Contacting Craig

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Friday, August 30, 2013

Crumbling under the weight...why I'm so open with my story.

*I've never "dedicated" a blog article before. But I'm going to with this one. This article...and hopefully the awareness it for those for whom this journey became too hard. The weight became too heavy, The night too dark...
...and the loneliness too lonely. You weren't alone after all...

My “Open Letter to Obama” has gotten some attention, that’s for certain. Attention from some in the media, thousands on Twitter and Facebook, and the blogosphere.
But one group of people has been paying attention to this letter, and subsequently to my plight, with particular interest. It’s the people who have been or currently are in, the same situation.
If you get a moment, go back to that article (An Open Letter To President Obama) Link is here: Open Letter and read the comments. These are real people. People who owned homes, and had dreams, and lived lives. They aren't lazy, or slackers, or stupid people. They weren't drug abusers or alcoholics. They probably weren't “In over their heads”  financially. One man has an advanced degree. One lady faced severe physical health issues.
Last night, I got a message from a friend on Twitter. Her brother in law committed suicide two years ago because of a situation almost exactly like mine. She told me that she wished he could have read my article, because who knows but that it might have stopped that tragedy.
I have, in the past, been accused of being too honest in my writing. People wonder why I lay my soul out there for public scrutiny. It’s because of notes like that. It’s because countless times over the past 6 years I have been writing and blogging and telling my story –first of being a single dad and the man’s side of a painful divorce, then of homelessness- and I have heard from the broken. I have collected hundreds of emails, and comments from men who didn't want their divorce. Who loved their wife and adored their family and wanted only to be a good husband and father. The overwhelming majority of the time a man finds my divorced dad’s blog, he uses some variant of the search “Divorced dad...missing my kids.” Most of the time these searches come at very early hours...2 or 3 AM. I imagine it’s a sleepless daddy who is so broken and so consumed with longing for his children that he types those words in a search engine just hoping that whatever bounces back brings him comfort.
Hearing of this dad who could not face another day in a world that saw him as a failure broke my heart. It broke my heart because it reveals a lot about this nation and it’s moral compass.
We live in a country now, where being a man means having the world on your shoulders. And if you stumble and fall, you are a failure. Zig Ziglar often said “Failure is an event...not a person.” But sadly...old Zig doesn't speak for this America. He did, for a long time men like Zig expressed the heart of this country. But we've become a jagged, fractured, disconnected collection of individuals and personal goals. We don’t live in neighborhoods anymore. We live in clusters of houses. Bunkers. Beautiful, well decorated, immaculately landscaped prisons of individuality and isolation. Cookouts and block parties are a thing of the past. And with them...friendship. With them, a caring, concerned sense of community and belonging.
When you separate everyone into little fractured piles of individuality and selfishness, when you pit race against race, class against class, and heritage against get isolated people. You kill community. You destroy neighborhoods. We have a President right now who relishes in this. A man who has made it an art form to divide us against each other. White against black. Black against white. Conservative black against liberal black, against Hispanic, against Catholic, against left-handed Americans of German ancestry, born on Tuesdays between 1953 and 2011. He has us in 350 million phone booths, broken apart from each other.
When that happens...when a nation united becomes a nation untied...a place where 350 million people just live side by side without ever becoming real honest friends...then broken hearted dads who face hard times find no hope, and they kill themselves.
Let me tell you a little of how hard this is.
One time, fairly early in this homeless walk of mine, I went to my daughter’s school to have lunch with her. She was in the sixth grade. We had a blast together at her lunch table, as we always did. I was always in the habit of having lunch with her at least once a week as it was. But after being homeless, I did it a little more frequently when I could, because it gave us more time together.
I left her school and got in my car and drove off. About a mile down the road, I had to pull over. A wave of grief came over me and I knew a meltdown was coming. I pulled into a parking lot and broke down into deep, body-wracking sobs. Why? Because walking out of her school that day, the thought came over me in a terrible, dreadful flood: “What if one of her friends finds out I’m homeless? What if they start teasing her because of it?” It was more than my daddy’s heart could bear. I wept loudly for probably 15 minutes.
In the first few days after losing my home, a friend let Morgan and I use a loft apartment over their barn to stay in. It had a bathroom and shower and a living room. We slept on air mattresses. She was barely 10 years old. It was sort of an adventure to her and I don’t know that she quite comprehended what it meant when I said we weren't living at our house anymore.
We had a beautiful cat named Giacomo. Jackie had to be boarded at this point. She missed her cat, but she figured this was all temporary (as I did too) and so she figured that in a short time we’d have Jackie back, and our two Springer Spaniels, and we’d be a happy family again. She spent the weekend at a friends house during this time we stayed in the loft. When I picked her up, she explained that her friend’s mom had a yard sale that weekend and she had purchased two framed pictures. They were hand-drawn sketches of a cat. A cat that looked a lot like Giacomo. We got back to the loft and she propped them up against the wall at the head of her air mattress. When I saw them the next morning, I had to go outside because it so broke my heart and I didn't want her to see me crying. When I close my eyes I still see those two pictures, places carefully at the end of her mattress. Little framed reminders of the cat she was missing. I might never be able to forgive myself for my daughter not having her pets anymore.
If you want to know how this stuff hits a man...there you have it.
I have fallen to sleep in tears, in the middle of the winter (the coldest temps I have ever slept in, in the car, was about 17 degrees) and woken up with ice on my face. Every single day that goes by without a home for my daughter to come to is something I can literally feel escaping my grasp. I watch her growing up from afar...without a room of her own in a her dad’s house. If you want to know what will make a man feel like an abysmal failure...that is it. I have cried more tears than I could ever count. I have stopped making promises to her, because time and again, things happen like being frozen out of a job because of hiring moratoriums.
I don’t smile much. I have become thin-skinned and angry a lot. I used to be the class-clown.  Hearing about a man who broke down and couldn't take it anymore is no surprise. I’d be lying if I said I’ve never considered whether my daughter wouldn't be better off without her failed dad. That’s how it feels sometimes. I have received mostly wonderful, kind, encouraging comments. But I have also received comments from vicious, mean-spirited, unkind, unChristlike people who are convinced that somehow, someway this is all my fault, and all because I don’t want to work. I have worked since I took my first paper route at age 11. I have never been without a job. Never. Not. Ever. Until 2008.
Next week I turn 50. Maybe that’s got a lot to do with me not getting hired, I don’t know.
But this sure isn’t what I thought 50 would look like.
So if you read my blogs or hear me talking somewhere...don’t attack me for being blunt and honest. Re-read what I just wrote. Ask yourself if you knew how homelessness felt before reading it. Ask yourself if you found yourself in this situation, would it feel better knowing someone else was out there, walking this same path?
I write these things for you. So you know how this affects people in this situation. But I also write it for the others in this situation. Because maybe, had this story been out there two years ago, maybe my friend’s brother-in-law wouldn't have lost hope altogether. Maybe a family wouldn't be grieving still.

God bless us, every one.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Star Spangled Banner...unabridged version

I was maybe 6 or 7 years old when I found my grandfather's Naval manual. He had been a Seabee in WWII in the Pacific Theater. Inside the front cover where the words to our National Anthem "The Star Spangled Banner" by Francis Scott Key
Until that time, I only knew the first verse, the one we sing at ball games.
Here are all four stanzas. Remember the context, Key was being held on a British warship, while they bombarded Fort McHenry in Baltimore. The battle was fierce and waged all through the night. Peering into the pre-dawn light...amidst the smoke of the battle, Key strained to see the flag, because if the flag still flew, the American's had not surrendered...

 O say can you see by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation.
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the Heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Weeping for Miley Cyrus...How Evangelicals Have Jumped the Shark

Monday morning, and all throughout the day, the internet was abuzz with talk of Miley Cyrus. The same was true around the water coolers, lunch tables and break rooms in this country.
People were expressing honest, sincere disgust at the despicable show that the lovable Ms. Montana gave the world on the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday night. Actions so repulsive, so sexually explicit and deviant that I can’t, and won’t bother revisiting them here. You’ve seen the video, or you wouldn’t be reading this article in the first place.
So last night, after the hoopla had settled from a boil to a simmer, the New Evangelicals all began their shark-tank-jumping pontification about “Poor Miley.”
They spoke of how hard her life has been, being thrust into the limelight at a young age, and the demands of child stardom. They spoke of her “crying out for help.” They likened her to their own children. They repeatedly said how they were praying for Miley and they were going to “Love her to Jesus.”
I was furious. I wanted to vomit. I was grinding my teeth with anger.
Now, this is nothing new for me lately. The past five years have been a nightmarish hell and even before that, in the years after my very painful divorce, I went from the happy-go-lucky, class-clown I had always been, to a somber, seldom-smiling man.
But last night my anger mixed with absolute disgust.
See...I live in the same area as the Cyrus family. Cyrus spotting was a local sport around here. I know what church they attended. (Not the church I formerly attended, but similar in size) I heard the talk about how nice a guy Ol’ Billy Ray is. I also heard how over- indulged sweet little Miley has always been. Not a bad kid, but she wasn’t used to hearing the word “No” very often, if ever.
You’d have to understand the culture around here to grasp the reaction in the Christian world to Miley’s lovely interpretive dance on Sunday night. Particularly in Franklin, which has become to the Christian media world what Nashville is to Country Music. It’s the hub. (so they think) It’s the Evangelical Vatican. The big publishing houses are here. The big Christian musicians have almost all moved here. The writers, the producers, the movie people. There is a lot of Christian Media money in the Franklin community...a LOT of it. And, as is true everywhere, money changes everything. Mega churches exist like flocks of seagulls around here. I don’t know the number, but I’m guessing that the percentage of residents attending church on Sunday mornings here is staggering. It’s not 100%, but I bet it’s closer than anywhere outside of the Amish community in Lancaster, PA. I have often joked with my friends, that if I was a criminal, I’d simply buy an old U-Haul truck and raid entire neighborhoods on Sunday mornings. Because all the residents are at church, and all the cops are directing traffic on the streets leading to the churches. It’s practically the badlands around here on Sundays until about 11AM.
And almost every church is in, or approaching mega-church status. (A megachurch has at least 2000 attendees) I don’t know where these people all come from. I wonder if there are alien pods stacked out back.
One of the reasons these mega churches become mega churches is because, not only do famous music and publishing folks attend those churches, but once word gets out that they go to ______ Church, then every aspiring singer / songwriter / author / musician / and stargazer in the area starts going there too. Why do you think “Praise and Worship” is so talent laden here? Because the cupboard is full to bursting with eager talent, just waiting to be discovered.
The trap that most of these folks fall into is being awestruck. You go pick up your kid from the “Wee Midgets” Sunday School class and there’s Billy Ray and Tish, picking up little Miley. They are nice and they say hello. Of course that means you’re friends, right? Right. This happens all the time. On top of this, we have two professional sports teams here, and this is the state capital. So throw famous athletes and powerful politicians into the stew. Top that off with the fact that, despite it’s fame, Nashville and the Franklin suburbs are relatively small towns. Everyone knows someone. The Chief of Police or the Mayor can’t anonymously attend church. He sticks out. The pastor...being a man like all others after drops frequently. Suddenly these athletes, politicians and artists start coming regularly. Especially the artists, because artists are a funny lot. They constantly doubt their talents and they like / need hearing how great their art is, and how good they are because they are in church. That church. Of course, the pastor doesn’t mind name dropping because it draws others as well. Jesus said “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me.” Pastors sometimes think that if it is good to “Lift up Jesus” how great is it to also lift up a few dozen celebrities? Subtly let folks know that you are so-and-so’s pastor. It draws in the little folk, and the other rich famous folk, who see your church as someplace safe because they notice how the other celebrities get some nice special treatment. Rich folks have personal everything.  Personal assistants who do the menial tasks. Personal shoppers. Personal drivers. And here...they have personal pastors.
They get treated just a little better. The schedule of a mega church pastor is always jammed. Except when a celebrity needs a counseling session. Or wants to play golf. Or needs a home visit during a crisis. Mega churches have “Pastoral pastors”. Guys whose job it is to actually tend to sheep. Visit hospitals, visit sick members homes, attend funerals. But if it’s a celebrity, that hospital visit is handled personally by the senior pastor. Because only he knows how to deal with that superstar. Only he has cultivated that deep relationship. Well this is true, but it’s because only he was ever allowed to even come within 50 feet of said celebrity in the first place.
See, the celebrity is a law unto himself. He’s a church member, but not in the way the rest of the members are members. He has special access. He is isolated from the rest. He is to be left alone “To respect his privacy” despite the fact that this violates James chapter 2, and sets up a caste system within the church. But he attends, and his attendance brings two things. It brings his big tithe, and it brings in others which in turn brings in their tithe.
And no matter what anyone says, money changes everything.
Celebrities and powerful people get one more thing in church that regular members don’t get.
They get special dispensation.
When they battle the bottle, they get grace in huge doses. When they carry on and cheat on their wives, it is hushed up and not talked about. In fact, in 16 years here in middle TN I can’t recall a sermon on infidelity and adultery. It’s been danced around, but not a real, full length sermon. Or one on drunkenness. Or fornication. Particularly fornication. I’m going to appear prudish when I write this but here goes. I am divorced. The same rules apply to me as apply to never-married folks. NO sex outside of marriage. I would love to tell you I have been flawless in this matter in the 13 years since my divorce. I have not. But I’ve been darned close. And when I make my position known to men I talk to or women I have dated...I am treated like a Puritan. Like there is something wrong with me.
It’s because it is not mentioned in sermons or taught in doctrinal classes. The Neo-Evangelicals in this town have NO idea of moral absolutes. Save abortion of course, because that’s obvious.
My deepest belief is that the pastors refuse to preach hard sermons on real sin because it will drive away the money. They call this “grace” but I call it cowardice. Cowardice and whoredom. They sell their spiritual soul for big numbers on Sunday and cool names in their speed-dial.
That’s how we end up with Miley Cyrus doing her best rendition of Herod’s niece, dancing seductively in order to get her way. The only prop sweet darlin’ Miley didn’t use was a plastic head of John the Baptist, on a silver platter.
We get this from a home-grown, good Chrustian (thank you Flannery O’Connor) girl from a good Chrustian family because nobody was preaching about excess. Nobody was teaching about morals and absolutes, and about pleasing God with your life. Nobody was talking straight to the Cyrus family. How do I know this? Because after their daughter’s unspeakably sinful performance, Momma Tish literally danced in the aisle with glee and Papa Billy Ray tweeted how “Thankful he was for God’s Blessing”. God’s Blessing?!
This sounds like a man who needed a few elders fingers in his chest about 5 years ago...and who needed some preaching about moral absolutes and right Christian living even beyond that. A man who can –in good conscience- publicly state that his daughter’s err...talent, is a “blessing from God” does not know God. Not the God of the Bible.
But of course, we wouldn’t want to upset the Cyrus’ and run them off. They might leave the church. Miley might turn awa...oh, wait.
So last night, blog articles started appearing from the usual weeping Christian voices, telling us all how bad we were for picking on Miley and tweeting mean things. They explained how tormented she surely is. How no matter what her performance speaks of, in her heart she is just a widdle girl who will curl up with a teddy bear and go to sleep tonight. Yeah...except I saw the bong tape and the sex tape and I read her quotes.
They tell us how her innocence was bartered for her fame. Really?? She was a megastar at age 12 AND...whereas most other teen stars are ripped from their families at young ages, Miley’s father was her co star! Her family were all parts of the show.
Miley was never a victim. except where she was victimized by the weakling neo-Evangelicals in her hometown. The ones who never spoke up when they were making decisions that produced the woman she has become. They were saying things like “Poor Miley has really run off the rails.” Really? Maybe she was never on the rails in the first place. Because maybe nobody defined the rails for her or her family. Maybe they got so used to being isolated from other families in the church and given special treatment by everyone, that they just started assuming that every decision they made was the right one. Every career move was the correct one. And of course...they were told how much God was “blessing them” because they had a hit TV show. But they were not given any balance and so that...became this.
So yesterday the blogs started appearing, talking about how we should “Pray for Miley” and “Love on Miley” and I wanted to puke. And I was fighting mad.
First, Miley doesn’t need pity or special handling. She needs a good solid smack in the face by a spiritual leader. The problem is, she has been left alone for so long that she has developed her own idea of what God permits and it’s going to be almost impossible to get that toothpaste back in the tube.
Miley needs to be told she is wrong. She is embarrassing. She is NOT artistic. She is not blessed by God. She is betraying the faith she claims.
But I’m guessing nobody will tell her.
Second. Miley needs your prayers...I guess. But not because of Sunday night. Miley needs your prayers because it’s a tough world.
This one is really the one that gets me. Poor Miley needs prayer and love.
You know what...I know a dozen kids who need it more than she does and who deserve it far more too. I recognized some of the people posting on Facebook last night. Posting their guilty angst over how somehow they failed Miley by “judging” her. Most of these folks know me and know my plight these past five years. They know I have a daughter who was 10 when I lost everything and who has grown into a wonderful 15 year old young woman, with more courage, integrity, and Christian character than Miley Cyrus will ever whiff. Yet none of these people ever blog about how they should pray for my daughter. None of them ever repost a blog or a tweet about holding up Morgan or loving on her. She has had it very very hard. She still does. Yet she remains true to her faith. One reason is that her dad –me- has chosen to remain in her life and by her side even though that meant being homeless. My heart aches and sometimes I want to give up. There have been times when I have openly griped about my plight. Times when  I question my own value as a man and a dad. And I have never ever been “prayed for” or had a blog written about me. Or read a post from someone who knew my situation and was broken with compassion for my daughter. I have, however, been rebuked by someone I loved and trusted and whom I looked to as a spiritual leader, for complaining too much about my homelessness once. As my world unraveled and my heart broke, I was called into the office and ripped a new one, because my suffering didn’t look “Christ-like” My very salvation was even questioned. Because in the midst of my world falling apart and sleeping in my car and my career vanishing...I grumbled. I doubted God. I bellowed. Yes I did. It was ugly too. But I never recanted my faith and I never sold my soul for fame or for fame for my daughter. The daughter who was completely ignored by people who knew she was hurting. Now if she had been a tween star with a TV show at the time, well that would have been different altogether. If I had been rich and a big giver, I would have seen compassion. Instead I got a kick in the pants.
In all that time I have never, not once, gotten a compliment for staying here, staying in her life, and raising a great and godly girl. Nobody noticed. But ol’ Billy Ray and his wife turned out a tramp without a moral compass and we all should feel sorry for her and feel like we failed them somehow.
I have a friend here whose daughter battles every single day to survive a brain tumor. Her husband even abandoned her, leaving her and her daughter and autistic son. I mention them regularly in social media, asking for prayers for this brave mom and her sweet daughter. I get a great response from my friends, and never a mention from the professional Christians in town.
I have a friend in Jacksonville whose son is in jail. He committed a serious crime but not murder or anything of the sort. But he was targeted by a power hungry AG trying to advance her career and he got 40 years. He was 19 at the time and had never been in trouble in his life. He messed up and admittedly deserved punishment. But not 40 years. I ask all the time for prayers and support for Hugh and his family. I get responses from my friends. but the church ignores them.
You want to “love on” someone? Love on Hugh Pickens and his mom Kelly and her husband and family.
You want to pray in earnest for a young girl who needs it? You pray for Bishop and her mom Allison. Or pray for my daughter, because my fight is far from over and she feels every blow I am still taking.
But Miley has betrayed her faith. Pray for her, of course. But you don’t owe her that. She doesn’t care if you are praying for her. She thinks she is right and her daddy thinks this is all the blessing of God.

If you want to pray, pray for whoever taught him that.

Monday, August 26, 2013

I Don't Like Mondays...Actually I do (More thoughts from a homeless dad)

I'll make a confession...I don't mind Mondays.
I did when I was a kid. I hated leaving the weekend behind and getting back to school. But by High School I was more comfortable in school than at home, and so I didn't mind Mondays anymore.
In College I never minded Monday either. I went to a Christian College and so there were no Sunday evening parties to distract me or cause me pain.
As a professional -what seems like a lifetime ago now- I liked every other Monday. The weekends I had my daughter...that Monday was always bad. I hated when she left on Sunday night, and I spent half the next day in a stupor of pain and sadness. The weekends when I didn't have her I welcomed Monday because it meant that this weekend I would have her and the sooner it began the better.
My job as a mortgage broker wasn't hard, and so I didn't mind the office. I am an early riser by nature so I didn't care about getting up early.
I've never minded Mondays. Until now.
I am homeless. I am jobless. I see my friends griping about going to work and the age-old complaint about Mondays and I have to admit I am jealous. All I can do is go online, put out more resumes, check the job openings and feel the depressing emptiness of another dead-end job search settle on my shoulders.
This morning it hit me hard. I am a man. I am a dad. I fought hard for my Bachelors. I did the right thing and stayed in my daughter's life at great cost. And I can't even find a decent job.
And the President...the man charged with righting this busy helping the economy how? By Tweeting "#ROAR" to Katy Perry last night at the VMA's, that's how.
This morning he'll probably be busy planning his next golf outing. I'll be looking at the ten bucks I have in my pocket, and trying to figure out how to eat, get gas, and spend some time with my daughter all the while making it last until Friday, when I get my enormous $169 royalty check from Amazon. (Thank you to those who downloaded 71 copies of Remembering America in June!)
I wish I was in my office, complaining about bad coffee and doing what everyone else does...dreaming of Friday.
I wish my life looked normal. I wish I had made my daughter breakfast this morning, and then sat in the drop-off line smiling at the other parents who take something so innocuous for granted. I'd give anything to be "normal". If God said "Listen Kid...I'll make a deal with you. I'll send you a job but you can't ever write another word again. Not a book, not a blog, not a tweet. That's the deal, take it or leave it."   I'd take it. I want to make a living as a writer. I should be making a living as a writer, because I'm pretty good. But I am not refusing jobs because I believe my big break is around the corner. I'd trade my dreams for the ability to make my daughter's dreams come true. Writing is an escape for me. It's the only thing -besides my fatherhood- that I can look at with pride. It's a safe-haven for my soul in an otherwise unsafe world. But it's not a sacred cow.
I wish I was sitting in my car, driving to some realtor's office with some donuts and coffee and a handful of brochures, getting ready to sell them on the idea that I'm the guy they need for their customers. I really wish I was teaching school somewhere, making a difference in some kids lives, before they all turn into Miley Cyrus.
But I'm not. I'm trying not to cry, if you want to know the truth. I'm trying to figure this thing out for the 2 millionth time. I'm clinging desperately to a frayed rope and yelling for help.
And from the White House on down...I get no answer.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Feeling Disconnected. Holding Politicians Accountable in an Anonymous World

I feel disconnected.
I feel disconnected from my country. I don’t feel like we’re American’s anymore. I feel like we’re selfish and more concerned with our side winning whatever argument is on the table. Don’t get me wrong...I feel that my side is right on most of the major issues. I’m a conservative. Very conservative. I’m a patriot. Very much a patriot. When I owned a home and was watching a ballgame on TV –even if I was alone- I stood for the National Anthem and sang along, with my hand over my heart. If I’m watching a game at a sports bar I still do that.
There was a time in this country when that wouldn’t be odd at all. But now words like “Tea-Party” “jingoistic” and even “nut” come to mind when people see someone doing that. Why?
Because we’re disconnected.
There was a time in this country when being a patriot, being over-the-top American, was admirable. It used to be that Independence Day was almost as sacred as Christmas, or Easter. It was that way nationally because it was that way locally.
But now we stay inside. We hide behind our fenced-in yards, drive straight into the garage at night, and never see our neighbors. We’re disconnected. We don’t know each other. We are all anonymous. We interact more on Facebook and Twitter than we do  sitting on our front porch, or at a cookout.
When I was a kid, it was almost typical to wake up in the morning, come downstairs, and find one of the other moms on the block sitting at our table, having a cup of coffee with my mother. Not every day. Hardly on school days at all. But once or twice a week, and more in the summer. Or they came over and sat on our patio, and talked while we kids swam in our little pool.
When was the last time you had a cup of coffee with a neighbor? When was the last time it happened spontaneously? Without invitation or planning. Not a book club gathering, or a scheduled meeting to plan the Christmas bazaar. Just a spontaneous cup of coffee with a friend. That’s how it was then. The phone would ring and 2 or 3 minutes later Mrs. Riccio, or Mrs. Messick, or my “Aunt” Sharon (we Yankees have a thing about christening all our parents’ friends of long standing “Aunt” or “Uncle”. It’s a term of endearment. Most were not related in any way) who lived next door would be sitting at the table with my mom, talking about kids, money, broken washing machines, husbands, and what was for dinner that night.
Does anyone do this anymore? Do we stay put long enough to have friends like that? Not just neighbors, that’s a very generic term unless it has meaning attached. Everyone on your street is your neighbor...even if you don’t know them. I mean neighbors who become friends...for life.
I see us as disconnected. As soon as we move into a house we are already eyeing the next one. Wishing our brand new home had this feature, or that accoutrement. We find old friends on Facebook and accept that as interaction. We base our self-worth on how many Twitter followers we have, and whether our latest bit of wisdom –reduced to 140 characters of pure genius- has been retweeted. Readers might laugh at this, but you also know it’s true for almost all of us. We all get caught up in this virtual lifestyle we lead now.
My daughter talks to her friends on Skype. I talked on a phone. In a coat closet. With the cord shut in the door. We went outside and played after school, and saw each other face to face. The adults were tinkering with a car in a garage, or cutting grass, or raking leaves. Now they pay someone to do that for them, and cars are repaired with laptops instead of wrenches.
I don’t dislike technology...not in the least. But I dislike the disconnect we all feel because of it’s intrusion into our social setting.
If you remain disconnected long enough, all sense of community dies. And behind that are the death of civility, caring, understanding, decency, respect, honor, integrity...and accountability.
We are a nation of zero accountability. We have leaders who are no longer accountable to us. Not like they were in my youth. They are unaccountable because they are unknown. Knowing who your Senators are is easy. Knowing who your Congressmen are is easy. Knowing them is lost on us. I mean knowing them. Knowing them because they are part of the neighborhood.
In my book, “Remembering America: Looking Back at the Last Innocent Age,” I tell a wonderful story about writing to our Congressman at the time. His name was Pete DuPont and I wrote to him in the 3rd grade, relating my concerns about pollution. (It was 1972...we were all into “ecology”) The thing is, I knew who he was. I was eight years old but I knew who he was. I saw him at events. I knew his face. When he got a letter from an 8-year-old boy at Wilmington Manor Elementary School, he took the time to answer. (Doubtless with the help of a staffer) He was part of our community. He knew that when he came home from D.C. and toured the state, he was going to meet people who had seen him before. People his kids went to school with. People who he had helped with problems. He was accountable to us because he was not anonymous.
Look where we are now. We move around so much, looking for that magical floor-plan that will make us feel like we’ve finally arrived, that we don’t know anything at all about the people next door. Or down the street. Or in the pick-up line at our kids’ school. They must be okay...they live in my neighborhood. But I don’t know them. Not at all. We are totally disconnected.
All throughout my teen years and early twenties, when I envisioned owning a home one day and raising a family, I wanted to recreate the neighborhood I grew up in. I wanted my daughter to have life-long friends who lived two houses away. I wanted to have big, cookouts where the whole block came. I wanted to be noticed by some dear people in this huge anonymous world. I wanted to make a few friends later in life, and work on cars, and raise our kids, and split the cost of renting a roto-tiller each spring to dig our gardens.
I have none of that. Few of us really do.
We are an anonymous, invisible, isolated nation now. Slowly –in my lifetime- we have all crawled into our own shells of anonymity. We buy a house, put up a fence, install a few cameras, and an alarm system, and stay indoors. We sit on the deck in the back yard. We have wonderful, amazing neighbors with wonderful amazing stories living right next door. Or across the street. And we’ll never know about them. Because in 2 or 3 years we’ll be moving again. Or they will. They’ll maybe come for dinner once...after three or four years, and almost as many cancellations and reschedulings. But they’ll never just “pop in” with a cup of coffee in hand and sit and chat. They won’t amble over while I have the hood up on my car, just to hold a flashlight while I gap the spark plugs, with no real intention than to just visit for an hour, nurse a beer or two, and get to know each other.
We are disconnected. We are distant. We are all divorced from each other and it renders each of us worthless to all but our dearest friends and family. The rest of the world sees only some guy. Some guy in an ugly car, driving too slow in the left lane so we flip him off. Or a fast-rising executive who sees nobody in the restaurant save his perfect reflection. So he has a loud, rude, animated conversation on his cell phone, while I try to eat my sandwich. If I shoot him a dirty look, he responds with a dismissive glare. If he cares enough to respond at all.
We are disconnected. From each other. From our nation. From our God. From ourselves.
We have been told what we want, and need, for so long now that we don’t really know anymore. We forgot the thing we once dreamed about. We are so worried about getting our kids into the best school, the best cheerleading camp, the best dance class, the best football program, that we forgot what miracles they really are. It’s not that we don’t love them. It’s that we forgot to tell them. We disconnected from them. And sadly, there is myriad temptation and turmoil waiting to fill the void, and connect with our disconnected kids.
Maybe if I had not lost my home, and my career, and my life, I wouldn’t have this perspective. Maybe if I had remained in the Philadelphia area, I would never have felt so disconnected. But then maybe I wouldn’t have noticed it in myself...and in this country.
We’re all anonymous. From the President –whom nobody really yet knows anything about- on down to the folks next door. Anonymous. Invisible. We scream at the talk-radio host and we actually feel hatred sometimes. Hatred for a person we’ve never met. That happens only when a society is disconnected from each other. Only when we are so anonymous that we don’t matter anymore.
And when we, as a society, see each other that way, (Or better stated don’t see each other at all) then we have leaders who hide behind the anonymity and abuse their power. The first abuse is indifference. We see that all the time now. We elect men based on party platform, and speeches, and when they get to Washington they do the opposite of what we thought they would. They don’t represent their electorate anymore. Because they don’t know their electorate anymore.
Because they aren’t one of their electorate anymore.
They are anonymous. They are disconnected.
If this country has any hope remaining, she is going to have to reconnect.
Reconnect to each other. Reconnect to the heart of patriotism whose beat is muffled- almost to silence- somewhere in her great chest. Reconnect to the spirit of the Founding Fathers and the Constitution and the ideals they held dear.
Reconnect to the God who blessed them with those ideals.

We need to reconnect. Reconnect to everything great that made this country great. Or we will surely become as anonymous as grains of sand on the seashore of eternity. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

"The America I Remember" a Follow-up to my Open Letter to President Obama

                                                           The America I Remember

Two days ago I posted an open letter to President Obama. It came from the heart, and it resonated with an awful lot of folks. The response was overwhelming. I had over 500 hits in a little more than 24 hours.
That response got me thinking. Thinking about this great country and what has happened to her in the short span of my lifetime. I will be fifty years old in exactly two weeks. I was born on September 7, 1963. That’s a blip on the screen in the history of this land. Yet, in those brief fifty years, this country has changed dramatically.
I remember an America where stores did little or no business on Sundays. Almost all were closed. It was a day of rest, and reflection. It was the Sabbath for some, but it was respected by all. It was expected that those who’s faith observed a Sunday Sabbath –most Christian denominations- would attend their services on this day. The rest of the community respected this. Sunday was a quiet day. I was a paper boy from age 11 until age 15. I would begin delivering the Philadelphia Inquirer at 5AM on Sunday mornings. There is a sacredness to an early Sunday morning. A solemn, almost holy feeling. The rest of the world was not yet awake, but I was. I was 11 years old, and it was my job to carefully place that newspaper between the storm door and the entry door...and do so without waking the dog, and disturbing the still-sleeping occupants.
It was a great responsibility for an 11 year old boy. I was, in effect, the town crier in modern form. These were the days before 24 hour cable news channels or the internet. The morning headlines, in print form, were the only means for news, with the lone exception of news radio. I loved how that felt. I loved the importance of delivering the news. I delivered the headlines that proclaimed the end of the Vietnam War. I’ll never forget that.
Sunday’s were for family and faith and reflection. They usually concluded with us on the floor, watching "Wonderful World of Disney."  Somewhere in the late 70’s, someone decided that Sunday was an untapped market for retail sales. Stores began to open on Sundays, and before long, Sunday was just another day.
I remember an America where patriotism was the norm. In fact, it was expected ...demanded even. Opening day of little league saw us marching into Stahl Field  (the home field complex for Suburban Little League, where I played) in our old-school wool pants with high-stirrup socks and wool ball caps. We came in team-by-team. The announcer would announce each player and then he’d play the National Anthem on a scratchy old vinyl record on that awful one-speaker P.A. system. For us it was like standing at Veteran’s Stadium, and being announced in the Phillies lineup. We immediately pulled our caps off our heads and held them over our hearts and stood like statues. No one had to tell us. We knew to respect our flag and our anthem. We sang along proudly. We were Americans.
I remember finding my grandfather’s Navy manual around this time. I was maybe 9 or 10. He had been a Seabee in the Pacific theater during WWII. The manual was full of all manner of wonderful information for a young boy. The semaphore alphabet. The Morse code alphabet. How to dress properly in your uniform. The Naval oath, and all four stanzas of the National Anthem. I read it for hours and it felt like I had discovered the Dead Sea scrolls. It was like having a little piece of America right there in my hands.
Being an American took priority over whatever else we were. Nobody hyphenated their heritage. We were Americans. We were proud of where we came from, but not nearly as much as we were proud of where we were. I don’t see that now.
I remember an America where people worked hard and truly appreciated the fruit of their labors. I grew up in a very blue collar, working-class neighborhood in New Castle, Delaware, just 15 miles south of my native Philadelphia. Nobody on our street was wealthy. None of our neighbors were social climbers. They were appreciative of even owning a home. They worked hard, bought cheap, and stayed for a lifetime. This gave the neighborhood character and connection. It made it a real community. People stayed in one place and got to know each other. I lived in the same house from age 7 until age 23. Nowadays people move every 3 years. We buy a house, put up a fence, install a security system, hang cameras from the eaves and enter and exit through the garage door. We never see our neighbors.
I grew up in an America where cookouts meant the whole block was invited, and most of them came. The dads cooked real food on mounds of charcoal.  These days you only know of a cookout on your block if you catch the faint wisp of smoke from a gas grille. I’m not lamenting technology. But there was a charm to watching our dads carefully shape a pile of charcoal so it created a draft and burned evenly. Seeing them somehow instinctively know how much lighter fluid was just enough. Watching as they flicked a wooden match from a safe distance and hearing the “whoosh” of the ignition.
It takes time for charcoal to light, grow hot, and settle into a proper heap for cooking. In those 30 or 40 minutes, the dads would have a beer, listen to the ball game or throw a ball around, and chat. They slowed down. They told bad jokes. They talked about cars. They enjoyed each other.
Nowadays, even the grilles are in a hurry. Cookouts aren't the morning-until-bedtime affairs they were when I was a kid. They aren't the entire-block parties either. Now it’s by invitation only. We have a grille that’s ready in 7 minutes, we eat some fish that we bought at Whole Foods and we drink white wine. Our dads shaped real hamburgers from really fatty ground beef, with their bare hands (that they may or may not have washed first) and knocked back Piels’ Big Mouth beers that cost $3.56 for a 12-pack. They scraped the grille about once each summer. They swatted a fly and flipped a burger with the same spatula. They laughed loudly at dumb jokes. They talked for hours. They were friends...for life. There was a ballgame on the radio and kids splashing in a pool.
I remember when my friend Kevin’s dad died. Mr. Ferraro who lived up the street, and whose sons were also friends of mine, was talking to me in his garage one evening, a few months after Mr. Messick passed. I was in my early 20’s by then. Hanging out in Mr. Ferraro’s garage was a rite of passage on Monroe Avenue. One night we were talking about the block. Talking about how we’d all grown up there, Mr. Messick’s kids, me and my brother, Mr. Ferraro’s kids. Then Mr. Ferraro got wistful, and quiet and laughed softly at something we remembered about Mr. Messick. He looked up and said “I really miss Bill”.  And he had a tear in his eye. These were not men who wept. And so I knew this came from someplace deep inside him. This was a friendship forged over 30 plus years of living in the same place and seeing each other almost every day. You sure don’t see that these days.
This is the America I remember. It’s the America I miss. I think a lot of folks miss it as well. I think that’s why my letter resonated so much with so many people.  I think those folks remember the America I do. We remember an America where we hated to see our country taking a beating, either on the battlefield or in public opinion. We hated seeing our country down economically. We hated seeing patriotism lagging.
In the America of my childhood, I wouldn't have had to write an open letter to my President, telling him of my plight. He would have known. He would have cared. He wouldn't have been off on yet another vacation or golf outing, because he would have come from the same heart of America that I did. And he would have a citizenry holding him accountable. My neighbors would have rallied around me and others like me. I know, because I saw it when I was a kid.  I saw the dads who knew of good jobs, helping the dads who needed a job, to get one. I saw them putting in a good word, giving a referral, opening a door. America was a community then. And that community demanded that it’s leadership do what they were sent to Washington to do. And because we were united, and because we were patriots, and because we knew the Constitution and knew civics...they could not get away with what they offer up as leadership today.
I remember an America where serving on the local, state, or federal level was a privilege, and an honor, and most of those men and woman would have done it for free.  Now, it’s a business. A game. A new level of aristocracy.
I remember a better America. And judging from the amount of response I got to a simple open letter to the do a lot of other folks.

I pray we can get that America back. 

(This is the kind of writing I do. I recently wrote a book entitled "Remembering America: Looking Back at the Last Innocent Age"  While this is not an excerpt from that book...this is the sort of story that fills those pages. Writing became a haven and a shelter for me as this long winter of homelessness and joblessness has dragged on.)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

An Open Letter to President Obama...

I lost another job on Monday. Before I ever even started, the company withdrew their offer and froze all hiring. This fall, assuming I have no health insurance by then, I will be required to register for an Exchange. I have decided to refuse this. I wanted President Obama to know of my plight...and the plight of so many in this country. I intend on forwarding this to the White House via regular means, but I wanted to share it with my countrymen...

President Barack H. Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington DC

August 22, 2013

Mr. President;
     I hope your vacation is going well and the weather is providing you a period of rest and rejuvenation from all the golf and vacationing that has been wearing you down in this, your second term.
You will excuse me if I sound a bit cynical and a touch sarcastic. It’s just that, well...I am.
     You see Mr. President, three days ago I was informed that a job I had been offered only a week before, has been withdrawn. The company decided to freeze hiring for the foreseeable future. Part of their reasoning was the rising cost of healthcare, making it unaffordable for them to provide. This unaffordable-ness came as a result of your “Affordable Care Act.”
     Five years ago I might have smiled at the irony of those words. But I’m not smiling.
     Mr. President, five years ago I lost my career as a mortgage broker. I was never a rich man. I broke the lowest level of a six figure income only twice in ten years. I made good money but never was so consumed by material means as to earn the large sums that many of my associates in the industry did.  Instead, I chose to limit my office time, and focus on the time I had with my daughter.
     I am a single dad. My daughter is my treasure. She is the axis upon which my world spins. Of all the roles I play, being her dad is the one by which I define myself. My daughter and I spent our time together in the little 2500 square foot ranch house on five acres that we owned for four years. She grew from age 6 to age 10 in that house. I never remarried, choosing instead to focus on her and on being a great dad. I think I did an admirable job.
     I lost my house in 2008. Part of losing a house and having no place to live is having no place to keep your pets. We had two beautiful Springer Spaniels, named Bonnie and Cooper. We raised them both from puppies. They are gone. I had to give them away. We had a cat named Giacomo. He is gone too, as is my daughter’s Welsh pony. My garden is someone else’s garden now. The little country house I wanted all my life belongs to someone else.
     I live in Nashville, but I am a native of Philadelphia. When I lost my home and could not find another job, I had to make a decision. Do I stay in Nashville and remain active in my daughter’s life and be her dad? Or do I move home, or move to North Dakota and work in an oil field, or to Texas, or someplace where there was work and leave my daughter behind with her mom? For me, there was only one choice. I love my daughter.
I know you love your kids. People tell me that all the time, they say “Well he loves his kids, that makes him okay in my book.”  No disrespect sir, but Pol Pot loved his kids too. It doesn’t make you a good president.
So...I stayed. Staying meant sleeping in a Volvo 850. I am 6’ 4” and Volvo 850’s are not very comfortable for me to drive...imagine sleeping in one.  But I did. Sleeping in your car is actually against the law. It’s vagrancy and so it required me to hide my car in some tall brush behind a church in Nashville. I took showers at the County Rec Center. I ate every other day sometimes. I worked every odd job I could find and put out hundreds of resumes. To date I have put out almost 250 resumes to no avail.
     So I kept on trying. I kept on being my daughter’s dad. I refused to let her see me broken so I hid my tears. Do you know what it is like to have to lie to your daughter about where you live, Mr. President? No? I didn't think so. Let me tell pain hurts like that. I wonder, Mr. President if you have ever cried yourself to sleep at night, with the image of your daughter in your head, and worried that your current state would be all you have left as a legacy?
     I wonder if you have ever had to explain why she can’t come stay overnight every other weekend like she used to, because you don’t have a home anymore? I wonder if you know how it hurts to watch her growing up before your eyes and almost feel the time rushing past and worry about how your homelessness will effect her.
     I have wept many many times thinking about my daughter. I worried that some day one of her classmates would find out I was homeless and tease her about it. I worried that she would be embarrassed by my situation. I worried that she would grow up in fear that this would happen to her.
     I pushed myself day and night. I worked every odd job. In 2009 I resumed my college education via an online program and in May 2012 I graduated from Liberty University.
I was still homeless as I did this. I thought that doing these things would open doors of opportunity for me and my daughter. But no doors opened. I have spent another full year since graduation, doing carpentry, and putting out resumes, and still sleeping in my car. And missing priceless moments with my daughter.
     Ten days ago I had hope. Hope that perhaps this enduring nightmare was coming to a close. Monday, that hope was dashed yet again. Dashed as a direct result of the policies you so erroneously and yet stubbornly cling to, Mr. President. Policies that literally stole a job –and the hope for a home again with my daughter- right out from under me.
     To say my heart is broken is an understatement. For the first 48 hours I was spinning through space. I could not grasp how this could happen again. Today I am angry. I am angry that the man charged with leading this great nation, cares nothing at all for the plight of her citizens. You care more about adherence to your ideology than you do for those you are supposed to lead.
     This afternoon I made a decision. This fall, because I am unemployed, and have no health insurance, I am supposed to register for an exchange. Mr. President, I wrote this letter because I wanted you to know the plight of your citizens. My other intention is to inform you that I will NOT be registering for that exchange. I am a man. I am a dad. I am an American. I want to pay my own way. I refuse to let others pay for something I would gladly pay for myself. I will not lower myself and violate my own integrity and work ethic and heritage. A heritage of hard work and integrity that my grandparents –immigrants on both sides- passed down to me. They came here with nothing, worked hard, took nothing from anyone that they hadn’t worked for, and built a life. I want that same opportunity.
     If this results in my being prosecuted, so be it. Someone has to take a stand, sir. Someone has to look you in the eye, straighten out their backbone, and with the respect due the office you hold, tell you “No!”  "No sir! I will not violate my conscience." I will not lower myself. I will not become a statistic and a name on a list. I want a job. I want to work, and pay my own way. Your job is to create an environment whereby employers can hire men and women like me. Then we can take responsibility for ourselves, and pay our own way.
     I respectfully refuse your handout, sir. And while I doubt your precious vacation time will be interrupted with news of my refusal,  perhaps one day it will be brought to your attention. Perhaps you will read of my plight. Perhaps you will grasp the pain I live in every day. Perhaps you will look up from this letter, and see the faces of your own beautiful daughters, and for just a moment grasp what the past five years have been for me. Perhaps.
Enjoy your vacation, Mr. President. I envy you having those treasured moments with your family. I miss those times for myself. I have all but given up hope that I will enjoy them again.

God Bless America,


Craig Daliessio 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Having Done all to Stand

Paul told his beloved friends at Ephesus that one day evil would come. It would be so great that they would be pushed to their limits. He told them to prepare for it, but remain true to the elements of the Faith, particularly the reading of the Bible (such as they had at the time) and prayer. He concluded the charge with "and after this stand firm."
We have a tendency in Christendom to make superheroes out of normal believers and especially out of the early fathers. Paul was heroic, no doubt. But obviously, Paul also knew the heartbreak that went along with the Christian life. We're told on numerous occasions that Paul and Silas sang while in Jail. But we don't know whether they started off their jail experience with a song. I'm sure Paul cried out as the whip fell, or the rods crashed across his back. I'm sure that in the fevered pain of infection from the filthy conditions, and the open wounds on his body, Paul cried out...maybe even in anger.
We've focused on Paul's singing and assumed that's all he did. I can't say for sure, but I have my doubts.
Paul, at times, reveals loneliness in his writings. Sometimes desperation. Sometimes anguish over his chains. His frequent calls to be remembered in prayer tell us that Paul was a man as we all are. He was likely weary from the hard life that his calling demanded. He poured himself out again and again and dealt with heresy, and spiritual divisions, and laziness within the Church...and beatings and threat of death from without. That will break any man. Even Paul.
Ten days ago I was offered a job. I was as excited as I have been in a long time...probably since graduating from college in May 2012. I allowed myself to plan. Morgan and I went to the new high school she is transferring to (once I got a place) and she could barely contain her happiness. My smiling daughter was back.
Monday -just 48 hours ago- I got the call that the company has frozen hiring. The job was withdrawn. This has been the way it has gone for five years now. Five years of hopes deferred.
The last seven months especially have been hard. My Faith has lagged. I force myself to read the Bible. I never pray, at least not for myself. Why? God has known my need for five years now, and has yet to answer those desperate prayers for a restoration of my life, and a home for my daughter.
I have trudged through this wasteland while bearing the whispers -and often the shouts- of ruthless, mean-spirited people who would look me in the eye and tell me that somehow, in some way, this is all my fault. "Everyone who wants a job has one" they say. But that's not true. What is true is they have a job. (Or they no longer need one)  They have one and the few people they actually care about have one so to hell with the rest of us. Write it off as laziness. Chalk it up to failure.
The only words they offer -save those words of hurt and damage- are the same old tripe about "God is in Control" or "When God closes one door He opens another!" Well...God has been shutting door after door and nothing is open. Nothing.
They will tell me to find solace in worship. Yeah...right. Some go so far as to suggest certain songs or artists that help them in some particular way. None of these songs effect me spiritually at all. They do, however trigger my gag reflex. They make me ill. I am angry. I am hurt. I am wondering why. I am scared. I am very alone in this walk. I am frustrated. I am very very sad. I feel like an abysmal failure. I can literally feel time rushing past me like a freight train and I am powerless to stop it. What's far worse...I can't assign any value to the time that rushes by. I can't look at it and say "I filled it with something great". It's just time. Day after day of dreams that die, progress that stalls, and a sweet, wonderful 15 year old young woman who I treasure and haven't been able to offer normalcy to in over five years.
God knows all this already. I need to remind him? Write THAT in a praise and worship song and maybe I'll sing it.
I have come to the point in my faith where I think I know what Paul was really saying to the Ephesians.
He was saying this: "Get ready. Get acquainted with Jesus, and know His words, and the elements of your Faith. Because there will come a day when no more songs will come from your lips. No more prayers will pour from your heart. You will face days when there will be no words, no prayers, no songs, no comfort, no joy. You will face times when God will become an abstract. You will have only your determination to not quit. What you know of God in those darkest hours will only be what you can vaguely recall. You won't see His face shining on you. You will only remember that it once did. That memory will be all you have."
I am there now. I cannot abandon my faith because I still know it to be real. I know God is never caught by surprise. This does not have Him back on His heels. He is not stumbling for a quick fix to my situation. He is the same God He was when things were going well. I am exhausted, out of words and repulsed by even the effort it takes to play the Christian game. I can't bring myself to go through the motions of raising my hands, swaying with glazed eyes, shedding tears of adoration, or "Shouting Deuteronomy at the Devil" as Rich Mullins used to mockingly say. I am beyond broken. I am shattered. The pieces are jagged and I have cut myself time and again trying to hold them together while waiting for the Cavalry.
But having done all to stand...I will still stand.
I can't abandon this faith. I have a daughter watching me and I have yet -in all this hardship- to assign blame of any kind to God. I try my best to tell her that God knows what He is up to. He is working a plan. I want her to remember her dad as a man who refused to quit on anything...including his faith in Jesus Christ. Even when that Faith seemed to be of no effect.
What would I abandon to? Some other faith? Something false and fraudulent, or non-existent altogether?
I can't. I won't. God doesn't owe me explanation. But I, in turn, don't owe the Christian voices a certain behavior when the chips are down.
I have learned, in all this, that faith is sometimes ugly. It's not always glorious and beautiful. Sometimes it's at it's best when it is silently taking just one more halting step forward...and another...and another. Faith is most glorious when the sun rises and the damaged warrior is still there. Having taken no new ground, neither has he ceded any. He did all to stand, and then he simply stood. Fists clenched, spit flying, not pretty and packaged and Tweet-worthy. He's nobody's hero. But he should be. Because he just stood.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

I Want to go Home...

I say this phrase more than any other...except  "I Love You."  I say that phrase about 20 times a day to my daughter. I'd say it more except she doesn't live with me right now. She will soon though, and then I guess I'll say it even more. Most of the time, I just say it into the wind and hope it finds it's way to her at the right moment. I call her every night to tell her. I see her every day when I pick her up from school and I tell her then too. She's 15. I'll be 50 in three weeks. In her 15 years I would bet she has heard me say "I Love You" about a million times. No exaggeration. A million times. In my 50 years, I've never heard those words from my father. Not ever. Yesterday I saw a man in the grocery store who looked something like my father. It made my eyes tear up. It wasn't him but it might as well have been. It made me sad. It's a story for another day...or maybe one I won't ever tell here. But the boiler plate is that I have been chasing him since I was 21. He desires no relationship with me and likely never will. I've wrestled with it for 29 years now and only recently decided that it wasn't worth wrestling with anymore. It simply is what it is. Becoming a dad has healed a lot of it. It's helped me grasp some of it. And it also has rendered it incomprehensible. I'm a dad. If any time in my life, a young man appeared and said I was his dad I would embrace him. I suppose I would verify it of course, but then I would embrace the role. Because you never - not ever- get to a point where you wouldn't like to have your dad around.
But I digress...this is about wanting to go home.
Maybe the two are connected somehow. Maybe the gaping hole in my heart is dad-shaped.
I know I have been here in Nashville for 16 years this November. In all that time, I have felt like I was living from a suitcase and waiting to leave. I've had some successes here. My daughter was born here so of course that is a highlight. I became a fairly successful mortgage banker. Successful in that, I did a very good job for my customers, was respected as one of the best in the business, and earned a decent income at one point.
But at any given moment, had God appeared and asked me "What would you really like to do with your life?" Mortgage banking would not have been on that list. My victories in the industry were hollow. Hollow because it was not a dream job for me and hollow because by the time I was successful and making good money, I was an ex-husband. My wife wanted it all and wanted it now. We struggled as most young couples do and she left, assuming the grass was greener. I guess it was at first, but as with all grass, it turns brown in Winter. It doesn't grow in the shade.
I have owned two houses here. One was special because it was my first house. The other was special because it was sort of my dream house. Nothing fancy by any means. But I had land and I had a workshop where I could make furniture and work on my car. I had an enormous garden and I enjoyed growing things. (I get that from my Uncle Franny, a man who could plant Cheerio's and donuts would come up)
But neither house was my home. Not the way I use that word. It was almost a home when Morgan would be there with me. It was a diversion on the days she wasn't. A diversion from the fact that all I had,  all I worked was without real meaning without a family to share it with.
I stayed away from dating and from remarriage. I don't really know why. Fear, I'm sure. Afraid to fail again. Afraid to go through the awful, vortex of hurt and pain that accompanies the breaking of a vow and the breakdown of a marriage. It hurts to be alone too, but you can control that pain. It's only yours. You can't control what someone else might do to you. I wasn't ready for that unknown again.
So I've been here for 16 years. Here in a place I can't call home. I feel lost. Trapped between two worlds. I have come to love certain things about this area. I like the Harpeth River. It's not in any way like the one place back home where I feel most at peace. It's very much like the Brandywine. But it isn't the Brandywine.
I miss the beach. I miss the boardwalk and the sand under my feet. Not just any sand...sand at Rehoboth, or Bethany. My sand.  I miss the very early mornings watching the sun rise up out of the Atlantic and seeing pods of Dolphins in the distance, and being mesmerized every single time.  I could watch them for hours and it would still feel like someone had pulled back a curtain somewhere and I was seeing something that few ever get to see. I miss the way salt-air smells. The peace of the early morning with the metronome of the surf supplying a canvas for my thoughts.
I have made some good friends here. Almost all the best friends I've made have been guys I play hockey with here. Terry and Pete and Andy and Dave and a bunch of guys who have the same love for the game. And who have done the little things that friends do while I have been struggling so much these past years. There is something about a hockey locker room that simply overflows with brotherhood in ways no other sport does. At least not the ones I played.
But I miss the guys back home I played with. I miss the ice at University of Delaware. The way the puck took a weird bounce off the boards in the right corner by the Zamboni door and ricocheted back into the slot. If you played there long enough, you knew to watch for it when the other team tried a wrap-around and once in a while, if you broke for the middle, you would catch the carom and get yourself a garbage goal.
I miss Tim and Kenny and Butchie and Shawn and Mr. and Mrs. Winward and working on the dragster at the track. I miss being part of something special.
I miss Timmy and me riding motorcycles through Beaver Valley. I miss Action News on Channel 6 and Angelo Cataldi on WIP.
I miss the people who became the family I never really had. Bob and Cathy. Pop and Jewell.
I have watched from afar as some of the boys I coached in hockey when they were in high school have become husbands and dads and business men. They are men now. Older than I was when I was their coach. I'm not their coach anymore, now we are friends and I miss them.
I miss Pastor Paul Walters and his sweet wife Betty. He was special to me and still is and I wish I could just go visit. But I can't.
I miss the beauty of the Chesapeake. The Chesapeake Bay has to be one of the most beautiful places on earth. If you've never seen it, I can't begin to describe it to you.
I miss things being familiar. I miss street names and pizza joints and smiling faces opening the front door and inviting me in. I miss my long walks beside the Delaware, at Battery Park in Old New Castle. Everyone has their places where they feel alive, and at peace and where God seems to be able to speak a little more clearly to them. That one is mine. Bethany Beach is mine as well.
I have no place like that here. I've looked. Maybe I defeat myself by comparing. Maybe.
I want to go home. But I am caught in a dilemma because home without my daughter, simply doesn't exist. So I stay here. I stay here for love. I wish I was there, because I love it.
I wonder sometimes if I will ever, ever really have a home again.
Maybe Thomas Wolfe was right...

Thursday, August 15, 2013


I attend a Tuesday morning Men's Bible Study group here in Franklin. It has pretty much become my weekly church service. These men have been meeting for 28 years now. There is a core group within the roughly 50 guys who have been there since the very beginning. There are few ground rules: No asking for money. No passing out business cards or networking until after the meeting is over. They are there to pray, study the Bible and encourage each other in their Faith. Period.
The group is fairly "seasoned". I am probably one of the younger guys there and I'll be fifty in a few weeks. But I like the wisdom that seems to flow in that room and I enjoy the friendships I've made there.
We usually have a song leader. He is a very nice guy and a supremely talented man with a great gift. I count him as a friend. His song choices typically fall into the modern praise and worship category. They're nice. They're sweet. He is unquestionably sincere when he sings them. And every single week when he leads us in the singing, I could swear we sang the same songs the week before.
This past week he wasn't at the group. He travels a lot singing with a ministry and occasionally misses our study. So one of the long-timers was asked to lead us. Perry is a great guy with the uncanny ability to mimic a train whistle perfectly. Absolutely perfectly. Perry isn't really a singer, but he was more than willing to help and so he got up and he and our prayer leader, Leonard, lead us in the songs. These are older guys and they chose classic hymns. When I was a boy, I used to vary between rolling my eyes when we stood up to sing yet another of these dusty old choruses, and watching in reverence as tears would come to the eyes of the great old saints singing them in the church of my childhood. Tuesday morning I was remembering those faces as we sang "Victory in Jesus" "Amazing Grace", "What a Friend we Have in Jesus" and a few others.
Faces that brought tears to my own eyes on Tuesday. Harry Flohr, perhaps the Godliest man I ever met. Pastor E.L. Britton, the first pastor I ever had. I grew up in his church and with his family. I am a Christian because of this man's ministry. Harold Alexander whose children were and are dear friends and who I always thought was one of the best dads I ever saw. Dad Stanley, Harry Flohr's wife Lucille, Jane Britton. The list is long.
Tuesday morning I understood why they cried when they sang those songs. Maybe I'm just getting old, or maybe it's the miles I've trod in my life or maybe it's all that and then some. But as I stood there singing with my friends, I was seeing faces I loved and missed...and needed a little bit. I wish I could talk to those folks right now, because I sure miss them. Some -like Harry Flohr and Mrs. Britton- are gone now. Some remain. But they all meant something very special to me in the early part of my life. I didn't have the appreciation for them then...that comes only with years. But I appreciate them now. When they sang those classic hymns, they were singing about themselves and their lives before and after the Cross. They wept often. Maybe they were weeping back then for the same reason I wept on Tuesday. Maybe they were reminiscing back then as well. Maybe those hymns were connecting them to someone they loved in a time they missed, in a place long gone...just like I was this week.
I don't like modern praise and worship. I've certainly made that point before. I liked it when it first came out but then -like almost everything else in Church these days- it became trendy and then it became profitable. I used to stand in the church I used to attend and listen to what was essentially one long, 45 minutes song. I can't tell the difference between Matt Redmond or Chris Tomlin or Louis Giglio or whomever else writes these formulaic nursery rhymes. I thought it was just me getting old and cranky but I realized it's more. There is no depth and no substance. Most of these songs elevate me to God. That's unscriptural. Worship isn't about me. Not at all. Praise and Worship songs are written with an emotional response in mind. It's the same formula I came to detest in Southern Gospel music. Write about momma, write about someone dying and going to Heaven, write about seeing JAY-zus-uh and then seeing grandma by His side. Make people cry. That's a hit. Praise and worship seems to have the goal of making people sway, raise their hands and "feel the spirit". It's the EXACT same thinking that is in play when they score a movie. Make the music match the scene and create the mood.
The Hymns -the ones I once thought dusty and ancient- don't play that game. They didn't come as part of a genre. There was no style evident when "Amazing Grace" was penned. Or "Oh for a Thousand Tongues to Sing". There was theology. It was taught in the churches and the songs came from them.
That's only part of it, though. The real issue to me is that I simply can't see my daughter standing as a 50 year old woman one day, singing "Revelation Song" or and of the other mindless, vacuous praise songs being sung today and being brought to tears by memories built around those lyrics. She won't attach those songs to great moments in her life as a believer or great people whose spiritual influence she felt. She won't run through an all-star lineup of saints whom she saw singing those tunes when she was a kid. Because I doubt those songs will be remembered by then.
I miss the classics now. I guess that makes me old. It's not that I want to eliminate modern praise and worship. I don't. I just wish it wasn't so obviously being written for profit and sung for effect. Open a hymn book and you'll find songs that the writers largely never got paid for. They wrote simply because they experienced something and they wanted to convey God's work in it. That's why those songs have lasted for literally multiple centuries in most cases. That's why they connect generations.
I guess getting older means coming to understand some of what the previous generation was saying back then. I understand something a little better now. I understand how a long hard road can make you appreciate things you took for granted. Make you miss folks who blazed this trail before you. Make you wish you had them to talk to now. But you can't go back there and they are gone until eternity. So you seek connection in memory and sometimes those memories are prompted by something as simple as a song.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Next Day...

I still have no answers.
I still don't know what's coming next or how to fix all that is wrong. But I know one thing. I can't quit.
I have a daughter I love more than words can ever describe. I need to be there for her and somehow I need to overcome all this.
I need to remain faithful.
But there are times when remaining faithful simply means not quitting. It doesn't mean moving the chains forward. It doesn't mean finding some extra gear and bursting through the darkness. It doesn't mean snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Sometimes winning is reduced to simply not losing yet.
Sometimes the greatest act of faith in God is choosing to not bellow out the anger you have for Him when your world is devastated. It's also not singing some mind-numbing "praise and worship" song and letting your eyes glaze over as the world spins apart. That's lying to yourself and it's not healthy. Sometimes, the biggest measure of faith you will ever see active in anyone's life often in a narrative like the following. Sometimes you meet someone who is going through the darkest hours known to man. You watch them as the sun sets and darkness creeps in and swallows them whole. You can't see them for the pitch blackness that has ensconced their life. You see nothing, you hear nothing. The night grows long and hot and you worry that the darkness has won because you can't see them anymore. You pray, you worry, or some of you -the ones who simply don't get it- mock and jeer and curse the darkness as a sign of their lack of faith. The clock ticks until it stops ticking. You feel each breath. Then when the seeming eternity of the night begins to slowly fade and something resembling light begins to break on the horizon, you peer at the spot where the person was. There is a shape. Bent, broken, battered. Fists closed in anger. Face stained by tears. The greatest act of faith you or I or anyone will ever know is the faith it takes to simply hold on. To see the night all the way through. To question God and get no answers but to know that this makes Him no less God. To scream until we fall silent. To cry until we dry out in exhaustion. To ache in our souls with no reprieve and to know that enduring the ache doesn't make us stronger -as the spiritually out of touch would have us believe- it means we already are strong. Strong enough not to quit when quitting would be easier and less painful. The next day brings no relief from the ache, no respite from the lonely grind of failure or remorse or shame or doubt. It simply brings another day to not quit. Those days add up. One day victory will arrive and the story we tell won't be one of glamorous "overcoming" and star-making success. It will be simply a story of being the person who "set their face like flint" kicked, screamed, doubted, cried, bellowed and then fell silent.
...but refused to quit.
And made it through to the next day.

Saturday, August 10, 2013


I wonder sometimes about the state of Christianity and Christian people. We have become such a star-making machine, we rival the rock and roll producers of the late fifties and early sixties. They saw a very handsome and talented Elvis Presley rise to fame and stardom and they decided they needed to cash in on the craze. Suddenly record labels were scouring the countryside for handsome young men who they could toss into their star-making machine and spit out a teen idol from the other end. We got Fabian, Frankie Avalon, Dion, Bobby Sherman...the list went on and on. Some of these guys had real talent and some were there just because they looked great and they would do as they were told.
It's that last part that really got them their gig. They were willing to do as they were told. They stuck to the script. They played along. They said what they were told to say and kept their head down otherwise.
I see this in the church these days.
We're full to the brim with "Flock-stars". (A term a friend of mine concocted and I think it fits perfectly) They've done something -God knows what- to achieve "fame" or more correctly notoriety. Case in point, the guy who became a superstar for making that "Kony 2012" movie. The church at large ignored the fact that his movie was almost devoid of truth and that he was morally haphazard to say the least. The hip pastors who couldn't wait to plaster their cars with his "Kony 2012" stickers were rocking on their heels when that youtube video surfaced of him cursing like Linda Blair in The Exorcist and waving his winky at people, stark naked on a San Diego street. (The again it might have been the Mayor) You don't hear his name mentioned much these days.
But what a lovely ride he had! People were retweeting his every word. They liked his Facebook page, they shared his video. He was a darling. Pastors especially got on board. Because pastors -particularly those from affluent mega-congregations- love to get behind causes with national or international media attention. Because retweeting a guy with a million followers increases the chance that YOUR Tweets will get noticed too. They also love getting behind big causes on foreign soil because they are glamorous and they make it seem like we're following the Great Commission. I mean hey...we're helping this guy go after Joe Kony...that implies that we've sown all the seeds and reaped all the souls here in our neighborhood that can be reaped. We're so busy being about our Father's business that we have to go to some hell-hole of a third world country to find a wannabe despot.
Suddenly Mr. Christian movie guy is buck naked and waving his man-gear at passers by and dropping
F bombs like a Hip Hop star. Of course nobody steps up and says "Hey we backed the wrong horse with this guy"  Heck no. They just don't say anything. Ignore it and it will go away.
Better still to find another Flock star to get behind. The current flavors of the month all wear beards.
The darlings of the Christian world right now are the Robertsons. Now...let me make this clear: I LOVE these guys. I think they are the real deal. I think they are who they are on camera and off. I think their faith is grounded and they don't need the money so the show doesn't make them, they make the show.
My issue is how many preachers and church leaders have attached themselves to these guys as if they all just materialized from the desert one day wearing camel skins. Pastors practically shut down Twitters servers to retweet anything these guys say. They drop five-figures to have them come and speak at their churches.
All well and good...but these same preachers wouldn't give a long-time church member 2 minutes behind their beloved pulpit. God forbid...they might say something wrong! They might even say they aren't happy or their life isn't perfect. It's funny...I see pastors Retweeting famous people like the Robertsons, or other preachers with book deals or big churches (pastors of big churches ALWAYS get retweeted because hey...they obviously have more important things to say than grunts like us) But they never EVER quote some average shmuck who sits in their congregation dutifully each Sunday, drops his 10% in the plate, and does anything he can to help out. Those people have nothing to say apparently.
The formula is that if you are rich, famous, on TV or Radio, have won (or at least been nominated for) a Grammy or a Dove you are automatically more wise, more spiritually deep, and far more worthy of quoting and tweeting than some unknown pew dweller.
Phil Robertson is a wonderful man. His faith is honest and genuine. His salvation story is beautiful. But why do pastors fight over themselves to get him or one of his kids to come and speak? What does he have to say that someone in that congregation couldn't say? It's simple...Phil is famous. And for all the talk of pastors wanting to "make Jesus famous" the reality is they want to make THEMSELVES famous and then from their lofty perch of Christian fame they can proclaim the Gospel and make Jesus famous too. It's why they make stars out of questionable people like the Joe Kony guy. It's why they literally refuse to let some other church be the first ones to have a Robertson come and speak. It's why a heretical foul-mouthed slob like Mark Driscoll has a following amongst other pastors that rivals the Beatles in their heyday.
Of course, it never hurts that all these people are wildly successful. You think you'd ever see a pastor inviting some poor, middle class guy who can barely make ends meet to come and speak? Of course not. Because the prosperity gospel has many faces. Not all of them are the TBN brand. Not all preachers of the prosperity gospel will directly say that "God blesses his personal favorites more than He does others" but they imply it.
They imply it by only having the wealthy-blessed speak. Only the wealthy-blessed get positions in the church or personal face time with the pastor, or asked to teach a class or stand up and say something in the service. Only the rich and beautiful (and therefore favored of God) get quoted and tweeted and held up as wise.
The rest of us miserable failures are unworthy of any such recognition and aren't wise enough to have anything of value to say. If we were...we'd be rich and beautiful too.
The truth is that there are people in the pews with more money-smarts and more common sense than the wealthy ever know. Plus these people are kind and Christlike. Yet they'll go through life anonymous because they aren't rich and famous and therefore they have no value. We do it to athletes. We do it to politicians. We do it to former rock stars or actors who have not a shred of spiritual depth yet. Their conversion is merely days old and we've already shoved a microphone in their face and followed them on Facebook. It's the pastors who lead the way. Because it's really cool when we can point them out in the crowd or name-drop them in our Twitter feed.
Sometimes I ask myself why I even want to be a part of this anymore. Not the Faith part...I'll never abandon that. But the whole community I find myself surrounded by. I don't want this. I want what I saw modeled for years in Lynchburg Va. Dr. Falwell -though not perfect by any means- was a guy who could be surrounded by stars and powerbrokers and yet gravitate towards the average man. Doc never saw a dirty face he didn't love. He never met a nobody. Everybody mattered to him...mattered deeply. The broken and the unknown were every bit as welcome in his presence as the Presidents and leaders he regularly conversed with. Maybe more. Just like Jesus. Jesus waited while the rich powerful Nicodemus sneaked to see Him under cover of darkness. But He went looking for the outcast woman at the well. The rich young ruler left in despair because Jesus said he needed to be willing to sell everything he had in order to follow Him. Yet He pointed out a widow dropping her last pathetic coin into the offering and made her a part of Scripture forever.
Jesus certainly wasn't against rich folks or wealth. He was against that stuff being elevated out of proper perspective. He was very much for humility.
It's a fine line. Power brings the incredible opportunity to be corrupted. We can believe our own hype and read our own press clippings. I imagine it's easy to look out into the congregation one is preaching to and -seeing thousands of faces looking back- begin to believe it's me they are coming to see. I figured out the formula. I have the plan. From there it's a short step to thinking that I belong in certain company and that others have nothing to add to my incredible, infallible wisdom.
Then it becomes a cabal. I find myself only associating with other pastors / authors / singers who have had the same success as I have. Because everyone else will surely be asking for my help. All these little gruntlings who have big dreams but who obviously were not as blessed (and therefore favored) by God as me will ask me to help them make their dreams come true. I can't be having that.
So the famous preacher does what hurts the most. It's not telling the lesser-light to their face "Hey I'm not going to help you...not ever" It's not even showing false kindness and the always-unfulfilled promise to "get together and talk about your vision."  No...if you want to crush a dreamer you just ignore him. You deny her access. You refuse to make your face shine on them. You simply act as if they aren't there and eventually...they won't be. Then you can tell everyone how they didn't have what it takes to make it through the "desert of God's testing" and how you "knew all along they'd be quitters."
They carried a heart full of wisdom and insight and gifts that God intended to be stirred up. Now they are defeated and broken all over again.
I don't care what God has been doing in your ain't no Willie Robertson, kid!

*One last time so none of you attack me. I LOVE the Robertson's and their show. You could replace any number of Christian "stars" with them in this story. They are simply the most timely