26 September 2007

"Rage Against the Dying of the Bytes"

Last week my wireless router threw a hissy fit. Did not know it at the time. I simply could not get on the internet. As my DSL service occasionally drops the ball, I called them first and they got me running through a physical cable but when in plugged into the router, zippo.

Ordinarily, such things send my blood pressure way up. I use the web all day. It is vital, blah blah. More vexing, it will doubtless take a long phone call, or two, with people whose English is a bit harder for my aging ears and brain to grab onto easily.

So I decided right then that I was not going to do it until I was ready. Even if that meant doing without internet for a day or two. I decided it was not vital.

That was six days ago and only today did I get it resolved. It did take two phone calls over most of two hours working with two people whose English was in fact a challenge for me. I was annoyed for part of the first call, railing when he hung up after we disagreed (he said my problem was with mire wireless cards – all three of them – not the router. Remotely possible, but most unlikely that they all failed at exactly the same time.

But all is well as the second call ended well. And I am especially glad because I decided when to have my hissy fit and not just fly into a panic or a rage and waste half a day on a whim.

Being grown up, I think, is not being wise and calm and noble all the time. It is knowing that you will have childish and even infantile moments and planning for them. Adults know when it OK or at least not stupid to have hissy fits and tantrums. They say to themselves, “I am an adult, and I decide when to be a jerk, not fickle fate.”

We are better than our wireless routers!

22 September 2007

Neither Do They Spin

Sorry not to be in touch. Partly it is busy-ness. September through December is a flat out run, with start-up, annual pledge campaign, annual meeting, then the holidays. But that’s not the reason I’ve neglected you. In fact it’s almost the exact opposite …

I got my first performance review this summer, which is never fun of course but is always useful. After feeling bad for a few days, as all reviews have critical aspects, I went back and looked for the facts not the feelings.

Among those facts was a recommendation to focus my work more. I pondered this and realized I was stretching too thin. There were a hundred reasons, mostly good ones, to be that way. But a hundred good reasons can add up to a bad sum. I was risking what Anne Morrow Lindbergh called (citing William James) zerissenheit, torn-to-piecesness.

And the only cure for this is to do less. That means delegating, which sounds good, but is quite hard. Delegating means allowing someone else’s version of the vision to prevail. That’s hard. And when mistakes come, as they will, yours truly will still be asked to explain it all. That’s hard too.

But the review was telling me that the cost of not sharing and delegating was to weaken my leadership not strengthen it, distracting me from the tasks that I alone must do, and subtly suggests that I do not trust myself enough to empower others, or others enough to do the right thing.

So I resolved this year to contemplate the Buddhist goal of relinquishment – letting go of attachment to outcomes. Basically, it means focus on what is essential and try to let go of what is non essential.

Exactly what those essentials are seems easy, until you try to do it. Boy am I tied up in everything. Especially when people are unhappy. Somewhere I got it in my head that I am the person to kiss everything and make it better. It sounds sweet, but really, talk about patronizing.

So I am trying to live by what I have known for years and yet always manage to justify not doing. It means not worrying, at least not so much that I find myself doing everything. It means trusting, my own judgment and that of others. It means believing that my sense of spiritual vision and vocation is authentic and good, and does not need my constant pumping.

This is hard work, but so satisfying. Like when someone told me on Wednesday evening that she heard so and so was unhappy about this and that. The old familiar tightness in the chest came over me. But I said, as much to myself as the messenger who delivered it, “There will always be unhappiness somewhere. That’s sad. But there will always be unhappiness somewhere, so you can let go of worrying about it, and so can I."
For once I believed as well as said it.

“Can a man by worrying add one hour to his life?” someone once said. “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

Amen brother.

15 September 2007

Floggings Will Continue...

... Until Morale Improves, says an old friend, and a T shirt I saw last week.

Does it ever seem we have a genius for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory? That was Lincoln's wry observation of one of his generals (anyone know which one? I am thinking Hooker or McLellan, but I could be wrong.) The day is beautiful, a taste of October, with crystalline skies and the first brown leaves now skittering across the driveway. This morning I rewrote my Sunday sermon, which I drafted yesterday, which was also quite beautiful. That day I rebuilt a little stone walkway in my backyard yesterday, scraped some paint from the garage doors and drafted that Sunday sermon.

Why am I feeling all Ishmael then?

Because the world around me is teetering more than before. I sense this now because my elder son is trying rather vainly to get employed. It is chewing up his spirit to find the world of adulthood clamped shut. He is not alone. I know of other young adults who have degrees and come home to resume their high school summer jobs as baristas or other service workers. The maze through which they have to go is daunting.

Confidence has never ben my long suit, and my son enjoys the same genetic disposition. But if as they say just because you're paranoind doesn't mean they aren't out to get you, so his lack of an open future is not enturely due to his lack of zealous confidence.

It is hard out there. It has been masked by the steroidal use of mortage rules, pumping up prices and funds and the economy artificially. And by a generation of cheap gasoline - did I say cheap? - that only now is beginning to make its real costs evident. And an economy of each man/woman for him/herself and the devil take the hindmost so that a person has to run an top speed all the time or risk being run over.

Our experiment with ultra Randism (see today's NYTimes on her influence over Alan Greenspan among others) has proved to breed a culture of wild west competition that (as it did then) does not care when law man and outlaw are the same, as the law is for wimps anyway. Those who fail deserve to fail, and should be ground up before their DNA infects the rest of us.

The cynicism I see in some young faces, that the world is mean and the only way to survive is to elbow someone else in the eye before they do it to you, is corroding the very notion of nation. Our networks are of two kinds only - family and allies. The former are those in our enclave or clan (be it biological or ethnic or religious) whom we defend and who defend us. Think of tribes. The latter are those who are temporarily useful, tactical friendships for an end, the accomplishment of which means dissolution and resumed hostility.

OK, I am being a bit intense. But my world, the one I serve, is hard put these days. Notions of humanity, honor, and hospitality, are either ridiculed as lame or manipulated to serve a competitive end.

An old ironic story tells of the man who prayed, "God I know you'll provide. But could you provide a little more until you provide?"

He's still waiting.

09 September 2007

Thank You, Roseanne Rosannadanna

"If it's not one thing it's another," she said and so it this past week. At work we had a resignation from one of the building staff, this on top of another the week before. Connected? No doubt, but never the way we ever think. Add in the holiday and Tuesday through Friday was a bit busier than expected. Then add the power outage in the office Friday...

Meanwhile, on the home front my elder son got a job offer, but then again maybe not. He applied for an Americorps position in CA and despite making it very clear he is a very new driver of only three months, they sounded surprised to find out he had not had a license long enough. Now they are back padaling and that made for a rocky week in his life. Good thing he bought a refundable ticket from Southwest.

Younger son had his first week of school in earnest, including his first workouts for crew and his tryout for the school play. His social life is so full we, wife and I, spent lots of our time simply being his staff - social secretary, valet and chauffer. And being a good mom and dad we also did two parent events at school last week. Not attend, host.

Somewhere in that week, I managed to hack at my backyard boxwood, uproot an old and dying trellis, pull up a brick and stone path that was covered in mud, find a drain I did not even know I had, and yes, go to the gym.

Do I sound tired? I suppose I am.

My book, though got a bit of attention. A parishioner signed copies of his new one this morning. I confessed to envying his accomplishment. He said you just need to chain yourself to the chair and get it done.

But who will do all that other stuff in the meantime? That's what I cannot figure out. I would love to tell you more, but it is almost 9 p.m.

Stay tuned, though.

03 September 2007

Staked Tomatoes

It is Labor Day, a last chance for me to get some chores done before the firing pistol sends us rocketing into another season.

Every year I am torn. On the one hand I appreciate the reliable cycle and the deathless song of seasons. It provides solace of a kind, knowing that fall is coming, and winter and then spring and summer again. Whatever struggle or sorrow may come, it will pass. On the other hand it can be despairing, as though caught in a rut as grinding as cocky Samson’s treading grain as a slave after his hair was shorn and his eyes put out.

I took a long walk this morning, the Y being closed, and found myself on the northside (I live on the south side) in a neighborhood that is rather poorer than my own. In Darfur it would the home of princes and potentates but here it is where the working poor are hanging on and the actual poor are slowly sinking.

The houses are small, mostly a century old, mostly in need of paint, often in need of repairs to window frames or clapboards or sidewalks. The lawns are motley greens, shrubs are growing up between the foundations and the yards. Windows are open and box fans rotate slowly to bring in the late summer coolness of the early morning.

At first I felt a sadness, knowing that many here do not believe they can ever catch up. Small paychecks and long hours and the weariness of never being able to get ahead saps the energy that you need to weed the garden or patch the screens. I felt sorry.

But as I walked I then found another feeling, resentment. A few gentlemen were on their porches, cigarettes already drooping from their lips. Flotsam from fast food and beer cans from a late night dotted the yards. How selfish, I thought, and small minded. Typical bourgeois attitude on my part, but not inaccurate either.

Then, as I moved on so did my thoughts. These houses reminded me of small towns I have known over my life. It could be a place like Gardner MA, or Joliet IL, or Warren PA, Lowville NY, which is to say most towns and many parts of many cities. Such neighborhoods were more commonplace and more similar to each other than all the many tidier “better” parts of town.

These places had found a niche in the human community that is stable, if not prosperous. And these houses were more at ease in nature, yes nature, than those better places like mine that are always at some loggerheads with weeds and bushes and the ultimately irresistible power of decay.

I began to feel longing, an appreciation for the man on the front porch enjoying his cigarette and taking his ease on a cool summer morning. He is a modern Whitman or Thoreau who simply wants to inhabit his small and temporary place in the universe and enjoy it without mucking it up. He sees the forces of nature as large, impenetrable and ultimately unconquerable. Why resist. Life’s a bitch, then you die, they say in their silence.

That world is not mine. I am to lead and build and create, which is a vain undertaking in nature’s eyes. But we humans need some to do it.

Maybe the poor are not slaves as much as I am, slaving away in my mind as it were, thinking the path I walk is a straight line to perfection while in reality it is a circular path under which is strewn the grain of today to be trod and chewed and eaten.

Like Samson, we successful sorts have been blinded. Only it is our self importance that blinds us to our ultimate unimportance. Each is sweating up a storm to make our own monument to Ozymandias.

I walk home and pass a house in need of new windows. But in the front yard, the entire front yard, is full of staked tomatoes and ripening green peppers. My one tomato has withered and the fruit gone to feed a squirrel.

Tell me, who is laboring for whom?

02 September 2007

Seeking My Purple Crayon

Hung pictures yesterday afternoon, evening actually. We have lots of pictures and now lots of space to hang them. Oddly, though, now that I have the space I am becoming more “zen” in my aesthetic. Less is good. But this is not my space alone and relinquishment as challenging as simplicity...

The pictures are those from or of places we have lived. There is a print of Baltimore’s Monument Square, some photos from nearby our apartment in Hyde Park in Chicago, a print of a painting and a 19th century map of the tiny town where I first served. We have a watercolor of our house from my second church, and a small photo of our home in Texas. At the moment, we do not have a representation of our New York home, but that will come.

Anyway, putting them up had its logistic and emotional challenges. The wife and I went back and forth about which arrangement worked best. Overall, it took somewhat more than an hour.

So why did it take us two years to get them up? Little mysteries are all around us, but we ignore them in chasing the big ones. I wonder if the economic proverb would apply here - “take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves.” \

Earlier in the morning I was speaking at “my” synagogue, the place where I go to worship on my own time. Rabbi asked me to speak, which was quite an honor. I explained why a nice ‘goy’ like me was praying in a place like that.

Anyway, something that has happened over the years I have frequented shuls is an awareness of the moon. The ancient Jewish liturgy requires acknowledging the new moon which signifies a new month. All the holy days are based on this lunar system, you see. Now, when I go out in the early morning or evening I not only see the moon but notice whether it is waxing or waning and how soon it will change.

I like this noticing of the moon. My mind is so full of stuff, that what is outside it can sometimes get drowned by the clamor between my ears. Seeing it there, knowing where it is in its cosmic cycle, calls me out of myself, into the world around me. It is humbling in the best sense.

Now, who can tell me what the title to this post refers to, and why I chose it?

01 September 2007

Rest Easy...

Shabbat today. The beginning of the labor day Weekend. The last officially OK time for a preacher to lay low. So I am.