Easter

I just deleted a sentence on casual hyperbole and its overuse.  I’m going to really, really try to avoid digressing from here on out.

Yesterday, though, then, however, as it turned out, for whatever reason, was a busy day.  It can’t be the busiest day I’ve ever had because I can’t possibly remember, and anyway it wasn’t alarmingly so.  But from the moment I woke up (and that has been later and later these days; it’s as if a sleep switch has been activated.  I may be the same clod but I am extremely well rested) I was doing something in a desperate attempt to get it done so I could do the next thing before it got too late.

A lot of this involved baking, and of course you can’t finish that just by trying harder.  I promised Maggie I’d bring babka to church and babka takes some hours, and there was also a promise of bread for communion, a nasty commitment unless you have two ovens or an organized life, so I made dough on Friday night and stuck that in the fridge and yeah, you don’t want to read this.

It was just sort of busy.  And fun.  Spectacularly sunny.  And as this is one of those weekends when I need to be typing busily on the keyboard without once looking out the window, it got a little tense but OK.  Easter Vigil.  The way it was done last night, Easter Sunday is an afterthought (it was, too; I got to bed at around 2am and didn’t make it up for the service, and that would have been a fun but ill-advised thing to do anyway. Again, this is a busy weekend).

And going to be a busy couple of weeks, and there’s no one to delegate to and no genetic disposition to delegate anyway, so I’m just going to appreciate the sun, maybe sneak a quick walk in before I have to stare at this screen, and wish you all a happy Easter.  Spring is definitely here, whatever your weather, and that can only mean one thing.  Although in my particular case, it’s sort of a lot of things.  Not counting baking, but it’s good to stay busy.

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Eternal Vigil

Since I seem to be writing about all things Easter, tonight we have the Vigil, an ancient tradition that you might not find in megachurches or for that matter in a lot of Protestant churches.  Or Orthodox, for all I know.  I just heard it wasn’t done that much.

Anyway, my wife loves it and encourages it, and it’s sort of a favorite thing of mine.  Sparing you a lot of detail, we start outside the church at dusk and then go inside, where we tell the Old Stories.

I am, I think, the comic relief.

But we get to bring food, and some of those old stories are good.

At any rate, I found the site below a few days ago and have been saving it.  It’s the sort of Internet-inspired project that makes my jaw drop, the precision and the affection for what was.  A whole slew of pictures from the past and the present, set in the same location, in this case Paris.  You can toggle back and forth and spend some quality time there.  Me, I’ve got babka to bake and comic relief to work on.  And, of course, Sunday’s coming.

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A Good Friday

A man I knew, a scientist by profession and inclination, a man who attended the same church I did a long time ago, raised his eyebrows once and laughed a little during our conversation.

“The Resurrection,” he said.  “I’m not too sure about that one.”

It was just a casual conversation about Christianity, about our feelings and thinking.  And what surely sounds like heresy to many people – if you doubt that Jesus died on the cross at Calvary and then came back to life, then doesn’t the whole house of cards tumble down? – was just thoughtfulness on his part.  He wasn’t picking and choosing; he was working his way through theology, and at the same time embracing the mystery of the known and unknown.

And teaching Sunday School, and leading adult discussions, and so on.  A great guy, actually.  And one who did his best to follow the teachings of Jesus, as far as I knew.  He just had a little trouble with the resurrection of the body, particularly since it’s pretty unclear in the Gospels.  You could read it if you wanted.  A little unclear, at least.

But, of course, he hadn’t constructed a house of cards.  He hadn’t built a faith system with a foundation of JUST BELIEVE THIS BECAUSE I SAY SO.  He was too smart and thoughtful for that.

And still, there he was, in this church, every Sunday.

———-

I want to say something, and I’m not quite sure how to do it without sounding snotty.  But here we go anyway.

If you are one of those people, the people I know and care about, who are adamant in your disbelief, in your rejection of higher powers and designers of universes and ultimate observers – if you don’t believe in God, in other words, and you’re pretty impressed with this stand you’re taking, and you like to make jokes about superstition and evil practiced by the world’s religions – if you stare up at the sky and see wonder but don’t actually, y’know, wonder – if you’re like that, and I know and like you, I’d mention that I find this the least interesting thing about you.

——–

Understand, please, that I’m speaking as a layman.  And I’m speaking as a person of doubt, who has spent many years being skeptical about much when it comes to theology, particularly when it’s resected from history or cherry-picked to score points.

And yet I’ve had spiritual experiences that surprised me, shook me, changed me.  And I’ve wandered around until I found some comfort, some explanation, some pathway to at least grasping the infinite nature of what is unknowable, of course.

I certainly respect your disbelief, if that’s what we’ll call it.  I just don’t find it interesting.  I find it simple, boring, incurious.  It doesn’t mean I don’t like you.  It’s just that we’d be better off talking about anything else, because I do wonder.  And those conversations, with fellow wonderers, are too fascinating to spend time sighing over your militant rejection of faith.  Or your deconstruction of faith, your attempts to define something you don’t experience.

None of this matters in my world of friendship.  We all have our things, and most of them don’t intersect when we’re sharing a cup of coffee.  We have too many things in common that we can talk about.

But the disconnect is nonexistent, at least in my world, and that’s what I see more of, now that we’re alive and well in social media, practicing our philosophies by reposting cartoons and making snide comments.  My feelings aren’t hurt, and I know of no one’s whose are.  But the people I hang around with in church see the same physical world that you do, the same evolution, the same stars being born and dying, the same laws of physics, and the same known history and the same unknown.

You rarely see them in what passes for conventional media in this country, because they don’t make sense in the careful blue-red divisions.  But we’re there, in church on Sundays and other days, doing our best, taking care of each other and our communities, looking for hints of greater meaning found in ancient texts that are problematic and somehow survive.

Tonight is Good Friday, a somber moment of remembrance for those of the Christian faith.  It reminds us of the horrible side of humanity, of mob rule, of fear, of sacrifice, of torture, of miscommunication, of abdication and of cowardice.  We meet in sorrow to remember all the lives lost, and we prepare to remember hope.

I’m totally cool with your rejection of this.  I’m just saying.  If religious feeling altogether – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu – is anti-intellectual, fantasy for the blurry-eyed children who somehow missed the Enlightenment and the Industrial Age and the scientific method – if this allows you to poke fun at people who line up this week to remember and rejoice, then the logic is clear and the syllogism writes itself:

If all these are those
And if you are one of these
Then you are also one of those.

Include Einstein, whose belief system was pretty murky but spoke often of The Old One, who desperately believed in a deterministic universe, who rejected randomness his entire professional life.

Bill Moyers, God knows the liberal’s liberal, the possessor of a Masters of Divinity and a Baptist minister at one point.

George Washington, cantankerous when it came to liturgy but often found on his knees, deep in prayer.

Lincoln, also a rebel against organized religion but a great reader of the Bible and thinker of all things providential.

Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter – all political liberals, supposedly the enemy of Christianity, often heroes to those who profess their disbelief, and all, by all accounts, devout Christians.

You, of course, may be more enlightened than they are, or more intelligent.  How would I know?

——-

I am a Christian.  I don’t consider myself a Christian, although I’ve heard those weasel words a lot.  I am not a Christian because I am a literalist, or a transcendent human who has been touched by the supernatural, or because I’ve got faith in faith.

I’m a Christian because it’s easy to identify that way.  I’m a Christian because it’s comfortable for me to be around people who explore the same ideas I like to explore, who try to practice a lifestyle that is at least hinted at in the Gospels, regardless of what you think about the Resurrection.

Those might appear weasel words to some of you, too.  Sigh.  Sometimes words fail.

——-

I get it.  Every time you see one of these bloviating Christians on TV, talking about the degradation of our society, misrepresenting our nation’s founding as based on Christianity instead of freedom to practice whatever we want, who cry out about the legal removal of mandatory prayer from our taxpayer-provided schools, ignoring our legal right to pray wherever the hell we want, including in schools and parks and offices – every time you witness these fools and decide that they represent all of us, you need to reexamine that syllogism.  It needs some work.

——-

As I say, my feelings aren’t hurt.  And when I have conversations with like-minded people, and this subject comes up, this broad-brush sweeping of all things religious/spiritual into a political sphere of rejecting gay people and making shit up about the War on Christmas, we just sigh and shake our heads.  If only you could hang out a little.

This is what I wish for you this weekend, my skeptical friends.  A relaxing time, for sure, if you can pull that off.  Maybe some sun, if you’re lucky.  Being surrounded by those you love and who love you, definitely.

But really?  I wish I could take you to church with me.  Just to see.  Not that I’m expecting a spiritual experience, although that’s possible.  Just so that you could experience what I experience, when faced with the world, and its horrors and hassles, when I gather with a small group of wildly varying types of people, and we get silent for a moment, and we wonder.

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Maundy

I guess I should apologize for colorful language coming up, although by this time I’m thinking we’re all a little ho-hum about that sort of thing.  That said, I’m guessing that David Mamet is sort of a crazy motherfucker.

David Mamet, author of some pretty famous plays and a couple of interesting movies, although his style grates on me and I can usually barely watch, unless it’s “Glengarry Glen Ross.”  So I don’t have a particular investment here, or an interest in seeing his latest, an HBO film on the Phil Spector trial, which has been reviewed by a lot of people who have varying opinions but all seem to come down on the side of David Mamet being a crazy motherfucker.

I’m not sure why I’m bringing up Mamet, other than writers are different than, say, movie stars.  I’m pretty sure I would watch Mel Gibson in a movie right now if I’d heard it was good, or moving, or funny, and not care about his personal life or beliefs.  He’s an actor.  If I started assessing where every penny I spent went and how it might possibly end up in the pockets of crazy motherfuckers, I’d become one myself.

But writers are different.  Their craziness can come out in their work, and then a decision has to be made.  For me, since I was never wild about Mamet anyway, it’s an easy choice to shy away.  The rest of you are on your own.  No judging.

There’s another writer I’m thinking of, though.  He’s only a little crazy, I think, and awfully brilliant, and I’m not going to mention his name because the thing I read that he wrote once was a long time ago.  Long, long time ago.  It was some sort of personal essay, not the fiction for which he’s mostly famous, and in it he wrote about his long commitment in the 1950s and ‘60s to the civil rights movement, and how that enthusiasm waned after a woman he knew was raped by a black man.

Well.  Let the one without flaws, particularly in logic, toss the first stone here, but even at the young age I was I saw the problem.  And I’m letting this guy, a writer I admire, remain anonymous because for all I know, he understood himself the contradiction in his flawed humanity.  He lost his enthusiasm for fighting the good fight, the fight for justice, particularly for black people, because of one black rapist.

He became a logical bigot, then, in one quick moment of emotional pain, something I can imagine easily.  I wonder how he feels about it now.

——–

Today is Maundy Thursday.  In certain quarters of the Christian faith, Maundy Thursday is an important part of the liturgical acknowledgment of Holy Week, leading up to Easter Sunday.  Others might never have heard of it.  Depends.

Maundy Thursday marks the night Jesus met and ate with his disciples, washed their feet, told them some important stuff.  It’s the da Vinci Night, the Last Supper.  The night before Good Friday.

I’ve always enjoyed going to Maundy Thursday services, although I’ll probably miss tonight; some responsibilities call me.

Again, it depends upon how one practices their faith, this whole Holy Week thing.  My wife is a Presbyterian minister with a strong passion for the power of liturgy.  She’s a musician; she understands how shape and structure can lead us from one place to some other place.

In the church she pastors and I attend, we do foot washing on Maundy Thursday.  It’s ritualistic and theatrical, although it never feels that way.  It’s just a rehearsal, really, practice at serving one another.  It’s fun, actually.  We practice being kind.

But, of course, it might not be your thing.  Got that.

This has nothing to do with anything.

————-

In the era of Facebook, I’m not quite sure how to use the word “friends,” so I’ll err on the side of inclusiveness here.  Let’s all be friends.

I have a lot of friends who appear to be logical bigots, then.  Soft bigots.

They would pretty horrified to hear that description applied to them, but there you go.  That’s what they appear to be, to me.  And as Easter approaches, they sharpen up.

It doesn’t bother me, or not in the sense that I spend too much time thinking about it.   These are people who seem to take public pride in their atheism, as if they discovered it.  I like them fine, and admire their lives, but, you know.  They’re still bigots.

Me too, of course.  I have my issues.

I use the term logical bigots as word play, as a joke.  This kind of bigotry relies on flawed syllogisms, and I mean a bunch of them, so it should really be illogical, but I’m just having some fun here with the phrase.

————–

There are some pretty loud and passionate Christian communities out there who are just filled with crazy motherfuckers.  There always have been, and I’m not even talking about Westboro.  I’m talking about the ones you know, the ones on cable news, the ones who stick their religious beliefs into our legislatures and school boards and presidential campaigns.  They’re annoying as hell, and dangerous, very dangerous.  Play out (logically, of course) their wish list for America and fascism almost seems too mild of a word.  We know all about this.

This has nothing to do with what my church family will be doing tonight, of course.  That will not stop the bigots, though, many of whom I love and treasure and admire.  I just thought I’d point out a few things.

And I will.  But tomorrow.

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Wednesday Archives

Wednesday has been Column Day for 12 years, and over 12 years some stuff will happen. My rule of thumb is that one should not re-read oneself unless one is willing to pay the emotional price, which usually involves groaning, but at least it’s some sort of record of what I was thinking, or not thinking. Some of these are collected in my books, but I’ve decided to ignore that for the time being and just find one from the past, every Wednesday, and post. If not for your edification, then mine. Groans are acceptable.

From March 26, 2003

——-

How come Superman never got arrested?

See, I think if you’re honest with yourself, you have to admit Superman did some highly questionable things.  He was forever tossing stuff into outer space.  If he even once obeyed the speed limit, it’s news to me.  He changed clothes in public places.  He was constantly arresting crooks on his own volition with no Miranda recitation, and often he just dropped them off at prison without benefit of trial or conviction.   Superman should have had a rap sheet a mile long.

(Okay, some of you are going to be tempted to write to inform me that, in fact, Superman WAS arrested, more than once, and can document this with dates and issues.  Please.  Let me have my one lousy metaphor.)

It’s a rhetorical question.  We all know the answer.  Superman was never arrested because nobody could.

Superman was a good guy, of course.  And we’re good guys, too.  U.S. history is littered with mistakes, errors of judgment, blunders and just plain wrong moves, but our heart is in the right place.  And there are convincing arguments for attacking Iraq, sound reasoning and even some legal cover.  But we’re bombing Baghdad now for one very distinct (if ethically suspect) reason: Nobody can stop us.

This is the legacy of Lech Walesa, of the fall of the Berlin wall and a Russian woman wagging her finger at a young soldier in a tank on the streets of Moscow.  The end of the Cold War left us with a peace dividend of power, unchecked and unbalanced.  It’s no surprise that much of the world fears us more the Saddam Hussein.  Saddam is a pipsqueak, a trifle, a third-rate Lex Luther with a few grams of kryptonite socked away in a bunker.  We are the Man of Steel and we make the rules.

We’re not invulnerable.  We can be hurt; we have been and probably will be again.  And even if our power is unchecked, our leaders aren’t.  The commander in chief of our armed forces derives his authority not by coup or primogeniture, but by the consent of the governed, elected by a majority of American voters.

Okay, maybe that’s not a good example in this case.  But you get my point.

We spent over a decade hiding behind a mild-mannered secret identity, posing as a peaceful world leader, marshaling support, forming coalitions, speaking softly and keeping the stick in storage.  We gently flexed in our own hemisphere a bit and led the rest of the world when it was necessary, but we kept the glasses on and the cape hidden.

Now the world understands, and they don’t like it.  Our rationale for war is irrelevant; few outside this country accept it, and we don’t care anyway.  A couple of weeks ago President Bush asked for cards on the table, and then decided he wasn’t interested.  War is in our self-interest, he says, and self-interest beats any hand when you’re the biggest on the block.  America has come out of the phone booth.

I suspect this is what we’ll be dealing with from now on, regardless of the results of the Iraq conflict.  We can establish a democratic Iraq, help create a Palestinian state, bolster the world economy, mediate disputes, make up with France and Germany, and kiss all the babies we want.  The world will remember, and be suspicious.  And it will probably be worse than that.

The tricky thing about using the end to justify the means, as in this case, is that you’d better be sure you know what the end will be.  The world will be a better and safer place without Saddam Hussein; even the French know this.  But even the rosiest scenario leaves a world community that will be wary of American power and intent, and that’s just our allies.

I can only hope for the best.  I can only wish our troops well, be proud of the attempts they make to spare innocent lives, and grieve with the families who will suffer loss.

I will also think about terrorism, and about how liberation can look a lot like occupation, depending on your politics.  And I’ll stand outside and look to the northwest, and think about Kim Jong iI.  Preemptive war sets an uncomfortable precedent, and the best way to bring a big guy down has always been to strike first.

I think the dictator of North Korea is as loony a leader as the world has these days.  I also know that a frightened man is a dangerous man, particularly when he’s armed, and I have a feeling Kim Jong iI is scared now.  Me, too.

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FYI

This is a busy day for me, so I just wanted to mention to any possible, potential, theoretical, or imaginary readers that Apple has now set up a pretty robust two-step verification program and YOU SHOULD DO THIS RIGHT NOW.  If you use an Apple device, I mean.  Back tomorrow.

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Lingo For Change

“Reboot” is a great word, I think.  Not particularly overused, it means what it means and we all know what that is.  There are plenty of fun words that have snuck into everyday use from the technology world, but “reboot” is my favorite.

It means start over, but more than that, at least to me.  A good reboot clears the caches we carry around, dumps the garbage and freshens up the place.

Most people tend to use reboot, when talking about computers, as a synonym for boot, which is not quite right.  One boots up (starts) a computer; a reboot is turning it off and then turning it back on, which conveniently is also the answer to pretty much any computer problem.

And boot?  Don’t get mired in dumb over-reaching etymologies about horses and so on.  There is no fairy dust sprinkled over a computer before the lights come on.  Tiny bits of software instruct slightly larger programs and so on.  It’s a process, and there’s no magic involved.  What happens when we’re up and running, wandering around the online world or playing solitaire, seems amazing at times, or ordinary, but it’s the result of electricity and lines of code.  A computer starts up by itself, in other words, if you look at it that way, with its instructions already incorporated.  It pulls itself up by its own bootstraps.  So now you know.

I’m always in the mood to reboot, since I seem to live a life of quiet sameness, but lately it’s been a little more acute, coinciding with the Lenten season, although it wasn’t my intention to start a project.  I just changed a couple of things – things that in a way seem minor – and they trickled and cascaded into a slightly different lifestyle.  Just slightly.

Not all in a good way, either.  Those 20 pounds I lost in the first few weeks of 2013?  Gained most of them back.  Did it myself, watched it happen, thought about it, didn’t stop it.  It wasn’t a big deal then and it isn’t now, but I guess I’d call that a downside.  Change sometimes drives me in the wrong direction.

But that’s just been overeating.  Exercise has been good, interesting and consistent.  It just can’t keep up with a lot of ice cream.

There are plenty of things I’d like to change, actually, but it’s this daily business that seems so prominent right now.  Minor routines have been adjusted and now I’m left wondering what’s next.  It’s not unpleasant, just curious.  There’s something a little silly about a man my age even considering the concept of starting over, but then.  I do believe I’ve been there and done that.  A reboot is not out of the question.

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Social Streaks

I wrote (here, I think; I get confused) a while back about Jerry Seinfeld’s “don’t break the chain” method for discipline.

First: Jerry Seinfeld, if you delve into the subject a little, is a weird man.  So let’s play with that grain of salt in mind.

The general idea, though, is not weird at all, although it’s just a trick.  If there’s a habit you’d like to develop, something you’d preferably like to do every day, find a way to remind yourself that you’ve got a streak of days going of doing that thing.  In that way, maybe, you’ll be motivated to keep doing it so you can make the streak longer.  As if it matters.  As I said, a trick.

I actually have an app for my phone that does this for me, lets me check things off and shows me a calendar with how many days I did, how many days I didn’t, when I last did, etc.  Just a visual reminder to get back in gear, sometimes, or a pat on the back.

At 5pm every day, this app spits out a list of things I was supposed to do that I haven’t done yet.  It dings like a winning slot machine, sometimes because I’ve forgotten to check off those things I’ve done and sometimes because I’ve yet to do them.

I try to keep the list minimal.  There’s the reminder to take a baby aspirin and a multivitamin, just in case.  There’s the reminder to spend some time on the stationary bike, and to take a walk.

There’s one to take a shower.  Seriously.  I work at home.  I can shower whenever is a good time, and if there’s exercise involved ahead I will put it off until that’s done, but it’s possible to put it off all the way until bedtime and beyond.  This isn’t a good idea but not the end of the world; I just like to make sure I’m not skipping days without realizing it.  Some people don’t need to shower every day, I do.

Ditto with the daily dental routine, which is also on my list.  Again, this sounds a little unnecessary, but my schedule isn’t yours.  It’d be nice if the first thing I did upon waking up was brush my teeth, but I tend to delay it.  Some people wait until after breakfast, for example.  I’m not much of a breakfast eater these days, etc.  At any rate, it helps to remind me to cross it off my list.  Take your aspirin, brush your teeth, take your walk, ride your bike, get in the shower at some point.  There’s not much else on the list.  A few household things that really should be done every day.

One thing not on the list, not likely to be there, not practical at all, but oh-what-a-great-idea?  Talk to somebody.  Somebody not in my household.  Somebody other than a merchant I’m dealing with, a grocery checker, a UPS person, a neighbor I pass on the street and say good morning to.

Socialize.  Now that’s a goal.  For me.  You could be fine.

We had dinner last night with old friends, six of us, ostensibly to look at some vacation pictures from an Iceland trip (which were fabulous, by the way; much envy) but you know.  Just because.  Because it’s nice to have dinner with people you know, catch up, laugh, tease, celebrate, grieve.  Be a little human.

I had a conversation with a young journalist the other day, sharing my wisdom, so after those 30 seconds were up I told her what I’ve learned.  What I’ve learned from reader reaction, from feedback, from talking to people in the course of doing what I’ve been doing, more or less, for a long time, and what I’ve learned is that we’re all just so damn lonely.

I could be projecting here, but I don’t think so, not so much.

I don’t have a solution, at least not for humanity.  And maybe not so much for me.  We’re trying as a married couple to do this more often, and let’s hope we can pull that off, but personally?  It seems worthy of a daily goal, if I could only figure out how to do it.

Because I get reminded, on nights like last evening, that it might be important.

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All The News That Fits

I mentioned to my wife last night that I’d been oblivious to the thing about yoga pants, and for a second or two I thought I’d stumped her.

“Have you seen…” or “Did you read…” are common questions between us, and almost always followed by something affirmative.  Or at least, “I skimmed that,” or bookmarked it or saw it and wasn’t interested.  We do it in different ways and usually with different devices, but together we manage to stay jacked into the ‘nets and wassup.

And I’m pretty sure, without checking, that I’ve mumbled here a few times about wondering what the risk-benefit ratio looks like (and by “risk,” let’s just call it time better spent doing anything else).  It’s become a habit, staying up to date, and in this respect we’re a power couple.  We overlap here and there but we have our own friends and our own sources too, so when we bring news to each other, as rare as that is, it’s fun.

I was surprised JK didn’t know about the yoga pants controversy, the too-sheer/see-through thing, but of course she did know, she just didn’t get my question, and that was because I was heading somewhere else, which was: I didn’t know yoga pants were a thing.  I didn’t know women were wearing yoga pants now, in all sorts of non-yoga situations.  In fact, I wouldn’t recognize yoga pants if you put them in a line-up with Levis and Bermuda shorts and whatever it is that Richard Simmons wears.

I’m not sure this is important, in a global climate change/North Korea nukes sort of important way, but it does suggest that not all can be found on a screen, and that maybe I should socialize more.

We are socializing tonight, by the way.  Yay.

Anyway.  With no obvious connection to the above but really what I started getting ready to write about, I found this Verge article on the evolution of computer interfaces fascinating, so maybe you will, too.  And you will learn what people thought you were referring to if you said “computers” in the 1940s.  Amaze your friends, or your spouse.

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An Equinox-Knocks Joke

View from my front door, 7am today.

It’s still snowing here in the Puget Sound Convergence Zone, just a reminder that the calendar is only an outline, people! I’m going to guess at 2 inches on the ground, although I’m not quite at the go-outside stage yet. This won’t last, of course, and by tomorrow we’ll have bare ground and sunshine and spring will be here, as it is today, but I’m just saying: There are surprises in life. Even with radar and everything.

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