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Entries in gratitude (15)


Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music +12

Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music? Tech Background

A long time in coming. That's what it has been for me to bring you this recording. Oh, it's not new. It's not even unheard. It's been here on this site for years, and each year in December I do something to share it around as a gift to people around me, either in person or online. 

What is new is that after a dozen years of kicking around with a rather boring mix and with the hasty cover art, this year I finally was able to address that and get it all remixed and fixed up with some snappier visuals. I owe a debt of gratitude to one Brian Caldwell, a figure I've met while in Escondido. For many months since I got here, I've jammed with he and Paul Castellanos at the Irish pub. I found that Brian owns two Roland VS-2480 recorders and after hearing of this, I talked some shop with him. I used to own a 2480 myself but found it really difficult to work with, especially after becoming very fluent on my VS-880. This Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music project was done on the 880 in mid December of 2000, and has the distinction of being the last project that was done in a way that seemed album-like. It's only 15:35 long but it feels like an album, not just a one off track.

Recorded at the end of 2000, this was done fairly late in my 880 period. The 2480 came on the scene in late June 2001 and for all intents and purposes, buried the 880. It had the capability to bring 880 projects onto its hard drive, and while it was of nearly no use to me then, when Brian spoke of VS-2480s, my ears perked up. See, I have about 40 data CDs of 880 and some 2480 material. And since Roland machines have a proprietary audio encoding, my Mac can't even read the disks. So, for all these years I've hung on to the 880, expecting that if an opportunity like this were not to arise, I'd need to do a MIDI sync linking the iMac to the 880, and transfer tracks two or four at a time. It was pretty much a deal breaker to think of doing things that way. The good news is that with only eight tracks to mix with at once, anything that I mixed before with that many tracks was not that hard to recreate.

Brian lives just a couple miles away and let me come over to reacquaint myself with the 2480. I found it as difficult as before but the optimism was there that this time something might actually come of my time fiddling with it. My goal was first to grab the multitrack sources of this recording so I could give it a proper mix with richer effects and more clarity. I got pretty frustrated relearning the 2480 interface in just an hour but got my CDs with the WAV files I needed to get things into the iMac where I'd mix in Logic Pro. (He was nice enough to offer the use of the machine as I needed it. Then he let me borrow it. What a guy! That's giving me ideas to remix and finish such a thing as ReCyclED, toiled on for years and then sort of set aside when Receiving took center stage.)

The original recording was done in two main sessions, and each had eight tracks. When I got back home, I had 16 WAV files there, ready to... well, wait a minute! Actually, they could be mixed that way but you see, the initial recording process was really scattershot. I started off on what you now hear as the middle of the recording (track 5 if it were to be indexed). That started the entire project but there were five "songs" from that point to the end. Each had just a few tracks—never more than six at once—and when there were open spaces at the end of one "song" I'd use them to start a new idea. Maybe two tracks launched it, but as things ended on a previous "song" I'd have new track space to put in more ideas. The idea of sensible track layout (drums, bass, guitar, keys, fx) progressing from left to right was just not of any service here. Nope. If you looked at the tracks as lanes on a freeway, it would appear rather like the various color cars and trucks on such a road: at different places, sometimes traveling together, others out front, some longer or shorter, etc. In musical terms, it meant that in the lane of track 1, it might start as a tambourine and then become a keyboard, and then become a different keyboard later on. And tracks 2-8 would have equally odd instances of musical bits cutting in and out. The task was to get that into order so I could progress. This is just the preparatory work so the creative job of mixing can flow.

With those 16 audio files in one session at last, I cut all the separate regions (instrumental parts arrayed across the audio files) so they could be arranged next to each other with their "song" peers. I found there were 37 parts to work with. I got them grouped into the constituent "songs" and color coded the groups of tracks that were meant to perform together. Then, for the next song on the timeline, those tracks would receive like treatment. As the whole project progressed, a group of pink tracks ended and some green ones started, and then blue, and purple, and orange, etc.

Those 37 tracks gave way when I further divided a few that I missed, and when I deleted a couple instances and replayed just a few parts on drums and cymbals to improve feel and timing, and then added just a bit of cymbals for more texture. Other than that, the whole project was the same as before. What could be done now was to use ample plugins to do the detailed EQ and compression that I never could do, and to mix with far more variety in effects and also to do automation for tricky bits that I could never do with my fingers on just a few faders. I took the opportunity to time align a few things for improved feel. Things were done quite hastily in 2000. Because the parts were put down and then the mix happened no more than a week or two later, the idea of what the mix might sound like was not yet lost. But to recover such ideas a dozen years later? Um... better to just wipe the slate clean and put stuff into logical groups!

Mixing was a joy. One effect I found to be real useful and transformative was a subsonic bass treatment that does some amazing hocus pocus on drums and gives them a richer bottom end by synthesizing some lower octave information based on the extant material. It worked wonders on a relatively small headed tambourine that was played at real low level originally (and close to the mic for a natural bass boosting effect), but did not have the deep fundamental like the bass drum it emulated. This plugin took that calfskin headed tambourine and added some real balls to it, in effect turning it into a tribal bass drum sounding like it was being hit pretty hard. Further processing was done to separate the jingle from the drum part of the tambourine. Detailed filtering on cloned tracks let me cut the drum out of one track and the jingles out of the other, in effect creating two instruments from one instrument. I did that a couple places for the more rirualistic and festive sounding parts.

Creating some stereo spread without reverb was handy on some tracks, but since the aural model I had in mind when I worked in 2000 was that of the Paul Winter Consort playing their Solstice Live concerts in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, I was cool with massive reverb. This is meant to be a powerful and atmospheric sounding recording, and so it gave itself to such processing. Some rich delays too.

With all the muckity muck of the 45 tracks that I mixed (the biggest project I ever mixed, but really only from 2-8 tracks at once), I was still keen to keep natural sounding dynamics intact. I mixed and remixed several times, reviewing in mono, small speakers, out of my room, and on headphones. I kept compression to a minimum on the whole mix, and used a bit of widening to make it even richer.

The art from 2000 was really basic and rushed. Remember, it was just to give away as a Christmas present. All I did then was to use a picture from a calendar I had a year before—one with a slightly iconic Ron Kimball portrait (porktrait?) of a giant hog towing a sleigh with a piglet at the helm. Then I used label maker tape to mark it up as from TAPKAE, and to call it Y2k Holiday Theme Music. The words "Hog! Hog! Hog!" were meant to be read as "Ho Ho Ho!" but I don't think anyone got it. It was innocent and cute but it was someone else's work and done stupidly cheap. So this time I put a bit more work into the design. I still used someone else's work but made it look a lot nicer. These days, since nothing is released on a CD-R anymore (at least not for free), a bit of humor got lost. Originally there was a CD with a paper label applied, with one side of the spindle hole showing "Side A" and the other, "Side B."

These days the prospect of creating some audio and turning it loose on the world is finally starting to appeal to me. In the old days I gave so much of it away anyway. With Soundcloud now proving to be a great sharing option, allowing ready downloads, links, and embedding, I have decided that I should properly post stuff with full tagging and notes, and set it out there. This tune is on YouTube as you see, and also on Soundcloud. While the mixes I've had around for years have been online, it's not much use to just have them hosted on my site. That's been kind of a shift of paradigm too. After blowing out the last of the copies of Receiving, I decided to get it on Soundcloud as a high quality download. Now this. I plan to work my way backward and remix things and get my more established stuff together that way.

Personal Background

A bigger story lurks behind the timing of both the original recording and this remix. Indulge me, and you might appreciate the layers of meaning to its creator.

In 2000, I was 27 and at that time of life when it was time to address the various broken relationships and other troubling aspects of life. Seeking to reconnect with my mom and the extended family constellated around her after the better part of six years estrangement (not even the first of its kind), I sought their numbers in phone books at 7/11 stores around their known neighborhoods. That turned up a successful connection and I went to a reunion two days before Thanksgiving that year. The occasion was not just to welcome me though. I was at least "second fiddle" that day; the larger cause was that my grandmother there had died the week before, literally the morning after I got a call back from my sister. I hadn't seen my grandmother in years.

Despite the mixed emotional content of that day, I entered the holidays with a great deal of optimism. It was made all the more interesting because it was just then that I found my young niece Kaitlin to be a delightful inspiration. I had three other nephews from my older sister, but I'd never connected with them at any significant level. But with my niece, I got that feeling that I could be someone for her. This time, my resolve was there.

Back at home in San Diego, that spark continued when I went into the studio and spent about a week and a half leaping from one instrument to another and back again, having all sorts of ideas come to me, fortunately at a time when I had some cool keyboards and percussion toys on loan, and lots of time to indulge the muse's calling.

Yes, it's spontaneous and rather unfinished and gets from one idea to another without returning to any one theme, but the joy of recording it comes through clearly. I've always found it interesting to note that this project has a lot more melody and charm than anything I'd done thus far. It wasn't so dark, or so goofy. Maybe it reflects some of the consonance I felt for a few weeks at the end of 2000. The world was a safer place. A little girl melted my heart and made it safe to be vulnerable again. Who knows.

Now, in 2012, the sad fact is the family relations continue to be unbearable most of the time, not unlike the situation that launched this whole story. It has been an incredibly challenging part of life to deal with all this, trying to live with either their presence OR their absence. The prolonged estrangement periods take everyone out of the picture for the most part, and the short punctuations to that are usually heated and savage. I did get to see my niece briefly as I paid my mom a visit in November (half-coincidentally just a few days before Thanksgiving once again). Unlike the occasions 12 years ago, I left there realizing there would never be a relationship, and because of my sister's intransigence, all those years have passed and I've not ever been given a chance to be in any relationship with my niece. It's not that there is no hope, but essentially, the book has been written by now. (To further indicate the measure of dysfunction, no one actually told me my own half brother had died until I happened to drop in at mom's place over six months after the fact!)

So while the optimism of 2000 has had stumbling blocks put before it, and the recent remix project was laboring under the cloud of a new dose of defeat for my spirit, this year, rather than limiting the dedication to niece Kaitlin, this year's work is dedicated to the people who have sustained me on the outside of the rather disappointing family I was born to.

The solstice happens in the darkest time but signifies the coming of the light.

Santa and the Kingdom of Childhood: a Bit of a Troubled Place

A related project that uses a bit of the 2000 version of HHHTM is this short video that I put together this year. The reading is from a book called The Dance of Time by author Michael Judge. I loved the reading so much that in 2010, I decided to do a few takes. The whole thing is explained in more detail in another post. Shortly after getting that video posted, I got a call from my sister Nikki, chewing me out big time for posting pictures of her minor child (Katie's 15 now). Oh? Well, she's my niece too. She tried to tell me she wasn't so I dared her to prove it with DNA testing. And four of seven pictures are mine. She tried to tell me they weren't when I hold the negatives in my box just in the other room. She threatened legal/law enforcement action. I know what she means, but her fiat declaration that Katie is not my niece is kinda flimsy. I mean, at one point, I was welcomed into their house, took pictures of my family member, and a dozen years later I posted them online? If my sister is worried about all that kind of stuff, maybe she ought tell Katie she can't have a Facebook account, or she ought not post pictures herself where people like me (she calls me a "stalker," or "pedophile" or "child molester") might find them. I offered to take out the three pictures I didn't take myself.

So enjoy the show. Merry Christmas to all. Even those family members who like to pretend they're not.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


Social Media Serendipity

kelli does a forum on disability and accessibility in the churchKelli at her forumYesterday I went to the Annual Gathering event of the Southern California/Nevada Conference of the United Church of Christ. Let's just call it SCNCUCC—they do! It is a two day event and I'll be going today too. Kelli has been a part of the planning committee for three years now, and this is her last term. Just as well, she has served that role for a while but now she has a new job she's looking at, working for a hospice in town that has been eager to get her on the staff, offering her a nice position that finally seems to honor her massive amount of preparation. Anyhow, in the SCNCUCC world, she is not only this organizer figure, but she is gaining some traction as an advocate-educator for addressing disability in church life, working for Accessibility to All (physical and attitudinal barriers being brought down to size or eliminated where they keep people with disabilities from full participation in worship and church life). Today, in addition to the harrowing weeks of preparation for the entire event, she also did a forum on her topic as part of the program itself! Finding that my Canon camera did quite fine work for documenting such an occasion, I set that up for Kelli to use, with the hopes we might get some YouTube footage.

In a neighboring space, Lee Van Ham was also giving a forum on his topic of choice: One Earth Economics and how churches can shape consciousness to get more people to live accordingly. Lee spoke at last year's gathering, and on a couple of occasions he's been to my church to do three-part forums. Unfortunately, Lee and Kelli were talking at exactly the same time in neighboring spaces so I could not fully attend both. But, with my becoming media boy in the last year, I found a way to get each preserved to some format.

A couple days ago I bought a small field recorder by Zoom. H4N is a device that can do great stereo recordings with a built in X pattern set of mic capsules. It can also accept two other wired mics or instruments. Or it can act as a USB audio interface to a laptop. Also in the last few weeks I found that my Canon still camera does a pretty adequate job of capturing both video and audio that can be used in YouTube and quick promotional and library fodder. Armed with both of these and Lee's Macbook Pro, Lee and I drove up to Torrey Pines and set up two spaces.

Lee and I were outside on a patio. A little bit out of the way, I thought, but Lee does talk about stuff that people still have a hard time wrapping their heads around sometimes. And he isn't UCC. Anyhow, the patio was nice and breezy. Sunny. Gorgeous day. We put the H4 on a mic stand and the Mac on a table. It would capture video with the H4 as an interface. Simple stuff. If that didn't work though, it would be a quick and effective recorder that could be downloaded later. But today's challenge was to get good audio and basic video from the laptop's onboard camera. What I think I got was a fine recording of the ambiant noise in the region. (There must have been an airshow because there were prop planes all over.) Maybe I got a bunch of wind noise. Shall see. I sat at the computer and monitored it closely during the whole talk.

So far so good. The ten people in attendance were quite close by. I looked up and saw one Susan Styn. I recognized her last name quickly and her church affiliation was a nearby UCC. I've already written about two of her family members here: her father Caleb Shikels and son John Halcyon Styn. John is perhaps best known for launching Hug Nation with his grandpa Caleb. John has been into internet publishing since the mid 1990s and has developed quite a persona. But with Caleb, he took the power of the web and used it to spread Caleb's amazing life experience and wisdom gleaned from his almost 95 years. Caleb was a close friend of my old church in PB. He used to walk a hilly half mile from his dorm at a senior full-service community. He was always charming and witty, but most of all compassionate and—let me not be ambiguous here—a holy man. Our pastor, a man of letters and of a pastoral heart too, stopped to listen with rapt attention to whatever Caleb had to say. Grandson John got closer to Caleb after Caleb's wife died. Over time, their relationship blossomed and the Hug Nation webcast became a weekly thing that got wider and wider attention. How could it not? The tagline is, "the world would rather hug you than hurt you." John is on the record telling how Caleb realized the vast potential of the web to do social good, especially if you start with good raw material. And his life was that. Even up to his final hours, Caleb was part of Hug Nation. Those late episodes are gripping. The ones that follow his death—almost immediately so—with John reflecting on it all, naked with emotion, is so beautiful. It is among the best uses of the Internet I have seen.

John is a master of self promotion, and quite clever at it all. Video blogs, podcasts, webcasts... you name it, he's tried it. Everything he does involves an insanely loud shade of pink (and probably feathers or latex). As outrageous as he is, you gotta take the guy seriously in his way of being so upfront and candid. A year or so ago I was faced with doing the web work for JEM. Talked podcast and YouTube. We are doing just that now. But I also had to get past myself with regard to media burnout, techno burnout, etc.  Last fall, I happened to be thinking of how John gave Caleb perhaps his most eclectic and largest congregation: the world. It made me want to learn more finally so I could be of some service to JEM. After all, I've had time to learn and be influenced by Lee for a few years now. More than with Caleb, but I can see how me and John are—in gratitude—both trying to turn a bit of energy back into their respective ministries and to multiply their reach.

In a similar way, for me to have suggested and then urged (or nagged) Women Who Speak In Church into existence is an attempt to not let time fly by so fast for Kelli and me. Ever since I discovered the B2 blogging platform in March 2004 (starting this blog in earnest), I had been suggesting some kind of shared project for us to be involved in (since we don't have rugrats, see?). It just took an extra seven years to get there! Having come back to my roots of self publishing, the tools today to build community even in the cyberspace zone are many. The need is there. Kelli and her cadre of friends in ministry are always interesting to listen to. They are a new generation of clergy, sure, but they are also near the leading edge of a larger trend in mainline denominations: more women than men enter seminary now. So, the world of the faithful is statistically more likely to get a woman pastor. Or a chaplain in a hospital or hospice or battlefield will be a woman. WWSIC is one way to help introduce that to people, through the stories of the contributors. To learn how a woman's ministry is different, or rooted in a different paradigm of existence.

Maybe my motivations are coming from different places at once. I do like recording and publishing. There is a neat feeling that follows that kind of work. I want to support my dear wife in her endeavors, or Lee after his pointing the way to new lifeways. But there is a dose of rebellion in this too. In the case of WWSIC, part of the not-so-conscious motivation is to make the counterargument against the voices that think it is preposterous or socially dangerous that women should fill the high level clergy positions. This is not just an abstraction; my own stepmother (an 89 year old woman now) has been drifting farther and farther rightward during my married years. Years ago she was inquiring when I would find a quality wife and settle down. She used to ask me rather often what I though my role should be in a marriage, and what my wife's should be. Feminism confused her. In the early days with Kelli, it was innocent enough. But my stepmom initially wanted to skip my wedding until I begged and pleaded with her that she would be my only family (and not even by blood) who would come to that special day. She did come. But over the years since, she has called into question Kelli's movement into ministry, most particularly the movement toward ordination. She can rattle off biblical texts with the standard issue fundamentalist fervor, but she doesn't seem to understand them. If she did, she would know that God cannot be contained. God cannot be boxed in. God calls all the unlikely suspects. The ones that no one expects. Or if we are true to reality, the ones WE don't want. God works on the outside of our human value system. If God wants Kelli or any other woman on the staff, did God make a mistake? Did Kelli accidentally pick up the phone when the call was for a penis-bearing human?

I think the world knows what a couple thousand years of male-shaped church life has gotten us. Maybe if this God is so big, so vast, so in control, maybe it is time we admit that it is time for women to be given their rightful place in the balance of things, and that we might have to face that God has something to do with it all. Maybe God is sending the message, 'move over, I'll drive!' Maybe my stepmom will curse and stamp her feet, but I am perfectly happy to be married to "a nice church girl" who also happens to be the baptizing, Lord's supper serving pastor too! And in supporting her against all adversaries, I have to be ready. But in a less defensive posture, I could bring to mind a favorite quote that Lee cites to illustrate how this work to change things should be approached. Buckminster Fuller said, "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change things build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." I don't have to wreck the male establishment to advocate that women should preach. It isn't a zero-sum game here. Of the women I hear in Kelli's world, they speak of being incorporated into the mix, not taking it over. If any self-respecting fundamentalist really believes the Bible is inerrant and should be taken by the letter, then really he has to contend with Paul's illustration of the Body of Christ, with many members. And the body of Christ is probably made up of a bunch of penises either! Or he has to deal with the Pentecost event that animated people of all stripes and led them to break into evangelism to all sorts of people. If God wants to call and send the Spirit to animate people, then that is not something that some narrowminded second guesser of the divine should be commenting on. God's strategy always seem to skirt expectation. Clever, eh?

That last bit most clearly took a swipe at the stance of my step mom, but for me to leave the male side of things out is to miss a big chunk of what animates me. It seems both my step mom and my old man are put in some kind of disorder at the presence of Kelli in my life. Both think she has come between me and them. Both do their little form of protest and estrangement, or both drop their condescending comments that we have largely chosen to shut out. The fact is, Kelli, cute and cuddly as she is, is a force to be reckoned with. She appears young but is initiated in life by all manner of pain, disappointment, and loss. She has a brilliant theological mind that sometimes leaves peers in the dust. Her academic sense is spot on and she typically is ahead of her class. She has served seniors, K-2 kids, middle school students, dying patients, hospital patients, church congregations as Xtian Ed. director and Sunday School teacher, and has been a disability rights advocate and educator. She is a poet and book maker. We recorded a CD together. She is also yet to be 35! Anyone is foolish to diminish her. Warm of heart, sharp of tongue, she is. I plan to defend her against all comers, even family. Especially family. I married a nice church girl. Get over it, already! I also say, the problem with persecuting Christians is that they become...more Christian!

But more than as an act of defense, WWSIC is a way to live the Bucky Fuller lesson. JEM is too. Both keep me focused on moving forward somehow. One way I understand my own brand of Christian resurrection is that so much energy now goes to supporting these causes—energy that once went to supporting mine and feeling closer to death with each passing day. John Styn helped me find myself with relation to the role of technology, and myself was really to do some good for others. Funny then I would run into his mom at the very same time as I was recording for both Lee and Kelli. Sometimes you just get little clues along the way that you're on the right track.



Thanks for Caleb and John.

Thanks for family of choice.

Thanks for Buber the Dog.

Thanks for a full plate whether I need it or not.

Thanks for the plants that grow in the back yard.

Thanks for the Toyota that still runs.

Thanks for the metanoia.

Thanks for the return of the swine.

Thanks for the fire crews who saved a city.

Thanks for those who don't give up.

Thanks for the flying colors.

Thanks for holy moments in unholy places.

Thanks for gay marriage, abortion, the homeless, and athiests.

Thanks for the story.

Thanks for the glass whether it is half or half.

Thanks for the house of mirrors.

Thanks for the empty nest.

Thanks for the market crash.

Thanks for the end of the world as we know it.

Thanks for El Cotixan and Satan's.

Thanks for opportunities to get it right.

Thanks for forgiveness when we get it wrong.

Thanks for the Sabbath.

Thanks for peak oil and global warming.

Thanks for heartbreak.

Thanks for loss.

Thanks for a role in the play.

Thanks for midnight.

Thanks for love.

Thanks for compost.

Thanks for the magician.

Thanks for mystery.

Thanks for wonder.

Thanks for a loving wife.


Does Practice Really Make Perfect?

It's hard to believe that I am moving again. On the other hand, it is day and night from what the last experience was. The last move was utterly horrendous in a way that a person could wish that the memory erasing procedure in The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was real. Or not. You know, you have to measure the good times against the bad ones to appreciate the good. So in that regard, I guess that the grueling experience of the mid summer of 2005 was necessary and maybe good. My old man is still an ass with regards to his little vendetta he is holding against me, but we don't have much to do with him now.

Yesterday I spent some time at the new house raking and cutting some brush and hauling it off. Adam left on Tuesday, and his dad Phil is cleaning out the house. I have a lot of things over there already, mainly in the garage. With most of the trips I am making to the place for various reasons, things are trickling in. Glenn and I are about to take a new truckload or two over today. Kelli started school this week so she is limited as to what she can do, but at least the last days at this apartment are ones when she has off so we can bust out with the final cleaning and stuff, and by then the new house will be cleaned and ready for us to set up camp for real. Our final roommate situation is not finalized, though Phil's partner Nancy has a son that will be one of them for a while, and possibly Suzanne, a friend of Kelli's will be the second.

This moving experience has been a whole lot smoother and rewarding than the last. It only leads me to worry that when the year is up (the intended time that Adam and wife Caroline will live in her native Brazil), it might have to be another challenging move to some other situation where once again there would be no studio, no space, and the feeling of being pushed into an uncomfortable corner. But there's no sense in letting that spoil the fun. With that in the back of the mind though, it does sort of suggest that maybe I need to pare down my material possessions so that I don't have to endure loss, breakage and ironically, clutter (!) such as I have these last few months.


Wealth, Reconsidered

Today I woke up at 9:30. It was a rare day off from work. It was one of those days that, as a day off from work and one where I would lose a day's pay, I dread seeing on the schedule. I have more of these days to come in December since the company falls into the typical holiday slow period. I hope I don't have enough days off to cripple my income—that would be too many. But there might be a kicker of a week next week, with predicted overtime that might help bouy up the weaker time ahead by a small margin. Last night had a couple hours of OT dropped in at the last minute which made me feel a little better about today's "loss."

Almost as soon as I woke up, I got a call from Eric with whom I used to work in the sound biz. I approached him about doing a site survey at my church since there has been some interest in getting a proper PA system there. I had also booked another contractor for today but he couldn't make it. Eric told me he could meet as soon as I could. I got to the church an hour later, getting caught in some wicked traffic until I could take another route which was probably equally slow but less tedious. It used to take less than ten minutes to drive two miles. Now it takes 20 minutes to drive ten miles if everything is working my way. Today took 40 minutes. Eric and I did the site survey and were done in about 30 minutes. I didn't know Mike (the other contractor) wasn't able to make it, so I busied myself with breakfast and some reading on James Kunstler's book, The Long Emergency while I waited, supposedly until he called a while later to get directions.

Then I went to the church office at the beckoning of the secretary Beverly who was stumped about how to receive her e-mail (such people still exist, yes). So I did the usual battery of send/receive tests and concluded things were fine. What I didn't know is that somehow she didn't know about the "send and receive all" button, and was startled to learn that the inbox doesn't just magically update itself upon launch. Oh well, not everyone was born with a silicon chip in their mouth (they didn't exist when Bev was born). I hate Windows OS, being a Mac guy, but really, I learned Mac from making all sorts of mistakes, and since her email hadn't been checked since I gave her the church address a few months ago, all of a sudden there came a few dozen emails. So I showed her how it all worked, and after endearing myself to her for my troubleshooting effort, then some other "hurdles" of hers surfaced, and I helped her with those too.

Then I called to find out that Mike K. from Pro Sound would not be able to make it to the church, so it was time to get on with the next part of the day. After doing my trustee's job of being the technical go-between and getting bids for the PA system project, and offering expert advice on computers (both of which would fetch some handsome cash if I were billing), I then called Dee, the lady who writes the church Christmas play each year. Back in the day, I used to be one of the thespians. Now I provide expert audio editing and production services.

Dee needed a list of songs edited down in clever ways to enhance their play. So she came over here and spent a couple of hours as we took a variety of Christmas songs and diced them up to accomplish certain things that the script required. Some were simple fades, but some took some digital surgery. For a retired schoolteacher, digital audio editing is quite a new thing. For me, it's standard fare. She never realized how deep I was into all this. And today, I didn't even have the luxury of using ProTools. Nonetheless, Peak is capable if the imagination exists to use it that way. So I wrangled samples of Bing Crosby and the Chipmunks into form and she left. I spent another hour tidying it all up and cutting the CD.

Then it was time to clean up after my hard day at work. I had my solo counseling appointment at 7 pm. Today, it was said that I seemed in a far better mood than before, despite the range of thorny and complex things I often report on, and still reported on tonight, but with some levity. I left there feeling better that maybe things are better and that I can deal better with things. I've been going continuously for over two years since I was in the throes of clinical depression in summer of 2003. I am thinking of discontinuing for reasons that are primarily financial, but also it seems that it's time to take the training wheels off and see how things go when I soar without a net.

I left there and took Dee her CD. She was delighted. It led to a conversation that took the next hour and a half or so. I've known Dee for years and years, but this was a totally unique conversation. It was real validating. There was a lot of peak oil talk because it's impossible to have anyone understand what makes me tick without encountering that topic. But it carried us through talk about music, my old recordings, and the one that Kelli and me did some years ago, and through literature and politics. It was great. It was, as Martin Buber would say, meeting. And, actually the Buberian reference is appropos to this talk with Dee at her house. It was in 1989, and again this summer when a small group of church folks did a detailed study of Buber's I and Thou, in which a central tenet of the book is that all real living is meeting.

Then I left and chased all over North Park for a grocery store that was open after 11. I got some stuff and ate a tasty salad and reflected on my day.

I didn't earn a damn cent today. In the morning, when I got the phone for Eric's call, I noticed that there was a call from work asking if I'd come in for three hours. I didn't reply. Nor did I reply to the call three hours later. I'm not boasting; I just decided my day was valuable to me in its own right, using the skills or talents I have to make myself useful to individuals and to my church community as a whole. On a day like today, I didn't complain for getting gypped of hours or pay. I didn't complain for what I didn't have. I only enjoyed what I did have, and shared it freely. I had a whole different experience even within that aspect of things—I've done lots of "free" work for people before, and some of that is what drove me to depression. I've done a lot of audio work and recording work for too little. Either it was on spec or an outright lie that I would be paid but wasn't. I've done years and years of work for peanuts. I often still feel that I have never really gotten my fair share in some deals. But today, I did a lot of things that if I billed as a professional, I could do pretty well. I used to pay out of my own pocket the cost of studio time to accomplish what I did for Dee today: I paid $200 for this same type of work back in 1994-1998! Who knows how much Bev would be in for if she really called a tech to fix her little email issue, but let's say that its at least $30 an hour. I'm already anticipating doing the church PA installation myself, probably as assistant to whoever we hire.

A day like today reminds me that money is not everything. In some ways, I wish I had gone to work, but really I wish that only because my wage would be handy when it comes time for bills this month. I have enough to get by, but I worry about it a lot because Kelli can't work, and any money she has to offer now is from financial aid loans. But today was so rich for me. So validating. I often feel that my contribution at work is so little valued, even at the wage I get. I feel often that I am very replaceable. But at my church, and with folks who stem from that central relationship, I am someone. Someone who can do something unique, or someone who sees the world in a different way that challenges them. Some days I use my computer chops, or today my musical ear and ability to edit like a composer. Two weeks ago it was my ox-like ability to move staggeringly heavy furniture on my own before anyone arrived to the work party. It's weird. I get paid to do that sort of thing but feel devalued. But if I do it for free without being asked, I feel like someone special.

If I had other ways of coping within the economic system of the present, I would just quit my job altogether. For now, it's time for bed. I get up at 6:45. It's 12:30 am.



I began to record the services at my church three years ago. Jerry, our minister, has been with us nearly 20 years now, and he has been a great friend for most of that time, except for the times of course when I never showed my face around there for years at a time, but that was a reflection on me, not him. I began to do the recordings as a way to uphold my end of the deal, thinking upon reflection that his place in my life was tremendously influential on me, and to preserve his work would be a good and noble way to show that. Each week, I record the service and then take the CD home to edit out the sermons, which I keep an archive of for the whole church to use. I also put the audio up on the web. And in this case, the first recording I made there, on November 24, 2002, is on Thanksgiving, and coincidentally, exactly three years ago now. I loved this message right away, and periodically, I would revisit it. Finally, I decided to transcribe it. It might be a bit much to transcribe all the recordings, but this one I didn't want to miss.


Psalms 100
Luke 17:11-191
Thessalonians 5:16-18

Our reflection this morning concerns the commandment to give thanks. If we look at biblical references to giving thanks, we find that they are many. To give thanks is one of the major commandments of the biblical witness. In the Hebrew bible, the act of giving thanks is primarily declared in the book of Psalms. This is where the greatest number of references occur. When we consider that the book of Psalms was the liturgy book, the songbook of ancient Israel, covering nearly a millennium of time, we see how central thanksgiving is to our faith. We begin to get a deeper appreciation for the central role of thanksgiving in the worship of God—the God of the Exodus, the creator and savior of the world. In the most famous of the Psalms, Psalm 100, the Psalm commands us. “Enter His gates with thanksgiving, give thanks to Him. Bless His name.” What does it mean? To enter God’s gates with thanksgiving. Of course it meant to enter the temple with thanksgiving. But there is a deeper meaning. Thanksgiving is an approach, an entry into the holy presence. A way of moving toward the divine countenance, a way of unlocking the gate of the Spirit. There is a negative corollary: do not give thanks and remain at a distance from the divine presence. Thanksgiving is the key that makes entry into the gate of the holy presence possible.

We do not always find reasons to give thanks. Often life seems too harsh, too absurd, too filled with conflict and destruction. How could we possibly give thanks in such a context? Many years ago now, a very sensitive person asked me, “how can I give thanks for bread and good food when so many are starving to death? Am I to be thankful that because of luck I am not one of them?” I suspect that all of us at one time or another have asked ourselves a similar question. Sensitivity to the suffering of others raises the question of the validity of thanksgiving, perhaps as nothing else does. Still we are commanded to enter His gates with thanksgiving. Why the commandment—and what we do with the seeming conflict—between it and the reality we often feel…is our task.

Insight into the answer of why we give thanks is to be offered us by our text for this morning. By remembering that according to all of the accounts, Jesus’ offering of thanks substantially took place at the meal he shared with his followers on the night on which he was betrayed, arrested, and delivered into the power of Rome to be killed. Thus, the time-honored name of the liturgy surrounding his meal is Eucharist, which is the Greek verb, “to give thanks.” So at the center of the passion story, or almost at the center of the passion narrative of Jesus is the commandment to give thanks. We may wonder how Jesus gave thanks, but that’s not the question. The question is why did he. And in answering why he did, we may come to a deeper understanding of why we must.

Jesus was of course following the Passover liturgy, commanding as it did, the giving of thanks. But there was more than that… there was a deeper root of giving thanks. We’re told Jesus was shocked and puzzled because only one out of ten lepers returned to give thanks. I think Jesus was shocked and puzzled not because he felt slighted but because such callousness amounts to a disregard for the miracle of being. The miracle of being. And the God who gives it. Fundamentally, thanksgiving arises from the deep appreciation that we do not create our own life—that all we have, we owe. It's not trite to say that there is no such thing as a self-made person. But many people act as though that were the literal truth. The next thought has to be ‘what happens when people behave as though we owe no one else or any other our being, our life, our breath?’ And the answer to that question is clear and precise. All of the violence and destruction and ruin that we know in history, and our own time give to us the insight that they rest on a fundamental false premise, and that is that we owe no one thanks for anything. We owe no one anything. We are the measure of all things. We can do as we wish, as power is the extension of our own ego that is not in debt to anyone or anything else.

All lip service to the contrary (such a predominant idea) and living action throughout history and our own time leads us of course, into the shadows, and thus we have to counteract it.

So we have to be clear. Does not an ethic of justice and love, compassion and care, rest on the living acknowledgement that what we have, we owe? Does not an ethic of justice and love, care and compassion rest on the reason for our giving thanks? Thanksgiving is a sacrifice. It’s the sacrifice of our own egotism, our own self-centeredness, in acknowledgement that we are surrounded by that which gives us life, and breath, and everything else. Life is gift granted to us for a season and a time. To fail to give thanks is worse than death. It is to be insensitive to the source and goal of our being, and those who have sustained us along our life’s way. And, as Elie Wiesel has written, “The opposite of life is not death. It is insensitivity.” Insensitivity to the mystery of our being, and the being of others inexorably leads to the violation of our own life, and the life of others. And so we remember, thanksgiving is a living memory of who we are, who we owe, and of the God who granted us the mystery of existence in the first place.

Paul of Tarsus commands, “in everything, give thanks.” Having tried to be sensitive to the reason for giving thanks, we come closer to an understanding of how we may give it. We may give thanks because it is owed and because it is a reminder to ourselves of who we really are. Paul commands, in everything give thanks, and that means that thanksgiving must also take on the contours of resistance. Resistance.

My teacher, father Gustavo Gutierrez, from Lima, Peru, the so-called father of Latin American liberation theology, told us that at the root of all theologies of liberation is the heart and spirit of gratitude. Gratitude. Why? Because the powers of oppression, the powers of destruction and violence seek to destroy the reasons for thankfulness, thus casting people into despair, cynicism, nihilism, and the way to resist is again to give thanks. To remember all the reasons for giving thanks. And that’s why, often enough, in the heart of the poorest favilas in Latin America, the center of the community is a joyous thanksgiving. People who live on the edge of starvation, giving thanks as a way of resisting the condition that forced them into that situation in the first place.

The way to resist is to give thanks. Thanksgiving is an act of resistance because it consecrates the world where we are—delivering it into the presence of God, entering the gate of the Holy, recognizing the source and mystery of all being, beauty, justice, loving kindness. For all the reasons the powers of the shadows give to erase gratitude from our hearts, we are in the midst of them to give thanks as a testimony to their lie. Thus in everything, we are to give thanks.

Think if you will of the most simple and profound act: saying grace over bread. Saying grace over bread. A simple act recounted by us countless times in our lives. And we remind ourselves of the Hebrew blessing, as old as Judaism itself:

Blessed be thou O lord our God,
Master of the universe
Who brings us forth bread from the earth.


A simple “thank you.” It does not seem much. But it was said in Auschwitz and Treblinka. Even there. And we know from Alexander Solzenitzen that prayers of thanksgiving over a crust of bread were said countless times in the gulag of the Soviet Union. Prayers of thanksgiving as resistance. The consecrating of life and breath and the world itself in the face of all that seeks to destroy. And at our own tables too. Thanks over bread. The consecration of life. The wonder of being. The beauty and preciousness of love, friendship, and hope as resistance against all that seeks to take it away.

Thanksgiving is entry into God’s presence—the gate of the Holy. Gratitude is the key to God’s future opposed to the death we seek to sow in ours. How do we give thanks rests in why we give thanks. We give thanks to acknowledge the mystery and wonder of life. The mystery and wonder we did not and do not create and for which we owe everything. It is simple then to give thanks. It may be done at any time…surely, over a piece of bread, but also at any other time. We are to be a living thanksgiving, as seal and testimony that creation, life, breath, beauty, wonder do not belong to us except as a gift, and that therefore, we are not the lords of the earth, for the one lord of heaven and earth rests with us.

And so we say,

Blessed be thou O lord our God
Who has created us,
sustained us,
And enabled us to reach this season.



Message To EONSNOW List

I sent the following to my email list after having a great turnout at my showing of the WalMart Movie by Robert Greenwald. The part of this message about Thanksgiving and peak oil falling on the same day, only to be followed by business-as-usual is especially bittersweet and poignant for me. I plan to have a great dinner with the closest thing to a functioning family that I have: Kelli and I are going to spend the holiday with some family friends who have adopted us and made our lives richer for the time we've been together. It is interactions like these that show me the promise of the community that I think is critical in the near future when a lot of promises and hearts are broken because of energy scarcity. We already see problems of large operations in entropy—the response to Katrina is one such instance that our government is unable to meet our needs, and should not be counted on. The only anything that will matter is our determination to cooperate and share what we have.

Some have rightly noted that most of what I present is not all cheery. It lacks the Hollywood ending. I leave the Hollywood endings to Hollywood. What we have before us in Peak Oil is a huge issue that no three living generations of humans ever had to cope with before. The implications reach across all sorts of human activity and our civilization itself. Huge question marks are popping up over all sorts of minds when the topic comes up: how does a global society that is addicted to cheap and abundant oil deal with the time when that is no longer possible? What is at risk when the very lifeblood of our elaborate systems of agriculture, transportation, economic growth, finance, and technological development is in peril of peaking and declining steadily (oil), or altogether crashing (gas)?

We got problems.

One thing I can't stress enough is that the range of things that I am talking about are not partisan issues. They are everyone's issues. There is some need to get partisan because we do have a lopsided "balance" of power in this nation, and these people are distracting us with petty nonsense that is worthless in the face of what our real enemy is: the end of the oil age, and the fact that it will up and smack us in the face with an utter lack of media attention. So, folks like me who find the time and will to give a damn are the ones who are saddled with the chore of spreading the word. I guess I am the liberal media.

People often ask what the solutions to these things are. The answer is simple: it's not simple. However, I do offer a few things like:

Take stock of your motivations for what you do. Don't take things for granted. Have you let the quasi-official state religion of consumerism get the better of you? Challenge yourself to break habits that keep you in debt, or that keep you from engaging in good relationships with family, friends, and community, or following your God. Why do you work 60 hours a week?

Trust your own abilities. A lot of consumerism comes as a result of people who have been trained to doubt themselves, which is just the sort of people who will have to shell out money for all sorts of goods and services that might be unnecessary. A lot of us like to "leave it to the experts" when we don't even need to. What you can't do yourself, maybe your friend can. And vice versa.

Ask yourself if there is any simpler solution to whatever problem you face. Or can you be any more resourceful than the last time you faced the same problem?

Value things that can’t be bought. One day not everything will be for sale. If we are looking to devices, knick-knacks and other junk for comfort, then someday when this system fails us, we are going to have a nightmarish depression that a world of psychiatrists can’t fix. Consumerism is not a substitute for the fundamental joy we should derive from real life, in all its complexity and beauty, and yes, tragedy. You’ve heard it before—you can’t take it with you. After a century of economic growth predicated on disposable everything, and predicated on insecurity, it is only up to us to decide to claim our lives back. We’re headed for a time when there will be a permanently declining amount of fortune. Either we can be invested in disposable artifacts of our present, or we can be invested in the community life that will do the work of sustaining us when everything else falls away around us.

There are no for-sure things to tell you. But my time researching all this for the past two years has led me to doubt most of what passes for the name-brand media, and to doubt rosy-sighted economists that tell us the future will be better when we just get this technology or break through the regulations that hold the market back. Nonsense. What we have is an overly complex civilization that is ready to fall from its own mass. Hurricanes can’t be dealt with by our inept government. Corruption is rampant, but is business as usual. Marketism is the official religion that keeps us scared—stop consuming and the economy will collapse. And of course, the hijacking of at least two of the world’s major religious faiths by radicals who can’t be called fundamentalists because they really don’t get what the fundamentals of their respective religions really are! What we have is a system that is already in the process of crumbling. It is usually a fate that any large system can look forward to. Would we not be fools to think that our turn would never come up?

I want to reiterate some things that were mentioned briefly at the meeting on 11/20.

Kenneth Deffeyes says that peak oil is due to take place on Thanksgiving 2005. The day after that is the day that Adbusters.org has dubbed “Buy Nothing Day” as a deliberate attempt to jam consumer culture on the highest of high holy days for the retail sector. Hmmm. You folks, and others like you might be the only ones who can appreciate this point in history. It is a microcosm of the world’s dilemma-at-large. One day we will have peak oil (whether or not it really is on Thanksgiving 2005), and the next day, people will continue on with life as usual because no one will have told them about the day before, and what it means. Life as usual of course means that people are spending themselves silly, flying in airplanes just to play the slots in Las Vegas, and generally living like there is no tomorrow. Well, I have news. There IS a tomorrow. But if we don’t stop this madness, it will be in the dark, in the cold, and we will all be watching as our precious world gets torn asunder under the stress of figuring out how to live differently, while still clinging for dear life to the old ways— easy motoring, something-for-nothing, and in a consensus trance that everything is goingalongjustfinethankyouverymuch. (I just ripped off Jim Kunstler in a big way.)

For Thanksgiving this week, promise me you will take a moment to understand where we are today. And where we look to be going. Imagine your Thanksgiving in the absence of cheap and abundant oil and gas:

How would you get your family together from across the continent?How would all that food get to your table?How would it be cooked?How would you be able to heat your home to a pleasant 70º F?How would your veggies be grown without the natural gas based fertilizers and the pesticides and herbicides that keep them looking like prize entries in the local fair?

Whether or not this Thanksgiving turns out to be the momentous point in human history when we have successfully used up the first half of our ancient sunlight endowment, it will probably be the last when we can operate in “business as usual” mode. But I hold that this is actually a good thing.

I wish you all a good holiday. I’m taking December off from annoying all you folks with such stuff, so stay tuned in 2006.