The Curse of the Monkey’s Claw

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In the 1990’s, I was in High School and a full fledged Drama Nerd.  Our teacher, Mr. Reed, had introduced us to old time radio drama as different, alternative art form beyond the stage or TV.  As a kid, I loved the old time dramas and would listen to them on cassette tapes (anyone remember those?).

So a group of us were game to recreate this for our final in our Drama class.  And, try as we might, we couldn’t get the project off the ground.  Our production was called “Javaman” and we recorded maybe about 12 minutes of it before summer began.

From that point on, it hung in my mind as my “Kubla Kahn”: the great, unfinished story.

Flash forward 15 years.

I was a Jr. High/Young Life/ College and Career/ Generation X. Pastor at Chino Valley Community Church (they were quite generous and gave me lots to do and I was forever grateful to them).   Our Jr. High group was staffed with a bunch of hyper-creative, wonderful story tellers that could jump at any chance to do something weird.

While working with them, I also ran our College and Career group at the church (it was a Californian “Big” church, for my Canadian friends).   Our church was going through a building project and a couple, by faith, donated a little under $2,000 to the College group to “do whatever we wanted to do to help out with the building project”.

I tried an idea I had heard from other churches.  We divided up the money to each member of our college group so everyone got $100.  Then we were to invest that money into some fund generating scheme.  They could use the money for raw materials, assemble whatever, and then sell it.  The point was whatever you did, pray first and work with God in whatever project you thought God called you to do.

Some pooled their money together, bought a beat-up car, fixed it, then resold it for a higher value.  Some bought candy, put it in jars, and then sold it for $8 a jar.  A group of folks made a movie for the Jr. High Students and then sold the DVD.   One of our leaders used the money to buy supplies for decorative napkin holders and sold them to her friends.

I was stuck.  I also had $100 and I didn’t know what to do with it.  I mean, I wasn’t crafty.  And our college students were turning the front of our church into an outdoor market with far better stuff than I could come up with.

Then I remembered the old radio drama idea from High School.  With the help of some of my hyper-creative volunteers in the Jr. High group, I wrote a script and cast them (Andrew Kenny and Lisa Laufer) as parts (along with our then Children’s director, Kelle Farrell).  Two of my musician friends- David Maust and Larry Briner, provided the music (cello, organ, and ukulele).  Another one of our staff members, Monte Macias, was our sound technician.   My wife, along with the musicians, were our sound effects crew.   The CD’s jewel case was made by a college student who was studying graphic arts, Ben Horak.

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, we performed “The Curse of the Monkey’s Claw”.   We called the studio “Black Gong Productions” named after one of our favourite games from the Jr. High group.  We recorded it in the then sanctuary of the church.

The project to raise money was successful and it became a vivid, real example of the parable where all of the good servants invested their money and brought back extra for their king (Matthew 25: 14-30).   I sold all 16 of my CDs which gained a profit of $60 which was dwarfed by the success of many other students and leaders.  Still, it was neat having this dream get finished.

The lesson stuck with me and I took it with me when I came to Canada.  And then I forgot all about the drama.

Until a few months ago, my girls found the CD and asked, “What’s this?”  They heard it and said it was worthy of Youtube.  So now I’m sharing it with you (By the way, thank to my friend Alan Chettle who uploaded this for me on Youtube).

Follow this link to hear the complete “The Curse of the Monkey’s Claw”:

 

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The Red Button: Pass the Test To See if You are an Alt. Right/Alt. Left

Let’s pretend!  One night, you feel tired.  You have spent several hours on-line, debating with people who don’t understand, don’t get, don’t agree with your politics.  Try as you might, they don’t perceive the facts you’ve given them. They’re angry; you’re angry.  You take a break and watch the news, where more of these kind of people are there espousing the black noise that is their politics.

You have lost friends, relatives, and co-workers to their way of thinking.  And it seems to be growing.  “How could my home country be lost to this kind of thinking?” you muse.

And as if that thought was an invite to an exclusive party, a man appears.  Wordlessly, he produces a solid black box and places it on a desk in front of you.  He opens the box to reveal a simple, red button.

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“My friend, I am your genie.  Here is a button and, if pressed, you will have your heart’s desire.  For if you press it, all of those on the ‘other side’ of your politics will disappear.  Simply, they will vanish.  No one will ever remember them or their ideas or their laws or their policies.  They will cease to be,” the man says.

He leans in.

“And the best part about this is that no one will know it was you who solved this problem. No one will know you pressed the button.”

He straightens his back.  “Oh and it wouldn’t matter, anyway.  People, when the ‘Great Vanishing’ took place, would probably say that if not you pressed the button, someone else would have.  Some would argue they deserved it.  Or they would express the feeling that they wished they had done it.  And some, after thinking about it for hours, would say that the other side would have pressed the button themselves.”

“So,” he asks.  “Will you press the button?  Will you free your country from those who do not think like you?”

If you press the button in your mind, you have passed the test: you are Alt. Right.   Or you are Alt. Left.   Your politics matter most.  Your beliefs have become a means of victory where there are winners and losers, culminating in this single, red button.

Some, at the end of this thought exercise, are asking, “What’s wrong with pressing the red button?  I wish it was more than just a thought exercise!  So many problems would be solved if there was such a thing!”

Red button pushing.  An example of this thinking is here:

https://psmag.com/ideas/the-far-right-doesnt-want-to-beat-the-left-it-wants-to-eliminate-it?fbclid=IwAR3IdT0Hv_6t1Wfu5QknzgyykhdBUQbuxEhpgiQVgbWqDIpABvUVetea6u0

 

Please, let me talk you from pressing any kind of button.

 

  • The Red Button is against democracy.

Democracy requires opposition.  Not polarity, because there are many great democracies in the world that have more than two parties or voices.  As well, there are many workplaces that batter around ideas with more than (2) sides.

Right now, in North America, we have essentially “Us Vs. Them”.  There’s a lot of weakness to this kind of polarity, but at least there is an opposition: a side that examines the other, questions, counters with a rebuke if there is any perceived danger, and a compromise that, potentially, could find “the truth in the middle”.

The problem with “us vs. them” thinking is that we vote not for ideas or a vision, but because we are anxious that the other side might be in power.  Many Americans voted for Trump not because he espoused a view of America they liked, but that he wasn’t Hillary Clinton.

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Local to me, four years ago the ultra-conservative Alberta was so mad at their party that they voted for a premier that was NDP (a party so liberal that it could not exist is the US).  And for four years, they got a government that was really different than what they were used to.  Why? They were voting against “them”[1].  There was a change in this last provincial election where a candidate was voted in who is now ultra-ultra-conservative.  Why? He wasn’t NDP.  Both examples are people voting not for a vision, but to eradicate the opposition.

Without opposition, you have a theocracy.

The basic assumption behind a theocracy is that everyone believes the same thing- politically and spiritually- so you need one only person (King, Mullah, Prophet, President) to lead in the direction all have agreed upon. Foreigners, outsiders, dissenters, radicals, and “the weird” are liabilities to a theocracy: they get the Red Button. And theocracies work only if the single leader is correct always (and, equally, the country submits to their leader 100% of the time).   If not, things fall apart quickly[2].

Democracies need ideas and differing opinions and lots of sides. Families cannot have one member deciding everything for all other members, otherwise the thinking within that family becomes cock-eyed, skewed, and, ultimately, self-serving.

Leadership is influence, not control.  Democracy, believing that influence is the road to reality and truth and problem solving, needs leaders.  A leader who yells, “I am the Senate!”, is a red button leader[3].

It’s an unpopular idea right now, but what if your country needs the people who disagree with you?  What if you need them?  And if you need them, how do you seek out “the other side” to learn truth?  How do you engage with them as if they are needed, important, and you wish they would never go away?

I know what I’m proposing especially because the other side could be wrong, toxic, full of evil, and a bunch of red button pushers.  Yes, that may be the case.  However, another red button does not solve the problem of a red button.

Red buttons shape the language, the thinking, and the ways of engagement so that if you have something toxic, evil, and are just wrong you have no way of considering this in yourself because you are more focused on “winning” rather than discovering.

 

  • It’s not gracious.

 

I write from a Judeo-Christian perspective (being an Anglican Priest does do that to someone). The essence of my religion is grace. The foundation of Christianity is not moral correctness, public policy, political advancement, the safeguarding of a certain people group, acquiring benefits and blessings the rest of the world doesn’t have, or advancing a particular cause. It is grace.

I’ve written a lot about this here:

 

https://ericjkregel.wordpress.com/2019/03/23/the-riddle/

 

https://ericjkregel.wordpress.com/2019/04/10/the-story-of-the-two-patients-the-lens-of-grace/

 

https://ericjkregel.wordpress.com/2019/03/29/1353/

 

 

Grace is God’s unmerited approval given to those who receive it.  From God’s grace, we then can follow God by leading better, kinder, and happier lives (it doesn’t work in reverse: you don’t follow God and then get grace).  Christianity is about receiving approval (the sense that you are “good enough” or that those in cosmic authority likes us “just the way we are”).  From receiving grace, one then can share this grace with the rest of the world.  As freely given to people, those people can freely give.

Red buttons, on any level, are anti-grace.

I have winced at times when I have seen Christians post red button memes, links, jokes, and statements about those who disagree with them.  The great passive-aggressive excuses are made: “I’m only joking!”, “But it’s satire”, “They do it and its worst when they do it”, or any other line where the content of the Gospel (grace) is compromised by the process of the believer’s life (“Let’s kill Liberals…ha-ha”)[4].

Those outside of Christian beliefs have been gracious.  In fact, many times when the church stops behaving gracious, for whatever reason, the “secular” world rises up and does the work needed for grace.  Why?  I don’t know.

Grace is essential, however you get it, to see and gain truth.   And truth is at the heart of politics, not power.

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Of course, there are exceptions to what I’m saying.  Sometimes the red button becomes so ingrained, so present in a political thinking that you can’t treat it like an equal peer to everyone else’s views.  The Nazism that grew from Germany was not an equal, similar view of governance to Monarchism, Democracy, Democratic Socialism, or Republicanism.  Why? Too many red buttons.

You can have grace for those who have red buttons in their politics and still say that red buttons are horrible.

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Grace is not the same as relativism.  Relativism is to say your view of truth is different than my view of truth and both are equal.  When this takes place, truth is no longer important; what is important is power. And power begets the red button.

Evil exists within gracious pursuit of truth: grace is just a way to navigate through the evil in our views as well as to address the evil in others.  When you cannot do this, then all that remains is the red button.

Grace also doesn’t say that truth is nothing more than mere compromise.  Compromise exists only when there isn’t truth and so, to make your own version of reality, you mix in everyone’s delusions so that it includes everything: kind of like a cocktail of one’s little talking points and slogans.  Grace is the opposite: it’s to say the truth is not in us, we are still good enough, and now we can look for the truth together.  This makes enemies friends because people are not the problem.  Without this is just a red button.

Simply put, if ever a strange man offers you a red button in the middle of the night that will destroy all those who disagree with you, just say “no”.

 

 

 

For further proof, here’s a clip from Doctor Who:

 

[1]This, I admit, is an over-simplification.

[2]An example of this is Israel in the Bible, a theocracy, took place and the result was political corruption, social degeneration, genocides, civil wars, the country being split into two, invasions, and all of the citizens becoming slaves to other Kingdoms.

[3]Movie trivia: Who said this line first?!?  What movie villain said this in a rage?

[4]This is my issue with the website “Bablyon Bee” which many Christians love, share, and adore.  While there has been some good nature ribbing within Evangelical sub-culture, I have also read many red buttons written in between the lines of passive-aggressive “satire”.

Good Friday: The House Always Wins

Once upon a time, a frustrated pastor had an 11am meeting with the Devil.

Normally, he wouldn’t take such an appointment, but he was desperate.  His elder board was putting pressure on him to grow the church, two of his members just left for the mega-church down the street, everyone in the church wanted more young people to come, and he was running out of ideas.

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He expressed his concerns to the Devil and Satan heard him patiently.  When it was the Devil’s turn to speak, he asked a seemingly off-topic question: “Would you like to have my office?  Become me?”

“You mean it’s an office?  You rotate positions?” the pastor asked.

“Absolutely.  The trick is you have to solve a riddle that was given to me.  Come upon with the right answer, Hell is yours.  Here’s the riddle: ‘What is the source of the devil’s power?’”

The pastor went through a battery of questions about the Devil’s powers: “Can you make fire attack anyone at any time?” No.  “Can you hypnotize people?”  No.  “Can you become a horrible beast and eat people?”  No.  “Do you travel through time?”  No. “Do you possess people?” Depends.  “Can you be everywhere and anywhere at any time?”  No.

The pastor thought long and hard before he came up with his answer.  “It seems that any power, any belief is given to you.  People think you are all-powerful and equal to God, so that is your power.  Whether you are or not is a different reality.  Whatever power you have is we what we believe to have or be.”

“Precisely,” the Devil said and there was a switch. The Devil became the pastor of a small church and the Pastor became the Devil.  And they both lived happily, ever after.

A theologian, most certainly, can deconstruct this little tale and that is the risk whenever you try to condense truth into a parable.  But the main point of this little tale is at the heart of Good Friday: one of the Devil’s greatest power is in public relations.

The message delivered on Good Friday by the Devil, the world, Rome, and the whole religious system was a simple PR release: THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS.

            This is borrowed from the implicit message of Las Vegas, where billions of $$$$ go in and only thousands come out.  You can play and you can win, every once in a while, but at the end of the day the only victories you have were given to you by the greater winner: The House.  The only way you can beat this, of course, is to not play and not gamble.  But who goes to Vegas to do that?  Even if you came to see a show, there is a systemic gravity to play the games of Vegas.  And when you do, you see quickly: THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS.

In the times of Jesus, this was the PR message of his day.

The Jewish leaders wanted you to go to the Temple, attend it’s services, do your sacrifices, allow them to decide what is healthy and unhealthy, and, for God sakes, keep the Sabbath!  If you didn’t, you’d quickly become like the secular, heathen, awful Romans who were in charge.  The Jews had plenty of bad guys to point to so that you had someone to be against, hate, and fear that you might become, if not careful.  All of this was for one purpose: THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS.

The Romans didn’t care what religion you were as long as you paid your 33% of taxes to them and worship their Pantheon.  The rest was on your time, your dime.  Don’t step out of line.  Don’t dream of getting beyond your station.  Just follow Rome, Pax Roma!, and everything would work out. If you step out of line, there’s a row of crosses and the Hill of Skulls to remind everyone: THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS.

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And in the center of all of this was the Patron Saint of Pessimism: The Devil.  His corporate jingles could be heard in the heart of all Jerusalem:

NO ONE CHANGES.                 NOTHING EVER GETS BETTER.           NO ONE LOVES YOU.

YOU GOTTA KEEP PLAYING AND WIN TO BE ANY GOOD!      OBEY.             CONSUME!

EVERYTHING WILL ALWAYS BE THE SAME, NOTHNG EVER CHANGES!

WOMEN ARE TO BLAME FOR OUR PROBLEMS.

EXPLOIT THE POOR, IT’S THEIR FAULT.

IF YOU’RE DIFFERENT, THEN YOU ARE RUINING OUR SOCIETY.

STAY IN YOUR PLACE!             DON’T QUESTION AUTHORITY.

            And yes, one last corporate jingle: THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS.

Along came a carpenter from Galilee who, it seems, his teaching was all about change and hope and people getting better.  People who were on the outside of the HOUSE was now in this teacher’s inner-circle.  Justice, from his perspective, was less about punishing the bad people but about transforming the hearts and minds and “making things straight”.  He got angry at the moral and the powerful; he comforted the sinners and the disgraced.  Everything he did undermined Satan’s great PR plan.

As a result, on Good Friday, he was crucified. The teacher’s public ministry came to an end by all of those in power.  It was a firm, strong message to all of those who followed this Rabbi: THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS.

This was the great moment where every pessimist, every bully, and every person who resisted change could give the triumphant whisper, “I told you so.”

The carpenter/rabbi died.  Didn’t swoon.  Didn’t escape from death.  Didn’t pull a magician’s trick worthy of Vegas by faking his death.  No, the carpenter died.

With a sign that read on his cross: “Here is the King of the Jews.”  The sign could have read: THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS.

And on Saturday, the main message remained: THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS.  Quit dreaming, quit planning to make things better.  Nothing ever changes.  No one ever gets better.

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I love the lyrics from the band Boingo that describes the jingle of Saturday after Good Friday:

Change-

Don’t you ever wonder why, nothing ever seems to change
If it does it’s for the worse, seems it’s just a modern curse
Sometimes when I take a peek outside of my little cage,
Everyone looks so asleep, will they die before they wake 

And, hey. . . Don’t you know? We’re just products of our time and Hey . . .
What d’ya say? Show me yours, I’ll show you mine 

Better dumb and happy than smart and without any friends
Better cute and better loud, better join up with the crowd
Keep up or be left behind, there’s a dust storm in my mind
Seems I can’t see straight these days, doesn’t matter anyway
Hey . . . Don’t you know? We’re just products of our times and
Hey, what d’ya say? Show me yours, I’ll show you mine 

Hey, what d’ya say? Hey, what d’ya say? Please don’t ever –
Oh God, here’s that question now. The one that makes me go insane
I’d gladly tear my heart out if you never, never, never, never change…

 

This is the Song of Saturday: Nothing Ever Seems to Change.

Then the sun sat on Saturday.  Darkness reigned.  And then on Sunday, the sun brought light to the world.

I don’t do practical jokes, but I can appreciate this one on Easter because it was the greatest prank in the History of Creation.  On Sunday morning, Satan’s intern is bringing her supervisor the morning coffee.  The intern stumbles over her words as she shares with her boss, “Uhm, Satan, a memo just came in that Christ is no longer dead. He didn’t stay dead or defeated. He is risen, sir.”

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What office meltdown would that have been?

The Tomb the Carpenter/Rabbi was empty.

Angels stood guard, gently laughing as they told the followers, “Fear not!”  No one ever listens to Angels, so the followers had plenty of anxiety.  What was happening?, they asked themselves. This shouldn’t be happening!, they told themselves.

The House always wins…or does it?

Jesus, on Easter Sunday, appeared to them, again and again.  Walking through walls, visiting in the guise of a Gardener, popping up here and there. And with every guest appearance to His followers, He delivered the implicit message: “The House just lost!”

Jesus, the Carpenter/Rabbi, destroyed all of the power, belief, and authority that was previously given to the Religious System, Rome, and the Devil.  On Easter, the House lost; on Easter, everyone else won.

And Jesus keeps winning today.  It’s the power of the Devil’s PR that he has convinced us that he is in power.  It’s a crazy idea, but it’s one that works: the Devil is the loser of the war that everyone believes he won.

Satan, today, is still spinning his PR, but it’s now insane.  Why? It’s still selling the idea that he is always winning and in charge.

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It would be like Germany convincing the world they won WW2; the South claiming they were victorious in the Civil War; or Texas hadn’t lost the Alamo to the invaders.  (I wrote, as a comedy piece, how I would fight wars as a world leader. My proposal was just to pretend like you fought and pretend like you won. Here: https://ericjkregel.wordpress.com/2019/03/08/how-i-would-fight-a-war/ )

Easter proved to the world that Jesus Christ is the one who is truly in charge.  And from Easter to this present day, we sing and worship and take the Eucharist and stand up for justice and forgive one another and break bread and reach out to our neighbor and do everything else to undo the Public Relations of the Devil by refuting: THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS.

The House does not always win; it lost on Easter. The Kingdom of Christ is here and it is a far greater manager.

Or, in other words: He is Risen!   He is risen, indeed!

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The Story of the Two Patients: The Lens of Grace.

Here’s an ancient story:

Once upon a time, there were two men who were bed ridden, being cared for by Nuns in their last of their days.  The sisters would bring them food, medicine, and care whenever the room’s bell was pulled.  One man laid by the window, the other laid by the bell.

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The two patients formed a friendship. They spent their days with the patient by the window describing to the one by the bell all that he saw out the window.  He would tell stories of children playing, lovers picnicking, parades, and geese going through the cycles of spring.  These stories became the very air of the cell.  This, along with the visits of the Sisters, was all of the activity they had.

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Slowly, the patient by the bell became angry at his companion.  “Wouldn’t it be better for me,” he thought.  “If I could see the sights from the window anytime I wanted without having to wait for my companion to explain it to me?”  Darkness grew in his heart.

One night, the patient by the window had an attack.   In darkness, he screamed for help from the Sisters.  His companion, however, did not pull the rope to notify them.  Instead, he watched his fellow patient die.

The next day, when his companion’s body was being removed, he asked humbly if he could be moved to his former friend’s bed. The Sisters complied and the fellow was overjoyed.

“Now,” he thought.  “Is my chance!  I can now see the world I could not previously!  The parades!  The children!  The sun!”

He was moved and, when alone, used all of his strength to lift his head to peer through the window.

Then reality struck: the view from the window was that of a brick wall and nothing more.

 

The story ends with a question for discussion: Out of the two patients, which patient was the richest?

 

This ancient fable reminds us that how we see the world will determine the way we live in our world.

If we view our world through the lens given us to the Bible and we seek to find our place in God’s continuing story, grace is the essence of how we see ourselves, God, and others.

Grace is God’s unmerited approval for our lives.

You don’t get, find, reach out, or claim grace; but you can receive it, become aware of it, and enjoy it when it is given.  Like the two bedridden patients in our story, we do not have the means to get what we need (grace) and we are dependent for our needs being met by something outside of our control.

Grace is a funny thing.  The author Dr. Tim Kimmel describes grace like air conditioning or heating in a room.  The activity of the room could be fine, but if the air conditioning or heating is too high or too low, it becomes oppressive.  Grace, Kimmel then argues, is the atmosphere that is just right, supportive, and appropriate for our day’s activities.

We see this too often in churches.  We enter into the building of the church, hear familiar songs, we are greeted, and we hear a sermon.  The activity is like all the rest of the churches, yet the feeling that something feels off.  It doesn’t have the grace.

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Or we hear of families who function like the rest of us, yet there’s something a little bit more warm, joyful, and happy to them. What device to they employ or habit they maintain that makes them stand out from the rest of us caught in the urgency of the usual?  For them, it’s God’s grace.

We are often given a path.  Live for ourselves, with a chance of running into God OR live for God, with our needs being taken care of by our gracious Creator.

The path is common, ordinary, and feels like it makes sense.  Here is what it look like when we pray according to this common lens:

God, I pray that I might do what I see is best for me and my family. May you help me with that.  

My will needs to be done.  I am only as good as how much I can have my way.  The only cure for my anxiety is to be in charge.  Therefore, make me be in control of my world.   

May I pay back those who cross me and may I defend myself against those who get in my way.  Keep me ever mindful of those who do me wrong. 

I need to meet my needs and my wants.  The more blessings I get from you, the better person I am.  More is the measure of my success.

I need to be good or seen as good.  May good/evil in my life always be abstract; may good/evil in what I see in others be concrete, based on rules, and may I use God’s religion as a tool to deconstruct those around me.  May is always about me becoming better than my world.

I exist for me and my Kingdom.  God, you are certainly invited to come as a guest.  A-men. 

 

But God, seeing this is as our tendency, gives us a new, strange, revolutionary way to live, marked by “The Lord’s Prayer”. It is the way of grace.

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I am an Anglican Priest in Canada and we use “The Lord’s Prayer” in all of our Eucharist services, Sunday morning gatherings, and whenever we come to worship.  I had my daughters memorize it when we became Anglicans because it was going to be something they would hear often.  When I meet with other Christian ministers from different backgrounds and denominations, I will try to get people to pray this prayer- it’s the one thing we can agree on.

I like asking the congregations I care for: “What would it look like if God ACTUALLY answered this prayer we say every Sunday?  What would our families look like if this wasn’t just a piece of worship we use, but this became our reality?  What would our relationships look like?  Our stress? Our view of the world?”

If we became “The Lord’s Prayer People”, the way we see the world would be so different that we couldn’t help living a different way.  The prayer, essentially, is about living in God’s grace.

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Our Father, who is in Heaven, Holy is Your Name.

The beginning of this prayer is about relationship. We speak to the God who loves us like a father.  What matters most, in this prayer, isn’t the blessings we get from God but that we spend time with our Father.  Holiness is not something we do or earn, but abide in.

 

Your Kingdom come, your Will be done.  On Earth, as it is in Heaven.

I don’t have to be in control or right every time or let my anxiety rule my day.  Instead, I seek to find where God is, what is the story from our Lord, and what is my part to play.  The rest is up to God.  And it’s good because it’s about making things better.

 

Give us today our daily bread.

It’s not up to me to meet my needs.  I don’t have to control, horde, boss, or demand. Rather, when the daily bread is given, I see it as a gift.  A grace. A work and labor for food, but it’s for the purpose to join with God in His story.  It’s about intimacy, not about stockpiling.

And the beautiful thing is that when I share my daily bread, it isn’t seen as a liability to my needs.   If God asks me to share, then the Father will have more for me later.

 

Forgive us of our sins; as we forgive the sins of other people.

Ah, grace.  In this state, we are forgiven.  And then more forgiven we realize we are, the more we are willing to forgive others.  In religion, the way to gain power over those is to be more righteous than the fellow or lady on right or left.  This deflates such a power structure with daily, hourly acts of forgiveness.

 

Lead us away from temptation.

Religion is not about us climbing a level of goodness, power, and blessing- so we then became better than the people around us. Rather, Jesus is offering the idea that what matters most is not who we are, but that we spend our time with the Father.

We are to surround ourselves with His daily bread, His Kingdom, His Will, and His forgiveness so that we do not have time for evil or temptation.  But those anxious folks who still fear evil, there is this throwaway line.  “Oh yes,” the prayer says, “And keep us from evil.” But the absence of platitudes on the nature of evil suggests there is far more to grace to keep us busy than just not being wrong, evil, or Godless.

 

For Yours is the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory Forever.  A-men.  

What is success?  It’s that God’s grace overwhelms and invades our world.  This is what we want and this is what we’re asking God to do in our lives.  And if he answers this request, our imaginations spin as to the wonder and glory of this result.

 

 

How we see the world will determine how we live in the world.  This is the power of becoming a “Lord’s Prayer People”.

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Hipster Grace: How Am I REALLY Doing with my Hip Replacement?

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I’m a 46-year old priest who has been described as “driven”.  Recently, I had to undergo a total hip replacement surgery.

When the diagnosis of my severe arthritis was given to me, I had a small freak-out that primarily were the words: “I’m too young! And what will I do for my six weeks recovery!”

My chief worry wasn’t going under the knife or anything life threatening, but the following rehab.  For six weeks I would not be able to: bend over past a 90-degree angle, twist, or cross my legs.  It was limitation, not pain.

I did the surgery and woke up numb, frozen, and needing help to do simple things like using the washroom and getting out of bed.

Returning home, my vision became a further collection of limitations.  I couldn’t sit on most of our chairs because the seats were lower than my knees (including all of our couches).  If I dropped something, someone else would have to pick it up.  I got skills in how to use the washroom, but it took twice as long with devices that could help me pull up my pants.  I couldn’t cook or clean.  Or drive.  Or work.

For six weeks.

A depression grew for the first week as I said good-bye to “doing most things”.  My hip muscles had to heal and strengthen, so any odd or extra movement could interrupt this process.

Luckily, for that first week, my daughters were home from Spring break.  They became my pit crew, helping me in and out of bed or with my exercises.

The depression was rooted in the fact that I couldn’t pick up, clean, cook, or do things around my home because I wanted to be of value.  I didn’t want to be just some dead-beat dad who expected everyone else to clean around him or some inconsiderate husband who disregarded my wife’s hard work.  No, I felt I had to earn my worth by working around the house.

Let alone that I can no longer work as a Priest for 6 weeks.  I actually likebeing a Priest and would be the first to use the word grace for what I do.  Recently, many of you know, I was ordained as a Priest only to be off for 6 weeks to recover from a hip replacement.

I would read on-line other great ministries going on and I felt like the kid that forgot to be picked for a side of a Dodge Ball game.  Left out, my adventures were going to the bathroom and not doing ministry, getting out there, and making a difference as a priest.

On my 8thmorning of recovery, I began to pray.  “God, be with me.  Just…be with me.”

Accepting-God

I stopped myself and criticized my own prayer. “Eric, you need to make more sense with your prayers or nothing will get done.  Pray something specific.  Pray something…better.”

I then thought: what is better than Jesus being with me?  Why do I see this with such little significance?  As if being with Jesus is just a means to a greater purpose?

Do I work to gain blessing for my life (and those around me)?  Or do I seek the one who blesses, regardless of what I gain by such a pursuit?

Do I have the faith in Christ that I am valuable enough without earning it by keeping busy?

Here is an idea:

The value of our lives is not achieved by what we do but rather who is with us.  Primarily, that God is with us.

            First, let’s look at Scripture:

“He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit…” Titus 3:5

It’s easy to think that we are loved by who we are and not by our works as just a Salvation experience.  This is most of the teaching will hear in churches: you can’t earn salvation, you can’t be good enough to get into Heaven (I talk about this in the blog: https://ericjkregel.wordpress.com/2019/03/23/the-riddle/)

But what if this state of grace is throughout our life, not just when we are saved?  What if God hasn’t lessened or slackened or diminished Christ’s mercy one bit. What if, in fact, God doesn’t change from the moment we are saved and is the same throughout our whole lives? What if mercy is there, every day, and we don’t have to earn our worth?

And yet we still kind of want to work, don’t we?  There’s mercy from God, but not from the world we live in.  We then work and work and work, ignoring God’s mercy.  When we go to church, we might grin and mumble, “Oh, that’s nice.”   But in the real world, we earn our status, power, blessing, and pleasure from work.

Until we can’t.  Or until we realize what we’ve earned isn’t satisfactory.

We have been created to enjoy God’s presence and His pleasure, not just God’s blessing.  We live only to gain God’s blessing, we soon will bypass Christ and go straight to get the things of Christ through our hard work.

Until we can’t.  Or we realize what we’ve earned isn’t satisfactory.

When our life is centered on getting blessings through our works (even when those blessings are the very things we need), our focus is lifted from God and onto what we can do to get what we want. Instead, what if our life’s aim simply was to be with God?   Or God to be with us?   And through that communion, everything we want or need has the proper context of the Kingdom of Jesus?   And Christ’s mission?

When my eldest daughter was about to be born, a friend of mine talked me into working on an heirloom together: matching rocking horses.  My wife is the wood-worker/furniture builder in our family, I’ve never tackled something like this.  But it was a way to spend time with a fellow in a similar circumstance as my own: someone entering into the season of fatherhood.

We worked for several months (about 45+ hours) on this thing, anytime we had a spare moment.  I learned how to use a planer, a lathe, a belt sander, and a circular saw.  I did the work, certainly; but my friend, the carpenter, helped my work into something beyond myself.

When people saw the rocking horse, they will compliment me on the craftsmanship of it.  I’d shrug and said, “I was working alongside of someone who knew what they were doing.”  It sounds like I’m being modest; really, I’m underselling his influence.

When we spend time with God, the Lord re-orienteers our desires and ambitions towards not only reality but what Christ’s mission is for us.

But let us say I just wanted a rocking horse.  My friend could have built me one, I guess, but it wouldn’t have been the same as working 45+ hours with him and learning how to work with wood.

Am I working to bless myself with the stuff of God?

Or….

Spending time with God?

Suddenly, my prayer, “Jesus, be with me,” became more than just a ramble, but my heart’s cry.  How does Christ “be with me”?   I wasn’t sure, but I’m used to that as an Anglican Priest.  Weekly, I invite people to the Eucharist with the promise that Christ will meet us at the Altar.  “How?” some have asked me.  I answer with a shrug just with an air of mystery.   Now, my prayer, has the same meaning: I am inviting and leaving it to God how the Divine shall meet me.

During my medical leave, I found the first month was a period of anxiety, anger, and sorrow.  Whenever I asked for help, I rarely said ‘thank you’.   As a parent, I felt my girls should learn how to take care of people and, secretly, I had a taste of resentment that I needed help in the first place.  If my daughters didn’t do what I asked, specifically, I would get cross, hiding it from them as I asked them to do it again, correctly.

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Then I took the time to spend time with God. Suddenly, their help became part of how I connect with God.  All of sudden, everything became a gift.  And if they got something wrong, no worries: it was just a chance to get to know them too. Everything that was given got an uncontrollable “thank you”.   And when I couldn’t be helped, something else was figured out.

Silence, as well, became less something to be filled but more something that inhabited God’s presence.  I-like those of my culture- are fearful to ever waste time. I mean, if you don’t use every second or minute to gain some sort of blessing for yourself or your family, that’s one less blessing!  But if it’s up to God to fill a stretch of time, it becomes less of an anxious experience. Perhaps Christ just wants me to sleep.  Or I need to think of a single idea for a good while and not rise up, applying it immediately.  Of God may want to something else with my time I haven’t even thought of.

770-121 Walker?  

walker_texas_ranger Or Walker Texas Ranger?  

This is the quiet grace I’ve been entering into as I await my hip to be new, strong, and ready for me to re-enter my world.  A grace from God that is slow burning, solid, and vivid.

Are we, I ask again, seeking to accumulate the “good things” of God or is our primary focus to spend time with God?

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The Insurrection of Grace

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#1

A church fears it won’t grow and won’t be as big as they once were ten years ago, so they hire the best pastor/priest/rector they can find to fix them.  The pastor comes to their church and realizes he/she must spend most of their energy pleasing the church members.  The church is scared and therefore demands to pastor to please their expectations of what a good pastor must be, so rather than being led they watch and control.   He/she fulfills their orders and this, of course, begets more orders.

The cycle continues.  New ideas cannot be introduced as the spin continues.  Imperfection is seen as a liability.

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#2

A spouse wants a great marriage so he/she makes demands upon the other spouse to do great things. The other spouse seeks to please that spouse, do whatever it takes to make the marriage great.  However, one cannot make a mistake for failure becomes the definition of their marriage and not anything else.

The cycle continues.  Intimacy is lost as the spin continues.

Tired and unhappy at work

#3

A manager wants to make his/her company perform better than they ever have, so they institute an elaborate series of rewards and consequences to the employees.  Making a mistake is seen as an issue, whereas success because the new norm.  The employees, to keep their job, seek to please their boss.

The cycle continues.

 

I could go on with more example because these cycles of community are pretty common. They all begin with a dream for something good, wonderful, or beautiful.  However, each cycle cuts itself off at the knees in order to get that beautiful thing.  In addition to being toxic, these cycles can become habitual, normative, and feel right over time: so toxicity becomes the new standard.

Can a community, a nation, a church, a family break the habit much like an individual can kick the habit of smoking or seek to eat to different so they don’t gain too many pounds?  Systemic change, like change for you or me, needs an agent that upsets the system so that the very rhythm of the thing no longer makes sense.

For all three scenarios, the needed change agent is the grace of God.

Simple definition: Grace is God’s unmerited approval for those who has placed their trust in Christ.

You can’t earn it any more than you can earn blue eyes or a nice smile.  It is given freely to you.  You can also not lose it like we might with our eyesight the more we get older or our waist size we had in High School.

It is the sense of being good enough no matter what, seeing your worth is from God and not from your success (or lack thereof), your height (or lack thereof), or your power (or lack thereof).  You are considered good no matter what and just because, independent from anyone or everyone’s yard stick of self-worth.

David McCullough writes, “Grace means that in the middle of our struggle the referee blows the whistle and announce the end of the game. We are declared winner and sent to the showers. It’s over for all huffing, puffing piety to earn God’s favour; it’s finished for all sweat-soaked straining to secure self-worth; it’s the end of all competitive scrambling to get ahead of others in the game. Grace means that God is on our side and thus we are victors regardless of how well we have played the game. We might as well head for the showers and the champagne celebration.”

When we have these cycles- that are created from anxiety- demand we conform to someone else’s pleasure, the insurrection to these systems is not more anxiety, more control, or more anything else other than grace.  Grace changes the game entirely.

Why?  When I enter into one of these three systems, I no long seek to please other people (or even myself) but to rest in the pleasure of God.   God is gracious and pleasure is freely given.

C. S. Lewis writes, “Grace substitutes a full, childlike and delighted acceptance of our need, a joy in total dependence. The good man is sorry for the sins which have increased his need. He is not entirely sorry for the fresh need they have produced[1].”

Pleasing ourselves, pleasing our places of work, pleasing our churches, pleasing our families, and pleasing our measures of goodness makes pleasure something so ghostlike, something slippery like vapor that it sounds like it should always be out from our reach so we’re always working, always striving to be anywhere kind of near it.

But grace works entirely different for are invited to enjoy God’s pleasure as a state of rest, the result because you carry this rest with you regardless of what others seem to be demanding.   It is the foundation of doing good in the world not because it makes us worthwhile humans, but rather it is our sharing with others of this pleasure.

The greatest image of this is food brought to us and when I think of the pleasure of food, I think of Wendell Berry.

“The pleasure of eating should be an extensive pleasure, not that of the mere gourmet. People who know the garden in which their vegetables have grown and know that the garden is healthy will remember the beauty of the growing plants, perhaps in the dewy first light of morning when gardens are at their best. Such a memory involves itself with the food and is one of the pleasures of eating[2].

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In this idea, food comes from the Earth and is to be enjoyed.  The labor to bring about this food is not to earn, rather to further understand the grace given due to this food.  The more you grow, the more you learn about food and how to share it with those around you.  Your table becomes bigger with more and more seats for anyone, despite who or what they represent.  Your pull from the ground that which has been given to you freely; you share freely with others at your table.

To quote one of his poems:

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.[3]

Let us imagine that God’s pleasure is that of a great table where all are invited to come and enjoy the rest.  If more come, room will be made.  You then can sit and rest, get that space one needs to sound their problems and solutions.  Food comes that is from the Earth, grown and harvested and now shared.  One can eat what they need.  You are not alone at this table and there isn’t someone standing over you, as a self-appointed parent, telling you are doing something wrong.   The table is there, glad you are a part of it.

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And from this place is where we can change our world.

 

 

 

[1]The Four Loves.  Lewis, C.S.

[2]The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays Berry, Wendell.

 

 

[3]Selected Poems.Berry, Wendell

The Riddle

 

Bad People go to Heaven, Good People go to Hell.  Explain this

            This is a riddle. It was told to a group of young people I was working with and they spent an evening trying to figure it out.  The old man who told them this riddle, explained that this is not only described in the Bible but is reality.

It’s jarring because it doesn’t seem to be true.  How could Bad People get into Heaven?  Heaven is supposed to be a place of goodness, a place of eternal reward.  How can someone who is bad, who does bad things, and someone who didn’t earn their way into somewhere nice get rewarded by God?

The first part of the riddle-Bad People go to Heaven– confounds what we classically think of Heaven: a place where the righteous go in the hereafter and look down from the cloud at the rest of us.

Yet the Bible explained, in Psalms 14:2 and quoted in Romans 3:10, “No one is righteous, not anyone.” What are we to do this?  If it is impossible to earn our way into Heaven, then Heaven must be full of people who aren’t righteous, aren’t good, can’t be good, and fall short of goodness.  Heaven must be full of Bad People.

The key to the riddle is that a Bad Person needs to know they are bad.  Recall the story Jesus taught, when he compared two men praying: a religious leader (Good Person) and a tax collector (Bad Person).  The religious leader, when he prayed, mostly talked about himself and how good he was.  It was an impressive prayer, but the prayer had little to do with God. Then the tax collector prayed while hitting himself, “Lord, have mercy upon me, a wretched sinner.”  Jesus, at the end of his story, told his audience that God preferred the bad fellow’s prayer to the good fellow’s prayer.

Why?   The tax collector knew he was bad.  He didn’t hide the fact that he was bad, he didn’t self promote himself, or didn’t segregate himself from others because he was “more righteous” than everyone else.  He admitted he was bad.

Moving on in the riddle-Good People go to Hell– flies in the face of what we tend to think of Hell.  As we’ve learned from cartoons, Bad People go to Hell. Now, all of a sudden, Hell is filled with good people?

We can hear the protests of good people.  Those people whose life purpose is to be good, to be known as good, and to avoid any evil.  Those who stand up for what’s right, loving being right, and following all the rules. These people, in hearing this, might lodge the protest, “Do you dare say that God doesn’t care about rules?  What about our good works?  We’ve worked so hard and so much at being good.  Is it all for nothing?”

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Yet the Bible explained in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith; and not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.”

Good People don’t need grace because grace is only for those of us who incessantly fail and mess up. Good people don’t need to be forgiven: their lives are exemplary.  And good people don’t need to say they’re sorry or ask for help, they are doing fine on their own.  If the only way to arrive at Heaven is to ask for help from Jesus, than a good person will never have this conversation with Him: they’re doing fine without him.

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Unfortunately, Good People don’t exist.  Paul says in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God.”  The only way someone can think they are good is if they ignore who they really are and just pretend to be good.

However, those who know they need help, know they can’t pull up their own bootstraps when eternity is on the line, those will be the one who will turn to Jesus and say, “I can’t do it by myself.  I’m not good enough.  Help me.  Save me.”

Peace

Still confused?  Tell you what: bring this article to any Christian church and find someone who looks like they’re in charge.  Put this paper in front of them and exclaim, “This is crazy.  Explain this to me.”  Or, if churches bug you, find a Christian and do something similar.  The truth can be known concerning this riddle.

Listen to the Monster In The 2nd Story of Your Home

As I write this, I am a 4 days away from a hip replacement surgery.

A few days prior to this writing, I underwent a fairly strong case of anxiety.  It wasn’t my anxiety attacking me or causing me to do anything wonky, it just arrived and sat on my lap.  Anxiety is pretty new to me.  I usually do anxious things all of the time, as a Priest, and I have to be told later that it was stressful.

Ever have a friend who is usually always healthy?  And then when they get sick, they are at wits end with their cold?  That was me, a few days ago, with the anxiety that decided to sit on my lap.

The anxiety reminded me of a fear I had when I was a child.  I feared 2nd stories of buildings or homes.  Growing up in San Jose, California; we lived on a single level, ranch style home.  The newness of a 2nd story scared me.  My fear was that if I went upstairs anywhere, alone, some monster would somehow, magically, capture me and keep me on the top level for the rest of my life.

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My parents would visit me at the beginning, but then move on with their lives.

I wouldn’t be able to run, play, or go to school.

I’d never be married or have a job or drive a car.

I would be trapped upstairs, forever.

One Thanksgiving Dinner, I confided this fear to my Aunt Karen who was a psychologist. She gave the best advice, worthy of Joseph Campbell: “Eric, you need to make friends with this monster; he/she/it might be trying to tell you something.”

Speaking of Campbell, he said something very similar about the tyrant monster in our myths/dreams:

“The figure of the tyrant-monster is known to the mythologies, folk traditions, legends, and even nightmares, of the world; and his characteristics are everywhere essentially the same. He is the hoarder of the general benefit. He is the monster avid for the greedy rights of ‘me and mine.’ The havoc wrought by him is described in mythology and fairy tale as being universal throughout his domain. This may be no more than his household, his own tortured psyche, or the lives he blights with the touch of his friendship or assistance; or it may amount to the extent of civilization. The inflated ego of the tyrant is a curse to himself and his world—no matter how his affairs seem to prosper. Self-terrorized, fear-haunted, alert at every hand to meet and battle back the anticipated aggressions of his environment, which are primarily the reflection of the uncontrollable impulses to acquisition within himself, the giant of self-achieved independence is the world’s messenger of disaster, even though, in his mind, he may entertain himself with humane intentions.”

—Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, p. 11, 2008

Our monsters teach us a lot about ourselves, our own dreams and pursuits.  And they threaten that which is most important to us.

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So imagined a conversation with this monster of the upstairs and told him I could visit him/her/it, but I also was free to leave; the monster got the message.

And then this anxiety came back for my hip surgery.  Why now?

I didn’t understand this until I spoke with a friend of mine: “I’m not scared of the life threatening surgery, but the recovery afterwards.  6 weeks of doing nothing.  Of not being allowed to do things.  Of being stuck.  Trapped.  Trapped upstairs.”

I was afraid of medical leave, of no longer being a part of any mission or redemption.

I heard this and realized I needed another conversation with the monster.  I needed to tell him I could see him/her/it, but I was also free to leave.

Talk to your monster; learn from them.

This is found throughout the Torah and the Bible, heroes and heroines who must walk through their fears.  And the fears, it seem, reveal more and more of their purpose of the story.

Moses was terrified of public speaking; his job was to say to the Egyptian nation, “Let God’s people GO!”

King David was terrified of getting things wrong; his job was to demonstrate what a broken, contrite heart looked like before God.

King Solomon was terrified of lacking any meaning; he wrote the book that repeated the phrase, “Meaningless!  Meaningless!”

Esther was afraid of being noticed; she became Queen.

Saul was afraid anything Gentile or non-kosher; God renamed him Paul, the missionary to all of us outside of the Jewish world.

I could go on, but there is a point where we must make friends of the monsters under our beds, talk to our greatest fears, and abide in them to ask the question, “What do I still need to do in life?

Further on this train of thought, here’s a link based upon the Myers-Briggs view of Hell. What our view of Hell can often shape how we run to our own Heaven.

Here is the link:

The Definition Of Hell For Each Myers-Briggs Personality Type

Listen to your monsters.  Use them as one of your many mentors.  Their threats can sometimes be opposite pointing arrows to your mission.   For me, I will use the rest and embrace.  And then leave it when the season ends.

 

How I Would Fight A War

Note- This is written for the sole purpose of humour.  I mean no disrespect to those who start wars professionally.

 

I believe when we fight wars, we go about it all wrong.

Let me explain.  The standard operating system, since the 20th Century, goes about the usual way.

First of all, our country finds another country that they have to invade.  It really bothers our country that this other country has some despot in charge or some regime that is “just not us”.

We bomb them to kingdom come.  Rockets, air strikes, shells, pots and pans…whatever is chucked at our enemy until the despot drops to his/her knees, begging for the bombing to end.

And then we invade.  We walk around, after the smoke clears and the rubble settles to liberate the country.  We seek to give humanitarian aid, rebuild infrastructure, and set this once tyranny on the path of democracy….by gunpoint.

 

We’ll walk around with our clipboards, asking questions like, “So, where is your children’s hospital?”

“We don’t have one,” a local will tell us.

“Oh my, it’s good we came when we did!  I can’t believe it, you backwards people!  You don’t have a children’s hospital!?!”

“Because you blew ours up,” they’ll say out of the corner from their mouth.

We’ll build them hospitals, new roads, and give them a new country.  And smugly grin as we claim, “Mission accomplished.”

That’s how it’s done and will probably be done again.

But that’s not  how I would do it.  Here’s what I would do.

First, decide on some horrible country who you can’t stand and who’s despot needs to be overthrown.  This should be pretty easy.

Next, one morning, march into his/her palace.  Bring your clipboards.  Sit at the foot of his/her bed and politely clear your throat.   “And how are we recovering?” you’ll ask.

“Wh-what?” they’ll ask back.

“Few survive wars like the one you’ve gone through.  But don’t worry, we’ll have you and your country back on your feet in no time.  Don’t worry, the moment you surrendered we got to work in making your country a democracy.”

“Wh-what?” the despot will ask you through a haze.

“That was really a horrible and bloody war.  No wonder you’re still a bit confused.”

“What are you talking about?” the despot will ask.

“The war!”  Then you need to look at them with all of the condescending patience you can muster.  “Don’t tell me you blocked out the whole war?”   Clear your throat.

The despot will stare at you for a while, but the moment you sell them, non-verbally, on the belief that they had just forgotten a war that just took place, you can continue.

“The war was long, awful, and it was touch and go.”  Then you lean towards the despot and grab their arm.  “And you fought well!  You did such a good job!”  Pat the despot on the arm.  “But we ended up, in the end, being a little bit more stronger than you so we won.  And you surrendered.”  With finality, clap your hands.  “So let’s talk what armistice and peace looks like!”

You should, for a while, march around with the self-satisfaction that you have conquered everything.  The locals will catch on.  You should mumble things like, “Oh, I’m glad that street survived the bombing!  That will be much easier to rebuild!”  Or: “Look, this country has a Children’s hospital!  Just a fresh coat of paint and renaming it should be quick work!’

You see, rebuilding a nation’s infrastructure is so much easier when the war leading up to the armistice was imaginary.

My guess is that there will be less hostility when you do road work or new sewer lines from the locals because you weren’t the ones who bombed them.

And this approach reduces the number of those veterans of foreign wars who need aid when you, initially, have reduced the number of foreign wars.

Plus, it does feel much better walking around, telling what a foreign country needs or should do if you weren’t the ones, originally, that blew them up in the first place.

Yes, the plan has holes.  It’s not a perfect plan.  As well, a lot can go wrong with this- admittedly.  One big issue with this plan is it is, basically, lying.  And we’re not supposed to lie.

But is that, morally, worst than the alternative?

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The Thing Between Ed and My Dad

Ed Tennant, long time friend and companion to my family growing up, has just passed from this life to the next.  He is, in every sense of the expression, survived by us all.

I knew Ed before my ability to make my first memories.  He and my Dad, John (Jack) Henry Kregel, were friends since the army.   From their days in the army, they both became police officers together around the 1960’s.  I’m not sure who came to San Francisco and who came to San Jose first, but eventually the pair kept our home city safe in San Jose by the time I was on the scene.

Growing up, The Kregels and the Tennants did some of their vacations together, based exclusively around skiing and the two cabins between our families.

The skiing and the cabins went away when I reached High School age, but Ed and my dad still continued their friendship decades afterwards.

The thing between Ed and my dad was something none of us could name or describe.  Sure, they were friends; but friendship was a weak, slim word for what I grew up with.  They were married and devoted to their families, so their bond was with the families they loved, provided for, and sought to protect.  And they weren’t biological brothers: they had those and this thing was a bond beyond family.

What was it?

Most of the time I saw Ed with my Dad, it was without warning.  When my Dad would pick me up from a summer camp or drop me off somewhere, Ed might have cone along.  Or not.

I can remember walking home from school on some Friday to see my dad, outside of our house, wrestling with the ski racks on our car.  Foolishly, I’d ask what we were doing for the weekend and he retort, “Going to the Tennant’s cabin.”   Most of the time, I’d like to believe, the Tennants knew we were coming.

Dad, throughout the last decade, would often drop by the Tennant’s without warning or announcement.  He one time, when I was with him on long weekend from College, broke into the Tennant’s house to make coffee while he waited for Ed to return.

Ed and my Dad would talk for hours.  Both of them viewed their role in the Universe as the last of the good guys, the Blue Knights of law and order.  They were to keep everyone in their place and the streets safe from those who wanted to endanger our good Republic.  Certainly, as a “woke” Anglican, liberal, 21st century fellow I have cause to deconstruct most of their claims and stories.  But they had them non-the-less.

Ed was larger than life, one of the first men I knew as a kid who could fill a room with his presence.  He was generous with everything- kindness, stories, advice, support, and warnings.  I can remember coming home from school and feeling the air conditioning to our house have slightly changed, a signal that Ed had stopped by unannounced.

Ed’s kids- Patrick, David, and Kirsten- would come sometimes, mostly when we’d be at the cabin.  They were much older than me, amiable teens who didn’t mind being shadowed my two tiny rug rats- my brother and I.

I was the shy, youngest kid out of the kid pack that would run laps around the main floor of whatever cabin we occupied.  The whole environment made me laugh and loved listening to the stories around “adult table”.

Ed taught me poker.  He also explained to me why revolver pistols never use silencers.  Both of these things I have not yet had to use as an Anglican Priest, but I’m glad I gleaned them from my dad’s buddy.

“Buddy”, that was what he named me rather than the “Grinning, Shy Kregel Kid”.

Audrey-Ed’s wife-, as my memory serves me (as often it doesn’t), was a wicked story teller as well.  However, her tales were 95% in the delivery.  If the boys let her finish, there was usually some kind of pay off that, if you tried to retell it, lost it’s former glory in a generation removed.

Storytelling, that was what we were really doing at these connections.  We just brought along the skis and poles as props.

Ed and my Dad came down for my first ordination as a Baptist Minister.  I was worried about being seen by them.  I was getting ordained in a fairly squeaky clean, ultra-Republican Southern California mega-church with pretences so think you could cut them with a steak knife.

As we walked across the parking lot into the church, I was about ready to give them the lecture: “Don’t cuss, don’t refer to minorities with any of your pet names, don’t describe women by the parts of their bodies, don’t…”

Instead, I just leaned back inside of myself and prayed, “Into thy hands, I commit Ed and Dad.”

They attended the service and we were off to eat a lunch nearby without incident when, shouting from the steps of the church, cried a voice: “Holy shit!!  Ed!!  John!  What the fuck are you doing here?!”

“Holy shit,” Ed said.  “It’s fucking Ed Carrager!  John, it’s fucking Ed Carrager!”

Ed Carrager, I learned, was a San Jose Police Officer who moved down to the LA area, got remarried, became a devout Baptist, and was an elder of the church I got ordained at.  Later, he said, “I knew I always liked you, Eric.  I just never put 2 + 2 = Kregel until I saw you with Ed and your dad.”

After the ordination, we had an evening BBQ with my friends, Ed, and my Dad.  Some friends of mine were musicians, so they played music that involved the use of puppets (long story, but it was their thing).  Ed took it in stride; my Dad snarled, wondering what failure I had undergone to have rock music and not Wagner at my BBQ (another long story).

Ed met my wife and m friends, smiling and approving of everything.  “You got a real catch there, Eric,” Ed said.

“It’s kind of like a fairy story, the troll marrying the princess,” I said to him.

“Gosh, I’m living that one myself.”

Ed approved.  Above and beyond the church service, the ordination, and the title change, that was what I needed to hear that day.  I still carry that with me today.

 

Ed and my Dad had a fast, furious, and mysterious short hand with each other.  They often swapped roles, one being the dreamer and the other the guardian of reality against all dreams.  Examples of this:

Ed: Hey John, I got an idea.  Do you have $3000 laying around your house?

Dad: Why?

Ed: Real Estate idea.

Dad: Naw, it won’t work.

 

Dad: Hey, I think I know why music for teenagers is so awful.  It’s because they aren’t drafted.  If we have a citizen’s army, like the one in Switzerland, they’d all be in the army and that would teach them discipline.  Then we wouldn’t have to hear rap everywhere.

Ed: I think the problem is bigger than just the army, John.

 

Dad: I’m thinking of living, for four months, off of brown rice, beats, and beans.  What do you think?”

Ed: No, don’t do that.

 

Once I saw them get into a fight.  They were dropping me off to a 3-week Outward Bound backpacking camp in Oregon and the two got into it.  I’m not sure what about, but they both got mad at each other.  My Dad turned silent into a sharpened sulk; Ed muttered to himself in the aftermath.

We pulled into a pizza parlour in Northern California.  Ed ordered multiple pies and the three of us sat down.  The two men sat silently, looking away from each other.  When the food came, Ed showered his slice with cheese, peppers, and salt.

“You’re going to kill yourself with those levels of salt,” my dad told him.  (By the way, this was back in 1989).

“It’s on your pizza too, John,” Ed said.

“Yeah, I guess,” he said and they went back to telling stories.

Ed told complete stories; my Dad spoke in only scenes, a mosiac of random thoughts and sensations.  Growing up, my Dad’s stories shaped, framed, and guided me into what to look for as as of interest or heroic.  My Dad was a great story teller, but when I try to retell them to my girls, they always ask for the inevitable, “And then what happened?”  And I can’t tell them because my Dad never finished a tale, instead it just reminded him of the next series of adventure.

Ed, later in life, finished my Dad’s stories for me.  As a kid, I learned that my Dad and Ed sold illegal liquor when they were in an oversea language school to learn Vietnamese for the Army.  But that’s it.  I’d mention this to my friends or family and they would want to know more and I would just shrug.

When my Dad had his stroke-ending all of his storytelling- my brother and I had a cigar with Ed.  Ed brought up the story and I finally got the beginning, middle, and end.

They both were students at a language school in the Far East.  The soldiers would be sold, for their off-hours, alcohol at a reduced rate.  Ed and my dad, as young men in their twenties, would buy as much as they could carry and then sell it outside of the military base to the locals for twice as they got it.  Their profits would be then spent on a fine, five course meal at the nicest restaurant they could find.  Then they would repeat this cycle the next time they were given time off from the language school.

This was, I believe, Ed and my Dad’s first scheme.

Ed and Dad had a thing between them, something they could never name.  Ed, for my Dad, was the one whole filled in the gaps of the stories and who generously gave and showed up and made things happen.  My Dad would do so back to him in his own way.

Ed and Dad had a thing between them which men, of that generation, didn’t speak of.   Today, I would use the word “love”.   For these two Police Officers from San Francisco in the 1960’s, men didn’t love men!  Men shouldn’t love men!  But this was not a romantic love, it was something entirely unique that carried both men through the decades.

And that thing between them is something I will miss because, above everything else, I will miss Ed.

Go in peace, Ed.