The Death of Christianity

Back in high school, I began to drift away from the beliefs of my parents, my siblings, my friends, and community. It made no sense to me there might be some old white dude in a bathrobe and sandals, waving a shepherd’s crook around flinging people into Hell forever because they never got dunked in water.

The Christians I knew back then were dying out. The church was changing. There was a time you sat with your family in a hard wood pew in a dimly lit wooden church, and listened to a preacher talk for an hour, if you were lucky. Being a kid didn’t get you out of it. There wasn’t a separate place for children. Infants were held by their mothers; little kids were forced to be still and quiet.

The people in the church did things for the community and nothing was ever said about it. No one ever mentioned the fact that three or four members of the church got together and went over to someone’s house and cleaned up their yard because of sickness or poor health. People donated food because they could. Christianity didn’t need a presentation because it was a lifestyle.

Today’s churches don’t resonate with people because it’s more of a commercial than a message. There are huge television screens, microphones, piped in music, soundtracks, and all of this costs a lot of money. Churches are businesses now. There’s a contract to sign, autopay, direct deposit, and money is a big concern.

Churches have nurseries, ball fields, gyms, carpet, full kitchens, security systems, professionally designed websites, their own email domains, and it’s more of a social club than a spiritual journey.

Atheism is getting easier. Leaving the church isn’t what it once was. Now, it’s like walking away from a bar, or a restaurant. The depth of spirituality of Christians is as superficial as the strip mall buildings they’re housed in. There’s no bond of generations of families who sat in the same pews three generations ago. Convenience of parking, how pretty the lawn is, and how big the building is, yeah, that’s what the Christians are these days.

There are multi-millionaires running billion dollar industries that call themselves Christians, and there are millions of people following this in the name of a man who told people to sell their belongings and give the money to the poor.

I never truly believed. I never accepted the idea of a god of any sort, not even when Christians were good people, conscious of their beliefs at all times, and the driving force in every community. Oh yeah, the judgmental and racist churches that littered the south were a problem for many of us, but overall, I miss the Christians, those who were good people.

Christianity, if it is not dead, is on the brink of extinction. Greed, the love of political power, the raw and ugly commercialism of Christian holidays, and the idea that presentation trumps faith and service is killing the church my grandparents knew.

I always hoped to see the day religion died in America. I just never expected to be this sad about it, and I never thought for a minute it would look this goddam ugly.

Take Care,

Mike

Digging the Dimetrodon

Back in the 60’s when I was a little kid, one of my favorite toys was a white plastic Dimetrodon dinosaur toy. I wanted to be a paleontologist when I grew up and I would be the one who dug up thousands of new dinosaurs, never seen before, and eventually, find one that was taller than buildings and bigger than mountains.

One day, I took my white plastic Dimetrodon, and using a small shovel I buried it in our sandbox, past where the sand ended, and I used the shovel as a measuring tool to mark where it was. The dinosaur was buried a shovel head away from the southeast corner. I decided not to look for it for an entire week, which was extremely difficult, and to make matters worse, a week later I was kidnapped by my parents and we spent an entire weekend at my grandmother’s house.

 It was still raining when we returned, so it was almost two weeks before I could dig again. I couldn’t find it. It was too cold to be allowed to stay outside very long, and eventually, my mind turned to the possibility that my Dimetrodon had been poached by some kid in the neighborhood who might have seen me bury it.

            Mike Church was an older kid with a mean streak. When I asked him if he had seen my Dimetrodon, he claimed a dog had dug it up, brought it to him, and he had thrown it away because it had been mauled so terribly. Now, this was a small neighborhood, and the idea of some random stray dog arriving to dig at a certain spot at a certain time was totally ludicrous. Yet we were children, and fantastic stories were more fun to believe than the truth. Mike and I actually went out hunting for the dog, and this was really strange because I suspected his story after the description of the dog shifted a few times.

            Then there was another possibility, one far more sinister, in that my father could have thrown the Dimetrodon away. My earliest memories of my father were of him pushing me to grow up faster. I was supposed to be able to figure out models and puzzles meant for much older kids, and “That’s for babies” was what I heard more often than not when I wanted something. Some of my favorite toys went missing for no good reason, and more than once I rescued one from the trash can when no one was watching. Oddly, my father kept throwing things away as an adult. Anything he didn’t like he would toss it and simply not tell anyone he threw it away. It was an odd form of control to exert over people.

            Eventually, I assumed the dimetrodon was extinct. The world was harsh and cruel, I knew that, and forces beyond my control were at work to create misery. Kids pretended to be your friend to steal from you, and your parents weren’t to be trusted with your toys or innocence.

            One day, maybe two or three years later, I remembered the dimetrodon, and decided to dig for it, one last time. Using my hands, I dig into the soft sand, now in the corner of a flowerbed planted where little kids once played. There was a flash of white plastic and I stopped digging. No. It was not possible. Frantically, I dug down, and saw the tail, a leg, the back fin, and finally pulled the dimetrodon from the earth.

            But it had shrank. It was smaller than I remembered. Once, my index finger fit inside its mouth, and now it did not. The once large toy I treasured was much smaller. In its smallness, I felt diminished, as if for my abandoning the creature had somehow led to it becoming less than it had been. The idea that I had grown larger never occurred to me. But my world was changing, swirling away like water out of a drain. My family was falling apart. My parents’ marriage was failing. My grades in school were dropping. As now, as if it were a sign from the Gods, a lost dinosaur had been found, much less the being he once was.

Take Care,

Mike

The Final Falcon

Everything changes. Even if you don’t want change, it’s coming, one way or another, and those who refuse to accept change usually are swept away by it. When you’re a kid, and the family dog is dying, your parents have to try to explain why an elderly dog just isn’t going to get better no matter what the vet does, and it is time to let go. That’s a hard lesson to learn.

For those of you who missed it, and most of you did, the first Falcons game in 1966 featured a flight by their live mascot, Freddie the Falcon, who was supposed to circle the stadium and then return to his handler. Freddie took off like he was fired out of a cannon and never returned. Freddie saw it coming. Freddie saw the future.

The Falcons lost the coin toss.

The Falcons very first play was a kickoff, which the kicker muffed, and they took a penalty before their first play.

From there, it got worse and worse. I grew up with this team. I remember watching them on Sunday and wondering if the day would ever come where I would no longer feel the deep bite of disappointment and the never ending frustration of being a fan of the Atlanta Falcons.

That day is finally here.

After over fifty-six years of watching, waiting, cheering in those very rare times, and turning the television off early in the first quarter in too many games to count, I’m simply done.

The turning point was watching the Ravens-Chiefs game and realizing I didn’t enjoy football anymore. It has become meaningless. Watching good teams play is like watching porn while dating a virgin. Watching teams that can, and do, play good football is a reminder that the Falcons can, but do not, play good football.

In December of 1972, I was twelve years old, and watching the Falcons play the Kansas City Chiefs, the last game of the season. Dave Hampton, Atlanta’s running back, came into the game needing 70 yards to reach 1000, and become Atlanta’s very first 1000 yard rusher. Late in the 4th, Hampton reached the 1000 yard mark. Exactly. The game stopped. They game Dave the ball and even KC players shook his hand. Then Hampton was thrown for a loss and ended the season with 995 yards.

That was not the first, last, or only time, the hopes and dreams of fans would be crushed.

(Hampton would finally achieve that mark in 1975, by the way)

In 1980 the Falcons were up by 14 in the 4th quarter against Dallas in the playoffs. Roger Staubach, the venerated Cowboys’ quarterback went down injured, and it looked like the Falcons would be headed to the Superbowl for the very first time ever. They let reliever Randy White, who was the punter, lead the boys back, and they lost by three.

But mostly, in 56 seasons, the Falcons have lost, lost, lost, and lost again, and again. They’ve lost, in those 56 seasons, over one hundred more games than they’ve won. Record (W-L-T): 369-476-6. Their playoff record is 10-14 which means they’ve played in the post season only 24 times in the playoffs in 56 years. Both super bowl appearances have been agonizingly embarrassing. If your kid came home from school with a record as bad as the Falcons, you would think tutors and summer school. But after 56 years, it’s time to forget college.

I went from the first grade to the age I was old enough to get drunk legally before the Falcons played in their first playoff game (1978). It was a dozen more years before they played in another. (1991) It was 2008-2009 before the Falcons had back to back winning seasons.

When Julio Jones said, “Nah, I’m outta there; I want to win” He was stating a very simple fact; the current team isn’t going to win. The man who is the team’s all time leading receiver, and one of the best ever, saw the future Freddie the Falcon saw. There is a hell of a lot to be said for this.

At the end of all this, I have decided to simply walk away, too.  Perhaps, I’m thinking, it’s fans like me, who will endure season after season, year after year, decade after decade, of miserable games, double digit losses, and terrible coaches, maybe, fans like me are the problem. Maybe fans like me are enabling the Falcons’ losing ways. Because we keep coming back, we keep getting what we’ve always gotten.

That’s it. I’m done.

Take Care,

Mike

The Pencil

It’s been two decades, now two decades and two years, since I found the pencil. Sounds odd, doesn’t it? I was working on a bridge project in Valdosta, where the two bridges and the field office were close to the State Prison. What roguery men committed to be enclosed in such a place, I cannot say, but I never looked upon those shining spirals of razor wire on those fences without wondering how it is that a man could find his way there, and how other men could find a way to keep him.

There was a set of scales, like you’d see at a farm, or a woodyard, where a truck would pull up to be weighed, and perhaps at one point I knew what they were for, but I have since forgotten. The scale house was an old trailer, falling apart and in ruins, but I pried the door open one day at lunch and looked around.

There was a soft drink bottle on the floor and a trash can with paper in it. All manner of evidence of the office not being used, the smell of urine, recent signs that rodents had taken over, and there on the floor, was a pencil.

Once upon a time, if you used a pencil, and everyone did, the instrument had to be a No. 2 pencil, and that had something to do with the darkness of the graphite that was the part which wound up on the paper. Most people referred to it as “lead” but it never was. This pencil was rather old, having survived many trips to the pencil sharpener, and I wondered why, at the point of its life it had ceased to be possessed by a particular person, it had been left lying on the floor.

It was a big deal, when I was a kid, that everyone had a pencil every day of their lives at school. The worst crime, and all crimes were the worse crimes, was not to have a pencil. We were led to believe we might have a job one day, go to work without a pencil, and be fired for it. True enough, I once worked with a manager who despised anyone who was not, at any given moment, in possession of an ink pen, but for some reason, the world kept spinning and the work was done, and no one, ever, was fired.

I kept the pencil, pondered its existence, and wondered what it had been used for, by who, and when. Had some great work of literature been sweated and scrawled into being by this very instrument? Had a love poem been written during lunch to the object of some man’s affection? Did someone write the letter to their wife or husband, explaining why things had gone wrong, and nothing could fix it ever, and this was the end?

Or, more likely, had this been the tool used to mark official forms, with its No. 2 darkness, date, time, load number, weight, tare, and truck number? Its future sealed in wood, the tiny rubber eraser nubbed at times, day in and day out, like the man, or men, who used it, and then one day, the office closed for the last time, and the pencil lay on the floor, abandoned and forgotten.

How many pencils have I owned? In grade school, middle school, and into high school, dozens perhaps, each one of them gone, forgotten, lost, broke, stolen, loaned, given away, but nevertheless unaccounted for. Perhaps, incredibly unlikely, this pencil was one of those I released into the wild, only to be found accidently, unrecognized, like a chance meeting of the same stranger, twice.

I took the pencil, put it in a plastic water bottle, then sealed the cap with glue. The contractor didn’t notice me digging a hole at the bottom of the form and the next day they poured a footer for the bridge, and underneath that, the pencil lies waiting to be discovered again. It’s damn unlikely, I know, that one day someone will find an old plastic bottle, with an even older writing tool in it, and they’ll wonder, much as I have, why and how, and when, and who.

But it is entirely human, for memory to kick to the surface, the image of that time and place, and that pencil, and it is entirely human for me to write about it now, and you to read it. The prison is filled with men who might be freed if the right words are read, or written, and we must understand the power of this. Yet for all the men, and all the pencils, this is the most likely outcome, memories, laid to letters to be read, and perhaps, found again one day.

Take Care,

Mike

Dreamscapes: The Factory

I have repeating Dreamscapes. It’s the places where the dreams take place, a certain building or a town, maybe it all exists in real life, like your childhood home, or maybe it feels like home when you’re dreaming, but the setting is alien to you once you awaken.

The factory building is a massive thing, as big as a town, and it’s a hundred feet tall, at least. Inside there are catwalks and ladders, with no hint to what might have been built here at some time in the past. It’s a feline Dreamscape, with multiple levels, multiple ways of getting from one to the other, lots of chains hanging from the ceiling, and on the very bottom floor, it’s a maze of interconnected offices and rooms.

I was here twice before. Once someone was chasing me, and I dropped a bucket of burning gasoline down a ladder as he was coming up. There were several of us, and some people didn’t get out before the whole damn place burned down like the end of the world or something. It was so hot we were standing by the front gate, four hundred meters away, and could feel it.

The last time was vague, with a low speed car chase in the parking lot, with me against someone else, with both of us trying to kill one another. I have no idea who won, but I’m still alive. The parking lot, by the way, is enormous, like a surreal black plains with grass growing out of the cracks.

There’s a group of guys chasing me, but I’ve led them here. I know it by heart, and they are lost and getting more confused by the moment. I get them into the center of the factory, and then I hit the main breaker to kill off all the power. It’s as dark as a cave now, and until sunrise, they’re stuck where they are. (Yes, no one has a cell phone in the dream except me)

I took some videos of them planning to kill me and posted it on FB. They have no idea they’re already famous, but I still have to get away.

I walk out under the stars and it’s an incredible night. At the very edge of the parking lot is a drop off, maybe a couple of hundred feet, and I walk out to the edge. I can see the stars in the sky, billions of them, and out over the valley there are lights from homes twinkling as well. I forget about someone trying to kill me, but I look down, and there’s an abyss, and one more step and I would fall.

In the dream, it occurred to me that this is how people in real life view the concept of Death. They know it’s out there, and in a broad sense, it’s not really that frightening, and there’s a sort of peace to it. But then, on a personal level, when you look down and it’s right there, it’s scary.

Take Care,

Mike

Exit

I remember seeing Greg at Exit 16 for the first time. An odd sight, for there to be someone I knew, someone I had worked with, someone who I had drank with, and someone who was going to college at some point, living under the overpass of I-75. But there he was, sitting, waiting, and homeless.

There were drugs involved, also stealing, cheating people out of money, lying, and it was the lying that seemed to be the worst part of it. Greg became a living lie, with every word and every sentence based on creating a narrative that would somehow transfer money from someone else to his use. Greg and I had reached the logical conclusion to our friendship when he stole from me. Trust was no longer possible, and no longer feasible. But Greg had run out of friends entirely and run out of second chances with anyone he had ever known.

If there’s any truth in the story, Greg’s family had worked hard to get him into college, get him where no one in their family had ever been, and he lasted one year. Cocaine was Greg’s thing, because it represented a lifestyle he could only bear witness to by watching television. Greg and I both worked at Shoney’s, the one on Ashley Street, and I remember him telling me he wanted to be a cocaine dealer. Greg got into crack instead, and he stole his father’s truck, and then looted his family’s home, and sold everything he could put in the truck at a pawn shop. He did that to his girlfriend’s mother, having a yard sale at her house while she was at work. And he stole stuff from his roommates. They threw his stuff out into the yard, and Greg set his bed up in the yard, close to the street. I drove by when I heard about it, and sure enough, there was Greg lying on his bed, in the open, in the yard. The first big rain ended that, and Greg retreated to Exit 16.

For not the first, and not the last time, I stopped and picked Greg up, took him to get something to eat, and turned down every request he made for money, and that was a nonstop thing with Greg. The year was 1985 or maybe ’86. I moved away in 1992, and didn’t give Greg a second thought until I saw him at Exit 16 again, but this time it was 2004.

People who have lived on the road for a while, and I’m talking about those with substance abuse problems, have a smell. Not the unwashed smell of someone who has been working all day in the sun, but a sour smell, of chemicals and alcohol seeping out of their bodies. Frequent walking in the sun bakes them, dries them out, fries their already tormented skin, and they begin to look a lot older than they already are. Being homeless is stressful. There’s no telling who or what is going to happen to you. Greg was now missing teeth from fighting with other homeless people, and someone had thrown something out of a car window and hit him, or so he said. Lies, lies, and more lies, Greg had a narrative of his life as someone who just needed a little more help, just a little more, and he would change.

I’d buy Greg food but never give him money, and someone gave Greg a job about the time I found out he was still in this area. He got fired for panhandling during lunch, with his employer telling him not to lie to people about needing work when he was on his lunch break. The man fired Greg after one day.

I went a very long time not hearing from Greg, and not hearing anything about him. I worked two interstate construction projects, and met a guy who knew him, or claimed to, anyway. Finally, about five years ago someone called me to say Greg’s body had been found along I-75 in Florida. He was off the right of way, in a patch of trees and bushes, and died there, apparently. His body had decomposed to the point there was no way to identify it. Because he was considered homeless and not missing, there was no one out there looking for him, so the body was cremated, and that was that. The only way anyone ever knew who he was is they took X-rays of his teeth and that matched dental records when they finally got a match. I’m not sure how all that works. But his former girlfriend saw me one day at the gym and told me. Apparently, the ashes were already gone by the time anyone even knew Greg was dead.

I saw Susan again today, she saw me, but she was with her family and I know she didn’t want to talk about how I once fit into her life. I was a friend of her boyfriend, and I was there when he was working, and people trusted him. We went out and drank beer, shot pool, ate food we can’t eat anymore without gaining weight, and I remember Susan and I talking once time, about how odd it was that each individual in that tiny bar had come from somewhere else, yet we were all there, at that very point on Earth, at that very point in time, and it was all very unlikely, yet we were. Now, she and her husband are meeting the kids for coffee before church, and there are small people who look like grandchildren with them.

Somewhere out there, unlikely people are meeting for the first time, or seeing one another for the last time, and as unlikely as their meeting might be, it still occurred, and there may or they may not be, some memory of it stored in the brain of a person, or maybe ten. Then one day, one of those people might die along the interstate, thousands of people passing as a funeral procession, and no one knows how death came or where it went next. Like an endless stream, people in your life come and go, and then one day, the last person who remembers you will be gone, and the last person who remembers that person will die, too. And nothing you ever remembered will still be with here, at least not from your point of view.

Take Care,

Mike

Alcohol or the Desert

Alcohol is heaven, no, not heaven, maybe haven, somewhere the sound ceases, or at least is muted. The mesh in the sifter is larger, more permeable, so there’s less to appraise, less that has true depth. The vacation to the lizard brain means the lights are dimmed, no white hot glare of the bare desert full of demons and dreams.  There’s a reason for bars, and there’s a reason most of those places are dimly lit.

The reptilian brain seeks only feeding, fighting, fleeing, and fucking, the four F’s, and a bar will allow you any of the four, in any combination you choose, or is chosen for you. Ride the anesthesia of loud music, strangers, and the drug of choice in its various forms. Fun, funny, serious, or sexy names for whatever precent of the drug, or what’s mixed with it, and it will get you from Point A to wherever you decide to stop, or wherever is decided for you.

The morning after. There’s still fog, still haze, and maybe a stranger you regret, or a stranger with promise, and maybe you are the regretted stranger, or a promise of sorts. Time to flee, one or the other of you, numbers exchanged, and hopefully nothing else in the dark, that might need medical attention.

There’s absolutely no difference between this, and a Sunday church service, and your chances of finding someone looking for sex are about the same.

Sooner or later, you have to go back into the desert.

No, really, you don’t. Seriously, you can very easily spend your entire life anywhere else but. Unless, of course, you know you belong there. There’s a blank canvas, or a blank page, or a shapeless lump of clay, or a camera staring at you from inside its bag.

It’s a hard scrabble, cracked white gypsum desert. Flat and devoid of even so much as a tough weed, the sun is always directly overhead and perpetually oven hot, without the slightest trace of a breeze. Moisture is sucked out of your skin faster than you can think of water, and there’s no relief from the blast of radiation from the sun. An environment not meant for the weak, meek, or those who retreat.

There’s nothing here. Not a single sound or sight or smell or sensation that doesn’t drive you to leave. You can go into the kitchen and get a snack, or a glass of wine. There’s new social media on your phone. Stay and you have to create something, made of nothing and of sweat, pain, suffering, and time. It’s tedious and repetitive. Your vision blurs and boredom with the process can distract. Crafting with words in this climate is putting melting ice beads on a hot metal string without gloves. The wind in the desert is deafening. Nothing else can be heard, nothing else can be felt, and nothing else exists.

The work done here is parsimonious. It’s panning for pieces of metal whose worth cannot be gauged until the end. There is no surety in hard work except nothing else will produce worth. Second seem like hours, yet when a vein is struck the hours seems like moments that pass without time. It’s trying to mount an invisible steed made of sentences and discomfort.

Words become sentences, which have to be woven into paragraphs, and the thread is wane, weak, sticky, and ethereal. The fiber from which they are created comes from one thing, then another, memories, books, oh my dog, more books, and books, then moments with people long gone, in one way or another, or people who just appeared, and for some reason, there’s a push, a lift, some sort of peculiar catalyst that requires nothing but a thought, or a question, or a presence.  

Suddenly, you step away. What have you to show for this time in the desert? What is it, and what will you do with it, what can you do with it, and more importantly, will anyone else give a fuck?

It doesn’t matter, does it?

You save it, don’t save it, put it away to edit later, or not, none of this matter, because regardless of what it is, or how good it might be, you know you’ll go back, and do it again. It’s not the product, but the process. It’s being there, within, deep inside, feeling the heat, embracing the nothingness and daring to bring forth anything at all, and not hoping for the best, but working for it.

Take Care,

Mike