Lear to Luton

“So we’ll live,

And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh…

And take upon’s the mystery of things,

As if we were God’s spies…” —Shakespeare, King Lear[1]

I am trying to take account of my life, of how I have spent my time, what I have given and received, what I have seen and not understood, what I have understood that has changed my steps. I have often had the prescience — felt more than reasoned — of a vast world surrounding us under a dome of patient silence. That world waits for us with the dignity of ancient headlands fronting the sea, less in confrontation than in invitation. At the “thin places” between our worlds one can step through, even if only for a moment, into a bracing freshness and light much to be desired.


I was driving out to church through a pack of police cars, emergency vehicles, cordoned-off areas, and press vans near the entrance to our neighborhood. When I got back, the story was all over our local news. A young man, a recent high school graduate, had been murdered. Details were sketchy, but he had been shot in the early morning hours outside his home. He was a week away from beginning university, the eldest of four boys.

The next morning, when I was returning from a walk in the woods, I met the woman — every neighborhood has one — who knows everyone and everything that happens around our streets. Every day she walks the sidewalks and lanes of our court, constantly on the phone, puffing her cigarettes. She had spent most of the previous day with the family, doing what she could to help ease their pain as relatives arrived from North Carolina and other parts.

“You heard what happened?” she asked hoarsely. I nodded. She told me of the impromptu vigil that had been held the night before, of the media asking everyone for their comments. “Don’t go visit them,” she warned. “They’re in a lot of pain.”

Somewhere, Ellen White urges us to “heed the promptings of the Holy Spirit,” or less didactically, to join the impulse to do something good. In spite of my neighbor’s well-intentioned argument, I was being prompted. The incessant shootings — not only the frequent massacres in public spaces in America, but the steady ratcheting-up of violence toward young African American men — ticked away in my head. I could picture the scene: three shots in the night, the mother recovering from back surgery, but oblivious to her pain as she flings herself down the stairs to where her son lies bleeding out. However belated, however ineffectual, perhaps I could share in that family’s suffering and in some way push back against this madness.

But then my impulse tripped over all the socio-cultural-political furniture strewn about in the living room of my generation. What presumption to suppose that an older white man could understand the accumulated grief of an African American family. What hubris to intrude upon someone’s home. What foolishness to imagine that anything I could say would bring them solace. The paralysis of second-guessing one’s motives. “I assume,” observes Erving Goffman in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, “that when an individual appears before others he will have many motives for trying to control the impression they receive of the situation.”[2] I could only wonder what mine were. Was it inevitable that I had any motive other than “bearing another’s burdens?”

Then I stepped through the thin place and saw things more clearly. When the particulars complicate unnecessarily, go with the universals. The universals, as I saw them, were father to father, man to man, human to human. At some level of working faith, we have to trust that the Spirit will guide our steps in humility and give us the words.

As I approached the townhouse, a boy and a young man were on the front steps. I was led inside, and the father was called to come down. We shook hands. “I am so sorry,” I said. He looked up then and his eyes moistened. He waved his hand and shook his head. “He’d come all this way, no trouble with the police, no drugs, a good boy. Going to university next week. His whole life before him.” He choked up then, as I did, and he turned toward me, tears glistening on his cheeks, and we wept on each other’s shoulders. I asked him if he had a photo of his boy. I saw a young man, bright with promise, forever held in the amber of his high school senior portrait. He thanked me for coming; I walked out into the heat and humidity of the day and exhaled.

That afternoon my wife and I went to see Blinded by the Light, a gem of an indie movie about a young British-Pakistani teenager growing up in Luton, an industrial city just north of London. Amidst the strains of being a child born in England to immigrant parents, Javed faces racial harassment from local skinheads, and misunderstanding and contempt for being a Muslim. In Margaret Thatcher’s era, with millions being laid off, coal mines closing, and the National Front on the rise, it is an anxious and discomfiting time. When his father loses his job at a factory, the burden of paying the bills falls on Javed’s mother, a seamstress. With his older sister preparing for her marriage and his father making the rounds of hiring centers with no luck, the young man is desperate to get out of Luton (and as someone who once trudged across that city in the dead of night after crossing the Channel, I can sympathize) to pursue his dreams of being a writer.

At his sixth-form college he is befriended by Roop, also the son of immigrants — and a passionate fan of Bruce Springsteen. He lends Javed two cassettes of Springsteen’s music. “Listen to them, guard them with your life,” he commands. “They’re by the Boss.” “What boss?” Javed asks, confused. “The Boss of us all,” says Roop.

And he does listen, at first with curiosity and then avidly, as Springsteen’s songs of factory workers, broken dreams, and a will to rise above it all through grit and hope surge through him. “It’s like he was speaking right to me,” Javed enthuses to Roop, who nods knowingly. They are secular psalms that reach him in the pit of his despair and raise him up. His English literature teacher asks to read his poems and journals, and through her encouragement and prodding he begins to blossom as a writer. His dream is to enter the creative writing program at Manchester University.

In one of the best scenes in the film his father asks, “Do you know why I want you to study hard?” “Umm,” responds Javed, “so I can broaden my mind, learn about the world, and be inspired to make a difference?” “No,” his father snaps. “It is to get a good job and make money.”

Springsteen’s father could not understand his son’s driving ambition to make music; Javed’s father cannot understand why his son wants to write. When Javed gets an unpaid internship at a local newspaper his father is both furious and bewildered. “Why would you work and not get paid?” he shouts. “It’s experience, Dad. It’s what I want to do.” Father and son face each other across their own desperation, the father in shame because he cannot provide for his family, the son because he wants so much to know who he is and what he can do.

“Mister I ain’t a boy, no I’m a man / And I believe in the promised land,” is the mantra that impels him onward.

“For the ones who had a notion

A notion deep inside

That it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive…”[3]

He wins a scholarship in a writing contest that brings him to Monmouth College for a conference, just a few miles from Asbury Park, New Jersey, where Springsteen grew up. When he and Roop return home, after a delirious tour of The Boss's hometown sites, Javed stands up at an awards ceremony at his college to read from his winning essay. But a few paragraphs in he falters, seeing his parents and his sister coming in to stand in the back of the hall. Extemporaneously, he speaks from the heart about what he’d learned from The Boss, what he was growing to be, and how much he wanted to make a bridge between the world of his father and his own rising world.

“I believe in the love that you gave me

I believe in the hope that can save me

I believe in the faith

And I pray that some day it may raise me

Above these badlands”[4]


At the end of that day I thought about fathers and sons, about dreams deferred and hopes placed in others. I thought about our stumbling attempts to walk a straight and true path, and the burdens we place on each other from fear. I thought about Life and Art, and how they can be distinguished, but not separated. Like Javed, Springsteen’s music has brought me light and hope in dark times. It is one of the many trails to the Spirit that I have found.

And I thought of the grief of my neighbors and prayed that it could be borne until such time as they could take a breath without pain in remembering the joys of a young man who lived as if to say, “It ain't no sin to be glad you're alive.”

Notes & References:

Barry Casey taught religion, philosophy, ethics, and communications for 37 years at universities in Maryland and Washington, DC. He is now retired and writing in Burtonsville, Maryland. More of the author’s writing can be found on his blog, Dante’s Woods. Email him at darmokjilad@gmail.com.

Photo credit: Andres Fernandez on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9831
1 Like

I can only say, “damn feng shui, even if it is right and religious; there belongs a love seat right here”


Right! Well said, Timo.

Part of your movie story resounds-I well recall my very fundamental father asking me what i wanted to be when i grew up. I answered honestly “a writer and an artist”. After he finished with an angry corporal board meeting on my seat he too sibilantly spat out “no son of MINE will be a homoSSSEXual”.

It literally took me a lifetime to recover that, yes, my heart was a poets, and to live, my ink must flow. I was six. I am now 60.


Timo –
What we fail to tell our children sometimes is that they CAN be
a writer, an artist, AND they can have a Job that will pay for their
writing supplies, for their artist supplies, and travel to places
that inspire both.

In my town we have too many young adults shooting other young

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You know, Steve, i still feel his spit spattering on my face as he spat out the words.

I reckon more than anything he wanted a “macho” son, who thereby could enhance his own insecure masculinity. In other words, i sense an unhealthy self-love, love of an image of self he felt he needed to project completely over-ruled any other values or the logic and rationale to offer the autonomy.


Timo –
Perhaps your Dad never matched HIS Dad’s expectations for him. Wanted
you to be what he never was. Sometimes that’s the problem in some families.
My dad had to quit school after 10th grade go work in the foundry where his
dad worked. I think he quietly felt badly about that.
He always talked about maybe me becoming a doctor. Made comments about
it from middle school age. He had high expectations about me and higher
education. Unfortunately, he died before he could be at my college graduation
for a different degree.


Thanks Steve
My story is diametric to that…had the opportunity to go to med school scholarship all the way but was not permitted. His need for me to be the role he groomed me for was too deeply engrained…and i thought it was my duty, the right thing to do, and that if i didn’t no one else could help him. Plenty of pathology, I had no concept of boundaries with respect to self, essentially no self identity. It was not until i was in my mid 30’s i went back to college. i’ll tell you psych nursing assigned names and structures to my formative years, and brought healing, life, autonomy and free agency (but i also had a perspective and experience that suited me particularly well for serving in the psych trenches and which benefited my pt’s, the institutions, and myself). Religion was too enmeshed in the childhoodsetup…and to some degree as far as relationship with him (forgiveness and grace, but limited exposure for me) still is. Religion is never to be used for substitute for engaged parenting , expedience be damned. Anyway, this is not about poor me-the circumstances were what they were, and I did the damned best i could! Btw “Boy erased”…yeah, wow.


I tried to be an Adventist from my childhood to my mid-50’s, I really did. I guess some of us are just predestined to not succeed among the saints. There were times when some small effort on the part of a church member could have made a difference in my Adventist tragectory, but those small efforts never happened, such as the time an Adventist elementary teacher noticed my siblings and I were covered with welts and bruises from frequent beatings by our Adventist father. Dear old dad wanted to make sure we weren’t spoiled by the sparing of the rod. The teacher reported the problem to the school board, but they decided it was outside their purview, so we continued our Christian education, bruised and battered, and with a special understanding of what Our Father in Heaven was like.

We were also taught about God’s highest callings: doctors, teachers, pastors, and nurses, the status of which could be maximized by going somewhere far away and exotic to serve as missionaries, “into a tent where a Gypsy boy lay, dying alone at the close of the day.” Against all odds, because we weren’t doctors, teachers, pastors, or nurses, my wife and I were hired as international church employees (I hesitate to use the word “missionary”) although one saint at the General Conference Secretariat made sure I understood that people with my skills set weren’t really what the church wanted, but out of necessity were tolerated. Off we went and for the next 25 years, we worked heart and soul for the poor and destitute in some of the world’s saddest and most broken places. I can’t and won’t say the name of that part of the church that employed me, because even after unspeakable personal pain and suffering, I still believe in its mission of ministry to the poor and suffering. Somehow I rationalized that even if God was like my dad, and the church didn’t need people like me, I could at least try to make practical, tangible love a real thing.

I don’t know if I succeeded in my endeavor to show practical love through my work as a paid church employee. Adventist employment is not an affirming environment, because we will be told at the Judgement Day, and not a minute before then, whether our work was acceptable. Sheep this side, goats on the other. I do know that my efforts came to a disastrous end about 10 years ago when I learned I suffer from a hidden wound, PTSD, but PTSD built on layers and layers of trauma that have driven me almost, but not quite, over that dark precipice. Not enough faith, I was told. You should have followed God’s plan for your life and this wouldn’t have happened, they admonished. So now I’m a faithless, churchless wanderer and it’s a lonely struggle. I haven’t been to an SDA church for a decade, and apparently the feeling is mutual, even though they seem happy enough about the tithe I still send. As I said at the beginning of this tale, I’m just one of those who was never destined to succeed at Adventism.

So what is my point for confessing all of this, since I don’t want anyone’s sympathy and I especially don’t need Adventism and all the bickering that goes along with it. I long ago became sick to death of the theological wranglings, the liberal versus conservative pissing contests, the alleged failings of EGW, and the reported awfulness of Ted W. Nope, I don’t need any of that. After all my years both as an Adventist and now, as an ex-Adventist (do they still call us backsliders?), is there anything I’ve learned that rings true? Yes, there is:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter- when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”

I’ll believe that until the day I die. Does Jesus love me? I don’t know. They say he does but I’ve never felt it through the church. Does that give me an excuse for not loving, really loving, those around me? No, it does not, and that’s the only thing I know for certain.


Born an orphan in a foreign war zone, dragging a tired tent of skin through the desert, with hardly enough water for himself to drink, it is the true-heart christian who will share his last drop, his half-crumb, with a foundling. I found a well within, when i had nothing. I suspect that you too have found the core, the crux, the heart of it.
Not found in a book, not bound by a creed, not proved by round logic. Thanks for sharing Roscoe


Roscoe –
Please continue to find help for your PTSD. Sometimes that is long term
I would like to encourage you to join another group. It may sound weird
but I believe it would help you.
Find Alcoholic Anonymous programs or Narcotic Anonymous programs in
your area. Go to meetings 5 times a week for about 6 months. After you
have been going for a while, find a Sponsor you feel you can trust, and meet
with that person at least once a week. Be sure to do what your Sponsor
requests you to do.
Another thing – it sounds like you need SPIRITUALITY and NOT Religion.
It sounds like to you have missed Spirituality so far, relationship so far, a
good reading of Scriptures so far.
You ARE God’s child if you are related to Adam and Eve. This is the 1st thing
you have to accept – you might have to work on it.
FAITH has nothing to do with getting PTSD or getting over PTSD.
Might I suggest a book – The Dusty Ones – why wandering deepens your
faith, by A.J. Swoboda. Read Chapter 8 first, then the rest of the book.
When you go to AA, NA all you have to give as introductions are done at the
beginning of meetings is your First Name. Just say I’m Rosco. That’s it. Nothing
else. Just sit there and listen for at least several weeks. You can share one on
one before or after meetings. But not during.
Another book I need you to get is this one – Breathing Under Water – spirituality
and the 12 Steps by Richard Rohr.
Both of these can be obtained at Amazon.
The Spirit bless you. Steve.


Biweekly counselling, walk, walk, walk, but mostly throwing myself into helping people, mostly the older ones, in my little mountain community. Taking them to the city for medical care, staying up with them after surgery, making sure they have enough firewood for the night, fixing their stuff when it breaks, sometimes holding their hands when they breath their last. It’s what I can do.


I cope by weekly specialized counselling, and walking, walking, walking, but mostly by throwing myself into helping people, mostly the older ones, in my little mountain community. Taking them to the city for medical care, staying up with them after their surgeries and illnesses, making sure they have enough firewood to keep them warm at night, fixing their stuff when it breaks, endlessly talking and listening, and sometimes, holding their hands when they breath their last. There’s no money in it, but it’s what I can do. It helps me endure my own pain and for it, I am loved in return. I was forced to decide that for me, there are no longer doctrines, theology, organizations, or abstract ideas of a deity. There is only Charlie, Wayne, Jack, Ramona, Vern, Doug, Phil and the others that I love and who love me in return.

I’m happy to let god, whoever he or she is, do with me as they will. It can be much worse than what I’ve already experienced as a church member and as the son of my father.


You are no longer the “son of your earthly father.”
You are the “son of your heavenly Father”. And Jesus is your Brother.
The Holy Spirit is your Mother.
You are no longer a “Foster Child”. You are an Adopted Child with a
loving family.