Sunday, April 10, 2016

"wanderings in the desert" (or, alternatively, dark thoughts and melancholic musings)

2016.04.10 break

I went to bed last night depressed, and woke up depressed this morning (worship at CtK Lutheran this morning helped lift the fog -- when I say that I go to worship to avoid losing my sanity, it is not hyperbole). This has become more and more frequently my experience. Only now, it seems, am I realizing the enormity of what I lost when I lost Debbie. I am currently dating a new girl … I think that dating someone dredges up a lot of negative feelings about missing Debbie. I do my best not to compare, but it is hard not to feel like my life has taken a huge step downward and backwards.

I suppose economic insecurity adds a lot to my anxiety and depression. It seems like that has been my lot for my whole life. For the last 2 or 3 years, all of my energy and effort has gone into my work, and trying to make it work. I am almost there, but there is still no security. They can take away my classes on a moment’s notice and give them to full-time or tenured faculty. Nevertheless, teaching is one of the few truly bright spots in my life and gives me what little sense of meaningfulness I have in my current situation.

I also feel like a keep on losing friends. Phil recently married and is moving to Palm Beach Gardens. Amanda is moving to North Carolina. Evelyn is hit-and-miss regarding her availability. Most of my other friends were based on salsa dancing, or academia, and now that I no longer have time or desire to dance salsa and have finished my PhD, they have moved on. My married Christian friends (local) distanced themselves from me after Debbie died. It was hurtful at first, but it is what it is, and it is a normal experience that most widow(ers) go through. Now that I am no longer involved in “ministry” or ACM, many of those relationships are growing distant (thank God for the reader’s group!). My kids are great and love me, but they are all gradually moving off into their own lives. I cannot expect them to continue to orbit around me.

An additional thing that I woke up thinking about this morning is my repeated pattern of making a significant “break” with my worldview and social networks. I was raised in a fundamentalist “holiness” context, but broke with that at age 17/18 and became a hippy, leaving behind many of the fundamentalist Christian friends I grew up with. At age 23, I made another break, after becoming involved with Debbie. I forsook my radical-secular-hippie countercultural perspective and came to faith in the context of the Discipleship movement (which at the time, seemed very avant-guard and innovative to me). Again, I left secular and liberal friends behind and moved on into a different social and ideological environment.

 My time in the covenant-discipleship movement stretched out over almost 30 years, most of my adult life and most of my life with Debbie. I defined myself by my missiological and ministry commitments and as a faithful married man. After I started into academic studies (2004), I came back into contact with secular (and often liberal) people and began thinking more critically about the assumptions of my peer group. My friendship with Dr. Sam taught me to look for reciprocity in relationships and commitments, which was not always forthcoming in my ministry circle. All of this led to a growing list of incongruities and anomalies that became apparent to me in my ideological and social context. Eventually, under the increasing pressure of Debbie’s condition I was forced to reexamine my priorities under the duress of terminal illness. This led to my third major “break” with my primary social group in 2007 and a gradual break with my theological worldview thereafter. 

The theological and ideological fallout of that break has taken another nine years to process. When Debbie went into the grave, it felt like everything else that defined me also went into the grave along with her (ministry, friendships, worldview), but it took me a couple of years to realize it. Once I started to slow down from my frenetic partying, salsa dancing and drinking, the pain set in and has not left.

After several years of deconstruction of my belief system, only this past year have I felt my worldview and faith being reconstructed in a way which is both theologically orthodox but also “modern” (a "generous orthodoxy"?) and myself being reconnected to the body of Christ in a liturgical context. Thankfully, I have been able to hold on to a handful of life-long friends through that daunting process, although all of them are geographically distant from me.

Now, my depression is more constant and pervasive (although less sharp or intense) than it was at any time during her illness or immediately after it. Monday through Friday is not bad because of a highly structured work week (thank God for my work which I love!). However, many weekends I find myself setting alone on my patio for countless hours, grading, prepping classes and smoking cigars, and feeling quite depressed.

How shall I view this? Has my constant moving on into new ideational horizons, breaking with past social and ideological structures been a good thing or a bad thing? Has it been personal growth, or confusion? Is this just a part of normal life? Another way to ask the question is, am I a pioneer? Or just unstable? Sometimes the loss of fellowship and the necessity of reprocessing my beliefs “one more time” leaves me feeling like I am losing my sanity. But on the other hand, I am SO glad that I am not a ‘holiness’ fundamentalist living on a farm in Ohio. By the same token, I am glad that I am not a secular or liberal radical with no spiritual commitments or sense of mystery.

Before the Buddha experienced enlightenment, he grappled with the terrible suffering of the world and a sustained demonic attack for a month. Jesus wandered in a desert for 40 days and again before he went to the cross he sweat drops of blood in the garden and felt abandoned by God. If there is something good on the other side of these seemingly unending wanderings in the desert? Or am I just fucked? I guess I will find out one way or the other.

There is more I could write about my life-long tendency to live with a positive vision for the future, and a hopeful “project” to work towards (perhaps another self-medicating drug?). I have not had that since Debbie died, I learned to dance salsa, and I finished my PhD. So, I end up feeling adrift, just living a succession of days without a direction towards something. I have some ideas about how to remedy that, but I’ll save that for another journal entry.

I would love to send this to someone to share my feelings with, but to who? My mentors and older brothers, such as Frank Dawson, Dow Robinson or Michael Cook are mostly gone. There are others who might try to “instruct” or fix me like Job’s friends rather than just sitting with me in empathetic silence or sharing the pain. I don’t know anyone who has gone ahead of me on this same path.  

So... there is really no one to share this with. I am walking this path alone (I know, my dear hypothetical reader, that you will say that Christ is with me. I understand that “theologically.” I pray St. Patrick’s prayer almost daily (Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ beneath me….), but experientially, I am alone. To quote Jesus: My god, my god, why have you forsaken me? (don't answer that, you might have good reasons! ja ja).

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Steve Osborne, NYC Police Sargent, tells a story about his dad and cancer

I heard this story by New York cop Steve Osborne on THE MOTH radio hour on our local NPR affiliate today. His story moved me to tears ...

I have a confession to make, almost 3 years after Debbie's departure, I am not really doing all that well. I battle depression on a daily basis and sometimes acute anxiety. Loneliness stalks me on a weekly basis. The worst is Friday night at 5 pm, whcn I finish work, and there is no one to go home to.  My finances also took a huge hit during 7 years of terminal cancer, and 10 years of graduate school, and I foolishly only had a small life insurance policy on Debbie. I am in a graduate program of learning about God's grace.

A book I read recently on grief compared losing a spouse to an amputation. It never heals, you never get "over it." You can only learn to adapt to the loss -- if you are lucky. If you are not, you give up and look for a quick exit. 

Officer Osborne's story of his dad's crotchety courage in the face of death was deeply moving to me. Everyone has to deal with death, loss and grief at some point.  It is helpful to learn that I am not alone in my pain, that every other human being on the planet has to eventually face the same issues in one way or another. 

I hope you will listen and enjoy Steve's story ...

Saturday, January 10, 2015

That which is not

Today was one of those days. I felt lost, like I could not find my way home. I drove over to the Fruit and Spice park at 2 pm. It is a bright and sunny day, but everything felt dark. I enjoyed meeting some new people and walking around the park. Then I came home and took a nap.

When I awoke, I didn’t want to get up. What is the point? In the past, taking salsa lessons, studying, reading, thinking, writing helped me soften the pain, or at least forget it. I have been working hard, developing course material and teaching classes.

Now however, dancing no longer interests me and I am actually tired of reading books. There is no point to writing and posting online, no one cares and nothing will change.

All things are wearisome;
Man is not able to tell it.
The eye is not satisfied with seeing,
Nor is the ear filled with hearing.
That which has been is that which will be,
And that which has been done is that which will be done.
So there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one might say,
“See this, it is new”?
Already it has existed for ages
Which were before us.

Ecclesiastes 1:8-10

Is this what ‘nothingness’ is like?

The Finnish theologian, Tuomo Mannerma, talking about Luther’s theology of Two Loves, says,

“God works in two ways; God leads human beings into hell and then brings them back again. In other words, God turns human beings into “nothing,” making them weak and crazy sinners, but also makes them “be” and exist again, making them holy, strong and wise.  Luther calls the former action the work of God’s left hand, and the latter the work of God’s right hand” ~ Two Kinds of Love, Martin Luther’s religious world, p. 32.

So, I guess this awful place I am in makes me somehow an extraordinary candidate for God’s creative love? I’d like to see exactly how that works.

“God gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. (Romans 4:17) but I didn't know it would be this awful getting dead and coming to nothing.


 God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no [t]man may boast before God. (1 Corinthians 1:27-29)

Well look at me now, there is no boasting going on now, is there? 

Solomon:  I realized that this also is striving after wind.18 Because in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Path


I am picturing my time line like a path this morning. I can see a winding path that leads up to the present moment … but no path representing my future leading away from this moment.

What does that mean? Perhaps I cannot see a future for myself? Perhaps it is hidden from me? But of course, it always has been. Any sense that I could see my future timeline was an illusion.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Let not your heart be troubled

I am re-reading this morning from Debbie’s journal of July 2009.
July 13
Debbie wished her mom a happy birthday and wrote:

“Yesterday I pulled weeds and loaded wood in the wheel barrow and cut hedges and I think it helped me. Joseph and I went out to Boteco (a Brazilian restaurant) to listen to Bossa Nova music. While there, we met a UM Dean Leo & Angie. They seemed quite nice. We have no idea what the future holds, but I am confident that you are in control; I just want the best for us. Joesph worries about it too much, I think. Each day is an adventure for me.

She was right, I worry too much.

Last night I went to see my friend Dr. Sam Lopez about my A-Fib condition. We found that there was a large area of emotional grief that was contributing to the stress on my heart. There was also a lifestyle component (too much alcohol) and a physical cause (too much weight and not enough rest). 

We re-framed the grief to reduce it. There was also a fairly high level of dread about the future that comes from my anxiety about the next step (a full time job). Sam went back into my past when I was six years old and helped me reprocess my memories of my dad going from cheerful and playful to withdrawn and morose over financial problems.

When I was thinking about my grief over all of these things, I visualized myself giving my troubled and stressed heart (physically and emotionally) to Jesus.  I had a distinct impression of Jesus coming to me and saying “You believe, in God, believe also in me – let your heart not be troubled!” As soon as I repeated the verse to myself, I broke and began to weep. It felt profoundly significant. 

There are intellectual atheists and there are pragmatic atheists: I guess I have been the latter. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Have faith in God

Today, I am reading through Debbie's journal entries from 2009. I came across this in July of 2009:

"What have no idea what the future holds, but I am confident that you are in control; I just want the best for us. Joesph worries about it too much, I think. Each day is an adventure for me."

She was so right about me worrying too much! I gotta get that under control somehow. I found out that I have Atrial Fillibration last week ...and as an adjunct, at the bottom of the university surplus labor pool, I do not have health insurance.  I have been slipping back into a depression after doing really well for about a year. I don't want to lose the will to live. 

So now I am meditating on Mark 11:22

Apparently, I have some kind of emotional trauma relating to money issues. Each time I get into a tight spot, I get discombobulated. 

Debbie wrote this on June 28, 2009:

"I guess we just have to live life as fully and fearlessly as possible until we come to death."

Monday, September 8, 2014

Silly dreams ....

I got into a one-sided discussion last night in my dreams apparently. I was spending time with Debbie, and I looked at her and said

“I’m confused. You are here with me, but I distinctly remember putting your body in a box and putting it in the ground.”

She just sat there and smiled.

“So you can’t be here. You are in Ohio in a box in the ground. How can you be in two places at once? This is confusing me.

She just smiled and then I woke up.

But before I completely woke up, I found myself jogging in Bogotá Colombia. I kept running and running down streets that I vaguely remember, trying to find my way back home. Part of the time I was barefoot, part of the time I had running shoes on. I was also have trouble seeing …. I had to squint to make out the street signs.

When I awakened, I remembered that I am in Miami, Florida and that Debbie is resting in Johnstown, Ohio.

Silly dreams ….