24 February 2008

On The Road Again

I will be away from this blog for a few days - a long awaited retreat. But before I go, some sabbath words...

Wow, three days with sunshine. Rare here in West Michigan in winter, but welcome after four weeks of record setting snowfalls. I built some considerable piles of the stuff from digging out my driveway at least twice a week. Mind you, it is still quite cold, night time temperatures slip into the teens and single digits, so only yesterday and today was it actually above freezing during the day. The snow has that pockmarked look when it melts very slowly and refreezes in the shade.

This morning I am preaching on war, and as clear as it is in my mind how wrong it is, explaining that has been a struggle. That narrow window of time that is a sermon makes certain ideas hard to articulate, and yet all the words we have of Jesus of Nazareth would scarcely last more than two hours if read out loud.

Of course he spoke more than that. Those are just the ones we kept after all the rest were forgotten or lost. We like to think they are the best, that the acid of time ate away the dross and left naught but gold. But I know it is more like the sunlight on the snow – that we have a mottled and pockmarked heap of stuff, eaten by wind and rain and sun, and that the shape of the original has been distorted by the forces of time. Like viewing an ancient ruin, we infer a larger structure from what’s left, but we have no idea if it is correct or not.

Perhaps that’s how it has to be. I and my fellow preachers bellow and yammer for years. Our words could fill a river or at least a small pond. But most of it seeps back into the ground or evaporates away, and as often as not the listener comes away wondering why I said, “Blessed are the cheesemakers.”

So we preach, a lot, and hope that whatever truth we have glimpsed will survive somehow, like a toppled column or a broken frieze, powerful even in its failure to make minds not yet born wonder about the world.

16 February 2008

Lower Case Living

Well, the weather folks were wrong in our favor for once. The sun shone yesterday and today. It will vanish tomorrow at the latest as another storm wafts its way. A few days ago it was heading toward the Carolinas, but the groove in the sky is so deep now that everything points toward Michigan on its way to Oswego County NY and then out to sea.

Every weekday, except for blizzards and days out of town, I go down to the YMCA to work out. This is the first time since the 1980s I have used a YMCA. Which is great, because as a non-profit employee myself I like supporting other NFPs. But oddly enough, despite that, and the convenience, and the wonderful facility we have which is a model LEED structure and so forth, I often leave with a frown. Why?

Because the members are slobs. I have been a gym rat for over 25 years. And over those years I have achieved some wisdom that comes with being an elder in the tribe. These are universal rules about gym life that seem to elude most of those who work out at the Y.

For instance, the first rule of gym life is - “put it back.” You can load up a rack or a bar all you want, but when you are done, “put it back.” Every day when I arrive at the gym I confront the residue of those who think maids must come along at night and return things where they belong. Everything has a place, from bars to plates to dumbbells. It is not hard to figure out. Heck, there are even labels that say – 5, 10, 25, 35, 45 and beyond. But every morning I see things left every which way. And being a boy scout, I clean up between sets. It seems only natural. But it appears I am the only one.

Second rule – “it isn’t you stuff.” Yes, you can use it, but you don’t own it. But every day I see someone or more than one take two or three sets of dumbbells off the back, line them up in front of him or herself (yes girls do this too) and use them as if they were their private stock. They understand that anything on the rack is available, so by taking it off the rack and lining them up near a bench or even in another room they effectively state that it is theirs. And half the time they keep them for 10-15 minutes, effectively forcing others to change their routines.

Cleaning up and turn taking are things we learn in kindergarten, so I must conclude that many of those who work out either failed kindergarten or simply do not care about those around them. I suspect it is the latter, as the state of Michigan would not give driver’s licenses to people who could not read numbers. Which leads me thus to conclude that they are merely selfish and nasty.

Now, since it is a YMCA, an institution that is devoted to building Christian character as well as bodies, and the prolific numbers of T shirts that proclaim Christian churches and colleges and other pious institutions they support, I can only conclude that being Christian for some folks is mostly about appearances. Actual christian behavior, note the small ‘c,’ is rare. And don’t think that doesn’t seem ironic to this public heretic who is going to hell for lack of proper beliefs, but who is almost alone in trying to make this world a little more christian on his way to damnation.

14 February 2008

Yes, I Know It's Premature... But

… I have the answer.

Not to the meaning of life and all. Actually, I do have that but as the man in the movie said, “You can’t handle the truth.” At least not in a blog post. That’s what pulpits are for (hint hint).

What I mean is that I have the answer to the democratic ticket. I have the sure fire way to win in November and prevail in governing.


Don’t get all reactive. Think about it.

The greatest thing holding Clinton back are her broad negatives, which I believe are more tied to Bill and that era than they are to her actual skills and positions. It would be a pity to lose those gifts but I contend she cannot be elected to the top slot. But she could be elected to the second. The comparisons would vanish as well as the anxiety about entitlement or dynasty.

Politically, a ticket with a woman and an African American would be hard for some, but my gut says it would speak volumes about who the Democrats are and who the Republicans are. If they cut the deal soon, it might force the Republicans on the defensive to justify two more white guys, or force them to diversify their ticket which is not likely and probably divisive. It see it as “nothin’ but net,” a slam dunk, a dinger, an eagle, whatever sports analogy you want.

In terms of governing, think about this. What are Clinton’s strengths? She is a first rate senator, meaning someone with great powers of personal persuasion and mastery of detail and process. One on one, in small groups, in other words, in the senate she is formidable.

So keep her there, but as VP, which constitutionally makes her the president of the Senate, a role that has been neglected for generations. Why not empower it? Retaining the majority in Congress is not a given, but with a powerful presiding officer who really leads the senate, even a small minority will have maximal power.

This also means she is not going to be compared to her husband but can continue to build her own resume as a leader apart from Bill, such that in four or eight years the dynastic tint will have faded. Yes, I know she’s sixty, but becoming president at 68 is not bad, and for her it may be politically advantageous, giving her a Thatcherish heft.

It comes down to egos and agendas. But if she really wants to make health care happen, really improve congressional muscularity around oversight and leadership, she has much more clout in the VP role, provided Obama is willing to let her have it.

My hunch is he could and can. Someone should ask him. That answer would be illuminating.

09 February 2008

You Deserve That Time Out, Mitt

Sometimes, you just want to slap someone. In this case, the Ken doll that was Mitt Romney. Mind you, I wasn’t this ticked before he opted out, and it was not his leaving that got me. It was what he said on the way, a sort of cowardly “bird flip” to the other side. To wit…

"Soon the face of liberalism in America will have a new name, whether it’s Barack or Hillary. The result would be the same if they were to be able to win the presidency. The opponents of American culture would push the throttle, devising new justifications for judges to depart from the Constitution, and economic neophytes would layer heavier and heavier burdens on employers and families. ... I want you to know I’ve given this a lot of thought. I’d forestall the launch of a national campaign and, frankly, I’d be making it easier for Senator Clinton or Obama to win. Frankly, in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign be a part of aiding a surrender to terror.”
Shame on you, governor!

Opponents of American culture? Is it un-American to be female, black, of mixed ethnicity, of multiple religious backgrounds, to be Democratic?

Judges who depart from the Constitution? Ever hear of “Bush v Gore?”

I’ll give you some room on regulating business, like lead levels in imported toys.

But what really frosts me is your McCarthy like accusation that Democrats and liberals in general are treasonous. That’s what you are saying, governor, as you explain your departure as a patriotic act.

I cannot imagine a more cowardly, more despicable, more disgusting way to exit the race. It is one thing to say you disagree with the other party, but to say they are treasonous. Was Anne Coulter writing that speech?

The politics of division has been mercifully on the sidelines so far, yet you could not resist venting your anger at not winning. But rather than throw it at your party, the one that earned it, you spat on the opposition instead.

Childish governor, narrow minded, craven, and self serving. Glad you’re not president because we need a grown up in the White House. As we have not had one for a very long time (for at least 20 years) maybe that’s why you did not win. When you can accept defeat honorably perhaps you can win honestly.

My other problem is why no one else called him on this egregious act. Where are you?

07 February 2008

I Am Not Alone...

But remember, I was first.... check out Nicholas Kristof in today's NYTimes.

Sorry Brad and Nick...

04 February 2008

Hitting The Double Nickle

Well, another birthday has come and gone. Each gets a little more solemn than the last. Not unpleasant, mind you, but let's say I no longer celebrate them as much as I observe them.

Just before noon, 11:50, is when I officially rolled from 54 to 55, into a new demographic, and felt a distinct pang of poignance for my parents who are gone now. I was and still am their first child, the person who made them into a nuclear family, and now only I survive of the three of us. I have my sibs of course, but there is no one left who was there when I arrived. I remember my brother coming home, and my sisters, but no one remembers me coming home.

This is as nature demands it, the alternative - their surviving me - is far worse. Still, there is now a sadness to the day as I realize I too am slipping into the past. My birth is now lost to conscious memory, and all but a few moments with my surviving aunt and uncle from my days as an infant and toddler. No wonder I feel a certain urgency to write down what I know, however fragmentary and incomplete. Even this shall not last.

"When that by which I came to be

Shall uncreate as deftly me..." (Millay)

What a privilege it is to have these rending thoughts, though. Like the Tin Man, I know I have a heart because it breaks. Sometimes, sorrow is more precious than any joy.

03 February 2008

Do Virgin Groundhogs Light Candles?

Things pile up sometimes. In this case not my personal stuff, which is always in some disarray, but the outer world. Specifically, the elliptical orbits of time, the temporal constellation of seasons and anniversaries with their own stars and planets, moons and comets.

Yesterday was Ground Hog Day for example. But I also know it was Imholc, the ancient pre-Christian pagan cross corner of midwinter. That’s why it’s Ground Hog day, because it is a natural time to wonder if the cold will last. That’s only important, of course, for those who live north of the equator.

I also know that there is another pre-Christian holiday, the roman Lupercalia, which is a fertility rite. Keep your mind out of the gutter, please. But it is rather gruesome, because according to legend a goat was sacrificed in the cave of Romulus, its skin torn into strips and dipped in the sacrificial blood and these strips carried by running youths, teenage boys, who would snap the strips to fling flecks of blood onto young women to make them more fertile. Gross, I know, but you may not know those strips of skin are called Februa, hence the name of the month.

Christianity absorbed it all into the Feast of the Purification, which marks the forty some days after the Nativity during which an observant Jewish woman, Mary being one, that post-partum women were in seclusion. A vestige of this remains in the Anglican rite called “Churching of Women.” The period of seclusion was for the healing of the mother, and so intercourse was proscribed. Her re-entry to society meant she was now available for sex again. Of course, the virgin did not do that, by Roman Catholic rendering. But notice the connection between waiting for spring and its new life with roman fertility rites and the re-entry of a woman into society and the ability to get pregnant again.

Anyway, on that same day candles for the coming year are blessed, which is why February 2 is called Candlemas. It is the other ‘mas.’ And ends the season of Epiphany, which is the season that starts at Christmas.

This year there is hardly any gap before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. It starts this week. And that means this past week has been Carnival, heading toward its final day on Feb 5 which is Shrove Tuesday, the day for making pancakes, as it used up cooking fat which during Lent would be too luxurious and to leave it unused would allow it go rancid, so thats why we eat pancakes or other friend foods . Today is Superbowl Sunday of course, now over forty years old, which with its parties and secular frivolity is very much part of the festive season as well.

And Shrove Tuesday (for which Stravinsky wrote he second ballet, Petroushka) is also Super Tuesday this year. I’ll let you decide if there is any irony or resemblance between a puppet (Petroushka ) and politicians.

Finally, the Jewish month of Adar begins Thursday, and being lunar that means it is also the Islamic month of Safar. This year the Jewish carnival festival of Purim comes in Adar 2, a leap month inserted now and then to keep the lunary and solar calendar closer.

Got all that down?

Whew. No wonder I was late for work.