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So, How’s Your Faith?

randomlychad  —  October 27, 2015 — 3 Comments

I have to admit that lately my faith is like shifting sand, changed by the wind. I’m treading water just to keep from sinking. You’ll have noticed that I’ve not been around here much. Work has been extremely taxing, and I’m really fighting with my sleep apnea of late. The long and short of it is that, yes, fatigue colors one’s outlook. What was once a bright and rosy world, full of vivid colors and subtle shades of pastels is now much more drab, grainy, washed out. It’s like going from HD to the kinescope of the 50s. It’s a low res world for me at the moment, and I find myself easily distracted. Carried away by the flotsam and jetsom which crosses my path. You’ll have likely seen the following somewhere online; it describes my world now:  

Unable to quite focus the work I want to do, I need to do, I’ve been tinkering with wireless routers, breaking (and fixing) my Kindle, and watching entirely too much TV. I don’t quite know how to get off of this crazy train, but would appreciate your prayers. 

Thanks!

  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.

 

Photo Credit: “PAIN Knuckle Tattoo 11-23-09 — IMG_9893”, © 2009 Steven Depolo, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

 
There is nothing quite like pain to bring us up short. When it hurts just to breathe, how do we take that next breath? The body knows–even if the receptors in the brain are flaring up like an electrified pin cushion. We would term this bad pain. Certainly unwanted pain. 
You see, I’ve been on a journey to work my way up to a 300 lb bench press. With only a couple of months to go, I recently took a tumble, hurting my back. This is has hindered the forward momentum I had laboriously, by the sweat of my brow, built. Only fifty pounds away from my goal, I’ve had to stop. You see, when one is working out, there are good and satisfying pains of the workout (soreness), there are the pains one pushes through.

And as I alluded to above, there are the pains that quite literally take one’s breath away. We would (as I said above) call this bad pain. The thing is, pain just is. It’s a warning system to let us know when things aren’t right. In these cases, it’s a voice which must be heeded. Or else we risk adding injury to injury.

Author Jim Butcher says there’s one thing we often forget about pain; namely, that it’s for the living. The dead don’t feel it. That we feel pain means, quite bluntly, that we are still alive. Philip Yancey would remind us to look to the leper, whose deadened nerve endings deny the necessary warnings which pain brings…

I’m not going to lie: pain isn’t fun. And the season of recovery, where I must sacrifice some of the progress of made, is frustrating. But it is necessary.

There is something to be said for slowing down. I’ve been able to read more, watch some movies, rest.

Pain let me know that it was time for a reset.

What has pain taught you?

“Isn’t there enough real horror in the world? Why do we need horror stories?” I have been asked these, and other, questions. In fact, I was once on the receiving of a fundagelical intervention because I had the temerity to read the Harry Potter books. In some circles (yes, folks, they’re still out there!), somehow the Old Testament command, “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” has come to mean “thou shalt not read the exploits of a certain boy wizard.” Never mind that it’s fantasy, never mind the fact that the stories are rife with not only biblical–dare I say Christian–themes. The books start with a mother giving her life for her only son. There is sacrifice, honor, loyalty, facing adversity, standing up against the odds. I could go on.

And we’re worried about fantasy depictions of magic? Talk about straining at gnats! But I digress. Yes, there is real horror in the world–rapes, murders, war, torture, sex slavery, racism, and on and on and on. The thing is: horror stories don’t add to the horror in the world; rather, they give us a vicarious outlet for processing those real horrors we experience in life (or see in technicolor on YouTube). The horror story, because it’s a story, gives a safe place to feel our fears. We can put on a movie, or curl up with a book, in the safety and comfort our own homes. If it’s too much, we turn off the movie, or put the book down. We are never really in danger, but the stories remind us of the one fact we seem to almost willingly want to forget: the world is not a safe place. We, especially we in the West, crave nothing so much as safety and comfort. And we become quite wroth when anything threatens that delicate equilibrium. We don’t like to be made to feel uncomfortable. But this is exactly why I both read, and write, horror stories. It’s when I’m feeling the most safe and comfortable that world is most apt to collide head on with me (or I with it). The horror story is a necessary tonic; it reminds us that things aren’t always good, that sometimes things don’t work out for the best in this world. Young men die (I just lost a coworker who was only forty-nine!), while greedy grow old. Babies are born crack-addicted, or with AIDS. Praying grandmothers, serving with all their strength husbands suffering from strokes and with dementia, die before their ill spouses…

It doesn’t make any sense. There’s no rhyme or reason to it.

The horror story comes along, telling us, “Yes, this world is a wilder, weirder, darker, more mysterious place than you can possible imagine.” But you can survive. You will face obstacles you never dreamed of, and will overcome them. The thing is we have to be willing to be made to feel uncomfortable. I find that not many are. We eschew that which makes us feel uncomfortable. Instead of facing our fears, we often give in them labelling it wisdom. Whoever said this world is a safe place?

Now I’m not here suggesting that the horror story be all that we read; rather that we make it a practice to step outside our comfort zones. It may feel uncomfortable and awkward at first, but I think it’s ultimately rewarding. Beyond that, there is precious little other fiction where the veil betwixt the natural and supernatural is so thin–is rent in twain. Horror, and all fantasy fiction for that matter, treats the supernatural as de rigueur–as a matter of fact. Because we, at least those of us who call ourselves christians, live in those two worlds all the time everyday. To us, the supernatural is real. To the writer of fiction, while it might not be real, it at least reflects a worldview much closer to our own; namely, that there are forces which lie outside the realm of physics and rationality. Which can’t be neatly categorized or explained. Supernatural/horror/fantasy fiction, done right, allows for the most of epic of confrontations between good and evil with a capital “E.” In this way, we come nearer in approach to a biblical worldview than we would say a Tom Clancy, or a Lee Child, novel. In those, man is the architect of the evil depicted upon the story’s stage; in Tolkien, there is Sauron. In Harry Potter, Voldemort. In King’s The Stand, there is Flagg. Each of these, whether the author intended or no, comes closer to depicting the world as it is; namely, that there is an enemy, Satan, who is the author of evil. That there is in fact a transcendent evil originating outside our species.

This is why I both read, and write, horror stories.

Beyond that, these stories make us feel something–even if it’s revulsion. They are visceral, and as such can’t be ignored. Like a roller coaster, there are chills and thrills, but ultimately the ride comes to an end, and we get off. Hopefully, we take enough with us to counteract the effects of world which seeks to lull us to sleep, to pull the wool over our eyes. This is why I read and write horror stories.

How about you? Do you read horror stories?

This isn’t a story I want to tell; rather, it’s one I have to tell. It may seem to meander some as I set it stage, but every word represents the truth as I understand it. 

First, the distant past. It would seem that seventy some years ago, my paternal grandparents split up because my grandfather was abusive (they had two daughters at this point). Later on, they tried to reconcile, and my dad was the result. Sadly, the marriage didn’t last, and my dad was forbidden from knowing his dad (or his dad’s side of the family). I’m told he saw him for the last time at the age of twelve. Fast forward to the early fifties, and as they were playing my dad and his sisters found out their mother was remarrying that very morning. I’m given to understand that neither my aunts, nor my dad, had any idea about the nuptials.

Not too long thereafter, at the age of fifteen, my aunt came down with a case of the pregnants. My understanding is that, at some time after their wedding, my step grandfather began touching his step kids. For instance, kids being kids they would have the radio on at night; because it was ostensibly loud, dad would come into the room to turn it down. Apparently, the radio’s knob isn’t what he fiddled with. It was, again, at this time that my aunt got pregnant and moved out. 

As is so often the case, no one talked about it at the time; it was much, much later that folks began to compare stories. There were other things, too: this same man would stay up late watching “snow” on the television. He also apparently jabbed babies in the back of the hand with his fork should they dare reach across his plate at the dinner table… By the time I was born, he was older, nearing retirement age. Perhaps he had beaten whatever demons afflicted him? Who knows? What I heard is that despite what my parents knew about the man, I was left there as a toddler (my grandmother was home). When my mom picked me up, she smelled a funny smell. In fact, she called my cousin, stating that “his sweet baby face smells like semen.” Whether this is true, or not, I’ve no idea; it is however entirely consistent with the man’s character.
Blessedly, I have entirely no memories of this incident. What I can tell you is that, as I briefly sketched out above, it’s not the only such story to swirl around this man. In fact, upon her deathbed, my grandmother threw her hospital tray at him, inviting him to “Go to Hell!” Apparently, she could no longer ignore the the reports she heard, and wanted to clear her conscience in light of her impending demise.

Ladies and gentlemen, abuse is cyclical. Growing up, my dad was distant. Sarcastic and cutting when he was present, but all the awhile emotionally unavailable. He was long gone before he ever left our family. I can’t say with any certainty what he went through as a child; he’s never spoken to me of it. In fact, we don’t speak at all.

That is the legacy of abuse. It destroys families and shatters lives.