238. thuffering thistle thorn thermon

[Purple haired Thistlus puncturus Americanus, stinking punk for short]

I was gardening barehanded recently in the back yard, out beyond my usual plucking zone of weeds. The smorgasbord of undesirable greens had gotten ahead of my good intentions. Rabbits, squirrels and groundhogs ignored these leafy dishes. I figure these weeds must taste as bad as they look. Mostly it’s the thistles that are repulsive with their fine needley leaves. They appear soft, but whoa Martha Stewart, they have enough tensile strength to penetrate thick fingers and palms and embed their unwanted syringey selves into one’s flesh. Unlike a bee’s stinger, there is no plunger on the other side; the bare, ignorant gardening hand does all the pushing. All the thinking or lack thereof belongs on the ungloved human side. [ It appears that my anti-melodramatic prescription needs a refill.  I need to call the Wal Mart automated pharmacy line immediately or bad things will happen.]

So last Sunday I was standing in church singing a praise song and “ouch!”, wouldn’t you know it? One of those tiny, almost invisible, eyelash thin thistle thorns in my left thumb was pressed just enough to set off a nerve signal of pain to my distracted brain. Dang! it sent a tiny but nasty bite up my arm, stinging, like tender flesh caught in the zipper signal to my brain. If I had been spirit-minded, I was suddenly flesh-focused on that nasty little zinger in my thumb. I explored the source, pushing around my thumb to find the exact puncture point.  “Douhoughouh”, I ejaculated, which is the phonetic spelling of Mandarin Chinese for “That’s it, Jerry Jeff Jesus!”

Throughout the next few songs and well into the sermon, I explored the surface of my thumb with the index finger and thumb of my right hand. “Douhoughouh” again. I connected this pain signal with the concept of sin as I mentally dipped into the figurative  pool of prickly pain and that other pool of spiritual protection. I don’t recall if the pastor referred to Ephesians 6:10, but I will. “Our battle is not against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities.” Well, at that second I was holding a  tiny though bloodless skirmish against my flesh and nervous system. I wanted that little demon irritant out of my body. As I sought to get rid of the annoying penetration, I pondered if this was a mini-sermon on sin.

[Elvis and Priscilla in a fairy garden, waiting for Frank Sinatra.]

After all I had done the stupid thing– barehanded weed plucking. I should have used protection. I was impatient, impulsive and did things my way. That’s always a good way to get bad results. I applied all the careless pressure and ignored the lessons of my past. “In my own will”… that’s the mantra of the sin-filled man. Whether Sinatra or Elvis sings, “I did it my way”, it comes out the same. Pain and irritation if you are lucky. Of course it could get worse with allergic reactions or infection later on. As I know full well, there is a crop of poison ivy loitering along my back fence line. That would have been unnerving if I’d grabbed onto some of that. My Broken Blog Farmers, sin and weeds are out there. You don’t have to look too hard to find a pile of either. But God gives us “gloves” to handle such things.

As I was analyzing this analogy, I pinched the puncture point and got lucky or blessed since I was in God’s house. I pulled the offending zinger out of my thumb. I couldn’t believe it at first, so I pressed the puncture again. A sense of soreness had replaced the stinging sharp prick that had been whining at my brain from that area code. The nearly microscopic thorn was too fine for my eyes to see in the dim church light. I just knew by feel that it was gone. Amen.

Now about those holy gloves, what would they be?  Let’s start with discernment. Not every prickly thing is a sin just as not every prickly plant is a thistle.  Take pineapples for example. No, I mean for real. Pick one up. Ahh, not so fast, right? You could saw your arm off trying to harvest one of those juicy wonders. So you need some careful discernment, friends.

You need protection. Ephesians 6:10 tells us to put on God’s armor in preparation for the darts and verbal volleys of the enemy. Put on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of salvation, the shoes of peace in God’s gospel, the shield of faith, and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God. But you might say, “I’m just going out to pull a few weeds, man. Who needs all that?”  You do. I do. We all do. It’s a battlefield out there, especially when it appears calm and lovely. Do you put on your seatbelt and keep your airbag activated? Do you keep your car inspected and your brakes working?  Well, sure you do. Why? For your protection, my friend. Accidents and stupid human tricks are not hard to find. And God, do they hurt.
And after all of this preparation, what to do?  Stand, pray, be alert. Don’t become complacent and/or smug in your protection. That’s when the camel gets its nose under the tent. The next thing you know, the camel is ordering off the menu and smoking at the table over coffee. Keep your camels tied firmly outside your tents, my blognomads. For they are unclean beasts. As Moses told his brother Aaron, “Get that filthy beast out of here.” This incident did not make the final cut of the KJV Bible, but I’m sure it happened a time or two.   Anyway, weeds are sin; sin is bad; camels are dirty beasts. Amen.


237. circles

Lately it seems many things are going in circles like a slowed down NASCAR race. My focused desire to write has been on the wane. Life has been a skipping cd, which I realize is a dated reference but better than a skipping record. There are days, weeks or even months when monotony pervades.  The news stutters on, repeating itself over and over. It’s not new, folks. War, disease, racism, and ignorance are doing well.  Life’s same old, mindless routine has become a rut. It’s nobody’s fault, I just find myself looking at a fish in an aquarium swimming around and around his little tank, and I feel like a kindred spirit, a fellow ichthus. Glub glub. Boosh. Woosh. Thrum bum bum. My tank is eight miles wide and ten deep, approximately ten across. I swim back and forth to work and stores, church, friends, etc. The aquarium I live in is nice, just a little too familiar sometimes. Maybe a motorcycle jaunt or a skydive would jack me up. Couldn’t hurt. Well, it could kill me, but other than that, it couldn’t hurt.

Went to NYC to visit my oldest daughter. How many one way streets are there in Manhattan and Brooklyn? More than you can drive down. I had a parking space at a metered spot on a one way street last week. I noticed a free parking space behind me on another one way crossing street. It was 50 yards away but inaccessible unless I drove a half mile and made three lefts, which I did. Only to arrive as some deviant miscreant Brooklynite finished parking in that golden void. I cursed once or twice and kept driving in circles to my right this time. Make four rights and you will wind up in a square circle where you began if you don’t hit a bicyclist, which gets tempting after a while. They cut and swerve like birds through the herd of autobuffalos. A little envy naturally arises. Those guys can glide through stalled traffic and run red lights at will. They weave freely among the metal, concrete and asphalt canyons. Until the rains come, then justice prevails.

My daughters went to a musical while the wife and I went to a swing dance club. It was actually a nice time. We were anonymous tourists with no expectations placed upon us except the cover charge. Nothing is free in NYC. The Holland Tunnel cost $13.oo, just to get into Manhattan. (I still have two outstanding parking tickets from 2006, I think. We sold that car, so I think I escaped those charges… nearly $300, no kidding.) Everything seems to round up to a hundred dollars– tickets, club tabs, breakfast, lunch and dinner. By the time you add in a taxi home, well, there’s another $35.  But forget the cost of everything; remember the value of one thing, my Bliago.  Yes, I can dig that permutation of Shakespeare. Besides, next year it will all cost even more so today is gonna be a bargain in five more years.

Circles, circles, circles. My wife helps an antipoverty group in town called Circles. She’s a bit more practically committed than I am. I try to avoid long term commitments beyond marriage and family. Anyway, about a year ago she began mentoring a young woman who wanted to get out of poverty. It went fairly well for the first year. We could see progress despite some obvious limitations involved. Now here’s the kicker:  remember the loud drunk I posted about in post # 128?  Well, our little mentee girl met him and moved him in with her. Remember that I had the guy arrested and then went to the district justice’s three times before he pled guilty and got six months in the county jail. But it wasn’t over then. While I was on vacation in Florida, the arresting officer called my cell phone and asked if I could testify yet again because Mr. Screamy appealed his 26th drunk and disorderly conviction. Yep, so after Screamo got out of jail he hooked up with this woman. Indirectly she funded his alcohol consumption. Every dollar he did not spend for her rent, phone or utilities, he got to spend on liquor. Fantastic. Indirectly we were helping her indirectly help him directly abuse society. Cyclical injustice without bikes this time.

This development did not sit well with me or my wife. After all, Miss Mentee walked our dog. She was connected to my family. But… we are not stupid. After hearing her talk about her drunk and disorderly new boyfriend, my wife put 1/16 and 1/16 together and got 8/64. She inquired about the paramour, and what do you know?  One and the same dude. On top of that, mentee had known the connection for a while and had said nothing about it. Uh oh. On top of that she claimed, “You are all so judgmental!”  You know what? We certainly are. We can judge between a rattle snake and a baby’s rattle, by God. And we do this on a daily basis, most assuredly. In fact, I judged a completely antisocial drunk who was disrupting my business to be breaking the law and had him arrested a year and a half ago. The Boro police and district justice agreed with me and he was sentenced to six months in jail for the 26th time. That’s 13 years total if  you’re keeping score at home. Furthermore, I judged that helping someone reach to get out of poverty was a good and noble thing to do. Yes, I am so judgmental.

We judge all day every day, but we should not condemn. Judging is using our brains beyond simple perceptions and facts. We judge when we plug facts and memories and concepts into a mental matrix of values and priorities. Otherwise we simply chase our tails and repeat the same old mistakes forever. Poverty is not a lack of money, by the way. Many folks live spiritually impoverished lives while others practice impoverished thinking. In any event no good deed goes unpunished.



236. black butterfly, hummingbird, seahorse

Walking up the alley to my office today I noticed a lovely black butterfly floating about as butterflies tend to. They flutter and then tack and sail in a random fashion along whatever air currents are available for their fragile little bodies.  This one swooped up and around me. It was an odd little nature moment that felt rather magical. I had been shuttling about for the previous few hours, making a lackluster home visit with a very troubled person. Patience is the only word I heard from on high. “Patience. I’ll do the heavy lifting. Presence.” And now this playful creature swirled felicitously about me like the Holy Spirit. How nice. A visual incense trail lightly touching my tired mind and soul. Ahhhh! I breathed deeply and slowly.  The brighter the day, the more glorious this swallow tailed wonder became with its iridescent patterns. How fine the details on such an insignificant insect. Why would anyone inject so much artistry and perfect symmetry into a dusty moth? The Artist must have recklessly abundant love, humor and beauty, so much that He can splash it around the universe to overflowing levels. A postcard from heaven on a tired day. “Look where I am. Wish you were here.”

Now the other day I watched a hummingbird zipping around the geraniums on my back deck. How strange and entertaining they are. When they actually stop flying and walk about, they make a funny high-pitched chirping noise that reminds me they are birds and not insects. Like butterflies these creatures seem almost comical in their flight, as if God sent them like little breath mints to take our breath away every so often. Sure, I know they fill a niche in the food chain and have adapted to survive; they eat something else and then predators eat them. But that’s so far from my mind when I watch one hover in space,  seemingly defying gravity and physics. A tiny jewel of a miracle with a heart rate of 1260 beats per minute or 21 beats per second! Not as fast as a tattoo gun but who cares. Leviticus 19:28 forbids tattoos on God’s people. What?  Don’t take my word for it. Check it out. There is no prohibition against hummingbird heart beats, however.

Cut jewels reflect light in their tiny facets, slicing the full spectrum  of sunglow into laser lines of fire. These flecks of majesty catch our attention like a figure/ground exercise. “Oh look, there’s a spectacularly lacey hemlock” [in the midst of a primeval forest of awesome evergreens]. We seem to miss the obvious all around us every day, so one leaf or tree or cloud catches us up into a moment of praise.  My black butterfly and ruby throated hummingbird were facets of the jeweled world we live in. In my moment of awe awareness I have to expand my mind backwards to the Light of the World, the Creator of all. I’m so impressed by one grain of sand on an endless beach that I shrink from my own naivete and miss the unwinding beach in front of me.

Let’s dip into the ocean of further consciousness, why don’t we? Ever see a seahorse? The hippocampus is its scientific name and it means “horse + sea monster”. How cool is that?  We have a little brain part called the hippocampus also. Two of them actually, called hippocampi in the plural form. (Here is where an immature writer would make a joke about hippopotamus college or rhinoceros university, but I will spare you, dear blogogi.) The thing is, sea horses are goofy, funny, helpless little things that float about our oceans. They are fish that swim upright and poorly, which makes a guy wonder what good are they. Dried sea horses sold in Chinese markets command the price of precious metals. Why? They are used as medicine to treat impotence, and no price can be too high for treating human impotence. Nosirree. So once again we see a preposterous creature reflecting the endless mystery of the Creator.

I know there are many other favorite weird creatures– spiders, praying mantis, hermit crabs– to ponder. Oh, let’s not forget my daughter’s favorite bird, the blue footed booby, which elicited rolls of giddy laughter from her as a young child. All of them remind us of  our Creator and His endless clues to His character. Behold.