Wednesday, May 31, 2006

"We cannot achieve peace when one side refuses to acknowledge the other's existence."

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, to the US Congress

Oh, how wonderful it is to hear these words. Perhaps the Israeli-American juggernaut is truly practicing self-reflection, and looking back on their foreign policy! Olmert was, of course, referring to the stance of the Palestinians and their democratically-elected political party - the Hamas.

And, thus, we have one of the greatest tools of the current administration. Using the God-rhetoric to please the religious right, the Bush team (and the Israelis right along with them) has consistently pointed out - with an amount of precision, admittedly - the speck in the eyes of many other governments, while simply ignoring the massive log in their own.

Israel complaining about the unwillingness of the Palestinian Authority to recognize them is like a professor accusing a student of forcing the professor have sex with him/her: No matter how you slice it, it's rape. The power differential makes all the difference in the world. So, too, is the undeniably absurd claim that Israel needn't make any concessions to Palestine simply because they will not "accept" Israel.

NEWS FLASH: Israel exists, Palestine doesn't. Stop bitching, Israel. I thought you were supposed to be the big, bad, tough bully that has the ultimate older brother: The United States of America.

Yet you seem to be threatened by these people whom you are occupying. Hmm...that's odd. You point the finger at them (more correctly, Hamas), and say, "But...but...but you don't recognize us!" What is a Palestinian supposed to say to that? Nothing needs to be said. The absolute stupidity of such a statement coming from an occupying force - directed towards the victims of its occupation - makes the point vividly enough.

Now, some people may feel that my previous characterization of Israel - that of a self-conscious bully - is downright unfair. But I am simply using the frame given to us in this 21st century of world politics (and expounded upon beautifully by George Lakoff in his book, Don't Think of an Elephant!) Nation-states are not vast, complex communities of peoples, leaders, and everything in-between. They are, in the eyes of our government, singular and rational beings. Now, in this frame, you are either - as Bush so eloquently put - "with us or against us." No grey areas of policies and their effect on the ground level exist in this over-simplified approach. We are left with the lovely black-and-white language of the GOP:

Nations are either good (i.e. "developed", unless they are just plain mean, like China), or they are bad (you know these fuckers - Iran, Iraq, etc...). We are assuming nations are 'adults', but many aren't, and so don't fit into this nice little model. A vast majority are 'children' (aka "developing" nations - many are located in Asia and Africa), and thus need 'supervision' and a few spankings every now and then. Enter the World Bank and others that lend money only with the assurance that the country receiving it will use it, not as the country itself wishes (because they are just children!), but as the money-lenders decide.

This characterization isn't an exaggeration. Look at Iraq War II. Nobody from Iraq was involved in 9/11. But that hardly matters. Saddam was an evil person, and thus Iraq was guilty by association. This 'bad boy' club, in the months following 9/11, included Afghanistan, North Korea, and Iraq (the terrorists came from Saudi Arabia, which wasn't even mentioned). Few ties exist between them, but they were - in the eyes of the frame - all part of the sinister hoodlum group that exists in the alleyways and the streets and wreaks havoc on the other, well-meaning people. Thus, perpetual wars were born. Even now, North Korea and Iran are not allowed to have nuclear weapons because they are 'bad'. We are good, so we're good to go.

Iran calls for Israel's destruction. We rally to Israel's defense. Israel, implicitly and subtly, calls for Palestine's destruction - in their policies, border checks, and fences. We back them up in the street and refuse to hear the other side.

Why do we do this? Because Israel's our friend. And DAMN YOU if you challenge our friend.

Now, is it more complicated than this brief sketch? Absolutely. Is Iran dangerous with nukes? Could be. Was Saddam a bad man? No doubts there.

But that's the point. The Bush administration (and their "friends") blind their eyes to the complexities and embrace the simplicity. Our friends will be taken care of, and our bullies will get what's coming to them. They will be "smoked out of their holes." Iran will (eventually) be bombed because of the fact that they "harbor terrorists." Do innocent Iranians figure into this? Of course not. That's too "complex." Would a diplomatic course work better? What's the point? asks our administration.

They are evil people. They don't reason.

Oh, if only countries were so simple. Then maybe people could continue to denounce the 'Great Satan' and dismiss the average, compassionate, and decent American. But, around the world, people are distinguishing between the mass of people and their singular government.

If only Bush and Co. could do the same. But that would be way too complex an idea to consider.

Friday, May 26, 2006

RE: my story from yesterday, and David's blog:

I steal from the rich, and give to the poor...!ES LA VERDAD!

(I mean, I DO look good dancing to Spanish music. I rest my case.)

You scored as El Zorro. Zorro is the bane of the corrupt officials of Old California, a Spanish Robin Hood, a cavalier caballero who robs from the rich, gives to the poor, and always leaves his trademark "Z" behind as a reminder that when the people need him, he will always appear on his black stallion.

El Zorro


Captain Jack Sparrow


Lara Croft


The Amazing Spider-Man




Indiana Jones


Neo, the "One"


William Wallace


Batman, the Dark Knight


James Bond, Agent 007


The Terminator


Which Action Hero Would You Be? v. 2.0
created with

Thursday, May 25, 2006

An Open Letter to the three kids that robbed me on University Avenue yesterday:

Okay. I get it. I was walking, footloose and fancy-free down the sunny side of the street, jammin' to my iPod. I didn't take as much care as I should have when the tall one of your group saddled up next to me, constantly looking behind his shoulder. Normally I look back when that happens, but I never like to pre-judge, and yesterday I was feeling pretty mellow. I mean, let's be honest - I was listening to a damn good song.

Y'all must have known this - the white earphones kinda give it away - but you had the balls to corner me in broad daylight on the busiest street in St. Paul. Nice. I give that to you. The little punk who came up behind me, I wanted to give you a special shout-out: "Don't fucking move; I have a gun," you said under your breath. Now, if I was a betting man (and I am), I'd say it was just your finger pushed through your sweatshirt. Even if you DID have a gun, pulling it out and using it on such a public street is the definition of stupid.

Once the iPod was in your hands, your 'armed' cohort who took my wallet proved himself to be not-so-harsh. I know it must have freaked you out that this tiny white boy started walking with your trio, screaming (even with my obvious loss of voice due to a head cold) obscenities mixed with pleadings: "I don't fucking believe this," I kept repeating. But you, Mr. I-Have-A-Gun, you finally listened to my ranting and took out my wallet for a closer inspection. You saw that I only had a single dollar bill and the rest fell under the "meaningless to you, but important to me" category. You took the dollar bill and then threw the wallet back to me. For this, I thank you. You could have easily kept it, making the day that much worse for me. But, you didn't. (Of course, you DID take the dollar. If you used it like I had planned on, then I hope you enjoyed the sweet taste of a Mountain Dew on that hot summer's eve. Bastard.)

Now, of course, with the iPod safely in your possession, I have to say you didn't make the wisest decision. I back this statement up with three main points:

1. I'm a volunteer. I make $100/month. If you had robbed a rich person, maybe you could have kept that whole "Robin Hood" mentality going. But what you took, took me four months of wages to buy.

2. There are more than 8 days of music on that mother of a machine, and I'll bet it takes you twice that long just to find some that you would actually enjoy. I have a quirky musical ear; enjoy it, assholes.

3. You don't have any way to charge that baby up. So, after 8 hours of continuous play (or 4, if you watch that Coldplay video over and over again), you are SOL. Go ahead and buy an AC adapter - that's at least $40. Joke's on you!

Now, of course, I was hit with other implications once you three had taken off into the residential areas of Midtown. Am I ever going to get this back? Probably not.

The cops were after y'all for a while, bringing out the dogs to follow your trail of discarded clothing. They spent a while with me, driving around the area, looking for you. Would they have done that if I were black and you three were white? Unfortunately, I don't think that question is extremely off-base.

At least 4 other people in the neighborhood through which you ran after your successful deed called the cops and gave loose descriptions. I'll never be able to thank them; I just hope I could do the same if put in their situation.

It was, I kept thinking, "just an iPod." But, even so, was that enough to threaten me at "gunpoint"? (By the way, I still think that was an absolutely bogus claim. I did, however, hear about people being shot and killed for their iPods when I was in New York. So, I decided not to call your bluff.)

Now, it's at this point in the open letter that I give my take on the whole thing. I could be constrained by the normal liberal/conservative viewpoints. Or I could become that classic conservative who thinks that way because I was a "liberal who was mugged." But I will do neither. I'll just say this: I was extremely lucky yesterday. You could have beaten me up (remember telling me that if I came too near, you'd "fuck me up"? No shit, Sherlock. I'm 5'6'', 140 lbs. If you three COULDN'T take me, then maybe you need go back to the drawing board, and take candy from unsuspecting babies). You could have taken everything I had (my cellphone, my bag full of purchased DVDs, my check from my grandpa, my $10 bus pass). You could have dragged me into the alleyway and raped me. You could have killed me. But you barely touched me. I got off very lucky.

At the same time, I feel like a tool. Once you pulled off the heist, and I was walking behind you, you shrugged my rants off, laughing amongst yourselves. I felt like I was trying to get a book back from my annoying nephews. I also felt like I was the easiest target you've had in a while. So be it. Hindsight's 20-20. But, damn, I wish I had been more aware.

It felt very surreal, this whole thing. Was it the same for you?

Finally, I addressed this letter to you three, calling you "kids". It's not deragatory, it's simply fact. You're what, 17 or 18? I wanted to admonish you, and then immediately I felt like I was being condescending.

There's your funny moment for today: That guy you robbed yesterday had no idea how to respond, and will probably remember the moment - for all its emotional, economic, and socio-political impact - for a very long time.


Monday, May 22, 2006

I attended a peace rally in north Minneapolis on Friday. This is the section of town that needs constant clarification by people who live near it: "No, I live in the GOOD part of Minneapolis." (be that northeast, Uptown, whatever) They CERTAINLY don't live in north Minneapolis, where people are shot weekly and the headlines are almost never positive.

In the anticipation of more crime as the summer months are upon them, people decided to get together and form a chain stretching 12 blocks in the heart of "Northside", as the neighborhood is known. One of the LVC houses resides here, and I went to join them. This last winter was described by most as a "mild" one - both weather-wise and crime-wise. Normally the colder weather deters crime, since most people are indoors. Unfortunately this time around, the mild weather produced a crime rate that corresponded.

There were drum corps playing, people milling about, candy being given away - it felt like any parade day I've been to, except for the not-so-obvious location. After we linked up, we settled in for more festivities: phenomenal dancing, haunting slam poetry and spoken word, and some rockin' beats. People's talents were on display: heartbreaking words coming from inside a deep well of pain and sadness, a product of living in a place roundly forgotten - or flat-out rejected - by mainstream society.

When a certain song began to play, the excitement kicked up a notch. The crowd of people near the front started a quasi-mosh pit, and pretty soon water bottles were flying. Before I knew what was happening, there was a huge exodus of people, going (thankfully) somewhere else to continue this fight. Later that night, a youth was found shot in the back. Last I heard, he was in stable condition in the hospital.

Of course, the irony of this situation drips from the tongue like honey, easily descending into a careless joke told at a party. As the news vultures...err...helicopters began circling overhead, I could just imagine the front-page news the next day - a birds-eye view of numerous flashing lights from police and emergency vehicles, while the headline cried out, "PEACE?"

Peace?, indeed. While I recognized the utter stupidity of the scenario - can't these guys refrain from fighting for ONE DAY?? - part of me cried out with the same anger as the slam poets mere moments before. Why? I'm sure many people in the neighborhood were both frustrated and saddened to see - and hear - cop cars invade their space on the one night they were hoping to be left in peace. But to ask for peace is one thing; to live in a place utterly dismissed by society is something else altogether.

I go back to those moments, in polite conversation over cocktails, when I've overheard people quickly - with an almost embarrassed wave of the hand - clarify where they really live. "No, no, no. I don't live in the bad part, thank God." Are we thanking God for not having to live there, or are we really thanking God that such places exist far enough away from us that we can pretend like they don't exist?

God's peace be with you, and especially with those that seem to never have a chance to truly experience this elusive concept...of peace.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

I just got done with an exercise in crap.

For reasons unknown to me, I was apparently involved in a relationship with the designation of "It's Complicated", in the lingo of Facebook. This was a while back, and I, of course, was unable to get over this person. (See: EVERY PERSON I'VE EVER REALLY LIKED.) Well, like any normal person, I would have moved on (like she did), but I have yet to achieve this important feat.

There's a question that may be brewing in some of your heads - What if she's reading this right now? Well, fear not. I don't think she's read any of my entries. Plus, this is real, from the gut, and I need to get it out. I could talk more about abstract concepts and theological certainties (or lack thereof), but this is MY BLOG. What else should I write about, except that about which I am moved to write? Yes, my thoughts exactly. Glad you're with me on this one.

(CAVEAT: If she IS reading this right now, I should probably apologize for...oh, fuck it. I've given enough caveats in the past 24 hours to satisfy a lifetime of 'State of the Union' addresses.)

I'm just tired, mostly. Why do we do this to ourselves? Sure, it's the whole risk-reward thing, but why would we knowingly enter into a situation where our heart is taken for a ride? I am clueless on this point.

I know, I know. This is the guy who has railed on 'love' many a time, not just in his blog. For those of you who are tired of hearing me rant, just ignore this and wait until my next post. For those of you that are either in a relationship where you like them more than they you, or vice-versa, then welcome to the club. How could two people be truly mutual in their love for one another? My roommate Cole said it could only be in that first moment when they meet each other. I agree with that. And only IF both are currently single, open to dating (i.e. not still hung up on some past person), and genuinely interested in the other person. AFTER ALL THAT, they still must be attracted to each other, both mentally and physically.

I mean, I might as well start playing the lottery.

None of the relationships I admire are perfect, and I understand this. But I almost want to believe, unequivocally, that there MUST be a reason for these things to occur. "Better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all?" Maybe when I'm in another relationship. It's all about perspective. If I was involved with someone right now, I wouldn't even be writing this post. I would be able to be friends with this person for whom I had deep, deep feelings, no sweat. Yes, I'd say. Absolutely better to have loved and lost! What's life without love? And then I'd get ready to spend an evening with my partner.

But, man oh man, when you're single, things look so much different. Especially if you're single by circumstance instead of choice. It's like when you're drunk and you - all of the sudden - want to call those people from your past that you haven't spoken to in years (or, at least since your last drunken outing). It's almost as if I should physically be UNABLE to talk about lost love until I am at a place where I can do so somewhat intelligently.

But, alas, I am single. I thought this post was gonna be a rip on this person from my past. But, the truth is, I can't rip on her. She's an amazing person. It just didn't work out that way. I wish I could still be friends with her. But I have to be honest with myself at least ONCE during the day.

Hey, it's Thursday! I love you all. I mean, not in the way that sucks. Love in that wholesome, non-awkward, simple way. You know.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

I've been asked to give an "artist's perspective" on Africa for the adult forum (i.e. Sunday School) at St. Paul-Ref tomorrow. I'm not really sure what I'll say; I have many photographs from my time there to show people what I mean when I say, "I can't really explain it." Hopefully the pictures can, in some sense, speak for themselves.

When I dig down deep to wonder from where my love for Africa comes, I go as deep as possible without ever grasping the words that would do it justice. Africa changed my life, and I could easily divide said life into two camps: what came before, and what has come since my trip to that continent.

It's not that I could have died a happy man once I went - my journey was not somehow magnificently 'complete' once I had returned to America. If anything, the trip awoke in me passions I never knew existed. This place, with its rich history that all humans could, in effect, trace their ancestral history back to, was not necessarily a brand-new experience. It was like, in the words of Che Guevara in his Motorcycle Diaries, "...being homesick for a place I had never been."

Africa was a part of me before I ever embarked on my 10-hour flight to get there. It had a deep spiritual hold on me in ways I wasn't even aware of until much later.

And now I have to TALK ABOUT IT? Well, I did that in different classrooms when I got back, but mostly to impress upon budding freshmen the need to get out of TLU at least once in their four (ish) years of attending college. But now, I'm supposed to fill an hour with discussion about Africa. An hour? Easy. An focused hour? Ha.

It is a great irony to me that the place in which the fantastic and complex beginnings of modern human life took place is now the witness to some of the worst humanitarian crises the world has ever seen. Thousands upon thousands of years ago, humans began to move from their birthplace in Africa, looking for fertile grazing lands and sustenance in whatever form they could find it. After a while, civilizations began to spring up in places of which the original African societies did not dream.

...and many, many years later, those distant societies came into contact with, once again, their true 'motherland' - the place that had nurtured their precarious beginnings in life with the gentle touch of a devoted parent. And these societies tore the inhabitants - their true brothers and sisters, infinitely removed - from their land, enslaved them, and used them to better their own life in places across the seas. If they restrained from this course, they settled for raping the land and enslaving the peoples in their own backyard, content with destroying the land and its inhabitants from the inside out.

The human family had been reunited in their homeland, and what a sickening display of reunion it was.

This is part of the sadness I feel when I think of Africa. By far the most diverse place in this world in so many ways, it has been divinely shit upon for hundreds upon hundreds of years.

Sure, there is hope, and it is that hope that we all must cling to. Yet, in the words of a good friend, "hope is good, but there must be anger too." A sense of pure frustration must accompany our assessment of Africa today. Ravaged by war, poverty, AIDS, and the residue of colonial imperialism, it is not the best place to be.

But there's something that keeps drawing me back, and I cannot explain it. Perhaps I don't need to. Maybe if our collective consciousness could remember that it exists because of our common ties to Africa, we would be quicker to help in the midst of so many overwhelming problems.

Maybe. Let's hope to God it's sooner rather than later.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

I walk down the sun-drenched streets of El Paso. The mountains rise to the west, and the winds from the east cool me off in the dry air. It's probably 95, but it feels more like 75. Soon, it's evening. I kick back with a beer in the driveway of Susan and Miguel's house, on the corner of Moonlight and Ecstasy (coolest address EVER). To the south, past the limits of El Paso, the lights of Ciudad Juarez stretch for a far as the eye can see. The mountains cut a subtle line in the night sky, separating varying degrees of black and moonlight blue. Stars overwhelm; I close my eyes and I can imagine existing forever in this place.

I'm not sure what the last paragraph means, but I do know that I feel at home in Texas (yes, even WEST Texas) in ways I cannot understand. I struggle to even think of words to describe this place that I'm in. Sure, I'm just here for a 'Reconciling in Christ' training run by my organization. Yet I have jumped in headfirst this year - into the Lutheran Volunteer Corps, into intentional community, away from the beauty (and less-than-beautiful aspects) of college. I feel like I belong to no place. It's not just because I have moved more places in the first 23 years of life than many people do in their entire lifetimes - or even generations of people.

I have a growing wariness of my place in this world. I'm not afraid, because I know I'm not alone. But I continually see so many different places and scenarios as 100% viable that it's almost overwhelming. Sure, I can go to seminary and be a parish pastor. Or I could continue on for my PhD. Or I could become ordained and work abroad. I am intensely aware of the privilege itself to HAVE so many choices in the first place. How horrible life is, you would say.

Perhaps, however, this is more scary than at first glance. What can I do in this world that will be textbook-Frederick Buechner? ("Vocation is where the world's deep need and your deep gladness meet.") The question is not just, "What shall I do?", but also "What shall I say?" I have been told - and have felt myself - that I could make a good pastor. Ministry may be my key to doing good while being good.

What if, on the other hand, I am not a leader? (Go with me on this - it's not a silent fishing expedition for compliments, I assure you. It's a simple hypothetical.) If I fail at this, I do not just damage myself, I put others at risk. The admissions director at LSTC (Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago) talked about this universal fear that, at some point, we would be uncovered for what we truly are. People will see that we really have no idea what we're doing and, Lord willing, we will continue this charade without being discovered as failures. It was amazing for me to hear Brian, an ordained pastor himself, recognized this fear and voiced it. I think, especially in vocation-geared academia, we aren't just trying to learn skills. We are trying to find our voice in the universal choral arrangement. (CAVEAT: Everyone is attempting to do this in whatever their job may be, but I feel like there are different expectations for those in ordained ministry.)

If I'm not a leader, and if people whom I trust are simply wrong (and if I am desperately trying to successfully hide my inevitable failure), then what do I do? I could go forward in a sort of 'courage', and trust that the aspects of myself that need improvement do, indeed, improve. I mean, I want to be GREAT at what I do, as I want EVERYONE to be magnificent at what they do, no matter what that is. In this way, I am sure, we would create a much better and more humane world.

I'm not exactly sure what I set out to write in this entry. I have concentrated - probably ad nauseum - on money (or lack thereof) in my choice of seminary. Money is still important, but once that aspect is taken care of, so many more important aspects come to the forefront. And of those aspects, I think, existing authentically in this world is one of the most crucial.

At least for me.

I want to do good, but I also want to be good at what I do, so that my good is truly good, both for me and for others. Are you good?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Happy May Day!

Today's moment of Zen: Most common words from a book by the Sufi mystical poet Hafiz.

again against always attar beautiful beauty beloved birds body come dance day dear divine does earth even ever everyone existence eyes feet friend get gift give god golden got great hafiz hands hear heart himself holy inside keep know let life light listen look love lover man master might mind moon mouth music near need new night now often once ones open own perfect poems poetry sacred say secret see sing sky someone something sometimes soul sounds speak spiritual start still sun sweet take teacher though thought thousand time tonight true truth turn two upon want words work world years

Okay. Back to Monday work.