What I Want

I hope to be really clear about this.

I want there to be fewer abortions.

I want babies to be born into the arms of mothers who will love, nourish, nurture and WANT them. Into families that are stable; with the resources to support this new life. Where violence and abuse is unknown. A circumstance where the birth will not threaten the life or health of the mother.

And when that can’t happen — or for any other reason — I want it to be the choice of the woman carrying that life to decide what to do. Not a law, not a legislator, not a policeman, not merely a doctor whose career and family income are at stake, not a man who has never had a fetal life inside of him, not any other woman who has nor hasn’t; not a religious leader or a secular counselor or an attorney or a judge who almost certainly has never been in that woman’s exact circumstances (or even if they have), not a court that can blithely rule while ignoring evidence that’s inconvenient to its ideology.

I want it to be HER choice. For all of HER reasons, needs, beliefs, capabilities and desires.

I don’t want the precedent to be set that a life that has never seen sunlight or breathed its first breath somehow automatically takes priority over the life of the woman bearing it inside — a woman who has family, friends, loves, interests, memories, responsibilities, experiences; a woman who is unquestionably and undeniably a person, and has been a person living a life for enough years to carry that life inside.

I don’t want the government (at any level or branch; local, state, federal, legislative, executive, judicial) to assume the authority to decide what happens whenever any health care issue is at hand; who must bear children; who can — or can’t — bear children.

Or who lives. And who dies.

I don’t want government to start insinuating its authority into choices of life and death at all, but it’s already been happening so long in the justice system that I doubt my voice would be heard on that matter.

Because when you let government assume that authority into life and death matters, things can and will go wrong and they are often irreversible.

I want babies to be born that have a good, fair, honest chance at a life worth living — and not under an authoritarian government that removes rights from its citizens and makes their choices for them.

Or decides that a settled-law right they and those before them have had for decades is no longer their right at a national level if their state decides it isn’t. How utterly irresponsible!

I’m not an attorney, don’t pretend to be one, but I understand what precedents are — and a precedent like that opens the door to even more terrifying possibilities. Not just in health care, but in criminal justice and immigration and a host of other issues.

I sure as hell don’t want those possibilities playing out! States’ rights already divided us as a nation and led us into civil war once. That’s not what I want for the next or any generation of United States citizens.

I want babies to be born into a country where the foster care system is fixed and the economy is excellent and good families who want to adopt easily can and every baby has a home.

I want babies to be born into an environment where health care is available to all and no one has to worry about going broke in order to stay alive and healthy.

I want babies to be born and grow up in school systems where ALL the facts are taught in history and science; where they can choose to pray their own prayers or not before a test; where they don’t have to fear for their lives while crawling under a desk or barricading a door when an alarm goes off.

I want babies to be born into a nation where bigotry is gone and race/ethnicity isn’t a problem and people respect others’ heritage, beliefs, backgrounds, life circumstances and the choices that flow from them.

And the right to make them.

To vote them.

To live them.

I hope I’ve made it clear what I want for my kids and my grandkids and everyone else’s.

What do you want for them?

Being Church

I get to this time of year, and I still can’t help but remember Angi’s last two weeks.

How brave she was. How much she endured. How quickly her faculties slipped away. How many people loved her.

Nine years ago.

I don’t want to forget. Ever. Not even if the last of my faculties slip away from me in the closing days of my life.

But I may not get that choice.

I also remember how those who loved us clustered around us — locally and virtually — and hoped/prayed for us and ministered to us. People who shared our faith. People who held other faiths. People who held no faith at all, except perhaps in other people.

They were our collective church.

And, ironically, in recent years that common desire of all those dear folks has contributed to the decline in my faith in church.

I’ve come to the conclusion that meeting as church and observing the sacraments and repeating the good words for an hour or three together one day a week has no value at all if we are not serving in the world the entire 24/7. None.

Yes, oddly enough I still have faith in the God who could have answered thousands of prayers and could have come through for Angi but didn’t. I don’t know His business, or how things work in eternity or what’s ultimately good as compared to what I want now. I know she didn’t suffer as long as she could have. I know that we all die; even His Son. I know that Angi was ready because she lived the life of the One she believed in, and served and loved others, often in selfless ways that humbled me.

It isn’t the Father, Son or Spirit I have trouble believing in.

It’s us folks who go to church, but aren’t the church any more or better than folks who don’t believe, but still live out a faith in others with love and compassion and grace.

So who’s lost and who’s not in this scenario? I’m glad I don’t have to sort it out, because I’m not qualified to judge. Just love.

Just love.

I haven’t been to church in a year now. That’s not an indictment of anyone there; they are among the most wonderful and dearly-loved people in the world. They are my family, fellow believers and siblings in Christ. But I have to recognize that they are not the only ones who are children of God, dearly loved by Him.

I’m just not comfortable being in church and saying and doing the right things there, knowing that I’m not saying and doing and being what I should when I am not there. It’s an indictment of me.

But it’s also a deeply profound questioning of how we do things as church. How our time and resources are spent. Whether worship is for God or us. Whether service is for others or ourselves. Whether we need to spend on big buildings for 1-3 hours a week, or homes for the homeless and meals for the hungry and clothes for the shivering. Whether we need to spend for staff, lighting, projections, music in order to worship … or live out our worthship in service to others and reflecting God’s grace.

I think He’s big enough for me to be able to ask where He was when Angi needed Him.

I also think He has every right to ask me where I was when one of my neighbors needed me.

So, at least for now, I have pretty much lost my religion.

But I still have my faith.

Except, maybe, some of my faith in myself.

My Author Blog

I’m posting more actively at my former portfolio site — and now author blog — http://wkeithbrenton.com.

For the most part, I’m talking about the novel series, The “People of the Water” Cycle, available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle format. The posts on my author blog feed into my Amazon author page via RSS.

This is a young reader-friendly series, but intellectually challenging enough for adults as well.

The three novels, set mostly in Eureka Springs, Arkansas between 1886 and 2014, detail the adventures of a family and friends investigating the secrets of the “Waters of the Stars” and shouldering the burden of what they have learned.

The series is a swirl of history, mystery, solitude, romance, the normal, the paranormal, science, science fiction, fantasy, and suspense.

Feel free to follow the journey here!

I am apostate

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.

Or at least abstained from gathering with the saints.

It has been six months, two weeks and two days since I have been to church.

I have forsaken the assembly.

Well, not totally. I still pray for my church family. I still pray for people who are not in my church family, but who feel like family. Surely they need Your help as much.

You see, that’s where I’m having this problem. I haven’t lost faith in You, Father; nor your Son; nor your Holy Spirit. I’ve lost faith in your church. The Bride of Christ. At least, I’ve lost faith in the way we’ve conducted ourselves.

As if we’re just married one or two hours of one day every week.

But that’s not all, either. I also feel like when we gathered to worship, it’s all about us. The songs we like to sing. The scriptures we like to read. The prayers we like to repeat. The sermons we like to hear. The gifts we like to put in the collection plate. The potlucks and activities we like to participate in. All in the building we like to have around us with the pews we like to sit in.

I’m just not at all sure that’s what You meant by “church” or “assembly.” I’m not convinced You intended for it to happen once or twice a week, every week, with the same rituals played out over and over with the same words spoken and sung and prayed. I’m not positive that the gifts we give should be largely funding a building and its expenses or even a ministry staff. I’m not certain any of that equates to worship.

Because it feels like, if that’s what worship is, we can only do it then and there and when we’re all together, and I don’t find that to be the case in scripture.

And I have to wonder if the time of worship in a specific place at a specific time with everyone gathered was supposed to end when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed just as Jesus of Nazareth, your Son, predicted. That worship was to be constant, and prayer was to be constant, and singing was to be constant in our hearts — whether we’re alone or together in our homes or a borrowed place or on a seashore or a mountainside or a plain or wherever.

I get the picture that our gifts should be blessing the hungry and sick and poor and homeless. That there wouldn’t be as many of them and the destitution wouldn’t be so extreme if we weren’t spending our gifts otherwise. Mostly on ourselves.

I’m just not comfortable with the way we’ve been conducting ourselves as your family and the Bride of your Son.

I don’t preach anymore because it feels that my life should be the sermon seen and heard by those who aren’t familiar with You, or have had an awful experience with people like me who preached You but didn’t live You or love like You or bless others like You do.

I can’t see myself doing it the old way anymore. I’m spending more time, I think, with people who don’t really know You; people who feel like family whom You would love to hear calling you “Father,” and trying to drop hints to them that they’re loved and You’re listening and that You care.

I feel more at home among my fellow sinners, Father; You know I do.

And I don’t even know whether to be sorry about that.

I know that your family still gathering will be fine without me there. They don’t need to see my doubt and hear my lack of faith in church as they love it. I still love them, and I miss them, and I just can’t be there for them the way I used to be any longer. It’s not their fault or your fault or anyone’s fault, as near as I can tell — not even mine.

I’m just different in my doubt now.

I still believe in them, too; and that they will do much good and their hearts will worship You and people will be blessed.

That’s what I needed to confess. I will never forget what your Son said or did or gave for us, nor cease to be grateful for it, nor will I ever give up on church altogether.

I’m just with a different church now. The one that doesn’t really know You yet. The one willing to shake any preconception of the way church is or must be in order for You to be pleased and worshiped.

I want to hang with them, and be less of myself and more like You. Loving. Accepting. Gracious. Forgiving. The nonconformist who fishes for men and shepherds people and shares meals and tries to help heal brokenness.

That’s my confession, Father. I may be totally wrong and off-base, and if so, I’m doubly triply sorry. But I can’t believe in church as church is done right now, and I have to try something else.

Lord, help my unbelief.

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross

Jesus, keep me near the cross
the one on the wall in my church
or in my study
but not the one planted in the ghetto
where crime is rampant
and poverty is the rule

Keep me near the cross
where the shiny people are
people like me
people my color
people who make about as much as I do
or maybe a little more

Jesus, keep me near the cross
the shiny gold one
superimposed on my country’s flag
that tells me you’re on our side
and that we’re never wrong

Keep me near your cross
where there aren’t any thieves
hanging about nearby
where there’s no guilt or shame
or suffering or pain
or anything that requires my attention
my sympathy
my empathy
my generosity
myself

Jesus, keep me near the cross
that’s just there once a week
and not every day
every hour
every minute
every second
that’s just too much to ask
from the One who gave it all

Believing in Church

I’m not sure that I do, anymore.

Oh, I still believe in God and His Son Jesus and their Holy Spirit.

And I believe that our Savior died and lived again and sent His Spirit to establish a church — a gathering of people dedicated to living a life that echoes His, does good in the world, ministers to others, lives in constant prayer and worship and service to Him and the Father through Him and by the power of that Spirit.

What I’m uncertain that I believe in is the church as it is.

Riddled with division.

Torn by power struggles.

Wounded by selfishness.

Weakened by faithlessness.

Prostituted to worldly enterprises and politics.

Unprincipled, powerless, poor, sick and dying.

And totally unable to see itself in this condition.

How can a church repent when she cannot see herself in need? How can she return to the husband of her youth when she cannot leave behind her paramours in business and government? How can she be one bride when her personality has been shattered across denominations and conferences and names and opinions and creeds and committees and factions and races?

So many times she lives in grandiose luxury cathedrals in the middle of neighborhoods plagued by poverty and squalor — and does nothing.

Would her Champion do nothing?

Too often her spokespersons preach gospels of wealth and acquisition and greed through code words like “blessing” and “favor” and “grace.”

Would her King show such favoritism?

Constantly the cries of her scattered consciousness of “I am the one true church” fall on deaf ears and her (frequently) self-serving “good” works are unseen by eyes turned away by her hypocrisy.

Would her Lord be so duplicitous?

Yet she squanders her resources to grow and “reach the lost” with bigger and better and more; with programs and ministries and Sunday shows; with worship bands and laser lighting and smoke machines and big-screen visuals; with campaigns and revivals and marches and protests.

Is that how her Christ won the hearts of people seeking a better life?

Only Matthew’s gospel quotes Him as mentioning the church, and only three times. And all three times, it’s in the context of how faith affects action.

Do the spokespersons for His bride teach this anymore?

Because that’s pretty much all He taught. How He lived. How He died. How He lived again.

He believed He could live a life that served others and therefore pleased His Father, and death could not stop Him.

He believed that the faith of Peter would survive His death, and death could not stop the church that would be founded on such faith. (Matthew 16:18)

He believed that faith acting in love was the way that people in His church could successfully deal with problems among themselves. (Matthew 18:15)

He believed that even if that initially failed, that those whose intransigence separated them from that church could still be drawn back to it by love and faith. (Matthew 18:17)

What you believe affects the way you act toward others.

In spite of our fallibility and failure and selfishness, it is possible to live that kind of life and be a part of that community of faith and love.

He is actually not quoted as saying anything about meeting together or when or how often or what is required when that happens or who is allowed to lead or read or speak. I think He assumed it would happen as people drawn together by love and faith.

So He made a dying request, as He asked His closest friends to remember Him at the table of His bread and wine: Be one. Even as He and the Father are One. Love each other to the point you would lay down your lives for each other.

Then He went to the cross and laid down His life for them, for us, for all. He went to the tomb and laid to rest His mortality and all the wrongs and injustices that could ever be done. He went to His Father’s side to prepare a place for those who wanted to live in love forever.

And He must look at us and wonder how His shattered, scattered, schizoid bride could live with herself together in one place.

Surely He still weeps.

That’s what I’m having trouble believing in. What it’s difficult for me to remain a part of.

Because I see friends and others largely living the kind of life that loves and serves others, though they have either no real knowledge of Him, or judge Him by His bride, or simply feel they have no need for ritual or creed or the kind of exclusion they have felt because they are not part of the fellowship.

Does the One who died to save all draw the line that excludes them?

Does He not know how they’ve been treated; seen how His bride has treated others — judging and belittling and mocking and rejecting them, all the while proclaiming their “love” for them?

I can’t help but think that’s not the kind of life He bought for her with His very own.

I haven’t really been to church in a while. I miss it. I miss the fellowship, the breaking of bread, the instruction, the prayers. I miss the songs that should flow from all grateful hearts. I know I’m not perfect; that none of us is perfect; that we could all be better.

But I just feel there’s got to be something more. More than one holy day per week. More than one hour of worship while gathered. More than one voice teaching or preaching or praying or reading. More than opinions that divide rather than love and grace and humility and faith which unites.

I still, perhaps foolishly, believe that the church can be one.

She can find her path, her love, her mission for others; herself.

But that journey is long, and difficult.

And I’m not at all sure that’s the direction she’s going.

Farewell, Old Friend

Well, dear ones: My companion of 16 years, Roadie, passed quietly this evening after a brief illness.

He did everything quietly, though. Unless he barked while visiting at the homes of his friends Jean or Tracellen while I was traveling, he had not done so for years.

About the only sounds he ever made were whimpers while dreaming of running in his sleep.

He had gone deaf over the last couple of years, and his eyesight was beginning to dim — after all, he was at least 18 years old. But he could sniff, and loved to do so on his morning and evening walks.

He had compression in his 5th-7th vertebrae, his vet in Sylva told me in 2015, and in his last few months I could tell that the walks — and especially the steps — were becoming more painful to him. His pace slowed. I closed off the staircases in the cottage so he wouldn’t try to follow me up- or downstairs and break a limb.

He was friendly to all creatures, from cats to other dogs to any person he ever met. He was fond of little ones, especially my grandson Kayson, and was happy to be a headrest and back pillow for him when he watched videos on my computer.

Many of you know that I often referred to him as Roadie, The World’s Sweetest Dog™️, and if any dog ever deserved that trademark, it was surely him.

Holy Saturday

Jesus.

Your final words from that cross are still ringing in our ears.

We followed you for years, and it all ends like this?

Where are you?

Are you gone?

Can the One you called Father no longer hear our cries or feel our anguish or siphon our tears into His bottles of grief?

Where is He?

Why is the face of the Divine hidden from the mortal?

Why have we been forsaken?

We are scattered like sheep.

We are undone.

We are lost.

We speak to You, but there is no answer.

We cry out, but there is no comfort.

Our bones are dried up from weeping.

Our hearts are liquefied from fear.

Can You return to us from the grave, as You brought others back to life?

Can the dead who raised the dead raise Himself from the dead?

Are You really the Son of God?

Or did we waste our time, only to waste away now — slinking back together in secret, in terror for our lives; in dread of escaping the threat that took You and returning to empty lives?

Where have You gone that we can’t follow?

What mansion can be built inside a tomb by the dead?

We try to believe.

But we can’t even believe You’re gone.

Please.

If somehow You still live …

Outside of our hearts

Beyond our memories

Out of the reach of all pain

In a place that’s real …

Please.

Don’t leave us.

I Get It, Mom

Today my mom would have turned 95, but we lost her five years-and-some ago.

She and Dad would have been married 50 years in 1995, had he not suddenly passed at the age of 66 a couple of years before that golden anniversary. My older sister had already begun thinking about an event for them while he was still alive, and she hosted it anyway, and it was a wonderful tribute to their marriage.

Dorothy L. Brenton

I think we both asked her from time to time in the years that followed if she would date again.

She didn’t express any interest in it. In fact, I remember her telling us that a couple of older gents had asked, and she had politely declined.

I think, as much as anything, my sisters and I wanted to let her know that we’d be fine with it if she did. We knew how deeply she and Dad loved each other, and there would be no replacing him, and no one ever again like him. But we told her that we would love to see her happy in another relationship.

We didn’t want what had happened with a cousin of ours and his dad, when his mom had passed away — and our uncle soon married again; married a gal so much like our aunt that she even had the same first name. It caused a rift between father and son, and they didn’t speak for years.

I understand that you can love someone different from the one you’ve lost, and love them differently, and still love them as much. I can grasp that it’s not an insult to the lost spouse to seek another, as much as it is a compliment that marriage was so good with that spouse that a relationship like that was worth seeking again. And could have the potential to be just as wonderful, or — in some ways you can’t anticipate — even better!

But here I am, now … looking this year at turning the age my dad was when his cardiac episode took him home. Almost eight years out from losing Angi.

And I’ve sought, and tried, and failed.

For a lot of reasons, I’m sure. It’s a different century, and I don’t know how to date or even ask for a date in the 21st Century; how to strike up a conversation, even; or where to go to meet someone.

I even resolved at the end of 2019 to give it one more year, then give it up. So of course, the year I’d pick would be pandemic year 2020.

In spite of it, I had three dates. (Four, if you count taking out a couple of former co-workers for Thai lunch and reminiscing together, both of whom already have sweet fellas!) They were latte-and-a-long-walk dates, and they went pretty well. Things didn’t go well after the first one with the neighbor I asked off-the-cuff and without premeditation, but the other two with a very sweet lady just a couple of years my junior were wonderful.

It just felt like there wasn’t anything special there, between us, for either of us.

And I guess I’ve started to realize why Mom didn’t pursue the dating game.

It’s just kind of sad when you hit it off with someone, but that magic just isn’t there like it was with your spouse. It’d be even more sad to pretend it or try to make it happen. It’s there, or it’s not. And downright tragic to get into a relationship hoping that it would develop, or having it develop for one of the two of you, but not the other. Or maybe worse, for neither of you.

It’s not a matter of expecting your other to be just like your spouse, or even just a little like your spouse, or to live up to any kind of expectation. It’s just that the indefinable “something” that has to be there to make it work … well, just isn’t there.

So I’ve made the decision. I’m retiring from the dating-and-romance thing. The pandemic is not going away soon. The pressure of the years on me is not going to let up in a minute. I’m not exactly a bargain package to the market at large. And I’m just not sure the full value is there for me anymore, either.

I know that sounds selfish, and it probably is, but that’s the way things are.

So, I’m sorry, Mom, if I pressured you by asking or encouraging when I was a lot younger, and deeply in love, and couldn’t possibly understand the reasons why you might not ever feel the same in a relationship the way you felt with Dad.

I get it now.

2020

The year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The year I stepped back from the best job in the world — conducting the passenger train at the ES&NA — two weeks before the governor issued a mask mandate that would have made it safer.

The year I preached mostly from Facebook Live. And I’m still not a preacher; I’m a teacher and scripture reader and that has to be enough.

The year I gave dating one last shot before retiring from it. In December of 2019, I decided to give it one more year. So of course the year I decided to give it was 2020. And of course it didn’t work out, and I didn’t get over whom I needed to get over, and I didn’t get any better at dating in the 21st Century than I was in the 20th.

No surprise, really.

The year I stayed home and did nothing. Though I did finish writing my weird trilogy of novels. That will probably never be published, and that’s okay; at least I finished them.

The year I didn’t overdecorate at Christmas. The year I didn’t decorate the cottage at Christmas, at all, really. I put up wreaths. And a 24” tree.

The year that was so depressing that it would have been no surprise if Donald Trump had won re-election. And it was really no surprise that he fought the results and refused to concede and did as much damage as he could in the waning days of his presidency.

The year that more than 325,000 Americans died from a virus that too many people were too stupid or stubborn or selfish to take steps to help prevent or protect themselves from.

The year that absolutely everyone could agree on needed to be over as soon as possible, but it had to hang in there for its full 366 days because it just had to be a leap year too.

The year we all want to forget, but shouldn’t, because otherwise we’ll never learn from it.