I know nothing about music. I can’t read music except to “hunt and peck” using my fingers to figure out F-A-C-E or E-G-B -D-F (for “Every good boy does fine”). I must look up the duration or time of each type of note as I vaguely remember. I could read music at age 8 or 9, but that ended as I will explain below.

This morning I did my walk on the Tommy Thompson trail by the sea (actually Puget Sound). It was a glorious morning with a bright sun shining over the snow-capped North Cascades to the east and the—visible—Coastal Range of British Columbia to the north. Greta, my Saint Bernard, was in puppy day care (first time in two months) so I had the freedom to not have to focus on her (keeping her from terrorizing other people with her drools). Yesterday I felt horrible and my “Update” may have reflected that, but today, I woke up feeling some better. As I started my walk, I plugged in my music player and turned up the volume. My “play list” is a diverse collection of music from almost all genres, save “gospel music,” which I don’t care for. My “shuffle” play que this morning had Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (not all of the songs on the album, but most), followed by George Gershwin‘s, Rhapsody in Blue, (which I—the musically illiterate—considers the greatest piece of music ever composed by an American). This was followed by several songs from the group FUN.’s album Some Nights. The last music, before making it back to the car, was the Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major by the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Now, back to the reason that I never studied music. When I was 8 or 9 I did have one required, weekly music class. We were taught how to read music and basic piano. The county school music teacher called my mom (and I was the only one at my school who she did this for) and told her that I was gifted in music (my musically inclined in-laws, children, and friends are probably in disbelief at this news). I have no clue how the music teacher figured this out and I’m still convinced it was a case of mistaken identity. She insisted that my mother pinch pennies and find me a private music teacher. My mother did set me up for private piano lessons with Ms. Light, even though it was not in her budget.

This turn of events was a personal disaster. The reason was, as a boy in my red-neck area of Appalachia, if you showed interest in music, you would be taken behind CB Ayres’ old store (a derelict building across the street from our school) and someone or a group of boys would beat the shit out of you. The only exception, about having an interest in music, was if you wanted to create a garage band. That was okay just only if you couldn’t read music because “Only queers and girls can read music.”

I witnessed several boys getting the shit beat out of them. One, was called “Donkey” because they considered his IQ was the same as a donkey . . . because he has Down Syndrome. This young man had the shit beat out of him by our basketball star, not in spite of, but because he had Down Syndrome. If you were a person of color or gay, I’m sure your life would have been in serious jeopardy at our school.

But seriously, that was the reason I hated music. When I started my private music lessons, I never practiced, and I did worse on tests and performances than I could have—deliberately—so I would fail. The teacher eventually told my mother that, while I seemed to have an uncanny understanding of music, I was not motivated. She suggested that the lessons end (after about a year). Whew, I got out of music lessons prior to anyone in my class finding out.

While, sadly, I still don’t know much about music, especially music theory, I do know a lot about physics and am especially interested in things like quantum physics and string theory. I know enough about math that I’m awestruck from it. I do know a fair about writing, and I wish I knew more. I know just a little bit about visual arts. The reason I’m bringing up these other disciplines because they are all the same. They are each a simple translation of the same melodious force woven within our universe.

The Greek philosopher Pythagoras saw that numbers were the basis of everything, including music. He, while watching a blacksmith work, observed that when he struck his anvil, different notes were produced according to the weight of the hammer. Therefore, a mathematical number (in this case amount of weight of the hammer) seemed to govern musical tone. He also observed that another number (space or distance) governs the tone of a finger along the strings of a stringed instrument.

Image result for pythagoras


Plato further defined this relationship between math and music as he observed that there is a mathematical harmony within the universe, discoverable by math and heard through music, which transcends simple logic. To mean, it is an echo of the creator in a marvelous universe. Music is simply using a stethoscope to listen to, and to hear the harmony and order of the math of the universe.

I was completely blow away by my odd collection of music this morning. While representing profoundly different styles and instruments, they were strangely speaking the same message. The brilliance of the composer, like Gershwin, was listening to that sound and transcribing it into a menagerie of physical sounds using math (the wind instruments have their reeds or holes precisely located, the strings the same).

I have rarely felt close to God in a church and that’s no one’s fault. The one exception may be where I walked in on a pipe organ recital in Norte Dame in Paris, but that’s a high bar. I was, at the time, living as a homeless man in France and walked into the church to get out of the rain (I was sleeping on a park bench in front of the church). However, I have always felt close to God when I hear a beautiful piece of music, like this morning. It doesn’t have to be any kind of religious music. Oddly, most gospel music is the only music that makes me feel less close to God. Good art makes me sense the presence of God, like walking through a world-class museum or reading a well-written novel. Physics makes me feel much closer to God, especially the complex equations of string or super-string theory (see the photo below). Those equations scream of order in the universe, as does good music, art, writing, and conversation.

Sitting and having coffee with another human being helps me feel closer to God, one created being connecting with another in honest communications. Pretentious conversations make me feel further from God.

A Photo Connecting the Dots in the History of String Theory

In closing, I came across this interview today with the (world-famous) astrophysicist Michio Kaku, who is now making the case for God, on the same thought as I’m trying to express. It may not sound like the Christian God at this point. but it is a start.


I typed this with two hands on this, my  non dialysis day. But I had to type fast and I’m sorry about any typos.

UPDATE: 2/28/19

I’m posting so soon because this week was a bit confusing and now we have some direction. I’m not narcissistic enough to think that people want a daily update, but I think my kids do.

Beside my labs not being scheduled, it became a bit confusing today because my next round of chemo was not scheduled either. Today we got that resolved. I will be starting round 3 of chemo on Monday.

So, as I mentioned yesterday, I did get two sets of labs done in two consecutive days. This allowed me to get a snapshot of my renal function. Overall, my two toxins, creatinine and BUN fell into the normal range (bloods drawn immediately after dialysis). However, by yesterday, those two toxins had risen, meaning my kidneys are still not clearing the toxins on their own (I think I said that yesterday).

I also have labs in the “cooker” in California that will look at my cancerous proteins. The results of those should be back by Monday. I think I mentioned how important these are, because if they are down (which is an 80% chance), then we are on the right path with chemo. If they are not down, not only is more damage being done to my kidneys, but it means that my chemo is not working. We have had several weeks of bad news and I am hoping that this will be different this time. It would really lift our spirits. So, pray for my kidneys to return to function so I can get off dialysis (same old hope) and for the chemo to be working.

One of the disappointing things about my kidneys toxins now being normal (thanks to dialysis) is that my constellation of symptoms is no better. I have a lot of neurological symptoms, heart palpations with minimal exertion and now the neck pain is back as well as a bad cough. I am so sick of these. It is not like a normal problem that gets better with time. I was hoping all those symptoms would resolve when the kidney function reached the normal area. I still hope that these symptoms would get better in time but my hold out for them getting better when my kidney toxins were removed, was not been realized.

I’ve had people say to me that I should try to focus on the good news. My point, recently, there hasn’t been a lot. If my kidneys came back, I will do Michael Jackson’s moon walk! I’m not wanting bad news, really I’m not!. But the only good news that I can come up with right is that I’m alive. I am happy about that and for that I am gracious. However, that’s a pretty low bar for good news. Mike

I will be back when my labs are back, unless something else happens.  Mike

UPDATE: 2/27/19

The Day they Wheels Came off the Plan

I’ve carefully edited this post to reflect developments by the end of the day. So, in summary, I was supposed to have important labs done on Monday (to see if the chemo is working and to monitor my renal function). However, those orders got lost. It was a long, tedious process getting those orders through. They finally fell through at the end of the day today.

But it was a frustrating experience to know that I had to have labs done on Monday, yet, the electronic orders did not come up. It took about eight phone calls and two visits to iron this out.

But labs are now done, but I don’t have results at this time, due to the delay.  Mike



Ramblings: The Magnificent Material, Part I

Sunday mornings has always been a morning I like to “sleep-in,” which means sleeping until 7 AM or maybe 7:30 AM. But once awake, it is a morning when I like to make breakfast (for myself or Denise and me) and return to bed to eat it. When I had TV, I would watch a morning news show. But I also like to descent into a world of music videos. My taste in music is a little eclectic. These videos can arrange from Pink Floyd to Train, to Bruno Mars, and Johann Sebastian Bach.

This Sunday, my first video took me to a live performance of What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWzrABouyeE). It has been one of my favorites as of late. From that one, I went to one of my favorite singers, Eva Cassidy. Some have called her the greatest American voice of all time (although many people have not heard of her as most people were listening to Brittany Spears singing about not being that innocent). I love her version of Fields of Gold. However, on Sunday, I was not satisfied with the same old songs. I knew she had died at a young age of 33 from melanoma. I was curious to know more. I stumbled on an excellent documentary about her by the ABC Nightline (https://youtu.be/bXU219b3Zdw). I also learned that her last performance was in a cancer fund-raiser, where she sang a wonderful version of What a Wonderful World. Her best friend said that she had to take a huge amount of Morphine to  be able to get on stage as the cancer was all through her bones. Someone recorded her (cheap, not professional) singing that song a year or two earlier in the same club where she sang it for the last time (https://youtu.be/c_GKZNvPD-4). I listened to it in tears. I felt this strange connection to her. She knew she was dying (she died 3 weeks after her last performance) and she must have felt this tremendous love for this wonderful world. I felt her pain as she was saying her goodbyes, not just to friends, but to this planet and the world of people. I’m sorry Louis, but I have now put Eva’s version one notch above yours.

About 6 weeks ago I was laying in a hospital in a step-down unit in shock (emotionally) from being in renal failure and having cancer. It was very dangerous time for me those first few days. My nephrologist, who was very smart–but not that compassionate—kept telling me that they were trying to save my life and they were not sure they could. I was in acidosis and my potassium kept rising to a lethal level. My body became her personal chemistry set for a few days. I was coming out of that fog of possible death (after saying my goodbyes and planning my funeral) I pulled up Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World on my tablet. Ten days later, when I got to go outside to the well enclosed Koi garden, I felt a drop of Pacific NW rain on my face and I touched a rock, a simple river rock on the ground, and the tears filled my eyes. I thought I would never touch this planet again.

Now, I must confess that I’m deeply in love with not just this planet, and not just this world with all it’s wonderful people groups, but the entire universe. Hubble has opened my eyes to the glory and mystery that carries us 14 billion years away. I know that by me saying I’m a in love with the universe makes me sound like a “Protlandia” person.

I remember a time in my life, when I was an evangelical, that saying this I love this world would show others that I was not a spiritual person, because a good Christian would know that this dirty earth was nasty and was destined to be destroyed by God. They would also believe that Jesus was coming soon to rescue us from this horrible place. A good Christian would also know that the focus of our minds should be in Heaven, where we could float on clouds, walk streets of gold, and pet smiling unicorns.

I grew up in the Bible belt. Our weekly drive to church was one of my favorite trips, not because of the church as much as the drive. It was only 10 miles from the community of Fall Branch to a smaller community of Lovelace. The narrow black-topped road entered an area of woods where a creek, to our right, tumbled over a series of limestone rocks and ledges, just short of a waterfall. Near the bottom of this cascade sat an old, two-story gristmill. It was really old, built around 1820. The old, rotting wheel sat static over the creek.

Also, along this lovely road, tucked back between the ash, maple, and oak trees, where several large piles of garbage. I remember a puzzling conversation when my dad made a comment about how it “Burns him up” to see people dumping their garbage in the woods. Then, either he or my mom, sitting in the front seat of our pale-yellow, Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, said something about Christians dump in the woods because they know that “They know its all going to burn up.” Speaking of burning, a group of teenagers burned down that old, wonderful mill on a Halloween night around 1970. I was deeply grieved about the loss of the history. But, like the plant, it was seen as garbage by the community.

About the same time, I started to notice that 90% of the hymns that we sang in that little white Baptist church in Lovelace had the lyrics that about this world was insignificant and our hearts and minds should be in Heaven. I heard the same from the sermons, especially sermons given at funerals.

Then, in 1977 something unusual happened to me. I climbed a mountain, alone, on clear autumn day with a cheap and leaky pup tent. I spent the night on a 5600-foot bald (which is high in the Appalachians). During that night, I experience so many inspiring things. In the evening, the clouds covered me (the patch of mountains has the nickname of “Cloudland” because it as often in or above the clouds). I was drenched during the night as the thick clouds around me condensed on the walls of my K-mart tent. I thought I was going to freeze as the temperature was hovering in the thirties. I hardly slept. By morning, the sun rose over North Carolina and it was spectacular. My rocky perch was then above the clouds. In all directions I saw nothing but thick, white clouds below me, save a few “islands in the sky,” being the mountains—like Mount Mitchell—that rose near 7,000 feet. I know it sounds corny, but I fell in love with nature during that experience and have been deeply in love with her ever since. John Denver captures what I’m saying in his The Mountain Song (https://youtu.be/7aREZFsdh-8).

One of the biggest mistakes the Christian Church has made over the centuries is their relegation of nature to something to we should loath. Today, the evangelicals don’t believe in global warming, not because the science hasn’t convinced them, but because they really don’t give a damn. Let the planet over-heat and bake itself into oblivion. Maybe such an event will usher in Jesus’ return.

All ideologies eventually have blood on their hands. It comes at the juncture where the idea behind the ideology supplants the value of the individual. Religious ideologies have, historically, been some of the worse and Christianity is no exception. So, while at this moment in history you can make a clear argument that Islamic splinter groups have taken the lead in the instigating of violence of humanity against humanity, that has not always been true. In seventeenth century Europe, more than one million people were killed by horrible acts of violence between the in-fighting of Christian splinter groups. To the Aztecs, Incas, and Mayan civilizations, Christian armies such as those under the leadership of Hernando Cortés, Pedro de Alvarado, and Francisco Pizarro were no less than Isis or Al-Qaeda in their use of terrorism and torture to conquer in the name of a religious ideology.

However, one of the greatest transgressions the historical Church has committed, beyond the use of violence or things like sexual abuse, has been this relegation of the material world to the inferior if not the evil.

Okay, a word of warning. I’m about to go down a historical-philosophical rabbit hole and not everyone will want to follow me. This is getting long and my “hunt and peck” typing with one hand from a dialysis machine is getting long. So, I will divide this up into Parts I and II. I will be back in a couple of days to finish up this thought.

UPDATE 2/24/19

I don’t have much to update, but I know family is asking.

The short version is that there is not much new. However, I will expound below.

An important even tomorrow is that I should (the orders haven’t gone through yet) be getting my labs done to look at my kidney function AND to check on my cancerous proteins. My bad protein started at 2658 (normal is <24) when I was diagnosed and were down to 246 (thanks mostly to plasma-paresis) on 2/5/19. Now, we need to know if the chemotherapy is working. If the 246 is plateaued or, better, gone down, then we know the chemo is working. If it is not working, we have to come up with a new plan. The second most used chemo can’t be used with someone like me with renal failure. There is a new monoclonal antibody treatment (daratumumab) that I could use, but is much more expensive. However, the silver lining is that it works better and has less side effects.

This lab will also give me a good view if my kidneys are clearing the toxins; creatinine and BUN, on their own because it will be 55 hours + since I’ve had dialysis.

Tomorrow morning I will need to get this lab scheduled as, for some reason, the orders didn’t go through. The results for the kidney function will not be back until Wednesday and the protein results will not be back until next Monday.

I still request prayer that my kidneys would start to work so I can get off dialysis and that my chemo is working. Please also pray for my symptoms to resolve. I wanted to be clear again, if I only had Multiple Myeloma, I would feel quite normal. While the cancer can eventually take my life, it is not causing me any symptomatic problems.

I do have a long list of (some bizarre) symptoms which is greatly impacting my quality of life. Most of these symptoms are caused (so we believe) by living in renal failure for–only God knows–how long.  These symptoms include; extreme fatigue (I could barely walk to the car 4 weeks ago, now I’ve gotten up to 2.5, flat, slow miles), I also have this strange problem with my heart where it is very fast and with the smallest exertion it spends up, my blood pressure goes way up and I am very short of breath. We did start a heart/blood pressure medication Metoprolol, which is helping some. But it’s not clear why this is happening except for the effects of renal failure on the heart. I wish so much this would go away. I also have  (most likely related to the renal failure) this constant and strange constellation of neurological symptoms, which are more of a nuisance.  I thought these symptoms would go away once I got my renal toxins down. These symptoms have improved 10-20% over the past month. I’m impatient.

I did work 1/2 day last week. That went well. Fortunately, it was in the morning on a non-dialysis day and I had the energy. I will try to repeat that each week. If I ever get off dialysis, I can increase my work load to 2-3 days per week. I made to a church elder’s meeting last week and to church for the first time today. We also had one night where we pretended that life was normal and went out on a date. That was nice.

So that’s the latest. I will update when I get the labs back on Wednesday and next Monday. I do have a week off from chemo, so this week I only have dialysis on three days and the rest of the days I can work on exercising, trying to increase my tolerance.  Mike



Ramblings: Fate and Misfortune Fatigue

Imagine that it was the year 300 B.C. and you were sitting on the steps of the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens. You and a group of philosophers would be debating the topic of fate. This was a common topic of debate during those years and the years to follow. The dilemma that the early Greeks faced was that in their polytheistic society, it was not clear if fate controlled their gods or their gods controlled fate. You must remember that their concept of god was much closer to our present-day Marvel super heroes. Their gods fought among themselves and it appeared that fate controlled them. But then, how could they be considered a god?

Image result for philosophers debating at the acropolis

We, humans, have always had a hard time dealing with the concept of fate and that struggle is universal. The atheist must cope with it as does the Christian and virtually all religions, each in their own way.

Fate is a topic that I’ve thought about a lot, more in these days. The reason is simple. As I’ve mentioned in other ramblings, the odds of me getting Multiple Myeloma (MM) in my lifetime was .04%. That means that I had a 99.96% chance of not getting MM. While there is no way to compare cancers, MM, like pancreatic cancer, must one of the worse. It is so bad because it isn’t something you screen for like with a colonoscopy, mammogram, or a PSA. It also comes on in stealthy way, where you don’t know you have it until it has (as in my case) destroyed your kidneys or your bones start breaking for no reason. MM is also considered incurable and always ends in death, unless the victim survives long enough—through treatments—to die from something else. The last reason MM is considered gnarly, is that when you die from it, it isn’t pretty. It is where your bones dissolve to the point they all start to fail, causing considerable pain and suffering. But there is no easy cancer and I shouldn’t even attempt to make a comparison.

The honest atheist realizes that fate, like everything else for them, is meaningless. It happens per the statistical chances according to the laws of nature. The dishonest atheist, however—and there are many of them—tries to inject meaning by repeating clichés such as, “All things happen for a reason.”

I can’t speak for all Muslims, but I can look at the way my Muslims friends in Cairo dealt with fate. They called it the “Evil Eye.” It wasn’t clear, and they seemed to waver, if this evil eye was from the devil or as a punishment from God. Most of the time it seemed to be the latter.

The best example of this idea of fate was when our neighbors, parents and two daughters, went on a week-end trip but didn’t come home as planned. It was a week later when another neighbor saw their daughter, wearing a burka—which she didn’t normally wear—buying groceries at midnight. This neighbor confronted her. Finally, she confessed that they were in a car wreck on their trip and her mother was injured and in the hospital. The family was very embarrassed, not because the accident suggested that they were bad drivers, but because it suggested that God allowed the evil eye to harm them because of some sin someone in the family had done.

Image result for bad news

I’ve mentioned before that I was an evangelical for about seventeen years (ages 18 to 35) and I know that culture well. They, too, struggle with the concept of fate, just like the early Greeks and for the same reason. They pretend to have a handle on it, but hey must become theological contortionists to justify fate. The problem is, they always want to define fate as an attribute of God’s sovereignty. So, you can’t say that something happened without God’s consent, or they will interpret it as God is weak or limited. Therefore, there is a huge social pressure—within that narrative—to bury bad news.

I remember, like it was yesterday, attending a workshop for all new missionaries on how to write a successful newsletter for donor churches. The speaker said that a missionary should never, ever, write anything but exciting and positive news. He said, “Write about all the great things God is doing, but never about struggles because churches back home don’t want to give money to losers.”  The sad thing was that he was correct.

In Egypt, I ran into another missionary from different organization. After I knew him well, he confided in me that he had been admitted to a psychiatric hospital for severe depression. I asked him how his donors and supporting churches reacted to that. He looked at me in shock and said, “There is no way I would tell them. They would drop us like a rock. I tell them that things are fantastic.” I’m sure he was right.

Another missionary confided in me that their yong daughter had been raped by someone within their organization. He went on to tell me how he and his wife had to create this convoluted lie to cover the reason why she had to be sent back to the states to live with her grandparents (not mentioning how she had been traumatized). But they could tell no one about this dark secret because it would not fit within the evangelical paradigm of sweetness, miracles, and good news. There was a profound disconnect between their real life overseas and their newsletters, which they sent back home. I suggest most missionary newsletters, just like Face Book posts, are a deception of real life at best.

Somehow, we must disconnect fate from the idea of God’s sovereignty. Bad things happen for no reason and we must be comfortable with that. It isn’t suggesting that God isn’t powerful enough to control fate or that the victim is responsible (for example not praying hard enough). We must stop injecting meaning, such as God’s punishment, or somehow the bad news is the fault of the one who is suffering from it.

I wish—more than you can imagine—I had good news of miracles to share, but I don’t. It is not because I’m a negative person and I’ve failed to “look at the bright side.” It is simply, for no reason, I’ve had very little good news to report. I hear, almost daily, “Mr. Jones your labs are really bad.” or “Mr. Jones, your blood pressure and pulse are really high and dangerous.” To which I keep apologizing, “I’m sorry.” I’ve had many people praying for my kidneys to get better. I’ve prayed my heart out. However, so far, their progress has been quite disappointing. I’ve prayed for my constellations of symptoms to get better, however, so far, there has been very little progress and some of the old symptoms have been replaced by new symptoms related to chemo.

Image result for dialysis machine

I fear that within this narrative that my bad news will become loathsome to others and that I will soon be abandoned. I pray for good news to come and I will share it as soon as it comes. I’ve found myself over-reporting how well I feel, as not to disappoint. Others have reported back to me that they’ve heard that I’m doing great, to which I must stare. I wish I were doing great. I feel rough and each day is a struggle to cope (physically). I am glad that I’m alive and for that I am thankful. But I am still wanting for good news to share . . . and you will be the first to know when it comes.

Mike (typing with one hand from a dialysis machine so please forgive the typos).












UPDATE: 2/18/19

  • As I’ve said before, getting my kidneys to work on their own is huge, and will make treating my cancer drop from being extremely difficult to just difficult. I had labs today. In summary, my toxins (creatinine and BUN) are still double the normal limit but have remained flat during two days of no dialysis. This means my kidneys are trying to clear the toxins. If we can get them down to normal and they stay there, these tubes come out and dialysis is over. Otherwise it is permanent. I have another lab tomorrow. Please pray for my kidneys to heal!
  • My hemoglobin has risen from 6.5, 4 weeks ago (normal is 14 and mine is being pushed down by my renal failure) is up to 10.1 today. I can feel my strength getting better each day. I hiked 2.5 miles today, up from 2 the previous days.
  • I’m in the second round of chemo. I will have labs done in two weeks that will tell us if it is working. This chemo works in about 75% of cases like mine (putting me in remission, not curing). If it is not working, it means that my kidneys are being damaged more by the protein and the disease is growing unchecked. Please pray that my protein (IgG Lambda light chain) is back to normal, which is <24 mg/l. I started out at 2658.2 mg/l, 4 weeks ago.
  • I thank God that;
    • My moderate to severe headache (we didn’t know the cause), which lasted 10 days, is gone.
    • My neck pain is improving (we don’t know the cause).
    • That my unexplained tachycardia, while is still present, is now being controlled by, yet, another medication. It could be related to the catheters in my chest, which end up at the right atrium.


Ramblings: Caring for the Care-givers

I am finding that one of the most difficult things about being suddenly and seriously ill is trying to figure out how I can care for the care-givers, meaning my family. Of course, when someone like me is seriously ill, the attention first points to me. But then, we must start to care for the care-givers and me, being the one ill and the father and husband, must be a primary source of that care.

The difficulty is having so much on my plate to deal with. The constant ill-feeling and pain. The fear of the unknown, including death and suffering. Then, I must find the energy to provide care back.

I have walked through being a care-giver to the care-giver when Denise’s father was ill and died. She did the same to me when my father and mother both passed. It is hard enough in those situations, when you are otherwise normal, to find the skills and words to provide that care to someone else who is caring for someone suffering and dying. But when it is you who is the sufferer, you must still find the way and the energy to meet those needs and that is where it is difficult.

Image result for Greek monk in a cave

There is always guilt when you are the victim of disease, especially when it impacts people you love. I can’t imagine the guilt if the disease was partially my fault, say I was a two-pack-a-day smoker for 40 years and then developed lung cancer that was directly related to smoking. But even though I had no responsibility to my disease, living far healthier than many of my friends and family, eating almost vegan at times, running six miles once a week (at age 63) and shorter runs three times a week, and then, for no known reason, a medical calamity strikes. Still I feel guilt. I think at times how I wish Dense had never met me, to spare her from this. I wish at times I was living alone in some Byzantine monastery cave deep in Anatolia, where my illness would only impact me and no one else. But I don’t. I live with Denise and I have five wonderful children who care about me. While reassuring and comforting to me, it spreads the grief beyond the borders of myself and that I regret. I always wanted to bring them happiness.

There are so many challenges one can face in life and serious illness is one of the worse. But, finding the energy and wisdom to care for those who are suffering in my wake, is one of the most difficult. But they must survive. They must go on. They must thrive and be healthy, physically and emotionally and I must do my best to assure this course for them. But it is hard.



Ramblings: Self-Valuation in the Aftermath of Value Evisceration

A long time ago I had a friend who had been the director of the Salvation Army in a large Midwestern city. She had a theology degree and had received a lot of awards for her innovation in helping the homeless population as well as the single moms of her city.

Then suddenly, she came down with a life-threatening illness at age 38. This illness not only almost took her life but left her “bed-ridden” for the subsequent twelve months.

This lady, whom I will call Tammy, told me what an experience it was, during that year, to reach a point that she could accept the fact that God loves her … when she was doing nothing. She always felt that God loved her when she was in charge of so many important tasks, but when she laid in bed all day, pooping in a bed pan, with people having to wait on her, she suddenly felt that pleasure from God dissipating and vanishing. Even though she said that she knew better, that she knew that the Christian gospel is all about God given us full valuation—not based on what we do—but simply by assigning Christ’s perfection on to us. However, it was very difficult to sense that pleasure when she was doing nothing.

I’m going to make a statement that most people will disagree with, however, I stand by it. Most of us, if not all, get our sense of value based on the following attributes; age (youth being better), appearance (being good looking), feeling good physically, having money, having accomplishments, and having a likable personality.  maybe I missed one or two. It is the same in high school as when you are 70. Okay, now for the Christian, they will turn up their noses and shake their heads at such nonsense, as they are on their way to the beauty shop or making a bank deposit. However, it is true. None of us get out of that sense of self-wroth. It is also true, like Tammy alluded to, that the Christian gospel is unique in that it removes, in principle, that tension because, all people are covered by the perfection of Christ and all have infinite value. There is no rich, poor, ugly, handsome, successful, or failures in that system. We are all the same. But none of us live that way. If a handsome, young, wealthy, person with a good personality walks into a church, it is highly likely they, if willing, will immediately be recruited for leadership positions, while the quiet, not so successful person will not. That’s just the way we live, not the way it should be. We also feel good about ourselves, based on these attributes, not based on the gospel.

Now for the atheist, I don’t have much to offer. They must live by this valuation system of looks, money, and accomplishments. But even that system is built on pixie dust and fades away as atheism must end, as I said before, in nihilism. No matter how big of tombstone you leave, nature will eventually erase it.

I know that some forms of Hinduism deal with this through the act of reincarnation. Where you are born into a certain status based on successes in previous lives. But that opens the door for incredible racism as exhibited in the caste system.

I know that different Muslims have a different take on this process, but from the ones I’ve spoken to, they seem to sense their value, in God’s eyes, being based on fulfilling the five basic pillars of Islam.

So, when someone is in my situation, full of life, healthy and busy, and then is struck down in a flash, where they no longer feel good, their capacity to accomplish anything is grossly compromised, where they see the draining of their financial resources because of their illness, and even start to look hideous, suddenly the carpet of valuation is pulled from beneath them. It is very difficult to feel value in this world that bases human value on these other things. I often ask myself, and God, is there any reason for me to get out of bed this morning? Is there any reason for me to go on living and taking up space on a planet where I can give nothing back? Those are haunting questions.

But it is at this juncture that the gospel must either be embraced for what it is, or honestly rejected because you just can’t accept that type of “passive” valuation. But if you cannot feel God’s pleasure when you are hurting and helpless, can you really know God’s pleasure when you are at the height of success? I think not.

This is one of the most difficult parts of this journey with the voices of “you are worthless” haunting me from the left and the right. It is a real spiritual battle that you must engage in, moment by moment. Yet, like Tammy also concluded, it is better to have borne this battle than like the most who are never forced to either accept the gospel for what’s it worth, or just go on pretending that your value comes from the gospel when it really comes from those other things.