Tag Archive: Living Christ


Dark Nights

I could not sleep last night, so I sat in a recliner from 2:30 to 4:00 AM staring into the darkness at nothing. There was no single thought percolating through my mind. There was no despair, no crying, or regrets—just acceptance. It was acceptance of what’s to come that my body provided warning signs of its declaration of impending death. Through all my life’s shame and successes, it comes to a moment of acceptance of all the mistakes, failures, and everything that regularly haunts me despite denying any such thoughts. And every night, I accept them. And every night, they return. The cycle repeats during only those hours of the morning. It is a time of love. It is a time of hate.

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I watched Nomadland Sunday. Robert Ebert’s website summarizes the film accordingly: “Fern (Frances McDormand) is grieving a life that’s been ripped away.” Almost every viewer will claim the movie is littered with pain (not in a bad way) of those who face the challenge of living life alone. Some suffered from loss of a town, job loss, homelessness, loss of a spouse, a child, or even loss of oneself. In one scene, Fern so much wishes upon being alone that when she finds an abandoned dog, she ties the dog to a table outside a shop and walks off, thereby averting any potentially sentimental moment of connection. When in trouble, they become masters of finding a way out, rarely calling anyone. And that’s where I can relate.

I spent much of Sunday in a chair, barely able to move. Regardless of position, my neck, shoulders, and chest. Anyone suffering cervical osteoarthritis gets accustomed to the sound or feeling of popping in the neck when moving. At ties, mine tends to sound like a garbage disposal in perpetual grind. Never forget to add that the ol’ ticker (my heart) dribbles in some momentary flickers of pain and reminds me that I am a mere mortal. One day, time will be up. But not today. In theory, I should have been able to reach out to someone, but hell, when you live a solitary life, the question I always seem to ask myself is, “Just who the hell do I call?”

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How do we register details that most miss and fail to interpret? Seriously? How? I’ve formulated many observations in my 61 years of life. Two are more recent. First, be alive is, in and of itself, a miracle, a statistical miracle. Second, how is it I whizzed past millions of people with hardly a notice for details? I know my successes and losses, but why didn’t I ‘tarry an hour’ with another in dire pain?. And of success? When does any form of ‘tarry’ turn to envy?

“Could you not tarry one hour?” Jesus asked several disciples. “Hey, Unknown Buddhist? Could you not have tarried an hour with this man?” Like many, I would tell Christ that I’m pressed for time and line up excuses often spoken by others. “I have to complete this report.” There’s the, “I have to contact this customer.” And of course, “Jesus Christ (Oops. Sorry.), I have to meet my wife. And as you know, tarrying with her for an hour is equivalent to twelve. Even you (pointing a finger to Heaven) can attest to that.”

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There are times I wish I could go to sleep and not wake up. Not that I overtly want death, but rather, some days I am so tired to get up. Many days are rarely the same. I feel great by day. By night, my knee and Sigmoid Colon ache, and a rush of blood oozes forth that’s accompanied by a continuous backache. All of which forces surrender by 8:30 PM with a silent scream, “Fuck it.” Yet, the weird or odd timing of statements between friends compound these endless cycles. 

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As many know, I normally make no New Year’s resolution. Over the years, I learned that resolutions are ineffective and often go unbroken. Most resolutions never get past a week. One year I vowed to lose weight. “Don’t eat the ice cream,” my coworker pontificated at a meeting. “Where is it?” I countered. And there you go. Vowed to reduce pizza? Ate it. Declaring an abstinence from coffee found me four hours later laid out on the break room floor wheezing out between gasps to anyone listening that I couldn’t make it unless I received a caffeine fix. This year, I will try for a bolder resolution: walk like James.

To properly understand, you’ll require some context. When I started my current position, the job required a national security clearance. Over the course of several weeks, I carefully completed an SF-86, a one-hundred plus page Questionnaire for National Security Positions that details all previous employment, travel, criminal, financial, martial, personal background, all the times I used a restroom on foreign soil, and any other tales of woe I would to voluntarily disclose before government agents ask, “Hey dumbs**t. What about this incident in 40 years ago in a bookstore in Frog Jump, Tennessee?”

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Dickens’ story A Christmas Carol is a wonderful classic for all ages. The book has been translated into many movies, each with the director’s own interpretation. To this day, my favorite is ‘Scrooge,’ the musical version. It’s available on YouTube for free. The singing, graphics and music is so eloquently intertwined. Many watch the film and think, ‘You know, I hope that old geezer at the office gets visited. Surely, he needs change.’ Feel free to replace ‘old geezer’ with anyone: Aunt Jane, Mr. Smith, Carl, an ex, soon to be ex, current spouse, father, son, daughter, pet chihuahua, Oscar the cat, that kid (whoever that kid is) or whomever. The lessons are there. Simple to understand, yes? However, look beyond the veneer and viewers should understand Scrooge experienced a ‘life review.’ And this is exactly as life review(s) appear.

Mine was experienced as if I was a third person, as only a third person would see it. I saw myself enacting all those ugly, mean events. Yet I was allowed to experience the pain and harm I caused others. I saw an angry, bitter, manipulative person, often absent of any redeeming sense of honesty.

In life, I somehow thought I could positively impact the world, but many parts were shrouded in deception. Now, arthritis, Parkinson’s, and cardiovascular issues make it likely that I will forever be known as just another dipstick. “How much Love did I show there?” asked one angel. “How would I measure those moments against my life’s mission?” asked another. Like a Dickens character, I saw the evolutionary effect of every deed. The final question, “What happened between Christmas Eve 1978 and now?” pierced forth from a bright white light, as if the ‘Light of Truth’ beamed from an indescribable place and was asked, “W.T.F.?”

There was no one to save me. No way to hide.  No one to blame. There was no public relations firm. No possible way to manipulate anything. No way to justify my actions. The totality of each event was present, head on, as if God ripped off the band aid from an unhealed wound. No, Ms. K. wasn’t there. I could not hide behind any ‘could have,’ should have,’ or ‘would have.’ I stood silently, attesting solely for my actions. And for the first time in 40 years I came clean.

My sin was too much to bear. Looking away, I said, “I simply wanted love.” Throughout my life, for whatever reason, I was never good enough. I became the chameleon. I blended in and became what I thought everyone wanted me to be. Turns out, that wasn’t very effective either. I constantly looked for the one ‘big thing’ that would make me great, “And they would love me (I remember saying in 1994).” ‘They’ (whoever they be) never did. Like so many before, I became just another asshole.

I never loved myself. “If I never loved myself, how could they love me?” one angel poignantly queried. “In life and with God, it is the small acts of love and generosity that make up the world. Every moment may be a life changing moment. any moment may be monumental.” They were saying small moments are just as big as being a spiritual leader. Looking back at my review, I fear that all those things really are me. Am I still that angry, bitter, and manipulative guy? If I continue to hide my illness, is it because I remain angry and bitter? 

God was teaching lessons I needed to learn. When inner and outer join, one no longer has to hide. The part that God Loves and understands is still there. He remains within me. Is a form of agape love that transcends way beyond who I made love to, who I worked for, or successes achieved. In principle, it is living without reward, giving without receiving, and loving unconditionally.

Most of the love I experienced (as I presume most others experience) is conditional. We love (or are loved) based upon what we’ve done, how much we earn, how funny we are, how we treat others. We find it hard to love others just the way we are. The greatest obstacle in path is a fear love may not be returned. We don’t realize that what we seek is in the giving, not in the receiving.

Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas future paints a bleak picture (if the events remain unaltered). My life review presented no such future. I must admit though, death is no stranger to me. He is an old acquaintance, someone who’s been chasing me for thirty or so years. Sometimes when people talk of their fears, I tell them I’ve seen death, and when it happens, God will be there. That’s the love He (God) promises.

After all these lessons, I pass my Christmas present to all who read. Know that God lives within you, just as He lives in the words of this page. I also believe He exists elsewhere, in some other way, not readily seen or touched, but in a way that can be felt. Even in loss and separation, I am clear the spirit of God was me these past several weeks, just as I believe that in my last days, both He (and Ms. K.) will be with me. 

He wants us to know that it doesn’t matter who we are, what we do, how much money we make, or whom we know. We can all love and are loved. And in spite of all the difficulty 2020 has wrought, He wishes we open our hearts to the love around us. If we do, we are unlikely to miss His greatest gift—that love is always present, in all of our wonderful experiences—even in our tragedies. Whatever we call it—love, God, soul—love is alive and tangible. Love is our connection to the divine, to the sacred, to holiness. Love is richness and it is ours for the taking.

This Christmas, accept love and change your life review.

In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Scrooge asked the spirit, “… tell me if Tiny Tim will live.” The ghost indicated that should the shadows remain unaltered, he saw an empty seat. Eventually, the spirit used Scrooge’s own words against him, “If he is to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.” Interpretations tried to turn it into an assault on the wealthy, critiquing capitalism’s effect on society. It is not. Rather the spirit condemned Scrooge for the act of looking away, ignoring the evils imposed on people who cannot survive in society and also the political structure that keeps them in place. If I had to summarize God’s message to me, Dickens’ message would be an arrow between the eyes. 

These past weeks, I have been meditating upon my transition. In Dominoes, I noted Ms. K., waits. Why? In 2019 (see My Thanksgiving Letter), both God and she promised not to surrender, that they would always be knocking. I repeatedly told God I wanted to mentor people as if I could somehow drop from heaven and mysteriously help those in need. It’s as if I was saying, “Yeah, that’s it, God. I’m your man, your go-to guy. Bring it on. Let’s go.” I was on a roll until God provided a small portion of my end of life review.

An end of life review is a common aspect many Near Death Experience (NDE) claim to experience. It is sometimes described similar to a movie, in segments, or reliving every moment of life. During that process, there are no secrets, nowhere to hide. It’s all open. Suddenly, my meditation was no longer an exchange. God began to speak.

He told me that running the universe is above my pay grade. “You want to be a mentor? Then when did you mentor the needy in life?” Showing just a few clips of those I’ve ignorantly hurt or dismissed, God continued, “Who are you to request your position? What makes you so right? Why do you ask for something to be in heaven that you willfully failed in life? What effort did you give? What passion did you expend? Where are your fruits?” God claimed that the same passion that resides in us, the spark of the divine, the image of God that we bear, is what also allows us the free will to do good or evil, to choose to harm or either ignore willfully. 

It was a lovingly rebuke during a moment of arrogance. There were many moments where I failed to mentor. Let’s face it. I am not perfect. I was presumptuous to think I could ask God for what I thought I would like to do, but I was honored by God’s honest questioning. Terminally ill or not, I shouldn’t have overstepped. As written, “If you want to be first, you must be the very last. You must be the servant of everyone.”

What Jesus told His disciples is the same lesson God had for me: I needed to be a servant. A servant does things for other people before themselves. When someone is a servant, they put themselves last. As mentioned before (Deciphering God’s Call), Ken Boa stated God entrusted us with specific resources, gifts, and abilities. Our responsibility is to live by that trust by managing these things well, by design and desire. For a good portion of my time on earth, I the very gifts God entrusted me. Seeing my own arrogance, I sheepishly requested to be the caretaker [janitor] of a small park. “No. Taken.” Angel of gum removal? “Taken,” He interjected. “I have something else in mind.” He left without indicating what that ‘something else’ would be. Whatever it is, it will be His will, not mine.

Former world heavyweight boxing champ, Muhammad Ali, was known for often bragging, “I’m the greatest.” Just before take-off on an airline flight, the stewardess reminded Ali to fasten his seatbelt. “Superman don’t need no seatbelt,” Ali said. The stewardess retorted, “Superman don’t need no airplane, either.” Ali fastened his seatbelt. Likewise, I fastened mine.

My trek through this disease reminds me of Vinko Bogataj. On March 7, 1970, A Wide World of Sports captured Bogataj’s third jump on the Heini Klopfer hill. Midway down Bogataj realized the ramp had become too fast. Attempting to lower his center of gravity and stop, he lost his balance, flew out of control, tumbled multiple times and crashed through a retaining fence before halting. Coordinating producer Dennis Lewin inserted Bogataj’s crash to coincide exactly with the words ‘… and the agony of defeat.’ (You can see the clip on YouTube’s Wide World of Sports intro, about the 13 second mark.) Life is filled with the cyclical nature of ‘the thrill of victory’ and ‘the agony of defeat.’ As you walk, almost everyone understands this yin and yang.

Everyone continually proceeds through the cyclic process of suffering and recovering from defeat.  At face value, 2020 seems loaded with fear, anxiety, and other hatred. And unlike the Stella Artois ‘Daydream’ commercial (which admittedly, I’ve personally viewed over 60+ times) the path remains uncertain. The journey is daunting.  You smile, restate a Psalm, Bible verse, famous quote, wear your charm, spew positive thoughts (because that’s what’s expected), but inside, 2020’s tastes like f’ing vomit.  I sometimes think everyone else is somehow favored, for they are free from my 30 years of pain. They are free of a death sentence that beckons at a moment’s notice. They are free from everything being ‘the last.’ 

I understand the felon’s torture. This morning would be the last cup of tea, the last good night’s sleep, the last great shower, the last great meal, the last great smile, the last thought, the last despair, and the last snippet of hope. Eventually, we crash. Life ends. And our last reach unto heaven remains inconclusive. “Do you think he made it into God’s hands?” “Unsure,” mumbles another. The notion that some find grace and beauty in every fall is a matter of perspective.  

No one ever knew me as someone who knew how to fall, but like Bogataj, I got up every time.  I also realized laughter saved many a day. Why? Because it can save the day. There’s a great deal of evidence that laughing improves both mental and physical health. Getting fired in 2010 was a horrific experience. After nearly six (6) weeks self-flagellation, I started to laugh. Captain Gerald Coffee was a POW for seven years during the Vietnam War. He claims he and the other American soldiers he was imprisoned with found solace in laughter, and it helped them make it through the harrowing experience.

I began laughing at my experience, the ridiculousness of taking one medical test after another with little hope of ever detecting that ‘fatal blood clot’ lying in wait to claim my life. Life’s absurdity, and all that could go wrong, deserve a laugh. A medical clinician recommended I eat a healthier diet. “You’ll be healthier,” she stated. Catching her error, “Oh. Sorry.” We busted out laughing. Comedian Demetri Martin once said, “The worst time to have a heart attack is during a game of charades, especially if your teammates are bad guessers.” Fortunately, I hope I’m not one of those who can be improved only via death. Therefore, I embrace the notion that laughter allows joy to flow into an otherwise joyless situation and forces fear out.  And with joy comes gratitude and love and hope. 

I simply let go of fear. Sure I think of death. Quite a lot in fact. I don’t fill my life with repetitive rehashing of what-might-have-been. I figure God will justifiably judge my arse in due time. I have to rejoice in what is, a simple cup of coffee, in friendships and love. I reach for hope, laughter of the soul, and unknowingly, even the most mirthless of situations can become sunnier.

I know it’s hard to find laughter and joy during fearful and self-doubting moments. Kobe Bryant once said, “I have self-doubt. I have insecurity. I have fear of failure. I have nights when I show up at the arena and I’m like, ‘My back hurts, my feet hurt, my knees hurt. I don’t have it. I just want to chill.’ We all have self-doubt. You don’t deny it, but you also don’t capitulate to it. You embrace it.”

Thus, my end life journey continually searches for the man (God) who will profoundly affect my life. He will probably review my life, painfully cry at some moments, and laugh at the most absurd failures. And from those moments within ‘the agony of defeat,’ God will embrace ‘the thrill of victory.’ In that moment, I shall no longer recognize the person from years past, for I will become anew. And looking behind me, I will see thousands of others just like me.

A ventilator can mean the difference between life and death for seriously ill patients. But sometimes even these ventilators cannot save someone’s life. I looked at the age Mr. Smith had progressed through his short three-week stay at our hospital: a non-active otherwise healthy 86 year old, to mini-stroke, to heart attack, and now near death. Through the multiple layers of protective gear, I stroked the thin aging hair. His eyes remained shut but somehow I felt some connection. 

Medical teams face tough decisions about when to stop treatment. The decision is made after careful consideration, analyzing factors including age, underlying health, response, and ability to recover. With our hospital at 94% capacity of COVID, I volunteered to assist the attending physician Dr. Nessie (also a sister/nun). Our presence ensured Mr. Smith would not pass alone. 

Restrictions meant this man would die without family. Dr. Nessie used an iPad, assured the family their father was not in pain, looked very comfortable, and asked about her Mr. Smith’s wishes and religious needs.” The curtains were closed, we turned off all the alarms, watched the heart rate monitor hit zero, and just like that, flat line (death). 

After processing, Dr. Nessie asked, “Normally, I don’t get volunteers. Why today?” 

“I felt I needed to give back. I couldn’t be there when my father passed away. I am trying to give someone what I couldn’t.”

“I am so sorry for your loss.” Dr. Nessie continued, “When did he pass?”

Glancing at my watch, “About two-hours and forty-three minutes ago.”

My father passed away 1,400 miles away several weeks past his 89th birthday. “F*** it. I am tired of this s***,” he reasoned and left. Now he’s just another CNN/MSNBC statistic. 

Nearly 20 years ago, my father had an Near Death Experience (NDE). During his time in a coma, he claimed God sends two types of angels: ‘takers’ and ‘helpers.’ “Takers’ help the newly deceased to heaven. ‘Helpers’ assist people in moments of crisis, such as heart attacks, car accidents, and other calamities. In the years following his NDE, we’d walk during late summer evenings and discuss how no one actually dies alone, that there is always an angel(s) present even if one can’t see them.

Personally, I sensed no such presence in either death. One cannot detect the extraordinary via an iPad. Yet, I hope both Mr. Smith and my father experienced God’s loving angels, who cared for them in their hour of need; that each of them saw the extraordinary in the ordinary; that each were embraced by Chrrist’s love. 

If today’s election and deaths must be connected, may we find hope in Abraham Lincoln’s words. “The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Be Heard: Vote!

Watching any form of news the week prior to November elections is like enduring rubber band ligation for internal hemorrhoids. The victim generally rests their side or over a table and the doctor inserts a viewing instrument whereupon the hemorrhoid is grasped with an instrument, and a device places a rubber band around the base of the hemorrhoid. I’ve had it performed. It isn’t pleasant. And, the procedure hurts like hell. Democrat, Republican, Green Party, and Neophytes telephonically perform this procedure via commercials in an unrelenting perversion of ‘democracy.’ 

In 2016 Law professor Lawrence Lessig claimed our founding fathers denounced ‘democracy.’ “But the “democracy” they [founding fathers] were criticizing was “direct democracy,” and the “Republic” they were championing was “representative democracy.” In essence, the framers’ wanted voters to choose representatives who would vote on passing and repealing laws. This form of representative democracy works only when a large majority of people participate in choosing their representatives. That can happen only when those in power agree that voting should be as easy and widely available as possible. 

So correct me if I am wrong, but one of the two major political parties is convinced that said [party] cannot win on an even playing field. Hence, why try? The ‘Orange One’ has spent the better part of a year arguing of a great vast (as in expansive) conspiracy of voting systems that can only be summarized as boarding the absurd. The rate of voting fraud overall in the US is less than 0.0009% (that’s like 1,125 or so ballots every election cycle). Ask a Trumper-thumper to prove fraud, and the fraud claims fall apart. Yet Republican-appointed judges will seemingly find justification to strike down attempts to allow people to vote.

Even as with the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett — eight days before Election — some 70 million citizens had voted. That fact didn’t stop the Supreme Court from siding with the GOP in ordering Wisconsin not to count ballots received after Election Day, even if they were postmarked before. Earlier today, the ‘Orange One’ spewed forth more diarrhea, “We’re going to go in night of, as soon as that election is over, we’re going in with our lawyers.” Continuing, “I don’t think it’s fair that we have to wait a long period of time after the election. Should’ve gotten their ballots in a long time before that. Could’ve gotten their ballots in [sic] a month ago. I think it’s a ridiculous decision.” What the GOP is really saying is, “America is by the people for the people whom I allow to vote. All others need not apply.”

Voting is a social justice issue. In this momentous political season, we (as in we the people) enter an electoral cycle that will answer fundamental questions about the kind of country we want America to be. Recent movements are taking impassioned and opposing stances on the exercise of political and economic power and reshaping the mainstream discourse. Overall, these change issues will determine humanity’s very future. Social justice is not about one singular issue. Instead, we must show others how to use spirituality to navigate life’s challenges — challenges like, say, a pandemic, a huge economic collapse, racial injustice, and social unrest. It is exactly what Christ would have wanted. It is a form of spirituality Buddha would have been proud of. Having a voice means unfretted access to voting and living in a democracy means every vote counts.

As spiritual teachers and leaders, we must embrace the fundamental human right that every voice has a right to be heard.  Therefore, make your voice heard. Vote.

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