Tag Archives: grace

Bucket list check: Goodbye Vin

Several years ago, at the lowest point of my life, I was in rehab and far removed from everything familiar and comforting. Like so many do when life dead ends, I started the so-called Bucket List focused on things I hoped to do again once I put my life back on the rails. Almost every item involved an experience I wanted to share with another person.

One item on the list: listen to a Vin Scully broadcast one more time. I didn’t need to share it with anyone else, just legendary Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully.

The sweet, understated, folksy charm of Scully connected me back to my childhood. Night after night, I carried my radio down to the local market that had the game of Pac-Man. I’d put the radio above the game, break out a roll of quarters I saved from my various chores or entrepreneurial activities, and tune into Scully’s Dodger broadcasts.

These times said a lot about me. I didn’t need a lot of others around to find my happy place. I loved baseball and still, do. I loved mastering anything–in this case, Pac-Man, where eventually I could play three or four innings on a single quarter– and I tended to be both competitive and addictive even when the activity didn’t matter to anyone else.

But mostly, they reminded me of a marker in my life that felt uncluttered, uncomplicated and happy. These three things don’t often align in my life.

At the time I wrote the list, I knew I couldn’t get a Dodger broadcast until the next season. I told my brother during a visitation about my hope.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “Scully is retiring this year.”

I couldn’t believe it, and yet, of course, it made sense. He had already broadcasted for more than 60 years–a staggering run of longevity and excellence. But still, like everything bad happening during that time it felt personal, like punishment. Fate needed to take my to the shed, again and again.

But fate showed some grace. Scully re-upped for quite a few more years bringing us to this day today, the last time he broadcasts in LA. I sit in my dream apartment, my dogs nearby, just passed my seven-year sobriety mark, and I can cross this off the bucket list. I’ve heard Scully a few times in the last few years, but this is special. I’m here at the end of his ride and again, in a better place in my life.

When I added Scully to my Bucket List, I optimistically hoped to listen to a Giants/Dodgers game. If I was going to have a memorable moment, why not go for one of the great rivalries of all time and one that marked my growth. I grew up a Dodger fan and yet long ago moved myself and all my allegiances to the North. I’m San Francisco through and through these days, even if an adopted not naturalized citizen.

Scully’s final broadcast will be later this week, on the road here in San Francisco, for a final Dodgers vs. Giants game. I’m not sure I can get that broadcast, but I’ll watch the game along with Vin for one last time.

In this world so full of grace, it’s nice to be reminded of how much I’ve been given.

“God is so good,” Scully reflected today on this special broadcast.

She is indeed.


Easter touchstones in my long road to redemption

In this seven-year work of grace and redemption in my life, God has used Easter as a powerful touchstone along the way. I spent the most significant Easter of my life running a personal half-marathon and in fasting the day before my release from prison rehab. Everything I thought God was doing my life was wrong. I could never have predicted the arc of suffering and spiritual work that lay ahead, and that too was grace. Had I known, I may have just surrendered and quit the journey, u-turning back into a bottle of ego and self. But that’s a story for another Easter. This Easter, I celebrate the one before that one. A dark day brightened by a visitation from a humble man of God who I’m blessed to call my friend. In that visitation, God visited me as well, and I re-opened my heart to what God may want from me in this life. This is an excerpt from a book I will soon be releasing on EffinArtist.com.  I wish you a blessed Easter and ears tuned to what the Spirit of God is doing in your blessed life.

*An Easter meditation

My close friend Mike is a conservative. I’m a liberal. Yet we don’t clash over our faith. We celebrate it. It’s why he’s like a brother to me, or, at least, one of a gajillian reasons and why I am like a brother to him.

We were both athletic in our heyday. We’re both driven. We both work with a passion to succeed. I trash talk. I can’t bait him to return the fodder, even though it’s far more his culture as a black man than it is mine. Every time I jab at him he says, “Oh man,” Eyes rolling as a huge smile lights across his face. “Oh man. We’ll see about that. Yes, we will.”

He just won’t take the bait.

A couple of times in the years I’ve known him, I heard him gently suggest I should take a look at my pride. It can trip you up, he’d say.

I’d shirk it off. Pride to me was thinking you’re better than you are. That’s not exactly my thorn of the flesh. I felt confident in my skills and comfortable when others had skills different or better than mine. Ambition shouldn’t be confused with pride, I thought. And it shouldn’t. But he was talking about pride, not ambition, not confidence, not esteem. I should have listened.

Because the next time we talked about it was when Mike came to see me through a visitation window behind bars.

For eight months I had been smashing my head against those walls that hemmed me in. Every ounce of the make-up that is me fired furiously against my powerlessness. A born problem-solver couldn’t solve anything. Anything. And in that conflicted state I grew weary. In the weariness, I opened my ears to the spiritual truths I’d long ignored. In my ears, I heard Mike’s voice. “Be careful brother. Be careful.”


As he came to see me we sat across from each other, a glass wall dividing us. He smiled that huge smile. We picked up our phones.

“How did you know it was my pride?” I asked before we even said hello.

He was speechless. Then he laughed. Then he said, “God is good.”

“Yes,” I said “He is he’s pretty tough too. Believe that.”

Mike just shook his head and then looked in my eyes.

“You’re doing good. I can see it.”

“I am. Barely”

Before he left, he vowed to do anything I needed to get on my feet when I get out.

“What is your goal?” he asked. “What do you want to do? I’ll help you.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Let me think about it.”

And I did. Back locked in my cell, I meditated on the question. I breathed it in and out during yoga over and over. I sifted my thoughts. I’ve always just wanted to write books. I wanted to be a daily person of calm for my children. I wanted to be with my wife every single night when my head hit the pillow. This was still what I wanted.

Then I tried to listen. “What is my goal?” I asked.

I recalled a memory verse I learned at 16 years old. It had a tune to it that I recalled. I couldn’t, at first, recall the verse. I took a guess and flipped to Micah. It was right there, where I had left it so many years ago. I picked it up and breathed it in and out the rest of the week.

Mike came back to see me the very next day. Easter Sunday.

“What are you doing here?” I asked. “Why aren’t you in church with your family?”

He spread his hands wide.

“This is church,” he said into the receiver, looking at me through glass. “You are my family.”

I felt my throat grow tight. He noticed and tried to make easy conversation. I cut him off.

“I know my goal,” I said.

He nodded, go on.

“Micah 6:8, ‘He has shown thee, oh man, what is good and what the Lord requires of thee. But to love Mercy, and to do justly, and to walk humbly with thy God.’”

I could hear that faint crackley, echoey sound that makes visits like these difficult and distant. But this silence transcended the thick glass and the circumstance. This silence allowed God to join our visit, to celebrate Easter Sunday with us.

We didn’t know it, but a lot was born that Easter Sunday. I began my rise from the dead. That alignment of priorities opened the way for God to begin a new, terrible, necessary, painful refinement in my life. Exactly one Easter later I fasted for 24 hours, preparing to leave prison. I thought a new day was about to be born, and I guess it was. But it wasn’t what I had in mind. I was banned from seeing my wife on my release. I was put in a difficult trans-leave program with the odds of success stacked against me. Little did I know it, but I’d return to prison, I’d do the entire sentence all over again without having committed any new crimes, still paying a long, difficult, extreme price for my pride.

But it took all that to learn something of humility that Mike suggested I learn years ago. It took all that to learn fully you have to confront your pride. It took all that for me to align my life with God’s plan, to learn to walk humbly. It took all that for me to accept this new phase, to break through my unwillingness to serve, to let the vision of Criminal U, of service, of reconciliation and reform, to emerge. It took all that for me to find this path.

Finally, Mike broke the silence.

“Yes,” he said “Yes. That’s a good goal.”

It was, one I once believed in. If only I hadn’t left it behind so many years ago. Thank God for a brother like Mike that helped me find it.

Dream big. Live well. Be a success. But always, always, check yourself. Confront your pride. It truly does go before a fall.

The crippling clutches of ‘what if’

Imagine a life lived without regret. What exactly would that look like?

As a writer and journalist, I often find myself asking people what they regret about their life. Very few offer much in detail. Far more than most say something akin to “no regrets. Sure there are small things here or there, but it’s all worked out.”

On the surface level, I can understand what they mean. Our lives, for better or worse, have a certain linear development to them. If you begin to strip away some aspects, you lose others. Soon the whole thing unravels. Every movie about time machines are based on this basic notion. Think Pleasantville or Back to the Future just for a couple of good ones.

But if I drill down to specifics, many say they would do a lot of things differently. As I talk to people who have some tread on the tires, far fewer are truly happy and content, say, compared to the hope that spills over at every commencement ceremony ever held.

A large swath of us in America enter adulthood teeming with optimism and faith and confidence that our lives will turn out well. But far too often they don’t–at least not as well as we think we deserved or hoped we would achieve. In light of the result of our lives, wouldn’t we all have some regrets?

Of course, we would. Who doesn’t regret decisions at 19 we made when we thought we were the smartest people in the world or the decisions we made at 40 when we knew we weren’t and still didn’t know how to get the help we need? Who wouldn’t like a small redo at life?

The harsh truth of this life is it is lived without Mulligans. It all counts. Pick up any newspaper in the country, flip through a few stories and somewhere in there a life will be lost because of a bad decision, a seemingly random illness, a tragic circumstance, an act of hate, a terrible addiction, an injustice or an intentional act of evil. You read the headline and for those people whose number has come up on the Wheel of Misfortune, nothing but regret remains.

Somehow we ignore this obvious clash between our sense of entitlement and the reality of life.

I have come to believe that few questions scare the living bejesus out of a great many of us more than “what if?” What if I __________?

We pause and think of a small thing, a twist in the road, a fork chosen and wonder how much better things might have been. If only I had known, we think. Or: If only life was fair. Or: if only cancer had a cure. Or if only … and the regret seizes us with a Spock-like grip bringing us to our knees.

That is how we ignore it. The pain is too great. We brush away the notion of regret and convince ourselves we are fine, all the while our nagging inner voice that fills our head with so many unspoken, gripping, terrifying words, grows louder and louder, demanding an answer to “what if?”

If live can be lived without regret, I have no idea how to do it. But life can be lived with insight gained from all those what if moments.

If addicts learn one thing it is not how to have a life without regret but to live fully despite them.


We have a lot of words for this so feel free to pick the one you like best. In AA we call it “amends.” The media likes to talk about “second chances.” Politically we talk about “reparations.” Spiritually we talk about “forgiveness” and “atonement.” Psychologically we talk about “acceptance.” All of them are a part of living with the what if’s in truth rather than fear. Pick a word, any word and grab tight to it. Live it fully.

I choose grace. The God I love offers grace not because I’ve jumped through enough hoops to please Her, but because She made me and loved me and knew I’d screw up countless times but resolved to keep at it with me until I figured this out. And She’d provide ample grace–forgiveness that is not even warranted but freely given out of love–as the fuel to propel me past my regrets toward my best self. It’s an ongoing process that never finishes, but in the process of growing, learning, making amends, finding truth, making better choices, living more honestly, and becoming a decent me, I find the strength to keep at it despite regrets of all that I missed, all I have hurt, all I have failed and all I could have done so much better than I did.

What if? Yeah, it could have been great. But what is, is still pretty good, and I remain wildly optimistic about all that lies ahead.

Author Jane Hamilton, in her novel The Book of Ruth, wrote, “Sometimes I feel that I’m only just ready to start my life. I know what I need to live it a hundred times better. As far as I can see, no one is out there waiting for me with a ticket that says, ‘try it again.’ I’ll probably really figure out exactly how to be alive right when I’m gasping my last breath.”

Recognizing that is the key to a life lived free from the clutches of “What if?”

EFfed up revisited: I am wonderful

I dove into a lengthy debate with myself recently following a guest blog I wrote for the truly captivating Dawn Pier. To get a good sense of the whole debate, I invite you to first click here and read up. I continue the discussion below. WAIT! Don’t click away because it seems like too many words. Dive in here and you’ll won’t have missed much anyway. I think it’s worth thinking about, a little bit anyway. Read on:

So the question is: Did we EFF up, or are we EFFed up? For all of you still holding out for option C, I AM NOT EFFed up and HAVEN’T EFFed up EVER, please check back when the angels wings have shriveled up.

Let’s continue to the discussion and try it a slightly different way: If I wreck my knee my playing basketball, I might say, “My knee is EFFed UP!”

No problem. It’s a fact. The rest of me and my OKness remains in tact. But if we change that around a bit it suddenly becomes a serious moral flaw and everything goes to hell in a handbasket. To wit:

“My ___ is Effed up.” Fill in the blank with words like anger, greed, racism, relationship, soul, attitude and our OKness is somehow comprised. We judge ourselves. We know others will judge us as well. We do it all the time, where one action defines a person. And this where Dawn and I agree. We are not what we do, even though what we do often colors how people view us and whether we are considered a laudable person or a scoundrel. People want everyone on clearly chosen teams. Bad actors, over there. “Good” people, over here. You can change teams, but you can’t be on both. Thems the rules and we have social media to SCREAM it home. “OMG!!! DID YOU SEE WHAT ______ DID? #asshole”

Life doesn’t work that way. We are all scoundrels to some extent or in some areas and all capable of being good to some extent and in some areas. Life is really hard, so I suspect we are all just doing the best we can.

Let’s take a notable scoundrel like Bill Clinton. His lack of discipline with women nearly ruined his presidency, but his standing as a global thought leader has been rebuilt. Rightly so. He may be the most adept politician of our age. We struggle to accept that when it comes to women, sex and self-control Bill Clinton is pretty EFFed up, but he remains a quality person, despite it. He’s flawed, very flawed (I’d say he’s pretty fucked up in a charming kind of way, to be honest), but still a person of value.

The same could be said for most everyone: MLK, Nelson Mandela, JFK, just about any sports star or movie star you can name, etc. People can be really good in some areas and really flawed in others. They are Effed up. Yet they spend countless time being coached how to hide all of that behind their “brand.” We demand our sports stars be good people too, even to the extent we simply want them to hide all the crap we don’t want to see. We beg them to continue the fantasy.

But when we consider who is most qualified for a political job or even the job as starting quarterback, we talk so much about character it drowns out the qualification. It’s an irrational way to elect the leader of the free world or choose a QB, for that matter.

Do you really care of your brain surgeon is a bad mother and cheats on her stay-at-home hubbie? Hell no. I want her to wield a scalpel like Mozart plays the ivories. The rest matters not a whit. The same can be said for so many jobs and roles and yet in choosing people for everyone one of them, we almost always assess character as if we can know if from the cursory view we have of people.

That’s EFFed up in my opinion. Because those that hide it better will do better and be liked better.

OK, after more than 2,000 words on this subject I’m well aware I’ve forced it into places that are somewhat indefensible. Some people are EFFed beyond repair. Some disqualify themselves from a future activity. I get that. Some are evil. A QB who is such a scoundrel he’ll end up in prison isn’t a wise investment. There are exceptions. But most of us aren’t that exceptional. We’re just people. And we are a mess but loveable and have value in some areas and stink in others. There’s no shame in that.

At long last, this is my point: In admitting our EFFedness, we become less so. We are more open about it. We get help. We begin to see the destructive patterns and put in U-turns on the road paved to destruction that we’ve gone down so many times before.

As an addict I know I’m EFFed up. Something is seriously wrong with me. I know this every night at 9 p.m. when I crave chocolate in a way that is just bat-shit crazy. I’m not entirely wired right.

But I admit it. I deal with it. I diffuse it through relentless truth, with others and with myself. In admitting this flawedness, I become less flawed.

Nothing in this world is so wonderful as coming before God with all our EFFedness laid to bare and knowing my creator loves me even still. That’s grace. It’s the grease that turns the wheels of this world, rather than the grist of the mills that destroy it. It’s what is woefully missing and why so many of us our fearful of our flaws. Fear of our flaws makes us more judgemental of others. It perpetuates the lies and the brokeness we all feel to some extent inside. It’s why I think this world is broken right now. It’s devoid of grease. The gears are bound up with us caught in it.

We are left to the live the script of our lives instead of our real lives and we are so, so very alone in our flaws.

I return to Jesus, who by reputation is the only person who isn’t flawed. Jesus told us two simple things that make all the difference to me:

Do not judge, or you will be judged, he said.

Uh, no thanks. I don’t ever want to be judged again. I’ll not play judge either.

He also said, “The truth shall set you free.”

I am EFFed up, but I’m pretty wonderful, too. I am loved. The truth of all of this has set me free. That’s what make me wonderful.

Holy Saturday a ‘bonus’ of suffering, reflection

According to a song book I read recently the word of holy in Latin is bonus. 

Suddenly the idea of this ever-elusive trait of holiness made a bit more sense, even if it’s mostly illogical. Perhaps holiness is a bonus, not necessarily the lofty goal I could never reach. Holiness comes through the gift of God to those who survive life in the muck and mayhem of this dirty, wonderful, quixotic world.

Today, I read in my liturgy, is called “Holy” Saturday. After the vibrant celebration of Palm Sunday and the dark sadness of Maunday-Thursday, Good Friday envelops us in grief and loss and the humility of what Christ actually suffered at the hands of those he loved. We somberly reflect and pay tribute to a loving God who endured great evil for the sake of love, a plan that just never really makes sense when we embrace it up close.

As Tony Campolo said, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s a comin!” Easter Sunday and the triumphant rises of The Christ from the grave, from the violence, from the depths of hell itself sets all the sadness and heartache and confusion to rights. We do not live with a broken, crucified God but a risen Lord. 

All is well Easter morning, right? Look around. Does it all seem right?

I’ve neglected this day in the middle, this bonus round called Holy Saturday. How on Earth does it get this name? What makes the numbing grief of the disciplines broken dreams, of Christ in the tomb, of the evil victory of those in power … holy? 

I sat and considered this and grew irritated. God seemed to shrivel a bit.

“This is your plan?” I asked. This earth looks more like a ruin than a remodel. It’s crumbling around us and we have no zeal to truly rebuild.

My thoughts on violence and brokenness grew as Christ seemed deeper in the depth of loss. Look around this world. It is so so so very broken. Despite all the religious certitude and all the warring over doctrine and power and control and who really gets the rights to the God Trademark of Truth, people just seem largely … broken. Flawed. Violent. Angry. Hurtful.

I read the barbaric treatment of The Christ — scourging, mocking, spitting, hitting, crowns hammered into his skull, nails driven through this limbs, mockery and embarrassment, taunting a broken man as he hangs naked in the air like a cruel flag — and realize we haven’t changed all that much in 2,000 years. Read the news and see the barbaric treatment, the genocides, the hate, the prejudice, the judgment, the arrogance and the atrocities (far too often done in the name of God) and these horrid, uncivilized, unsophisticated acts of violence acted upon The Christ are really not that different from the same today.

Suffering is abundant and many of us lift a finger at God and wave a fist in the face of it. “Where are you?” we demand, and mostly, like He did with Job, God refuses to answer. This… these people… me???… we are the evidence of your kingdom God. Are you Effin kidding me? This Godforsaken mess is what you call a plan?

Just what the hell is so Holy about all of this pain and suffering that if anything Holy Saturday brings to mind?

Then I recalled my earlier thoughts on holiness:

Holiness comes through the gift of God to those who survive life in the muck and mayhem of this dirty, wonderful, quixotic world. 

Somewhere in this tumult I find that measure of peace. Easter is coming. Christ is rising still. His kingdom is still advancing, right here on Earth. Flawed that we are, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Mormon, Buddhist, Hindu or None, we are part of that plan. The act of Easter is the start of something still playing out before our eyes, something we can’t understand and would do well to claim less knowledge about. Because it is holy, a bonus.

The very act of grace that put Christ in human form is one that recognizes our brokenness from the outset and forgives us. This is no Eden, God says, as She sends her Son back into it, but it will be again, On Earth as it is in Heaven. We don’t deserve any of it, but it is given even so.

How do we respond? By doing our level best to be part of the love and not the hate. But swimming in this muck and trying to find the blue water of redemption. By loving those who hate and staring at our own hate right in the mirror. By accepting that all the world’s violence and brokenness and flaws are neatly packaged right within me if it not for grace.

What we do with that knowledge What we do with the fact that Saturday leads to Easter Sunday, to rebirth and life and renewal is the bonus. What we do is holy indeed.

A blessed Easter to you and yours.


Our silliest holidays honor serious saints

Good Ole’ St. Paddy, favorite of my Irish father, is in fact, very much not Irish. He’s a Brit. And he was anything but a reveller in booze and celebration to which his name is attached, much to the pleasure of many a thankful bar owners across the country tonight.

History is a buzzkill for nights like tonight.  But somehow I doubt revelers are going to worry too much about it.

St. Patrick was a monk who endured incredible hardship and misery after being captured by Irish marauders. He spent six years in Slavery in Ireland. If you watched Twelve Years a Slave you have some sense of what life was like before Patrick escaped to return to England. Rather than head to the pub to drown his PTSD, Patrick studied for the priesthood. He had reoccurring dreams in which he realized God was calling him back to the land of his capture with the message of love and salvation. Imagine Twelve Years a Slave, Part 2, where Solomon Northup returns to the south to preach the gospel. Harder to imagine isn’t it?

This incredible act of grace is why we know of a man named St. Patrick. So what’s that have to do with green beer?

About as much as St. Valentine has to do with roses and candies. Each year on Feb. 14 I wonder if folks would feel so romantic if they realized that we honor Valentine for his love of Christ, which he refused to recant. Valentine was like many pastors today who marry gay couples, but with a lot more at stake. He married Christians in defiance of Rome. He helped them avoid persecution– think Schindler’s List. I’d like to see that movie on your next Valentine’s Day schedule.

Eventually he was caught. Valentine then tried to tell Emperor Claudius– his captor and a maniacal killer of Christians — about a God that loves him anyway. Claudius liked Valentine but took great offense (hasn’t changed much when folks talk about God, has it?). Valentine was beaten with stones, clubbed and beheaded on … drumroll… Feb. 14! Love is in the air, right? So just why do we go so gaga over these holidays that have so little to do with their namesakes and so much to do with our desire for excess?

Trust me, this is not a question I entertained during my two decades of alcoholism. It’s the question of a guy in recovery. I’m the bummer guy on a night like tonight. I’ll take it. I used to hate guys like me, so it’s only fair I take the scorn now.

Right about now I could dive into Saint Nicholas, but I think the point is made. What the point is exactly, I’m not sure. But it says something that in our culture we revere little, scorn the incredible sacrifice and martyrdom of saints yet turn them into icons of boozing, fucking and excessive buying.

Booze, sex and STUFF. Three holidays a year in their honor. That’s our sainthood.

Let’s raise a glass to honored saints.

When guilt and blame give way

I’ve learned to never know when to expect Grace. It just appears like a mist and cools the heat of all that’s wrong in our lives. It’s a blessed chill touching us with the right kind of goosebumps that help us feel like all is well again.

But I’ve learned that though grace may remain ever mysterious and un-corralled, we can increase the likelihood of its presence when we confront that which is assuredly at odds. Like blame. Like guilt.

Lent is a time for reflection, which can quickly lead to an epidemic of guilt and/or blame. At a time when we are in a mode of deprivation and austerity, normal living, much less extravagances can inspire a lot of negative energy, which is exactly the opposite of the season. Lent is a time of grace. We would do well to remember this.

I couldn’t help but notice that Lent began right about the time The Bride and I hosted our Oscar Party, a celebration of the least austere, most superficial culture of excess I can imagine. We felt no guilt.

Just last Sunday we skipped out on a talk about White Priviledge and Structural Sin to go to a nearby pop-up pastry shop where we dropped $50 on pure decadance and ate them all without a note of blame.

Should we have reconsidered? I never gave it a thought. Because our life is on balance consistent with our moral obligation. We live as consistently as we can with a heart of service to others and a genuine expression of grace to those around us, especially those most in need. We are busy about the business of advancing God’s kingdom in this world in our own miniscule little way. So we don’t have much time for false blame or contrived guilt. We can always do more, but we’d rather focus on doing what we do and doing it well. Thank God grace arrives often enough to cover our shortcomings.

A recent mediation for lent focused on the structure sin of our society said in part, “naming ourselves as both the oppressor and the oppressed.” This is the tension we must hold if grace is to emerge. We need grace because of what we do to others. Others need grace because of what they do to us. That’s why it’s like a mist. It covers freely without merit.

Blame is a form of emotional and verbal violence. Guilt is an internal form of the same thing. Both oppress us and hinder the cooling touch of God’s grace.

Consider one of my favorite stories about the Christ. He wanders off and meets a so-called skanky woman. Instead of reviling her, he enlists her company and asks for her help. She is astonished that whoever he is would denigrate himself by simply associating with her. She thinks he must be unfamiliar with her sordid past. Jesus corrects her, saying he knows well she has had numerous “husbands” and some who weren’t even that. The girl gets around. Yet, the Christ registers no blame. He encourages no guilt. He is the mist of grace in her life.

I find that guilt and blame stir up a great many words. Whether it’s someone chastising another for a less than politically correct comment or someone berating themselves for a lack of commitment to a great social cause, it all swirls in a cloud of talk. We talk about eating this or donating to that or not buying this other or liking/reposting/tweeting/touting something else. We like to talk a good game, even when to do so is to blame someone else or bludgeon ourselves with guilt.

Guilt and blame are fueled by words, yet grace by action. All those causes and ills and concerns are valid and worthy of consideration. But to spread grace is far easier. It simply means expressing love or being kind or smiling or noticing the person next to you. As Gandi said, “be the change you want to be in the world.” That’s grace.

A Lenten wish: Be present. Be kind. Forgive. Love. Give. Then accept that as your best, guilt and blamed be damned. So much can happen when guilt and blame give way.


The curse of naked and ashamed

I try to remember nudity was the original intent. Shame only came later, when the plan went woefully — but not hopelessly — awry. But like most things spiritual, the point of this whole thing is not anywhere near skin deep.

I needed to remind myself of all this as I read the story of the woman caught in adultery from John 8 this morning. I couldn’t shake the imagery. Nor could I nudge the subtle thought that God has been trying to teach us something that can only be learned from being truly naked at that one moment when every instinct in our body seeks nothing but to hide behind clothes.  Only something as powerful as our stripped down selves can grasp it.

But back to John 8: The religious leaders of the day — a very pretentious, uptight, angry group of folks not to unlike religious leader of seemingly every era — crafted a plan to catch a woman in the act of adultery. Obviously she needed a partner in crime, but the man is never mentioned. It’s safe to assume he may have been in on it in the first place because it isn’t so easy to catch people “in the act.” It gives new definition to the term “ugly male.”

The woman is dragged to church without even having time to grab a robe. She is tossed onto the dirt floor in front of Jesus who is teaching there. He ignores her and begins to scrawl in the dirt. The indignant mob asks Jesus if he thinks they should follow Jewish law and stone the woman.

It’s a trap, I tell you! This mob really isn’t so angry at the woman. She is so beneath them in stature they likely don’t think of her in human terms as much as see her as a pawn for their plans, be they plans to use her sexually themselves or in this case to topple this homeless preacher who had turned their lives into a living hell with his radical preaching of love, forgiveness and social justice.  The religious leaders of the day were scared shit-less that such ideas would become fashionable and cut into their monopoly on the market of God. One thing we know for sure: God is good business. Always has been. So there has been no shortage of angry people who exploit it.

The nakedness is purely theatrical. To ramp up the stakes on Jesus. To heighten the moral degradation. To heap the shame on this pawn of woman, because we all know that since the beginning of time shame quickly follows nakedness. Remember Eden: They ate the apple and quickly realized they were naked. Shame and the desperate grab to clothe, to hide, to run from God followed. It’s a powerful myth, one I return to time and time again.

Jesus knows its a trap. He is nonplussed. He merely stoops over and scribbles in the dirt, turning all the mob mentality and theatrics into more awkwardness than a Michael Scott speech in an episode of The Office.

Seeking to regain their momentum, the leaders repeat their demands of Jesus in a “what say you!” type of way. Jesus rises, dusts off his hands and shrugs.

“Sure, stone her,” he says. “So long as you haven’t sinned… go for it.”

The original language in this text is more specific. It suggests that Jesus is saying let the one that hasn’t committed this particular sin throw the fastballs of death.

I once heard a preacher wonder about what Jesus was doodling in the dirt during this encounter.

“I like to think it was the names of they girlfriends,” he said.

Now that’s awkward.

The mob started dropping their rocks, one at a time “starting with the oldest,” the scripture records, until there was no one left but the naked woman the man who called himself the Son of God.

“Neither do I condemn you,” he says. “Go and sin no more.”

It’s a great story. It’s grace in simplest form. Jesus shatters the shame of her nakedness and simply says, live better… for your own sake.

We shy away too often from sin. It’s an abused word, a favorite of the angry mob types who twist it into a weapon of religious zeal. But read through the scriptures and you see God using it often in a much different way.

“The wages of sin are death,” the Apostle Paul wrote. We read this and get all freaked out thinking of it only the heaven and hell terms that the religious dogma of our day insists is fact. But look around. We see what he meant all around us. Hell bent on destruction, we call it.

Sin is living our lives far away from the potential and possibility and zeal that God created us to experience. Too often we live a less-than-glorious life because of our sin… our destructiveness, our selfishness, our lack of control, our immaturity, our woundedness and our fear. God wants us to live, not die. Let’s not make it all about some hereafter. If Jesus taught us anything it centers on the fact that this life, right here and now, is damn important, important enough for him to come in the form of a human being to share it with us and show us a better way to, simply put, set us free from sin.

It’s the same words we have all heard so often. We’ve heard them so often in so many hurtful, dogmatic ways we can hardly shift our brains to hear them ourselves without all the religious trappings and consider what exactly God was speaking about and modeled for us in his own life. If anything God is consistent, so these apparent contradictions say far more about us and our interpretations of things like sin and death than it does about God. If Jesus modeled compassion, grace, forgiveness and anything but shame, then we can rest assured it was the point from the very beginning.

This added bonus of shame explains why we so often both repulsed and compelled by our nakedness? Something internally tells us that we are completely Effed up. We know it. We live it. We are sick of it. But we fail to change it. “Go and sin no more,” Jesus tells us with something far removed from shame.

He calls us to embrace our intent. That is our nakedness. Our purest self. That part of us that is “fearfully and wonderfully made.” We can’t get it back by adorning ourselves with more “clothes,” more of the trappings of wealth, stature, power, success and influence. We get it back by being stripped bare, face to face with our true selves and all its Effed up glory and realizing that God absolutely loves us just the way we are.

A final note: Most Bible’s now point out that this passage of the woman caught in adultery can’t be found in the earliest manuscripts of scripture. Some would say this might discredit them. But perhaps its the exact opposite. Perhaps the power of the story was so important that it not only wasn’t forgotten, but someone insisted on adding it in later precisely because he or she knew that at one time or another we’d all be caught ashamed in our failures and need to hear again about the God of love who calls us back to our intended state of transparent, honest, flawed and yet still glorious life… naked, yet wonderfully unashamed.

Mindfulness is like living on the ocean shore

A few years back The Bride and I spent nearly a month in Mexico living along the Sea of Cortez. The beautiful seas could kick up waves and whitecaps and turbulence like most great bodies of waters. But its remarkable ability for morning stillness captures my memories most. I’d get up and that enormous, powerful, mystical sea would lie calm as a lake without a ripple across its surface. The pelicans would fly low, barely above the crystal clear glass with a perfect view of the breakfast swimming below. They’d fly up and with the urgency of Robin Hood’s arrow pierce the tranquility, snatch their prey and fly back up to the skies above. The water would ripple outward at the momentary disturbance but soon return to the silent calm.

Th hectic nature of the day would rise. Fishermen would crack the water’s surface with their boats and winds would stir up the waves and the sprinkling of tourists would splash up on its shores. By mid-day the waters would resemble their natural state, sea-like, with whites and foam and curling waves.

I grew up with the powerful Pacific nearby, always within a quick drive to visit. It’s relentless power never stilled. It’s slamming shoreline never quieted. So the stillness of Cortez showed me a stark contrast that offers a silent portrait for stillness, a power my mighty Pacific has never known.

Throughout my life my mind has been the Pacific. I’d stare incredulously at The Bride when I’d ask, “what are you thinking?” and she’d reply, “nothing.”

Impossible, I thought. The idea of a silent mind was as foreign as building a house on Mars.

I learned to drink to quiet my mind. For more than twenty years I took my medicine faithfully, never once letting a night go by without some measure of calming elixir dulling the crashing waves inside my head.

The Bride struggled with anxiety in those years.  I felt such compassion for her even though I was oblivious to the idea of “worry.” I didn’t really grasp it. She once asked me — during a particularly scary time in our life with the storms of life crashing powerful waves against our existence — what I feared.

“Nothing,” I said, fully meaning it. Because the alcohol had done its work, the relentless activity of my mind had dulled and even though a storm brewed outside our doors, my mind felt calm. Ah booze, you once made me feel like Superman.

It’s this reality that causes me to resist a gentle suggestion that I consider anti-anxiety medication. I’d love my mind to slow down, but I prefer to figure a way to do it naturally through the disciplines of silence, of yoga practice, of prayer, of relationship.

So now, both sober and finding far more common ground over our anxiety, we together pursue the mindfulness that keeps life in balance. The daily activity and winds through our life whip up a good internal storm now again, but the focus on that Sea of Cortez dawn-like calm remains a daily pursuit. Some days are more Cortez like than others. The Pacific routinely makes its presence felt on our shores. But we’ve learned a few things along the way that I consider critical for finding the balance that leads to a healthy emotional, mental state.

  • Relentless truthfulness — with yourself most of all — is critical. I read from the interesting book Pastrix, by Nadia Bolz-Weber, that Jesus didn’t compare good and evil but truth and evil. We don’t overcome our evil with white-knuckled goodness but truthfulness. As Jesus said, “the truth will set you free.”
  • Honor the silence — Even if I can only go for a few minutes, the discipline of silence is worthy of practice just as I exercise my body physically. Few doubt any longer the health benefits of silent meditation. I am often ragged at best with my efforts, but it’s worth it, in particular, the intentional disconnect to the digital world this affords me.
  • Season liberally with grace — Peace is not a place we arrive to but a condition of life’s journey. We will storm through life often enough. We will, frankly, make a hot fucking mess of our lives even on our best days. I am so grateful for grace. The 11th step is the daily moral inventory, which is paramount in my life. It’s like letting the air out of the balloon that has built up all day. I still struggle with the practice of simply admitting it when I’ve screwed up. This step forces me to do so and the waves inside me calm when I do. God’s grace is so abundant. I need to be reminded of it daily.
  • Learning what is — A change in the weather often comes when I simply embrace the weather. I hear the storm inside my mind. My nerves crackle with the energy of a power line. I feel the disquiet in my chest and gut. I do best when I simply name it all. This is what is it is, I tell myself. I’m anxious. I’m pissed. I’m scared. I’m tired. Life feels shitty right now in this moment. I learn to see what it is. Because once I do so, the mother’s heart of God comforts me and reminds me, “All that is true, but your are OK. You are still here. This storm will pass.” And sure enough, soon enough, if does — and for the last 57 months, it has passed without me taking the drink I always want in times like those.
  • Avoid future tripping — Do you ever have a conversation with yourself about a future conversation coming up that you fear will be ugly? I’ve driven down the road playing out the scene I anticipate before me so thoroughly, I can’t recall the drive at all. But my body feels the experience as if it’s happened. The back and forth rehearsal, in which I’ve played all the roles, usually goes dramatically bad. I play out the future and it’s like a Shakespearean Tragedy — full of woe. Then the real event arrives and it’s rarely as bad as I anticipated. But my body went through the agony of the worst anyway. This future tripping feels real and I suffer it as real, even when I’ve done it all in my mind. Perhaps this is why Jesus gently reminded us, “Do not worry about tomorrow, today has enough troubles of its own.” Jesus never expected us not to feel anxiety, he only offered the advice of staying present, in the moment, so you only experience what’s real not the pain you envision.
  • Combine heart and head with yoga and prayer — too much of our spirituality is sedate, which gives little release to the physical needs of our bodies. Yoga has remained over the last five thousand years because it refuses to compartmentalize our souls but deals with us as what we are, a vastly interconnected human being that all needs to sync in harmony to run at peak performance. Yoga allows the body to lead the mind and connect with the soul holistically. When I couple it with prayer I simply feel better almost every time. I rib my oldest friend — a gay pastor who loves modern Evangelical church services (ugh..) — that all those antics would be better served dancing at an Ozzy concert. He tells me with a silly smile, “I love happy clappy services. I’ll admit it.” I suspect it’s like his yoga, when his body can match the worship in his mind, so maybe it’s not so bad after all.

If you struggle as I do with anxiety, and with mindfulness and the discipline of being present, I hope some of this will help. Please understand that for many — perhaps even me, who knows — the problem is a chemical dysfunction within the brain and could best be treated with medication. I don’t suggest anyone should feel bad for taking what makes them feel better, no more than a diabetic takes insulin. That choice is yours and you should do as you will. I just know that these things don’t hurt either and we all can benefit from them to a lesser or greater degree.

Namaste, God Bless, Peace, and may grace abound.