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09 February 2010

Rick's Visitor

A summer or two into college, I began working for IBM as a computer operator. I had a kindly supervisor and a fine manager. It was a very good job to have had. My supervisor, Rick, was going through a tough time in life, but did not bring it to work. Now and then, we headed out after work to unwind with a beer (or four!).

One evening still dressed in our IBM standard three-piece suits, sans ties, we sat at table eating hamburgers listening to a band with a steel guitar and getting an occasional glance from some of the other patrons almost all of whom wore pointed-toe boots, plaid shirts, and jeans. In those days, you knew everyone's name because it was printed on the back of their belts.

The story is short and the significance is in that he thought perhaps it was related to the series of troubling events that kept cropping up in his life. This is what he told me had happened a year or so before I met him.

"One night, my wife wakes me up in the middle of the night. She was upset about something, and I'm thinking that there might be an intruder in the house. She whispers, 'What is that?' so I'm listening , but she whispers, 'Sit up and look.' I sat up and she pointed in the darkness over to a corner in our bedroom. I tell you, Crews, I have never seen anything like this.

"Right where she is pointing, I see this dark thing. It was a little like a dark cloud right there in the room. I was trying to get my eyes to adjust, but could not make out any real shape. It seemed to change shapes, but never looking like like anything specific. It is so dark in the room, but this thing is darker. I cannot decide if it is a shadow, or a mist, or what it is.

"We sat there watching it and whispering to each other to make sure we were seeing the same thing. She told me she had watched it for about fifteen minutes before she convinced herself it was real and then woke me up. Sometimes it seems to disappear or maybe go through the bedroom wall and out into the hallway. The bedroom door is closed. But it comes back, sometimes in a different place. Then it starts to get closer to the bed, going from the foot of the bed to the side closest to me; and it gets very close to me, and I have never been so scared in my life.

"Just as it gets close enough to me that I think I could reach out and touch it-- and I have no desire to touch it-- the phone rings. So we are sitting up in bed watching this thing and, at two o'clock in the morning, the phone rings. Can you imagine?

"My wife and I go to this church and we have this old pastor that that she and I really like. That is who is on the phone. He says, 'Rick?'
'Are you all right?'
'I don't know.'
'Is there something there in the house?'
'I'm looking right at it.'
'You and your wife pray, and hold up the phone at what you are seeing.'

"I say to my wife that its our pastor and he wants us to pray. We prayed, and we can hear him praying even though I'm holding the phone away from me-- aiming it at this thing. I couldn't hear all of it but he was yelling and demanding it to leave in the name of Christ and I guess was doing an exorcism, over the phone. It worked. That thing started backing away as soon as I held the phone out and it went over to the side of the room where there was wall to the outside, and went straight through that wall.

"I still have trouble believing that it happened, but it did happen.

The Pastor said that he had been praying and got a strong sense that we were in trouble. He simply knew that he had to call us."

Brad, Danger, 3

The summer before I entered college, I worked at a new shopping mall, just about to open. My favorite co-worker was a bit older than I, a good, solid worker, and had a bit more life experience than I had at the time.

By this time in my life, about to enter college, I'm trying to picture myself as anything but a priest. My model was my father, a very good businessman. I had seen my father in action-- addressing rooms with a large number of other businessmen, using his scary smart brain and sense of humor to solve a problem, and persuade others he was right. In TV and in the movies, it is always a man at a desk. I didn't like the idea of being a man at a desk.

I enjoyed that summer working to get the giant department story ready to open its doors. I learned about shipping and receiving, about floor displays and product placement, inventory, pricing, and other marketing tasks. I chose a BBA degree in Marketing Management because of that summer-- and also because it was not seminary which is where I knew I should be going.

Am I alone in this? That I can talk to work friends about some topics which I would never open with non-work friends or even family? Well, I have a track record of doing that. No one with whom I had a long relation had any idea, that I know of, that I had suspected a calling to the priesthood from an early age. It was a secret, but with my work-friend, Brad, I found it is easy to talk about spiritual things when he brought it up. I still kept that priestly part a secret, however.

The discussion about spiritual things was a good one-- and Brad ran with the theme, wanting to share something of a horror story in his own life about wanting to find the spiritual nature of the world, but not having any direction. This is what Brad told me, as best as I can recall it

Brad holds up his left hand, to indicate the three shortened fingers on that hand and says, "Let me tell you about what happened to my fingers.

"A few years ago, like my sophomore year in high school, some of my friends were experimenting with spiritualism. I was invited over to this guy's house to smoke some grass and hang out. There were five of us there, and we were drinking and smoking and listening to music; we had a pretty good buzz on.

"Someone pulls out this Ouija Board and started screwing around with it. This one girls starts saying that she knows how to use it correctly, and she would show us if we were really interested. I thought it was a toy, but she told us stories that were kind of intriguing. She swore that, sometimes, some neat stuff really did happen if you were serious about it. So, we start messing around with it sometimes when we would go over there.

"Well, she sets up an evening for us all to come over, and she is going to do some seance sort of thing. She's got the room all black, and lost of candles burning, no other light. She said that the color of the candles effects the types of spirits you call and never to use black candles. She has some red and some white candles burning-- but I notice she has some black ones she didn't light. I guess, she didn't always take her own advice. I forgot what she said the red ones did.

"She has the room all dark except for the candles and we are sitting around and she does this kind of prayer or chant and has us saying it with her. Honestly? I was thinking that there is something wrong with this girl. I don't think any of us were taking it seriously, but she was really into it. So, that little thing you put your fingers on with the Ouija Board starts moving after a while. I mean, she has her hands on it and one of my buddies has his fingers on it, too. He swears that he wasn't moving it and that it didn't feel like she was moving it.

"I was watching, and I tell you, it looked like it it was coming up off the board on its own-- maybe it really was moving by itself. I really can't say, but it did look like it, and my friend says it felt like it. You know? I guess you can't prove it; but, personally, I think she was doing it, somehow-- but maybe there was something weird going on at the same time-- I mean, not her.

"Someone else wanted to try, and they were taking turns. Some were screwing around, being funny, but with this one guy... I didn't know him real well, but it started moving. He said that the whole little plastic pointer thing came up off the board and floated under their fingers-- his and the girl's. I didn't see that, but he said that is what it felt like.

"They start moving their hands with it and it spells out B-R-A-D-D-A-N-G-E-R-3, and then goes off the edge. Everyone is looking at me, and I admit I was pretty freaked out. I'm thinking they are just screwing with me, but they both swear that is what the thing did-- they weren't doing it. It did it three times and then it stopped doing it, "Brad, Danger, 3."

"When I was leaving, the girl told me to be very careful, and to take it seriously. She promised that she had nothing to do with moving it-- that it wasn't a joke."

"So I go home, and really creeped out. I'm still awake at three in the morning, and I'm thinking, something bad is going to happen. Nothing happens and I go to sleep. I mean to tell you that three days later, I wanted to stay home from school, but I didn't and nothing happens. After a while I kind of forgot about it and decided that it really didn't mean anything.

"I'm out racing that summer, and go around a corner, and the guy inside of me loses traction. His back tire kind of kicks my back tire out, so I lose traction on the back and we are both going down. It was so stupid-- I mean I knew better. Just as instinct, I took my hand off the handlebar and put it out to break my fall. My hand goes straight into his chain, and 'zip' the ends of these three fingers are gone."

"Three fingers. Get it? well, I'm sitting at the hospital and waiting there in ER to be released. My Mom is there and she is real upset. It's no big deal, you know? But I'm thinking about the "Brad, Danger, 3" thing and start counting back. I went home and got a calendar. It was exactly three months, three weeks, and three days after that Ouija Board night.

"Here's the deal. If something really was going on that night, then, even so, nothing good came out of it. I still lost three fingers. It is a pretty weird coincidence, don't you think? But it didn't mean anything. I figure if it was some spiritual good, then that spiritual power would have done something to prevent it. But 'Brad, Danger, 3?' That is meaningless, who would have thought that meant three fingers in three months, 3 weeks and three days? It's worthless. I figure that if there was any spirit communicating with her through that Ouija Board, it was malicious. At most, it taunted me, and for all I know, it caused the accident to happen-- because it sure didn't do anything to help me avoid it."

I tend to agree with Brad concerning the probability that if there was a spirit using that Ouija Board that night, it caused the accident, rather than foretold of it. Primarily based upon Saint Athanasius' Life of Antony, in which he speculates that demons do not know the future, I would suspect a demonic and malicious cause, rather than a warning about a certain future. Athanasius speculated that demons could appear to know the future by (and for example) witnessing an event, and then traveling at the speed of thought to a destination where it could then tell of the event as if it were happening at that instant. When news reached the far away destination, the humans would be amazed and assume the spirit had a useful power which it did not have.

That leads me to want to write of two more co-worker stories, that of Rick at IBM and that of Rock at CE Services. There is a common, thematic thread, so perhaps I consider these as Mission City stories, but which are gentle hints to spiritual work, rather than gentle images of adventures in that work. Perhaps it is that best stated as some stories are of the unseen reality and some stories are seen-- but equally mysterious.

Only when I sit at a keyboard and try to share these experiences (and the reader ought to realize that I intend to share these for the benefit of others, while also having a beneficial use for my own journey-- trying to put it all together in some understandable way-- the unseen and the seen being part of the same whole of our existence.

That, then leads me to speculate that there is a more subtle, gentle theme besides spiritual stories. Perhaps-- just perhaps, these co-worker stories suggest not just what I learn from others, but also that others seek to share their spirituality with me. In all three cases, they are not "ghost stories" but rather all three are moral stories.

08 February 2010

Line in the Sand


I mentioned previously the war between the Texans and the Mexicans in 1836.

"Drawing a line in the sand," is often used to suggest that it is a demarcation between a perceived "us" and a "them." That is not exactly the Texan understanding, and certainly not the meaning behind Colonel Travis's line.

The sense of mission is not furthered if it is an "us verses them" in the most base sense.

It is not a boundary which separates, it is boundary of transcendence. All of us start on the same side of that line. Austin drew it and made it clear that he wanted to be on one side of that line-- the side which he had never crossed before; but he was ready, he was convinced that he, personally, needed to cross it. Then he looked at his men, and asked them to join him, transcend, become something more.

No one must cross that line, and no one should-- unless, inside, they know that who they are, or who they want to be, needs to cross that line. Travis merely invited those souls to do so.

Mission City - VI - Deguello

Inside the Alamo, the Texans were nearing the end of their battle. Indians watched nearby, trying to devise a way to help the Hispanic defenders inside. Anglos in the newly formed Ranger Corps made haste to help before it was too late.


Outside, Santa Anna's troops played Deguello ("slit throat") a bugle call the Spanish heard and learned from the Moors. It meant that no quarter would be given-- no prisoners. The bugle call was intended to bring about a sense of hopelessness, to weaken the fight left in the defenders with the despair of certain defeat--certain death.

When I was young, hearing the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's Circle album, the song Soldier's Joy became one of my all time favorite songs. It resonated deeply within me, and I often wondered what it was about that song. Also unknown to me at the time was that my great-great-grandfather, his brother, and their father were three of those Rangers hastening to help the Alamo defenders.

On the radio, "my music" was rock & roll, and Texas country ( e.g., Jerry Jeff Walker, Willie Nelson, Michael Murphy, Ray Wiley Hubbard, and such). These were the songs of my culture, of my time, and I always loved good music-- especially music with good lyrics. But two aberrant types of music touched me deeply-- Appalachian and bagpipes.

Odd that it would not be until my mid-forties that I would learn of my Texas Ranger (and Scotch) ancestors and the link of Soldier's Joy to the Alamo-- not until I needed to know, perhaps?

You see, after the Mexican's taunted the Texans with their serenade, the Texans began playing the instruments which they had with them. They played several tunes, but the first, it is said, was "Soldier's Joy." They played the music for themselves. It was a response only in that the music was closer to a celebration-- the antidote to despair.

Soldier's Joy

I am working on a novel, but taking timeout to do some unrelated study, combined with prayer after taking stock. The novel was inspired by a Mission City vision dream. The vision dream took place far south and east of Mission City. Two brothers, with 19th Century long rifles, covered in mud in a driving rain, trying hard to escape two or three enemy units trying to flank them. Shots are fired, but the two brothers are outnumbered, one is wounded, and staying together, as the unwounded one would prefer, would be tactically fatal.

I seem to be observing, unseen, not participating.

The two peal off from the cover of trees from one tree to the next, in retreat, leap-frogging the other as they try to outrun and out shoot their pursuers. Ultimately, the unwounded brother pulls his fallen sibling behind him to a rushing creek. Over the edge, into the root bound soil which the rushing water had not yet been able to erode away. The unwounded brother pulls a bowie knife and waits to be found, determined to do as much damage as he can before being bayoneted (or shot) when found.

He was not found. Perhaps the soldier closest to them did see them, but pretended not to. The war was over anyway, let it go and stay alive.

I did not know it at the time, but the vision dream led me to find relatives who had fought in a war. I knew I had a great-great-great grandfather who had been a Army Chaplain in the Civil war, stationed in Virginia; but, carrying a weapon, I doubted he was one of the brothers. But something told me that the vision dream was important to me, and regarded my family. Having a brother, I worried very much about a possible interpretation of losing him in some trauma (and he would certainly joke that I would have to be the one who was wounded and died in the rain!).

Then I find that my grandmother's grandfather, J.L. Gray, his brother, Joshua, and their father, Daniel, had all served together as spies (we now call them "scouts"), mounted riflemen (read, "snipers with horses") in the first Texas Ranger Corps. Joseph died in service, after the battle of San Jacinto. It is believed that the three men were trailing the defeated and retreating Mexicans back toward the Rio Grande. I do not know, and never will in this life, if the vision dream was historically accurate; but I found courage in my own defeat to carry on because of the vision dream and the connection I would soon learn with my own family.

At some point, I wrote, "As with all godly missions, one does not fight to win, one wins by fighting."

Soldier's Joy makes perfect sense to me.

When it comes on my iPod, as when I hear bagpipes, I have to concentrate hard or else I will give away what is resonating within me-- something private and hard to explain-- I have to concentrate on merely walking, because otherwise, I would march.

I have lost. I cannot win the battle which must be waged. I wasn't asked to win, I was asked to fight. I wonder if, just maybe, that is what Mission City is for.

06 February 2010

Mission City - V - Northeast Rail Yard

As I have written previously, the Mission City is not in time nor is it in a place. The frequency of visits have allowed me to gain some mental picture of how it is arranged in very general terms.

To the north and east of the center of town (downtown is west-northwest of the center) is a small rail yard-- a track diverges northbound from the single track mainline which runs along the eastern edge of town. That divergent track then runs trough a chain-link gate into a yard (apparently with several more branches diverging from the one). I have not been very far inside of that fence, simply because only one of my missions has had me there-- and that one began with me just inside of the fence, looking back at a large steam locomotive chugging southbound to exit through the gate, very much as the picture above shows.

As an aside, here, my great grandfather worked for the Southern Pacific all his adult life in Houston. I recently found his SP buttons in my mothers attic as well as a couple of family passes for free travel on the SP line. I am beginning to wonder if these vision dreams have some "ground of being" connection to family. That reminds me to include, later, a little about my experiences of the recently departed. I promise, they are not ghost stories-- at least not in the traditional sense. Anyway...

There were several others with me-- this time, those others were following my lead. The longer we waited inside of that fence, where we ought not to have been in the first place, the worse our chances of getting to the residential district where I was to take them became-- a "safe house" is what came to mind.

There is something about the safe house, and about the neighborhood that I know, in the back of my mind. I am not sure, but I believe it is near, or perhaps is the house my family lived in when I was born. We moved to Fort Worth from that Richardson, Texas, home when I was about nine months old.

The safe house is a place for the safety of those I am leading there, but not for me. It is very much the Cottonwood neighborhood in Richardson, Texas, due west of Richardson High School. I used to pass by that neighborhood (in real life) on my way to and from school when I was just beginning my sophomore year. At that time, I would have been fourteen years old. The trees grew so tall and thick, that the neighborhood seemed to be perpetually in shadow to me, but I also only passed along side of it early in the mornings and in late afternoon. It was always quiet, and oddly devoid of people when I passed. Something... something about it was powerful, and not in a good way. Something about it was alluring-- like a mystery to be uncovered, and one which I wanted uncovered.

In the vision dream, a similar alluring mystery combined with a bit of dread was associated with that little neighborhood. The sense I had was that these people with me, some of them children, all of them young, would be met by another in league with me as we drew near. What comes to mind is the French Resistance of World War II. That is, that there were cells, and this was a mission which required me to pass off those with me (refugees?) to another cell whose members did not know me. If you are not familiar with the French resistance organization, perhaps you have read Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress?

I did not know from where these people, now counting on me, had come. Perhaps they arrived by train, perhaps riding a freight, or by walking, or maybe simply staged there at the edge of the warehouse along the western edge of the railroad yard.

If I had known then, what I know now, there was a much safer way to get them into that neighborhood then the way I took them. That way would have been far more clandestine, and left us with only a few blocks to go out in the open. I did not know, at that time, any other way. I still do not know why the safer and covert route was not made known to me and thus available to us on this particular mission but I do speculate.

My guess is that my cell is directed by the cell controlling the long stretch of property that rubs from the railroad on the east to just short of downtown on the west side. That stretch, only a block thick but over mile long begins as warehouses, then becomes interspersed with a few offices and at the far west end, a few residential homes, some converted to offices, but one, (the last one) being my "home." I use home as an expression here, as it is not where I live, but where I once lived-- and that structure is represented by various places I actually have lived in my past-- morphing from one to another even within the same mission. More on that in another post.

I speculate, sometimes, that there are cells, each containing a few people; but I am not so much in a cell as I am single extension of one or more of the top cells. It does not bother me not knowing. Obviously it is safer not to know-- maybe not safer for me, but safer for everyone, over all, to know as little as possible about whom is involved and about what others do. There is too good of a chance that anyone I might decide is trustworthy, will turn out not to be, and many could get hurt. I no longer want to know-- if I ever did want to.

Come to think of it, I never have wanted a partner in this work, albeit, I seem to enjoy a mission more when I have one. Not this time. This time, it is simple. I have no idea what the real threat is, and therefore have no idea of the safest way to help them. All I know is that we need to get out of the yard, get to the neighborhood quickly. It seems logical that to get there without being seen by anyone is a good assumption;, but before we get anywhere, to get my young group out of that gate without getting hit by a train is my task.

I make a quick judgment and motion all of them to follow. I move along the warehouse wall to the fence post to which the swinging chain-link gate is attached, and dart through the gate and back toward the warehouse to allow those behind me room to clear the gate post before the train gets there and makes it too narrow a gap to pass. I cannot tell tell how long the train is; but, if it is very long, it could be several minutes before we could get through the gate. So I decided to risk splitting us up in hopes of all of us getting through the gate before the locomotive steamed through it. All of these with me are compete strangers. I don't even know what it is they know, but they have obviously been told to keep quiet, try not to draw attention to themselves, and stay close to me. I turn to look for stragglers, and see how many had made it through the gate as there were only a few seconds to safely make it out.

To my surprise all of them were gathered up just behind me, waiting for me to move on. It occurred to me that I was probably not the first leg of this journey for them, and wondered how long they have been on the run. They were clueless as to what to do, but experienced at being clueless-- just like me. I have never been given a mission by an associate. The missions are "in my head" when I find myself on one. Sometimes, almost at all times, I may not know what the whole mission contains but find I somehow know what to do when the next element is faced (another hint at the spiritual meaning of these events).

We walked south along the track for about a thousand yards, then turn west on one of the streets which ran directly to the neighborhood. There was still a mile to go, yet it seemed to me that we were at the intersection to which I knew I was to take them to in no time. I have no recollection of the transaction of my charges to someone else's charge, just that my charges were delivered and accepted, wordlessly, I think.

I headed north from there, toward "home." Downtown was in sight to my left. Odd thing about that downtown
-- I always seem to get lost on my way there, or end up there when I was not intending to. Downtown seems to be only approachable from the corner of the eye so to speak. Like a burning bush. But "home" was my destination.

That vision dream would occur the next day. It would be the longest, and most ambiguous to me. The more recent the vision dream, the less meaning it presents; yet it is when the sense of meaning is strongest. Something like tasting a new food or drink with a strong flavor. You are aware of the flavor, but it takes some time to identify or qualify it, decide if it is good or bad to you.

There is no chronology that I am keeping to in these. I know the order which the came to me, and the "home" sequence is distinctly connected as a second part of this trek from the rail yard to the neighborhood and my journey "home." It will not, however, be the next post-- perhaps not the one after that.

02 February 2010

Mission City - IV - Ebenezers

A friend reminded me about the often useful task of defining something, not just by what it is, but also by what it is not. Likewise, I have found it useful, when looking for the meaning of an event, it is often useful to consider what would be different if the event had not taken place. So...

Everything about the Mission City experiences has been gentle, and never imposing. They are protective, consoling, inspiring and alluring, but never tempting, never frightening, never threatening and never overwhelming.

There is also, and very importantly I think, never the slightest hint that I need do ANYTHING about them: no immediacy, no imperative, no sense of urgency. Rather, always a sense of, "this will help you when you are in need, you will understand when the time is right for you."

I think of these very much like an ebenezer. From the Hebrew the term is translated as "stone of help" but in practice, it is a stone (or pile of stones) built upright to serve as a reminder, or even memorial, of God's activity.

For me, I can look back on these as The One True God's present activity in my life-- not just then, but again and again.

An example of this is another spiritual experience, unrelated in the vision dreams, but at least as profound.

I had just crossed from the sidewalk construction tunnel seen at the far right of the image above, crossing 2nd Street in downtown Austin, headed south on Congress a few minutes before the experience I am going to describe here.

With a few hours to kill downtown and in need of coffee, I was making my way to the Radison Hotel at Congress & Cesar Chavez where there is a Starbuck's Coffee House. As usual, I was armed with the day's New York Times crossword puzzle, a Sudoku puzzle book, my journal, and a really good book. I become bored quite easily, and my job at that time was horrifyingly lacking in challenge. I also had a really nice cigar.

A few minutes later, I sat down on the patio, pulled out my journal and the book, lit my cigar, dated the journal, and sipped my coffee. What did I feel like writing about? I thought for a moment about that. The answer in my mind, I feel like I am cursed, was cut off from a voice coming behind me saying, "You believe you are cursed, don't you?"

I was aware that I was sitting on the patio in front of the Radison Hotel, that I took a draw on the cigar, set it down, took a sip of my coffee and that I was holding my pen; but at the same time, something inside knew that I was also just crossing the 2nd Street, as I walked southward along Congress. I did not have to close my eyes, the images were just... there. I was in no trance, and I was fully aware of what was going on around me, but very interested in the images and sound of that voice behind me yet two blocks away from where I sat.

This was a new experience for me. The best way I can describe it is that it is like just as I started trying to imagine something, instead of imagining it, someone else suddenly took over, and instead of imagining, I was suddenly watching it play out in full form, as a participant, rather than the one imagining it. It was too vivid and too real for my imagination, and I only participated in my own part, while the other "character" was wholly responsible for that portion.

Here is what happened, spiritually, exactly I recall it.

I am standing at 2nd Street, waiting for the crosswalk light to change into the little white man walking signal. Several other people come up chatting, some speaking with one another and some, like me, walking by themselves. I don't turn to look, but sense, as we all do, that there are perhaps six or seven behind me by the time the light changes.

As I start across, I hear those words behind, not the question I had asked my self, but someone else asking the question, "You believe you are cursed, don't you?"

I'm tempted to turn and answer that it is exactly what I was thinking, but convince myself that no one could possibly know what I was thinking, and it is an interesting coincidence that a man behind me is asking that question of someone he is walking with. It is an embarrassing question to have someone ask of a person in public, so I am not suprised that I hear no reply. The question hits so close to home, that I wanted to eavesdrop on the conversation. I'm reaching the far side of the street, and step up on the sidewalk, when I hear the man's voice ask again. I slow down, and decide to cross Congress at this point, but mostly so I can see who the two people talking about being cursed are. Four or five people walk by, and then I turn my head, and there is a man behind me, looking right at me, waiting for an answer.
"You are asking me. Yes, I do."
"You believe God has abandoned you?"
"You are afraid that your son has given up on you because you sense that he believes you have given up on him."

It was at this point that I conceded to engage this whatever it was-- alternate reality, spiritual vision, both? I answered, but only in that image. I was still sitting at the patio table and puffing idly on the cigar and sipping the coffee. I suspected this was a vision, although there was something unusual about my feeling of being trusted to make a decision, either deciding to consent to letting it continue or not; and if not, than what I needed to hear would be imparted to me in a less bold and more gentle way at a later time.

The man stood very close to me, but not in a threatening way, but as in a private, intimate way-- so as not to be overheard, so as not to make me uncomfortable. That matter of no longer feeling afraid when circumstances suggest that I ought to be afraid crossed my mind, as did the consideration that this person might be an angel (or a demon) and encountering either usually is described as striking terror into the hearts of men. I think my decision was made based upon my desperation to hear what he had to say. I had no expectation that it would be beneficial, but there was only one way to find out, so I answered, "Exactly."

Then, the conversation started, and he said, "But the truth is, even if your son does not know it, that you cry over him every day, you worry about him all the time, and you have done everything that is within your character that there is to be done, to get him and your daughter back into your life, to rescue them, and help them. The truth is, whether he knows it or not, you love him and his sister more than anyone on the planet loves them."
"That is true," I answered but thought to myself that while difficult to believe anyone could love my children more than I do, that I did really believe God loved them so much more that I could never conceive of such love. It was the completion of that thought that the man nodded his head, but made no comment-- as if he agreed and acknowledged the unspoken thought and used it to form his next statement.

I am aware of the irony of having a vision in which I am speaking and thinking while I am seated, drinking coffee two blocks away, not speaking at all; yet noting the difference between what is spoken and what is thought and left unsaid. It bends the brain a bit. Bur I was not at all aware of the paradox of thought at the moment, because I had consented to the reality of the vision.

The man went on with his message. He said, "Your Father in Heaven is pleased that you have actions which are available to you but which you will not take because they are contrary to who you are and who you want to be. You dismiss those because you seek to please God."

I thought, I am not going to pretend not to know what he means, but I would like to ask him if he means, for example, that I will not lie, or cause bodily harm to me ex-wife or to anyone else even though I have the righteous anger and a frightening rage within me.

I could not think of anything to say, because to be told that one's choices "please God" is not anything anyone can really know. At best, one might seek to please God, and in seeking to do so please Him by the intent if not by word and deed. I did not think it through like that, but rather as an automatic response which I have to compliments which I have trouble believing as genuine. Besides, if I was talking to an Angel, what does one say, "Tell God that I said thanks for the compliment?"

The man went on, perhaps addressing my questioning thoughts about morals restraining actions. He said, "God has the ability to do anything, but is self-limited by Who He Is. He will not act contrary to Himself."
"Yes." I answered that affirmation sadly. Sadly, as the statement forced me to admit that I would have to live this rage, never to give it an outlet. The man kept speaking.
"Yet, God agonizes over you, he sees what you are enduring, and he cries for you. That you do not see it-- that you do not know it-- does not change the fact. God loves you. whether your children ever see it, or ever know it, the truth is that you love them."

The only thing for me to do was admit that what he said made sense, and then ask, "So, now what?" But I knew better, and did not speak at all. He was gone, I was no longer standing on the corner. Message received, over and out.

I was nearly finished with my coffee, and I had had enough of that cigar. Like the Mission City events, the incident lingered in a special way, as if settling into a special place inside of me, as if my mind constructed an ebenezer that would stand for as long as I did.

By-the-way, just two months ago I had another interesting spiritual experience just as I crossed that exact intersection. In a Jacob's Ladder sort of idea, I came home from work that night and started searching old maps of Austin to see what might have stood at that place. I expected to find some Holy Ground-- a Cemetery, a Church, something like that. Nothing of significance that I could discover existed there. However, it is kind of nice that the construction taking place there is for the tallest building in Austin-- a fitting ebenezer.

That one event was reaaly very simple. I crossed the street, feeling particularly vulnerable and harassed, smiled and glanced up Heaven and whispered, "So, Lord, You are in all of this with me, right?" A few steps and unspoken but received words came to me. "Something will happen that is bad, there is nothing you can do about it. Do not let it throw you off your foundation."

It did, so I didn't.

01 February 2010

Mission City - III - Redemption

My seventeenth year was not a good one. I had more fun, and more excitement than any other time in my life, but I also had my heart broken for the first time. Part of the beauty of that first love was the romantic notion that true love could never be betrayed, so the betrayal which came was all the more treacherous to my heart, my soul, and my perception of the world.

That event was tragedy in that there was no redemption. Three decades would pass before I admitted the obvious: People do terrible things to other people, and love doesn't matter to most people the way it matters to some.

That summer, as I had for the four summers previous, I worked as a YMCA Day Camp Counselor. We had leased a couple of hundred acres on some beautiful land up where the George Bush Turnpike now crosses highway 75. Back then, it was almost completely undeveloped. To give you and idea what life was like in rural Texas just a few miles from Dallas, the McDonald's up in that area had hitching posts, and they were not for decoration.

For that matter, it is with some pride that when I entered first grade in a fine, up-scale, Dallas neighborhood, on my first day of school, I wore cowboy boots and a pearl snap shirt-- the national uniform of Texas in those days.

Anyway, back to the story.

I never owned a horse, but had ridden enough with friends who did to be comfortable on one. I had made friends with a pretty girl a couple of years older than me (I'll call her "Sarah") who kept her horse up at a stables on the corner of the land where the Day Camp was. Once a week, each day camp counselor and his ten or twelve campers would rent trail horses from the stable and explore the 200 acres on horseback. The kids loved it.

One Friday night, at Sarah's invitation, I stayed up at the camp site after all the campers had left by bus or been picked up by their parents to go riding with Sarah and a nice teenage kid a couple of years younger than I, who was hired help at the stable business. I'll call him "Ben."

Sara and Ben had their own horses, and had them saddled and ready to go when I reached the stables. I had walked about a mile or so through trails and crossing creeks to arrive there on time. Sarah had gone back to the stalls where the trail horses were to find one suitable for me while I helped Ben feed the dozen or so horses that were in the corral. The owner of the land was an old retired rodeo rider known by his initials which were not "TJ" although that is what I'll call him here.

TJ said "Howdy" and stopped to chat. His personal horse was a fine paint cutting-horse-- tall lean and agile. Sarah came back around from the stalls and joined us. She explained that the three of wanted to go riding and she was trying to choose a descent horse for me. TJ swung down from his horse, and sized me up.
"We're 'bout the same in the legs, Climb up and let me see how you two get along."
I stepped into the stirrup and pulled myself up.
A one-notch shortening of the stirrups and I was all set.
"Let me see you take her around a bit, and see how she reacts. She's usually pretty good, but some people she just won't let ride her."

Fortunately, I was not one of those people. He called her "Mouse," and so will I. Mouse was bright and eager to please. With the agreement that when we were done that we would put all the tack away and get the three animals tucked in for the night while he headed to town (which meant go get drunk), TJ walked to his house in the trees about a hundred yards away, and we finished up with feeding and off we went.

It was a great typical summer evening. A big ol' moon would rise a bit before the sun would set, temperature around ninety degrees, an occasional breeze, and a clear sky. Three teenagers on horseback playing,chase, follow the leader, "Hey come look at this," and (of course), "Watch me and see if I can..." I remember crossing Duck Creek (I think that was the name) on the concrete encased pipeline. The concrete was about thirty inches across, and about ten feet above the water, maybe forty feet from one side to the other. Mouse and the other horses could not have cared less and crossed their riders this way on a daily basis.

We rode upstream from the other side, above the creek on the limestone edge, and reached the amazing old (but still used) curved railroad bridge. I had some fun and crazy times with moving trains on and near that wooden bridge, but not that evening, and I'm not telling those stories here-- besides, there is an old railroad engineer who would love to find me and throttle me but good for some of my antics even though I never meant to scare him.

As the sun set, we headed across a cotton field to the McDonald's which I mentioned before and then took a slow cool-down ride back the the stables. It must have been about ten-thirty, because the sun had set and no light at all glowed in the west, and the gibbous moon was near straight up. Back at the stalls, I soon found I was more in the way then I was helping, and therefore was excused from helping out. I wandered toward the corral to talk to the horses there and lit a cigarette.

It was not something I did often, but as my white t-shirt was damp, I pulled it off and tucked it into my jeans in the front and then strolled over to a horse that had come over to a trough to drink. I stood between two of the troughs where the soil was dry, and pet the horse when he finished drinking. A couple of other horses came over to get their share of attention which amused me, and I pet away, talking quietly to them for company.

I should mention, here, that playing with the horses had taken me maybe twenty yards away from TJ's house-- and nearer the woods which went on forever. I didn't know it then, but would learn the next day, that horse-rustling had become a serious problem in the area over the last few months, and TJ had lost a couple already that summer, and that he kept his thirty-ought-six loaded and by the door just in case they came back. I also didn't know it at the time, but TJ had come back from a successful outing to get drunk.

Remember that big ol' moon? Remember that white t-shirt I had just taken off? My Mom says I could get a tan standing in front of an open refrigerator door, and I was always dark brown well before summer started since I virtually lived in our backyard pool. Remember that I had just moved twenty yards away from a drunk man with a 30-06?

I heard a commotion back in the stalls. I turned my head in that direction just in time to see Ben and Sarah riding double and bareback on a horse at full gallop, coming out of the paddock and turning in my direction. Both were yelling. Ben's eyes were huge, and recognizing fear when I saw it, I was a few strides into a sprint when I made out the words being yelled, "Run, Crews, Run!"

They past me in a thunder of overladen hoofs, and I was trying to come up with some idea of what they were running from that could pursue-- but I heard nothing on the run behind me. I had started, I think, with an idea that maybe there was a fire, but it didn't make sense to run from a fire like that. I was up at full kick, in boots, passing the last of the water toughs along that side of the corral and about to turn the corner at the last fencepost when two things happened simultaneously.

My friends were galloping out of sight into the woods headed for the creek bed when my right foot held to the ground like it had been instantly welded there. I was cruising over twenty miles an hour, so the soles of my boots were barely touching the ground with each stride. I was not so much planting a foot for each stride as I was stroking the ground with it to maintain my speed. Still, that toe of that boot stuck to the ground and did not let loose until I was doomed to plant my face on the ground. At that same instant I heard the double crack of a gunshot and the shock wave of a bullet.

My foot was free from whatever mysteriously had held it. Now that I at least knew why I was running, I scrambled up and, wanting to stay low to the ground, bear-crawled towards a large oak tree about twenty feet further out from the middle of the end of the corral. I pretty much dove the last six feet or so, feeling like I was pushing my luck being in the open. That last few feet had some underbrush, and so, even still exposed, I was pretty much hidden. I rolled behind the big oak tree, sat up and turned myself so that by back was against the tree.

A second shot was fired at that instant, and I heard the leaves rustle above my head either because of a bullet or because of the shock wave. A twig with one green scrub oak leaf dropped in front of me.

I tried to listen for voices or footsteps on the rnn, but my breathing was so hard that despite attempts to hold my breath, I was making far too much noise to hear much else. I twisted so that I could lay on my stomach and peer back the way I came through that low brush. Nothing was moving except the twitching ears of the frightened horses in the corral. They are all bunched up against the fence closest to me.

I remember feeling a fondness for them at that moment. I wondered if they had tried to get as close to me as possible because to them, I meant safety. It also occurred to me that perhaps they felt protective, and were intentionally screening me from harm. Then it struck me: Instinct! The horses were searching for the sound of the threat, and their ears were directed to whatever sound they heard. They were watching me, but listening back the direction from which I had come.

I looked at all the ears, and most of them were turned that direction. I got control of my breathing, waited, watching not just the ears, but the feet of the horses. I was sure they would move away if the sound was moving closer. If someone told me an hour had passed, I could believe them; and if someone told me thirty seconds had passed, I could believe that too. It was probably just about two minutes that I sat there at the base of the tree. My heart rate and breathing were good enough that I was ready to resume a sprint if I needed to. I tried to imagine a straight line from where I had been between the troughs when my friends rode by yelling warning, and which line would pass through were I was now and then continue into the woods. That line represented the direction I wanted to go if the shooter had not moved.

I would have started crawling along that imaginary line right away except that the movement of the brush would give away my movement and position. I rolled on my back and carefully moved so I could see anything by looking out from the other side of the tree. I didn't want to keep poking my head around the same spot. I wanted to be on my back because a head bent back and sideways would not be as immediately identifiable as a face coming our from around the tree. I also had placed my hand over my eyes, so that I could see between my fingers but make it hard for some determined shooter to see the whites of my eyes.

I have no idea how those tactics came to my mind, but they did. It turns out, there was no one in sight. Because the awkward position had a better view of the path I had just taken, and because I now had one ear aimed down the same direction as the horses had been listening, I lay still and let myself relax and think. I would roll back behind the tree, identify a path parallel to the trail my friends had rode down toward the creek, and barring any further developments, would sprint for the creek.

As I was laying there thinking about this, the horses, bless them, also calmed down and one-by-one began to graze. Their ears were directed at each other, and to me-- and that meant there was probably no longer any threat. I carefully rolled back behind the tree, stood and ran.

I fully expected a third shot, and the closer I got the creek bed, the more certain I was that the shot was overdue. With the moon, it was easy to see the path-- going through the woods at night was something I was very good at doing. In this part of Texas, the soil is black in sunlight. By starlight it is dark gray against black vegetation. By moonlight it is light gray against dark green vegetation. If you let your eyes adjust, you can move faster without a flashlight than with one. You can, and I did, run at full speed and see well enough to plant your feet on solid and twig-free dirt. I hauled tail and made no sound.

As with all creeks which run over limestone "bedrock", they have cut several feet down below the surrounding area, usually with little limestone cliffs one each side. This creek had cut just about six feet down below grade. Just by pure luck (that is all it was, right?) I happened to reach the cut at a place where the ground angled down to the creek and then angled back up the other side.

I slowed, expecting the little cliff, but upon seeing the forty-five degree slope, jumped and skidded down to the water, where I dropped to my belly. No shot, no pursuing horse or human foot falls. Just in case, I went upstream a bit, until I found a way to scale the far side with speed and ease. There was barbed wire running parallel to the creek, and I could see that what had looked like a thicket was only the trees and brush growing too close to the wire to be cut down. I ducked through the wire, and stood at the very corner of the cotton field. In the far distance at the opposite corner, i could see the McDonald's, and half way between, was one horse, one horseman, and one standing girl silhouetted against the stripped field-- watching for me.

This was not a vision or a dream. This was real life. Why it is included here, is because of something I realized just about two years ago.

I had a vision dream which will be described in another post. Like all vision dreams, I "saw" it through my own eyes. Unlike the others when my own senses reflected my taking part, I was distanced in some intangible way (emotionally?) from the viewer. At any rate, that yet-to-be addition to this blog was quite profound. I wanted to explore the hints my mind picked up on in the details. It reminded me of this real-life instance I just described in this post.

The content of the one yet to be posted was profound, meaningful and tragic; so much so, that when I tried to compare and contrast the two, it occurred to me that they could possibly be joined and be an interesting work of fiction which I might use to serve to tell another story several people have told me must be published.

I don't mind a story which ends in tragedy, but I cannot accept tragedy as meaningful unless there is some form of redemption. I called out on frustration, one night, "I need redemption in this story!"

The next morning, I read the outline of that night when TJ took a couple of shots at me. Here is what I realized had been there all along:

A benevolent Other had inspired me to minimize myself as a target.
I began the journey as I stood between two waters (troughs = Moses, Baptism)
I was inexplicably placed out of danger (angelic help when my boot got stuck on solid flat ground)
I found safety (salvation) at the base of a tree (foot of the Cross, Tree of Life)
I passed from the Tree to the depths (six feet below ground!).
I came back up on the other side (the Resurrections)
And found "those who had passed on before" waiting for me.

That evening, dramatic as it was to experience, was indeed a story of Redemption.

At the Seder, when the Jews gather at table for the feast, many rehearse something like this:

A son (the foolish one) is asked why they feast on that night. That son answers, "Because on this night, we remember what God did for our people, taking them out of bondage."
Then another son is asked the same question, this time the wise son, who answers like this, "Because, on this night, we remember what God did for us, taking us out of bondage."

Copyright 2010