Kim

May 9th, 2021

“I thought you said that people had offered to come here and help. Who do we call?”

Karin asked that with intense anxiety in her voice. She was sick, very sick. Karin had received her first COVID shot that day before, and it was kicking her ass. She feverish, sweaty, and exhausted. Karin was holding Asher in her arms, trying to get him to sleep, so she could sleep. Asher was being fussy and uncooperative.

I was tired and my back hurt. I had been up with Asher since 5:00 AM, and I had tried everything I knew to get Asher to relax. He was having none of it. It wasn’t anybody’s fault. He was just having a rough morning. We were all having a rough morning.

I had in fact told Karin that a few people had offered to come over to help us. Four of our friends had said to us, “Call me if want me to come and watch the baby for a while.” Each of them had made this offer sincerely. However, each of them had the unspoken disclaimer: “I will come when I can”. Nobody had told us, “I’ll be glad to come any time, day or night.” None of them wanted to be on the receiving end of a 9-1-1 call. I understand that. People have busy lives, and they usually need some forewarning.

However, we needed somebody to come right away. We couldn’t wait.

I made some calls. I knew that two of the folks who had volunteered to babysit were currently at work, so I didn’t bother them. I left a message on voicemail for another person. I finally got hold of Joanna. She was far away from home, waiting to catch a plane back to Milwaukee. She said that she would contact her mom to see if she could visit us.

Joanna got back to me and said that her mother, Kim, would come to our house after she had her hair cut. I was good with that. I told Karin that Kim was coming here. Karin was too tired to react. I took Asher for a while.

Kim called me shortly after that. She said that she had our address, and that she would be driving to our house soon. She told me,

“I will be wearing a mask for your protection. I have had both shots, but I will still wear a mask.”

I did not know Kim. Neither did Karin. A total stranger was coming to our home, and that seemed to be a good idea at the time. It turned out to be a great idea.

Kim took a really long time to get here. I grew anxious. Asher grew restless. Karin slept.

A car pulled into our driveway. A tiny old woman climbed out of the car, and walked to our door. She was wearing her mask. I opened the door for her while holding Asher in my arms. Kim pulled off her shoes and put on slippers as she entered the house.

We sat at the dining room table. Kim cradled in her arms. He gazed at her with curiosity.

Kim apologized for taking so long,

“I don’t like driving on the highway. The cars go so fast. I worry about missing the exit. I took the back roads. I had the GPS on my phone, but somehow I had the sound off, and I had to keep stopping to look at what the directions were.”

Kim asked me, “How is your wife?”

“She’s asleep.”

Kim smiled. I couldn’t see her mouth, but her eyes were smiling at me. My brain filled in the blanks.

She said, “You should go and check on her.”

I did. Karin was dead to the world.

I came back to Kim and Asher. Asher was getting hungry. I made him a bottle, and Kim fed him. She held Asher easily, even though holding him is like cradling a twenty pound bag of cement in your arms. She asked me,

“Do you want to lie down?”

“No, I would rather sit and talk with you.”

That’s what we did. For hours.

Kim told me about herself. She had been born in Singapore in 1938. That means that she spent her earliest years under the Japanese occupation in World War II. I told her that Karin was from Germany, and that I had married her when I was in the Army.

We talked about Catholicism. Kim’s faith is what drives her. It struck me that her faith is real. She’s not a talker. She’s a doer. As it says in the Letter of James,

“Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”

Kim talked about the years of caring for her handicapped son, and how the time and energy and money she spent on him was worth it. She never thought of him as a burden. She kept saying what a blessing he was in her life.

She said, “It taught me about what is important in life, and about the many things that are not important.”

I told Kim that Asher was a blessing in our lives.

Kim bounced Asher gently in her knee. She smiled with her eyes again and said,

“Of course he is.”

Kim told me about being attracted to Catholicism at a very young age. She went to daily Mass on her own, simply because she wanted to do so. Somehow that reminded of the book “Life of Pi”. The main character in the novel goes to a Catholic school in India as a child. Pi remarks in the story that Christianity is a religion “with few gods, but much violence”. I decided not to mention that to Kim.

As our conversation continued, I told Kim that I participate in Zen practice. I mentioned to her my friend, Ken, from the synagogue.

Kim told me, “When we had our business, we had people working with us who were Buddhist or Muslim. when there was a crisis, as often there was, we would ask them to pray for us. We are all praying to the same God, just in different ways.”

Amen.

I checked on Karin again. She was half asleep. I told her that Kim was here. She nodded.

“Do you want to bedroom door shut?”

“It doesn’t matter”, and she rolled over and clutched her pillow.

We took Asher to Karin’s craft studio, so he could play on a blanket on the floor. I laid down next to him. He kicked his legs and waved his arms. I rolled him over, so that he could do some “tummy time”.

Kim watched. She said,

“My knees are bad. I can’t be down there with you too much.”

After three hours, I told Kim,

“We’re okay now. You can go if you like.”

She gave me a concerned look and asked,

“Are you sure?”

I nodded, “Yeah. We’re good.”

Hours after Kim left our home, she contacted me. I think she left a voicemail. In any case, she told me that she wakes up quite early. Kim said that if Karin was still sick in the morning, that I should call her and she would come over to us again.

Karin was better the next day. She wasn’t completely healthy again, but we could manage on our own. I did not call Kim. It’s a long drive for her.

Karin never saw Kim or spoke with her.

They should get together.

A Prospective Iron Worker

May 2nd, 2021

“Asher’s mom wants to know when you are going to put the baby seat on your motorcycle.”

Stefan replied, “Never.”

I told him, “Good answer.”


Stefan held little Asher in his arms, cradling him gently. Asher looked up at his uncle. Stefan smiled at the boy and asked,

“So, are you going to be a fucking Iron Worker like me when you grow up, you little fucker?”

Karin shot him a glance that said, “Hey, watch it!” She didn’t think that was the proper way to talk to a five month old.

Stefan noticed the evil eye and said to Karin,

“Hey, don’t worry about my language. These words got me to where I am now.”

There is a grain of truth in that statement. Allow me to give a bit of background.

Stefan has always been outspoken and a forthright. He wears his heart on his sleeve. There is never any doubt as to where you stand with him.

Back when Stefan was in the fourth grade, he took violin lessons. At the Waldorf school all fourth graders took violin. It was non-negotiable. A married couple from Russia taught violin to the youngsters. Their pedagogical style was a bit harsh. The two Russians had no qualms about yelling at a child or calling them stupid. Maybe that’s how they used to teach violin to the prisoners at the gulag back in the bad old days of the Soviet Union. I don’t know. All I know is that these were hardcore music instructors.

One day the Russians gave all the children a homework assignment. Each of them was required to transpose the notes from a page of sheet music on to a blank sheet. Stefan balked at this. When he got home he attempted to schmooze me.

“Dad, can you help me with this? It’s really hard.”

I explained to Stefan that he was a bright young man, and that he could easily complete the homework assignment on his own.

Stefan sat at the kitchen table and stewed. He stared at the music. He stared at it some more. He kept staring at it as his anger and frustration continued to build. Finally, he could stand it no longer. He cried out in a voice filled with sorrow and bitterness,

“I bust my ass all day! I don’t even get a recess! And now I’ve got to do THIS BULLSHIT!”

That’s my boy.

A couple years later, Karin and I had a parent-teacher conference with Stefan’s teacher, Miss Burfeind. After the initial pleasantries, Miss Burfeind got down to business:

“We should talk about Stefan’s language.”

Uh oh.

She went on, “I have admit that I am impressed with the mature manner in which he uses those words. You can tell that they come from the heart.”

It was hard to respond to that.

The years went by. Stefan realized early that he was good with his hands, and that he liked that kind of work. He took every shop class that the high school had to offer. After he graduated, he worked as an auto mechanic, then in the pressroom of a newspaper, then as an employee of a body shop. and then as a furniture restorer. In a short period of time he greatly expanded his skill set. Finally, he decided to go back to school to get trained and certified as a welder.

Stefan initially got a welding job in a factory. He hated it. The work was repetitive and boring. Then he got an apprenticeship with the Iron Workers Union.

He was home.

The Iron Workers are a strange breed. They work hard and play hard. On the testosterone scale they probably lie somewhere between Army Rangers and the Pirates of the Caribbean. The union attracts a rough and tumble crowd. Stefan’s inventive and passionate use of a vulgar vocabulary served him well as he tried to fit in with his new coworkers.

The Iron Workers’ macho schtick is not all bluff and bravado. They do in fact work in difficult outdoor conditions, performing tasks that would daunt anybody with a functioning survival instinct. Stefan often goes up in a lift to weld beams at a height of 100 feet or more. Stefan does things that he refers to as “sketchy” (translation: “dangerous”). He revels in that sort of thing. He loves the adrenalin rush.

I have only met one of Stefan’s coworkers. A woman. I was unaware that the Iron Workers even had any women in the union, but Stefan brought her over to the house one day. The girl was sturdily built. She was wearing denim overalls, a sweatshirt, and work boots. She gave little Asher a toothy grin when she first saw him. The young woman seemed very nice, and I am sure that she could easily hold her own in a bar fight.

Stefan likes people who break barriers and defy established social norms. I can see why he became friends with the female Iron Worker. He likes her attitude.

I talked with Stefan about his relationship with Asher. I told him that he would make a good mentor for the boy as he grows up. I was dead serious. Stefan is brave, hardworking, honest, smart, and exceedingly generous. He would be great for Asher.

The fact is that Asher is unlikely to have a father to raise him. I told Stefan that Asher will need a strong uncle in his life.

Stefan replied, “That he will have.”

So, How Did We Get Here?

May 1st, 2021

“You are the destination and you are the path,
You are the wish of every birth.”
― Surya Raj

Karin is a playing with Asher. Asher lies on a blanket on the floor. Karin shakes a rattle in front of his face. Maybe he smiles at it. He doesn’t reach for it, but he grasps it in his tiny hand if Karin places it between his thumb and forefinger. He pumps his chubby legs furiously and waves his arms. Then he becomes still again, gazing at the world from his unique perspective.

How did we ever become the fulltime caregivers for a five month old boy?

How did we get here?

Honestly, I don’t know. A year ago, a young woman announced to us that she was both engaged and pregnant. Now, this same woman is in rehab and unmarried, and Karin and I are spending almost all of our waking hours feeding, cleaning, and cuddling a little guy. Our present situation would have been unthinkable a year ago, yet here we are.

Asher demands my attention, and there is nobody on earth who can be more insistent. I need to pause for a bit.

It is now 6:00 on the morning of the 2nd of May. Asher awoke at 5:00 AM, as did Karin and I. At this point, Asher has a full belly and an empty diaper, and life is good. He lies next to me full of life and vigor. He stares at me with his slate grey eyes, and I always wonder what thoughts lie behind them.

I try to predict Asher’s future and I give up in despair. It is not just that I think that Asher’s coming years will be difficult (they will be). It is more that I simply cannot imagine what is in store for him. I only expect that his life will be interesting. That seems to be a family tradition. He’s on a roller coaster now, and there is no getting off of it until the ride comes to a complete stop.

Why would God put a little boy into the care of a couple elderly people?

God granted two sons to Abraham in his old age. Considering how he treated Ishmael and Isaac, I am sure that Child Protective Service would have gotten involved with that family. The Book of Genesis is not necessarily a good guide to child rearing.

They say that God never gives a person more than they can handle. That is a fucking lie. God is constantly pushing his sons and daughters to the edge.

People sometimes say that God is testing us. Why? Doesn’t He already know if his creation is good? Read the Book of Job. An old rabbi once made the argument to me that Satan is God’s quality control guy. (The rabbi noted that Satan performs this task reluctantly, but all creatures serve God, whether they like it or not). It sounds very unorthodox, but it makes a bit of sense. Satan is often referred to as “The Tester” in Scripture. Does the Devil push us to the limit?

“Let’s see how fast this thing can go…” – by the Dresden Dolls in the song Delilah

The sun is rising over the trees. The apple and the maples are getting their first leaves. The locust not so much. Spring comes grudgingly to the north country. Light fills the room and illuminates Asher’s round face.

Asher and I are together. He is here to teach me something. He doesn’t know what that something is. Neither do I. It is better that way.

We have teachers in our lives. Some have official titles: priest, rabbi, imam, guru, Zen master.

My best teachers have been homeless people and patients in the psych ward.

And babies.

Definitely babies.

“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come” – William Wordsworth

Sciatica

April 26th, 2021

It hurts.

I am referring to my back in this case. Well, actually I mean my back and my right hip. My sciatic nerve is irritated somehow, and it is letting me know this almost constantly. I can stand or sit for maybe five or ten minutes, and then I have to lie down for a while. Going into a deep squatting position relives the pain for a short period of time, so I do that sometimes.

I went to the ER on Sunday morning. I was getting sharp, stabbing pains. I hate going to the ER. I think everybody does. It’s like going into a courtroom; nobody goes there unless they absolutely have to do so. I’ve been in the ER frequently in the past, but that was almost always to take another person there. The last time I went into the emergency room for my own problem was back in 2009, when I got run over by a forklift at work. My right leg was crushed, and going to the ER was not optional.

The nurse in the ER on Sunday was a friendly, middle-aged lady. She was solidly built and had a long black hair that was streaked with grey. She took my vitals, and asked,

“Do you have high blood pressure?”

“Yeah.”

“Do take any medication for it?”

“Yeah.”

“What do you take?”

“Lisinopril. Started with this week.”

“Did you take it already today?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“You BP was kind of high when you came in.”

“How high?”

“You can look on the screen.”

I did. Fuck.

“198/91”.

I told the nurse, “Well, that sucks.”

She smiled ruefully and replied, “Well, you’re in pain and stressed out. It’s not that bad. You don’t see me running to find the doctor, do you?”

The nurse and I got to talking. She asked me what I expected to get out of this visit. I explained to her that my wife and I are caring for a five month old little boy, and that it is a fulltime job for two people. If I am down, then Karin has to do everything, and that is simply too much for any person. I told the nurse that I want to be functional again. I need to be functional.

The nurse completely understood. She helps to care for a grandchild with special needs. She gets it.

She said to me, “I know that you said that you don’t like taking meds. If we give you some to get you better, will you take them?”

I reluctantly replied, “Yes.”

She smiled and said, “The PA will be in here soon.”

The PA was a petite woman who got right down to business. I told my story. She nodded and said,

“Back pain sucks.”

Indeed.

She prescribed me a revved up version of Ibuprofen, a muscle relaxer, and an anti-inflammatory.

I’ve been taking the meds. So far, not much improvement.

Karin does not want me carrying the baby until my back is well. She doesn’t want me to drop the kid if I have a muscle spasm. That seems to be a reasonable concern. There are many things that I cannot currently do to help my wife care for the little guy.

I feel kind of useless.

That’s what really hurts.

Cheating

April 18th, 2021

“Though I am not naturally honest, I am sometimes so by chance.” ― William Shakespeare

“A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” – West Point Honor Code

1951,1976,2021…the cycle of West Point cheating scandals. Somehow these things keep happening. Why?

I graduated from West Point in 1980. I arrived at the United States Military Academy (USMA) in July of 1976, a year marred by a massive scandal. The cheating itself had occurred before I ever showed up, but the aftermath was rocking the institution when I started my four-year sojourn at the school.

Why would a third year cadet cheat on an electrical engineering exam? A large number of students (153 of them) did that in 1976, and then resigned or were expelled from the academy. It may help to look at the way that academics worked at West Point during the years I was there. I will be mostly relying on my forty year old memories, and they may be a bit unreliable, but bear with me.

The vast majority of the courses offered at West Point were mandatory. There were very few electives. There was no way for a cadet to have a major, like any other college student would have. Everybody graduated with a general bachelor of science degree. Few, if any, of the classes had a direct application in the cadet’s life as an Army officer post-graduation.

A cadet had to pass all of the classes that they took. You could not drop a course, or take an incomplete, or substitute another class for one that was troublesome. No, the cadet had to pass each and every class, or they were expelled. This fact caused a frequently stressful environment.

My class (year group) started in 1976 with over 1400 cadets. We graduated with under 900. There was a great culling of the herd during those four years.

Some classes were notoriously difficult. Electrical engineering (also known as “Juice”) was a killer. I managed to finish the course with a “B”, but I still had very little understanding of the subject matter. It was all black magic. The final exam consisted required the student to design a radio.

I made the cut. Other people did not.

Now, let’s say a cadet who perhaps was recruited for exceptional athletic prowess, rather than academic skills, was in his third year of school and knew that he was failing Juice class. If he failed out, then the time and effort he had already expended at USMA would be wasted. Credits from West Point were not easily transferrable to other colleges. Such an individual would be sorely tempted to cheat in order to survive academically. At least 153 cadets did just that.

If I remember correctly, a number of cadets got in deep trouble, not because they cheated, but because they tolerated somebody else cheating. This is a sticky part of the Honor Code. It’s one thing to get busted for lying, cheating, or stealing. It’s quite another to get expelled because you didn’t rat out your roommate for an honor violation.

West Point, and the military as whole, puts great emphasis on unit cohesion. Within any particular group, it is expected that individuals will work together and have each other’s backs. The bonds between classmates at West Point are incredibly strong. I still correspond with former roommates, even after forty years have gone by. Some of these people I haven’t even seen since graduation.

This situation can cause a moral dilemma. Does a cadet stick with a friend, even though the friend is doing something wrong? Or does the cadet, who is duty-bound to do so, turn in his best buddy to the authorities?

What I find ironic is that the Honor Code seems almost irrelevant once a cadet becomes an officer and joins the “real” Army. West Point likes everything to be black and white, clearly delineated. In the regular Army things get a bit more fuzzy and grey.

As an example, let me tell you a story that may possibly be true.

Once there was a young company operations officer who, on a Monday morning, suddenly realized that he had not turned in some important paperwork to the brigade HQ. The paperwork had been due by the close of business on the previous Friday. The captain’s clerk is in the office when the operations officer realizes his problem.

Ops Officer: “Fuck! This is supposed to be at brigade! They’re going to have a fit about this shit!”

Sergeant Teddy Bear (he actually looked like a teddy bear): “Sir, hang on. Let me handle this.”

Ops Officer: “What?”

Sergeant Teddy: “Sir, can I use you phone?”

Ops Officer: “Yeah, sure.”

The sergeant dials brigade HQ.

Sgt. Teddy talking on the phone: “Brigade? Hi, this is Sgt. Teddy Bear. Oh, I’m doing okay. And you? Good. Good. Hey, I got a little problem here. We took those forms to your office on Friday, and now I find the damn things back in my in box this morning. What the hell? No, of course I’m not blaming you, but somebody sent that paperwork back here. Sure, I can run the stuff up to you. I’ll do that right away. Thanks. See you soon.”

Sgt. Teddy grinned at his captain, “I’ll be right back. I have to run an errand for you.”

Do You Remember Me?

April 13th, 2021

The young woman peered into the face of her baby. He was still lying in the car seat. He looked back at her with his bright blue eyes.

She smiled at the boy and said,

“Do you remember me? This is Mama. I’m the one who sings ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ to you.”

He kept looking intently at his mother. He might have smiled at her. It’s hard to tell with him.

She picked him up from the car seat and held him. She sat down with him in her lap. He fussed a bit, so she started to feed him a bottle. When he was done eating, she placed him on her shoulder, and gently tapped his back to get him to burp. Eventually, he did. Then he slept.

We were in a large meeting room at the rehab facility. Apparently, kids are often in there. There are toys of various kinds scattered around. On the window sills lay children’s books: Dr. Seuss, Richard Scarry, cheesy Disney stories. There is a refrigerator and a kitchen sink. In a corner sits a comfortable rocking chair.

The walls of the room are covered with slogans. I saw phrases like: “Notice what you can control”, “Honesty”, “Prioritize healing”, “Fight the trigger”, and “Alone is better than a bad relationship”. These were the kinds of words that might help a woman in recovery, maybe. They can’t hurt. There is also a patchwork quilt hanging on the wall. Various women in treatment must have contributed pieces of it. One of the squares in the quilt said, “I trust in the woman I am becoming”.

It was just the four of us in the room: Karin, the young woman, her son, and myself. Karin and I take the boy to see his mom twice a week. The young woman is in residential treatment. We stay with her for a couple hours. Sometimes the lad is awake and alert. Then the woman lays him on a blanket on the floor, and they do “tummy time”. The boy is getting stronger. He can lift his head and he can push himself up, briefly, with his chubby arms. Sometimes, he lies on his back and kicks. He likes doing that. His mom laughs and tells him, “Good job!”

This visit was different. The boy slept for almost the entire two hours. The young woman was a little disappointed, but she was glad to be with the boy. She sat in a chair and held him in her arms. She gazed at him, and stroked his head.

The two of them were at peace.

Writing Letters

April 7th, 2021

“Cast your bread on the waters: for you shall find it after many days.” – Ecclesiastes 11:1

“Just a castaway
An island lost at sea
Another lonely day
With no one here but me
More loneliness
Than any man could bear
Rescue me before I fall into despair

I’ll send an SOS to the world
I’ll send an SOS to the world
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
Message in a bottle
(Message in a bottle)”

from the song Message in a Bottle by the Police

I wrote a letter to Father Steve Kelly two days ago. It was an old school snail mail letter. Father Kelly is currently languishing in a federal prison in Seattle, Washington. He got involved in some serious civil disobedience at a Navy nuclear submarine base in Georgia three years ago. He’s been in the slammer ever since then. Father Kelly is due to go before a judge on Tuesday, April 13th, 2021. He may get released after his court appearance. He may never get my letter.

So, why bother to write it?

Good question.

I don’t know the man. I have never met him. I probably never will. We exchanged a few postcards while he was in a Georgia jail, but that has been our only connection.

I wrote the letter because I know how it is to be alone. A man in prison is terribly alone.

I have often written to people in jail or prison. This includes a family member. I have also written to people in rehab clinics, military boot camps, nursing homes, and hospices. Some of these folks were people close to me. Some were strangers. All of them were desperately lonely, and possibly forgotten by the rest of the world.

It is a bitch to be forgotten.

We live in an age of instant communication. Most of us can contact nearly anybody anywhere with a click. Some people can’t do that. They are isolated. They can’t call or use the Internet. They feel abandoned, because they are.

Writing a letter, a paper letter, requires a bit of effort. However, a handwritten letter or card means more than an email or a text. It is easy to delete an email or a post. A letter is harder to ignore. It begs to be read, maybe more than once. A letter is a tangible thing. It has soul.

Years ago, after my mother died, I wrote a letter every week to my father. He never wrote back, not once. I thought that it was such a waste. Then, when we had a phone conversation, my dad told me how much he looked forward to my letters. Each letter gave him a reason to get up and look into his mail box. They gave him hope.

Writing a letter is an act of faith. I never know who will read my letters, if anyone at all. They may mean nothing to the recipient, or they might mean everything.

So, I write.

Just Read What It Says

April 4th, 2021

Happy Easter.

Karin and I went to the Easter Vigil just a few hours ago. We took little Asher with us. For Catholics this is the night of nights. It is the Catholic version of Passover. We went to the liturgy partly because I was assigned to read from the Scriptures to the congregation during the service. I didn’t originally intend to go to the Mass. I went there because the person organizing the liturgy had run out of lectors, and she needed me to help out. She did not have enough people to proclaim the Word of God, so I offered to do my part. I told the woman from our church that I would be tired, and that I might need to leave after I fulfilled my duties. That is exactly what we did. I felt worn out, and Asher was fussy. Karin would have been happy to stay for the entire liturgy (it was the 20th anniversary of her conversion to Catholicism), but it wasn’t going to happen that way.

There are numerous readings from the Bible during the Easter Vigil. For some reason, I often get selected to proclaim the story of the Sacrifice of Isaac. That is always a struggle for me.

For those who do not know the story from Genesis, here it is:

1  God put Abraham to the test. He called to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am, ” he replied.

2  Then God said: “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.”

3  Early the next morning Abraham saddled his donkey, took with him his son Isaac and two of his servants as well, and with the wood that he had cut for the holocaust, set out for the place of which God had told him.

4  On the third day Abraham got sight of the place from afar.

5  Then he said to his servants: “Both of you stay here with the donkey, while the boy and I go on over yonder. We will worship and then come back to you.”

6  Thereupon Abraham took the wood for the holocaust and laid it on his son Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two walked on together,

7  Isaac spoke to his father Abraham: “Father!” Isaac said. “Yes, son, ” he replied. Isaac continued, “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the holocaust?”

8  “Son,” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust.” Then the two continued going forward.

9  When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. Next he tied up his son Isaac, and put him on top of the wood on the altar.

10  Then he reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son.

11  But the LORD’s messenger called to him from heaven, “Abraham, Abraham!” “Here I am!” he answered.

12  “Do not lay your hand on the boy,” said the messenger. “Do not do the least thing to him. I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.”

13  As Abraham looked about, he spied a ram caught by its horns in the thicket. So he went and took the ram and offered it up as a holocaust in place of his son.

14  Abraham named the site Yahweh-yireh; hence people now say, “On the mountain the LORD will see.”

15  Again the LORD’s messenger called to Abraham from heaven

16  and said: “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you acted as you did in not withholding from me your beloved son,

17  I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore;

18  your descendants shall take possession of the gates of their enemies, and in your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessings all this because you obeyed my command.”

Right now, as I write, our grandson, Asher, sleeps near me. He’s only four months old, and he is totally helpless and dependent on me. I would do anything for him.

So, what if God called to me today and told me to murder this little boy?

Fuck that.

The story of Isaac and Abraham is problematic for both Jews and Christians. It is also an issue for Muslims, although they substitute Ishmael for Isaac in the tale. Rabbis, priests, and imams have spent centuries explaining away the ugly facts in the narrative. They have tried to say that it is all symbolic, or that Abraham and Isaac both knew that it would all turn out okay. Some say that is just a foreshadowing of the Christ’s death. The party line is that is the story is all about obedience and faith.

Maybe.

Just read what it says.

The fact is, if you stay true to the text, if you are honest, this is a story of God demanding human sacrifice. God makes no promises to Abraham at the beginning. He just says, “Do it.”

This particular narrative shows a God who is profoundly cruel. It may be possible, or prudent, to obey such a deity, but it is extremely difficult to love Him.

God may be willing to sacrifice his Son. God may be willing to sacrifice somebody else’s child. That’s his decision. It’s not mine.

God promises Abraham all good things after Abraham attempts to kill his own child. In Genesis, there is no mention of Isaac returning home with Abraham. Abraham goes alone. Even if Abraham did not kill his boy, he lost him. Forever.

Asher whispers in his sleep. He is at peace.

May he remain so.

Aye, Me Bucko

April 1st, 2021

My friend, Ken, a fellow writer and denizen of Lake Park Synagogue, sent me a link to an a cappella Pesach song from the Jewish group, Six 13. The ditty is called “Red Sea Shanty: A Pirate Passover”. I found the music and the lyrics to be hilarious. Others might not find them so funny. It depends partly on a person’s familiarity with the the celebration of the Passover.

It also depends on how fundamentalist a person is about their spiritual path.

I have a litmus test for any and all religious traditions. I look for a sense of humor. If I find none, I flee.

I have no use for zealots of any stripe. If I see those grim faces and wild eyes, I head for the exit. There is a population that lives for the idea of “us and them”. They know that they have the truth. They know that they have the answer. They act accordingly.

I want to be with people who can laugh. I want to be with people who can laugh at themselves. Francis of Assisi had an excellent sense of humor. He understood the absurdity in his own life.

God does not always take us seriously. Why should we?

Here is the link to the Red Sea Passover…

Enjoy.

The Face of God

March 24th, 2021

“The Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you” – Numbers 6:25

It is a curious thing that many images of God (at least in the West) are those of a grumpy old man. It seems like Christians prefer that God the Creator has white hair, a long flowing beard, and a bad attitude. God the Father is seldom portrayed as welcoming, like the father in the parable of The Prodigal Son. He usually looks more like the kind of dad who wants to kick your ass after you wrecked the family car. He is not terribly approachable.

Even images of Jesus are sometimes a bit harsh. The Lord is frequently shown as King and Judge, not often a brother or as a friend. Years ago, I attended a religious retreat, and another guy at the meeting described his version of Jesus as being like a “a stern magistrate”. Why pray to somebody who is out to get you?

The Hindus have innumerable visions of the Divine. Some seem benign, some not so much. The Buddhists have a huge variety of depictions of the Buddha, but then he doesn’t really qualify as a god per se. Maybe the Jews and the Muslims have it right: they have no images of God at all.

Back to Christian iconography…

Images of the Child Jesus are probably the easiest for me to accept. However, even those portrayals make the boy look too much like an adult. It’s obvious that the kid is in charge. Except for maybe in a Nativity scene, the Christ Child never looks like how he really was: tiny, helpless, and totally trusting in others. It seems that Christians just can’t handle the idea that Jesus, who is God, was utterly powerless at the start of his life.

We like power.

Asher, our four-month-old buddy, lies next to me asleep. His little face runs through the entire gamut of human emotion as he slumbers. He looks sad at times, and then he smiles and giggles in a baby dream. He looks scared for a moment, or frustrated, or maybe a bit upset. No matter. Regardless of his expression, his face is always lovable.

When Asher awakens and looks at me, my heart melts. I would do anything for that boy.

Asher’s face is the face of God.