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8/25/05: Counts Down, Decisons Made

Friends:
Once again, I’ve managed to take too long to stay in touch, missing all of my self-imposed deadlines to post you an Update--as well as some of the dates you gave me--and I feel appropriately scolded by many of you. My tardiness this time around is a function of several things (and again, never any excuses or justifications, just reasons), including, as always, good old-fashioned daily-distractions (notdaily devotions), the breakdown of my old-fashioned work disciplines, and, of course, the ongoing, massively annoying, seemingly endless practically-a-fulltime-job medical stuff (like entire day-long 8-hour blood transfusions and, of course, the twice-a-week-back-and-forth-drive to the hospital for blood work and then, about an hour later, back over to Dr. Hoessly’s office for my chemo (Arsenic) treatments). Sigh. Sense I grow weary?

Ah, but there have been more distractions of late, too, these ones actually positive (tho’ not perfect), including finally getting started (or, rather, hovering around getting started) on editing Graham Kerr’s (the former Galloping Gourmet) new book, more immediately working on (and finally finishing) an actual piece of paid writing for a fairly large “Christian” magazine (tho’ it’s not in any way a work of journalism, but rather an “advertorial” written to complement an advertising section at the back of the magazine to link the ads’ themes and suggest import for all they represent.) If it seems unseemly, well it is, but it paid very well and they let me use a pen name since the content I gave ‘em ain’t content I believe in--or at least not enough to want my name hanging off the thing… but more on that later.

Far better a distraction, however, was a real-live, feet-up, no-working-at-all, computer-off, Sheri’s-at-the-spa, leave-me-alone-I’m-reading/sleeping/resting/people-watching-by-the-pool-under-a-big-umbrella-ordering-drinks-with-umbrellas-&-old-fashioned-ice-crea-sodas vacation the second week of August--a gift from a friend we’ve grown to know well and care for deeply, but, like a handful of others in this email age, have never met face-to-face. And, almost certainly, a gift from God as well. More on this later too.

But first, this bit of fresh, very good news and the ambivalent plans that follow….

And the Roller Coaster Ride Rolls On

In my last update we continued to follow the ridiculous ups and downs we’ve been facing since starting the Arsenic chemo treatments in April, and specifically how they’ve been effecting my UPEP counts (Proteins that track the level of cancer in my system without demanding a biopsy). After a few discouraging months of consistently increasing counts--moving from 8 to 13 to 15 from March, April and May--but after adding relatively high doses of the steroid Decadron to the Arsenic in late May, the June counts plummeted to 4.1.

Wha?
We were, of course, overwhelmed by this bit of exciting news, as any indication of lessened Myeloma activity is always a good thing. However, upward in my counts are just as alarming and shocking and more than a little terrifying as a reduction in the counts are good, so when my tests early last month revealed that after just four weeks those same counts had again jumped to 19 (at the highest rate since my initial diagnosis), we both went a little bonkers. And yes, I was every bit as discouraged in my last update as I sounded, perhaps more so.

(At the time, I hypothesized that the rapid increase--just barely more than 3 weeks!?!--might be attributed to the fact that I was off the steroids--Decadron--during the two weeks immediately preceding the 24-hour urine collection that I have to do in order for the chemists to measure my protein [UPEP] counts. Of course, the only way to really test this little theory was to repeat the 24 hour collection immediately after an uninterrupted, full-dosage cycle of the Dex--and so that’s just what we did. Right before we left for vacation, halfway through my third and final round of steroids [Cycle #3] I re-did the 24 hour collection and accompanying tests, made the appropriate appointments with both my docs, then tried to forget that I have Myeloma and Sheri tried to pretend that she doesn’t spend far too much of her time looking after me or in a maddening job and we started to prepare for vacation.]

More about vacation in a bit, but first this: We’d originally planned for morning appointment the first day back from our vacation (August 15) with Dr. Luger at UPenn to talk about the test results and our next steps; specifically, she wanted to know whether or not I was ready to commit to an Autumn Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT). On the way home, however, we decided that this was just too much to deal with the day after the vacation, especially for Sheri who wanted to ask a lot of very good logistical questions about a BMT that I would never think to ask, while I wanted a few more days to reflect and sleep and breathe a bit (& pray a lot). And so about two hours into the drive home from our vacation we called and postponed our appointment until the end of the week.

Monday, however, we did do one thing: called to get my test results. Dr. Hoessly called back, around 2:30pm, and let me know that the test results were indeed back and the results were indeed encouraging.

Get Down!
In fact, the results were more than encouraging. Remember, in mid-July my protein counts were 19? This month, they’ve fallen sharply to 6.1!

As you might expect, I immediately called Sheri and together we offered lots of “hooray God!” and other deeply reverent but utterly appropriate utterances, except that this month we did so without the puzzled head-scratching and anxiety (bad and good) that the results of the last two months elicited. Obviously, we were delighted to know that the levels of Myeloma in my system were descending not ascending, but we were just as excited that the tests seems to suggest that my theory that the steroids were the catalyst in my Chemo equation was true. I understand that the plural of anecdote is not data, but the decline was so great in both months where we’d added the Decadron (June and August) that it’s hard to believe anything else--and Doctors Hoessly and Luger agree.

Besides this huge drop (and it is a remarkable one) being great news, & beyond the confirmation of my steroid as catalyst hypothesis, until last Friday afternoon we really didn’t know what the reduced counts meant in terms of what’s to come. While we do know that lowered UPEP counts mean that my body can spend its energy fighting the Myeloma in my marrow and helping me get back something like some strength (I’m finally starting to gain weight and with the help of a new Physical Therapist make some headway against the sad, pathetically weak body that is the remnant of 4+ months of Arsenic, 3+ months of steroids and a 10+ week long chest infection that was a constant companion this Spring) we were very anxious to hear what Selina (Dr. Luger) had to say about the “big picture” implications of the reduced counts.

Can ‘True Love’ Survive a Thin Plastic Wrapper?”
or
John Travolta Stars in an Exciting New Movie of the Week

Not that we didn’t really know what Dr. Luger wanted to do next. For the last several months Selina (Dr. Luger) has talked to us about wanting to proceed with a Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT)--or rather, in the case of Multiple Myeloma, a “mini-BMT,” a specifically designed BMT process that leaves out a few of the typical parts of the process and adds a few other parts.

(The mini-BMT, which now has a procedural success rate of approx. 80 percent, was developed in the last 7 years or so because a regular BMT procedure has a mortality rate of about 80% in Myeloma patients. Yup, four of five Myeloma patients who had a regular BMT die within a year from the procedure itself…. Yikes. The success of the “mini” BMT has meant that patients like myself can contemplate a regimen as aggressive as a BMT without having to take risks that are, frankly, too great.)

And so we knew that Selina wanted us to come to her office with a decision--and be ready to start talking details. Sheri, of course, was asking good, tough logistical questions that I would have never thought of--questions about the amount of babysitting and watching and general care that I’ll need after my period of hospitalization/isolation. As for me, well I went into the meeting mostly just consumed with the hard questions surrounding the BMT.

Like whether or not I want to do it.

For all my chatter and propensity for asking big questions about big things, I’m a simple man, and in all honesty, my fears find themselves most concentrated around one simple cluster of questions, namely “am I emotionally/existentially/physically/spiritually strong enough to do this thing?”

That’s it, really. Those are my fears, and they are not insubstantial. Actually, I am, if I may use a coarse, barnyard phrase, scared shitless.

I’ll also tell you that in my most quiet, settled, prayerful, reflective moments I have an equally quiet, settled peace about going ahead with it. But in the other 23 hours, 59 minutes and 45 seconds of the day, when those few seconds of quiet and settled peace pass, (and trust me, they do pass, and quickly), I remain in varying degrees ambivalent and, as said, terrified.

As I’ve said on many occasions throughout this process, aside from prayers and what they can mean to this process, I’m committed to this simple thing: if I must die, I want the dignity of dying from the disease--I don’t want to die from some stupid procedure.

I say this against the backdrop of knowing that the “mini-BMT” is now running (anecdotally at least--it’s too new a procedure to have “real” data gathered, especially with ‘younger patients like myself) well below a 20 percent mortality rate. Knowing that the “risk-reward” is much better with this procedure takes away most of at least one source of my fear.

But not all of them. Not by a long shot. After all, during my last appointment with Dr. Luger she said to me: “Of course I understand your ambivalence; we’re talking about deciding the way you might die.” Encouraging stuff, that.

And so, we had to look hard at our options and decide what to do, and when we met with Dr. Luger last Friday we swallowed hard and told her that, yes, we’d go forward.

So there you have it. Mark your calendars: on Tuesday, October 11, (the day after Columbus Day and Canadian thanksgiving), I’ll be admitted to the Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania for the dreaded, long-avoided BMT.

The decision is concrete (tho’ we retain the right to postpone the thing should a new drug--like Revlimid--be approved by the FDA) but the heart remains dodgy.

Why? Well, let’s start with the fact that the BMT procedure itself is a very long one, beginning with a full month in the hospital in varying degrees of isolation, starting with what will essentially be complete, John-Travolta-in-the-bubble-but-no-Glynnis-O’Connor-pining-for-you-on-the-outside isolation. Sure, Sheri will be allowed into the room (fully gowned and gloved and capped and sanitized for my safety), and then eventually I’ll be allowed contact with a few more people and things after I’m released into the wilds of our apartment (we’ll need to put a team of potential drivers and helpers and ‘babysitters’ together), then followed by several months (3? 6? 12?--we don’t really know) of waiting and hoping that the new bone marrow will win the battle against my own.

During that period the (and all the ups and downs and dangers associated with that waiting/process, including many months without an immune system and several more where I’ll be in danger of “graft-versus-host” disease). All of this is daunting and scary and unsettling and, worst of all, completely impossible to plan a life around--even if that life is confined to a single room in the hospital or our apartment. Will I be able to write? Take work? Exercise? Eat? Eat well? Eat food from outside the hospital? (O please, God, O please!) Be fine on my own? Need “baby sitting”? The list of questions goes on, and the brunt of managing the answers and their implications fall almost exclusively on Sheri--which influences my thinking about what I should do on every level.

And all of this makes me trepidatious, even when I’m quiet and still and confident of God’s nearness. Very, very trepidatious.

Listen to Your Own Sermon
And yet (he reminds himself) the God I believe in is the one that “comes along side.” I might not get what I want, I may not get anything close to that and die of stupid clumsy complication of this process, or I might just trip on the sidewalk and die of a concussion. Or I may survive all of this and emerge in full remission and be able to get back to life and work and finally feel like a real man and husband again. But it doesn’t matter, ultimately, because there is one constant through it all, one I cling to every day--whether I’m well or not.

My hope is this hope: the resurrection.

The resurrection means that my role as an earthling is not done. One day, I’ll be made complete, whole, and the delight I feel now in good living and in doing what I’ve been called to do will only be magnified and intensified, and the pain and frustration and anger I feel when in my life or work or my body I’m not as strong or successful as I should be will be wiped away--with equal intensity.

Better yet, when it happens it will occur without the ongoing sense of absence and abandonment we often feel in our daily lives. Indeed, in the coming Kingdom, in the resurrection, we will finally “know as we are known.” And that, my friends, will be a good thing.

And so, as we consider what’s to come and what we have to do next, and once again we invite you to share this journey with us.

First, thanks for your prayers and concerns. I’ve received so many notes from so many of you, from both strangers and dearest friends, promising your intercession and assuring me of your good thoughts and worries about the “upward” turn in my counts last month. Those prayers and promises meant (and mean) a lot to us, and serve to buoy us up, even when we are as terrified or worried or faithless in the face of the constant changes and shifts and unknowns we seem to face every 28 days or so. Phew. It’s good to have you on our side.

Next, I wanted to apologize for talking about my “counts” using numbers that don’t mean anything out of context (aside from just comparison sake). After 4 & ½ years, I still don’t fully get it, but if you must know the “8” I reported in March represents a measurement of roughly 8000 parts per million of the UPEP protein in my urine. “Normal” is considered anything under 1000, which is essentially impossible to measure, anyway. Thus, the lower the number the better, the higher the worse things are. Thus, my jump from 6 in June to 19 in July scared the goose goo out of us, and the drop we learned of this month filled us with utter glee.

What’s Next?
Some of you have asked if I have a bone marrow match, and wondered if you should sign up to donate your own. This is both noble and kind of you, and I can’t begin to say how much I appreciate it.

That said, it appears that I still have a very good marrow match, so I don’t need you to give me your marrow.

Others, however, do. Badly.

To that end, if you’re at all interested in becoming a blood marrow donor (in the U.S.A), go to:

www.bonemarrow.org

There’s nothing I’d love more than if a few other patients were able to live because you cared enough to go through with what is a very simple, if mildly uncomfortable, procedure to be a donor.

That’s all the medical stuff for now. If you don’t want to know anything else about our lives, stop reading here.

Except for this: please keep praying for us, lots and often.

The Rest of Life… As for the rest of life, and especially my silence on this website, there are really no excuses, just a few reasons, and specifically two of late:

First, About That Vacation….
As I told you in the last Update, we were planning on a vacation--a gift from a friend--in early August, and boy did we get one.

Those of you that know me well know that I’m reluctant to “blame God” for much of anything, good or bad, as so many others seem anxious to see his hand in everything from decent parking places to home runs to a chance meeting with a pretty boy to a new job interview. Now, God’s hand might be in those things, I don’t know, but our ability to see his hand seems awfully suspect, and suspiciously convenient. No one ever stands up on the football field, pumps their chest and points to the sky after being intercepted for a game-losing TD, do they? And nobody that I know who isn’t crazy or just an outright heretic walks around telling people that a disease that they have (say cancer) is God’s will to be accepted and not resisted. Nope, we save our attribution of God’s will to stuff that makes our lives better, or seem better. It is, as I suggested, a suspect arrangement.

And so I avoid suggesting much of anyone or anything is “God’s will”….

And this is no exception. We all know that this has been a tough year. I was a lot sicker last Autumn than I realized, and my Stem Cell Transplant in December (and subsequent recovery this Winter and Spring) have been no picnic either. And however hard it’s been for me, it’s been equally difficult (or maybe worse) for Sheri, who has had to run errands, change her schedule, reserve and horde vacation and personal days and waste them on me, baby-sit me, drive me to emergency and doctor’s appointments, watch me bleed or cough or hack or not-sleep and generally be helpless to do much about it and generally give up 90% of her “outside” life (remember restaurants and dinners with friends and even movies at real live movie theaters)--even to the point of not being able to even consider another job in order to protect our health insurance.

My point in all of this is that I knew--knew--that Sheri needed a real vacation this year, one that was about her personality and needs, not mine. That meant simple things, really--stuff like staying in one place, having time to sit and relax, with as few major decisions during the time away as possible, and hopefully some small indulgences like good food and a better spa. All of this sounded good, except that with all my ups and downs this Spring, I’d not exactly made a lot of money this year (since last October, actually); to the point, there was no cash in the “vacation” can, especially after the computer hard drive crash and the couple cases of unexpected car expenses we’d had since March.

What to do? Well, at first I just sucked up my pride and called our good friend who had helped us go on our amazing NYC weekend last summer. Jon Paul (who has seemingly endless travel industry friends with favors to give, and had told us that he’d like to help us again, so early in the Spring we started talking about what we might arrange. By May it looked like we might end up as the first couple guests of a refurbished (and very beautifyl) spa in Scottsdale, but late in May some technical glitches in the renovation process at that spa made it impossible for us to go, and Jon Paul, who had just switched jobs, graciously and apologetically emailed us to explain why, for now at least, he couldn’t help us.

God bless him, JP is a good guy. He’s been generous with us to a fault in the last year, and we’d been amazed that he’d been able to take things as far as he had, so when things fell through we understood, completely. But we were crestfallen, too, as we’d been so excited about the idea of getting away, especially in the way that JP had arranged, and not being able to do so, to be honest, only magnified my own sense of failure to “provide.” I had called in a favor I didn’t want to call (I hate it when I begin to feel like the entirety of a relationship is about favors and not friendship--and I sometimes feel like that with JP, a guy I just adore and who we hardly ever get to see since we’re hardly in NYC to see him….) and now we had no vacation at all to fall back on, and our rather smallish vacation window was shrinking rapidly. My prayers, it seemed, were going to remain unanswered this year…. Oh well…..

There was one little ray of light, however. Another friend--a “fan” of sorts (I can’t think of a better word, despite its self-involved connotations) who had started reading my work when I was with PRISM and who since has continued to stay in touch since my diagnosis and creation of this website--and who has, through correspondence become one of those good and glorious post-modern creatures that many of us have developed since the evolution of email and internet chat rooms: the good, thoughtful, delightful, funny and wise friend that we’ve never actually met face-to-face. Well, this friend (who shall remain nameless for the purposes of this Update at least, lest they lose their reward) had offered--out of the blue--last Autumn to pick up our airfare when and if we ever went to Europe (this, too, was a Jon Paul idea--the guy’s a saint, I tells ya, a saint…). I was too sick last Autumn to even consider such a notion, as I was this Spring as well--given all my blood count issues--meaning leaving the continent was simply out of the picture, so I suggested that if she still was in a generous mood we’d exchange it for a domestic flight if we went on vacation. Being unbearably, unbelievably generous, our benefactor insisted that, yes, she’d love to do such a thing, and so we told her when it all worked out with JP we’d get in touch with her and arrange to fly accordingly. Then, sadly, the Spa thing fell through in June so I emailed her to say we were SOL (Thanks for the offer, but… oh well.) and there’d be “no Ozard vacation” this year.

“The hell there won’t!” was her reply, and the next thing you know we were being scolded for our lack of faith, and being told that a vacation would be taken care of--period.

“Tell us anywhere where you want to go, and it’s done.”

Wha?... (I am deeply articulate in response to kindness.) When I settled down, I got a bit practical and asked my friend to define “anywhere” operationally, as we used to say in “Logic and Critical Thinking” Philosophy class. We love this woman, but having never shared an actual beverage with her made us wonder what “anywhere” meant, and so, well, I asked.
What, exactly, does ‘anywhere where you want to go’ mean?

The next thing we knew we were being asked to choose a week’s all-inclusive vacation from a list of places we would never have even considered considering--not for a moment--places in Vermont and Upstate New York and West Virginia that were decadent, indulgent and, well, by the standards set by my prayers for a vacation for Sheri, perfect. After a few days we prioritized our list, added a few others we found on the internet as our “safety schools” (our window of availability for Sheri to take time off was narrowing) and, in what seemed like a New York minute we received a response from our benefactor--who had put on her travel agent hat and did all the work arranging dates and packages for us--and were told to get packing for a week in West Virginia at the ancient and unbelievably, wildly indulgent Greenbrier.

And so, on August 8 we loaded up the car to indulge in a perfect package of just-barely-post-Jim Crow upper-class Southern charm and excess. The truth is that the Greenbrier offered us all the stuff (and more) that I prayed for in the Spring for our vacation to be for Sheri, and then some--A monstrously large “Junior Suite” that allowed Sheri and I to have more than enough space for our stuff and from each other, two fine dining restaurants included in the meal plan and another two for lunch (I gained nearly 5 pounds), a great spa (Sheri got good and “spa’d” every day but one), a great setting (the place is huge, topping out at well over 300 acres), two pools, lots of walking and hiking areas, tons of special activities (Crocket, anyone? Bowling?), two daily first run movies, a great little jazz bar for after dinner with a smart, clever trio and an obligatory sultry singer (even if they don’t know how to make decent martini), a neat little putting green outside our building and three golf courses that I couldn’t use because I’m a pathetic weakling and have a slightly pulled muscle in my shoulder blade (from coughing, if you can believe it).

It was amazing.

Despite a decorating theme that can only be kindly described as “my-gawd-that’s-gawdy” (again with the early 20th Century old upper-class Southern themes--matching drapery, wallpaper, and about half the furniture in any given room), the place was, over all, near perfect for us, led by their incredible attention to detailed personal service--which I could illustrate with a story of how they cared for me during a slight medical emergency on the first full day there… but I won’t. I’ll just tell you that I’ve never had better, more caring service in a hotel of any kind. We can’t begin to say how good that was--what comfort it brought to both of us to know that it seemed like everyone--everyone--was looking out for our needs, and my welfare.

Now all of this may not have been an answer to prayer. And if it was, I don’t begin to understand why this prayer--that my wife have a good, relaxing vacation--would be answered over and against any other prayer we or you or I might pray, like that the suffering in sub-Saharan Africa would markedly decrease or that, I dunno, my cancer would go away. And yet I can’t help thinking that five days at the Greenbrier--a place we couldn’t have afforded for a day--was a direct answer to prayer (as were the two or three other things and gifts that came our way at the most serendipitous times in late June and early July--gifts that kept us from having our first “red” month since my diagnosis).

Again, this is from a confirmed Sparky Anderson prayer guy--Sparky being the fantastic baseball manager for the Reds and Tigers who hated when his players would thank God for their home runs but not their outs.

And yet still I know--know--in this small way, this time, God came alongside in this small ways and entertained our whimsy and gave us a vacation.

Go figure.

Actually Getting Paid to Work… and Working to Get Paid
One of the things that has been both an answer to prayer and a pain in the backside (and thus a reason why I’ve neglected this website and my “Update List” is this: I’ve been working on an actual paid piece of writing. Yep, real live work. Problem is that for a few reasons--about half of which were out of my hands--it’s taken a lot more time that it should have to write this little article, and not only that it required a lot more creativity than I expected, first because I had limited sources, but mostly because it’s not a piece I actually believe much of what I ended up writing--and for that reason, it’s not one I’m particularly proud of or terribly interested in any of you reading. Indeed, this little bit of 7500 words required me to assume a voice and a point-of-view that I can only buy into half of the time at best, and that I think is spurious at best. But it was, as I said, an actual paying gig, one that will ultimately pay me equivalently to the cost of the new computer I’m writing on right now (and thus I call it my “lamppost-on-the-corner-red-dress-and-legs-up” assignment) the first real, decent assignment I’ve been able to do this year, so I had to take it (and finish it), even if I did feel like I needed a shower when I was done.

(And to be honest, it was an article that I, due to my ongoing May-through-July chest infection, the depressed blood counts this lousy chemo has given me and the afore mentioned “things outside my control” from the magazine, forced me to push and extend my deadlines to unprofessional extremes. For these reasons and a few others it was a good thing to finally submit a final revision of the article and sidebars and know that I gave the unnamed famous “Christian” magazine a quality product--one that was as well-written as it was one I didn’t believe in.

Alas… the joint that might have been written (and maybe will be if I get bored enough to write in the coming months) if I had believed…. If only had I been able (read: “allowed”) to actually do real structural cultural analysis and some decent neo-Marxist Gramscian-meets-Ozardian social criticism; indeed, no article in the history of humankind ever deserved or needed consistent application of the theoretical foundation that I applied to my work as an historian way back when I was actually verging on making a living from the academy. Had the piece been real journalism, it would have been filled with the term “hegemony” (and terms like “counter-hegemonic superstructural institutions” and other “hey-look-at-me-I’ve-been-to-grad-school” words and phrases and deconstructed a goodly amount of the Evangelicalism’s (and its institutions’) inability to actually critique the structural/foundational institutions of our society (yes, we’re back to the short-comings of the contemporary evangelical hermeneutic--more on that and our friend Rick Warren later); instead, well, the affirms a particular evangelical institution’s response to “post-modernism” in a way I could never do in real life. I was made to be more positive than I am about a bunch of things, and so they used my pen name, and you should be able to find it if you look hard enough in the print version of this magazine this Fall sometime. I’ll give you the nom de plume for your investigative pleasure: Ronald Jack William. Happy hunting.

An Assignment I Can Live With For a couple of years I’ve been telling you about my good friend and mentor (and the former Galloping Gourmet Graham Kerr’s plan to write a book called Outdulgence and his desire to have me help edit it. Well, last Fall, right around the time I was starting the process for my failed stem cell transplant, he was given a book deal by a very conservative press (Broadman Holdman) and he began to write. The final draft was due to Broadman in June, and while BH have their team on the edit, Graham wanted my eyes and pen as well, so he hired me to give it my college try.

It’s an exciting task, as Graham’s core notions are exhilarating, and I’ve always considered editing to be one of my core gifts--helping good writers find ways to become an even better ones, helping them find the better word or, more likely, eliminate the wrong ones.

I’m just beginning the process now--having had to negotiate the “red dress” assignment, our vacation, where I promised Sheri no email or work, and then the whole BMT stuff, but now that I’m free to really start to take a few swings at it, I can’t tell you how excited I am about playing editor again. Over the next couple of weeks, along with a bunch of other things (like preparing for my coming medical stuff and perhaps going to the Toronto Film Festival with my friend Bob or my nephew CJ or maybe even doing some teaching at a college where they’re actually using these journals in a class on writing and spirituality) there will be a whirlwind of red ink, marginal comments and long, presumptive re-writes as I seek to make the most of Graham’s ideas and work…. I can’t wait.

What Matters Most, a Little and Inbetween
I need to clarify some things I said about Rick Warren in my last Update. (To see what I wrote in July, click here ). Specifically, Jeanette Post, an fan from my PRISM days wrote to me not long after the last Update suggesting that she:

…was disappointed in your Conclusion which hit me immediately as a "dig" against Rick Warren. I am not a particular "fan" of Rick Warren.… I have read the book and am amazed with others how this rather simple book has impacted the lives of so many. And I have heard various criticisms such as using The Message too much, his casual dress,etc, etc. I reread your remarks this morning and again wondered what was gained in including your Conclusion?...

Further, she wrote:
This "small thought" is very disturbing to me and dripped with sarcasm So what if Rick did not have a revelation until recently about the poor and the HIV_AIDS in Africa? There is a lot in scripture that has always "been there" but impacts individual Christians at different times in their lives. I am 74 and it seems that the "been there" truths of the fruits of the spirit have kind of whammed me with great conviction - particularly in the middle of the night when I can think all sorts of negative thoughts about all kinds of people and situations. Perhaps God has waited to truly convict Rick of the poor because now his impact on so many people in his "monstrous" church are just the ones God wants to use to assist in this "revelation". I am enjoying reading the new TNIV translation. I Cor. 13:5 reads "Love.....does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs." OK, a few things in response.

First, I like Warren. He’s certainly not one of the bad guys out there (tho’ I tend to think he’s a bit naïve politically/socially/economically, having bought the whole “government has to act only when the church fails” argument of the Neo-con establishment, an argument that couldn’t be further from the truth and that discounts the various and appropriate activist roles that all aspects of society should play--including the government--as we engage social crises around us) and he clearly wants to use his power for good. He may be naïve, he’s worth paying attention to.

Second, my intention in these remarks was as far from “dripping” with sarcasm as I can imagine--in fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever meant to be more straightforward in my life. (This was clearly a failure of my writing, for which I apologize--and which I’m trying to atone for/fix right here.) Like I said, I kinda like RW and I don’t think that Purpose Driven Life to be that bad of a read. Besides, I know the guy who ghosted most of the book and he’s truly one of the good guys in all of Christendom.

Third, you need to understand that my indictment of Mr. Warren is not about his character or faith, but of how he reads the Bible--his hermeneutic--and by extension an indictment of the North American evangelical hermeneutic that shapes that reading. This indictment includes all of us who are evangelical in some way--especially when we open our Bibles.

The fact is that our hermeneutic is woefully blind and self-selective, which tends to reinforce the dominant (or at least structural) values of our culture and critique only the superstructural ones we don’t like. We might get all riled up about who gets to marry who, but rarely ask questions about a culture that allows short term lenders (cash checking agencies) to charge up to 1000% per annum--that’s not a typo. Why aren’t we reading about charging usury to the poor in the Old Testament and just as up in arms about that as same-sex canoodling--especially since there’s a hell of a lot more about usury in the Scriptures than about homosexuality? How could at least five generations of American dispensationalists and evangelicals (the same good folks who brought us Hal Linsey Late Great Planet Earth and the LaHaye/Jenkins’ Left Behind mega-sellers) be taught that Matthew 25’s Parable of the Sheep and the Goats was about how the nation-states of the world treat the people and nation-state of Israel, all while advocating that we should always read Scripture for its first plain reading?

It’s a quandary, to be honest, but one that’s led to the creation of a hermeneutical civil religion. We may, as a good friend, professor and mentor reminded me after that last Update, be like cucumbers, who have more chance of becoming a pickle than the brine. Have we, he asked, so inoculated ourselves in our culture that we can no longer “hear” the WORD. I think this--I believe it--about Mr. Warren, yes, but about me too. The truth is that I don’t know how to live simply, live in community, or how to really live in this culture in a way that actually takes Matthew 25 or John the Baptist’s definition of repentance or even grace seriously.

Indeed, what I wrote was intended as an indictment of all of us “believers” who want a “personal relationship” with Jesus but who don’t want to include a conversation about the tough stuff--like how we treat the most vulnerable among us--when the choir starts humming “Just As I Am.”

My little paragraph about Mr. Warren and his new revelation was meant to remind us that some things are not negotiable, as much as that might suck--and by any measure of my life, (especially given my short expiration date), that really, really sucks. Any conversation about conversion must include a discussion of what is essential to true Christian faith, and I believe, whether I like it or not, that the Bible clear that concern for the weak, the marginalized, the poor, the voiceless, is included in that discussion. Do we need a special insight or revelation to understand the plain reading of Scripture? I think we don’t and shouldn’t--and if we do there’s something wrong with how we read the Bible. (And, I remind myself, if we refuse to have that conversation it’s an awfully long walk home when we, like the “rich young rulers” that we are, walk home sorrowfully because we love our things and power.)

The reality is that our hermeneutic is squeejaw.

Our hermeneutic is American.

My friend Ms. Post says that the special revelations she and others have received to see what’s been there all along have been extra special and meaningful. Good--and certainly true. She also suggests that RW’s recent convictions regarding AIDS in Africa--and specifically Rwanda--may serve to best exploit his current power in both Africa and here in the U.S. Fantastic. I hope it does and that he has the savvy to do so, and all signs are that he will. But that doesn’t change the fact that our readings of the Bible in North America almost deliberately leave out whole passages regarding justice and “the least, the last and the lost” and when we read the text that way we mislead entire generations and put their faith and souls and communities and witness in peril….

I stand by my comments.

Summer Fun
I recently received a note from my friend Bruce Douville in Toronto that had a list of things that made him happy over the summer, and it reminded me of things I used to do in my early letters and updates--so I’m going to do it again. And so what follows are a few notes and jottings on what’s mattered, moved us, made us titter or cry, and helped us relax a little over the past few months.

Sky rockets in Flight, existentialists Delight….
On my vacation I finally took the advice Tony Campolo gave me last summer (about now, actually) and I started to re-read Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling and the Sickness Unto Death. In the context of the current set of decisions and procedures I’m facing, not exactly “Up With People” summer reading, to be sure, a fact made even more poignant by the fact that I was reading beside the Greenbrier’s lovely ‘infinity’ pool… but edifying and helpful, nonetheless.

New Music is Old Music: Jettisoning the Wildcat
I’ve be spending a lot of time with several records (or compilations of records) from my youth, much as I did a couple of years ago when I went back and revisited (and relearned) a bunch of stuff I didn’t have the guts to buy (or nurture) when I was in Bible College--like The Clash.

This time around, however, it’s less punk, and instead I’m tapping into the vein of “heartland” and country rock that in many ways shaped my rock and roll aesthetic growing up. I’ve never stopped listening to “Detroit’s own” Bob Seger (if you can, get a copy of Lester Bangs’ essay on Seger’s punk and revolutionary sensitivities--there’s a copy in the collection Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung), so instead I’ve pulled out a bunch of old (as in pre-“Jack and Diane”) John Mellencamp--back when he’d had some minor hits but wasn’t successful enough to win a fight with the Suits and they still called him Little Johnny Cougar.

The old stuff is great--you can hear the musical and imaging power struggle in the songs themselves, as Mellencamp tries to craft songs that suggest, at once, the low hung thrust of The Rolling Stones (just listen to the unimaginable snap of Kenny Aranof’s snare drum) and hints of front porch country (several early songs are made light as air by the mandolin Mellencamp has buried in the mix of those early songs).

Specifically, on Mellencamp’s new two disc retrospective, Words and Music, John Mellencamp’s Greatest Hits, you can hear the artistic tug of war in “Cougar’s” first two radio hits, “I Need a Lover” and “Ain’t Even Done With the Night.” The first track, for example, begins with a delightfully extended instrumental introduction that allows the band a bit of room to play--in part to give some substance to the swagger Mellencamp was cloaking himself with during those early years, and in part to make up for the fact that the song really has only one verse and a couple versions of its misanthropic, and undeniably catchy chorus. (For those of you who don’t remember back to 1979, it goes like this: “I need a lover who won’t drive me crazy/ Someone to thrill me and then go away/ I need a lover who won’t drive me crazy/ Someone who knows the meaning of ‘hey hit the highway.’”).

The second single, “Ain’t Even Done With the Night,” which came out in 1980, is almost a ballad and, in both its music and lyric stands easily as the most self-effacing and, dare I say it?, humble of all of Mellencamp’s songs. Indeed, by substituting one high strung mandolin at the end of the chorus in a place where most artists might have used the obligatory background singers, and with its foot-shuffling declarations of innocence (“You tell me that I’m the one who can make your dreams come true/ Well I don’t know if I know what to do…”), “Ain’t Even Done With the Night” functions on several levels is a full-blown renunciation of the sock-in-the-hip-hugger, look-at-me strut of the whole “Cougar” persona.

When I was 18 going on 19 I declared that this record would serve as “our song” in a relationship that one friend called “the best practical joke I ever played on myself.” (I never really asked the girl—Jenny--who was 16 and overwhelmed me with her own over-dyed Farrah hair, whether she might have preferred another song, one less about me and more about “us”…. It was a self-absorbed time, and terrifying too….) After we broke up I spent a few years lamenting the song as an waste of my time equal to the relationship, but I was wrong; I now know (especially over these last few years) that nothing much gets wasted, even silly coming of age romances (that have more in common with “Jack and Diane” than the song in question) and especially something as rare and as good as coming of age romance song that is about the fear and trembling that those first loves bring.

I’ve long since jettisoned (or at least outgrown) the baggage of those days (tho’ I’m sure I remain just as insecure and befuddled around women and their affections), and I have since no doubt made up for what created that baggage in spades, but I’ve far from outgrown “Ain’t Even Done With the Night.” Rather, it’s grown into me, over and over and deeper again, to the point that I usually have to work hard to remember anything about Jenny and the relationship that first defined its voice for me. Nope, it’s on its own now in this boy’s psyche, and I’m glad it’s there, where I consider it among the better songs I know.

But Wait, There’s More
There are a bunch more Mellencamp songs in that category, and they make this Greatest Hits collection a worthy investment, even for a CD-aphile like me. After “Done With the Night” Mellencamp kept the “Cougar” just long enough for “Jack and Diane” and “Pink Houses” to conquer America, but let it disappear as the adolescent posturing of such hymns to S&M like “Hurts So Good” were replaced by a growing thoughtfulness--and festering preoccupation with religious metaphor and theme--in more and more of his songs. Indeed, only Bruce Springsteen, Prince and Willie Nelson have rivaled Mellencamp’s commitment among American songwriters to becoming mature, thoughtful and even wise writers of songs with aggressive, controversial social posturing and deep, gravely and ecstatically spiritual themes, all while remaining economically successful in every aspect of his career. Further, no other artist of his generation--even the a-fore mentioned Springsteen--had the gift for radio-ready hits that carried those weighty themes to the masses without ever once watering down his core values. Beginning with “Pink Houses” and “Authority Song” on Uh-Huh, then followed on Scarecrow with nearly half the record (“Lonely Ol Night”, “Face of the Nation” “Small Town” “Justice and Independence ‘85” and even a song like “R.O.C.K in the U.S.A.”) showcasing the justice and spirituality that was clearly his all-encompassing passion, all while making it sound so stinking cool, with his carefully reverent following of James Brown’s dancing, the Mick’s strut on stage and the echoes of the beautiful, tuneful rasp of Van Morrison elegant instrument.

But it was Mellencamp’s mid-career discs--the ones with no remnant of the Suit-imposed “Cougar”--that truly cemented his place among the true greats of American popular music. Specifically, the 1988 roots rock classic, Lonesome Jubilee and the disc that followed, the underappreciated Big Daddy achieved a delectable balance of pop sensibility, independently-minded musical restlessness and a grown-up lyrical perspective, from the happy nostalgia (however melancholic) of “Cherry Bomb” and “Rooty Toot Toot” and the existential and celebratory melancholic yearnings of songs like “Paper In Fire,” “Check it Out” and “Mansions in Heaven.” This latter song makes a bold peace with aging and falling short of the goals of our youth in a manner that is nearly triumphant in its slightly stooped shoulders, a brow-beatenness rooted--dare I say it--in the hard work involved in the embrace of grace:

Mansions in heaven, I see myself walking with the King./ The angels are descending to wrap me up in red velveteen./ As I pack my suit bag 'cause soon I'll be leaving,/ Going back to the earth which is where I come from./ Withstood the heartache,/ Kept on believing,/ It ain't winning or losing/ Just the singing of the song.
Mansions in heaven, I see myself walking with the King./ Mansions in heaven./ The old paper mill stinks up the beaches/ As I walk along the ocean shore.

Now well into his 50s, Mellencamp’s catalogue impressively showcases not only the evolution in his music for the listener, it invites her to actively join him in reflection upon that growth--and makes a party of it in the process. But what seals the deal on these two discs is the new song that begins disc two, (and as a new song, therefore, almost by definition, not a hit) called “Thank You,” which is a perhaps as perfect a song of reconciliation as “Done With the Night” was one of momentary adolescent truth-telling.

Let me say thank-you to those who love many/ Let me say thank-you to those who still play fair/ Hallelujah, the meek shall inherit/ Let me say thank-you to all you people out there, out there/ Let me say grace for those who don't feel they matter/ May God look down on all the soldiers of this Earth/ Trying to find peace in this world that house so many/ Let me say grace for those who feel lost from birth, lost from birth/ Let's give a smile for those who feel that they have nothing/ Let me shake the hand of Johnny Doe out on the street/ Let's give a wink for those girls who don't feel pretty/ Let's find some water for those who need a drink, need a drink
And when I see so many broken and lonely/ Soon to be entering Heaven's door/ Let me count the ways/ Let me count the blessings/ That no man should feel lonely anymore
Let me say good luck to the people raising families/ Let me say thank-you to the men who grow the bread/ And here's to dreams of a bigger, brighter future/ And that we all got someone to keep the stones from our bed/
Let me say thank-you to those who love many/ Let me say thank-you for those who still play fair/ Hallelujah, the meek shall inherit/ Let me say thank-you to all you folks out there/ All you people out there

Let’s not pretend otherwise: this is a hymn, pure and simple. And if I could, I’d ask you to stand, turn in your hymnals and join it with me.

The Prayers of the Saints
Just before we went away on vacation, we had visitors--and not just any visitors, but ones of great honor and respect. First was Pam Kistler, booking agent and partner at Holly Benyousky’s ultra cool and now thoroughly unique in the CCM music industry, Street Level Artists Agency. StreetLevel may not be the most glamorous or trendy and certainly not powerful booking agency in Nashville (actually, they work in Warsaw, Indiana), but they are uncompromised, Kingdom focused and over-flowing with grace. Holly, the firm’s owner, along with being the best-looking and most elegant 59 year old I know, has been around since the beginning, first serving in the early Jesus movement as Larry Norman’s first secretary, and then when Norman kind of imploded (marrying his best friend’s wife, Sarah Stonehill was just the tip of that bi-polar iceburg) she took the agency and made sure that the small stable of Norman’s artists (Randy Stonehill, Daniel Amos, Mark Heard and others like Sweet Comfort Band, Bryan Duncan and Allies) were nurtured, cared for and booked on tour. Holly, who couldn’t make the trip, is the on my short list of favorite people of all time, for reasons I can tell you about and for some I can’t.

One of those reasons was the other guest we entertained that weekend, one of the artists she books, Rick Elias. Rick is an endlessly cool and always hysterical singer, songwriter and producer, movie song performer and producer (Tom Hanks’ That Thing You Do) and member of and confident to Rich Mullins and his former “Ragamuffins,” where he earned the term on a nightly basis, performing some of the richest meditations on the nature of Christ, grace and Christian brokenness then chasing them after the show at a local watering hold with well-lubricated and penetrating insights into evangelical culture--most of which were far from pretty.

There was a reason that I instantly loved him.

Rick and Pam came out to Southeastern PA to hang out a bit and play a small private church concert here in Wayne, PA, and the 24 hours we shared were among the most fun--nay, riotous--that we’ve had in a long time. Pam is among the kindest and sweetest women in all the world, and her coming meant that at least one more person from or part of the Nashville scene finally got to meet Sheri--whom many in that town still refer to as my “alleged” wife. And of course Elias has been one of my best friends since the first five minutes I met him (way back when) and he continues to be among my favorite “profane saints” I know. Besides, it had been far too long since we’d sat and just told each other the truth for a few hours.

It was also good to hear Elias sing for the first time in about six years, and I have to tell you that he was in the best voice I’ve ever heard him in. It left me breathless with excitement to hear Rick capture his songs with such clarity, and perhaps more importantly, beauty. If I survive this coming ordeal and Rick keeps his voice in the shape it was in that night, I want, like nothing else (and I’m being totally serious here) to produce his vocals on his next record. Hey Rick: grant me that wish.

One problem, however. Elias, caught up in the cares of this world, trying to produce other people’s records and working to make a name for his work as a singer and player playing covers in mainstream rooms around the country, has not written or recorded in about five years, and he needs to do something about that. The world is far better for his music, especially his first two Rick Elias and the Confessions and Ten Stories and his work with the Rags after Rich’s death. “Man of No Reputation” is easily among the best 10 Christian songs of the 20th Century, its disheveled humility issuing a gruff rebuttal to the air-brushed, wind-blown, church-with-carpet, free-from-sacrifice American Christianity that, oddly enough, had embraced Mullins and his band.

Well, in the five years since any real music has emerged from the Elias guitar, the world is a far lesser place, and we all need to tell him to find that strong, grown-up collection of songs for grown-ups that I know is lurking below the surface and its pain.

Rick, you are my friend, not matter what and for always, but it’s time to write. Write about whatever you want to write about. Anything. We need you.

And you too: tell Rick to get out and play and sing in bars and pubs where people will listen, but most of all, to write, write, write. If you don’t have his contact information, go to his site and write to him from there.

Tell him Dwight sent you. And tell him that the world needs Elias. I need him.

Music, Myeloma and a Grand Possiblty”
Speaking of music and Multiple Myeloma, check out this story of DJ Swing, a British African Carribean rapper with Myeloma who is searching for a bone marrow match. If he were white, the odds of finding a match would be 1 in 5; as a black man, the odds are 1 in 100,000. More work and research needs to be done--badly. Please help--donate your money, your time and your blood and marrow.

Crazy
I’ve also been listening to old Willie Nelson and Joe Walsh, languishing in Nelson’s pure lyricism and gift for melody, and just having a great old ricking gag with Walsh. Either way, the songwriting is good. There’s occasional insight, especially from Nelson, whose latest disc, Countryman, is a delightful, pot-steeped tribute to Jamaica’s Rasta music scene. But his “best of” disc is the best place to start, since it’s harder to imagine a better song than “Crazy.”

Joe Walsh is a pure lark, and his 2-disc Best Of set The Joe Walsh Anthology: Look What I Did is divided evenly between his James Gang hits and his solo work. Don’t go looking for anything terribly profound here--this is party blues rock at its ironic best, celebrating fast cars, faster women, gold records, and the joys of mammoth mammary glands--but if just kicking back ironically with your friends (or just remembering the rebellious youth you never had) is a good thing, than this disc is overflowing with virtue. (But if you’ve got pre-teens, you might want to put this in the “Grown Up” closet for your ears only. The Junior Prom s only a few years away, after all--let the boy hear “Life’s Been Good To Me So Far” or “ILBTS” when he turns 16.)

What’s Red and White and Rocks like a, well, you know?
I love--as in adore--the new disc, Get Behind Me Satan from the White Stripes. It’s playful, nearly reverent, and at every turn rocks as progressively hard as it respects its roots. If I could pull it from Sheri’s travel CD player, I might know it even better. Remember, a record that a family plays together, stays together. Maybe. But the disc still rocks.

A Third of dcTalks
There are days that I open up as many as four or five padded envelopes of music from various CCM labels, and pray to God that I’ll not hate--or worse, be bored by at least one of them. I grew up on Christian Rock, and some of it was as formative in my imagination and thinking as any book I read, but when listen to most of today’s Christian pop I just can’t imagine that anyone reared on it could come away healthy or balanced and not just self-absorbed in the most ugly, ungodly way. With few exceptions, CCM is bland, heretical, and childish, and this breaks my heart. And so, almost every day I pray that we’ll find an exception to this trend.

You can imagine my glee, then, to actually have more than one CCM disc right now that I’ve listened to more than once.

We’ll start with the new Kevin Max disc, The Imposter (Northern Records) Yep, the former dcTalk start has made a record that showcases his extraordinary vocal instrument without surrendering to the ever-present temptation to over-sing (which he’s done on many occasions in the past). The result is a disc that is accessible at every turn and that actually abounds with strong songwriting, under-girded by a strong but never showy band. I was surprised by how much I liked this disc, even on return listens.

So too the new disc from industry veteran (and wife of former Alpha Band member and Dylan protégé David Miner, Kate Miner. Miner should have been a CCM star a couple of decades and change ago, but her untimely divorce led to a blackballing by the industry, and she retreated to session work and playing So-Cal clubs and with her husband and friends. Her latest disc, Prodigal’s Daughter (Floodgate Records) is an artful blend of introspective, intimate and personal songs of reflection and devotion (the industry would call it “worship” despite their lack of a congregation) and equally gentle pop songs, all of which capture Miner’s unerring rich alto. She’s a delight, and could sing almost anything well, but this disc is just plain luscious, and it makes me glad.

You should also know that Kendall Payne’s sophomore indie disc, Grown, which we raved about early this year, has been re-released by BHT Records for proper, grown-up distribution to both mainstream and CCM markets. Again, the first track, “Scratch,” might be among the top-10 songs to open a disc ever. This is smart, elegant and just plain catchy and is recommended to you as unambivalently as I can.

Movies and TV
If you watch as much television and as many movies as we do (we watch them at home and rarely in a theatre), then this has been a good year for you too. Trouble is, we can never remember their names when someone asks. So, in testimony to my ongoing battles with Chemo brain, here’s a few of the favorites we remember:

Collateral
The Incredibles
Anchorman
The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The Cooler
(This difficult, mature, and at times disturbing movie, and at every turn one of the best films I’ve seen this year, with Oscar-worthy performances by William H. Macy, Maria Bello and Alec Baldwin.
We finally saw Spiderman II and enjoyed it, for what it was--pure roller coaster.

In lieu of the new “remake” craze, I made myself watch 1975’s The Bad News Bears, a movie that at the time of its release I felt was over-rated by my middle school peers. (I didn’t actually see it, mind you, being a good Pentecostal lad, so that opinion was based solely on reading Time Magazine and Rolling Stone in the Library--but a fervent opinion it was.) In retrospect, however, the film is an irreverent delight, largely due to Walter Matthau’s politically incorrect, drunken stumble as the team’s crooked, pool cleaning coach. Matthau lights up the screen and pushes Tatum O’Neil’s chops to their adolescent fringes. Fun fun fun.

I recently enjoyed the mid-60s Peter sellers romp The Party to the core. If you can catch it on Encore or late night TCM, do so, it’s worth the ride, just to see Sellers under-sell his part as a naïve Neru Jacket wearing Indian lost in the Swinging 60s Hollywood.

Steroids Keep You Up At Night When you’re hopped up on Decadron, you tend to keep the TV on with you all night, and you’d be surprised how much “great” summer TV can keep your attention--and occasionally even entertain or, gasp!, edify. My list begins with Nic At Night’s late Friday night reruns of the first two or three seasons (pre-NBC) of the groundbreaking SCTV, with the original cast (John Candy, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Dave Thomas, Andrea Martin, Martin Sheen, Joe Flaherty and Harold Ramis and then eventually >b>Rick Moranis) and endlessly obscure, but hilarious sketches. Tune it in if you can’t sleep. (Anyone who wants to can buy the over-priced SCTV Boxed Sets for me so I can have them during my “bubble boy” period this Autumn, he says without shame….)

Perhaps the best show on TV is the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Enough has been written about it by those better than I, so I’ll just remind you that this show has America’s most finely-tuned BS Meter, and they apply it with impunity to all in power, and fearlessly too. I pray, in all seriousness, that they stay on the air forever, or at least as long as Fox, CNN, MSNBC and the networks refuse to ask real follow-up questions and stop repeating the “official” sources like a mantra.

I also admit to enjoying anything with Kathy Griffin, and her two Bravo shows (a comedy special and a reality show that so self-consciously deconstructs the genre that it's more a moving comedy commentary than a real "look-at-my-life" reality show) in which she simultaneously skewers and celebrates the A-list (and D-list) celebrities whose lives and import she mocks in her act. She ain’t no Dame Edna, the funniest “woman” in the world, but she can occasionally make your sides hurt.

Better still in bad summer “reality” TV is Gene Simmons’ School of Rock, whose premise is to take the Kiss frontman into a very classical, very elite English Boarding School and teach a class of 13 year old classical musicians how to be a cynical, formulaic rock band. The class of cultures makes me giddy, as the kids roll their eyes at the childishness and churlish 50+ year-old rocker’s bad behavior.

I enjoy, too, What Not to Wear, on TLC, if only for the useful insight into dressing rules. When you’ve lost nearly 80 pounds and have had to replace your wardrobe twice, you need all the help you can get.

Time to Go OK, I’m done. Thanks for letting me run on and on. And do, please, continue to pray as I’ve asked from the beginning—fervently, faithfully, as best you know how, and then, when you do, remind yourself to pray for those who have no voice to speak for them, for those whose names have never been uttered or even offered. And then ask yourself for wisdom so that you can then not just pray, but stand with and speak up for those who have no power.

I have many, many wishes as I approach yet another potentially dangerous event in this ridiculous cancer journey. And besides just getting healed altogether, the idea that a few of you might become an advocate for the least, the last and the lost--well that’s the greatest thing in the world. I pray that prayer is answered.

love,
Dwight

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