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Mystery on the Line
#001 June 24, 2016
“You woke up screaming aloud
A prayer from your secret god
You feed off our fears
And hold back your tears, oh
Give us a tantrum
And a know it all grin
Just when we need one
When the evening’s thin
You’re a beautiful
A beautiful fucked up man
You’re setting up your
Razor wire shrine
‘Cause you’re working
Building a mystery
Holding on and holding it in
Yeah you’re working
Building a mystery
And choosing so carefully…”
(“Building a Mystery” – Sarah McLachlan)
In a few weeks, I will turn fifty-four. Knowing what I’ve had to survive, that’s a fucking miracle on par with Jesus at Cana kicking in over one hundred gallons of top grade vino at the end of the night to keep the wedding party going strong. If I were a fisherman, I’d say that God has mystery on the line by casting the hook into the deep waters of my life with a pursuit of my heart. I recently found myself hearing the still, small whisper of the Spirit inviting me to pick up a book – a journal volume written at the age of seventeen – as if an explorer handling the ancient and magnificent map that could keep me from sailing right off the end of a flat and dangerous world. Just touching it, opening its worn cover, handling its pages seemed, well…holy and utterly terrifying.
The title I bequeathed upon it with testosterone and unbridled hope in 1980 was Journal One: Prologue to a New Life (Summer’s End). Words – and writing – had been a close friend since I was a young boy of five or six; I would make up stories, scratched out in pencil on ruled paper, based on the black and white Universal horror movies I was fascinated and scared shitless by in our fifth floor walk-up apartment in the Bronx. Television, movies and music became a boyhood trinity of idols. Years later, I would craft stories where my literary alter-ego became a hero who won the girl, an adolescent clothed in shame and masked in fear and desperate to hide the emptiness of heart (…love…) that fed on the fantasy and forced it into the margins of reality.
This journal…the beginning of a lifelong journey and passion with chronicling and capturing my stories…was born in the early summer following my high school graduation in Louisville, Kentucky. Both a deep sadness and trauma over the death of my paternal grandmother earlier that spring – along with the overwhelming anticipation of leaving my dysfunctional family behind in just a few months and returning to New York and freshman year at Manhattanville College in affluent Westchester County – circled my life as if hawks in the far reaches of sky. Born and raised in New York City and its Catholic crucible of violent nuns and spiritual show business, I survived as the youngest of six children by relegating God to what I pictured as the guy across a poker table from me who may or may not fall for the bluff that none of the arrows to my heart really mattered. To me, it didn’t…long before that summer I had made a vow that no matter how broken my family was I literally would pray that God would cause me unhappiness if he would only make my parents continue to stay together and pretend, if necessary, to be happy and love one another.
Leafing through its early pages and entries, I found journal passages highlighted years earlier, as if these ancient paths were being surfaced by God for me to discover clues to a map of where He wanted to venture now:
“We live our lives on that line everyday – some of us having the nerve to step forward and reveal ourselves to a stranger…outright and without hindrance. Others grudgingly, shyly or overpowering in attitude take one step out, hiding behind a mask or just simply losing confidence in themselves once they have lost the security of the people standing next to them and the line underneath their feet.”
That summer I was transfixed by and pierced in heart with a teenager’s crush for a national touring company actress and dancer from A Chorus Line while the show appeared in Louisville. She played the character of Diana Morales in the musical and sang the moving ballad “What I Did for Love.” After seeing the show on opening night from a front row center seat, I waited outside the theater by the stage door to have as many of the cast autograph my program. Gay was the most enthusiastic about it, lighting up with smiles and praise for it seemed no one on the other tour stops had yet bothered to do something like this. Buoyed by her gratitude, I set about a plan to write a small, freelance article about the show and open auditions they were holding for the company while in town. Attending one of sessions later in the run, I ended up meeting and asking Gay Marshall (the dancer playing Diana) to a dinner interview at the Hyatt Regency hotel she and the company were staying at downtown.
As God unfolded more of the story, I began to feel my eyes wet with tears. They moved over words written decades before but still held meaning in my heart with memories of sitting in the balcony of the empty Macauley Theater watching her practice some dance moves on stage before the next round of auditions she was helping lead:
“Suddenly she was alone, dancing to the mirror, going through the opening jazz combinations from ‘A Chorus Line.’ Gay started working on some ballet moves, and the pure beauty of her there, alone, picked me up out of my seat and I found myself downstairs walking past the stage, when a crew hand came out to talk to her. Going around backstage, I waited until the guy was coming off, and I couldn’t believe how easily I walked on…for there she was, dancing for no one…just herself. She lit up when she saw me, and it all came true right there. We talked for about five minutes, just about the article and stuff, and Gay told me how professional my approach was. So, we made a date for five o’clock at the Trellis Lounge at the Hyatt and I walked off the stage, simply bursting.”
Today, thirty-six years later, I’m currently on point to finish my forty-fourth journal. God, it seems, wants to build a mystery using all the words, stories, bricks and mortar from my head, heart and soul to seduce me back into the Larger Story he needs me to participate in.
As I alluded to in a recent podcast, I am blown away at how God is using mystery to call my heart back to life. There were many times over the decades where I almost discarded my journal collection. I considered throwing them away or, perhaps in a more dramatic fashion, burning them as a symbol of getting rid of the past and cleansing myself of all the “old stories” they represented. But God – in His mystery – wanted me to hold onto them. The winsomeness of Jesus to take me back into my stories is something, like faith, that I am learning to trust even though I cannot see it standing in front of me. In the story with that summer crush, I remember feeling as if those emotions were coming from somewhere outside of me – a call to intimacy and heart that had its origins in something more.
And part of the smaller story that I’ve lived much of my life in hates mystery…shit, I’ve abandoned friendships just because it was too much work connecting with the other person due to their need to cloak themselves in “mystery.” The God of my Bronx childhood was mysterious, too, but in a dark way – judgmental, abusive, and threatening if I didn’t have my act together, always ready to drop the hammer on me and my never-ending “sins.” Add in the physical, verbal, and emotional abuse that was perpetrated against me as a child and I began to set up – as the lyrics from Sarah McLachlan’s song Building a Mystery alludes – a “razor wire shrine.” In other words, yes, try coming close to me, my life, my story or my heart and you are going to get cut, hurt, and you will bleed.
But God, in His perfect love, is coming after something more in this season, through His mystery. I laugh…not because any of this is amusing…as I’m sitting here putting the finishing touches on this entry my computer jukebox (set to shuffle) just began to play Building a Mystery. Grace is amazing as much as it’s right on time. Perhaps living in the mystery on the line isn’t so much about “choosing carefully,” but more so choosing to trust the Maker of the mystery in how it is meant to call my heart alive for a freedom to live in God’s Larger Story.
JOHN FONTAINE, Writer @ Large
When Life Takes a Dump, God Offers a Shovel
#002 June 29, 2016
This season has been exhausting, unnerving, and persistently disruptive – much like the sense I often experienced as a young man that no matter how tenaciously I tried I didn’t fit in nor ever would.
The past few days offered a clarity that “real life” so readily obfuscates without mercy – a push and shove with God that is intended to honor me and not humiliate the journey I’m taking with Him. Friday (in the rearview mirror) was a cluster-fuck of people kicking me in the nuts: my boss acting like his two-year old son because I had the audacity to hold a boundary he wouldn’t honor; a Christian brother coming sideways with a religious spirit of “forgiveness” as if he conveniently forgot that in our recently damaged relationship I had been the one to seek reconciliation but was turned aside by his wounded heart; a friend of twenty years (who has a good heart but rarely, if ever, initiates the building of our friendship) calls and asks me to do him not one but two favors – not even inquiring, “How’s your heart? How have you been?” All of these were topped off by a confrontation from a co-worker that bordered on the physical and the chattering of selfish whispers trying to arrange comfort and numbness outside of closeness to and with God to deal with it.
What it felt like was that life was just taking a great, big steaming dump right on me and my heart’s story. No wonder drugs, pornography, and gluttony always kept me locked up in solitary confinement. This unholy trinity would never deny me access to my pain, suffering, and hurt – but their greatest victory was in fostering the illusion I could never trust God to open the prison cell door and escort me to the amazing freedom He offers.
The weekend dissolved into a wrestling match, a blur of shame, pain, and ferocious rage that wanted to simultaneously hide and explode – and I fully understood why a human soul can willfully take another or itself in the expression of wounds which cannot heal outside of divine intervention. Kill or be killed.
Jesus is certainly disruptive in His honesty, his fierce intention in coming after me and my heart. When life takes a dump, God offers a shovel.
He’s been graciously walking me into the “plot points” of the global smaller stories I’ve been living in – what John Eldredge and Brent Curtis (in their book The Sacred Romance) call “the Message of the Arrows.” In his mercy, He did not shield my eyes through the discomfort, drawing me to the whiteboard set up in my living room that we had been scribing to over the past few weeks. The messages, wounds, and agreements I named were like cannon shots of death in the chaos of war fired at my heart over decades of life:
Selfish. Wrecking ball. Control. Fear. Addiction. Impatience. Left out. Dark cunning. Survival. Revenge. Character assassin. Gluttony. Tough guy. Rage. Poor. Deceit. Broken. Distrust. Hate. Arrogance. Lust. Hero worship. Alone. Shame. Need to be loved. Obsession. Independence. Belligerent.
Come Sunday evening, my heart acquiesced into vulnerability, surrendered at some level and open to the soft, still voice of the Spirit. He was inviting me into the process of turning over the shit life has been dumping (…is dumping…will be dumping…) on me and mixing it deeper into the “becoming” soil of my heart (a heart that God knows is – and calls – “good”). I began to receive restoration. And it felt like God the Father was showing me how to shovel…and at one point turned to me, handing me the shovel to say, ‘Here, give it a go.’
Last night, I listened to a podcast from my fierce-hearted friends at Ransomed Heart. It was the second in a two-part series entitled “Becoming a Son of God.” Honestly, my relationship to the realm of father is, to be blunt, one of those big, smelly dumps that life had so intentionally shat upon me, even with some deep healing that’s occurred.
As Morgan Snyder, John Eldredge, Craig McConnell, and Bart Hansen shared a vocal collage of their walk with God in this endeavor, I felt hot tears push against the sides of my eyes and begin falling down my cheeks. At first, I was pissed. These are good men, warrior/poets that I trust and love. Internally, my dialogue was, “Sure, of course they get to have sonship. Me? I’ll probably end up in heaven and Jesus will be…too busy to see me, too wrapped up in playing with all of His favorites to even recognize me. His Father will have no time for me. There probably won’t even be a room in my Father’s house as promised. I’ll be the only homeless orphan in heaven. And if I fucked up my faith and got it all wrong, I’ll be on the Greyhound bus to hell…which will basically consist of experiencing nothing worse than I’ve already suffered in this dump called life.”
No wonder I couldn’t sleep. Before I did pass out with exhaustion, Spirit also led me to a recent blog from Morgan called “Chasing Wild – Part One.” One of the urgings Morgs felt God pressing in on him was in the form of a question:
'Would you give me your heart and follow me?'
Dawn greeted me with fatigue and a commitment to pray. I normally walk through the Ransomed Heart Daily Prayer. Instead, I found myself in a sojourn through their Become Good Soil Prayer. As I read the words aloud in my small outpost of an apartment in Old Louisville, I could feel rivulets of the wellspring of life begin to quench parched tributaries in my spirit, soul, and body…my heart, mind, and will. Gathering myself for the day and work, I opened the apartment door to leave and was taken aback by a presence at my feet.
On the step of my doorway sat a package addressed to me. My heart caught for a moment, and I recognized the unannounced visitor as being hope.
“Wow, Father,” I said in a small boy’s voice, “is this a gift for me?” I scooped it up and put it inside my briefcase. Later, settled into my office chair at work, I opened the package. I laughed. It was a promotional mailing to the Maximus Heart ministry – it was a pen.
Really, God – a pen?? And I remembered the question He gave to Morgan.
'Would you give me your heart and follow me?'
In my morning prayer, I had given God my “Yes!” and permission for just that. And…so I followed. He took me back into the Ransomed Heart app on my smartphone and I was led (followed) into individual blog postings from Morgan, Bart, John, and Craig. Again, it was as if God handed me the shovel as I transposed these passages into my journal (thus the need for the pen):
“Where is it that God is inviting my willingness to let Him author me into a story far better than I could ever ask for or imagine? Where is it my Father is asking, ‘Would you give me your heart and follow me?’ What is my “wild” and how is He inviting me to chase it?” (Morgan Snyder from “Chasing Wild – Part One”)
“’The greatness of the warrior is not defined by hating what is in front of him but rather loving what is behind him.’ (G.K. Chesterton) What makes a fierce warrior? Love.” (Bart Hansen from “What Makes a Fierce Warrior?” )
“This moment may be heartbreaking, but this is not my total experience of God, not even close. I have to anchor myself in what is true: God is good. He cares immensely. He is involved. When disappointment strikes and my prayers seem to be bouncing off the ceiling, I simply must anchor my heart in these truths or I will go down like a sinking ship.” (John Eldredge from “Disappointment in Prayer”)
“He was silent and that was okay. That he said nothing said so much. He was just there, next to me…with me…and I was in his presence and…he’s crying. He was silent, but his tears said everything. I knew that He knows all that I’m facing; the losses and pain; the struggles and terrors; my failures and ache to live and love well. I could tell He knew, and knowing that he knew everything about me, my life and this season…brought a tear to his eye. He’s crying with me, for me, over me. The tear is everything!” (Craig McConnell from “A Park Bench – The Presence of God”)
God shows up. With a shovel. So I’ll depart with an invitation:
Where has life taken a dump on you, your heart? What have you done with this gift? And are you ready to take the shovel from God as He hands it to you, turning that shit into good soil? If not, what are you going to in order to avoid the shovel work with God?
It’s Wednesday. I’m the project. And I’m definitely shovel ready!!
JOHN FONTAINE, Writer @ Large
I'm Not the Center of the Story
#003 July 22, 2016
There is an exquisite loneliness which tracks my heart each and every day during this season. Most often, it surrounds me like a fog, diminishing my vision and sometimes my hope. If I believe the lie, each day would seem like the one before, an endless loop of resignation that offers the repetition of scenery, dialogue, character, and plot.
This is not a script I've written for myself.
The work of redemption is God's to unfold in my life and story - yet I answer the call to take my role in this film. After some scenes, I feel as tired as Luke Skywalker looks in the final scene of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Perhaps, I think, the look is one of wisdom and weightiness as he is offered his old light sabre once more.
I thought that life - that script - was all finished...dead and buried.
Currently, I am undergoing a deconstruction at the hands of my Father, the Director. It is both a disruptive and painful endeavor of demolition and rehabilitation. This ain't Method Acting. None of the old actors are being given any lines for me to take my cues from. The wise and cunning Master Scriptwriter - the Spirit of God - is not wasting words for sake of action.
My role - the one I used to think I was starring in - is not the one I was born to play or the one I'm now being given to play.
Imagine being handed a script for a movie that you love - a film you've seen countless times and one that you can quote nearly all the dialogue from. You know the lighting, the scene structure, and are intimate with the plot and the other actors. You open the script book to find...everything has changed. The script you are reading - and your role - has nothing to do with what you remembered or loved about the film that was sacred to you.
I'm not the center of the story. I am not the Hero.
I could deluge my spirit, soul, and body, my heart, mind, and will with all the drugs and porn and food and isolation and rage and shame that I want. The Enemy of God uses all the old scripts to advantage in the sound stages of silence in my heart, in the moments where the more I seek wants to put me back into the center of the story. More likely, perhpas, the weasel of a man we all inherited from Adam in the Garden of Eden - the Oscar winning Poser - will come online and demand a return to center stage.
It's the same hubris and arrogance that got Lucifer tossed from Heaven, his evil company of bad actors thrown down after him.
As Jesus looks at me (mostly in silence and with a fierce compassion in His eyes that makes me feel as if I'm five years old instead of fifty-four) and continues to hand me bit lines and movements relegated to being an extra in the background, I am both fascinated and furious. "CUT!!" I want to scream. "DON'T YOU KNOW WHO THE FUCK I AM?!?!" All around me a major production is unfolding - an epic story on the scale of eternity - and I am once more surrounded by the fog, this insidious voice of lies inside that sounds like greasy and soulless talent agent:
'Bounce from this bullshit...you're better than this...you used to be marquee and now you're bit parts...God's a lousy director...go indie, make your own movie...you're a star, remember?'
The image of Luke's face in the final scene of the movie haunts me, even though I know in my bones and balls that the hero in him will awaken and return for the next pages of the story as it unfolds. But he is not the center of the story...and I'm not the center of God's Larger Story. That role belongs to the One who it was written for. I am a character in His story...and I have a crucial role to play, one that belongs to no one else and cannot be filled by anyone else.
I'm not the center of the story. I am not the Hero. I think I like who I am becoming...in His story, in my life within His Life.
"Father," I say with humility and a hope that seems new, "can we give this scene another take? I'd like to try it your way." A silence covers the set as the Director stands ready. The Master Scriptwriter relaxes in His chair, no need to look down for the line. I take a deep breath and align myself to the beating of my heart. The fog lifts...the sun begins to shine.
Jesus steps closer, just out of frame. He is the Hero. I reach out and take the light sabre from Him. He looks into my eyes with confidence and truth.
"Action," He commands.
Yes, action. The Story continues...and more will be revealed.
JOHN FONTAINE, Writer @ Large
Men Without Chests
#004 November 22, 2016
This quote fillets my heart whenever I read it...for I know what it is to be such a man...and I know many men such as this.
In God's Larger Story, I'm currently in opposition to an uninitiated leader, a poorly trained king, a boy in a man's body leading others...a man without a chest. I can assume, like me, he was made by God to be - and reflect - so much more. But in what little I know about his fatherless story, I can only guess how he came to be in the position of power and privilege (responsibility) that he is now in. He's also the father of a young son - and I can only imagine as this boy grows into the model presented to him that he will eventually inherit his line in the legacy of men without chests.
So, why do I expect of other men virtue and enterprise?? Virtue can be described as "behavior showing high moral standards." Yes, that's a good thing to aspire to...but is that all being a man truly requires? Enterprise can mean "initiative and resourcefulness." Again, lofty goals for any man, whether single or a husband/father...but as definitive boxes to check for the measure of true value or worth in masculinity?
In his classic book on masculinity and Christianity, Wild at Heart, John Eldredge talks about the "false self," the literal fig leaf men have been hiding behind since the Garden of Eden got tanked and men began to hide...from God, themselves, Eve, life, their calling, glory, and everything/everyone in between.
"The real you," he tells the reader, "is on the side of God against the false self. Knowing this makes all the difference in the world. The man who wants to live valiantly will lose heart quickly if he believes that his heart is nothing but sin. Why fight? The battle feels lost before it even begins. No, your flesh is your false self - the poser, manifest in cowardice and self-preservation - and the only way to deal with it is to crucify it. Now follow me very closely here. We are never, ever told to crucify our heart. We are never told to kill the true man within us, never told to get rid of those deep desires for battle and adventure and beauty. We are told to shoot the traitor. How? Choose against him every time you see him raise his ugly head. Walk right into those situations you normally run from. Speak right to the issues you normally remain silent over. If you want to grow in true masculine strength, then you must stop sabotaging yours." (p. 147)
This past weekend, God was both gracious and fierce to show me how I have been sabotaging my own true masculine strength while focusing on the opposition to this other man in my current story - and He offered the choice for me to begin thinking about...moving towards...the opportunity to begin learning this other man's story. Not to fix him...not even to work towards rescuing him. Just to listen...just to learn.
Confessing here, my friends, that in my own arrogance I have "laughed at honor" because it has been laughed at in my own story. And even beyond all the training I've received in the Spirit and through live-fire exercises in walking with God, I still am taken aback to how my heart is shocked to "find traitors in our midst." If all I'm listening to are the lies of the Enemy, then anything of and for God will seem like treachery to me!!
Life...and church...and the world, flesh, and devil will surely wield a sharp blade to castrate my true strength and then bid me to "be fruitful." And, sadly, I know this from the pages of my own story - and seeing it on the pages of the heart in other men - the experience of trying to find life...and live from it...is impossible.
Today, I am grateful that God is rescuing my story...healing the wounds that are deep and mostly belong to the young boy in my story...and teaching me how to live from the true strength of my masculinity...and not from the place of being yet another man without a chest.
JOHN FONTAINE, Writer @ Large
Shrewd & Innocent
#005 January 5, 2017
Pushing my body from the bed, I shook off the rather strange and cryptic dreams to walk slowly into the living room of my small apartment. Knowing the work day alarm hadn't run, I hesitated before engaging my smart phone's ambient light to reveal the time.
"Yes, Lord," I said in a voice aloud, barely above the whisper stage, "I'm with you."
As I prepped a quick breakfast, I pulled one of the prayers from my arsenal and prayed for life. These prayers - authored and offered through Ransomed Heart - aren't the short cut or easy type of prayers. They engage my heart and plug me into the Source every time.
Afterwards, I turned on the TV to check the news. Death, violence, politics, arrogance, and pride. Nothing new in this news. Click of a button and the large screen instantly fades to black. My heart, I notice, is restless still, wanting more, knowing that it's 30 degrees colder outside in the Louisville morning than it was yesterday. Going to work these days feels like war, like a boot camp of cubicles and egos.
"What now, Father?" I ask, a child's voice in my mind speaking not out of boredom but more so from expectation. His answer was, as usual, mysteriously inviting and sure.
I'm not a Bible scholar...but I love the Word and how it draws me in, deeper to Him, and how the Spirit speaks to me in the language of my head, heart, and soul as I read the words that are examples of how to live and walk with God and not exceptions, as if He's gone for good and no longer talking since the canon was closed.
As I opened the book and found my place, I noticed the subheading midway in the 1oth chapter:
A Hard Road before them.
The six verses I read after that were like a cold shower followed by a walk in the winter's air outside.
"Behold I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in the synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings of My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given to you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.
"Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved." (Matthew 10: 16-22 NASB)
I closed the Scriptures, satisfied beyond the simple meal and vestiges of pilfered sleep, almost as if He were saying:
"Here are your marching orders for the day, son. And you are good to go.'
Good to go, indeed...but be shrewd and innocent.
Linguistically, that entails being "marked by clever discerning awareness and hardheaded acumen" and "free from guilt or sin especially through lack of knowledge of evil." (Merriam-Webster online) For some reason, I get with the hardheadedness of being shrewd - and for another reason entirely, I determine that pretending to be a wolf just so that I'm not found out to be a sheep isn't going to cut it in this world at war I'll be walking out into.
Innocent as doves...
At my morning bus stop, I considered this innocent question: Who would fuck with a dove? I mean, come on: all the cooing, song singing, and symbols of love entwined with flight; we're not necessarily speaking of the rumble between the Jets and Sharks here. As for serpents? Yes, yes...I know the experience of laying in silence, awaiting the strike that would render my prey helpless.
Why would God "send us out" into the wolf pack marked as sheep? Not fair odds and not exactly the most advantageous situation to be in. But the Enemy of God is constantly sighting us in his cross hairs. John Eldredge, in the expanded edition of his book Waking the Dead, has it right:
"This is the heart of our Enemy. He is determined to hinder and harm and ruin God's image bearers. To steal and kill and destroy. So let me say this again: the story of your life is the story of the long and brutal assault on your heart by the one who knows what you could be and fears it. I hope you are beginning to see that more clearly now. Otherwise, much of the Bible will not make sense to you. Much of your life will not make sense to you." (Thomas Nelson, 2016: p. 156)
Turning to look, I see the bus coming down the road. I'm ready. Good to go. Shrewd and innocent and having no intentions of fighting bravely and dying quickly today.
JOHN FONTAINE, Writer @ Large
#006 April 21, 2017
"Who are you talking to right now? Who is it you think you see?...No, you clearly don't know who you're talking to, so let me clue you in. I am not in danger, Skyler. I am the danger! A guy opens his door and gets shot and you think that of me? No. I am the one who knocks!"
(From the episode "Cornered" of Breaking Bad -2011)
It's literally taken me the last two weeks to survive a withdrawal period from a 10-day binge-watching journey through the entire series of the highly acclaimed series Breaking Bad. Having enjoyed various television shows throughout my life, I found myself shocked and amazed at how deeply this show impacted my heart.
Wow, I thought, I definitely have some Walter White, some Heisenberg, some Jesse Pinkman, some Saul Goodman, some Gus Fring, and some Mike Ehrmantraut in my story, my heart, and in my bones and balls.
During its original airing, I never watched a single episode of BB. I didn't have cable, nor did I feel called to check out the hype via the DVD releases. With a recent subscription to Netflix, I invited myself to take a shot watching the pilot episode. It was all over after that. I could not stop watching - or thinking about watching more...or thinking more about what I had already watched - until I had taken the full ride with all of those men I mentioned above. And this is not a statement of hyperbolic bullshit: The nearest context I could frame that experience with is when, in the deep past of my own story, I worshiped at the altar of crack cocaine and didn't want to stop.
From the brilliant and addictive scripts, to the highest caliber acting I believe to have ever seen, along with the luscious and mesmerizing cinematography, direction, and music, I could not resist the Knock, Knock of every episode - and I willingly opened that door again, and again, and again.
In the wake of crashing emotionally after the binge-watching journey concluded, I found it fascinating that such a brutal story could linger in my mind's eye for weeks after it was over. That quote kept haunting me: "I am the one who knocks!" And where God has me in my own spiritual and masculine journey, I also kept thinking about what Jesus said in the Book of Revelation: "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me." (Rev. 3:20 NIV)
And it also got me thinking: Jesus, Himself, would knock on the door of Walter or Heisenberg or Jesse or Saul or Gus or Mike - hoping that even they would, in return, open the door and invite Him in to not only eat but to change their hearts.
The sins covered by grace in my story are legion. I know the horrors of drugs. I know the sinister duplicity of intentional deceit and the damage of lies. I know the brute force of violence. I know the quiet contemplation of power and control. I know the seductiveness of money. I know the bridge of broken dreams that can turn a good man into an evil monster. As Walter said - and as I've known to be true in parts of my own story: "I'm not in danger. I am the danger!"
Sitting here, thinking about the story Breaking Bad took my spirit, soul, and body, my heart, mind, and will through, I am...speechless. And it is a mirror - beautiful, cracked, dangerous, and redemptive - that God held up for me to look into. And the only way, at times, my gaze is able to be interrupted is from the familiar and fierce sound echoing in my heart...
John Fontaine, Writer @ Large
Pink Slip the Poser
#007 September 28, 2017
HEADS UP! Intense and raw language ahead. Nice guys, delicate sensibilities, and the easily offended might want to sit this one out.
One of the benefits of having kept personal journals over the past 37 years is that I can easily go back in time to track where my head, heart, and soul have been camped out on previous battles and adventures. Here's a glimpse into my head in October of last year:
"Ah, the folly of a fool. Yes, I hate myself at some cellular level to have remained in Kentucky and put myself through this fucking nightmare. LOOK AT MY LIFE & THIS PATHETIC SMALL STORY I LIVE IN!! If I stand a chance, it feels as if I am faced with a life-changing decision. Who said a man can't grow up at 54 years of age?"
Something is certainly up under the hood, don't you agree? And it's one of the most precious gifts - to be able to track what is going on in my head. Try it - pay attention for even just one day (...OK, maybe start for one hour...) to the flotsam and jetsam of thoughts that go through your head, to the "voices" that are speaking to you. Tune that dial in. Oh, by the way: do you really think all those thoughts belong to you...just you?
"What the fuck happened to the dreamer in me, the romantic, the creative force of nature? As much as I love the false self and its comforts sometimes, I cannot believe how much of my life I've simply given away to fear or anger or shame."
In his book Wild at Heart, John Eldredge was the first man in my spiritual and masculine journey to teach me about how as a man, I take a wound (usually early in life and most always coming from the father), and with that wound comes a message in the form of a lie about me, about the world, and certainly about God. This wound and deception then leads to a vow, a determined resolution to never set foot upon the territory of whatever brought the wound to me in the first place. And, from that vow, I carefully construct the false self or the Poser. So, for example, the wound could be that my father left or abandoned me - the lie then might sound like "You are on your own." The vow then is "I will never trust anyone again." So, the wound and the lie and the vow combine forces to self-create the false self or the Poser who becomes a very independent, driven man.
As I've learned over decades of time and experience, men's work is quite messy, dangerous, and fraught with great battles for the heart and its true story. Another look back at last year's look under the hood:
"I am a real mess and part of me is amazed - and angry. I've stopped trusting my gut. The world is NOT my friend...and, for the most part, I can't fucking stand most anyone I've ever met or have had to deal with. I've been invisible , lost in the fog, checked out, afraid of what's going to happen to me if I ________________ (FILL IN THE BLANK WITH DREAMS, WORDS, ACTIONS. I've created this shit hole of an existence - there is no one else to blame. It's not fucking rocket science or some big mystery to figure out." [From JOURNAL FORTY-FIVE "The Heart of the Story (One Again), p.22]
Even from a distance, it's easy to see the false self, the Poser, or as some in men's work might call it, The Rep (or the Representative I send into life instead of showing up as a true and authentic man). Doing battle against the Poser is certainly a full-time job with plenty of worthwhile benefits. But, truth being told, the Poser needs to be pink slipped with no mercy or compassion. Each and every day - or at least when I become painfully aware that he's become the Chairman of the Board with exclusive voting rights as to how I show up in my own life!!
I can report that the unemployment rate for my Poser gets higher the more time I spend walking with God, continuing my training in the dojo of fighting spiritual warfare, and the help of others in my journey who can have the courage and the balls to step on my toes or bring the hard truths to me no matter how strong they make the coffee.
If I really try hard to find my Poser today, I would imagine he's sitting somewhere in a coffee shop with shitty Wi-Fi, the battery on his laptop running dangerously low, and groaning that he doesn't qualify for unemployment benefits - basically up shit's creek without the proverbial paddle. Too fucking bad for him...and much better for me.
And I have warehouses of God's pink slips for my Poser at the ready.
John Fontaine, Writer @ Large
The Anti-Hero & Me
#008 December 7, 2019
"For some reason, I believe I am drawn to the anti-hero especially in episodic television, because my own story and life plays itself out in what I would witness through all the episodes...all of them scripted, directed, acted out for someone's entertainment. But it's really a serious thing for me - to identify with that persona."
I've been meaning to launch into a series about my fascination with the anti-hero as portrayed in three episodic television series worth the time to unravel over numerous seasons: Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, and The Blacklist.
Why these particular epic stories? If anti-hero-centric, I would have to say my empathy for the characterizations of Walter "Heisenberg" White, Jackson "Jax" Teller, and Raymond "Red" Reddington to start. Perhaps that is fair enough territory from which to launch out on this journey.
One of my earliest memories of rooting for the antagonists in episodic television was my allegiance with The Bowery Boys.
Aloysius "Slip" Mahoney, Satch, and the rest of the Boys (...especially when things got tight and they had to fight and broke out Routine 7...) were a band of brothers I couldn't get enough of. Being rough and tumble characters from the streets of New Yawk (just like me) made a difference - I could relate even though I wasn't an orphan or caught up in juvenile crime and its consequences. It was something about them being in a tribe together and willing to fight for what they had that also intrigued me. Sure, Slip never missed a chance to mess with Satch but both had a loyalty to each other you don't see much of, even in real life. There was the "street kid gone straight" in Gabe but also the flip to him in maverick Bobby who was always up for a fight. These guys were way more than the Jets and the Sharks.
There were others, too: those desert Nazi-hunting danger dogs known as The Rat Patrol; kick ass and taking names comic book anti-heroes Nick Fury & His Howling Commandos; and too cool and cavalier street cops Starsky & Hutch.
Somewhere around the time I turned 18, I began to somehow forget or outgrow the idea of having heroes in my life and story. I became my own anti-hero. Maybe it was my first real taste of freedom, independence, or all the sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll that escaping my family and taking on the challenges of college presented. That winter of 1980 in Purchase, New York (during freshman year at Manhattanville College), my heart was broken to join much of the world in mourning the murder of one of the great musical anti-heroes, John Lennon.
By 1984, there were some new sheriff's in town. These men from Miami showed me a depth to anti-heroism and cool cajones that blew my hair back and made Friday night television I would not miss for five years straight. Castillo - silent and deadly. Crockett - attitude and angst with a shot glass of Jack. Tubbs - New York flash and suave dash.
After 1989, at least for me, both music and television died a rough and tumble death. I was so far gone that it didn't matter anyway...I had been expelled from Manhattanville, traveled back to Kentucky and a family I didn't quite love in both shame and defiance, destroyed one engagement and jumped headlong into another. Pot was leading the way to crack cocaine, and the story in front of me would be nothing like a long and winding road. And it would be decades later - deep into the living waters of redemption and restoration - that I would discover through the binge watching wonders of Netflix the personas of Heisenberg, Jax, and Red.
Let's take a ride through the pilot episodes...
Season 1, Episode 1: "Pilot" (Written & Directed by Vince Gilligan)
Premiered January 20, 2008 (1.4 million viewers)
Creator Vince Gilligan pitched this show as the story of how "...Mr. Chips turns into Scarface." When I first binge watched the entire run of the show, I remember dreaming of these characters for weeks afterwards. When I went back to view this inaugural episode again, here's some of the observations I captured that somehow pierced my imagination and memory the most:
The opening scene - Walter White in his skivvies - pushes Jesse Pinkman's unconscious head aside inside their RV/meth lab to retrieve his wallet and video camera from the glove compartment.
When he gets the news about his inoperable lung cancer he can only see the blotch of mustard on the doctor's white coat.
His buried anger at life and his job at Bogdan's car wash - "Fuck you...and your eyebrows!!"
Sitting by the pool behind his Albuquerque, New Mexico home, lighting and tossing matches one by one into the pool at the break of day.
While on a ride-along with DEA agent (and brother-in-law), Hank Schrader, Walter sees former high school chemistry student, Jesse Pinkman, jumping off a roof at a building near the site of the DEA's raid. "Oh, my god - Pinkman??" And finally making the offer to Jesse (whose meth making name is "Cap 'N' Cook") to joining forces to make meth and money - "...and I know the chemistry..."
Giving Jesse "...all the money I have in the world..." to buy the RV to use as a mobile meth lab, then telling him "I am awake!" when asked by Pinkman why at this point in life he's willing to "break bad."
When he steps up to protect his disabled son, Walter Jr., when several people are ridiculing the young man in a clothing store as his mother, Skylar, is helping him find some pants.
Receiving high praise from Pinkman on the extraordinary meth Walter's chemistry produces: "You're the goddamn Iron Chef! Every jib-head from here to Timbuktu is gonna wanna taste of this!"
Missing the chance to shoot himself after crashing the RV in the desert after things go horribly wrong with him, Jesse, and Crazy 8. Later on, he literally launders Crazy 8's money in his washing machine.
The final scene with Walter in bed with his wife, Skylar, as he feels the massive internal shift in his life and character as he initiates sex with her: "Oh, Walt, is that YOU??"
More will revealed...