Welcome to TAPKAE.com

"I don't see how anyone would want to read it all for fun." —Robert Fripp

Entries in male spirituality (34)

Sunday
May122013

My Irrational Mothers Day Heart

Everyone on Facebook is posting pix of their moms and showering them with all sorts of praise. I can't be so brief, soft, or fuzzy. I'm in a situation where it seems all there is to do is pathetically beg for my mom's attention, which of course is lame. Let's see how this one goes...

Being a mother's son is largely an abstraction for me. It's an idea more than a reality. I've never really lived with my mother though I've had three more concentrated spells of time when she's been in my life and I was "welcome" to be in the midst of the larger family clustered around her. Most of the time though, she was just not part of things. And even when she was, there would be maybe a lukewarm response to reconnecting. Following that, usually periods of increasing tension and finally some kind of a cold war leading to a prolonged period of silence of a number of years until something stirs in me, feeling the profound wrong-ness of it all to have gone on so long with no resolution or at least no functional communication. Forget about loving fondness or the idea of being any momma's boy. She's far too bitter and I have gone too long to know much about relating to her as mother.

Since 2011 I've been more insistent at trying to reach her or to find inroads into the family wherever I can. Social media has helped find the cracks in the wall where usually I had to face the fact that I did not have direct contact information with everyone constellated around her, and typically, if she was not having me, no one seemed to, making for pretty complete blackouts lasting years. Since 2011 in particular that has begun to shift. Those who will risk being in contact with me do run some risk of her wrath. That might just mean more strain or estrangement. Depending on the particulars of who lives at her house, it might earn a place at the curb, I suppose. (Though I don't think that has happened because of me so far but it's not inconceivable either.) So I applaud the individuals who have made the decision to be in touch, even if only by electronic means. That's a whole new thing.

With more insight from the complicit parties (lol), mother has become both more interesting and one dimensional at once. The newer input I have from a few different voices has indicated that she can be as petty and harsh as I've experienced. She's been caught in some rather stark contradictions and outright lies that seem to be resented widely. I've been assured that lending money to her when she's in distress is sure to cause more problems than it heals. All that. That's sort of the one dimensional side though. Knowing that her tendency that way was not customized for me has been liberating and has led me to wonder more about her than before.

I understand she's a hurt woman like any other. What I don't yet have much understanding of is how at least in my case, she allowed herself to give up the fight for a relationship with me even after the legal situation with my old man ceased to be valid. What I can't really understand is how when I do make the independent attempt to get to know her, humbled by my own nicks and bruises in life and wanting to connect, she can't go there. What kind of momentum keeps her judging me as if I was my old man? Or why in the world did she not even tell me my brother was sick and was about to die just over two years ago? (She had no intention to, since I found that out six months later just because I dared drop in on her house unannounced for the first time in nearly four years.)

I did talk to her last November, two days before Thanksgiving. Coincidentally that was an echo of the third big reunion in 2000, with a reunion just two days before that holiday. That day though was also her mother's memorial service. All these years later, stories are told of how that experience caused fractures for many. But last year, trying to talk to mom in what I hoped would be a heart to heart talk, even as a drop in once again, was kind of like playing racquetball against a mattress. No rebound, even as solid as my game was. Maybe it was because she had recently had a stroke or maybe it was that my sister was moving in to the house and it was a bit noisy and distracted, but she was just there. No real response to some of the most heartfelt stuff. Cold. When she did respond at all it tended to be a toned down bunch of her now-typical "just like your dad" talk. Even though I reported that he's hurt me and I've not talked to him for six years by then. She sat there unimpressed at all I had to say about how this estrangement is killing me. No attempt to reach out. No parting hug. Are you my mother?

After a terrible visit in March 1996—one which was intended to be a sit-down-and-talk-it-out-after-a-year-of-silence visit that ended up putting nearly five years of space between us till the November 2000 reunion—I drove home from mom's place in Long Beach. My girlfriend at the time, Robin, had been up in the apartment for a while during the conversation then left. It was tense enough for her to leave but after she did, it was pure firefight. Maybe an hour afterwards, I came down to the car, feeling banished and defeated to the core. It was Robin that had to remind me that a mom was supposed to love her kid unconditionally. I had to be reminded of it. Or maybe told so, since it seems it was so far from my mind at that point, or maybe it was never my experience in the first place.

Before I had left that day in November 2012, she threw me to the wolf. My younger sister has not spoken to me in nearly a perfect dozen years though she's been vitriolic in any online exchanges, where we've egged each other on. Mother dearest, not even interested enough to see this divide as something worthy of some attention, just let me have a go at talking to my sister. For my daring, I was ripped apart for talk I made 11 years ago about single parenthood, fatherless families, and the like—the observations I had made from my black sheep status outside the family unit, looking in. Completely unforgivable, it seems. She's fond of naming me—completely groundlessly except by association with a man who has done a bit of this stuff—as a child abuser, pedophile, stalker, and all that. No hyperbole out of my sister's mouth is worth calling to task, apparently. Nothing concerning me is worth mending. Not even suggesting we sit and hear each other out. (Okay, we're all big boys and girls now, but still, for all the talk about moms usually wanting family harmony, she surely didn't get that memo about helping to foster it when it's so evidently needed.) Thanks mom :-/

I try not to be so harsh in my assessment but mom has given hell to more than just this black sheep son. I'm not simply imagining that she is difficult and petty, which helps me step back and try to be compassionate. I tried to visit on her birthday last month, even to say the words to her face—an act which is a small bit of pay-it-forward garden tending, and that has not even happened since 2001! A text message thread the next day, had with my older sister and self-proclaimed protector of mom's virtue and sanity (ha!), said mom hid away when she saw it was me at the door. She just turned 69. She's not going to be around forever, and given her heart attack about 20 years ago, and a stroke last year, it's hard to tell if she's got more than a few years ahead. We're never going to be all loving and fond of each other, but with time ticking mercilessly, even knowing her just to learn things about her life or even mine is fast becoming a lost opportunity. Even my late brother James said the words in 2001: "we can't just keep letting five years go between visits..."

I'm not saying this to distract from fault I have in things that have happened, but I'm sure most rational people would agree that those were some awkward moments that anyone could have had, decisions that were boneheaded but not malicious, and especially that the punishment of estrangement (if not outright hostility and vitriol) was doled out more generously than is warranted in such cases. A number of those missteps come from being a foreigner in their midst, and never having any one of them experience my life in San Diego. Something is profoundly wrong though. The rational mind says, "there's not much here to work with. Move on." You can bet plenty of people have told me that. Even some of my family "informants." The other mind, caught in a total tangle of hurts and contradictions is holding out for a diamond in this rough.

To the extent that I could say I feel like the son that would send flowers or post the warm fuzzy messages on Facebook, I could say that those sentiments amount to maybe a few occasions or periods that might condense down into maybe a week or two of lived experience. I could congratulate her hard work, or her almost incomprehensible role as mother to six kids (five in practical life since I was raised by my father and step mom before even she was gone by the time I turned 10). I suppose those props are due for mom. But I never lived it myself. I visited it. She did all that, apparently, because she couldn't make relationships work. Or because somehow she managed to become mother again and again by being with men who treated her like trash. I don't know how to come down about that. It's one of the enduring mysteries. The irony is, my old man was the only one who actually took an interest in his child. (Some of you can appreciate what a bind that puts me in, if you know the story about him!)

The fact is, I don't really know what to make of her motherhood or the patterns of motherhood in her side of the family. It seems like there was an element of chance and some lack of control about all of us being born. I don't think any of us got here because two people really loved each other. Sure, she made something of it but I really can't relate to it. The fact that she has done what she's done to provide for the others, and her almost militant attitude about not needing a man does not endear her to me. She's used the whole thing as a weapon. A wedge. What she has accomplished with the life she's led does not account for what has not happened were the opposite true, a scenario in which she might have some collaborative partner to demonstrate some kind of give-and-take and some kind of balance in life. My younger sister, last to be born and the one with essentially no knowledge of any father figure in life, not even a stepfather, is essentially a savage. (And that isn't just my own assessment.) She's got all the loathing and bitterness of mom, it seems, but with hardly a share of the lived experience and drama of her own. It seems she's inherited and absorbed stories from mom and our older sister and harbors as much resentment as it seems has accumulated prior to her being born.

This very line of confused thought and ambivalence gets me in hot water. I am said to be "judging" her (or my sisters) when I talk this way, or when I seek to be enlightened. Understood. But they have mostly kept me at a distance and so I am left with what evidence I have around me, comparing what I know about them with other observations. With new information, new understanding. Seeing how some of my friends and acquaintances have met their motherhood struggles has softened my heart toward my own mom. The thing is, the understanding I seek calls on higher levels of thought than may be possible with these folks. I'm probably going in circles hoping anyone could explain much beyond just what has happened. Good luck with more nuanced thought that touches on bigger themes in life. That's my lot as I try to deal with these relations. At times it's driven me to anger. Usually hurt and confusion. But always some kind of wonder at it all. It's the blueprint for the things I find myself concerned with in life. It does get abstract and nebulous, even as the people I am dealing with are not abstract. Nor are they really completely grounded. Odd.

Sky

One of the most interesting teachers I had on this matter presented herself to me as a reservation mutt dog named Sky at a sheep ranch in New Mexico in the spring of 2011. She had a litter of puppies that were born under the trailer where I was staying. She had to feed them. There were four giant dogs tasked with guarding the sheep but they seemed to be more keen on eating Sky's food on the porch, probably 100 yards from where they were supposed to be. She ate and drank voraciously. She was scrappy and would fend off those bumbling sheep dogs that kept cutting in on her food. She was small enough and wily enough to figure out a way into a trash enclosure to extract more food. She had the enclosure to herself while the sheep dogs lurked and watched. Somehow I felt the need to feed that dog. Keep feeding her. Don't question it. So I filled her bowl serial times if needed. I sort of served as the camp chef for a week and a half and fed her the scraps and broths. She ate it all. She'd drink a gallon of water at a time, it seemed. I never saw her pups but I didn't question her need. She was a newly relocated dog to that camp. A single mother. Helping the widow and the orphan and the stranger all in one relationship. It was a real spiritual lesson that softened my heart about my mom and helped me formulate a new resolve to visit my her that summer when an opportunity presented itself. Little did I know that by the time I had this experience in New Mexico that my brother had died days before.

While Sky did help me envision my mom's past in another way and to feel compassion for her in a way that had not registered before, the challenge remains of what to do with that insight, despite trying to pay visits to her house. So we're in limbo. If my older sister isn't exaggerating, and mom is really hiding from me, then it seems there isn't much to be done. Flowers, Facebook messages, and fuzzy things won't work. Those are just shallow things of the most superficial order. For Mothers Day all I can do to honor her is to hold up the story and ask if that's the way it's supposed to be. I've made my moves toward reconciliation and some attempt to get into some orderly relationship. I know she's hurt from many things but is that all there is to it? Will there be no growth from that? Call me pretentious but after losing one son to death you might think she'd reconsider what it means that I'm alive and trying to be in contact. After all, I was the one son lost to the law, but that's not relevant now and the door has been open to be in restored relationship for a long time now.

The heart is an irrational thing, isn't it?

Monday
Nov052012

Electile Dysfunction

Walking Buber the Dog tonight I was pondering my place within the nexus of the intersecting, competing, bewildering array of economic, political, and religious philosophies vying for my attention each day, but particularly on a day like tomorrow when every one of their voices reaches a fever pitch, screaming into my ear, tugging my heart, stabbing my back, and generally clamoring for my attention.

The irony of a Thanksgiving race for the hungry... Some have too few calories, others too many.A thought came over me, combining Einstein's insight with Jesus' commitment to those typically forgotten and trampled by social systems: the system that creates the "least of these" can't serve the needs of the least of these.

Sadly, it's not on our menu of options tomorrow, any way to stall and eventually starve the system that creates "the least of these." As it is, my horse isn't even in the race so again I'll vote for second best. To the polls I go, heavy of heart that I too am just an extra (actor) in the political theater, at least for that one day, in that one role, on that one stage.

This blog has been around since 2002 and my interest in writing on things political was rather hot in 2004-2005. I was fired up in that year since it was the first year after my rebirth of sorts, seeing the world with new eyes, making vital but naive statements. I was pretty devastated in the wake of that election. I was gladdened four years later, but a lot more sober and heavy hearted, knowing Barack Obama, an individual man of demonstrated principle, was bound for a situation that inherently demands compromise and outright deceit. How could a relatively wet-behind-the-ears non-insider turn the table on the system? It didn't make sense, but I had hoped his commanding presence would inspire people to act from better places in themselves. I'm sure it happened in pockets all over. His election brightened my mood for a while. But I did watch as step by step he had to admit the way to stay in the game is to play by the rules that have been written long ago and vetted over time. Sad. Very sad.

Papa John's next to a Curves for Women. It's kind of like the two party system but really, there is a symbiosis that is apparent if you have the eyes to see it.Papa John's next to a Curves for Women. It's kind of like the two party system but really, there is a symbiosis that is apparent if you have the eyes to see it.

I've said for years now that the new republic isn't what we want to believe it is. It's still representative, but less and less does the representation signify a relationship between the people and the elected. It's found in two other relationships: how we spend our money determines what companies or industries we support. And in turn, how their power is channeled through the officials we think we elect. Corporations or industrial-commercial blocs such as Pharma, Oil, Biotech, and Defense of course can shout louder than us when it comes to spending. But those are powerful because most of us tend to demand their products and services with some kind of allegiance or pathological dependency. True, you and I don't pay our money at a cash register to support the defense industry, but a time like September 11 does tend to trigger some feeling of acceptance or even outright welcome of things that "defend" our freedoms, even while the stiff taxation and government debt to fund that kind of standing military works counter to our best values, and even our beloved freedoms.

But more and more I realize there is less and less representation for what are emerging as my more beloved values and convictions. I have to admit, I doubt America could ever really be the stage where they are played out. To be honest, the closest representation of what sounds right to me is within countries that are often sneered at and derided for being "socialist." You know—the places where there is a reliable health program. Where cities are charming because of their respect for aesthetics and mixed income integration, and where other elements of the manmade landscape do not presume the automobile is the only means to transport oneself. Where the defense budget doesn't assume the world is out to grab your ill-gotten gains, and where the same budget doesn't guarantee taxation on your hard-won gains. Where the work week leaves time to be a citizen and community member, or just a family person with dignity and energy to engage in the real stuff of life.

The commute around Temecula, CA, about 70 miles from San Diego. Aint that the life?The commute around Temecula, CA, about 70 miles from San Diego. Aint that the life?

Yeah... I guess that's socialism. What misery it must be! Here we could work ourselves to death for no gain, get stranded in traffic, eating junk food, and then go to our pathetically alienating suburban dormitories and numb ourselves on TV "reality" shows that show people more pathetic than us—but who get a TV show on which to present their mock misery, in turn mocking our real miseries.

And as Richard Rohr says often, those who don't transform their hurt are certain to transmit it. There's no shortage of that going around. I'm quite frankly surprised there has not been an attempt on Barack Obama's life. With the insanity and vitriol that fills the air, the anger and scapegoating in a nation of over 300 million, it's frankly hard to believe that some bipolar, unemployed, domestic terrorist has not gone totally off the rails, or that his demise was not ordered as some kind of inside job. I guess I should be thankful. But one day at a time. We haven't re-elected him yet. I hate the thought of such a thing on a man so well meaning but under the sway of other forces beyond his control, but the cauldron is bubbling over and this is too obvious a contingency to ignore.

Sam and george, two penguins, have their usual blame game argument about global warming. They're standing in the desert where Antarctica used to be.

I've reduced my soapbox activity in the peak oil range of topics but I haven't discarded them. Facebook threads tend to be where I take up the topic, usually when people are caught in some back and forth about why the economy is stagnating. There are more voices recognizing peak oil/energy and asking the questions of what it means for daily life. But it's still kind of veiled. I see more mainstream talk but it's never really asking people to think of how to live another way. It's still up for debate and questioning, or presented as some novelty. But that Barack Obama has dropped the ball with the matter of global warming/climate change, there's not a lot of hope that he's going to be a voice to echo Jimmy Carter's "turn down your thermostats" message of restraint and true conservation. An article by Resilience asks why transportation in particular has not changed to electric because oil is so damned useful for other purposes that it's absurd to allow it to be burnt! Alas, we shall look to no elected "leadership" for a path out of the energy crisis since those characters have their fingers placed most deeply in their ears. I frankly have to admit—still—that we're pretty much going to smack the wall of all these limits to growth with as much force as we could muster. As long as the notion of a growing economy trumps all other concerns, we'll get nowhere beneficial. And in the end, the economy will be dead in the water too, having never made a plan to really rein it in to sustainable levels. What will be sustainable will be a return to gathering and recycling the artifacts that still have use. And digging through trash heaps. Even a hack like me was making the case for addressing this in 2004. It doesn't need to scare anyone in 2012.

Hey, I didn't want that for my future, either. But where is the clear voice of leadership with a soapbox high enough and a megaphone wide enough to really do the job of changing things? I doubt that is anything to look forward to. It will come through the cracks at the bottom. If the political system isn't already seen to be irrelevant now, I suppose the next four years—no luckier in producing a thriving economy or a return to middle class comfort, or no firm convictions of the financial vipers—will show that neither a two term Democratic president nor a Latter-Day Satan of a vulture capitalist Republican will produce the goods. The fact is, neither party is able to control the bus going off the cliff. But they can change the in-flight entertainment and assure us of air conditioning on the way.

Smug mug of Alan Greenspan with my sarcastic caption, don't worry Al, we didn't need that economy anyway

I can't just blame the two candidates. No one but a handful of concerned scientists, educators, and activists in various disciplines is really prepared to envision a post-growth world. Certainly we shan't look to our elected officials to tell the truth, else that's their own pink slip they're signing, and that's just not how it goes in politics. But we are at a world-level paradigm shifting moment if we are to take seriously the message of Richard Heinberg and his peers in the Post Carbon Institute. Or a bit less shocking than his talk about "peak everything" and "the end of growth," there's the folks at CASSE—the Center for the Advancement of Steady State Economics. These are just some of the voices that I read to get a less varnished perspective on the news, and to help understand the holes of logic that riddle the mainstream arguments.

After a couple years of working extensively with Jubilee Economics Ministries, and being rather involved in a progressive church, but more so after being initiated into the Christ mystery of life and death, the state of American politics has less and less sway for me. Even within those three shapers of my spirituality, there are some conflicting thoughts. As much as I like the progressive ideas that would emerge and be supported in and around my church community, there are blind spots that I don't like. JEM doesn't always make arguments that accept a post-collapse reality (instead there tends to be a more easygoing adoptions of a grassroots transition that would gain more cred as its virtues are discovered). But the deepest level of understanding, being initiated into the mystery that permeates all we know as mortals in a universe of constant change, says that while I can and must throw my lot in with all the other madness, the patterns of death and resurrection are larger and more immutable, and therefore, I can't control things, nor am I at any advantage to try.

jesus and god stickers all over a trash can in san diegoSeriously now? You love God so much you have to invest in bumper stickers in order to put them on your trash can? Is that the best American Christianity has to offer?

That seems like cosmologically isolationist hocus pocus but really... the systems that define my day and age are brittle. Politics as we know it is cracking. Economics as we know it is imploding. The environment itself is in jeopardy in a particular way that has never been seen before. The great philosophies that shaped the industrial era are themselves not able to explain or contain what is happening. Something profound is happening. As one might fly above the storm to see its eye and the territory it spans, we can't be within the storms of our time to get perspective on its might and ferocity. The systems and philosophies we've relied on are weakening and the water is cresting those levees. A larger view is needed. I've found that the pattern we are loathe to accept is that of death for the sake of rebirth. Is it any surprise there are so many apocalyptic scenarios out there? We fear the death because we don't see how this could be reborn. Sadly, a huge number of Christians, not strangers to some vivid images of death, are also missing the rebirth that awaits in the wake of whatever purging and cleansing has to happen as things radically deconstruct and are eventually sorted out and put back into some order according to new values.

If the Christian myth is that of death and rebirth, then that means those two components must be present and intrinsically bound. Hope is to be found in the very things we can't understand. And usually, we can't understand death. Faith is to be able to progress, even in the seeming darkness, with some assurance that things are as they should be, and our job is to move forward somehow. But you see, a faithless, death-phobic society will tell itself every lie and apply every blame if it means not facing what is right in front of it. Right in front of us.

Inauguration day 2009, my razor knife on the truck window, peeling up the anti-bush not my president sticker that had been there for yearsJanuary 20, 2009... but really, Obama soured me too.

So our elections are exercises in political theater, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. I wish it wasn't so but as much as I liked Barack Obama in 2008, nudged along because he was a member of my denomination, and perhaps because we shared a bit of common faith territory, I have long questioned his walking away from his congregation and pastor for the sake of political expediency. And then after that, I have not heard him talk about the United Church of Christ, though to his credit he has spoken some words that I think compensate for that, couched in terms of a world-wise view that religion is vital to humanity, and a plurality is good and should be protected. But then he surrounds himself with Goldman Sachs people and doesn't push to prosecute the gross financial crimes that wrecked the nation. Y'see what I'm saying? I wish Obama would have accepted his special place as the first black president and seen that even one term put him on the map, but then he seemed like he had what it might have taken to do a real expose of what is going on. Sure, it's political suicide, but being as beloved as he was, it would be quite a deed to name and prosecute the misdeeds that put us where we are. He could have come out with a fully transparent explanation of peak oil and a vision for how to meet it with dignity and resolve in a way that echoed JFK and the moon mission. But I guess he wasn't prepared to fall on his sword. I guess I could hope he's able to man up in a second term.

Of course, Mitt Romney is dismally worse. His main ability is talking from two sides of his mouth at once. He's not even worth a mention, really. Pathetic beyond pathetic, he. Shoot me if he gets "elected."

For the first time, this year I decided to join the Green Party. I'm torn because of course I have to make that sickening decision to vote a real conviction or to settle for what might suck less than Mitt Con-me. Of course I barely know who "my" candidates are. Even now I can't recall their names. I'm sure even the Greens have their issues and blind spots that would turn my gut, but they are as close as anything to what I'd support.

Unfortunately, I'd like to find a party that reflects the kinds of values I have adopted under the influence of the lived teachings of Jesus. But it will never gain traction in this land. And the kingdom of God is never meant to be a matter of actual, dirt-under-the-nails activism and political life. It's meant to be more than that, at a deeper level. It's meant to be the thing that turns people's hearts into things of compassion and generosity and acceptance of contradiction and that is able to hold the tensions of existence. It's not a right. It's not a responsibility. It's not electable. It's there and ready to be turned on and is ready to be the shaper of lives in this nation or any. It's outside the systems of the world at large because it is latent within us. Even though I voted for Obama the first time, it was still up to me to volunteer at a social service kitchen serving meals to people with AIDS, or sneaking around at work grabbing food discards and distributing them to people in some need or position to do the same.

These days, I'm experiencing some reawakening of my musical interests that have gone dormant for a decade or so. I look forward to putting that to some use, either as a songwriter with themes that I've blogged on for all these years, or just playing and seeing the harmony erupt between players, or the joy that listening brings either in the contexts I've been involved in lately: the pub and a church.

In some ways, it doesn't really matter who wins the election. Or who steals it. Not to me. It's not that I won't erupt in righteous indignation if the wrong guy gets in (either by theft or the sad realization that idiocy and short sightedness in my country has tipped the balance), or if the right-enough guy does another of his appointments that is a handout to the party I tried to avoid electing. I'll keep harping somehow. But the bigger patterns are at work. The wheel is more than I can wrap my hands around and turn. I guess my options are to do my part in the band to serenade while the bus goes off the cliff, hoping to awaken something, or I could blog or write songs that live in the tradition of Pete Seeger, putting a spanner in the works of thought systems. Or I could keep inviting people to eat together, even if it means finding the discards—the stuff relegated to the death-bin—and doing my small bit to reinvent it as the stuff of life. I guess those are my options, whether or not I vote, whether or not my horse is in the race, or whether or not I vote for the lesser of two evils.

Wednesday
Feb012012

Neil Peart Drives Me Nuts Sometimes

He was godlike to the drummers, particularly of the age close to 16-20. Maybe not so much now, but when I was passing through that age range in the early 90s, Neil Peart, drummer for Rush, was a god among men. Or at least a man among boys. Or a boy among girls. Or something like that. Worshiping at the altar of Neil Peart was a musician's rite of passage (or a drummer's rite of passage anyway). You were no one at high school if you played the drums but had not somehow tackled YYZ, La Villa Strangiato, 2112, Tom Sawyer, and others of their hit songs. By the time I was listening, all that was deemed "classic rock" but Neil's name still loomed large and I still had to be initated in the cult of Peart. 

1990-91?When I was just getting caught up in the cult of Peart-son-ality, I had three posters on my wall, all featuring Neil's kits from a few tours in the mid 80s. My friend Shelby used to give me absolute hell about that. She was listening to the Beatles, to Michelle Shocked, to other, more minimal and less pretentious stuff. So she was unsparing in her mockery! I laugh now, but it was a bit of a test hearing that from her since not too long before, she seemed to be the one who let me be me when no one else did. Years later, when she wanted to get a good jab in, she could just mention Neil Peart and the posters. With friends like that...

Neil is a consumate practitioner of every damned thing he does. Drumming? He's stupendously meticulous in his preparation and execution. Prose writing? He's extremely well read and is able to subtly amuse with wit and an erudite tone that isn't afraid to quote old cartoons if needed. Lyric writing? He's masterfully keen at turning big concepts into concise and vivid mini-movies or documentaries or epics. More recently I've read his stuff that suggests his passion for motorcycling has also been one of impeccable preparation and presence, and even he astounded himself at his newfound love of cooking. All well and fine. He meets every challenge with conviction. 

About a decade and a half ago, his life got turned upside down when his only daughter was killed in a car wreck at the age of 19, and his wife died of cancer less than a year later. Whoever this could happen to surely knows the feeling of woe and every conflicting feeling under the sun. No one deserves such a thing, and hardly anyone could know what to do in the face of a dual tragedy like that. For Neil, he basically did a Forrest Gump-by-BMW motorcycle tour of all of North America. He rode 55,000 miles to do all he could do to process the grief. He was ready to quit Rush, the only band he was ever really known for. About a decade ago I read his autobiographical account of that era, Ghost Rider. I liked it—in part.

What irks me is his dogged and just about childish athiestic/secular humanist streak. It made sense in the old days when the band was needing to pump up on Ayn Rand and other free-mind kinds of lit and philosophy, just so they could soldier on against some fierce rejections. It helped them bond and create their world, their thing to look after. Okay, that shit works when you're less than 30. Now he's 60 and there's still some jabs in his writings that just seem juvenile now. Sometimes I think he seems like a real uptight character, at least visually speaking. Maybe it's the stick up his ass when it comes to this topic. It's as if he's promised himself he's not going to breathe until God is ushered out of his life.

In the realm of male sprituality where I find myself able to interpret and learn from and integrate the harsh and painful things in life, there is plenty of language of descent, into helplessness, into darkness. It isn't so that one stays there; it's so one owns it as part of a complete life and its power to shape a man for better or for worse. In this world of looking at male spirituality there is more talk about archetypes and mythology that help narrate the path in life. Even something as venerable and great as Christianity still has the archetypes as its basis, and the story of all the biblical figures draw on those archetypes to greater or lesser extent. The story about Jesus has a good deal of that, and the story (mythology) narrates how one must live a human life. It's a great story. Not the only one out there, but a great one that obviously has some power, else who would now be living within it, calling themselves a Christian?

Neil loves to avoid goopy sentimentality. The first thing that even resembled a love song within Rush's canon was done in 1991, a good decade and a half after he joined. And it wasn't even mushy. A bit mystical, maybe. It still smacked of an incredulity about such ideas as fate and coincidence. On the next album in 1993 he tried a bit more, but again it was at arm's length. While he seems to be able to quote just about anything that has ever been written, he's rather hard on the "Judeo-Christian sky god" (something he said in a recent post on his site). That's a rather narrow understanding of God, even for practicing Jews and Christians. The whole "old man in the sky" thing is not really language that holds too well these days. Theology is far more advanced than that. I would think he's maybe read something along those lines. Whatever God image he was raised with in the 50s surely has been supplanted since then.

But the hitch here is that Neil, while being a bit cagey about his private life (he did write the song Limelight, after all—a song about the boundaries the band needed to erect to stay sane after they finally hit the big time), has been increasingly open. It's been refreshing for the most part to see the humanity of this man who was known for his machine-perfect and quite powerful drumming style and his keen lyrics that could take on any of a number of topics. He has lived an interesting life, not just because he's a famous rock star, but because he's well traveled, super literate, has had some utterly tragic times, and perhaps best of all, has been renewed with a remarriage, a new passion for playing drums, a new baby, learning to cook, even more extensive travels up and down and across all the backroads of North America and beyond, and all that. He won't say it, but that's death and resurrection there. That's being swallowed by the great fish, kept in darkness for some time, and being coughed up on a different shore with renewed purpose. Whether he wants to admit it or not, but that is quite what the Christian path is. But moreso, the Christian path is the human path. Jesus just happened to be the first teacher in the tradition. 

Neil himself makes nods to spiritual language. It isn't fluffy language. But it shows he's not treating these parts of his life as pedestrian events. But he goes out of his way to not let them be described in terms that smack of traditional expressions of the spiritual paths known to the Western world. I sort of just want to smack him some for just being so damned difficult. But at the same time, I wish I could head out for a ride with him too. Never mind the drums or the band or the lyrics. I'd like the chance to trade stories about family loss. Or to bask in nature. Or to shoot the shit about why lower/appropriate technology is better. Maybe I could learn something about cooking from him. One of the biggest breakthroughs I've read of his was when he was processing why certain folks he knew (Alex in the band among them) would cook a huge meal for the band or family and friends. Careful Neil! —you used the "L word"! Love. He wrote about how it was just apparent that they felt (and he did too when he went along the same path) the love flowing when cooking for others, when supporting other humans at such a fundamental level. He wrote that the first times he had to cook was for his wife, when he was the caretaker in that time before she died. So much for Ayn Rand objectivism, eh? (Reading that charming, domestic story reminded me of a decade ago when Kelli's accident started to draw me in a similar direction of needing to take care of someone for the first time.)

But in more religious terms, that was God remolding him. Preparing him for another life that he neither wanted nor saw coming. It isn't that his wife deserved to die. No such thing. But another life awaited Neil, you might reason. One that perhaps was built on other things. One that might put the challenge to all the shit in his head, and that might drive him to a place of living from his heart. It happens in life. But as I read his post-crisis material, it's apparent he's reborn. He gushes about his new wife (as of 2000 or so), his baby daughter, his love for nature and travel, cooking, friends, and all this other stuff that shows a lot more passion and soul than anything prior to his "conversion." It's clear he's been remade into something that is more alive. Good for him. Now could he just shut up about some of the inane anti-religious type stuff? It's not like anyone's asking him to become a bible thumping Evangelical. Just fess up that you're living the life that the sages and prophets have talked about, eh Neil

In some ways, even without the overtly religious language, Neil's life has some of the makings of a great religious story of life, death, and resurrection into something greater than what came before. Read the Bible and there are plenty of stories of ordinary people who became extraordinary when their former "false" selves were taken down a notch, and they were refashioned into something else by something outside their own power and resources, outside of their own ability to self-design. It's in losing control that all the great stuff happens. And since people don't do that willingly, sometimes it seems the ante is upped and one's hands get pried off the controls. It never seems a good thing going in. It's mysterious. It comes in the form of painful disappointment, humiliation, and tragedy. In Richard Rohr's literature, you might read that about the age of 30 these types of things happen. It did for me. Or, it's like Parker Palmer's example where God is a quiet figure following you on the street, trying to get your attention by whispering your name, then tossing pebbles at you, then shouting, then throwing rocks, and then finally bludgeoning you if you don't turn around. Some people come willingly at the tug to a new life. Others not so willingly. What does it take to get one's attention? Job loss? Relationship failure? Death? 

It's not my place to say Neil deserved any of that because no one does. The problem, if there was any at all, isn't that he's a perfectionist. But maybe he's a perfectionist for reasons that don't really matter. Maybe there is a purpose for his perfectionism, and it is to serve others somehow, and more joyfully? Who knows? But one can never estimate what is ahead. One could only look back at these transforming experiences and reflect on what new insights turn up, and how one gets drawn deeper and deeper into life. The value of the spiritual mythologies and their associated archetypes is to help people know that their struggle is not theirs alone; that it's all been done, and the great teachers have mapped the way in broad terms. They've also shown how the universal pattern is death and rebirth into new life, and the wise human doesn't fight it, but lets that endless flow go to work in life. 

Anyway, it's good to read his post-tragedy stuff, and whatever he might say, it's filled with more spirit and life passion than I remember from before. More like he's in the drama rather than observing it.

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
Sep272011

Goodnight, James

You were right, brother—
We just don't have five years more
Time's up for you now.

No more barbeques,
No more beers and water slides,
No more super bowls...

You were right, my bro—
Five years more? what are we then?
Time's up for us now. 

Sunday
Aug282011

Sabbath Year Sweetheartery

As I set about writing this, I am exactly seven years from standing on the altar at my church, dressed in tux with my whole church family around, and one Kelli Parrish standing in front of me, appearing much the angel she is, but in a heightened, radiant way. As Eric Satie's Gymnopedies #1 played, the bridal party and then Kelli, escorted by Phil Calabrese as a stand in for her deceased father William (and even her deceased stepfather Rod), was about to do the unimaginable and marry a dude like me. Er, she was about to marry me!

At that time, I was just under a year from being in the worst existential suicide-ideational funk that I ever knew. At the start of September, I was at a residential therapy center for intervention into such a crisis. I was just weeks shy of my 30th birthday. Kelli was my most frequent, daily visitor in that terrible time of crisis and she was a key in the support system that brought me out of that place in my life. Then, not quite a year later, after months of solo and couples therapy to learn new ways to see life, new ways to relate to one another, we were moving along on what seemed like such a fateful obvious path. We got engaged about six months before, and that was so effortless it was almost that I took it for granted. Nothing else seemed to flow so easily but to be together then, and to keep on at it.

Just less than an hour ago I was rummaging through my 1992 box for other stuff to feed this site and happened into a fortune from a Chinese restaurant that I ate at nearly exactly 19 years ago (tomorrow). The occasion was the two month anniversary with Melissa, my first girlfriend that I paired up with in June. The hitch was that just two weeks after we started off, I was bound for Germany for nearly six weeks to see my friend Steve Rau, and to do a tour with him. It was all the world to me after the lonely and troubling year described in the previous post about Subway. Anyhow, just as soon as Melissa and I kicked off, I was gone and the duration of my trip was cause for a new kind of heartache and puppy love (mainly her situation... I was happy in Europe but excited to have a new life to return to). At the Chinese restaurant barely a week after my return, we were giddy to be back together. You can imagine the young person's fantasies that resulted with opening my cookie and it read:

You are domestically inclined and will be happily married.

It fed into Melissa's vision for fulfilling some years of anticipation. You see, Melissa was the daughter of a friend of my old man's from way back, so we were occasional playmates when we all lived in Clairemont (she's also about 2.5 years younger than me). But after some years they moved to a more distant suburb and the visitations fell off. Sometime in 1991 or so we were back in touch somehow. I think she called me. She was 15 and I was a senior in high school. I wasn't really too interested at the time. (I was saving myself for Shelby, you see.) But by mid 1992, I was ready to go for it and that summer was quite shaped by that new development. There was a feeling of fateful inevitablity in our being together. Something like a cheap Chinese fortune was enough to heighten that. But something about being poorly adjusted 19 year old doomed it and she broke up with me in early 1993, just under eight months after we started off. 

Our 7th anniversary trip to Mt. San Jacinto State ParkThe most memorable person I turned to for a shoulder to cry on or to try to make sense of the resulting mess of confused feelings was Kelli. I recall best a rainy night drive we took that led us to a long talk at Presidio Park near Old Town San Diego. At the time she was a friend from church, but I was at some distance from church life. We were part of the Shalom Community of teens while I was there, and that fostered a level of candor and trust and a real exchange of experience that obviously set the stage for Kelli and me when this Melissa meltdown left me a mess needing someone to talk to. Kelli always struck me as mature beyond her years. And though she was actually a bit younger than Melissa, she was insightful and able to be a great friend. Part of her hearing my heart was to get me involved in going with her mom to a coffee shop called Beans where I eventually heard Mike Keneally for the very first time. The rest is history.

Kelli too was a childhood pal from the world of church, but I don't really recall that clearly. I generally set the clock running from August 1990 when she and Kay appeared at the church, already well connected to people from before they left seven years prior. I found a kindred soul with her in part because I too felt kind of like an outsider and she was an unusual case of someone coming in from the outside of that somewhat insular community. She accepted my love for Jethro Tull's music. What more need I say? We were not great friends who hung out all the time, but she was one person that I had some ties to on the outside during the decade away from church, roughly from late 1991 through 2001. She was always authentic and present.

I've told the story a few times here. The point is that she's always been attentive and emotionally available as a friend. Over years we've been in touch with more depth than frequency. Over time she's raised my number with her integrity and commitment to things that her conscience leads her to believe or do. She's politically astute (something evident ages ago), theologically astute (something I was aware of but have obviously seen blossom since her seminary training), and compassionate. 

In movies and books and other stories, a man isn't a man until somehow he is reunited with either a woman, or some feminine aspect that was missing, the anima, which literally animates him. Until then, he is a shell of a person, but the anima, the side that is the repository of compassion, warmth, intuition, grace, and such characteristics, is what has to be there in order to counter and soften the opposite tendencies that take up residence in men, and if not, are often socialized into men with all kinds of messages that teach stiff upper lip, never let them see you cry kinds of messages. I have been reading George Elliot's book Silas Marner, where the point is made explicitly in Marner's disconnection and spiritual desolation being brought to an end by the mysterious appearance of Eppie as a young girl, and only from his commitment to take care of her as his own does he recover his full humanity and a place in the community which signifies his real security in the world.

Along those lines, in my world, Jesus is a hero because he has somehow incorporated that anima that almost certainly had to be in place before he could do the things he is recorded as having done. The deeds of compassion and of healing people (which I take to mean his ability to give them permission to be themselves and to return to society as fully dignified citizens) doesn't come out of a typical man's game. At the very least, he wasn't a typical man, else we'd have no reason to know his name now. We expect remarkable deeds from women, and so often they deliver those in unnoticed and unacknowledged ways. 

c. 2003Part of the task I've had before me was to open my eyes to that in my life with Kelli. During the time in the Halcyon house, she brought me a turkey/bacon/avocado sandwich from Henry's. Such a seemingly tiny deed, done so lovingly, has been one of the touchstone instances that has blossomed in our mythology as a couple. Being grounded in—of all things—the total delight in the layers of significance of one turkey sandwich means that we are pretty grounded in reality. When we make our cute talk about why we love each other, I am more likely to say it's because she delivered me a turkey sandwich on that day than because she delivered the moon and stars. I don't mean to be trite. That sandwich at that moment was not an insignificant moment in our history of trust, particularly as I was in a great sorting process to get closer to people I could trust and move away from ones that I couldn't.

As we stood on the altar seven years ago this afternoon, saying our vows (wedding audio page here), we had precisely two blood relatives in the audience—her mom and grandmother. All the other 100+ people were church and other friends. The lone exception was my stepmom Eda, who a couple weeks before was trying to weasel out of appearing until I pleaded that I expected no other family to appear. In some ways, Kelli and I faced a pretty big lack of support from family. My old man, more intent on playing property and family games, decided not to come and his absence was noted. These days he calls Kelli a housebreaker and he offers propaganda for some idealized relationship that fairly certainly never existed between us. He places the blame of our troubles at Kelli's feet. My mother (not Eda) has met Kelli precisely once about four years ago. I can't say that Kelli is replacement for all the estrangement, but her steadfast presence has been invaluable in setting a sight on a destination past all that and moving toward it.

As part of our therapy process in 2004-2005, one lesson that came to me most vitally was how we see ourselves as allies in it for the long haul. Faced with family decay (mine) and too many premature bodily deaths (her family), it all drives us closer. We were never a couple making sunshine promises. Always we were operating out of someplace where pathos—garden variety disappointment and sometimes outright tragedy—were the baseline shapers of our reality. In some ways, marriage is not just an act of love, it is an act of loving resistance on behalf of one another. To me, that is the durable stuff.

7th anniversary trip to Big Bear MountainWe're enjoying being married, and as the clock ticks by the months and years, we're seeing ourselves chronologically outlast the relationships we were raised around. In Greek, there are two senses of time worthy of discussion here. The first is chronos, the time we all measure with clocks and calendars. The other is kairos, a more elusive word denoting the inevitability of a moment. Some call it "God's time" and do so to indicate that something is happening that must happen because the time is ripe. Kelli and I have various dates to refer to when telling our backstory. We can name dates at points along the way, counting back to Sunday School as kids. We can now say that our marriage has gone on as long as that of my old man and Eda, or that we've been together longer than they were. That is interesting trivia for sure, but I like to deepen it with the idea that our relationship is rooted in kairos.

Both of us have known all sorts of disruption and upheaval domestically, she maybe more than I on a more consistent basis, and I've known periodic upsets that hit me hard. We've been raised in the most violent time in history and in a country and culture that is rooted in violence as our lifeblood. Ten years ago after 9/11 we found ourselves reeling at what it all meant. We found ourselves more closely affected by the murder of our friend Daniel (Phil's son and fellow Shalom Community member). We've watched as two sustained wars have been fought and essentially lost. We've watched as politics has become more and more savage. We've been forced to confront a future of more of that and less promise economically (at least according to the prevailing expections). We've been made aware that the life we were modeled was unsustainable and we'll have to be the generation at exactly that turning point in human history. We've watched as promises have been broken time and again in the name of profits, fame, and other distorting elements.

We've also watched as socially marginalized groups have found more dignity. We've seen dictatorships fall and democracy implemented in their stead. We've seen incredible creativity. We've seen the beginning of economic and grassroots political shifts that might do some good. We've served old people, kids, young adults, homeless, and terminally ill people. We've written and preached and published podcasts according to our prophetic vision for what is right and good—something that differs a bit but is ultimately shaped by our own initiating circumstances that on more reflection drive us to make countermovements toward more positive expressions. We've refrained from excess wherever we can see ourselves falling for it. We've resisted outside pressure from enemies "domestic and foreign" that has demonstrated a lot of ability to pull people apart.

Mt. San Jacinto state park, over the desert at 8500'All this is to say that Kelli and I aren't together just because we're old friends. Or that we're in total agreement. Or that we're perfect. As part of our vows, Jerry Lawritson reminded us that each of us is a gift to the other, but not solely for the other; that each of us are here to be blessings for people outside our relationship. The world clearly needs that, and almost inextricably we're led to those things by forces beyond our own reasoning and understanding. We're led out of ourselves while still being called to be ourselves, and our selves are shaped increasingly by the network of interactions that start with the other of us, but radiate outward to each other's network. This is kairos to me. Where chronos is imbued with a subtext of what, kairos has a subtext of why.

Kairos saturates my understanding of this marriage. It is loaded with grace that I never knew. It doesn't make sense to me how such an angel as Kelli fluttered into my life, but that is just the case. Even odder still is wondering how in the world that sustains itself! There was no clue of it as kids, and just a bit of promise as teens. There was more still as 20-somethings as we were just keeping in touch, and of course, in the post 9/11 world, it was almost an ordained thing that on reflection gets us a bit mystical minded. Each of us is here to look after at least one of God's other children, even if it means getting a turkey sandwich from Henry's is all that is called for at the moment.

Thinking back to this weekend in 1992, with the Chinese fortune cookie message, I sometimes think that any relationship could, with enough patience and work, be brought around and shaped into something. But that is not really practical, and really it seems that it is a vital part of things to not get it right early on. It seems to me that the lessons have to have their chance to play out over time, for the characters to be involved in some greater web than between two points alone. Who knew that I'd end up marrying a girl a few years my junior who used to be a playmate of mine when I was young? Who knew how the subsequent girl disappointments I faced would shape my readiness to link up with Kelli? Who knew that Kelli, operating in an alternate universe all those years, would be the one who tied up all the loose pieces of those relationships and added her own thing to it all, and that I'd finally be existentially ready to see it that way? Kairos. On a micro level between she and I, and on a macro level, on the world stage, it seems that it's God's time that set us up and sustains us in preparation for something that reveals itself a little at a time. No amount of puppy love with one girl or endless pining with another was going to achieve what has happened when I let down my guard and frankly, failed at everything else on the relationship front. 

...And so it looks from this vantage point of just seven years. We were well congratulated at church today upon announcing it but I was aware, particularly when greeted by the septuagenarians and octogenarians in the crowd that we have a long way to go. Or maybe better said, a long time to keep going at it. While there is a great deal of work and conscious effort involved, it is folly to self-congratulate when it is clear that this has been perhaps the most successful relationship of almost any sort, and it isn't anything that makes rational sense or that was earned in any way. In every way this has been a blessing to me. Sort of like Silas Marner made whole after spiritual desolation and alienation, being married to Kelli has been a homecoming—even surpassing whatever I might have thought home was in the first place.

Wednesday
Aug102011

Independence Day Inheritance Iconoclasm

gramps in his chair, early 80s or so.My grandfather in his native habitat

My grandfather Norman died 15 years ago on Independence Day—it wasn't unknown to me at the time that a man who was always identified as a Navy Man and patriot died on the very day that the nation he so loved celebrates its birthday. Independence Day for him connotes all that but it was also was the day he was liberated from a body that was on a long slow decline. I think I have written about this here before. I don't have terribly much to add to that part of it. The new development is letting go of stuff that perhaps I clung to a bit much after both grandparents died, but most certainly after I lost the house in 2005 and the furniture and other items they used were still imbued with some sense of their presence. Today things have mellowed and it isn't so urgent to hang on like my life depended on this.

Astute readers of TAPKAE.com know that this year has been one to spill more beans and tell a fuller story of things. This chair episode has another dimension to it that I've discussed only in recent years with Kelli. I have to say that as the official family archivist and historian now, with everyone dead and gone, I can finally get on with saying things as clearly as I can, in a way to reflect my experience and that which I can put together from the scraps of memorabilia I have available to me. I am not in love with all the Lucas mythology, which like all families' mythology, glorifies the good stuff and minimizes the bad stuff. In some ways, TAPKAE.com is my exercise in iconoclasm. Not everyone gets a chance to do this. I don't feel there is much to lose, and any attempt to argue otherwise might be manipulation.

I have to remind everyone that I was given a pretty white-bread, sheltered idea of life in Clairemont, a giant suburb that I end up finding more and more of a dark side to (particularly since discovering the Facebook group). I don't know what all went into the founding of my family but I have my doubts that it was as wholesome as it was portrayed. My grandmother holds up to the most scrutiny but I suspect there are things she turned a blind eye to, and certainly behind-the-scenes kind of dealing between her son and her husband that suited them, and not all involved. These were salt of the earth people from the Midwest; only my old man and I were born in California. Virginia was a city girl, Norman was a farm boy who went to the Navy because it was more exciting than farm life. There was the death of their 12 year old son David and World War Two to shape their younger years. They did work hard. They did believe in goodness and the American Way. They went to church for better or for worse. They bought a house in the suburbs. Typical stuff, right?

My grandmother was always the one who kept the faith in as authentic a way as was demonstrated to me. My grandfather always was the one who was social and cordial at church but I don't have any great sense that he was a man of faith. He was definitely one of the tag-along husbands there. I think the Navy was his religion. My old man went to church intermittently in my youth, but more times than not, he kept away and later scoffed at church and religion. Needless, fruitless effort it might have seemed to him. I gather he was made to go to more church than he wanted to when younger and just abandoned it when given the chance. There were some times when he and stepmom Eda took me to church at the Community Congregational Church of Pacific Beach where my grandfolks were founding members from the late 50s, and of course where my life has had many a church experience in baptism, teen age years, wedding and periods of being a church officer and archivist. More typically though I went with my grandfolks as a young child, and sometimes more specifically with my grandmother, who probably took it upon herself to introduce me to church life, faith, spirituality with more urgency, knowing I was her last hope after her husband and son were drifting from such a tradition as she wanted to live out of.

Norman tended to drive his own car to and from church. Virginia stayed later and filled her roles at church and drove her own car too. Norman liked to head home for the game on the TV. He wasn't into sports as an athlete but he liked to watch whatever football or baseball game was on. I don't even remember him being a fan or going to many sporting events, if any. But it seemed that he was content doing that. After church grandma used to take me to Der Wienerschnitzel on Garnet Avenue for two corn dogs. We'd come back and eat and would always wash the dogs down with diet Pepsi from a glass bottle. Sometimes we'd sit on the patio out back. It was a nice little ritual that was in itself unmarred by consciousness of any concerns that I later bring to these kinds of memoirs. After lunch, about two in the afternoon, she'd retire to her room to take a nap. She closed her door. We might not see her for a couple of hours. It was just gramps and me until either my folks got me or the grandfolks took me home the few miles across Clairemont.

The details I am about to divulge take place when I was five years old, and therabouts. There were a few such instances but I don't recall them one from another. With such an empty and quiet house it doesn't take a lot of imagination as to what would happen next, though I do want to be clear and not to sensationalize it. To the extent that it is abusive, I recognize that, but I also have to contend that the stuff that left me in clear pain and anguish didn't stem from this. I suppose some depth psychologist could extract something from this, but I have to be clear that a lot more conscious pain has been generated at the decisions and policies that were my old man's. But in some ways, you can perhaps understand something else about where his mind was shaped.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I was invited or simply attracted to sit on the chair with Norman. He was my grandfather after all, and I was five years old. (He was about 66 at this point.) On some number of occasions he drew out his penis and invited and encouraged me to masturbate him until he ejaculated. Ostensibly it was an anatomy lesson scaled to a five year old. There was a kind of narrative, teaching tone to it all. In fact, this was when I learned the word penis in the first place. Of this I am clear beacuse it was such a novel word. (Of all the things to remember from youth!) Yes, it was one of those this will be our little secret, won't it? times that seems to be the code word in these situations. I was told not to tell anyone though I don't think I was threatened with reprisals. It was self evident that I'd not want to cross him. Certainly a mind of a child like that is just a sponge, and people who practice these things know that and leave the kid to be the one to sort out the conflicting messages later on. There was never penetration of any sort, so this was one of those transparent exchanges that leaves no marks for the family or friends or teachers to see. 

I suppose that while I don't look to this experience to mark the beginning of one pain or another, it does bespeak the pathos that lurked under all the wholesome stuff. In my Family gallery, I wrote the following as a caption to this letter:

Letter, 1/30/08
Another chickenshit letter delivered to me not by the mail man or any of that. After a year or more of silence between he and I, and particularly after a hot period at the end of 2007/early 2008, my father dropped this off at the church (where I had since departed a year before) and told my former pastor that it needed to get to me. So Jerry sent it to me. This is an excellent display of thought distortion. He loves his Manichean colors of black and white thinking. Here he wishes to make the point that my Lucas family taught me love, and that my mother taught me hate. And to pile ridiculous on top of ridiculous, he wants to make a point that my marriage now is founded on this glorious Lucas past. Ahem, that is the domain of much effort between Kelli and me, and a good load of grace! Almost everything I learned about marriage has been from admitting what a failure I can be and trying to repent of that at each turn. Only my grandparents at 61 years of marriage can be said to be a family influence upon me. My father seems to confuse my candor with hate. Calling a spade a spade is not calling it evil or hating it.

I might have to call this "fam-washing;" the thing he does when he wants to badmouth my mom's side of the family, and to clearly butter up his own. It is a way of carrying on like a five year old with a polar mind that something can only be black or white, or any other set of opposites. (It seems to get worse with age.) As I said, I have never told this story to anyone but Kelli (on July 26, 2008 while walking the dog that night). No one at church has heard it and neither has it been brought up at several years of therapy. No one but Kelli heard this before this journal was released. My old man might turn on the denial. But what can he deny? What does he know about it except the chance that he might have his own experience to add to it? His polar argument over the years is flimsy, and breaks under the weight of this kind of news. Sure, Norman and Virginia did show me a thing or two about love, mainly in their 61 years of marriage. (Though I don't kid myself, there has to be some shit that went on. My mom always used that as her ammunition to puncture my Lucas balloon. I've heard about adultery from her version of the story.) The propaganda will backfire for each as I eventually expose what the other has said, and occasionally add layers of my own experience and interpretation. Along those lines, the expose of my old man's antics with my older sister in 1973 makes more sense and maybe I'll investigate that more.

I feel like quoting some of King Crimson's song Epitaph. My understanding is that it is a swipe at organized religion and its mythology, but I think it can be seen as an iconoclastic jab at authority figures and institutions that shout their conflicting tales of who is right and wrong and who has the truth, but ultimately leave the mess for the individual to clean up with his or her life.

When every man is torn apart
With nightmares and with dreams
Will no one lay the laurel wreath
When silence drowns the screams
...
Confusion will be my epitaph
As I crawl a cracked and broken path
If we make it we can all sit back and laugh
But I fear tomorrow I'll be crying
...
Knowledge is a deadly friend
If no one sets the rules

the chair he had when he died, now 15 years later set on the street for giveawayThe chair itself is liberated on Independence Day, 2011

I told Kelli that one night that I didn't want to turn this into a major deal, but it has been a long guarded vault that has gone unopened. It won't do my grandfather harm anymore. My grandmother probably never knew about this but certainly had to cope with other antics. They're both gone. Part of my inheritance was material stuff that was useful and nice to keep while I could do so. That was pretty hard to think of getting rid of. But this has been in my mind, never too far from ready access, for years. It too is inheritance that only I got. Or maybe there was enough for everyone. Funny how that goes. I could have used a roof over my head. Instead I got this. Now I am giving it away, piece by piece.

Sunday
May082011

Mother's Day

This year for Mothers Day, I suppose I could entertain thoughts of women who have played mother-like roles in the absence of the relations that were my birthright. Nancy and Sharon come to mind. But this year my own mother's birthday was also on Easter Sunday, and today of course brings it all back to mind whether I like it or not. Across the ebb and flow of the years, we've generally had estranged relations, with a period of about five years off, and maybe one year on. Lately, I've been in another period of unease about the whole thing, this time a bit ahead of schedule. It has been three years since the last attempt crashed and burned.

The fact is, I know my mother has had a rough life before and after I came onto the scene. I know she's torn up by the sordid events she's narrated for me over the years. I know she's done what she thinks is right in the moment. I know we've had our own kinds of heartbreak and suffering at the hands of the same man.

What breaks my heart is that the damage seems so thorough that that message won't ever be made clear to her. Three years ago, the entirety of family collapse was such that I was half joking that it would be a good idea to have a public memorial service to mark the state of affairs. But that sounds a bit bogus. I mean, yes, I do live without support or even contact with people who once constituted family, but I can't pretend completely that they don't actually walk the earth anymore.

Some people have families die in car/plane/boat accidents or acts of genocide and war. Tragic as it is, the finality of that seems to at least take one to a place where it is inarguable as to what has happened. As for my situation, all of these people still walk the earth, breathe the air, and drink the water. Most are 100 miles away, one still in my hometown. Years of estrangement takes its toll. Years of therapy to move on helps get past particular crises but doesn't change the underlying reality that everything is shattered but still so close.

At the moment, I am not the football they used to volley or play games to win and control. I am a free person, except for the ghost that hangs around. In an odd way, this terrible and painful series of experiences has led me to understand both parents in more forgiving ways, and I am wrestling with how to channel that. I am also wrestling with the fact that history tells me that no real good will come of this for myself, but that in being so damned stubborn and persistent, I will be acting not so much in reaction but proaction. It could very well be that this is a dumb thing for me to concern myself with. Lots of people ask me to consider that.

My hero, Jesus, preceded me in understanding how family just doesn't get it when junior grows up and forms a self. 'No prophet is accepted in his hometown, etc.,' 'Who are my mother and brothers and sisters but those who do the will of my Father in heaven?' This has certainly paved the way for me to move toward other figures who offer more life and vitality as I struggle to molt the old skin of my identity as a son/brother/uncle/nephew to all the people who now keep their distance or are so toxic that I can't really be around. Still, the gravitational pull is strong. I know there is precious little that can be fixed; the brokenness is too great. I often feel I am the only one who recognizes it and perhaps has a scrap of a clue what to do about it. Everyone else is locked up tight, frozen at the soul level. I've done a range of things, followed a few paths to try to make sense of all this and at least set it aside so I could progress as myself.

The men's work that I have done primarily is built on one goal: to help men realize their beloved sonship of God. (No slight to the ladies out there: you can claim your beloved daughter status too.) This isn't radical or new. Mark's gospel puts it up front: before Jesus was the heroic, larger than life figure we know him as, he first discovered his innate beloved sonship. The rest flowed from that. He was able to relinquish all the other markers of social prestige and standing—"normal" family and clan relations first and foremost, and to love and live as he was loved by God. I wonder if the whole Joseph story was a way of conveying Jesus too was from what we call broken and dysfunctional families, and that the only father worth a damn was God, who he called "daddy," a title which otherwise would have been the term for Joseph.

What is clear from my own experience and from the path that Jesus laid out is that this business of beloved sonship of God is hard business. Who among us—the lay people, the clergy, the scholars—knows what happened in the missing years of Jesus' life, and what kind of heart rending questions drove him to join the cult of the crazy baptist at the river, and then go off and live so counterculturally, but with a particular message that only the Father in heaven matters? What sort of agonizing dissolution of normative relations did he have to endure before he was empowered to get past the birth-issued family relations and all the shit they can drag a person through?

My first answers to this kind of thing came three years ago when I think I understood the pain and rejection that gay and lesbian people might feel when faced with owning who they are, particularly before family members who spent a lot of years shaping them according to other ideas, other aspirations. Maybe it wasn't coincidental that the church I found myself drawn to was a place where such folks gravitated toward in order to feel the kind of safety to be oneself. I didn't know how similar it was until a few years ago I found myself on the outside of all the family I ever knew, all for the sake of exercising some self determination, or marrying the "wrong" person (a woman, no less!), and otherwise finding myself.

If claiming my beloved sonship of God is what I must do, then I suppose to ride for real, I have to let the training wheels go. In fairness, it isn't that they did me no good; it is that they have become limiting, in the way.

Sky, ever hungryA few weeks ago I was at a ranch in New Mexico where a mutt dog named Sky had her puppies in the space beneath the trailers. I never saw the pups with my own eyes. Maybe they were miracle, virgin birth pups since no father was present. Whatever the origin, I know I was oddly compelled to feed Sky. I was overcome with a feeling of compassion for her, and fed her almost obscene amounts of food, which she gobbled up as if her tongue was a conveyor belt! She drank a gallon of water at a single stop. She went on to steal into the trash enclosure and compost heap for whatever else she could find. I could not help but think of what kinds of things my mother had to do to protect her kids, even me.

In nature, there is no right and wrong. There is just survival. We humans make the laws that limit or even prohibit survival. We certainly have the kinds of laws that divide people unnaturally. That is the legal basis for the separation between my mother and I. But after that expired, on a few occasions of trying to reconnect and revive relationship, things went no better. A lot of times it has felt like death. Trying to earn my own mother's love feels like death, and is something I intellectually know is uncalled for and impossible. Jackhammering through all the layers of alienation and mistrust and hurt is a vast task that I am not particularly wise to embark upon. Been there, done that. I can't really change the hearts and minds of 67 year olds who have racked up so much hurt in a lifetime and never learned to deal with it. I know people do what they think is right in order to self preserve and to survive. I guess that is what happened here. Sometimes I feel like the pup that got dropped on the escape path and had to be forsaken for the greater good. For whose greater good, I can't say.

But there is also the parable about the 99 pups and the one pup for which God doesn't rest until it is found... That's it! (Okay, so I paraphrased.)

Friday
Mar042011

Why Male Initiation

This video is from one of Richard Rohr's many public appearances. I finally had a chance to get to one such appearance myself last week in Laguna Niguel. There he talked about what he calls the Father Wound, the ubiquitous issue of fathers having been somehow distant in relationships to their kids, but especially with sons, in an unfortunate and often tragic gift economy that should not be. The crowd that I sat among was a co-ed crowd of men who either had completed the rites of passage that Rohr's Center for Action and Contemplation puts on, or men who were interested in such a step in their spiritual lives. Women too were there, perhaps trying to support their fathers, sons, brothers in direct action, or learning what makes men tick.

richard rohr speaking

One gripping story he told was about a time when he was getting his men's work teachings into some public form in the mid 80s. He was in Germany at a cathedral filled with men under 40. One spoke up about why there would be so many men. The first was took all their grandfathers in its savage wake. The second war took all their fathers after their fathers' generation tried to father itself with one guy who made the promises to be a father to the nation, but had not the right heart, a situation that left a whole nation devastated and bereft of a positive male influence.

Another great part of his talk was echoing the insights that his friend and fellow Catholic priest Henri Nouwen had about Rembrandt's painting, The Prodigal Son. Nouwen regarded the painting as an illustration of the spiritual journey itself, from the easily identifiable lost son who returns, to the son who gets cozy with the power center of things (God, father) and is jealous of grace; and then of course, the father who is the perfect embodiment of the dichotomous characteristics of firmness and mercy. A couple years ago I read Nouwen's book, a long meditation on the original painting, Nouwen having made special arrangements to sit with it alone in the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg for 24 hours straight.

richard rohr up close after the gatheringI got a chance to meet Fr. Rohr after about three years of knowing of him, and nearly two years of reading his thoughts in books or meditations. And of course, after some months following the profound time at the Mens' Rites of Passage in AZ—an experience that keeps unfolding in meaning for me over time. I thanked him for giving me a new set of keys to unlock so many things in life.

In April I am going to be among the opt-in bunch of Returning Initiated Men who go to the rites that a new group of men are experiencing, in a show of solidarity and support, the same as others returned to my ritual week. This experience in April is local for me, in Julian (about 60 miles from here), and is just an overnight stay with time to refresh and connect with others who already had the experience and want to support others.

I'm still awaiting an answer on my extended stay in New Mexico for a week longer than the Red Mesa spring break. The idea of two weeks in this special place is exciting.

Thursday
Mar032011

Red Mesa

All the talk about digital this and computer that does wear on me after a while. Last year was the beginning of a time when I got a chance to learn again to appreciate doing the digital stuff, but for a different reason than before. But it was also a year when I learned again to appreciate decidedly undigital life, and most notably, the natural world as I got to see it in my three trips to desert destinations.

For about the last year I have been feeling a call to go to New Mexico. With the notorious exception of parental custody battles and gameplaying as an infant, I have never been there to actually appreciate it. I find it intriguing from this vantage point. It is known as a spiritually rich place, with the confluence of the Native peoples and their thousands of years of history, intermingled with the early colonial influences. But to add to the complexity, set against the backdrop of all that spiritual-religious history and atmosphere, it is also the place where the most dubiously unholy deed was done: the testing of the first nuclear explosion. It makes for an interesting juxtaposition at the least.

The other calls to New Mexico have been in the form of spiritual tales or opportunities. In about a years' time, I heard about and then completed the Mens' Rites of Passage which is a program offered by the Center for Action and Contemplation, based in Albuquerque. My own rites were in Arizona, but that just whet my appetite. While there, the master teacher, Belden Lane, told his story about his CAC/MROP initiation at Ghost Ranch in NM, and also about his time at Christ in the Desert monastery where he set about finishing his book on The Solace of Fierce Landscapes. In this same year, Scott Landis preached about his three week experience at Christ in the Desert, in part to decompress from being ousted from the church he pastored (on account of his recent coming out). New Mexico, as a place of spiritual development opportunity, has been on my mind for a while.

This January I applied (a bit late, I found) to be an intern at the CAC for a ten week spell. That might have been a bit disruptive to home life, but would be a great time to work and learn, reflect on a day's experience, or a lifetime's. CAC always seems to have something interesting going on, and the next thing that came across my desk was something that one of my small group members at the rites had taken to doing on two occasions in the last season or two. That he is a Canadian and decided to haul off to New Mexico said something.

I read his essay in the midst of the website about CAC and their Red Mesa property. David always has a way with language, so his account of tending sheep was profoundly moving, particularly since we had the same initiating experience last spring. Tending sheep? Yes, it is out of character for me. I have barely ever seen sheep. The charm of this is to enter into a different life and a different space and see what it has to teach. It is hard to sum up what the Rites of Passage experience was, but it continues to unfold in meaning, as a touchstone for reference. I find CAC's programs to be attractive in their ability to teach at a real level. It isn't just retreats they offer. So at the end of the month, I will go to Red Mesa and spend a week doing whatever on the property with others who are interested in the CAC-offered Alternative Spring Break. Hey, being out of work has led to some neat developments.

Red Mesa is in the backwoods of New Mexico. I think I will drive the mountains on the norhteast side of Phoenix. I rather like the idea of maximizing the wilderness time on such a trip, so staying off the freeway might be nice, at least going one way. As close as I am coming to the Trinity testing site and the Very Large Array radio telescope site (the dishes that I once planned to use for my Receiving cover), I will be a week early for the ONE day that the site is open during the springtime. I have just put out feelers to see what can be done to tarry in New Mexico for a week to help bridge the decidedly low tech sheep week and the sites that indicate our highest technological aspirations. That should be interesting. In some ways, that would be a thing to ponder to help clarify my own relationship to technology and my longing to more completely live an uncomplicated, organic life.