Thursday, July 27, 2006

a moment

To the moment created in a time set apart, I give my humble reflections:

Perhaps you didn’t take too much notice of me, perhaps our shared glance was one of many you received that evening. But I could not keep my eyes off you. A simple exchange was offered – I gave you our reservation name; you led us to the table. Once we arrived, I once again thanked you, thankful for the last look you permitted me. It was true gratitude, knowing that I could share in the memory of your evening. I just had to let you know of your beauty, because for you to go through that day without hearing it would truly have been a tragedy.

I couldn’t help but let my mind wander through the magical hypotheticals that always seem to accompany those small moments experienced throughout my life. My life intersected with yours in a way both phenomenal and all too ordinary. In all likelihood, we will never see each other again. You’ll keep working at the restaurant, I’ll leave the country in a few days. You’ll keep seeing your current significant other, and I’ll stay being single. Yet for a brief and spiritual moment, I saw all that could have been.

Your hair was in a light and relaxed ponytail that betrayed some of your calmness and your ability to put people at ease. You struck me as a complete charmer, someone whose smile takes the edge off a customer’s day, a smile that softens the bitter cold of winter. I’ll bet you like to drink black tea with a hint of sugar, and you enjoy dates that take you only mildly by surprise, perhaps including a subtle addition – going for a walk on the lake after dinner, or being cooked food instead of going out. You tend to smile when you’re nervous, which has the opposite effect, even on you. Your eyes are a deep well of emotion, and you offer to share that with whoever is lucky enough to catch them in a glance. You are a sucker for moods, and you spend days listening to CDs that your beloved made for you. After 30 years of being together, you continue to love your partner with a fierceness that is matched by few. You both spend holidays in a simple cabin in the woods, reading each other’s poetry. You share in all of life, the wretched and the rejoicing.

And then I open my eyes. You were there with me, as a barrage of life’s snapshots zoomed past, leaving me breathless. You were my sanctuary. I remembered an event never to happen, as we walked along a snowy path with the chilly air enclosing around our bodies, meshed together. You kissed me on the ear, reminding me of the day we met, in that restaurant, so many years ago. What a crazy, random way to meet, you said. I agreed. How crazy life is. You turned away with that half-smile and pulled me closer.

All I wanted to do was thank you, thank you for being you in this world, for sharing your beauty with me. Our paths crossed for an extraordinarily short breath of time, a mere blink on the radar of our lives.

I look back, catching one more quasi-glimpse of your figure through the revolving doors.

What was I doing? Do all people spend this much time thinking about encounters that lasted no more than a few minutes, seconds? Are we so starved for connection that we look at this world in amazement, thankful for every person that enters our life, either for two minutes or two decades? I think so. We are so tied to others that we have to remind ourselves of the beauty that surrounds us.

We long for a sanctuary, no matter how cynical the world becomes. We pray for wholeness, for extravagant ways to be authentic.

I’ll remember your eyes, I thought to myself. No words describe the encounter, except maybe two: Thank you.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

how am i not myself?

I awoke in my bed today in that early morning quiet, a silence that pervades one’s consciousness and playfully confuses one’s senses. Am I asleep? Am I awake? I wish I could stay in that quasi-trance a bit longer, but I always end up falling right back asleep again. It’s almost as if the world for which we long, the one that is already here but not yet fully realized, becomes so close you can taste it for one precious moment. You want to hold on to it, but the real world beckons, coming at you all too soon, bringing you back from your sanctuary.

I crawled to the window, realizing that my room has become imprinted in my self, a place I could draw (if I were an artist, that is) in my sleep, guided only by my senses, accompanied only by my memories. It’ll be gone before I know it, the room and my roommates, leaving me with a year of my life, spent well.

I leave for Toronto in an hour, and then I go to Atlanta. Then, the final week of LVC. See you in a few weeks.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

quietly understanding

It's late in the day, the sun disappearing behind some slow-moving clouds, giving a much-needed break from the unrelenting heat. I've been on the phone with my dad for about a half-hour, mulling over the mundane details that now characterize my mom's day-to-day life: Has she eaten? Does she respond to touch, to sound? Has she left the bed at all the last few days?

His voice cracks; he assures me that he has many fond memories of their life together, tucked away in his mind like a coveted family relic. Last night's phone call brought bad news, but the news has rarely been anything but, so "bad" is merely a formality. She has stopped eating, she is not responding. He went in to see her, by now the contours of the nursing home known to him with the same degree of accuracy as her numerous quirks, the contours of their shared world. He was clear to them - she is not to experience pain, she is not to receive "outside assistance" to help her life to continue beyond natural means.

His thick Texan drawl is comforting to me, as it has always been. He begins important sentences in the same way he always has, with a soft yet determined "My boy," launching into what can only prove to be something he does not want me to miss. Our conversations have always gone back and forth like this, my mile-a-minute speech tempered by his stroll-in-the-park thoughts spoken aloud, taking their time.

It is in this phone conversation that I feel the farthest from Texas, from my family (both of blood and of choice), from the place from which I, as a person, come. The place in which I was formed – all of me, my faults and my strengths. I often think about the fact that my mother made me, for nine months she formed me. Everything I have, everything I am, is because of her. Now that she is wasting away, it seems counter-intuitive that I should still be alive. I am connected to her more than I am, or ever will be, to any other person in this world.

Yet my dad continues on, speaking of the phases he is experiencing, of the transitions he has felt between being angry and being accepting of this horrific situation. He doesn’t speak of God; he speaks of my mother, his beloved. I nod in agreement, wishing I could be sitting in a chair next to him, soaking up the late Texas summer with a Corona and a clove. I don’t bring up God, this presence so strong in my life, so present in my thoughts and deliberations over the past months, so pivotal in my decisions for the next phase of my life. It doesn’t make sense to. I learned about God from my dad, and I will continue to learn, happy and privileged to be a perpetual student of his unique wisdom. His accent disqualifies him from sounding intelligent and learned (in the view of contemporary society), but his life-experience gives him more authority than I will ever know in my time in academia.  God to him is merely different now, a quiet presence, coloring his days in a subtle way, painting his new picture of life beyond my mother with small, gentle strokes.  I silently thank God for my dad.

The conversation is coming to an end. I’ve mostly listened, as is common to our talks now. He tells me he’ll call me tomorrow after visiting my mom, giving me an update. Ever since junior year in college, when her condition took a severe turn for the worse, the appearance of my dad or my sister in my caller ID has brought with it a deadening drop in my throat, traveling throughout my body. This could be the call, I think, excusing myself into a corner, preparing for the worst. Tomorrow will bring a similar moment.

He ends the discussion like he always does. “I love you, my boy.” I’ll never tire of it, of this claiming of his youngest son. After twenty-three years of life, I still unabashedly yearn to be claimed, as I was in my baptism, performed by my dad in Canyon Lake, Texas, when I was 18. My mom was there, grinning from ear to ear, her disease yet to claim her mind. What a thing, she later told me, to see her son being claimed by God, assisted in this process by her own beloved. “It was”, she continued, “one of the proudest days of my life.” She doesn’t remember that moment, but I always will. I’ll remember it for the both of us. She won’t be there for any other milestone in my life, but her fierce love of her children, of her beloved, will persist.

Maybe that’s what it means when we proclaim that the Holy Spirit is present in our worship. That Jesus is present in the bread and in the wine. That we are claimed by our baptism. Many people don’t remember that moment, when they were mere babies. But God does, keeping that memory alive simply by existing. The moment, lost to many, persists in the witness of others, in the love of God. Hopefully my family can do the same for my mother, long after she exits from this world.

Friday, July 21, 2006

for my austin friends*

*may include San Antonio/South Texas, though not necessarily

From the recent issue of Newsweek, in the cover article entitled "Going Green" and the tagline
"With windmills, low-energy homes, new forms of recycling and fuel-efficient cars, Americans are taking conservation into their own hands.":

...But among cities, few are as sustainable as Austin, Texas, which recycles its trash so assiduously that residents generated only 0.79 tons of garbage per househould last year, down from 1.14 tons in 1992.  Austin's city-owned electric company estimates that "renewable" power, mostly from West Texas wind farms, will account for 6 percent of its capacity this year, nearly doubling to 11 percent by 2008.  Beginning in 2001, customers were allowed to purchase wind power at a price guaranteed for 10 years.  

...590 million kilowatt-hours per year come from renewable energy sources like windmills.  That's enough to power more than 49,000 Austin homes for a year.  The copper skin on [Austin's] City Hall is mostly recycled material.

Way to be, Blue Center of an Overwhelmingly Red State!


Monday, July 17, 2006


I pray for a day when no person must get up at the God-awful hour of 5:30 in the morning to endure a brutal check-up in a place that does not so closely resemble hell:

The Dentist's Office.

Go back to your work, slackers.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

taking my time

My thought for today was simple: Why in God's good green earth do I have to be at work? True, I need to make up a day I took off, and true, I have tons of stuff to do in preparation for a big once-every-two-years organizational suaree. But, still. It's Saturday.

Right now it's 100 degrees outside, plus humidity. As a non-native to this region, I have to say it: Chill, people. Get over it. It's triple digits, even in the shade. Wow. Forgive me as I cry with overwhelming awe.

I'm sorry, but it's sort of true. Minnesotans need to thaw after dealing with -20 degree days, consistent days, mind you. Texas rarely hits below 50 on the thermometer. At any point in the calendar year. Period.

Today will be spent working, attending possibly my last Orthodox Vespers with Ben, and watching one of my top five movies of all time with another LVCer in Minneapolis, Julie. Life is good.

And, forgive me, but I just spent a blog entry typing about absolutely NOTHING that is in the least way interesting. But I felt like writing. Whoopee.

Friday, July 14, 2006

in the beginning...was the drum

A small chapter of my life ended last night. Eight beautiful people treated me to a beer at Sweeney's, a local patio bar in St. Paul. They have taught me much in the last months, composing the better part of a drum circle that I have led ever since Robin Bragge died.

She was the drumming icon at St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church ("SPR", the one which I attend, easily enough considering I work in the same building), and when she died, grieving surrounded the congregation and community. I had met her a few times, always enjoying her HUGE djembe with which she filled the sanctuary with joyful rhythms. The first time I met her, I was in town during a road trip last summer, and Lulu and I had visited SPR because, well, it was SPR, for crying out loud. I mean, let's be honest.

On a whim, I told her I had my djembe in the back of our car, and she should come see it. She became giddy with excitement, asking me to show her. Wow, I thought. I'm supposed to be the one that's giddy. She admired my drum as I had admired hers from afar. She was all smiles that day. I thanked her for her time, and she headed out, massive drum in hand.

Robin played with passion. Her spirit has guided - and will continue to guide - the drums that sound from SPR.

I inherited both the drum circle and the chance to play with the choir from Robin. I have always been wary of this fact, this sad twist: The only reason I have played as much as I have is because Robin is gone.

Yet her spirit lives on, and what better instrument to honor someone whose life has ended? Drums have a physicality that lends them a wonderfully visceral aspect. They speak when they play. You know when a drum is being used. You can hear it from blocks away.

And so our drum circle, from its humble beginnings in the basement, let out a joyful Hallelujah! at the July 9 service. We ushered in the gospel with rockin' beats that forced the mostly Scandinavian crowd to get up and dance!

We shared the good news. We played our hearts out. Thanks be to God! Thanks be to Robin.

Thanks our drum circle, now and always.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

a small thought

Feeling the slightly cool morning breeze as I step out of the house this morning, a breeze that ever-so-slightly steps in front of the sun as it begins a new day in our hemisphere. It's a subtle reminder that the temperature will never again be this moderate, at least for today.

I soak it up, feeling my sweat accumulate as I walk to work.

And only one thought occupies my mind, gently pushing its way into my consciousness and embedding itself there:

I really miss Texas.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

not for the kiddies

I was asked to contribute to a random collection of poems, stories, and whatnot about a given topic. The topic in question? You guessed it (or maybe you didn't):


Here's my humble entry:


Masturbation. The physicality of the word itself strikes fear in the heart of sensitive people everywhere.

Masturbation. A guaranteed way to end an otherwise pleasant conversation; elicit embarrassed looks and raised eyebrows; and command the attention of all in the room, regardless of the level of their professed interest in the subject.

Masturbation. The TRUE significant other?

Perhaps no other act requires so many diverse euphemisms to describe it. If you're not sayin' hello to my one-eyed monster, then you might very well be engaged in double-clicking the mouse or exploring the cavernous depths of your ninja boot. You can whack, smack, or flock it; beat, kick, or stroke it; you can surmise the vastness that IS your hairy clam; or you can tongue-bathe the Willy Wonka. Whatever you prefer (or, more appropriately, whatever equipment you happen to possess). But you certainly do not masturbate.

Masturbation. The most versatile and self-contained act one can do. The ultimate biological equalizer: Do you feel like taking a quick power nap? How about an effective wake-up-call - stronger than coffee - in order to tackle the world's problems? Just want to totally and completely crash? Whatever your pleasure (pun intended?), whackin' it is for you.

Some shy away from the discussion of this activity; others proclaim it from the rooftops. Some, this author included, feel like it would be impossible to function without it. Others fiercely disagree. Love it or hate it, masturbation is like the deceased animal on the side of the road: Act grossed out all you want - you're still drawn to it in some inexplicable way.

The visceral nature of this "hush-hush" pasttime can't prevent this humble narrator from becoming aroused simply by writing about it.

Now, if you'll excuse said author, it's time for a nap. A power nap. :)

Thanks to everyone who had such wonderful alternatives! I will use some of those with no reservations.

Lulu, you said "Cad", which was already in my blog entry. C'mon now. son of a sea-cook. Sweet Monkey-Fingers!

Monday, July 10, 2006

swearing on a monday

After the best worship service and drumming experience of MY LIFE, I went out to eat with some people from my church.

We got on the subject of swearing. Now, I swear like a sailor most times, and I have failed to see the inherent evil in it (assuming it is used in entirely appropriate situations, i.e. NOT in front of kids, with a person you have just met, or when receiving communion [let your imaginations run wild with that one]). However, since I was discussing this with a table that was majority-clergy, they sort of carried the day.

So NOW, since apparently not eating meat for Lent wasn't good enough for this BBQ-raised Texan boy, I was asked to struggle with the issue of swearing for this next year.

Here's some ideas, taking into account the need for a strong physicality of the word and/or phrase itself:

1. shut the front door

2. oh my dear sweet fig-eating frenzied fish forks

3. may your ancestors give birth to camels

4. you insignificant cad

5. puny pigglesticks!

6. you suck (okay, that was my only comeback, alright??)

I welcome your ideas. Let us find some good and wholesome ways to insult ourselves and each other! sultry sandbaggers, you.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


My thoughts have turned to poverty as of late. (I guess some would say my mind has never left this topic.) Being in New York, a city so compact that the rich and poor are required to live right next to each other (or, more appropriately, right on top of each other), it is hard to ignore the real-life suffering that exists outside your very doorstep. Virtually anytime you walk anywhere, even for a few blocks, you are confronted with your neighbors without a home.

They might be waking up from a night of concrete-filled sleep, or perhaps they are setting up shop on their corner of choice for the day – complete with a crowd-pleasing instrument or a small sign requesting help of any sort – and their presence immediately fills some with the ever-present dread of having to interact with face of poverty.

Some of us turn up the music on our iPods ever so slightly, while others develop a certain fascination with the cracks on the sidewalk. For people whose eyes connect with those of the street dwellers, an uncomfortable barrier has been breached. Normally the pleas center around the request for “some spare change”, and the answers vary from complete silence to a small “I’m sorry” movement of the lips to an acquiescence of small amounts of change drawn from the pocket.

I have been this person, and I have responded in all the ways mentioned above. I’m searching for a way to open up conversation about this dilemma, not to present an answer or to explain my way out of this exchange. I’m not an enlightened person, nor am I a cynical one. Six weeks in New York brought me to a craving to speak more on this issue, and to never let it drop from my conscience.

My good friend Jeremy, whom I visited this past week in NYC, eagerly engaged me on this topic. His experience attending a seminary in the heart of the city for the past three weeks has given him some insight that I feel is relevant and helpful. (It doesn’t hurt that he has a solid theological education with which to apply to this discussion.) I’ve listed a few points that I have been pondering since our conversation.

[1] First and foremost, in my mind, is the distinction between the poverty we saw all around us and the global wretchedness that exists in so many parts of the world. The fact that a vast amount of human beings live on less than $1/day is nothing to shy away from, but it does not excuse us from ONLY concentrating on that abstract kind of compassion. How easy it is to quote places such as the Sudan, Palestine, and Somalia. (And, truth be told, people in these places lead a struggle for a decent life in such a way to be virtually unfathomable to most of us in the developed world.) But to do so and then pass people by on the street seems to be a grievous anomaly.

[2] On the other hand (the phrase of choice when I try and collect my thoughts on this topic), I hardly have the resources to help every single person I come across asking for help. What is the use of bankrupting myself? What good can I do then? Which brings me directly to

[3] The difference between justice and charity. It is a completely fair critique, according to William Sloane Coffin, to look at the ways in which the Church contributes to the social inequalities that themselves create the situations in which to be charitable to those that are less fortunate in the first place. This is no small thing. As we pass by those people on the street, we could be pushed to ask ourselves, “What am I doing, in whatever capacity, to work for the systemic change necessary to eliminate situations in which humans are forced to feel inhuman after repeated requests for basic human rights that never should have been taken from them in the first place?” That is real change. Giving to those on the street is important, but it pales in comparison to what really needs to happen at the centers of power in our society. The fact that so many people die of hunger, especially in a country whose leaders profess to “love freedom”, is nothing short of embarrassing. It evokes in me an emotion that is nothing short of rage, which brings us to point #4:

[4] Giving out of guilt can’t be good. I haven’t really the concise and articulate response as to why it’s not good – it’s simply a gut reaction from the depths of my being. If I give because I feel guilty that I am walking to a restaurant where my stomach will be filled on wonderful foods while they haven’t tasted food in several days, then what kind of statement am I making? If I’m motivated by guilt to give simply so I can relieve my guilt and feel like a better person, then I feel like I’ve defined the so-called “liberal guilt.” And it makes me sick to my stomach. I don’t want to do things in this way – I might as well bring out a scorecard and keep tabs on my current status of holiness.

So, what’s the nice conclusion that ties everything together? Well, I’m not at graduate school YET. I will not wrap this up in a very intellectual manner. I will leave it as is, because that’s how this topic makes me feel. No resolution. Only more questions.

But that’s the point.