As a teen, I read continously as a means of escaping what I then saw as a quotidian, banal, meaningless, dysfunctional existence. All white plastered stucco on the outside, and while not wanting for food and shelter, my upbringing was nevertheless starved of affection, notice, approval. As a latch key kid, there were really no boundaries, and thus no real sense of security. And without security, there was no feeling, no bedrock, of love to fall back upon. 

So I read to feel something, anything. To know I wasn’t alone. To know that, as bad as I perceived things to be, some folks had it worse. Oftentimes, these folks were the characters at the heart of a Stephen King story. One of my favorites was Pet Sematary. I read that book through three times (something I didn’t normally do) in rapid succession. Due, I think, in part to its sheer visceral appeal, but perhaps unconsciously also to its parallel to my own (limited) life experience up to that time. Consider:

1) The Creeds move was supposed to make their lives better, bring them closer as a family. Likewise, my dad’s promotion, transfer, and my family’s subsequent move west was supposed to do the same. In neither case did that prove to be true. Both families ended up falling apart.

2) In both life, and art, there was a father haunted by demons he couldn’t shake; both, while the specifics are of course different, succumbed to their unholy siren song.

3) While my cat was named Cornelius, and not Church, I lost him in a neighborhood accident. Whether animal, or a vehicle, got him I don’t recall.

4) Much like Judson Crandall in the story, we had a kindly older neighbor named Johnny. Like Louis in the book, my dad spent many a night drinking with him.

These are but a few of the ways in which life imitated art. Though as I said I wasn’t likely tuned into at the time, being an isolated, largely self-involved teen. I just share this as a means of explaining the book’s hold on, and power over, me. It appealed in ways I couldn’t then even begin to understand. Much in the way I couldn’t understand why my dad grew more and more distant. More and more closed off; until he just wasn’t there anymore at all. Like Louis Creed, he had his secrets, and those secrets destroyed a family.

Family is what I wish to write of today. As a husband and father myself, I’ve seen the devastating effects of my own secret sins wreak havoc on my family. Things, as they do in Pet Sematary, have a way of finding is out. And there is usually hell to pay. Oftentimes in art, as in life, warnings are given; yet we stubbornly, steadfastly choose to trudge right past them into our own (metaphorical) burying grounds. We believe somehow, as Louis Creed does, that it will be different for us–that we’ll, if not totally unscathed, escape the brunt of the consequences. That is basic human nature.

It is this power of temptation to work upon the mind, and heart, its wiles which lies at the heart of the Pet Sematary.

You see after reading it three times, I did not again revisit the Pet Sematary until just recently. Perhaps as a married man and father, knowing the general content of the tale, I was afraid to? This is likely. Perhaps it was because I knew that tales have a way of growing with us as we grow older? Yes, this, too.

So with trepidation and not a little dread, I reread the book. My worst suspicions were confirmed. Rather than diminish, the power of the book had grown. For what man among us, and despite the dire warnings, if he called himself a loving father, would not be tempted to do exactly as Louis Creed does? That is the insidious appeal and power which King has placed at the heart of Pet Sematary. Louis Creed is everyman who, when faced with a devastating loss, turns to the only way he can see out of it. It’s his fault, and by God (or other means) he’s going to fix it.

Only never works out that way, does it? Despite trying over and over again, we never can quite manage to squeeze some good out of something bad.

That, my friends, is the power of temptation, and the sway under which all of us on this side of the grave live.

God help us all, darling.

It’s Not All Good

randomlychad  —  August 24, 2015 — 2 Comments


Photo Credit: “”it’s all good”…best Pete the Cat quote ever”, © 2014 Kate Ter Haar, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

There are only four chapters in the Bible where everything is good: the first two chapter of Genesis, and the last two chapters of Revelation. This is particularly telling, for we inhabit the space in between those four chapters. Where all is not good, all is not as it once was, nor as it will one day be. From our limited, time bound perspective, it seems that we are perpetually in the third act of a four act play. If this were Narnia, this is that time when “it is always winter, but never Christmas.”

This is the in-between. A time supposed to be defined by the declaration of Christ upon the cross: “It is finished.” Yet paradoxically we are also told “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” In short, it’s a time where we are told that God is good; where we see the majesty of mountains, the relentlessness of powerful tides, the sonorous rumblings of thunderstorms, the vast expanse of stars in the night sky, and simultaneously the depths of depravity, evil, loss, privation. There is cancer, famine, pestilence, war, children are abused, Christians lie, people are sold into sexual slavery, babies are ripped living from their mother’s womb, and dissected into their component parts for experimentation and sale.

The world as we see and experience it provides ample prima facie evidence that flies right in the face of the assertion that “God is good.” Despite the beauty we see around us in creation, there is evil. The beauty is marred. Yet how do we know it as evil, lest there is an opposing standard of good? In the words of C.S. Lewis, “If the universe was without meaning we should not know it was without meaning.” Somehow, innately we know that there is good, that things are not right. That some things are objectively right, that others are objectively wrong.

It is why we fight against injustice, hunger, abuse, slavery, racism, abortion. Yet the fight is daunting. It seems that when fire is extinguished, more–hotter and fiercer–spring up in its place. For every Mother Theresa there’s a Pol Pot, a Mao. For every Billy Graham there’s a Joel Osteen. Evil seems overwheming. Because we live in a world at war, in that in-between time. That period in history between Eden and the consolation of all things in Revelation. There is no going back; we can only, as all the heroes of the hall of faith recounted in Hebrews chapter eleven did, press on. Not receiving the promise, yet looking forward to that city with foundations.

Whose Builder and Maker is God.

Press. On.

Like Frodo and Sam on the path to Mt. Doom, or Christ on the way to the cross, there is only one way forwards:

Through the pain.

It seems all we want are happy, pain-free lives–think that because we’re Americans, or denizens of the enlightened West, that we are entitled to such. We forget that we neither live in Eden, nor in Heaven. That there will be pain, hardship, tears, evil. That good plans will sometimes come to naught. That this world is not as God would have it to be.

That we have a responsibility to partner with Him in setting things to rights….

It’s not all good.

But someday it will be.

Lord, haste the day.


© 2008 Andrew Kuznetsov, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

A few years and many words ago, I had a tidy little community here. I would write something, and people would reply. Then that began tapering off.

And so did my output. Somewhere along the way, I lost my passion. Getting caught up in the engagement, I forgot what I’d even started for. I had goals both serious and superficial (the blog is, after all, called RandomlyChad). I wanted it to be a community for people who hadn’t gotten it all figured out, who had been stung a time or two by life, but still weren’t afraid to laugh.

Well, there isn’t much community here anymore, and I have no one to blame but myself. I forgot why I was here, and for whom I was writing. I’ve learned some lessons along the way:

1) It’s better to love, and be loved, than to be popular. Popular is a moment, but love lasts a lifetime (and beyond). There’s no need to keep up with the Kardashians (or anyone else for that matter). Just because Donald Miller, or Jeff Goins, or Michael Hyatt, or Jon Acuff, or Rachel Held Evans, or whomever is doing XYZ doesn’t mean what they’re doing is a formula for all of us. The good Lord above hasn’t called us to be clones, but rather individuals. As such, we each have our own passions and interests. Our art should reflect that. Besides, people are quite good at sussing out imitations. Why do we need a copy of XXX when the real thing is right over there. That’s either pastiche, or parody. Be your own thing, and don’t lower your gaze to settle on mere popularity.

2) Writing is hard work. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying through their gleaming pearly-whites. It’s really a lot like working out: one’s muscles must be exercised to grow. Growth does not happen overnight, but over the many days, weeks, months, and eventually years invested in the gym. Barbells don’t curl themselves; likewise, pens don’t pick themselves up to march across the page apart from human intervention (if they do, that’s something out of a Stephen King story). Anything worth doing takes time, attention, dedication, and focus. Note well: this process will involve pain. There are no shortcuts. The path is through the pain–not around it.

3) Life, and the people in it, come before any blog, book, work of art, etc. As Stephen King said, “Life is not a support system for art; it’s the other way around.” There’s simply a point where life must be loved, and not just merely commented upon. It’s easy to sit in our ivory towers pontificating; much harder to live, and to love, well. If we put our art, our creativity, above living well we’ve missed it. We’ve missed the point entirely. All of those around us will suffer for it. Again, there are no shortcuts. If we know that we’re living half-heartedly–not putting in the time, not really making the effort–you can bet your bottom dollar that others can tell, too.

I can promise you this: that if we take the time, and love well, we will have more interesting stories to tell. It’s like this: “For where your treasure is there will your heart be also.” Invest in the right place, and although you may not reap the rewards of success, money, popularity, or acclaim, you will realize rewards that will continue to pay into eternity when your life (and your voice) is but a legacy.

As Jesus said, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his own soul?”

What indeed?


2010 Cristina L. F., Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Author: Bill McChesney Author URL: https://www.flickr.com/people/bsabarnowl/ Title: 24230 Communion and Extended Communion First Presbyterian Church Charlottesville April 3, 2011 Year: 2011 Source: Flickr Source URL: https://www.flickr.com License: Creative Commons Attribution License License Url: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ License Shorthand: CC-BY Download Image

 
Church culture fascinates me. For instance, who decided that in the order of service communion should follow the greeting? You know what I’m talking about. There’s that time, every Sunday, when pastor announces that we should “extend the right hand of fellowship” to those around us? He means shake hands and say “Hi” to make folks feel welcome.

Well and good. People should feel welcome in our churches. I don’t have an issue with greeting folks (except that I mostly want to sit down and keep to myself). My problem is that when Communion Sunday rolls around it always comes after the greeting and not before.

My problem is that I don’t know where all those hands have been, you know? Who’s been scratching their head, nose, etc.? Who’s gone to the restroom (and not washed)? Who’s been changing diapers? Who’s (maybe) picked their nose, sneezed, coughed, whatever? (I’m sure you’ve seen that one guy who, when he thought no one was looking, scratched his posterior).

The answers are:

Don’t know

Don’t know

Don’t know

Don’t wanna know

Don’t know

And Ew!

And yet it never fails that I’m supposed to take communion, by placing that flavorless wafer in my mouth using the very hand I’ve just used to greet my brothers and sisters. They should have hand sanitizer dispensers as on the backs of pews so we can all freshen our hands before partaking of the Lord’s Supper.

It’s just a thought. 

I mean the juice comes in a little cup, right? Why not put that little, flavorless, moisture-sucking pellet in a cup, too–instead of in a receptacle where we all have to fish it out by hand? That’s just a thought, too, you know.

Then again, what if, say, the church implements a two-cup system (two cups, one… never mind), with the wafer in the bottom, and the wine substitute in the upper cup. What happens, say, if that juice sloshes around, or if the volunteers were a little too enthusiastic jamming those communion cups together? I’d say that the situation is ripe for that one perfect storm you never want to have happen when partaking of the Lord’s Supper:

Spilling Jesus.

What is spilling Jesus? It’s when the little cups either get stuck in the tray, and you can’t get them out, or the cups themselves are wedged so tightly together, that you end up spilling the juice all over yourself, your wife, her new dress, and the pew.

Not that that’s ever happened to me, mind you. It’s just a good thing I’m not Catholic (speaking of, can you imagine taking communion from the same cup? Many people, one cup? Yuck!).

I’m not sure what (if any) the lesson in all this is. Maybe we just need to be careful about how and where we spill Jesus?

  

I have dreams. Some good and pleasant; filled with fluffy clouds scudding in an azure sky, warm breezes, brilliant sunshine, picnic baskets, and sticky fingers. 
Some… not so good. In those dreams, the fingers are sticky, too; not with cotton candy, or caramel apples, but with blood. There is death, divorce, decay, mayhem, mischief, and maybe a glimmer of hope. Hope that I might wake up.
But what if I don’t? These are my Mean Dreams. They have teeth, biting with the carrion beaks of buzzards, fetid, foul, and smelling of the grave.  The air is redolent with their heavy scent.

They will linger long in your memory, too, these Mean Dreams.
Mean Dreams, an anthology of stories, coming by the end of 2015.