Wednesday, April 26, 2006

God and Windex

The tape is gone. Hallelujah. I'll explain.

I went into a funk about the time of the 2004 hurricanes. It was the time of awful stuff going on in the family, with the kind of ugliness that occurs when a family finally fractures, after years of slow splitting.

Then the hurricanes came. I striped "X"s of masking tape across all my windows as Charlie came toward us. By the time he was past, Frances was steaming toward us. I left the tape up. Then Jeanne announced her presence, so I left it up yet again.

I was without electric power for three days after Charlie and for six days after Frances. The hot, dank, dark house reinforced my depression and isolation.

Frances bearing down on Florida: enough to depress anyone.

After the hurricanes went by, I tried to remove the tape from the windows. I couldn't get it off, even with a razor blade and solvent. My efforts to scrape it just chipped and scratched the tape, and the solvent left smears on the windows. My attempts just left my hands cramping and scratched, and most of the tape in place. I gave up.

I was in too much of a funk to put a lot of effort into the task.

Every time I looked out the windows, I saw reminders of those dark days.

The funk remained, waxing and waning. My brother's death kept it in place last summer.

The last few months, it's been lifting. So Sunday, when I had an unexpected day off from my part-time job, I stayed home. I (gasp) didn't even go to church. I puttered around the house, to the accompaniment of old movies on TV.

I took an old utility knife, a scrubby pad, Windex, water and paper towels, and attacked windows.

The masking tape had weathered and begun to crumble with time. The knife removed most of the tape. Scrubbing the windows with a pad and Windex took off the remains.

Scrubbing was therapeutic.

Just as Brother Lawrence taught, the chore's simple, repetitive movements freed my mind to pray, to talk to God and receive his ministry. Old crud came off the windows, and off my shoulders and soul. My clothes got sweaty and dirty as I labored in the sun on the windows' exteriors, but I felt cleaner.

I stood in the yard and admired the large living-room windows, now unmarred by tape, unscarred by ugliness. They reflected the sun perfectly.

I stood in the living room-dining room and admired the light sparkling through the windows.

This may seem like a small thing, but victory over that tape is victory indeed, and a healing. I'm sure there's a metaphor in here about how time heals, and how hurts weather and fade with time -- with God's grace -- and he empowers us to remove the scars completely.

Thank you, God.

Light of God, always shine through these windows. Shine on me and my household.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Politicat speaks

Donald Rumsfeld isn't a bad boy, he's just misunderstood.

Update 04-20-06
Politicat spouts off some more:

It seems the Preznit has used up some of that "political capital" he bragged about after the election. Even that catbird Rove may have his wings clipped -- a little. Do ya think he'll really quit calling the tune?

Embracing evil

Warning: this post contains graphic descriptions of violence.

I don't talk much about my day job, working for a small newspaper, but l've covered a big story in these parts and nationally, from its inception: the murders of six young people in a house one night in Deltona, FL, in August 2004.

Five of these people were living in the house, sharing expenses, and another one was visiting overnight, so he could hitch a ride to a new job the next morning.

They were beaten to pulps with aluminum baseball bats. They were stabbed. Their throats were slit posthumously.

One girl's body (apparently she and here boyfriend were the major targets) was raped with a baseball bat. It took tissue samples to made a positive ID on her, she was so badly bludgeoned.

Her little dachshund's body was found next to her. His head and snout had been crushed -- stomped.

That's it in a nutshell. There's some other gruesome stuff I've read in police reports or heard about. Enhanced details that may or not be true, and no need to list them here.

Four men are charged with the deeds, with going in in the dark hours of the night, surprising the sleeping victims and killing them.

I'll say up front, yes, I've read enough police reports, read enough depositions and heard enough witnesses to believe they are guilty.

Victorino, (I'm not going to use their first names) the defendant tagged as the ringleader, was 27 at the time, and the others were around 18.

The motive? This is what investigators and witnesses said:

(1) The main victim made Victorino mad, when she called the cops to get him and some of his friends out of her grandmother's vacation house, where they were squatting or staying. There's some dispute about whether she allowed them in, initially.

Victorino wasn't there to deal with the cops, because when deputies responded to the grandmother's house, he was in jail, arrested for beating the crap out of someone else. His record includes beating yet another man so badly, the victim required 20-some plates in his head. Victorino shoved a cane or bat down one of these victim's throat.

Victorino bonded out of jail a few days before the murders. He shouldn't have been allowed to post bond, because he was on probation for earlier offenses. An arrest is automatic grounds for termination of probation.

(2) The main victim took his XBox, clothing, and possibly a small stash of cocaine. Investigators denied the case involved any drugs, but one acquaintance said Victorino had a little in the house, which ended up at the victims' house.

According to law enforcement reports and the State Attorney's office, Victorino recruited the three younger men to go in with him. A fourth left town before the murders, afraid of Victorino.

Victorino has never confessed. All three co-defendants confessed initially, with resulting legal wrangling over the confessions. One confessed and later agreed to testify at the trial, in exchange for a life sentence instead of the death penalty.

Flash forward

I watched a joyous baptism at church Saturday night. As we cited the words of the baptismal covenant, I thought about the case.

"Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?" Fr. J asked.

The candidate answered, "I renounce them."

The acts committed against those six people were an affirmation of evil.

I don't understand the thought processes of someone capable of participating in an act like this.

The ringleader's mother (who always tried to get her sonny out of jail, from the time he was a teenager) talked of a caretaker's son sexually abusing her boy when he was a toddler.

But what makes someone commit these acts of violence, and have no remorse over them? Who seemingly has no conscience? No feelings for the victims or the victims' families, whose lives he's dragged through hell?

I've read the theories about psychopathic personalities. A major indicator seems to be repeated abuse, as an infant or very young child, generally at the hands of a parent.

That can't explain it all, or everyone who was so abused would turn into a murdering monster, and they don't, thank God.

The other day, I saw a little dachshund trotting alongside his master. There can hardly be a more defenseless creature. Yet the one is this case was stomped to death by someone 20 times his size.

The deliberate killing of such a little hostage to fate adds an exclamation point of horror to the already horrific.

The ringleader-defendant has steadfastly denied even being there the night of the murders. He's been in a jail in a neighboring county to keep him away from his codefendants, whose confessions all pointed at him as the one to organize, plan and lead the charge to murder.

And neither do I understand what would make these young men, the codefendants, who seemed to be little more than acquaintances, go along with this deliberate, planned act of murder and mayhem.

Did these young men think some of Victorino's strength and power would rub off on them? Victorino's a big man -- 6 feet, 5 inches, 270 pounds. "Wimpy-looking little guys" better fits the description of these three.

Does Victorino have some charisma that isn't apparent to me? Did he, like Manson, make these young men feel they belonged? That they were somebody, with him?

They seem to be purposeless young men, who floated around town, working a bit here and there, maybe selling a little pot or crack, before the murders.

I wonder what they think about now, in their jail cells. Do they wake up cold and sweaty with nightmares, hearts pounding? Do they recoil in horror at their memories? Are they sick and full of remorse?

Or are they just surprised they were caught?

Jury selection started on the case, and the judge had to grant a change of venue, after jury selection went to pieces in this county.

Friday, April 14, 2006

A disciple's tale

I wrote this story a couple of years ago, in several parts. I put them together here, for the close of Holy Week.

This disciple may soon have some new adventures.

Who will wash these feet?

Feeling pissy, Satan asks, "For heaven's sake. If you're God, how can you demean yourself with their smelly, stinky feet ?"

Jesus looks at him with pity, then says, "Humility fosters love, both from the giver and the recipient."

"Oh, fine." Satan says. "Just continue with this 'humble servant' bit. See where it gets you."

"You will see," replies Jesus. He sighs. "Most of the time, my disciples don't get it, either."

It had been a long week. Jesus came riding into the city as an honored prophet and many things happened. Many accepted Jesus as Lord and some continued their disbelief. Jesus had been saying some puzzling things that we did not understand, but tonight, we would relax and have this supper together.

It is the time of the Passover. As it is written in the Book of Genesis, "This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance."

It is the custom to bathe before coming to a banquet; therefore, we are clean except for our feet, which get very dirty on the streets and roads. Usually, a servant will bring water to wash the guests' feet before the banquet.

We came in, we disciples, and found our accustomed seats. We said prayers and sang songs just as we do every time we come together at the Lord's Table. Nothing seemed different tonight than any other night, except that Judas was gone, and except that tonight, there was no one to bring water to wash our feet, and no one volunteered. I thought about it, but didn't want to appear lower than my actual station, for I was a disciple, not a servant.

We proceeded with the meal. I was careful to keep my dirty feet out of sight. They discomforted me. I saw Jesus get up and wrap a towel around his waist.

I remember...

He started to wash his disciples' feet. I drew back in embarrassment. I heard Peter protest, then acquiesce. I hang back in confusion, hoping to avoid notice.

"Why then, Lord, are you now kneeling in front of me with a basin, a pitcher and a towel, like a servant? Are you going to wash my feet, too?"

"No, I can't allow that. I can't let you be like a servant to me. "

I was shocked at the thought of it.

My feet were dirty. They were caked with dirt, for I had been on the road this day. My toenails were thick and uneven. The nails and cuticles of my toes were grimy, and my feet covered in thick calluses and dry, cracked, peeling skin. And dirt.

Lord, I thought, I can't let you look upon these feet, much less touch them. You were not meant for this.

These ugly feet were no fit offering to the Lord. I kept them tucked back, hidden from his sight.

Kneeling, Jesus looked up at me.

I implored, "Ask something else of me, Lord, and I will give it, I will do it."

I saw the love in his eyes; he was filled with love for me, and I was smitten in return.

I knew he understood my embarrassment, my pride that made me want to hide these unattractive members from his sight. But he already knew. He had seen -- there was nothing of me or in me he hadn't seen.

He looked at me through those loving eyes, and I began to understand. Like Peter, now I wanted to be washed all over. I wanted whatever would make me more worthy. But this is what he required tonight.

Hesitantly, I pulled my feet from their hiding place.

The water sparkled as he poured it over my feet. I heard a soft murmuring and splashing of water.

Layer by the layer, he washed the grime away. The water was soothing, relaxing. I felt the blood moving through my feet, my hands, my heart. I floated into this renewal.

Jesus' hands were healing. He holds my feet as he carefully dries them with the towel. My feet are clean and warm.

Who am I that my Lord should tend to me as a servant?

No one. It is his love, his love only, that makes me worthy.

I am filled with a deep peace.

Thank you Lord, for this gift.

This is what happened with the Lord on the night of Passover. He gave us a mandate to love one another, to be servants to each other. He gave us the example of humble service that we are to follow.

What I received from the Lord, I also hand on to you. Let me look upon you with Christ's eyes, see you with Christ's love, treat you with Christ's humility. Allow me now to follow Christ's example of servanthood. Please allow me to wash your feet.

We will be blessed if we do these things for each other.

Saturday morning

Where is my God?

How can it be that my Lord is dead? I thought this cruel execution would be stopped. I prayed for it to be stopped. Yet my Lord is dead.

My God, have you forsaken me?

I am desolate with grief.

The people on the streets say, "Where is your Lord now?" and I run.

I run like a dog who has lost its master, loping this way then that, pawing the ground, panting with thirst.

I stop in a grove of olives. I rend my shirt. I claw at my chest until I see drops of bright, red blood fall to the ground. Yet there is no atonement for what we have done.

My God, my God, have you left us? We have broken the covenant You made with us. Have you abandoned us?

The sunlight is dull and wan and there are no stars.

I cannot sleep. Oh God, grant me death, too. My face is stiff with shed tears that bring no comfort and still I cannot sleep.

I stumble back into the city, avoiding the soldiers and the mockers, and ask where they have taken my Lord. I find the tomb. I sit and lean against the stone wall.

Was it only two nights ago that we broke bread? You washed my feet. I look at them now and they are filthy and bloody.

My God, where have you gone?

I will wait here for whatever is to come. I lean against the cold stone, and at last, I sleep.

Saturday night, Sunday morning
He Lives

Listen to my story:

I slept against the hard stone of the tomb of my Lord, Jesus Christ, who had been crucified and buried. A couple of guards came by and poked at me, but I refused to move. I was too exhausted and too grieved to care. If they took my life, so much the better. I no longer needed it.

I went back to sleep.

"Disciple, wake up. Arise," came a voice.

I floated upward to consciousness from a very deep sleep.

"Awake. Your Lord needs you."

A creature stood before me, luminous in the dark. It was beautiful, the creature, but very strange. Almost like a man, but not. I had trouble seeing it properly. Its glow made it hard for me to focus my eyes on it.

The world was moving in odd ways.

"Don't go fainting on me. You have work to do."

The creature touched the stone in front of the tomb. It rumbled away from the entrance to the cave.

Listen. I saw the risen Lord.

He walked toward me. He was beautiful, so beautiful. He glowed with a luminosity much greater than that of the creature beside me.

It was Him.

I could see the empty funeral linens behind Him.

He was dressed in white. He moved with a fluid grace. I don't know how this could be, but it was.

It was the risen Lord, shining in glory. Listen to the Good News.

I remembered what He had said about the three days that I hadn't understand.

With one scarred hand, He touched my forehead. Peace came over me.

"Tell the others when they come. Disciple, you will make disciples. You will baptize in my name. Tell them your story."

I could only say, yes. I knelt. He put His hand on the top of my head for a moment, then walked past me in radiance.

My clothes were now a beautiful white. There was no wound on my chest. My feet were clean and my skin was as fine as a child's.

He has done many miraculous things. But the most miraculous is that He lives. He will never die again.

"Wait here for the others," said the creature who had awakened me. He could only have been an angel.

I sat on top of the stone, waiting and examining my new clothes and my new skin, when the Roman guards came back. I enjoyed their confusion over the open tomb.

"Are you looking for Jesus of Nazareth?" I asked in my best and most holy of voices. I chortled at the guards' confusion and alarm.

They looked into the cave and then looked at me in my new appearance with their mouths open, not recognizing the disciple they had tried to roust a little earlier.

"He is not here. He is gone. An angel came and moved the stone with one finger. Now He is risen and He is gone. He is the Lord God. " I was laughing, holding my sides. I realized: this is joy, come back into the world.

"He came to live among us. He died, but He rose again. He will never forsake us." I lifted my arms. "Share my joy!"

Share the Good News! Christ is resurrected. He will lead us. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Follow Him. He reigns in mercy and love.

The guards backed away and ran up the path from the tomb.

I sat rocking myself, singing, praying and praising and laughing through the night. I was overcome with joy. I waited until I saw Mary Magdalene on the path, then I jumped down from the stone, landing lightly on my feet, ready to tell her the Good News.

Listen, all of you, to my testimony and we shall make disciples of many, for Jesus Christ is alive and He brings life in abundance, life everlasting, and the peace that is beyond all understanding.

His goodness and mercy will be with us forever.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Now I remember

During the dog days of August, I sometimes wonder what on earth made me move to Central Florida.

The weather this time of year makes me remember why.

It's glorious. You can walk out the door in the mornings to cool, fresh air. The sky is so translucently blue you can see through the layers of atmosphere all the way to the rim of space.

As Cat Stevens sang,
"Morning has broken, like the first morning,
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird...

I snapped this shot of trees and skies next to the church Sunday morning. There was even a blackbird, (ok, maybe it was a crow) but I wasn't fast enough to capture it on film.

We've been having the kind of days that make you feel good all over -- highs in the low- to mid-80s, lows in the mid-60s -- without a cloud in the sky. A soft breeze keeps the afternoons from feeling hot.

This little pond is near my house.

The down side is, it's been too dry. Hard to believe, but we're at a higher risk for fires than we were in 1998, when Central Florida went up in smoke. It's supposed to rain this weekend (thank you, Lord, and please keep the fires away).

In the meantime, I'm just going to enjoy these days. August will come soon enough. It will be swelteringly hot, muggy, buggy, and the height of hurricane season. A layer of heat haze will obscure the sky. Again, I'll wonder what on earth made me move to Central Florida.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

I'm sorry, so sorry

I hated to do it. It's an annoyance that causes me to heave a sigh of exasperation when I encounter it on someone else's blog. It's the dreaded word verification.

An annoying e-mail spammer was peppering this blog with crappy "comments" that were actually links to a commercial Web site, the better to rip you off. They were entering their X@#!!! faster than I could delete them.

I bowed to the envitable.

I'm so sorry you have to go through this extra step to post comments on this blog. I really, really want your comments. I like dialogues.

I don't even mind plugs for your indvidual blogs in your comments about something you've read. That's all part of blogging.

Being abused by ripoff spammers isn't.

Please post your real and genuine comments.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Simon of Cyrene
A Lenten meditation

Simon of Cyrene

Not long ago, I was talking with a friend at work about Jesus’ final journey through Jerusalem. I mentioned Simon of Cyrene. Though my friend is a Christian, he was unfamiliar with this character, who makes a brief appearance in the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion.

As the Roman soldiers led Jesus to the cross, after beating him and mocking him, Jesus stumbled under the heavy weight of the cross. As the Gospel writers explain,
"A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross." (Mark 15:21)
"And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross." (Matthew 27:32)

No one knows much about Simon. Cyrene was a city in northern Africa, so Simon may have been an African Jew.
Mark writes of Simon’s sons, Rufus and Alexander, as if first-century Christians were familiar with them. It is entirely possible Simon became a Christian — one of the first black saints in Christian history — and his sons became well-known in the early Christian movement.

We can say for sure Simon of Cyrene’s encounter with the Messiah was unexpected. Simon was there, and he was called into service to assist Jesus. He did so.

Simon literally picked up the cross, and followed his Lord.

How much are we like this Simon — busy with the routine of ordinary life, minding our own business — when we run smack into the Lord?

It may not be at the time we planned. It may not be convenient. It may not be pretty. But the time is of his choosing, not ours, and there are no “chance” encounters with Christ.

How many chances do we have to better know the risen Christ, but ignore them? How many opportunities do we have to do the work of the Lord, but pass them up?

Dear Lord, give me the grace to find moments of encounter with you. Give me a willing spirit and a strong back to do your work.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Pray hard and get rich?

There's an interesting post at The Cat's Cradle, called "Thoughts on Prayer and Prosperity."

She gently takes the preachers of the gospel of prosperity to task on their "believe it and pray it enough and you'll get what you want" philosophy.

Amen, sister, and I'll put it a little more strongly.

This is a false gospel that can turn people away from God, when the results of their prayers aren't what they envisioned.

This false gospel can lead us into a wrong relationship with God. It can lead into the trap of making prayers of supplication only -- praying for those material things we want -- instead of praying for God's will for our lives to be revealed to us, and instead of developing a relationship with God through our prayer life.

The gospel-of-prosperity people have take the Prayer of Jabez out of context.

Praying that the Lord's hand be with me is different than praying for a new car or to get rich. Asking him to "enlarge my borders" is more about survival than wealth. About feeding one's family and protecting them.

I too, have held a lotto ticket in my hand as I've prayed for quick financial relief, and will again. But God answers prayers in his way, not ours.

He's kept me in my home, he's kept me fed and clothed, he's kept my old klunker running. He's maintained my health. Thanks be to God. He'll be there to help me through if I should lose these earthly and perishable things.

He has provided for me.

When Jesus said to pray "Give us this day our daily bread" rather than "Give us lots of gold coins to buy lots of bread," I take it to mean we should be satisfied with provision, and not worry about storing up riches.

He never promised his disciples an easy life, or a comfortable life, or a rich life.

Would the preachers of the gospel of prosperity say that Peter fell out of the Lord's favor, since Peter ended his life upside down on a cross? On the contrary, Jesus said, "Pick up your cross and follow me." Peter did, and literally gave his life for the Lord.

Peter had his eyes fixed on a greater prize than comfort or prosperity.

Just as rain falls on the just and unjust, so does prosperity. Some of the faithful will garner wealth, some won't. Sometimes it seems as though the wicked prosper unfairly -- in truth, they do.

Not that I have anything against winning the lotto. If I, in faith, should ever win that lotto prize, or any form of prosperity, I have to remember it belongs to the Lord, and use it as he wants.