I’ll See You in My Dreams

Yesterday I wrote that faith is inseparable from imagination.   Having preached that for years, I know from experience that not everyone receives that.  For some, the thought of faith being wrapped up with imagination diminishes faith. . 

“Faith is about the truth!”  They say. “Imagination is about fantasy.”

I half expect them to quote from I Temptations 3:24:  “It was JUST my imagination…”.  (If they did, I would remind that the group’s name ought to serve as precaution.  They are “The Temptations” after all.  The devil would like nothing more than for us to divorce imagination from faith.)

To believe is to imagine.

Every Sunday I hold up a piece of bread and I say, “This is the body of Christ broken…”  No one questions that.  No one says, “With a minute!  That’s just a piece of bread!”   Everyone sees it as the body of Christ. 

I may preach, “To be absent from the body is to be present to the Lord” and the minds of the faithful immediately imagine what that must entail.   

“I can only imagine…” 

Why am I thinking about this?  I am thinking about this because I am thinking about Linda. What is the relationship of this grief I am experiencing to how I imagine her current condition?  How has faith, indeed faithful imagination,  shaped me for such a time as this?

I think back to that night at the Gray Fairgrounds and the sadness I felt that Linda was missing out, the guilt I felt that I had gone to Tennessee for Christmas without her.   

I have been taught that at death a believer like Linda goes to be with the Lord and that nothing can compare to the joy of that reality.  However, I confessed that the joy of that reality could not possibly surpass the sadness I felt that she was  not with me and missing the sight of a well-lighted cow jumping over the moon. 

My grief was compounded by the ridiculousness of that feeling.  But, truth be told, that is how I felt.  I felt as if I had betrayed her by going to Tennessee without her. 


I am convinced that grief is not simply an emotional response to loss but is, in fact, an. altered state of consciousness  The cow jumping over the moon is nothing when compared to grief drop-kicking you over Mars.

I know about altered states of consciousness.  I wasn’t  just sitting around doing nothing in the 60s.  But, on top of that, I experienced such profound delirium during transplant that it transformed my worldview.  As a result, I am even weirder than you might imagine. 


Linda was a swimmer.  She swam year round if she could.   In the summer, we joined a private pool that was part of a particular neighborhood. As long as lightning bolts where not striking close the pool, Linda was in it.  She swam non-stop for an hour…well, except when she stopped to investigate the traps around the pool to rescue stranded frogs.  (After her swim, she would sit on the steps close to where I sat under an umbrella and rescue stranded carpenter ants from the water.  I came to call her ‘Saint Frankie.”)

During the Winter she swam three times a week at the YMCA.  We’ve lived in Atlanta for 21 years.  She started that routine about 10 minutes after we moved in.  

She swam like for at least 40 years.

; At the beginning of summer, I bought her a new bathing suit.  She wore it a week or two before she got sick.  As I was sorting through clothes, I reached down and picked up that bathing suit.  At that moment, some schmuck shot an arrow through my heart.  

Let me tell you, and I know this from experience, it is hard to hug an empty bathing suit. 

Tell me that grief is not an altered state of consciousness.    “He’s lost his mind, someone saw him hugging a bathing suit.”  

Except it wasn’t empty.  She was in it.

“Oh, that was nothing but your imagination.”

“Uh, if you don’t mind, I take my imagination straight with nothing-buttery.”

But, the critic is right.  She wasn’t there.  

Linda was the warmest human being that ever lived.   Oh, I don’t mean that in terms of relationships.  Linda could be a little distant in relationships.   No.  I mean she was warm.   Sometimes I would prosecute her about it, “Have you been tumbling in the clothes dryer again, young lady?”   The dogs loved her for that. 

I didn’t feel that warmth but for a second she was there. 

Well, was she there or wasn’t she? 


Here’s something to think about.  When a believer dies she goes to be with the Lord.  While people say all kinds of things about what happens right after you die,  some of those things are not found in scripture. 

Scripture is sort of vague about what happens immediately after you die.  You go to be with the Lord.  You are ‘in the Lord.”  You are secure.  You are safe.  You are ‘asleep in the Lord.” 

Asleep in the Lord.

We read that as if it is saying that you are unconscious and unaware in the Lord.  But, anyone who has ever paid attention when asleep, knows that sleep is a period of activity.  High activity.  It is…ahem…an altered state of consciousness. 

For example, you are highly vigilant when asleep.  Of course, part of you is ‘dead to the world’ (what an interesting phrase, huh?)  But part of you is wide awake.  

I live in a house that creaks and pops.  (My house mocks me since I do too!)  I sleep right through those creaks and pops.  They are old familiar friends.    But, let there be an unusual creak, an unfamiliar pop and I’m sitting up with pie pan eyes.   (Did you know we hear with our eyes?) 


I wouldn’t assume that being asleep in the Lord is like being asleep  in this realm but even being asleep this side of the veil is not a state of total unconsciousness.  (I’m not sure how any one could sleep if they were truly in the Lord?!?)

And then there are dreams.  Holy Moley.  Dreams.  

I heard a song the other day and the guy sang “…but I was only dreaming.”   ONLY dreaming my hind end!
There is no ONLY dreaming. 

If nothing else , dreaming is thought to occur as the brain repairs itself (what? Repairs itself? While I’m asleep?) at night.  While you are slobbering on your pillow, your brain is clearing out clutter, hooking up new connections, and generally maintaining itself   Some think that dreaming  is a side effect of that. 

Okay…but why are dreams, though odd, sometimes coherent?

Apart from this trip over Mars that I am currently experiencing, I have experienced three major periods of grief: that which followed the death of each of my parents and that which followed the death of my cousin when I was 16.   Each of those seasons of  grief were resolved because of a dream…a grief dream.  

I am awaiting a visit from Linda.  At night, as I turn in, I speak to her and say, “Bud, feel free to come by tonight.”   (Over Mars…remember)

She came by the other night but this was not a ‘grief dream.”  She and I were in a huge cafeteria and she wanted to sneak into the kitchen.  (That was sooo Linda!).  While we were creeping around in the kitchen, I noticed a rather large woman watching us in spite of the fact that her hair completely covered her face.   

“We better get out of here,” I said, “We are being watched.”
Linda turned to run and tripped over a mop bucket and sprawled onto the floor.
We both broke out laughing. I helped her up and we ran for our lives. 

We walked up this hall together still giggling.  I touched her arm and stopped.
We hugged.  She felt as if she had just stepped out of the dryer.
I woke up…and fought back the tears because they bring headaches.

Oh, that was just a dream. 
Oh, that was just your imagination.

I like the idea that Linda is asleep in the Lord.  I imagine her snug in his care.  Whole.  No longer suffering the god-awful symptoms of liver failure. 
The only question I have is this:
Does she dream about me?

What Are Your Co-Ordinates?

 My dad died in October, 1982.   He died two months after his 71st birthday of Sudden Cardiac Arrest, which means that his heart suddenly quit beating. 

While I didn’t mark the occasion, I have lived a few months longer than my dad.

I cheated.

Linda and I, along with wee Amber, had moved to Tennessee in August of that year.  We lived in Casa de Magni out on Powder Branch Road in Carter County, Tennessee until the Magni arrived a year later and drove us from that little bit of paradise. 

Amber and I were chasing each other in circles in the front yard when Linda called to me from the front door. 

October 19, 1982.   

“Your mom is on the phone.”

I left Amber to run in circles alone and walked into the house.  I remember wondering why she was calling since we had only left mom and dad the day before.  


“James.  I have some bad news.  Your father has died.” 


Fast forward several days.  

Casa de Magni is out in the country.   While I don’t know what it is like now out there, back then the nights were dark dark.   On a clear night, you could sit outside and see stars upon stars upon stars.  

It was on such a night, two or three nights after burying my dad,  that I took out the trash.  I stopped mid-journey, my hands clutching a couple of filled garbage bags.  

“I wonder where my dad is.”  I thought.   

I knew where his body was.  It was where it still is.  The city cemetery in Carrollton, Georgia.   I wasn’t thinking of his body.  I was thinking of him.  I was thinking about the life, the self, the person…the whatever-this-is that we are…where was HE?

I still held the garbage bags in my hand as I looked up into the ink-well of a sky and thought: “Well, it’s for damn sure, he’s not up there!”


A few days later I ran into my friend and mentor, Fred Norris.  For those who didn’t have the pleasure of knowing Fred with his massive personality and his thunderous laugh, well…I’m sorry for you. 

He asked me how I was doing.  I told him the longer version of the story I just told you.

After I spoke the dramatic conclusion of that story and admitted that I had no idea where my dad was, Fred’s laugh all but blew my wig off. 

“Street,” he laughed.  “You don’t know where YOU are!” 

He bear hugged me and knocked me around a bit and walked off.


Flash forward several years.  I was driving north on I-85 after teaching my night class at Point University.   I listened to some astrophysicist on NPR as he talked about the vastness of the universe.  The interviewer asked him something or other about the size of the universe or some such.  I just remember what the scientist said:

“We like to think that our little planet is at the center of the universe.  The problem with that is that we do not know where the center of the universe is.” 

“Where is my dad?”

“Street, you don’t know where you are!”

“We don’t know where the center of the universe is.”

“Earth to Dad:  Earth to Fred.  Earth to Linda.  Earth to myself… Can you send me your co-ordinates?”


As I write, I am sitting up in bed.  My laptop is uh…on my lap.  I just polished off my first cup of coffee and a bowl of Cheerios.  The wee hounds are lying on a stack of blankets that are on a cedar chest at the foot of my bed. The rest of my house, my neighborhood, my city, my state, my country is all around me.

ALL around ME.

I am at the center of everything that exists around me.

Jim Street.  Ground Zero. 

And all this time you thought YOU were Ground Zero of all that is. 

In this realm, I could send you my coordinates and you could take a pin and stick me right in the map at any given time.

I bring that up because we seem to think that because we ‘know’ that wherever we are is at the center of all things and that everything else whirls around us, that we know where we are.  

In a sense we do.  Latitude.  Longitude.  Time of day.

But in a sense we don’t because we don’t really know where ‘are’ is.


Paul put it better than I can.  “Now we look through a glass darkly.’  What does that mean?  It means that at present we look into a mirror and see an enigma.   It is not as if we do not know anything.  But it is the case that anything that can be reflected in a mirror is characterized as enigma. Quadruple that enigma quality for things that cannot be reflected in a mirror. 

We know a little about things but the enigmatic quality of reality is far, far larger than our knowledge of things.  

We live in Mystery.  And the psychological and emotional (at least) result of that is Wonder.  

How do we find the longitude and latitude of a Mystery?  Can you send me your co-ordinates?


I am seven years old.  I am sitting in Sunday school.  Ms. Louise Traylor is my teacher.  She is ancient.  She points to a picture of these hands in space.  The earth is suspended just above the palms of those giant hands.  “Have you children heard this song on the radio: ‘He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands?’”  I had heard the song.  (Although it is an African American spiritual, it was first recorded ini 1927.  An English singer named Laurie London made it a hit in 1957.)

I look at the picture and thought, “Wait! What about the rest of the heavens?  Are they in His hands too?”

What was that humble servant of God doing in that moment?  She was shaping my imagination.   She may have thought that she was simply teaching a Sunday school lesson published by Standard Publishing.  But, no….she was shaping my imagination.

And it’s a good thing too.   After all faith is inseparable from imagination.  It would not be a stretch for me to say: “Without imagination, you cannot please God.”  

Tell me about the birth of Jesus.  Tell me about the cross.  Tell me about the resurrection.  Tell me about the throne of God in the New Jerusalem, the River of Life, with the Tree of Life whose leaves are meant for the healing of the nations… and my imagination runs wild.  

“He will wipe away every tear from eyes!  There will be no more suffering or pain.  Death will be no more!”   

I weep for joy.

By imagination you are saved.

John Lennon…what a paltry hack.


Where is Linda?  I look across the room and see the plastic box.  I have placed it on a table.  I have surrounded it with pictures: her grandmother, her dad, her sister.  Her little lighthouse lamp is there.  Her little critters surround the lighthouse.  Jars of shells she collected on the many beaches.  It’s a crowded little mess of stuff she loved. 

I get up in the morning.  The first thing I do is walk over to the box and do what I did when I would wake up in the morning with her arm close at hand.  I pat it two or three times..  

“Morning, Sweetheart.”

I’m turning a corner.  At first, just after she died, I felt as if she were missing out.  The Christmas lights…the time with family riding through the Gray Fairgrounds.

I imagine differently now.  

She’s whole.
I’m missing out.

“On what?” I ask with trash bags in hand.

I can only imagine.

Ashes to Ashes/ Red-Light to Red-Light

Weight (1)

In my experience, the most difficult time in the difficult process of burying a loved one occurs just before the funeral when everyone except the family is asked to leave the room where the body lies in state and the family says its last good-byes.   

Family members gather together around the open casket.  They often hold to one another.  Often there is weeping that intensifies as one of  the directors slowly and respectfully closes the casket.   The family is ushered out for the service and the casket is rolled into the chapel sanctuary for the funeral.. 

The whole process is carried out with dignity, respect, and attention to the gravity of the moment. 

Linda died on December 8th. 

She was cremated on December 16th. 

Today, I went to the funeral home to pick up her ashes alone. 

I had called the funeral home and was told that I could come by at any time to pick them up.

I parked, opened the door, and walked into the large, well-appointed building.  This was the very funeral home which had served Linda’s family over the years.   Her grandmother, her dad, and her sister all were prepared for burial here.   

I entered into the corridor.  Large rooms with beautiful antique furniture and lovely art work opened their doors on either side of hallway.   A grandfather clock stood watch over the facility reminding all that entered into his dignified presence that time was passing by one tick, one tock at a time.

I walked until I came to what I thought was the business office. 

No one was there.  

I walked a little further down the hallway.
I heard a voice behind me: “May I help you?”

“Yes.  I am James Street.  I am here to collect my wife’s ashes.”

The man who had spoken stood just outside the business office in the hallway.  He was dressed in a suit and tie.  Every hair was in place.  He coat buttoned.

“Her name?”

“Linda.  Linda Street.”

“Oh…yes.  You called earlier.”


“One moment please.”
The man disappeared through a door in the back of the office. 

While he was gone, the young woman who had helped me when I came on the 9th of December entered the room.  She and I had sat at a large mahogany table.  I told her that my wife, Linda, was to be cremated.   She immediately stood and retrieved all sorts of memorial kitsch for my consideration.  A tear drop pendant containing ashes on a chain.  A blue glass globe that resembled a large glass marble which also contained ashes.   She showed me other memorial items for the disposition of at least part of my loved one’s ashes.
I felt a bit stunned that the memorial items sales pitch began so quickly, so abruptly.

“No,”  I said.  “I am not interested in that.” 

She then showed me several urns that I might consider.  When I told her I wasn’t sure about urns yet, she showed me slides of other available urns. 

The prices of the urns began at $250 and the prices went much higher as she displayed each one.
I explained to her that I was not sure where the urn would be placed or when.  I told her that since I was not sure that I had better wait before I purchased an urn.
She stopped showing me ‘items’ and produced a stack of papers for me to sign.  

Along the way, she informed me as to the cost of cremation.
She told me that I could pay by check or credit card.

I produced my MasterCard.

Following the procedures, she told me I could pick up Linda’s remains after the 16th of December.   They would hold them for 30 days.

We shook hands and I left. 

Today, she entered the office, glanced at me, and didn’t speak to me at all before she left.  

A couple of minutes later, the man reentered the office.  

He carried a shopping bag.  Hunter green.  The name of the funeral home was printed in gold ink on the side of the bag.  He set it on the counter that separated me from the business office.   He laid some papers on the counter and told me to sign them.

“Excuse me.  I have a phone call.”

He stepped away to the phone.
I signed the papers. 

He hung up the phone. 

“Is there anything else?” I asked.

“No. That’s it.”

I took the shopping bag.. 

He said nothing.

I turned, walked out of the door and about ten feet down the hall I thought to myself: “I will not carry her ashes as if I were leaving Macy’s with a new shirt and some underwear.”

I lifted the bag and glanced into it.

There was a black plastic box inside.

I lifted the bag to my chest. 

I wrapped my arms around it.

I had read that the ashes of an adult woman weighs about 4 pounds.

It felt as if it weighed 1000.

When I got to the car, I set the bag in the passenger’s seat.

That’s where she always sat.  Linda didn’t drive. 

That’s where she had sat when I drove her home from the hospital on December 5th.

She seemed so content that day.

She was going home.  To her bed.  To her Peanuts sheets and her dogs.  And me.

“Well, bud,” I said.  “I’m taking you back home again.”

I started the car and drove into the large parking lot behind the funeral home.

I parked the car..

I had the wretched stretch of asphalt to myself.
My hands held to the steering wheel.
I rested my head on my hands.

With Linda.

And I wailed. 

Sanctuary (2)

After I stopped crying, I drove away.  All I could think about was the indifference of those funeral directors. I thought about how the woman had been so cordial when she was trying to sell me something.   I thought about how the telephone was more important to the man than I was.   I thought about the casual way he set Linda’s ashes on the counter.  I thought about the shopping bag printed in gold  glowing with the name of the funeral home.  I thought about how everything serves the purpose of marketing, well, except human compassion.  It occurred to me that our ‘dealings’ had come to an end.  So had the feigned concern, the solemn comforting voice, the patience…all of it only served to grease me up for the close.   There was nothing more to sell so there was no reason for slimy solicitude, no reason for greasy gratitude. 

My tears had turned to anger. 

I had been wounded again. 

The best guitar store in Atlanta was only a couple fo miles down the street.  I decided to go there.  I was curious about Martin D-28s.   “After everything I’ve been through, I deserve one of those.”  I didn’t care what it cost.  (Well, not until I would have had to pay for it!)

I crawled along in traffic.  Steaming.

I continued to mutter to myself when the Thought that Thinks Itself said, “Are you just going to have Linda wait for you in the car or are you taking her in?”


“Good grief, what am I thinking?” She had been so quiet.

The Thought said, “Wouldn’t it make more sense to go to a chapel?”

The Thought can be ironic if not caustic.

The guitar store was my chapel.

The Thought won.

Dancing Man (3)

I turned toward home but given my choice (or perhaps I was directed into penance!), I turned down Piedmont Avenue.  

Bumper to bumper. 
After several minutes, I turned left onto Sidney Marcus Boulevard and crawled toward I-85.    At the first red light, I saw a woman wearing red shoes shout at the sky.  She waved her right hand in the air in a gesture of anger toward someone up there. 

The light changed.

I drove a short way and came to a stop under the 400 bridge.  A man stood wrapped in a blanket.  He looked like a burrito standing at attention.

It was cold and the wind all but shook the car as it raged.

At the next red light, a man walked toward me.  He carried a pasteboard sign a little larger than a business envelope.  He was bald and wearing a green t-shirt.  His ears protruded from the side of his head.  His bottom lip drooped almost to his chin.  

As he drew closer I could see the writing on his  little sign.

He passed a black SUV two cars ahead of me.

The door to that SUV swung open.  The man in the SUV stepped out.  He wore a black hat that resembled the hats worn by the cavalry, the ones with the braided gold  hat band and tassels on the brim.

I thought he was going to hit the man with the sign.

Instead, he ripped off his own black coat and gave it to the man.

The man with the sign threw his arms around the cavalry man’s neck.

He raised his hands toward the sky, the little sign in his left hand and the black coat in is right.  He spun and danced as the light turned green.

As I passed him, I thought, “If I had a hundred dollar bill on me, I would give it to him in exchange for that sign.”

Voices (4)

I turned up the volume on my car stereo.  Apple Music played. It has about 6 hours of songs I bought years ago.  All kinds of music.  That was not my preference but I let it go.  I crossed Lenox Road and onto Buford Highway.  I was in Linda’s old stomping grounds.   I drove up to North Druid Hills Road and took a right. 

More traffic.
The music played but I wasn’t listening.  I was still fuming.

Just as traffic started moving toward the bridge over I-85, I heard that all-too-familiar piano, those tinkling chords…I turned the volume knob up: 

“My Jesus, My Savior,

Lord there is none like you

All of my days, I want to praise,

The wonders of your mighty love.”

The tears returned. 

Linda,  a hymn-girl who was not a fan of contemporary Christian music, LOVED that song.  It’s the only CCM song she LOVED or even liked.  

“Shout to the Lord…”

Another red-light and then another.

I cranked the volume even louder for the grand finale.
The song ended. 

As I turned off onto the entrance ramp onto 85, I could not help but think I had been given a gift right there in the midst of the indifference, kindness, and chaos that is Atlanta traffic. 

I pressed the accelerator so that I could hit I 85 at speed.

The radio was still cranked up.

Suddenly,  there came  a clash and thunder.

Jimi Hendrix..

“Crosstown Traffic.’

I glanced upward for a moment.
“Very funny,” I said as I glanced over at Linda.

Things felt a little warmer.

I’m Fine

I am a big believer in not wasting my miseries.  I try to learn from them, especially if they are teaching me things that I may be able to share with others in their miseries. 

Grieving provides an excellent opportunity to sit on your own shoulder and observe yourself but also yourself in relation to others to see what this experience is teaching you. 

Before any of my grief counseling homies get on my case, I recognize that sitting on one’s shoulder to observe one’s self may be a defense against the very thing one is observing.  Some might say that self observation of an experience is different from just experiencing.   To look at your grief and turn it this way and that is not the same thing as grieving.

Cool . I get it.   I would just say that maybe self-observation of grief is itself a form of grief  and not an escape from grief…but whatevuuuh….

I pay attention to little things.  

For example, many people lovingly inquire as to how I am doing.  That’s a wonderful thing, especially if they really want to know how I’m doing. 

Usually when people ask that I reply, “I’m fine.”  

I get a couple of reactions.  Some folks say, “Well, I’m glad you are doing well.  I know it must be hard.”  

And I say, “Yes, it is.” 

But then some folks act as if they don’t believe me.   

“how are you doing, Jim?” they ask. 

“I’m fine.”

Then their heads drop and their bottom lip protrudes and they say, “I know you aren’t fine.”  Or, “Are you sure you’re fine?”   or   “Are you reallllly sure, you’re fine?”

I get that  these people want to know how I’m doing and I do appreciate that.  However, if I say I’m fine, please don’t treat me as if I am lying to you.  If I say, “I’m fine…”  trust me…I’m fine. 

After having had a few of these experiences, I realized that there are several things that may be going on.   As I’ve already said I know many people just really want to know how I’m doing and they want to be sure of how I’m doing.  Thank you!

But then I’ve had a few encounters in which the other person can’t take my word for it because they NEED for me to NOT be fine.    I don’t mean that they want me to be miserable . No.  They need for me to needful, a little lost, struggling so they can clutch me to their bosom and make everything okay.  

Now, I’m all for bosoms and people coming alongside of me in my grief but only because they want to and not because they NEED to. 

I know about that because I used to be guilty of it:  I needed to be needed.  As a result, I was drawn to every loss, every tragedy, every hurt NOT because I wanted to be but because I needed to be.   

I needed to be the comforter.  I needed to be the person people turned to.  I needed to be in thick of it. 

I guess I needed to feel heroic. 

But one day I woke up and thought: “What am I doing?”  I got on top of that need real quick.   My life has been better for it. 

But then I thought about another issue here and that has to do with what I mean when I say, “I’m fine.”    Maybe the person who hears me say that thinks that the mixed bag of emotions that accompanies grief is a problem, an aberation.  Something to be fixed. 

Some of that is cultural.  We are big believers in the fix.  You don’t get to suffer long if you are taught from the time you come into this world that the whole point of living is the pursuit of happiness.  

How can you look so sad and claim to be fine?    How can you be hurting and be fine all at once?  How can you keep to yourself at this time and be fine? 

Let me put it this way:

I wake up almost every morning and burst into tears.  That’s what grieving people do.  It doesn’t mean I’m not fine.  It means I’m right on course in this grief journey.  I’m fine. 

Sometimes I feel really angry.  Every now and then some resentment pushes its way into my head.   I’m right on course.  I’m fine. 

Sometimes I don’t eat.   I’m fine.

Linda loved Mary Englebreit.  Go figure.   She had an ME quote a day calendar and some days she’d tear off the quote for the day and bring it to me and tell me that it made her think of me.

This morning I was going through  stuff to toss or to store and came upon that calendar.   A sentimental tsunami swept over me.  I cried. I’m right on course.  I’m fine. 

We went to Hilton Head in 2018.  We were with Amber and the girls.  We went to play miniature golf at Pirate’s Cove.  This morning I ran across the score card.  She had kept it.  Know why?  Because she won!  It was the only time in her life that she had actually won at something.   I felt both sad and happy at once.  

“She was so sweet.”   I’m fine. 

Sometimes during the night I reach over to pat her arm.  Then, I realize it’s just a pile of clothes I left on the bed.   An emptiness rises up in me and once again I am reminded.    But I’m right on course.   I’m fine.

I pick up something of hers to give to some charity.  And, I think, “Better not toss this.  She may need it.”  Then I remember.  I’m right on course. I’m fine. 

I can’t throw things away that meant nothing to me but meant something to her.  I’m fine.

I pick up things and they magically disappear.  It was just in my hand.  Now where is it?   I’m on course.  I’m fine. 

I’m grouchy.  I’m fine.

Sometimes I think she’d better off with me in COVID land than with Jesus in the land of the cloudless day.   Some of my deepest convictions about where she  IS do not bring me joy because I am so overwhelmed by where she IS NOT.    I’m fine. 

Jesus said: “Blessed are those who mourn…”   He said that because he knew that if you are living in this world and not mourning, not touched by its multiplicty of horrors, not wistful about some better day, it is because you don’t know what time it is.  

My God…how the world suffers.

But, if you mourn that…you are fine.  “…you will be comforted.” 

So, if you encounter me walking the wee hounds with a poop bag in one hand and my heart in the other, don’t worry.  I’m fine

If you see me picking a mournful song on the old geetar, I’m fine.  

If my mind seems a mile away, , that’s becauseI I am in the grip of a longing… .

If you see me dropped to my knees and pounding God’s earth with my fist..

Trust me.

I’m right on course.

I’m fine.

When the World Falls to Pieces on Your Birthday

I walked my wee hounds in a cool morning fog toward my young neighbor several days ago.  He sat cross-legged on a culvert, his head down, and dug through something on his lap.  The hood of his coat covered his whole head.  His backpack hung loosely from his shoulders.  From a distance, he looked like a bag of clothes someone left to be picked up by a charity. 

He was waiting for the school bus.
He’s a good kid.  Friendly enough but marches to a different drummer.  Loves to sing.  

Some mornings he leaves his house to wait for the bus while I’m still scratching myself awake.  He sings as he passes my house.  He sings at the top of his lungs in his weird vibrato-rich opera voice.   He sounds like he has inhaled too much helium.  The wee hounds lose their minds at the sound of him passing by. 

“Wassup?”  I asked.   He looked up.  His black mask covered his face except for his almond-shaped eyes.  He looked like a Ninja.

I noticed that the thing in his lap was a sandwich bag filled with Legos. 

“Hi, Mr. Jimmy,”  He said.  “Today’s my 12th birthday.”

I don’t know where he got the idea to call me “Jimmy.”  I don’t mind but no one has ever called me Jimmy. 

Today?” I replied with false wonderment.   “Today, this day, of all days is YOUR birthday?”


“You of all people were born on a Tuesday?” 

“No, Silly!  February 2nd!”

“Oh!”  I said.   “Well,  the wee hounds and I will now sing a festive song to celebrate this glorious day.”

He laughed, “That’s alright, Mr. Jimmy.  You don’t have to sing.”

Somehow the word got out. 

“Well, happy birthday,” I said. “You want to know something really weird?  I mean especially weird given that it’s your birthday.”

“Sure,” he said. 

“No one else on earth shares this day with you as their birthday.!” I said.

“Yeah!” he said. “This birthday is all mine.”

His twin sister who attends another school might debate that.

“Let me ask you something, “ I said.  “Does this day feel special, like a day different from other days?”

“Yes,” he replied.  “It does.  Does your birthday feel special?”

“Yes.   I’m 70 years old and my birthday always feels special.”

He looked down and dug some more in his Legos.

I noticed his friend from down the street walked toward us, her Nike-clad feet about three inches off the ground.  I’m pretty sure he thinks she glows in the dark. 

“Your special friend is coming,” I said. 

He looked up, saw her, and went back and fiddled with his Legos.

“She’s 13 you know,” he said.

I wanted to say, “And a foot taller than you!”  But I resisted.

He looked up again but his eyes seemed focused inwardly.   

“Who would have thought that  on my 12th birthday the world would be falling to pieces,” he sighed.


I wanted to talk to him about that but before I could open my mouth the bus lumbered around the curve and hissed to a stop.  The door swung open. My young friend struggled to hoist his book bag onto his shoulders.  The Nike Angel helped him with it.  “Bye, Mr. Jimmy,” she said as she giggled onto the bus.  “Bye, Mr. Jimmy,” he said as he struggled onto the bus bearing the weight of the world in his backpack. 

As the bus drove away, I could not help but wonder about the heaviness that kids bear during this Pandemic.  I wondered about their fears for their families and friends.  I wondered about how great a burden they carry about their own safety.     

They overhear too much, speak too little, and act out a lot.

“Who would have thought that on my 12th birthday the world would be falling to pieces.”

  I couldn’t get over his question.  I figured that he just carried the usual hobgoblins in his 12-year- old head:   Who likes me? Who doesn’t?  Where do I fit or do I fit in at all?  Am I being seen or am I being overlooked?  What do I do with these feelings I can’t even name?  Does the Nike Angel like me?

As the wee hounds and I continued on our way, a weird thought popped into my mind.   I wondered about how kids like my friend learn to pray about their deepest fears, worries, and anxieties. 

I wondered what young ones do as the burdens of life pile in upon them, when they overhear so many voices fight over politics and social issues.  I wonder what happens in their minds when they overhear so much about the pandemic, the number of COVID cases, the death toll, and the overburdened health care workers. 

I wonder what they think when they hear their Christian parents and grandparents sigh and say,  “What is the world coming to?”  (When the truth is they already know…or should.).

What will my little friend do with the burden of witnessing the world fall to pieces on his birthday?

We teach our children little prayers.  Now I lay me down to sleep.  Thank you for the food we eat.   Be-with prayers.  “Be with my grandma. Be with Freckles my Hamster.”  That’s good. 

“When is it age-appropriate for children to learn to lament?”   I ask myself.    The Thought-That-Thinks-Itself replies: “When is it age appropriate for children to know everything about things they ought not to know anything about at all?”

The filters are off.  Our kids hear it all. Sometimes from other kids.

I would like to think my little friend might learn a little bit about it at church. It’s hard to think that without laughing. 

In my experience, many, if not most, white churches don’t lament. (I can’t speak about the churches of oppressed people.  I don’t know.).   White churches praise and worship.  We give thanks.  We intercede and offer petitions.  We supplicate until the cows come home.  We seek comfort and encourage.   We ‘be-with’ and ‘be-with’ but it’s a rare church who laments, which is odd especially for Christians who think of themselves as people of the Book.   About 40% of the Psalms are psalms of lament.  About 0% of the songs white churches sing are laments.  

Jesus lamented.  “My God!  My God!” He lamented. 

Paul lamented over the thorn in his flesh.

The martyrs shelter in place under the very altar of God where the Lamb stands in the center of the throne:  “How long, Sovereign God, holy and true, before you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”  (Revelation 6: 10)

But most churches don’t lament.  Few, if any, in church learn lament.  And church children sit on culverts, ponder hard questions alone, and finger through their Legos.  

As I thought about that I could hear someone object: “Shouldn’t kids just know the truth about how hard life can be and learn to live with it?

My answer to that is another question:  “Shouldn’t they be prepared to deal with what they learn?  Shouldn’t their prayers correspond to what they are learning?” 

Another objects:  “Shouldn’t we just teach out kids that God loves them and is always near?”

I answer: “Sure but when do our kids learn that the God who is near is also free, that God responds to our prayers out of his own freedom? If children don’t get that the God who loves them is also free, then how will they deal with the silences of God?”   I fear they will grow up to be like many of us:  we know God loves us, we know God is good, but we still flip and flop at night in bed wondering whether God will show up by Friday at 5.

Another objects: “Aren’t you overblowing this just a little bit?  Do you think children really carry a burden of cares?  Do children think that deeply about things?”

When I was 7 or so, I  saw a headline on the front page of the Atlanta paper: “Russia May Attack Fulbright Warns U.S.”  I had no idea who this ‘Fulbright’ was. 

I’ve been 7 ten times in my life and I still remember that headline.

The headline terrified me. I remember spending a Sunday afternoon in the backyard watching for the planes   All of the adults chatted and laughed inside the house.   It was left to me to defend the family.

Tall task for short fellow.

Fast forward a few years.   I was doing work in my yard.  My daughter piddled around in the yard close by.  She screamed.  I jumped up to see what was wrong. I picked her up.   Her face was tears.  Her mouth was wide open yet too small for the size of her screams.   Then she just stopped.  Through snubs she looked at me quizzically and said: “Daddy, if God loves us so much, why does he make bees to sting us?” 

She was four and had just had her first encounter with a wasp, a fiery dart from life’s quiver.

You tell me: do children carry a burden of cares?   

Why are we reluctant to teach our children to ask God why the world has the audacity to fall apart on our birthdays or why wasps sting little girls as they innocently play in clover?

Could it be that we fear the freedom of God so much that we want to protect our children from God?   Could it be that we direct their attention away from the silence of God by dousing them with the all-too-real love of God?    

What will they do when the day comes when the love of God sounds like silence?  How will we answer when they get wise to the truth:  God does what God does.  God speaks when God speaks.  How will they learn that sometimes the silence of God is among God’s most loving acts?  That God has made himself known, yes, but that God is also an unknown God, a God of Mystery.  When do they learn that the silence of God may flow from the wisdom of God or even the mercy of God? 

For sure, it is a scary world.  Creepy even these days. We rightly want to protect our children from that. But do we protect them from that by pretending that the creepiness doesn’t exist?  Do we train them to distrust their own perceptions?  No, honey, what you are hearing is the wind.  No, Sweetie, what you see with your own eyes is just illusion.

Let him with ears NOT hear.  Let her with eyes NOT see. 

Oh, the day will come when our children will become philosophers and ask a million why questions.  Why do bad things happen to good people?  Why didn’t God just create a more perfect world, a world that is free of suffering?   Why?  Why? Why?

They will do that because they learned from us how to gossip about God but not about how to question God to God’s face, with all due respect, all due humility but also with all due boldness.

Why did you allow my mom to die?  Where were you when I cried out for your help?  Why did you let the world fall apart on my birthday? How will we go on when the world is aflame?  Why did you make bees to sting us while we were just out enjoying your good creation?

“I believe in you, O God.  Help Thou my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24; NIV)

“How long, O God, how long must you turn your face from me?” (Psalm 13; NIV)

“Three times I prayed to the Lord to take it away…”. (II Corinthians 12:8; NIV)

When do we learn to lament?   And when should we teach our children to do likewise?

I wonder where and when Jesus and Paul and the martyrs learned to lament.  When did they sit among their bearded fathers and moan before Yahweh?   In the synagogue on the Sabbath.  At the Temple on Holy Days.  At the knees of their fathers.  On the laps of their mothers.   That’s likely where they cut their teeth on all the Psalms, including those many laments. 

I saw my little friend trudging back home at the end of the school day.  The One who walks three inches off the ground walked with him.  Suddenly, the little goof reached over and pushed her.  She pushed him back.  He pulled her hair.  She smacked him on the head.   He grabbed her back pack.  She grabbed his. Round and round they went tugging and pulling.

I heard his stepfather shout from her porch, “You two stop that fighting!”

The kid knows how to wrestle with an angel.  

When will he learn to wrestle with God?

Maybe when we do. 

When God Became Man

The following has only been slightly adapted from Jurgen Moltmann’s The Crucified God.  The content is his.  I think it is a powerful reminder of the significance of the cross as God’s participation in the suffering of humanity.


When God became a man he entered into our limited, finite situation. Not only did he enter into it, descend into it, be he also accepted it and embraced the whole of our existence with his being.

When God became a man, he did not become a spirit so that we must soar to the realm of the spirit in order to participate in God.

When God became a man,  he did not merely become the covenant partner of an elect people so that we must belong to his people through circumcision and obedience to the covenant in order to enter into his fellowship.

When God became a man, he lowered himself and accepted the whole of our existence without limits and conditions, so that each of us may participate in him with the whole of his life.

When God became a man, he not only entered into our finitude but in his death on the cross entered into the situation of our god-forsakenness.  

When God became a man, he not die the natural death of a finite being, but the violent death of the criminal on the cross., the death of complete abandonment by God. 

When God became a man, he suffered the abandonment and rejection of God the Father.

When God became a man, he did not become a religion, so that we may participate in him by having corresponding religions thoughts and feelings to God. 

When God became a man, he did not become a law, so that we could only participate in him through obedience to a rule.

When God became a man, he did not become an ideal, so that we achieve community in him through constant striving. 

No, when God became a man, he humbled himself and took upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the god-forsaken, so that all the godless and godforsaken can experience communion with him. 

~ Adapted from Jurgen Moltmann

 The Crucified God, Kindle loc 5514


To Give Our Hearts

The wee hounds and I took our second walk today.  They didn’t much want to talk so I tuned into a YouTube lecture I had wanted to hear.    The lecture was by Arthur Brooks, soon to be ex-President of the American Enterprise Institute.  It was on the book he wrote a while back called “Love Your Enemies.” 

He told a story about talking with his academic mentor, James Q. Wilson, a highly influential social/ political scientist who passed away in 2012.   Wilson stunned Brooks one day when he said, “You know, Arthur, any given change in public policy affects only about 5% of a person’s life.”

Brooks was shocked.  After all, he had only recently completed his Ph.D. in a public policy related program.
“James, if public policy only affects 5% of a person’s life, what affects the other 95%?”

“Love,” replied the great man.
The quality of our families, our neighborhoods and communities, as well as our nation, is related not so much to public policy as it is to the quality of love we demonstrate toward one another in everyday life and regardless of our agreements or differences.

The quality of our lives together is more about what happens across the property line than it is about what happens across the aisle in Washington, D.C.

The reason I thought about all of this while picking up wee hound poop was because I had just before our walk seen those plague indifferent self-absorbed kids on the beach in Florida.  Of course, the little clip I saw only featured the worst of the worst…I hope!  And, after all, kids will be kids- especially when Pavlov rings the “Spring Break!” bell.  

What strikes me about them, at least in this moment, is that they ‘have not love.”  That is, they have not love for anyone or anything beyond their own good times. They are doing what they do because it is what they think good for themselves in this glorious Spring Break moment.
They are not thinking of how they may be (and some likely are) spreading CV.   They are not thinking about the frontline health care workers whose lives are on the line as they help people suffering from this virus.  They are not thinking about their own grandparents or other loved ones with compromised immune systems.  They are not even thinking of themselves while doing nothing BUT  thinking of the themselves.

But then it struck me that I am too, in own immunosuppressed way.   I mean I get the whole social distancing thing.  My own daughter is a sitting duck in her medical practice in Tennessee and I am concerned for her and her whole staff.  So, you might say, I have my own flesh and blood in the game.

However, when I think about my need to run out to buy some necessity, the first thing I think about is ME.   What if I run into Ingles and unknowingly walk through a fine mist of someone’s sneeze from 60 seconds before?

I don’t want to get sick but it’s not because of a fear of dying.  It is because of a fear of suffering.  I’ve done extreme shortness of breath.  I’ve done ventilation and dialysis.     I’m done being so miserable that death itself would be a welcome relief. I’ve done all that and I don’t EVER want to do that again!

So, like the kids on the beach, my first thought is too often not about others but about myself.

Kid: I want to have a really good time.   

Moi: I want to avoid having a really bad time.
Keyword:  “I.”

When Brooks speaks of ‘loving‘ one’s enemies, he means precisely what Jesus meant.  

Seek the interests of the other even over your own!
Think cross-shaped love.

Now, I’m not going to expose myself to the dangers of CV more that I absolutely must because of the reasons I mentioned. I am sheltering in place like a hermit.  I really don’t want to get sick.   And, as it turns out, that is the better thing to do than to go PAR-TAY on the beach only inches away from strangers while looking for love in all the wrong places. (AS IF! Ha!)  However, I still think that neither self-gratification nor self-preservation is my best course of action nor my best motive for taking up a course of action. 

The heart matters.  And, among other things, what we do and why we do what we do not only displays our hearts, those things shape our hearts.  We become what we do and we become the why behind what we do.  If I consistently act out of self-preservation, then I become the kind of man who is principally out to protect himself.  

Is there a better way to act than out of mere self-preservation, even if some good comes out of my act?  There must be.  After all, Jesus said that if anyone would follow after him, that person must deny the self..  It would be a contradiction in terms to follow Jesus if one is only interested in self-preservation.   Self-preservation is the opposite motive to what is entailed in following him. Why?   We not only are to deny ourselves, we are to take up crosses. 

We take UP crosses so as to lay DOWN our selves. 

If I only act out of self-preservation,  I reinforce what comes most naturally to me, which is to continue looking out for number one.   However, at least in this situation we are in,  if I act on the basis of what is good for the other (i.e. the nurse tending patients in ICU) not only is the nurse better off but I am as well- both physically AND morally.    

When I give my heart to or for the other, I protect the heart I have. 


“Hear, O Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord is One.”  (Deuteronomy 6:4)

This morning, as I walked the wee hounds, I listened to Tim Mackie* talk about the first word in that verse.   The verse is known as the Shema and is central to Judaism.  The first word in the verse is “Hear” or better “Listen.”   The Hebrew word that is translated “Listen” is Shema.   Yep.  The verse is named after the first word.


Now when we think of the word listen, we think of something we do with our ears.  Mackie reminded me that to Shema is to listen with one’s whole being -heart, mind, body, and soul.  

To Shema is to (1) pick up a sound via one’s ears, (2) attend to that sound, (3) respond to that sound, (4) with urgency. 

A young mother is at home alone with her newborn who is asleep in her crib.   Suddenly, the baby cries.   The mom picks up the sound with her ears, attends to it (what is the meaning of it?), runs to the baby’s side, and picks her up.  

Hear.  Attend.  Respond with urgency.

All of that is packed into that one word, Shema.  To Shema, is a far sight more than simply hearing, more even than how we think of listening.

When the Shema begins with Shema! it means to hear with your whole being and rush to acknowledge with your whole being this truth:  the Lord is God, the Lord is One.   

The whole-being nature of listening (Shema) and doing is confirmed in the next verse:  “Love the Lord your God (response) with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength, i.e. your whole being.”

Mackie’s comments set me to thinking about the meaning and practice of parakaleo, ‘coming alongside‘ as it pertains to the suffering. 

It struck me that we are called by God alongside the suffering but we are also called alongside the suffering by the suffering themselves.

We all know that to come alongside the suffering at least entails listening to them when we get there.  But, what if to come alongside the suffering is to ‘shema‘ to them?

That would mean that when we are called alongside the suffering we are called not merely to come with an ear but to come with our whole being.  It means to hear/respond with the urgency required in the moment.

But how are we ‘called‘ by the suffering?  Do we wait by the phone?  Do we wait until we hear from them? No, the very fact of the suffering, the existence of the suffering, is call enough. 

One of the great ironic moments in scripture occurred when the priest and Levite, who likely prayed the Shema first thing that morning, passed by the man who had been beaten half to death by thieves.  (“He was just lying there.  He didn’t say anything!”) But, the Samaritan, the outsider, who likely didn’t pray the Shema that morning, heard the silence of the bloodied unconscious man and urgently responded to him with aid.

An unconscious bloodied man lying by the side of the road screams by virtue of the fact that he is an unconscious bloodied man lying by the side of the road.

He IS the call to come alongside and offer aid. 

Last week I spoke with the administrator of the assisted living facility where my mother-in-law lives.   He told me that 60% of the 105 residents in his facility have NO ONE who visits them.   I replied to him that whenever I visit my mother-in-law, I see the same 40 or so residents every time.  He said that that’s because that 60% tend to stay in their rooms. That is to say, that about 60 souls sit in silence behind closed doors alone, day after day. 

Now, I’m ruined.

I cannot walk the long hallway to my mother-in-law’s room without hearing the silent cry of loneliness coming from behind closed doors.


  • Tim Mackie is the excellent teacher on The Bible Project videos and podcasts. If you haven’t visited The Bible Project site…SHEMA!…What a terrific accessible resource it is for those who want to learn more about the Bible, the Books of the Bible, and other things pertinent to it as well. Their podcast is well worth the effort too!

Coming Alongside…But

As I was thinking about Parkaleo (coming alongside) this morning, I remembered a famous 80’s Benneton ad. The photograph came to be known as the ‘photograph that changed the face of HIV/AIDS.’ It also became a flashpoint when people protested that Benneton employed the image of a dying man in the embrace of his grieving father to sell colorful attire.

I think it is a compelling photograph. But, I also get the complaint…it does strike me to use it to sell fashion.

In any case, for my purposes here, it is THE image of Parkaleo, that ‘coming alongside’ the suffering that is the point of this site.

Here is an article that describes the background and controversy that erupted around it.

Descent into Delirium

In coming alongside the depressed, we might recognize that some depressed folks are depressed because the world is too much with them.   Like those who are hypersensitive to the ‘buzzing, booming, confusion‘ of life and who withdraw or become agitated in its presence, some folks are depressed because they cannot NOT see the world as a house of horrors.

When I have suggested such to people I get a similar response, “Well, yes..there is a lot  of bad stuff in the world but there is a lot of good too.”     Sigh.   Yes, I know.  There is a lot of good stuff too.   Those of us who live in safe, affluent environments and are sheltered from the bad stuff in the world find it easy to say that sort of thing.  Those of us who have never been traumatized by some horror do too.

I am saying that there are some among us who see only the horrors of life.  Perhaps at some level, they see the flowers and birds and lamb-like clouds that float gently on the breath of God but even that is a horror to them because they feel so awful. 

The very audacity of Spring!

As T.S. Eliot wrote in the opening line of The Waste Land:

“April is the cruelest month…”   

Whatever that may have meant to Eliot, many have understood it to mean that the person who is depressed or despairing experiences the flower-bursting beauty of April as a mockery. 

Are they wrong to experience such beauty in that way?  No.  Given that they see most clearly the horrors of life,  April appears a contrast to their own experience. They are driven more deeply into the winter-darkness of the soul…and often prefer it. 

The idea that some people are depressed because they clearly see horror in the foreground of experience has a long history.   I have thought about it for a long time myself.  I have come alongside the depressed many times and sometimes, after hearing them speak of such things, I found myself thinking, “Well, you do have a point!”     But, often it was a point heard only in the abstract.  “Every schoolchild knows there is suffering in the world. 

However, it was not until I experienced deep delirium after my heart transplant in April 2019, that the idea took on flesh for me.

I am not going to go into detail here (I’m working on a book about it) but will tell you why it so transformed my thinking. 

The experience of delirium, which occurs in 70% of ICU patients, varies from person to person.  For some, it manifests in confusion, for others hallucinations, and for others something all but unnameable.  It can be temporary and it can last for a while.  It can even cause some degree of permanent damage to cognition and memory.

I experienced all three and, loosely speaking, in that order.   The first week of my stay, while I was on kidney dialysis and being pumped full of drugs, I became confused about where I was, why I was there, who other people were and what was happening to me.

Some time afterward, I began to experience hallucinations within my room.  Things floating in air.  I saw people who were not there and didn’t see people who were.  I watched the paint peel from the walls.  And, I figured out how to turn the hands of a clock back with my mind. 

That was all pre-transplant.  However, for two weeks following transplant, I utterly broke with reality and went somewhere completely other than where I was.  I don’t know if I was there 10 minutes or 10 days.  It felt like an eternity. 

It was not a dream.  And, it was not a hallucination.  It was something that approached a vision, though I hesitate to say that lest people think I’ve become more inflated than I am.   (I would call it a ‘visionoid, as something that resembles the real thing,‘ but that sounds like a medical condition.  I could call it vision-esque,  but that might be taken as a performance involving baggy pants and seltzer water  and that would minimize it. )  All I can tell you is that it was far more real than everyday reality: the colors were far more vivid, the sounds far more acute, and the emotions completely beyond the pale.  

Terror comes to mind.

I want to say ‘vision‘ not because I think I’m Ezekiel, or Jesus, or Paul, or the blessed John on the Isle of Patmos. I want to say vision because I was led somewhere and shown things that are the Reality within reality or as Tim Mackie put it in one of his lectures:  an experience in which you are taken into the deep heart of human experience. (c.f. his lecture on the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness in his Podcast “Exploring My Strange Bible.)

I was taken to a place that was filled with the most violent, disordered, disfigured people on earth.   And, I witnessed and was engaged with the most fearful things, things I couldn’t begin to describe.  Death.  Violence.  The continual threat of violence.  Hannibal Lectors lined the hallways.  Piles of bodies- men, women, and children stacked in coal cars that extended into the dark of a tunnel. Assassins.  Terrorists.  Beings half-human, half-animal.  People who seemed to be made from scrap metal.  All dangerous.  All vicious.  All on the edge.

There were people who were charged with caring for those people.  They were themselves corrupted and corruptible.

I was there for days or so it seemed.  When I tried to sleep I heard scratching on the walls, tapping at the windows, tiny feet running through the ceiling, racing across the roof.  I was told it was the sound of Trouble…Trouble scratching its way through the walls.

The threat of a terrorist attack loomed large. Some people hated the very existence of the place and had vowed to destroy it.  They had tried once before with well=placed bombs. 

Finally, I was beaten to the point of death by a gang of residents and as I lay dying the building caved in upon us.  (The sound of that is the sound you hear when you are defibrillated and are half-conscious.   Roar and clang.)

When I emerged out of it, I found myself tied to a bed.  Dark.  A woman sat with me and I was completely out of control   Somehow the terror of the place where I had been returned with me.  I flailed.  I screamed.  I swore.  Soon four nurses surrounded me and that only served to amp me up even more.  (They were wise to restrain me but I was so weak from the transplant I’m not sure what I could have done.)

My actions were perfectly reasonable within the bounds of that horrific experience.  I thought the building we were in was about to explode and I didn’t know where my family was so I could warn them. 

Now, I get that there are good medical explanations for what I experienced.  I get that the brain is a pattern maker and that we are all sense-makers and storytellers.  I understand that we are in the realm of subjective experience.  I agree that it’s an iffy proposition interpreting one’s own dreams and visions.   I know…I know…I know.

But, I don’t care. I know what I endured and it was more real than everyday reality.
And not one day passes that I do not think about it.  And because I am not one to ‘waste my miseries,’  I have tried to make sense of it.  Sometimes the horror of it is too much to dwell on though. 

I won’t say anything here about how I’ve explored it, but I will tell you this:  It was as if all of the suffering and pain and horror, all of the disfigurement, disorder, and destruction, all of the violence and evil of this world was compressed into one building and all at once.  And I was there to see it, suffer with it, and suffer because of it.  And, the experience was compounded by the fact that I was cut off from the world I know and from the supports that constitute my everyday life. 

Thankfully, I emerged from it relatively intact.  Traumatized, yes.  But only with small-letter ptsd.

As a pastor, I have lived my adult life coming alongside suffering people but I had no clue, no clue whatsoever, as to what suffering was until that experience.

Before this experience, I knew there was suffering in the world.  Heart failure had, at times, given me a  taste.  But, those hard moments were few and far between and usually managed by medicine. 

And, I have been right there with everyone else as we read online about some distant ethnic cleansing, some war, some mass shooting, some famine, some virulence stalking some country, some kidnapping, some rape, some child molested and left to die in some distant wood, another shooting, another theft.  

I know about the diseases that haunt us down.   The shortness of time.  Loneliness.  

And somehow I have managed along with everyone else to live with it, to shake my head at the tragedy of it, and then move on, maybe a little wounded by it, maybe a little scarred, but it’s all in a day. 

There is a lot of good stuff in the world, you know.

But I’m not sure that’s true for everyone.  Some people really have to strain to see the good stuff.   I am convinced there are those who know what I’m talking about and who cannot get past the horror that surrounds us, who cannot get beyond the trauma they experience (or have experienced) because of it and are left  wounded and often alone. 

I believe it is a calling to come alongside them and listen.

They may have something to say that we desperately need to hear.  

And, maybe there is something we have to add to the conversation too.