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Entries in biblical perspective (16)

Monday
Jul092012

The Cover Letter I've Always Wanted to Write

My old man and I when I was about seven.Me and the old man, c. 1981

The Making of a Know it All

When I was young, maybe in about 1981 or so, my old man bought a book for me called "The Volume Library." I think it was a rare time when a traveling salesman got an audience at the doorstep of my house. The book was a enormous blue volume of something like 3000 pages and the name in gold text embossed on the cover and binding. For all I knew at the tender age of seven or eight, everything there was to know was in there. It had a good range of topics that were presented encyclopedia style but divided into major groups of topics. It had some cool clear pages with layered images where those would do good, like for anatomical modeling. I never finished reading it but there were some things that attracted a fascination that persisted even after the book faded from novelty status. There were things that I kept reading over and over, or pictures that drew me back.

I haven't seen the book in years, at least since 1996 when I left that house at 22 and in a panic had to leave a lot of stuff behind back at dear ol' dad's place.

The WWW as Liberal Studies

These days, the Web is the place where I direct my curiosity, and it is usually richly rewarded. Wikipedia is the most clear heir to The Volume Library, at least in terms of my ability to go to one place and get at least an introduction to a topic, that will launch me in myriad directions. These days, the world becomes a very big place with the use of hyperlinks drawing me every which way, something that the would leave The Volume Library green with envy. In a period during about 2007-2009, I was fond of hitting the random article button on Wikipedia and getting lost for a few hours, perhaps a few nights a week. While I had my favorite kinds of topics to pursue, the rolling dice method got me out of my comfort zone, and I hit enough articles that they couldn't ALL be the worst ones on Wikipedia. I even edited a few here and there.

The studio door at Hog Heaven in 2005, just hours before it was demolished. The Magnificent Meatsticks sticker remained but I had to take down the two Richard Meltzer San Diego Reader reviews that were hung below it.The studio door at Hog Heaven in 2005, just hours before it was demolished. The Magnificent Meatsticks sticker remained but I had to take down the two Richard Meltzer San Diego Reader reviews that were hung below it.

Aside from the insane options that the web offers me solely as a reader, of course the thing that sucks me in is that it is all a two-way street where not only am I consumer but I can be a producer too. And this year marks ten years that I've put my self into the web, making it a place that isn't just "out there" but "in here" too. I was 28 when I got my first website bearing my identity exclusively (this site), and it was a year and a half before that when I was dabbling in such things as mp3.com, the first place my music appeared digitally. (And, interestingly enough, my most throwaway "musical" effort, The Magnificent Meatsticks, was given a higher profile because of mp3.com and some bold move to curry favor with old school rock critic Richard Meltzer [song NSFW] who actually wrote a favorable review because it wasn't formulaic dinosaur rock.) A quarter of my life has been spent online now.

The Web has been a lot of things to me, but I'd be remiss if I were to not say that it really has been a major classroom for my liberal education. Granted, it's not accredited, but the explosion of available information at all levels, and all aspects of life, has been invaluable in a way that I doubt four years of education could touch. Facts and figures alone are valuable, but because the web is fed not by some gatekeeping body that determines what is real knowledge, and what is not, I can get a feel for what life is like at the granular level in someone's own life. The authenticity is unmatched. As you devoted TAPKAE.com readers no doubt see, I have thrown in my lot with that, and still there is plenty I withhold even after the 3000-, 5000- and more word entries here. There is plenty I don't have time to report on, lest I miss living a life in the first place.

A banner outside my old middle school. See my gallery A banner outside my old middle school. See my gallery "Afternoon In America" for the caption.

Life from Outside the Ivory Towers

I didn't go to college except for several semesters of mostly humanities/arts/GE classes at the local community college. The semesters themselves were usually scattered from one another. In the 1991-1993 period I went continuously but part time; in the return period from 2003 onward, there were four more semesters scattered across three years. In some ways, I feel like I've failed myself. In other ways, living itself is a classroom, and the Web has filled in some of the informational gaps. I have consoled myself with knowing there are autodidacts out there like Frank Zappa who have done just fine without going through the education mill. In Frank's unsparing words,

Drop out of school before your mind rots from exposure to our mediocre educational system. Forget about the Senior Prom and go to the library and educate yourself if you've got any guts. Some of you like Pep rallies and plastic robots who tell you what to read.

People in their educated ivory towers will sneer upon sentiments like that, but the view from the outside is just as valid as the view from the inside. When I was 19, 20 in 1993, the cracks in the wall were apparent to me: news reports time and time again were telling us college students were graduating and hoping to win coveted gigs at McDonald's. At the very same time, I was wrestling with an early incarnation of one of my periodic crises of meaning in life. I mean, around that time, I was wrapping up a fourth semester at Mesa College (taking piano and basic musicianship classes, the two classes remaining after I dropped the philosophy class early on), during which I barely spent time at my job at Jack In The Box, due to the crisis of e. coli tainted meat that winter of 1993. I had barely started the job in late December 1992 during my first period of depression and suicidal ideation, only to be laid off for a month or so when the contamination scare hit the news. After returning, I was feeling hopelessly unable to bear with such a job and gracefully bowed out after one troubled week. Ironic, considering it seemed to be what more and more college graduates were left with as a viable option. Oh well. Let them have that shit. My heart led me elsewhere.

I took what I thought would be a semester or maybe one year off from Mesa College and then found that ten years later, during another crisis in life, I'd start up again. But let me not get ahead of myself. I've got thousands of more words for you.

Me at my slick drumset, 1993, outside in a concrete parking lot at an office park.Quite possibly taken on the same day as I am narrating in this post. I only recall being to this place once.

The Hero's Call to Adventure, put on Hold

In 1993 there was no World Wide Web. Not for me at least. That was the domain of the geeks and engineers with pocket protectors in the world I just checked out of. It'd be another two years before I saw the first email address in print. That summer, I was out with Matt Zuniga, doing some drumming and screaming out in a parking garage in Kearny Mesa. It was a hot June day about a month after my semester ended. I just got a job at Subway, which for some reason, I felt far more at ease with than at Jack In The Box. I don't know why that is, but it was so, even after the drama at another store one year before. I was having the first itches to do something that felt self-determined. I didn't know what. I thought of geographic moves but I couldn't determine where I'd like to go. I thought of stepping up the kinds of things we did as Rhythmic Catharsis but was aware that Matt thought all we did was silly and just a way to blow off steam. I thought of a few things. But my kryptonite stopped me.

It's a cloud I live under. Fighting back the feelings of futility and the depression that usually accompanies it is hard, and is breaking through it harder still. The latter happens at times and sustains itself for a while. And then something changes and the parted waters of futility come crashing back at me, and I get swept up in it all for a while, then get somehow dropped on another shore in life. In more recent years, I've accepted that there are spiritual growth lessons involved in all this and usually see the sense to it in hindsight, particularly if I was able to extract a kernel of lesson material in the midst of the chaos.

I spent my early online years not adding much but noise and dissonance to the Web commons. If I could, I'd erase nearly everything from 2000-2003. Of course, Google has its mitts on it and all are free to read it if one knows all the aliases I used during those years. I am willing to own it. In 2004, realizing self-criticism was perhaps more called for than criticism of others in certain real and virtual social circles where I operated, I turned more inward and backed out of most of the online boards and social forums where I had earned a name as a troll — or worse. At the same time, emerging from the nearly deadly depression of 2003, the world was shown anew to me in such a way that enlarged me again, putting my problems in a larger context that had first been shocking and disorienting, but then later paved the way for further development.

Route 66 Gas stationOne of several shots I took during the EONSNOW era of 2005, showing "independent" gas stations that appeared where name brand locations were closing down. All the names had some kind of nostalgic quality to them, evoking the good old days of automotive freedom, etc.

When I heard about peak oil in 2004, it was still a pretty esoteric, out of the way means of understanding the world's dilemmas, and one that few gravitated toward. Less than the particulars of how much oil is or isn't available, the reading I did brought me to grips with the big questions of ultimate meaning in life, but first by mercilessly promising to remove the comfortable life I anticipated I'd lead as a citizen of the empire. It all appeared on my radar in the same season as I got married at the age of 30. In fact, on the altar that special day, I had in my mind that the future could not possibly be what everyone was telling me it would be. Peak oil, which I still believe to be a valid shaper of macroeconomic reality, is something that forced me to see myself differently, relative to the world. It was a good bit of humble pie to munch upon prior to wedding day. It disabused me of certain expectations from married life and got me on a firmer ground of reality. In that way, the debate of whether peak oil is real or not is immaterial to me.

Kelli and I leaving the altarIt is accomplished!

The year or so after the wedding was given to a lot of reading on the topic, several blogs that showed the emerging consciousness I was breaking into, and then for a while, doing some film showings to share what I had learned. A site I launched, EONSNOW.org (long since deleted), was an intersection of those interests with my ability to do websites. I was able to ape other people's words and sentiments, but the inner work was not done yet. I knew the topics well enough but they were in my head, and nowhere else. Eventually, in early 2006 I dropped out of all the EONSNOW stuff and found that another group was able to take me deeper into those concerns, and with a kind of language that took some learning but that did a better of job of showing how deeply rooted our modern dilemma is. I'm talking of course of Jubilee Economics Ministries, JEM.

Jubilee Economics Ministries

For a season in mid 2006 I met with Lee Van Ham of JEM and read a book he gave me, The Biblical Jubilee and the Struggle for Life. It was uncompromising in its assessment of how modern economics are rigged against the poor in the Southern Hemisphere, and those "developing" countries outside the Western world. And it was fiercely faithful to the prophetic tradition in the Bible, a tradition that is best epitomized by the life of Jesus. It wasn't just spiritual fluff and it wasn't capitalist propaganda either. It was written by Ross and Gloria Kinsler, lifelong missionaries who saw the reality in Latin America, and who have dedicated their lives to helping the folks in those countries by giving them the theological tools that are needed to resist the neoliberal economics juggernaut that has displaced so many people and upset traditional ways, all so the industrial world can make and sell more stuff. It was really a life changing book, and one in which I saw my own struggle with a landlord father who made decisions for my life that didn't include me. That year, the macro of the world's issues and the micro of my issues were found to be related and in some ways, overlapping significantly. As I've heard it said, "when the student is ready, the teacher will appear." EONSNOW was my own attempt to make sense of this new understanding of things but it was limited in depth and as those types of topics can be rather doom-laden, sometimes it left more shade than light. Masked knowledge does that. Then, feeling like I had little else to add to the discussion, I called Lee in early 2006.

Lee Van Ham unwittingly became a spiritual father figure to me that year and since. Being a retired pastor helped justify calling him that, but I never knew him as a pastor. I did know him as a person who offered a frank and transparent account of his own struggle with the big issues, and more than others who preceded him in my peak oil related wanderings, he was looking for some way to live hopefully in the face of what is a tremendous challenge: living with the realization that this way of life we live is unsustainable and one day not far from now, will be untenable and will ultimately fail. My peak oil explorations suggested that was not far off, and certainly my lifetime will be the transition period. Lee paved the way for me to understand the Bible in a whole new way, with an eye to the economic themes that permeate it. He's been a great interpreter in that way, and he always surprises me at how he can take familiar texts that made no sense, and turn them into something that explains not just the text, but how the world works. Pretty remarkable.

So of course I wanted to be near that. A few years later, upon encountering Fr. Richard Rohr's teachings about fathers and male spirituality, I had the language for how I saw Lee: he was the spiritual father that emerged when my old man's role in my life came to an end, and when he could not lead me where I needed to go, Lee happened onto the scene as if it were a shift change at Jack In The Box. For the years from about 2007-2009, I met with him periodically, emailed, and if there was a JEM event or course, I went. But it was a bit less than in 2006. In late 2009, once I moved to North Park, one mile from his office, I offered to volunteer at the office for four hours a month doing rather mundane stuff so that Lee might have more time to be the visionary at JEM, with a bit less of the boring office work. At least I'd be able to talk in person some and keep the JEM consciousness alive in my life. As we spent some hours together that December, we got to talking media options, and he again asked me if I had ideas for the JEM website.

Pod-What???

It's always hard being diplomatic in those circumstances. I had sort of avoided talking about it thus far because I knew that it was done by Kyle, a volunteer, in earnest, but that Kyle was not really a web guy. And since everyone is a volunteer, I just accepted it was what it was, and maybe that's all they wanted it to be. The ante was upped however in early 2010 because a disappointing rejection letter arrived that announced that there'd be no funding for a DVD project that Lee was interested in putting together. Amid a flurry of brainstormed options, I suggested this thing called podcasting. I knew enough to describe it, but that was all. It seemed Lee had ever unfolding ideas that grew and grew and took explanation. He was a pastor, someone who did a lot of public speaking for inspiration and persuasion. Podcasting was something that I, as an erstwhile studio operator, was able to make happen so that his distinct voice and passion would register as it was meant to be heard. I didn't know about the web part of podcasting aside from a basic test I had done a few years before, but that would follow. We could come up with a plan for delivering sustained content, right?

Lee had never heard of it. When I tell the story, I usually mention that he said something like "pod-WHAT?" It's not much of an exaggeration. I explained it would take a commitment because of the episodic nature of the format. We drafted a list of how we might fill 15 or so episodes and decided there would be stuff to talk about for a while to come.

Lee and Kyle, being older fellows in their 60s then (and Lee in his early 70s now), were not natively immersed in this kind of stuff, so I found myself having to translate a language I was barely able to learn as I went. I think I confused them both more than I should have. As I produced a demo of the show, it became apparent that the web structure that JEM would need was far beyond the plain HTML site Kyle had curated for some years. So I got drawn into that. I first tried to get the XML feed happening there then thought it easier to redo the entire site in Wordpress. I started the transfer and then heard about Squarespace. And, since the idea was for me to turn it back over to them, it made more sense. Squarespace's interface is simpler and the site maintenance was taken care of since it is a paid service. I was burning out on Wordpress for my own site and welcomed the simple approach of Squarespace, knowing the guys would prefer such a straightforward platform. When the podcast had three episodes recorded and edited, I finally got the feed to be accepted at iTunes on the first try using the default Squarespace feed, and was relieved in a huge way. Previous submissions using a small XML authoring program were not accepted at iTunes even after five tries. So about two years ago now, we were all babes in the woods. Lee and I did podcasts together for four real episodes, and then detoured for a one off video episode giving a progress report on the new web developments. Then we got into interviewing guests. As of this writing, we're 27 episodes strong.

Media Not Just About Me

That same summer, I was fresh out of my male initiation experience in Arizona and at that life changing week, I found myself talking to another Lee, closer to my age, who was a great conversation partner in my struggle with digital media and the techno-treadmill. At the time, I had barely started the podcasts and sort of saw that I'd be drawn in to more digital life after letting my digital publishing interests fade for a few years. In the mean time, browsers were decaying, and I was enjoying nearly a year of being the facilitator of the young adults group at church. I was often heard to celebrate the in-person nature of that group, and was dismissive of social media. I was reporting all this to Lee the younger in the desert, and since then I've never talked to him again by any means. I guess he was meant to be one of those pivot people that you meet once and have your life changed, and that's all there is to it.

What emerged was a feeling that my new online work would be for others. It felt like a logical stage, building upon the stages that came before: self-interested young musician with a CD to sell; disruptive troll; reborn student of life and world issues but with a preachy tone; blogger who faded from all that into a period of self-reflection and some discernment; and then it seemed it was time to take all those experiences and insights back to the web. This time, the purpose would be to build community around a big idea — one that isn't even mine. In some ways, doing the JEM site work and the podcasting is not too different than what I did for my church in Pacific Beach; there too I recorded the messages of a pastor who had very keen world-aware insights, and then used a website to publish the audio. Without the XML feed, it was what I've come to call "proto podcasting" — delivering the same kind of content but without the subscription model.

Screen shot of a recording within Logic ProApple's Logic Pro where I did a lot of podcast episodes.

Doing the work far exceeded the four hours a month I anticipated giving to JEM. In some ways that was cheap of me anyway, considering the gift of life-changing, paradigm-shifting knowledge they had already opened up for me. So I accepted that my time was to be given freely to do what I could to multiply the effort and amplify the message. And then of course, to be doing so many things meant that for the first time in a few years, I was doing web publishing again, at a more elevated profile than before, and that would be resume fodder. Squarespace paved the way for me to be more creative with the visual aspects than I had been for years. It also gave me a platform where I could not break too much of the site at once. But by far the biggest new thing was all the social media options.

Social Media Quicksand

Now, THAT is the time suck. Editing a podcast episode takes too long and my method might be a bit heavy handed, but it comes to an end and the show gets released on time every month. Social media of course knows and respects no boundaries, it seems. And I didn't know anything about it all. I grudgingly entered Facebook for the second time in July 2010 so I could help launch JEM's page. I got on Twitter too. I had no idea about best practices or any of that. Even after so many years of using a blog for these long journals, I didn't really know how to use the format for actually moving messages. Somehow, early on I got onto a different track and only when I started to help JEM did I realize how far my approach diverged from what would be beneficial for a nonprofit org. The social media layer too was something that I feel I entered into without a clue, and sometimes, like today, feel that I still have no clue, if I am to gauge by the interaction I get on pages I manage. (I know there's probably some Human Resources person reading this bit of self-sabotage as they try to disqualify me, ready to toss my resume in the e-trash. Do it if you must. I'm self-sabotaging for a purpose anyway. I'm weeding you out just like you weed me out. I'm preemptively slamming the doors shut that I have no business walking through in the first place. More later.)

Kyrptonite

Here's where the kryptonite comes in again. I have done so many hours of volunteer work and reached into so many aspects of webmastering I never thought I'd encounter. But when it comes time to look for a job, a real job, and one that perhaps would let me finally put to use this kind of interest and that would help develop it, I freeze. I totally freeze in my tracks. When I read an ad on Craigslist and some nameless place wants a "designer" or "coder" I immediately know I am neither. In some ways I am more than both, and in others, less than either. Ditto for "social media expert" or "SEO expert." I've done ALL those things to some degree but not well. Having departed the world of Wordpress for the most part, I've gotten a bit far from that platform which by all appearances, was kind of a step backward away from the most commercially viable web platform out there. I just know that when I used it (and I did for about four years), I was scared out of doing my own web work, not knowing my way around editing the templates, or feeling hopelessly lost in database related work, updates, and actually losing data. In some ways, it was easier to justify driving trucks for a living. When looking for work now, like I have for the last year and one half (as of this week), I can't square with the lists of requests for this skill or that. I hate selling myself, so I sell myself short. Maybe. I've learned a lot of things on my own, but it's not been prep for any job, even the few internships that I've applied to — situations where I'd work for too cheap so I can prove myself worthy of MAYBE working for cheap. It seems like people have to be formed nearly completely for a fucking internship. How the hell?

I hate resumes with a passion. I have several. I've tried chronological resumes. I've tried functional resumes. I've tried the cute online resumes where I plug in my credentials and it looks like a hip designer did it (and yes, I realize that doesn't reflect well on my own skills in the field). But if I am to be somewhat complete, it gets weird and confusing for HR people, I guess. Maybe they work from some formula that doesn't let them parse how a guy with audio/staging experience, senior social service experience, web and audio production experience, and non profit experience could possibly get a job at their place, even if it was straight down the line what they're asking for. I am torn. I can't tell if I'm completely free or boxed in. And I guess if I don't know after all these years, no one else will, either.

What I really need is for my work with JEM and its related entities to pay somehow. It's hard to swing it though; JEM operates on a budget less than $10,000 a year anyway, and everyone is a volunteer. If anything, I'm holding on to a vague idea that someone will take notice of the stuff I've done and somehow change the picture. It's probably a lost cause hoping for that. If anything, the numbers have seen a downward trend during the recessionary years, just like other major orgs have seen. JEM lives according to the graceful delivery of Manna from Heaven each year. So the next hope is that someone who sees what I do will have some paying opportunities on other projects. But it's hard to justify that since I know that all the stuff I have done with JEM is more of a meandering, creative process that has taken hundreds or thousands of hours, and that even when reduced to 10% of that would be more than most people want to pay to get a site launched at so many dollars per hour. Since I never "designed" the JEM web presence as it appears now, it's hard to put a price tag on it when talking to people about their prospective projects. Not being a very good salesperson, and not being a good business person, I have a history of being rather trampled in the projects I've taken on. I hate to admit it, Ms. HR Manager, but I sort of suck at that. 

my name is on the in/out board at work. Big whooptie fucking doo!My name on the sign at AE Scantech while I was the shipping manager.

Dumb Jobs that Take Over Your Life

And that's why I keep looking at "dumb" jobs like driving. Ones that start at one time and end at another and have a record of paying the bills for six, twelve, or even eighteen months at a time. Within a few hours or days of my toil, I get paid. Fair enough. It is a safe feeling after having done always-on-call freelance audio work that paid erratically, or after trying my hand in 2002-2003 at studio recording or web work, none of which ever paid off much more than guitar strings or drum heads! To find a job where I punch the clock is both a breath of fresh air and a kick in the balls. I say that because the kick in the balls part of it means that to hold those jobs, my soul is sucked from me, my generative capacity to be creative put in jeopardy, and my energy usually sapped. During the period at AE Scantech, it was coincident with my breaking up with my church. In the six months or so that I worked there, I did little else at home but for gardening and web surfing. I was out of church all but the first few weeks there and for a couple months afterward. And with that, a lot of social life was lost. AV Concepts before it was dismal, being loaded up with the drama and pain surrounding the forced move from my home, and the fact they laid me off after their scheduling needs clashed with my need to get my head straight in the wake of eviction. The eviction stress on Kelli and I was great, and then she started school about the same time, on a commuting basis that took her away for three days/two nights every week.

Ten potato bags broke open this day in the big truck. What hell.While I could demonstrate mastery over the roads and destinations, it's harder to master a wet potato bag that opens up and dumps its load all over the truck and ground. Ten such bags are harder still to master.

Specialty Produce was better because eventually I was able to strike a balance between the daily work and the spiritual-social life at church and elsewhere, but in the early days, I dreaded the prospect of their ability to command up to 16 hours of my day for about 27 days a month. Somehow, every day after the fourth day there (in January 2008 when I called in sick with a wicked flu and was nearly fired for it) was a miracle. And that it lasted for one week short of three years was stupendously miraculous. And when they did let me go, it was probably again for the matter of scheduling and my need for boundaries so this work doesn't totally suck the life out of me.

Sabbath as Antidote to Jobs That Take Over Your Life

You see, a major lesson that Lee taught me by the words of the Kinslers and by his own example was that of Sabbath. The short form of the lesson is that Sabbath is a resistive measure against endless work, a hedge against being subsumed in the system. Yet for someone like me who tends to dive fairly deeply into things I enjoy for prolonged spells, it's hard to set up the boundaries. It was like that with building plastic models as a teen. Same for drumming which replaced it in high school. And more so when out of school and left to explore music more fully for some years at Hog Heaven. And now it seems that there's been two years or more of going full-tilt at web work, even for the organization that preaches the message of resisting the demands of the work world, the needs of the Market.

Meanwhile, the opposite is true in the "real" work life. I have to have my boundaries so I don't get drawn into the undertow. And I suppose it has cost me a few jobs now. It isn't coincidental those jobs come to an end. I am not putting all my energy into them. At least, not my soul's energy. I shouldn't be there, and after a while that becomes apparent. A favorite book of mine, Parker Palmer's Let Your Life Speak, has gotten a few readings in recent years, and there I learned that I have to admit the failure of these jobs to "stick" reflects the honest fact that I don't belong there, and that while there are lessons offered in each experience, they are all pointers toward something else, even if the process is a subtractive one marked by failure, discontent, hurt, and all that. As Palmer says from his Quaker upbringing and their keen sense of vocational discernment, "way opens and way closes."

These days, my days are spent with a lot of work that would be handsomely rewarded if I were on some company roster somewhere. It's impossible to say where things start and end because really my mind is one scattered mess with my computer screen indicating graphically a fraction of what's on my mind. I'm rather at wit's end now. Sitting down at TAPKAE.com and writing out several thousand words that no one actually reads is somehow my reward for all this. Don't ask. It's about the only thing that seems to get done in a contiguous block most of the time I sit down to do it. But all the rest of the time, I am nearly lost in browser tabs; email windows for my own stuff, JEM's, and sometimes other accounts; maybe recording/editing a podcast episode; tutoring Lee or Gerald (a newcomer to JEM's media world) via chat or Skype, or hammering out long emails or Google Docs in the same manner; maybe trying to take in a podcast or some iTunes music; often trying to keep up with social media stuff, including a number of RSS feeds that help confuse or deliver me to new prospects; and then there's certainly doing JEM web stuff like proofreading and cleaning pasted-in entries of the digital junk that accompanies that process. Oh, and a periodic revamp of the entire site to help integrate things I've learned along the way and want to implement. They're cool enough to let me play with it that way. They realize it's for the good.

Practicing Bleeding on Craigslist

And then I have to try to wedge in the legitmate job search, which to me is rather like practicing bleeding. To even fire up the Craigslist tab is a task I utterly dread. To decide to click on "nonprofit jobs" and search through things I am not qualified for because I have no degree, or that are just obviously insanely high turnover positions like political campaigning — it's depressing, though periodically something seems to fit. But really, do I want to do a part time, socially beneficial job helping seniors for $8 an hour for three hours a day every third day but split into two shifts from 7-8 in the morning and 4-6 at night?

Someone's work van stopped too close to the railroad tracks and the boom came down on it.This is the kind of absent mindedness that can plague a person in an unsatisfying work position. This is not me though.

The next category to be searched is usually "transportation" which is a tad more promising for actual living wage earning, but gets me downright depressed. I mean, really. I've done three jobs that were nearly exclusively defined by driving. I am good at it. I rank well. But let's face it... it is not anywhere near where my real interests or passions lead. I can do these things mechanically but not with any real feeling. I don't belong there. After a while, that becomes evident to all.

Next category, a step down from that, is "customer service" which usually cues me to get up and take a piss and stare at the mirror for a while in disgust of what I see. Who the fuck is it that is about to open up the ads and apply for some fucking barista job? Or for some other equally pointless job? It certainly isn't the Me I feel I am. Maybe some temporary inhabitant of my physical shell, but an alien to my soul. This character should be eradicated. Tarred and feathered, and chased out of town! What a disgrace. The movie Clerks is not just cinema for me.

Following that, I might start to check in the various Craigslist categories that might include web and media work. Believe it or not, this is what I am actually er, trained in, or have some experience in, and when the terms are favorable, actually enjoy. But because there is a gulf between the experience I have and the requirements they list, I cower. I run. It's time for another break, already. Time to get a drink. In Escondido, I hope for a beer to take the edge off. But fresh squeezed lemonade would help. Let me go pick some lemons. Oh...that reminds me, the dog shit needs to be picked up in the front yard. Let me think this out. How would my resume go? Should I write that email? Has Lee or Gerald responded in a state of greater confusion about the chat we had? Oy!!! Anything but looking at Craigslist will do for now. They want a UX/UI expert. They want Wordpress. They want SEO mastery. They want a portfolio. What am I to do? Prepare a resume for a place that I am clearly no fit for? Time to get back to doing what I at least pretend I do well. At least in JEM I'm a big fish and people seem to value it. It just doesn't pay. I don't like it much, but I like it more: picking up dog shit is somehow able to give me a sense of accomplishment.

Other Craigslist categories come to mind, and feeling like I need to relax and open up some, I look at others, including some of the off the wall stuff in the Gigs. I did find a one off audio editing job last week that I was extremely well qualified for, even though I had never done audio book editing. All those years cutting sermons and podcasts got me $212.50 for eight hours' work — $25 an hour which is adequate considering it's simple timeline bushwhacking with no real thought put into it. Woo Hoo! The mind has to wonder what that pay rate would have done for me during those church sermons and podcast programs which are edited even more completely. $212.50. But that's gone with two household bills. Back to that job I passed over in the Transport ads... but can I really see myself as a fucking tow truck driver?

EONSNOW page in 2006EONSNOW homepage, 2006.

The Breadcrumbs of Vocational Discernment

Today I was doing some of the routine chat talk with Lee and Gerald—guys I like and respect for their lifestyles and experience—and I was cracking as I was trying to negotiate redesigning the podcast's programming in the light of Gerald being a new creative partner in it all. But despite his background in public radio, church music and therefore church life, and PR and other things of interest, he still takes a lot of tutoring at new technologies and blogging. His message is impeccable and urgent and excites the part of me that set out to do EONSNOW in 2005, but his delivery will take some work in this new media world. But as I dive more and more into web stuff, I am confronted with a vast insecurity complex — kryptonite again. The more I read about best practices in podcasting, social media, blogging (all the stuff I like most about being online), the more I feel like I miss the mark, and that my own methods have perhaps worked against JEM more than for them. I could be woefully wrong, but that's the feeling. Even direct questions at Facebook do not elicit the answers or the participation. My pact with myself was that this new era of web involvement was to be for building web community has been met with a realization that I don't seem to accomplish that too well. JEM's ideas are not my own ideas. I see myself as a conduit through which Lee's or Gerald's ideas pass. That seemed like a better deal to make than in the days of EONSNOW when my ideas were naive and perhaps a bit vitriolic. In JEM, I do about the same thing as I set out to do with EONSNOW, except the ideas I move are those of others who have about twice as much life experience and authority as I have. And more education.

Magazine cover for school project. Dreadful.A mock magazine cover for an assignment in Quark. One of the insanely dumb things I did while at Art Institute of CA in 2001-2002. Totally worthless.

We Don't Need No Education

But I don't beat myself up about the education thing too much. I'm sure there are plenty of you HR people out there who are trashing my resume because it doesn't reflect my ability to put up with the rat race and hurdle jumping path of the education mills and their methods for teaching me next to worthless shit at considerable expense that will follow me for a decade to come. But let's remember, I didn't hear about peak oil at school. I didn't learn about the global economic picture's grave injustices from school. Nearly all my current web publishing knowledge did not come from a school (and the stuff that I did pay $6,600 for was essentially worthless even as it was flowing from the instructors' mouths). I did not learn how to befriend a homebound senior citizen at school. I did not learn how to podcast at school. I did not learn how to cook for my wife at school. I did not learn how to appreciate the Easter tree near Julian, CA in school. And I sure as fuck don't miss the debt that I would have racked up at school. I don't miss it in the same way that I don't miss ever making a car payment in my life.

The irony is, even to this day, I have a tenth grade worksheet that indicates I did learn about population dieoff back in the spring of 1989 at the education mill at 4899 Doliva Dr. in San Diego. But who was poised to tell me that it would apply not just to bacteria in petrie dishes and bunnies in Australia, and instead to all of humanity and the lifestyle I live? Okay, score one for the education mill, but it was up to me scouring the Web and serendipitously meeting wise people who could explain what it means when humanity finally ate all the sugar in the dish and is bound to dieoff because it's going to drown in its own shit. No class discussion on that one.

Sign for a thanksgiving day race to feed the hungry.A sign that I caption as "burning too many calories to help those who have too few," a form of misguided charity toward those with less.

Why Me, Why Now?

With an awareness like that, it's hard to wake up in the morning and go through the pretty mindless pursuits of going to work, or even looking for work. And it's a mind-scattering thing to have to play that game enough while getting some money from the state, all the while knowing that 99.99% of what I could locate in Craigslist is stuff that I am not called to do at any deep level. I might be an undereducated, polemic-writing, failure of a social media manager, but I wake up in the morning more enlightened than some who have dizzying amounts of education and a full alphabet following their given names. I wake up and often have the question on my mind, "why me? why now?" I live in the awareness that I am a part of the problem too, and that most days, I can't turn off the awareness that I am caught in a lie: either to be part of the system, or to pretend that I am not part of the system, but to work dilligently at exposing it. It's paralyzing, yes. It's a moral quandary deciding to use the tools of the empire to bring the empire to truth. Even Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, wrote in his manifesto, Industrial Society and its Future, that there is no good technology without a dark side. (I didn't learn that in school, see?) It's a tragic bind to realize the computer is both a major part of the problem and a vital part of some solution. Or to realize that rationalizing that is total bullshit too. When you wake up in the morning and know humanity is headed for a brick wall at full speed, it almost doesn't matter what you do, or how loud you wail in Cassandra's shrill tones.

A poster I made in 2004 with iconic image of Dubya saluting like a Nazi with a caption that declares dictatorships are good as long as he's the dictatorSome of Dubya's statements were unusually candid for those who operate the reins of power. In 2004 I thought it was a slam dunk that he'd be beaten. Shows what I know. But this and other posters contributed to the "war effort" against him.

When you are enlightened in such a way, you look at the world's issues with different eyes. There are more educated humans alive today, but less educated humanity. Do you suppose that there is a correlation between the sheer amount of university level education — unlocking the secrets of the world, the planet, the universe, even — and the problem all humanity is faced with today? Was there a time when humanity ever faced extinction, and the biosphere with it? Did such a time ever really happen before we got educated? Not only are the education mills rather dumb pursuits as Frank Zappa said, but it appears that they are outright dangerous, at least without the balancing effect of a deep spirituality that can reconnect what compartmentalized education breaks apart methodically.

Funny, the record shows that a young and cocky, uneducated but insightful wandering preacher 2000 years ago rocked the foundations of history and the course of the world. It wasn't because he was university educated. The irony was that by adopting the religion that bore his name as the state religion, the state ended up imploding upon itself. That fire was too hot to handle, even for the mightiest power the world had known to that point. And so it will be once more. And again. And then again after that. Score one for the uneducated masses who don't know enough to break the world.

The Test Came Before the Lessons

Did the 19 year old Jack In The Box worker bee have this insight in 1993? Not a chance. Did I know what I was hoping to accomplish when I decided my time at Mesa College was spinning my wheels for no discernable reason, and left for a year that became ten? Hell no. Did I know that the abortion my girlfriend had not too long after that fateful decision to leave school had would shape my geo-political perspective that says that having children in the Western/Industrialized world is contributing to the crisis? Of course not. Did I realize that heart-rending night when she and I were hours from breaking off an engagement to be married that I stepped off the bus going to a place I have no business arriving at? I was just working from the hunch in the pit of my stomach. Somehow, by evasive tactics, laziness, fear, loss, or other things, I've arrived where I am. But you see, where I am, what I know, and what I do is about as valid as anyone else's claims to same. Sure, my spell at reading endless Wikipedia entries during 2007-2008 is not a college degree, but it didn't do harm. It's not valid by one measure but is completely valid by another. Education comes in all forms, and I have Fr. Rohr to thank for that teaching, at least in that he was the first to make that thought stick. And, as a blurb on my site's sidebar now says, "we may misunderstand but we do not misexperience." Another tidbit that I'm pretty certain emerged from Rohr's teachings over these last three years was that "something isn't true until you yourself experience it." In September 2003 while I was in a residential therapy center for a week and a half getting my head straight after the single most devastating depression I have had (on the eve of turning 30, and just under one year before I got married), my experience was validated by a really cool therapist who walked me through all that. I still have the Oscar Wilde quote he wrote for me, "Life is the toughest teacher because it gives the test first and the lesson later."

A liberal education is given in all manner of class rooms, board rooms, chat rooms, and even bed rooms. But maybe one thing I look at differently is that eventually that kind of education puts the world back together into a whole, whereas the education mill likes to take things apart and to constantly divide reality. It's not to say that kind of education will permanently damage a person, but it will certainly take some para-scholastic experience to round out the person, and yes, it could easily delay the progress toward a rounded humanity. Life happens just as surely with someone who got their worthless piece of paper as it has to me, but sometimes the mind is shaped in such a way in the education mill that causes resistance to this other equally valid way of learning, or a sense of mistrust of it. And it isn't without consequence; life is not facts and figures alone, and the people who think that it is tend to also be ones motivated to move into positions of influence and power, who shape political, economic, and thought at the macro level.

When I work in the context of JEM, I am able to operate in a space where the large world issues and my own experiences are not dismissed, but looking at them with some responsible attitude is encouraged. I get to be creative and functional in a place where the incomplete and mixed up me is somehow an asset. Having the scattered experience and interests I have has served to make me more qualified in that setting, not less. It isn't that JEM is a pleasure dome I wish not to escape. I pull my hair out some days in the effort to pull rabbits out of hats there. But the work, while not always feeling like it's firing on all cylinders, does not feel pointless like delivering architectural plans a year after I was showing The End of Suburbia and shrieking like Cassandra about all that. I knew I sold myself out getting that job, but I needed something. At least after that job I waited out the temptation to take a job at a car dealership as a parts driver.

Naming and Unmasking the Powers

Indulge me a bit of Walter Wink-inspired thoughts on naming and unmasking the powers. And pardon me as I vent several years of frustration in the workplace. The Human Resources staff professional will be my pinata for the occasion.

So there you are, Madam HR executive in a cute little suit and high heels, bespectacled in cute little fake horn rimmed glasses and sporting that little tiny pony tail or bun with highlighted streaks that you corporate types seem to wear, evaluating whether I am fit for your widget wrangling position on the shop floor. Totally unfit. I'm not what you're looking for. In fact, throw that resume out but be sure to recycle it. Oh? It hit the bin long before I finished that sentence? The email delete button is a wonderful thing? What power you hold with that button! Maybe there's a thousand of me sending resumes in and you're there not only canning me prematurely but also looking to see who among your employees are worthy of being fired because they are looking for other work, and they just happen to have sent their resume into your inbox, unwittingly signing their own pink slip, or at least inviting scrutiny about their loyalty. Is this what all that education has done for the world? Given you the ability to pan hundreds of people from livelihoods without even so much as a polite response or a chance at a human encounter? Given you a place of power to cut people out of jobs while you hang out with your iPhone wielding friends, sipping fucking martinis in the fucking Gaslamp Quarter, ranting about how miserable your life is? Maybe it's because your position is a worthless one to begin with, the kind of makework that makes some people look good while others are sent to the bin according to some formula? Some of you use too many words in your job listings and dismiss people like me before I get the courage up to even try to fill out a resume. Others lead me in with sparsely worded listings that say next to nothing about the job, the compensation, the location, and the industry. It's okay to waste MY time responding to an ad to ferret out that kind of information?

I've seen you in town. I've worked for you already if you've known it or not. I was the the pee-on who delivered architectural plans to the contractors that turned your home in Clairemont into a McMansion. Or that built your new place on the outskirts of Del Mar or in the fire-prone hinterregions of Poway. I'm the guy who delivered the plans for that building you work in. It's an ugly monstrosity of glass and steel that shows no humanity or grace, and no sense of caring about the world around it. Yep. I was part of that too.

Me onstage with classic rock cover band Rockola, for whom I worked for a few years. I was on stage playing a bit of bass as one of the stage gimmicks.Sometimes I got to do this little bit of bass playing on stage with Rockola at Blind Melons club. All the rest of the time, I was side stage and in danger of being trampled by drunken fucks.

I've seen you in town. I've done sound at your pathetic corporate parties where you dance mindlessly to the music that used to be vitally important, socially relevant PROTEST music a generation ago (even the DISCO music that you mock with bullshit costumes stood for someone's liberation a generation ago), and I've seen you all twirling about, drunk and too stupid to exit the clubs at 1:55 in the morning. Some of you probably tried to kiss me then too while I was putting the guitars away, and no one seemed to mind that they were encroaching on my workspace at the mixer, or at the side of the stage. You know...that stuff I did there was work too, and my attention was supposed to be paid toward the performance on STAGE, not to your little song and dance asking for the stupidest shit: Can you hold the sitar or bang on the bongos sitting side stage? No! Could I put some more guitar in the mix? No! You got ten bucks and you want the five piece band to play (and the crew to wait) an extra half hour? Fuck you! It's bad enough we get treated like the fucking Guatemalan maids at these same hotels — or even worse — with a tip like that. I just didn't have my own iPhone and Facebook in 1999 when the parties were getting outrageous in corporate America or else I'd have put up videos or audio myself to show what idiots you and your executive co-workers can be in those situations. Oh, it was all a party, and the money flowed like water toward those parties. I'd presume so because the machine was getting finely tuned by the late 1990s. Corporate profits up, no doubt because the HR department was honed to a fine edge, able to excise all the riff-raff and keen on making the few remaining people simultaneously run faster and harder while looking over their shoulder where the axe was waiting for them too. Then the recession hit and the party was over. Good riddance. But you got to keep your job.

I saw this guy repeatedly while delivering to Gordon Biersch in Mission Valley. Sometimes I had some food to give him. And he was one of the guys who was still among the living.

Oh, I've seen you in town. You're the people who bought the fancy foodie dishes made from the produce I delivered to 101 fancy restaurants, resorts, and hotels in town where I got to enter through the ass-end of the place with grime and food waste and even — wait for it — laborers! I'll bet there were some who struck a deal to work under the table because they were undocumented and you were in need of a bit of margin so you could afford that die-cut embossed menu for tonight's wine list. You're the people who shit $100 bills and throw out half-eaten plates of gourmet food because you can. I can't say for sure how many of those homeless people out there were your own handiwork, but they are certainly the handiwork of the system you belong to. Outside those same restaurants you can be seen making fools of yourself, probably drunk there too, and likely oblivious to the homeless folks that line the streets in the area, and that are expected to kindly step aside and relocate to the outer reaches of East Village so you can go out for a nice night on the town. Maybe one day you'll get to meet them. And I hope it's not just a field trip experience.

And some years ago, when you were a little less drunk at lunch time, and when I used to work at Subway, you were the one who thought I was no one because of the stupid green shirt and hat I wore. I didn't like you then either. It was a gut feeling then. I didn't have a blog to rant on then, but I did control what went into your sandwich. Other far less scrupulous (and possibly disgruntled) people than I now make those same sandwiches. And you don't know what is really in that Taco Bell "meat," do you?

The funny thing is, you get to enter "my office" and essentially set the agenda with some inane antics and plenty of condescension. You come on to MY stages, you eat the food I deliver, you boss me around in MY office at Subway, or Jack In The Fucking Box, or even for Pizza Slut or Dumb, I Know's Pizza. But is the same true for my ability to enter YOUR office and call the shots? Not with that electronic fence you have around it that barricades me at my own computer browser. Not with that veneer of coolly isolated professionalism in shades of corporate blue and gray. Not with the minimum wage earning security guard who thinks he's someone because of the badge and the key to the gated parking lots that surround your ivory towers and your dark satanic malls (sic). Do I get to come in and make a scene in your office? Dance on your desk, let my cock hang out, kiss you in my swirling and oblivious state of drunkenness? Hell no. My office is in the world. Your office is behind closed doors. I don't get to meet you to talk about getting a job. I don't get to have a human exchange to explain myself. You really don't care anyway. Or if you do at a personal level, it's not your job to act on that feeling, professionally. It's a one way thing that gives you HR people some upper hand. For a time, maybe.

Okay, enough snarkasm. Even HR professionals are people too. A bit unaware of how offensive and useless their professional role is, but they're people who have a home and kids to feed. I just hope they wake up and repent for taking those positions and for aiding a corrupt system to ever more corruption.

Still, I've been waiting for the collapse of the corporate model as we have come to know it because the corporate form as we know it has outlasted its usefulness and the antics needed to prop up its validity are increasingly implausible. It has already jumped the shark. No one really likes it anymore except those still enjoying the party, and that number is growing fewer and fewer as the system eats itself alive. No one really faithfully shows up to support it. And an economy based in mutual fear can't last. In JEM or out of it, I learned that it's a model that is doomed to consume itself because of its own success and gluttony. I'd like to sit by and watch, and maybe even give it a shove on its way out of town. It might run a little past the end of my lifetime, or it might finish itself off by the time I get my senior discount at restaurants. I don't know. But be ye warned: the economy is here to serve humanity, not the other way around. And the big structures ALWAYS fail in the end —empires, churches, monarchies, and soon, corporations. As Martin Luther King said, "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

The Soul of Work

I could think of myself as too poorly educated to join into the workforce, but I happen to think of myself as too well educated to join in the workforce. Or, let's say, at least a certain kind of workforce. It isn't that manual labor is below me. In some ways, it's far more gratifying than neuroacrobatics. As I said, even picking up dog shit sometimes gives me a bit more of a sense of accomplishment than all sorts of pixel wrangling and syllable splicing and I really dig cooking for friends (a completely separate task from picking up dog shit). Both keep me feeling grounded. It's far more grounded and integrity-filled than a lot of marketing and media work I might persue if I was actually good at this stuff. It's not any of that. It's that when you see what these jobs lead to in a big picture, it's damn hard to want to put energy into it all. More than depression that just brings me down, it makes my heart ache that people still believe in some of these pursuits. I'd gladly work in a bakery for the right reasons rather than being some overeducated fuck doing some kind of smart person's work for the wrong reasons, in a position that might be responsible for digging humanity a bigger hole than the current one. The workplace does not really earn the respect and loyalty of working people now because everyone knows the axe is about to fall any minute. The whole thing is rigged to fail eventually because as one market after another is squeezed like a lemon, eventually everyone will realize they've been had. The funny thing is, it won't matter until the educated, degree holding mostly white people find themselves at the short end of the stick before things will change. It's the people inside the system who are the last to see it for what it is. The rest of us are waiting for it to fall apart and for there to be a time when the entry fee is bearable, and the show is good enough to stay and watch all the way through.

But what do I know? I'm just a college dropout with a chip on my shoulder, right? And you read this entire thing and say, 'is that all?' It's no more a waste of your time than it is for me to fill out those fucking online applications with the psychological profile questions that give me all the choices to answer that suit you but not me. I've applied for enough of those and being forced to answer a question using four disagreeable options is not my cup of tea. What is the point of asking me if I would handle working in a noisy, busy, chaotic, hellish workspace and expecting me to answer the A-D spectrum from "yes, I love this kind of thing and my life is incomplete without it" and "no, I can't hack it"? If I'm applying to your fucking job and I have entered the place as a customer, don't you think I know it's a hellhole of a place to work with asshole customers and round-the-clock noise? Is anyone really made to live under those conditions, or just desperate enough to accept them so they can afford not to sell their children to some rich and smart looking HR manager who has a nice job and can buy such unnecessary items as surplus offspring from poor people made poor by the swift strokes of the pens that other HR managers hold?

Just Send Money

It's not that my attitude is bad. It is realistic. Work is not valued like it should be. The fact is, I give more time and passion to JEM than I gave to any one of the jobs I've had and I don't really get paid but for some new software and a nice share of "attaboys." I can't even make a plausible argument that my state unemployment payment for $1,404 approximates the value I offer to JEM. The sad fact is, as one of my early web design mentors said, "the problem with nonprofits is that they're too nonprofitable." My favorite jobs and duties have been in the nonprofit realm, but never at the places that get the glory. And when you think about what a disgrace it is that JEM flies so far below the radar, that's heartbreaking. I mean, JEM, a tiny nonprofit with a handful of people who care, is not even a speck of dust in the desert. But we show up and soldier on with some vision of how to do economics differently than the system that is going down the toilet now and taking everything with it. You'd think that this world-saving heroic effort would pay better, even if I'm a bit lacking in the real ability to get participation and SEO rankings. Living with a divided mind and no particular income makes it hard to know what foot to put forward: do I totally immerse myself in learning the web tools and services and best practices? Or what?What part of the 40+ hours I put in each week is not valuable somehow so that even my own relatively slim expenses can be met and some left over to squirrel away for a global warming induced rainy day in the mid summer?

So I spend my days with my scattered mind, unsure whether I should either dive into or minimize my JEM work. All the other options seem empty, pointless, backwards. The math works out that if I were only to optimistically reproduce my state income, even 30 people sending in $50 a month would do that, though to take it seriously, I'd need more to accommodate the deductions that would be required. Are there not 30 people out there who think that there's some worth in moving a message like JEM's and who are able and willing to help me get by so I can better answer a call to do meaningful work? One day the state payments are gonna be done, and I'll get into the desperation mode again and take whatever dumb shit emerges. Or maybe there will be some freelance work. But what the fuck does it take to actually cover my ass while doing the thing that comes closest to calling upon my training, my interests, and my experience?

It's five o' clock in the morning. Let me go to be so I can get up at nine and get back to my work. This was all done on "my time." Good thing I set up PayPal for invoicing that editing gig. Now I can put a "donate" button on my site too! This post took me about eleven hours over two days to write and edit this. It's nearly double the length of my previously extravagantly long posts, but obviously it's not without a bit of thought and passion that took these 38 years to accumulate. What's that worth to anyone? Your call. Thanks for reading.

Then again, maybe I could get a job being a roving salesman, selling print copies of Wikipedia as I go?

Sunday
Dec052010

The Emperor Has NEW Clothes

I don't think anyone is surprised at the facts of commercialism at Christmas. Even my favorite Christmas special, the Charlie Brown Christmas Special (from 1965) was well enough aware of the issue that a holy day was co-opted by commercial interests. Okay, well enough, we're all on the same page. What bugs the hell out of me is one company in particular, C-28, that has popularized their brand most notably with the "NOTW" image, which when read in full form means "Not Of This World." The reference is to the answer that Jesus gave to Pontius Pilate at a trial before execution. Pilate wanted some clarity about this kingdom that this man supposedly reigned over, and Jesus was mostly speechless except to say that his kingdom was "not of this world."

It was one way of saying, as Walter Wink, the theologian-writer says, that Jesus' kingdom was not shaped by the values of the world putting him on trial. Wink encouraged reading it as "my kingdom is not of this domination system." Or, more clearly, Jesus' value system was opposed to what Rome stood for, something that was cause enough for death at the hands of the empire, particularly if one was so bold to say it so clearly. Rome was only concerned with its own power and glory, and not some would-be scene stealer. So that was cause enough to put this treasonous man to death. So, to say "not of this world" is to reject the prevailing standards of right order in political, social, and economic aspects of life. Later on, the Revelation of John, written a few years after Rome stormed through Jerusalem with a scorched earth approach following the Jewish Revolt, goes to great lengths to portray the Roman system (in metaphorical terms as Babylon, the other hated empire of history) as a whore. John's vision also decries the economic dominance of Rome, the sad situation that to remain outside of Rome's dominance is to wither and die economically, and to be part of it is to be sold out just the same, to be complicit with an evil system. Jesus' statement was to place himself apart from the empire and its emperor. A daring thing indeed. The book of Revelation deals a lot with establishing clarity for the believer: you gonna get with this Christ program and leave that Roman stuff behind, or not?

These days, one can argue that the US is Rome, but I'd prefer to put a finer point on it. The economic model popularized in the US, and its narrative of material pleasure for individuals, lends itself to abuses that have cost the world dearly. Whether we worship the same historical god is not the issue now; these days the "in" people and the "out" people are defined more according to whether they are believers in the might of the market, believers in free trade, open markets and the like. My association with Jubilee Economics Ministries has led me away from that line of thought before it really got the better of me. A couple years ago Lee Van Ham presented an exceptional forum on how to unwrap Christmas itself so it was not commercial nor even the tame little tale that gets represented in pageants and other bits of dramatic interp. Lee took us to a place where many in this land typically haven't gone. At least, in my 35 years I had never heard these things. This year, after a year of close interaction with Lee, I asked him to present that forum in a blog series on the JEM site. You can read the five part series here.

But back to C-28. C-28 and the NOTW icon irritates the hell out of me. I say this because one can see the NOTW sticker on the backs of the biggest trucks and SUVs and tricked out cars on the road. C-28 is a clothing and "lifestyle" company that sells all sorts of Christian themed stuff, all borrowing heavily from popular culture and a bad conservative interpretation of megachurch style Christian messages. At best, I consider this kind of dreck as remedial Christianity that maybe has the power to draw some people Christward but only in the same way as chocolate chip cookies could start to nourish a starved man. Eventually one will have to get some real nutrients to finish the job. At worst—and this is what I'd like to put before you now—I consider it a complete co-opting of the Christian message by "this world." I already said that the NOTW stickers are all over giant vehicles, or ones that otherwise are displays of conspicuous wealth or material interest. Tell me, exactly what world do those cars come from if not from "this world"? How does one put such a sticker on such a car? Well, first, one has to have no fucking clue what Christianity means. And that is easily enough done today. After all, it has been co-opted by right wing politics, the military, and of course, the marketplace. If you go to C-28's website, you can get the same kind of right wing Christian propaganda as you'd get at a rally or concert (indeed C-28 funds that too) but with the added bonus (for them) that you can show your apparent conversion and acceptance of Christ with these great pieces of apparel (some looking a bit slutty), accessories, or stickers to add to your monster truck. What Would Jesus Do?, indeed!

The marketplace has become the new Caesar. Caesar, in the time around Jesus, took a fancy to being called "Augustus," or "the Revered," "the Great." These days I only half jokingly call the market by its Roman styled name: Marketus Augustus. The Revered Market. Market, The Great. There are some who already recognize this. I am not claiming to be unique. But it is far from being a widespread realization of what is at work. People, particularly during this rough recessionary time, are on bended knee before the holy Market and its grace or they are feeling damned by its fickleness. If you read Lee Van Ham's essays about the cosmologically explosive Christmas story of angels and wise men being the messengers of God's trumping of Caesar, then one must believe that we could experience that today—something has the power to shock us out of this love affair with what "this world" has given us. What I find contemptible is that something like C-28 obscures the way with their mixed message of Christianity and consumerism. What is it gonna be, Aurelio? (The founder.) You want to serve God or Mammon? Capitalists for Christ? If C-28 was in the business of donating plain T-shirts or hoodies to poor people with "Jesus" in black Helvetica, would anyone care about the Jesus reference? Or is Aurelio primarily a salesman who found a willing bunch of suckers who just need some clever designs? If you go to C-28 today as I did, you might not know it from any other hip site except for a few links, including a chance to buy a copy of the founder's testimony about how he "came to Christ." Well, I don't get it. If this isn't from this world, then what world? Because it sure seems pretty indistinguishable to me!

From the C-28 FAQ page:

Q: How does Christian apparel further the Gospel?

A: It is a tool for Christians to use as a conversation starter about Jesus. T-shirts with Scripture puts God’s Word out there and many people get a chance to read the message whether it’s waiting in line at the store or wherever. It’s also a way for Christians who aren’t so bold to talk to a stranger about Jesus to have His Word out there in public. Most people will never pick up a Bible or hear a verse quoted, but they will read a t-shirt.

Great. Now Jesus gets to be worn along side all the other bits of wisdom printed on T-shirts.

In Hans Christian Andersen's tale about the Emperor's New Clothes, it took a young boy to see through the lie that some snake oil selling weavers were foisting upon the emperor, his keepers, and indeed, the public at large. The power of a lie is great, especially if it is repeated often enough. This Christmas season, I take my place as the kid (admittedly not the only one) shouting out that the emperor has no clothes—the commercial Christmas is crap, all a lie we share in to feel better about a truth that we can't bear, even though it would do us good to face that our economy is teetering on collapse. And no amount of consumer spending is going to patch up the damage for long, like a band-aid on a chest wound. We're seeing through the delusional picture that Caesar has sold us. The Market is fallible. That is plausible enough. But for me, there is the added disappointment and betrayal that comes with seeing so-called Christians peddling their wares all the same. The Emperor isn't always wrapped in the traditional garb of power and glory. These days, it seems the Emperor—this world—is coming dressed in Christ-logo wear. The Emperor has new clothes, indeed. I wonder what "developing world" sweatshop they are made in. Sad. Sad. Sad.

Oh, by the way—Just 19 more shopping days till Christmas.

Tuesday
Oct052010

Technomessiahs, Redux

A week ago on my local PBS radio station I heard this show on Geoengineering—the range of ideas concerning global efforts to take some mighty heroic measures to combat the looming prospects of damage from climate change. Anytime I have heard this topic come up in the last year or so, my skin crawls and my stomach feels ill. It presents itself to me as science fiction, and dangerous fiction at that. To me it smacks of hubris on a level not ever seen before, except in some parallel movements in genetics and economics which are pushing into dangerous territory once regarded as the domain of the divine. It seems the kind of ambitious technological overreach that elicited a response from the Lord in Genesis, who watched humans building the great tower, something which was met with the confounding of language, meant to at least make it hard to get such ideas off the ground.

The technological genie has been out of the bottle for a couple of centuries now. Geoengineering is one more prayer for what I call the "technomessiah" to come and save us from, ironically, the other technomessiahs who have come in ever-accelerating fashion. The soul work associated with loosing ourselves from the technological straitjacket is too hard to do, it seems, so the de facto answer is to keep charging ahead into the same thing we desperately need to escape. I think I encountered the idea in Richard Heinberg's work, that civilization is one big unintended consequence of our first dabblings in toolmaking. The makers of flint axes could not have imagined our dilemma today, but it was a slow climb up a long ladder for millennia, with a quite noticable acceleration in the last 250 years ago, and certainly in the last century. What does it take to dare look down in preparation for a retreat from these dizzying heights?

Today the news let me know about the red tide of toxic sludge flowing through Hungary. The devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is still wreaking its havok. These are just two examples of humanity not having control over its technology. We're adolescents still, thrilled with our ability to make stuff, but seemingly unable to harness it. To be clear, I am not against technology per se, nor am I against invention and progress. I should be clear about that. But I do criticize the automatic reaction to meet problems with more advanced technology in lieu of maybe stepping back and changing priorities. Appropriate technology for a job is quite fine, but it takes discernment to know what that is, and not to automatically run to whatever is the latest and (supposedly) greatest. What I think has been a dangerous combination is how technological development has been taken to market for mass production even before we have a chance to understand what could follow. Most of the things we use now have no big impact if they were the only ones of their kind, but they are not—they are mass produced consumer goods that draw down resources and when used by individuals according to individual priorities, and not social vision, will bring us to where we are now.

The answer that keeps presenting itself to me is to revisit and learn from the great spiritual traditions that guide us in how to relate to one another, to creation, to our creator. What is needed is literally a counter-cultural response to our great dilemmas. A counter-cultural response might emerge from any of the great traditions that predate our love affair with our technological development in the industrial age; those traditions have a memory of a life before the creative explosion that has paradoxically led us to the crisis of our time that is being met in certain circles with the grandiose ideas of geoengineering. Those traditions are the only things that frame life as inherently hard, and that instruct people in possible ways to move gracefully nonetheless. Our love affair with technology has much to do with our aversion to difficulty. I guess one thing that bothers me about the geoengineering ideas is that they presume an inability to change the fundamentals. They don't require the soul work to change the underlying problem. We might embark on a project like that with the unbridled expectation of economic growth, even though that has been the leading cause of our greatest problems.

The soul work of relinquishment, humility, love for others is all hard work but I feel it is the work that will draw us back from our dangerous place. Tapping into that consciousness will be the liberation we need from the thought structures that have brought us here, a place of neurosis, unable to cope properly with the technological genie we have loosed on the world. We're really quite miserable this way. Isn't it time for something else?

Monday
Jul052010

Biblical Literacy

The following is a message to the Mission Hills UCC young adults group which I somewhat unwittingly took the reins of early last summer. Starting at about the same time, I was elected to the Christian Education commission at church and when asked what my interest was, I answered "biblical literacy." The young adults group is something I lay out some vision for, but don't particularly steer; it is primarily through emails like this one below that I offer some idea of what we might work towards. (And then, who knows what happens when we really meet up in person a couple times a month.) This one tried to speak to a growing readiness to do some bible study, but in a way that doesn't put the answer before the question.

I'd like for us to answer a call that has come from a few of our number to address some type of bible study effort. Before we start naming any particular books or themes to work on, I was thinking we need to take a bit of time orienting ourselves to what the Bible itself is, how we feel about it (love it, reverence it, misunderstand it, fear it, shrug it off). This is important stuff for Protestants, since it is a foundational belief that the Bible ("sola scriptura") coupled with individual conscience—and not church authority and dogmatic pronouncement—is the key to salvation. There are too many ways to draw great things out of the book. Some can read it to extract literature, others to glimpse a dose of history or age-old wisdom, but our interest of course, as Christians, is to let it lead us to transformed lives aligned with God. As a more liberal bunch who believes God is still speaking, we can read it however we like, letting it touch us at whatever level we are ready to be touched at.

There is a wide open space between the conservative and liberal poles of the bible study debate: ours should be a task to walk through the middle and not be drawn in by the absolutism and literalism of the conservative position nor should we fancy it rendered quaint and old fashioned by modern standards, a handy guidebook at best, but essentially a footnote from the pre-scientific age that has nothing much to offer a generally liberal culture. The fact is, we can take the old text to task and ask it to reveal itself to us in our time and place. And we should. Read in the right frame of mind, and given the right tools to help, I assure you the power it has to shock members of both polar sets. It is primarily about human nature and struggle. So far it has not expired in that regard. When one reads it, one should begin to feel smaller yet paradoxically empowered by the realization that none of what we experience now is new; already by the time of its writing, the biblical text was struggling with age-old dilemmas. Jesus and his approach to life was the big answer to the big questions for them and for us.

In a practical way, we owe it to ourselves to know this stuff just so we can know when other people are using it dangerously. And there is plenty of that going on now. It is our text, our revelation of God as much as it is theirs, so it is incumbent upon us to step up and claim it as unabashedly as they, and hopefully put it to better use. Wallowing in ignorance of it won't help. Our aim should be to read what they brush aside and hopefully wrap new meaning around the stuff that has served their position too well for too long. This is not left-right dichotomous thinking here; just a way of clarifying that this text obviously can be put to good use or ill. It belongs to neither side and yet both sides at once. This is where one brings in personal conscience. The Protestant reformation (our UCC predecessors going pretty far back in that history) was powered by the belief that individuals ought to have their own relationship with the text in their own language, to liberate souls one at a time. (Depending on your starting point, you can be liberated from a conservative position or a liberal position!) To ignore the text is to dangerously flirt with reversing that revolutionary ideal by neglect. Hence, my interest in promoting biblical literacy among you and others I meet.

There are plenty of people at church, and even in our midst [a couple pastors/chaplains in the making], who can teach the stuff, but it would make for good conversation now to see how we feel about it. What sort of histories do we have in relation to the Good Book? What do you think is in there that you need to uncover? What are you sick of already? How much of it is true? What is true about it? Why is it so complicated? Why does it exist at all? Why do we need it now? Why not chew on those things a bit before we meet again, and in the coming seasons, and maybe we can establish some direction. Even if the actual study doesn't happen within our bunch, then at least we can be clearer in appealing to [our church CE staff] as to what needs to be taught. For now, let's allow some of these questions to shape part of our time together.

Tuesday
Mar092010

Stuck In The Middle

Idiocy on the RightI was driving today in the Ocean Beach community of San Diego. OB, as it is called, is usually the bastion of the countercultural scene here where you can find the best specimens of surfers, hippies and Deadheads, homeless, musicians, treehuggers and potheads and others that this town can offer. I've always found it to be pretty left leaning in general. I'm sure it is more than that, but here is one illustration that idiocy can be found at both extremes. These stickers were about a half mile apart on the same street.

It looks like these drivers shop at the same place—viva the marketplace, eh? (Both stickers or something damn close are available.)

Righty Idiocy for Sale!

Lefty Idiocy for Sale!

Idiocy on the LeftIf you don't get it at first sight, this sticker is taking a swipe at Christianity. The date sort of represents the generally accepted date of Jesus' death (usually it is given as 33 CE), or by some understandings, the start of his public ministry work. (Some interpretation of the synoptic gospels says it was just one year or so; John hints at a three year period which is more commonly accepted, IME.) I'm not sure the point is well made because I would venture a guess there was some intolerance before that date, no? I do get the point of this sticker, but it paints with too broad a brush.

A person with a sticker such as the one above probably didn't study the way Jesus routinely avoided extremes, always walking down the middle somehow, itself a statement against the polarities of opinion and practices of his day. I've been finding this path more preferable in the last couple years. As much as I was glad of the presidential election results in 2008, I said a year or two before that this would be dangerous, not because of who Barack Obama is, but because of the power of the office. Or even the lack of power. The dizzying results of a widespread Democratic win that year meant only one thing: it's dangerous up here and now the Democrats are the targets more than ever. We don't need the pendulum to keep swinging so wildly.

I think both parties are full of it and have nothing to offer us anymore because neither of them have a worldview that is in touch with reality. Both have sold us out to big money and haven't heeded the ecological signs of the times, which will wreak havoc with our economy and society. In the Old Testament, the story of Solomon hearing the case of the two women arguing over a baby at least ends in the real mother yielding to the pretender so that the baby can be spared from being cut in two to appease both women. The real mother loves her baby too much to let that happen, even if it has to concede to the other woman. Is anything like that happening in our political parties now? Does the real lover and protector of the American people really want to admit what is right and drop the argument? Right now, the ecological crisis before us (coupled with peak oil, etc.) is Solomon offering to tear us—the baby—asunder, and neither party can forsake the ego to let go and do the right thing.

Both parties are locked in their limited consciousness and can't claw out of it. I think Obama is a man of a lot of character but the seat of power he occupies demands so much compromise. The Democrats saw him—paradoxically since the party typically has a rocky history with the religious communities—almost as a messiah, the victorious leader who would send all opponents packing. I never believed it but I though him a better figure than Bush by a long shot. All this validates the biblical worldview that no human ruler will ever be "all that," and that one should place trust in God alone, with Jesus as the model for walking in between the opposing forces, the polar opposites. That is where I am being drawn, or maybe driven toward, as I watch things disintegrate in the republic here. Or like the Stealer's Wheel song goes,

Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right!
Here I am—
Stuck in the middle with you!
Monday
Jun082009

Exile And Return

Exile and return is a major theme in the Bible, and therefore in the lives of Jews and Christians. There is of course the Exile ("big E") of being carried off to Babylon for a couple generations, watching Jerusalem being laid waste and the agony of not knowing how or even if it would be possible to worship Yahweh while displaced from his favored city on earth. But more broadly speaking, the Bible as a whole tells of exile and return, starting with Genesis and being sent from Eden—the primeval state of undivided wholeness—into the world where division is a central fact of life. It seems we thought we knew better than our creator. From wholeness to being fragmented, we are exiled and through the bible, God does all sorts of tricks to get us back into one piece. None of them work too well or has much promise until a genius moment of presenting Jesus to the world, a figure who subverts all our typical understandings of what is required to live a faithful life. By the end of the bible story, the early believers and writers concluded that Jesus was the cure for this division in our lives. He was, for them, the end of spiritual exile. If we haven't forgotten it, even today he is the end of our spiritual exiles, as individuals (ah, I hate to say it: your "personal lord and savior") and also as all of humanity (through his commandment to love one's neighbor like oneself), offering the example of what we need to function as the community God envisions for us—the Kingdom of God.

My recent experience of joining a church by conscious decision has raised some questions for me. It is the first time I joined a church by intent, and not just by being confirmed into my existing congregation—an experience which does not seem to register clearly with me as a definitive moment in my life. Part of the reason for joining my new congregation has been that unlike the old one, there is a structure in place for actually doing some spiritual discernment and development work in a group setting, among many other ways to live a satisfying community life. My experience initially was a bit timid, but I was interested in being open with people. I actually didn't have plans to join as a member; that sort of grew on me over the last nine months or so. Suffice to say, having a setting in which to explore themes of how I experience the divine moving in my life has been an agent that helped me feel that this congregation was right for me.

If I do get any revelations from God, then they surely come in the "still small voice" variety such as Elijah experienced in Kings. I have to admit to being sort of dense in that regard. But revelations aren't always presentations of things not yet known; often it just takes a new insight to put together the pieces of many things already well known. Some write this off as coincidence. I have to wonder how it all works. But I am gaining in trust that it does, and that it happens for reasons we learn only on reflection.

So what compelled me to dig out a box of my journals and letters from the summer and first year after graduating high school (1991-92)? Especially since all that sort of stuff (filed neatly in annual collections in a series of boxes) now is garage filler, and no longer within reach in my closet like it tended to be for years before I began to move house every few months. For a long time, I did too much of this digging and I forgot to live in the moment, by hanging onto a detailed memory of all sorts of stuff that perhaps expired in usefulness before it was even written down! Having not had that opportunity in most of the Kelli years (since 2002), now it seems safer to periodically have a look. I draw some interesting revelations from this material.

This week I revisited the 1991-92 box featuring absurd amounts of pining for Shelby Duncan, a certain girl who never reciprocated my feelings (and with whom I kept that that dance going for another eight years or so—don't ask); stories about my early outside drumming under bridges and at other places because my home neighbors hated the noise; the news of an ever-growing drumset, with a few drawings indicating the changes; a few other minor tales of girls who never ended up being more than a fantasy or peck on the cheek; a considerable cache of letters from my first girlfriend Melissa; subversive correspondence from my stepmom who exited the family in 1983 but who wrote to me on the sly for some years before our early 1992 reunion; my early experiences and embarrassing writings at Mesa college...

But even more ink was given to how ridiculously bored I was, and how busy I was at work at Subway, and how I was often desperately lonely—enough to make a social life by going to work on my off hours!

The time I am speaking of is now approximately smack dab in the middle of my life. I graduated at 17 and started Subway and classes at Mesa a few months later, and turned 18 shortly after that. Now I am twice that age, nearly 36. One thing that I have always been aware of is how I spent roughly the last two years of high school as a pretty regular and committed churchgoing guy. I did a lot of things there. In fact, I did everything I could do there. It was my community. I wasn't really so connected to my peers; I was always more into adult conversations and concerns. (I went to study Martin Buber at an evening meeting when I was 16.) It was a good time on the whole. That is, until years later when I began to see them too as a family riddled with their own dysfunctions. Anyhow, let me not spoil what was perhaps a lifesaver on a number of occasions. At that time, ignorance was bliss. I felt cared for there, and put a lot of time into it for a while.

When I got the job at Subway, I was put on the closing shift, a shift that got me out of work at nearly one in the morning. I worked alone past 10 pm. My school schedule could accommodate that; class started at noon. But church started for me at 9 am, so for at least the first two months or so while the newly opened store got its bearings, it was closing at midnight. Eventually it changed to 11 pm and provided a partner, and things went better. But by then I had already made the critical decision: something in my schedule had to give, and the choice I made was one of economic benefit over community. I basically sent myself into exile from my community, for want of the sort of independence that having a first job seems to offer.

The journals for those eight months of Subway—and several months that followed—reflect an honest attempt to play by the rules and do a good job. If ever I played the part of the company man, this was it. I was the more senior of the closers after just two months. I really didn't know how to handle the task of delegating responsibility, even though I knew all the jobs well enough. I really put myself into it. Eventually, I took a day shift and got a bit closer to my boss, a delightfully sarcastic and funny guy named Chuck. I was third place after him and the manager Steve. In some ways, Chuck began to like me more than Steve and his complacency. But Chuck had plans to offload the store only about eight months after he opened it. I was apprehensive whether my hard work would amount to anything since new owners meant that I'd probably be reduced in rank or let go. Long story short, it didn't do me any good at all. In fact, it was really just rejected by the new owners, and sent me into a whole mess of drama that terminated in a court restraining order against me! Anyhow, I had internalized the values of the marketplace, and was living that story.

Meanwhile, I was desperately disconnected when away from work. I had Matt Zuniga as a new "friend" but he was way too weird for me. But we shared my drums when we went and did our outside noisemaking and from that effort to kill time came all my interest in recording music and making tapes and later CD's. My best friend from high school, Stephan, was an exchange student who had since gone back to Germany. I had gone to Europe that summer of 1991, and toiled mightily at Subway solely to pay for another trip to Steve's house in 1992, to more properly close up our in-person friendship before who knows what would take over as "real life." Matt, by comparison, was no one. (Of course I feel differently now, but he was quite a character then, unlike any I had known.)

Oh, what misery it all consisted of.

In my journals I noticed scarcely a mention of church. That's because I essentially dropped out as much as I had been in for a couple years. I don't suppose it actually had to be that way. I just had no sense of balance. After Subway began closing earlier in the evening, I guess there was no actual reason for not being able to go to church on Sunday mornings, or to do other activities. But for whatever reason, I stayed away, somehow feeling that this new world of work and school was more important. But wow! All the journals were quite miserable. Maybe it would have been better to stick around at church, to retain that community life. What I didn't know then was that my time off would last for about ten years, until I was 28. This Subway experience was just the beginning of a long dark period.

Fast forward to 2005 when I was developing enough of a sense of self to take a stand when employers threw me shifts that would intrude upon my life. Essentially, my firing from AV Concepts was based on my sticking to my guns for my own good. (They didn't seem to mind the request for Sunday off, but they chafed at my retention of my weeknights off so I could go to therapy to get my life in order after that disastrous summer.) That was one step in redeeming my 1991 decision to wander from church. And, early last year when I got my current job, I was in a dreadful way when it looked like I'd have no control over the hours I work because it seemed that they could get me just about any time from 4 am till 8 pm, seven days a week except for three Sundays I negotiated to have off each month. I did the math of the total hours they could draw from in a month and just about went into shock at how much of my life could be tapped for commercial work. This was quite upsetting since in 2006 after AVC, I was quite into learning about sabbath economics, and one central idea is that work should have limitations put around it so it doesn't take a person over. And that is just what it seemed might happen. Over several months, I played company man enough to negotiate a fixed schedule that has at least fluctuated within reason, and not by shocking daily jumps of five hours forward or back. I've been able to have Sundays off since September, and it has been good.

Good because I have the feeling of returning now that there is a niche of time carved for this purpose. Strictly speaking it is not a return to my old church life because that is history to me now. The return to feeling part of a community is running strong in me now. Having the time to take part helps, but having the will to do so is more satisfying. I mean, at any point in the dark years of exile, I could have chosen to drop by at church at least sometimes. I didn't. Somehow, I am taking back the decision to let the Market inform my value system. In 1991, it was an innocent and curious youthful enough move to see what another world is like. I didn't realize my age would nearly double before I found it in me to take my place in the body of Christ, with the conviction that that was a better choice to make. Some people, I suppose, never come back. And I suppose some don't get as far away as I feel I did.

I don't suppose people think that having a "real" job is an experience of exile. Much of the time it is deemed the only socially responsible thing to do, and the wise person makes all the time for what work requires. But consider the compromises that often accompany commercial work. And consider how things are torn asunder now in the "job market." The facade of the Market-as-deity is crumbling now. Maybe the crumbling of that—expressed by increasing layoffs in most sectors—will call people out of exile. Maybe it will call them out or even force them out of the individualistic pursuits of material gain over whatever community or family life they had to leave behind to accomplish that. What, but for the collapse of an economic system that is constructed on division of labor and division of relations, could be better? It sort of strikes dead the notion of "what's good for the corporation is good for America." Little by little, news reports and other anecdotes are indicating a shift away from the predominant story of the Market-god (upheld as it were by our sacrifices to it, in the form of our working hours and consumption that follows—giving back in money what we did not give in labor), and toward the types of community solidarity and togetherness that has been brushed aside, but that is the only thing that will save us and bring us back home from exile.

The urban life is a disconnected life based on consumption more than generation, a proposition which is inherently unsustainable. Our dilemma is a new one mainly because of our flight from the land to the city. It is no surprise we find so much alienation if we are fundamentally detached from the basis for our lives. The urban existence is literally an uprooting from the soil, from the ground people have traditionally been tied to, and where—for generations at a stretch—networks of relations have been constructed out of necessity. Some might argue that we have to embrace the new reality of urbanization and get on with it. But that is the way of death. We don't have that luxury. Just because we have a brave new world doesn't mean it's not foolish new world. No less a figure than Jesus spoke about the deadly trends in this type of lifestyle: his good news, his gospel, was that there is a life of vibrancy for those who reject such things as the world has created. I don't say this to be a Luddite-traditionalist, but the path of higher technology and more urbanization is the way of death so far, and we don't have time to mess it up anymore. You might think of it as "old is the new new." The ancient wisdom had it as right as we need it to be today. There seems to be a reawakening to this, and manifestations of it are turning up in various community efforts—in small scale agriculture, church community, arts, even online where things like Wikipedia restore the notion of the commons, where the world is seen as a place to be shared because of our common lot. It is a rejection of much of the centralized power and top-down order imposed by political and corporate structures of our time. People may think our present world situation is better off religion-free, but as I think theologian John Cobb would say, this is a profoundly religious matter. What we need is to get rid of the bad religion and bad myths that will destroy us if we live by them. Maybe what we need is the "religionless Christianity" that Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke of.

The story of exile from Eden is a story of being separated from that which gives eternal (wholeness of) life, and it seems that it tells a story that narrates the move from decentralized roaming peoples who had what they needed for the taking from the common pot, into the world of cities and their inherent structure based on hierarchy, classification and division, not to mention scarcity from the not-natural notion of private ownership. Sure, for a while we've dabbled in our human knowledge and our economic orgies that glorify individual pursuits, but all that has been exile for us. Notice if you will that that system isn't doing too well now! The story of Jesus, by contrast, is the story of reinstatement to our whole humanity; by again living the life undivided from God and the divine plenty. Jesus didn't speak in terms of the modern corporate world, or of Adam Smith's economic theories. He spoke to us in terms of nature and its indiscriminate providence. No wonder we can't find our way. We've declared war on nature, and by doing so, we've declared war on ourselves. So a return from exile is needed. Repentance. Metanoia.

I've seen my little part in it in my microcosmic version of that struggle, and have decided to turn toward what promises the life I left behind for a decade and more. I feel like I got part of myself back when I got happened into community again—even though it is really not the same bunch as before. We are, after all, relational beings who gain our identity from our relations to others. Little surprise then that for a decade there, I really didn't know who in the world I was because I was cut out of so many life-giving connections. The last few weeks have had a remarkable feeling that I am coming home.

Thursday
Sep042008

Halcyon Days & Suburban Hero's Journey

I don't refer to myself as a "born again" Christian because that term has been appropriated by a sector of Christianity that I don't very much agree with. The basis for the term is based on the Gospel of John in chapter 3 when Jesus says that a person must be reborn in order to experience and enjoy God's realm. Conservative interpretation refers to this rebirth as being "born again" (NIV), but others (NRSV and the Scholar's Version, both of which I favor) says one must be "born from above" in the sense of a spiritual rebirth. Hence, the confusion within the text which has Jesus and Nicodemus talking past each other, as one talks of spiritual rebirth and the other tries to figure out how a man can be born again physically. Indeed it does seem preposterous that one could be physically reborn, but it makes lots of sense how a person can be spiritually reborn, to discover new avenues to God and the mysteries of life. Better still, it makes better sense to see that sort of experience not as a one-shot deal. Indeed, I have come to believe the great thing about Christianity is that one can continually die to the self and be reborn again and again. I think this makes far better sense, as it is a method or an evolution, not an event.

There is not one time when I ever "knew" that such a transformation was clearly upon me. For years, I wanted nothing to do with religion, though it intrigued me, more in an anthropological way than anything. I didn't set foot in a church for ten years except on Christmas Eve and a few other times (my grandmother's memorial, etc.). My stepmom had long since turned to a brand of literalist-evangelicalism which was practiced in earnest, but was too small for me, and never really spoke to things I was experiencing. Still, it did remind me of the Christian promise that God loves every one of us, and that that love is there when you decide to accept and fall into it. Many years during that dark decade had conversations that inevitably meandered toward that type of talk, and of course, I wouldn't have it when I knew that my problems were too big for all that. It was a dark decade indeed, but she kept the candle in the window for me, so to speak. What prompted me to rejoin church life after that time was a great need to wrap the agonizing events of the period which preceded my return in some sort of context wider than the one I knew. Life got way bigger than I was able to handle. Back in 1999-2001 in particular, I was often plagued with suicidal thoughts which themselves were the low points in a great malaise that had gone on for years. And then there was 9/11, an event which seems to have marked any human being who has encountered it.

I got a respite from that malaise in 2002, in part because that is the first year when Kelli and I were together, but moreso because I basically went into overload and protective shutdown in the second half of 2001, and used consumerism as a drug to wish away the deaths of grandmothers, the agony of charges of never-before-discussed molestation in the family, the newfound wonders and pitfalls of computer use, the musical stagnation, unemployment, and new living situation with roommates thrust upon me by my old man who improperly inherited the house I was in—all of which defined that period. Much of 2002 was conducted in that numbed state. I spent 12-18 hours a day on the computer making havoc if left to my devices. I all but abandoned recording in a turn of events that would have been unthinkable a couple years earlier. I did manage to make some music, but most of that was agonizing too because of the personalities involved in group effort, or because of my ambivalence about the enormous sums of money I spent on tools that would never make better music than I would make if I actually had it in me. One huge irony wouldn’t let me sleep: I originally got swept up in all my computer interests in order to support my musical pursuits, not to bury them!

photo illustration of female biological symbol functioning as cross with crucified jesus-as-ed. the circle part of the symbol holds an upside down earth. the rest of the imagery is psychedelic in its coloringEd's World, 2003The year of 2003 was all that and more stress too. By the mid summer, I had closed my studio up in an attempt to determine if I was really done with music. I had come to loathe all I once loved in music and the gear used to play and record it. The situation with the house got very much worse as my old man did his illegal and tasteless work while treating me like a 12 year old meddling in his affairs. I had destructive roommates and little control over my living space because the "landlord" himself was destructive to that same space, albeit in a greater way. That summer, I once had some really harsh stuff said to me by an ex-girlfriend, a sister, and even my stepmom, with the collective force of it all crushing me while so many other things had already brought me down. During the hot and humid summer of 2003, I got over my years-long avoidance of movies and went straight for the movies that I thought would rattle me some—a couple on nuclear war, The Deer Hunter, Saving Private Ryan, Apocalypse Now, and some others that were just intense.

One film that began a recognizable shift in me was The Last Temptation of Christ. In 1989, I once was offered a chance to see it with my youth group but my family refused to sign the consent form in some misguided attempt to shelter me. (My family was pretty conservative, while the church was at that time quite liberal, something which gave my grandmother grief.) Anyhow, I finally got from LTOC a sense of a Jesus to whom I could relate. I remember feeling like I had lost a great deal by not having seen that movie years before. LTOC was one part of my method to jackhammer my way out of the shell where I found myself that summer of my 29th year. Even while it takes liberties with the story of Jesus, I found in it the Jesus who finally made sense to me—a human filled with uncertainty and longing to offload his accumulated burden of fears, sins and failings, wishing God would just not love him so much if it was going to hurt like this. Most of what I had heard about Jesus either did not make sense or was hokey, but I understood this Jesus. He was even my age!

I suppose the nearly 2000 years between he and I have changed the outward appearance of the path toward God but the mythical journey remains intact. Yeah, I didn't go to the desert to face my demons. But on this day in 2003, I took a big first step into my own spiritual wilderness. After work, I stopped off at Sav-On to get some sleeping pills so I could take a long nap. I wasn't into guns or knives or anything. That, I thought would be a little too crude, and knowing what a failure I was, I didn’t want to mess that up and have to deal with it later! A couple years before, I was entertaining stopping a car along Morena Boulevard, as I took a four mile walk from near Sea World to my house. But on this particular day, I was just going for a nap. Since I hadn't done any of this before, I got the biggest bottle of sleeping pills I could find, hoping it would do if I put the whole thing down in short order. I had the contents arrayed on my desk and was in a shattered state as I contemplated my next move. Kelli was bound to come by after work—in several hours, since this was maybe about 2 or 3 pm. She knew something was up with me. All the summer long, she was my confidante and more than a few times I was a total wreck before her. The hours between the end of my work shift and hers were achingly long. I had the words of my pastor in mind that day, words that intervened in this kind of thinking back in late 1992 when I was 18 and was having my first fanciful thoughts of what it might be like if I were to check out of this life.

I guess I chickened out. I called Jerry and sought his help to drive me to the hospital initially. He came over right away just like always said he would if any of us were ever in this place in our lives. I went to the ER not because I had actually done something, but because I was in need of intervention. Maybe the hospital was overkill but it seemed right as a first step. I guess they can't do much for a guy who has existentially rooted clinical depression—where do they put the band-aid? So they passed me off to a county mental health system crisis center called Isis House, and later to a slightly more convenient house in the same system called Halcyon. My pastor stayed with me at the hospital for the three hours till they decided what should be done with me. Kelli arrived too. But I was sent solo to Isis, riding in a chartered taxi which was only allowed to let me off at Isis in Imperial Beach. On the ride there, in a move quite uncharacteristic of my usual self, I remember muttering the Lord's Prayer over and over. I guess nothing else would have done better. Nothing else came to mind. I don't know what it achieved, but I guess it indicated that I really had to start turning to something outside myself. As much as ever, I had to admit I was at the bottom of things.

The first evening at Isis was long with paperwork and entrance interviews. They gave me an upstairs room to myself that night. I slept like I hadn't in a long time due to the Trazidone they gave me which made me sleep like a baby all the way through the night. I awoke to the beautiful sun beaming into my east-facing room. It was all very surreal there and I guess on reflection that was the beginning of being born again into a new world. I had an endless loop of Radiohead's song Kid A playing in my head. It always sounded like a trip through the loony bin, and I sort of had to admit that I was there myself. The people were mostly younger than me, with various diagnoses of mental illness. I didn't feel that I was mentally ill; I felt like the world sucked and my life was chaotic and hopeless. I never heard voices or any of that. I just wanted out of a fucked up world. Fix the world, I thought, not me. (I still feel that way but now I act a bit differently.) The time at Isis was short, lasting just over a day. Kelli negotiated a transfer to Halcyon in El Cajon which was slightly more reasonable and close for her, since she was the only person who came daily for the 11 days I was gone. The day I spent at Isis was bright and sunny and had a splendid breeze from the ocean, but the whole experience was surreal as I talked to people who were far more messed up than me. There were two meetings with therapists and a group encounter type thing. In an effort to evoke a bit of normality—and echoing a splendid picnic meal we had a few weeks before—Kelli came and brought me a tasty turkey, bacon, and avocado sandwich from Henry's, and to this day, that gesture still stands as one of the great things she did to care for me. (The food at these houses was white trash picnic food, I swear.) It also got her brownie points toward getting married!

I moved over to Halcyon on the Saturday morning after this all started. I liked Halcyon much better. My fellow campers seemed a lot more normal, but I also rather hit a stride with one of the resident therapists named Billy B, who was probably younger than me but a genius about how to pull out some magnificently inspiring quote from religion, science, philosophy, and whatever else was applicable. He was also a guitarist. I think he heard me best while there. Halcyon and Isis were short term crisis houses, and the idea was to get people back into the game, ready to get back to family and work or school. A certain share of time was dedicated to one-on-one therapist visits, community therapy discussions and exercises (even a drum circle which I met with ambivalence due to having recently sworn off music), planning for how to return to life, and a rotating kitchen and cooking duty which functioned as a team exercise and demanded resourcefulness. The rest of the time was mostly time to mingle and reflect or have visitors. It was rather regimented. We had to make our beds and clean up. It was for me a direct injection of order into my chaotic life, and that I now recognize as one of the first orders of business in God's creation of the universe: get this place into order! I still look back on a few things that I learned help keep depression at bay, and most of it revolves around just tidying up some—the small stuff I do have control over. Another valuable thing to learn was not to isolate, and the days were structured as to not really leave time for that.

Some good support was forthcoming. Three different multi-instrumentalist friends named Doug all knew about this and called while I was there. My sister (who was nice to me then) called and talked to Kelli too. But by far, Kelli was the star of the show when it came to support. Kelli visited every day but once, even though it was rather far. I guess I scared the hell out of her with all this but she was loyal through it all. This was before she elected to go into ministry—a profession which too often witnesses this sort of drama and has to find a way to put meaning to it. Our pastor of many years came out a few times, and if there were things I hadn't told him before, this was when I finally did, and in some cases, it revealed a cesspool of guilt and fear and other emotional poison that had yet to find daylight. (These days, I understand those bits of release as the small dyings of an old self that lead to new life, unburdened by their weight. They were some of the baby steps that I had within my control, ego willing.)

One of the most valuable single things to emerge from this experience was the learning of a new language which helped clarify a fundamental difference between how I saw the world and how my old man saw it, and how we clashed. Somehow, despite not being specifically notified of my whereabouts, but knowing the outline of what was happening that week, he managed to find out where I was, and you can imagine I was not having it since he was a significant irritant in my oyster then. He found the place on his own—I saw him drive past as I was sitting on the front porch, and I just about flipped out, dashed inside and notified the staff that he had no business there, and that "I'm not here." He came in and saw me in the back area and demanded access. I relented only under the condition that either or both Kelli or our pastor was there. I don't remember if that all came together that day or a subsequent day, but eventually it did turn out to be a five way meeting with all of them and me and Billy the therapist. (Usually the facility didn't do such encounters, so I am thankful for their exception.)

My pastor was about the only person who could get my old man to listen. Being the same age, there was a bit of peer respect. But with respect to my old man who is not being a person interested in religion or psychology, it was a miracle for him to be there at all. Sitting in the same room with Billy and my pastor, he was a fish out of water. They were intellectual giants compared to him, but moreover, they were there to take my issue seriously and to extend a helping hand. The most important thing to be said that day was from my pastor who stared him right in the eyes and declared that something real was going on here in my life and that my old man would have to pay attention and take it seriously. That day, I came to understand how my old man was materialistic, only accepting the world if it could be empirically weighed and measured somehow. Emotional conflict such as I knew flew under his radar, but it was time to pay attention or else. I wasn't really let to speak much, but it was for the better, because all I was fit to say then would be destructive. This hour was to open my old man's eyes, if such a thing were possible. Later on, he and my pastor talked outside for some time. I began to have a tempered hope that maybe something would change, since perhaps there was only one person who could address both of us in a way that might communicate honestly and forcefully without triggering defenses. Sometime during the course of the ten days at Halcyon, me and the old man sat out and talked for a while, seemingly releasing a lot of pressure, and offering a bit more hope.

kelli wrapped around ed's shoulders from behind in sweet loving embrace. awww.Kelli and me, circa 2003I was set to go home on the 15th, 11 days after the darkest day. The psychiatrist who oversaw the program there prescribed me a year of CBT—Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. At the time, it seemed like an amazing amount of talk, but it made sense. I think he prescribed Prozac too, or something like it. The followup would be through the County of San Diego, which was the body responsible for Isis and Halcyon and other centers around the county. Kelli set about finding me a therapist for the long haul, at the same place I had gone a couple years before. (The entire experience at Isis and Halcyon cost me $37, a sum so paltry it defies logic, but for which I am immensely grateful.) My pastor drove me home on an overcast Monday morning (9/15). It evoked a time back in early September 1989 when I came out of a youth group retreat which left me feeling whole and good, only to douse that soaring optimism with the first day of school on the following Monday. So of course I was apprehensive; sure things could be better in the controlled settings of the crisis houses, but what awaits back in my normal setting, at my desk? Among roommates? Dealing with the landlord? The home I returned to had two new roommates since I left. One was a joy to talk to and live with for many months to come, but the other moved in half a house worth of stuff and eventually caused a lot of grief between Kelli and me, and she left soon after she got there. Returning home was an uneasy time, since the house was such a symbol of what was wrong with life. A week after I got back, all the imagined progress with my old man evaporated when he provoked me with more of the status quo—he'd carry on with his building modifications anyway, no matter what I thought. This made me angry as hell and I smashed an unmounted window frame on the concrete slab of his patio project. There never was an improvement in his understanding, not even to this day. The house and all the related dynamics of family and control continued to shatter what relationship we had, culminating in his evicting us and selling it a couple years later. That experience just strengthened my resolve to make things work with Kelli above all and to separate the notion of what home is, versus what a house is. I didn't get the house I wanted to live at, but I got the home I needed when I decided most specifically in 2005 to unambiguously embrace my future with Kelli.

My prescribed year of solo therapy turned into two and into three or more eventually, to say nothing of periodic visits to the county psychiatrist to evaluate progress. During my early months out of Halcyon it was rough going with Kelli since it didn't make a lot of sense to her and the house thing was still a big issue, even though she did not live there, the roommate who moved out soon after she got there was seen as a threat, and Kelli felt slighted by that, and frankly, I guess I didn't do a good enough job of mitigating that. So in addition to the solo sessions, we began couples sessions and that went on for some years. I might say that that was one of the best decisions ever, and perhaps was more constructive than solo work because it dealt with a fuller picture of things—one which I had no control over. The types of things that emerged from that were just what needed attention and just what got attention in an environment where things could be worked with constructively. It required vulnerability to work, and even with a fresher mindset, it takes a lot to let the defenses drop enough to do some good. Eventually, we got engaged and married six months after that—our wedding held only a week shy of one year after this whole experience at Halcyon. Something was working.

So what does all this have to do with being born again, or born from above, or any of that? For me, it is just proof that even the New Jerusalem wasn't built in a day. Far from being an experience of blinding light or a great revelation, or any of that other miraculous stuff, it is really all a process of dying or resigning a bit more each day so that each day might bring something new. For me, the basis of that has come in my domestic life with Kelli. It is the first place where a lot of things get tried out, and where confidence is born so that other things might be taken on and changed. Kelli has been great in her capacity to open my eyes to a vast reality out there that otherwise was beyond me. She is as splendid a wife as anyone could ask for, but she has a wealth of intellect and experience which has had a huge effect on me. In a lot of great ways, she has unpacked the sheltered me of yesteryear by introducing me to a great many things which I was denied or ignored. Her seminary schooling had a completely unexpected effect on me, as I found myself ready to investigate and drawn to many things in the fields she has been studying. Combined with experience of some still topsy turvy years since Halcyon, it has been a great learning experience.

Joseph Campbell and his synthesis of religion, mythology and philosophy proved fascinating. He was the first who impressed upon me the idea of what the death and resurrection really meant in a mythical sense. I think from him I came to understand it not as some supernatural phenomenon, but as a natural growth occurrence in a life lived honestly before oneself. And it was this that Jesus wanted us to know was ours for the taking: you can die and be reborn if you let go of the old and welcome the new. The cross to bear is all the weight of life thus far, and it is only ever ours to carry, but if you live in honesty and take it on willingly, all the shortcomings (aka sins) matter not if you own them. The denial is what adds up and makes the heavy cross heavier. I suppose maybe some people are prepared to completely prostrate themselves and get it all out in one gesture, but I think many must work this way, moving more slowly and thoroughly to release oneself from bondage. One attributes it to God, but really, the business is done when one admits to oneself all the flaws and failings in kind with all the good that is within—that we are made of opposites and complementary aspects held in tension and that is the only way it could ever be, since humanity is not divinity. That isn't to say we are fallen; just that we can't be divine because that is God's domain, not ours. But such is our lot in life, so Jesus led the way to show how these opposing forces could coexist and motivate us past our selfish egos and on toward healing the world one relationship at a time. As Campbell reminds us, the Genesis story about eating of the Tree of Knowledge is about discovering duality: opposites that define our adult lives. The very things that make life complex, once we are forced to make a moral decision. The innocence lost is the simple wholeness we know before we must take that fork in the road. And the rest of life is spent trying to regain the wholeness somehow, often by stumbling, but also by grace. I think it takes both. As the last five years shows, I've had both.

Carl Jung said, "the task of a life is not to be good but to be real." He spoke of the shadow self, the dark side of one's personality that one must own in order to be whole. It is another way of looking at the things discussed above. All that has an important a role to play in development, and often in couples therapy, it was put before me, not to hurt (though it often did), but to enlighten. You can't be real if you don't face this undesirable aspect of your being, and accept it as part of the whole that is you. Many clamor to avoid this part of their being, and mask the gaping holes in their being with addictions of various sorts, abuse of power, scapegoating, etc. Carrying the cross of one's own devising is admission that even the dark areas of our being are valid and real. Fighting all this takes a lot of energy that just drains one from more productive pursuits. Fighting this also lays the groundwork for the various personality deficiencies that underpin some of the worst behavior in human history. Disowning this shadow side allows us to project it onto others where we can hate them and destroy them from afar, when what is really happening is we are hating and disowning ourselves but drawing so many others into the drama.

From my vantage point, I am at a point where I've learned some of the intellectual parts of this stuff, more like the vocabulary for being able to recognize this wisdom in many more places than I once could. And some of it I know experientially, but didn't have the means to identify it as such. I fancy the last five years as either one long passage on this born again journey, or an ever-unfolding series of rebirths as these nuggets present themselves to me in all the various ways they appear: conversations, movies and books, music, church relationships and worship, observing my dog and other "simple" things, and even in dentistry! It is hard to remember who I was in 2003 and before. I can remember a lot of actions and events, but sometimes, I am baffled at the logic behind my actions. While there never was a definitive hinge point where there was a distinctly old me and a new me, the time at Halcyon was perhaps the biggest single catalyst to move things in a new direction. While in the moment, it would seem to be a great weakness to fall that far, but time bends that idea into the realization that it might have been the greatest thing that happened, for that week or two took the spilled and scattered jigsaw pieces of my soul and put a few pieces into the right places where I could see there was a picture after all.

Sunday
Dec022007

To My Loyal Audience

Apologies to those who of my biggest, RSS-subscribing fans have been bored with the poetry as of late. I've just been bored with the endless prose format that has primarily defined my writing approach for years. And there have been some personal developments which even I deem a bit too private, though they may eventually work themselves into writings to come.

I redesigned a home page (only) for James Howard Kunstler. Kunstler's book, The Geography of Nowhere, was the thing that started my interests in social issues back in 1998. His blog in more recent years has been important in my understanding of what must happen in the age of peak oil and its decline. Along those lines, his book, The Long Emergency, unified a number of his ideas that evolved in his blogs. But he had a crappy web site for a long time. Finally, I wrote and told him so, and he asked me to help out getting the front page dialed in a bit more. I've been asked to make a promo site for his next book.

I've been reading a lot as of late. Lots of things revolving around Christianity, theology (in a wider sense), and history or politics. I continue to be a total addict to Wikipedia, which is just too cool for a guy like me who likes to meander. Stuff I've been reading in the last few months since getting liberated from the workplace:

  • The American Empire and the Commonwealth of God: A Political, Economic, and Religious Statement. David Ray Griffin, John Cobb, Jr., Richard Falk, Catherine Keller. The authors are primarily within the field of Process Theology, this takes a good look at the American rise to empire or "benevolent hegemony" or whatever nice euphemism describes our present place in the world. It comes down very hard on the US for using the power vacuum of the post-Soviet era to increase, not decrease, its commitment to militarism as a primary instrument of foreign policy. The book looks at the lie we have told ourselves in our national mythology—that we are innocently being drawn toward greatness as a superpower, but if any nation should be put in that position, it might as well be us, right? Maybe it isn't that after all. Maybe a more reasoned look shows the US has been imperial for a century and more, with certain roots back to the founding days.
  • The Return of the Prodigal Son. Henri Nouwen. Kelli got this at a book fair at her school. The price written inside the used copy was $0.75, and a damned well spent seventy five cents it was, too! This modest book of about 140 pages was just good food for the soul. Henri had to redefine his life and mission when he encountered the Rembrandt painting that depicts the homecoming and forgiveness of the wayward son, as told in the Gospel of Luke. He found that while it was most easy to identify with the wayward, reckless son, he was dared to consider himself as the jealous and dutiful son who remained at home and fulfilled all his roles, only to have his rage explode when his attentiveness was upstaged by his reckless brother's homecoming. Then, in the hardest leap for Nouwen, he found that it was his calling—and all our callings—to become the father who forgives, and celebrates the wholeness that comes from having everyone together again. The father is the ultimate spiritual destination for any of us—to reach that point where the ego is depleted from having been both sons—the reckless parts of our lives, the uptight, dutiful parts, the jealous and the angry parts—and to just accept things with compassion that arises from having "been there."
  • Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. Marcus Borg. This is another dollar well spent at the book fair. I'm just getting started on it, but enough of it is familiar from other reading of this sort. Borg is a member of the Jesus Seminar, the group that is trying to establish the actual historicity of Jesus as a human who walked the earth, and what he said or did not say. Despite being deconstructionist in such an approach, the question then is, what truth remains? He recalls a native American storyteller who began his stories with, 'I don't know if any of this actually happened, but its all true.' The point about Jesus then is not whether he said specifically this or that, or encountered this person or that, but that there is a truth beyond the details, the meaning behind the story that is still something that can speak to us now. Joseph Campbell spoke of unpacking the imagery of myth to get to the meaning beneath. Borg is working in a similar fashion. I endorse such readings of the Bible because then it has a chance to be relevant to me now. The Jesus of Sunday School can only matter for so long before he becomes a joke. But the Jesus-as-social prophet/mystic/teacher/dissident is fascinating. That Jesus I have a use for.
  • The Revelation of John. William Barclay. This is actually a part of a series on the New Testament, all from about 1960. I've decided not to hate the book of Revelation like some, and I've decided not to worship it like others seem to do. Revelation is a lot of things to different people. But it isn't what a lot of people think it is if you only know a bit about 666, and the various bits of bullshit that popular culture regurgitates in dreck like the Left Behind series. Only about a year and a half ago I wasn't convinced that the book had any good use, and it may as well be excised from the Bible. But actually it is a very hopeful book—if you understand the medium and the target of its criticism. It is really ironic that American fundamentalists are so ready to hold the book up and cite it because it is really a slam against Rome—the oppressive empire of the day. It is written from the underside of that tyranny, and seeks to assure the faithful that the worst human evils are still no match for God's power. One could imagine such a document being written in the present day by a group that feels under the boot of American imperial power—some folks in the middle east, maybe? It is a bit odd then that for Revelation to be truly understood and appreciated, you can't read it as a member of the dominant power structure, which America clearly is in a way that Rome could only dream of. So it is interesting that Americans make the biggest deal about Revelation, claiming that God's kingdom is right around the corner... I don't particularly like the Christ-as-conquerer imagery, but I do like the idea that maybe God can still best us when we deserve it. In that regard, thinking that there has to be some check on human arrogance and evil, I stand with John of Patmos. The thought that this is all there is...depresses me. Maybe there won't be a city descending from the clouds, but one has to hope this crooked, fucked up world isn't all we have to look forward to.
  • The Closing of the Western Mind. Charles Freeman. I've had this book for a couple years but finally got down to reading it and have finished about half of it. The sad irony in history is that Christianity, a noble religion in principle, was compromised from the beginning of the movement, and Paul of Tarsus' insults to the Greek philosophers didn't help. Greek thought had been refined for centuries before Paul, but he came by and demeaned it as kid's play compared to the need for faith in Christ. Paul then ushered in the closing of the western mind, and it was most solidified when the religion teamed up with empire, and what was ostensibly a nuisance and fringe player, became the religion of the empire, and even more than in its non-empire days, became quite intolerant of anything that ran contrary to its doctrine. Unfortunate, really. I think this book, while primarily a history book, is more of a cautionary book for our age. It might have taken the English Freeman to write this book, but Americans need it in a big way. Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to stick your head in the sand to be a Christian. You don't need to hate and fear science. Today's fundamentalism can surely lead us to a new dark age if it gets cozy with power.
Sunday
Apr012007

Roll Over, Gramps

ed and tara tearing up the grassy yard in prep for the gardenMe and Tara weeding and prepping the soil at the new gardenHah. A long time ago when my grandfather used to have me help him tend his tomatoes, he used to mock my avoidance of the dirt part of the work. In his Ohio farmboy-tinged speech, he used to remind me I'd have to get my hands dirty in that line of work. I guess he might be rolling over in his grave on Fort Rosecrans now because I just took the initiative to start a second garden project at home, but this time instead of being the helper boy on someone else's project, I was the one who went and fetched $90 worth of all the soil components (organic compost, chicken manure, and worm castings, based on the first project from last year at Calabrese West), and with the superb help of Kelli and Tara and Kalyn, a mother-daughter pair of friends from our church, we converted about 170 square feet of dingy, fallow soil into the basis of a nice organic garden. This took a lot of shoveling to break up the old soil (pleasantly easy to spank out with a shovel), which had been fallow for maybe six years or more, so we gambled on putting some enriching components into it and hoping for the best. There were weeds and Bermuda grass to shake out of the shoveled clumps. The dirt itself was a good base. We've been into composting for the last three years or so, at the various places we've lived, and this place is no different. So far we've never been able to really employ much of the compost in any gardening projects, but I have generally kept a bin that has done pretty well considering my novice level of expertise.

So we are thinking of planting tomatoes of one or two sorts (this year we will do it on time in the spring), beans, bell peppers, jalapeno, chiles, broccoli, and lettuce, and maybe a few other bits of herbs. Last year there was squash and cucumbers in abundance—and maybe over abundance—and two types of eggplant too, none of which was really my thing. But I did enjoy the beans and peppers a lot. The tomatoes at the old plot were apparently planted too late, and when they did come ripe it was getting too cold to carry that far. But that's because we planted in mid June. This year, it looks like we will get at least two months' head start and have more summer season, and would plant second round plants sometime later.

This project has come after about a year of reflecting on many of the world's problems, and has been one tangible way to practice something of the change I wish to see in the world. The past year too has been a time of my stepping away from electronics more and more, and embracing things that don't send me to fits of anger when things are out of my control. Gardening (or attempting to) can really do wonders for one's world view, I have come to find. Of course none of that was taught to me as a kid. To the younger me, it was a way to get my two dollars an hour so that I could go out and buy toys. (In the mid 80s, it might have been Voltron or The Transformers—sci fi fighting machines from a future age when war was still not abolished or abandoned or seen for the futile and wasteful consumption of resources and life that it is.) No, my grandfather, of Ohio farming stock, didn't really pass on much in the way of lessons on how to cherish life, though in retrospect maybe a bit more attention to growing his tomatoes would have probably filled that bill as much as anything. Can I blame the guy? His life and future was saved by the Navy during the depression years and San Diego and the growing military-industrial complex which turned my desert town into a paradise where he spent more than half his life. While he himself was not particularly a warrior, the military, vast leaps in technology, sustained post-war economic growth and the Republican party were his world. I guess he was happy to not have to do the Ohio farm thing, simply because other systems enabled him not to need to in his age.

ed and tara offloading the truckload of compostOne cubic yard of this compost stuff overflows my truck. Good to have help from Tara!From where I stand, it seems like a lot of that has potential for losing its glory or falling apart altogether. So the effort at gardening—or at least learning enough to be genuinely sympathetic to those who do—is but one part of my willingness to see the world very differently than he. I think his generation and mine are on two different sides of the same peak of technology's life cycle. For his generation, they were the witnesses to the growth of all that would change their lives for the better, at least as they saw it. Technology was something of a religion, it seemed, and that of course is still where we are at now. It is an imperialistic religion. But like all the imperialistic religions that impose their wills on the people who do not need nor want it, it will convulse or possibly die when all the nasty things are brought to light and recognized for what they are. I call this deeper understanding of the dark side of technology by a word of my own coining: "techgnosis". Many people don't have it, or they reject it because the "techno-messiah" is ever-changing and chameleon like and people always find some new techno messiah to anticipate. But the logic is flawed; each techno messiah has come to defeat the other techno messiahs that came before. All our problems are because of the failure of a long line of techno messiahs. Indeed, as Richard Heinberg has said (probably quoting Joseph Tainter), civilization grows ever in complexity, and the old problems of complex social and technological advances are solved with further complexity. But how far does that go? It would be hard to imagine living a life that is any more complex than what we have now, but I know the march will continue on until we use up resources, or suffer from pandemic diseases, or global climate disaster, or something. The point is, the march forward is a march backward because we will never get to the technological promised land while simultaneously growing our population past the point of carrying capacity, and trying to get the entire world to a "developed" state. There is more to life than technology.

I've been thinking that for a man, maybe the closest he could get to being God or a woman (not necessarily saying there has to be a difference!) might have to be in his ability to garden—the role of creator and sustainer enacted as much as possible for mortal men. Men are notorious for destroying things, sometimes just to do so. The men in my formative years had that tendency. They stopped short of hunting for fun, but on the whole, they took more than they gave, or participated in institutions that worked along similar lines. I find myself marveling at the intersection of my current interests in life-giving and sustaining systems—interestingly enough they are Christianity and gardening/permaculture. I guess I have to find the beauty in such things, else I'd be dead because of all I witness in the world, and having to admit that I am a product of a lot of things I loathe. I happen to have a wife who understands and supports all that too, and often leads the way, but we both reinforce each other's findings as we learn about how to be better humans and life forms in general. The people that we hang with more and more understand that critical intersection between the seemingly abstract notion of Christian life and the tangible world of permaculture. If we really are what we eat, then does that make us just industrially produced garbage that moves further and further from the natural world? Is that what God intended for us? Sooner or later, along that path, we can expect to lose more and more of what makes us human, and recklessly embracing that "machine" is sure to spell our doom. And we shall march to our deaths, referring to it as "progress."

We can scientifically show that we aren't particularly made from clay like the Bible says, but the etymological connection between human and earth exists: human and humus. Adam of the Bible had a name that played with the Hebrew word for "earth" in a way that makes it clear that he is an EARTH-ling. Whether or not he was made of earth, the point is made that we are in an inextricable relationship with the earth. It would be good to remember that being of the earth, of the natural world, is not a bad thing. It is not a sin. And when we can subscribe to that belief, maybe we could step back from the endless march to destroy the world with our evermore complicated technological "progress." Sure, we don't call it a march to destroy the world, but why not admit that is what we must do in order to prepare the way for the coming of the techno messiah? I won't be so arrogant to say that Jesus is the only messiah the world will ever know, but I think it is safe to say that the endless march of technology can safely be seen to be a false messiah now that we can see how we must destroy life to save it. That is of course the sort of skewed logic that made the bloodbath of World War One permissible: "The War To End All Wars." A war fought, not insignificantly, with the latest and greatest technology available at the time—some of which were powered or enhanced by the remarkable energy or chemical building blocks available from oil and natural gas. One interesting bit of technology that was employed in that war was certain natural-gas and nitrogen- based toxic chemicals that later were turned into commonly available fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides that could help people grow more tomatoes in their back yards or massive agrigoliath farms—but at what cost? Shall we poison the earth and hope that we would remain immune to all that in our food and water? How can anyone's soul rest easily if one takes the time to really reflect on what it means? Living under such conditions is something that some might call HELL. It makes me perfectly ashamed of some people in this land who call themselves Christians but believe that Christ will come when the last tree is felled and the last gallon of oil is burnt to fuel a terrorist fighting war machine or SUV. I assure you, I don't march under that banner. My grandfather probably viewed his little tomato project as a hobby. Of course, it could be just that. None of it was productive enough (even with all his chemical products he used) to really do much, and there was a whole industrial agriculture machine that was growing by leaps and bounds during his life. But folks like me are finding out what a lie all that is, and what we have to do about it. I'm pretty certain I am not doing enough, but considering this stuff isn't in my blood, I have to believe I am off to a start. I can't help it. It is compelling me away from the computer, giving me something real in my life, and if I ever need to, I will have something to pass on to another generation, maybe something useful, unlike some of the technological things I learned twenty, ten, or even five years ago. In 20 years, if anyone even knows the difference between Mac and PC or Ford and Chevy or Coke and Pepsi, they probably won't care because they will want to eat, and people who can help facilitate that will be the real stewards of life's knowledge, just as before. I don't care how great a web designer you are, or a system admin, or an ad executive, television personality, or a fashion model or car detailer, your professions are worthless, or will be in just a few years or decades. Add to that the fact that much of the stuff we surround ourselves with is just our beautiful natural resources turned into junk. Our labor turned into disease, divorce and social meltdown.

Realizing that sort of thing has changed my priorities a lot as of the last year or two. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. A friend from my early days in the music biz told me, "you can live around people who will invite you to live, or around people who will invite you to die." So thanks to Tara and Kalyn, Kelli, and all the people in Lee's orbit who are latched onto something deeper in life and who believe enough is given for all to enjoy.

Friday
Dec082006

Hai-Qoheleth

For my Old Testament class we do weekly journals. Usually I write well beyond expectations (at least it is to good effect—the instructor digs my stuff). For this one on the books of Job, Ecclesiastes, and Psalms, I thought I would try some haiku form to economize my answers.

A: What is the basic question Job has for God?

Yahweh, oh Yahweh
Wherefore art thou, dear Yahweh?
Bad things happen. Why?

B: What adjective would you use to describe the tone/mood of Ecclesiastes?

Ecclesiastes
Cautiously miserable
Bored of kings and fools…

Book of Qoheleth
Quite logotherapeutic
Frankl would go nuts!

Futile daily lives
Life’s a bitch and then you die
Prozac, anyone?

Jaded Qoheleth
It’s not as bad as you think
Take a chill pill, dude

Depressed wise man says
Partake ephemeral bliss
Sex sleep eat drink dream*

C: Which translation of the 23rd Psalm (of seven variations offered) do I prefer and why?

Of twenty-three psalms,
Thinks me best of RSV
Just tradition!

*A King Crimson song title.