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Entries in non-commercial christmas (11)

Tuesday
Dec252012

Christmas Churchiness

I got to four church services for Christmas Eve. You might think that's a bit too much church. It keeps me out of the malls, where I don't want to be anyway. The two that anchor such an adventure are "my" church (MHUCC) and "Kelli's" church (CCCPB, where we met some 22 years ago but that I departed six years ago). That's the basic balance for us: we at least get to our own churches, different though they may be. Because my church has a 10 pm service, and it happens to be where Kelli interned years ago, it's in the clear for us to both go and be together, a bit like old times, but without some of the weighty complications I feel. And then, there are some other services that turn up and seem interesting enough to take in if we can.

I'm going to tell these stories out of order. For those keeping score, I went to the following services in this order:

  1. MHUCC, 2 pm
  2. CCCPB, 6 pm
  3. MCC, 7 pm, followed by dinner with friends from there
  4. MHUCC, 10 pm 

CCCPB

As some distance from the strains of CCCPB has mellowed me over time, I've gone a couple times to the Christmas service there too. CCCPB is much as I knew it from earlier times, even during my unchurched times. A small congregation meets in a building that is sparse in architectural ornamentation though is rather radical in its roof line and its 2/3 round floor plan. It has a basic holiday decoration scheme, but without it, the place is rather austere looking for the most part. Many faces remain, though there are giant holes in the population due to attrition and families breaking up and children leaving for school and careers. I still like the messages from the pulpit as much as when I spent four years there recording them all, but with such a history as I have there, it's hard to be really present there. I fidget. Kelli does the reading from Luke every year and is poised closer to the pulpit. I sit apart from her because I feel that it's so easy to be in an old role that just doesn't suit me now, and frankly, being seated next to my own wife triggers that. (Read on for how things go at MHUCC.) There's a tinge of guilt for coming and not being fully present. I don't like it. But I also don't go to church and let myself be inauthentic if I can help it. And CCCPB was a place where I eventually left in part because I knew it was going to be what it was going to be and I was changing. Since then I've been regaled with tales from a variety of sources, so while I am not a member there and rarely attend, I do have a small bit of information about what goes on there, and some things just baffle me. Other bits frustrate me. So it's hard for me to be there. But Christmas begs a different response, and for a successful home life, the concession must be made, especially when carpooling. That said, there are a couple people who I still like a great deal and am happy to connect with, even so briefly as my very occasional appearance there. I guess I need CCCPB to remind me that even a diminishing congregation meets faithfully. I just know it's not my community anymore.

MHUCC

MHUCC is notably larger but still feels like a family. The congregation is eclectic and growing. The programs are varied and meet people at various places in life. Liturgically, there is more to take in since our pastor came from a tradition that placed an emphasis on liturgical year cycles and other things that I would learn about when entering that congregation. It was all new to me, coming from a very lean and sparse life at CCCPB. So, MHUCC has the liturgical colors that change with the church year's progression, choir processing in their robes, and other such touches. The choir is about 24 folks and has a professional director and section leaders. The organ is a delight, and the harp adds a welcome texture. The room feels very large. It's not high church by any stretch but after my church formation at CCCPB, it seems that way. For the late Christmas service, this time the service was a Lessons and Carols service.

Two other services this Christmas Eve were in the mix for other reasons. One more, an earlier afternoon service at MHUCC, was small, intimate, and contemplative, and offered communion. It was held in a smaller chapel room suitable for a special service like that. Having been at a physical distance up in Escondido for half a year now, making a day of being in San Diego was like breathing fresh air and getting a warm hug, even on the rather cool and cloudy day. I've been too distant from church of late, so reconnecting was called for. This small service was contemplative and instead of a sermon, the nativity scene was used as a chance to get us to imagine which of those characters we identified with. Who were they? What would they be thinking as they were in that moment? What would we be thinking as we're in that moment?

MCC

The fourth service, a bonus for the day, was at the Metropolitan Community Church where a friend and colleague of Kelli's is on staff. MCC, largely populated by the LGBT community, is a refuge for folks who have perhaps not been welcome at so many other churches, and even among their own families. Because LGBT folk are exiled from all kinds of home lives in all kinds of traditional settings and from all kinds of geographic areas, it's really an eclectic mix of things that might pass for traditional, but instead of messages of making the world a narrower place, a smaller place, a more limited place, the message inherent in the MCC's very existence is one of celebration of the opposite of all that. It's kind of interesting because in some ways, it's like many other churches but without the implicit or explicit homophobia. Just because folks are gay doesn't mean they want to forsake the good things from the traditions they were to inherit, but from where their options for real inclusion were limited or shut off entirely. MCC is their new family where it's safe to be oneself. MCC is the home that has been created to bring the LGBT world back to the Christian fold. There are probably many who, were it not for MCC, would never set foot into another church. I've been there a few times and at least tonight, I found it to be the most surprising of the services. After this service, we went off with Ali and her partner and her daughter to a fun dinner at the greasy spoon diner we've gone to for a few Christmas Eves now, Rudford's. It was delightfully irreverent.

Back at my church, what's true at MCC regarding the LGBT community is largely true there as well, but having been there now for about five years, it's become familiar. MHUCC was a pretty traditional place tending toward liberal, but about a decade ago in particular, the church's embrace of the LGBT world was stepped up. And interestingly, the place has grown a lot because of it. Dropping in on the MCC reminded me of a dynamic I saw a few years back when I slowly and tentatively moved into the life at MHUCC—at the very same time as yet one more mom family meltdown was under way, and by then, a year and more had passed since the utterly miserable exchange with my old man (and a silence that stretches now to an unheard of six years). Add to that a feeling that my home church of CCCPB was not the place to stretch into the new person that needed to emerge from all that, and I realized there was something I had in common with the LGBT folk at MHUCC, broadly speaking. How many tales of exile from families-of-origin are there, with relations strained to the point of breaking only because some people have to answer the call to be themselves? How many exiles from the church communities that are found to be the old wineskins? Hard to say, but when my original tribes were found to be lacking and I needed something new, that's where I felt I came home to.

Church Hopping?

For some years now, since Kelli has been either in school or interning or since I dabbled in another transitional church for a bit in 2007-2008 (UCCLM), then joined MHUCC, Christmases have been diversified. A couple years in a row I did these Christmas Eve runs on my bike for the added sport of getting warmed up and feeling all invigorated upon walking in, sometimes to some really unfamiliar settings (the Greek church was the most unusual). Not too many folks know this but if you were to take my particular ethnic strands and send me to church along traditional faith trajectories, I might be equally at home in Protestant, Catholic, and even Orthodox settings, though of course, I have always identified closer to Protestant. But the tug for me, while never really having the success I could wish for with the family life, is to share in the lives of a few different families at Christmas, in part because those historical families of Christianity are within me at some level, but also that the world today requires a less insular Christianity.

At any rate, the matter of getting to many churches, or sampling the services even at my new home church, keeps things from becoming predictable. Too much church life is led by rote and inertia. If anything, church should be the irritant, not the pabulum. As it is, at MHUCC, I have a practice of trying to never sit in the same seat. Sometimes that applies not just to weekly services but to parts of a given service. There are times when I sit in three different places, moving during logical breaks in the liturgy: sit one place to start and then at the passing of the peace when everyone gets up and greets one another, land in another place, and then maybe before the sermon shift again to a third place. I just mix it up so I don't go and "do" church with my brain off. So it is, stepping it up on Christmas Eve, getting to a few locations and experiencing Christ's family in a way that a place like San Diego affords, with so many traditions found in one place.

Going to unfamiliar churches figures into making the Christmas story a bit more real and experiential. The Greek church in particular made me the stranger in the strange land, even a little bit like the holy family seeking a place at the inn. It's a good thing for this white male to remember that there is a lot of rejection that people face while trying to be in communion around Christ's table. Not being eligible for the eucharist in the Greek church was one reminder about rejection that I don't get in my usual life. (Had I been a baptized member of the Orthodox church, I could have taken the cup and bread, but a quick question about that after having walked into the church, knowing nothing about the liturgy, suggested I'd be okay. I guess my host thought I was already baptized. It seemed very insular and monocultural in there. So, as a result, I was in line and was questioned by the priest if I was baptized as Orthodox. No? Sorry, members only.) While the Greek church was unparalleled in its lush appearance and the layer upon layer of its ancient tradition, coming from my low church protestant background, particularly from a congregation that has a very progressive stance on inclusion, that was kind of a rejection that I am not used to. At MHUCC, it's taken for granted that if you came to that building and want to take communion, you're in, and who are we to put up a barrier? That to me mirrors the pronouncements and practices of Jesus, known for being exceedingly welcoming. Churches that don't roll that way just baffle and disappoint me.

The Christmas Burden, The Christmas Gift

Last night though, finally in the midst of that special night that causes an aching and yearning for peace and quiet both outside and inside, I was feeling a great need to soak it all up. The weight was upon me, feeling down from a half year in a new town, leaving JEM, struggling still with family matters and joblessness (except some pick up work) and tensions that those things inevitably bring to home life. Being a pretty committed non-commercial Christmas practitioner makes me kind of the odd man in the room in most rooms I might enter. People get the idea and maybe even savor it, but don't usually seem to expect someone to succeed at it. The personal layers of hungering for the Christmas message are overlaid with the dire situations the news brings us (or sometimes doesn't, but should). With an utterly senseless massacre—an act of domestic terrorism if ever there was one—too fresh in the mind, and with increasingly dire predictions regarding our environmental crisis being met with too weak a response by nearly everyone, my heart is heavy. With so much balkanization of American society into more and more insular and self-reinforcing tribes that are loathe to interact for the common good, my heart is heavy. For watching as Thanksgiving and other spiritually and even nationally vital holidays are so brazenly co-opted and turned into the playthings of industry and commercialism, my heart is heavy. It's a heavy time.

A heavy time indeed, and the whole world needs Christmas even more than many pious folk realize. Jesus didn't arrive on the scene for the benefit of Christians, right? Sure, he emerged from among Jews and operated in that world. But even he, in his words and especially in his deeds, served humanity and portrayed another way of being human. Best of all, it doesn't require membership or much other than to live from the place of compassion that all of us have but sometimes forget about. He didn't ask for people worship him as some deity. He wanted people to follow his way, not himself. To the extent that one follows him is to realize how he embodied the Way. And that his way was available to everyone, even to this day. No faith system really has the patent on humility, compassion, forgiveness and all that great stuff. They aren't qualities that expire. He just embodied those in such a way that it was hard to imagine he was made of the same stuff we were. So we grapple at best, and ignore him at worst. At our own peril, even.

Maybe Christmas causes eyes to glaze over and people to hear "yadda, yadda, yadda." That's a shame. That's not the Christmas I know, now having some great experiences taking in just what I have in my infinitesimally small sampling of Christian practices over only a decade. When I overcome even my own programming—that is, to venture farther afield in my church hopping, maybe to more ethnic churches, or economically disadvantaged communities, or other places where Christmas burns bright for "the least of these"—I have much more insight and awe coming. While I have my struggles with depression and all the ways I feel I don't fit the mold that produced so many around me, Christmas is one time when, theologically, I fit in just fine. Somewhere between the shepherds and the wise men, there I stand. For me, Christmas is indeed the promise that God bothered to look our way, even my way. God's very curiosity about how our lives go led to Christmas. What's it like to be one of them? I got this idea...

If I could give a Christmas present to the world, it would be that folks would awaken to what a radical thing Christmas really is. Forget the dumb pageants and the statues that freeze a moment in time that never happened unless you read the Bible poorly. Forget trying to medically figure out virgin birth. Forget arguments meant to save Jesus from pagan seasonal festivals. Or arguments that Christmas was just a Christian hijacking of those festivals. It goes without saying to forget the commercial extravaganza. It's so much more than all that. Those are the distractions, the frozen symbols, the weeds that choke the crops. The time is always when we need to be rocked by the idea that divinity has taken up residence in us, among us, and for us. And maybe in spite of us. It's really quite the proclamation, isn't it?

Getting to church a few times on one particular day of the year is a small thing to help reinforce that awareness, and to try to drink it down as if I were at an oasis.

Saturday
Dec032011

Jesus the Shape Shifter +20

This year of 2011 is drawing to a close and with it the +20 (years) aspect of it leading me to weigh what was going on twenty years ago. There are a few reasons 1991 is worthy of a look now twenty years on; it was the year of my high school graduation and then starting school at Mesa College after that; working at Subway where I met Matt Zuniga and where our status as exiled suburban drummers led me toward recording and all that; and a year where I traveled to Europe for the first time; and in some ways, some early brushes with a deeper level of life outside my comfort zone.

It was in the middle of the year of 1991 when I pretty much began my personal journal that now has gone on for two decades. The kinds of long form, introverted, and exploratory posts now on this site are not all so different than what I wrote in the early years (though they are far more legible and generally better composed). My friend Shelby, still causing me to spill pixels for as I process some of these earlier instances with a bit more perspective, was a huge figure that year, though never for the reasons I had hoped for. A completely mixed mind is sprawled out over various loose page journals from the second half of the year, and of course, she continued to shape things for years to come, until the crash.

One of the foundational experiences occurred on August 2nd. It was just a week or so after she got back from a trip to Russia that lasted a month. Her trip was quite a boldly timed thing, given the fact that the Soviet Union was only then in the process of becoming a historical nation. When we had this conversation on August 2, Gorbachev was weeks from losing his place as leader. When she was there, she saw the collapse as a citizen of the republic would have—empty store shelves, long lines for what could be had, and all that. For a 17 year old only nine days my junior, that was world wisdom that even this old man did not have. And, in America in the early 1990's, living as a suburbanite, even as a son of a working man, I only knew a baseline of what constituted comfort by the standard of about 98% of the world's population. But I didn't really know that. I didn't grasp it at any existential level. So Shelby was my rude awakening. She saw to it.

For the two weeks smack in the middle of her trip to Russia, I was in Europe. She saw the bread lines and empty shelves. I landed in Geneva and was met with absurdly common instances of Swiss watch shops, chocolatiers, charcutiers, and everything else that constitutes the enviable European good life in one of the most well-off nations on earth. About as much friction as I perceived there was some graffiti on the outside wall of one such shop. It read, "Yankee Go Home!" and was a kind reminder to my nation to not let let the fall of the Soviet Union become a power-trip, a stimulant. We had just "won" the war against Saddam Hussein in February after the six week campaign. I was in Geneva in June. If not for that bit of vandalism—totally out of place in Geneva, which has to be the cleanest and nicest urban space I've ever been in—then my trip would have been just a little bigger a deal than a trip to Disneyland. The places my old man/tour guide selected were pretty controlled sights to see—largely places that cater to tourism. For my time there, I spent all my time, heart aflutter for Shelby, thinking I'd be in a new golden era with Shelby once we came back. I got her a Swiss watch—rather dainty, comparatively speaking. She got me a Soviet one. It was big and manly with Cyrillic marks in red and black. Of course, not too long after, it broke and never worked again! 

But while our reunion in the late-middle part of July was met with my heart thumping out of my chest after not seeing or hearing from her for a month (and the hype associated with entering that period is a whole other story), she had just come home marked for life by her experience of seeing the dark side of the empire, getting to know real people. Maybe she's a bleeding heart liberal in a way that I can't relate to. Sometimes her rants did sour me, mainly because I was raised in a quite Republican/conservative setting and really had little idea what she was talking about. It was one of those rants that reshaped our history for years to come.

So on August 2, 1991, we went to breakfast. We scheduled it several days before. I was thinking we'd go to Denny's or something. That was breakfast at a restaurant, right? And maybe we'd go out at 10 am or something? Nah. She wanted to go out at 7 am! This was a jarring thing since I was getting to be later and later during that summer. But since I was so nuts for her, I was ready to do just about anything to get near her. She came over and picked me up. We had no idea where to go, but she said she'd like to go to Old Town. WTF? That's kind of far away, isn't it? There's nothing in Old Town but Mexican restaurants that cater to tourists. There's a Denny's just a few miles over in the other direction... Furthermore, she accosted my sensibilities by wanting to go to a Mexican restaurant for breakfast. Mega-WTF? Breakfast is eggs, bacon, pancakes! (The thing is, I was hyper sensitive to breakfast foods then. I tolerated cereal. Too many instances with "institutional" eggs that made me grimace. Cereal was breakfast for me.) I talked her out of that, so we went to downtown, some miles more. Didn't find anything appealing and agreeable. Her patience was thin and I was aware of that in a totally guilt-ridden, I ain't making no headway here kind of way.

We turned back to Old Town and the same Mexican restaurant we had just left. I felt like I was doomed in every way. I ordered something I thought would work out—a total gringo copout in the form of pancakes—and tried to eat some. All the pent up anticipation of seeing her again (I'd seen her a time or two since our return) and a wild case of nerves conspired to ruin this day, starting with the wrecking ball to my appetite! I took about three bites of these pancakes and pushed the plate aside. Then the browbeating came. I felt sicker than ever. 

Watching the news and seeing the state of the USSR at that time was one thing. It was safely at a distance. But sitting there with a friend who had actually seen past the Iron Curtain and was a new convert to what reality was, even in the lives our our arch-enemies, all that was mercilessly demolishing my ignorance. I don't know if she was rehearsing such a rant as I got that morning over pancakes, but she delivered it with passion, and I pretty much melted into my seat. I knew she was right. "Americans take everything for granted. I'm never again going to take anything for granted." I could tell I pissed her off. I made some vague offer to do something responsible if it made her think any better of me. I don't know if that was to take the food and donate it or to pay double or what, but it was what came to mind. 

I was well clammed up about this and a lot of other things in that great summer of transition. The thing is, a moment like this was golden, even as it was painful. But I'd have to wait nearly a decade before I actually got out what I had to say all those years before. It had nothing to do with Russia or food. I just wanted to be with her. She lit up my life. I could tell even the hard times were ones to learn from. But she never wanted the same and I never had the fortitude to get that message across without equivocation. When I did, it collapsed like a house of cards. But that is well discussed in the link above.

Skip ahead a couple months to the end of the year. I started working at Subway a few weeks later and by this time in December was about three months in and had progressed (by attrition) to be a "senior" employee, if not by age (18), then by the fact that I had outlasted the others and was now essentially the longest tenured closer, training other characters like Matt and Sarah. (You can read about my early Subway experiences here.) By the start of December, I was weary. I had already given Subway my nights and weekends. I noticed that working so late on Saturday was making it hard to be in church on Sunday, so I stopped going. In a time of transition out of high school and into my little experience with community college, I was rather foolish to isolate even more by dropping out of church. My social life, such as it was then, was largely shaped by returning to Subway on my days off so I could get dinner (which at that time was total culinary liberation compared to the garbage available at home). Or maybe I went in half an hour early and made my sandwich. By the time this journal of December 11/12 was written, I was newly faced with the reality of having turned my drums over to Matt just two weeks before. I was depressed. I think I got the flu. I was feeling pretty low.

Then I guess Jesus was out there to greet me on the way to work that day. He came in the form of a 40- or 50-something woman standing out near my Subway shop, but closer to the McDonald's driveway. As I biked in, I saw a sign that in 2011 would not shock me so much: "Homeless, Please Help, God Bless You" or something like that. I biked past her originally but as I was parking inside the Subway, I realized with a few minutes I had before shift-start, I could go out to offer help. I felt like maybe my own employee sandwich for the night would be the most reasonable thing to offer. So I walked back out and made an offer if she needed some food or to get out of the cold for a while. She did come in. I did get some food and drink for her. She said she was sleeping in a canyon with her husband. I don't know exactly what canyon, but that message was clear enough. Even in San Diego, a December night spent outside is no one's first choice.

My journal from that day recognized that this experience was the fruit of the seed planted by Shelby a few months before at that terribly uncomfortable breakfast. Okay, but I know that celebrating this is rather self serving. And I've perhaps done more in the time since, and without the kind of Shelby-is-watching self consciousness that accompanied this deed. But what surprised me about the original journal entry was what followed.

August 2 wasn't the day but December 11 was. [...] Christmas has come to mean less and less to me, especially after last year [a family Christmas blowout concerning a power struggle about which store to buy from, signalling decay in Lucas Land], as I usually can't stand the commercial shit out there, and there is little family unity. Sometimes, I feel better if I'm doing something for someone. But it's usually because I'm told to do something, not spontaneously, like today. Doing something like that seemed to be the only right thing to do that would make me feel a little better about this season that so often gets me down. I saw this opportunity and took it. Hell, my Christmas is made. I've got my CD player [a big thing that year that I know was bought a few days before], but not everyone is so lucky. Some people need to rely on donations such as the one I made today. Not because I was told to, but because I do feel a bit guilty about getting so much handed to me "on a silver platter," as it were. 1991: Ed's material year: bike; trip to Europe; CD player [CDs were a form of music playback device in the 1990s, LOL]; a job; way too much spending money; new cymbal [interestingly bought just an hour or so after the notorious August breakfast with Shelby]. And what did I pay for? Only a $100 cymbal! Everything else was given to me! It's about time I give back, or give away.

[Snip some musings on how I'd model my ideal self on some key people I respected then...]

I think the whole key to being such a person that I'd like to become is to take a walk in the other person's shoes, to live by the golden rule, and to do unto others as I would want them to do unto me. I was happy with myself.

A mixed bag of degrees of consciousness. I originally titled this entry "Doing the right thing for the wrong reasons" but I was thinking of how Jesus appears to people at various stages in the evolution of our consciousness. Some people respond better to the coercive Jesus who is the law man, the enforcer, the one who shames you into right action, and maybe it takes hold. Others respond to invitation. Jesus enters the room and at some level, one can only respond in the best possible way with one's being and presence. In this story of mine, I was a bit more responsive to the latter, the woman with her sign was more motivating than being browbeaten with Shelby's guilt, even as right as she was.

I'm still a bit embarrassed to post this bit of naive and rather condescending self-reflection. Such is a mind in transition. But I was really surprised to be reminded of the fact that even in 1991, I was already moving along one side of the fork in the road with regard to holidays and commercialism. I can still sense the revulsion and disgust at watching how my family was grappling with missing Eda (for several years by then), aging (both grandparents less and less able to host much for the holidays), and the strife surrounding which bargain department store should be used to buy stuff for me (my old man, a staunch K-Mart man, bitterly opposed my grandmother's more lenient purchase of a gift certificate from Mervyn's. He knew that could only mean I'd go buy Levi 501s which he seemed to have made a personal crusade against for a few years prior). Christmas 1990 was a new low point where I was beginning to see behind the veil of false joy that the holidays typically wear in this culture. Even doing the bit that I did for the woman at Subway was an early way to grapple with finding some alternative, even if it was a mechanical and self conscious act for me. As my father Richard Rohr says, we have to act ourselves into new ways of thinking, not think ourselves into new ways of acting. Baby steps.

In those days though, my world was rather small, and I had not really left the figurative apron strings, expecting the care to flow toward me rather than the other way around, or ideally, in a circular fashion. That was rather distant still. One thing that Shelby's method did not really account for was that I was not ready to come out of a shell that I was raised within. Granted, she delivered a few critical blows to it. She had her iconoclastic tendencies and got to make some real black and white statements, even in those earlier years. I guess she did provide me with the "nag" in a nagging conscience about my place in this Earth-scheme. She did that in the same way as my step mom Eda gave me a steady dose of God-talk that I was not ready for, and then when I was, I still had to adapt her language and vision to suit my vision of the world. (Interestingly, the reopening of my in-person contact with Eda was just around the corner from this date in 1991. Only a month later I was I saw Eda on the down-low for the first time in years. That's next year's drama, folks!) 

A lot is made about Christmas being a time of giving. If you read your biblical stories without a contemporary American/consumerist mind, you don't really see it that way. (You could read Lee Van Ham's perspectives.) Christmas is a time for hope in the darkness, and the symbol of hope, the symbol that God really gives a shit about humanity is that a helpless baby bore the divine image. The baby Jesus is, as Richard Rohr says, a divine lure to a deeper humanity for all of us. The incarnational aspect of divinity merging with the stuff of the human being—the dust, as it were—is the miraculous message of Christmas. The scandal of the birth of Jesus was that God hid among us, among the most helpless and simplest of our kind, so that our hearts could be softened and our minds transformed. I'm probably not alone in being rather slow to get it. My journal reminded me that there were some awkward and clumsy steps along the way. Giving is important but it is not the real nature of Christmas. Giving flows from the transformation of one's mind and the softening of one's heart, and that doesn't happen with lightning bolt clarity at all times, if my slow progression is any indicator. But using the model of a divine lure, that isn't the point. The point is to keep moving in the right direction, as Christmas draws us toward Easter: the lure of divinity draws us to the cross of pain and heartache and the death of self and ego, but that paves the way for the next wave of life, and ultimately that patter is one of repetition.

Who knew how the cosmic tide was rising for me twenty years ago? I barely knew I'd get theological as this when I started this very entry! Shelby, the sometimes cantankerous bleeding heart liberal who usually identified as an athiest-agnostic (and who ironically I met in a church as she explored religion as an anthropologist or student of comparative religions would), and the poor woman begging on the corner at Subway both figured into effecting transformation in me. Seeing it now, both had the shape of Jesus, with different levels of my self being able to interpret it as such. All the years later when I was delivering veggies in the commercial food industry, the seeds that these two women planted in me all those years ago were grown up. Working in the food industry, I did see a huge amount of waste at the very same time I saw growing numbers of homeless people almost literally outside my warehouse doors. This time around, for the three years at that company, I was far better prepared to act. I suppose I was making good with Shelby after pushing my pancakes away.

This time around, having more organically absorbed a sense of the pathos of the world at international and domestic levels, but also the pathos within me, it was easier to respond not because of Shelby's looming presence over my shoulder, but because it was inside me. I don't know how much food I tried to divert from waste heaps by literally grabbing and going on my own parallel mission to serve. I only know there was more to grab and more people to serve and that I could never do it all. Some food (veggies, milk, bread) went to the couple social agencies I was connected to; some went from me to homeless at the street corner. What I could not give away that specifically, I literally just dropped anonymously in known hotspots where it would all take care of itself. With it came this surge of the divine spirit that comes with doing some of these counter-cultural things like doing both my boss' work and God's work on the very same trips. I don't know if the company ever knew of that, or if that was exactly what led to my dismissal, but for much of the time there, I was regarded by facts and figures alone to be one of the best drivers there in terms of actual "productivity." I just don't know if my little charitable operation was known of! Maybe it was. I did things of this sort even as I was training new hires, in part to shape their own consciousness of how our industry was so wasteful, and to set their minds thinking of how to do something useful however they could.

During that period, 2008-2010, I have to say that there were so many of these opportunities that I began to feel the presence of Jesus at each of these corners. Each became a sheep-and-goats moment for me, as my pastor preached on a couple weeks ago, instead of it being a matter of judgment, the sheep and goats story is one of a reality check we could always have in our mind. Are we attentive? Do we pay attention to the world around us? Do we know who is in need? The America I am in right now is a different place than I think it was in 1991. But I recognize the signs. It was almost that that woman at Subway was brought forward in time by a couple decades, a vision of 2011, a vision of what America's own collapse will be like. No wonder people turn away. I didn't want to see it. After that instance, I went back to sleep for I don't know how long. I hit snooze. Being reminded of this first instance though, it brings to mind a few other moments where I acted just as awkwardly in years to come. Jesus kept appearing and it took a good long time before I recognized him and was prepared to act. 

Monday
Dec202010

Christmas

the christmas angel piggy high upon our tree, with some of our christmas decor in the background on the mantel.Our new Christmas tree angelChristmas is here. It sneaks up so fast, even on those of us who forgo the busy-ness of the season, particularly avoiding the commercial shopping extravaganza and the scene that accompanies that. I've been keen on trying to find not just the religious (i.e., Christian) value in it, but the cosmological value of the season. I've enjoyed re-reading a book I got in 2004, The Dance of Time. It's a charming telling of how the calendar got to be what it is, shaped by the streams of cultural flow and upheaval that shaped our holidays. It is a nice read that touches on history, religion, mythology. It has a quite poetic and wonder-inducing tone. In it, author Michael Judge makes a case that Christmas is what it is because it is the intersection of universally appealing themes that meet up and reinforce each other. The layers of Christmas, coming from the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, are some of the primary layers, but the meaning of those stories is merged with the mythology of the Romans who celebrated the Saturnalia—an admittedly decadent time but one that touched on gift giving, role reversal, a bit of charitable effort, notable considering the Romans' normal pursuits. Christmas has layered upon it the mythology of the northern Europeans with narratives and celebrations that are shaped by the bitter cold of those regions, and the long winters that took hardy people to survive them, but also grace. Linking the Christian holiday with the existing pagan celebrations and stories helped to ensure that the new religion would have staying power. Timing it to coincide with the solstice is genius too, since the "real" date of Jesus' birth is both unknown and essentially irrelevant since it was his magnificent spirit, the Christ, that defines his legacy. It is no real stretch to see his amazing consciousness be the light in the darkness, like a raging yule log fire, or the promise of the sun's return. Jesus might be the reason for a religion that proclaims him but he too is part of a larger cosmic order of things. If not for his life in a desert at a lower latitude, were he to be from the northern lands, maybe this would make more sense, talking about the dark nights of the solstice week, and all the things that people do to celebrate that cosmological axis point.

Christmas is a human holiday, not just for Christians. What Jesus taught, said, and how he lived is the message, the light in the darkness, that is open and free to anyone. Sometimes the ones who receive it best are the ones not already on the inside. I think this is how it is supposed to be. I find that Jesus, stripped of the excessive gunk that has accumulated over the years, is a stellar figure not because of any twinkle-twinkle little star kind of talk, but because of his humanity. The title that people use to describe him, the Son of Man, essentially means he is the essential human one. The gift of Jesus is the gift of being shown how our deepest humanity is where our God-likeness is to be found, our divinity. I wish that that message was not so distorted so that people would dismiss it from their cynicism.

In the picture, there is a rather unconventional collection of items that might be a bit blasphemous in certain circles! There is some humor to be found, if you know my thing about pigs. The main creche is a porcelain one that my grandparents had for years. A family friend made them in about 1970. Any creche automatically does a disservice to the two different biblical stories about the birth of Jesus; they invariably merge the Matthew account with wise men with the Luke account of animals and angels and shepherds. We at least partition the two onto different sides, in order to respect the two different ideas of what happened—a case for Christological diversity of opinion from the earliest times. For this year, we substituted the creche's Mary and Joseph and manger-bound Jesus with a ceramic candle holder of Joseph sheltering Mary, who has Jesus in her arms. Lining up before them are some wooden angels that Kelli has had for years.

Another angel, a fragile homemade job made from a styrofoam cup, a styrofoam ball for a head, and some fabric for wings, met her match as we dug out the ornaments this year. We had to resort to other means for an angel. Okay, so you can bet there were no pigs in a barn in Judea on the night Jesus was born, but after Peter's dream, we on the Christian path were given leave of that kind of division in the world! So it is no long stretch to have a pig be the angel adorning the pagan Christmas tree! We've taken to liking real trees or at least wreaths in recent years. After years of plastic toys for trees, it has been nice to have the real thing. They are evergreens, after all. And there might be a bit of a theological case for an evergreen in the dead of winter as a sign of God's mastery of things.

Yeah, we're part of the cultural Christmas mashup. It is sometimes absurd and illogical. Sometimes irreverent and maybe even a little blasphemous. But there is something about celebrating life in the darkest hour that is compelling. It apparently has been something that can't be turned off, nor should it be. I don't mind Santa except for how he's been bought out by the wrong interests. But he too is okay. Life is okay. Living is okay. Tis all we got. It is the message of Jesus that life is okay, and it is okay to emulate the natural world around us—to be like the birds and the lilies. So too should we charge ahead with reckless love of life in the darkest hour, if only to be defiant. Merry Christmas. (And God bless us, EVERY ONE!)

Sunday
Dec052010

The Emperor Has NEW Clothes

I don't think anyone is surprised at the facts of commercialism at Christmas. Even my favorite Christmas special, the Charlie Brown Christmas Special (from 1965) was well enough aware of the issue that a holy day was co-opted by commercial interests. Okay, well enough, we're all on the same page. What bugs the hell out of me is one company in particular, C-28, that has popularized their brand most notably with the "NOTW" image, which when read in full form means "Not Of This World." The reference is to the answer that Jesus gave to Pontius Pilate at a trial before execution. Pilate wanted some clarity about this kingdom that this man supposedly reigned over, and Jesus was mostly speechless except to say that his kingdom was "not of this world."

It was one way of saying, as Walter Wink, the theologian-writer says, that Jesus' kingdom was not shaped by the values of the world putting him on trial. Wink encouraged reading it as "my kingdom is not of this domination system." Or, more clearly, Jesus' value system was opposed to what Rome stood for, something that was cause enough for death at the hands of the empire, particularly if one was so bold to say it so clearly. Rome was only concerned with its own power and glory, and not some would-be scene stealer. So that was cause enough to put this treasonous man to death. So, to say "not of this world" is to reject the prevailing standards of right order in political, social, and economic aspects of life. Later on, the Revelation of John, written a few years after Rome stormed through Jerusalem with a scorched earth approach following the Jewish Revolt, goes to great lengths to portray the Roman system (in metaphorical terms as Babylon, the other hated empire of history) as a whore. John's vision also decries the economic dominance of Rome, the sad situation that to remain outside of Rome's dominance is to wither and die economically, and to be part of it is to be sold out just the same, to be complicit with an evil system. Jesus' statement was to place himself apart from the empire and its emperor. A daring thing indeed. The book of Revelation deals a lot with establishing clarity for the believer: you gonna get with this Christ program and leave that Roman stuff behind, or not?

These days, one can argue that the US is Rome, but I'd prefer to put a finer point on it. The economic model popularized in the US, and its narrative of material pleasure for individuals, lends itself to abuses that have cost the world dearly. Whether we worship the same historical god is not the issue now; these days the "in" people and the "out" people are defined more according to whether they are believers in the might of the market, believers in free trade, open markets and the like. My association with Jubilee Economics Ministries has led me away from that line of thought before it really got the better of me. A couple years ago Lee Van Ham presented an exceptional forum on how to unwrap Christmas itself so it was not commercial nor even the tame little tale that gets represented in pageants and other bits of dramatic interp. Lee took us to a place where many in this land typically haven't gone. At least, in my 35 years I had never heard these things. This year, after a year of close interaction with Lee, I asked him to present that forum in a blog series on the JEM site. You can read the five part series here.

But back to C-28. C-28 and the NOTW icon irritates the hell out of me. I say this because one can see the NOTW sticker on the backs of the biggest trucks and SUVs and tricked out cars on the road. C-28 is a clothing and "lifestyle" company that sells all sorts of Christian themed stuff, all borrowing heavily from popular culture and a bad conservative interpretation of megachurch style Christian messages. At best, I consider this kind of dreck as remedial Christianity that maybe has the power to draw some people Christward but only in the same way as chocolate chip cookies could start to nourish a starved man. Eventually one will have to get some real nutrients to finish the job. At worst—and this is what I'd like to put before you now—I consider it a complete co-opting of the Christian message by "this world." I already said that the NOTW stickers are all over giant vehicles, or ones that otherwise are displays of conspicuous wealth or material interest. Tell me, exactly what world do those cars come from if not from "this world"? How does one put such a sticker on such a car? Well, first, one has to have no fucking clue what Christianity means. And that is easily enough done today. After all, it has been co-opted by right wing politics, the military, and of course, the marketplace. If you go to C-28's website, you can get the same kind of right wing Christian propaganda as you'd get at a rally or concert (indeed C-28 funds that too) but with the added bonus (for them) that you can show your apparent conversion and acceptance of Christ with these great pieces of apparel (some looking a bit slutty), accessories, or stickers to add to your monster truck. What Would Jesus Do?, indeed!

The marketplace has become the new Caesar. Caesar, in the time around Jesus, took a fancy to being called "Augustus," or "the Revered," "the Great." These days I only half jokingly call the market by its Roman styled name: Marketus Augustus. The Revered Market. Market, The Great. There are some who already recognize this. I am not claiming to be unique. But it is far from being a widespread realization of what is at work. People, particularly during this rough recessionary time, are on bended knee before the holy Market and its grace or they are feeling damned by its fickleness. If you read Lee Van Ham's essays about the cosmologically explosive Christmas story of angels and wise men being the messengers of God's trumping of Caesar, then one must believe that we could experience that today—something has the power to shock us out of this love affair with what "this world" has given us. What I find contemptible is that something like C-28 obscures the way with their mixed message of Christianity and consumerism. What is it gonna be, Aurelio? (The founder.) You want to serve God or Mammon? Capitalists for Christ? If C-28 was in the business of donating plain T-shirts or hoodies to poor people with "Jesus" in black Helvetica, would anyone care about the Jesus reference? Or is Aurelio primarily a salesman who found a willing bunch of suckers who just need some clever designs? If you go to C-28 today as I did, you might not know it from any other hip site except for a few links, including a chance to buy a copy of the founder's testimony about how he "came to Christ." Well, I don't get it. If this isn't from this world, then what world? Because it sure seems pretty indistinguishable to me!

From the C-28 FAQ page:

Q: How does Christian apparel further the Gospel?

A: It is a tool for Christians to use as a conversation starter about Jesus. T-shirts with Scripture puts God’s Word out there and many people get a chance to read the message whether it’s waiting in line at the store or wherever. It’s also a way for Christians who aren’t so bold to talk to a stranger about Jesus to have His Word out there in public. Most people will never pick up a Bible or hear a verse quoted, but they will read a t-shirt.

Great. Now Jesus gets to be worn along side all the other bits of wisdom printed on T-shirts.

In Hans Christian Andersen's tale about the Emperor's New Clothes, it took a young boy to see through the lie that some snake oil selling weavers were foisting upon the emperor, his keepers, and indeed, the public at large. The power of a lie is great, especially if it is repeated often enough. This Christmas season, I take my place as the kid (admittedly not the only one) shouting out that the emperor has no clothes—the commercial Christmas is crap, all a lie we share in to feel better about a truth that we can't bear, even though it would do us good to face that our economy is teetering on collapse. And no amount of consumer spending is going to patch up the damage for long, like a band-aid on a chest wound. We're seeing through the delusional picture that Caesar has sold us. The Market is fallible. That is plausible enough. But for me, there is the added disappointment and betrayal that comes with seeing so-called Christians peddling their wares all the same. The Emperor isn't always wrapped in the traditional garb of power and glory. These days, it seems the Emperor—this world—is coming dressed in Christ-logo wear. The Emperor has new clothes, indeed. I wonder what "developing world" sweatshop they are made in. Sad. Sad. Sad.

Oh, by the way—Just 19 more shopping days till Christmas.

Saturday
Feb272010

Critical Mass!

critical mass storms fashion valley on bikes on black friday!Critical Mass storms Fashion Valley Mall on Buy Nothing DayLast night I went on the Critical Mass ride, the fourth such ride I've taken part in. Each has been a lot of fun, with the opening part, leaving Balboa Park and maneuvering through Hillcrest or Downtown being an adventure, never knowing for sure where things are going. Last night's ride was an adventure and while some of it was a review of some of the things we've done already in the three previous rides, the one new adventure for me was that finally I was swept up into riding Texas St. out of Mission Valley and into University Heights. Yup, rode up Texas St.! Texas St. was near the end of the 25 mile path the Mass took around town. But I've been working up to it for a while now, riding hills extensively in my various commutes. I fancy it a job well done because with just my fixed gear Globe bike, I was passing all the geared-bike riders who chickened out after exploiting their granny gears for a while and then resorting to walking up the hill, and a few other fixed gear riders who had to do the same because they brought their 52x14 geared race bikes. Oh, they look impressive going DOWN hills that way but a versatile gear it is not. (I'm sort of glad I didn't take the Torelli bike with its steeper gear (46x18), else I would have walked too. Usually that bike is my go-to bike for this type of ride.) I just chugged along at my low 38x16 ratio and then took Texas in one shot! I ROCK!!! It was quite a heavy breather though.

Also, a few weeks ago, I was doing a trackstand at a stop light on the way to work (before 6 am, in the dark, fortunately) and with my shoes still clipped into the still-newish SPD clipless pedals on the Globe bike, I finally fell to the ground from a standstill! D'oh! Fortunately it was not a crowded intersection at that hour and I didn't make too much of a scene. I was told this would happen. I just took five months since I got that type of pedal. I have since relaxed the spring tension as far as it would go so I can get in and out easily! With Critical Mass rides there are enough times when there is a good need to not be clipped in, or to evasively unclip, hence not wanting to ride this bike to such events, lest some stupid topple incident happens in the midst of it all. And I saw several of those last night!

critical mass in the driveway/entry to fashion valley, with a cop. shot from the upper level.CM in Fashion Valley Mall with copsBelow are a few shots of some totally delightfully scandalous moments during the four Critical Mass rides I have taken part in in recent months. These aren't even as outrageous as they come. (The most notorious ride was last summer when the Mass was headed by a few who decided to ride the Coronado Bridge. These are a bit tame by comparison but a lot of fun.)

Halloween Critical Mass at Mission Beach, just before everyone lifts up their bikes with revolutionary fervor. Halloween 2008 is when I heard about the Mass but it wasn't until 2009 that I finally took part. Kelli and our friend Nancy were originally the voices to say 'no, don't ever do that' because they experienced it the wrong way first: in their cars without even knowing what it was, and I think it scared them shitless. Okay, it's 1500 bikes that go for a ride all at once in more or less the same direction for about 30 miles around town. The whole thing fills the streets, and some people do really idiotic things, but many hold firm to the mass and it all chugs along (maybe taking up a mile of roadway at once, I just don't know how long it stretches on for) as if one big vehicle with no driver but for the most fervent riders who get up front and pull it where they want to go.

critical mass bombs the target store in mission valleyCM cuts THROUGH the Target storeFebruary Critical Mass bombs through the Target store in Mission Valley! Yes, we rode through the Target store. The customers were less welcoming than in the rest of the mall. Hmmm. I hope we do Wal Mart someday.

Last November Critical Mass rampaged past the security goons at Mission Valley Mall on the high holy days of the consumer economy: Black Friday! I couldn't resist this shot of a lone goon (on a bike no less) being utterly helpless in the face of all this, just outside their little security office outpost. He'd have more fun if he joined in. Heck, the SDPD rides in the mass too, but more so they can get a feel for the flow of things and radio for patrol car support if needed as the Mass does its winding path through town, often down one way streets and through malls and hotel or airport driveways and such.

The cops have typically functioned as escorts of the Mass but once in a while, the Mass takes them over too! I've been in two Mass rides that have hit Fashion Valley and Mission Valley straight through the heart. Culturejamming and biking are fun when mixed together! I think you have to be there to believe it. Pictures don't do this stuff justice because it all becomes a circus with people yelling and hooting and honking their horns or whatever noisemakers they have. Most of the Mass is still on the upper level with me, not on the ground yet. Others are storming down via the parking garage driveways. I was thinking it might be like the Goths storming Rome.

Fun.

Friday
Dec252009

Christmas Eve

A lot of people go to church on Christmas and perhaps on no other day but Easter. Maybe they are busy all the time, or maybe they don't care. Some go to just those two services probably not even sure why they do so. I've done it myself—being the "Christmas Christian"—bypassing Easter because for a long time I felt no affinity for that event either. (Never mind it is the central event in the Christian experience. Duh!) But these things change, and now I do things differently.

My present church, Mission Hills UCC, has more of a focus on keeping to the church liturgical seasons through the church year from the start of Advent, through the period of Christmas, onward to Lent and Easter, and the rest of the year dubbed Ordinary Time. Realizing that there is some flow and a narrative that I have been missing and just never knew about, I've committed to going regularly enough that I've cycled all the way through a liturgical year and more. To finally get some understanding why holidays are placed like they are, and what they mean in context has been quite enlightening. To understand how they count time through a spiritual journey has made that journey more appealing. There is something about understanding one's life ordeals and victories in a larger narrative context that is humbling and gratitude inducing.

The last full year and more I have biked to church almost exclusively. The distance isn't great but on the whole it isn't quite something you do when you feel lazy. But my goal is not to go to church out of some laziness or habit. Biking has made those trips into a bit of effort, at least enough to create in me a feeling of real presence when I do get there. And, I don't just get in on Sundays; other activities keep me participating in one group or activity most weeks, and a few times a week at that. So the logic is the same for those occasions as on Sunday services: to participate intentionally.

In that regard, even my commute is an extension of my sense of discipleship and what I must do to harmonize the in-church and out-of-church life. It is one of the more obvious examples, and one that seems to be attractive to others. Right now I think I am the one guy who is seen most often on a bike. There are others with more experience in racing or touring or club riding, but for the time, I am the guy who commutes most regularly.

To throw myself a challenge and to justify some additional holiday caloric intake (ahem!), I decided to push myself a bit on my favorite church holiday—Christmas Eve. My church has two services at 5 pm and 10 pm. Another church I once participated in has one at 7 pm but it is in La Mesa, about 12 miles from my church! I originally envisioned riding a few miles to my church for the early service, burning out of there to the other one for their 7 pm service, then heading back to the late one at my church. I ended up losing a bit of time to some unforeseen but needed volunteer work, drafted into delivering meals with Kelli and the dog (whom we thought we'd take to the park only because we were told we'd have the day off from delivering), so I didn't get to the first service. Little matter because I still got to the later two services, and clocked about 24 miles doing it!

You might be wondering where Kelli was in all this. It goes like this. She had a 6 pm service at her church in PB (that's three churches now—this one used to be my congregation before I left in 2007), where she reads the scripture lesson each year. She has a friend from school who got a church in another denomination, with her congregation being two blocks from my church (four churches, follow?). So she went there for a 9 pm service. We reconvened for our shared Christmas service at MHUCC. After the riding through various San Diego microclimate regions with temperatures ranging between cold and colder (particularly in shorts, see?), I accepted a ride with Kelli to get dinner with a couple friends of hers—the newly placed pastor at the Methodist church and Amanda, member of my church but friend of Kelli's by way of chaplaincy work. We ate some greasy spoon chow at Rudford's diner until late.

We had one more thing on the agenda. One of the young men in the young adults group I help facilitate works third shift as a security guard at a big complex near my place. He participates in some of our gatherings, but his schedule being what it is, working from 10 pm till 6 am, I thought maybe he'd be stuck working Christmas Eve. And he was. So for a few minutes we sought him out and chatted for maybe 15 more minutes as he did his rounds. (We joked about being the angels coming to the shepherd guarding his flock by night on Christmas Eve.) By then we were pretty worn out. It was after 1 am.

Tradition, nice as it is sometimes, deserves to be jolted from time to time. I have not participated in the commercial Christmas activities that most people get themselves into. This year I only gave one gift—one of my bikes—so I have to do other stuff in the name of Christmas. Last night, as I biked across town, there were plenty of homeless folks out there, some manning the street corners in hope for some money. Unfortunately, traveling light as I was, there wasn't much to do for them. Other years we've headed to the East Village of Downtown where the many homeless—the dregs of society as some would have it—congregate each night, and all the more in the winter since San Diego is about as nice a place to be homeless this time of year. We've taken some goods down to give away. This year we got to see our friend at work so he wouldn't feel the holiday came and went without notice. I don't know exactly what any of this really accomplishes, but I feel wretched for not giving it a go. Even witnessing the all-too-unseen world is good for a person. Being on a bike removes the ability to keep the window rolled up. At times, I found myself shouting out a greeting as I passed by.

All in all, it was quite a Christmas to remember. One that had a bit of the expected stuff, but not done in the asleep-at-the-wheel way, and one that had a bit of good work thrown in.

Friday
Dec252009

Use The Force, Luke

luke likes the bike i gave him. looking a lot more fit than when he started.Luke Williams on the nearly totally rebuilt bike I gave himBikes have played a more active role in this Christmas than they have since maybe 20 years ago or more. In another posting, you can read about my crazy zipping back and forth from one church to the other on Christmas Eve, all in the name of making my churchgoing a decidedly intentional thing. But that aint all...

This year I bought two bikes. Both are single speeds, and now both are fixed gear only. I've made my peace with riding all over this town with just one gear so that rendered my older and much-rebuilt 21 speed bike nearly unused. That was the one that has at various times had its back wheel stolen and replaced, replaced again to put something better on once the replacement was found to be a disaster, and then more recently, to replace a stolen saddle and seat post and a rusted chain. That second wave of stolen parts was as a result of my attempt to be generous to someone at work who I guess hadn't a clue about keeping a bike secure. She at least paid me back so I got some replacement stuff on there, and all was good.

But remember that that bike was the one that not only replaced the stolen parts, but was also my project bike when I decided to start commuting last year. Most everything has been replaced on it: all the drivetrain including the rear wheel, derailers, chain, crankset, cassette, shifters; the stem and handlebars; seat posts (a total of four now—original with a faulty suspension spring, basic replacement, replacement with integrated saddle mount, and then the replacement for that one) saddles (four of those also—original, first replacement found to be too spongy, the stolen Selle, and a replacement); tires and tubes; rack. (I think that was all.) Basically the bike was made new by all that stuff being put together a year ago. I figure I must have spent $600 on rebuilding what was originally a $300 bike.

And which became sort of an unneeded item, and frankly, one which didn't fit well in the house. I rode it for one big ride up Soledad Mountain and found it was, despite the gears, heavier and harder to ride than my other bikes which have one gear each. For some general use it rode like a dream, but after such extensive single speed use, it was an odd one out. I weighed trying to sell it on Craigslist for some insulting price that would hardly recognize the extensive reconstruction, even if it resulted in a very nice running bike that runs quite smooth and solid now.

I had one person in mind that I was going to give it to, sensing that maybe he'd like it, but that idea died quickly. So I let it out to the girl from work, hoping she might buy it after such a period of getting to grow into it. After getting it back after the month was up, I hardly mentioned bikes to her again because I had that queasy feeling while buying more parts to a bike I thought I was done spending money on. By that time though I had another idea.

Luke, the pastoral intern at church, is doing roughly the same thing as Kelli once did while in that role a few years ago. He's taken part in the young adults group, and he expressed some interest in bikes once he saw me commuting around. I told him I'd let him use my bike if he wanted, once I got it back from Miss A. who apparently left it at the beach or something. It took a couple of weeks to really do the handover but when I brought it to church, Luke obligingly went to the bike shop with me and we got a lock and cable for him, some lights, and another church member, Marla, ever the bike-evangelist, got him a helmet. So there he was, all geared up for kicking around, biking in to church sometimes, or whatever. He was nice enough to send a card a few days later, thanking me for the gesture. I started to get this idea that maybe I found my lucky winner.

my card to accompany the bike upon gifting it to him. the most ridiculous image of Darth Vader's head upon a body of a man doing a pedaling motion with his hands. and a christmas tree.Hey, it was something I threw together in an hour or two. I couldn't resist the model of a man who always wore his helmet!

Christmas makes a good excuse to give a bike to someone. I have given bikes away to people before, but usually not the ones that I've essentially paid for a second and third time! But one of the lessons of the last few years has been to be generous from one's abundance, and right now, bikes are a bit overabundant here! I've had in mind to sell the thing. I could use the money, maybe to get Kelli a better bike so she might get into it. But I rather enjoy the idea of just giving it away, and practicing unattachment. So, I told just a few people about it then set about making a poster-card.

I printed the thing at a CVS and wrote a letter explaining the thing and thanking him for his service at the church. I tucked it into a normal envelope and gave it to him at the Christmas Eve service. Still haven't heard what followed, but I know his family is in town for the holiday. That ought to have been a surprise! It was the only present I gave anyone this year.

Wednesday
Dec032008

Nobody Can Change the World

A nobody can change the world
It has happened many times
But the best one so far was when a baby was born
On the fringes of the world
From folks no one knew
(With a bit of scandal to boot)
They were from a town of no consequence
Good only for their taxes and labor
Forgotten by the senators and priests
Except when it was time for taxes and ritual

A nobody can change the world
It isn't just for the big names in history
Those who wield the money and power
Or who sit at the right hand of the king
An itinerant preacher sets the world ablaze with love
In a way that few saw coming
Coming to a heart near you
That is, if it hasn't already rushed into you
Consuming with unquenchable fire helped by a gust of wind
But starting with the still small tired voice of Mary
Who sang her child to sleep
Amidst the very few who were more lowly than they that evening

Mary labored one night
But Heaven labored much longer with the question
How to penetrate the hearts of men
When the answer came it was quite unexpected
A marvel to be sure—
A baby who was born, lived, and died as a person of no consequence
Except for the magic he wrought when he dared show us how to love
First because he was innocent by the standards of the world
And later because he was guilty by the standards of the world

Where in the world tonight will that baby be born anew?
In that forgotten place?
Under the boot of an oppressor?
Slaves to the desires of the rich and well connected?
Nobody can change the world—
A thought that must itself be changed

Wednesday
Nov292006

Haiku Strikes Ewe Two

House trumps home life now
The old people know better
When will they "get it"?

Noncommercial
Merry Christmas to you! Now
Buy nothing this year

Love speaks big volumes
Some avoid the library
Terrorists lurk there

God plays jokes on us
But we don't play along well
We'd prefer him dead

Fundamentalists
I have sharp words for you all
Bible aint all yours

Meek shall inherit
Earth not worth the fuss it takes
To steal it back

Metanoia lurks
Blossoms subterranean
Shift happens, you'll see

Monday
Jan022006

Dreaming Of A White Christmas

Kelli and I flew to Florida to see her mom and grandmother for the holidays. I had never been there before and had rather selfishly turned down requests to make appearances there when asked before this trip. I did however promise that the next trip I would go with her since it had been a big sticking point for us. Well, I suppose it could have been that but for my promise. After all, only a few weeks before we left, I got the utterly shitty news from work that my services were less needed, and ordinarily that would provoke in me an economic retraction of "unnecessary" expenses. But this time I was assured it was covered, so my old excuse would not really fly even if I tried. And I was tired of trying. I've known she's wanted me to go see her family for a long time. I don't have much but lame excuses in that regard.

We were pressed into making a late decision to fly, and when to fly, which of course jacked the price up to ungodly high rates. It was over $560 for each of us, but our decision was pretty much made when it was clear that work was taking a shit on me and it didn't really matter when I took off because it was all "off" for the end of December, though that was more a product of deduction rather than a clear statement from the boss.

We were to catch an 8:00 flight out of San Diego but were delayed due to fog that prevented planes from landing the night before, thus making a lot of planes flood in as soon as it was clear. We left after 9:30 on a cramped 737 and stopped only in Austin. Mercifully, despite a "full" load, there was an empty seat next to me all the way to Florida. Despite that, it was still cramped and not altogether pleasant. I did get some good reading in though, feeding my soul with some Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers and their interview about the power of myth. We arrived in Orlando a couple hours later than planned and still had an hour and a half to get to the Daytona Beach area where her family lives.

I was adamant about getting to church on Christmas Eve. Christmas just isn't Christmas to me if I don't get to church on the eve. I was missing my service at home which I have attended for years without fail, and it was getting too late to even catch one of the earlier services even in Florida. When we finally got to the house, there was some talk about trying to make it to a midnight service at whatever church had one, and finally after some debate, food, and a nap, Kelli, her mom and me went to a service that we selected from a newspaper listing! It was an Episcopal mass and a half hour of songs before the mass proper. The church was beautifully wooden inside, and arrayed diagonally in a square building. The service started at 10:30 pm and we bargained for an hour and a half with the carols program added before the main mass. Having no experience with how services go in other denominations, we were stunned to find ourselves leaving at 1 AM! It was no big deal though. Lots of great music with a great choir, and really great sermon message that was as good as anything I could have hoped for in my game of Christmas roulette. I could have done with about an hour less of liturgy and ritual, though I did let it wash over me and tried to take it in. I guess it was a problem mainly that I was unfamiliar with it all and the program was vague, so I was more lost than anything. Still, it was a last minute victory for me to be able to get to church that evening after an Advent season with little in the way of Christmas accoutrements like tree, decorations, or shopping. I didn't mind ditching shopping--I hate it and it was contrary to what I wanted for Christmas--but the lack of the charm of the fresh tree or other little things in my boring apartment was a bummer. I also missed my Christmas season shows that are must-sees for me in recent years: The Charlie Brown Christmas special, and one version or another of Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

The next morning Kelli and her mom went to the local UCC church where her mom and grandmother go. They got up early to go to the contemporary service. I usually dismiss the contemporary approach to church as hokey and cheap, and since the church was fairly close, they let me sleep in and come in to the traditional service which they also attended. Some of the early afternoon was a sleeper, literally, as we relaxed after the travel day and shift in time zones. The day was mostly gray and forboding, but just the sort of day that makes the indoors attractive, particularly on a holiday. I spent a while cooking up a few dozen cookies as is my holiday kick, and they were eagerly yummed up. We opened presents AFTER dinner on Christmas day, and I actually liked that a lot more than the usual morning session. It seemed to suit the occasion better, and to put the components of Christmas in the proper order: honoring Christ first then getting to the commercial stuff later. I also liked it because it stretched out the holiday in a fulfilling way--usually my main complaint about Christmas is that it ends as soon as it begins!

I ate way too much crappy food on the plane, and too many sweets the next day or two, so I was perpetually in "sugar crash mode" and was tired a lot, not to mention I still had not really adjusted to the time zone shift coupled with the 4:45 am wake up on Christmas Eve before we left town which would have made any day seem long. This confluence of events kept me sleeping in most days. I also had some reservations about family dynamics that were starting to introduce themselves in the way that these things do, and sometimes had to retreat for a nap or just ...because.

We took a drive to one local attraction or another each day. First was the Ponce Inlet lighthouse which was across the river from the house, but a half hour drive away. Kelli's late uncle is a rather significant figure in historical preservation in Florida, and lighthouses were among his specialties. I climbed alone up the lighthouse steps to the top and surveyed the sights from about 170 feet up. It was magnificently clear, cool but not frigid, and windy but not a Category 5 like the hurricane that pretty much destroyed Kelli's grandmother's house in 2004. The flatness of Florida was made evident from that height. I joked the rest of the time that "they should have built some mountains here." That was one of my refrains for the week. The other was mocking the fact that the sun doesn't get swallowed up by the water in the evening. I made jokes about how lame the sunset was over the water there.

I got two chances to see quasi-virgin Florida when we went to Deleon Springs park and Tomoka state park. It was beautiful in its own way, but not really my ideal place. But, when left to its own devices, it was far more beautiful than what has happened since the whole state became one big sprawl fest. The James Kunstler suburban critic in me came out with a vengance. This place was worse than suburban sprawl. It was simply ... sprawl. It wasn't even wrapped around a city! It was just utterly lame sprawl that had no center to any of it. It overtook the beautiful barrier "island" that is host to Daytona Beach. It was dismal. Hotels, condos, apartments, and all the other artifacts of modern life were built literally out to the water and across the narrow strip of land that separates the ocean from the river which itself is a frontage way to the mainland. I saw hurricane damage from 2004 that had either not been repaired or replaced, and in some cases, whole lots were stripped down to the sandy foundation. There would be one condo or house standing, and the lot next to it was bare dunes, and the lot next to that would be undisturbed. It was just a great illustration of the futility of building there, and the invasive and destructive "development" patterns that are left unchecked on that precious real estate. All the time while I looked at this stuff, I was thinking of Angkor Wat and the ancient Mayan ruins, grown over with vines and foilage, poignant testament to the fact that nature will always win. In fact, there were houses and properties left abandoned after the hurricane that did that job of imagination for me--they were made of wood and stucco which is a far cry from the stones of Angkor Wat or the pyramids of the Mayans. It makes one wonder how long our civilization will last once the oil is gone and we can't beat back nature with our machines and tools.

...

I partially suspended my nagging conscience about stuff like that so that I could have a good time. This year I was determined to not participate in the commercial stuff, and did so little of that as to have really not done any at all. I actually felt odd about receiving any gifts at all after having our flight paid for, and being put up and fed for a week. It didn't feel right, but I was assured it was okay to just go with it. But for all else, I did not go to malls this season except to help Glenn get to a certain shop in time a few days before Christmas. I had a very satisfying Christmas, and one that I think people talk about having but can never seem to get. I got to spend the weeks before with some church and other "family" parties that made things good. I got to bake my cookies. I got to spend time with my wife who just delights me in every way every day. Considering how miserable parts of 2005 got to be for us, this was as good an ending to the year as I could hope for while still not being totally greedy. I still feel that I should spend time doing things of some service to people outside my circle, but as I said in my previous blog about my life at the end of 2005, its small steps... first, some success relearning how to love within marriage, and family around us, and then to bigger and better things. So, with that in mind, its not all bad.