back of the stove near the pilot light. He taught us how to repair cars ourselves (cars were simpler then).

I still remember my mother sitting in her rocking chair, darning socks. She didn’t talk about the Depression nearly as much as my dad. I think it was harder for her family in the city. When I was a kid she realized that she didn’t need to darn socks any more, but we still had “school clothes” and “play clothes,” and woe to us if we got the two mixed up! And we cleaned our plates, and my dad always bought cars used (none of this “pre-owned” malarkey; who are they trying to kid?) and drove a hard bargain, and bought furniture from the scratch-and-dent room in the back of the second best store in town.

“Do without as long as you can, and then buy the best you can afford.”

“Stuff always goes on sale.”

And my favorite, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without!”

My parents were both big conservationists, even though my father was a Goldwater Republican and my mom was a Roosevelt Democrat. (That made for some interesting conversations, especially when you added my brother and Grandpa to the mix during the Sixties). I read “The Population Bomb” and “The Limits to Growth” when I was in high school, and remember thinking, “My parents had it tough at the beginning. I’m going to have it tough at the end.”

I was born in the United States of America in the mid-20th century.

I only remember one house, in an old suburb of a big city. I walked and biked to school, and in the summer my buddies and I roamed the neighborhood largely unsupervised, catching crawdads in the drainage ditch, playing various sports in the vacant lot, and flying (and wrecking) various kit-built and homemade model airplanes in the parking lot behind the Baptist church at one end of the street. There was a Methodist church at the other end; that was where we went until I was about 10 and my father decided that Sundays were better spent at the beach! It’s parking lot was smaller than the Baptists’ and had trees, making it unsuitable for our aeronautical adventures.

My parents loved me. Though my father was strict and had a temper, he also had a fantastic sense of humor (which some say I inherited) and went out of his way to create happy memories. If it was fun, inexpensive (free counts), and legal, we probably did it. We went on a family driving vacation every summer. We went fishing. We went to lots of baseball games. He took us to the stock car races and the wrestling matches. Many evenings at dinner were punctuated with all of us laughing so hard about something that had happened at work or at school that we couldn’t stop. My parents are still married. My mom was a gradually retiring nurse, loving but no nonsense.

My wife and I are in our third decade of marriage, the first for both of us. Her parents are still married too. We’re a genuinely happy couple. We like each others’ company more than just about anything else in the world. We each genuinely enjoy too-seldom times with our in-laws and other extended family. We’re both pretty healthy, and we have a wonderful adult daughter who’s moved away but calls a couple of times a week.

Even for an American, I’m the freak show. (more…)