Friday, March 18, 2005

The Fabulous 80's 1.0

As I sit here hammering out essay grades, I've set up an 80's mix on napster. Many of these songs I haven't heard in years, and as I listen the memories come...some gentle, many sad, a few which feel like storms rising in the mind; what I feel most of all is the immutability of the past. What was, was, and it will never be anything else. I was at the center of it; what I have are my memories, perceptions, emotions from that time, and those events and feelings are burned into my soul like read-only memory. Etched into a glass pane.

But how they move still.

The first time I wrote about Estella, my first wife, I was fairly new to blog. It turned out to be the first post my wife read when she went to check my blog out from work. She said nothing, but how crappy is that? I will finish that story, but when I do, it will be with disclaimer.

Many of the same things are true about my other memories from that decade. I didn't date a lot, I didn't feel much of anything except terror or whatever I could stuff my head with that kept me from terror, including religion. Deep movements in my psyche...mostly unfelt. Still, I was young, and the old sounds bring back memories of the only youth I'll ever know.

Some are innocuous enough: my first car was a 73 Vega. Vega. One of the two worst cars of the last 40 years (it shares this honor with the Pinto). Vegas were the disposable bic shavers of the American highway. The engine block was made out of aluminum; the cylinder walls were aluminum! Every time I changed the oil I'd find a layer of shiny aluminium shavings in the bottom of the drip pan. My father bought it for me, from my oldest stepbrother, for 350 dollars I think. It didn't run. The plan was that I'd install another motor with help from said stepbrother; I didn't know how to remove an oil filter then. I was barely 17, utterly non-mechanical and deeply insecure about that fact. It felt the same as growing up and not playing sports, as being skinny, as having bad skin. My new stepbrothers were both fair enough with cars, not me.

I don't know why my dad bought it, and my guesses lean towards the cynical. Perhaps my new stepmother, who is obsessed with her children still, who was certainly obsessed with them then, knew stepbrother eldest needed the money. Whatever, my dad found another used Vega motor from a wreck (not rebuilt) for me. I remember going to a gas station garage and seeing the new motor hanging there from an engine hoist, covered in oil, the fan still attached. It was from a 74 which I found significant; hey, it was one year newer than the rest of my unrunning car!

It took a long time to get that motor in. And it took the help of lots of guys, including some I didn't really know. I think my dad bought beer or maybe paid one of them, but we eventually got it bolted to the mounts. I was covered with grease, standing there trying to help, afraid, nervous, feeling undeserving, as we tried to fit the driveshaft into the transmission in the parking alley behind our little apartment. Looking back, I am grateful for the anonymous help. The only other memory I have of trying to get the thing to run was working on it with stepbrother eldest and him going walking up to his apartment and telling me, 'go ahead and hook up the battery.' I didn't realize you had to hook up the positive and negative terminals correctly. I connected one cable, and then every time I tried to attach the other sparks blew everywhere. I'd drop it, stare at it, rally my courage and think...I have to try this again, I can do it, I will do it. Next try blue sparks were blowing everywhere again. I was so determined I actually melted through the connector cable. It was a while before he came back and saw what I had done. I had the positive on the negative pole; sure way to melt cables.

Even with all the work he and I put into it, and I don't remember him being all that helpful (but then it was a vega) we still couldn't get the thing to run. I had a car, had had a car for a while, but it wouldn't start. Both my stepbrothers had cars which ran (even if one was a pinto covered in gray primer). I had a girlfriend and was getting tired of going places in my dad's sixty something Peugeot wagon. Of having to borrow the car. Of driving my tenth-grade Schwinn Varsity when I couldn't borrow his car. To make things worse, everyone had garters hanging from their year view mirrors. I had one of those, though I can't remember if my girlfriend wore it or I bought it at Farrell's. It would have been much cooler if the car moved so I could show my garter off around town.

My dad had only been married about a year, and had only dated for about, oh, two months before the wedding, so I was still getting used to the step-crew. My stepsister, the oldest in the family, had a boyfriend/fiancee named John who worked in an auto parts shop; he apparently knew some real mechanics. Telling these guys I was his brother, he got them to agree to look at my Vega. That meant towing of course. All of us were young and working class (I don't know that I had a job yet), not far from poor, and that meant what it still means...towing a vehicle any way possible. We used a few lengths of rope tied, if I recall correctly, to my stepbrother younger's Pinto. I cruised in my Vega as we jerked it towards a house in Lakewood, brake on and off, in neutral. It was the first time the thing had rolled since I owned it, and I felt intoxicated. I'm moving down the street! I'm turning my own steering wheel! Using an actual vega pedal!

There were some beautiful moments in my teen years, even if they were brief. Driving by Signal Hill and smelling the grass that grew wild there on a summer night. Eating three chili cheese dogs plus fries with my girlfriend and her family on a Friday afternoon. Noticing my first four chest hairs. The vega tow was one of those times.

Because the radio worked also. And what came on as I was taking my first self-owned auto tour? The Waitresses...I Know What Boys Like. I knew what they liked too, they liked songs about sex playing in their own actual car as it moved down the street. I rolled down the window, cranked the volume, and felt better than I had in quite some time about my vega. True, I was being illegally towed with a rope, had no current reg. tags, was watching for cops the entire time, but I had a car with cool new wave music and plenty of attitude...not bad for 17. I still like that song incidentally...the almost apathetic deadpan vocal, bratty, sing-song...quite sexy still.

The mechanic brothers did get my car to run, though it came with many caveats....the rings are going and it'll burn oil, the headgasket is leaking, are you sure you actually want to drive this on the road? But drive it I did. Well, for a few months anyway. It might have lasted a year before it finally did blow the headgasket while I was driving with my girlfriend S to our English teacher's apartment.

A story for another time.

***

I'm leaving for Sedona Sunday, though this may be my last post for a week or so. Peace to all.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Senior Warden Life

Tonight was my first vestry meeting as senior warden. It's different. The fact is the committee is full of talented people and I'm still surprised I was chosen. In the past, at the university years ago and then my college, when I did 'innovation' work I found one or two other people I could work well with, people with ideas, and then plowed ahead. What we were doing in both cases, new forms of web assisted instruction, was controversial; I found myself in pioneer mode, plowing ahead using my anger and stubborn personality to drive things forward. Also in both cases, the adminstration was on our side.

This is very, very different. It's a church, and a church's job is to care for people, not drive change forward at any cost. Also, I haven't found a brilliant partner as I said; everybody's pretty darned smart, and older than I. I feel, already, inadequate. But then I'd feel that no matter what I did, short of having the bishop drive to my house in the middle of the night to thank me for my work. That critical voice is always yammering, critiqueing, looking for mistakes and flaws and opportunities I missed.

It is such a different energy than a campus. I'm not sure what to do with myself.

I am feeling more and more directed towards considering being a deacon. It's a big, big step, but I find myself more and more curious as my faith grows and I look at who I am and what I like to do. That decision will take a long time, but I'm very grateful I was even approached with the question. I think it was my neighbor around the way who got it all started, but I don't recall exactly.

I'm glad I'm only senior warden for a year. Then I can sit back and watch what someone else does with the job and learn; I'll still be on vestry another year.
the job is so much bigger than I know, and yet smaller too. It's a mystery to me; One piece at a time. The church has been functioning for centuries like this, with bishops and priests and vestries, a few centuries anyway (vestrys are an American invention from colonial times, I believe). There's less to create or build than I'm used to.

Well, it's less stressful to work with a group this good. It may humble me every month we meet, but then again...that must be in God's plan, for I surely need it. I have an exaggerated sense of responsibility, and I'm tired. A friend of mine gave me Richard Rohr's cd set on the Enneagram. Being no great fan of personality tests, I still find myself intrigued with this one though I haven't listened far enough to see if I fit into one of the types. I bet there's one like me, with an excessive need to be above the norm, to live a life greater, more prominent, more mythic or fantastic than the average person.

***

I was reading Luke last night and I thought that if all I had was the story of the woman who annoints Jesus feet with oil and rubs them with her hair, the woman he forgives though her sin is great, I'd be compelled to look closely at this faith. Luke is the gospel I've read less of, and the stories there, organized, according to the author, carefully and precisely, are beautiful stories, stories human and divine at once, the lost coin, the lost sheep, the samaritan, the thief on the cross who is taken to paradise simply for believing. Wonderful pericopes, many original to Luke. A dramatic and moving account.

And the readings this month in my little 'day by day' are taken from John's gospel. Such weight in that book. Theology on every page. Even the reading tonight in our bible study at the beginning of vestry...'if you obey my words you will never die.' Like the passage at Lazarus, but a little different. Never die. How can that be? What do humans fear more than any other thing? What do we know and dread, what tears away at all human love and philosophy and sense of meaning? Death. Christ, with incredible confidence declares He knows otherwise...those who believe in him, those who do his will, who obey him, will never see death.

I've read the Gita, and a fair number of other world religious texts at least in part. With all respect for other faiths (I admit I may be biased) there is nothing in the world like Luke, or John, or Matthew for that matter. The story of the woman who wipes Jesus' feet, who weeps, whose response is so strong because her sins were so great...this could perhaps show up in another tradition, but not what else Jesus says to her: 'your sins are forgiven.' His tone is imperious in every gospel (also in tonight's reading...'before Abraham was, I am') yet his actions and teachings marvelous, essential. True, judgement is a tough one, and he talks about those who will be burned as trash at the last day. I cannot understand all of this.

I have to go, S is home.

Night all.

t

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Overheard in my Head During my Intro to Anglican Class

Some updates from my intro to Anglican class:

I'm digging the open-minded, rational approach to faith. And I've had some nagging questions answered, though of course the answers are just opinions. Episcopals don't believe baptism alone can save the soul; they also don't believe you have to be baptized to be saved. Baptism is the initiatory rite into the church, yes, but apparently it's not identical to personal faith. My priest's opinion is that sometimes the holy spirit begins working in the person, before, during, or after the sacrament of baptism itself.

Yes, Christ is in the elements, but they don't presume to know how or in what sense.

And while I still have questions regarding scripture, many really, I feel this church lets me question. My priest, at least, believes the biblical authors didn't have absolute knowledge about the world and made assertions which are inaccurate according to modern perspective; he's open to redactive criticism, where the gospel sayings and stories are examined as products of literary process. Though he does say that you can test your ideas to see if they jive with God by using scripture. How one does that I don't exactly know since scripture offers multiple perspectives regarding some things.

My low view of scripture aside, as I've said before, I believe the central message of the gospels, the primacy of Christ, cannot be missed. So I've learned, perhaps again, that some Episcopals (though not all) don't read the bible the way fundamentalists often do, the only way I was taught for years it could be read: fundamentalists generally believe every word is out of God's mouth without any human interference or error of any kind. This is one of Torrey's original seven fundamentals I believe; it was a turn of the 20th century response to higher criticism, though a drastic and non-rational one in my opinioni (even if it did reflect how the church had used the bible for most of its history). How refreshing for me to let the cult of the book go. To find a church where it can be let go and the gospel still breathes on.

I believe while God certainly inspired scripture and continues to use it to direct sinners like myself towards Jesus, that doesn't mean it's a legal code. It certainly doesn't mean one verse or passage, the proof text, can be used to build a philosophy or direct a world view. The texts within the bible must be read using reason, in my opinion, and apparently Episcopals agree. Certainly some very brilliant Christian scholars, like Raymond Brown, go too far in their skepticism at points (though he still retains Christian faith). It's fashionable for scholars to do this; how else can one be original perhaps? But as Brown himself notes, there are many things we just can't know with certainty. Mark was probably the first gospel, at least the first synoptic; all four gospels were written before the end of the first century (though I still hold out in my amateur opinion that two, maybe three, could readily have been written before the fall of Jerusalem in 70); the gospels certainly reflect a historical person. They are genuine attempts at history written by men who believed their contents. But beyond that...who really wrote them, where and when exactly...questions the documents themselves don't answer. Was there only oral tradition before the written gospels we have, no prior written sources? We don't know. Is Q real? Probably yes, but was it written, oral, or is its existance certain? Don't know.

Did Paul write about the gospel like no one else besides John's author? Yep. Did he include some opinions which were incorrect. For me, yes. It is fallacious, though, to assume that all points are incorrect because some are, or one is.

But I'm repeating myself....again.

One great thing is that I'm going to be confirmed by the bishop in April. Does this mean God will love me more or that I have increased my eternal inheritance? No, but it's significant for me. And even more significant to me is that my wife also said she'd like to be confirmed. (Deep, deep movement on the waters; the spirit on the face of the deep). Pray for us both. We both have much anger still.

Gotta run. My twenty minutes of free time is up! I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Movement in the Margin

I've taken down a couple of blogs that were to the right simply because the authors seem to have quit posting! Still cool people, but no bloggage. And I've changed my links. More to come when I have time.

But I don't have time. This weekend I'm slammed with work. I'd like to write more up here but with a family and career...it's very hard to make the moments happen during the semester. When I read something like this piece of brilliance I'm further staggered. Everyone I read online is a good writer, but Romy's blog is the best I know, even among the 'famous' bloggers, most of whom deserve little fame. I have so much to write about from my life history I'd like to reach in that direction, but not at the moment. I'm going to submit some poems and a short essay along with my poet buddies (who are all quite published, and two sorta famous), and I haven't started my piece of that either. Five classes (a rare schedule) plus a new lit. class and a new book in my freshman comp...plus applying to another college (still heard nothing) has drained me.

Then there's my tests. Body tests. Pokes and probes and peeks. My liver values were all back to normal a couple weeks ago after they spiked during the holiday drinking season; but my heartburn has gotten chronic in the last year and I finally had the endoscopy yesterday. An endoscopy is a very modern way of crawling into the belly. They told me I'd go into 'twilight sleep' during the procedure. Twilight as in stupor maybe. I was unconscious man. Benzodiazapene and morphine derivative. The last thing I remember is the doc coming in and asking, 'why is he still awake?' I suppose it's better to be sedated, completely, while someone sticks a 30 inch black tube through your vocal cords into your belly (and then takes little pieces of said belly out) but the fasting beforehand, and the heroin hangover all day today, both took their toll on my work week. Part of the reason I'm doing this instead of grading online essays is that my head is still sleepy-cloudy, just a bit.

In three weeks, for those with true interest, I get a colonoscopy. I'll be sedated also, which somehow feels strange, those two things simultaneous. I win this prize because a couple relatives a generation or two back died of colon cancer. I can't complain, I'm glad they're going in to muse, but it's the true turning forty rite of passage. Not gray hair, not contemplations of mortality, not even the heartburn...'we're going to put you to sleep and stick this thing {gosh, I hope they use different scopes than for the endo procedure, autoclave notwithstanding} `way up your colon, all the way to where it joins the small intestine.' Pictures and souvenirs.

I see. What a job. No wonder they pay those people.

I know I'm lucky to be having all this done, but during the semester it's demanding. Most hopefully I don't end up with an interview at the new college during the week of my colonoscopy. I'll either be starving or dopered.

Peace, friends. Back to the essays I go. On the job front, I have been digging teaching am. lit. for the first time. Crane, Stein, Anderson, Eliot. What a couple of weeks. I know I truly am fortunate.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Postbellum

(Scene: a freshman college composition class, afternoon; students are seated in small desks with wooden writing areas on one side; the blinds are down but open )

Prof: (writing word on board) What is Euthanasia?

(confused looks, some students look down, after 30 seconds one answers)

Student 1: Isn't that murder?

Prof: Well, it could be looked at that way. But what exactly does the word mean?

(pause)

Student 1: Killing someone who is already going to die.

Prof: Good, very good. Is this legal in California?

Class: No, no.

Prof: Where is this legal?

(pause)

Student 2: Oregon?

Prof: Yeah, it is legal in Oregon, and I imagine the question will come up in California. There are all kinds of constraints in Oregon's law I believe, a person has to already be dying of a disease, they are supposed to have less than six months to live, there must be two written requests 15 days apart, the person has to be evaluated for depression, like that. Then I think a doctor gives a prescription for some kind of pill, maybe barbituates or opiates, maybe both, I don't know. Now don't go killing youself, but I hear if you have to die this is an easy way to go. You go to sleep...you don't wake up.

(pause)

Is this the same thing then as murder?

Most of Class: yeah, sure, yeah.

Prof: But the person is already going to die of a disease.

(pause)

Why would someone want to take his own life?

Student 3: Maybe they're in pain, bad pain, and want to die with dignity, when they choose it, instead of wasting away.

Prof: Those are the common arguments. Has anyone known anyone who was terminally ill?

Student 3: Yes.

Prof: Who, can you tell us about it?

Student 3: My father died in horrible pain, he wasn't even in his right mind when he died.

Prof: And he died of...?

Student 3: Lung cancer.

Prof: Wow.

(pause)

Do you think he might have elected to take his own life this way when he was dying if he could have?

Student 3: I don't know. It wasn't available, we never talked about it. But he suffered terribly, his whole body changed, he lost so much weight...

Prof: That is heavy. So far I've been lucky and haven't been close to anyone who died like that, but it must be awful to watch; I suppose an end like that is in store for some of us, maybe me, though I hope not. Anyone else want to share an experience?

Student 4: (Student 4 is a blonde, very well built man of about 20 with almost no facial hair who sits very straight as he talks)

Well, in my experience I've seen something like that.

Prof: What happened?

Student 4: Well, I, uh, (reddens) you know when I was with my guys, I saw something like that.

Prof: That's right...you were in the military.

Student 4: Sometimes you have to just take someone out when they're suffering.

Prof: (pause)

You are talking about troops injured in combat.

Student 4: Yes.

Prof: You mean if one of your guys gets hurts so bad you know he'll die you euthanize him on the battlefield?

Student 4: (the class is completely silent, Student 4 leans forward as he speaks, looks at the professor and then the floor alternately)

Well, not like that. Once we cut into these guys (he spread his hands out, palms flat and fingers splayed, as if he just parted curtains) and wow, man, some of them were hurt so bad, just blown apart, we knew they wouldn't make it. They were in so much pain, some screaming, it just felt right, it felt good to do it. I felt good when I did it.

Prof: You are talking about enemy combatants?

Student 4: Yes.

Prof: You overdosed them?

Student 4: No. No, you do what you can just to end it. Whatever that takes.

Prof: I guess you could look at that two ways: one, these guys were suffering so bad you did the humane thing, and two, you were just trying to kill them a minute ago and this was finishing that job. Were these guys aware, or so out of it they didn't know what was happening?

Student 4: Well, some weren't aware, some were.

Prof: Do you think they wanted to die, were they asking you to do it?

Student 4: (pause)

Well, we didn't speak their language.



Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Little Church in the Big Woods

I've been typing and writing so much the last week I hardly want to post, but I turned in my paper, my letter and vita, last Thursday. Was it perfect? No. I thought of some district committee I was on once that I forgot to include, but I do think I represented myself well. The lady at the district personnel counter seemed impressed with my resume paper. I don't even know if the committee sees that paper or not; I can't recall if all we got was copies when I helped hire someone.

But it's done. Blechh. Puke. Fin. The interviews come next, if they come (and they should almost certainly; I teach in the district for petra's sake) and while that one afternoon is very imporant, it's only one afternoon. Then the presidential interview, which I feel the least worried about for some reason. With so many people, probably near 200, applying for two positions, it takes a lot of luck to get hired, even if one does very well at all stages of the process. At some point it becomes random. But I have skills they want, and hopefully that will get me through.

If not, hey, I still have tenure! It's not like my job is on the line.

***

My involvement in my parish has grown quickly. Being senior warden (which I assume gets me the senior discount) carries a lot of responsibility. It's like chair of the elder board in a protestant church, only for one year so there's lots of rotation. But my priest must trust me enough to ask me to do it. I'm supposed to be a support person for him, and this is a strange feeling.

When I when through alpha class at another E parish, there was one woman in my class I absolutely hated. She grated, man. Controlling, yappy, she grated ultra-fine. And when the alpha class ended and a new home bible study was formed, who was picked to lead it? This woman. She had no training. But she turned out to be a true friend to S and I; she led a group I still miss. When we got married they gave us wonderful little presents. Working through Acts, we were in chapter six, I think, at the end of an entire year. But it was still very positive for me, a new man in a strange land, and this woman became my friend, someone I cared about and still wonder about.

When I first came to my little mountain parish, I thought it was a sinking ship. An interpersonal disaster. Ancient, frightening, geek-grim. The cliche is the frozen chosen, but it was worse than that. I went to an event or two and couldn't talk to any of them; am ashamed to admit I couldn't even look at some of them while they were speaking. They were, are, mostly foothill people, born and raised in the hill country. That kind of background either makes one talk all the time or not talk at all when confronted with a new face. I thought the central valley, where we had moved to from long beach, was home to the tule-grin. Now I met the true article.

There are people in that town (including one in my parish) who dress up in nineteenth century clothing every day. Some will wear a hat from the forties, a skirt from the twenties, a scarf older than that. My first sunday I met some of the choir and two assured me they were deaf. The church was small and getting smaller. The rector, my priest, the man whose has made me his support person, is acutely shy. The first few times S and I went to something I was astonished that he didn't even introduce himself; I was used to the church growth model, where the pastor takes your picture, learns your name, talks to you about your spiritual journey, tunes up your car as he shares the Lord. This was stark contrast. Sadly, with my critical eye, I would watch him struggling through creative sermons, say a twenty minute homily where he is dramatic monologuing the part of the shepherd boy in the manger, and think he was in the wrong line of work. I used to think the church was like a baseball team playing without a pitcher.

Still, since it was so close to our home and we drive too much already, we kept going. And S liked something about it, and two of my dear friends, the ultra-hip cocktail era couple who live near us, were involved there. My brother encouaged me. So we kept on.

What have I learned?

My rectors is very shy, but intelligent and well-intentioned. Once you get to know him, a personality does emerge. The intro class I'm attending is very good; he is a repository of church history and theological information, and his mind is rational and open. If you want to talk about the third ecumenical council, he's the cat. The man is the total opposite of the evangelical pastor model, and perhaps he does need to grow and risk (his sermons have been improving, and I hope someday I can give him feedback here) but the irony is helping him grow may now be my job.

Did God put me here or did I put myself here? Don't know. Both maybe. But I'm here, and I've found one thing I have in common with these people is a desire to grow in my love for Christ and to be a better husband and father. I see in my priest a genuine interest in the improvement of his parish. Instead of dying, the church has been slowly growing, and socializing much better. Yes, the beer I've brought to the events has helped. But my first year on vestry I did almost nothing; missed four of my ten meetings I think. Still, I saw the church begin to change. My instinct was that God was showing me he can, in fact, do things without my beautiful self.

Will the positive energy continue? I hope so. Being senior warden is giving me the courage to, uh, market the parish. Some resist that, but it's the way churches survive now. The way they always did maybe. A larger question is how will we reach the unchurched? Our deacon asked that at retreat. I don't yet have the answer, or not the answer for this parish yet. But while I wrote this place off three years ago and agreed to serve on vestry only after being plied with scotch, and was shocked to become senior warden, the fact is there are some beautiful people here and I hope I can help. A church doesn't have to be big to have good things going on. People don't have to look good or have any idea what fashion is to have hearts more true and vast than mine. I'm learning strange social habits, intense shyness, utter lack of sartorial polish...these in fact don't mean much.

It's been a good lesson, and one I must continue to learn.