Thursday, December 11, 2008

Photopoaching

It's a funny thing. People like having their picture taken, in general. I like it so much that I'll go to great lengths to "poach" a photo. My kids used to be embarrassed by it, but now they are poachers too.

Some great places to poach are vacation spots, graduations, weddings, birthdays, (family holidays, as seen in the photo here with Tynan), tour stops (especially those frequented by Japanese tourists who like to pose in front of stuff for a photo.)


Thanksgiving 2008.
Tynan thinks he's all
alone at the table. I got
into a string of about
5 shots in a row here.

We went to Disneyland in October. What a great place to poach. I'm in the background of probably 50 photos that went home to wherever and are now on social network profiles around the world. The ultimate poach is where you can sneak a goofy face into the image at just the right moment.

The idea is simple really. When you see a person or a group forming up for a photo op, you merely saunter over behind them as though you're looking at the sights from an angle just behind them. Act as though they aren't even there. You are, after all in the usual poach, in public. You'll see the photographer lining up the shot. The psychology here is that you are for all intents and purposes, invisible. The subjects are preening and the photographer is looking to see if everyone is smiling. Make sure you can see the lens from where you stand. Often you'll hear, "Ok, everybody Onnnnneeeee Twoooooo Threeeee SMILE!" That's when you turn quickly toward the lens, make your wildest face ever (maybe even step up to the back row so it's like you're one of the family) and as quickly as you can after the "click" return to sauntering.

Now you will appear in the photo. When they get home and upload the family picture to Facebook, everyone goes, "who's that???"

There's also the direct photopoach. Someone asks you to take a picture of their group. Hold the camera up ... backwards ... and act like you're looking for the viewfinder, then...... "CLICK" you're on their camera, full face. As seen here:


The poach during Dusty's
Birthday party. The group
shot was next. Lou: "OK,
so I just push this button?"
           "click"

Or, of course a great photopoacher is promoted to black belt if you can pull off the ultimate. A lone camera, left trustingly on the campground table. Pick it up, snap off a few and set it back down as though nothing happened. You'll be congratulated (or chastised) later for your brilliance. Observe:


My Black Belt photo.
Camping at Lake Tahoe,
This camera was left
on the picnic table.

What I don't have an example of just yet, is a picture some stranger took where I'm just there in the background. I haven't even mentioned the kind of poach that is the "forced friend" poach. I'm sure somewhere out there on the net, I appear in one of those images that the Japanese tourist didn't delete. I see a person posing, and run up to their side to pose along with them as though we've been hanging out all day. After the "click" I just walk away as though nothing ever happened. If you're cruising along the internet and you see me in some inexplanable image, dear reader, please shoot me the link. It's the one thing that would move me from Black Belt to "Exalted Master".

There is great fun to be had in the grocery store, and one of these days I'll write up the game my roommates and I invented in Spokane (Whitworth College!) for getting through the long, cold, dull winters...

Sunday, December 07, 2008

A small "wrinkle"...

When Tess, the dog, left us this week, she made a small mess of our hearts. We woke up to her absence that morning. We just didn't think she would be in transition between two places.

Tesseract Lightfoot. "Tesseract" from Madeline L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time, and "Lightfoot" from the book Cold Sassy Tree. The Wrinkle is what a Tesseract is, where two pieces of time fold in on each other and at that fold, time travel happens.

That's how it is with dogs, I've decided. They connect us, in a small way, to what's important. Companionship, and relationships, loyalty, all the things that a good dog, in a small way, will provide.

Lightfoot was the young girl in Cold Sassy Tree who, though desired, couldn't be known... The boy, from whose eyes the story was told, fell in love with her and yet she couldn't be his, due to his shyness and the cultural inacceptance of her station compared to his.

Danny Blaise named Tess. We wanted names from books, and these were two faves 12 years ago. I don't think I had any idea that the dog we named after a Tesseract would lay on the shore of Wolf Creek as Melinda ran for help after my accident. My own tesseract of sorts, the wrinkle where two times touched. It was a bit ironic, carrying her up the hill from where she lay unable to move last Friday. I was very out of breath when I got her up the hill, my breath a fog in the cold morning air. She had apparently spent the night there.

So in my way, I paid her back for being near me in my duress. There it was again though. The small thing a dog showed me about what to do when a friend falls. You sit by them and don't say anything. Many people did that for me in the hospital. Now I know what it is to really visit someone. Just be. There.

Love is all about loss. I'll never get used to it. Maybe in some small way, it gets easier as time goes on. I don't know, I'm only 50. Lots of time down the road, you just never know what you might wake up to some day. Which is a good thing, after all. Where would hope be with too much knowledge?

Friday, December 05, 2008

From a place far away...

Back when I traveled internationally a lot, there were times of feeling isolated. Of course this is all gone now for travelers who can stay in touch through the wonders of internet destinations such as Facebook, email clients, Instant Messaging, and of course Phone/VOIP. 

In fact I remember the last trip out of country for me was to Africa in 2004. I was on a cell call to home from the back of a jeep as we charged along a Tanzanian dirt road, taping a herd of something antelope-like. On the other end, they could even hear the mechanical clanging that comes from potholes and ruts of the road over the sound of my voice. This was an interesting bookend to my very first trip out of country in 1992, also to Africa, when I made one pricey phone call in two weeks from a hotel in Nairobi. 

But even with the technical wonders available to us, we can still feel isolated. Sometimes by choice, other times because it's not always easy to discern meaning from pixels on the screen. The real person within my proximity is company of some kind. The one occupying the screen or phone line as a voice, is imagined or remembered. But there is still something intimate about absence.

The letters and words next to each other are an interesting visual. Even each letter as we look up close is a combination of lines (sequenced pixels) and space. If we are to make meaning out of our words, we have to see both the presence and absence of those lines. And looking that closely, I realize even in the printed word, on screen, text on a phone, or on paper, there is more white space than "ink". 

Lately I've been trying to remind myself that this is what grace is. Immature Christians like to think of grace as a hard set of boundaries that we have to practice writing over and over. Of course, this leads to many a slippery slopes. With that kind of Rigid Grace, what can you say about "Judgement", (capital "J") or Mercy, or even Love? Really anything that marks a thought as "Christian" or not hinges on grace. 

The places far away from the pixels are important in discerning the boundaries. Sometimes we Christians are forced to ask ourselves and others, "what is God's Will in this case..." If you flip the view of grace to be more white space than finite lines, you are in what feels like very unsafe territory. Territory that is a place far away. And like those places far away in my past, I cannot easily, nor affordably, get back to the finite. God's Grace. Here, look at it this way:

G    R     A    C    E

Look at all the white space. The closer you get to it, you are farther away from the pixels, the lines or the ink that supposedly defines "grace". The older I get, the more comforting it is to me that God is in that space far away from what we have tried to define as "grace". 

Because of the space, I should never put myself in the place of Judge, (capital "J"). That's God's place. Because of it, I should know when to be merciful. The answer, I think to that is, "always be merciful". Because of the space, I know that God has lots of flexibility as to how He might interpret our intents and actions. Especially since those things are only symptoms of our real illness, creation in rebellion with creator. 

The deception is when I no longer am looking at the "page" with the word Grace written upon it. In other words, if everything is "white space", then anything goes. Without the Word, there is nothing to lean against, nothing to pursue but our own cravings. No word and the person has to ask, "farther away from what?" We, rebellious creation, begin scribbling indiscernibly on the page. 

We are scribbling when we justify our ideas on the page before or after Grace. 

One more step into the abstract and I'll publish and move on. 
God's Will and the Importance of Grace.

So you want to know God's Will? Try to know your own will first. I mean, really KNOW it. What is it in you that is will in the first place? Is it intent? Is it actions? Not really, no. In death, to "will" is to grant. In marriage it is a promise that stands next to "I Do". 

Do you take...? Next to Will you honor...? In Anglican baptism, "will you renounce satan...?" The Book of Common Prayer provides the script: "I will with God's help". To will is to grant. To will is to promise. At least in this shallow end of the Pool of Semantics.

If you end there, you might say, "I know Lou's will." Even though my will is my business. You might set me as an example and try to act according to my will (I wouldn't suggest that, for what it's worth). Maybe will is nothing without choice. 

Maybe even God has a choice to grant according to his promises or not. Does not God promise to be trustworthy? Doesn't He, through Christ say, "follow me"? Is not God the only being with the responsibility and rights to judge the hearts and minds of all people? In so doing He grants eternity of some kind, like it or not. Maybe, if I want to know God's will, I should look at His gifts and promises. Some fulfilled, some outstanding.

God's will, His business after all, is I think knowable. He has a will of Justice. And a will of compassion and mercy and so on. They are marvelously synchronous, not at all contradictory, but it is disconcerting to we who think we have to understand everything before we'll act, whether our relatively insignificant events are caused by God's choice to act on which part of His will... We all choose to act on our wills or against them. The chief difference, I'm convinced, is that God can be trusted to always act according to His. 




Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Who will play with me?

I am a child with a handful of moist clay
Tell me how you would most like to play, 
If it is not my soft, gritty delight
And I will gladly come to your table
Shall we cut and fold paper according to a more determined outline 
To see what origami crane might emerge?
Will it be finger-paints which are freeform but permanent? 
Should we draw with chalk so we can erase and even experiment 
With the negative images our hand makes as it wipes the slate
Or color with crayons inside the lines of shapes with no known origin? 
Should one of us draw a first line and the other add the second
Then trade back and forth until we have a complete picture today? 
Or do you want to pose for me as I paint what I see in you, or other way round? 
Do you want, today, to create alone, and at some time in the future 
Arrive with the surprise of our individual offerings invented in absence of
And at the same time in the deepest mindfulness of
Each other

 -author known

Friday, November 07, 2008

Word Gardeners

This whole thing about communicating is overrated. Life was good once, when there were publishers and editors who knew what they were doing. The days of books, and newspapers and trained language professionals who care about punctuation, grammar and tenses, those were the days. 

Those days aren't completely gone by any stretch, but they are muddied by the vast amount of permission we've given each other to think ourselves worthy of thought and justified in our opinions. We are, all of us who write anything as permanent as a blog, present webspace included, guilty of taking permission but not always with the responsibility that goes with it. In part it's because there's been a narrowing between the parallel roads of "immediacy" and "permanence". 

Breaking the wall for the moment (which is, after all permitted since this IS my blog, whatever "my" means), I find myself suddenly on a quest to take more lightly ideas expressed casually.

I am keenly aware of what happens when I read something written in haste for whatever reason. "Haste" is the word of the day in this instant publishing of blogs, IM's, SMS, Tweets and other microblogs. So why the hurry? Sometimes it's the post-it note mentality driven by easy to use technology. What used to be a quick reminder to self, stuck on the cupboard, is now publicly viewable, and has impact on those around us. Sometimes hasty words happen because we don't have the margin to think, so we process out loud. And of course, as witnessed a while back when I saw two teenage girls texting each other at a movie from opposite ends of the row, we shoot hasty words sometimes because we "can".

In the end what keeps coming back to me is that there's one element in all this that is the most human of all. Trust. I feel comfortable with someone seeing an "impermanent" idea of mine, because if they are my reader, they're trustworthy. I am bolstered by the myth that what I might say in an electronic transfer, will be taken with a grain of salt, because we all know there was no "editor" or "publisher" involved. It was a casual comment. Or was it?

I'm more aware than ever that nothing I write is really impermanent. Not any more or less than harsh or kind words I speak. I can change a person with what I say to her. I can make him do the impossible, or create for her an impossible self image with simple conversation. And even more so, through "inked" words. The reader goes back over and over the text and, for better or worse, feasts on the meaning. Permanence. They are changed and so nothing said or written casually is truly fleeting. (With the exception of the likes of a shopping list or party greeting: "hey", "how's it going?", etc)

And so I'm trying to weed out those idiotic tendencies from my garden. It's the editors and publishers I miss most. Those professionals, the ones who know gardens, who can take one look and say, "you know, a little fertilizer on those over there, and if I were you, I'd prune in the next week..." Until then, may I learn at least to know what's important enough to explore, and what is best left stuck to the cupboard door.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name, you are mine.
Should you pass through the sea,
I will be there with you;
or through rivers, they will not swallow you up.
Should you walk through fire, you will not be scorched
and the flames will not burn you
You are precious in my eyes, I love you
Do not be afraid, for I am with you.

Book of Isaiah

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The rain was heavy today. That's not to say it was heavy rainfall. It was heavy, as though the drops had been eating and not exercising, laying around on their couches for months watching football and drinking beer when there comes a knock on the door and they get up, grumbling and a little annoyed as they try to button their pants. The knocking gets more persistent. "Alright, alright," the fat droplets say, "hang on..." When they finally reach the door, the bell is now ringing and there's a shouting outside, an unfamiliar voice yelling, "EVERYBODY OUT!" while the lazy, plump plops shove a handful of chips in their pouty mouths and reach for the door...

That's the kind of drops that were falling today as we walked in the forest an hour's drive from our house into the Sierras. Those same drops, seconds after turning the knob were demanded out of their slums, falling helplessly alongside millions of others who had, apparently, enjoyed the same easy living until the knocking became unbearable. Heavy drops. My whole body became full of them, and heavier were my steps because of them.

The rain can do that to you. It can expose darkness and light. Some rain is silky and refines your joy. Todays rain was heavy and cold. Walking the forest road, spilled and pooled, puddles more like a loch with hidden dread, the water's weight in my coat, seeping to my skin called heaviness from my heart. It knocked incessantly and rousted me from the comfort of my own forgetfulness. That's fat rain if you're not being careful. 

This trail will be ten feet under snow in a few weeks. That first white sheet will start blur the lines between the large rocks that cobble the road. I won't be there. But if I was, perhaps that snow, pulled flake by flake from the clouds would be the peace that comes from the averaging that only deep snow can provide. Rain brings out your darkness or light. Snow is relief from pain and the silencing of critical voices and regrets. 



Saturday, November 01, 2008

author known

Her surrender of her exclusive and rightful pleasure may seem you the feather that knocked over this weighty thing. But in his heart, it was a mighty blow struck a'many and for long and for no good reason while he, in darkness groped for a token whose light-reflection might beckon at least one hand to reach up and unwind him from the fetal tuck that is this isolation. Here is loneliness.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Summer Flu

A running nose in hunderd degree heat
Sweating and crawling, my skin is alien flesh
Plugged ears when the elevation shifts five feet or more
And the queasy growling under my naval
It's the summer flu

What did I eat?
Who do I know that can't get out of bed?
Who did I kiss?
What will I do as I toss in perspiration sheets?
These are the the mysteries of the summer flu

There's only one thing
To lay prone
And another thing, drink fluids
Starve your fever, or is it, feed it?
Every problem in the world 
Is in your body, unavoidable
In the summer flu

Nobody else cares, until you give it to them
Nobody remembers except to say, "ew, stand over there",
What it was like the last time
Their body contained every worldly problem
But they can't escape it, the hot, clingy, sticky, crawly 
Virus of the summer flu

Five minutes, an hour, then two
Half a day, then night, and still here
Still floating up and over into the night
And morning, it should be gone
Sniffling stuffed up sinus-jammed breathing
Or not
It's all over when you cough and rattle
The bass note serenade of the summer flu


--that's what it has been like these past three days. It occurred to me that I've only had one or two summer flu's. They are worse than the usual mid-winter bug in that they seem to be more reckless. Germs with bermuda shorts and hibachi's on vacation in my blood stream. Can't wait for them to pack up and go home. Perhaps this is what Oregonians think of us here in California as we invade during the mosquito months. I wonder...

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Stare-down

When the two faces met in the mirror, the one looking the other seen, there was a sudden recognition that something was missing. A longing for the way it used to be, not yesterday, nor last week or even anytime in the past year or two. But the longing was for anything unchanged in the mirror.

He looked at his face,  at the age spot just under his eye... the faint lines on his nose, the "smile wrinkles" around his eyes and gray hairs in his two day unshaven beard. These were all new, since the last time he really looked. That time, as best he could remember, was sometime in his early twenties. 

Then he looked in. Past the age spot, into the frame that was the wrinkles above his cheekbones, to the brown color and pupil floating on the white of his eyes. He ignored, for a moment, everything around them, and said to himself, "There. That's what's left of me. That's what has changed the least." Even though it wasn't true, for his ability to see close up and far away simultaneously is not what it was back then. Only the outward appearance of his vision was the same, and only that in the very center. 

He couldn't stay long, the seen was getting bored with being observed. So, he stepped back, satisfied for the moment that there was at least one thing left of him that quelled the longing for what used to be. It was not youthfulness, but innocence that escaped him this morning. And even that was not very easily seen. 

On his way to work, he counted the things that swept him away from his younger self. Each one, in itself, a complete story of its own. The sum of them, totaled together, was cause for grief and joy both. Each story, person, or event that eroded his innocence carried those two faces of their own. 

Each looked into the mirror at the other, one seeing, the other seen. Grief observed joy. They traded places. Joy looked grief deeply in the eye, past all the markings of a worrisome unforgiveness. And backed away slowly, for the moment, satisfied, and said, "There. That's what's left of me. That's what's changed the least..."


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The weeping bride and her gentleman.

I guess I'm finally getting used to having a married son. Like I'm finally getting used to the idea that my hair is really receding. Blaise married Lindsey back there on the 28th. Of June. A hot day, sweltering actually, in the little church where they were wed. Our church. "My" church. I guess it's Blaise's home church, but not his church. He's living out of town, he and Lindsey are, in Pacific Grove. (Monterey, for those of us who don't always remember where "PG" is.) And so their church is the Anglican church there, (Anglican, because we all hate saying "Episcopalian"). 

They, and my receding hair, are becoming more obvious all the time by their absence. Lindsey cried hard the first night in their apartment, according to Blaise. Who could blame her. A blast through all the wedding arrangements, the emotions of having inbound families and expectations, then the ceremony and reception and the getaway to wedding night... The honeymoon and a quick stop to unwrap a couple hundred presents, all shiny and new and somehow up to now unnecessary, then the fourth of July with my family and finally the crossing of the threshold. As Blaise says, the kitchen was less than tidy when he left it to off and wed. 

So she cried. Hard. But my dear boy did maybe the first brilliant married man thing of hopefully thousands in the future. He made her dinner. And they watched a movie.

She was feeling homesick up to then. And this new thing, this was not feeling like home. But Blaise made it so. Dinner, lovingly made. Served up to his beloved. Followed by a cuddle on the couch through a 90 minute (+-) story, somebody else's story for the first time in weeks, perhaps. He fixed Lindsey up. 

And that's all you can ask at a time like that, isn't it? Exhaustion, change, stress, family, and loss after loss. Nothing like home, even one that you're growing into, when the smells of garlic and olive oil (or whatever he cooked that night) are all around you.

May God bless them through their love for each other, as they bring each other home, over and over. Which is just another way of saying, "better or for worse..." 


Wednesday, July 02, 2008

More... or Less... Lost

There's a place along the spectrum of lost and found 
Where I sit with my legs dangling over
It's breezy up here, and the spectrum, like all spectrums
Is not a very comfortable ledge
It's not meant for sittng

You're not supposed to dawdle
You're supposed to keep moving along the line
But I've just gotten tired of being more or less lost
So I've sat down to dangle my legs
It is, after all, my spectrum

I guess you just die one day and they'll say things about you
Things like, "Lately he'd been a little out of sorts." 
Another way of saying "more lost than usual"
Or things like, "He went around making people smile..." 
Another way of saying "more found than usual"

The measurable degrees of lost
Sitting on one of them now, with my heels sweeping the abyss
We could just move the end called "Found" over here
But I'd know better, like setting the clock ahead 15 minutes to avoid tardiness

More lost today I think, certainly more than two days ago
I can barely remember my own name
The numbing cold of the lost has set in
I know I should stand and walk to where the found are mingling
I can hear their laughter, sometimes pink, sometimes blue
And always a long ways off

"I was just there", I think to myself
"Where the found are sipping mango tea or Dr. Pepper"
Going means leaving something back
Becoming less lost is always such a hard bargain

Here in the cold, it's only the impostors who sit and stay too long
And such quiet company, the lull of the distance, the cold breeze
I'm now one of them, a long way from the oppressive freedom of having been found
Truly found
Where your heart beats on the outside of your chest

How I miss that weightlessness 
And stripping down to the skin
What am I doing with these fools here in the cold?
Today... just hanging my heels somewhere, more... or less... Lost.






Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Catch and release raccoons

A while back, my friend John and I devised a new concept in politically correct hunting lodges. Catch and release deer hunting. The whole premise wound around the idea of paintball guns and pesky deer. You can imagine, I'm sure, the rest.

Two nights ago, our back screen door into the big common room the kids fondly call the "playroom" was open and the raccoons slipped in unnoticed and made a very noticeable mess out of the cat food bag.  (we hardly use the cat food since our OUTDOOR cat became fond of the neighbors who now let the thing in the house when it's raining and pamper it with canned tuna. When they go on vacation they always come over to remind us about the cat saying, "could you remember to feed Rama?" Pffft. The mouse population is sure to rise.)

Well last night as Melinda was designing some banners for Blaise and Lindsey's wedding reception, I heard a scratch at the front door. I thought it was our prodigal cat. So I went to look. The stinking raccoons were tired of waiting to be fed, and, "heck" they figured, "last time one of those big flat things was there we just pushed and there was a bag of cat food."

So I got Dusty's paintball gun and, in my shorts, sprinkled cat food on the driveway, and hid out. I also changed my status on Facebook to read, "Lou is hunting raccoons with a paintball gun".

Brenda who, with Jeff went to get Chaney in Italy, uses Facebook to brag about all the great food and historical stuff their seeing, read my post and couldn't help but post there. It went likd this:

Hunting raccoons, with a paintball gun nonetheless....now that's fun! Any luck?"

To which I responded: 

"The damn things have thrashed the catfood, the garbage and last night they were scratching at my front door, like the cat does. I go out there to see what it is... a raccoon!. So. I got Dusty's paintball gun and sat in the shadows on the deck with a spread of catfood on the driveway... nothing, until this morning when I found the catfood gone and a note asking for fish. It was taped to a poloroid of me hunched behind the barbecue.

I need to be more proactive I think. The door scared them away."


And Brenda again:

"Florence is great! ...  Chaney got all teary when she saw the Pieta by Mike. She had been studying this piece and school and was thoroughly flabbergasted seeing it up close and personnel."

Just goes to show you that as cool as catch and release raccoon hunting might be, there's always some friend in Europe with a better story. It seems a long ways away, the romance of hand carved marble and frescos, not to mention outdoor cafes and gelato. Soon enough though, my friend, with whom I sat for hours las fall waiting for a turkey to present himself as a fat target, will be home. He'll probably be carrying some extra weight from all the fresh pasta, which is a perfect alibi for hiding on the porch with glow in the dark spheres and CO2 tanks... 

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Atheism: Cave Canum

Dusty applauded an April post by an atheist blogger he's become, apparently, enamored with. The antetheos posted about being open minded. You can see it here:

I don't want to lose my response to what I think might be a bit of under-thought on the part of the blogger, so I'm inserting it here for safe keeping:

"Beware of Dog"

Being rather new to this idea of "no theos", please forgive me if I ask questions that have been unquestionably accepted by rational thinkers, or well enough documented in this or other blogs. You, I think would agree that public opinion is among the least of the proofs. You've said as much in refusing, as we all should do, to accept opinion or another's word as complete, or whole evidence. So I thank you for the freedom to consider your opinion here as same weight as Billy Nascar, St. Augustine or a midlevel potato farmer. I'm happy to say, we all of us dead or alive, have produced moments of brilliance.

Am I right to draw from this post, that open mindedness is an important value to which I, as an atheist must cling? You have several themes running through, but it might me help to stick to only one, for "I am a bear of very little brain."

Tell me if I have the gist of your view right: An open mind is a desirable thing. A closed mind to be avoided. So far, so good. I'm strongly considering atheism already, open-mindedness is the only way to fly if we're to give and take, fully, in these short years incorpus.

Thank you again, for leading us by your example. I think I can trust you to give me the best atheism has to offer. So, by your post, a good atheist "should" agree that evidence must live up to several criteria, some pretty strict boundaries. Can you help me here? I was just about to join you, valuing open-mindedness as much as you do. But, these words seem a bit restrictive. Here they are again:

"convincing" "irrefutable" "logical" "consistent with the reality we know" "practical" "sensible" "possible" "rational"

I'm trying for as much common ground as I can get here. Let's imagine that a religious mystic describes his faith. You'll require "convincing, irrefutable logic". But when he starts, we atheists will have a problem with reality we all, including him, "know". His faith is "practical" to him and he would say "sensible" or why would he bet his lifestyle upon it. But if you're not convinced of his "proofs" because they don't meet your very specific "rationality", I'm afraid I might hear you declare "Impossible!!!"

So as one who is in total agreement with you on the importance of remaining open, my question is simply, "Is not this atheism, both narrow, and closed?" After all... your mission, if you'll allow, is wonderfully described in a single word. I wish I had a single word mission. That word: Atheist. "No Theism" as you say. Sounds a bit more rigid than you originally promoted above.

I greatly desire peer respect, in the end. After all, we both have our moments of brilliance. I fear we're starting off on the wrong foot. Could you clarify this one, what looks to me to be, blind spot? In this one post you've alienated those who can't meet your subjective, albeit narrow rules, and have devalued our beloved openness by your title which says "I'm closed to theism". If it were on a business card, I'd know your name and that you value closedness. Maybe we're expecting too much of an open mind. In that case let's search for some other common ground, something we can agree is valuable (even though To Value requires a faith in yet another thing we can't quite prove...)

Thanks in advance for your gentle response, I am but a potential disciple, with a deep lack of experience in such an obvious (as you put it) need for exclusively rational thinking.

All the best,

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

To the Anthropologists!


Here's a picture of me today, just for the record. Since this blog, any blog really, is a sort of time capsule that one day will be trod by very bored anthropologists, I thought I might make their life a little easier. To you future scientists, this is what it's like when you've moved out of your office here in the early 2000's, after a series of smallerizing events in a start up. 

Whatever you have there in the future, I hope it includes the same ability we have today to bounce back after personal economic ruin. In fact it is a poverty of luck. But as you can see, this placid day in Grass Valley, CA in May, there is no global warming, or cooling. Just global downsizing in my little world. I now work from the deck whenever possible. Soon it will be too hot again. Followed by too cold. Somewhere in there, all that really matters, is my whole work world fits in my backpack.

Hope this one little puzzle piece helps you to know how it was today, at least in this little wooded place. (FWIW, just across the canyon, I'm hearing large earth moving equipment. I think some rich bastard just bought the top of the hill over there and is carving a swath out of the forest so he can see the creek.) When you read this, out there 100 years from now, Google "Little Way" and see if you can see any trees. Probably just concrete across the creek.


Monday, March 31, 2008

Blessed are the Meek

Marcia Haley is one of my favorite people. She's angelic in some ways. Something happened to her when she was a young girl to slow her intellectual development. I don't know what it was, I've only known her for the past eight or ten years and so what was "lost" in that episode doesn't occur to me. All I know is that this sweet woman from a prominent family in our church never misses the opportunity to find me every Sunday morning for a hug and a kiss and to give Blaise and Dusty her best. She's often wearing an alb and is the most reliable acolyte or chalice bearer at the 10:30 service.

During the Gospel reading at Trinity, an acolyte will take the cross (a 6 foot tall pole with hand-carved cross at the top) to the center aisle somewhere around a third of the way back. When the cross passes at the processional or recessional and Gospel reading, it is customary to bow, indicating our own insignificance in the presence of the Christ resurrected.

Dusty's first morning as acolyte many years ago was unforgettable. He made it in carrying the cross just fine. It was at the Gospel reading when, as usual, he was followed to the center aisle by a chalice bearer carrying the Bible, and then the Deacon whose privilege it is to perform the reading. Only Dusty didn't stop a third of the way down the aisle. He, not able to see behind him, carried the cross all the way to the back of the church and out the door. The Bible and deacon stopped in the correct place. When Dusty finally turned around, Deacon Dave, a mountain of a man, smiled and gestured for him to come back. Dusty at his best.

Two years ago, many insignificant things started to loom large in the eyes my faith. I began to notice small nuances. And one of those was, and still is, Marcia.

I see her walking through town alone, from time to time. She walks because she cannot drive. I think she takes care of herself pretty well, doing her own shopping and preparing meals. I would guess her to be in her fifties now. We all know people like her. They don't fit very well into our view of "productive" society. We've placed such a high value on accomplishments and personal bests. By many standards, Marcia has little value. She has a quiet and simple sense of humor. I've never heard her argue the finer points of theology, but she did confess to me after my accident that she had prayed for me "all the time". I'd wager, those were prayers God was most happy to receive. In fact that first day back in church after six weeks in the trauma unit plus several more at home, is hard for me to remember. One thing that stands out is Marcia Haley hugging me over and over, and when she finally let go, I saw she was crying.

But the smallest thing is something I can't shake very well. It is when Marcia carries the cross. At the processional, when the cross leads her past me, I bow. At the Gospel reading, leading the Bible and the deacon, I bow again. And as the whole gang, acolytes, chalice bearers, deacon, lector, and finally priests make their way to the narthex, they are led by the cross, borne by Marcia Haley. Blink and you'll miss it. There are so many layers of meaning in it.

The least of these, redeemed by the most powerful reminder in the building, the Cross. She stands, made mighty, because of the cross. All around the room, as she walks by, important lawyers and businessmen, retired and visiting priests, intellectual giants and educated scholars... all of them, to the man and woman... bows. Marcia Haley, whom I see walking into town is merely Marcia Haley. But put the cross in her hands, and she is the most scandalously powerful person in the building. Of course nobody is bowing to her. Nor does anyone bow to the object, as if it were an idol. We are bowing to what is behind both. Sometimes I nearly gasp at the thought of it.

The very idea that this meek woman would hold such a precious thing. And why shouldn't she?! That's the point. We are, everyone of us, unworthy and castoffs without that cross. We bow to the idea of it...and paradoxically, at the same time, the reality of Christ. Why shouldn't we hold the idea of, and therefore the reality of each person as precious. And that picture, is the greatest image of Grace, like a living breathing icon, that I've ever known.

The angels have so often been portrayed as messengers. And there's that side of Marcia. The Sunday morning hug and her kiss on my cheek, her respectful "good morning Mr. Douros", and her almost shy departure at the end of it all makes me wonder why I don't bow when I see her on the street.

All of this has caused me to look around a lot more on Sunday mornings. There's meaning in almost every one of Christopher's gestures. Even individual cuts of stained glass in each panel can carry a whole biblical truth. Certain candles. The incense. Hundreds of details in each icon. The carefully chosen words of the Nicene Creed. (Even down to specific phrases). All of it layered full of meaning. At the end of a service I've taken away a single morsel that will feed my soul for weeks. That's where Marcia and I have so much in common. Those massive truths go on without us both. It's when we take hold of any one of them, and especially the cross, that our esteem goes beyond anything humanly measurable.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

March the Eighteenth

A little thought will show you how vastly your own happiness depends on the way other people bear themselves toward you...

Turn the idea around, and remember that just so much you are adding to the pleasure or the misery of other people's days. And this is the half of the matter which you can control. Whether any particular day shall bring to you more of happiness or of suffering is largely beyond your power to determine. Whether each day of your life shall give happiness or suffering rests with yourself.

George S. Merriam

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Semper Referendum

The phrase Christopher used this morning in his brief sermon (Palm Sunday's sermon is always short with the long Gospel reading. It's one of those, "'nuff said" kinda scriptures), was "semper referendum". He interpreted that to mean, "Always in need of reform". 

Funny but that's almost another one of those, 'nuff said kinda things too. He was talking about our baptisms and how one is really enough, as is stated in the Nicene Creed. It's enough, but not the thing that saves us. An anecdote Christopher used (and has used before) was the story of an old holy monk who lay on his death bed. His lips were moving and as his disciples came close and asked him what he was saying, he replied, "I'm asking Christ to give me a little more time to repent." Astonished, they remarked to him about what a holy man he is and asked why he, of all people would need to repent. He said, "oh, I have not even begun to repent".

Always... and everyone of us, in need of reform. Yes, one baptism for the forgiveness of sins; the sacrament, "an outward sign of an inward grace..." as the definition goes. It is constant reform, though that will define us in the end. The returning to the communion table, and in our private times with Christ, those are the things that change us. Referendum. 

If anything the act of baptism is the thing that acknowledges that we are not unlike everybody else. That nothing, really is different, one of us to another. Baptism marks the inward grace. It isn't until years of maturity sinks into us that we have any hope that reform inside will actually show up on the outside.

I am alone in this, yet another inward grace the outward sign of which is communion. The forest deep and dark, with silent footsteps behind the trees. Hissing smirks of my own demons who would rather I forgot my baptism along with my daily routine of seeking God. Perhaps it is that I have been given a little more time to repent. Or just to know the truth of being reformed. Either way, I'm happy that I'm not unlike you, reader. Be it void or warm light, only inward grace can complete the equation of a sacrament. 

Friday, March 14, 2008

Looking Into the Shallows of Space


I met one of the early designers of Google Earth last week. The application that has mapped all the dirt on the planet now includes views from our terrestrial P.O.V into the depths of space, (now available online as google.com/sky). Or maybe we're at the depths and most directions outward are the "shallows". The point is, with the use of photos gathered from the Hubble Space Telescope we can now see galaxies billions of light years away. And we see them through the perspective of our present point in the universe.

Robin, the Google cartographer, started with a zoomed in snap of a galaxy that looked like a dusky oval in the center of the screen. He described that this point (that looked about the same size as the word "point" in this blog), was something like over 100 million light years thick. One hundred years, traveling at the speed of light from the dot over the "i" to the bottom of the "p". In that galaxy, there are millions of stars, billions of planets and other objects. He said that our own galaxy, the Milky Way, was about a tenth the size of the one we were observing.

Then he did something I have done on the flat National Geographic map of the universe. He zoomed out.

As the huge "point" sized galaxy shrunk down until it was not even visible, just a part of the black, and stars filled the sky (the stars of our own galaxy), I remembered that outside that cloud of white dots, there are billions of other galaxies. Trillions of stars, and gazillions of planets and other orbitals.

Not only do you wonder about how we could be so terra-centric that we'd think aliens would come to visit us here, but even more impossibilities rise to the surface. Like, what business did the Creator of the Universe have here among us in the form of Jesus? And even more potent, why do I think my thoughts and deeds matter one ounce compared to that immensity?

I don't know. I do know that God is purported to be infinite, and all the "omni's", including the big one, "Omnipotent". I've only experienced omnipotence once, when Blaise was a 5 year old, and playing with his friend. They were doing what boys do, some war game, this time in outer space. They made laser sounds and blew up each other's bases, and soon there was an argument, "I'm laser proof", "Oh yeah well I'm bomb proof", "Well I'm rocket proof"... and finally, "well I'm Everything Proof!!" That seemed to end it, though I wondered why someone didn't create a laser that could blow up stuff that's everything proof.

That's about as far as my pee-brain can go. God - everything proof. More immense than all that Robin could show us with Google Earth, and with that omnipotence, (infinite, remember) there is the possibility to know us down to immeasurable detail. Seems hard to imagine of course, why, with all the interesting physics of the billions of planets in this galaxy alone, how could my troubles or thrills matter to God?

I've come to a conclusion out of this. Today, I'm going to do my best to leave God alone... well not totally. I'm going to work hard to hand over thanks and encouragement, in my small way, to the One whom I believe is responsible for all this. The beauty that is. He has done an amazing thing, and my petty complaints or wants (aka "needs"), are not what God deserves.

One thing I know, this planet is NOT the only dirtball in space. I'm convinced there are others. Have we been "visited"? It doesn't matter. What is important to me today is that I resonate with the other great omni, the Omnipresence. If everywhere at once it is, then here is there enough. That is, here is one of those wheres that God touches. What do I want Him to feel as he touches this "where"? I want it to feel to Him like joy, and wonder, and above all appreciation for who He is and what He has done. Today, as for me, I'm offering God my pittance of a gift. My love. Hope He likes it.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Lost, and to be Found

One night, during the years when I was commuting into San Francisco on BART, I wandered around the parking lot for an hour before I realized that my car was stolen. The thought occurred to me about fifteen minutes after I got off the train. But I kept saying to myself, "it can't really be gone..." 

The disbelief of its absence was pure denial. I went up and down every aisle of the station parking lot looking left then right. From one end to the other, then back again. I covered the lot at least three times. I kept looking at the spot where I thought I'd parked it, as if it would materialize since the last time I looked there. But cars don't materialize. This one was given to me from a friend who was a pastor. It was a 1958 Ford Fairlane. I loved that car. The real treasures were in the trunk though. 

I was newly married and had filled the trunk with about $1,000 worth of wedding gifts we didn't know what to do with. The loot was headed for a thrift store, some of it, and some would be rewrapped for other wedding gifts. Something about it being stolen was infuriating. Even though I wasn't going to keep the gifts, the fact that someone just took them upset me.

Up one row, down another... until my feet hurt. I never found it. The absence was cavernous. I felt sorry for my car. And for myself. I finally resigned myself to the fact that it had been stolen, called Melinda for a ride home and found a policeman to fill out a report.

The car was discovered two years later, after we had moved to the Los Angeles area. I had to pay for a plane ticked north, parking tickets, the impound fees and towing. And of course, the trunk was empty. I drove the car back south and gave it away to a single mother who needed transportation. She may have sold it for drug money.

All the time I didn't have that car, I would reminisce about it. I tried wishing it back, and of course, none of that worked. I was just left with a gap there. My car lost forever. But when it came back to me, unexpectedly, it was a great joy. I gladly spent what it took to go retrieve it, not even knowing what condition it would be in. I was sure the years and the man-handlers who stole the car would have left nothing for me. But I was wrong. The car was almost as I had left it in the parking lot.

Might I be so lucky that everything I lose could find its way back home as though nothing was different. There are things that have, for whatever reason left my life. There are people who were an intimate part of my daily details, giving and taking words of kindness, who have now grown silent. No matter that I look to see them, even where we last spoke, they are not there. I keep coming back to that place, expecting to see their faces, or hear their voices, and have not gotten used to missing them. That's the final admission that they're not there. We'll all likely go to the grave without seeing some of those people who have made an impact on our lives.

Through some act of grace, perhaps at some unanticipated moment, I'll get a call or a notice in the mail, that something of mine will be found. A car, or a soul friend from the past. I'll come many miles and at some sacrifice either out of curiosity or for some other reason just to see that nothing, really, has changed...




Sunday, February 17, 2008

Recreated in each other's image...

Wow, it's been a long time since I've written. But that's how it goes in life. I just blow past days and friends as if they were telephone poles along the highway. Not much detail just vertical, blurry lines in the periphery.

Then without warning, there I'll be. Pulled over, stepping out of the car either because it broke down or to relieve myself, just a stone's throw away from one of those poles. At full speed, they are a sort of boundary. But stop and look closely and an intricate web of stories and memories and textures are there for the taking. It feels random, the slowing and landing in front of one of them. Our human contacts are just like that.

Sometimes a new acquaintance, and sometimes a soul mate. And most often, a brief touch and a whisper and they are gone. We leave our imprint on each other, it's true. Over time, we'll begin to look like every one we've met in some distant way.

But this time of year, Lent and Easter, I'm more acutely aware of how much we look like our Creator. Each of us, in some way, through what are often called "gifts" take on the expression of the Expression of God. The Holy Spirit. Christ's essence. Who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and Son is worshiped and glorified... so goes the creed. And yet we are an abstract of that union... we are in fact created in His image and as such, the subject of God's love. How undeserving.

That is who we really look like. Created in God's image. Three in one: water, steam and ice. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Mind, Body, Soul.

I knelt down looking forward to the chancel wall at communion today. There was my favorite icon, as I have often said. The Trinity. I don't get all the detail of The Trinity, it's like a puzzle with all the inside symbolism. Icons often lose me, I've found. It's almost like the thing keeps moving past you even when you've pulled over to stare a while.

Oddly, one of the things I like most about The Trinity is its color. A beige tone. It's very soothing. And when I see that icon, I feel at home. As I knelt, there was Christopher, watching me closely with a plate full of hosts. He stared me down as I landed on my knees and I flashed on how much of my life has been influenced by him these recent years. He placed the wafer in my hand and I smiled up at him and grabbed his thumb as he went by. A fellow sojourner, Christopher. I went on with my swirling repentance, and waited for the cup to come.

It was Polly Dodds who served me. Funny, feisty and a woman of great accomplishments. Her design sense back before retirement was legendary. She's lost none of it, still brilliant. I tried to catch her eye, as is my custom at communion, but she was concentrating on her balance and tipping the chalice toward my mouth. Then she went to the next person and as I crossed myself I watched the fabric on her alb, almost too close to be in focus. A telephone pole where I happened to be kneeling after my life, broken down once again, came to a complete stop for just a moment.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Looking for the perfect meal?

Frederick Beuchner, in his autobiography, I think talks about a childhood memory of grilled cheese sandwiches. He says in typically common language something like, "...the grilled cheese sandwiches were as hot and limp as a dead bird in summer." What a picture! As you hold the buttery thing in your hand, it sort of drapes over your fingers.

I'm not really supposed to be eating things with that much fat in them. Cheese and butter, basically the same thing with different processing, are something like 100% fat. The other night when I came home to my sick family, every one of them down with the flu, Melinda had made the ultimate comfort food. Grilled cheese sandwiches (hot and limp...) and tomato soup. She was having trouble standing upright, her illness working against her like gravity from every direction, but not at once. So an easy meal it was.

As I sat down alone, I'd arrived after dinner with this crazy work load heavier than usual, and took a bite of that sandwich dipped in the hot orange soup. Intellectually, I know that meal cost something like $1.50. But there in my mouth, and near those nerve endings in my brain that produce dopamine, I might as well have been at a Ruth's Chris Steakhouse.

That's when it hit me, I even said it out loud, "You know, grilled cheese is highly under-rated". There's something about that cheese melted and combined with the crunchy buttered toast that rivals some of the best, most expensive meals I've ever had. Of course I'd rather spend a buck-fifty than fifty bucks on a meal...barring the atmosphere. There's always something to be said for ambiance of a high priced restaurant and romantic candle-light.

As usual, there's more to this. I started to dig a little deeper here, as is typical these days and here's what I found. The world is full of common people, and I mean full. The "uncommon" ones (on both ends of the spectrum between repulsive and magnetic), take up about a slice of cheese in all of Wisconsin. When I learned recently that Tom Cruise's baby is supposed to be the reincarnated founder of Scientology, there was no more clearer picture of cheddar in search of one slice of Wendsleydale.

But there we are; most of us individually overlooked by some standard we, none of us really like. Admit it, there are times you've dismissed a person you hardly know, but judged to be of common worth. What's worse is when one person degrades another, presses them down with expectations and openly judges them to be of common, or not of any worth. What an injustice when one of us tramples the common beauty and serenity of another. Even in the name of Christ, I've seen men expect and demand perfection of their wives and lovers. I've been guilty of it too.

It's not until I, hungry for comfort and the beauty in the surprise of what is ordinary, surrender to the heady perfection of love, loyalty, friendship, kindness, joy and peace among other things, that I can be truly fulfilled. What was I thinking? The fancy steak surrounded by porcelain white space and garnished with roast vegetables, sprinkled lightly with balsalmic and herbs just doesn't compare with the buck-fifty treasure on my own table.

The crime is when we never notice, and continue to believe that prime cuts are somehow more valuable. Where did that "standard" even come from? So. A toast.

"Here's to you, may you be known as the perfect meal, may those who take you in, lean back in their chair as you roil over their senses and may you be love, loyalty, friendship, kindness, joy and peace among other things." Hot and limp as a dead bird in summer... that's us. Common and desirable and confident to be what we are, even in a world of false expectations and ridiculous demands.

Down the hatch.