Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A Prayer for One Who Feels Lost

As another day begins I give myself to you, God. I entrust myself into your care, believing that any struggles that come my way today will have the potential of bringing me wisdom.
You have been my strength and my courage when my inner world has been bleak, dark, and dreary. Guide me now in my time of feeling lost.

Source of Light, Source of Love, I turn to you. Be the companion of the lost part of myself as I search for what is needed in my life. Deepen my yearning for you as I wander through the twists and turns of myself.

Come, be with me, Eternal Home, as I search for the road that will lead me more deeply into your heart. Take me by the hand and be the radiant Companion whose presence is enough to give my heart hope and vision. When I feel lost and forlorn, draw me to yourself. As I search for the unnamed pieces of my life, lead me home, lead me home.

Lead me home, lead me home...

taken from an email from Pastor Lori

I have felt lost more and more lately, not least of which culminating in my visit to the seminary in Philadelphia this past weekend. It was a good visit, though it brought ominous - although most likely benign - "signs". I don't believe in signs, at least the thunder-and-lightning-with-God's-voice-bellowing-from-the-sky variety. But I do feel there are forces at work that surround us daily, and every once in a while, we get a glimpse.

Ever so softly, ever so sweetly, we are granted access to the crazy and unintelligible world of spirits. I used the comparison from Lemony Snicket's a while back to talk about the death of a loved one. I use the same imagery - walking up the stairs in the dark, and thinking you have one more step to go, but you don't, and your foot falls for a lifetime into the darkness, finally hitting the ground with a dull thud - to describe the way in which I feel now.

Not necessarily bad, not good. More of a raw emotion that takes its place in my subconscious, flowing through me like a river that brings both life-giving water and hard-to-deal-with change.

As I sat waiting in the lobby of the seminary to meet with the admissions director, I opened up the Philadelphia Inquirer. There it was, on the front page, complete with a 2-page layout: "Distinguished Law Professor dies of Alzheimer's". How do you take that?

This Sunday was Transfiguration Sunday, telling of the story when Jesus goes up to the mountain and is 'transfigured before their eyes'. I also started reading Breathing Space, a memoir about spiritual transfiguration in the South Bronx by a phenomenal Lutheran pastor named Heidi Neumark. Her words make me want to be a pastor, and a bold one at that - a prophetic and compassionate voice of hope and peace in a world so longing for both. Her church is (was) Transfiguration Lutheran. She was ordained on Transfiguration Sunday. And here I was, in an inner-city Philadelphia church, celebrating the Transfiguration of our Lord. Coincidence? Sign? Sometimes our lives are so chaotic and connected, I wonder if anything isn't a sign.

Transfiguration Sunday serves as a prequel to the Lenten season, by far my favorite of the liturgical calender. I don't know why. It's so depressing, so somber, so dark. Yet I can say that this season is what slowly nursed my spiritual health and brought me back into the Christian church. Maybe I'm just drawn to depressing services. There's no doubt that contemplative worship would always be my pick, especially at night.

In fact, sometimes the coming of Easter is somewhat disappointing for me. Holy Week, the week that leads up to Good Friday and then Easter Sunday, is the apex of Lent, as worship services emphasize the pain and loss we feel without Jesus. On Good Friday, the altar is completely stripped of the beautiful and deep Lenten purple and left bare, awaiting the resurrection of the One whom we worship. I look forward to that service like it's my job. The physical nature of taking down any signs of life in the sanctuary reminds me of the Eastern Orthodox Vespers I have attended with Ben. The service is so physical in nature, especially with the incense burning, that it makes me cry every time I've gone. And I can't explain it. But it must have been similar to the disciples when they saw Jesus again, after the crucifixion. The very act of touching his wounds and physically experiencing his pain was enough for Thomas to cry out, "My Lord and my God!" I can understand his exasperation. Thus is the act of physically connecting with another human being. Your soul screams, "I am alive!"

Finally Easter comes and we shout from the rooftops that "Christ is RISEN!", yet sometimes I still long for the introspective time of Lent to linger on.

Well, it's coming, and I may or may not be ready. I may or may not figure out which seminary to attend, or how best I can fit into this chaotic and crazy world. I just pray that I can put my faith in the God that is "the companion of the lost part of myself as I search for what is needed in my life."

Friday, February 24, 2006

I started a new book today, Breathing Space, by Heidi Neumark, a phenomenal Lutheran preacher in New York. It's about her experiences in a small parish in the South Bronx. I can't put it down.

On the way to work, a gentlemen got on the bus in a wheelchair. I haven't seen this happen *too* often, but the driver showed immaculate care in helping him aboard. Lowering the ramp, buckling him in, making conversation. There was dignity and grace in the way they interacted. I caught myself staring. I don't want to be presumptuous, but I think it was one of the highlight's of the driver's day. It certainly was one of mine.

I've been up for three hours already, and it's before 9am. That is downright amazing to me.

I leave for the seminary in Philadelphia tomorrow morning. I find it harder and harder to get motivated on weekends - Mostly all I want to do is watch movies and be lazy at Beth Shalom. If there's one thing I can say for 9-5 workdays, it is this: On the weekends, I can do absolutely nothing, and love every second of it.

Sometimes I am utterly speechless when I think about the infinite 'things' that are happening, have happened, and will continue to happen, all around me. I don't know if that makes sense, but the less it does, the more it will probably reflect how I feel.

Today is Friday. This is what I can think to write on Friday morning, before 9am.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

"The days have been exceedingly bright. One can’t escape the sun: it demands attention, both indoors and out. It’s a cold sun, yes, but I’m under the growing suspicion that a cold sun is the best type. The bright light paints everything so clearly and the chill in the air leads you to realize that you are experiencing this clarity in a very sensitive human body. It’s a razor sharp line between misery and joy. At times the line is crossed and crossed back again with each step."

-Ben's blog

I really can't help myself. I had to put this quote up here, because it is precisely how I have felt about the cold days in Minnesota. During the last weekend of temperatures dipping to 35 below zero, I often contemplated my own death accompanied by the thought of why anyone in their right mind would move to Minnesota.

But then, as always, I am amazed. Yesterday, I walked out of work into a mild to - dare I say - warm day, and it hit me. Perhaps this bone-chilling, mind-numbing cold does serve a purpose. I appreciated yesterday more than I can possibly express. Standing, waiting for the bus, reading The Da Vinci Code and listening to the sounds of the street, I was inexplicably giddy. Small, minute things like this made me severely happy. And it was all because I appreciated the degrees of heat more than I ever thought possible.

I read an article recently about how to combat loneliness. The suggestions are enlightening, especially with regards to your surroundings. The author, a Zen master, suggested to always be aware of what is around you, paying attention to the smallest details: the sound of your feet on the earth; the way it smells; the feeling of wind hitting your face around a corner; the movement of all natural and unnatural objects in your frame of reference.

Taking the bus is one of the best opportunities to do this. And I have. The author goes on to say that the minute you realize how connected you are to everything around you - from the garbage collectors to the ants scurrying down the alleyway - you can never be lonely. Sure, I guess loneliness will poke out her ugly head every once in a while, but true loneliness is not possible, according to this view.

If anything, we are so intricately woven into this fabric we call life that it is IMPOSSIBLE to be disconnected from it. You cannot float aimlessly in space: You belong to this gigantic and stunningly beautiful quilt.

At least, that's what this article was saying. I happen to agree.

Or, at least, I appreciate the opportunity to try and turn loneliness into something far more optimistic and helpful.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

There is something I just don't get.

It seems that, in the realm of politics, political thought, and political action, it's a lose-lose situation. First off, there is the ubiquitous liberal-conservative spectrum, which is annoying in and of itself. But then there is the glaring fact that, if you're reading this right now, it means you have access to a computer, and are therefore better off than a lot of people in the world.

So how can I authentically speak of Africa and radical politics and world hunger when I have a place to stay at night, a roof over my head, meals coming my way, even though I volunteer and make next to no money? How can I?

There seems to be very few ways to reconcile this. And, as many of you know, this is the single largest qualm I have when it comes to my place in this world. How in the hell can I reconcile my birth and my privilege as a white American in a world where so many die of hunger and preventable diseases every day, and many more make money off of questionable business practices in the developing world?

I can't become elitist and somehow feel "more" radical or "in-touch-with-suffering" because I spent four months in Africa. What does that matter? I don't live there. I live here, in Minnesota, and I don't ever really worry about where my next meal will come from. Ever. Sure, I'll fast once-a-week (hopefully, still) during Lent, primarily because I want to show a small semblance of solidarity with those who starve to death daily. But what does that do?

Nor can I become complacent or apathetic, because there's no way I can let go of these values that have been seared into my conscience forever. (i.e. Why I never wanted to become a politician on Capitol Hill)

So, what then? Have I asked enough questions for this blog posting? I can certainly ask more. I don't expect answers, but I'm tired of having so many questions that will probably never be resolved.

I feel that we all struggle to find our place in this world. We all realize we are connected to one another, and we all shake our heads to know that people are dying even as I write this blog entry. But what we do about it must go farther than illustrious titles like "conservative" or "liberal". We must go beyond that.

There must be another way. I daresay Jesus had that sort of idea. A way beyond partisan politics. A way beyond empty promises and grandstanding and rhetoric. I would boldly suggest that his was a way of action. A way of doing. A way of peace.

I'm still stuck with, as John Lithgow said once on Third Rock from the Sun, "a mystery wrapped around an enigma, boiled up with a conundrum, and fried in Chinese dipping sauce!"

I don't know the way out. But I am willing to look for it. And I speak from within my privilege. I have no idea what it is like to be homeless, even though I slept outside of the chapel at TLU in boxes once a year. I have no concept of what it means to be malnourished or starving, no matter how many times or how long I fast. I am no better than anyone else, and no amount of rhetoric is going to change that.

I am who I am, and I hope I can do something worthwhile in my time spent here. I hope I can stick with my morals and values, while at the same time be willing to be truly open-minded to the opinions and concerns of others.

I pray that I can exist authentically in this world.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Sometimes I get real crazy and radical and think to myself, "I wish the Bible didn't exist."

You gotta admit, that book has been used to justify oppression and violence for thousands of years. Within the confines of the text, people have found whatever idea or theory suited them best. The God of love and forgiveness and new life gets reduced to a vengeful deity that will stop at nothing to segregate people, oppose gay marriage, support entrenched racist and elitist structures, and show no mercy to the unbelievers.

Whether or not this or that is "Biblical" seems to be the primary argument people have against gay and lesbian people. They stand in sanctuaries, in front of the masses, in conference rooms, shaking the Bible like a blunt object in the air. They remind me of Mandy Moore's character in the movie Saved that, while throwing the Bible in the air towards her friend - hitting her square in the back in the process - yells, "I am FILLED with the love of Christ!"

Funny, yes. But that far off? Not really. I have been in rooms where people have grabbed that ancient tome and shaken it fiercely while saying, in effect, "I am right, and this proves it!" How dangerous that is, to cling to a document to prove your arguments. I was under the impression that we prayed to a living God, One that is ever-changing and always present in our lives. My theology professor pointed out that the Jewish people have the Torah, in the original text, rolled up into huge scrolls, therefore unable to swing it around like some sort of holy and faultless monkey wrench.

But Christians have never shied away from taking the Word alone, apart from anything else, and closing their eyes, ears, and hearts to anything else. Then they are freed to pass judgment on every person that doesn't meet their standards, instead of being forced to turn that judgment on themselves. Because when the Bible stands as the only thing to which we are bound, we become worshippers of an idol - the words of the Bible - instead of the dynamic and living God that is before us, around us, within us.

I think I should give a caveat here. I love the Bible. I take it, as Marcus Borg says, "seriously instead of literally." There are beautiful stories, works of poetry, socially-relevant commentary, and sharp critiques on the powers that be (or, rather, were) in the Bible. But instead of taking it as the literal word of God (it always strikes me how the literal word of God could have been given to 1st century men, writing within their Jewish context and framework, and somehow still be inerrant), I look at every word as part of a magnificent story of God and God's people. Specifically, how God has intervened in the history of human activies to save God's beloved children.

I think that if we took the Bible seriously, then we'd have to face the fact that Jesus talks consistently, incessantly - damn-near annoyingly - about the poor and disenfranchised in his society, ordering his followers to pay attention to them. You notice I use the term 'order' instead of 'suggest'. Indeed, his command to "Love your neighbor" is just that: a command, not a polite suggestion. If Jesus is taken seriously, then all of the sudden we are taken to task for many things that infect our society and tear us away from God.

And - in a side-note - it's hard for me to imagine that a same-sex couple who love each other and raise children are much more estranged from God than a straight man who beats his wife. Yet, in the anti-gay campaign, that is exactly what is being inferred.

So, that being said, when we take the Bible seriously, we aren't dismissing it as an irrelevant thousand-year old document, nor are we basing our everyday actions on its every word. (Because, if we did so, we could never be 100% consistent. Just read every word of Leviticus, and tell me if a pious Christian does every single one of those.) We, instead, celebrate it as the living Word, a collection of stories and instances that remind us that God has chosen us, loves us, and has made promises to us. To everyone. To all.

Then we are freed to be the beautiful human beings that God has created us to be. Wow. How amazing is that? It is indeed good news, in my opinion. God, after all, is 'doing a new thing', and we are privileged to be a part of it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

I never told you what my 'mean' score was on that sexual orientation test.

I am a 1, plus or minus 0.5.

There ya go, Jessie.

I was thinking today, about nothing in particular. Riding the bus, half-reading The Da Vinci Code for the second time, half-watching the people around me. I thought about waxing poetic on the beauty in this world, but I decided not to.

Lent is coming up, and I am looking forward to it. I will be going veggie - this was mostly brought on because my roommate Ben became Eastern Orthodox in January, and he will be eating a vegan diet during Lent. So, to help with the grocery logistics, I decided to eat almost the same diet with him. I like to fast once a week, but I'm not sure if I will be able to do that, eat vegetarian, and also workout every morning.

...I guess we'll see.

I've been asked why I will be going vegetarian for Lent. There are many good reasons people eat a vegetarian diet, but for me it's quite interesting - mostly because I am basically a meat-atarian, and cannot truly imagine what not eating meat will be like. But I want to try this, and I feel it to be important.

And not because I am against killing animals. I definitely don't agree with the shitty and tortuous conditions that many animals are thrown into in the mass-produced market of crappy meat we normally find in most grocery stores. But the very idea of killing animals in order to eat was forever cemented for me in my oft-told story from Namibia. Forever, our ancestors hunted and gathered, and lived their lives. There's something primal and necessary about a small family purchasing a goat, slaughtering it, and feeding themselves for weeks.

Now, when it comes to the meat industry, I have my qualms. I am not well-versed enough on the tactics and ethics of many corporate meat industries (besides what I've seen in a movie put out by PETA), so I won't try and act like I am. But if I simply look at most meat packages, I am amazed to see how much crap is in the meat other than the meat itself.

The other thing is money. It costs a lot to eat a diet with meat. I won't mind spending 40 days not spending money on meat.

There are many friends I know who eat veggie and don't ever miss meat - mostly because they never really were enamored with meat in the first place. I am not like these people. I will miss meat, even the processed ham that comes in environmentally-unsound packaging.

Man, I'm even hungry right now as I think about it. Dammit, this is going to be hard.

Finally, the...wait, I really don't have anything else to say right now, and it's 8.30am. I should start working.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

From In Lieu of Flowers, which I still can't read more than a few pages at a time:

Death is nothing at all – I have only slipped away into the next room. I am I, and you are you. Whatever we were to each other, that we still are. Call me by my old familiar name, speak to me in the easy way you always used. Wear no forced air or solemnity or sorrow. Laugh at the little jokes we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without the ghost of a shadow on it. Life means all that it ever meant…there is absolutely unbroken continuity. I am waiting for you – somewhere near just around the corner.

All is well.

Henry Scott Holland

I think that will get me every time.

Monday, February 13, 2006

I am a "1". What about you?


I've been thinking about love this weekend. I don't know if it was seeing "Pride and Prejudice" with the unbelievably beautiful Keira Knightley, or just the fact that I think about it a lot in general. Especially when it's bone-chilling cold outside, and I just want a sugar mamma.

I won't talk about LGBT people this morning. This time, it's from the heterosexual context with which I am somewhat familiar that I will speak.

That said, I am quite certain that women and men will never understand each other. Especially when it comes to the sensual side of our natures. After seeing Pride, it became obvious that if I was transported back to 18th century polite-society England, I would suffocate. Take your pick, really: The degraded status of women, as the only thing they were apparently good for was being married off as young as possible. You just couldn't ask for a more hellish life than to be unmarried at 27.

And then there's the whole bowing thing, and the resulting suppression of any real emotion in a social context. I would absolutely freak out.

But let us not forget the predicament of the gentlemen in Her Majesty's society. Not only are they gods and princes (I know, horrible, but hear me out), they have to basically do everything when it comes to courting. Women could barely speak to men unless spoken to first, and I'm sure there was more than one occasion when the women accepted a marriage proposal simply because she was afraid she would have no other opportunity, not because she sincerely loved the man asking her.

I honestly don't think that much has changed. Okay, okay. A lot of things have changed. But I think the men are still expected to be the sole initiative-starters in women-men interactions. We are supposed to call, to pay, to do everything.

My primary complaint to this paradigm is the fact that in such interactions, men have no idea if the women actually like them. It's not that I mind doing certain things that have been relegated to men, but let's be honest. If I'm supposed to initiate every date, every interaction, every kiss, how can I know if my feelings are being reciprocated?

This is why I am greatly attracted to women who, if I may be so bold, subvert this dominant paradigm. Of course, then I, as a "man" in this homophobic and patriarchal society, can run the risk of being labeled a 'wuss' or as 'being weak.'

Well, so be it. There's nothing sexier, to me, than a woman who can take up this exhausting work of love and, basically, meet me halfway.

That being said, let me ask an open question of every heterosexual female that we men are dying to have answered:

Do women really want and/or are attracted to assholes? Because, if so, just let us know. We can be assholes. No problem. But, silly us, we kind of assumed that we should - as we've been told by well-meaning teachers and counselors and parents - "be ourselves." Still, no matter. We'll be jackasses. Just say the word.

Also, while I'm on the subject, I'd like to point out a grievous inequality that I've seen lately. I completely sign onto the notion that we live in a world dominated by men, set up for men, and there are very few places for a woman. Even now, in 2006. But there are those of us in this world who don't place date-rape drugs in drinks; who don't act nice just to get laid and then never call again; those who don't treat women like objects...we exist.

So, in that vein, these guys that are described above, labeled 'nice guys' - we're trying our best. We are afraid not to cross any lines because we respect women as much as we love them (what a concept!), and all we're asking for is the benefit of the doubt. There exist in this world men who are barely better than dogs. But there are good ones, too. But for some of us, we have the choice between acting on our feelings and emotions - and running the risk of getting labeled a 'pervert' or bearing accusations of abuse or worse - or being the 'nice guy', never knowing and never acting. Quite a crappy choice, if you ask me.

Okay. Work time.

Friday, February 10, 2006

By the way, go rent, buy, or break in and steal The Constant Gardener.

I know I always say it, but everyone needs to see this film. Trust me.

There's a lot of talk about Africa these days. It seems that after so many years of freedom from the colonial powers, things are still going shitty on the continent. I'm not here to say why they are, though most of it comes from racist and dehumanizing colonial politics that left African nations poorly equipped to deal with the onslaught of democracy and global economics.

But I will say this: there lies a deep-seeded prejudice against Africa, and it is quite possibly the saddest thing I have ever heard of.

Forever the 'Dark' continent, even in this most 'enlightened' year of 2006, Africa gets the short end of the stick in virtually every way. Since Christian missionaries headed to Africa to "convert the heathens", there has been - in my estimation - only two ways in which people have set out to wrestle with the place.

1. Convert them. I mean, if only they were Christians, then maybe they would stop being so weird and tribal and actually become civilized. Luckily, this mode of thinking has been almost universally dismissed as backward and racist.

2. Unfortunately, the second way has not been unmasked for what it is. People in this camp see Africa as their own personal means of salvation, and either try and get Africans out of Africa to places where, admittedly, they have a better chance to live a life with dignity, or people underestimate the continent and somehow believe that they can go there and shape it to their own will. (See: Many government-owned 'aid agencies')

I am not suggesting that there are not people in Africa who truly want to help and put their entire heart into working for the marginalized and disenfranchised. There are. But I see the overarching sentiment to be expressed as a naive notion that "we" can help "them" which, in the long run, perpetuates a stereotype that all Africans are good for is sitting around and waiting to be helped. I think a more appropriate line of thinking admits that we are all in this together - all human beings - and the things that are happening in Africa hurt us all.

I don't lay any blame at the feet of people who, just like people in Africa, had no choice about where they were born. I lay it all - and I have no reservations doing so - at the feet of multinational corporations and the Western, industrialized countries that pander to them. The actions of governments in the West say one thing, and they say it clearly and distinctly:

People in Africa do not matter as much as other people.

Deep down, I can see no other explanation for policies and programs (and the lack thereof) than the underlying idea that Africans are disposable.

This is not a rip even on people who work for multinational corporations that are involved in Africa. I think we are all part of a system that has created the Africa of today, and I don't think we can honestly say that if what was happening in Africa was happening in California, or Ireland, or Canada, that we wouldn't do anything about it. This is not a call just to America, but to all nations who have their wealth and comfort partly because of the actions taken in Africa, from 17th century slavery to modern-day slave-like economic conditions.

And that includes people who live like kings in African nations, taking the spoils of war and using it for themselves and their political cronies while people starve right outside their magnificent castles and palaces. In fact, I think my main loathing is reserved for those bastards.

It makes me sad, sure. But even more than that, it makes me angry as shit. Centuries of condecension, ignorance, and pure ambivalence towards Africa has resulted in a world largely clueless about the place itself and even less aware of the disastrous effect colonialism wrought on the once-sovereign land.

It's so ironic to think of the reality of Africa today, knowing that all human life had their beginnings in this vast and complex sweep of earth. We are all connected to Africa, and in a deep and unintelligible way we must look at the atrocities and starvation and AIDS epidemics as part of our own suffering.

Africa is a part of me, and yes - I only spent four months there. And then I went back to my comfortable existence in America. And yes, I am looking at going to seminary next year. And there were times when I wanted to scream at the kids begging for money in Cape Town. And there were times when I did.

But there are times when all I want to do is go to Africa and never come back. Will I? Probably not. America is my home, for better and for worse. Yet the power of Africa continues to lay dormant in the wrenching screams of Her suffering children, and it cries out with a haunting voice across the lands and oceans and directly into our hearts.

It doesn't ask for help. It's much more demanding. It says, in the words of someone I cannot remember right now (and probably horribly paraphrased), "Don't come to help me. I don't need your help. But if you realize that your liberation is tied up with mine, then come, and we'll work together."

There is hope in Africa. I just wish that we came to see Africa for what she is: The soul of this world. I can only imagine that our future generations will come to judge us not for the amount of money made or prosperity achieved by our wealthy nations, but by the radical actions taken to affirm, once and for all, that we are all equally beautiful children of God, no matter where we happen to be born on this earth.

May the severe beauty of Africa grace the world with its presence, wisdom, and love.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

At dinner last night, me and the roomies shared our highs and lows for the day. It came around to me, and I said the high was that today the pictures from my sister had arrived. I have decided to make a slideshow of my mother, so that it can be used if and when the situation calls for it. Jen, my sister, went through all the photo albums and piled in every single picture she could find and shipped it to me.

And when I got home, there it was. Should I open it? I asked myself. I mean, I did have to cook dinner. Well, shit, of course I opened it. And there she was.

Bright, smiling, Mom. It's as if the last four years had completely wiped her from my memory. Spending a week with her 24-7 before my senior year of college had probably put the icing on the cake. How strange it was now, to see my mom, vibrant no matter what her age, eternally captured in these solid photographs. She was here, and time stopped.

I looked through them all, once, twice, fifty times, each time smiling and saying "I remember that." Then I flipped over my graduation day from high school. My mom is grabbing ahold of me (as she always did in pictures) as if I was going to escape before the picture was taken. My dad stands next to her, doing his whole "I'm-gonna-smile-but-I-still-think-I-could-be-doing-better-things-than-getting-my-picture-taken" routine, yet this time he has a hefty smile on his face, as if he can't hold back his pride. Now, I don't mean to say my graduation from good ole' Simley High was anything special, but everything means something new and different in light of my mom.

I looked at the picture forever. My mom looked so good.

Seeing her of sound mind and body, showing off her goofy and confident smile, left me speechless. I had never seen her as I did last night.

I almost called her, wanting to tell her that I just got some pics from Jen and I wanted to reminisce and laugh about it with her. Then I realized, with the same force and intensity of a blow to the stomach, that she was gone. Holy shit, I miss her.

I called my dad to tell him about my slideshow idea, and he started to cry on the phone. The number of times my dad has cried in front of me totals close to zero. I asked him what he thought about the idea. There was a long pause, enough space in which to park a meditation session, and then - with that stretchy West Texas drawl that becomes even more apparent when he is introspective - he said, giving so much weight to each word that I swear to God it took him 5 minutes to say it,

"Son, I hope someday, 60 years from now, when you have lived a good life, you can understand how much I love your mother."


Man, I hope so too.

So, what was my low for the day? Obviously, it was getting those pictures in the mail. But what a wonderful gift I have in that parcel of mail. I can put together something that will honor my mother, so that we can celebrate who she was instead of mourning who she has become. It will still be hard, looking at those pictures, time and time again, trying to figure out how best to place them in a slideshow.

But if we could all only be so lucky. I get the chance to dive back into the past, to a place where my memories flow seamlessly through my conscience, and I can stay there as long as I want. I can take a break from dealing with, as a friend said, the "absurdity of the world we have somehow been made to cherish and transform."

But, sooner or later, we reenter that wonderful and fucked-up world, and all we can do is say, "Here I stand, I can do no other. So help me God."

Monday, February 06, 2006

Dear God. So many things going through my mind, and it's only Monday.

There's Bono's speech to the National Prayer Breakfast, of course. His best yet, some say. Well, no duh, I say. I'd say it was one of the best I've ever read. I agreed with everything he said in it...especially the Irish part.

And there's the book I'm reading by Wendell Berry.

His call for a new notion of simplified living is a hard pill to swallow, but it doesn't make it any less appetizing. He talks about the life of farmers in America, and the severe problem we have with not understanding where our 'stuff' comes from.

It's a good point, really. When we go shopping this week for good ole' Beth Shalom, we'll pick up some processed ham. Now, this is not a rip on the idea of 'processed meat' or anything of the sort. I love ham, and the ones that come in a package at Cub (the HEB of Minnesota, for my Texan friends) are damn good, especially on wheat bread with mayo. But, still. When I allow myself to think about it, it's crazy. First, the meat came from a living pig that was slaughtered somewhere, and the meat then passed through a lot of people's - and company's - hands to get to the shelf in order for me to buy it.

Now, again, this is not a call for the end to the slaughtering of animals. My experience with the killing of a goat in my rural homestay in Namibia strengthened my enjoyment of meat, instead of repelling me from it as such an experience would normally do to people. But the enjoyment came in the fact that I felt tied to the land. I felt like my ancestors must have felt, their lives being inextricably intertwined with the land in which they lived, breathed, and - ultimately - died.

Nowadays, we have no idea where the things we buy actually come from - or what even goes into them. This isn't a rip - I am just as ignorant as you. We all are. We have been raised in an ever-growing economy that sacrifices anything and everything for the god we call Money (oft-referred to as 'Progress'). We have done away with any kind of community for the cheap-prices of WalMart. And we all have, as Berry points out. "I'm not saying consumers are evil. I'm saying that all of us take part in an evil system."

And there we are. We take part in a system that searches for the cheapest materials at the cheapest labor in order to provide the cheapest products possible. Unfortunately, this does damage to communities, relationships, livelihoods, and local economies. It's just that we never see this damage, because it's far away, in a magical land called "The Third World."

This isn't a rant, Laura. And I hope this doesn't incite the baseless personal attacks that David has to put up with on his blog (yes, I do own an iPod). I just am so intensely dissatisfied with a world that spends so much money on military advances when our schools go to ruin. We will go to any lengths to increase our technology but we don't know the people who live next to us.

I don't know. I just see this better option out there...I'm just not a details person (as my job supervisors can attest). I just see visions...I don't see how to build the road to get there.

But, together, maybe we can.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Welcome, February.

Hello, George W. Bush.

In his State of the Union last night, our president called for unity, asked Congress to pass some bills assuring America's superiority, and said, 'Back the hell off' about wire-tapping.

He displayed the same characteristics that, for some reason, got him reelected, and I just shake my head in shame in case anyone was watching that wasn't from our country. Bush not only asserted America's superiority, but presented a bill that would ask for more money to be used in cementing that superiority. I mean, dear God, there are scarier things than world hunger out there people: We could not be as smart as the Japanese in math and science! Holy shit! How can we survive?

Bush also fell back on the favored strategy of politicians in general - making you afraid of it, and telling you who's to blame for it. As Michael Douglas says in The American President, "that, ladies in gentlemen, is how you win elections." Of course, the people to blame for our problems were the usual suspects:

1. The Democrats. God, those guys suck. They did get in a good cheer when Bush conceded that he did not get his Social Security bill passed. But, other than that, they just sat in the crowd and looked pissed off. Especially Hillary. John Kerry was just spacing, mostly. Probably saying to himself - as my roommate Minda pointed out - "how could I have lost to that douchebag?" Well, you did, John. Thanks a lot.

2. The People. We have never given Bush enough credit for his farsightedness on such things as the War on Terror and the threat of people wanting to take away our freedoms. (Apparently because they hate them. It's pretty bad when people hate freedom.) But we just sit and bitch and annoyingly nip at Bush's heels with frustrating and outdated talking points like 'free speech', 'privacy', and 'civil rights.' I mean, grow up People. We're fighting a war here. The least you can do is shut your mouth, go to Iraq, kill other people, and always know that you must protect the Fatherland from...you know...people that hate us. (Or just won't let us have all the oil that we, according to Bush, "are addicted to.")

3. The Republicans. Weird, I know. Just the ones that are not really all gung-ho about Imperial Rome....err...America. You know who I'm talking about. The ones that don't blindly support the president and do inane things like ask for public discourses on such no-duh topics like war and WMDs. Shit, are they conservative or not?? Then shutup and act like it.

4. Those bastards that didn't stand up every 5 seconds to applause him. (I mean, it was like a Lutheran service on speed.) I'm not saying this is Bush's fault. It's not. I just wanted to remind everyone that if it was as annoying for the people there as it was for us watching, then someone would have starting throwing apples or pipe bombs.

5. Undemocratic heathens from the atheist and immoral countries of...well, you know.

6. Enemies of freedom (read: terrorists that are not supported by America).

7. The previous administration. Fuck you, Bill Clinton.

President Bush also continued in the vein of every politician in recent years - he absolutely refused to admit wrongdoing or recognize America's incredibly hypocrisy. Iraq didn't have WMDs, but dammit, don't say it that way. Remind the people that Iran wants them, and could easily obtain them.

But then, we forget the most egregious ommitted fact that I have ever heard of:

America has over more WMDs than the rest of the world combined.

I don't think we can say this enough. We have what we refuse to accept anywhere else. It is absolutely inappropriate and just plain wrong to seek weapons of mass destruction. Unless, of course, you are us. You have GOT to be kidding me.

The apologists no doubt would say that we have the right to defend ourselves. We are also defending freedom abroad, so we, basically, need them. But then we come to the paradox that is America. We want to act globally in militarization and corporate welfare, but then we want to concentrate locally on everything else - mainly, our own standard of living. So, we want to be involved in the world as the unchallenged leader and All-Powerful Master and King, but then we want to do it so that we can preserve the freedoms and privileges of...Americans.

This is not to say that we, as Americans, don't deserve these things. But it makes no sense to me to advocate for the complete and total dominance of America while having the nerve to tell the rest of the world what to do.

How did Bush do that? Oh, simple. Halfway through his very neatly-packed, black-and-white, good-and-evil speech that belonged in the war speeches of Braveheart and The Lord of the Rings, he rejoiced at people around the world who choose democratically-elected leaders. In democracy, Bush basically said, you can't go wrong! ...except, of course, the Hamas. I mean, that's fine, Palestine, but let me tell you something: We don't like the Hamas, so you better watch yourself. And Bush won't mention other troublesome elected leaders, like Chavez in Venezuela.

Okay, okay, let's redefine. People who elect, democratically, leaders who will not question America's superiority or monopoly on morality, then YES! We rejoice! But, if you are stupid enough to elect people who promise some things but do not do them, or threaten to take away your freedoms to finance war-hungry terrorist regimes, (hmm...sound familiar?) then we will not recognize you. Sorry. Just check with us first. It's easier that way.

It's just so frustrating. How can we hold a double-standard to the world?

I guess my high-school teacher was right: The winners write the history of the world. I just wish we could stop seeing our existence as a competition. We have not "succeeded" as a country simply because we are the richest and most powerful. People are still starving, dying of AIDS, living paycheck-to-paycheck, while the wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few.

That's not success. That's sad.