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Entries in mythology (4)

Friday
Dec142012

Santa and the Kingdom of Childhood

Kaitlin

This is a presentation several years in the making even though it came together last night. The first four pictures are original shots of my niece Kaitlin, taken in 2000. I had met her just weeks before, only in the week of Thanksgiving. I was 27 and on the verge of wanting to grow up after years of hurt and alienation from many, including my mom's whole side of my family. That gap was bridged in time for the holidays that year. Kaitlin was not quite four years old then. By my readiness and her very presence, she stole my heart in the sort of I-Thou exchange that Martin Buber wrote about. She reached into me in an amazing way and inspired me to first make a 15 minute bit of music (Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music) just in time for Christmas that year, and to give it to her and other folks as my present for the year—one I might add that could NOT be bought. Bitter and senseless family politics has kept us apart for all the time since just after that Christmas, though I saw her a few weeks ago (almost exactly 12 years from when we first met) and had a crashing feeling that the situation of estrangement would never change. It broke my heart. Her mom unleashed vitriolic words upon me after staying perfectly quiet for almost exactly those same 12 years. The only exception has been a few email and MySpace flame wars. Any hopes I might have had to be Katie's uncle are probably for naught. One can only imagine what Kaitlin has heard about me, all without knowing me but for those few weeks, lost to the mists of her young mind.

To be honest, I've been quite depressed in recent weeks, in part because of that, but in no small measure because of it either. This kind of thing is a dull ache most of the time and sometimes gets outsized and more painful than maybe I should let it. I've tried engagement and disengagement in order to cope. Neither particularly suits me. I just hurt.

The remaining photos in the slideshow are ones I've been able to collect from my sister's social media pages. I am pretty certain they are not used by permission. My tragic point, exactly. But while my sister has her fanciful notions of protecting her daughter from the Savage Sociopath from San Diego, she's using the same twisted logic that my old man used to keep me from my mom. Funny that she doesn't see it that way. Anyhow, these are pictures of my niece as much as they are pictures of her daughter. To date, even though the fiery words have flown and the icy wastelands have grown between us, there is really no substance to her decision to keep Katie from me. I mean, I'm not a pedophile. Not a rapist. Not a murderer. I haven't stolen anything. I haven't really held any financial power over anyone, despite some monetary issues that I've since learned were my mom's very style. There really isn't much to hate me for, though their typical approach to keeping a distance has done plenty to stall any chance of development and certainly any hope of healing. It's just that they don't care.

This little show is my act of defiance, just something to help keep a light of hope alive for me. None of what has happened since can take away that flicker of hope that came when I played with Katie for a few occasions that holiday season of 2000. I might say that in keeping with the theme of the reading in the video, Katie might just as well be said to be my first real Christmas gift as an adult. One I didn't even know I needed. That holiday was quite enjoyable, and since, while no other Christmas since has been spent with that family unit, Christmas has had its component of wonder and hope returned to me.

The Music

This music is just a short segment from the longer, freewheeling musical romp that perhaps was my nod to Mike Oldfield, Todd Rundgren, Mike Keneally, and maybe other solo artists who just love to get into the studio and make any music that comes to them. With one exception (a totally random instance of Kelli appearing at my place with a friend packing a Maltese bagpipe), every part of the recording was done on my own. For lack of a better title, and for the fact it's not strictly a bunch of Christmas tunes but rather is more a sonic tour through impressions of the season, it's called what it's called. This year I have returned to the source recording of the original project and brought it into my main recording program, Logic, a far more robust place to mix the recording that never got the mix it deserved in 2000 when it was rushed out the door in time for the holiday. So that will appear too, sounding better than ever, first a gift to family that didn't really care, and now to the world, and I bet it will unfold in ways I could never imagine. I'll probably post it next week, 12 years from its first release.

The Reading

On another track of life, a few years later in 2004, I got Michael Judge's book, The Dance of Time, a sweet little thing to feed a hunger for knowing what the world was like before our particular kind of timekeeping evolved. To read it, one must suspend the cold rational mind known for its "stinking thinking" and just fall into the premodern mind where time is measured according to the universe and the play of celestial bodies upon the Earth.  It's prose that reads poetically and a few times a year (but especially in the colder months) I am likely to pull it out and read it aloud to Kelli. In 2010 I found a page that I liked and paired it with the Holiday Theme Music. (The crazy thing is, I think I actually got the wrong segment of music!) I gave it a few reads and tried not to choke too much but you can hear the end did get a little hard to read. As it should.

Meeting my niece when I was 27 was the beginning of a thawing of my heart from the cold and broken thing it had become over those years of creeping skepticism and doubt about goodness and frankly, mystery. In so much mythology, the troubled male soul is mended by some kind of feminine presence. So it was for me. This humble little reading is just a thing to remind me of the good stuff, to not get jaded and cynical; to not be barricaded behind all the hurt and pain that accumulates too easily. The pictures I took of Kaitlin that first holiday season are significant of those first glimmers of light in the darkness for me.

Thursday
Feb122009

World

It dawned on me that a number of DVDs that I have seen in the last year tell a great story when viewed in series, and all of which is fascinating to behold. I didn't particularly see them in the order I am about to propose, but when seen together, it is an interesting look at history from the formation of the earth through geologic history, and a wide sweeping look at human history and possible destiny, topped with a cherry on top in the form of Jesus as the model human to put right what has gone wrong.

All this stuff I got from Netflix, so the links will be to the pages where you can find these videos. Watch in this order for maximum narrative impact.

  • Miracle Planet (five part series). This one takes a look at the long history of the planet Earth and is built on an argument that life is seemingly a stroke of luck that has somehow lasted for billions of years despite radical shifts in climate and terrain and so forth. It ends with the advent of the homo sapien and its edge over Neanderthals due to the former's power of articulate speech as its defining feature, something that paved the way for communication of increasingly complex and abstract information and ideas. Which is a good set up for:
  • Guns, Germs and Steel (three part series). A National Geographic series built on the themes in Jared Diamond's book of the same name. Diamond asks how it was that the Eurasian branch of humankind was able to thrive, innovate, and spread its kind to all manner of places, and to dominate human history. He credits geographical advantage of fertile lands as the basis for early civilization that surged ahead of other hunting and gathering peoples, and innovation that arose out of that advantageous circumstance. Such things as exposure to domesticated animals secured our resilience to diseases that later were fatal to vulnerable New World populations. High technology and well developed use of horses helped the history of domination wherever Eurasian peoples went. It is all a great look at how domination is essentially foundational to civilization and violence is a major tool by which it spreads. Other civilizations had not the advantages of such successful agricultural effort, and perhaps lacked the resources or literacy that Eurasian peoples had, and so never progressed in the same way.
  • What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire This comes out of the Peak Oil "doomer" camp from which I sort of consider myself. This takes a brutally honest look at the world situation (peak oil, global warming, food shortages in the face of overpopulation, etc.) and its foundations in our mythologies of progress and love of technology. Consider it the extended tale of what Guns, Germs and Steel is talking about. (Diamond is well known for a book called Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.) It too reaches back into the roots of civilization and shows how the whole system is set to somehow succeed to the point of failure eventually. It concludes wondering how life would look if exploitation, domination and violence was not the leading paradigm, and if life were lived more reverently and in tune with what the Earth is able to provide.
  • A Crisis of Faith: The Series (four part series). This covers a few different bases in each of the different films but it comes back to the role of how we've lost touch with the mythic universe that keeps us as characters within a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The first one is somewhat like Life At The End of Empire in that it takes a look at our present situation and its roots in the myths of progress, and Enlightenment materialistic thought. It asks why in the age of moon landings and nuclear technology we are losing our way as people with a sense of meaning. The second one examines economic injustice in America, particularly how it affects blacks here. The third looks to the story Percival and the Holy Grail and how it narrates development into a fully human being. The fourth episode is a great "portrait of a radical" and shows how Jesus of Nazareth was the ideal human who lived a remarkable life of service to fellow humans and how he exposed the systemic injustice of his time and place—something not at all too different than today. The last two videos of the series are meant to illustrate how domination-rooted human mess can be pushed aside by lifting up our compassionate humanity in the face of the devastation the world brings. The emphatic message is that we need to turn inward and downward for our wisdom and not outward for external gratification and acceptance. That would pave the way for more genuine enlightenment ala what Jesus demonstrated.

The theme that comes up repeatedly is that our problems are rooted in the very civilization we wish to save with all our valiant efforts. Technology heaped upon earlier technology has done a lot to forestall the problems associated with earlier strides in civilized life. Social arrangements such as division of labor have allowed us to fall into traps of some being better than others, some working like dogs, and others living as kings. In some ways, one might say that Jesus was an anarcho-primitivist with his talk about the Kingdom of God and the notion that everyone was equal in the eyes of God. It seems that there hasn't been a time during the civilized world that has been adequate for the coming of the Kingdom; a lot of what Jesus was talking about was trusting that life would go on just as well if we didn't set up shelter, hoard food, or have fancy clothing. He spoke of relinquishing the trappings of the material world so that we could get down to the business of living. Well, perhaps his words and civilization would clash forever until one or the other falls to nothing, but which would fall to nothing first? If you subscribe to the thesis of What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire, then maybe we're seeing the fall of not just another civilization but the fall of the most advanced one we've known, back to something simpler and more in touch with reality. Maybe the overly complex arrangements need to fall apart so we might discover why we wanted to get civilized in the first place: to put to use our elevated thinking and speech to better ourselves. As Crisis of Faith says, we're awash in information, but not so in wisdom. We're in love with quantification, but we don't know what it means or what to do with it. That's because we move too fast and don't know where we want to go.

Thursday
Sep042008

Halcyon Days & Suburban Hero's Journey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday
May262008

Compassion Day

To honor whatever it is that one honors on Memorial Day, I chose to watch the film Why We Fight (Wikipedia). Of course, as my earlier Memorial Day missives will reflect, I am not precious about the day and its typical rituals of nationalistic bullshit. The documentary features a multifaceted look at the military-industrial-corporate-thinktank complex and questions civilians, politicians, and military alike what motivates this nation to go to war. There is a lot of talk about how Ike predicted (rightly) the massive system which now must be fed our billions of dollars, our young men and women, and helped along by a cheerleading media. What disturbs most is that it is allowed to take over by a public that is lulled to sleep by sensational news, bullshit "reality" TV, working two jobs to get by, and the host of other distractions we face in daily life.

But I also heard a rebroadcast of an episode of Fresh Air (NPR) featuring a Marine and a journalist who have written a book about fallen soldiers and how the Marines dispatch such officers to not only break the news of a combat death, but to help look after the family for as long as it takes for grief to work itself out. The officer told gripping stories of how ritualized the whole thing is in the Corps. It was hard to not choke up and get a bit teared up at some of the things he said. The point was made at how the Corps was trained to be utmost efficient and good at being a killing machine, but this story demonstrated a great deal of mercy and steadfastness in taking care of the family, and indeed a fallen brother or sister, even past the burial. It was genuinely touching to hear. War, terrible though it is, at least doesn't eclipse all the best parts of a man, or even the potential for the human image to shine through what is inherently a dehumanizing institution—the military.

But I like to reach deeper. Jesus taught to love one's enemies. He didn't say this so that they might trample upon you time and time again as you prove your weakness and vulnerability, but that they might be rendered as non-enemies. I heard of a Hasidic tale that had two men talking about love. One said, 'do you love me?' The other said, 'sure I do.' The first asked, 'what hurts me?' to which the second said, 'I don't know what hurts you.' The first came back, saying, 'how can you say you love me if you don't know what hurts me?'

America has done a good job of wrapping itself in the flag for a good while, but none so much as since 9/11. And it all seems so packaged and contrived. It has to be. If we ever had to confront the real reasons for 9/11, our heads would explode. So the easier way is to just declare that "they hate us for our freedom" and other such nonsense. We are cavalier like this in a time when the world grows ever more complex and daunting. But just give us the snappy soundbite reasoning. What is not pleasant to remember is that the world is hurting, and that too often, it is hurting not just because nature can deal some blows—earthquakes, storms, tsunamis, etc. —but that there is plenty of shit that comes down because of man made social constructs—economics, politics, and their dirty-deed-doing comrade, war. The world is mostly hurt today by a corrupt economic model which America champions but one that ultimately is a shameful, destructive thing. So I posit that America has forgotten how to hurt in sympathy with the rest of the world, and because we have forgotten how to hurt, we can remain blind to the real suffering that exists, in part due to our success. As long as we can remain ignorant of this hurt, we can never say that we love the world enough to bring our precious democratic values, our liberty, and all that other jibberish talk.

America has not these values to offer another land because they do not exist here like we think they do. What we have is a military that will aid big business in its expansion into other territories, intruding into the political workings of other nations, and a media that will turn enough of a blind eye so that people here don't really know what is going on. In that vacuum, people feel of no consequence in relation to the system. But the rest of the world isn't so duped. So why are we so surprised that a 9/11 happens? Maybe because so many Americans are without clue as to what really is going on in the world and that contemporary events don't just happen out of the blue? Americans don't like to admit what effects our way of life has in the world. That blindness has earned us 9/11. People argue that our way of life 'must be great because people flock to it.' Shallow argument, I think. Our way of life is hitting the dead end that was inevitable. A world in uproar is part of the sign that the party is coming to an end. And what has been clearer to us that something is wrong than 9/11?

Yet here we are, throwing completely unconscionable amounts of money at the problem with nary a clue to what is really the problem.

It's the economy, stupid.

The world is not willing to be our factory forever. Or our slaves forever. Or our doormats forever. But somehow, all attempts are made to cling to the status quo of easy motoring (as Kunstler says), endless mall shopping, and all this other consumption-based activity, no matter what price the nation must really pay in money, blood, international goodwill, etc. Yet our economists talk about how the consumer activity constitutes 2/3 of our economic activity. They talk about how the consumer feels good or bad, almost as if to scare people into consuming so the economy doesn't falter. I think that is a form of mental slavery, quite unbecoming a nation that fancies itself free and democratic. It is certainly a form of manipulation.

Our economy is founded on serving the needs of others in one great economic circle jerk-slash-merry-go-round from which hardly anyone can escape. Who knows what to do to break out of that? We're trained to produce and consume so that we might be good citizens—er, consumers (the new patriotism it seems). There is a sort of fear instilled in people so that we won't try to avoid our responsibility to the system. It really is the religion of the land. But this economy is different from the one based on real self-sufficiency in an earlier America, or in many parts of the world even now, and certainly in pre-industrial societies where there was no factory to make goods for ready consumption. And, since much of the world is enjoying a growing trend toward industrialism, the social strains are there the same as they were when Britain, the US, and Europe were confronted with the stress of abandoning rural life for urban-industrial settings. America forgot, that is what it is. We were there, experiencing the dislocation from rural, isolated people who were pressed (or drawn) into the cities.

America forgot what it was to have that upheaval. Now we are on the other side of the equation, and we can't understand how the rest of the world feels. I'll bet it feels rather the same as when early industrialists started in on their radical social transformation in the name of progress. Not every farmer who was lured from the farm, or forced off the farm embraced the urban-industrial lifestyle. So it is with other peasants around the world who see change as threatening and not altogether necessary if it means their land or resources will be taken away without real compensation. This is where America has failed to understand what hurts people and nations. This is where America has failed to show compassion in the real sense of the word—suffering with. This is where America cannot say it loves other people or places enough to bring them democracy or liberty of any of that. This is also where America cannot think of itself as a Christian nation. (This is a jab at those righty evangelicals and fundamentalists who say such nonsense.) America cannot foist any more economic injustice upon the world and expect cooperation. September 11 was the wakeup call for that. This means that everything must change or it will be changed for us.

Jesus of Nazareth was essentially a nobody from no place worth mentioning. But, as theologian Marcus Borg emphasizes, he was a man defined by and who defined compassion—suffering with. I think to be Christ-like is to understand suffering of another; to know what hurts a person. I will repeat again that you and me don't have enemies in Iraq or Afghanistan. But what we do have is a problem of thinking we are separated from one another—as if they haven't suffered the same (and worse) as we've suffered. I can't find it in my heart to hate another peasant in a far off land, or even in Mexico, about 20 miles from here. I've been told by my "leadership" that I have enemies out there, and that people are out to get what is mine, and I have to fight them before they attack me. That is the rhetoric these days, and it works as well as in any time and place. But who are our enemies but for other humans who hurt and feel just like you and me, and frankly, have been pushed into more desperate places in their souls than we have? If humans are our enemies, then we'd better get busy killing people, because there sure are plenty of them out there! But if they aren't, maybe killing gets us nowhere, and maybe on a day like Memorial Day we need to realize what a colossally stupid thing we do when we march off to war and engage in a fruitless pursuit that has proven itself to be that time and time again, and no amount of spending and media hype will ever prove anything to the contrary.

I frankly don't know what to think of vets now, seeing how most of them fought wars that were dubious, and a couple wars now were fought with so-called "volunteers." Part of me thinks these volunteers are blind fools, but really I just have to have pity on the poor souls who think that the military is a good place to be in this day and age. Touching as it was to hear how the Marines look after their dead, I still think that sort of ritualistic care should be put into avoiding the whole franchise of war in the first place. One day, let us hope that Memorial Day would be able to actually memorialize ALL the war dead, because there would be no more coming home draped in flags.