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Entries in rites of passage (22)

Wednesday
Jun222011

The +20 Blues

All you loyal readers out there have seen the +20 posts around here that take a stroll down memory lane and look at my coming of age. I've felt that 1989 was when things started to matter in a way worth taking note of, so I have been doing a couple years of this now. But of course, we are at the 20th anniversary of graduating from high school, so that kind of makes 2011 notable.

In a few hours I plan to send off a check to the organizer of the reunion event. It is not an expensive affair. It's just being held at a sports bar (um, maybe I should stay home?) but all told, it's $50 for Kelli and me and that is pretty cheap kicks. I hear tell of a picnic on the following day.

One thing that I think people always ask themselves is if this reunion routine is worth anything. I went to my ten year, never expecting much, and not getting much in return. Some people hated high school. I got along better as it went grade to grade. I ended feeling quite okay about it. So I had few qualms about going to the reunion in 2001. I actually had a few nice things to say to some people who did encourage me to play music, even if it was typically yearbook fodder. I was uncynically willing to take that encouragement at face value.

Again, I have had scarcely any contact with anyone in the intervening ten years. Just a periodic chat relationship with the organizer, who was someone I ran into at Costco about a year before the last reunion. Aside from that, no sustained relationships except with Steve Rau, my German friend, and even he and I go long periods between calls. This time around though, there is Facebook and Skype and all that. I just spent nearly four hours on Skype a week ago, talking to the organizer, Candie, and Bryan, a fellow I had some friendly ties with back then. That was a whole new kind of time, talking to them! Shi-yat... when we were in school together, I recall my first encounter with a "chat room" in the library. One person at one computer could talk to another person at the neighboring computer by sending messages back and forth! I had little use for it then. I hated computers.

So how to make sense of it all? Talking by Skype to people I barely know, but having this uncanny ability to draw from some of the same experiences? A couple of us scanning our yearbooks, holding them up to the camera, and cutting up like old pals. So odd. Got some new Facebook friends too. (Also interesting is that by total surprise, I found a first grade picture of Shelby Duncan. It was something I had seen but not in ages, and I can't recall if it was through someone at Madison or from Shelby herself. Was an odd mixing of types.)

Now that I have done extensive work bringing my monster-journal Life At The Top into the digital realm, I recall that all the stories of any real substance and transformation pretty much have little to do with my fellow Warhawks (I called the mascot "Warthogs" then). Stories about church, wanting to be a teacher, Shelby, the most important parts of befriending Steve, and a few others are largely talking about stuff that happened outside the schoolyard walls. Some things are retold in LAAT that are school-related, but they tend to be less important in a larger sense. I noticed there was a lot of talk about when I felt recognized or when I somehow had my ego stroked. It is a fair thing to have one's ego develop as a young person, so I suppose that was what it was. I'd like if it didn't sound so self serving. Such was my aptitude for writing and reflecting. It was a personal journal, after all.

We'll see if things like the social media and Skype do anything to sustain things. Already, after a giddy day of being plunged into that stuff and looking sites over, I am of mixed mind about this. No doubt everyone has had their rocky 20 years, like me. What I do wonder is if, with all the distractions of life today, can people work their way backwards and slow down a bit to connect beyond the superficial stuff? Reading my LATT journal indicates that I was not into superficial relationships then. And I tended to think of a lot of school relationships as wanting for substance. I didn't feel too connected to people then. That is why Steve and Shelby were so huge then, and why I spilled so much ink to talk about it. I'd like to connect to people more now, especially after life kinds of dulls the edges between people, and eventually it would be nice to see more commonality than difference. No doubt the popular kids have taken their lumps too, and maybe there is something to talk about that runs below the surface. Here's hoping.

Sunday
Jun122011

Life At The Top + 20

scan of the original manuscript of Life at the Top.The original draft of Life At The TopIn a gesture perhaps only of significance to me, I have now posted to this site my original journal entry that set the pace for about ten years of handwritten entries, and now about ten years of electronic entries. The documentation is elsewhere on the site, and also on this post which features the entire text of the thing with just enough fixes for clarity. It also features several pictures and documents to help spice it up so you can see some of the characters involved. It is a long, 6,000 word entry that takes on a range of experiences during my high school time, with a particular emphasis on my senior year, which was perhaps as good as it got for me in my academic career.

At the time of its original writing, I was barely aware of my future. I had only a big plan to go to Europe a few weeks later with my old man. I was planning to go to Mesa College in the fall, which doesn't exactly show a total plan for a glorious future! It was sort of standard issue stuff. I never applied to any colleges as a senior. I had no big ambitions. I wanted to play my drums, listen to my music (it was on that same day after graduation when I bought my first Yes cassette, 90125). I was head over heels for Shelby, who is well discussed in the entry. (Told from the perspective my naive, wishful point of view that interestingly was already tempered with the kind of insight I needed to know all about how things would play out, and did!) I had no more than a few weeks' future, really.

On reading the giant entry now, several times over in the course of transcribing and editing, what strikes me is how many of my present concerns are somehow present in this document from 1991 that narrates experiences and impressions and hopes from the years leading up to it. As I seek the clues that lead me to understand really what my life's purpose is, evidence like this is revealing and compelling. Either it is stated that I am interested in X, Y, or Z, or sometimes the negative is true: the signs are that all along, I should not be engaged in X, Y, or Z.

One thing that stands out is how in the few months I worked at my first job, I worked on Sundays for a while. People don't think a lot about that anymore but at the time, I was cautioned from my conservative family folk that I shouldn't work on Sunday. You might say teenage rebellion would drive me to reject that. But what happened was that the hobby store (that I used to hang out at endlessly the year before) called me and asked me to work for a bit. They knew I loved the place (true a year before before I abandoned the hobby and got into drums) and would do it. Almost immediately I began to feel at a distance from my church community where I had been a part for nearly a solid year before. I had established the community relationships there, and traded it in for a minimum wage job that I worked at for just a few months, not even always on Sundays. Life At The Top, the journal, tells about that season of mid-1990 being one of depression, alienation, even suicidal ideation. After that, I had a hard time reestablishing a connection to the church, and began a long history of searching for ways to fill a void using work, consumption, and other means. Only later on in 2005 when I met Lee Van Ham did I start to understand the Sabbath idea of rest and renewal in a community setting. I've now been willing to stand up for keeping Sundays for that purpose, even at the cost of losing my jobs. I am not certain, but I think that was a contributing factor in losing my last job. I know such boundaries were clear causes for another dismissal.

Reading Life At The Top now just makes me want to cuddle my 17-year old self, and soothingly say, "forget Shelby." It is true. I knew the patterns by the time I graduated. She never wanted to be with me. But such was the power of desire. I basically went blind for another ten years, even as I knew what I needed to know by two and a half years into it all. But the initial revelation of the power of having a friend was real. I did feel heard. I did feel like someone cared enough. That is the legacy of Shelby, to help make the world safe enough to recognize that those things could happen in my life. But as I tried to hold that flame too close, I got burned, and kept trying over the years, till finally I was willing to grab it for all it was worth, get baptized by the fire, and released into a new form, no longer slave to the delusion that stayed with me for exactly twelve years and a week. But in 1991, I was building up in a huge way to win her over with ...something? There were enough optimism-producing moments to keep me strung along, but that was me interpreting things, not what she was sending.

In all fairness to her, I should point out that she was an early voice for the more liberal strands of thought I have aligned myself with. Politically, socially, environmentally, she was planting seeds of consciousness in my mind well before I knew what it meant. I sort of wish I had a chance to thank her for that, even as it was just distracting talk that always seemed to criticize my lifestyle (of blindness) back when it was happening. Her international and interstate travels and studies always made her interesting. I never felt interesting, I guess. She had conviction that I could not fathom. She also had an athiestic streak that always made me confused, especially in how we met at a church! But I guess that was just another way to learn things as an anthropologist would, hanging out with the savages, as it were. I do know she was always too much for me. I don't have a problem imagining how a girl of her intellect and enthusiasm for life would not be interested in an uptight guy like me who was only then starting to encounter a world outside of a conservative family life shaped by the military and Norman Rockwell. I only wish I had been able to not delude myself so much, and perhaps to let it go and find other girls to date who were emotionally available.

Speaking of that, I noticed there is no mention of Kelli in Life At The Top. None in particular, but when I am talking about youth group, Adventure Class, Shalom Group, and some other church references happening after mid 1990, I am speaking too of my future bride. One great divine joke on me was that I tolerated the Shelby indignities for so long, feeling that a long history of friendship would pave the way for more. What I did not see coming up in the rear view mirror was that exactly that was happening with Kelli over a decade and more before we started "dating" in 2001-2! In fact, that is where the decade + of history went to add up to something, not with Shelby! She and I had a slow building relationship that involved our intimate moments along the way, that so far has turned into the much wanted, much needed relationship of stability that I had been pining for. I just didn't see it that way. It was a matter of not trying so desperately to manage the thing; Kelli and I were pretty casual friends but we shared deeply when we did meet up. Funny too that she was of a liberal mind, well experienced in life, and had a deep social, environmental, and political consciousness too. (Clearly she is not living as an athiest either.) But in 1991, who knew where the 14-year old Kelli and I were going?

Stephan and I are in occasional contact. Over the years, we have been in touch by letters or by phone, but I rather like the Skype option. He's in Germany mainly, working for a major tire company. After getting a degree in engineering and working for a manufacturer of convertible car tops, he now works as a traveling rep on an international scale, primarily in the Eurozone. It has been 19 years since I saw him on my second trip to Europe in 1992. I still feel there is a quality of friendship with him that is hard to attain with my stateside connections. In 1991, he was the first male with whom I had the kind of exchange that put Shelby on the map. But of course, since amorous love doesn't play a clouding role, we've had that kind of depth in conversation often enough, and while living for a lot of years thinking he had a better life than me (on account of being a university graduate with a "good job"), our more recent communications have leveled us back to two men who have had girl problems, job issues, regrets, and the like—bringing us full circle back to the original spark that brought us together as close friends in early 1991.

(My new look at Life At The Top revealed I downplayed Steve while masking some of the statements about Shelby that reflected my mixed mind about her. This year's transcription tried to reconcile that and other similar issues of self-censorship, aiming to recapture the spirit of the manuscript with a few fixes for clarity and style. But the heart is back!)

Jerry Lawritson, my pastor in LATT, is no longer my pastor. But I still regard him highly as a teacher, and perhaps the best one of them all, given the nature of his message and the period of time he has been around to offer it. In fact, for my Young Adults event last night, I was willing to go to bat for the Book of Revelation based on the materials he has provided over the years, but was nice enough to share with me this month, even four years after I left his church, and joined another. At least prior to that departure in 2007, he continued to be quite an advocate for me in my deepest life struggles. He was who I called when I knew it was madness to have a bottle of sleeping pills lined up like chorus girls on my desk. He helped make possible two years of therapy (don't tell anyone) following that. But for reasons not known to me, the setting of that church was not the right place for me to grow up and put to use the lessons I learned from him. The type of family situations I was in up to about 2007 was something that I knew he was unable to fully address. Eventually I felt that I had to move on. For a lot of years, he was father to me when it came to teaching lessons of wisdom and for hanging on to life. So it was heartbreaking when I had to admit that that era was over in 2007, a little shy of 20 years since that first epic conversation at the beach picnic in LATT. With one exception in 2008, we have not talked about things at that level since I left. And that one time in 2008 was an epic occassion that was unlike any other I've had with him. I sort of feel there was more authenticity in that exchange between two men who had to part ways than in the years of our pastor/young congregant relationship.

Judy Slaughter was in town for a couple years after LATT was written, but for some years was 30 miles away in Escondido as senior pastor of another church. That period was during my decade-long spell of not attending church, so I lost touch for a while. She's in Hawaii now. Was pastor there at a couple churches, but is now quite troubled by health issues and most of the time, I talk to her husband Jay, who speaks on her behalf. The times I've talked to her, or emailed her, have been nice in how she is always validating to me. She and Jerry were huge figures in keeping me on track during high school. The Shalom community, a side group of youth in the church around the early 90s, was a place where Kelli and I got to know each other, and it was all Jerry and Judy's initiative, with them taking me out to lunch sometimes to get my input on what might be needed in such a group.

Harry Steinmetz was big in 12th grade but also on a couple other occassions: I had a public speaking class with him in 9th grade, and again, years later at Mesa College in 2003, I took another public speaking class with him at Mesa College just as I was in my suicidal crisis and subsequent return to life. Some of the things I spoke of in class were linked to that experience, and the experience of being reborn during that same semester. He egged me on, knowing that I wasn't just uttering the words off the page. A later experience, during 2005, I was flyering the school for my Peak Oil forum, and I came by his classroom, not even as a student. He called me up to the front to do an improptu speech and Q&A on peak oil and to make my pitch for coming to the event! He has always been a learned man who love to teach, and to help animate people with a spirit and vitality for their work. It isn't enough just to learn the topics. I occasionally run into in town and give him the latest news. He also is responsible for my preference for public radio listening. No one but him.

My step mom Eda is still around though we are in a period of estrangement. She just turned 89 last month. I feel mixed about keeping silent with her, but for a year or so in 2008, but I have been put off by her increasing intolerance and condescension about being married to a liberal woman who doesn't just stay home and serve me, or (and this is probably the kicker) that Kelli was on the path to be ordained as a full-fledged minister. Every meeting is likely to touch on some aspect of those related topics. For a woman who talks as much God as she does, you'd think that she'd see that God can call anyone to ministry. Or that the duties of married and work life can be balanced out so both parties are reasonably content. I know there is a paradigm gap between us; clearly she is of another age. But she is quite sharp of mind. She still is "there." Still, I do tend to identify her more strongly as my mom than I do with my own mother. There is both quantitative and qualitative support for this. In fact, in my senior yearbook memories (a block of text where we could put anything, often looking like txtmsgspeek) I did proclaim that "EDAISMYMUM."

Looking now at LATT, I was struck by my struggle to simultaneously branch out and sink roots. I did feel that I was coming to life and that must be what trees do: bigger top branches require deeper and wider roots. I was never on the cutting edge of anything, nor even a few steps back. Things like opening my mouth to risk an answer in class, or wearing one pink shirt, or playing drums in public for the first time were huge to me. I was grappling with being simultaneously drawn in by and repulsed by institutions. I wasn't a rebel or slacker at school, but I was also inclined to do "just well enough." I was immersed in my church because of the community there, then I got a job and all that inverted itself and I was later writing how I couldn't stand my experiences at church. My journalism class progress report essentially shows ambivalence about the kinds of authoritative bodies I was surrounded by. I was grappling with being taken into a system. Not so very different than what I grapple with now.

I detect a bit of a wannabe/patronizing tone in my narrative about tutoring math to three people who really were classmates of mine, not particularly friends of any deep nature. Tina Moraga did in fact go way back to the early days of elementary school, but I think by the time LATT was written, I had just gotten to know her a bit more. I don't recall knowing her well prior to that. So the tone was a bit inauthentic to my senses now. Interestingly, in 2003-05, I was delivering to an older man who lived across the street from her grandmother's and I got some occasional updates about Tina. I do recall having a talk with her a year or so after high school and she did tell me about some screwed up and manipulative marriage that was doomed. It did hurt to hear about all that. But I think the tone in LATT is a bit too eager to help. Too much inspirational speaker about it. But whatever works. We graduated. With the exception of occasions like a reunion next month, there is pretty much nothing of contact between me and my classmates.

Interesting that my senior year interests included being a teacher/mentor, and that I mentioned that history was important. The matter of interpersonal relations runs through the entire LATT journal too. And the fact that I was on the school paper, making my initial attempts at journalism was a kicker too. Isn't all that the basis for what I am doing now? It kind of warms my heart that somehow, I am still doing what I wanted. In fact, yesterday's Young Adults event was something that tied all that together in some way. I am older than most of the group so there is always a bit of a mentor/mentee kind of relationship hovering but not clearly defined; the matter of presenting the Book of Revelation as a document requiring historical understanding, and then following it with a movie (What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire) that is basically a 10,000 year history lesson of human endeavors sort of shows that history figures into my concerns now; the discussion turned to how people act in society, for good or for ill, true to themselves or not (and even facilitating the discussion to that point is an act of mentoring); and then of course, the kinds of material I write and present at my "classes" do have a teacher's or a journalist's heart about them. And to tie it all together, there is a Christian-rooted message behind it. I suppose by this analysis you could say that I either haven't developed, or I am doing what I have always thought I should be doing!

The question does arise. Why does any of this matter? It's the past! It is, and it is not. Even the original entry admits that looking at things like this is my way. As you'll see on TAPKAE.com since about 2009, there are a sprinking of posts that are of a "+20" nature. It is like Socrates said, "the unexamined life is not worth living." All I really have is my life and experiences and they are as important to me as anyone elses who has scaled the ladder of power, or who has a doctorate or who has won the olympics. And, in a way that is perhaps more recognizeably true in the twenty years since, it is a scattered bunch of things if I were to list them on paper. My resume reminds me of this, but what holds it together? It seems that no one but me puts in the time to figure out what the longer threads are and where they lead. I do get clues from people on the outside of my mind; people do recognize things, but it is not their job. The 17 year old me who wrote LATT was discovering how scattered pieces were, and looking for a pattern, maybe or maybe not knowing where to go (I think not so, at least consciously). Now, at 37, with 20 years fewer to live my life, the clues are rather interesting to trace. I did myself some good service by charting all that I have over twenty years. I still wish for more depth. Not always was I able to go past reciting the events and their times and places. But who was I inside? Learning anything about emotional vocabulary came much later. Spiritual vocabulary later still.

Leaving these kinds of journalistic breadcrumbs help me find my way home to who I am. I feel like I'd be lost without them.

Saturday
Jun112011

Feeling the Revelation

It started as a joke in December of 2010 after seeing the first billboard proclaiming Judgment Day was to happen on May 21. I posted a joke event entry on Facebook for my young adults group at church. I called it The End Of The World. There was a cute illustration of the Earth being destroyed by a meteor. Big explosion. Funny, eh? It was heir to my other such mocking references in song, journal, and joke at the expense of the fundamentalists and doom sayers who have led people to hysteria and maybe suicide by their various doomsday predictions. We in the UCC tend to elevate our noses above that stuff. The Facebook event also included a possibly moving date just in case we got the date wrong and recalculations were needed. I had no intent to really move it. I was making a larger joke at my own expense: my graduation from high school was on June 11, and this was to fall on the 20th anniversary of that date which to me seemed like the end times of history for me.

What began as a joke made all those months in advance slowly morphed into plans for a real get-together with the group. We still had a joking tone about it. We were going to have a "post-apocalyptic regressive dinner" featuring nuclear-safe food like Spam and Twinkies. Others had other food ideas: your "last supper" meal that you would want most to eat before your death, and also the option of bringing freegan food—found food—in keeping with an expectation of shortages and deprivation. I was onboard still.

But as the whole matter of Harold Camping blossomed into major news and hysteria and so many were caught up in mocking it all, one of our number (quite well educated in seminary and years of Baptist life growing up) cautioned a couple of us to ease up on the mocking since there are people who are well meaning and faithful but grossly manipulated by religious charlatans like Camping. At the same time, the June newsletter from my former church started with a great article on Revelation and how to disentangle the popular readings of it (that are the basis for Camping's utterances) from ones that stand up to more historical scrutiny and that aren't just manipulations of the faithful. I wrote to Jerry the pastor and he let me use that article and sent along some notes for a forum he was giving. All of a sudden, in about a week and a half I found the opportunity to take our End of the World party more seriously.

I have to admit, I sort of hijacked this event, but since we tend to be unprogrammed anyway, mostly people are flexible. But what was rumbling in me was that the UCC, a mostly liberal/progressive denomination, has little to say on Revelation. Most mainline denominations sort of shrug it off more than engage it. The dismissing attitude I sense falls in two related forms: If the scholars haven't figured it out, we won't go there yet. There must be great stuff in there. We just don't know how to interpret it. Or maybe people just dismiss it and say it should be left out of the canon because it is too weird. I haven't detected a UCC movement to claim it back and to find a meaningful alternative to the nutty and even dangerous interpretations coming from the more conservative wing of Christianity. But such a silence leaves the fundamentalist interpretations and their fictionalizations in stuff like the Left Behind series as the go-to viewpoints, in part because they are sensationalist, but probably because they appear to be the only voice out there. It is a forfeiture of biblical interpretation that gives the people with the completely wacky ideas the microphone and the knowledge that no one will oppose them! I don't particularly like that.

Lee Van Ham was the first one who helped me have a breakthrough in understanding Revelation as a document setting one earthly paradigm against a cosmological paradigm. (I also had to learn the P word upon meeting him.) He gave me a clue that the book of Revelation was one of hope and perseverance. So since about 2006 or so I have been looking for support along those lines. That is Jerry's general take on it, so I had two trusted voices speaking from close to the same viewpoint. Richard Rohr put a more mystical spin on it (perhaps more in tune with the larger message of the book), but that too took away any reservations that this book is meant to give people the willies and to induce nightmares in people of good faith.

Another kind of insight that arose out of Lee's interpretation was that Revelation is not written for rich nations to interpret. It is for the troubled people who are plagued by the power that the rich have over them. Jerry insists it is protest literature. So for it to be written and understood, one has to know the kinds of powerlessness and fear that people in oppressed situations know. Apocalyptic literature is good for liberation of the soul because it defiantly announces that monstrous powers of oppression and domination are limited and empty in their claims to divinity. That is the domain of God/Christ alone (depending on if you're reading Jewish or Christian apocalyptic lit.). The problem is that to explain this to people who don't feel oppressed, this interpretation falls flat. It is unflattering to people who have to sit by and hear that their retention of any kind of power and privilege is somehow evil. But I think that is missing the point. The point isn't to slam individuals trying to get by. The point is to critique the systems of the world, the corporate ("body") evils that manifest in the systems of the man-made world. Some we recognize as our contemporaries, and fear that they have too much power already and need to be limited somehow: Empires. Transnational corporations that pollute, enslave, and ride roughshod over local laws and traditions. Trade deals like NAFTA. The Military-Industrial-Corporate-Think Tank complex. Agribusiness, epitomized by Monsanto. Giant banks that foreclose on the laboring folk and credit card companies that charge exorbitant fees. That is the kind of evil that undoes community welfare, and these days, even has the power to ruin the biosphere too. Revelation is written to encourage people who are feeling under the weight of all that. People who fear nothing can save them from that but God.

One movie called What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire does a profoundly moving job of showing how empire has been the logical (and illogical) end of the line of civilization. For all it can do for us, it is also the basis of our destruction at the hands of working and consuming ourselves to death. And not just ourselves, but all of the life-giving biosphere too. The movie takes on peak oil, population overshoot and dieoff, extinction, and all the dismal stuff that no one wants to look at. It can sometimes be so brutal that it makes you feel. My intent to show the movie was to accomplish just that. It isn't that my group is not smart, or even aware, or even passionate about a range of social/environmental/political concerns. They are quite fine, and probably ahead of me in those regards. But one thing you can't particularly teach is how to feel like someone.  People are quite familiar with the topics. But this film is so powerful in the way it brings so many forms of dread together, that you can't help but get rattled inside. That is what Revelation is supposed to do to a person: Rattle them. Shock them. Rattle YOU. Shock YOU —into a new and larger consciousness, often brought on by an overwhelming feeling. Intellect alone won't get us there. We have more intellectuals on this planet than ever, and more problems than ever. Call it over-civilization. What needs to happen is that people feel the pathos behind this global issue. Intellect is secondary. Everyone welcome!

Watching this movie, it would be my hope that people would see that we people of faith (and equally so, those who don't think themselves religious) ARE at the mercy of the system-gone-crazy, and that only falling into trust in a larger reality, maybe God, maybe the regenerative power of nature—or call it what you will—can help get us past all that and start on the arduous task of righting the wrongs of an overcivilized human race that thought it was God. Maybe that would be accomplished by taking our hands off the wheel and letting God get back into the driver's seat. The exodus from Egypt is upon us all over again. Can we trust the wilderness we're entering on a global level?

So, back to the evening's program.

In the week before the Saturday date, this all was working on me. Stirring. Despite having not used the name since 2006, I realized this was another EONSNOW teaching engagement, so I sort of made some rumblings about a larger idea with one or two of the group, but not too completely because it was still taking shape in me right up till I went to bed at 4:30 the night before! What I came up with was a "teaching liturgy" that set us into a sacred, ritual space where the idea was to engage both the power of the darkness, and the power of the light. Since we as Christians are the people of the resurrection, and not of the tomb, we claim  hope in things we can't see, worthy results even from ill-made decisions, all by the grace of God. One thing I learned from the Rites of Passage last year, and with some additional reading and understanding of rituals, is that a ritual charts the flow of life's experiences in a microcosmic, representative way. To take people to a dark place is one thing, but to ritually move them back to a place of illumination is another. A ritual like this is a microcosm of life that embodies the dark and the light, the flow of all things. They should not be broken apart. Facing such a devastating vision of things using the King Crimson song and the movie is the downward and inward path to confront deep feelings, but reemerging to partake in the shared meal of the communion, and the more optimistic U2 song is the integrative aspect that connects both polarities of life into one.

The "teaching liturgy" was as follows:

Welcome and introductions
A bit about why this came together this way in light of recent charlatan predictions. What is the end of the world to you? What is civilization? What are your understandings of Revelation? Will lead to...

Discussion of The Apocalypse/Revelation of John
Notes courtesy Rev. Jerry. Historical setting, background on apocalyptic-crisis literature. The intent to overwhelm and shock people into some kind of response, ideally a faithful recommitment to God in protest against empire-consciousness, then manifested by Domitian, who some thought was Nero (aka 666), reborn. Early Americans (under the crown) referred to the Stamp Act as “the mark of the beast,” —when they were subject to the Crown’s harsh economic policies from afar.

Song: Epitaph by King Crimson (1969)
A song about the disillusion with the mind of empire and its handmaiden, state-tamed religion, written by white men from within that world at the peak of the 60’s counterculture in Britain. Henri Nouwen discussed parts of this song as part of his book, The Wounded Healer.

Watch the movie What A Way To Go: Life At The End Of Empire
A movie by another disillusioned white man of a privileged culture, asking the question of what follows empire? Hopefully it will have the power to disturb as Revelation would, to provoke a new consciousness or to tie together fragmented consciousness.

Discussion of the movie and Revelation
in light of a new understanding of how empire consciousness does indeed pose a threat to all of us at this profound, global level. Hopeful aspects of encountering this?

Sacrament of Communion
with common elements made sacred by a blessing by the newly ordained Rev. Kelli Parrish Lucas. Here we integrate our brush with new consciousness into a larger God consciousness instead of disowning it. Practicing God’s economy of grace and enough for all, in protest against the empire consciousness of scarcity and competition. How does being wounded by this knowledge of the fragility of all we know, this gnosis, pave the way for us to become the wounded healers in the way Henri Nouwen envisioned?

Song: Peace on Earth by U2 (2001)
A protest song by citizens of a nation often under the boot of an empire state (Ireland under England), but by artists who faithfully claim allegiance to Christ above earthly powers that would divide them from God’s other children. A protest song against empire consciousness and the violence and division it brings.

Benediction

I admit, it was hastily thrown together, and I wish that there was more time to actually teach a few basics on Revelation and apocalyptic literature (but Jerry's notes do quite well with supporting that), and I wish that the connection to Nouwen's book was better made, i.e., how facing our deepest pains is the best motivation for meeting the world's greatest needs. In this case the movie would help us to feel the vast woundedness associated with being alive today. Communion aims to put us back into a whole, ready to do our parts as integrated people ready to address the world's hurts.

During our post-movie discussion period, there turned out to be some conversation that took a decidedly personal turn, toward some vulnerable topics including bouts with homelessness, coming out of the closet, wrestling with false self and the kinds of reprioritizing that go with losing jobs and prestige. We didn't talk that much about either the book or the movie at hand, but it was clear there was a new freedom to open up at a level that can pave the way for bigger leaps of faith and trust such as will be called upon in this perilous life ahead of us.

I'd like to do it again. The thing can get long, but I think that is part of what needs to happen. It is not just a movie and discussion. Not just a church service. Not just an activist's meeting. Surely it is worth the four hours or so that it takes. The short term goal is to soften people's objection to Revelation, or their indifference to it. But the longer term goal is to open up their consciousness, to make them feel the pain of the world, not to dull it. It has to be a better use of a few hours than just cutting down someone else's faith, even if we are undermining it with a more useful interpretation.

Sunday
May012011

Six Years in the Making

You can call her "Rev." now.

Radiant Kelli holding her new ordination certificate at homeReverend Kelli Parrish Lucas, if you please...

the chalice and plate, closeup.The chalice and plate I got Kelli while on my trip to New Mexico. Made from solid stone.

We just got back from the festivities following Kelli's ordination today—long awaited, and taking just a bit over six years since she was accepted to seminary in April 2005. You can imagine this is a huge victory to claim. After our dinner, she was wiped out, so here I am, ever the journalist for the family...

Held at the church where we both were born into and where we have been baptized and married in, this is a particularly notable day in the history of CCCPB, as Kelli is the only of that congregation to have started so young and followed the long and winding path of faith and formation, all the way to this point.

In attendance were members of CCCPB, Mission Hills UCC (where she interned), other churches in the local UCC Association, friends from United Methodist, Disciples of Christ, Unitarian Universalist, and Presbyterian worlds. Friends from the world of chaplaincy, poetry, and plain ol' good friends were there to support her too. (A few of the ladies might not know it but they might be contributors to this very site, once the dust settles here!)

For the week, Kelli's mom Kay Taylor was in town, and brought her autoharp with her. She sang a heart melting rendition of God's Eye is on the Sparrow for the offertory in the ordination service. We just happened to have a mic on her too!

Concurrent with all this, we are starting the WomenWhoSpeakInChurch page on Facebook too. Over 100 images from the day's preparation, service, and celebration are now in an album on my Facebook page, or you can see the more focused collection within TAPKAE.com.

To save you a trip to YouTube, check these out: the "Sparrow" slideshow with mama Kay and the lighting of the Triune Candles with good friends Reverend Karen, Tara, and Delores.

Tuesday
Mar152011

Ordination!

After nearly six years of application and enrollment, classes, internship, residency, and general waiting and hoping, the universe finally lined up behind Kelli and she now has a date for her ordination to finally become Reverend Kelli Parrish Lucas. This is huge.

She just got the confirmation this morning. In fact it was rather good news to awaken to. We knew that the ordination was given the green light last Thursday, but today got us a date to look forward to. So put it on your calendars: May 1st at 3 pm at the Community Congregational Church of Pacific Beach. That is the church where we both were born into, raised in to greater or lesser effect, had our teen years and later on were married in.

I'm quite proud of her. Proud enough that of late, I've been working on her website, Women Who Speak In Church, a collaboration effort that will eventually involve her and friends of hers—all women clergy members. It will be a place for them and the community they know, but also to help raise awareness of their angle on the profession, and to give them all a place to soapbox on their particular topics of interest.

Also, if anyone wants to be a total hero, we could use the funds to get her a new laptop computer, priced at $1200. The ancient thing she's using now is my first G4 from 2001. Ten years old is beyond "dinosaur." Being on a minimal schedule and my being out of work, we are a bit hamstrung in our ability to get beyond that. She needs new tools to carry on in her field, with the various conferences she organizes, committees and conference calls, and contributing content to her site. There are too many things that this ancient boat anchor G4 CAN'T do that limit the flexibility her ministry demands. Any help is appreciated.

Congrats to my lovely Kelligirl. It takes a lot of perseverance.

Saturday
Feb192011

The Ghost In The Machine

Having read all my years of blog posts in the last year I've noticed a bunch of digital bread crumbs I left myself along the way. They are the crumbs that help me find who I am across the longer period of time that the blog covers. Seeing all that in the short period of a few weeks has an effect on me. It reminded me why I got into this often bewildering and sometimes angering encounter with computers and their indifference to my life. But the underlying compulsion is to tell my story. When paper and notebooks were the media on hand, I used that to write in and to illustrate my life and interests in pictures. Recording too was always a matter of using whatever was on hand and trying to make something with it. About a decade ago the computer became appealing in the way it tied all that together. By then the programs were evolved enough that I was not required to be a programmer to achieve anything. (A reference to the dark ages in 1983-85 when I had my first encounters with desktop computers).

Technology is not really my strong suit. Trying to see life as meaningful is. Technology offers a chance to document it and share it. The evidence is already in my collected project of journaling that I would resort to hand typing stuff and cutting out magazine or product brochure images. My earliest produced recordings amounted to just that and those eventually matured into doing a production ready CD with real output (bad art printed well, I admit) and a glass master CD. My photo albums from about high school onward were affairs of taping pictures to paper and typing captions alongside. These days I see that in the galleries on this site. The endless journals in school notebooks, a project beginning on the day after I graduated from high school, is clearly the ancestor to the endless blog articles here now. You could say that this journal is really a 20 year project, and more if you dig farther back into the prehistory.

On a whim a couple years ago I subtitled the site "Like, the greatest story ever told, man..." I mean for it to be said in that drugged out Grateful Dead kind of way. I didn't know it at the time but the movie by that name was one about Jesus. Pardon any pretense on my part, I was ignorant of that. But I don't really shirk from the part. Not about being anyone's savior, but about the fact that Jesus is really the model human life of enduring rejection and suffering even to the point of death and coming out of the whole thing a new being. The greatest story ever told isn't just one of Jesus, the man who walked the earth all those years ago and who died and somehow carried on as some type of burning memory-consciousness in the hearts of some oddball followers. That is great, but the real greatness of the story is the spiritual victory it contains: that all the suffering and trials are formation measures to become something far greater.

Well, if that isn't a great story, what is? I happen to have lived my version of that and identify with it just fine. That kind of spiritual death and rebirth with a hunger to reach beyond oneself is the greatest story ever told. Dying to self to live for others is what makes it great.

TAPKAE.com now is more of a place to hold the tension between what was and what now is. I've decided to transparently embrace the confusing mix of who this Ed is. Oh sure, that can be dangerous stuff sometimes. Some of it will turn up in Google searches and might be grounds for disqualification or dismissal from jobs. The fact is, I am pretty exhausted from living in a house divided. Disowning parts of myself is bad spirituality and bad psychology. These days, the freedom to tell the story comes from within. I am only bound really by my attention to the details involved in sitting and writing or scanning/editing/uploading pictures or audio. I have my bursts of interest in the stuff. I'll probably never get done what I want to have done. C'est la vie. But I want to deconstruct the internal walls of this online box and make the place more spacious and less divided.

 

Thursday
Jan062011

1991

With the coming of 2011, we now reach a year 20 years removed from my high school graduation year, with enough pivotal events and feelings and new experiences that some of it might crop up for contemporary reflection. It was the first year when I journaled my life. I had written smaller, one page deals for a few years prior to that, each chronicling the school year just ended. In keeping with that relatively short tradition, I wrote a journal on the day after I graduated in June, 1991. That was a rather sprawling thing that spanned something like 12-16 sheets of letter stationery. For its time, it was a huge document that might have trumped the length of any school paper I had written to date. Some of it is rather embarrassing now, but there was a good deal of it that is clearly the start of my particular style for writing long blog entries now. Telling the story of my senior year was not just a matter of telling a story of the nine months leading up to that journal; I had to tell some of my history from childhood, and particularly to trace a path from one experience with my pastor in the summer of 1987, just shortly before I entered high school. I suppose I might dig this thing out for a re-read since it did function as a turning point in my life, particularly as a way to self-reflect.

Oh, then I suppose maybe there might be something said about my trip to Europe. I am glad it happened, but it always seemed like a very engineered experience on the part of my old man, but even more so now that I have more clarity about the manipulations he made to help me finance it. It was something he always wanted me to be able to do, based on his experience doing something similar at about the same time in his life. I actually had little interest in making the trip until by total coincidence, during my senior year, I met up with a foreign exchange student, Stephan Rau, who came to my school for that year and became a great friend. We had some in-class chatter and maybe ate lunch together sometimes, but it was in the second semester in the winter-spring of 1991 when we spent time outside of school, seeing laser shows, going to races/smashemup derby, and other outings. The one that put us on the map as solid friends was an all nighter watching Monty Python movies (that were totally lost on me then) and talking till the wee hours about the sorts of inner life that had gone largely undisclosed with anyone by that age, and especially a fellow male. It was unique. Even though I had taken two years of German in school I spoke none around Steve. I could read some and had some affinity for the culture, but I had no interest in a trip to Europe until about April 1991, scant months before I actually went there in June. It was a taste of things that demanded to be sated by a return trip the following year, with a goal to spend a suitable time wrapping things up with Stephan, knowing (rightly) that it would be a long time before we saw each other again. A recent Skype call left me with some hope that he might come to the States for a honeymoon trip this year.

There is the matter of getting my second job at a Subway sandwich shop, but it was the first job I got without being a sycophantic kid at the hobby store for years before being invited to come fill in for a few months. That job at Subway was more than a few bucks for my time; maybe now I can reflect on some of the soft lessons that went along with that.

Related to Subway is my almost schizoid friendship with Matt Zuniga, whom I met there. We started out with his announcing an interest in playing drums just at the same time as I was faced with a moratorium on playing them at home in a space that could not contain the sound adequately. That led me to seeing our little drum-vocal duo as some of my first "band" and first experiences with recording and publishing—something I still understand myself to be doing in the form of podcasts and websites. Matt and I have had intense on periods and more intense off periods. Right now we're in an off period.

1991—and particularly the second half—was also a year of complicated feelings and an inner life that was in turmoil. I spent the first half of the year and then the month surrounding my European trip just about exploding with anticipation for a relationship with my then-friend Shelby. A huge reason for the ongoing journaling was to make sense of the minutiae surrounding every conversation and glance and gift that passed between us. Really, I was pretty much aware of all I needed to know about her by the end of 1991 and all the other nine years I continued on were of no real help to advance my cause. But I spilled a gallon of ink over the years trying to sort it all out and make my case in my head for how she'd be my savior.

I needed one because of the shock of being out of my world of high school. It wasn't that I was so deep within it. Usually I was just skated by or was a total wallflower, except for some transcendent experiences in my senior year. But all of a sudden, that ordered life of classes and familiar faces was a done deal. So I found the summer to be rather depressing and melancholic, particularly after coming back from Europe, and particularly after some souring times with Shelby not long after. I was trying to hang on to my place in church life, but by that time, the new independence from school, and the job demands at Subway (particularly the midnight closing hour that meant I left at 1 am) ate away at the regularity of church attendance, and by early 1992, I was sort of out of that too. What started out as a social and friendly time with Steve and some of the folks at school gave way to a downright depressing time filled with emotional distance from a lot of people, and insecurity about how to engage in my new life of Subway work as a de facto shift leader/trainer and the classes at Mesa College.

Not going out of town or out of state to attend college has always left me feeling that I didn't commit because Mesa College seemed at the time like an extension of high school work, but with fewer classes. So I took eight units, six units, nine units until I just kind of cut out after four semesters. I still don't have a degree, despite all the semesters I have taken there back in 1991-93 and from 2003-2006. I've had to rely on being a part time auto-didact and upon my good looks (!) to get by. With Mesa, it was just classes I was taking, repeating a longstanding pattern in my life of not really pursuing extracurricular life to enhance the stuff the school serves up. Selling myself short, I know.

However, a small bit of celebrity came my way when I played drums in a band for the school talent show in the spring of 1991. We played "Walk This Way" in something more like its RUN-DMC incarnation. That was a blast, and it was good for the ego to have some peers recognize me as someone to play the drums, but also for me to finally get something accomplished in the extracurricular life. It had the unintended consequence of reintroducing me to one Melissa McCain, a girl I used to know as a kid (our fathers were work buddies with a bit of neighborhood history), and who later on became my first girlfriend—a whole year and more after graduation! The breakup following in 1993 led me to some confidential and trust-building conversations with one Kelli Parrish, another girl I knew as a child...

On reflection, 1991 was a year that in some ways still resonates in interesting ways. Some of this will get unpacked over the year. I feel it.

Tuesday
Oct122010

Ed’s Saturn-plus-Sabbath Saguaro and Smores Shindig

This is a bit of text I wrote on the 10/9 to attempt to make my 37th birthday one of significance since it falls between the more notorious 30th and 4oth birthdays. I uttered a shortened version of it at my party on Sunday the 10th. There were several people from a few strands of life:  from my present church, past church, from work, from extended home life and from the "pre-Saturn" period discussed below. Interestingly, a couple people already commented on the mix of folks there that night—from a couple guests and their young young kiddies to some of my folks who are entitled to discounts at restaurants! The whole time was special. I spent the day cooking a few dishes, and everyone brought more. I ended up sending a number of folks out with arms full of food. For my birthday, I was pleased to be so generous.

birthday poster for ed's 37th: a collage of the dead saguaro and other oddness.Happy birthday to me!

The last decade has been one of considerable change for me. In some ways even I don’t recognize the Ed who once walked the earth then. In a lot of ways, that is a good thing!

In late 2000 and about the age of 27, I heard about something called “Saturn Return” for the first time from Bryan Beller, bass player in Mike Keneally’s band (with whom I worked off and on, and that I was a drooling fanboy of). Saturn Return is an astrological way to understand a life cycle of 27-30 years, the interval approximating the namesake planet’s full revolution around the sun. I don’t put a lot of stock in the astrological idea but Bryan’s tales of life upheaval around that age, reevaluating old roles and methods, was something that I knew awaited me. I felt it. A lot of life needed reevaluation since so much of my life then was unfulfilling and dead feeling. I was depressed and sometimes entertained suicide, and was only then making first steps to dig out of that hole.

One thing to address was my broken family. I took on the task of starting a new period of relations with my mother—the third such period following earlier times around the ages of 12-14 and later at 20-21. This caused upset with my father which still has not resolved itself. My grandmother on my father’s side was in her last months at the age of 91, and I don’t know that we closed the gap between us, but it was shrunk some in the months we had to talk before she was overtaken by dementia and then died, leaving me to find my way out of the crossfire between parents who hated each other and used me as the rag doll to be ignited and tossed between camps.

Maybe astrology is crap but there certainly was something to this 27 year thing!

The years from my 27th birthday till my 30th were indeed times of the strife and upheaval that the Saturn Return idea predicted. They were a time of death and of life revealing itself to me in the paradoxical way that these things happen. By the end of age 29, I was feeling more suicidal than ever, but never really let on to more than a couple people. It isn’t that I wanted to do it. I just wanted another life, and the life that needed living was not yet claimed. But weeks before my 30th birthday in 2003, I spent 11 days in a place called Halcyon House, a residential facility meant to address people in crisis, and to get a shot of new information and perspective with an aim to return to life better able to cope. One of the therapists was excellent at recognizing I had an existential crisis of intersecting life circumstances that just overwhelmed at the core. So he addressed me at that level.

Halcyon was one of the greatest things that happened to me, reorienting my compass in a way that nothing else had done until then. The quasi-monastic pace and order of things provided boundaries, and the lessons and therapy sessions got me off to a start in an examined life. Following that experience, I kept on with solo therapy for three years or more, couples therapy when Kelli and I were planning to get married and for a good while afterward. Visits with pastors, mentors, spiritual directors, and friends have all helped maintain that discipline through times that kept on being tough, often as a result of the shattered family experience.

It was just around that time when I also happened to get a first affinity for Jesus of Nazareth, the human man who became more and more appealing to me when by some divine and serendipitous circumstances, was presented to me as the quintessential human. He slowly became my hero as I found him to be quite countercultural, always seeming to turn conventional wisdom on its head. As I found myself in existential strife at both the personal level (family and home issues, feeling a failure, etc.) and the world level (peak oil, Bush-era political shenanigans, consumerism), the mind of Jesus seemed to have something that could address my concerns at both levels. It was the beginning of putting the pieces back together.

Okay, so that explains the first thirty years, and the whole Saturn description of things. Now, that Sabbath part, which, when added to the 30 years already discussed, gives me some reason to think that 37 is a birthday worth some reflection.

The Sabbath is not just a day off every week. It is a way of conceptualizing what is important, setting boundaries, framing time, and even economic relationships. A sabbath cycle, as mapped out in the book of Leviticus, is in sevens; a weekly cycle where people rest intentionally and participate in community life together; a yearly cycle where land is let to rest so it will remain vital; and a cycle of seven of those seven year cycles, ending in a year called the Jubilee. The Jubilee is the 50th year when debts are canceled and society is allowed to reset to maintain just relationships, and to reinstate people to the community who have been imprisoned or fallen through the cracks.

The idea of Sabbath is to organize relief and renewal opportunities into daily life; to place a boundary around work for human, animal, land, and social institutions so that the vitality is not sucked out of same, and so that justice can be done. Right relationship will prevail, says the logic underlying the Sabbath, and it will be done with intent to provide the space and a dose of God's grace to fill it.

My existential dilemma began with a relational crisis and is slowly being mended by equal and opposite effort and a lot of grace. Days of lonely agonizing in the pre-Saturn era have given way to more in-person relationships in the Sabbath era. Loss of the ever-troubling relationships with my parents have given way to many more father and mother figures than I ever had at once, some playing a role in practical ways, and others filling a massive gap in cultivating a spiritual life that my parents could not possibly fulfill under the best of conditions. Brothers and sisters that aren’t in the picture any longer are fading memories as people emerge to take part in shared life, vital conversations, and mutual assistance, in some ways filling the holes left by my family of origin. Grandparents, the keepers of the accumulated wisdom and they who delight in my progress as a person, well, they keep coming out of the woodwork! A time like tonight, a festive time to celebrate milestones in life, have been far richer than any I can remember with my family of origin, at least since before the age of ten or so.

Sabbath, a way of framing time to ensure renewal for all species, a way of ensuring that life is given a moment to just be, is something that I turn to when today (I was even asked to work this Sunday [when I had my party], of all days!) I need to prioritize one sacred day a week to make room for church, family, community and personal time. It wasn’t always so; the pre-Saturn days were times when I worked anytime and had no life, and used it as an excuse to remain at a distance from people. That of course was death for me, so by tenacity of will, I buck the occasional push to work on Sundays so that I can purposely maintain relationships with the people who have stepped in to be my new family.

(Now I have been greatly indebted to Lee Van Ham of Jubilee Economics Ministries for being one of the heroes of the last several years. He introduced me to biblical economics, Sabbath, and a vastly liberating thought system that helps me reach for the root of things. He’s in Chicago right now, opening other people’s minds at a mens’ retreat.)

So now I’ve explained the time part of this account, the 27+3+7 kind of math that gets me to the present at the big 3-7. And about that Saguaro?

My week in the Arizona desert for my Mens Rites of Passage was in a splendid canyon in central Arizona, the heart of the Sonoran desert where the saguaro cactus grow to be 20’ tall, like lampposts or telephone poles. Arizona state pretty miserably fails the welcome to immigrants test but it at least makes a felony of damaging or destroying these elegant towers that dot the landscape for hundreds of miles. (There is a case of some fool who shot one down, only to have it crush him to death as it fell on his dumb ass.) Saguaro with just a vertical tower are the young ones. It takes about 80 years to grow an arm. Hah! Thinking of it from my age perspective, it takes twice my age to mature enough to grow another stage. Maybe I am blessed to be on my path already. A couple hikes in the desert brought me face to face (figuratively speaking) with these things, which from ground level, are mighty. They stand like disciplined sages who have seen it all. That alone is a spiritual lesson, whether or not my teachers said a word.

dead saguaro cactus with its ribs looking like a cross and crucified man at onceDead saguaro cactus in ArizonaUpon return, I did a bit of research and found  of a Saguaro skeleton—ribs that drooped on a horizontal axis in a way that looked rather like the arms of a crucified man. That image of course is one of the most central images in human history. The picture I am referencing somehow looks like it is both the cross and the crucified in one form. The cross is a paradoxical symbol of the worst pain that humans can inflict and the place at which one can find God’s greatest love. Or, put this way, the intersection of the opposites of life is on the cross. My take on that is in my sense of relationship with others. That which was killing me was also the thing to save me. So goes spiritual paradox!

In 2003, I sort of articulated my feeling of being crucified by my womenfolk in a piece of photo collage art that I made that summer. The world was turned upside down, framed in by the female biological symbol which doubled as a cross, all perched on something indicating Golgotha. I was pretty torn up then.

I don’t recall any art that conveyed the equally shattered relationship with my father, but my blog poured all that out as the drama ensued for years to come. I spilled a lot of pixels processing that.

All of which is to convey a picture of how shattered things were. By the start of 2008, and one more attempt to relate to my mother alone (that lasted about three weeks at best), and after a solid year of staying clear of my father, I was making half serious talk about having a mock memorial service to make it possible to move on, to find new energy to live a life not so dragged down by all the toxic personalities I happened to be related to. Obviously we didn’t do that, but even framing my situation in those terms helped clarify what must be done.

Later that year I found myself drawing closer to my new church and the life there, which included small groups around spiritual development, young adults, and some book study interests. By later in the year, I was connecting with a new church in a way that felt my own, venturing into new relationships as a person with greater clarity and optimism. I joined that congregation in 2009 after a year or more of feeling it out, and feeling it was my time to step into community life, to throw my lot in.

The cross of broken relationships led to the resurrection of relationship itself. This makes resurrection undeniably real for me, and something not limited to a historical event of 2000 years ago. It may be that but I am here to say it is this too. Many among us might chafe at the language of being born again, but I don’t refute the spiritual truth underlying that. I put a finer point on it though, without even distorting the phenomenon of the transformation that takes place. If one is reborn at all, it is to be reborn for others. Reborn not for the sake of oneself, but for the sake of others, for community. My rebirth has been pretty agonizing for me, but one thing after another points to moving toward filling a role in the lives around me. I find it nigh impossible to even do some of the stuff I used to do for myself, like the endless hours in the recording studio, isolated, often angry and hurt, and all that stuff. That seems inaccessible to me now, even for trying to do so. Just as well. These days I find myself cooking for guests, opening my house, enjoying married life, doing digital media work pro bono for JEM, facilitating the young adults group, or sort of mentoring some of the younger guys at work—all stuff that had no precedent in the pre-Saturn time, but seems to be the only thing I am capable of doing now. It all flows so much better than the attempts a musicking a decade ago.  Maybe the idea of being born again would be less irritating if more people understood it as being reborn for the good of others. It would be a shame to endure all that mess of a life like I had in those years, only to come back as myself!

Saturn, Sabbath, Saguaro. Oh, it is fun alliteration, but each has had some value in framing my experience in this last decade of reinvention. Now, the Smores… that should be self explanatory!

Monday
Sep062010

Sabbath Year

I cannot find a single example in male stories where a man comes to enlightenment by taking a course, studying philosophy, becoming ordained, joining a community, or going to school. Those are all quite fine things to do, but in themselves they do not transform us. In mythological traditions, the young man cannot reach enlightenment until he has sustained some wounds, experienced disappointments, and confronted baffling paradoxes. Like Odysseus, he will invariably find himself trapped between the rock Scylla and the whirlpool Charybdis. This is where wisdom happens.

The young man absolutely must struggle with darkness, failure, and grief. Physically, the darkness can be experienced as pain and handicap. Intellectually, the darkness is experienced by struggling with the riddles, dilemmas, and absurdities of life.  There is no linear, clear, or nonstop journey to the Light.  Like physical light itself, true light must both include and overcome the darkness (John 1:5), and this cannot merely be done in a person’s intellect or will. —Fr. Richard Rohr

It has been quite an experience in the spiritual journey this year, and continually seems to unfold in its layered meaning for me. And, with this first week in September, I am also marking another anniversary—the time I spent at Halcyon in 2003, the time when for all intents and purposes, the old me died and made way for something new. In some way, the Arizona experience just named and reinterpreted the life experience that I already had. It refocused it. The initiation was already a lived experience; the Arizona rites were recognition of that. But the Arizona experience has given me new ways to look at the familiar. Even at Halcyon, the main counselor who was working with me spoke of the word recognition as "re-cognizing" i.e., to re-know something, or to draw on knowledge that is somehow already planted within you but for it to come alive in a new way. Some call this revelation. The discovery of the true self is the re-knowing of what you were born with, the essence of who you were before society tampered with you and tried to make you be everything else God didn't intend. The journey to true self is marked with failures, humiliations, deaths of the ego, hurts, falls of all sorts. Indeed, the only way up is to recognize your down-ness. The entire biblical narrative from Genesis to Revelation is a story of wholeness, wholeness lost, wholeness regained. Spiritual journey, in still other words.

This year is a sabbath year for me. Seven years since I died. Seven years since I was given a new chance at life. Seven years since I was reborn to be in service not of my own desires, but the needs of others. Marriage, web work for JEM and others, favors, volunteer work, church offices, opening my house, potluck dinners, sharing life in all the ways I know. Those are some of the things that really were nearly impossible things for me to do prior to 2003 because that part of me had not been born yet. All those things listed speak of being tapped into a source that allows a kind of openness and generosity that just can't happen in the sort of person I was till that time in 2003. And now, in the sacred cycle of seven years, I feel something else is at work. Something that I am not really in control of. This must be what the Apostle Paul was referring to when he talked of being in Christ and Christ being in him/Me. Allowing one to be a conduit for God's agenda is preferable to fighting it. Lots of unhappiness from that path.

Some people love to use the terminology of "born again" and others hate to hear it. I am making my peace with it, but instead of letting it imply some physical rebirth, I prefer to visit upon other translational possibilities—that of being born of the Spirit, or being born from above (if the pre-scientific three layer universe cosmology doesn't hang you up).  Each is legitimate interpretation of the Greek. But I have had a more recent thought that describes things in a way I have not yet particularly heard. What if that new birth was to be born for the sake of others? As in, your first birth establishes you as a body, an organism that is born and takes its oxygen and releases its waste, but is not yet fully human? And that it takes being dunked into the deeper waters of God's reality to reemerge as a de-centered and re-centered human with a new mandate to not just consume but to supply life for others? Dietrich Bonhoeffer called Jesus "The Man for Others." Even the story of Pinocchio is a story about this: Pinocchio was just a piece of wood—animated, but wooden—before he did the deed of saving Gepetto from the whale by the final daring act of heroism that would kill a person. It was that deed that brought him into his full humanity. That is to say, you're nobody till you're for someone else. You're not animated with the spirit (anima=spirit, a feminine grammatical form) till you get out of yourself. You're not human till you are able to serve someone else's humanity. And usually you can't get to that point till you die to that false self of made up identities that society and ego like to dress you up in.

Seven years ago I was just about to turn 30, a time when the MROP school of thought considers a major time to ask the big questions of life and self and of God. Even Jesus seems to have moved into his public ministry around that age. So I was just on time. Depression and fear and emotional paralysis were all I knew then. The old me was expiring. The old me had to die. Hardly anyone equipped me for understanding this stuff in this spiritual journey kind of way. Even if they had, this mysterious and paradoxical stuff was not my cup of tea, so maybe I just glossed over it. But I have been able to better embrace that sort of mystery of my own being more since given a vocabulary to recognize my own experience, and to see how the Christian narrative is one that lays it out for us all, if only we stop with the easy interpretations of it, the cheap answers, the black and white answers. The story goes like this. God loves you and there is nothing you can do about it. Just go on in peace and accept the gift, and share likewise. BE Jesus in the narrative—the man who found true self and lived from that centered place, no matter if it took him to humiliation and death. The promise to us is the life after the death. Sorry if you miss the value of this talk—but I am here on the shoulders of that story, with my own twist on it.

Father Richard Rohr, founder of the rites that I completed, cautions that we can't stay on the cross all the time and we can't expect to live in the resurrection all the time. We can't always be dying and we can't always have the glory of newness and rebirth. It is more like the ebb and flow of the tide or of the waxing and waning of the moon—interestingly, both feminine images in popular thought. The coincidence of opposites are what make things what they are. It is written into the universe of creation, and unless we have egos the size of Jupiter, it is our reality too. We learned in the rites that our only rights are to love and forgive as Jesus did—our only rights are to share something from so deep within, to draw from the well that God alone keeps filled. And he did so right till the end, with the record showing a love so great that even as he was suspended on a cross, his concerns were directed to the good of others, even the ones that people called criminals and to the ones that people considered the law or legitimate authority of the temple or of the land but that were responsible for the whole scandal of his death. He exercised his one right to own his ability to forgive and love, all other claims to rights being abstractions at that moment. That is clearly not a person acting out of self interest.

I could say this week marks my seventh birthday. As I write, I am in the process of archiving old audio tapes by a guy who apparently shared my name and lived in the same houses as I did, at the same time. But who is that guy? I don't recognize him for much. I'm not even sure my dog would. Unless there was a common thread of enjoying bacon.

Thursday
Apr152010

Nineteen Ninety

Holy Hell. Twenty years ago I was 16 years old. What you are about to read is more than half a lifetime ago. Gasp! I'm not sure if any of it is worth recalling or reading but for those of you brave enough to soldier on, here goes another chapter in the rites of passage-plus-twenty series here on TAPKAE dot com. I guess it functions as a test of memory if nothing else!

I guess if I had to offer a synopsis of the year, I'd have to just use the words drums, Rush/Neil Peart, Shelby, driver's license/accident, depression, Hobby City, junior-senior year, church, and finally Kelli. I guess it was quite a year, but who would have guessed so at the time? At that time I was just an awkward teenager only barely dabbling with coming out of a shell and daring to do some new stuff or meeting new people. Much of the narrative is helped along by the presence of drums in my life; that was my budding interest then, sort of like bikes are now, and the catalyst for new social steps. I guess I have to tell a few stories about loud cylindrical shaped items and things that go thud and boom.

ed at the drums in 1989 on his 4 piece ringo kitMe with my first kit, late 1989I started the year wanting to get a "real" cowbell for my kit that, in August 1989, I had dusted off and set up again after about four or five years of not playing. After the basic Ringo type of kit, the cowbell seemed to be a pretty useful accessory. I actually had one of those souvenir cowbells that you can get in Switzerland but it was not intended for this kind of use and was promptly bent out of shape after a few weeks of playing. I'm not sure that was well received by my dad. So in January, after some time of anticipation, I talked my grandmother into taking me to Music Mart when it was down on Morena Blvd. by the San Diego river. (That proved to be a fateful trip; I met salesman Dave Flewelling there that day, and he figured into a mentor for a while, and later on still I worked as a tech and rented stuff to him from time to time. Then once he came and rebuilt the electrical in a room I was remodeling.) I got my "real" cowbell, one made for drum set use, and a mount and some other goodies, and was immediately trained to expect the "bro deal" at music stores. Weeks later, I sold that silver wrapped kit (a real generic Taiwanese Pearl style ripoff) and bought another kit that, in retrospect, was not really any better except that it was a five piece with a deeper steel snare and maybe had better hardware. I had lusted for this kit for months, and just about this time in 1990—March—I plunked down about $350 (I think) for it. I got it at New World Music and Sound, a music store just two blocks from my house that mainly dealt in high end electronic music gear, but stooped to sell a good range of acoustic kits too, including a bunch of Premier brand drums that set me keen on that brand, well in advance of my owning my present Premiers. (More significantly, this is where I discovered King Crimson a couple years later—a case of aural assault, but in a good way.)

I took this new kit and kept it in my room, one with single pane windows and louvered windows above. They were naturally loud in a room that was woefully unfit to contain them. The matter of volume got to be contentious pretty fast. My old man had an oft-repeated chorus of "the drums don't belong in the house." He was willing enough to put up with a couple hours a day of my jamming to the few artists I had recordings of in the first year of my drumming era: Tull, Def Leppard, Fairport Convention, Aerosmith, Rush. He was sort of okay with that, but the neighbor's patience was always wearing thin and I think he wore down the old man as often as he could. Another almost hilarious episode involved my setting up the drums in the garage once, just downstairs from the studio apartment that we rented out. The tenant that year was this uptight middle aged dude who didn't get humored by all this, even though I played in the middle of the day on the weekend or something. He complained to my old man, who in turn offered him a set of earplugs (this was one of the very few times my old man stood up for my interests in music). Tenant boy wasn't amused so he sued for some money, and I guess he left. This was the beginning of the end for my house-bound drumming days. After that it was never to be taken for granted, and usually when I did set up and play it was on the sly, or almost intentionally to mess with our neighbor.

All that year and for years to follow, the drumset was like an ever-unfinished sculpture. I fantasized about "finishing" it but that never happened until I sold it in 1997! I found that money flowed toward the kit, always messing with hardware options, cymbals, heads, pedals, etc. Oh, and more cowbells! (Cue the Christopher Walken SNL episode.) Here is where I must tell the story about getting a job.

The job called me out of the blue one day, but it was only because I had made my face known for a couple years before as a sycophantic kid who just had endless time to hang out on the weekends. So one day in April of 1990, Mark Bahlmann called me and offered me to work at the Command Post, one part of a larger hobby store called Hobby City. By that time, I had almost completely left the model building life that was my consuming interest until I got into drums in August 1989. But he knew I knew enough to come in and be helpful for something like $4.25 an hour, 15 hours a week or so. I had helped them move to that location in Kearney Mesa, working for free product. He called me on a Sunday and wanted to know if I could fill in that day. I had my reservations about working on Sundays, coming from a family setting that had never demonstrated that and actually urged me against it, and also regularly going to church of my own volition. Anyhow, the job was mine for the taking and I did weekends for a while till the summer came, then I did a few short hours till Jeff came in once his school hours were over. It was never as fun as when buddy Ross Shekelton worked at the old location in the glory days (when I spent literally nine hours a weekend across two days, and for eight months in a row! I was the guy who fetched lunch and stuff to be paid for in product.) In 1990 though I was paid each week, and it was so little that they could just pay me out of the register if I cashed my check there—about $85 or so. This was heady stuff. My first job.

The joke of all these things was this: there was a physical layout you need to envision to enjoy how I justified spending all my money on drum stuff that summer. The Command Post was on Convoy Ct. and is the northernmost point of my illustration. Music Mart had moved that summer up to Convoy St., just about a block south from Command Post. (That area of town was a form of heaven then, or would have been if I did both model building and drumming at once!) Then, there was a Union Bank (not my bank) that was immediately next to Music Mart, but just south of it. The three places form almost a straight line. I used to joke that I spent all my money at Music Mart on the way to the bank on payday, because the trip from work to bank was interrupted by the music store! Hah! I spent enough time at Music Mart that the whole Command Post experience of old reconstructed itself there: I got to know product, learned the craft, met the personalities, and ultimately got a job there some years later. (These days I tend to do the same thing at the bike shop—some things never change!)

Now, all this solo drumming stuff is just enough to annoy the neighbors, so sooner or later I needed to apply it. Just as if according to plan, there was a rock concert put on at the school, featuring five bands that played a range of styles: metal, reggae, prog, funk-fusion, Christian rock. The band that loaded up on prog stuff played a couple Rush songs that I was just then getting into. They were the most impressive to me in terms of sheer musicality, though my understanding of that was not great then, my understanding that Rush was an act to respect was firmly in mind. It turned out that one of the drummers in that show, Mike Bedard, became a friend later on and of course, played on recordings of mine. At the time he was playing in the band that did mostly Metallica covers, and I was not impressed at all. But the band that played the Rush covers—Tom Sawyer and 2112—left an impression on me and I went in search of Rush music finally, after a couple years of being urged along by Command Post big-brother-buddy Ross.

That show also influenced a couple other guys who sat in the same audience. Tomas Enriquez and Shawn Zizzo approached me later on about playing drums in their AC/DC and Zep influenced band they were starting. We did one Memorial Day weekend jam at my house, and because they weren't Jethro Tull, I wasn't interested! Having no bass was odd too, and so we shelved that idea for about a year till there was a talent show in our senior year. When we did play together finally, we played the Run DMC take on Walk This Way—on the same stage as this 1990 concert, this time able to have some senior class fun putting on a memorable show involving white boys emulating their black hip hop heroes. That experience was perhaps the high point of my high school experience.

It was about this time when I started recording my drumming for the sake of being able to review how I was progressing. I grabbed whatever tape deck was on hand and put it to use. I used to record aimless improvisations and my attempts at the songs I liked from the few artists I know of and was listening to then. More notably, I made little cassette cards with the essential information on these performances. I used a copy machine, clip art, and my typewriter to tease myself that this stuff was a proper recording. This is the start of my recording career, and the start of my graphic and layout interest. These days, after progressing through this cut/copy/paste paper work, and later on to digital covers for tapes and CDs, and ultimately for a glass mastered and commercial ready CD, it is charming to see how it was important for me not only record something but to explain it too in some text and graphic presentation.

rush album presto band portraitRush, taken from the Presto album cover, featuring Alex Lifeson and the hair that I decided I wanted but never had the time or talent to maintainThe drama and theater class teacher (Dennis Hollenbeck, who put the talent shows on) had a brother (Geoff), who was my English teacher one year. I dropped in on him periodically because I had a good rapport with him. Geoff somehow had a copy of Rush's new album (on vinyl!) Presto just sitting there at his classroom desk. He let me borrow it for a week or so, and I devoured it. It was several songs from that album that I was playing on the day when our studio apartment tenant got fussy. This one album launched me into getting into Rush that year, about as fast and furious as the year before when I bought nearly everything from Jethro Tull. (Somehow, I was in a mindset that once I started a band's catalog, I thought I had to finish it all.) About as fast as this was happening, I got some Neil Peart posters that Ludwig drums put out as promotional fodder. I was, as it seems to happen with drumming kids about this age, in my Neil Peart phase. The secret handshake in musical circles involved asking "can you play YYZ/Tom Sawyer/La Villa Strangiato?" The effect on drum tuning was that my snare was tight as could be, and my toms also were too high. I literally had, by the end of the year, built up my version of the cowbell tree that Peart had made famous. Seeing his enormous kit of course sent feelings of inferiority through me, and the answer was to gear up and buy more stuff!

ed playing borrowed bass guitar. not very well.Sort of playing a borrowed bass, but notice the Neil Peart posters that Shelby tormented me aboutThese days it is all good for a chuckle, but back then it was a voyage to manhood. A rite of passage. It was important shit, learning every one of Peart's licks and having too big a kit to wail on. But some saw through it. My odd friend at the time, Shelby, always into everything that is anti-prog—Beatles, folk-rock, punk, goth, whatever—visited my room just in the peak of this period, about May of that year, and she gave me nothing but hell about it for years to come. Years later when she wanted to put me down, she just had to remind me of the Neil Peart posters on my wall for about a year or two back in 1990-1992 or so. And those were—as much as ever—the glory days of our friendship. That semester, she used to come up to my area in Clairemont to take a night class while in high school. She got dropped off at my house and we walked a couple blocks to the school. That was about as much time as we routinely had to spend together, and a chunk of it always garnered some crap about the posters! Shit.

Despite this humiliation, I was determined to make moves on her in my naive and awkward way. I don't remember the full details of how all this went, but one thing was that I wrote a personal ad in the Reader. This was when you had to type 25 words or less on a card and mail it in the old fashioned way. It wasn't poetry or anything, but it took all this energy I had for her and put it somewhere, and committed to at least one statement. And it was promptly dismissed. All I needed to know about her was learned that spring of 1990 when such a great gesture was knocked down so swiftly. I guess I was too enamored with what had already passed into history between us to realize there was wayyyy too much difference between us. Later on she chewed me out for being condescending and for "misrepresenting the terms of our friendship." Hey. It's not like the whole Peart poster thing didn't smack of snark from her! It only took me another ten years to get her out of my system, by finally spelling out exactly what was on my mind all that time.

Okay, so 1990 was not the year for girls. Sort of. But explaining how it sort of was requires plenty of backstory. I'll get there. I promise.

The summer of 1989 was the first time when I actually found a great life in going to church and inhabiting the community there. All that was in full swing as we moved into 1990. I had done most everything that a 16 year old could do there, and was enjoying it greatly. In the early part of the year, I was nominated to the board of deacons, my age being quite distinctive for that board. The deacons were the more spiritually nurturing body and I know the folks who nudged me into that position wanted to cultivate that side of me, so giving me a place as a church officer was one way of doing that. The confidence of the congregation was nice, but really, by the late spring and early summer I was feeling spread too thin there, and so in September I resigned my post as deacon. I think that feeling coincided with getting my first job which I remember leading me to a divided mind about my priorities. I found myself in a blue mood that season, as I think I was going to church for the morning then heading to work for the afternoon. This was something I was warned of by my family. And in the recent years, I've dared to return to my roots in my conviction to not willingly work Sundays. But at that point, there was friction inside me as two very different worlds sought my attention. I ended up being led toward the commercial work more than the church life for many years. This one spell however was a teaser because my time at Command Post was only about four or five months, and it was over a week before I went back to school in the fall. That allowed me to return to a life around church activities, but by then, the cat was out of the bag in terms of my emotional life. Drumming was my main attraction, but unfortunately, that often had accompanying it a tendency toward retail-induced therapy, the short-lived thing that that is. I also realized that since this summer was the first to not be a supervised time during the days, I was left to my own devices at home for most of the days, not really sure what to do if I wasn't at work, hanging out at the music store, or actually playing drums. I found it to be a new thing, this feeling of isolation from folks.

I had been biking around since a kid and this was the first year I was able to take driving lessons. That had a teasing effect because I had no car nor any plans to get one. All summer long as I was buying various stuff for my drum kit, I remember riding the rather risky road across Clairemont Mesa Blvd., crossing the freeway cloverleaf, all while carrying whatever I could while pedaling the bike—cymbal stands, cymbal set, who knows. I finally took my driving test and passed it on the third of July, after a rather dumb turn-on-red instance disqualified me from a first go around a week earlier. Then, just under one month later, I had the indignity of having an accident in my grandmother's sedan while on the way home from a church picnic. The other party, Jennifer, was another of my youth group—the daughter of our associate pastor and youth leader Judy! She and another member of our group were leaving from a picnic at Mission Bay, and driving to her house up on Mt. Soledad. I was in the lead and missed the left turn I meant to take. Thinking she was farther back than she was, I yanked a late left turn and she came around that same side and hit my car in the front fender area. It was odd explaining how the car behind me hit the front left of my car. Like me, Jennifer had just gotten her license just a couple weeks before. It made for an interesting tension that year, as my driving privilege was revoked as soon as I had earned it, and it was awkward between my family and Judy until all that got resolved.

To add to a complicated time, I discovered just a couple weeks after that that I had a cyst on my chest. It decided to make itself known while at a church lock-in event when we hosted a congregation from Arizona. It was supposed to be a good time but I just remember it being a downer as I had to wonder what that lump was, and avoid hitting it (a bit hard to do when you'd rather be all active and playful and stuff). It was something I had to live with. No doctor said it was cause for alarm until two years later when I finally had surgery to get it excised.

kelli in 1992 or soKelli, circa 1992But on to happier things. It was also this summer that perhaps the biggest thing happened, though it did not seem so at the time. It didn't even seem so ten years later. In the midst of all this church activity in our rather small church family, we had a couple new faces turn up one August day. Two people—a mother and daughter duo—by the name of Kay and Kelli turned up and before long announced they had been regulars there years ago. I didn't recognize them, but they seemed like nice people. They were likely to be found wearing flowing garb, colorful stuff. Denim or overalls, tee shirts with left-leaning political statements or tie dye, quilt skirts with interesting patchwork design. It was as if they emerged out of Northern California. Not quite. They said they came in from Florida after a seven year stay there. They were different enough from anyone at church. Kelli, only 14 at the time, was into classic rock and protest and folk music. I dared speak the name Jethro Tull and she didn't run the other direction or smile and ignore me. Kay promptly got into singing in church, accompanied by her autoharp or guitar, and she sounded like an angel. Kelli had an immediate rapport with certain of our youth group because she indeed knew a number of them from the days—seven years and more before—when she used to be there at the church all the same as them—and me, sort of.

The story goes that she used to bug me back in Sunday School. I guess I was about eight and she was five or so. That is, I did not attend too regularly, but apparently we were there as kids, and Kay was, at times, my Sunday School teacher. Even though I didn't really recognize these two, they joined into the current church life and I found myself befriending them. Little did I know that 14 years later, I'd marry Kelli after all that time, both in and out of church life, mostly spent as emotionally close friends, but usually at some physical distance. (But in that blue summer of 1990, nothing led me to think I would marry a nice church girl, and particularly not the one who later really went the "church girl" distance, right now as I write, awaiting her chance at ordination! No, in 1990, my heart was set on Shelby. Ah, youth.) As the years progressed, I moved house for Kelli many times, but the first of such instances was done that first year as they got established here in town. It was one way that we established a type of relationship that was rather unlike the more established families at church, folks who I didn't get to know in this way.

ed senior photos, posing like a cool artist with his chrome snare drumOne of the portraits from my senior year photo session

Alas, that summer had to come to an end. It was made a bit more bitter by the loss of the job at Command Post, a move which was really just a release of my services by Mark Bahlmann. Just as well, it came at a time when I needed to go back to school. Also happening just before school was the last attempt to get my senior photos done. I had a chance to do that in the early summer but bypassed it due to my downer mood, and never really wanting much of my school life but to do it and get through it. Finally, I did go for the photo session in the studio. I took my new Premier snare drum, decked out in its diamond chrome finish. That figured into at least one pose. Another was another casual pose still involving a drumming theme, and then there was the official yearbook pose. The photographer was really a hoot to pose for. She was drawing something out of me that had been dormant for months. I had fun. I was not into it going in, but by the end, I was ready to face that last year of school, refreshed somehow. It was my turn at being a senior. Eventually, I got the portraits back, and because I had waited till the last minute, other mysterious figures in the shadows got to pick my yearbook picture. Unfortunately, they selected the dorkiest one of the bunch. There were some that were without glasses, better hair, a nicely relaxed but mature look—but no!—they picked the one with bad droopy hair, glasses, and a half cracked grin. Ick. That is how I shall be remembered for all eternity!

One thing that was different was that after that summer of work, I had some money to buy my own clothing, instead of enduring the agonizing annual ritual of back-to-school shopping for school clothes. This was the first year I had this option, and while I didn't go out and buy all sorts of rebellious garb, I did at least have the dignity of getting stuff I liked well enough. It is hard to convey what horrible times I had (as I fought and usually lost the battle with my old man) every August until then, particularly in high school. I started my senior year feeling more relaxed.

daniel and kelli do prom, 1994 or so.Kelli with Daniel, our fallen friend, all of us members of the Shalom Community at our churchI seem to remember the emphasis shifting a bit away from the church life I led quite keenly for about a year, and more toward my life at school. I didn't leave church life but since senior year is a time filled with many distractions, I think I lost the focus on church life. I remember participating still in the youth group, specifically a subset of that group called the Shalom Community, where the high school age kids had a great open but confidential forum to address issues candidly and with some adult perspective. By the time I started school in 1990, the Shalom crowd was welcoming a second wave of members, but since our church was small, some of those were siblings of kids who started the Shalom group a year before, and so the dynamic was thrown off. I remember the second year was not as engaging as the first, in part for that reason. It is through this group that Kelli and I both saw the early glimpses of our inner lives, giving us the start to our (now nearly 20 year) relationship. At that time of course, nothing seemed exceptional or suggestive of a history such as we've now racked up. But that is essentially our humble beginning as friends, and the basis for what we have now.

Back in the school life, it is important to at least mention the early days of my friendship with Stephan Rau from Germany. He appeared in my government and economics class with Harry Steinmetz, a teacher I had once before for public speaking, and once a decade and more later for another public speaking class at Mesa College. Stephan was the token foreign exchange student that year. I suppose he and I sat pretty close to one another then, probably got situated in small groups for certain things, etc. I remember we used to get lunch together, among some other people that I can't remember now. Sometime early on we discovered a wacky news broadcast on KGB-FM that we both liked. That was one of the things that got us laughing together, and kept us in some humor for a time to come. But that first semester was not really the time when we really thought of each other as good friends—that will come later in the second semester, so stay tuned till early next year or so.

With the status of senior classman, I did get a small ego kick. Whether I sought it or not, I did notice that it came with a change in social acceptance. I actually enjoyed my senior year, and I wasn't one of those who badmouthed the whole experience from the start. I did get a bit of senioritis in the second semester (therefore not part of this chapter) but for the most part I didn't mind the experience because in general, I came to like school more as it went, rather than less. By the fall semester my depression had subsided in the face of back-to-normal activity in a school setting with people who generally afforded me more respect than I had come to expect to that point.

As for the rest of the school experience, it sort of has clouded over. The senior year experience did finally jostle me to open up from a pretty closed shell in years prior. I remember joining a club—the Future Educators club—and attending some meetings. I don't remember what all went on there but I still do fancy myself interested in education, but am woefully behind in getting any sort of credentials. I was on the school newspaper, the Talon, that year. I really was ho-hum on that for a while, and quite mediocre at it but it was a distinctly different class experience. Mostly I talked Rush and drums with a sycophantic underclassman named Derek Vigeant, who later got madly into Rush and then also seems to have since made some name for himself in the world of comic books. I remember letting him come over to play on my drums on occasion. In my British Lit class, I remember having this ability to totally sweet talk my way through things. I did do the work; but I was the darling of the teacher and the TA because I actually liked the subject, and used to bring in Fairport Convention music and compare that to the stuff I was learning in class. In Steinmetz's  government class I had a friendly rivalry with a certain Robert Asimovic, the likable guy who seemed to ace everything he did—academics, sports, drama, etc. To even hold my own against him was good for the ego. (I still run into him once in a while in town; he has managed restaurants around here, and last I saw of him he was managing one where I made deliveries. We've even met while getting haircuts.) I took a computer class that year—programming, I guess—I hated it more than I thought possible. I think that within the year I also engaged in my first computer chat from one machine to another while doing newspaper work. I totally didn't see the point but thought it was fun BSing with a buddy across the room. How things have changed. I guess a bit of that early newspaper experience helped form the basis for my web work. Interesting thought.

One night early in the first week of the school semester I didn't get to sleep before having a sustained vision of myself as a lecturer at a school assembly, possibly speaking to a bunch of kids from about fifth grade on up. I saw myself speaking about relationships, family, friends, peer pressure, and so on. It was some heartfelt inspirational stuff. (I'm sure it would be embarrassing now but it clearly demanded my attention that night.) I suppose having envisioned myself in that sort of role, I've acted out some of that in smaller venues and in various relationships since. There is still a lingering desire to be thought of as a teacher, but not one who "just" teaches a subject in school. So I suppose it was that sleepless night that drove me to go to see if I could connect with Charlotte Eastland, one of the elementary school teachers I liked and who was an advocate for me back when I was in third grade. I went over to the school after hours one day and found her (this was so far before the 9/11 paranoia about people walking on to school campuses). We struck up a conversation that lasted a couple hours. After talking for a while about all that had happened since third grade, she took me to a faculty room and dug out a yearbook from 1972-3. Part of what I had to report that day was that I had in those years finally "met my mom" a few years before in 1986. I'm not sure that I could have known this—only that she seemed to have some great understanding of me when she was my teacher—but she had once been teacher to siblings of mine, back in the early 70s. (I can't remember if it was sister Chris or twin brothers John and James but the twins seem to be the right age.) Yep, they were ten and eight years older than me, respectively, and plain as day there they were in that yearbook. They seemed like vastly different people in those pictures—ones I had never seen because of the politics in my family. Anyhow, Mrs. Eastland was finally able to come clean on this morsel of information that was probably squelched when I was a kid. It didn't magically transform things for me. By that point, I was already done with what became known as the "first period" of my relationship with my mom's family (the one started in summer 1986 and sputtering out by late 1988 after some difficulty and silence), and there was not yet any return on the horizon. Eventually of course, history played out so there have been four such periods. Mrs. Eastland's revelation did do something to set my mind thinking about larger life events, and for that, I am grateful. On a few occasions during my senior year, I dropped in and talked a bit, but also was given the chance to come in and volunteer in her class. I'd have to say she left me with more of an education than you might expect of a third grade teacher. I sort of hope I get to tell her sometime.

Now I am pushing the boundaries of my memory, trying to recall what made this year worth reporting on. This is the last of the calendar years before I began journaling and keeping a calendar. In 1991, on the occasion of graduating from high school, I began my journaling period that covered a pretty solid ten years. But in 1990, I guess I was only beginning to have the sorts of experiences that I deemed noteworthy. In 1990, who would have known where the blue mood was leading to, or that it presaged many depressive episodes to come? In 1990, who knew that some animated tie-dye wearing folksy chick from Florida would become my wife? In 1990, who knew that my first experiences working on Sunday would lead me to working with a non profit organization that places the Sabbath at the center of an alternative vision of the world and economics? And in 1990, who would have known that I might be the facilitator of a young adults group at church, where in some ways I do function as teacher, but more so from experience gleaned from the Shalom Community, try to take whatever insight about life and relationship and inner life, and put it to some use so that it isn't something that just keeps me wallowing in depression?

A few years ago Kelli gave me a book by Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak. It is a great book about allowing yourself to open to what your true vocation is, what you're meant to do in life. He points out that the clues are littered throughout life, and only after what seems like a scattered life does one have the chance to find out what all that builds to. Jobs, hobbies, other things like volunteer efforts and the roles we play in our lives all have some clues. Some things are very clearly not meant to stick but contain some aspect that has enduring significance, and when seen in the midst of other roles and interests, things come into some focus, suggesting further direction. My favorite chapter dealt with depression, and that it is a time like that when your real soul work has its chance to be done, that it is not an enemy trying to crush you but a friend pushing you back down to ground where it is safe to stand. Nineteen Ninety is a year when a lot of seeds were sown in my life, and, like in the case of the visits with Charlotte Eastland, other earlier seeds were watered. Even depression has its role to play; this was just the first of the times it took to my stage. We're entering the period of my examined life, the life outside Eden. This was a year when I tasted the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Some of it was sweet, some bitter, but all of it ushered in a new life that is unfolding still. What, twenty years later, does it say to me?