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Entries in repentance (10)


Resurrection for All

Happy Easter. Or better said, Happy Resurrection Day. Today is a day of mystery. A day when we go slack-jawed at the amazing way life springs from death. It's not just a Christian phenomenon of course. It's the basis of the cosmos, the greatest recycling program ever. It's the pattern to which all things adhere. It's for everyone, all the time. But for a couple billion of us, we mark time every spring: the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.

Whether Jesus himself actually was risen is always open to interpretation and even dismissal as an historical event. Okay, fine. But the pattern goes on for each of us if we call it this or call it that. The story we tell narrows that ever present reality down to one person and people who were utterly convinced that even a brutal and savage death wasn't the end of things. And then they were the people who went and shared the remarkable news. Somehow. Something happened. Even a couple thousand years later we're talking about it.

I don't actually concern myself with the historical veracity of the biblical accounts. That's a rather worthless pursuit when one has noticed and accepted the flow of death to life to death to life again over and over in the smaller ways. It's come to me in the form of dire family estrangements and the relations that emerged to support me; it's come to me as dental woes that made things look pretty gloomy and loaded me up with guilt and dread but that were transcended; it's come to me repeatedly as one identity dies and another rises eventually. I've watched it in my garden as the cycle keeps turning life into compost and compost into rich soil for more life.

If I had a wish for today it would be that people stop dismissing religion, spirituality, mythology, and the metaphysicality of existence. I know it's been grossly misused over the ages, but it has also been the only thing that has given us the sanity we need to respond to madness, abuse of power, injustice. You can't idolize a Martin Luther King Jr. or a Gandhi without respecting the roots of the spiritual consciousness that made them great. They're standing on the shoulders of the sages and prophets and saviors of old, and who themselves emerged in a period of madness and turmoil and change. If anything, we need more religion, not less. But we need better expressions of it, instead of what we have now: the stuff born of our lower consciousness and desires.

Joseph Campbell gave humanity a great gift with his work in mythology, showing how the great religions and psychology overlap so much as to often be telling the same story with the differences being largely in details. Along those lines, you can't be an atheist and escape the resurrection. You may not like the Christian language and symbols but the lived reality is probably already there. It's there whether any of us wants it or not. It just is. But does one connect with it with open eyes? Does one connect with it by associating with the larger story of one group or another?

We're in a shitstorm of an historical hour. We think we're at the top of things, the best things have ever been. Yet we think things will get better. But in which way? Complex civilizations always collapse, as Joseph Tainter says, but not into "primordial chaos." They simplify down to what can be sustained. Another takes its place. Cities are inherently unsustainable places to live. We don't like to accept the idea that the greatest things we make will eventually be lost. Yet we're not happy in our cities. We're cut off. We value stuff with no future. We're hurting. We're really more dead than we let on. And we're in denial. So what follows death? More life. Different life. Even better life.

The Great Pattern doesn't really care about the desires and designs of one human or a hundred or a million or a billion or more. The Great Pattern will make something of the whole mess just like some of us believe one man beaten to a pulp and left for a humiliating death was somehow made into something so extraordinary that words could not convey what happened next. We have to face that even our beloved technological, rational society has to come to some end, sometime. If we're true to ourselves, we need to admit that it's become our god to which we do more than tithe, do more than listen to the priests and oracles for guidance, even kill for—either for a loaf of bread or to launch wars and economic warfare on resource rich nations.

That god must die. Something else more wonderful and life-giving must replace it. If that god were the true god, we'd be doing okay just about now. We certainly made ourselves quite comfortable. But instead we have grown accustomed to the desperation, displacement, fear, violence, and other stuff that accompanies it though we haven't found any peace in the arrangement. It doesn't work. It's the way of death. How can we disparage Yahweh as being a twisted and angry figure prone to mood swings and violence while we throw fervent support behind the economic god and the political god that has literally brought the ecosystem to ruin for so many around the world? That god was man-made. We can even kill that god. That god has been given a chance and it's fucked everything up. Some gods are better not even being born, let alone resurrected.

Ultimately though, things will run their course and I expect a lot of what we see around us as our supposed god-given right to consume will be seen for what it is: an unparalleled effort to turn Creation into trash. I think it will be a bruising time as things are dismantled by natural forces and economic reversal. But something must emerge. It always does. A new type of human that doesn't have the luxury of destroying the earth while calling it progress? Stuff will grow back over time. Our mighty cities will fade and crumble like Angkor Wat or Rome. Creation will ultimately win back everything when humans prove unfit for the task of creating and maintaining places like we know as our megacities and suburbs. We'll have to face the music ultimately: what we call our mightiest accomplishments (at least in the material world) don't really have a future like we thought.

Humanity is in this giant death and resurrection together, but when done right helps us to adjust to reality that we cannot change. It transforms us, not the world. It teaches us to live within the what is. But also to be more human in doing so. We just can't control everything just like I couldn't control everything about my garden. But that's the good part! We've already tried our hand at controlling everything. We can't do it. Yet the wise ones of old knew that the world was good as it was. Genesis starts out with that first and foremost. Things were good just as they were created. Then we monkeyed with things and it took God a few attempts to knock some sense into us. Then we Christians understand there was the Jesus card that God played to get our attention again. "What if I appear like one of them?" Even that failed pretty badly because a righteous man was shown a very harsh exit from this stage. Then it was time for something even bolder...

"They just think they killed him. Just watch!"

So maybe it wasn't Jesus in the flesh. But it was, to those with the ability to understand it just enough, that nudge into another life, a bigger life even after the devastation of losing the one so dear. The one who was already attractive and intriguing but now became...bigger than life—and death—itself.

Death and resurrection is all around us. It is. It happens yearly, monthly, daily, hourly, by the minute. Are we attuned to it? Do we trust it enough to let it play out? Are we okay admitting that there are other people who experience it and it's not ours to control? Even though two billion people celebrate the resurrection, we certainly know there are folks who don't really get what it means. And certainly there have to be people outside the Christian realm who get it readily but don't identify with Jesus/Christ (sic). The message though is for everyone. Now more than ever, we really need a story that lets us know it's okay to die so that something better can emerge. With God's grace, anything might just happen.


A Facebook Fathers Day

Kelli asked me if I was ready to come out of a four and a half year long silence between me and Willy, the man who used to be called my dad. Or maybe my father. But since one is too cozy for the kind of relationship we have, and the other is too formal for a guy who often acts in ways that a five year old might, I have to stick with Willy. Or "The Old Man." Or maybe like when both parents were giving me hell around 2005-7, the "Y-Unit."

Facebook readers out there can participate if you want. There is a guy on FB called Beemey Smith. It is his bogus account for doing some sneaky stuff. You can report him or block him, or if you think this is important enough, you can forward this to him by FB or even Snail Mail it anonymously to 

William Lucas 
5052 Artesian St. 
San Diego, CA, 92117 

Let your conscience be your guide.

Onward. Kelli dared me to keep to one page. That's a lot for me. A lot in its brevity, I mean! What would I say?

Stop being landlord. Stop being the builder. Stop being right. Stop being condescending to Kelli and blaming our trouble on her. Stop hating my mom for doing what a single mother has to do to take care of her kids in a world stacked against her. Stop obsessing about material shit and finances. Stop belittling me like I was 10 years old. Stop ignoring ideas I have that might actually do some good and make me feel like a partner in all this. Stop living like the whiny little boy you must have been when your dad and mom were willing to do anything to keep you around so they wouldn't lose you too. (Eldest son to drowning at 12, and a stillborn daughter.)

Start finding something to like about Kelli. Start thanking my mom for her share in giving you such a loving, smart, compassionate, articulate, handsome son. Start asking questions about timeless things. Start telling me about hurt and strife and pain like you lived it. Start sharing more. Start opening your house to people. Start trusting people. Start conversations that show you are interested in other people. Start taking accountability for your own misdeeds and shortcomings. Start taking God seriously as if your life was a gift from her.

My public offer for breaking out of nearly five years of estrangement is this: You go to at least one year of family therapy with me. Two might be better. Or more. There is plenty of work to do. You pay. You pay for the best qualified male therapist you can find (since you don't trust women to lead you, but I don't mind you facing that it isn't about what they do, it is about what you do in these situations). You'll pay because this is one way to start putting things back in order after your financial windfall from the house you sold out from under me and Kelli. Money isn't the issue for a guy who cashed in on a $515,000 house near the peak of the market. Will is. When the time is right for you to do this work, I'll know because you'll call me and ask for it. You know how to be in touch. Start with the right words and I might even respond. The right words will probably feel funny and hard to say. They won't roll off your tongue like the old lines did. This is a good thing. Trust it. Go with it.

The moment will come when you realize your method of dividing and conquering has failed. Your inability to relate to people normally has failed. Your loneliness has mounted. Your money and your house are meaningless in the realization that nothing else exists for you. Neither of them love you. You'll find yourself at the end of the line of that kind of life program. You won't know what to do with yourself. You might feel like I did in 2003: suicidal. Rage filled. Lost. Disconnected. Hurt. These are the signs that something good is about to come. On the verge of something big.

You SHOULD mourn the loss of relation. I do so every day. My answer was finally to start to build it up again, but I don't kid myself that I am not the sole architect of any renewal. Kelli has been invaluable in that regard, and even she is compelled by a larger force than she understands. She even asks about you. We talk about you like we care. But we just don't know what to do about you. This is why I am not going to stand for your badmouthing of our relationship, as if she was the wedge between us, as if she ushered in the end of a golden age. She has been the best thing to happen to this family in ages, returning a much needed feminine element to the balance. When you're ready, you can admit that and join the party. It will require getting over a whole host of long-held beliefs about women, about young people, about clergy, about wives. About relationship. Consider it a dare. Consider it the terms that will need to be met before you and I get very far, therapy sessions or none.

I do feel compassion for you and I sort of have an understanding for the situations I know you've been in. But I don't see the wisdom in your methods that so far have demonstrated an uncanny ability to drive people away from you. Or to prune things of beauty from the space you inhabit. It must be a lonely place in there. It's scary to look at from out here. All we have is your actions to judge by. When you eventually come around, we'll know because you'll be a lot more transparent and open. Generosity will flow. A smile won't be crooked. Laughter will be genuine and warm instead of self-conscious and cackling.

Becoming human can be scary. You're 67 now. Give up the old shit that hasn't worked. Give it up! No parents are here for you to either impress or to manipulate. All the shit that drove us apart is not working for you. All the ownership of property and even the selling of property has not helped either of us be part of any family. Maybe that isn't what matters after all. None of that matters. It is all dressing. Now it can be seen for being threadbare and bankrupt. It is not the relationship you need. The security you offered people was a good thing once, a long time ago. Now that same source of security has become a weapon and has scared people out of your life, bringing you to this day. It is a failed plan. So give it up. Give in to being someone who isn't defined by all that. Give in to someone who sees relationship in terms of quality of exchange of good will and time. When you're past doing the hard work you've done all your life, you need something else to get you by.

In the men's work that has done me good, that is the movement from living as your false self to being your true self. True self is creative, not destructive. Giving, not taking. Loving, not loathsome. It is already in you. But the outer layers have to come off. Better they can be peeled like onion skin, and not jackhammered like stone. You can't engineer your way into true self. It happens to people who get out of the way. That hasn't been your method as long as I can assess. You can only want it and be open to where that desire takes you. But almost invariably, you'll only want it on your worst day alive. I can't tell if you've gotten there yet.

The terms are at least a year of family therapy, once or twice a week. You pay. That will be your incentive to show up and stay the whole session. The rest follows.

Happy Father's Day.



Mileage for December/Final!

  • January 1, 2009: 209,855
  • February 7: 210,000
  • March 1: 210,120
  • April 1: 210,203
  • May 1: 210,309
  • June 1: 210,367
  • July 1: 210,532
  • August 1: 210,675
  • September 1: 210,873
  • October 1: 210,919
  • November 1: 211,038
  • December 1: 211,246
  • January 1, 2010: 211,401

Here is the first post of 2010, and the moment all the fine readers of TAPKAE dot com have been waiting for with bated breath. Finally, we get to see how many personal miles I was able to reduce my driving to for one year while adopting biking as my main mode of transportation, augmented by carpooling (planned and opportunistic), walking, and the occasional use of public transportation. It was a year ago when I started this thing, and back in July I called it as a 1,700 mile year. I'm quite pleased to announce that the final tally is 1,546 miles. By comparison, mileage for 2008 was over twice that much at 3,688. Year 2007 was more than that, so each year for a while now I have seen the record fall.

I don't expect I shall be able to repeat this in 2010. I have one planned trip to Arizona that, if I drive it, will pretty much make this kind of thing impossible. Still, I am committed to keeping off the road in my truck as much as I can. Still, I feel that this progressive reduction has been a good display of what I knew needed to happen back in 2004-2005 when peak oil was my concern. I've not bothered to keep up to date on peak oil issues in any depth, but I know enough to know that this effort is required still more than ever. Furthermore, I have been an advocate of biking enough lately, and maybe have done a part to provoke others into increasing their biking and decreasing their car use.

All this has made me rather resourceful. Combining trips is still a leading way to keep the mileage low. I opt to do errands when I can cruise with Kelli on her planned runs. (We're looking at bikes for her.) There are some days when I utilize a few options to get around. I bused to work one day, which was pleasant but took vastly longer than biking, which itself is about as fast as driving anyway. I often draft people from church or work into the occasional ride home or to the bike shop if maybe I had a flat or planned service and took it in before work. Some quick errands can be done while on the clock since most of my work is in highly urban areas. (But you didn't read that here. Actually a couple have been okayed by the powers that be.)

The point I like to emphasize is that even though most of my life is lived within a far smaller radius than ever, my quality of life is no worse, and I have to say that I think it is far better than ever, particularly if we're just comparing modes of transportation. A lot of pushback comes from people who are convinced their lives will be parochial and boring if they can't exercise their automotive "freedom." I beg to differ. My experience has been that I feel more freedom while biking or carpooling. Most of my day at work I am behind the wheel and in traffic with that suffocating feeling of being trapped. The last thing I want to do is spend another minute in at the wheel. By contrast, other modes offer freedom, and even real, fresh air. Some of them draw upon my own power and are for solo travel, but some upon another person's car, but even those trips offer a bit of community time that add a quality you don't get while sequestered in your own two ton mobile sardine can. I find that there is an interesting dimension to biking in particular in that two things happen at once. In one way the trip can be slower than with a car if car travel was not regulated by so many lights and signs and the presence of long lines of other cars. But cars are slaves to all that and—just watch—a bike can move from light to light faster with less interruption and so the biker's trip is more unbroken. What that feels like is that time passes faster on a bike because it flows more consistently than the stop and go of car travel, often a few feet at a time. Yet, despite the feeling that things move faster, it is at a pace where you can enjoy the surroundings and maybe even greet people. One of the guys from the bike shop commutes in the opposite direction from me, and from across the boulevard we greet each other as we pass each other at about the same spot most mornings. There are some other chance meetings like that too that sweeten the deal as I pass other bikers I may know from the social rides, or even some people from church or work. The quality of life does seem to be greater when you can travel and sort of feel not totally disconnected from your surroundings.

Church and related groups, work, grocery runs, ATM, bike shops, going to friends', riding for the sake of riding, eating out—the options seem greater now. All kinds of things that used to be fun to do when I was a kid or teen are available to me again in some form. I felt it was like being in exile from a lot of things while thinking that driving was the only viable option; that it took a ton or two of metal to move me around. Most of the time, you see, that just isn't the case. I've delighted myself in not only getting on the bike back in 2008, but moving to (freewheel) single speed riding and its inherent "limits" to one gear, to fixed gear riding, which paradoxically feels less limited despite one gear in constant rotation. My city isn't flat and I wasn't fit to begin with, but somehow this has all worked out. There are plenty of you fence-sitters out there. Park that car and bike it some!


The Exorcism: Epilogue

Some of my die hard fans have been on the edge of their seats in suspense, with fan mail pouring in to find out how things have been since my entire mouth was exorcised of dental demons in December. The saga continues.

Just under a month since it began and about two and a half weeks since it concluded, my gum surgery has been more or less moving into the rear view mirror. I don't expect I'll forget this one. Every drink or bite that is cooler than room temperature is pretty damned painful since more of each tooth is exposed now, and the gums sit closer to the root crowns where the sensitivity is greatest. Yeah, so far every drink or bite that is colder than I am has reminded me of this. Not that there is a problem with lukewarm water. But there is a problem with lukewarm beer or lukewarm cottage cheese, or lukewarm ice cream! The beer and cottage cheese have been sampled, but I have yet to venture near the ice cream!

The surgeries were finally performed over four sittings, spaced across eleven days. That was perhaps closer than I might ever want to do things if I had to do it again. The second half of December got to hurting a lot, though I had a pretty fine meal on Christmas night, though it was a matter of going real slow and starting off so that nothing really had to be bitten into and torn, like I would if I had to eat a sandwich. The gums themselves stopped hurting reasonably fast; the bones are what reminded me of the work. It took most of the time up till a few days ago to feel like I could bite into anything with any power. So, for much of the last few weeks, I've been holding my jaw in just such a way that it wouldn't clench nor would it stretch anything. I feel my speech has been real lazy for this time since I was really limiting the range of motion. There were a few remaining sore points that had cold sores. I asked about those and they are normal parts of the process. They would sting a bit when confronted with certain foods and toothpaste. That's over with now, and the motion is back so I can stretch out and whatnot, though I am almost convinced that my teeth are in different places in the back left bottom. After a few weeks of not closing completely, or being on a painkiller or having ice on things (only on the day of surgery), I maybe forgot how top and bottom fit together, and maybe I am just rediscovering it now. But there is a distinct feeling that things are in different places. Odd. So I still refrain from clenching, and certain chewing is also awkward.

The gums themselves are healed up and shiny and new, with no signs of incisions or repairs. They don't hurt anymore. They sit lower on the teeth, and it is interesting to behold some of the openings between teeth now. I have found a number of syllables (and combinations thereof) to be hard to voice properly and in normal speech. The spaces leak a lot of air. The tongue also touches different surfaces now—more hard, less soft. Or, where it used to block a space between teeth, it might not now. I guess I'll have to do what my grandmother always told me to do better: enunciate. (An interesting byproduct of this increased leaky space is that fluids can take advantage of the openings too. Sometimes swishing makes me sort of a slob. But less so now that I can more confidently close down all the way.) The good news is swishing does a lot more good now that there are bigger spaces that can't hold food bits as well, so a lot of the stuff departs after a few good swishes. Flossing is far easier now, as it was expected. The dentist gave me a spiffy little bit of pipecleaner called an interdental brush, which is meant to do what floss can't do.

Considering this has been one of the few experiences in my life where I genuinely knew dread, it hasn't been as bad as I anticipated. Each day's surgery was sufficiently clotted and trouble free by the next day. The stitches dissolved on the most recent side and left no hassle except for dangling bits that had to be pulled like loose threads sometimes. I don't particularly recommend that you wait as long as I did to get your teeth cleaned, and I don't recommend letting it get as bad as I did. But I do feel better now.


Theology Of Dentistry

The god of dentistry is quite like the Judeo-Christian god. It might be more Deuteronomistic and wrathful than the forgiving Father that Jesus spoke of, but it has a sin-redemption model that the institutional Christian church would envy. The god of dentistry that has prescribed commandments of how to live has announced the toll he will take for breaking those commandments. His prophets and priests, my dentists of old, have reiterated the contract from time to time. But I am a dental sinner who needs repentance. And hopefully a merciful savior to intervene on my behalf.

This is only half joking; many of my genuine ethical lapses have been processed and repented for and perhaps even forgiven, but when it comes to the dental god? Well, my soul is tortured. I just recently got insurance through work and went in to the dentist, heart in my throat, and took the news again that I am in some bad shape with a nasty case of gum disease. The first general dentist took a look and an Xray and just straightaway referred me to a specialist. He in turn saw me a couple days ago and only added more anxiety as he gave me a 100% prognosis for needing gum surgery. Man. I don't think I ever breathed less than in the 45 minutes I was in this specialist's office. He got me an appointment to do a full mouth deep cleaning in one session, coming up in a day or so from this posting. I had this done once before, in two sessions, and I recall it wasn't so bad, perhaps because I was numbed up some. I don't recall it being as agonizing as a regular cleaning, though the work was more intense. That was three years ago or so. I should have learned from that. Even back then—and before—I was warned that things could get to where they are now.

Ah but sinning is easy! It is amazing the sorts of excuses one can muster to avoid dentistry. Lack of insurance; lack of awareness of how cheap insurance can be; the decision that maybe a guitar, computer device, or trip to the clothing store was more important; 'I went this long before.' For many years when I was depressed, I semi-purposely allowed myself to fall into disrepair as I got more and more disillusioned and sometimes ready to just check out altogether. So, in that defeatist frame of mind, what did it matter anyway? It was sort of like these religious nutjobs that go wait on a mountain top for God to end the world, but then it doesn't happen so they have to scramble for a plan B. I moved the date back a time or two myself, and it never came. So now I have to try to get back on track, and as if a genuine sinner in the church, I know I have to repent. Funny enough, after the initial dread of gum surgery and a further possibility of losing teeth, I actually felt a bit better in just knowing the path to getting on track again. Making the fix is one thing though, but the real work is in the day to day work, and that is where I have a decision before me that only I can make.

Forgive me doctor, for I have sinned.


Aqualung My Friend

Today the stock market took a dive in the worst fall it has taken since the day of September 11, 2001. This news doesn't look to be an isolated instance of the market's fickleness in the age of globalization. My anticipation is that this is only a taste of things, and that sooner or later things have to reset somehow, in a big way as the market hiccups and shudders in what James Kunstler calls the Long Emergency.

homeless man petitioning for cash or help from the side of the road near mission valley mall.Today was just another day of driving wastefully about the city and county as I deliver technical documents to architects and engineers who build places I deplore. While out and about, it is impossible to not see the growing number of panhandlers on the street corners and intersections. Maybe it is just that I do so much driving now that I see it this much, but I am certain this subculture has to be growing in population. Almost invariably, they are white people. A work buddy of mine said in December 2005 that they were all white, and since then, I have paid attention to the validity of that claim, and just by my observation, he was nearly 100% correct. I honestly believe that in the year and more that has passed since then, no more than two men in such situations were something other than white. He claimed that the latinos would not be seen doing such things if they could stand in a work line and get something of a day gig in construction or whatever they specialize in, for it would be an insult to their machismo breadwinner role to be seen begging. So far, my buddy's Wyoming-lensed observation has held out remarkably well.

It is the season of Lent, which usually is the time when people of Christian faith reflect on the sacrifices required to honestly live the faith. As for me, I just feel very disconnected from all that this year because instead of the last week being one to pause and take stock of personal allegiances, it has been 100% "GO!" between my day job and doing some significant domestically demanding work as of late—namely moving house! (So far Kelli and I have made 22 truck and car trips to the new place in Bay Park.) So I have unwittingly and grudgingly taken on the mantle of the workaday schmoe who puts the blinders on and has to "look out for number one." I'm concerned about my job just because the place has fired three drivers in the four weeks I have been there. It doesn't seem to be a very stable place to try to remain, even though I am seemingly doing well and taking on a bit of dispatch duty as needed. It scares me that all my eggs are in that basket. I listen to NPR and public radio all day long, so today I was able to hear the market hemorrhage during the course of the day. And then I looked out to the street corners and saw the broken spirits of the ruthless market economy. I carry no money but for a few bucks each day. I have just my lunch with me. I am not driving to be charitable. But they are there asking for help, just as I sit in the car, stuck as it were, even in a device that usually is associated with ideas of freedom. So I have to meet eyes with these people, knowing full well that I could offer something, and probably would, but being a slave to peer pressure nonetheless, worrying either about how fragile my job is, or what the people in other cars will think, or that maybe the guy I give to is a professional panhandler who makes more than I do in any given day. So I go cynical and drum my fingers till the light changes, and that discomfort will pass until the next major intersection or the next time I pass by that same intersection.

It makes me feel like a great hypocrite and sorry excuse for a human being. But in my culture, what can I say? We are so conditioned to think that there is a scheme, even behind a guy who is panhandling. We are so conditioned to fear that he might do something irresponsible with "our" money. Or maybe it's that if you give to a guy once, and he is there the next day, do you give again? Or do you give to the guy on the other corner opposite where the first is standing?

I spent most of 2006 working on developing some spiritual sensitivity to the world around me, but this year is so different. Different work, different house, different everything it seems. I've been moving away from my church because of a political and time management problem that has not resolved. I have not been able to attend my (usually twice monthly) therapy sessions because my work schedule is what it is. So I feel oddly detached from something that enveloped me last year. Yet, I don't kid myself and think that I am on the right track. More and more the economic storm clouds are coming in, just as I have feared for a couple years now. I guess the panhandler guys on the streets are scary more than anything. They are scary because the look like me or some people I know. They are scary because they might have had what an earlier economy considered a "good job" in some manufacturing or something meaningful, but now they haven't. Then I consider what it means that my job is essentially disposable on the drop of a hat, and that as my costs rise, and as I age, and as the economic-social-political world is transformed into one with a dying middle class, I have a visceral fear that it is not impossible for things to fall that far, even for me.

Even still, for the guy that I don't give a buck to, or the guy I don't give some food to, I am the same privileged asshole in a car that avoids eye contact and is keen to get the hell out of that uncomfortable captive situation as soon as the light goes green. What difference does it make if I spent the last year trying to deepen my spiritual sense if in the most critical moment, I throw it all out as I "look out for number one"? I suppose for my lenten reflection, I have to write this to at least acknowledge that I know that I'm as hypocritical as any other most of the time, operating out of fear of something, and not knowing what button exactly I must push to activate that part of me that knows what is right and good, and to act on it. Empathy I have, but sympathy (the will to act on the empathic response) is still lacking.



I feel this pronounced need to get the 20th and 21st century out of my body, but particularly out of my soul.


Confession Is Good For The Soul

Forgive me lord for I have sinned.

I went to Viejas today.

Yup, Viejas casino, the charming den of sin that vacuums money from pensioners' pockets and puts credit cards to the endurance test at the 60 outlet shops. Kelli seems to have bid at an auction for some chow from the buffet there and was begging to go. She had it all figured out—I needed some shoes to help me get through work days, and she needed some girl wear. And we could get food at the buffet, and we could watch the nighttime show they have out there. Well, at least she was thinking of economical gas usage—one trip, many wonders.

I always think of the insides of casinos as "hell on earth." I don't get to Vegas too often, but that is my first contact with casinos. I never gamble as a rule, so its all just a total assault on my senses and sensibilities. My "distance" from gambling gives me my usual vantage point to ridicule the poor sods who engage in such a ridiculous use of their incomes, pensions, or stolen lunch money. I don't use drugs and I don't gamble, so I have some words for both addictions/pastimes.

I had to buy some shoes so I could bear my work days. I usually don't get the more elaborate running or cross training types of shoes since I always find them gimmicky looking and they always look like shit in no time if actually worn for work. But the eight hour days on concrete floors, moving gear, standing, squatting, and all sorts of other activity have been hell for my feet, ankles, and knees. After two months of that, something has to change. So I hit up one of the shoe stores and after an hour, decided on three pairs! I've been on a kick to buy things in excess right now. Part of it is just taking advantage of finally having a job of any consequence—the first of its sort ever, but the most steady and decent paying since I don't know when, but it was before 9/11/01 anyway. The rest of my reasoning is that my future vision includes a lot of financial hardship and I may as well buffer myself a bit for a few cycles of normal purchases. I've made some redundant clothing purchases too, along those lines. My only worry is getting skinny again when food costs go up, and when I have to bike more! I'll be stuck with fat person clothes! I've got lots of shoes now. Hopefully that will take me a few years down the road. I got my old grunge-era Docs, some newer Docs that don't fit too well, some other Doc-style clones, and a bunch of other types. Shit, I'm almost holding my own with Imelda Marcos!

So, $130 later, Kelli and I started on our way to the show. I felt like the spirit of James Kunstler was hovering over my discount shopping-at-the-edge-of-the-county excursion. I was carrying my three pairs of shoes, and Kelli had her girl wear, and we had just gorged ourselves on a free buffet dinner (great meatloaf—I've fallen in love with meatloaf and mashed taters just as I find that I should really be on a vegetarian diet, given my beliefs-in-formation). I felt so American.

The show was pretty neat. I don't usually go to high production shows after years of working on shows and being generally bored with things in that field. But this was a pretty splendid show made up of lights, lasers, fog machines, and a lot of water, not to mention fire, fireworks, and projection, sometimes even projecting onto "sheets" of water. Every now and then I do actually have to marvel at shows, but usually it's not much to get me excited. The show was an Indian themed show, about how the tribe's storyteller had to defend their water supply by doing battle with a local thug-god that would deny the flow. Overall, it was about how they have to defend their resources to ensure a thriving life in the future. The irony is that every last person who got there had to drive from somewhere sort of far away, with Kelli and I driving about 25 miles or so. The rest of them came from all areas I'm sure, and there were more than a few SUVs in the lot—the usual sign of a person who just doesn't get it. Oh, there were lots of overfed people there, big families, old people blowing out social security checks and pensions—lots of people who just can't see the forest for the trees. They watch a show about conservation of resources while participating in the orgy of total obliviousness to what is coming down the pike.

And there I was, among them. Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?


Christianity 2005

I just had a fascinating and fulfilling week of church related holy week stuff. I record the services at my church, and have done so for two and a half years now. Holy week is a big deal, at least in terms of recording, editing, archiving, and uploading to the web site. There are services on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and of course on Easter. And, since I not only attend, but I also take the recordings home to edit and tidy them up for publication, I get to hear everything at least once more.

Now, I gotta be straight with you. My church is not to be confused with the brand of Christianity that has been making the news lately in national politics. And, I've said it before, that I would have little or no interest in going to church were it not for this particular church that I was born into, and have been a member of off and on for years, and of course, I met Kelli there. I have a long history with the place and the people, but sort of spotted. For years I doubted everything Christian, and stayed away even from this congregation for over 10 years. Finally something about 9/11 changed that and I went back, in the same week as Kelli and I started dating. So, for me, my conscious choice to attend is rooted in 9/11 and the change that came after then, as well as some personal issues that needed to be dealt with.

The United Church of Christ is the denomination. The UCC is an odd bird among churches these days. The name is descriptive enough, and enough to actually be sort of frightening to some. The 'united' part is a little off putting to some because the UCC is a denomination that doesn't run from diversity. The UCC runs counter to patriarchal, homogeneous church history. The UCC is as likely to have gays, blacks, or women not only participating in worship, but among the clergy itself. Of course this is too much for many branches of Christianity today, especially in this country. It's inflammatory. We don't hear sermons on hellfire and damnation. We don't keep count with the Rapture Index, we are pro choice, we are a lot of things that you probably don't expect in a Christian church these days.

Our particular minister, Jerry Lawritson, is tremendously well studied in Hebrew and Christian sacred texts, and the history that surrounds the events they consist of. He has strong knowledge of a huge range of things in the fields of philosophy and the humanities. Jerry is dizzyingly good. He gets great respect from his peers. And, from our congregation too. We only number about 40 on most any given week, but our roster is larger. Jerry will deliver great work no matter who or how many is in the audience. This week was just great in that regard. Part of why I volunteered to record the services was so that I could hear his work again and again. He has also been a great friend for most of the last 20 years, and has done a lot to enrich my life directly. Recording and preserving his work is sort of a thank you to him, and a good way for me to get a nice clear opportunity to hear messages that run so contrary to popular sentiment—the sort that is demeaning and nihilistic.

When people think of Christianity today, I believe the first image to come to mind is the so called "religious right." What a shame. Thats like associating Hitler's nationalism with the finest in patriotism. The UCC does not, I repeat, does not, echo most of what the religious right is known for these days. And for good reason. The religious right as we know it today is a disgrace. It is a disgrace to Christianity as a whole. Why? Well, let's remember who is supposed to be the head guy in the Church. Christ. And let's remember that he was not into dividing people. He was not into demeaning people. He was not a patriot. He was not in bed with the political establishment. He was not a white man. He was not an English speaker. He was not a lot of things that the religious right has determined he was. Everything he stood for was bigger than we can truly understand. And, as Jerry would say, he could not be made to fit in a box for easy consumption. He cannot be reduced to talking points. His message was about how to live up to our full humanity. The heaven on earth of which he spoke was one that would be had and enjoyed if people would just give up the useless and destructive forces of violence, oppression, hatred, and everything else that keeps us from living the lives God intended. The business of being born again is about finding a new way to live without all that nonsense, allowing us to find that heaven on earth by our cooperation and love.

That is the message I got. I could be wrong, or I could be missing something. I don't think Jesus sent his people out into the world to sow more hatred and violence. He didn't urge divisiveness or discrimination. I think he would be offended highly if he were to see what is going on in his name these days. I am. Lots of people are. His church, his following, has been hijacked by the nutcases that parade around spewing filth that does exactly the opposite of what he sought to accomplish.

I was thinking about the name that these people take on for themselves: Fundamentalist Christians. Then I thought, 'nothing of the sort!' I think they are neither fundamentalists nor are they Christians! Were they to be fundamentalists, they would be protesting the war, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick (of all sorts, not just their own), fighting for dignity in every form, everywhere. They'd be doing all they could to make life more livable. They'd be tearing down systems of bigotry and corruption. They'd be preserving their environments. They'd be allowing all people the opportunity to serve and be served. But is that what we see happening? Those are the fundamentals of Christianity, but the ones who claim to be fundamentalists don't seem to be living by those guidelines. What I take from my experience and budding knowledge is that Christianity is for good. Jerry reminded us that Christians, when at their worst, can be some of the worst people on the earth, but then when they are at their best, could be the best people on the earth. I don't see how Billy Graham leading a bunch of bible thumpers to support a massive Middle East war in the name of bringing the second coming of Christ is a good thing. That is so selfish and wrong on every level. So wrong it's stupid. For one, it is the high point of selfishness that people should want to do things in their own interest, and I can't think of anything more absurd and self absorbed than doing something just so that you can go to heaven. Sorry, but cheering on a Middle East crisis to bring on Armageddon so that you can go to sit at the right hand of God is about as absurd as anything I could possibly be told in my lifetime. Could there be anything more SELFISH?

True Christianity is about being humble and serving, and recognizing the humanity in everyone. No one should do something so that they can go to heaven. Whatever good to be done should be done because good needs to be done. Where I come from, fighting evil is done by doing good. It's a way of disarming evil. War will never disarm evil. Scaring people will never make people faithful servants. Everything about the so-called Christians of today just is so backwards and upside down. It's insulting. In fact, they have it so backwards, when the UCC put out a commercial in December with an aim to raise awareness of the denomination, the national networks (CBS and NBC) refused to play it. They considered it "too controversial." What it was was an ad that had people lined up outside a big church, as if it were a nightclub, with bouncers who would let certain people in, and bar others from admission. Bouncers in black T shirts and headsets would let the pastel-clad white southern Baptist looking folk in, and blocked the gay men, blacks, latinos, and disabled. Then the commercial cuts to a montage of different people representing most of humanity's varieties with a voice over with the message "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we..." and some other lines about whoever you are, you are welcome in the UCC. All that was too controversial for network television. Funny though, and very surprising was that FOX played the ad!

I don't like to engage in talk of "us and them" but it is hard not to. I need to do it to defend my faith now. There is far more to Christianity than memorizing the Bible and being able to recite it at will in any scenario in which you find yourself. There is more to Christianity than protesting at abortion clinics and singing jingoistic praise songs with other white people. There is more to Christianity than just checking the box on every Republican running for office. I just want to remind people that there is a world of Christians out there who never make the news, never really sway politics, never really get known. But they are doing something that matters. They are doing something that makes someone's life better, whether their physical neighbor or someone on the other side of the world. There are Christians who really believe the world is worth saving at every cost. There are people like that who are just as entitled to call themselves Christians as those who are praying fervently to have the world come to its unnatural end. Bill Moyers recently went on record saying that he finds it too much to stomach that a group of people who are set on seeing the end of history are the ones who are in power now, in the world's most powerful nation. He says people who have no plans for a human future have no business running this country. Amen to that. He reminded us that while the ideas bandied about in the evangelical circle is nothing new, he does worry that what used to be some nuts on the fringe of society now are the ones running the nation, making policy, and that is the new development. Scary. And those people just don't share my vision. They probably don't share yours either. They hijacked the Christian church. As a lifelong UCC member, I would like to be a part of hijacking it back because I can say that from my careful listening to a few years of sermons, it just doesn't seem that these jokers could be right. They can just do a better job of persuading people because they have greater numbers and are well organized. But they are full of fault and are generally off the mark, when measured against what Christ really was about.


The Fog Of War

I just watched this movie tonight after putting it off for several months. I didn't know much about Robert McNamara before this, so I don't have much perspective, but nor do I have prejudices. I was impressed with the man for a few reasons. First, he has done and awful lot of stuff in his lifetime! But I think the real gem of the movie was his candor. He had all the curmudgeonly brevity you might expect of a guy who was tired of explaining himself. But that was only part of it.

There is something very disarming about seeing a man cry, and even more so a man who has left a mark on so many millions of people. It makes me wonder, will there ever be a time when we see a repentant Dick Cheney or Don Rumsfeld? Do these men have a heart in there? Will hindsight take them to a deeper understanding of the mistakes and unfortunate decisions they have made? As for our own period, it's not like Bush is any LBJ—Johnson could at least look back on an errant war but claim to have left the nation in a better state than when he and Kennedy found it. Johnson can at least claim his social programs as taking America in a better direction. The war was terrible, it was unforuntate, it was mistaken, but at least something was done that served as a counterbalance. Our president now was not elected to that position either, nor was he put there by some universal fate; from day one, Bush couldn't hold a candle to Johnson, even as both men were commanders-in-chief presiding over terrible and misguided wars. And since then, Bush has proceeded to make nearly everything worse, or has at least provided the setting for things to get worse, both abroad and at home. I'm not sure that Bush will ever be in a movie that allows him to tell his side of the story that might shed some light on his actions 35 years before.

Maybe if there was such a film, Bush would tell about how he never really finished being an alcoholic and instead turned to God as his drug of choice, abusing God as much as alcohol and cocaine, and like a drunk driver, has no scruples (but for lip service) about doing so, and even thinks there is no problem at all. Or maybe one day, Bush will have one of his daughters get knocked up under less than favorable conditions (forcing George and Laura into a political pickle), but she of course will be allowed and even encouraged to get an abortion so that whatever there is to hide can be hidden. I don't know, maybe a casual Bush/Bin Laden house party would lead to some reckless behavior on the part of a Bush daughter and a Bin Laden son... yeah, that would take some splainin' to the American people, how a Bush girl is hatching bin Laden babies! Better nip that one quick! Either that or forge the birth certificate and make it look like John McCain or some other political rival has an illegitimate offspring.

Oh, my mind is wandering. But really, is that such a stretch? The man and his cronies and cabinet have hijacked elections, national tragedy, and even the faith of the public. They have taken us into an ethically bankrupt war, even more indefensible than Vietnam. They have made conspiratorial buddies with the media who should be working for you and I, and has taken to outright lies that can be dispelled quite readily (enough times by consulting that same media!). Hey, don't underestimate his ability to sneak one past you. I don't think he's too authentic in his representation of self and purpose.

But back to my film review. It takes a man with a conscience to well up with emotion like McNamara did. You have to be human to do that. There actually has to be warm blood running through your veins. I don't see that more vulnerable side most of the time in our leaders. I wasn't a religious devotee of Clinton, but I detected some emotional underpinning to him, that he understood the severity and complexity of his job, and that he felt he had to answer to the people who gave it to him. But these days, when confronted with a direct question and an opportunity to be forthcoming with the public, Bush cackles and laughs it off, or speaks condescendingly like we are all idiots. Sorry, George. Not all of us are idiots. No, some of us have brains and hearts and we will plan to use them in a week and a half.

I suppose in big politics you need to at least project an image of tough, but after a while it carries no appeal when you are proven wrong. There is no heroism in being wrong and proud. Bush loves to be hardheaded in his appeal to other people who have eradicated from their minds any understanding of subtlety and nuance and frankly the overwhelming complexity of geopolitics and war. McNamara was adamant that these things are just more than overwhelming for anyone to understand. And, in knowing and admitting that, you can arrive at a reasonable justification that Bush is going about things all wrong. No, there is not one answer to our dilemma now. There are better ones, more impressive ones, and easier ones. But being a bullheaded man in the face of complexity is not what makes a good politician, especially in America. No, what makes a good politician, especially of the American sort, is the ability to come to a consensus, and you can't do that if you decide there is one answer and address only how or what needs to be done to get there. Consensus building is the heart of all democracy. "With us or against us" is not the key to consensus building, but that is the Bush/Cheney mantra repeated ad nauseum. In less Orwellian speak, let's just say their mantra is "doggedly determined to be rigid, no matter what the cost." That isn't wise or patriotic. It's idiotic, and it's not a "quality" I want in my president.

...But Bush isn't our president anyway, so what am I saying?