New Ace to Play

Yeah, you left your place, cut off the chase;
You played your spaded ace, hid your face…
And now what but to ask from here to where?
And how will you begin again to erase the sin?
You tried to check out, to end the crazy spin,
And you made a helluva wreck, hung shame
Around your neck, fleck of your insane life
Laying on the deck of mortality, but what?
Yeah, you’re still here, not there anymore,
So what will you do with your life brand new,
Now that the old is gone, buried cold since
You lost your hold? Be bold, then, no longer
Just one sheep in the fold; do what your heart
Told you long ago; stand on solid ground now,
Not on sinking sand! Yeah, you tried to bring
It all to an end, but you didn’t see the bend
In the road that would send you to another
Place in timeless space to begin building you
Anew — mind, body, and soul — will you find
Courage enough not to bow to foolish whims,
But surprise the world; rise like the Phoenix?
Yeah, you tried, but you’re still here to abide
On this side of life, but also given the chance
To begin again; so dance in the bright light;
You’ve got a new ace to play, the better part
Of the one heart; yeah, it’s a brand new start!


Gracious Hand; Exit the Sand

IsaOne hand reached across the sand. Hand with hole in wrist, and I could not resist. Hand to hand to assist; no longer could I persist to insist upon my own demise no matter how much my life I did despise. The disappearance of Bast and sudden appearance of another was quite a surprise, but welcome. No face could I see in my debased estate, but I knew as fresh wind blew that here was one who could offer something anew. I grasped the hand without demand; there was no reprimand but only kind command, “Arise! Be gone with the lies, and claim your prize of life without compromise! It is yours, though you still be oh-so unwise.”

Phantasmal range of change.

Verdant green. Soft bed of grass. Scene of beauty. Lake of crystalline glass.

I opened my eyes to clear, blue skies. Skies above rolling hills to still my heart. Yet stain of remorse; pain of guilt remained, though I strained to forget.

“You need not live with regret,” spoke shadowy figure. “I’ve set your feet again upon the way you may walk; for you this is your new day… Rest here for awhile, but do not stay.” Eyes of soft brown, shimmering crown of thorns. “I do not reprimand; there is no more demand upon your soul, but the hole is for you to fill at will … if you will.” Very still in his presence I offered no resistance, and I seemed to understand, and deemed this One most worthy to heed; this One who even now seemed to fill my need … my need of which I really knew nothing, as the Spirit of Life blew over and through the hillocks.

Reaching. Touching. He bade farewell to fade back into ethereal world somehow more real than reality; the immaterial more potent than the material … and could I comprehend? No. I could only pretend, and that I would not do, but ascend now in my journey again without feign of greatness — I had none — nor courage or wisdom; I’d really only begun. So under bright sun, I made my way to cool, clear pool of water abiding just off the side of celestial lake. Would these be the hills of my restoration, my own mount of transfiguration?

Suddenly I ripped my tattered clothes, stripped naked and like madman ran into the small sea now free of Bastian glee! I plunged myself down into refreshing water as if to drown the plight of previous night. Rolling, turning and churning, I made my way to the bottom and up again into bright light of sun. And I wept, and I kept weeping flood of tears mixed with blood. I plunged again and lunged forward in cleansing font — bathing, purging poison — with nothing to haunt me here; no one to taunt. I was free again to be me … or, at least, to begin to be the me I could now begin to see. And the water felt as if this very element could be daughter of Dyēus.

This time I did not run. This time I swam and shouted, “I Am!”



Sometimes You Just Have to Walk Away

2GMFBNFSVGUL2CMBBRXNM1FXMAKK6I_01Be careful the environment you choose for it will shape you; be careful the friends you choose for you will become like them.
–  W. Clement Stone, 20th Century American Businessman

I was inspired recently by an article entitled, “30 Day Writing Challenge: Day 3,” found on the excellent blog, Adventures of Lexie to look back to an older article of my own that addresses her quite justifiable complaint of people who “have a tendency to chronically complain about everything in life, and seem to always blame the world when things go wrong in their lives and never themselves.” Her modus operandi in dealing with such folks is certainly admirable. She remarks, “I just try to build them up and boost their confidence if I can, to maybe try and help them stop complaining a bit.” This displays an exemplary combination of the virtues of mercy, sympathy, and charity. Sometimes, however, I’m afraid one simply must walk away…

It is a universal law from time immemorial that, with very rare exception, if one possesses the mental acumen and ability to apprehend the wrong and the negative, then one also necessarily possesses the same acumen and ability to apprehend the right and the positive. If someone can carp and criticize, then the same someone can also compliment and comfort. Likewise, if someone can grumble and protest, then the same someone can show gratitude and praise.

This being so, when we discover someone, as sometimes happens, who seems intent on singing only dirges, wailing by the wayside, and snuffing out all light, then prudence dictates we distance ourselves for our own sake, perhaps even for the sake of our very souls (and surely for our sanity.) No degree of love and concern will aid the individual who adamantly refuses to do what is within their power to help themselves; it may very well be, then, that by continued association we will only succeed in harming ourselves without helping them in the least.

Wise company brings wisdom; fool he ends that fool befriends.
– Proverbs of Solomon 13.20, Knox Bible (Translation of Msgr. Ronald Knox)

How long should you strive and how much effort expend plugging holes in a sinking ship when the lifeboat awaits to carry you to some safe harbor of peace and tranquility?
– J D N, Personal Thoughts


Turning Justice to Wormwood

To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.
~ Proverbs 21. 3 (NRSV–CE)

Ah! You that turn justice to wormwood, and bring righteousness to the ground!
~ Amos 5. 7 (NRSV–CE)

Justice – the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments; the quality of being just, impartial, or fair; conformity to truth, fact, or reason; correctness.
~ Merriam-Webster Dictionary (2015)

LawJustice is imperative to the stability and continuance of any society, yet too it is often something one desires for others but not for oneself. This is human nature: To want the other person, of group, to receive their “just deserts,” but crave mercy and leniency when it comes to ourselves. This is pedantic, shortsighted and potentially dangerous, which is the reason we have in place an established system of jurisprudence rooted, at least theoretically, in the Constitution (in the United States.) And “we the people” live under this constitutionally-based structure of jurisprudence in a society of law and order. This juridical paradigm is not perfect, but it is ideal and serves us well as a nation … again, not perfectly to be sure, but at least ideally. It provides for us the necessary platform from which to forge ahead, continue growing, progressing, maturing as one people living together in one expansive community.

During the ongoing riots in Baltimore, some people are lashing out against law enforcement officials and agencies, committing crimes they feel justified to commit in order, so they claim, to draw attention to and (hopefully) correct “systemic problems” in law enforcement and the whole process of justice. However, their tactics are quite obviously self-defeating. You cannot tear down infrastructure, destroy the property of your fellow citizens, and bring harm to others in the hope of achieving legal reformation and genuine justice. Whatever gains you make will soon be wrecked by the next wave of malcontents. These tactics simply do not work. There is a place for peaceful protests, for expressing thoughts and opinion, for petitioning government for the redress of grievances, and even for taking officials themselves to court.

If the purported injustices – the systemic problems – are so egregious that people simply cannot live any longer under the present conditions, and if none of the normal, legal tactics work effectively toward any real, viable solution, then perhaps people can proceed along another necessary course of action. Even still, this should not be violent and should not serve to tear down the whole house, foundation included, that the people supposedly want to repair. All you are left with then is a pile of rubble, and it’s extremely difficult to pick up the pieces, after all is finally said and done, and construct a new and better abode. At best you’ll have an unstable shanty that will very soon itself be torn down. As Pope St. John Paul II so aptly taught, “Social justice cannot be obtained by violence. Violence kills what it intends to create.” Touché! And the violent rioters in Baltimore are threatening to murder the very body they want to heal. They are turning justice into wormwood – the very acrid Artemisia absinthium … something bitter, grievous – and this now most fittingly defines the psycho-spiritual health of the whole city. Will it spread? Perhaps this thoughtless, ill-fated reaction to perceived injustices was already spreading like cancer across the country and has just now reached Baltimore, as it is doubtless finding its way into communities across the land.

Are there systemic problems in Baltimore? Quite evidently so, as Ta-Nehisi Coates reports in his provocative commentary in The Atlantic:

The money paid out by the city to cover for the brutal acts of its police department would be enough to build ‘a state-of-the-art rec center or renovations at more than 30 playgrounds.’ Instead, the money was used to cover for the brutal acts of the city’s police department and ensure they remained well beyond any semblance of justice.[1]

Reformation is undoubtedly needed; however, riots do not equal reformation. If left unchecked, they lead to an anarchy in which untold numbers of innocent people of every stripe and shade inevitably suffer. And yet, presumably thinking to bolster his own inflammatory perspective, Coates also reports that:

Over the past four years, more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil rights violations … and in almost every case, prosecutors or judges have dismissed the charges against the victims, if charges were filed at all.[2]

This is not idyllic, to be sure, but it does show that the system of jurisprudence is not so broken, or systemically problematic, that there is no hope of obtaining justice in Baltimore. At least over 100 people have, in fact, obtained just reparations. So far as Freddie Gray is concerned, there assuredly and without question ought to be an investigation, and this latest and very sorrowful episode centered on this man should certainly serve as the catalyst for remediation and improvement of the whole criminal justice system (to the extent reasonably necessary.) For the present, though, the National Guard has been called in to quell the riots – rightly so – and a strict curfew has been put in place, thank the heavenlies![3] When boiling tempters cool, and reasonable people stand up and come to the fore, then and only then can Baltimore realistically hope to truly correct its “systemic problems.” Right now an unthinking, angry mob – albeit only a fraction of the total number of protestors – is driving the whole city away from its intended goal of rectification and improvement.

God help them, and bring peace to the people of Baltimore!



[1] Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Nonviolence as Compliance,” as published in The Atlantic on April 29, 2015, and accessed at

[2] Ibid

[3] As reported by Sheryl Gay Stolberg in “Crowds Scatter as Baltimore Curfew Takes Hold,” on April 28, 2015, in The New York Times, accessed on April 29, 2015, at


Fen Fearful and Frantic

“This will be the last time I call you or talk to you,” the voice came through the receiver loud and clear. “If I had known … If I had even had an inkling of what I was getting myself into, of what kind of lowlife you really are and … just how twisted and perverse, well… Of course, I would never have had anything whatsoever to do with you.”

Fen Sloughheart started to chuckle arrogantly and reply, but the other man cut him off.

“No. No, you just hold on, you son of a bitch… Don’t even think about threatening me, Fen Fat Ass Sloughheart! I not only know the law like the back of my hand – hell, I could threaten myself better than you could ever imagine – but I also have my connections, too. I didn’t get where I am today without looking, listening, learning and linking. So you may as well swallow your laughter.”

In truth, Fen was really very nervous. He already knew enough to be plenty worried, but he honestly thought he had this one cornered, at least enough for the man to continue feeding him information… Apparently Sloughheart was wrong.

“So now, I’ll give you my last bit of information,” the voice came across very robustly and confidently. “And, by the way, I am not doing this because I have to, because I don’t, but because I actually want to tell you what I’ve learned… It should scare the bejesus out of you!” The man laughed rather arrogantly and almost tauntingly. “Anyway, Sloughhash, you’re in deep … so deep you’re drowning, and I don’t think anybody can save you … not even the god you’ve ranted and raved about for so many years. Hell! If he’s real, then he’s probably the one who’s finally plowing you under!” More laughter, obnoxious and triumphant.

“You know, I’m really kind of proud of myself,” the man continued. “I managed to help you, in many ways, better than anyone else around here could, and yet kept myself clean out of trouble. Excuse me while I pat myself on the back.” Fen just continued to listen, feeling sicker and sicker by the moment. “Yep. You’re in deep now. You’re practically facing a tight, well-trained, no nonsense military unit. That’s what it’s like, really.”

“What exactly do you mean?” Sloughheart managed.

“Ha! You really don’t have any idea, do you? You’re pathetic, you fat slob! Think about it! The Reverend Joy Brighterday, fully alive and well, is involved 100% along with your wife. Now the nurse practitioner and social worker, Lucent Keener, has jumped in with both feet, as well as her sharp and talented daughter, Moxie, and her boyfriend, Able – former member of your church – and they’ve buddied up with Morris … and, well, his mom, too, I suppose. Then there’s Blue Poorman, well-known throughout the area, Dr. Pert Kibitz and now Dr. Sage Wiseman, very well-known psychologist. Add to that the connections Brighterday has in the police department – and believe me, she does – plus the watchers in her neighborhood as well as Keener’s, which includes one I. Gunner Sharpe, and well… You’re going down.”

Fen Sloughheart already felt like he’d been taken down, yet something far more ominous was weighing heavily in his heart and soul.

“Oh, I almost forgot!” The voice sounded nearly gleeful. “They’ve brought in Phoenix Rising, too! Now that should scare the hell out of you! Of course, you probably didn’t realize they’ve been keeping an eye on you for at least the last couple of years… Did you know that?” Silence followed. “No, I didn’t think so, but now you do. And now it’s time for yours truly to bid you farewell… only one more point to make, you bastard! You leave my nephew and his mamma the hell alone, do you understand? You so much as look at them cross-eyed and I’ll have you buried … literally. And don’t think I’m making an empty threat, you piss ant; I’ve had it done before, and I can have it done again … no matter how many blind and idiotic followers you have! Got it?”

“Uh … yes, loud and clear. I … um … I understand perfectly,” Sloughheart wiped the sweat off both sides of his face. His shirt was soaked and hair matted down. He was definitely shaken to the core and felt like throwing up. No, he would not be approaching or communicating with Morris or his mother anymore … not on his life, literally.

“Good! Now I’m blocking your phone numbers at my office and home, but I don’t intend any other forms of communication from you either. No letters, no e-mails, no text messages from your secretary’s cell phone, no nothing! Good bye, and may you rot in hell!”

Sloughheart just sat in his living room recliner, holding the phone, breathing hard. His chest felt tight, real tight, and his head was throbbing with the accelerated beat of his heart. He was sweating like a stuck pig even though he had the thermostat set on 64o F (17.75o C). He thought he probably should notch it down another couple of degrees, at least, and then take an aspirin to prevent the heart attack that now felt imminent, but he couldn’t seem to move.

Funny, but Fen couldn’t even bring himself to pray. Actually, he prayed in church and at his school – in other words, publically – but hardly ever privately. Now when Sloughheart really wanted to, he couldn’t find the words to pray. What in the world would he say? He was sickened by the thought of having to pay out so much of his income to Effete, and even sicker at the prospect of spending any time in jail. The thought of the very real possibility of losing half or more of his congregation made him light-headed and nauseated. The fact that more seemed to be in the works, and he would very probably find himself in even more trouble than he was already just about sent him over the edge.

However, being honest with himself, Fen Sloughheart knew deep inside that if he had Angelica with him right now, or Morris … he knew what he would be doing, and he liked the idea; he craved the sounds, the images, the feelings. Point in fact, he thought he might call up his secretary to come over for an “emergency meeting and prayer.” She was quite a bit older and not much to look at, but he’d used her before in a pinch. He looked at the phone. Giving her a good old-fashioned working over might ease his tensions … somewhat, anyway, at least for tonight. “Oh!” Fen grabbed the left side of his chest as the pain stabbed him … and frightened him.

The thermostat and aspirin; that was his immediate goal … or the aspirin first, then the thermostat. He slowly stood up, and the sharp pain tightened and turned dull. His head started swimming; he felt like he was about to faint. Sloughheart bent over and grabbed the side stand next to his chair to stabilize himself. Suddenly it felt like someone was squeezing the back of his neck. He was sweating profusely now. There was no doubt in his mind something was seriously wrong, which nearly catapulted him into a frenzy. He had to get to the kitchen! So he slowly started marching in that direction, one small and careful step at a time.

Oh! Thank God! Sloughheart shouted to himself. He found the powdered aspirin, took out one pouch and poured himself an eight ounce glass of cool, filtered water. After washing down the aspirin, he spied a prescription bottle. Xanax. Oh my God! Thank heavens! Two tabs remained and he swallowed them both, then poured himself another half-glass of water just for good measure. Maybe I’ll live after all. Fen laughed in spite of himself. In the hallway, he notched the thermostat down to 62o F.

Suddenly his house seemed very eerie, like someone else was with him and he intuitively knew that, if this were true, this someone else was not good. Had someone snuck into his home? He had an excellent security system … but, then, he’d heard about Phoenix Rising and had been led to believe they were quite capable of getting in and out of places with no one knowing. Had one of them managed to by-pass his security? Had the culprit merely come to spy, or do something worse?

Fen Sloughheart was certainly in no condition to fight, even on his best of days. Oh, he could abuse and terrorize weak, frightened, vulnerable people, but actually engage in an honest-to-goodness brawl? Not by a longshot, especially not in his present condition; he could barely stand on his own two feet. The Xanax and aspirin were beginning to take effect; his heartrate had slowed down and the pain had eased off some, although there was still a lingering, dull ache deep in his chest.

The perceptibility of the sinister presence grew considerably. It was spine-chilling, and Fen was genuinely alarmed now. Joy Brighterday was alive and well, and he knew she suspected him. She hated him, anyway, so had she sent someone? Sloughheart knew now she was evidently well-connected, something he’d never suspected before. Why not, though? Serving on so many boards and committees, and participating in so many community projects, and generally making herself popular with all of the disgusting, pride-filled, local powers-that-be … why wouldn’t she be well-connected? They loved her. They love her beautiful body; they lust after her, he thought to himself. They like her charm and wit, and her worldly wisdom. She’s one of them, and she’s like an idol … a supposedly gifted, talented, intelligent sex idol, that’s all … but it’s enough!

For a moment, Fen considered calling out, feigning courage he didn’t have, but then thought better about it. He just stood there in the hallway, leaning against the wall, holding an empty glass. The presence grew more and more palpable … dark, heavy … alive. Sloughheart was desperate, but he couldn’t move. Perhaps this was the end after all, “and you would like that, wouldn’t you, daddy dear? Ready for me to come join you, huh?” It was difficult for him to speak above a whisper.

“Well … is it you? Come to pay your son a visit?” He breathed hard. “Why now? You never wanted a damn thing … to do with me … before! Have you come … to fetch me off … to glory land?” Fen laughed sardonically. “Oh, sweet glory … land … sweet glory…” The presence drew closer; his eyes dimmed and sight faded. “You bored, daddy dear? You bored up there … in your glory land…? How many … how many wings have you … picked off them angels?” He managed a barely audible laugh, frail and sick.

Just then it felt like someone hit him hard, right between the shoulder blades, and Fen Sloughheart crashed to the floor, face down… And he was out.


So We Pierce His Side … Again

We turn away from the wink and handshake with nothing said,

Flee from the decrepit, starving man as if we had no bread,

Pretend we don’t notice the beautiful girl the monster has eyed;

So unsheathe the silver sword; once again, we pierce His side.


Merchant tyrants laugh and brag and swag at suave cocktail deals,

While babies die, bombs explode, whole families look for meals;

Churches with groomed pastors naively sing and never play their part;

So unsheathe the silver sword; once again, we pierce His heart.


Where are my children, my boy and girl; do I hear their silent cries?

Does the sound rise above the nooks, crooks and preachers of lies?

Or have they been deadened already, never the chance to start?

So should their father take the sword to again pierce His heart?


Quid est Veritas? Answering My Friend

PilateIn an incisive comment following my last blog article, “God is the God of All Truth: Revised Article,” one dear, old friend of mine asked the perennial question, “What is truth?” It is, of course, the same question asked by Pilate to Jesus, “quid est veritas?” (John 18.38)

Down through the ages, many answers have been offered, yet none have completely satisfied. However, years ago it occurred to me that, for the Christian at least, Truth (with a capital “T”) is not primarily conceptual, as the philosophers and many theologians would have it.

Why do I say this? Jesus the Christ said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life…” (John 14.6a, NRSV) This is an important claim that I fully believe has not been deeply and seriously explored and considered enough epistemologically by Christian philosophers and theologians. The implications, I believe, are quite astounding.

However, one must first ask if Jesus was only  relating this claim to the second part of his statement, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” In other words, he may have been circumscribing his claim to salvation/justification only, essentially saying, “I am the only true way to the Father, which, of course, is the only means to authentic life.”

I do not believe so for at least two reasons:  1) Jesus uses the definite article “the” (η αληθεια), which is distinguished from the other two very definite claims of being the way and the life,  2) God is not only the God of truth; God is truth. Scripture testifies, “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” (I John 1.5b, NRSV) Therefore, his claim to being “the Truth” would seem to extend beyond salvific considerations.

And what does this mean? While I am certainly not an erudite intellectual, still less philosopher or theologian, I venture to say that this means Truth is not primarily conceptual; rather Truth is the Person of Jesus the Christ. Consequently, then, Truth is personal, and being personal, then Truth is also relational and communal. This may seem subjective, and perhaps it is, but it is not an anomaly in world history.

If I am wrong, anyone is at liberty to correct me, but for most of the history of our world ~ especially focusing on the Ancient Near East ~ peoples were very “narrative.” They were story-tellers, and they did not approach truth, first and foremost at least, conceptually (or scientifically, one might say). And so far as history was concerned, it was not so much an academic discipline as it was an art.

This does not mean that for millennia upon millennia peoples lied about their history and heritage, their beliefs and understandings of life and the world. It was simply (but importantly for our consideration) an altogether different world. The idea of truth (or Truth) being conceptual would have to wait for the advent of the great Greek philosophers and their mostly Western successors.

Mind you, I am not arguing that truth is not conceptual; that would be an absurdity. That would be saying that truth is not related to or based upon mental ideas and/or notions (according to the basic definition of conceptual). What I am saying is simply that the answer to the question, “quid est veritas?” is first of all an imperative correction, at least for the Christian, in rephrasing the query, as such: “Truth is not so much ‘what,’ but ‘who.’ And the answer to this is the Person of Jesus the Christ, or more expansively, the living, dynamically personal, relational, communal God.”

This being the case, then, Truth in toto is living and dynamic, relational and directly or indirectly communal; yet this without being self-contradictory. If the Eternal One had gifted me with greater intellectual ability I might be better able to explain this idea/perspective; however, this all is foundational in understanding how it is that I have no problem not only accepting truth wherever truth is found, but also deeply appreciating and benefiting therefrom, because whatever truth in consideration is only one truth that is an almost organic part of the whole living, breathing, dynamically personal Truth, who is God, who is Truth.

Really,  I can only close by repeating an insinuated appeal made earlier, to wit: Christian philosophers and theologians ought to “tackle” this subject more seriously, passionately, and deeply. (Perhaps some have, but not to my admittedly limited knowledge.)  My own reply here is, perhaps, paltry, but important and sincerely my best effort.  God bless all who read, and have mercy on this imperfect thinker and writer.



Nothing to Give … But You Relieve


Nothing to give, I offered my nothing for the something you gave to be given.
Forged in the fiery furnace of creation, creating creativity to create and enliven;
Not to be horded and hidden, guarded in greed, ensconced in my darkened soul,
But as gifted gift, to be gifted, like the lighted flame not concealed under bowl.

And I’m walking this street,
And I’m hearing the beat
Of the hearts of every one I meet.

And I’m seeing this hand,
And the wandering band
Of empty souls with no demand.

Gift offered, none to receive,
Love given, none believe
And so tired and weary, I grieve.

Sun-baked land, dry with no rain and for rain I begged to quench my thirst.
Stirred from the heavenlies, then sweet water of Life you sent and submersed,
But not my burning only to quench, but quench the burning of others so dry,
As you rained to be rain, you flow to flow through me, healing balm to apply.

But I’m walking this street,
And I’m hearing the beat
Of the hearts of every one I meet.

And I’m seeing this hand,
And the wandering band
Of empty souls with no demand.

Gift offered, none to receive,
Love given, none believe
And so tired and weary, I grieve.

Everything you have given me, then, I give back to you, all for nothing more.
Consumed in the fiery furnace of oblivion, to walk through death’s dark door,
Crushed and crucified on this blood-soaked cross I lifted up and chose to carry,
And yet does your voice drift in on the wind, “What I give you I do not bury.”

But I’m walking this street,
And I’m hearing the beat
Of the hearts of every one I meet.

And I’m seeing this hand,
And the wandering band
Of empty souls with no demand.

Gift offered, none to receive,
Love given, none believe
And so tired and weary, I grieve.

Ah, but you hear and relieve…
You hear and relieve…
You hear and relieve…

Who Will Tell Me Who I Am? Thinking About Identity in Early Childhood

young-children3Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.  (Martin Luther King, Jr.) And thus my prayer:  “God have mercy; may it not be said of me. Yet, too, help me season ‘hard, solid thinking’ with love and humility. Amen.”

Even commonly used terms and terminology ought to be defined, perhaps especially in addressing serious subjects, something this writer failed to do in an earlier article on the subject of gender-identity questions in early childhood development. Thankfully, there is almost always opportunity to correct such mistakes, as I shall endeavor to do now. And in so doing, we might begin with the whole idea of what it means to actually be male/female, man/woman, masculine or feminine, and for this a brief quote from the World Health Organization proves helpful:

Sometimes it is hard to understand exactly what is meant by the term “gender”, and how it differs from the closely related term “sex”.

“Sex” refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women.

“Gender” refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.

To put it another way:

“Male” and “female” are sex categories, while “masculine” and “feminine” are gender categories.

Aspects of sex will not vary substantially between different human societies, while aspects of gender may vary greatly.

To recapitulate, then, “sex” is biological, physiological characteristics, while “gender” refers to socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities and attributes largely defined in community, by society. And so, too, when we say “male” and “female” we are referring to anatomy, whereas “masculine” and “feminine” are words used of gender traits, i.e. those largely socially-defined “roles, behaviors, activities and attributes” mentioned above. Alright … so far, so good.

(Except, perhaps, that we need to also mention what might otherwise seem so obvious. That is, that “anatomical” derives from the word “anatomy” and means “of or relating to bodily structure, physical anatomy.” There seemed to be some confusion on this point in at least one article I read … or, at least, an obvious misuse of the term. However, having stated the obvious, one wonders if it might not be preferable to refer to “anatomical sex,” although that might seem somewhat redundant, rather than “anatomical gender,” which is actually more common.)

Consequently, my son was born an anatomical male; my daughter, thirteen months prior, an anatomical female. However, they each displayed various gender traits in varying degrees, at least as we are using the definition of “gender” and “gender traits” as mentioned above. Moreover, these traits were (and continue to be) varied and somewhat fluid, an observable fact that never particularly bothered me. They shared toys and games, liked various colors at different times, even shared some clothing items (depending on where they were in their growth spurts!).

And harping back to an even earlier blog, what if my daughter had displayed “masculine” characteristics such as confidence, courage, determination, integrity, fortitude and compassion? Well, she did and that was wonderful! Of course, all these are virtues admirable in anyone and not particularly masculine or feminine anyway, as I contended in that earlier blog article, and my then-wife and I actively worked to instill these virtues in both of our children.

And if my son had displayed characteristics such as gentleness, empathy and sensitivity? Again, wonderful and, in fact, he did and still does. Again, very desirable, virtuous qualities that are not particularly masculine or feminine, a truth upheld in the sacred writings and traditions of most religions, even though they are commonly associated with femininity (or seemingly so), at least in Western culture(s). But now for the tougher question, and more to the point:

How would we have felt and reacted had our son approached us with the declaration that he was “really a girl,” or “felt like a girl trapped in a boy’s body?”  Before attempting an answer to this thorny question, we need to look at two more terms, more complex than the ones we have already defined, which have been fairly “simple,” (where simple simply means “not overly-involved, complex, or elaborate;” as in, “short, simple and to-the-point.”) We need to introduce the concepts of “individuation” and “socialization,” and briefly consider what they mean.

Individuation, according to Jungian psychology, is a process of psychological integration, having for its goal the development of the individual personality. “In general, it is the process by which individual beings are formed and differentiated (from other human beings); in particular, it is the development of the psychological individual as a being distinct from the general, collective psychology.” (So said Jung.)

Socialization, is an ongoing process whereby an individual acquires personal identity and learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position, status and/or identity-in-community.

The idea of socialization should be held in tandem with individuation. Distinct concepts, they are nevertheless complimentary, even interdependent, though contradiction and conflict invariably arise in the process of both, as might reasonably be expected, of course. Point in fact, individuation does not occur in isolation or, put another way, on one’s own. “No man is an island unto himself” may be a cliché but true nonetheless, and no one “self-identifies” completely apart from the “other,” the larger surrounding community.

Perhaps Oscar Wilde overstated the case when he opined, “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” But he was not far off from author Chuck Palahniuk, who veritably howls, “Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I’ve ever known.” Or the writer David Sedaris, who wittingly submits that “all of us take pride and pleasure in the fact that we are unique, but I’m afraid that when all is said and done the police are right: it all comes down to fingerprints.”

Ah, yes, and whose “fingerprints?” The “fingerprints” of many would be the vague and general answer, but most especially and specifically that of parents and family. And these “fingerprints” are left in virtually every facet of life, including physiological cognitive development. As noted by the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child:

We have long known that interactions with parents, caregivers, and other adults are important in a child’s life, but new evidence shows that these relationships actually shape brain circuits and lay the foundation for later developmental outcomes, from academic performance to mental health and interpersonal skills.

There are, of course, other important contributing factors in early childhood development, specifically with regards to a maturing sense of personal identity, such as: economics and environment, religion and education, media and entertainment, art, literature, music, etc. To a great extent, then, perhaps the 19th, early 20th century Russian author, Lev S. Vygotsky, was right in his assertion that it is only “through others [that] we become ourselves.” Well, maybe not completely, but to an important extent this would seem to be true.

Realizing all of this is, it seems to me, imperative in answering the tough challenge, “How would you have felt and reacted had your son approached you saying he was ‘really a girl,’ or ‘felt like a girl trapped in a boy’s body?’” Almost certainly some questions would have immediately come to mind, such as: “Why is he saying this and what exactly does he mean?” and, importantly, “How has he come about believing this, or feeling this way? What has he seen? What has he heard? Where is this coming from?”

As parents, we would have almost instinctively, commonsensically known that this is not anything a three or four-year-old boy would believe or conclude on his own, completely divorced from those important contributing factors earlier mentioned. Now, beyond explaining anatomical reality in language he could understand, what we would have done specifically and proactively is admittedly difficult; however, I can say what we would not  have done. We would not  have loved him any less, nor would we have shamed, embarrassed, disgraced or  dishonored him as an invaluable person, finely and divinely formed by God.

Difficult issue with which to grapple? Yes, very likely so, but something else we would not have done, I can posit with a fair amount of certainty: Precisely because we so passionately love and deeply care for our children, we would not have put him in dress, jewelry and make-up, and sent him off to kindergarten with the attendant expectation that the school and surrounding community would capitulate and conform to his “self-identity” as “a girl trapped inside a boy’s body.” And herein healthy socialization overlaps and interlocks with the ongoing process of individuation, both of which necessarily entail fundamental parental responsibility.

Young children depend upon parents for more than basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter. They rely upon us, too, in cognitive learning, emotional stability, moral guidance and direction, and in their formation of healthy self-identity, which is inextricably linked, as already indicated, with their identity-within-community. They go hand-in-hand (some would say unfortunately) along with all of the cultural norms of society. And where some of those norms may not be good; nevertheless, parents completely ignore such to the detriment of the child.

Consequently, part of my responsibility as their father – and the responsibility of their mother as well, of course – is not only the love, nurture, and affirmation of my children, but their spiritual, mental, physical health and welfare, too, which necessarily includes reasonable, social adaptation and integration; always bearing in mind that as protective, loving and nurturing parents, we have been and will continue to be fundamentally important in their continuing growth and maturation

Yes, and so we do this humbly and circumspectly, to the very best of our ability, as intended and ordained by God, who lovingly created them in his divine image and likeness; trusting the timeless promise that if we “set our children upon the right course, then when they are of age they will continue along that path,” the path described in an ancient Zuni prayer as “reaching on into the Dawn,” where there is everlasting fulfillment. May it be so. Amen.

Checking the Checklist With Joy

JoySerious4Riding down the road with Effete early Tuesday morning with an important to-do list, Joy was certainly thankful Moxie had volunteered to watch the boys. Able had a couple of classes that day, but hers all landed on Mondays and Wednesdays this term, and Moxie kind of liked the idea of playing around with Rue and Bane anyway. Not that she really knew them – she didn’t – but Moxie could tell they needed some love and attention … and fun. She seemed more than happy to give it. Besides which, she thought she needed some time away from Able, and laughing and horsing around with a couple of kids seemed like an awesome way to spend that time.

Effete didn’t seem too sure about leaving the boys with Moxie when she answered the door in her rather scanty, black halter top and skin-tight sleep shorts. And, of course, the heart and thorns tattoo in the middle of her lower back didn’t help alleviate any of Effete’s concerns, but Joy told her Moxie had never been known to sacrifice before sundown, adding with a good deal of laughter that they’d be back well before night. Effete was not at all convinced but agreed anyway. After all, even a tattooed, barely-clothed girl had to be better than the hell they’d escaped. Besides, it was high time the boys got to know people outside of fundamentalist circles.

“Are you o.k., Effete?” Joy asked as they stopped at a red light. “They really will be fine, I promise you. Moxie’ll take good care of them, I swear.” And she couldn’t help but laugh again. “Really, it’s pretty early. She just got out of bed… They’ll be fine, o.k.? While we’re running around they’ll have a blast. Moxie’s just like that… Ha! She’ll probably have them flying off the roof in an hour or so…” Joy caught herself. “Just kidding!” She patted Effete on the leg. “Just kidding, but they’ll be alright and they’ll have fun. Meanwhile, we’ll do what we need to do today … every last, tough, boring, painful thing!” The light turned and she took off again.

“You probably think I’m being a real bumpkin or something,” Effete started. “I guess it’s just, I’ve never really left them with anyone before … not really. And someone I don’t know, or … ha! Never met, and … God! I’ve been in one place for so long … one stinking, super-strict, super-religious prison for so, so long…”

“It’s o.k., Effete.” Joy took her hand and gently squeezed.

“If you say they’ll be alright, then I know they’ll be alright. She just seems so … different than what I’m used to.”

“Oh yeah!” Joy erupted into a good belly laugh. “Yeah, she definitely is!” Joy could barely contain herself. “Moxie Keener is one-of-a-kind, that’s for sure… Oh God! You don’t know the half of it…” Joy looked over at the growing fear in Effete’s widening eyes. “And this isn’t really helping, is it?”

“No.” Effete shook her head slowly. “Not at all.” She shook her head a couple more times. “In fact, I think you’d do better this morning if you played straight-laced pastor … or I think I might jump the car and go back screaming for the very lives of my dear children.”

“Oh good heavens, Effete!” Joy chuckled. “No … Come on, I mean it. They’re alright and so are we.” She patted her leg again. “Now! Our checklist!”

“Ugh! I don’t think I can do this… Not all in one day.”

“It’s really not that much, and it’s necessary. Remember, we talked about this last night … far too late last night!” Joy looked over and winked. “Until you finally  rolled over and started sawing some logs!”

“I don’t snore, do I? Did I keep you up? I’m so sorry!”

“Effete! Quit that!” Joy teased her with a mock frown. “And, no, you don’t snore … much. Anyway! Item number one on the agenda. We’re going to see the attorney, Justin Case – good man, great experience, excellent reputation – and he’s a member of my church. Remember what we went over yesterday? I know you do. ‘Just the facts, ma’am.’ Right? Be upfront and completely honest – don’t be afraid, I’ll be there the whole time – but keep it to-the-point. Summary of background and history, then ask about restraining order, then temporary custody, and finally divorce and full, permanent custody. In that order, and we don’t let him stray. Right?”

“Yes… Right.” Effete sounded somewhat uncertain and paused for a minute. Joy was just about to get discouraged when Effete nodded her head and said again, “Yep! That’s the plan. I’ve got it, captain!”

“Well, o.k. then!” Joy felt a rush of relief. It was bound to be a long day; she sure didn’t need Effete bowing out on her this early in the game! “Next, we make our way to Dr. Pert Kibitz – friend of mine from high school, actually – and you’re just going to … really just kind of get to know her today. She may, and I stress may, do an initial evaluation if  you both feel comfortable. But mainly it’s an introduction and opportunity to get to know each other, and you’ll love her! She’s very approachable and relaxing, not at all intimidating. And you’ll know right off the bat she wants you to feel as much at ease as possible… I really think it’ll be good.”

After visiting Effete in the hospital that first night, Joy decided she definitely needed an experienced, professional counselor in the loop. Especially if she was going to play the role of sturdy companion and faithful friend. Like her old mentor, Dr. Sharpman, had told her, it wouldn’t be wise trying to wear the hat of psychologist, too … and she wasn’t one anyway! So she’d called up her friend, Pert – now the respected Doctor  Kibitz – to ask for help.  Of course, Pert agreed and invited Joy to bring Effete over Tuesday morning and, best of all, it would be gratis. No charge, which made Joy’s already strained pocketbook quite happy.

“Are you going to be there?”

“Well, of course…” Joy started to answer. “Oh, you mean in the room? Well … I’ll introduce you, and … I may stay for a couple of minutes, but the two of you need to talk privately. You’ll be alight, Effete, I promise.” Joy rubbed her leg reassuringly. “Pert’s a wonderful person. You’ll get along fine. Just remember what we’ve said. You have nothing to be ashamed of, no reason to feel guilty or down on yourself or humiliated or anything like that, and Pert Kibitz will not  do or say anything  to make you feel that way, either. Promise. She’s very understanding, and not only a good person but an excellent counselor, too. And you need that right now.”

“O.k.” Effete breathed out hard. “And then lunch, right?”

“Right!” Joy beamed. “But not just any lunch. We’re meeting Sage Mentor at that little hole-in-the-wall I told you about.”

“She’s the caseworker, right?”

“Yes, but more than that, Sage is just an all-round good adviser. Of course, she’ll want to set up a time to meet Rue and Bane, probably at home – my home … or, guess I should say ‘our’ home now,” Joy grinned and winked at Effete, who allowed herself only the slightest smile in return. “We’ll want to tell her about meeting with the attorney and counselor – and sooner than later put all three in touch with each other so they’re all on the same team with the same game plan, but anyway – we’ll tell her about the morning, then ask specifically about the boys. All the do’s and don’ts and what to be careful about. That sort of thing. And she’ll have some good advice.”

“I’m already exhausted.”

“Chin up, my dear, it’s still too early for napping.” Joy slowed to a stop at another red light in downtown Splinterbit. They could see the courthouse two blocks down, surrounded by mostly shady pseudo-businesses, like payday loan-sharks and bail bondsmen. It somehow seemed fitting to Joy, though, an uninterrupted landscape of exploitation and injustice. “Anyway, the afternoon’s an easy ride. We’ll go to the post office to have your address changed, but unlisted, and then from there to the grocery store … not  the one you usually go to, of course, but the other one I told you about last night when you were yawning in my ear.”

“I did not!” Effete cackled. “Did I?”

“The one just outside town.” Joy ignored the question. “It’s a fun little place. They’ve got a lot of organic stuff at some pretty good prices.”

“Good. After eating a big, fat, juicy hamburger and greasy fries for lunch we’ll be ready for healthy, right?”

“Right!” Joy laughed as she pulled her car into the left turn lane. “It’s balance. Unhealthy, healthy. Unhealthy, healthy. Unhealthy, healthy. See? You just gotta be consistent. Consistency’s the key, my dear!”  They both laughed, especially Effete for the first time that morning. It felt good.

“Thank you.” Effete grabbed Joy’s hand. “For everything… I don’t know what I’d do without you. Thank you.”

“You’re certainly welcome…” Joy pulled into a parking space in front of an unassuming little office, then looked straight into Effete’s eyes. “More than welcome. It’s an honor to know and love someone as kind and wonderful and beautiful as you, Effete… And I mean that with all my heart.” She smiled. “And no matter how exhausting all this may be for both of us, we’re gonna make it.” Joy leaned in closer. “Now, let’s go in, meet Mr. Justin Case, and get item number one checked off our check list. Okay?”