Click Bait

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God came roaring up in his 4-wheel drive pick-up, skidded to a halt, slammed the door, and stomped up my newly-poured sidewalk. His hair was on fire. He scorched the lower branches of the chokecherry bushes before he flung open the front door. “Who d’ya think you are, you worthless pieceashit?” he shouted. “Your writing sucks. You can’t speak for me. I’m the Supreme Being. King. Ruler. God Almighty. I speak for My Self. You need to shut your damn trap.”

Something was deeply untrue. My throat tightened, but my disbelief saved me.

“Wrong turn,” I said.

“Like hell,” he yelled, coming for my throat.

I stood my ground, looked him in the eye, and said “Fake news.”

He screamed and writhed like the wicked witch, diluted to shadow.

“How’d you know? How’d you know?” He squealed a dramatic piggy squeal as he sank to the bottom of the inky nastiness at my feet.

I couldn’t explain how I knew any more than I could explain my aching stomach and pounding head. It hurt. Everything hurt. Lies and dark money. Hatred. Malignant neglect. Greed. Ignorance. Threats. Vicious attacks. Click bait. Click bait. Death bait. Hate bait. I named it. I stood with the wounded. I refused to strike back. That hurt too.

“Good work,” the real God whispered. I nodded in complete agreement. It was good work. Hard work. I could see that God had taken the brunt of the hit. She was still a little bent over.

“Why, oh why do you bother with us?” I asked, only half-sincere. “And where do you get the patience?”

“I can’t answer that, honey,” God said. “But you’ll know someday.” She was tired, but there was still a warm light in her eyes.

“Well, forgive me,” I said. “But I seriously doubt it.”

“Doubt’s good,” she said. “Compassion’s better.” Then she drifted to the porch, to my treasured collection of petrified wood. She chose one of my favorite pieces, ate it, and settled down among the beautiful fossils to rest.

“Nooooo,” I wailed. “Not that one. Not there.” But it was too late. She was gone.

Oh, I how I hate being human sometimes, swirling around in our ugly soup, hope against hope, kin against kin. We keep extracting, gorging, and making weapons. How are we going to fix this mess? Compassion hardly gets any clicks at all.

Glimpses

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Some people have  indicated they wouldn’t mind meeting up with my co-author, or at least, they hope my descriptions are accurate. Frankly, accuracy is a subjective term, and I wouldn’t wish this particular relationship on anyone. It has aspects that make me feel about as safe as I do when I forget to flip the breaker before installing my latest funky light fixture. Awaiting that final jolt does something to your mind. And there’s despair. Real, chest-smashing despair. Much deeper than the despair currently caused by the evening news. This God. This life. Here are a few recent observations.

God’s a dumpster diver. I don’t mind being seen with God, picking through discarded clothing, sunglasses, and broken toys. In fact, earlier today she gave me three pairs of socks and a scarf she’d fished out with a long stick. And get this—I don’t even need any socks. But she knows how happy I am to deny the landfill one single bite of something not yet entirely used up—something with potential for restoration, renovation, or renewal. I’ll use these socks when I jog, with a defiant spring in my step.

God’s a prankster. Things that look awful might be priceless. Things you think you deserve do not come your way, but things you don’t deserve do. Blessings turn rancid. Curses blossom and bear fruit. He’s very like that, and most of us don’t think it’s all that funny. I suspect God does.

God bewitches and beguiles. Creates and destroys. God answers to no one, but will wait patiently for a chick to hatch or a badly-needed idea to occur. God often walks alone in the rain. Zillions of years have gone by and will go by. Stones have worn down to heart-shaped pebbles, while molten lava shimmers and cools. God isn’t easy. Neither is love.

So, God, do you have anything to add? Um…God? GOD!!! Come back here. I’m sorry. I meant to say you’re not easy in a good way. Who’d want an easy God anyway?

God creeps back, waiting, I think, for a more complete apology. Maybe I left some things out. But it isn’t all up to me. My arms are crossed. God’s arms are loose. My vision is narrow. God’s is wide. My time is finite. God’s isn’t. I can live with that. At least for a while.

We dangle our feet in the raging snow-fed river of Now. The water is brutally cold, but it sizzles and swirls around God’s delicate ankles. She isn’t showing off. That’s just the way she is.

 

Paint

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I caught God in the basement messing around in my modest assortment of half-full cans of paint. Or at least I thought it was God. It was dark, but there was an eerie glow emanating from the far corner that both attracted and frightened me. That’s God in a nutshell.

“What do you think of my paint collection?” I asked hesitantly.

“I like it,” came the cheery response. “Color. Texture. Latex. Stains. Oil-based stuff. You’ve got it all, more or less.”

God’s approval is a boon anytime, but admiration for my near-hoarding of old paint—now that was spectacular. I was ecstatic.

“Some of it’s dried up, some’s moldy,” God added. God has X-ray vision, so I knew this was true. “And you have at least four cans of that ugly, dull orange. Looks like you tried mixing bad stuff. Never works.”

My ecstasy was waning as God’s appreciation became more selective.

“Yeah,” I said. “I was trying to get a mellow, warm orange.”

God laughed, stepped out of the shadows, and slapped me on the back.

“I like how hard you try,” God said. “But mellow orange will not happen anywhere near sage green. You know giving up can be as holy as stubbornly plowing forward, right?”

“Well.” I said. “Same to you. I’ve met some people who are way uglier than that paint. At least I can use the paint in the chicken house. What’re you going to do with those disgusting lumps of humanity? I’ve been trying to love them, somehow, a miniscule little bit, but the best I can do is pretend. They’re destructive, lazy, lying, self-righteous jerks. A serious waste of protoplasm. And because you already know this, I’ll just say it. I hate them.”

“Yup. I knew that,” God said. “Why are you trying to love them?”

I did a double-take. “Because, well. I guess because I think you want me to.”

God gave me a quizzical look, then began to fade artfully away, wavering like fumes above the seven cans of turpentine. With a soft kiss on the top of my head, God repeated “I like how hard you try.”

I felt deflated. Thwarted. I sat down on a five-gallon bucket of neutral gray to consider my next move. I didn’t want a passing grade in effort. I wanted excellent marks. Perfect 10s, 5 stars.

“You’ll take some failures with you to the grave,” God said. “I’ll meet you there.”

 

Not Fair

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My brother loaned me his rototiller and I haven’t returned it. He says he’ll come get it if he needs it. I say well, that’s not really fair. He says whoever said life was fair? I mutter something like well, at least I should try to make it more fair. He just smiles.

“Hey, God,” I yell, after my brother drives away. “Whoever said life was fair?”

“Not I,” says God. “I’m not in charge of that idea. In fact, it’s a childish notion I hope you’ll outgrow someday. Who gets more candy? Who sleeps on the top bunk? This is okay when you’re seven. Tiresome behavior for adults.”

It began to rain. It rained on the river and on the cracked, thirsty garden. It rained on the pavement and on a spring wedding somewhere. The wind picked up and blew so hard I gasped for breath. It blew down a tree, it blew waves in the water, it blew away the simplistic demands we make of our shrink-wrapped God. The rain came sideways and the real God shimmered, at ease in the liquid uncertainty we think of as life.

I started a fire. God shook like a dog and joined me. My fate in the hands of rain. My days in the arms of wind. This chills me to the bone. I rub my stiff hands and sip tea.

“Justice is different than fairness,” God says. “You know that eye for an eye thing?”

I nod, wary.

God continues, patient. “That’s the upward limit. No more than an eye for an eye. But less is better. In fact, I favor forgiveness and compassion. Your species is more likely to survive that way.”

“Duh,” I snap at God. “Justice. Mercy. Compassion. Humility. I get it.” I pause and calm myself. “But I don’t think it’s fair you aren’t helping us more.” I smile. God smiles. It’s good we have these little chats.

My twinkly-eyed friend with his infectious laugh will soon be dead from the cancer he’s carried for decades. I can eat a second or third salted caramel while I write this. When I turn on the news, likely I’ll see a child bloated with hunger, floating on a crowded raft. I won’t gag. Maybe I should. God, should I gag?

The rain pounds down and the river’s rising. No answer. No answer at all.

Sin

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So much depends on the right weed-eater and a proper attitude toward sin. The root structures of unwanted plants and unwanted behaviors are similarly complex.

God explained this to me as we dragged out the various weed-eating options to face the onslaught of summer. I was making an attempt to consider my failings this past week. I don’t like weeds, but I try to be patient. My friend–a permaculture fan–is determined to teach me about biodiversity and tolerance. God, also a permaculture fan, constantly urges me to considering the grand scheme of things.

“Did you want me to confess anything in particular?” I asked God, as we checked the oil in the Husqvarna.

“No, not really,” God answered. “Sin is separation from Good Things. Which happens to be one of my names. One of my favorites, actually. Good Things, I mean. Not Sin. Damn Good Things in fact. You can call me DGT for short.” God chuckled at this little joke and then said, “But seriously, you don’t have to confess. Sin carries its own price. Disconnection sucks. For both of us.”

I nodded. Life is definitely harder when I’m all disconnected, my ego bloated and unwieldy. When I’m my best self, I fill a tiny, unique space in the garden, and I’m happy. When I get greedy, I trample on vital species, poison the soil around me, gobble up nutrients not meant for me, become increasingly undisciplined, and frankly, ugly, common, and boring. And when I get frightened, I yank my roots in close, breaking the thin strands of connection to the earth, and topple over in the dry western wind.

“But I’ve heard that confession is good for the soul,” I said, wanting a bit of encouragement.

“Oh, it is,” God said. “It is indeed. But what’s even better is compost.”

I sat on my favorite boulder, watching the sun go down. For once, God pitched in and did a fair amount of work. My feet and hands were still as I willed myself into the void, waiting for night to descend. I was confident I knew the way.

The Kale and I

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You know how with certain friends, topics of conversation get redundant? You blah-blah along, engaging in excessive commiseration until you no longer hear each other? Well, this can be very bad for relationships, but it’s especially dangerous with God. She and I’ve been veering that direction lately, which is not surprising. Things here on earth are alarmingly dire on the surface, and few of us see balanced, loving ways forward with such apparently heartless, dishonest leaders and deep black chasms between us. Awful times for many, and awful times coming for more. I don’t pray on my knees. I talk with God with my fists in the air. I glare, stomp, wheedle, whine, kick, and cry. I threaten to leave the relationship altogether.

Sometimes, I drag God down. She’s more than willing to empathize with me. The face of God becomes a sea of deep emotion. It reminds me of when I had my tonsils out. My mom leaned over the hospital bed, her face tight with worry. “Honey, if I could, you know I’d trade places with you in a heartbeat,” she said, all choked up. Dad put his arm around her, and took her to the hallway. The surgery went fine.

God has said that same thing to me many times. Only when my mom said it, I got braver. When God says it, I get mad. This Life Force—this amazing creative generous wise beauty of an entity, this fucking confusing unfathomable inscrutable friend of mine—I want to rip my heart out—or her heart out—and bury it deep in the still-fertile soil and let things begin again.

Oh.

Wait.

It’s spring. I’ll be planting seeds. I will touch each one. They’ll grow. They’ll bring forth fruit. Surprisingly, the kale wintered over and so did I. For how many more winters, I don’t know, but I see my summer image in shallow waters, only a little worse for wear. And there’s God’s summer image, beside me, in the deep black earth, in the deep black faces, in the deep black gloom–smiling a ridiculous toothy grin, rays of light spewing from her mouth. What a maddening friend. Utterly ridiculous.

Saturday Morning, Me and God

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There was massive, unavoidable death on the horizon this morning. It’s there every morning, but I usually look away and eat toast with the radio on—the familiar lulling me into another manageable day. But God had gotten up quite a bit earlier, pulled the shades on all the other windows, and hid my coffee. I ran for the beer. God blocked the way. I feigned a coughing fit. God slapped me on the back and waited. I plugged my ears and said “Na, na, na, na, na…” but God sang along. So I unstopped my ears, opened my eyes, settled my soul, and looked the only direction I could see.

“Is this really how it ends?” I said to God. “So much suffering. So much violence. So much hate?”

“I don’t know,” God answered. “It might end more peacefully. I’m as curious as you.”

“I’m not curious,” I said. “I’m sad and terrified.”

“I know,” God said. “Me too. But aren’t you a little bit curious?”

I thought about it. Am I curious about which disaster ends life as we’ve known it on planet earth? Maybe a little. Because I’m old anyway. Will it be global warming or cooling, caused by us-who-shall-not-be-named? Forced population increase because no birth control or abortions, or even educational opportunities are available to the women? Will it be war, humans determined to kill each other for the sake of….ummm….ideologies? Money? Their idea of God? Will it be the rich, with their weapons amassed, or the poor, with their fists hardened in hunger and despair?

I snapped my attention back to my demanding guest. “God. I’ve mentioned this before, but how can you let people judge, abandon, hurt and kill each other, claiming it’s your will?”

God’s head sagged. “Yeah, I wonder that myself. But I decided on this free will frontal lobe experiment with you all. I’ve given you as many hints and examples as I dare, modeled options that would provide sustainable ways to live, and graceful ways to die. I’ve put nature in motion–wondrous, awesome, stunning works of art that should inspire. Do you have any idea what’s gone wrong?”

“Well, God,” I said. “Not really. I mean, I try, but I’m one of them. Remember? Just as susceptible to deception, greed and hatred as the next human.”

God nodded. “I know.”

We sat down and drank the coffee together in silence. God likes it black and strong. I prefer a fair amount of half-and-half.

 

Stick in the Mud

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Again, this morning, the rain fell at all the wrong times and fist-sized snowflakes taunted spring’s attempt to arrive. But spring will win in the end. Until summer grabs hold and starts burning down the days, rivers rising and falling, hopes rising and falling, life and death in the usual tangle of grand schemes and undergrowth. Today, that’s as far as I’m going to go. Yes, likely, there will be autumn on the heels of summer. Likely, another vicious white winter will come.

Perhaps I’ll still be eating dark chocolate caramels. Parking my old van in the new garage. Burning firewood I’ve carefully stack and tarped. Perhaps not. I don’t ask anymore. I wait. God sends me junk mail and drives by in a ridiculous convertible, top down, hair flying out behind. I just wave. I don’t even open the mail. It opens me. I close back up as fast as I can, but not before I see myself, hoping I’ve won the sweepstakes, ignoring the pleas for donations, refusing to believe the sad, sad stories or the silly promises, hating the hype and the hubris of my fellow beings, and yes, of myself.

Sometimes, I consider hitching a ride in that convertible. No doubt, it’d be the ride of my life. Anytime I dismantle my disbelief, God seeps in, croaking like a frog, singing like a canary, dancing like a fool, driving like a maniac. But so far, I’m keeping my thumbs tucked in, head down, feet planted firmly in the mud. She’s one crazy dude, and I’m precariously human. She dives off the deep end, flailing and free.

God wedges herself into my head. “Nice little set of paragraphs,” she says. I roll my eyes. She continues. “And I get the mud. It’s not a bad thing to dig in and stay safe. In fact, I like mud.”

I feel a little defeated. Confused. It isn’t comforting that God likes mud. And she doesn’t leave it at that. “I like speed, and sky, and green. I like hot pink. I like jazz and country-western. Gays and straights, blacks and browns.” She pauses for a microsecond, then adds, “And I love the deep end.”

She sees my reaction. Smiles. “I think you’ve forgotten a key piece of the picture, sweetie.” I nod, hoping for something sane and solid.  Foolish me. God plugs her nose and leaps into an imaginary pool. “I AM the deep end,” she shouts. Air ripples like water as she swims gracefully away.

 

Dust Mite

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Sometimes, my co-author pushes things a little further than seems appropriate and leaves me dangling. For instance, this morning I’ve had to gulp back my aversion and hide my incredulity while  I try to model polite acceptance. “Hello, God,” I said. “I see you’ve become a dust mite.”

No discernible answer. I try a little ingratiation. “Wow. You’re so tiny and translucent.” But I’m thinking UGLY! Of course, I realize beauty’s in the biased eye of the beholder. I continue on. “And bugs like you are impossible to eradicate.”

Without a word, God infiltrates my psyche and I drop a little deeper. Humans can dip very low. God can dip lower.

“God, you freak me out. You’ve taken up residence in the detritus of humankind, yet you remain essential and good. You’re living where we’ve been, transforming what’s fallen from our bodies into sustenance. You restore meaning to things that have been cast off and forgotten. You complete the circle. You’re like a mother clasping the old sweaty shirt of her child to her heart, weeping for all that has been, all that could have been. Taking courage from the scent remaining in the shredded cloth. You fearlessly find the way forward. Onward.” Still no answer, but I think God is in agreement.

“I’m like that today too, God,” I say, longing for some kind of affiliation.

I’m sitting beside my expanding rock collection–stones that were once fallen trees, transformed by minerals in the ancient putrid waters that sucked them down. I can’t fathom the pressure necessary to create these stones. And how is it they’ve come to be here, on my bench, in my house, absorbing the warmth of the morning sun?

Judging from the way things break down and are reconfigured, my place in this cacophony of life and death is a whimsical bit of happenstance. This upsets me a little bit.

“Sometimes, I wish you took me a little more seriously, Dust mite God,” I said. Of course, no answer.  “Okay, sometimes I wish you didn’t pay any attention to me at all. You’re a frightening, infinitesimal speck of persistence, patiently digesting, creating and re-creating this ragged world and all that is within it.” No comment. No reaction. I stumble on.

“Diminutive God, you’re nearly invisible to the naked eye.  I don’t know what to make of you. Why have you chosen to inhabit such a tiny space.?”

Finally, I realize there will be no reasonable answers. In fact, there will be no answers at all today. Only compassion. Only resurrection. Only the icy hope of rising water, the magical appearance of red-winged blackbirds, the ambivalent green of an ordinary day.

In this version of myself, I am the friend of dust mites, the builder who will not reject these temporary stones. I am a transitory being of ashes and dust, improvising the best I can with the materials at hand. I won’t get it entirely right. No one ever does. And it doesn’t matter in the least.

 

Longevity

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Out the southern window, eleven Canadian Geese sliced silently through the sky in a straight dark line. But it only looks straight. It’s curved like the earth, curved like all who dwell herein. An orange school bus glides along the distant road, carrying tired values and outdated ideas back and forth while unruly children bounce on the cracked leather seats. I’ve ridden that bus all my life. The back window rattles loose and I occasionally escape, but I don’t get far.

To mark the path home, I’ve rolled large stones into a curved line, and stacked smaller ones on the rounded tops, held in place by gravity, spit, and Zen. When the wind howls through the valley, some of them tumble off. These are local river rocks, but I drag stones home from wherever I go. Alleys, beaches, roadways, mountains, even other continents.

Decades ago, I rescued a collection of agates that had been buried by debris in the back yard of an old Forest Service office. I imagined the collector, likely now dead, watching from beyond. I wash them occasionally, and put them in new buckets, but at some point, I’ll do something more fitting, more spectacular with them. They seem content to wait. If anything can grasp the term geologic time, it would be rocks. When I was a child, I thought trees lived forever. Now I know they don’t, and I’m glad. I’m warmed by their cast-off bodies, sheltered by their harvested limbs.

And rocks don’t last forever either. But their comparative longevity is comforting.

And what’s forever, anyway? The little God on my shoulder—the one that ordained this moment–whispers something in my ear. “It’s music. Or another name for winter.”

Ah. I see. Listen to me all you fireflies and buffalo, nymphs and gnomes, wind and sun, seeds and stones. This is the gospel for today: Trees don’t live forever. Rocks don’t last forever. Bus rides eventually end. The earth is a circle moving in circles, creating the cradle, smoothing the grave. And that is how it should be. Amen.