Going Back Home

Kendall Rob once wrote, “Home is where you go to find solace from the ever changing chaos, to find love within the confines of a heartless world, and to be reminded that no matter how far you wander, there will always be something waiting when you return.”

When you think of the word “home,” your mind might go to a picture of the house you grew up in. It may jump through memories of your hometown from your first day of school to your first kiss to your first car. (Mine was a 1971 Chevy Van.) For those who were constantly moving, it may conjure nothing at all, images as black as the macadam roads you know so well. Yet in both cases, there is the idea of home, of a place you’ll one day return to or one day find for yourself.
Upon returning “home,” wherever that may be, it often seems entirely foreign. Your perceptions become refracted through the new feelings, insights, and personality you’ve acquired while away, and, upon returning, there’s the realization that the change you feel isn’t so much the place as it is you. After all, life is only the way it is on account of the way we feel. Remember, our emotions lie to us, telling us all is wrong, or we’re sad, or that we’ll never amount to anything.

When you look at your bookshelf from when you were younger, or the music you used to listen to, or when you return to that café in which you spent so many afternoons, you see that life isn’t so much a series of chapters as it is entirely different books. Each time you go home, the life you’ve been living begins to fade, becoming smaller and smaller in your rear view mirror, until it’s merely a speck, indiscernible as a life at all. The characters in your life begin to change, and past lives become like a dream until there’s nothing real about it. And that’s perhaps the scariest phenomenon.

Upon returning home, it seems that time has never passed. That the world has stood still waiting for you to return to this life. That somehow the place where you grew up is the default setting that’s constantly being reverted to even as you’ve worked so hard to leave. There’s nothing that instills the fear of death quite like seeing how quickly time flies, and there’s nothing that shows how much time flies as returning home.

Now don’t get me wrong. I enjoy coming home, but it often feels like a return home is no different than sliding down a ladder I’ve worked so hard to ascend. The world has continued to spin, but it feels as though it has changed directions and begun to move backwards. Yet as we move from city to city, or friend group to friend group, or career to career, there’s the feeling that there’s actually no such physical place as home. That home is a feeling rather than a place. As much as we love our families, it doesn’t mean we belong where we were born. Instead, where we belong is something we decide for ourselves.

What does it feel like when you are back at your parents’ home after you realize you’re an adult? As you might know from reading my blog posts or my “About” page, I was facing homelessness in 2008 while in active addiction. I was struggling with alcohol and drugs, moving from job to job and apartment to apartment, divorced for the second time in my life. Mom and dad agreed to let me move in with them in order to help me get my act together. I attended AA meetings regularly, was seeing a therapist, and became involved in a local church. I managed to put together a number of years without drinking or smoking pot. Unfortunately, I developed an opiate addiction due to abusing Percocet I was taking for severe back pain.

My father passed away in December 2015 after a long battle with emphysema. I am ashamed to say I had started stealing narcotic pain pills from several family members. I was also abusing my anxiety medication. This was a time when my family should have been able to count on me. Instead, my behavior was becoming rather bizarre. My family held a family intervention. At the end of the intervention, I agreed to go to a drug and alcohol rehab for three weeks. When I was discharged, my mother said I could not return to live with her. She was very hurt, and said she couldn’t live through any more of my lies, my drug abuse, my drama. I lived with a friend from AA for four months. Amazingly, my mother recently asked me if I’d like to come back home. She needed help caring for and keeping her house. Just today I moved back home. It feels so good to be trusted again.

Now I realize that even if where you are isn’t the place you’d like to call home, it doesn’t have to be lonely or sad. Home is in the mind, and the only reality that can be truly counted on is your imagination. Whether you’re on a beach at the Delaware shore, or living in a tenement building,  working a dead-end job in a city you hate, your happiness isn’t decided for you. Home and belonging are inextricably linked to your sense of happiness, of purpose, of community, and it’s only you that can decide how you feel. You didn’t have a say over where you were born, but it doesn’t mean you don’t have a say over where home is, even if it’s in your imagination. But I have to say, it sure does feel good to come back home and to be trusted again.

Beware “Kitsch Jesus”

I read an interesting post on http://godtube.com that I wanted to share with you. It’s something I’ve thought about before. My great grandmother had a picture of Jesus in her house that depicted Him in soft focus, dressed in a long-flowing white robe, gazing up at heaven. There are literally thousands of paintings and prints showing our Lord in a similar manner. So when I read Sheridan Voysey’s comments, I could truly relate. I would love to hear your thoughts. Send me a comment. God bless.

“Kitsch Jesus” is very popular. In paintings and posters, He’s portrayed as having straight teeth, perfect skin, bright blue eyes, and long, flowing hair. He’s often in soft focus, sitting in a peaceful sunlit field and is almost always gazing lovingly at the lamb He cradles in his arms. “Kitsch Jesus” wears long, white robes even when He’s painted in a modern setting, and occasionally He holds a shepherd’s staff. “Kitsch Jesus” rarely has a care in the world and never sports a furrowed brow. He’s a lavender-scented, greeting-card Jesus who is all pixies and daisies and skipping through the fields.

Please don’t think me insensitive. Such artistic representations of Jesus are not all bad: They remind us of how gentle, caring, and in control the real Jesus is. But “Kitsch Jesus” has a problem: He is all glory without grit, all victory without pain, all resurrection without crucifixion.

Yes, Christians believe in a glorious, victorious, resurrected Christ who brings light and peace and joy into our lives. But our redemption comes by way of His crucifixion. While “Kitsch Jesus” wanders the web without a care or fear, the real Jesus sweat drops of blood. (See Luke 22:44)  While “Kitsch Jesus” strokes his little lambs, the real Jesus had His back slashed with whips. (See Matthew 27:26) While “Kitsch Jesus” holds out his soft, clean hands, the real Jesus retains the scars from His ordeal even after His resurrection. 

“Kitsch Jesus” sidesteps the crucifixion part of Jesus’ life, proclaiming a pain-free faith in a Jesus without scars. But remember: The resurrected Jesus has nail marks in His hands. He’s our Lord in suffering and victory.

—Sheridan Voysey

Gray (A Poem)

Sadness seems to demand gray;
Brighter hues just get in the way
Of wallowing, of wading through misery.

Does mood really affect color choice?
You wonder why you’re stuck all day
In a dull mood, dark, lost.

You’re “in the blues,” in a funk,
Your favorite color long gone, out of reach;
The brightness of yellow just a memory.

Metaphor is nearly tangible, touchable;
Saturation overwhelms you as your
Mood darkens, enveloping you.

White, sacred and pure, eludes you,
Hides from you, as you feel light years
Away from God and His angels.

No more innocence, no more hope;
No pleasant dreams,
Just horror and despair.

No freedom, no uncluttered openness;
Just the totality of gray, the
Absence of all color.

Gray, the hue of death, the shade of nothingness;
A tunnel devoid of light at the end,
The true opposite of hope.

Babylon Cradle

I am blown away by the poems this young lady has been posting on her blog http://memorphilia.com. I had to share this one with you. If you haven’t done so yet, please visit her blog at the link I included.

Memorphilia

I want to be the echo in an empty building,
One with creaking stairs and crumbling paper,
Lining the walls of a run down city, sleeping.

Wrinkled skin and cold, dark eyes become me,
In warped mirrors of gasoline and shattered glass,
My vision twists between myself above and those below.

I can feel the waves of thundering people beneath me,
Moving in uneven rumbles of footsteps and voices,
They carry bodies heavy from living into my rooms.

I want to be the throbbing heat of a crowded building,
Holding hollow skin against my stained walls,
Carrying them through the cleansing waves of our dirty city.

I can feel the softness of their labored nights,
In the cacophony of their shallow cries I understand,
I want to be the cradle and the coffin.

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Are AA’s 12 Steps Based Upon Christian Principles?

The program of Alcoholics Anonymous is not a religion. It is a spiritual discipline. The conscious practice of the principles of the 12 Steps and their virtues of honesty, hope, faith, courage, integrity, willingness, humility, brotherly love, justice, perseverance, prayer, meditation, and service to one another in all our daily affairs is a spiritual discipline requiring rigorous honesty and perseverance. It involves being responsible to our fellows, to God, and to ourselves. The 12-Step program is a mode of living out our daily lives sober, one day at a time, under the rigor of a spiritual discipline.

From my first memories, I felt broken. I felt imperfect and as if I didn’t belong. My solution was to self-medicate. I used alcohol and supplemented that with marijuana, cocaine and prescription drugs. I more or less thought it worked. I didn’t think that there were solutions other than numbing myself to escape. I personally discovered, however, that addiction is a progressive disease. I crashed and burned; unless I stopped I would die. As non-functional as I was at that time, I knew I had to stop.

One of the most common misconceptions about Alcoholics Anonymous is that it is a religious organization. New members especially, confronted with A.A.’s emphasis on recovery from alcoholism by spiritual means, often interpret “spiritual” as “religious” and shy away from meetings, avoiding what they perceive as a new and frightening set of beliefs. By the time they walk into their first meeting, many alcoholics have lost what faith they might once have possessed; others have tried religion to stop drinking and failed; still others simply want nothing to do with it. Yet with rare exceptions, once A.A. members achieve any length of sobriety, they have found a source of strength outside themselves. A higher power by whatever name. For many, this in effect removes the stumbling block.

Bill Wilson tells us in the book “Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age,” (which is a history of the Fellowship’s early years) that “…the hot debate about the Twelve Steps and the book’s content was doubled and redoubled. There were conservative, liberal, and radical viewpoints.” Some thought the Big Book ought to be Christian; others could accept the word “God” but were opposed to any other theological proposition. And the atheists and agnostics wanted to delete all references to God and take a psychological approach. Bill Wilson concludes, “We finally began to talk about the possibility of compromise. In Step Two we decided to describe God as a Power greater than ourselves. In Steps Three and Eleven we inserted the words ‘God as we understood Him.’ From Step Seven we deleted the words ‘on our knees.’ And, as a lead-in sentence to all the Steps we said ‘Here are the steps we took, which are suggested as a program of recovery.’ A.A.’s Twelve Steps were to be suggestions only.”

More than sixty years later, those compromises, articulated after weeks of heated controversy, have made it possible for alcoholics of all faiths, or no faith at all, to embrace the A.A. program of recovery and find lasting sobriety. What about this idea of having a spiritual awakening? Nevertheless, the phrase “spiritual awakening,” found in Step 12, and defined in Appendix II to the Big Book, remains daunting to many beginners. For some, it conjures up a dramatic “conversion,” such as being born again. Not an appealing idea to an alcoholic just coming off a drunk. To others, beaten down by years of steady drinking, it seems completely out of reach. But for those who persevere, ongoing sobriety almost invariably brings the realization that in some wonderful and unexpected way they have indeed experienced a spiritual change. Spirituality, A.A. style, is the result of action.

Step 12 begins, “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps. . .” And in the book “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions,” Bill Wilson describes what happens. He writes, “Maybe there are as many definitions of spiritual awakening as there are people who have had them. But certainly each genuine one has something in common with all the others. When a man or woman has a spiritual awakening, the most important meaning of it is that he has now become able to do, feel, and believe that which he could not do before on his unaided strength and resources alone. He has been granted a gift which amounts to a new state of consciousness and being. He has been set on a path which tells him he is really going somewhere, that life is not a dead end, not something to be endured or mastered. In a very real sense he has been transformed.

Alcoholics Anonymous began on June 10, 1935, co-founded by William Griffith Wilson (Bill W.) and Dr. Robert Holbrook Smith (Dr. Bob). Bill W. conceived the idea of Alcoholics Anonymous while he was hospitalized for excessive drinking in December 1934. During his hospital stay, Bill W. had a spiritual experience that removed his desire to drink. In the following months, he tried to persuade other alcoholics to stop drinking just as he had. Bill W. found his first “convert” in Dr. Bob, who was willing to follow Bill W.’s method to find freedom from alcoholism. Four years later, Bill W. and Dr. Bob published the book, “Alcoholics Anonymous,” which contains the Twelve Steps and a spiritually based program of recovery from alcoholism.

Various sources influenced the formulation of A.A.’s program, as developed and recorded by Bill W. Of these, the British-born Oxford Group movement and its American leader, Episcopal clergyman Samuel Moor Shoemaker, Jr., contributed most significantly to the Christian basis of Alcoholics Anonymous. Both Bill W. and Dr. Bob attended Oxford Group meetings and based much of the A.A. program on this framework. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, the Oxford Group movement became a revolutionary answer to anti-religious reaction following World War I. Aiming to rekindle living faith in a church gone stale with institutionalism, the Oxford Group declared itself an “organism” rather than an “organization.” Group members met in homes and hotels, mingling religion with meals. Despite its freedom from institutional ties, the movement was distinctly ecclesiastical and looked to the church as its authority.

Dr. Frank N.D. Buchman, a Lutheran pastor, is most often cited as the leader of the Oxford movement. Yet, if one were to ask an Oxford Group follower, “Who is your leader?” the reply might well be, “The Holy Spirit.” So confidently did the group believe in the guidance of the Holy Spirit that it had no organized board of officers, but relied instead on God’s control through men and women who had fully surrendered to God’s will. Buchman traveled extensively in the United States, England and the Orient, organizing local groups and urging people to follow definitive principles in order to experience a life-changing conversion. Buchman emphasized the need to surrender to God for forgiveness and guidance and to confess one’s sins to God and others. Oxford Group followers learned also to make restitution for wrongs done and to witness about their changed lives in order to help change others.

In establishing the principles of A.A., Bill W. borrowed material from many sources, including Christianity, and translated them into language easier for the alcoholic to accept. Consequently, A.A. members talk about spirituality, not religion; sobriety, not salvation; wrongdoing, not sin; admitting, not confessing; strength and hope, not resurrection; carrying the message, not sharing the faith. However, the absence of direct Christian references within A.A. does not take away from the program’s Christian basis.

In essence, the Twelve Steps embody the Bible’s core teachings concerning God’s redemptive relationship with humankind, from salvation to evangelism. They begin with an admission of human shortcomings and a profession of faith in God’s power, love and forgiveness. The essence of justification. The Twelve Steps go on to encourage continual confession of wrongdoing, submission to God’s control and proper conduct toward others. These are the principles of sanctification. Finally, they encourage habits of devotion, responsiveness to God’s will and sharing the message of recovery with others.

Of course, this is the basics of biblical Christian living. Charles Knippel, Ph.D., a noted scholar on Christianity’s influence on A.A., has this to say about the Twelve Steps and Christianity. “In making use of twelve-step programs and in encouraging others to use them, the Christian will view the Steps within the Christian context and give the Steps Christian meaning. In addressing himself to non-Christian members of twelve-step groups, the Christian will seek, by way of caring and sharing relationships, to bring such twelve-step practitioners to a Christian understanding of the Steps that will provide rich spiritual benefits and a more abundant experience of recovery.”

I firmly believe that the 12-Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous is based upon Christian principles. I have taken issue in the past with alcoholics naming a tree or a dog or another person as their higher power. I also don’t think it’s appropriate to use the AA group as your higher power. This I base on the comment in How It Works that no human power can relieve our alcoholism. But God can and will if He is sought. I realize not everyone believes in the same God. I have learned that it is not appropriate for me to “witness” or “preach” during an AA meeting. I do, however, share my relationship with Jesus Christ when talking with alcoholics one-on-one. I have been set free from the bondage of addiction through the power of the cross, and I truly want everyone to experience the same freedom.

Walk Me Home (by poulakose)

I received a copy of a post today with a great poem in it. I just had to share it with you. If you enjoy it,check out more at https://memorphilia.wordpress.com. I think you’ll really like Red Birds posted May 8, 2015.

Walk me home
Where the lights burn
In an orange haze
Through the icy blue
Two arms surround me
In an ocean of night

Walk me home
Where the branches bend
In the smoke of Benson Hedges
Through the grey and gold
The skies part
In the flicker of a street lamp

Walk me home
Where the asphalt glints
In the silence of the cool rain
Through the shadows
A quiet violence falls
With shaking hands I hold tight

Some Writing Tips

Here are some writing tips that were originally posted by Emma Coats, a story artist at Pixar.

You have to admire a character for trying more than for their successes. Keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about until you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free. (Kill your darlings.) What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal with what you put them through? Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, so get yours working up front. Finish your story. Let go even if it’s not perfect.

When you’re stuck, make a list of what wouldn’t happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you. You’ve got to recognize it before you can use it. Remember, putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, even if it’s a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

Discount the first thing that comes to mind. And the second, third, fourth, fifth. Get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself. Give your characters opinions. Passive or malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience. Why must you tell this particular story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against them. Conflict is interesting. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on. It’ll come back around to be useful later.

You have to know yourself. The difference between doing your best and fussing. Story is testing, not refining. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great, but using coincidences to get them out of it is cheating. Look at the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How would you rearrange them into what you do like? You have to identify with your situation and your characters. What would make you act that way?  What is the essence of your story? What is the most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build your story from there.

Now get to work. Whatever you do, write.

Some Simple Suggestions (Kurt Vonnegut)

I stumbled upon something recently relative to writing. It was a list of suggestions from Kurt Vonnegut. They are quite ingenious and rather helpful. He says a writer should use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted. A writer should give the reader at least one character he or she can root for. Vonnegut says a writer should be certain every character wants something, even it it is only a glass of water. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action. Vonnegut says no matter how sweet and innocent your leading character is, you should make awful things happen to them. This may sound a bit sadistic, but it helps the reader see what they’re made of. When writing, compose your work to please just one person. Vonnegut says if you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia. You should start as close to the end as possible. I’ve read this advice before. Don’t waste time on too much back story. He also says readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on in the story, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Red Birds

I simply had to share this poem from Memorphilia.

Memorphilia

Do I know where the lilacs grow?
Beneath the shade of long shadows,
Where twists of limp limbs intertwine,
Red birds sing on the edge of time,

“Child, child always mine,”
Soft and sweet a lullaby.
Eyes turned to a flowering sky,
“Mother, mother watch me fly.”

Do I know where the red birds go?
When earth is soft in downy snow,
Wait for the vines to green and climb,
There they’ll land in the ebbing tide.

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My Most Prized Possession

My father passed away in December 2015. He had been sick for years, suffering from heart disease and emphysema. Pneumonia and a blood infection got him in the end. I was able to spend time with him during his final days. It was hard, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. As he started to go downhill at the hospital, he asked that mom get all his sons to come see him. I was at work when I got the call.

I walked into his hospital room, and I was floored. I had seen him just the day before. Although he was not able to talk much, he was somewhat alert. As I looked at him now lying in the bed, I noticed his breathing was very shallow. His eyes were closed. Mom leaned over and said, “Charles, the boys are here.” He opened his eyes real wide and looked at us and gave us all a salute. Such a special moment. I knew the end was near, but I was not able to get my arms around it.

You see, dad was my hero. Although we had a trying relationship over the years, he was always there for me. I was not an easy child to raise. Always in trouble. Lying. Breaking things. Mom said I slept all day and kept her up all night. She quit the ninth grade to have me at age fifteen. Dad was only nineteen. It was 1959. A long time ago. Can’t believe I’m fifty-five already. I spent thirty-seven years abusing drugs and alcohol. I had to go to state prison for three years at age nineteen. Unfortunately, I continued to get drunk and high after I got out of jail. I lost all of my possessions, and ended up a week from being homeless. Dad allowed me to move in with him and mom in 2008. Although I had a few relapses (the last one being right around the time of his death), he stuck by me. He would drive me to AA meetings and counseling sessions and physical therapy. I thanked him one day, and he answered, “Hey, this is what I signed on for.”

Anyway, dad worked in plastics all his life. He started at PlastiVac in Montgomery, PA right out of high school, and retired from Penn Reels outside of Landsdale, PA thirty years later. He was a genius at troubleshooting, and did some private consulting as well as full-time employment. He taught a non-credit course at a local college in the Lehigh Valley relative to the field of plastics engineering. He was an OSHA officer at several of his jobs. He built his own house from the ground up. He had a wealth of knowledge regarding gardening and lawn care. When he bought a house after retirement, he built a screened in back porch, two decks and a pond with a waterfall. He also was a great woodworker, and built furniture. Mom still has a lot of the pieces. He painted oils for years. The walls are decorated with his art.

Mom gave me one of his paintings after he passed away. It is a depiction of a street in Puerto Rico. I cannot believe the attention to detail. He even put birds on a church roof in the background. I love staring at the picture and imagining myself walking down the streets. Many of his oil paintings are fantastic, but this one is my most favorite. Mom said, “You may have it, but don’t ever let anything happen to it. You have to keep it til the day you die.”

That’s not hard to do when it’s my most prized possession.

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