When A Vision Is Just A Vision, But A Cigar Is Something Else

09 May

cigar-smoke

Cigar Smoke

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Much has happened on the ground here since I last entered this profile log. Contrary to my usual accommodations to visitors I had to decline an eight o’clock evening visit to our home by two Mormon missionaries last Thursday night. I was cooking dinner, and had Suzette send them away with regrets.

This was the first time in our ten years here at the Stadium Armory that we’ve ever been singled out for proselytizing by Mormons, although JWs frequent our ghetto neighborhood about once every six months. They left their card inviting us to call and to visit their most exquisite Tabernacle which can be seen for miles when driving around the northern I-495 beltway at night, its lighted spires a Disney-like beacon in the huffing black government night. Their parting shot was of course, “Please call. We know the truth.” Well, the way I read this book, Jesus has one hell of a mess to clean up. Everyone shouting, “Which side are you on? Come on in, we have the truth!” That last remark reminds me that the Black Muslims are becoming a major force here in Washington, but they won't even sell me one of their magazines, as they stand in the medians of major thoroughfares, dark suit with bow tie as usual, profiling the cars, and hawking their wares only to the lost tribes of their own race." A classy bunch.

“I would that no man teach you but I myself.” is the word from Isaiah. In a nutshell George, it is plain that I do not seek to teach or upbraid anyone, but am merely a stout witness to freedom and compassion as the winding down of days take their toll, mark the culled, and refresh the breath of God’s own chosen.
Almighty God, creator of heaven and earth, where in this blistering alternative universe of flickering lanterns, scripted whirlwinds, and smashing bonds of liberty does it all end? I believe everyone. I believe nobody. It’s probably in bad taste, but the next morning I drove out to the mall to find a card for my pop's birthday. While standing at the cashier in J.C. Penney’s I saw a woman who looked exactly like your wife Ann, just as I remember her. Every body feature, size, shape, and coloring was intact. Her style of eyeglasses. Her voice. Perhaps she was a few years younger than Ann was when I knew her. She was cupping an infant to her breasts, and she kept walking back and forth and chatting as if uncertain as to where her friend wanted her to stand while she was checking out a nightgown or something. This was no vision from the heavens. No, this younger woman was not your departed wife, and yes I have often seen others who have reminded me of you, her, and numerous others along this physiognomical fashion, but the coincidence of the sighting, coupled with the agonizing time I have had composing this letter to you was startling. But it is just this sort of logic of chance that informs most of what one finds is called the voice of God, nearly everywhere, particularly among the evangelicals.

On this spot I place faith. My confession, although hardly an evangelical one, as I have come to recognize them, is that I dwell in a dogmatic world dominated by the presence of the undogmatic Living God. Proofs are outside the boundaries of language but probably belong to the language of higher mathematics, caught as they are within the twin paradox of the spiritual macrocosm and the eternal microcosm. “I would that no man teach you but I myself.” is the word from Isaiah. In a nutshell George, it is plain that I do not seek to teach or upbraid anyone, but am merely a stout witness to freedom and compassion as the winding down of days take their toll, mark the culled, and refresh the breath of God’s own chosen.

Much has happened since I last saw you. But I wanted to stop this letter here. My whole weekend air was thick with self-doubt. I felt paralyzed, smothered. I try to do no harm. I tried twice since last week’s entry to sit down and further write this story, but I feared that I am either needlessly overwhelming, or patronizingly pedantic in my attempt to share some of the basics molding my recent years. I continually think of things, crucial moments I left out. My vision at Lofton Creek. I was rocking lazily in a suspended porchswing on a hot summer afternoon after checking on the chickens, gazing out, focused on nothing more than the sweet breezes of another miraculous day, heavy eyes maybe half-closed nesting upon the cool green waters of the lagoon. Suddenly I saw, or imagined I saw a gentle white-robed longhaired, lightskinned Christlike figure, typical of the myriad of Renaissance depictions common to this culture. He was bathed in a most brilliant animating yellow and white light, standing there on the southside of the lagoon, shoots of grass nipping at his bare feet. Fanning the grassy northside bank of the lagoon stood I, about fifty feet from where the Christfigure stood, he and I both barren of distinct expression distinguishing our faces from say, an old snapshot too familiar to tax the eye. He reached down without a word to pick up a small pebble and tossed it into the water as one might heave a dart toward a corkboard.

After visiting with my sister and mother for a couple of hours, I got them to drive me to the nearest interstate ramp to begin the second leg of this nearly eight hundred mile trek. The event which most concerns me here is one which took place about thirty miles and two hours after sunset into my return trip.
The pebble shattered the surface as it sailed through the conspicuous reflection of my face mirrored there, a perversion of reality since the sun’s location in the sky would not ordinarily permit a reflection from something on the north side of the lagoon at that time of day. The ripples distorted my image for a few seconds before it returned. Then the messenger picked up another stone and this time he hurled it right at my head and it would have plunked me had I not ducked in a downtown hurry. It was only then that the messenger spoke to me. “Rather than concern yourself with the outer image which can be easily distorted and likewise easily restored, you would be advised to beware of those who would attempt to harm your real body.”

I was shaken from my light doze. Puzzled but joyful I set about pondering the mystery of what I had just experienced. Right off the bat, I took this "vision" to mean simply that one’s reputation is of less importance than the temple itself. But that was old news, something I thought I had long ago understood and lived. But something was not right. The concept of preserving one's own flesh when attacked by one's enemy worked contrary to the extra mile and outer garment themes of Christ's gift, and so seemed to indicate another purpose for this parable in order to comport to the full depth I already knew to be Christ’s command. Eventually I came to reckon the spirit over and above the temple which must fall away as constrained by time’s fist while susceptible to the plunderings and picketings of predators and personal vanity. Making the spirit the true body, while the flesh is an ephemeral image much like one's reflection off a pool of water. Even this doctrine is orthodox teaching, but one much harder for many to endorse than the first. This occurred on July 23, 1980. I have never again been visited or touched by what I can even remotely refer to as a holy messenger in the bright lights of broad daylight. My first and final appointment to date.

However, there was the time I had hitchhiked from Lofton Creek to Atlanta to pick up my brother who wanted to come visit. He’d wanted me to drive up in the Camaro but I didn’t have any money for gas. So I told him I’d thumb up and we could hit the roads back together. The plan was set. Leaving in high afternoon at what little rush hour action there was out there in the sticks, I spent most of the night stalking the chilly stars and the full October moon on quiet I-16 between Savannah and Macon, finally arriving in Atlanta in great time just according to that plan. But by the time I got to my sister’s apartment near three o’clock the next afternoon my opportunistic brother Chaz had skipped off with a friend of his just an hour earlier on their way to Lofton Creek in his buddy’s car. Nearly floating with divine purpose I wouldn’t allow my brother’s quick change artistry to interfere with the essence of my journey. After visiting with my sister and mother for a couple of hours, I got them to drive me to the nearest interstate ramp to begin the second leg of this nearly eight hundred mile trek. The event which most concerns me here is one which took place about thirty miles and two hours after sunset into my return trip.

And later when retelling the story to a friend who lived down the road from the chicken farm, I characterized this event as quite possibly being a visitation from a deceiver, a demon disguised as an angel of light, so unresponsive I was to his message of joy through the release of sins by the laying on of hands. But I had already been exposed to that style of christianity and had found it unsuitable to my cerebral spirit.
A huge white cadillac pulls over and offers me a ride. I stare into the incredulously bizarre automobile to see that the driver is graced in all sorts of colorful jewels, silver, and gold, a studded white suit, white shoes and a hairstyle to complete the portrayal. I was being offered a ride by Liberace! No—it was not Liberace—but here was a highly stylized man quickly putting me on guard with this vainglorious decorum. I immediately suspected he was a homosexual, and he probably was, but his first words to me buried us both in another test. He said he had just come from his weekly prayer meeting, and it was all he could do to stifle his intense joy. You see, there had been a laying on of hands, and he had been released from all his pain and agony, all the sadness of his heart, all the tricks of the body were laid to rest. He then took it upon himself to declare that it was okay, in fact, it was absolutely necessary to receive this joyous blessing, this release of the spirit. Not once did he mention the name of Jesus, but contrary to biblical testimony, the invocation of the name of Jesus does not seem to indigenously empower in quite the same way suggested in the 4th chapter of First John.

I explained that I was not unduly sad, nor was I extraordinarily jubilant. I certainly appreciated the ride in this luxurious white horse Cadillac and told him so, but I was also somewhat ill at ease with the pentecostal fervor of this particular driver. In accepting the ride, as was customary among hitchhikers for obvious reasons, I asked how far he was going. He responded with a smile and a non-committal "a good long way" or something like that. An alarm bell immediately went off in my head, and though I suspected him of ulterior sexual motives, I felt fortified and safe enough to welcome the hitch. He continued to prattle on about the intense joy and sense of release he felt after the laying on of hands session he had just left. I was not convinced this was a godly message. I mentioned the weeping Jesus, sad outside the gates of Jerusalem, Jeremiah, also known as the weeping prophet, and how if Jesus and Jeremiah could exhibit a sense of grief concerning the state of God’s people, why not me, if indeed the purpose was true? I glanced again at his fingers fat with expensive rings and gems. The man attempted no answer, but his dark eyes shoot wide open purging any hint of rapture from his now-soured face, and he immediately snatched the car, traveling I assume at sixty miles an hour or so, to the shoulder of the road just shy of only the second exit ramp past where he’d only minutes before picked me up. Gravel was pitched and his tires squealed as he pulled out and immediately exited after rattling off a quick, “Oh I just remembered something I’ve got to do. You’ve got to get out.”

This event happened so fast and seems even now so fantastical that I hardly believed that it had really happened. But it did. Had I wronged him by apparently squashing his joy? Or had he really just remembered something just in the nick of time to make his exit? I felt justified in my half of the dialogue. And later when retelling the story to a friend who lived down the road from the chicken farm, I characterized this event as quite possibly being a visitation from a deceiver, a demon disguised as an angel of light, so unresponsive I was to his message of joy through the release of sins by the laying on of hands. But I had already been exposed to that style of christianity and had found it unsuitable to my cerebral spirit.

Blinded by the total whiteness of this car, his clothing, the aborted ride, perhaps I was doing evil by judging this fellow like I did. But I'd become uneasy, and so I trotted out my only defense, scripture with its minefield of paradoxical intrigue with its way of asking had I "loved" this man, this glittering stranger in his white on white, jumpsuit blanco, diamond, and grin? I certainly loathed and feared him more than I could "love" or even respect him at that moment of his joy sermon, leaving me with only two choices: either to condemn him as a devil, or further prostrate myself for my failure to accept God’s passion as I ramble, docile in my ability to volley scripture with those who offend my own personal sensibilities.

The next letter, if there is to be one, will certainly be informed and tempered by your own voice. My best to you and your family. Please write when you can. I am not perfect, but what does that mean, in terms of human reality? Save me Jesus, for I am unsure.
What is your take on this bizarre Liberace episode, George? Again it was fourteen years ago, but I hope that you feel able and willing to articulate your impressions on anything I have written in this letter, particularly the more peculiar narratives.

Victorious? Hardly, beyond my wife's devotional paradigm. She has little interest in my work, but I am forever trying to explain myself in writing to those who simply aren’t interested or else, assume my stance is merely an out of control posture of chaos and ignominy, bluster or sciolism, and as such, my efforts merely bait them as tehy accuse me of advancing one sort of arrogant surfeit, mundane spew, or another. Or else the bulk of my writing is completely ignored. That's fine, but leave my soul alone, then.

Let me close this to put my anxiety—over communicating in full this way to you—to rest. Once I post it I will feel much better. Sorry, more up to date material hasn’t been included, but should this letter make a favorable impact, you can be sure I’ll be able to snap off another stack of pages bringing you up to date. Hope you'll include lots of stuff about your boys, along with any other details of these past thirteen years you wish to share.

Good health and straight shootin'...

Yours in Christ

Gabriel

P.S. You can call me whatever you wish, but since my name has been legally changed for over ten years, I and the postmaster would probably prefer you to address any correspondence to my new name. I make no demands on family to switch their allegiances, or comment on mine, and so I make none upon you. Meanwhile, I shall start a second letter picking up where this one ended, but I do hope you write back soon in some small way reaffirming our friendship and your willingness to read and respond to these disclosures, both biographical and theological. I also want to construct a list of the most influential scriptures, that is to say, those scriptures which seemed to have singled me out for exposure. You once advised me on this, and I took your advice to heart since I already owned the notion. Catholicism has a word for this sort of so-called heresy, but it currently escapes me. I think I came across it once in one of Herbert Armstrong’s WCG publications.

P.S.S. Forgive me George if these notes strike the wrong chord in your own poetic make-up. The next letter, if there is to be one, will certainly be informed and tempered by your own voice. My best to you and your family. Please write when you can. I am not perfect, but what does that mean, in terms of human reality? Save me Jesus, for I am unsure.

© 1994 - 2013, Gabriel Thy. All rights reserved.

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"Ignorance and virtue suck on the same straw. Souls grow on bones, but die beneath bankers' hours.""


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