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Entries in phil calabrese (3)


The Intersection

Devoted readers of this journal probably know that I really am not a big fan of technology, and that my general attitude toward it is that I like it enough if I can wrangle something creative out of it. Some will recall the old story about when I was a kid and managed to take my first bike apart as much as I could, only to be like a deer in the headlights when instructed to put it back together. That was perhaps the first instance showing my lack of aptitude for coping with material things and technology. That has been borne out many times since.

But this summer I got my newest computer—my third since about this time in 2001—and have plunged into new programs and even new roles as I embrace podcasting for Jubilee Economics Ministries, and have done an extensive site rebuild with them, bringing them into the social media age. All that, considering that up till earlier this year I knew quite little about those options. It has indeed been a change of attitude, particularly since I rode my old computer into the ground it seems, with it not powering on at all now, a scant week or two after I got this new iMac. I had really ambivalent feelings about computers and the digital life. But a funny thing happened this year when JEM needed to find a way to spread their word farther than they were able, I happened to be in the office and had at least some suggestions.

It does help having a new machine with programs that output contemporary files and media. I do like this thing, particularly since at least my old computer had the good sense to just die when its replacement came, helping make a decision for me. Kelli has taken the first machine I got in 2001 as a replacement for her own iBook that died in the spring of this year. She is bracing for a new Macbook or something. Along with this new machine I needed to get a new audio interface, and therefore more preamps that I don't particularly need, but it does make a nice lean recording environment. I got Logic Pro and Peak Pro. I am quite familiar with Peak from years of sermon editing, but Logic is a new kettle of fish that I hope to have some discipline to learn.

JEM is just one use for this stuff. Now that I understand podcasting and am quite well equipped to do so, I have been pitching ideas to people about shows that might be ready for the format. I proposed a 'cast for Kelli and her fellow female ministry buddies. It would be a potentially hilarious and yet very intense look at ministry from the perspective of women in pulpits and in chaplain positions. It would be called (rather irreverently so for the conservatives who like to cite one lame line in 1st Corinthians) "Women Who Speak In Church." There are a pool of potential participants from Kelli's circles.

Another would be a lesson type program with Dr. Phil Calabrese, who has much to teach about the contents and meaning of the Urantia Book. He, after 40 years of study and reflection on the book, is among the best people in the world to do a program to spread the word. He looks at it as a scientist-mathematician who wants to see if what was said in 1955 and before was predictive of what science is uncovering today about certain cosmological relationships, archaeological discoveries, etc. If Kelli takes part, she too can share from a perspective shaped by many years of reading the book, but also as a theologian and pastor.

Those are just a couple things. Notice I didn't really say that I was involved in any of it particularly, at least not as the centerpiece of things. One of the things that is emerging is a feeling that these skills and tools need to be put to some other use than self promotion. I've worked an awful lot on JEM stuff this year, and done a site rebuild and a half. (We were going to use Wordpress like this site does, but ended up finding a kickass plan on the Squarespace infrastructure, so we dragged all the WP stuff over after a fairly complete job on WP.) A lot of time, but on reflection, maybe too little still, considering they have been asking me to write for them, or for the Streetlight newspaper, for some years now. I don't know if writing is my place with JEM; I happened to be the guy who knew enough of this web stuff to take them someplace else when the time came. The whole website in its revamped form is actually going to change the way JEM operates and presents itself. This is suitable repayment for the influence that JEM has had in my life, helping me see the world in a vastly different way in the wake of so much personal upheaval. Recall that I met Lee of JEM just a couple weeks before I got evicted in 2005, as if to say that God had some other plan, and was introducing a whole new father figure that was going to point the way for the next stage in life, now that the old one had essentially passed on that responsibility. So, the countless hours of volunteer work don't seem like much.

Not all the media work is as volunteer though. I got a few bones this summer for crafting a single page site for the writer-blogger-podcaster-polemicist James Howard Kunstler. He has two books now that are novels about the post oil future. Both are supported by one-page sites that I designed. (See World Made By Hand and The Witch of Hebron, the sequel.) Working for JHK is interesting because he too was highly influential, even as far back as 1998 when I was given a copy of his book, The Geography of Nowhere, which was perhaps the first real dose of social consciousness that I embraced as my own. That book and its survey of the wasted landscapes of this nation did awaken the sort of consciousness of how my world operates, the sort of consciousness that was jolted again a few years later in 2004 when I saw Kunstler in the peak oil cautionary film, The End of Suburbia—a film which I was showing in 2005, just days after I met Lee (he attended, we later collaborated on a showing of The Corporation), and days before I got evicted from my suburban home.

When I met Lee, I thought I was starting a project called EONSNOW, and rather boldly asked him to support my project. Now that seems hopelessly preposterous, being a pretty untested entity myself, and he having years and years of pastoring experience, and life experience to excel mine by double. So now, years later, it is right for me to take my place in a support role to what he is doing, even as he has allowed me a great latitude to experiment and change the plan daily. But finally, he, with the message, and I with the means to get it outside of his office,  are on to something. We're quite excited.

One of the lessons in my mens' rites of passage was that "your life is not about you." If I were to set up two poles in my life, viz. my relationship to technology and media, those poles are that I used a lot of it to be pretty self-aggrandizing and me-centered in the earlier years, and the opposite was to shed as much of it as possible and find myself disregarding the media options that I used to use, sort of like a dry drunk. Either too much or too little—a dualistic mindset that is anathema to honest spiritual progress. Either of those poles was about me whether in indulgence or in denial. It is sort of like the story of the Buddha who experimented with hermitic self-denial for several years after living the lavish life that was his birthright as a son of a royal man. Ultimately, he found the third way between the poles and embraced that.  So it goes here, I hope. I am not a businessman who plans and executes the business of web work, but I am a creative person who wants to share time and enthusiasm. Right now the business of pushing potatoes during the day makes clear the way for pushing pixels by night on a volunteer basis. JEM is now presenting the type of content I wish I had the consciousness to articulate back in 2005 when I was doing the EONSNOW stuff. The intervening years have done much to re-focus on the outer realm, but only after a lot of inner realm work. Understanding that my life is not about me is one bit of humble pie that one eventually has to live with.

Technology, such as I have to deal with in this kind of work, is a blank slate. I've certainly abused web communications in the past, and been a bad netizen. (But that has largely faded except in the Google realm where everyone's misdeeds will be saved till the end of the age of electricity.) But on to other things. JEM has a coherent and holistic message that I believe in, so I decided to jump into that flow and do my part.

I've read Parker Palmer's book Let Your Life Speak a few times now. In it he talks about how he had to face what his Quaker tradition calls "way closing" many times—rejection, failure, disappointment—so that "way will open" into new opportunity, one step closer to knowing what one is really called to do. He gave an example of how he traced his path toward being an educator. It was a seemingly odd one until he figured out how components of past interests were leading him to what he loves to do now, and finds he has the inner light and energy to lead him to do. Telling about wanting to be a pilot or an ad exec, he found the aspects of those things that left clues that perhaps were not even considered as they were happening.

For me, I considered that my past history of building plastic models demonstrated that I liked to devote myself to projects that started and stopped and involved many stages to complete—assembly, fine tuning, painting, presenting. Or that later on I got into doing cassette recordings with home made tape box "art" (now that is stretching it) with liner notes that filled most of the available space. I did that for years, and that developed into CD projects using increasingly sophisticated technology, culminating in Receiving, which was an all-digital project that aspired to the same thing as in the early days: record it, make the cover that explains it all, and package it. Getting into the website was an extension of the liner notes where every damned detail could be explained. Podcasting now is an extension of that, integrating the web and audio interests as well as the knack for developing something from pieces to a finished product on display. Other interests of mine are looking at the dynamics of relationships at the personal level, or at the larger human level, social critique, bible study and interpretation, volunteering for socially useful causes (home delivered meals, church offices) and maybe more. So right now, it makes sense to be doing this work for JEM, even if it can only be done with technologically advanced toys and tools. It seems that right now this is what I need to do, seeing how it lies at the intersection of various interests and abilities.


Does Practice Really Make Perfect?

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

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

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


Eviction Not For The Faint Of Heart

I’ve been in a funk lately. Not a P-Funk, but the last few weeks have really been mind bending for me. In some ways, things are great, and in others, it's near total horror as Kelli and I navigate our prickly housing and employment situation.

My buddy Glenn has been here for two weeks because he has an odd marital situation that needs to be dealt with, so he has been a short term roommate here and will be here for another week or so. It comes at a weird time, but instead of adding more complexity to a situation that was already unbearable, it has probably done more to mellow things. He’s been real useful and respectful of the whole mess over here and even though we met as a couple musicians searching for a collaboration, we’ve transcended that and find ourselves these summer evenings out on the porch and talking into the wee hours about all sorts of stuff, and then doing the usual stuff, with he and Kelli and I getting along famously, either in doing house work, moving prep, or cooking, or just chillin' with the movies and talk. I guess he’s been very grounding in a time that has been terribly upsetting for Kelli and I, both as individuals and as a couple. Sad to say, we’ve only jammed twice so far, and now that I have packed up most of my studio stuff, we won’t do much else beyond the acoustic guitar and bass jamming that we have done. Hog Heaven is basically history now, though if somehow I got a wild hair, I could get us a drum/guitar session in an afternoon’s time. But it's hard to think of how that would happen, given that both Kelli and I are looking for jobs and housing, and carrying on with our otherwise normal lives like nothing is afoot, and have taken on a couple things beyond what we considered normal.

Kelli and I just finished an eight week couple’s premarital/early marital group hosted by a couple that we know. The husband is a psychologist and the wife is a minister who has been influential with Kelli, leading her to choose the school she is about to attend. The marriage group just concluded after eight weeks, and it brought us closer to this couple, who themselves are facing a lot of change, with one being granted a new church to start up from nothing. Kelli and I were in their first course, the guinea pigs, as it were, along with three other couples who weren’t married yet, and were at various stages of relationship. Sadly, one of the couples seems to have fallen apart after a miscarriage sent the whole relationship into a tailspin. Kelli and I fared better than that, happy to say, but it was sad to see the group partially dissolved away for that reason.

Kelli and I also have been getting a dose of Martin Buber in yet another group that is meeting on a short term basis, reading Buber’s classic I and Thou. Our pastor and friend Jerry Lawritson is a huge Buber freak, and Buber himself is just a fascinating figure, but certainly this book is a huge milestone in modern thought. Actually, this is the second time that I have taken this class. The first time was back in 1989 when I was in 11th grade. I was oddly cast in that class, but I always took an interest in whatever the adults were doing, so when I was pitched the class in the fall of that year, I dove in. It's hard to say what I got from it then, but this time around, it resonates so much more since my current interests take me into such fields more and more. And to be married now, and to get what Buber is writing about, that is a lot more satisfying. Kelli and I were reading a book recommended to us by our usual couples therapist, and in that book, the author quoted Buber a few times and more than a few things echoed what we now read in I and Thou. For both of us, it's more than a chance to “just” learn about one of the greatest philosophical minds of the last century; it's another dimension in our relationship with Jerry and the others who are in the class. I always just savor the small group setting, especially in the church setting. I swear some of the most fascinating stuff comes out in the small group setting in a church context. I just eat it up. You gotta imagine it though; I was the only 11th grader in the 1989 class, and even now, Kelli and I still are the young pups. But as Kelli goes to seminary, the more time she can spend in this sort of setting, the better. Jerry has helped a number of other seminarians (two women that I know of) get their degrees and see them off into their ministries, so for Kelli to be near that would be good. Jerry of course has been there for both of us since we were teenagers, so it really resonates with all concerned. Jerry has been a major player for me since 1987 though I knew him somewhat before then, and for Kelli since she rejoined this church as a 14 year old in 1990. We’ve both been in and out, but we keep gravitating toward this one church. We were married there, and all that good stuff. So now we gleefully dive in to the various things we have to do there. I do the web site, all their recordings and editing, and am a Trustee. She is the head of the Sunday school and other educational roles.

One of the long standing church members, Phil, has been extremely generous to us as a stand in father for us, either because Kelli’s dad is long gone since 1997, or that mine is such a piece of work. He and his partner Nancy have been quite welcoming to us, sharing their extended family holidays with us. They have done a lot to save our Easters, Thanksgivings, and sometimes Christmases or New Years by working us into their plans. And with each year, we find they invite us to more and more occassions. They even let us have their dog Okua, which I do believe we will have to return soon. Kelli has a longer history with Phil and his family, but I've had some dealings with them. He has been a member of our church since time immemorial, and while Nancy and he are not married and don’t have kids together, between them, they have six kids, with Phil’s kids being more or less like brothers and sister to Kelli in particular, since we all were at the church from way back. Kelli herself was sort of sister to me for years before we started dating. We all go wayyyy back. Phil and his ex Cindy lost a son to a very savage drug related murder a few years ago. Kelli lived at Cindy’s for a while when we started dating, and at that point, Okua lived at that house, so Kelli has some prior experience with the wolf dog (and her perpetually shedding hair!) Cindy still is a guest at Phil’s gatherings, and vice versa, as last Christmas showed. And in both cases, they have been very keen at sharing their homes with us. Phil made a toast at our wedding saying he had basically adopted us over the recent years. It's just really satisfying that we are included in all the things he and Nancy, or Cindy have done. For Kelli and I, it's just our family now.

Oh, and we do get together with Phil to do a study group around the Urantia Book, which is a pretty esoteric piece of work. Another thing to know about Phil is that he is a mathematician who can throw down with some of the best. His current work as an independent contractor is to rattle Einstein’s cage vis a vis the origins of the universe and the mathematical gobbledegook that goes into all that. Heady stuff. So when a man of his stature embraces the Urantia Book, it gives the UB a lot more cred. Anyhow, we get together at his house for another meeting of about eight people. Kelli is a long standing reader. She got it from her mom, and her mom goes way back with Phil, Cindy, and another family from our church who all were into the UB in the early 70s when it was almost brand new (less than 20 years or so). The Urantia Book is like a hugely developed version of the Bible, but was written under some mysterious circumstances in the mid 20th century. Even Phil, for the 35 years he has been reading it, fesses that possibly, it might all be some huge joke, but as a mathematician/scientist, he keeps coming back to investigate the various things that it claims as being universal structures. But like any other text that is meant to inspire people, it isn’t so much whether it is factually perfect, but if it inspires people to take a deeper look for truth, and everyone I know in the Urantia community take it very seriously in that regard. In fact, the Urantia people I know take their Christianity far more seriously than most who parade around under the familiar Christian banner. My limited exposure has shown me a range of people who really do think. I think the UB is what thinking people turn to when they want to have a religious life. Phil is a mathematician; Dick is a surgeon; Andrew is a biochemist; Kelli is a theology student. I think whatever the confusion or myths about the UB, it inspires people to really dig into their ideas of what truth is, and how to go about meaningful and satisfying spiritually satisfying lives. And that can’t be bad. The UB refers to itself as the new epochal revelation for humanity. Well, it's a big claim, but if you can get past the idea that the Bible itself has the lockdown on truth, it's a perfectly valid thing to consider whether or not 2000 years later we humans are entitled to a new piece of text that might get us to the next level in our spiritual development. The UB charts a clear course and shows a long range of human historical chapters that show us in desperate need to relearn what Jesus showed us life should be. The UB reader community is a diverse bunch. I read an essay from a lifelong devout Jew who came to understand Jesus and chose to live accordingly, while not relinquishing her Judaic background. I think that has to say something. We live in such confusion about what Jesus stood for, or what his people stand for. And of all people to “get” the message and to choose to live in accordance with his noble mission, who would expect an orthodox Jew to lead the charge? She now is a significant figure in the Urantia Book world. But back to my own experience. I find it interesting, because the UB provides an interesting look at a lot of human development on a range of levels. A lot of it does seem far fetched, and I could be in on one of the biggest cosmic jokes around, but when I read stuff that resonates with me about the failures of industrialized society, and the need to realign ourselves with things that are decidedly non commercial, I have to take it seriously. When I get a deeper idea of what Christ was about, or am led to just think more about what he was about, I find that satisfying. When I get to sit and contemplate a piece of text that was technically written in the 50s ostensibly by supernatural beings, but the scenarios described are near total perfect descriptions of current affairs, I just have to think maybe it's not all a joke. More and more, each time I read some of it, I just find it all too interesting to dismiss.

Kelli and I also go to straight up bible study too, now that we are unemployed. Again, some of the same people are involved. And for us, we have the benefit of Jerry’s tremendous knowledge of not just the words and characters, but the history and a great sense of who and what shaped the historical Jesus, and I think that is tremendously enlightening. I read passages that are bandied about all the time, and each time, a whole world erupts from the old words. Get a dose of history, allow a liberal and humanitarian interpretation, get people to think of how people would have taken this in their day—all that richens the experience now. And it's just terrible how people can use this book as a tool to hate other people.

So with our couples therapy to deal with the daily snags and goals as a couple, or the marital group to give us a broader experience in a group setting, or a class on Martin Buber, or bible study, or Urantia Book study. We get some great exposure to things. Kelli’s admission to seminary has been just delightful for us because it has led us to some great minds, and some great community experiences that are just really satisfying. It's crazy. Neither of us are working, and when we add up all these things that we do in our hunger for truth in the face of all the lies that constitute contemporary life, we find it hard to imagine how we could possibly fit a weeks' work into our schedules. But then we end up thinking maybe it should be this way always. I find I get so much more out of life while doing all this than being involved in the rat race. And I really do feel that the rat race is the price we pay for letting this other stuff fall by the wayside. We happen to be lucky enough for the last few months to have had the opportunity to put this study and these encounters where they genuinely belong: front and center in life. If more people did this, we’d all be a lot better off.