Monday, November 09, 2009

A few thoughts about basics...

We've wired ourselves to derive meaning from the explanation, rather than the experience.

We have put our faith in a creed, rather than a relationship that would make any creed possible.

We too often see prayer in the words, rather than in the silence that holds the words.

We want to find our meaning in the moral of the story, and not the mystery that veils it.


So this is what I'd like to make of these phrases stolen from a Terry Hershey newsletter. I like this so much, I think it's worth turning them around into actions...

May I derive meaning from experience.

And experience faith in relationship.

May my prayer be the silence that holds words.

I want to pursue the meaning of story through the mystery around it.


The other day a friend asked me what "doctrine" the Chinese churches are since it seems there are no true denominations there. At least that was my experience this past trip. I could only blurt out, "screw doctrine", these people only have one thing on their minds. Learning from the Bible and their experiences. They seem to only ask "who is God and how can I know Him?"

When a church has been persecuted and rises out of the ashes through a remnant of committed people who will hand copy the Bible and hymnbooks word for word because that's all they have... it seems doctrine is a luxury.

This quote helps me to see that there is way more than what meets the eye when it comes to our faith.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The fart heard 'round the world...

There aren't many places left in the world of journalism where you get to really read about life the way it is. My new favorite newspaper is now the China Daily News. Since coming to China a couple weeks ago, I've found news stories that are similar to what I've read in old archives from the 1800's in the US.

Back then, you'll find stories about life the way it was... and written in a voice that mimicked the way people really talk. And that's what I've found in the CDN.

While sitting on the plane between Chongqing and Beijing last week, I stumbled across a human interest story that grabbed me right from the headline..It was called "Life in a box". The story was about the day in the life of an elevator operator. But it was more than just the account of how one woman's job is going up and down in a windowless lift for hours at a time. It featured the woman's views about the world, her exchanges between her "customers", the occupants of the building. It was a look at the interests of a real human being. An unsung hero. An ordinary person with ordinary aspirations, living in China and making a meager living.

In other words, there was something for everyone. I don't know why, but I was riveted to this woman's "life in a box". It was beautiful in a way. And tragic. Which is another way of saying her story is my story.

I think the China Daily News just does this kind of thing. Just yesterday they featured a street sweeper. One of the most penetrating memories I have of past visits to this country is of the street sweepers. They are in every city here. They wear bright orange vests and hold long poles with stiff branches or reeds tied to the end. Then they make great, long sweeps left to right or right to left motions. Their "brooms" arc along and stir up dust and papers into a general pile. Later they, or another sweeper come back and, using a smaller broom, collect the stuff.

I don't know if it was the thought that this sweeper rides his bike for an hour from his house to the "job site" or the realization that there was a person with a name under the fluorescent uniform. Whatever it was, I couldn't put the article down. It's real people who do what it takes to keep their jobs no matter how marginal, and their jobs are what helps them to make their way in their world. Human interest stories are about people. And people have things like children and dreams and preferred foods. They have a weird neighbor, and a funny brother. They are just like everyone else.

Maybe they grumble about the boss, or hope for a raise. This sweeper was awakened by the same rain on his window that was pelting my posh 5-star hotel room glass the night before. Only he was wondering about riding his bike for an hour to get to a job that would be mucky, sloppy work with a sodden broom. Not me, I was wondering if I should go to the Starbucks down the road in the morning or use the instant Starbucks packets I brought with me.

Even in my little home-town paper, the most interesting part has got to be the Police Blotter. Well the China Daily News has a similar section. In it you find nearly unbelievable writing. One story told about a man who was hit on the head by an onion that fell five stories from an open window. The story gets better. I'm a foreigner with little understanding of the cultural subtleties (and China is NOTHING if not subtle). According to the CDN, the onion was allegedly "pushed out of the window by the family's dog". The owner of both the dog and the onion was said to have paid the plaintiff for medical care for his injury.

Who wouldn't want to blame it on the dog? Regardless, that's some fast thinking for an excuse... and either it's culturally correct to accept whatever explanation is necessary in order to save face, or the onion guy is a darn good salesman.

I've heard it said that the best way to get people to read your article is with a good, grabby headline. Well, now I know what it takes to get a guy's attention. This one was in the same paper as "Life in a box". It read, "Boy Attacks Friend Who Farts at Birthday Bash". Who doesn't love a good fart story? In truth, it was the thought that a fart could have been responsible for enmity between friends that drew me in.

LIke I said, I'm now an avid reader and would likely subscribe were the China Daily delivered to Grass Valley. I may just read it online. I've come across some pretty great things here in China, just too busy to write them all up. Here's a link with a "scan" of the Fart story for those who think I'm making it up. It is one reason you should travel with a digital still camera. You never know when you might need to prove your point. (I think I started with a point.)

It's too bad that news doesn't get reported this way anymore. Now you've got idiots like Geraldo on TV during a hurricane making stuff up about riots right behind him in the New Orleans sports arena.... never mind that everyone behind him is sitting on the curb waiting for the grocery truck to come by with a new load of bananas. TV's a lousy place to get news anyway. As for me, I'll stick to the CDN I think where it is, no lie, stranger than fiction.



Here's a link for the photo with the fart story so you can share it with your friends and clog up their email inboxes.
http://dl.getdropbox.com/u/571290/DSC02315.JPG

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The banquet

I didn't expect to see you here. For the past week, I was not allowed to get to my own blog. You see, there are things that aren't allowed from certain countries... present country included. Facebook is one, and... so is this blog (any blog on blogspot, actually). So I don't think they'll mind if I find a way around their stoppage.

I'll tell you how after I get home.

If they're thinking I'm going to say something bad about their country, they can think again. I like it here. I mean, it's not home, but if you gotta travel, China is a great place to go.

I'm reminded of something that I forgot. Chinese food in America... is not Chinese food.

We sat at a big table and a lazy susan the size of.... let's just say susan didn't miss any meals lately.... circled food around in front of us. Lot's of stuff. Good stuff. But prepared... differently. Like the fish. The whole thing was there. You just cram your chopsticks in and tear off pieces of meat... while it watches you... staring blankly up with gray eyes. "Eye" rather, it was on its side.

There were the usual meats, like beef ribs where the meat just falls off the bone. And eggplant with cuttlefish. Oh yeah and these tortilla shaped riceflour crepes - the kind they make in the market. A guy sits Buddha-like with his hot pan and slings rubbery rice dough at it like a big white loogie, as it taps the pan the residue heats and peels off as the crepe. I learned tonight that you put pork or pressed duck in there with bamboo or cucumber and some huisin sauce and eat it like a burrito. And finally, there was that pile of chicken meat...amidst the bones. And just off to the side, the skull and beak.

It's not bad food. In fact, it's great. The presentation, however, in America would shock the poor culinary wimp who would likely send the whole plate back to the kitchen and leave with a vendetta to tell everyone in their neighborhood what a lousy restaurant that one is.

"oh dahling, let's have Chinese tonight..." Better be careful what you ask for. The duck-blood jello cubes aren't nearly as interesting to eat as the chicken's feet. Neither of which were served by the way at tonight's banquet put on for we 20 or so Americans. They only picked out the food they considered to be "westernized".

Now that I can get in... I'll try and write again soon!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Flashback to a time before my birth...

I was tempted to not hit the cell phone "shutter". A little embarrassed, I felt like a tourist in 1950, boarding one of the old DC birds. But... it was kind of a personal moment, though a small one. Last time I was out of the country was 2004. Africa, to be more precise.

This pic was taken on the jetway stairs today in Sacramento, the first time out of the country after losing semi-vital organs in 2006. Laying in the Trauma Unit I do recall writing off any future international travel.

In some ways it is poetic. The documentary I've been co-writing with Melinda and producer, John Northrup is about, in part, the life of the American missionary, Nelson Bell. He, in 1919, stepped onto a steamer bound for China. We have seen some of the 8mm home films of the Bell's work in Tsingjiangpu, and (finally some poetry...) the footage includes films of later excursions aboard DC-somethings. Back then, it was expected that you'd take pictures of the massive aircraft on the tarmac. There was always somebody filming as the brave passengers boarded. No strict security back then. Innocence dictated a now long-gone trust.

Then there were the pictures of the interior of the planes. Bell and his wife, Virginia, waving as they are seated in what looks like the back seat of a big turquise Chevy (complete with wings - over the tail lights.)

No real bravery needed today, just a personal moment there as the line backed up to get inside the turboprop plane bound 40 minutes to SFO. Now I'm at the gate in San Francisco hearing the calls in Japanese and Mandarin for other flights. The one bound to Beijing is not mine, though Beijing is my final. I go through Narita, Tokyo.

There was just an announcement in choppy English about arrivals in Beijing. They are apparently screening people's body temps as they move past "sensitive equipment". If they detect a rise over normal 98.6, they will, according to the voice, quarantine the person. The swine flu is the fearsome monster.

Feeling my forehead and reminding myself to not drink hot tea just before deplaning.

Next stop Narita... and Beijing. I'll most likely write along here as I go for the next several weeks. Stay tuned.


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

There is a place I used to love to visit.
It is far away from here, but seems even farther now that I haven't been there for so long.
All the colors have faded, even the bright greens of the back lit leaves.
The blues of the laughing sky as it slides down to the sunset edge all pink and high pitched.
All of it is gray now.

My mind's eyes are colorblind.
They can't see the place the way it really is; my mind's eyes never did, since my own eyes took the helm when I touched the damp loam and wondered against the mystery of the inner forest.

My mind's eyes are lazy.
They tripped off down the hall and slept under a pile of dirty clothes on the floor while the rest of me explored and discovered and breathed.

My mind's eyes are forgetful.
They don't remember why it was I loved that place so much.
I should probably get back there to see it again, that would help.

The questions that run through me, the "what if's" hold me back as if to say, "Let it be forgotten, that place isn't the same anymore. What if they've bulldozed it? Why waste your time?"
Which is, of course, a good point.
I wish I'd known then, that last walk through the forest deep, that it would be my last time there. I'd have taken a lot longer and woken my mind's eyes to make them look hard. One last time.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Conversation with Regret

Mei An and I came back from Bill's 50th birthday party in a different car from the rest of the family. (I was in mine from the work in SF and we stopped at the beach in Seaside because we were in no hurry to get home.)

It was very fun with her, but I know what some of her struggle is... her mind is having difficulty getting to words and she fears she's going to get passed up in the moment and be interrupted or misunderstood. So she, in great frustration, blows up.

She is just now getting to be able to verbalize that stuff - one positive result of therapy. She and I talked a bit about it while we were on the beach - safe place and nobody to interrupt - and while we drove - again, safe place. I patiently waited while she tried to find words.

While waiting to order in the McDonald's drive through and I asked her for what she wanted to drink, she goes, "You know what my favorite drink is?" I said, "yes, Dr. Pepper", she said "yeah, I want that"... Then she said "Sometimes I say Sprite because we're ordering (as a family - chaos and pressure to hurry up) and I can't say Dr. Pepper so I say 'Sprite' because I can say that".

That was a big snapshot for me of what she deals with all the time.

I know how it is. There's pressure to say a thing and you can't get the words out. Sometimes it's a numbing experience, but the end result is regret. I always think later about what I could have said, or should have said but didn't. The best I can hope for is the chance to re-enter the conversation.

I remember when my dad went into the hospital to get stints put in his heart. I thought at the time that if this didn't go well, there was a lot that I hadn't said to him. No matter how many times I had said "I love you" in the past, all I could think about was the times I didn't. When I talked with him later, I was surprised to hear that he was thinking roughly the same things while he was going in for the procedure and after he came out.

At the time, in the moment, it's a silly feeling. Looking at the person I need to address for whatever reason and nothing of substance makes it out. It's embarrassing. Even recently that feeling Mei An has, utter frustration making it worse as it adds to the pressure of the moment. I want to apologize, or explain myself, but it's now too late. The moment's gone. I've said too little or nothing at all.

Regret is that way I suppose. It has a way of eating you. There's always tomorrow. A new day and all that. Maybe that will be the one. Maybe I'll get it right. If so, I hope it's at a moment as important as an eight year old girl ordering the right soft drink. After all, there really is nothing like a cold Dr. Pepper. Sprite, by comparison is a poor substitute.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Treefall


When we had 30 or so trees logged from our property, we became accustomed to a sound very few people ever get to hear. Treefall. Ours are mostly Ponderosas, and mostly 80-100 feet tall. They are big trees.

When one of them, for whatever reason, finds itself on the way to resting parallel with the horizon, there are three sounds. They last for mere seconds. Whoosh. Crack. Thud. There is truly nothing like it.

When I was a kid, I chopped down my share of trees. But they were never more than the diameter of my wrist and only as tall as a basketball hoop. They go silently when they are that size. So when the loggers came about 8 years ago, we sat on the deck and watched. And listened.

The saw would grind away until you'd hear it suddenly clip to a stop. Then there was a moment of silence. During those two or three seconds, the loggers are either stepping away, chins to the sky like some Midwest farmer watching a UFO, or running for their lives.

From the deck, it is just silence. And then the whoosh. The needles, branches and trunk pass through the air at an increasing rate. Wind through the window at 65mph on the freeway. Blustery autumn gusts. Steam rising hard through the hole of a teapot. All at once.

The cracking sound happens when branches snap off the falling giant. And when any trees in the way, there are always trees in the way, take an impact from the plant that has rooted for more than a hundred years. Mere seconds and then no more. A bullwhip. A dozen times. At random intervals.

Thud is such an understated word. The ground shakes. The house shakes. The vibrations rattle the windows. There is almost always a second thud. Usually from debris from the nearby trees, or as the top has snapped and follows the main tree down. Ear to a watermellon being slapped. Feet landing after a leap on a second story hardwood floor. Thunder a mile off.

The other night as Melinda and I lay in bed, window open to the warm still air, I heard it again. At first I only heard the thud. But later reflection brought back the other two sounds. The 80 footer had succumbed to bark beetles two years ago. And when wind tore off the top greenery, it stood like a telephone pole in the bottoms of Wolf Creek.

Over the last two years the giant was inch by inch eaten by ants and termites. Everytime I saw it I thought it would be good standing deadwood for our winter fireplace. But that's a lot of wood to haul up the hill. The termites finally did their work. There was no wind that night. So there was not much preventing gravity from doing its work.

Only a week before, Melinda and Lindsey were picking blackberries at the base of that tree. The trunk was as wide as a five-baptist group hug. They looked up and delecately decided to pick some distance away. Now I know that only a breeze or maybe a poorly thrown tennis ball for the dog could have brought it down on top of them. I'm all for good timing. For God's timing.

But there it was at 2am. My mind heard "Thud". And then "whoosh" and "crack". Funny that it was backwards. Lots of thoughts and potential metaphors here. I'll just leave those alone for now, thankful that it was the middle of the night and not the middle of the day when fate felled the standing dead. Mei An and I walked down there last night and stood in awe, in silence I suppose too. And for the moment, felt safe standing there.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Funny what you'll find on the internet.

My brother-in-law, Mark commented on my recent Facebook profile photo where I'm wearing a beach towel at the Yuba River, "It's funny what you find on the internet. We've been looking for that towel ever since your last visit..." He was writing from Cabo where they went, apparently after spending significant time looking for the towel that ended up in our bag after our last swim in his backyard pool.

I was reading today in a friend's posting about her struggles with cancer how she and her family were on the "cancer coaster", an appropriate picture. I decided to read down in to the comments written by others and came across this quote:

"Peace is not the absence of troubles, trials and torment, but calm in the midst of them".

It's very well put. I've observed people or heard stories of people who have gone to great lengths to remove troubles and the rest. The psychatric community calls it "medicating", which used to be their term but now means, "doing inappropriate things to compensate for painful emotional experiences". Sometiems that involves drugs, both street drugs and prescription drugs.

In the midst of all that, when you stop to think about it, medicating is one way to pursue "calm in the midst of..." Unfortunately, of course everybody knows, it doesn't last long. Only as long as the chemical that is bathing our brains stays "on-board", as they say.

The addict moves from seeking calm in the midst of, to constant belief that with their habit topped off, they are absent of torment.

Devon, number three son, was conceived by the magical prompting of hormonal activism between his birth father and birth mother. Two teens just caring for each other... and both highly experimenal when it came to street drugs. Devon's enuterine experience was one bathed in on-board medicating for troubles he knew nothing of at the time. His troubles began once he took his first breath; which as it happened, was on a paramedic's geurney at a crack party. He had to work hard for it too. He was born dehydrated, wrapped still in the amniotic sac... and dead. All thanks to street drugs and the pursuit of the absence of torment.

He came to us, just after birth, addicted to methamphetimines and with a host of other physiological challenges that present when a developing zygote assembles with alien chemical assistance. Devon was introduced to us, 14 years ago, by a woman appointed by the state as a foster parent while his birth mother decided what to do with him.

His foster mother was also, not ironically, his step grandmother. She married a man who came with children, one of whom was a girl who would one day bring Dev into the world. For whatever reasons along the way she and her husband became licensed for foster care, and when the state removed Devon, she stepped in to take him temporarily.

I was curious to see who wrote out the quote, "Peace is not the absence of troubles, trials and torment, but calm in the midst of them". I read down to find a name, it took me a few seconds to place it, and I blinked and read it again.

The signator of the guest comment about my friend's battle for life with unwelcome cancer was Devon's step-grandmother - also known as his once foster mother. It's a small town of course, but besides her name, I know very little about her. I'm told that she's a lot like the rest of us, just trying to do her part with what she has both material and intangible. She could not keep him 14 yeas ago, her plate was full with other special needs children. Though her home was not calm, per se, I am almost certain that she was the first caring woman to hold Devon in love.

I doubt if Devon felt it through the torment of preemie, screaming, withdrawal-shaken fear of this alien world. Nevertheless, there it was in an almost indistinguishable way, but mabe just enough, "calm in the midst of".

It is, yes, so funny what you find on the internet these days.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Scaling life.

I've been considering the idea that everything in our worlds must be understood within the context of something else in order to be truly grasped.

Once when I was a kid, I remember seeing a picture of a fishing lure in a fishing magazine my dad had. The lure was photographed next to a quarter coin. It struck me at the time what a good idea that was. Everybody knows what a quarter is, so the lure by comparison, had practical context.

So, now with the rest of my world it seems. Scale is more important than ever. I am trying to apply it so as not to minimize those I love, but to expand the room around them. Architects, good ones anyway, understand scale. A massive fireplace in a room with 20' high walls. A clock as tall as a man, a narrow hallway or a short ceiling... they all have their way of making you see in a new way, or feel something.

It's a spiritual discipline, I think. Scale isn't about eliminating what we are not happy with, but holding that thing next to something known. I'm trying to know (again) a bigger picture.

Who knows why, maybe the jolt of nearly dying or the troubles of so many things I'd be better off not knowing... but the world got really small suddenly. The troubles, by comparison, too big. Stepping into that room with the 20' high walls sort of takes your breath away, and then gives it back again.

Last week I took Mei An fishing. It is a well known lake around here with big fat German brown trout and planted rainbows. We were one of two boats. She trolled for a while as I rowed the dingy around. Not much action, but I knew we'd see some fish as the sun got lower. Sure enough, Mei An got bored and I took the flyrod out and began casting a bug that looked like something that had just landed on her arm.

Teeny little world, the world of dry flies. Whissssshhhh whisssshhh. The line whipped back and forth. The fly landing like a piece of lint on our floor. Lightly. And as I looked up over the tip of my rod, there was scale. The 50 yard stretch of glass water ending at two boulders... and just above it, a black bear. He was not huge, a juvenile, but he rippled with strength as he moved up onto the rocks and down to lap at the lake.

Mei An and I watched his every move. We missed several bites on the now drowned fly. Then the bruin ambled up toward a cabin, presumably to root through the garbage, an easier meal than shoreline fish.

We did catch a couple fish, eventually. The ospreys caught a lot more, and dragged their trophies over our heads by only 15 feet or so. Showoffs! But that too was a bigger picture than anything that worries me throughout the day. Scale for sure.

When we got home, the fish were a sub-story for Mei An. It was all about the bear. At the edge of a glassy lake with the whisssshh whissssssh of fly line and ospreys kaplunking into the shallows and yelling, (or was it laughing) at us.

More than once that evening I lost, and then got back, my breath.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Same water, different day.

The hill going down to the creek is a lot like the rest of my life right now. Debris from the logging operation several years ago and the brush clearing last year makes it hard to walk. Between the shredded wood and baseball sized rocks that are common around here from the 1849 miner's tailings, it was the typically difficult walk to Wolf Creek. With short money from not enough freelance jobs and delays in payments from my key client, along with the entropy of my house and property... the walk to Wolf Creek proved an eerie parallel.

Since nothing has been done for a year, the blackberry brambles and buckbush have worked overtime to fill in the empty space opened up by the brush hog. It is over 100 degrees today too, with some humidity, and so the thought of a 1pm project doesn't really make sense. Unless your options are limited and the boil inside is hotter than it is outside. And that's how it was for me today. I needed the catharsis of beating the ground to a pulp.

The hollow where Wolf Creek lies is always a little cooler than the top of the hill where the house bakes in the exposed south sun. The paint on the house is cracked and the siding warped where I know there is more dry rot. So many projects to be done there, all of them costing money, and I cannot lift a finger to spend one more dime on it. So, to the creek I went with manual tools. A weed whacker, hard rake, shovel, machete and a bottle of water. The kids accompanied me, but didn't last, the heat is wilting, and Dusty was sick two days ago with the flu. He was feeling weak. So it was really me against the weeds.

I hacked and dug, pulled and thrashed until I could hardly stand. Completely covered in sweat, my body was a web of tributaries. It was hot enough to do what I have not considered for a long time. Not since three years, seven months ago. The last time I was in that creek, I was unconscious facing upward as my wife begged me to move my legs to help her help me out of the water. That was January, 2006.

I looked at the dog swimming in the creek, Devon wading in it with Mei An and Tynan. Anxiety was the emotion I felt. They all got out and went up to the house, so I kept clearing the area on the bank of the water. My body was crying to sit down. My mind was filled with a combination of rage and sorrow. So I kept cutting the chest high grasses and brambles.

My grip was weakened by exhaustion though and when I drew back with the machete, it launched... into the creek.

I tried to scrape it out with the shovel to no avail. I thought about calling Devon back to go in, but I doubt he could hear me with the windows shut up to keep the air conditioned house cool.

So there was only one thing to do. I went in. The water was cold. The perfect antidote to the hot air. But I got out as soon as I found the machete. Then a little later, after finding it hard to do anything more, I waded in and fell forward under the water. I pulled a few strokes and thought how ironic it was that I was even here to be refreshed by this same creek. I got out and had Devon, who had returned to see what progress I'd made, take the picture here.

I'm still anxious as hell, but at least I am still here to feel it.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Passion's two evils.

Sin lives on a continuum. We, unfortunately, live as Sin's neighbors on that same scale. Our lives are sin. Get used to it.

Hang around a little and one of Sin's little expressions will wriggle its way into you and before you know it, you've become a little bit more like someone else you know, whom not long ago was an unbearable bore.

I was thinking about this the other day when I considered the topic of overactive passion, which may be a nice way of saying "lust". If we're going to give it a name, let's just call it something cliche' and tidy.

Lust gets a lot of notice. It makes news. Taken to a distasteful conclusion, passion as lust gets us in all kinds of trouble. In fact, that super-passionate person is often judged by her know-it-all friends.... the man who burns is considered lecherous by his self-righteous neighbors. Lust is a curious one for sure.

I've started to realize that passion lives with me on this spectrum. Of course we're all ok calling it "passion" when it reposes somewhere socially acceptable... somewhere in the manageable middle... Very few people see trouble with a man who is passionate about his work, for example. It's when his passion starts playing pranks and takes his arm as he wakes up in the morning and marches him straight into something that a good Bible student would call "lust". Yes... THAT end of the spectrum.

We seem to be good with pointing out the passions of the heart, aflame and fanned to lust is wicked... Sin at its most unarguable.

Yes passion lives on a spectrum, a continuum. Take it to one end and it becomes evil. Set up a towel and sunglasses in the center and it is good. But, what if you follow passion the opposite direction from lust? What then?

Well, nothing much interesting to talk about there. What politician ever got into the headlines for the wickedness of stoicism... for playing everything so safe that he crushed innovation? Never heard a sermon on the opposite of lust... the passion gone flat. No, and why not?

I think it's because we only like to see evil and good as opposites. But I think there are evils that are opposite each other. Maybe on more than a binary or even triune plane. Evil has many faces. Some are more interesting to look at than others. Some are more acceptable as worthy evidence by which we can judge and cast a verdict on those we, for now find unbearable.

Adultary is almost entertaining to throw around as a charge against some poor victim. The man who prudently stays his passion in public, married to a woman who lives in the moment of fine romantic expression - or vice versa. Who gets written up? The over-passioned, of course.

She survives in her marriage for as long as she can with this early choice of hers. This vowed One in her life who ignores her and poo-poo's romance as folly and unpractical. The stoic of the two who looks at public display of affection with shame is rarely "caught". People are "caught in adultry" but who ever gets "caught" being passive?

Or turn it the other way round. The man who, as Paul Simon writes, "...wore his passion for his woman like a thorny crown." He goes on, "He said 'Dolores, I live in fear... my love for you's so overpowering I'm afraid that I might disappear'..." But these "Dolores'" return not that passion. In fact they withold everything and become completely passive and reliant upon their more romantic husband to do all the work. Sex becomes a scheduled item and our romantic man burns whenever he sees a fiery woman who knows the power of seduction. One glimpse of a porn flick, and he is forever thirsty for what the spiritual judges will then call "Lust" and "Adultry of the heart".

But what will the judges convict those who have restrained their passion to the point of complete control... or who are under the thumb of dispassion? What charge will they bring against over-modesty... or morally mundane? I'll tell you what those sinners are usually called: "Virtuous."

Now, I am clear that sin is sin. I'm also clear that God is judge... ONLY God is judge. I'm also fairly certain that knowing the miniscule speck that I do about God, I believe that there's plenty of grace available for those who err on the increased passion side of things. After all God, we might say, is ultimate beauty. Because of God, we have color, and sensation, and emotion, and music and dance, romance itself, and of course, Love... passion and love... the gifts of the romantic.

To think that God would call dispassion and control and relational ignorance "virtuous" is in my mind near blasphemy. The God I know, the one who died for us, talk about a romantic, is God the dramatic. He is God the outlandish risk-taker. Maybe God has a special place in His heart for mischievous persons whose longings take unorthodox paths... perhaps God finds the other end of the spectrum to be intolerable bores.

Those of us who may consider ourselves deeply intimate with those whom we love are often the subjects of criticism. Would God, the lover of our souls be more likely to enter into our hearts and thereby create deep longing, or would He more likely chide us for not being practical enough? Would God woo a human soul or coldly humiliate her into submission.

I think the answer is obvious.

I'm not promoting orgies and open marriages. But were I to make a stand, I think I'd beg for grace as you learn of the marriage that has suddenly uncovered one who has, for whatever reason unimportant to you, sought extramarital comfort and romance. The greater sinner, though it is only God's to declare it, may be the one with all the virtues.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Sinking sand

There's a thing that happens there by the water's edge on most ocean beaches. I can't remember the name of the scientific theory or law that describes it. As a kid I thought of it as "quicksand", though when I think about it, of course, I realize it is far from quick.

The wave spreads itself thin as it ends its journey and the water it carried seeps down through the grains of sand. As it does, the sand pulls apart and anything with weight begins to sink down too. There's something soothing about sinking. There's something, especially as a child before I knew there was a limit just there about where my knees are, where the sinking stops, that is a little fearsome also about sinking.

But sinking it is. As I sink today, I'm trying not to move. It's the moving that makes the sinking more rapid. So I'm standing alone now. There were others once, but now I'm looking at the sun setting, feeling the coolness of night, and the water and sand around my calves, the sticky suction feeling of trying to pull up one leg then the next... but I think for now, for as long as it takes, I'll stand here motionless. And let the water wash over me, and hope that there is a limit, that place where I'll stop this slow descent into the sand. 

It's not quick, thankfully, but I always wonder how long it might take if I keep moving, to go as far as my hips, my waist or my chest, or further. For now, stillness it is. Calming water and wet sand and sinking... and the faint memory of the others.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Small town hospital

Our hospital, here in Grass Valley, is far from those incredibly high tech buildings you see on TV or come across by way of acquaintances who have special procedures or surgeries, usually considered as "trial" solutions.

We're in a small town. So just like going to the bank or the fair, or the grocery store, the hospital becomes one of those places where you bump into people. Some are friends come to visit. Others are the doctors or nurses. And every once in a while, you side up to another patient who has an impact on you.

My recent visit to the hospital, three weeks ago made for interesting contact of all three types. The one that surprised me most was the emergency room nurse who was moved to my floor to one day due to unusual activity up there.

I was lousy with dilauded, the pain medication that always seems to work for me, when this woman appeared in my line of sight... "My name's Holly, I'll be your nurse for a bit..." That's the standard greeting, I've learned, at the shift change.

I had been seeing things for days. Blue spiders on the doctor's collar, lots of post-it notes and yellow legal papers stuck upside down with handwriting in red ink. No matter how I tried, the visions would fade before I could read what was written. I saw shapes and faces in the clouds. Some of what I saw has been recounted to me and I can hardly believe the stories are true.

Some odd clarity of thought passed the instant I saw her face and heard the name "Holly".

About a year ago, we began looking for office space in Auburn for Freepath. In trolling for office furniture, Kathy came across a wonderful conference table on Craig's List. We bought it and I took part in delivering the check and transporting it from the seller in Grass Valley to the new office digs.

The woman who was selling it, as it turns out, was Holly. I remember telling her about my trauma and stay at Sutter-Roseville after she told me she was an emergency room nurse.

My eyes popped open and my slurred speech asked, "what is your name?" When she told me again, I said that I knew her. Which of course she began to deny, they hear lots of misinformation from drugged patients. I said, "No, really, I bought a really cool table from you..."

Melinda said that throughout her whole shift, Holly was constantly monitoring every nuance of my condition. Something that Dr. Bosco had done in January of 06. It was (and is) a special connection. I can't wait to feel well enough to go visit her and thank her, as has become my custom with those who dedicate their lives to caring for the rest of us.

I was sharing a room by the second or third night. They wheeled my roommate to be into the room. His leg bandaged up, I asked him what happened. What I heard him say was, "Honey bees".

Melinda was sitting there, and when I asked if that was common she hunched that I was not entirely with the conversation. He replied that in extreme cases this can happen. I then asked, "are you a bee keeper?"

"What?" he asked.

"Wait", I said, "Did you say honeybees?"

He rolled his eyes and said, "No, I said diabetes... they had to amputate my foot."

That was the last we spoke that night. Until about 4am when we were both stirring and I started to ask him questions about how he felt about not having a foot. We talked about life and death and God and my accident and our common near-death experiences (both of us actually considered our stories to be death experiences). In the end, it was a deeper connection than I could imagine after asking the stupid question the day before. I'm sure he doesn't remember through his medicated blur that either I asked or anyone did, about honeybees. Just as well.

One of these days I'm sure I'll see him again. It's how it is here. What was a chance encounter will be an unspoken connection. I won't be surprised, in fact I sort of look forward to it. He was convinced that his diabetes will take his other foot in the next several years. Perhaps it will be the smallness of this community that will not only sustain these kinds of relationships, but will be make us what we are meant to be as we go from near-death to the rest of that journey. I don't think it will be a lonely road, just one with some of the surprises we had not experienced.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Red Wine


















Once I sat on a deck and drank wine, a toast to a friend.
Then, before I knew it, one weather was gone
And another weather upon me.
The waiting for spring and warmth and kissing warm lips
After the toast
That's what I see with my eyes closed.