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.

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.

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.

 

Fear

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Across an expanse of greening alfalfa, a mated pair of Sandhill Cranes use legs, thin as sticks, to pick their way along–resigned, ungainly, slow. They scold the world, aware that few are listening. Aware of the coming storm. Morning is a burden, the sky unattainable, heavily gray. Their staccato calls, made sonorous by windpipes coiled deep in their bodies, drift across the land and dissipate like smoke.

I am startled by rain, arriving sudden and cold. The hills disappear in the downpour and the Gray God of Unknowing washes away the dusty assumptions we use to comfort our selfish selves. Few things are fully true. We are made of approximations. Sometimes, we feed the children; sometimes, we feed the brutal urges coming up from the underbelly of fear. I matter as much as the lilacs, the lilies, the lizards. I am capable of fire.

“Yes,” God says in a sleepy voice from the corner. “You’ve been capable of fire for a long time now.” I pull my gaze from the pouring rain and nod. God looks rumpled. Sweet and a little disoriented. She stretches like a cat. “Good day for napping, isn’t it?” I nod again. It looks like she might go back to sleep. That’s for the best, I think, so I hold very still. I guess God finds this funny. Laughter fills the room, the house, breaks the windows, spills out and floods the valley. Laughter shakes the clouds, astonishes the cranes, brightens the hills, fills the river. Only God can laugh like this. I don’t even try to join in. In fact, I’m a little bit afraid.

Finally, it winds down. God wipes her nose and curls back up in her cozy blanket. “There is wisdom in fear,” she says, before closing those smoldering eyes. “But choose your fears wisely. They’re as powerful as your loves.

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.

 

In Praise of Sky

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I sing the praises of blue, blue sky, diving magpies, hawks, and ravens. Perfectly still air, and a calm soul. I shout thanks for the excellent sleep and the waking, consciousness and sustenance, and the rusty metal relics I’ve made into toys and works of art. Pumpkin pie and beer for breakfast. Lotion for my itchy legs. A plan that will help me sequence as I meander. A charger for my phone. I am among the blessed. My good fortune extends so far beyond what I deserve that the comparison is spurious. What I deserve and what I have are unrelated. To prove otherwise would involve such massive statistical analyses, only God could give it a go.

My mind wanders. Imagine God with 7 billion independent undeserving variables lining up with their blessings and curses, their riches and hunger, their longings and fears. What connects to what? What would the dependent variables be? Clean air? Laughter? Breast milk? Weapons? Money? Love? A full belly? A fantastic sexual partner? Healthcare?

Correlation is NOT causation. This is the single spiritual truth I learned in Advanced Statistics. But, my or my, aren’t we tempted to draw the easy conclusions? Isn’t it hard to let go of those judgements about who deserves what? Some graceless days, I deserve nothing. Some malevolent days, I’d willingly get rid of half the world’s population, convinced I’d be doing the Universe a favor.

Tune in here, God. Don’t you realize how maddening it is to be us? Well-fed, fulfilled human beings who’ve invented politics, the nightly news and the Internet? I didn’t ask to be born who I am, where I am. Why am I not a dead Syrian child? Why am I not a billionaire? God, you’re inconsistent and nearly inscrutable. What am I? What am I supposed to do?

“Enough,” God said. “You’re enough. You’re a stitch in the quilt I’ve been working on, a glimmer of light through water, you add to the harmonics, and help with the boredom I face occasionally. I set you free before you knew what that meant, and I’ve been trying to teach you ever since. Most humans are frightfully slow learners, but luckily, I invented education, and if you’re willing, I’ll keep teaching you.”

“Ok,” I said meekly.

“Good to hear,” God said. “You can back off the statistics. I was enjoying your revelry before you drifted. Do what’s in your heart to do. Let your joy make you brave, compassion make you strong. That’s how I do it, and remember, we’re a lot alike.”

“Yeah. I hate when you point that out,” I said, loosening up a little.

God laughed and blew me flirtatious kisses, like fireworks on the horizon. I blew some back and began again to praise the blue, blue sky. But frankly, it didn’t seem like enough. I crossed my arms, ill at ease with my comparative wealth. God laughed again. “Keep trying,” God whispered. “Keep trying.”

Sad

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This morning, long before daylight, I woke to the sound of someone crying. It was God. She’d been crying quietly all night, but as the wee hours waned, her sobs grew louder. The darkness just before dawn is a tough time for a lot of us. Years ago, when I first heard God crying, I was shocked. If anyone should be able to cheer themselves up, wouldn’t it be God? Just go make another planet or something, I’d thought, wanting to get away from that oceanic, gripping sorrow.

But if you’ve ever loved anyone or anything at any time, you know that backing away from the sadness only twists and distorts—it doesn’t make it go away. So after I realized I wasn’t going to abandon God or hide from the grief, we made a little deal. God doesn’t back away when I’m sad, and I try my best to stay present when God’s heart is breaking. The roughest times are when she considers how much hatred is leveled in her name, how much suffering we inflict on each other, or how trashed this stunning little planet has become. These things catch up with her sometimes.

I often find comfort in the lap of God. It’s far more awkward when God tries to fit on mine, but that’s what needed to happen. My lap expanded to the size of a mountain range, my arms grew a million miles long, and I wrapped them around her, nice and snug. Then I swayed to the subterranean beat of the cosmos, murmuring the bits of hope I could muster, singing fragments of lullabies that came to mind.

“Sweet Lord,” I whispered. “You try so hard. You love so deeply. You’re a worthy, excellent God.”

Her head was tucked, body curled. Her vibrations were pulling me to pieces. She was in real pain.

“Gentle God,” I said. “Remember the good old days? When you were having so much fun, setting earth in motion, and sprinkling stars everywhere. Remember that? It must have been awesome.”

“Yes,” she said, her voice murky with grief. “So much I remember. So much I hoped.”

“And you can still hope, right? I mean, it isn’t over yet, is it?”

“I don’t know, my friend,” she said, with a deep, unsteady breath. “I honestly don’t know. You tell me.”

Dawn arrived. God wrapped herself in light, splashed her face in the falling snow, and thanked me as she became the song of the great horned owl, calling it a night. Heading for bed. This was good. We both desperately needed some rest. And then, it’s clear, I have work to do. We all have work to do.