Friday, June 3, 2016

So What Are You Doing Today?

In my late thirties I experienced an adult call to faith in Jesus. My adult conversion made me a member of what I’ve heard called “the community of the silly grin.”
It was a feel good experience, but you know feelings – they are ephemeral. They always pass. Faith is what sustains you after the initial rush has passed.
As I think wistfully of those first giddy days, the parable of the prodigal son comes to mind. It appears in the gospel of Luke, chapter 15, verses 11 to 32. A brief paraphrase:
A wealthy farmer had two sons. The younger one came to him one day and said, “I want my inheritance now.” The farmer cashed out half of everything he owned and gave it to the boy.
The kid took the money, moved to the city, blew every penny, and ended up homeless.
He got a job tending swine. He remembered that his father’s farmhands (slaves) lived in well-fed comfort and security, and he decided to go home, and ask his father to let him work as a hand on the farm.
When he was almost home, his father saw him coming, and ran to meet him with joy. The son protested that he was not worthy to be his son, but the father commanded his slaves to put the best robe on the boy, and a ring on his finger, and sandals on his feet, and to kill the fatted calf so they could have a feast and celebrate, because “This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!”
See, that’s how you can feel when you have a conversion experience. You feel like you are the prodigal son, welcomed with joy and celebration. You see no reason why you should be greeted so warmly and treated so well after the life you’ve lived. There is joy, and relief. You’ve come home to where you belong. It’s pretty cool.
But whoa – the prodigal son had an older brother, remember?
When the older son heard what was going on, he was angry. He went to his father and said, “Hey, I’ve been working for you all these years, I’ve never disobeyed you, and you’ve never given me so much as a goat so I could party with my friends. My brother spends half your property on whores, and you kill the fatted calf for him. What’s the deal?”
The father tells the older son, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” (Luke 15:31-32, New Oxford Annotated Bible)
This parable applies to mothers and daughters, by the way. The story was written down in second century Palestine. They weren’t big on inclusive language.
Over time I have become more like the older brother. I try to do the best I can. But after years of keeping my hand to the plow, I sometimes wish someone would grill up a little fatted calf for me.
Note: These days we are eating vegetarian at Casa Tuel, and the metaphor breaks down. If we had a fatted calf, we would name it Sweetie Patootie or something like that, and probably let it come in the house.
So sometimes faith can be tested. Sometimes prayers feel a lot like taking the recycling to the transfer station. After I let go of them, what happens to them? Where do they go? Do they do any good?
And look – so far no prayers, no creeds, no laws, no cults, no one and nothing have been able to stop war, or the killing, torture, and abuse of people and all living creatures. It is the saddest thing in our sad world, the way we treat each other and creation. Why, when so many people, atheists and agnostics as well as people of faith, work and pray and long for all that to stop, does it persist?
I have no answer to that question.
I read an interview with Sherman Alexie a few weeks ago in which he said, “I’m going to approach everything I do with as much love as possible. I fail impossibly like most of us, but I still try.”
I like to believe that most of us live by some version of that principle, whether we have faith or not.
So, all you rounders and scoundrels, all you angels and do-gooders, all you religious and non-religious, all you people who labor each day in pain but keep putting one foot in front of the other: I pray we may give each other quiet companionship and shower one another with blessings, love, peace, and grace today. Everyone needs those things, people of faith or people of no faith.
Why? Because we all have to get up in the morning and keep fighting evil. It’s good to know we don’t have to do it alone.
Can I get an amen?

I Got Them Old Age Irrelevant Blues

It is the duty of the young to confound the old.
Last night my grandson told me that he is now a vegetarian. Apparently I am the last one of his family and friends to know this. That makes sense in that he is a teenager and he lives with me, so of course I would be the last to hear.
When my sons were growing up, I went through culture shock with them. Not vegetarianism, but other things, like music. After breaking me in easy with MC Hammer and Green Day, they got serious. My older son brought home rap music with more f-words than a high school locker room, and my younger son brought home metal music with singers who sounded like they had gargled sand. Taking my aversion to both these genres as their guide, they dived into the deep ends of their preferred musical styles.
My older son eventually wrote and recorded some of his rap poetry. Lately he says he’s been listening to classical music. I didn’t see that coming.
My younger son at fourteen took up guitar, and in a few years he was playing like a whiz, including something called “shredding.” He now plays guitar, tours, and records with a metal band, the Devils of Loudon. He also has become a yoga teacher, and I didn’t see that coming, either.
Then there were the video games. My boys were proficient and badgered me to buy every new game, which they would play obsessively until they beat it.
They say that mothers understand the meaning of their babies’ cries, whether they are of hunger or tiredness. I learned to recognize the distinctive howl of a child who had lost in a video game.
I tried to hold the line on the gory games and the ones with terrible values, but somehow the boys worked around that prohibition and were soon gleefully committing digital mayhem. They borrowed games from friends, or swapped things I wanted them to keep, like clothes, games, or CDs I’d bought them, for the games which I did not want them to have. It was a hard time, for me at least.
Rick and I were old folksingers and songwriters, and we expected our children to rebel by becoming accountants or Republicans or something. But, no. Their rebellion took the shape of things which we could not have imagined. They forged their separate identities by embracing and living their Millennial lives, part of a culture of which we old hippies were spectators, not participants.
It was a big change for us to be passé. We were part of the generation that dismayed our parents by growing our hair long, wearing funny clothes, using drugs, and listening to and playing our generation’s music.
Oh, that music.
Many of us did not wish to march off to war, and that was a huge cultural divide. We were raised to salute the flag and fight for our country when called. In that spirit, Rick, an Army brat, went to Vietnam. His experience left him scarred for life, but he did his duty. Then he came home, let his hair grow, wore funny clothes, used drugs, and listened to and played music.
Then we, the rebels, had children, and they rebelled against us.
Now my grandchild is embracing and living his post-Millennial life, with computers and smart phones and new values of openness to different lifestyles, changes I never imagined I’d see in my lifetime.
It’s all part of the natural process of growing up, becoming independent and creating a unique life. I did it, my children did it, now my grandchild is doing it.
His generation is so far away from my growing up days, and also far away from his parents’ growing up days. I feel like I’m getting a double whammy of the generational culture divide. Sometimes it makes me feel downright old and irrelevant. The trouble is that the old gray mare IS what she used to be.
So how are we oldsters relevant? What do we have to offer? Why, our wisdom, experience, and love. We watch another generation of children inventing their lives, and we think, “Oh, babies, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
There may come a time when these pioneers, these explorers of the human experience, will be glad for our sympathy and our hard-won realization that often the best thing we can do is say nothing, and listen.
Maybe. Or not. Who knows?