Still moving…

Ok, I know that I just landed here a couple days ago. I thought that for my purposes a simple blog hosted by someone else would be just fine. And, it wouldn’t cost me anything but the time to move it here. However, as I’ve thought about it, if I’m going to expect people to take me seriously as a writer, I’ve got to be serious. The work of creating word pictures and constructing ideas in print takes time and commitment. I realize that part of that commitment is financial. I can continue to play it safe, or I can put my money where my mouth is. So, today I set up a new site at:

mikehelbert.com

I have imported this blog to that site. Future blog posts and any other work that I choose to do on the web will appear there. So, please join me, won’t you?

The Curse of Dementia…or is it?

For the past couple of years my family has been watching as my dad slowly slips away from us. He has dementia. This condition has reduced a once strong and independent man to a shadow; a wispy wraith trapped within a failing mind and body. I cannot think of a more insidious jailer than this. It has robbed him, and us, of life and liberty and locked him in a cell that is growing darker and smaller with each passing day.

A Bit about Dementia

For those unfamiliar with this condition, let me share a bit of what I’ve been able to learn. Dementia, according to one source, is not a true ‘disease,’ but rather the symptoms of various kinds of brain disorders. There are several underlying causes for dementia. The one that, I believe, effects dad is a type of Vascular Dementia. I had the opportunity to speak with a neurologist who had done an MRI on dad. He explained that the scans revealed evidence of many small strokes. This, coupled with his coronary disease and other risk factors, had ultimately led to his present condition. However, in our day when medical science can ‘fix’ many things, dementia is not one of them.

Back Story

Without going into a detailed, biographical sketch, I’d like to share a bit about events that have led us to this place. As I stated above, dad was predisposed to this condition. Eventually, it was destined to overtake him. But, I believe, there were life events that occurred which caused the disease to grow and flourish. This process has not been proven clinically. It is simply the fruit of my observations.

My parents were married a long time. 62 years. My mom was dad’s life. He adored her. He was the faithful vassal to his Queen. When she became ill, he doted on her. You could not find a more devoted care giver. Ultimately, though, she became too frail for him. We had to find a place where she could receive the skilled treatment and watchful attendance that she required. While this was a difficult adjustment for dad, he adapted. He spent every available moment with her. He sat at her bedside. When she was able, he would take her for rides in the car. His life and hers developed a kind of symbiosis. Maybe, that’s what the Scripture meant when the writer inscribed the words, “and they shall become one flesh.”

In 2010 mom passed. Her weak body, wracked by many infirmities, simply could not carry the life within her any longer. For dad…he lost his Beloved. Many prayers and hugs and tears were shared in those days. Dad slipped into a deep depression that lasted for months. We took him to counselors. His doctor prescribed anti-depressants. We spent more time with him, trying to console him. No, to distract him. But, the only thing that we witnessed was the dementia driving an ever increasing distance between him and reality.

End Game

Within one year the dementia became problematic. Dad’s memory was failing rapidly. He started to forget to take his meds. He would forget to eat. The fragments of memory that he could retrieve became more disjointed and confused. We were able to get the V.A. to provide some in-home care. My brother and I began to go over daily to see that he ate and took his medication. But, even these efforts could not impede the relentless progress of the dementia. Like a tsunami it pushed further and further, drowning and destroying the person that was our dad.

Ultimately, we had to acquiesce and make arrangements for him to live in a skilled nursing facility. As much as we would like, we simply cannot care for all of his needs. We enlisted a local hospice to oversee his medical needs. We had to face the realization that his sojourn would soon be over.

Blessing in Disguise?

A few days ago I was with dad. In the midst of his semi-coherent ramblings, I noticed he made several references to mom as if she was alive. She was just in another room somewhere. At first I was sad that he was becoming so confused. I was angry that he had been reduced to living in such a broken and fragmented world. One of the hospice nurses had explained to me that people with this condition try to access any pieces of memory, no matter how small or disconnected, in order to make sense of their world. Dad was finding the memories that made his world acceptable. Perhaps, in the small room that is his world, he built a place of solace. His sadness and depression have passed. In this world he has as many experiences available to him as a kaleidoscope has shapes and colors. His broken mind randomly juxtaposes the fragments of his memories to create a world, while unreal to us, is very real to him. In this world he has peace. In this world the pain and loss are whisked away. In this world, his Beloved is just in the next room.

Welcome to a new Blog Home

I’m a writer. I write about what I think is important at the time. I write about stuff that just needs to get out of my heart and head. (This stuff’ll drive you crazy if you don’t let it out!) I write about topics that interest me. I respond to bloggers in other universes. Mostly, I write cuz I gotta write.

For the past few years I’ve been living over at Blogger. It’s been a really great time! But, I think that it’s time to move to new digs. I’ve been reading a lot of blogs, and a vast majority of them swear by WordPress. So, here I am. As time goes on I’ll add some fun stuff…widgets and images and stuff to make this a tad homey-er.

I’ve imported my posts from Blogger so that they may be readily available for you or me. It just seemed like the thing to do at the time. Feel free to scroll through them. They will give you a better idea of who I am.

Hopefully, on this leg of my journey I’ll get the chance to meet you.

Won’t you take a minute to introduce yourself. Join in the conversation and let’s write!

What in the ‘World’ is the Church Thinking?


Recently, I’ve read a lot about social and cultural ills, and, how the Church ought to respond to them. Some of these have to do with specific events. I read one this morning that just put me over the top with incredulity. David Hayword shared a story that I found totally unbelievable. Here is a link to David’s blog, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nakedpastor/2013/06/money-women-and-guns/.
Last week I read a post by Frank Schaeffer about human trafficking. This is an issue that is of paramount importance. And, I commend Frank’s voice on it. He has highlighted the role of social media to the modern-day slave trade. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/frankschaeffer/2013/06/facebook-and-google-must-do-far-more-to-stop-the-slave-trade/
I could go on and on about the growing economic disparity between the so-called 1% and everyone else. I could mention how our elected leaders are owned and operated by various special interests…special interests that are only concerned about their own interests. Tony Jones wrote a very insightful piece about this at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/2013/06/08/our-eternal-war/
So, what is the Church saying and doing? From the sermons I’ve heard and the people I’ve talked to, it seems that we are really, really concerned about personal piety and creating a counter-cultural presence. Now, please don’t get me wrong. I’m not disparaging these. (Although, I think the counter-cultural thing is counter-productive. But, more on that some other time.)
I hear so-called Christian leaders speak out against LGBT folks on a regular basis like these people, who, incidentally, God loves. I hear our leaders worrying and complaining because their children masturbate. I listen to well-meaning folks break down to tears because alcohol exists…or tobacco, or pot. I listen to high profile ‘leaders’ talk about gender roles as if they had a hotline to God. Oh, and don’t get me started about science and evolution. What a ‘slippery slope’ these topics present to the ‘faithful.’
So, we reject the culture. We build structures that shield us from the tainted influences of this ‘fallen’ world. We build crap. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/irreverin/2013/06/evolvingfaith/
I think that it’s far easier to identify specific ‘sins’ and issues that differentiate us, that make us exclusive, than to deal with the real task of building God’s reign here, now, on Earth. What does that look like? I certainly don’t have an exhaustive answer to this. I do know, however, some of the characteristics of it. From Jesus, himself, I see his understanding of this vocation. From Luke 4:18-19 we read, “18. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed,  19. To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”(NASB)
I don’t see a lot about complementarianism in this. I do see a mandate for caring for the distressed and marginalized, however. James adds more insight into the heart of God. He wrote in chapter one of his letter, “Religion that is pure and undefiled in the sight of God our Father is to care for the orphans and widows in their distress, to keep oneself pure from the world.” (trans. mine.) Many evangelicals will say, “Aha! Keep pure from the world. That means individual moral purity. Exactly what we’ve been preaching!” My response is, “Not so fast.” What is James’ understanding of what we translate ‘world’? He used ‘Cosmos’ for this. The idea contained in this language has to do with world systems, not individual piety. The systemic abuses of greed and power undergird this verse. Systems that continue the marginalization of entire groups of people are included here. Embedded privilege is condemned in these few words by the apostle. While we nit-pick about masturbation people who Christ loves and gave his life for are set apart as ‘other’ and judged to be something ‘less than’ us. While we look for ways to define who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ girls and women are abused and subjected to horrific conditions so that men might cling to their power and privilege. Workers are denied living wages so that some corporation can pay handsome dividends to its stockholders. Hundreds can die in a factory in Bangladesh in order to pad some executive’s pockets with pictures of a guy named George. LGBT people are forced to choose between honesty and self-loathing because some religious leader preaches hate-filled sermons to the ‘faithful.’
No, our responsibility to God and God’s good creation is to be a royal priesthood and holy nation. A place of safety for the distressed and marginalized people of the world. Not to defile ourselves by being a party to the very systems that cause the distress and marginalizing.

An Update of sorts

My deadline of May 31st has come and gone. I think that at this time I am going to press ahead with a fiction. I’ve been able to get quite a few notes written. Mostly from memories, but some that ask questions. Maybe, too many questions. How do I start? How can I articulate complex emotions and passions in a way that doesn’t devolve into some kind of voyeurism? How can I honor God and be a blessing to others? How can I avoid ‘preaching to the choir’? Because, I have no desire to tell my story to a very narrow and somewhat ‘prickish’ segment of the culture. The story is not necessarily about, nor for, the kind of faith communities that I have been a part of. It is a story about human frailty and Yahweh’s faithfulness.
I have wrestled with how to present real people in real-life situations, (some of them not all that pleasant). Much stress and a few tears have gone into this part of the process. Thanks to our Good Creator, I came across a blog post by writer Wendy Murray this morning. She is a very sensitive person who has gone through a lot of trials. She loves Jesus and desires to honor him and his people. She struggled with some of the things that I am now striving to deal with. In her post she wrote:

As writers who also happen to be people of faith we have to be willing to look straight into the world as it is and at the people who inhabit it for who they are. They are real. They are weak. Sometimes they have sex outside of marriage. Do you know anyone who says the f-word? Have you said it in the past week?

For me, this was Ruach Elohim, God’s Breath, filling my lungs; my mind; my heart. Write what is real. Whether others accept or reject the story is not my worry. My task is to tell the story.
Thank you, Wendy!

How the Holy Spirit can show up anywhere.

This past Sunday I went with my wife to the church that my son and his family have been attending. Before going, I went to the church’s website to get some information about them. I was not impressed. And, after attending the service, I was less impressed. It was the same church that I had left. Only it had a better grasp of technology. It was more polished. But, a rock that is polished is still a rock.
They are a typical evangelical church. They truly love Jesus. And, they truly think that they are following Jesus. However, they, like so many other fundagelical churches think that their way is the ONLY way to follow Jesus. I disagree alot.
Their service was very much a patriotic thing since it was Memorial Day. Now, I do not want to take away from that. I am all for the veterans who have given so much for this country. But, I absolutely think that the Church MUST stay somewhat aloof to political leanings and patriotism. Ours is a kingdom that is NOT of this world.
Their guest speaker was Vietnam veteran who had lost both legs to a landmine. Of course, the requisite sympathy was evoked. But, this guy spoke to me. He talked at length about following a call. To me, that is like pouring gasoline on a fire. I do not think that I am following the calling that God has given. I feel like I am prostituting myself in order to pay my bills and keep health insurance for my wife and me. His words haunt me. I am deeply troubled. Could this be Ruach Elohim, the Breath of God, speaking? Could this be the Spirit that Yeshua told Peter and the others would come and teach them all things saying that I had no faith? Maybe. I am not sure. All I know is that in the most unexpected place, God may have spoken.

Privileged, and Mostly Oblivious to It

I am a white male. That’s what I’ve always been. That’s what I always will be. I can’t help it. It’s how God made me. If everything was equal, there would be no problem with that. But, things are not equal. I am privileged in this culture. And, God did not make me that. The systems that have been built over centuries have ensured that I would have a privileged position in society. These systems are so deeply embedded in our culture that most of us who are privileged don’t even realize that we are. It’s just ‘the way it is.’
Recently, Tony Jones, a highly educated, white guy made a presentation that rubbed some people the wrong way. One of the people in attendance,Christena Cleveland, called Tony out for being exercising his privilege. Jones responded with obviously hurt feelings. Now, at first, I didn’t see all that much that was offensive in Jones’ remarks. Shoot! I’ve probably said similar things myself! As I reflected on it, though, I became more and more uncomfortable. Then, a few days later Jones, I think in an attempt to show how egalitarian he is, posted a request for women and feminists to join in his blog. Again, an understandable response from a privileged person who sincerely believes that he is above reproach in these matters.
This morning I visited the blog of Caryn Riswold. She pretty much dissed Jones’ offer. And, she challenged readers to go and read what people who are NOT privileged have to say. One of those links led me to Cleveland’s blog. I spent the next 30 minutes reading a 5 part series that she had posted. What great stuff! You see, we who enjoy privilege are blind to it. We simply can’t understand why ‘others’ don’t like us. We don’t get it when marginalized and oppressed people don’t ‘get’ us. In fact, many of us don’t realize that there are any oppressed people out there. After all, we live in a land of equal opportunity. But, as the old cliche goes, “some of us are more equal than others.”
I am adding a link to Cleveland’s series. I would encourage anyone who happens to stop by here to take the time to read it. It is of utmost importance if we are trying to be the Body of Christ to understand where the other members of that body live and breathe and have their being. It is important, no necessary, that we embrace kenosis, emptying, as Jesus did if we are to live as God’s people.