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Entries in grace (41)

Tuesday
Jan032012

Blogging in 2012

I'm looking at my calendar of 2012 and anticipating that I could blog myself silly this year, if I were only to retrace my steps of either of the years of 2007, 2002, 1997, 1992, and perhaps even 1987. All those years of course are moving back in fives, and as I consider them, they all have some juicy stuff to ponder and to revisit here. Even taking just two of those years is enough to bite off and try to chew; the year 2002 is the opening year of life with Kelli, but 1992—20 years ago now—was filled with various coming-of-age moments that just beg for some consideration now. 

In 2011 I blogged a lot about stuff happening in 1991 and 2001, each of those being years with a lot of pivotal stuff happening. I realize I didn't even write about one major piece of that year: my trip to Europe. I've written around it in other posts, but just about the time I would have written something, or maybe even transcribed my journal of the trip, I was really intimidated at it. My writing from that period, and on that particular trip, was insanely immature and distracted and therefore nearly impossible to imagine presenting here. So it sat and other things got worked on. Scanning and presenting some long-hidden documents that help illustrate some of the stories is very time consuming, but it did enrich the entries in some places. Even scanning choice items is rather labor intensive and really kind of ridiculous considering no one reads this blog anyway, but I've longed for an online scrapbook and now have done a lot to get the whole story out the best I can, considering I don't live in a vacuum.

So what might you see this year as those key years' anniversaries pile up this year? It could all of this and more, or maybe just a few highlights. I just don't know how I'll feel as a date comes around and begs of me a bit of my time to mull over.

1987

  • A bit far back but I'd like to assess that year as a year when the first major period of relations with my mom and family there was finally sent its first shocks and the distance started for the first time. Things did carry on into 1988, but the first cracks in the wall for me came in 1987.
  • Getting orthodontic braces was linked to the mom story in a pivotal instance, but otherwise was cause for teen confusion and identity issues. A talk with my pastor one day before that started, and weeks before starting 9th grade is also a major thing that shaped me for years to come.

1992

  • This one is pretty rich. It's the first full year after high school. Lots of emptiness and alienation as I tried to find out who I was after high school and in the midst of two major friends being out of my life. Even though Nirvana and Seattle was exploding musically, I was hunkering down into Genesis and Dire Straits, unable to really be part of my peer group at the same time as a whole new scene developed around me.
  • I reconnected with my step mom Eda after all the years since she left in mid 1983. We'd been writing for some years prior to our in-person reunion in January but this was the start of a new era, for better or for worse. In a lot of ways, the modifier word, "step-" is a lame thing to have to add to her title since in a lot of ways she did fill the role of mom better for me than my own mom has, even as she's been given her chances over the years.
  • Subway was my job and I was as close as I'd ever come to being a "company man." After a couple months of that, the store was sold to some really uptight New Yorkers who really spoiled things when they fired me and got legal on me.
  • Subway buddy Matt Zuniga and I were drummers on the run, or as we called ourselves for a few months, Drummers With Attitudes (original, eh?) and later on, Rhythmic Catharsis. DWA/RC was essentially my entry into being a "recording artist" and self publisher. In some ways, the drum-vocal-noise "music" was just secondary to the chance to do ridiculously antisocial and annoyingly self promotional nonsense. 
  • First girlfriend Melissa and the resulting carnal knowledge. And some insanely naive and embarrassing writings that accompanied that. 
  • I took my second trip to Germany during the summer and that was the fulfillment of a year's hopes and anticipation. Six weeks out of the nation on my own initiative was a huge step. Seeing my friend Stephan Rau in Germany was a vastly better closure to the time we enjoyed as friends in 1990-91 at school and for the few days I saw him in Germany just a month after graduation in 1991. 
  • Joblessness after the Subway era was frustrating to start with and was prolonged by the trip to Germany, and then prolonged more by starting another year at Mesa College while being rather distracted by my new girlfriend. Getting a job at Jack In The Box was hardly the answer to my prayers, but it sort of was.
  • Even my 16 year old girlfriend and her undying puppy love for me was no match for my first "adult" depressive episode that arose in the aftermath of my trip, knowing that what had held me together for a year—working like mad at Subway and putting up with the indignities there, and many indignities and frustrations that came from the general picture of being thrown into a new world that year. My first suicidal ideations came as a young 19 year old. Oddly, getting a job at Jack's helped me bail the water some at just the right moment. 
  • Chalk that up to one more great talk with my pastor Jerry and youth pastor Judy, who had both been instrumental in prior years.

1997

  • The year kicked off with a breakup from Robin after nearly two and a half years. It felt like freedom even though I was a wreck inside and didn't realize it.
  • Kind of related to that, I also made a decision to avoid television and have generally kept true to that ever since, at least as far as owning one, paying for service, or scheduling my life in accordance with TV schedules.
  • The first full year out of my childhood home. I lived for the first time with total strangers. That was something that was clear, but in some ways, seeing what happened in the year or so after my grandfather died led me to see a side of my family in a way that made them seem like total strangers.
  • Coming off the tour with Mike Keneally in late December 1996, I was energized to play music, record like mad, and to trust my creative instinct. I recorded Hog Heaven early on and then redid parts of it for my first CD release using my new VS-880 recorder, which really ushered in the glory days of my recording era.
  • The Shelby matter was brought back (after a two and a half year silence) by a total chance meeting that sometimes I wish never happened, but at the time was the stuff of miracle.
  • Laboring at Pizza Hut was the first lucrative job I had. It was able to give me some idea that I could live on my own (with roommates, really) but I knew I was kidding myself that I could do it for long. Another job was more absurdly mismatched. At 24, I was rather in need of direction and was years from such a thing.

2002

  • Kelli and I got together. Duh! After five years of the single life and all the strife that went into that, Kelli and I got together in a way that surpasses Lennon and McCartney, Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, Peas and Carrots, or even peanut butter and chocolate!
  • Graduated from Art Institute of California with almost no skills and even less confidence. And with a new debt burden that irritates the fuck out of me even today, even as I paid it off five years ago or more.
  • I faced weak work prospects for much of the year, but was able to find that the depressed state of things in the audio world gave me time to explore my new relationship as something that gave me life and opened my eyes to a dimension of wonder again in a way that nothing else had. 
  • Work did open up at a senior center where Kelli worked. Lame pay, but it was a great lesson in regaining some humanity and compassion that a lot of years had diminished. It was a very humble position but a transformative one where it's clear God went to work on me.
  • Musically I was able to return to my project of trying to play within a band context. There was some neat stuff happening that year even as it started to seem like it was not the same me at work in that music and studio environment, which had peaked and started into a decline just as the year started off.
  • I also was in the first year of using a computer of my own, and was experiencing the technical and relationship difficulties that went with that: in some cases, losing a lot of data and in other cases, creating cyber-carnage wherever I went, it seemed.
  • TAPKAE.com came online with its first full site dedicated mainly to my musical identity in support of Receiving. It was self indulgent but in a real self indulgent way. I say that knowing this present site is rather much about me, but does that with a different aim than I had in 2002.

2007

  • Another year, another crappy job to deal with. This time I was trying to hold the fort for as long as possible while Kelli was at school. For my trouble, I got about six and a half months' worth of value from that job.
  • We set up our first garden at our new place—the third place we lived in less than two years. The garden was good for soothing our souls and learning lessons that can't be taught any other way.
  • Buber the Dog! Buber too continues to be one my one of my sprititual teachers. 
  • A good thing he was because I made a move I never really thought I'd have to make. One I didn't want to make. I left my church, and in doing so, it felt like even another family member was taken from me. It took eight months before I went to church again, and then that was at another church that had a transitional role before I got into the one I am at now, but with new ideas of what I needed from church, and how I might situate myself in that world again, according to who I am, and not according to who my family member was, or even that my wife is a clergyperson.
  • Dental hell. All the years of avoidance came down on me finally as I had to meet the enemy. Scaling. Gum surgery. Bone reshaping. It wasn't fun. But it was sort of theologically provocative as I began to recognize the resurrection after the death. God can teach that in any old way. I learned it in part from having to sit in the dental chair with my heart beating out of my chest.

So you see? I could spend some time unpacking all that and more. I reckon it's not really productive to live in the past, but from where I am at, it is productive to remind me of what it has to teach me. And, since my art is essentially the life I lead, it helps to know what has worked or felt good versus what has not worked or that has left me at odds with myself. No one else seems to keep this documentary of who I am, what has happened to me, or what I think of it all. What I've enjoyed seeing in the last year since the new TAPKAE.com (Squarespace era) has exploded into a completeness never before seen at this domain, has been to gather the scattered pieces together and enjoy the mosaic of it all. Some is nice fabric; some is shattered glass; some is mangled metal or broken drumsticks or guitar strings. In some ways, I consider this the long form of my epitaph. Maybe one day someone will be tasked with reading all this and distilling one snappy line suitable for engraving into rock.

Sunday
Dec252011

The Face of Emmanuel

This was originally written as the December 24th entry on the site that Kelli and I keep, WomenWhoSpeakInChurch. WWSIC opened up to friends and fellow clergywomen for an Advent devotional series during this season, all the way out to Epiphany. I've been entering the posts as they roll in. Interestingly the 24th didn't have anything come in so I wrote this. Kelli's been really busy lately and didn't get to see it right away but she read it as one of the first things on Christmas morning. It's a more distilled form of what I wrote just prior to this entry. I think she liked it.

I think it's genius! This season is so rich in spiritual meaning that over the years it has become a fantastic tapestry made up of humanity's various threads of hunger for meaning and vitality in a confusing and harsh world. A bit narrower than that, I think it's genius how Christmas was paired up with a date that was already deemed of cosmological significance prior to Christianity's arrival. And a bit narrower still, I think it's wonderful how that ebb and flow of darkness and light has played out in my own life, and maybe it is time to marvel at my own awareness of it.

Let me just take this to a personal level here for a bit. Bear with me. I'm not a woman and I don't really speak in church. But I'm married to one wonderful woman who sometimes does speak in church, and who, ten years ago, became the return of light to my life, with a couple pivotal dates falling just about solstice time in 2001 and our subsequent embrace of our newfound relationship in 2002, even after we'd known each other for over a decade before that. I've spilled a lot of pixels on my blog about the details. For our purposes here, I just want to celebrate this in a place where I know it would be appreciated—both among people educated and attuned to the special nuances in this kind of story, and among friends of hers who know her personally.

The state of things a decade ago was one of massive dysfunction on the family front. In a lot of ways, the light had gone dim. That year we shared grief around the murder of an old friend, and September 11 was a crisis that forced everyone into mourning and (hopefully) deeper questioning. It did for us. The overlapping disasters that constituted the year 2001 drove me back to a life I was familiar with but that I had left for about a decade. Kelli was a lifeline to that world during that time. But in late 2001, I was beyond my own means to make sense of the world. Kelli and I grew closer and I began to attend church again where the deeper stuff of life was the lingua franca. What resulted was a decade of constant change, but now with a devoted partner with a vast depth of character and compassion. Kelli's presence did not stop the change or the turmoil, but she did make it safe to face it with new resolve.

This Christmas Eve, with the waiting and the hoping almost exploding in us after weeks of Advent's buildup, I recall that time one decade ago when the light was going out, out, out—until the glimmers led to flickers that led to an increasingly steady flame. Kelli embodies the solstice for me. Light will follow darkness. Or, using the language of Christianity, she's the face of Emmanuel for me. Her presence in my life is as clear a sign as I have that God has smiled on this speck of dust too, who a decade ago used to scoff at God-talk and such silly notions of the miraculous.

It has to be the stuff of miracle. Nothing I did earned this. Nothing I knew or believed mattered. This is grace, folks. At Christmas, the great gift is given indiscriminately to all by the shamelessly generous Giver, who doesn't really care what you were, what you used to believe or not believe, or how you used to think. Just like none of us can stop the solstice from happening, none of us can stop God's compassionate giving of the divine Self. And, I might say that Christianity's enhancement of an already-great festival written into the cosmos is that whereas the solstice is just an annual event in a given hemisphere, Christmas isn't limited that way. Every day is Christmas! Every day can be the day when the God-gift can be given and received. But for me, having such a great thing happen in my life at solstice time will always make this season special upon special.

Merry Christmas to my beautiful wife Kelli who has opened my eyes and softened my heart, and to all of you. Thanks for your submissions to this special series. It's not over yet, though! Read on through Epiphany, and then stay around to see what follows.

Friday
Dec022011

Post Thanksgiving

I'm just thankful that Trish and I are in touch. What a refreshing take on things, even as she's newly widowed this year, and I've been the black sheep of the family for so long. She sent me a DVD of pictures of her and James, covering a sample of the 15 years they were together in an alternate universe only about six hours' drive away, but in many ways a world away. Funny, I never really thought of myself as having a sister in law, but now I'm kind of intrigued by discovering this new sprout of relationship open to me now and what it could mean for a new era in at least understanding family members in a new way, if not trying to restart things another time with a few who typically have not been so close. But even that feels like a nicer thing, considering the usually toxic relationship with some who have been too close. 

Gratitude for a feeling of newness to something that isn't new at all. This is the resurrection, folks.

Tuesday
Nov222011

Pre-Thanksgiving Party

I'm pretty tired right now. I spent all day prepping for Thanksgiving dinner. And then serving it. And then enjoying the company. And then kissing my sweet wife after all the commotion settled down. And then doing the dishes after she went to bed, no doubt exhausted from a day of her full time job, a two hour conference call for UCC related matters, and then straight into our gathering. Now, after 1:30 in the morning, the time seems right to reflect

Why was my Thanksgiving dinner on Monday? We're going out to Death Valley once again for the weekend, with a prelude of a day spent driving in Sequoia forest which I think is something we've never done before, but for a cursory pass through the valley where CA-178 cuts along the Kern River, again, done last year. The dinner is also put on for the benefit (mostly) of the Young Adults group at church, timed to try to get people together before scattering for the "real" holiday.

1999

All day long the thought was with me how big a day this was in my life. It was nearly unimaginable in 1999 and some years before that. That year on Thanksgiving, while everyone else was having their family gatherings, I was not. I was in the midst of a dark spell in life, taking consolation—like Silas Marner who counted his gold daily because it was his whole life—in studio recording. Though on that day in 1999, there wasn't much consolation because I was throwing drumsticks at the sheetrock after so many frustrated attempts to play drums to a first draft of Zehdihm's Flight (a track that took two more drafts to get right, one featuring Mike Keneally on it). At the same time, my grandmother Virginia was taken next door to be with the large and warm family of evangelical Christians who took care of her so well. They were probably trying to "save" me so I was suspicious of all their conversations and gestures, but in retrospect, the daughter, Connie, was always good to me. She left me a plate of food to eat so I'd be a part of their dinner, even in my small way. I got to it about 10pm or so, long after the festivities came to a close. I really hated it all. I was so so lost.

In between that one holiday and Thanksgiving in 2000, I don't know how many times I was so depressed and contemplating suicide. It was kind of a dull ache like these things are; too painful to live, too frightening to die. Too strong a feeling of failure in life; too likely I could fail at suicide too. This was long before the current "FAIL!" meme, and for me, even before memes! I just felt that way, less as a recording artist, but certainly as a human being. Yeah, I don't really know how many times I just wished things were done. At least it wouldn't all hurt like it did. No one would miss me, would they?

2000

And by way of a string of transformative events and compulsions to try to make amends in life, the very next year was what to that point was perhaps the best, most rich feeling Thanksgiving. Which is interesting because it set the stage for years of challenges. It was, of course, in 2000 when I had just started a new period of relationship with my mom and her side of the family. But it had a cloud over it that fortunately did not show itself for a few days or weeks. Not only was my reunion on the exact day of my grandmother Sofia's memorial (mom's mom, memorial on Tuesday before the holiday), but that choice in my life—part of my dull ache being the brokenness I felt with regard to estrangement with so much family—was something that I paid for with more of the same, though met with transformed consciousness.

The story has been told here before. I love to tell it. So much drama, so much intrigue. It keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. But let's keep on the Thanksgiving memory from 2000.

Being raised apart from my mom, there has always been a feeling that I was never at home with her. Few are the times when I felt as deeply connected as my memory of T-giving 2000 suggests. During my visits as a young teen, her two bedroom apartment was filled with her, my younger brother and sister, our older sister and her two kids. Six people as a baseline population, and seven when I was there. More still if we got any guests. It was rather close, and with so many kids, the place was a perpetual mess. In 1994 it was a lot lighter, either that she had just Steve and Nikki and a nearly new condo in a gated community in Las Vegas (that she moved from weeks after I was there), or that when she did settle in Long Beach for a few years, it was in a large apartment with Nikki only. Steve was off in the Marines. By the time I got to her new house (that she owned) in Long Beach in 2000, it seemed she had something going, even though Steve and Nikki were again living there. Nikki with her daughter Katie. She was not quite four years old.

Katie was a cute kid. It might not seem much for me to say that now, but in 2000, when I was somehow seen through, reached through in some mysterious way, my heart gripped by the first girl of the new generation. Ask anyone (even now) and you'll probably not hear anything about me complimenting kids. I don't connect with kids. I don't want kids. But somehow, like God does with people like me, the unlikely, the impossible, the wrong is used in just such a way as to thwart expectations. Katie just went to my heart somehow. Oh, I had nephews but they were rough and tumble fellows, and one was already able to drink me under the table at the age of 16. But Katie...she was beautiful. Innocent. Not obviously damaged by the kinds of chaos I'd known to be the reality of life in that family. I'd barely met her two days before when I was up there at the memorial for my grandmother. Nikki and I had gone to her grandfolks' place in Huntington Beach, talking like we were in a desert oasis, taking in all the water we could, catching up on what life has been in the nearly six years since we saw each other last. She had Katie at the age of 19—in keeping with the generation gap that generally defines that family, and dare I say, a bit on the late side. She and Katie's dad were already a historical entity; I think that was the case before Katie was born. But she had some seemingly nice and decent grandparents, even if her dad was off in his own world. (I still say this is what you can expect of a pair of 19 year olds who otherwise aren't attached.)

At mom's house on Thanksgiving, it was festive with Mom, Steve, Nikki & Katie, Chris and her husband Gary and the three boys, and Uncle Steve and probably Aunt Lisa. And maybe more still since there are usually friends along. It was big. It was so anti-1999! It was lively and boisterous. I watched (of all flippin' things) a Disney movie with Katie in Nikki's room. (Later on, when I got to have my house to myself after Virginia left and then ultimately died, I painted the walls the same color as Nikki's room and used some of the same brushed metal touches as she had.) Katie and I took a walk around the block, and I was clear then that something was happening. The thawing of my heart had set in. 

There was something stunning about seeing Katie in the flesh and looking on the wall in mom's hallway where there hung a picture of herself at a little older than Katie's age, maybe four or five years old. They looked remarkably similar. My mom's picture was taken close to the time when her father killed himself. You gotta think that that was a major lifequake for her. Seeing this picture of mom from so far back, a rather solemn one at that, said that the hurt went back a long way. Looking over at Katie gave me cause to think more toward the future, to hope that maybe this time instead of the couple generations that preceded her (and a collective bunch of hardships including suicide, aggravated rape, molestation, divorces, custody battles, gang fights, unemployment, bankruptcy, and more), that maybe something different could happen. In some odd way, Katie gave me something to live for.

2001

And then the train went off the tracks a few weeks later. Nikki fell silent. A bit occupied. Closed off. And then began a spell of being about as cold as ice toward me. I still don't get it. With her being closed off, I've not seen Katie since 2001. And so sadly, the great patterns are there again, this time in an interesting reversal where they block me out after mom got blocked out by my old man long ago. (That they've adopted his technique does not seem to register.) Even by the early part of 2001, it was turning up this way. But nonetheless, I was thinking of Katie when I inquired about the plans for two pianos that Sofia left behind. I had hoped to buy one myself but also hoped the other might stay in the family just in case it could do some good, not to mention kids who get put on the piano early on seem to do well. Well, that all went down like pork chops at a bar mitzvah and contributed to more strife than it was worth.

During the course of 2001, things were passable, but by the end of the summer and around the holidays, things were getting worse. I expressed interest in coming to Thanksgiving dinner again if mom was going to do that. Nikki somehow laced into me about that one, saying I was inviting myself to dinner. Excuse me, is it wrong for a son to think he'd be at his mom's house for dinner on such a night? I did get to dinner there on Thanksgiving night but it was a far more reduced affair. Not festive at all. Heads down, it seemed. Coldness. I think it was Nikki, Steve, mom, and maybe Katie. Chris was out of the house at that time, embittered with mom and living at the house of her oldest sons' father's family in San Pedro (a Cuban family). After having dinner at mom's I drove down there and at least had a bit more fun, even among people I really didn't know. It was a little something to feel that the holiday was special, and worth the 110 mile drive up. But then barely three weeks later, the whole mom/Nikki thing crashed and burned in a miserable email flame war of name calling and accusations going both ways. I think it was the first real email flame war I was engaged in. Sad.

And, in a way, good. My response in mid-December was to call a friend of mine named Kelli Parrish. She and I could hang out, but I wanted to tell her about how things turned so disastrous as they did that week. And she was game for listening. Just about two weeks after that, we started our present relationship on the first of the year, 2002. In about a month, we're marking ten years together.

So here's where it gets interesting, and this is worth its own posting. I wrote earlier about my brother James passing away totally unbeknownst to me. A few days ago I got an email from his long time (common law) wife Trish. I had never ever spoken to her because they lived in Las Vegas and somehow despite some shared sense of loss from way back, we were never close. (Really, none of my brothers were in reach. I always had to go through Chris or mom.) Trish and I talked on the phone for an hour and more and have passed some emails. So far I've found her to be quite candid about things, and with a new take on my own family but also seen by an outsider who's also an insider. She hasn't spent much time with them, but over the 15 years with James, she's got perspective that I'd love to hear about. And pictures. She told me about the quite dreadful motorcycle accident he was in four years ago, being pretty traumatically injured, and then his fight with cancer and the stroke that finally got him. It sounded quite hard to take. I look forward to knowing more. James and his twin John have been rather mysterious figures for me. I've seen them both only a few times, at least consciously. I now have some contact info for my two surviving brothers.

And the thing to be found is just how much Chris' gatekeeper role is her own imagination, or if people are interested in being in touch with me, and being civil. A few posts back, I wrote a long letter to Chris, criticizing her for many things but one in particular is how she blocked several requests to get in touch with Trish, John, and others. But since Trish found me out on her own, that about undoes Chris's case, and exposes Chris for being the dysfunctional one she is. It's sad that she can't get past her own agenda even in the name of one brother trying to process the death of another.

Today

My family out there is a Humpty Dumpty affair, and that's an optimistic assessment. There's no getting it back into one piece. It never has been one piece. My own existence is as "one piece" as it gets. There are no real functioning day-to-day activities to take part in with any among them. My life is here. It's with Kelli. And church friends primarily, or others who can appreciate the journey I've lived. The three Thanksgiving holidays detailed above offer what a wild ride it has been. Still, those are some real formative times where I "suffered into truth" as Aeschylus says in The Oresteia. Those were the times that made me want something. The times that called me to life. And like coming into life the first time, it is simultaneously agonizing and beautiful.

Today, I cooked for my family, such as it is. The people who are willing to be in my movie, as I say it these days. Most of them were young adults from that group at MHUCC. One was from the old church at CCCPB. A coworker of Kelli's (and a seminarian/CPE buddy before that) was here with her partner. Lee and Juanita were here. It's right to say my mom gave me life, but she's not been too predictable in helping me to live, and to cherish life in the way that tonight's guests (and many others who could not make it) have done. A decade ago I was "inviting" myself to my mom's dinner. This time I was inviting my new family to my table, freely, lovingly, generously. I cooked a good portion of the meal and rather surprised myself at doing so—turkey; four types of potato dishes; vegan gravy; cookies, stuffing, cornbread, roasted veggies... a huge task that took me all day and part of last night. Peeling carrots and potatoes, cutting onions, dicing celery, basting a turkey—it was all a prayer. It was like that last year and the year before that when I did similar dinners (with Kelli's help) at our current house. It was like that as I gazed out the trailer's bay window while the wood stove raged, looking out over the windblown plains at Red Mesa in New Mexico, cooking for the guys most days I was there.

For me, it was like the Danish movie Babette's Feast where Babette, the exiled French master chef whose life was saved by a stodgy religious group on the Jute coast, pays back years and years of accomodation and a place to live in safety away from the war in her homeland. She won the lottery and after years making the worst food to the specs of her hosts, she asks to give a feast to coincide with the date of the deceased pastor's birthday. All her 10,000 francs went into the event, made in the same way as if she were at her old restaurant, with no cut corners, and best of all, the stodgy congregation thaws out over the sensuality of the meal's several courses and wines. It's a great movie about gratitude.

My guests though were not a stodgy bunch. It was all quite convivial. But my heart was still with the young man of a decade ago, at war with himself and others, only at the liminus (threshold zone) of starting to feel alive again, and then having that taken back for a year, and then meeting up with a splendid girl who dared to walk along the path for a decade now. Every reason to be thankful. I attached a bit of my own thoughts to Rev. Parrish Lucas' grace before dinner. I added that this moment is the culmination of so many things in this universe, this amazing place. With all the randomness, isn't it amazing that we're here, together, in this place, ready to eat this food, ready to be in community by a blend of grace and tenacity of will? How is that not a spiritual thing of the greatest magnitude? 

A bit over a decade ago when thoughts of suicide visited me periodically, such grand thoughts were not on my mind. I doubt the evangelical religion of Virginia's caretakers could get me there. Only the long twisted and bumpy road of disappointment did that. And, in the great paradoxical arena that is the spiritual life, I have to be thankful for the whole messy lot of it. A decade ago I could not have imagined it. Would not have imagined Kelli as my wife. Nor that I had a gay couple and a lesbian couple here. Nor that Lee Van Ham would be a father figure to me. Or that I'd have gone to and left my old church at PB, but would have one person who transcends that, working right beside me to get dinner ready, even though she only got invited a few hours before. Never really imagined that I'd be the facilitator of a young adults group, at church no less! Our guests were from a couple different circles of our lives. Intergenerational. Gay and straight. Married and unmarried. A motley crew that made my house as lively as the year I was at mom's place. I still lament that so many years have gone by with her and that family. Births and deaths and anniversaries clocking by. I don't want to be seen as excluding them, but after many years of trying, the evidence is that there is nothing I can do about it. So I put my peeler to the potato, the baster to the turkey, and carry on with my new family.

Wednesday
Oct122011

Bye Bye Black Sheep

It's my 38th birthday today. The blog post title, amusingly rendered in a Photoshopped birthday invitation to people, was indicative of a more powerful current in my life: that of finding identity even in the messy business that comes from being born to a rather dysfunctional set of people. A letter like this has been brewing for years. This is who I am as I make first steps into my 39th year: gaining clarity in how I can deal with family, and what I need from it (but know that I can't ever really expect it. Also, feeling the urge to move toward forgiveness while still holding people accountable. I am moving increasingly toward the needed letting go. I consider this part of the grief work. The title is in reference to my black sheep status, always being apart from a larger flock, relegated to another sector. But it also speaks of my own discarding of the boundaries that kept me there, and a kind of assertiveness and presence that has sort of been taking shape in the last several months within me. I am the dismissed black sheep of the family. But now I am dismissing that role itself with a new stance that is shaped by a deepening understanding of what Jesus' experience might teach about how to absorb pain, gracefully.

The following is addressed to my (half-) sister Christina Lyke, ten years my senior. It is perhaps the last thing I'll be saying to her for a few years, given the pattern of a really estranged relationship that is only punctuated every few years when I try to process the distance and the hurt with what I hope are a new set of tools and methods. It always turns out to be a one-sided effort that crashes and burns faster and faster each time.

On a drop in visit to my mom's house in Long Beach a few weeks ago I found out from Chris' son that our brother died—in March 2011! No one bothered to let me know. The longstanding estrangement is a hostile one, mainly from her side. I sent a handwritten card not to her, but to our mom (equally estranged), with a note of sympathy and an invitation to my birthday gathering this coming weekend. Mom didn't respond directly to that. Chris did the dirty work of replying via Facebook. This letter is part of a thread between she and I where I asked to be put in touch with either James' wife or his twin brother so that I might be able to do a bit of grief work. Chris has apparently appointed herself spokesperson for everyone and has been blocking any attempt to communicate with curt and increasingly testy responses. I asked her to let them speak in their own voices because I really don't believe her.

This is my most recent but likely last hurrah to say what's on my mind. I've tried to keep my tone level and genuine, but she finds me unbearable and the last I saw of her four years ago was a time when she put on a display of absolutely ridiculous show value, yelling and shouting and waving hands and all that—quite a song and dance, and not something that spoke of her being ten years older than me. It also happened to be the very same time when Kelli met that branch of my family for the first time ever (except some phone calls with Chris in 2003 when I was in Halcyon). Anyhow, I am feeling differently than I used to, and from a place of recognition that the pain is so great and has had such a distorting effect, I sort of want to try another tact. For all my words and feelings, the precedent suggests that this will be met with nothing but hostility. The letter starts in protest, responding to her total disregard that maybe I too need to process James' death. Just dismissed me and told me to get over it on my own.

Chris—

Mourning is a community activity, not an individual one. I also don't usually mess around with "chit chat" either. [She said she wasn't writing her responses to engage in chit chat, and that she would thank me to go away and not write more.] I take things more seriously than that. You don't have the right to unilaterally set the terms of relationship for everyone. Besides, why would you want to? It seems more than you even want to be part of. I think it would be better to have your cooperation. If not, then I know well enough what to expect. But the stonewall approach might just leave me looking for whatever holes in the fence I can find. And over time, I plan to find them. I think it is sad that this state of things seems preferable.

I just don't understand why you've taken the path you have, keeping me at a distance, even as I dared trust you to tell me the truth. I never doubted that what you said was true. I wish it wasn't so. I wish there was a way to make that point clear, and that I've had my own kinds of hurts that has kept me from even talking to my old man for the last five years—and unheard of time of silence. I wrote an open letter to him on Father's Day this year that might be as pointless as trying to convince you of anything at this point, but I have kept my distance but under certain conditions welcome a change in the course. [I get a feeling he is in his lonely room snickering at me still trying to clean up a mess that he helped create for me. It might be the gift that keeps on giving for him.]

Chris, I was willing to share your life and its hurts in whatever way I could. There isn't much else I could have given you. I wish you could see that for that decision, I took a bigger hit than I anticipated. I gambled for the sake of having a relationship with you because I did feel that there would be a chance at recovering something we both felt was lost, and that doing so was worth a risk to my precious stability. And then you shut me out rather inexplicably. I'm trying not to be bitter, but really, what you did was buck-passing the hurt; scapegoating. And yet, from the tone you've had for the times I've been in any contact with you (for several years now), it doesn't seem like you're feeling any less conflicted or hurt. [The explosive response to my presence alone at mom's in 11/07 was a clear confirmation of that. Her Facebook profile says she's training to be a drug and alchohol counselor. The thought of her in a healing role kind of scares me, really.] I don't think your strategy has worked for you.

I'd love for our old stuff to be turned into the basis for something constructive. I really don't like strife. It sucks way more energy than it returns. But your cooperation is a key part of that. At one time I thought you wanted me to be your understanding little brother. I still am—as much as I can be. But the trend is that you don't don't want that. What changed? Why? You might have set your feelings aside but I still hurt for you, and the hurt that I think everyone lives with but has brushed under the carpet. It's plain to see it is still at work, from the few bits of exchange that I have to judge by.

I don't mind physical distance and that we don't play a great day to day role in each other's lives. I just wish it didn't bring with it the harsh tones and curt responses. Even being civil and cooperative, keeping me in the loop about who's getting born [she mentioned that she had a grandchild on the way, due today, but neglected to say which of her sons was about to become papa] or who's dying...that's about all I feel I should ask. One day mom will be gone too. Will I read about that on MySpace or Facebook, or hear about it years later? Put yourself in my shoes for a moment.

I don't know if this is intentional but when I am blocked out from even having civil discourse with the family, that is not just a matter of denying me (all of us really) a place at the dinner table or the photo albums, it also robs me in particular of a sense of history of who I am, be that the son of royalty or the son of saints or the son of thieves and murderers. It is a gross unfairness to take that much from me. I have a sketch of who is involved, but I don't know much when it comes to even tracing my own genealogy or the stories of who came from where and what they were like. Is that part of the strategy? Or just an unintended consequence of a hairtrigger avoidance of me? What this means is that as I am dealing with fragmentary memory of my own experience and an even more fragmentary second-hand memory, I could forget things or altogether choose to put my own story together. I could tell any story I want. I could make you a princess or a harlot according to how I feel. I could make it all up. But that is disingenuous. I would rather be reasonable, and to not place the blame out of unprocessed hurt, and not to inflate people larger than life. The real story is big enough, and tragic enough. I can tell it straight. But blocking me from having the facts does not do any good. I wish you'd not be so rigid about withholding the kinds of information that still instructs me on who I am, whether that is good, bad, or whatever.

In a similar way, I feel that it is wrong of you to play gatekeeper especially at this time, and to block the flow of legitimate emotional response to James' death. That is unfair of you.

I still love you Chris. I love you as a human being, and as a person with whom I know I share a troubled past at the hands of a troubled man. I have long said that I felt a closer bond with you than anyone else in mom's side of the family. It's a troubled bond, but those can be made into strong bonds under certain conditions. I don't love the strife. You're still a child of God the same as I am, or as even my old man is. [This one is pretty radical assertion for her. Be prepared to duck from whatever projectiles might come this way!] When you know that in your heart, when you know that to be true, I think something transformative will happen. People who know they are children of God and accept that message deep down inside don't have to play the games that divide people from one another. In a paradoxical way, in the way that spirituality is always paradoxical, I owe you a debt of gratitude for even your repeated rejection. It forced me into new areas of life that I probably never would have volunteered into. In the same way, I owe a similar debt of gratitude to my old man for a similar but unconventional way of teaching me. And mom too. And Nikki. (Don't you think it a bit odd that the bunch of you sit on the same bench in that regard?) That is the irony of the spiritual life—that all the hurts can instruct. I'm just glad I've had the right directors—pastors, spiritual directors, friends, therapists—who have generally moved me and my story toward something different than I was inclined.

But you didn't know that. You don't really know what my life has been for the last several years. You know only that I chime in once in a while, that I seem a speed bump on your path or a thorn in your roses. If that is all you hear from me, then I can understand. But that is not who I am the other times. Ask anyone. I explore life. I grapple with pain—mine, yours, my old man's, mom's, that of the world. I am creative and resourceful. I am a loving husband of seven years now. I do time consuming volunteer projects for non profit orgs. I have different and evolving roles at church, including facilitating a young adults group that in some ways is a surrogate for playing a responsible role in the lives of my nephews and nieces—something that I found myself willing to do a decade ago, but so far have been dismissed from.

I can't say to you that your perception of me is wrong. There are perfectly true things—even negative things—that you say that are true. But that is not the whole record. It is fragmentary at best. Incomplete. Outdated. The fact is, I am more than the little brother you lost some three and a half decades ago, or in the times since. When you want to pick up the phone and have a reasonable conversation, or when you want to come to my birthday, or to church on any Sunday, or to meet up on an unimportant Tuesday afternoon, then maybe there is a chance to integrate something new about me and the life I lead. There is plenty to find out. And that is just my side of things. Kelli has plenty of interesting stories too about her life. And you probably have too.

As I write, it is about ten minutes from the time when, 38 years ago, I was born. The stories I have received from you and mom and the twins about the old days have both broken my heart and led to my restoration in the ever-unfolding drama of my movie that is made in one conversation or letter or Facebook post at a time. I still have a flush of feeling when I consider that for a while you were acting as my caretaker while mom was at work, and that from that experience, you were linked to me in a profound way. You've said as much to me. You and the twins both told me of heartache from the separation and drama. I might never know your hurt at the level you do, and I might not even be able to articulate my own hurt that operates at a level I can't even tap into. In that, we are again brother and sister again, children of the same forces.

One thing you don't have control over is that I have the power to forgive you. I have the power to feel your hurt and not hold it against you. I have the power to receive even your rejection and to still see you as my sister, if not of the same mother, then of the same experience at the hands of a hurtful man. And if not that, then you're still my sister in God's grand family in which each of us is a beloved son or daughter. Neither you nor anyone else can shut me out of that.

It is now 4:25. My birthday all over again. Peace and love to you, my sister.

Tuesday
Jul052011

Indomitable Nashville

Life goes on, with or without our "help." It goes on with or without our management. Life just knows how to carry on. It doesn't need us to dominate it, to subdue it, or to pretend we're anything important. Life is just programmed to keep going.

We started our garden as one of the first orders of business upon moving to Nashville St. in early 2007. It was the first major garden project we worked on for ourselves. (The one at the previous house the year before was really Phil and Nancy's initiative in our back yard.) In mid-March 2007, Kelli and I enlisted help from Tara and Kalyn, friends from church, to tear up and strip grass from the bedroom-sized plot that had been fallow for years. We had a truckload of nice wood shavings and other organic material, chicken shit, and worm casings that we mixed into the sandy loam. It was quite a day's work. That garden produced for us for three years. There were a number of spiritual lessons that emerged from working the soil, tending plants, and of course, reaping the returns.

The second year was the start of a period when I could go nuts with composting, especially since I was able to bring home so much veggie food from work. Some of the compost was accidentally scattered too early, so the second year started a period of volunteer veggies that turned up and were pretty hardy. The third year I started an open compost pile in the back quadrant of the yard, and fed it with leaves and a weekly-delivered bag of cuttings from Stingaree restaurant. One of the chefs lived a mile from me and dropped it over my fence!

But then we got into a few months of bad news about our landlord's losing the house due to their being on the take for all the time we were there. They didn't pay their mortgage apparently, so we started getting rumblings and then confirmation that there was supposed to be an auction. We could have ridden it out longer, but we stopped paying rent until they told us what was going on. It dissolved in a few days in October 2009, so we moved in a scramble, narrowly avoiding the cutoff named on a pay or quit notice. That is, Kelli and I moved. Suzanne was not so sure about the legality of things, or what the status was. And, as a person who does not find moving too fun or convenient (as a late-term grad student who has disabilities), she was inclined to ride out all she could. She did. It took about eight months before the bank firmly had the house and gave her a year's extension at the lease rate that she had prior to the end of the landlord's ownership. But, since she was only one third of the original $1,800 agreement, and they knew they were going down (and liked Suzanne well enough, more than they like Kelli and me), they wrote her a new lease for $600 for the whole place just before the bank got it. So she got to stay one more year at the place for $600 a month! A two bedroom house with a granny flat, yards, garage— $600! She made a killing on that. But that just came to an end. Suzanne herself had to move last month.

We're all quite friendly, house or no house. Suzanne enlisted Kelli or me to do occasional yard work, lawn mowing, trimming, and all. She sort of minded the garden in its first year after we left. It still had a few plants that soldiered on during 2010. We got over there often enough to see it, but it was getting grown over little by little. Earlier this year, I went to cut the lawn and was quite moved by the presence of the bell pepper plant fighting the good fight. The crop was not going to be any good, but it showed up anyway. There wasn't anything else showing at the time, so I mowed on over it all, after saying a few kind words to the plot, thanking it for producing against the odds, and giving me a lot of instruction over the years.

the peppers giving it a last go. photo taken from view point of the lawnmower operator. looks like a dire situation.

That was back in March, just before I headed off to New Mexico. More recently, the time came for us to gather our things that we had left for Suzanne to use, or that we had moved back over into the garage for basic storage. In the midst of our comings and goings, I spotted the chives and mint pictured below. Chives in blossom, rich with flavor. Mint, spreading as it does, underground, spreading roots and ready to pop up all over the place. It was the gift that kept on giving.

chives and their flowers rising up through the grass and weeds.

mint in vivid green color just a couple feet from the chives. it spreads all about the quadrant it was planted in.

It just heightened my awareness of something I already knew to be true: the garden wasn't my invention. It wasn't to glorify me in any way. I really know diddly squat about gardening. Maybe just enough to be dangerous. Gardening draws a person into a dance with mystery. There are things that one can bring to the table; conditions that can be put in place. But I can't make the seed grow. It doesn't need much from me. Even after mowing the plot a few times over during its fallow year and a half since we left, a couple plants soldier on, speaking life where others see failure, disappointment, neglect, and even abuse. The universe has a place for all that. Life has a place for all that. To drive by, you see a fallow plot that is rather unkempt and grown over with grass and weeds. Ah, but look closer.

Thursday
Oct082009

A Life In 100 Years Or Less

I actually wrote this last year for the same occasion, but I'm not sure anything has changed and circumstances are such I don't think I shall try to top this. So here it is again.

One Hundred years ago my grandmother was born.
Of course she wasn't my grandmother then.
She was just one more new chance at getting things right in the world.
One more chance to solve the problem of war and economic inequality.
Perhaps racism would be erased and the human race would be won for good.
Maybe the rat race would be seen as the race not worth winning and not fit for human participation.
She might have witnessed the glorious second coming of Jesus a few times over (plenty of people predicted it).
But instead she witnessed grievous poverty while some got rich beyond all reason.
She witnessed the landing on the moon, but watched as the Kingdom of Heaven got further out of reach.
She watched as the stock market rose and rose to new heights, only to crash again—a rebuke to our materialism.
Her generation was among the last to know actual wealth.
It was on or in the ground. In the forests. In the community.
Her generation was among the last to know actual freedom.
Then came the car and the airplane, the credit card—the so-called liberators that inspired fanatic devotion.
To which my generation has become a slave.
Over which we now wage war and from which gangsters kill or enslave from on both sides of the law.
The surest preventative measure for that kind of lead and plastic poisoning is love.
But this is not what technology and markets and politics promises us—at least this is what they cannot deliver.
The century of technology and science has built us many things.
But it has not brought us happier families and better communities.
It has not made our water cleaner or our trees taller.
It has not answered our age old questions—at least the ones that matter.
It has not increased our capacity for love and mercy toward our neighbor.
It has brought us pain and grief from senseless death by the millions, and the promise of our final destruction.
What we have to look forward to is endless thwarted expectations.
The techno-messiah is a false messiah better called gadget-worship.
In her time it was the telephone or the phonograph, in ours it is the internet and the iPod.
The so-called greatest generation dropped the ball too.
Still they have much to teach us.
But my path is much like a mirror to theirs.
Their story is one of ascent while mine is one of descent.
The War to End All Wars and its sequel is still being fought somewhere in the world today.
Echoes of 1919, 1929, or 1939 ring loudly today while the echo of 1909 is for me to amplify.
The history books are chock full of conquest and vanity, inventors and geniuses.
We can measure the effect of this ruler or that; of depressions and wars; of laws and events on film.
But how do we measure the life of one woman during her 91 years when no one chronicled her history?
A mother and grandmother and a navy wife.
A patriot and a God-fearer.
An historian and a writer.
A teacher and an advocate.
A friend and a minister.
And so very much more.
The past century was the canvas upon which her life was painted.
But it was not her life.
She was not the inventions or the wars or the treaties which failed.
She was not the poverty or the racism which stifled human dignity.
She was not the television or Elvis' gyrating hips or Marilyn's upblown skirt.
She was not the cure for polio or the cause for AIDS.
She was not the frame 313 in the Zapruder film or the evacuation of Saigon.
She was not the Empire State Building or the Twin Towers.
She was not the convertible Cadillac on Route 66 or the oil shocks of the 70s.
And maybe for these reasons you will never read much about her.
The people who she touched don't write that sort of material.
Some of those to which she ministered are still in jail.
Others are dead.
Others are in their ivory towers or the jails of their own devising.
Some don't know what they had while others grieve their loss.
It's not that there aren't any new people who had her promise for a new beginning.
They're born every day in every nation in greater numbers than ever.
But none have been or will ever be like her.

Friday
Jul312009

Wisdom To Spare, Redux

Here we go again. Time to go to the oral surgeon's office to get my wisdom teeth pulled. Only this time, I actually DID get it done. The evidence:

four of my wisdom teeth on the gauze. it only took 13 years to get to this pointSo much wisdom, so little space in my head

The background:

It was in late September of last year when I thought I would be getting my wisdom teeth pulled—all of about 12 years after I was first told to do so. It was the very thought of that procedure that helped condition me to stay away from dentists for um, let's just say, years at a time. Finally, the whole thing caught up with me, and for the avid readers of TAPKAE.com, you know it was a hell of a summer in 2007 which led me to getting gum surgery and all that. The plan for gum surgery was partially derailed by high blood pressure. Not surprising considering the whole dental chair phobia runs deep in me, and that year was just devastating to me. But it got done—in 4 procedures, not two—and I lived. So last summer I finally was told to get the wisdom teeth out so that other problems would be headed off.

But, the blood pressure thing reared its ugly head again, and this time it was enough that the doc couldn't operate. (You can read last year's anticipatory blog entry here.) Last year it was high enough that the surgeon said it was not just because I was in his chair, and that I'd have to get it looked at just to be in general health. It was a huge letdown that the surgery didn't go forward but it helped shine a light on some systemic problems that needed fixing. The answer was to get to work on doctor's visits at an office I had only gone to once before, biking, diet changes and all that, various aspects of which I have written about. A while ago the doctor seemed to think that it would be okay to revisit the oral surgeon. So, since then there has been barely a pizza or two, barely a burger or two, no sodas, far less cheese. That tackles some of the worst offenders, and I have been keeping track of the BP daily in addition to taking the meds. The biking is obviously more blog worthy than that routine, so you see more news about that here.

Anticipation Part 2: The day before

I do know that the vigorous 10-20 mile bike rides help, but those aren't the usual rides I do. The busy days at work and the commutes keep general activity up, as does a dog walk most nights. I took a ten mile ride home tonight for my ostensibly three mile commute. But still, with regards to tomorrow (July 31), there is still anxiety about meeting my demons head on finally. My escort tomorrow is a woman from church named Marla who perhaps knows a trick or two about relaxation and stuff, being into fitness, Tai Chi and other such things. This time I think I will take my relaxant pill earlier than last year. (I couldn't help but wonder if I had indeed taken it too late to do any good. By the time I was rejected and out taking care of other business an hour later, it seemed to have me pretty knocked out.)

And then, the good part...

This day started off with me taking the pre op meds at the right time, two hours in advance. I prepared a veritable cocktail of prescription meds between the antibiotics, ibuprofen, sedative-relaxant, and my usual couple for BP and cholesterol. I cleaned a little house to help keep my mind on other things. Last night's BP reading was a bit high so I was bracing for last year all over again, but trying to remind myself of how different today is from last September. Marla picked me up on time and we got there just in time to sit but not dwell for long, then I was in.

The room was cold which usually I would like but today I took the blanket they offered. There was the dreaded BP moment to contend with but no one mentioned any numbers. At least I didn't have to do mental math to compare to last night or last year or any of that. They let it go for another test cycle a few minutes later and I guess it was in the clear, particularly after I said that this was 13 years in coming and I had to get this out of my way finally. So the IV started up and I heard them busying themselves as I kept my eyes closed to be in my own world. I brought my stuffed pig Luau (a pocket sized piggy) and me and Luau were listening to the music. I was counting time as if I was playing the stuff myself. The next I remember I was having my jaw prodded a bit with gauze being crammed in, revived, and whisked off to the post op recovery room being told not to fall asleep. Marla joined me and collected my gift bag of teeth, gauze, and other stuff. Then it was off to the car, a bit groggy like a night of boozing perhaps, but on foot.

The post op time was hardly touched by pain. The greater annoyance is the numb and rubbery lip and tongue that seemed worse a case than the gum surgeries in '07. But as I write this just after midnight, all that has subsided. I took two vicodin at once in the afternoon before the initial anesthetic wore off. I took the antibiotic drug a few times. But the best part was that I got to gorge myself on yogurt! I think I had five cups of frozen stuff which, being numb like I was, barely seemed frozen. I had a couple regular cups too. Later on, as in '07 I had some dinner of mac and cheese with the girls (while they ate the bowtie pasta and seafood mix, I went lowbrow, but nibbled on their mix too).

Rinses have now been pretty clear, numbness is mostly gone, only two vicodin have been used so far. While it isn't a pleasure cruise, it does not seem as dreaded as it was for all those years. Tomorrow I start on salt water rinses and the prescription stuff to keep clean, but so far it has been surprisingly bearable. I get a four day weekend to boot.

Monday
May042009

How Will We Know You?

vividly colored grass ring popping up to cover a utility hole cover, surrounded by concreteAre you still speaking through the burning bush—
Or through the trees and weeds that break through the pavement?

homeless man walking away in an alley with trash cans, shot from the inside of the truck, aiming the camera at the mirror.Will we see your face in the storms that bring the deluge, submerging whole cities—
Or will we know you in the faces of the people who beg on street corners?

Caleb at 93, kelli and edDo we experience you in our technology, swelling vainly—
Or in the humble and timeless deeds which bring community solidarity?

rainbow early in the morning on a day when the rain began to retreatWill we know you from the gushing wind and pouring rain—
Or from a tear that breaks from the eye of a breathless person who felt love for the first time?

buber with a big eager, loving grinWill I see your face in the shouting masses who carry your banner—
Or in the face of a dog which loves me in spite of my failings?

Tuesday
Apr282009

Into The Wild New Yonder

Yeah, I know. There hasn't been a lot of really current stuff here of late. Then again, it's not like you people are beating my door down for new content either. Most of the stuff that defines life for me right now is pretty positive, and on some variety of fronts. In real and abstract terms, I am trying on new clothes in life. May as well start with the real terms.

Today I weighed myself and was delighted to see for the first time in what must be nearly a decade, my weight was 219.7. To see it at 220 has been a thing lost to time, certainly before the Kelli years, which earlier blog entries record as being quite sedentary due to rampant unemployment and the discovery of the computer and all the wonders that once brought. I peaked and plateaued around 240 for many years since about 2002 and it has changed little in that time. But, the biking and constant hustle of work has helped, as has a doctor-supervised attack on the food nasties I once took for granted: the stuff that yields too much cholesterol, sodium, and fat. So, with the last eight months or so on some track toward changing that, I have lost some pounds, and gotten some tone from work and biking. And now, a bunch of pants don't fit right anymore. I've hit some thrift shops to pick up some new things now and then on the cheap while I transition into whatever might come of my weight. Already, I've lost a pants size or two. Today I went to the doctor and he reported that the cholesterol was improved, and was glad to see the BP leveling off at a more favorable level, if a bit higher than ideal, but not as bad as when I went in to see him last September.

And that visit was because I had an appointment to finally get my wisdom teeth pulled, but had BP so high that the surgeon declared he could not work on me. He assured me that the BP was beyond even what one would see, given the stressful anticipation of surgery. It was about that way in December 2007 when I got my gums worked on. I barely got that done, and when it was done, it was in four treatments, not two like planned. So last September, I headed straight over to the doctor's from the oral surgeon's office, drugged and fasted as I was, and said, 'I have to get this done, so what does it take?' That began the last several months of increased activity and drug treatment and diet attention. I have had hardly any pizza, no burgers, barely a couple of my beloved breakfast burritos, no sodas, and have cut down a lot of other dietary woes. Eating veggies helps. I am not really strictly vegetarian but there has been far less meat for me, but when there is, it is far more likely to be chicken or turkey, fish. But burgers, steak, pork, and pig bacon have mostly been out, as have most shell eggs.

The good news is that I've had a chance to practice cooking more, and have whipped up some tasty dishes the girls pretend to like. (We got a new oven at Thanksgiving, and I got a new set of kitchen knives to replace the toy set that we were given for our wedding. It helps to feel like your tools are working with you instead of against you.) Working around food, chefs, kitchens and all gives me a chance to poke my head in and get ideas, and just try to take a guess at what is going on, and to emulate it. It is the intangible benefit from the work I do. I suppose if I worked for a meat wholesaler, I'd be gleaning info on how to grill and barbecue, but as such, I am placed where I need to be, among veggies.

We planted our garden for the summer. This is the fourth year I've done gardening, and the third at the same place. There is still a lot of guesswork to it but even when it is poorly done, there are things to learn and knowledge to accumulate. I wish there was space and time to do more and to do it more seriously. The economic woes of the world outside have been deepening my sense of that. For now, I labor at my job, which isn't the same as gardening for self-sufficiency, but it does relate to it, and I do feel there are good lessons to be learned about food. Maybe gardening isn't going to be my thing, but cooking has been a nice thing to pick up, untutored as I am at it.

And moving toward the abstract new clothes in life, the big thing is that I am about to join Mission Hills United Church of Christ next month. It isn't new to me anymore. Kelli did her internship there and I stayed on the sidelines during that time. Then, to greater or lesser degrees, for the two years since, I've gone mostly regularly, and taken part in some groups (bible study, spiritual development, young adults), but most of all, have found a few key folks who I trust and have been able to connect with as I navigate an odd relationship to church as a male "pastor's spouse" who fell out with his home church and who has some unusually progressive notions of what church should be in the world, economically speaking. But, after an eight month spell in 2007 to get the old church out of my system, I experimented with a couple local UCC congregations, and settled on MHUCC. It is odd to consider, but it makes more sense upon reflection. The congregation has a great openness to people of all stripes; indeed it is perhaps the most gay-inclusive of the UCC churches here, and has a range of programs and groups to participate in. All this while retaining a membership of a manageable family like size (about 175 on Sundays), while not being so small and inbred feeling like my old church got to be (with maybe 30 core people who make the service on Sundays). MHUCC has many areas of ministry that keep people in touch and feeling connected, something which I did not feel was present at the old church. A lot of people from various backgrounds like the place—those who have never done church, those who have done too much church, those who are done with their old church, etc. People find it to be a healing place where a radical inclusiveness embodies what Jesus was about in the first place. So it has been good. And biking there has been one more way to get healed—with muscle power and a bit of sweat. I find it good on a lot of levels. So after dabbling for a year and more, I've decided to join in as a member, and not sweat the business of having to leave eventually when Kelli receives an eventual call from another congregation in who-knows-where, at who-knows-when. After a lot of angst in the separation from the old church, I feel it is okay to join in on this, even though I was sure I did not want to join a congregation before Kelli was to be ordained and called to a new congregation. I now reason that that would be her deal, not mine. Not that I would not go; of course I plan to go where she goes; it's just that this is my decision to make the next move after the bitter departure from the old church.

I've been immersed in a lot of reading for understanding about Christianity and its roots, and more usefully, what it all means today. Some of my influences have been Marcus Borg and his books on Jesus, his historical context, and how there are many ways to awaken the faith from a slumber of orthodoxy so that it might be fresh and relevant today. There is also a splendid video series called A Crisis of Faith which delights me in its human portrayal of Jesus—his totally grounded humanity illustrating what we call the divinity of Jesus. The Urantia Book also puts Jesus in a cosmological framework that presents him as the model for God's knowable attributes, and the ones we would do well to emulate. Back on earth, but still nodding to the cosmological quake that was Jesus, I have been greatly interested in reading the Bible through the lens of what it says about economics. Indeed, that is the most radical way to read it because it really slams the book on everything this nation's economy stands for. I encountered this a couple years ago through Lee Van Ham of Jubilee Economic Ministries, and lately I have had a resurgence of interest in this approach, reading more material in light of the economic mess that has been unfolding before us each night on the news. This approach has been the engine to lead me to bike more and drive less, eat more plant-based food, use a credit union instead of a bank, change churches, and to fight the consumer addiction the best I can in whichever way I can. It has been quite a unifying approach to life.

Of course, not everyone is ready for whatever transformation is demanded in this historical hour. Kelli and I took a stroll through a major shopping mall in town here today and the place was just painful for me—the people milling about pointlessly with plastic in hand and cell phones at ears. Call them zombies, call them consumers, but they all looked miserable there. What will they turn to when the plastic is useless, or there is nothing to buy because places don't make things like we take for granted? What life is beyond all that emptiness? Or, we cut through Nordstrom's and made mischief as we booed and hissed at labels that reflected Chinese or other exotic factories, and prices that represented exploitation of both the sweatshop laborer and the consumer alike! But that sort of fun is good only for so long with me. It just grates on me and I just want to get out of the Seven Circles of Hell. People make talk about how the ancient religions are useless and can be discarded. Well, consumerism is the new religion and is worthy of being discarded even now before it does any more damage.

Christianity is about transformation above all, out of the old and into the new. It isn't possible to do that at once; incremental change is the principle. One death leads to new life, which sparks more of the same in other aspects until eventually one is fully morphed into something new. It isn't about do's and don'ts, or any other legalistic formula. It is about moving toward something better in an action that is part magnetism and part striving: being drawn into it while wanting it too, until the line between those is blurred and the movement happens organically. Science tells us that the cells of our body are all exchanged for new ones in something like seven years, so that in that time, we are not even biologically the same as when we started. So it is with moving in the way Jesus demonstrated for us, that change is afoot toward something whole, something deeper and more grounded than what we were when we began. In that regard, nothing is disposable and even the forgettable and erroneous bits matter to in their ability to narrow the path worth taking. Indeed this is the meaning of the cross anyway; that your whole experience is yours to be carried, right or wrong as it may be, but not to let it ruin you in the process.

For the present, I feel that I am more or less on the positive phase of the waveform, getting some health matters in order, and finding a new church. And it is this that paves the way for the negative phase that invariably comes at some time. But when that next negative phase comes, I won't be the person I was when the last one was in cycle.