Maundy Thursday

Andrew Sullivan has been having a wordy but fascinating conversation with Sam Harris on the nature of faith, viewed from two wildly different perspectives. If you have a lot of time and an interest, you can track back here on BeliefNet.

What Sullivan wrote today, though, kept me from skimming as I might have, particularly this paragraph:

This is what Jesus told people: to treat God as an intimate father, to pray simply, to believe against so much evidence that good does indeed prevail against evil, to know that God is not indifferent to us, and to re-enact his last meal for ever as a way to remind ourselves of his love and experience his real presence.

As I wrote somewhere at some time, years ago, it was the sacrament of Holy Communion, eating a stale piece of bread and sipping some grape juice, that reconnected me to what I guess we can call the body of Christ, although it’s hard to find the right words. It was a moment, a conscious contact in a very weak moment, through what should have been (to me) an innocuous and even meaningless act, an empty ritual, that damn near floored me.

Rituals are empty, though. That seems to me to be sort of the point. The cup has to be filled, and thirst plays a part. Otherwise it’s somnambulism, like getting married in a church because it makes your girlfriend’s mom feel good. It has to mean something.

It used to be, years ago, that Maundy Thursday was a busy day. For a few years, at one church, I was in charge of the elements, making sure we had enough (unleavened) bread and juice. At other times, I gave reflections or homilies.

One year, I remember, for some reason I was in charge of getting a notice in the paper about Holy Week activities, and my pastor told me to leave out the stuff about Maundy Thursday.

“If too many people come,” he said, “there might not be enough food.”

Practical. Conscientious, even.

Looking back, I wonder if he wasn’t just going through the motions. He was knee deep in the nuts and bolts of spiritual business, worrying about parking and getting enough Sunday School teachers, visiting hospital rooms and making sure the sanctuary got vacuumed. It’s a busy week for ministry, and he had a lot on his plate.

And, of course, Protestants tend to sometimes get a little skeptical about sacraments.

I miss a lot of things. I miss walking into churches and feeling at home. I miss helping. I miss being needed. I miss Maundy Thursday meals.

Tonight I’ll be in another church, needed in a way, at least to unlock the doors and start the coffee. There’ll be no meal, although sometimes people bring donuts. There’ll be no homilies, just a few basic truths about being lost and getting found.

It won’t be the same, but it’ll be something. Hungry people, trying to remember, searching for help, learning where to find it.

The last supper of Jesus won’t come up, I can practically guarantee it, but it’ll be on my mind anyway. That, and forgiveness and redemption, and the notion that somehow, in some way, I believe there will always be enough food, and that it’s not worth worrying about.

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UB-Day April 5

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Lana Clarkson (4/5/1962)

Lana Clarkson was what used to be called a B-movie actress, someone on the periphery of stardom, invited to some of the parties but not all, and sometimes the wrong ones.

Wikipedia says her most memorable performance was in Roger Corman’s Barbarian Queen in 1985, something I can’t attest to. I do remember her as Mrs. Vargas in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and she was also a guest actress on various TV series, including Night Court and Knight Rider.

On February 3, 2003, she was found shot to death in the home of music producer Phil Spector, who was later charged with her murder, having apparently given the police a tantalizing hint (i.e., “I didn’t mean to shoot her.”). With the routine swiftness of the U.S. legal system when dealing with rich people, Spector’s trial begins in a couple of weeks, so once again we’ll get an opportunity to witness the best justice money can buy. I’m not placing any bets. Or watching, either.

Trivia: She shared a birthday with her friend and sometimes mentor, Roger Corman (see below).

Age Would Have Been Today: 45.

Shared Birthday With: Colin Powell (70), Roger Corbin (81), and the late Frank Gorshin, Bette Davis, Gregory Peck, and Spencer Tracy.

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Childhood's End

(Several things are going on this spring. More than several, maybe, but they’ve all made me a little reflective. And I’ve noticed that suddenly my book seems to be selling again, although I have no idea why. If you’ve bought one lately, thanks. If not, and you feel the urge, I would note that Amazon is now taking 4-6 weeks to ship a copy, while the link at the bottom of this post will get you one sooner, probably.

At any rate, I picked up a copy and was thumbing through today, and since it’s essentially chronological I decided to see what I was thinking about, say, four years ago.

Well. It was a hard spring. We found out my dad had widely metastatic small-cell lung cancer, and my daughter was getting ready to graduate from high school. The former worried me, and the latter had me flailing very publicly, for reasons I can’t quite remember. At any rate, I’m tempted to post a few of those just to remind myself of how neurotic I got.

This is from early April 2003.)

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I am generally a happy man these days, even with war and SARS and the reappearance of Monica Lewinsky. Worrying never fixed anything, so I allow myself to sleep in on Saturdays and figure Wolf Blitzer will still be there when I get up.

On Saturday mornings I listen to Sam sing. Sam is one of my wife’s voice students, and on Saturdays I always stop and listen for a while. This is because Sam’s been working through “The Impossible Dream” lately and I really like that song. He sounds good on it, too, and I stand on the other side of the door and remember the words. “This is my quest/To follow that star/No matter how hopeless/No matter how far.” I sing this in the shower sometimes. It’s a great shower song.

It comes from “Man of La Mancha,” of course, the 1964 musical that’s become a little obscure in the past couple of decades. Mrs. Garcia, my seventh grade music teacher, spent a couple of weeks taking our class through the show, song by song. I would dream of playing Don Quixote, standing alone on stage with a scraggly fake beard, singing about marching into hell for a heavenly cause.

Maybe Sam has the same dream. Maybe he hopes that in a year or two Kamiak will produce “Man of La Mancha” and he’ll get his chance. I’m buying a ticket. I’m a big fan of dreams, impossible or not.

I’m surrounded by dreamers these days, which is how I can sweep aside Wolf and Saddam. Springtime is supposed to be for lovers and baseball fans, but high school seniors know it belongs to them. Spring is when the future becomes palpable and real, when letters from admission offices arrive and plans firm and pictures are taken, when goodbyes are contemplated and friendships are sealed. Spring is for dreamers.

They weren’t here yesterday, these young people on the brink of life. It was only a moment ago that my house was filled with little girls. I remember writing a letter to a college roommate. “I have to stop now,” I wrote. “It seems there’s some sort of a Barbie emergency.”

But I blinked and Barbie was gone, along with Nickelodeon and Sesame Street, replaced with cell phones and car keys. They’re a blur now, in and out the door, nonstop conversations and plans, always plans. They seem to understand that everything is waiting for them, waiting to happen, and they were supposed to be there five minutes ago. They’re rushing headlong into the rest of their lives now, and they are leaving us.

With graduation 10 weeks away, they seem to be shoring up friendships. I’ve seen familiar faces in the past weeks, echoes of childhood’s end.

Mallory Thompson dropped by the other day, and my wife and I reminisced about the time when she and Beth were in the second grade and made us breakfast in bed.

Chelsea Hendricks comes by a lot, all energy and brightness, as she was in the fifth grade. She claims I yelled at her back then for spilling something on the carpet. Chelsea is making this up.

Cindy Beavon has always been around, it seems. Cindy writes a column for the school newspaper, and occasionally she’s expressed the opinion that I’m a little wishy-washy, trying to please everyone. I take this criticism seriously; Cindy is a lot smarter than I am. But, then, Cindy is a lot smarter than pretty much everyone.

There are others. Robert, Lucy, Mitchell, Carmen, Lucas. They’ve all been around and they’re all heading somewhere else now, driven by dreams and the inevitability of growing up.

I don’t grieve for Barbie, really I don’t. I might get sentimental come June, but now I just marvel at how well they all turned out, and wonder what their futures hold. Sleeping late and watching the world go by is a luxury of middle age, when dreams are fewer and more sedate. We look at them, these not-quite-children on the cusp of life, and we laugh and say we’d never want to be 18 again. We’re lying. We’d do it again in a minute, knowing mistakes will be made and successes bright and sparkling and brand new. Our kids may know that we love and admire them, but they may not understand just how much we envy them now.

We share their hope and their plans for the future, their goals and their dreams. And I’d hope, before life gets too serious, that they’d nurture a few impossible ones. This is the time for it.

This is what Sam’s song is all about, after all. A foolish man, lost in a fantasy, tilting at windmills, but steadfast in his faith that in a troubled world, one dreamer can make a difference, knowing that throughout history one dreamer always has.

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Excerpted from The World According to Chuck: Stories from Mukilteo of Family, Faith, Friends, Baseball and Sponge Puppets (Xlibris, October 2004)

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Barackomania

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The Washington Post has the story: Barack Obama’s campaign announced that it raised 25 million dollars in the first quarter of 2007, virtually all of which is available to be used during the primaries. This came from a remarkable 100,000 donors (if it’s not a good day for math, that’s $250 apiece).

This compares to Hillary Clinton, who came up with 26 million in the same period.

As I wrote in my column this week (not online as of this writing), in 1960 John Kennedy announced his candidacy for President a year and 18 days before he was inaugurated. So thinking about the 2008 election, much less writing about it, feels foolish, sort of, like daydreaming.

And I confess I have no idea where I stand. The Republicans are showing me nothing interesting: McCain lurches from one dumb move to another, Giuliani is a thug, and Romney has left a long trail of contradictory statements. On the donkey side, Biden, Dodd and Kucinich are dead in the water, and Edwards obviously has a lot of unfortunate variables to deal with.

So Obama v. Clinton has been interesting to watch, particularly Obama’s ability to parry. The first really viable female candidate? We’ll see that bet with the first African-American, and raise you youth and freshness. Ten years ago I would have had little difficulty imagining Hillary Clinton running for President, but it never would have occurred to me that she’d seem so…yesterday. So establishment. So old. So much a pol.

And now Obama has erased Hillary’s huge, at one point almost unmatchable advantage. He can raise the money. He can certainly draw the crowds and generate the buzz. What he lacks in experience he makes up for with carry-on baggage only. For all we know he can also sing on key.

Again, it’s premature and a little dumb to spend time thinking too much about this. Lots can happen. But I’m betting there’s no joy in Clintonville today. Advantage: Obama.

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UB-Day April 4

David Kelley 4/4/1956)

Writer/producer David Kelley is an attorney by education, which explains “The Practice” and “Boston Legal,” and a hockey player by passion, which might explain something but I have no idea what.

At any rate, after writing a few episodes of “L.A. Law” he’s gone on to a remarkably prolific career, producing among others “Doogie Howser, M.D.,” “Picket Fences,” “Chicago Hope,” “The Practice,” “Ally McBeal,” “Boston Public,” “Boston Legal”, and “The Law Firm.” Not that there’s a pattern there.

Trivia: He’s married to Michelle Pfeiffer (above). He’s the only producer to win Emmys for both a comedy (“Ally McBeal”) and a drama (“The Practice”) in the same year (1999).

Age Today: 51.

Shares Birthday With: Robert Downey, Jr. (42), Christine Lahti (57), Maya Angelou (79), and Nancy McKeon (42).

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One Particular Spring

(It’s been 25 years, now. It just struck me, for whatever reason, while driving this afternoon. It’s warm and sunny, unedited spring, and it was probably like that three years ago, when this piece was first published. As it was in 1982. Funny what crosses your mind, and when.)

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I have been chasing after moments my entire life.

I want to snag them, slap them in some amber and study them. I want to know what will happen, what might, what could, what did. I am a temporal archeologist, looking for answers in slivers of time.

There’s a subjunctive sense about part of this; I look at a particular moment and wonder if it will mean something someday, and what. But we can’t, we can’t know, we can’t have any idea at all, so mostly I just look back, see how it all turned out, and hope maybe I’ll learn something.

I’m not talking about choices, although choices are important. The decisions we make in life, though, are tempered by a lot of things, among them our sense of morality, and fear. Keep the baby, take the job, return the wallet, hold your tongue: Minor or major, these are the choices we make that send us spinning down life.

But there are other moments when things happen, coincidences and random encounters and just odd things, and those are the times I like to look at and remember, and wonder about. And lately I’ve been thinking about Butch.

His name was Allen, but we called him Butch and I don’t know why. He was, among other things, an actor. He was a big man, tall with broad shoulders and huge hands, and movie star looks. If he had been born 30 years earlier, I could see Butch in those 1950s epics, driving chariots or scaling castle walls. He had an epic look.

His best friend was Paul, who happened to be my best friend, so it was an uneasy relationship at times. We tended to circle each other, a little wary. Still, we were friends of a sort, and then one day he did me a favor.

I’d left college for three years, trying some adventures and then working to earn enough money to return. At the end of my first year back, my savings were history and I needed a job, and this is where Butch came in.

He’d worked the summer before at a dinner theater, and even though by this point Butch had left town, heading for bigger dinner theaters and, we assumed, eventually Hollywood, he came back for visits and that spring he decided I should take his old job.

I’ve written about this little dinner theater before; it was a nice gig for college students, steady pay and fun, but singing and dancing weren’t exactly jumping out from my resume. So Butch had to twist my arm a bit.

He drove up the morning of the auditions, hovering around me like a mother hen, giving me advice, telling me to relax, making sure I had my music, and whispering in the ear of the director from time to time. Whether or not this made the difference, I don’t know; Butch said I did it myself. I think I probably got some help.

The job was mine, though, and I had a good summer and I met a cast member and fell in love, and so on. My life would have been different, no question. So I owe Butch one.

A couple of weeks later, Butch came back into town for a visit. He and Paul went to a restaurant and sat in the bar, talking and drinking. In the dining room, a young woman was having dinner with someone she really didn’t want to be with, much less be seen with. She got up to leave, finally, and now I have my moment.

I wasn’t there, by the way. I can still see it.

The young woman heads for the door, glad to be done with an awkward dinner. She passes the bar on her way, and Butch sees her. He’s met her a couple of times, knows her slightly, and he calls out.

Butch is not someone she wants to see, either, at this particular moment. So she ignores him and keeps walking. Paul is not paying attention to any of this.

This is where I freeze the frame, and tell you what would happen, and why I take this moment out from time to time to look at, and wonder about.

A few months later, Paul would move to Seattle. He’d call me and describe the Northwest in glowing terms, and I’d eventually follow him out here.

The young woman heading for the exit would, in a year or so, stand one day on a hill overlooking the red rocks of Sedona, and marry me.

And later that night, after leaving the restaurant, Butch would fall asleep at the wheel on a desert highway and die.

It’s just a moment, I know. A chance encounter between three people whose lives and actions were and are inextricably bound with mine, on a pivotal night. A moment that now belongs to me.

Looking back, I have great affection for all three of these young people, and for that one particular spring. Paul is still my friend. My wife is still my wife.

And Butch is now forever young, reminding me and others of a spring of change, when most of us had lots of life to yet live, and one of us didn’t, and none of us, of course, had any idea at all.

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Excerpted from The World According to Chuck: Stories from Mukilteo on Family, Friends, Faith, Baseball, and Sponge Puppets (Xlibris, October 2004)

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Hello World

In the three-plus years I’ve been blogging, I’ve never quite developed a stat passion. Every once in a while, sure, I’ll check referrals or Technorati, just on a whim, but I haven’t been able to work up much energy to see who’s reading, how many and how often.

Lately, though, since I moved over here and revamped, I’ve been paying more attention and it’s been fascinating, particularly IP locations. My inner geography nerd has been giggling.

In the U.S., there are heavy concentrations in the Northwest and Northeast, but there are readers all over (except for Montana and Wisconsin, apparently; what’s up with that?).

Canada, except for B.C., is a big zero, as is all of South America. There may be someone in the Montreal area, but that could also be Maine. Even Boston; the map isn’t that distinct.

Also, I get nothing from Antarctica.

It’s across the pond, though, that’s interesting. Sweden (I knew that, of course), Germany, Scotland. Greece, or possibly Turkey. Singapore? Looks like it. South Africa. New South Wales, too.

Small world, I guess. I appreciate it, even if I’m not sure I understand. I did want to let you know that I’m aware, is all.

Hi.

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UB-Day April 3

Some many ubeys, so little time. How to pick between these guys?

But no. We’ll go with this guy.

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Bill Sigars (4/3/1956)

Born in California, Bill raced from kindergarten through 12th grade in just 13 years. He then attended Arizona State University, where he got a Bachelor’s Degree in something to do with education, I think. And then a Master’s in something like that, too. I don’t pay attention sometimes.

He’s one of the good guys, having spent his entire life in the field of special education. He now lives in Klamath Falls, Oregon, a nice little town five hours from any other place, where he’s some sort of muckety-muck in the school district (I really should write some of this stuff down). He’s a father of four and grandfather of one. I don’t get to see him enough.

Trivia: He lost weight a few years ago by exercising more and eliminating Foster’s beer from his diet.

Age Today: 51.

Shares Birthday With: Eddie Murphy (46), Alec Baldwin (49), Tony Orlando (63), Wayne Newton (65), Marsha Mason (65), David Hyde Pierce (48), and Doris Day (83).

Happy birthday, bro. Sorry about the picture but it’s the best I got.

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Hey Judas

There’s been an increase in double-speak lately, although to be fair most of it is coming in the political spectrum. You think?

I’m too lazy to find a link, but last week (just for an example) Tom “The Hammer” DeLay, former Texas GOP House leader and bug man extraordinaire, went on “Hardball” with Chris Matthews to promote his new book. Matthews asked him about a characterization in the book regarding DeLay’s fellow Texas traveler, Dick Armey, and DeLay denied ever saying, thinking or writing such a statement (it wasn’t flattering to Armey). Matthews showed him the underlined comment in the book. DeLay denied it again. I was waiting for a cock to crow or something.

And so on. I’m starting to see it all the time, particularly from what passes for the mainstream media these days. Blanket statements, totally devoid of any factual basis, passed off as gospel.

It’s an odd phenomenon, watching this increase as our capacity to track stuff down and verify has never been greater. Or maybe not so odd. I’ve had a feeling for a long time that this information glut has burned out a lot of people, and along with niche-casting we now have a portion of the population tuning into (or reading, etc.) only sources they know will tell them what they want to hear. And there are lots of people, many of them political animals, all to willing to exploit ignorance. They’re not stupid. But they sure think we are.

It’s also not unusual to see blinders slapped on in other situations, and I’ve seen it a lot when it comes to the Bible.

Just as there are people who still believe Saddam Hussein masterminded 9-11, there are people out there who believe Jesus wrote the Bible, or any number of other interesting concepts. Some of these are tossed out calmly, as common knowledge and not even worth discussing.

And, to be fair, in a lot of cases I’m not sure what difference it makes if you have a good understanding of the Nicene Council or you think Santa stuffed scripture one Christmas Eve into your stocking and that’s where it came from. I think you ought to read it. It’s fascinating, even without faith. With faith, it becomes a whole new ballgame.

But it came from somewhere, and this has always been an interest of mine. I love history, and archeology has been on my radar since Indiana Jones at least, and there’s plenty to be found in even a skimming of biblical origins.

I don’t usually link to Salon, as non-subscribers have to watch a commercial or some such before reading the articles (I’m not really sure; I’ve been a subscriber from the beginning), but if you have any interest at all I’d suggest giving this piece a read (and as I recall the ad thing is very short). It’s an interview with Biblical scholar Elaine Pagels about the newly discovered Gospel of Judas, and it’s thought provoking and stimulating.

And let me know what you think.

Also, I don’t recall ever writing this post.

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Field Of Dreams

It’s Opening Day in Seattle, as our Mariners once again send waves of optimism soaring across Safeco Field, to be followed by something different soon if history holds up.  Still, it’s real baseball.

My neighbor Larry Simoneaux writes an appropriate column this morning in the Everett Herald.  I have a feeling I know where he was, what street he was driving down and what field he stopped at, and I’ve done the same thing and had the same thoughts.  The Boys of Spring are out.

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