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Entries in consciousness (5)

Saturday
Jun112011

Feeling the Revelation

It started as a joke in December of 2010 after seeing the first billboard proclaiming Judgment Day was to happen on May 21. I posted a joke event entry on Facebook for my young adults group at church. I called it The End Of The World. There was a cute illustration of the Earth being destroyed by a meteor. Big explosion. Funny, eh? It was heir to my other such mocking references in song, journal, and joke at the expense of the fundamentalists and doom sayers who have led people to hysteria and maybe suicide by their various doomsday predictions. We in the UCC tend to elevate our noses above that stuff. The Facebook event also included a possibly moving date just in case we got the date wrong and recalculations were needed. I had no intent to really move it. I was making a larger joke at my own expense: my graduation from high school was on June 11, and this was to fall on the 20th anniversary of that date which to me seemed like the end times of history for me.

What began as a joke made all those months in advance slowly morphed into plans for a real get-together with the group. We still had a joking tone about it. We were going to have a "post-apocalyptic regressive dinner" featuring nuclear-safe food like Spam and Twinkies. Others had other food ideas: your "last supper" meal that you would want most to eat before your death, and also the option of bringing freegan food—found food—in keeping with an expectation of shortages and deprivation. I was onboard still.

But as the whole matter of Harold Camping blossomed into major news and hysteria and so many were caught up in mocking it all, one of our number (quite well educated in seminary and years of Baptist life growing up) cautioned a couple of us to ease up on the mocking since there are people who are well meaning and faithful but grossly manipulated by religious charlatans like Camping. At the same time, the June newsletter from my former church started with a great article on Revelation and how to disentangle the popular readings of it (that are the basis for Camping's utterances) from ones that stand up to more historical scrutiny and that aren't just manipulations of the faithful. I wrote to Jerry the pastor and he let me use that article and sent along some notes for a forum he was giving. All of a sudden, in about a week and a half I found the opportunity to take our End of the World party more seriously.

I have to admit, I sort of hijacked this event, but since we tend to be unprogrammed anyway, mostly people are flexible. But what was rumbling in me was that the UCC, a mostly liberal/progressive denomination, has little to say on Revelation. Most mainline denominations sort of shrug it off more than engage it. The dismissing attitude I sense falls in two related forms: If the scholars haven't figured it out, we won't go there yet. There must be great stuff in there. We just don't know how to interpret it. Or maybe people just dismiss it and say it should be left out of the canon because it is too weird. I haven't detected a UCC movement to claim it back and to find a meaningful alternative to the nutty and even dangerous interpretations coming from the more conservative wing of Christianity. But such a silence leaves the fundamentalist interpretations and their fictionalizations in stuff like the Left Behind series as the go-to viewpoints, in part because they are sensationalist, but probably because they appear to be the only voice out there. It is a forfeiture of biblical interpretation that gives the people with the completely wacky ideas the microphone and the knowledge that no one will oppose them! I don't particularly like that.

Lee Van Ham was the first one who helped me have a breakthrough in understanding Revelation as a document setting one earthly paradigm against a cosmological paradigm. (I also had to learn the P word upon meeting him.) He gave me a clue that the book of Revelation was one of hope and perseverance. So since about 2006 or so I have been looking for support along those lines. That is Jerry's general take on it, so I had two trusted voices speaking from close to the same viewpoint. Richard Rohr put a more mystical spin on it (perhaps more in tune with the larger message of the book), but that too took away any reservations that this book is meant to give people the willies and to induce nightmares in people of good faith.

Another kind of insight that arose out of Lee's interpretation was that Revelation is not written for rich nations to interpret. It is for the troubled people who are plagued by the power that the rich have over them. Jerry insists it is protest literature. So for it to be written and understood, one has to know the kinds of powerlessness and fear that people in oppressed situations know. Apocalyptic literature is good for liberation of the soul because it defiantly announces that monstrous powers of oppression and domination are limited and empty in their claims to divinity. That is the domain of God/Christ alone (depending on if you're reading Jewish or Christian apocalyptic lit.). The problem is that to explain this to people who don't feel oppressed, this interpretation falls flat. It is unflattering to people who have to sit by and hear that their retention of any kind of power and privilege is somehow evil. But I think that is missing the point. The point isn't to slam individuals trying to get by. The point is to critique the systems of the world, the corporate ("body") evils that manifest in the systems of the man-made world. Some we recognize as our contemporaries, and fear that they have too much power already and need to be limited somehow: Empires. Transnational corporations that pollute, enslave, and ride roughshod over local laws and traditions. Trade deals like NAFTA. The Military-Industrial-Corporate-Think Tank complex. Agribusiness, epitomized by Monsanto. Giant banks that foreclose on the laboring folk and credit card companies that charge exorbitant fees. That is the kind of evil that undoes community welfare, and these days, even has the power to ruin the biosphere too. Revelation is written to encourage people who are feeling under the weight of all that. People who fear nothing can save them from that but God.

One movie called What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire does a profoundly moving job of showing how empire has been the logical (and illogical) end of the line of civilization. For all it can do for us, it is also the basis of our destruction at the hands of working and consuming ourselves to death. And not just ourselves, but all of the life-giving biosphere too. The movie takes on peak oil, population overshoot and dieoff, extinction, and all the dismal stuff that no one wants to look at. It can sometimes be so brutal that it makes you feel. My intent to show the movie was to accomplish just that. It isn't that my group is not smart, or even aware, or even passionate about a range of social/environmental/political concerns. They are quite fine, and probably ahead of me in those regards. But one thing you can't particularly teach is how to feel like someone.  People are quite familiar with the topics. But this film is so powerful in the way it brings so many forms of dread together, that you can't help but get rattled inside. That is what Revelation is supposed to do to a person: Rattle them. Shock them. Rattle YOU. Shock YOU —into a new and larger consciousness, often brought on by an overwhelming feeling. Intellect alone won't get us there. We have more intellectuals on this planet than ever, and more problems than ever. Call it over-civilization. What needs to happen is that people feel the pathos behind this global issue. Intellect is secondary. Everyone welcome!

Watching this movie, it would be my hope that people would see that we people of faith (and equally so, those who don't think themselves religious) ARE at the mercy of the system-gone-crazy, and that only falling into trust in a larger reality, maybe God, maybe the regenerative power of nature—or call it what you will—can help get us past all that and start on the arduous task of righting the wrongs of an overcivilized human race that thought it was God. Maybe that would be accomplished by taking our hands off the wheel and letting God get back into the driver's seat. The exodus from Egypt is upon us all over again. Can we trust the wilderness we're entering on a global level?

So, back to the evening's program.

In the week before the Saturday date, this all was working on me. Stirring. Despite having not used the name since 2006, I realized this was another EONSNOW teaching engagement, so I sort of made some rumblings about a larger idea with one or two of the group, but not too completely because it was still taking shape in me right up till I went to bed at 4:30 the night before! What I came up with was a "teaching liturgy" that set us into a sacred, ritual space where the idea was to engage both the power of the darkness, and the power of the light. Since we as Christians are the people of the resurrection, and not of the tomb, we claim  hope in things we can't see, worthy results even from ill-made decisions, all by the grace of God. One thing I learned from the Rites of Passage last year, and with some additional reading and understanding of rituals, is that a ritual charts the flow of life's experiences in a microcosmic, representative way. To take people to a dark place is one thing, but to ritually move them back to a place of illumination is another. A ritual like this is a microcosm of life that embodies the dark and the light, the flow of all things. They should not be broken apart. Facing such a devastating vision of things using the King Crimson song and the movie is the downward and inward path to confront deep feelings, but reemerging to partake in the shared meal of the communion, and the more optimistic U2 song is the integrative aspect that connects both polarities of life into one.

The "teaching liturgy" was as follows:

Welcome and introductions
A bit about why this came together this way in light of recent charlatan predictions. What is the end of the world to you? What is civilization? What are your understandings of Revelation? Will lead to...

Discussion of The Apocalypse/Revelation of John
Notes courtesy Rev. Jerry. Historical setting, background on apocalyptic-crisis literature. The intent to overwhelm and shock people into some kind of response, ideally a faithful recommitment to God in protest against empire-consciousness, then manifested by Domitian, who some thought was Nero (aka 666), reborn. Early Americans (under the crown) referred to the Stamp Act as “the mark of the beast,” —when they were subject to the Crown’s harsh economic policies from afar.

Song: Epitaph by King Crimson (1969)
A song about the disillusion with the mind of empire and its handmaiden, state-tamed religion, written by white men from within that world at the peak of the 60’s counterculture in Britain. Henri Nouwen discussed parts of this song as part of his book, The Wounded Healer.

Watch the movie What A Way To Go: Life At The End Of Empire
A movie by another disillusioned white man of a privileged culture, asking the question of what follows empire? Hopefully it will have the power to disturb as Revelation would, to provoke a new consciousness or to tie together fragmented consciousness.

Discussion of the movie and Revelation
in light of a new understanding of how empire consciousness does indeed pose a threat to all of us at this profound, global level. Hopeful aspects of encountering this?

Sacrament of Communion
with common elements made sacred by a blessing by the newly ordained Rev. Kelli Parrish Lucas. Here we integrate our brush with new consciousness into a larger God consciousness instead of disowning it. Practicing God’s economy of grace and enough for all, in protest against the empire consciousness of scarcity and competition. How does being wounded by this knowledge of the fragility of all we know, this gnosis, pave the way for us to become the wounded healers in the way Henri Nouwen envisioned?

Song: Peace on Earth by U2 (2001)
A protest song by citizens of a nation often under the boot of an empire state (Ireland under England), but by artists who faithfully claim allegiance to Christ above earthly powers that would divide them from God’s other children. A protest song against empire consciousness and the violence and division it brings.

Benediction

I admit, it was hastily thrown together, and I wish that there was more time to actually teach a few basics on Revelation and apocalyptic literature (but Jerry's notes do quite well with supporting that), and I wish that the connection to Nouwen's book was better made, i.e., how facing our deepest pains is the best motivation for meeting the world's greatest needs. In this case the movie would help us to feel the vast woundedness associated with being alive today. Communion aims to put us back into a whole, ready to do our parts as integrated people ready to address the world's hurts.

During our post-movie discussion period, there turned out to be some conversation that took a decidedly personal turn, toward some vulnerable topics including bouts with homelessness, coming out of the closet, wrestling with false self and the kinds of reprioritizing that go with losing jobs and prestige. We didn't talk that much about either the book or the movie at hand, but it was clear there was a new freedom to open up at a level that can pave the way for bigger leaps of faith and trust such as will be called upon in this perilous life ahead of us.

I'd like to do it again. The thing can get long, but I think that is part of what needs to happen. It is not just a movie and discussion. Not just a church service. Not just an activist's meeting. Surely it is worth the four hours or so that it takes. The short term goal is to soften people's objection to Revelation, or their indifference to it. But the longer term goal is to open up their consciousness, to make them feel the pain of the world, not to dull it. It has to be a better use of a few hours than just cutting down someone else's faith, even if we are undermining it with a more useful interpretation.

Saturday
Jun272009

Richard Rohr

Ever since I saw him as a panelist in the documentary DVD A Crisis of Faith, I've been into the things Franciscan priest Richard Rohr has to say. His daily meditations arrive by email (sign up) and have some great things to ponder about the Christian life, but moreso, the authentic life of faith. Today's reads:

How am I on the edges of the system?

The Gospel doesn't bless the existing system; it leads us to the edges where freedom might be found. It does so in such a way that we can return to the world, without being addictively dependent on it any more.

We are able to return to the suffering and joys of this world, without letting ourselves be seduced by its false promises from either the political Left or the political Right. They both have their idolatries and they both have their blind spots. We hang with Jesus in the naked middle. The Gospel as Jesus taught it came from his Jewish and Prophetic background, which ended up pleasing neither side of the aisle?neither the status quo of the priests and Pharisees, nor the angry rebellion of the alienated and the Zealots.

Another goes like so:

What is it to hold beauty and pain?

Walter Brueggemann says the job of the prophet is to free people from their numbness. That is also the task of the church. It is to wake people up, to bring them to consciousness, and not just to comfort them in their unconscious state. I am afraid a lot of soft piety and too quick religious comfort does precisely that. The giveaway is when one finds no attitude of service, volunteerism, or compassion for the outsider emerging from one's attendance at church services.

True prophetic religion allows us to hold, suffer, and also enjoy all that God holds, suffers, and enjoys—which is everything—the good and the bad of our histories.

Rohr founded the Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico and has been a prolific speaker and writer in his productive time, spending what I am told is half the year in his monastic mode, and carrying on as public figure the rest of the time. He does a lot of work in male spirituality and has a retreat that I am about to submit an application to, when I figure out where and when I want to attend. I missed the one in my back yard in Julian a couple months ago, only noticing it on the very day it started.

Saturday
Feb072009

Golden Jubilee

the rainbow following the rains one morning near mission bay in san diegoToday was exceptional in its post-storm way. There were a pair of rainbows that greeted me as I left Mission Valley and headed up Morena Blvd. toward one of the restaurants. The rainbows were quite sharply defined and this one was so clear you could almost tell exactly where it touched down. (You can see an echo of the main one off to the right, but that isn't even the second one I am talking of—it was quite a day for spotting these things.)

If there was a pot of gold at the end, I had to miss out on it. But the good news is that from this vantage point, optically speaking, it was coming down quite near a location where homeless men and day laborers gather to score some work or other handouts. They needed the gold more than me. I settled for the beauty of it all.

Thursday
Jun052008

Six-Five Redux

ed's letter to the editor in the san diego union tribuneOn this day in 2005, I had two rather notable things happen to me in my oil-awareness pursuit that defined that period for me. On that day, I was told at church that my letter to the editor was published. I was delighted not just for that, but for the timeliness of it all. Later that same evening, I was about to do my first film showing of The End of Suburbia, and to hold a discussion on that topic. At that can be read about in that day's blog. Around that time, gasoline was maybe in the low $2 range, which had been around for about two years or more. At that time though, it seemed like no one thought that life would change much if gas got more expensive.

Well, that didn't last, did it? Maybe it took another few years but now it seems that you can't avoid the topics of gas and food costs on the rise and the sacrifices that result, going green, lowering emissions, carbon footprints, and all that. As I speak today, that gas price from 2005 has doubled again, and now it seems the panic is setting in, compounded with housing crashes, credit wipeouts and all that. People thought that The End of Suburbia was far fetched but now some of that has begun to happen just as the movie laid out. Talk now is that it is harder to afford to shift over to whatever new "solutions" there might be, because lots of money has evaporated. This too the movie warned of.

People still scoff at the idea of making any real change. But here are some things that I contend should be made. Some are meant to go in an act of voluntary "demand destruction" if we are to make any more measured change in our lifestyles. Others are meant to help fill voids that current methods will leave. Most call upon willful restraint, and not a new technological gizmo. These are also geared to allow individuals and families have a greater share of dignity while eliminating waste within commercial activity.

  • Eliminate such fuel wasting activities such as air shows, boat races, auto racing, military displays, mobile advertising, and other utterly worthless bullshit activities that are nothing but wasteful. One thing that sticks in my craw is seeing trucks driving around with only a billboard upon them. They carry nothing of worth, move no product, and tie up space in traffic, all while getting pathetic gas mileage. This is stupid and must stop. I've seen some now that have diorama type glass walls with elaborate displays within.
  • Turn off 80% or more suburban shopping center lighting meant to advertise places that are themselves closed for business overnight. To extend this, there should be a progressive pressure put on businesses to be open during daylight hours only, or limited night hours. People will no doubt bitch that our economy will be hurt by this. But that is what we face one way or another. The question is whether we will face it willingly or not.
  • Heavy rail should be implemented to remove trucks from the road along major corridors. Certainly more passenger rail should be called upon in like fashion. The airlines are hemorrhaging and it is their time to die, at least with regard to the widespread public consumer use. Not everyone can live like kings.
  • Civic zoning needs to be relaxed intentionally (or people will just ignore the law when desperation sets in), but urban agriculture needs a chance to thrive, even if it means allowing animals which enable people to live (I mean survive in some cases) without being slaves to jobs or even joblessness. Landscapes need to be made more edible—fruit trees, gardens, even herbal ground cover. Enough with the bullshit tropical yards and grass lawns. People talk about getting more local in their food choices, but there needs to be an alternative to the entire supermarket system, at least in part.

Those are but a few things that would transform things for the better, and don't require wishing upon a techno-messiah to save us from our sins and to wipe out our enemies. Yes, some do hearken back to another time, but what I think we need to face is that we have overshot our ability to have high technology work for us. We have also answered to the needs of the economy for long enough, and that will doom us at the rate at which we are going now. If the worst of the predictions of the global warming and peak oil theories were to come true, you can just forget about the economy as we know it. Survival will be the order of the day, and that won't allow most people to even think the way we think now. Forget the sarcasm and irony we know. Forget the abstractions which we distract ourselves with now.

In 2005, I was beginning to find my topic of concern, but really after months of that pursuit with four video showings and discussions, I had to deepen my quest for what the real problem is. I find it isn't the fuel we use. Or which type of engine we have. It isn't even the president we have. The real matter, in this nation in particular, is expectation versus reality. But even that reaches back to a larger human issue of insecurity that there is not enough to go around, and therefore, one must claim all one can before someone else does. Our national mythology is such that we confuse acquisition and consumption with our assured right to pursue happiness. But that is in direct conflict with most of the timeless religious wisdom, which says that the goal is not "out there" but "in here." I think maybe our society is breaking apart because that external thrill seeking activity is proving itself to be unrewarding and the whole thing is collapsing in on itself. It is rather like an addict that needs more and more of his drug of choice to get the same sensation as before. Well, it ultimately won't last that way for ever, and I think this is what peak oil has to show us. I contend that it is a necessary and good thing ultimately—the great disappointment that ultimately can bring us back to our senses somehow. People have been able to enjoy trashing the religious wisdom that encourages rejection of material distractions, as long as ever more material distractions were forthcoming and exciting. I don't think we have that option anymore. I think we need to find our answers deep within our humanity, and not within our economy or any other external structure. I think this is the key to a soft landing, as much as is possible given our lofty position now. Where else can we hear a message of relinquishment and self-moderation? Advertising doesn't offer that. Peer pressure doesn't suggest it much in most circles.

Saturday
Dec112004

Pause, Reflect

Today I spent a perfectly beautiful evening with my wife at home. We listened to Christmas music: Bing Crosby and the Vince Guraldi score from the Peanuts TV show usually make my season. We put up some decorations, a wreath, and a tree (actually two—fake main tree, living smaller tree for the end table). We petted the dog and walked her. We shut off the lights and left on only the holiday lights. We talked lovingly and of great topics of concern.

It is a poignant time for me, who has been worried well beyond my quota about the peak oil/economic collapse issues. Lots of people laugh it off, and I would love to be among them, but I have been cursed with curiosity, and for my troubles in investigating both mainstream and alternative outlets, I am worried sick sometimes. The rest of the time, I am totally perplexed at the possibility for life like I never imagined it. You may ask how this has anything to do with the perfectly lovely domestic bliss I just described. Some will say that I am just ruining my present with fanciful thoughts of a future that I have no control over, and get on with things. Therapy would probably tell me that maybe this is too big an external issue that I stand no chance of settling, and maybe it's time to be sure my wife and I are working toward the best relationship we can have.

I don't see the demarcation line, if there is one.

My wife and I are all about the future. We don't have much choice; our future is going to happen one way or another, and of course we got married because we wanted a future together. And I really do believe in us. It's the matter of what we will confront that bends my mind in odd ways. The matter of peak oil and economic collapse cause so much mental dissonance with people mainly because they think it couldn't happen. They think it couldn't happen because they have been told it can't happen. Supposedly it can't happen because experts say it can't happen. Well, the weatherman is an expert, and sometimes we find he doesn't know shit either. So it is with the matter of massive scale resource depletion, and economic disaster. Economic disaster can happen separately from resource depletion, but is certain to happen in a world where resources are consumed at such a radical clip. Our fine nation is one that is kept afloat by an economy of debt. Our economy is a vicious cycle of IOUs. Christmas time amounts to the High Holy Days of this modus opperandi. A nation already operating under the weight of immense debt is herded into an even wilder spending spree in the name of fun and family togetherness, and keeping the economy going. It's a house of cards, people. We can make money from paper to make it seem like there is more money, but it is meaningless unless either there is actual material wealth that it represents, or if everyone agrees that the stuff is valid and will carry the same agreed-upon worth in a week, month, year, or decade. The paper is worthless for the most part, and the credit card is nothing but a promise to pay. But even the world's biggest credit consumer can arbitrarily decide to pay or not pay, or to spend more and more, even when it shouldn't. But it's okay. We trust the government to handle things. Well, some of us do...

I am losing my faith in this system. Every day, I see more and more homeless people on the corners of my once-middle class suburb. I just know that all these people aren't drug addicts or mentally ill (at least not leading to their homelessness). I just know that some of them were working even modest jobs at Target or for a private firm selling plumbing supplies or something. And not all that long ago. No, some of these people were living in 2 bedroom apartments a year ago. Some of them lost a job not for any crippling economic slowdown, but for greed. Their companies decided they needed to make more money, or at least appear to make more money by pinching the bottom line and cutting some staff and offshoring or just hiring cheaper workers. Companies are interested in making profit, and profit comes at a cost. Eventually, a widespread elimination of jobs will eliminate the buying power of the people who once bought your product. It's cannibalism, really. Henry Ford's winning innovation was his desire to make something that every man could use, but also to employ people so that they could be those "every men" who would buy the stuff he made. America's greatness for the middle of the 20th century was expressed this way: the workers on the line could afford to pay for the stuff they made, which of course made good business. Now we have a growing number of people who can't pay but for the cheapest stuff, and Wal Mart is all too happy to oblige. Of course, Wal Mart is paying people so little to make and sell their wares. Wal Mart has then created its own mini-economy of poor people buying cheap shit from other poor people made poor by the corporation that facilitates it all. Hey, Wal Mart sells cheap shit. Even if you work for Wal Mart, it's on the verge of being too expensive if you have other plans, like feeding your family and living in a habitable place. I'm sure Ms. W. could attest to that. Welcome to the land of the working poor.

So on this lovely evening, I have not visions of sugar plums dancing in my head, but instead of the bursting of the credit bubble. This very well could be the last of the great American Christmases of shameless self indulgence and irreverent consumption and waste. With Bush about to steal the office of the Most Important Man in the World once again, we could be hosed. I read that there is a lot of discontent in Japan and China, and that the dollar, once the mighty arbiter of economic power in the world, is now cowering with its tail between its legs. It hasn't been a secret that we are the leading debtor nation. That's old news now. But we've been trying the patience of the nations who make that possible. Our money just isn't what we said it was. And that's all it ever was after 1970. We said it was worth this or that, and that it would be that way. And people responded in like. But that only lasts while both parties are in agreement. So, sort of like you not wanting to give your drunken, wifebeating uncle any money when he is begging for it, the world is wising up and we are gonna be in deep shit, because not only will we not be offered new money, some may cash in and take out what is here when there is just no point in bothering. Should Saudi Arabia and Japan decide to close up shop here, we could be in for a "shitstorm" as Jim Kunstler says.

I'd almost rather be the passing observer of 30 lethal car accidents a day than contemplate the shitstorm factor of the pending economic crunch, coupled with peak oil's permanent scenario of nothing but dwindling resources. But I don't have the luxury of self-censoring, so instead of laughing off the car accidents, I ponder these other things, nearly endlessly. It messed with the week before my wedding, the time around my birthday, tainted my vacation (even more so because of the fact that we drove and participated in the same behavior that got us here), and now it's spoiling my Christmas, sort of.

I am a small fraction of one step ahead. I have never been overwhelmingly a slave to the commercial Christmas season, favoring a quality of interaction and reflection over gifts and other fiscally related exercises. This is the first Xmas with my wife in that capacity, but the fourth with her in the picture, and it sure is a hell of a lot better than not having her! I do let a few things get me off the dire predictions. Tonight, I listened to Bing Crosby's Silent Night. The song is possibly one of my favorites as it is—quite possibly one of the most perfect songs ever. Bing's vibrato was sweet and mellow, his baritone was rich and full. His Christmas songs remind me of the rosy holidays spent here in the same house that was once my grandparents, about 20 years ago and some since. I don't remember liking them then, but with both grandparents gone now, the Bing Xmas songs take me back, not just to grandmother's house, but to my own youth when my Christmas wasn't tempered with these troubling adult thoughts of money, heartache, and strife. The music may take me back even further to when my granparents were about my age, making do with the accoutrements afforded them in the years of the Depression or WW2. I wonder what their Christmases were like in the opening years of the almighty American era of consumerism when it was more innocent and fun, and really a sign that better things were ahead. Then I get a little teary eyed as I realize that only two generations later, I am at the other end of that show, when rampant holiday consumerism is not a sign of a bright future, but a sign of true desperation as a whole nation struggles to maintain an illusion of wealth and prosperity against all odds. It's a heavy thought, but it's nice to have Bing sing for me the same as he did for my grandparents. Bing is sort of a musical Ouija board between them and me.

Or maybe another glimpse of joy came for me in the form of the Charlie Brown Christmas show that now defines my season. I think that that show adds a little more poignancy to my dilemma now. That show was done in the year 1965. What Charlie Brown was up against is the same that I am up against now—the shallowness and ephemerality of the commercial Christmas. Even in 1965 there was something wrong. 1965 was about 20 years after the beginning of the suburban era which went hand in hand with rampant consumerism all year round, but in particular during the holidays. Even 40 years ago there was something wrong. Well, here we are. At least 40 years ago, people were working and able to pay for this stuff, and the system seems to have been working somewhat. But people apparently were unhappy in some way. Was it that they found that shopping wasn't really a source of joy? Or that suburbia was a place where people really cease to live as community? For Charles Shultz to satirize this, it must have been a problem at the time, and one that was already manifest to those who would see it. The irony of the TV show is not ironic now. America has made a Faustian deal to sell her soul all so that we can look good in the eyes of economists and bankers.

Another thing that gave me some joy tonight was listening to recordings I have made of sermons at church, and reveling in what a great teacher we have in our minister Jerry Lawritson. If not for the messages that come to me through him, this heavy shit I think about would surely cause me to spin out of control. On Thanksgiving, he gave a sermon about the matter of giving thanks. Giving thanks is more than just being glad that you aren't the homeless person on the corner of Balboa and Genesee (self preservation at the expense of others). Giving thanks is a matter of maintaining grace under pressure, in the most dire circumstances. How else do you think Jews made it through the Holocaust? Giving thanks is akin to a counterattack against fear and despair and everything dark and sick in the world. Giving thanks is an act of rebellion, a preemptive strike (Bush should be proud) against everything bad, a way of nipping it at the source by getting the upper hand first.

Also today, earlier in the morning, there was an NPR show about Hannukah that was hosted by Spock himself. The music was this extremely beautiful choral material, and the stories of Hannukah were short bits dropped between the songs. Some of the hope and faith and thanksgiving apparent in these stories is just so amazing. If we have rough times ahead, maybe there is something to be learned from the Jews about how to cope and even thrive. They remain defiantly proud and connected to each other, their traditions, to education, to getting into the nitty gritty of it all. Indeed, the name Israel means "he who grapples with God." The Jews have marked Hannukah each year for over 2000 years now, and their celebration is still one of being thankful for miracles, for each other, and for the opportunity to have a part in the Play, no matter what role they may have, no matter how difficult.

Sometimes I hear these things about the Jewish faith and sort of wonder about how after so damned long, they have seemed to retained a certain purity to their faith that unfortunately people in my tradition have splintered a million times over. In this year of the moral values winning out over the other 250 million sinners and heathens in this nation, it is a shame that I sort of need to tip my head down and mutter that I am a Christian, immediately adding a disclaimer of something like "but not one of those right wing nutjobs who voted for Bush." I should never have to do that. Jeeze. And furthermore, I am a member of the United Church of Christ, which now, very ballisily put out that amazing ad last week. The UCC is still on the fringes of Christianity, but I perceive it as being among the rare denomination that even tries to live out the mission Christ intended. People never hear about us because well, there aren't any sex scandals, and we aren't buying politicians. Now it seems we can't even buy time on the mainstream outlets on public airwaves. Our scandal, as much as there is one, is honoring something taught to us about 2000 years ago—that everyone is equal in the eyes of God, and yes, that means those fags, niggers, broads, and America Haters too. (Sorry, I had to get into character to get my point across.) The Jews spend their holidays celebrating miracles. My people go shopping, and end up giving each other guns for Christmas. Sometimes I feel miscast. I'm almost suspecting us liberal Christians (yes, such a thing exists) will know a certain persecution in this nation while those with more noble moral values hold office.

My Christmas is one of paradox; wondering if the world in which I live will collapse is a big thing. But so is putting my head in my wife's lap, putting on some Bing and listening to Silent Night in complete silence, eating leftover tri-tip, and taking at least a good shot at enjoying holidays, loved ones, and even life, despite its overwhelming complexity and troubles. The secret to surviving the future, should it play out like a worst nightmare, is altering one's expectations, and finding meaning and joy in what is instead of what you think it should be. I may doom myself with this peak oil stuff, but like Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption, they can't take what I have inside me. He had Mozart. I have Bing and Jethro Tull.

Oh, and I love Kelli a lot. And puppy too!